AN EMPIRICAL APPROACH TO MORALITY Essay Research — страница 4

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slavery is immoral. Yet almost up to modern times citizens who considered themselves to be highly moral owned slaves. At present only “animal rights” advocates, a small minority, consider it immoral to kill animals for food or use them in medical research. In future times will the present majority who disregard animal rights be considered to be as immoral as those who formerly accepted slavery? The morality of slavery and animal rights is fundamentally related to the question of who are members of the social group to whom the rules of morality apply. One way in which the evolution of morality can be viewed is as the expansion of the concept of society-defined as the group to whom one’s moral rules apply-from family, to clan, to city, to country, to all persons, and

(perhaps) to animals. At the beginning of this section we proposed two premises for a moral system: (i) a belief in consequentialism, and (ii) a belief in the promotion of happiness. To complete the logical basis of the system, we propose (iii) a belief that moral rules should be choices made by a society to promote the happiness of its members. In making these choices members of the society will be guided by experience-thus we have called this system “An empirical approach to morality”. This approach to morality views rights as group decisions codified in law and custom. In order for the system to be viable, a large majority of its members must be in agreement with the moral rules of their society. In this sense we are proposing a contractualist type of moral theory. It

differs from the approach of Rawls in that the agreement is between the current members of a society who have knowledge of the real world. Under this system individuals will choose moral rules for society which they believe will promote their happiness. These choices depend on innate factors-what makes human beings happy-and on conditions in the society in which the choices are made. In an “unfair” society, an oppressed minority/majority may subscribe to a different set of moral choices (which could be called a sub-group contract). As an example, the tale of Robin Hood comes immediately to mind. An empirical approach to morality explicitly recognizes that moral rules should change with time as societies evolve. In section 3, for an imperfect democratic society such as our

own, we will suggest how an empirical moralist would approach some of our present moral controversies. We are now in a position to respond to the three basic moral questions raised at the beginning of this essay: Can a system of morality be justified? In any logical argument in which conclusions are deduced, some propositions must be taken as premises. In science these are called axioms, and they are justified (but, as Hume showed, not proved) by induction from experience. Moral conclusions have been deduced from three major types of premises which can be abbreviated as the sacred text premise; the intuitive knowledge of right and wrong premise; and the dependence on consequences premise. We would argue that none of these premises can be “justified” by arguments from more

basic principles, and should therefore be characterized as “beliefs” as we have done in proposing empirical morality as a consequences based theory. To recapitulate, the premises we propose as a basis for moral choices are: What is morally correct depends upon consequences; the desired consequences are those leading to happiness; moral rules should be choices made to promote happiness. It follows from the previous development that in a society that is functioning with an empirical system of morality, a typical person will be happier, in at least most situations, if he/she acts morally. Here a typical person is defined as a member of the predominate group in the society that agrees with the moral rules which have been chosen. In any society, however, there will be non-typical

persons who do not agree with certain moral rules. Since, as has been stated, the empirical approach recognizes that moral rules evolve over time, it should be expected that such a minority of non-typical members will try to persuade the majority to modify those moral rules with which they disagree. In urging these changes, the minority would appeal to empirical evidence which (they would argue) shows that the majority would be happier if the modified rules were adopted. Why should one act morally? In the philosophical literature the question has been put in the form, “Why should an individual act in accordance with moral rules when it conflicts with self-interest?” Here the concept of self-interest is of crucial importance in discussing real behavior, but it does not appear