The Objectivity of Morality and Meaning in Life
For much of the twentieth century, moral philosophy remained in the shadow of Hume and Kant. Hume argued that the source of morality is an innate sentiment of benevolence toward others, but he also announced a chasm between fact and value by claiming that one can't deriveoughtfromis.Kant agreed that morality must be derived from human nature, but denied that morality springs from human passions. Since moral obligationsareunconditional, he argued, moral imperatives must be unrenounceable commitments of all rational agents. But they aren’t. Just as there is no morality derivable simply from contingent passion, so there is no morality derivable from reason alone. The shadow cast by this challenge to moral objectivity continues to haunt us today.
It need not do so. I will sketch a path out of the shade by grounding morality in an innate psycho-biological base, augmented by social sciences and historical experience. There is, however, a price to be paid. Although the psycho-biological base of morality is firm, the structure we build on it requires wise social and institutional choices. The objective moral reality we describe with the objective morality we seek to complete is partially up to us.
There is, of course, more to the good lives we wish to live than merely fulfilling our moral obligations. We also want our lives to add up to meaningful wholes, linking virtue, happiness, and commitment to people, institutions, and values beyond ourselves that will long outlast us. This requires wisdom in the art of living, which includes understanding what happiness is and what virtues are, as well as what we most want, and how to confront what we most fear. I will end by sharing with you what I believe philosophy has to tell us about this.