• The moral value of an alien ‘forqwiblexing’ me

    Last night, an alien came down to Earth and forqwibexed me. I mean, he really did. Who knew!cthulu-and-adam

    This short post will be concerned with the idea that moral value systems such as Divine Command Theories or intrinsic value theories such as deonotological theories are problematic.

    What the alien did to me had moral value, let’s assume (which is a safe assumption since pretty much every action in the world or conception has some moral dimension or value). But your intuitive emotional reaction to this action is muted because you have no idea what the action is. And this is really interesting and undergirds my point.

    We have this unknown action, and we need to analyse it for moral value. Straight away, I wager, the evaluator of the forqwiblexing looks at two things. Firstly, the intention of the alien. Secondly, the consequences that the action obtains. As for the intention, one might look to ask whether the alien intended that I come out worse in some manner, as a state of affairs after the action, than before. This agent intention is actually what we look at in the case of any moral action. Manslaughter differs from murder on account of intentionality of the agent.

    The second aspect of the evaluation is of course consequentialist in its ethical dimension. But that is kinda the point. When we evaluate actions, especially ones which we are bringing no baggage into, we do so on what consequences it obtains. By baggage I mean social conventions, personal experience, and what we might have been told through religious or other group psychological influences. For example, lying, We are told lying is bad, on Kant’s Categorical Imperatives it is objectively and intrinsically bad; but surely there are many cases in which we can declare lying as the morally right course of action. Take the Inquiring Murderer thought experiment. If a murderer comes to your door and asks where Jack and Jill are because he wants to murder them, and they are hiding in your attic, it would be morally right to lie, surely, by saying they are elsewhere.

    The great thing about forqwiblexing is that we have no baggage. And this is what evolutionary history must have been like. When certain actions were first experienced, there was no experiential knowledge to draw upon, no holy book or codified rule which dictated that, say, lying was bad. These were socially derived evaluations which were deciphered from the outcomes to such actions. This is the basis of evolutionary psychology and anthropology.

    To say that God grounds morality objectively is not helpful at all, and is clearly not how we go about morally evaluating actions, as we can see with unknown actions. In any realistic sense, on a daily basis, when we question moral actions and whatnot, we do not (even most theists) start with what God would think or imply. We make calculations based on observations, we look to see who benefits and who doesn’t, and we declare our moral proclamations.

    Now you might say that this could be the genetic or even naturalistic fallacy. Just because we know how something came about, or that it came about from nature, does not mean to say that is how it should be.

    But this IS morality. This is HOW we evaluate things. That kind of attempted meta-sidestep is incoherent. God is not needed, because we define morality by what we do with it and how we use it. This IS moral value because this is the process by which we ascribe moral value to an action.

    Category: FeaturedMoralityPhilosophyPhilosophy of Religion


    Article by: Jonathan MS Pearce