George Mavrodes

Religion and the Queerness of Morality


1.       Morality is dependent on religion (this is Mavrodes view)

          a.       If religion were to fail, morality would also

          b.       Not just psychologically, but also actually

                    i.        It would be proper for morality to fail;

                    ii.       Morality (in a certain important sense) would not be possible

          c.       Dostoevsky’s “If there is no God, then everything is permitted

          d.       Suggests we can “deduce religion from morality”

          e.       This is the moral argument for God’s existence


2.       Opposing view: Morality stands on its own feet

          a.       Religion could fail w/o it affecting morality


3.       Mavrodes does not think morality would fail psychologically w/o religion

          a.       Are people who reject religious belief, but apparently have a concern with morality and try to live a moral life

                    i.        Herb Silverman, for example

          b.       But if there was not God , people would not actually be obligated to do or refrain from doing anything


4.       On one common non-religious view of the world, namely, Bertrand Russell’s (in a”Free Man’s Worship”)

          a.       Morality would have an odd status in that world


5.       Russell’s world

          a.       Minds, mental activities, consciousness are products of processes that are not mental themselves

                    i.        Mental events caused by physical events

          b.       Human life comes to an end at physical death

          c.       Human race is doomed to extinction

          d.       Mavrodes believes (but does not argue) that it is odd/queer that humans, consciousness could arise at all in a Russellian world


6.       An Objective Conception of Morality is queer in a world like Russell’s

7.       Objective Morality

          a.       People have moral obligations to act

          b.       Failure to carry out one’s moral obligations justifies the adverse judgment that one is morally reprehensible

                    i.        (Not just stupid, or weak, or unlucky)

          c.       A person’s being unwilling to fulfill the obligation is irrelevant to having the obligation or to a negative judgment if the person fails to do her duty

          d.       People are guilty for doing wrong even if they do not feel guilty

          e.       People’s beliefs or feelings about their obligations may or may not agree with the obligations they actually have

          f.       It is also irrelevant to point out that the obligation will not do him any good


8.       In Russellian world, lots of cases where fulfilling an obligation would result in a (sometimes extremely serious) net loss to ourselves

          a.       Paying a debt, keeping a promise, risking one’s life or serious injury in the performance of a duty

                    i.        Like risking one’s life to save one’s child or a child

9.       In a theist world, presumably God would make it up later

10.     In a theistic world, every obligation carried out will result in a benefit for the person


11.     Mavrodes claims that it is very strange in a deep way (not just unexpected or surprising) to have such obligations

          a.       If it is a fact that we have such obligations, then the world is absurd; we’d be living in a crazy world

12.     Non-personally beneficial obligations are “queer” (assuming they are understood objectively)


13.     (Subjective) conceptions of morality where such obligations would not be queer

          a.       Moral judgements are interpreted to be about the speaker (not the subject of the judgment); about the speaker’s attitudes or feelings toward some action


14.     Evolutionary origin of morality objection to Mavrodes

15.     Scientific account of morality shows that it has survival value for a species that adopts it as it makes cooperation possible

          a.       So it is no more absurd for there to be morality in a Russellian world than for humans to have opposable thumbs (another adaptation)

16.     Mavrodes’ response: Evolutionary morality only gets one feelings of obligations, not the obligations themselves

          a.       This only explains the existence of feelings or beliefs about morality not the existence of truths about morality

          b.       The feelings and beliefs are sufficient for survival value


17.     Thinking that people have obligations to benefit themselves is not queer or strange

          a.       Nothing queer or absurd about believing that a person who did not perform acts that benefitted him or herself was in some way defective and deserved an adverse judgment

          b.       Even if doing so was done out of a sense of duty or obligation to others?

18.     Thinking that people have obligations even when it works against their self-interest is strange

19.     It is strange to think that a person who does not perform an obligation (that will work against his/her self-interest) is defective in some serious and important way and deserves an negative judgment


20.     Kant both thinks that

          a.       Moral action must be done solely out of respect for moral law with no concern for reward

          b.       Morality also needs to postulate a God who will make happiness correspond to virtue

          c.       Moral enterprise would make no sense in a world where that correspondence failed.

          d.       But isn’t morality’s whole purpose to require behavior even when it does not benefit the person acting?

21.     “There can be no reasonable moral demand on me unless reality is itself committed to morality in some deep way”

          a.       “Makes sense only if there is a moral demand on the world too and only if reality will in the end satisfy that demand”

          b.       Moral obligations only make sense if the universe is fair: Only if carrying them out does not produce a net harm to the person doing them


22.     This queerness/oddity of morality in a world w/o god is at the root of question:

23.     Why be moral?

          a.       Mavrodes seems to assume/believe that the only proper answer to this question is self-interest: “because it is in your long term self interest to act this way”

24.     Is it reasonable to do your duty even if seriously conflicts with a one’s welfare? Will it best satisfy my reflective preferences?

          a.       Depends on the kind of person you are

25.     Mavrodes thinks it unreasonable/queer/makes no sense that

          a.       Regardless of the kind of person one is

          b.       Regardless of what a person’s cares or interests are

          c.       My duty can go against them and override them


26.     Morality an ultimate fact?

          a.       Someone might claim that objective moral obligations are an ultimate fact; no further argument can be given (or is needed); justifications must stop at some point

          b.       Think that we must reject the question of why be moral

          c.       Mavrodes allows that maybe the world is crazy/absurd like this

          d.       Proponents of this view do not think it’s truth makes the world queer/absurd

27.     Mavrodes argues that claiming the objective morality is just a fact about the world does not fit well in a Russellian world

          a.       “Values and obligations cannot be deep in such a world”

          b.       Mind and purpose can not be deep in that world


28.     Religious world view is attractive if

          a.       Believe in objective morality

          b.       Believe such a morality is queer, odd, strange in a Russellian world

          c.       Believe that morality cannot be absurd and strange in that way

          d.       Morality must have a deeper grip on the world

                    i.         That the world itself never allows for fundamental unfairness


29.     Mavrodes suggestion about the place of morality in the Christian world he believes in (morality would not be needed)

          a.       Morality is a fact, but a twisted/distorted fact in a fallen world

          b.       Deeper fact involves sacrifice and giving

          c.       A world where rights and duties make no sense because

          d.       All good is self created or received and then passed on as a free and unconditional gift

                    i.        In families or desperate battles people for a time may act like this

          e.       Nothing lost if moral concepts/language disappeared in such situation


30.     Christianity provides a view in which morality is not an absurdity

                    i.        Because God makes sure virtue and happiness are proportionate?

          b.       It gives morality a deeper place and thus allows it to make sense

          c.       Also suggests that morality is provisional and transitory

                    i.        Will serves its use and then pass away in favor of something richer and deeper

31.     Since God exists, not everything is permitted

32.     Since God exists, in the end (redemption of world) no occasion for any prohibition