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practical morality?

April 22, 2012

Interesting debate between Sam Harris and William Craig on the subject of moral truths and values:

Some tentative thoughts: I think Craig really trips himself up when he uses his own God = good tautology after criticizing Harris for playing semantic games and accusing him of using a tautology.

I also think it’s interesting that Harris’ reply at 1:50-52 is somewhat similar to the Buddha’s reply to King Pasenadi in SN 3.8, which essentially gives the underlying basis for Buddhist morality (especially in regard to the principle of ahimsa or ‘harmlessness’).

This basis or argument for morality focuses on the moral character of the individual and revolves around seeing our desires for happiness and freedom from pain in all living creatures, particularly human beings. The essential premise here being that there’s no one that’s as dear to us as ourselves, that all sentient beings essentially want to be happy in their own way (according to their specific capacities), and that this is a fairly decent and logical reason to desire their happiness and well-being as well as our own. The reasoning is fairly simple. If our happiness and well-being comes at the expense of theirs, they’ll do everything in their power to upset that happiness.

Conversely, if they were to infringe upon ours, wouldn’t it follow that we’d do everything in our power to upset theirs? Looking at it from this perspective, where insecurity dominates the moral playing field (like never knowing if your doctor is going to cut you up in order to help five other patients), a world with moral security not only seems more desirable, but more conducive to the flourishing of conscious beings. Moreover, the former promotes a vicious circle of retribution, and one of the ways to break this circle is an ethical framework that takes the happiness and general well-being of others into consideration, which is one of the things that Harris seems to be promoting (although for slightly different reasons).

Of course, I don’t think this presents an ‘objective’ basis for morality, but it certain seems like a practical one.

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