A Couple of Reasons to Think Theism Best Explains Moral Obligations
By Jonathan Pruitt
Here is a moral fact: It is wrong to torture babies for fun. (Let T stand for “torture babies for fun.”)
But in what sense is it wrong to T? One answer, and a quite popular one, is that T’ing is wrong because it is irrational to do so. Why is it irrational can be explained a several different ways. One option is the egoist option. It is wrong to T because it is not in my self-interest to do so. It may not be in my self-interest because if I T, others might torture me back or otherwise degrade me in retaliation for my T’ing. The idea here is that it is in my self-interest to live in a world where people don’t torture each other for fun, so, in order to bring about that world, I ought to act in a way consistent with the world I want to bring about. Or perhaps we could say it is irrational to T because it is inherently degrading to myself. I destroy my own soul if I go around T’ing and that is not good for me so it is irrational for me to do so.
We might also say that it is wrong to T because it lowers the aggregate human happiness. Since living in a society where, on the whole, there is more happiness than less, I should not T because it is better to live in a more happy society than a less happy one. Or possibly it is wrong to T because there is an implicit social contract being broken when I T. By virtue of living in a society, I implicitly agree to follow certain norms and T’ing counts as a violation of those norms.
Notice that the theories I listed above all cash out the wrongness of T’ing in terms of bringing about an undesirable result. It is wrong because it will result in states of affairs that are not desirable. Surely, this cannot be the full explanation of why it is wrong to T because, presumably, it would be wrong to T regardless of the consequences. Natural law provides one way to say it is wrong to T, whether the consequences are desirable or not (and it is worth pointing out that on many of the initially suggested options, counterexamples can be constructed in which T’ing would produce desirable results and therefore our belief that it is wrong to T would be undermined).
One way to say more is to appeal to a natural law account of human rights. The idea here would be that human beings, by virtue of being human beings, have certain rights that are owed to them. T’ing would be wrong because it would be a violation of the baby’s rights that obtain by virtue of the baby being human. This is a better explanation than the ones given above because it makes the wrongness of T’ing more than instrumentally wrong.
Now, consider what naturalism might say about how it is that humans have the rights presupposed to exist on a natural law view…
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