Sunday, 30 December 2007

Morality without Transcendent Authority? We don't think so...

This morning's Guardian is having a bit of a Sixth Form moment, and is unfortunately busy tying itself up in semantic knots trying to oppose Dawkins' latest populist ramblings against the world great thinkers in the field of morality with that tired old A-level question, "Is it possible to be moral without God?" Jeez...

As ever, this argument quickly gets bogged down in semantics.

Let's cut to the chase, and drop all references to "religion", they're just too loaded with obfuscating clutter to make this discussion workable. What we're talking about here is whether human moral codes require an appeal to some transcendent authority to function effectively, and Manuscripts Don't Burn for one believes absolutely that they do.

It doesn't matter whether that transcendent authority is "religious" (ie supernatural) or not: the point is that it is superindividual. Essentially it equates to "ideology". Whether one appeals to "God", or "the State", or "human nature", or "the ideal society", "the world we want to live in", "justice", "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness", whatever; the fact is simply that in order to have a functioning (ie shared) moral code you have to appeal to something other than a bunch of rough precepts grasped at by the individual. Indeed, it is precisely because they are superindividual that individuals have to take their tenets "on faith", as it were, and subordinate themselves to what is perceived to be the "greater good", "will of the people", etc. Fundamentally, this act of subordination involves the same act of faith whether it's a religious ideology or not.

The fact that Dawkins, a populist zoologist with a line in provocative aphorisms, sets himself up against Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Sartre, Derrida, not to mention the enormous host of religious writers who've put pen to paper on this subject, should give us pause. The man's clutching at straws in a world where all the evidence points to a blindingly obvious answer.

The nearest ideology we've got to a Dawkins' form of moral authority is capitalism; indeed, after due deliberation and increasing suspicion extending back several years, Manuscripts Don't Burn is now beginning to suspect that the Good Mr. Dawkins is in fact little more than an apologist for a system which is condemning most of the population of the planet to poverty, rather than an innovative moral thinker he'd like to present himself as. Time and again his allegedly profound thinking comes up with the conclusion that we're pretty much doing what we should be doing right now, which, given the state of the world, should give us all pause. In the final analysis, Dawkins' thinking is just as relative as anyone else starting from his basic premises - and it is that weakness in his argumentation that bears the seeds of its own destruction.

No comments: