- The study of morality.
Issues within ethics have been part of on-going serious discussions about morality for thousands of years. The history of ethics is filled with so many attempts to capture the standards of right and wrong, that mining new ideas is about as likely as mining bitcoin with a pickaxe.
Even if we did discover a moral theory that could account for the notions of right and wrong, the application of that theory would be a challenge so overwhelming that its usefulness would be negated. Take for example a Divine Command Theory, a theory in which moral duties are commanded by a Divine being. Of course, billions of people have subscribed to a Divine Command Theory in one way or another over the last several thousand years. One of the more popular Divine Commandments is Don’t Kill.
Don’t Kill seems simple enough, but immediately questions arise. What if I’m being attacked? What if I’m in a war/battle/fight? What if there is qualified immunity? This doesn’t even get into commandments regarding lying or cheating. The point being that even if there were acceptance of a moral theory, that wouldn’t get us as far as many would think.
Moral questions can arise in nearly any area or discipline including rock-climbing. One of the more popular and noteworthy moral questions that arises within rock-climbing is whether the damage we do to natural areas is outweighed by the gains achieved by climbing a rock, cliff, or mountain. This question clearly isn’t limited to just rock climbers. The question could be applied to all aspects of society, from laying railroad tracks to going fishing. But climbers traditionally have been at the cutting edge of preserving the areas that we invade. And of course, this isn’t limited solely to the damage we do to nature. Recently, the climbing community was impacted by someone placing bolts over ancient petroglyphs in Moab, Utah.
To say the climbing community was ‘impacted’ is a gross understatement, there was a storm of outrage, climbers calling for the assailant to be drawn and quartered. But was this act wrong? If so, based on what standards? Again, even if we had a standard, how would we apply it? Do we draw the line at Petroglyphs? Would it be wrong to bolt over a Bansky? What about a declaration of allegiance to the band Poison carved into the rock circa 1988?
This bolted line in question turned out to be an extremely unfortunate error based on ignorance. Is it morally wrong to be ignorant? Is it morally wrong to judge the ignorant?
Thousands of years ago we seem to have gotten ahead of ourselves. The early moral philosophers jumped right into the question of ‘What is right or wrong’. While the more pressing question would have been ‘does morality exist in the first place’. I happen to think the answer the more pressing question is no. Morality does not exist. And with that, objective standards of morality do not exist either.
This is not to say there are no social standards by which humanity could flourish. But to ground those standards in an imagined objectivity seems irrational given the amount of time that we’ve spent attempting to capture the foundations of ethics.
There is a history of dropping moral language in favor of calling things what they are, and I think this is advantageous. The person who bolted the line through the petroglyphs may very well be an insensitive ignorant, but stigmatizing a person as immoral, punishing a person for being undereducated seems to put retribution above education. Not only does that seem like the easy way out, it also seems counter to any goal of human flourishing.