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Grand Theories and Everyday BeliefsScience, Philosophy, and their Histories$
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Wallace Matson

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199812691

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199812691.001.0001

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Ethics Without Edification

Ethics Without Edification

Chapter:
(p.177) Chapter 23 Ethics Without Edification
Source:
Grand Theories and Everyday Beliefs
Author(s):

Wallace Matson

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199812691.003.0023

Gregarious animals are biased to within-group choices favoring recognition of hierarchy, limitation of intragroup violence and rivalry, nurturing of the young, cooperation in obtaining and distributing food: low morality. But high beliefs result in propitiatory sacrifices indifferent or contrary to low morality: high morality. In the ancient world each community's morality had the same low component. The question of ‘Why be (low) moral?’ arose only among the Jews, who conceptualized their one God as creating and decreeing everything. Low morality was obligatory only because He had commanded it. All immorality was disobedience. Taken up into Christianity, this command theory of morals became universal in the Western world. Utilitarian and Kantian efforts to rebuild morality on secular foundations fail because both still conceive of morality as a system of imperatives, which are unintelligible without commanders. The rise of science affords a worldview dispensing with high beliefs, hence with religion. The question of whether morality must go down with it thus becomes pressing.

Keywords:   hierarchy, high/low morality, sacrifice, Jew, command, OCL (Omnipotent Creator-Legislator), disobedience, Utilitarian, Kantian, Christianity

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