An Objective Moral Standard?

“The only thing that will redeem mankind is cooperation.” ~Bertrand Russell

I once wondered if nature’s prime directive (survival) could be used as the basis for morality. Since then, I’ve realized that I missed the most important point of all: survival of our species depends on cooperation. Survival is the purpose of cooperation so, in developing my ideas, survival is still the source of morality but the basis and operative principle is cooperation. We are intelligent social animals who can choose to cooperate instead of fight or kill. Nature may be “red in tooth and claw” be we are more than mere animals.

One could pose moral questions in context of cooperation but it would be futile: humans can’t achieve perfect objectivity with any moral standard or principle. Everything gets interpreted subjectively and this is especially true with morality. People tend to bend reason to suit their existing ideas and beliefs.

Having said all that: I’d like to test both objectivity and cooperation as tools for moral decision making. I haven’t found any moral quandary that can’t be analyzed in context of cooperation. But the analysis is always my application of cooperation.  Yours would undoubtedly be different. I find it hard to believe that any group of critical adults can reach a consensus based on a single person’s application of cooperation as a moral standard.

The lure of an objective moral principle or standard is, of course, as a tool to settle disputes and make public (and private) policy. Some would say that we already have an objective moral standard: based on the Bible or Quran or whatever. But there’s a serious logical problem with basing one’s moral standard on God’s (or Allah’s) will . . .

. . . If something is good because God wills it, does He have a reason? If so, then good is independent of God. If He has no reason, then good is arbitrary and whimsical. “Thou shalt not kill” could just as easily be, “Thou shalt not cover your bodies”, if God has no reason for what he wants or likes.

If we can’t logically look to God for our morality, we need to look elsewhere. If morality is not to be found in the supernatural realm, that leaves us with the natural realm. Is there a natural principle for morality that would apply to us all? I say that, if there is an objective moral standard, cooperation must be it. If you know of a better standard, please leave a comment and tell me what it is. If you don’t, then give me a scenario in which cooperation would fail as an objective moral standard.

© Copyright 2011

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