13 feb. 2010

Om sekulär moral

Apropå Cherie Blairs märkliga domslut, där hon gav en man en lättare dom för att han var religiös, så har en del (förstås) uttalat sig till Blairs försvar. En av dem, Hugo Rifkind, hävdade i the Times nyligen åsikten att "moral kommer fån Gud". Att detta påstående är falskt är på något sätt självklart, men ibland är det skönt att få en förklaring av en professionell filosofiprofessor om exakt var det går fel. AC Grayling är rätt man för jobbet. Håll tillgodo:
In the Times a young philosophy graduate turned journalist, Mr Hugo Rifkind, although claiming to sympathise with the National Secular Society’s complaint against Mrs. Blair, further claims that his ‘philosophy degree’ tells him that Mrs. Blair and her Roman Catholic church are the ones who are right in claiming that religious belief ‘gives you a sort of super, better morality, which outweighs everything else’. His reason for saying this is, as he puts it, that ‘There’s no such thing as abstract morality. It doesn’t even make any sense. If God isn’t the ultimate answer, what is?”

This is an awful advertisement for wherever Mr Rifkind studied philosophy. Either that or he was not paying attention in ‘week one’ when it appears (from what he says) his ethics course took place. And he certainly seems to have stopped thinking since then. Let me direct his attention to Socrates, Aristotle, the Stoics, Hume, Kant, and a few dozen others among the thinkers he ought to have come across in his studies, whose ethics are not premised on divine command or the existence of supernatural agencies, but proceed from consideration of what human beings, in this life in this world, owe each other in the way of respect, concern, trust, fairness and honesty. The rich deep tradition of humanistic ethics stemming from classical antiquity has a tendency to make much of what passes for morality in religion (‘give away all your possessions’, ‘take no thought for the morrow’, ‘women must cover their heads in church’) look merely silly or trivial – at least in regard to what is distinctive to the religion, and not part of wider ethics whether religious or non-religious. Indeed Mr Rifkind is somewhat overexposed in philosophical ignorance here, for he ought to know that what is of practical value in Christian ethics is an import from the late Hellenic and Roman schools, mainly Stoicism, in the fourth century CE and later, to supply the want of a livable ethics in a religion that, to begin with, imminently expected the end of the world and had no use for money, marriage, and other aspects of ordinary life. So as the centuries passed it had to look about for something more sensible, and of course found it in the classical pre-Christian tradition. And to put matters in summary terms: the Roman Stoic conception of good character knocks Mrs. Blair’s (and Mr Rifkind’s) into a cocked hat, where they belong.

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