The study of ethics and morality is at once the most fascinating and yet the most frustrating of disciplines for a human to study in other humans. It requires an external viewpoint devoid of judgment and bias, able to see things as they are rather than as they ought to be. But by the same token, morality is such an innate, integral part of humanity, it’s difficult to view some actions with dispassion.
It’s too easy to fall into the trap of thinking some morals are simply absolute, universal truths given the emotions they dredge up. Who could ever possibly believe, for instance, that sexually assaulting an infant is morally justifiable?
Yet while many of us pale at the very thought, it doesn’t change the fact that the only reason we feel it is because we inherit this belief from our community. ‘Absolute’ morals can and do change. Tolerance for some actions is relaxed while others tightened. Moral sympathies have been extended to not just other communities and ethnic groups outside of our own, but even to other species.
I recently won a prize (1st place!) for an essay on ethics and skepticism. In some ways, I’m not sure if it merits such an award – the essay itself shied away from the difficult challenge of how grassroots community skepticism often obscures moral relativism, establishing a culture where it is acceptable to associate irrational beliefs with immorality. Within this community aggression and moral judgment against believers in the paranormal, pseudoscience and religion becomes normalised.
I’m not sure how such a heavy issue could be adequately addressed, to be honest, or even if it’s at all possible to shift. Nonetheless, I’m both pleased that there are some out there who recognise the need for a discussion on ethics amongst rationalists, and proud to have contributed something that was considered inspirational.