Statesboro, GA, USA
I notice that when you asked this particular family member just what her affirmed moral beliefs were based upon, she stated that they were based upon "the principles upon which she was raised as well as her experience in viewing the actions and responses of others." I've thought about this and about how this may be interpreted. She is either believing (it seems to me) one of two things . . . Either 1) that according to her moral judgement, she deems these "principles" as the most moral or correct, or 2) that we should merely accept whatever principles we are taught and not consider whether they are actually moral or not. Either statement necessitates a moral judgement of sorts that is above or "beyond" the particulars in question. The first statement requires a standard by which to judge that the things she was raised to believe are more moral. The second statement requires a standard by which to judge that "It is better to accept one's upbringing implicitly apart from moral consideration". The problem I see however with the second statement is the contradiction between not admitting any fixed moral standard, and yet making the moral judgement that it is "better to do thus and such". Why talk of "better" if there is no standard by which to judge what is better to do?
The only third possibility (logically) is for her to follow through with this line of thinking to its unavoidable end, and cease from saying things like "better" and "ought to" and "right" and "wrong" completely. Every moral question ends up as opinion or preference at this point. Even pragmatism fails here to be a firm foundation for morals. Because pragmatism always has to do with someone's betterment. Unfortunately moral delimmas often impose a single choice at a fork in the road between someone's betterment and someone else's hurt. You could (as pragmatists often do) attempt a more mathematical argument that the more people benefited is preferred. But this is also inescapably a moral judgement. What they really mean I suspect when they say such things is "It is wrong to hurt many in order to benefit a few". If they hold to the point that morality has nothing to do with it, then they lose all power of persuasion. For many moral questions involve people who value their own advancement and pleasure over that of others, many or few. What will convince these types? And if we disagree with them, we have no reason (apart from morality) to chide them. Their immoral actions are their preference. Their morality would be not set against any fixed standard of human behavior, but against our druthers.
I see that you see this dilemma yourself as you observably and logically stated:
"Thus, this principle must be something other than a moral[assuming my stepmother's initial assessment of morals as entirely subjective is correct."
You are right. It must be either a moral... (an ought to, should, or a better way), or a mere preference ... like the choice between a blue shirt and an orange one.
Don't get me wrong ... I am not anti-pragmatic. I think morality carries with it rewards and consequences. So the choice really is weightier than choosing one color over another. It's just that complete pragmatism divorced from morality necessarily places it in that category.
This brings me to another point which I have made often before. Why is it incredible to believe that there is an innate "morality" that is common to humanity? I am in agreement with many who see in their study of cultural ethics many connecting threads that far overshadow any differences. I have yet to see the moral code of any culture that was radically different from another. Though they do differ in their scope and knowledge base ... the same essential moral values are held in high esteem over and over again. As C.S. Lewis stated in his essay The poison of subjectivism, (paraphrase) "It is no more possible to create a new morality than it is to put a new sun in the sky".
Now if one concedes here, the question as to why we all have a common moral base goes still unanswered. As a Christian I believe that materialism falls hopelessly short of giving an explanation of morals at all. How can one dance of atoms be more moral than another? I believe that theism sufficiently answers the question of our common morals. However for those who have not yet believed this, at least the realization that there is a common moral standard is a start to get them searching.
And I get the feeling we'll see this one again and again.
[This message has been edited by Stephanos (10-04-2002 12:58 AM).]