Re: virus: Morality

Andy Cheyne Service-LL (
Wed, 28 Feb 96 18:18:14 -0000

Jay answered my earlier email with:

>You make an interesting point here. However, with the exception of
>I do not think that any of my spiritual
>pursuits have resulted from a need to codify or provide a
>reward-and-punishment framework for whatever moral beliefs I may or may
>not have held.

I'll certainly grant that the meme-complexes that have grown up around
religion extend far beyond the simple mechanism for justifying moral
codes that I sketched out. There are few places where an individual can
seek spiritual fulfilment, and the ways that religions tend to operate in
the spiritual area can appear very attractive. However, I was (somewhat
clumsily) trying to talk about why-religions-in-the-first-place rather
than what-purpose-do-religions-serve-now. My idea - and again I'll stress
that I'm being simplistic - was that the ORIGINAL reason that religions
were formed was to provide a reason for people to adhere to a common set
of morals which may not have benefitted the individual but provided a
framework of some sort for society. A close offshoot of this, it seems to
me, is the way that religions tend to uphold the social order. which
brings us to...

>Again, religion is, IMHO, far more than a system a rewards and
>punishments. Besides, I think that most societies are able to enforce
>their standards of behavior through means that aren't entirely religious

>-- taxation seems to be an effective way for a lot of societies to deal
>with enforcing a sort of altruism.

Again, I agree up to a point. But how about concepts such as honesty?
Charity? How do you "ensure" that the process of law works? By making
people swear on holy scripture that their testimony is the truth! I
suspect that most regimes would, if circumstances were extreme enough,
use some flavour of religion to bolster their causes. And some - notably
the US - are pretty blatant about it without the circumstances needing to
be particularly extreme.

>You seem to imply that moral codes are things which, ideally, all human
>beings should have and adhere to. Why?

Gosh, good question. You're absolutely right to highlight something of
an unthinking assumption on my part! My pat answer would be - what's the
alternative right now? But on analysis, I think the reasons for my
statement are probably pretty selfish.

Being something of a misanthropist, I don't trust people to behave in
ways which enable me to continue in my relatively pleasant, stable,
semi-intellectual mode of existence without their being constrained to do
so. That apart, though, I think a society with some measure of order
provides the best chance for intellectual endeavour to flourish, and I
think that measure of order is best ensured by a the people within it
generally agreeing on the moral parameters. (This begs the question, I
know, of whether intellectual activity and progress generally are Good
Things - and it's getting a little late in the day here in England for me
to start wrangling with myself over such matters!)

Andy C