What is the basis of morality? Is there an absolute moral standard which remains unaltered irrespective of time or place? I was prompted to think about these profound questions as a consequence of a series of comments I received, from a gentleman called Keith who commented on my review of Andi Ali’s book concerning the British National Party (BNP). You can find the post and Keith’s comments here https://kevinmorris101.wordpress.com/2011/02/07/book-review-a-study-of-the-british-national-party-by-andi-ali/.
The points made by Keith deserve to be considered on their own rather than as part of a discussion of the BNP. He raises important questions about the basis of our moral precepts. The main thrust of his argument appears to be that true morality should (and can only) be founded on Christian precepts, secular morality is not enough.
I’d dispute many of his arguments (as, indeed I do in my response to his comments which can be found at the above link), however his arguments do deserve to be considered.
So should we be guided by an absolute morality (as promulgated by Keith) or, alternatively should we accept the argument of that great 19th century philosopher who famously wrote, in his work “On Liberty” as follows:
“ The object of this Essay is to assert one very simple principle, as entitled to govern absolutely the dealings of society with the individual in the way
of compulsion and control, whether the means used be physical force in the form of legal penalties, or the moral coercion of public opinion. That principle
is, that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number,
is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to
prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because
it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinions of others, to do so would be wise, or even right. These
are good reasons for remonstrating with him, or reasoning with him, or persuading him, or entreating him, but not for compelling him, or visiting him with
any evil in case he do otherwise. To justify that, the conduct from which it is desired to deter him, must be calculated to produce evil to some one else.
The only part of the conduct of any one, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself,
his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign”.
Mill’s work has been used to justify many reforms including the abolition of the law which made consenting sexual acts between same sex individuals a criminal offence. Again it is often sighted by those who would like to see the establishment of legalised prostitution.
I’d be very interested to hear what people think on these important matters.
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