The Paradox of Moral Intuition

In this blog’s inaugural post – Origins of the Moral Law – I made a case for the well-known Argument from Morality. I argued that Theism (specifically, the Christian narrative) provides the best account for our innate sense of right and wrong.

Although I stand behind what I wrote in that post, there’s an important issue that I failed to account for. If the Moral Law is ingrained in each of us, then why do people seem to have genuine disagreements over specific moral questions? Or put another way, why is it that some people regard certain behaviors as immoral, and others don’t?

The answer, I believe, is that humans are masterful at redefining right and wrong within the context of their own desires. These desires actually become integrated into one’s “moral intuition” – perhaps as a consequence of original sin. Right is replaced by “what feels right” and wrong is replaced by “what feels wrong”.

I say this from personal experience. If it were entirely up to me, there are plenty of biblically sinful behaviors that I wouldn’t have chosen to consider sinful (pride, gluttony, etc.). Of course, that’s really the entire point. What kind of relationship can we have with a personal God if we’re unwilling to let Him contradict our own desires and opinions?

So on the one hand, morality often seems intuitive and clear (a reflection of objective morality). On the other hand, we can’t necessarily rely on our own moral intuition being correct all the time. In other words, there exists a need for guidance, obedience, and a willingness to conform one’s conscience to some kind of external moral standard.

This is obviously very controversial, even among professing Christians. It directly clashes with the modern humanist’s advice to “follow your heart” – a maxim based on an optimistic (but incorrect) belief in mankind’s innate goodness.

The major branches of Christianity may disagree over whether this “moral standard” consists of Scripture alone, or includes Sacred Tradition. The important point – at least as it pertains to this discussion – is that there must be an external source of moral authority to take precedence over our flawed moral intuition.

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “The Paradox of Moral Intuition

  1. “The important point – at least as it pertains to this discussion – is that there must be an external source of moral authority to take precedence over our flawed moral intuition.”

    Agreed.

    “The major branches of Christianity may disagree over whether this ‘moral standard’ consists of Scripture alone, or includes Sacred Tradition.”

    One way to look at it, perhaps, would be to say that we Anglicans have the perfect compromise: The Bible is the foundational authority, but the church plays an important role in interpreting it.

    — Without the church, we might be thrown back into the same problem you identified in the first place: Different people interpret some parts of the Bible different ways, and each of us has an incentive to interpret the Bible in a way congenial to what he naturally wanted to do anyway.

    — With the church, even without considering it or the Pope infallible, we can say that the more Christians have agreed, across times and places, on a given point of interpretation, the more likely it is to be correct. We can trust God’s promises that the Holy Spirit would guide the church (John 16:5-15) and that the gates of hell would not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18).

  2. There are several passages that come to mind in reading this blog. Man does not have the ability, really, to define what is right and wrong (Jeremiah 10:23). I think we, especially those of us in the Western World, have the knowledge we have because of what has been revealed to us, to whatever extent we accept it, from the Holy Bible (John 17:17; Psalm 119:160).

    Human carnal nature is hostile toward God and His Law (Romans 8:7; Proverbs 19:3). The heart of man being deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9) we are forced to rely upon God\’s Word to define right and wrong for us; yet, we are so stubborn, and so sure we can do it on our own.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s