Recently there have been some who have proposed that morality should be treated like a science. Anyone who has taken anything from an introduction to ethics or is truly reflective on the subject of ethics knows why this is patently absurd. Science, though not metaphysically sound, is reliable because human beings agree on the sensory data of the external world we share. If I see a purple bottle, you are very likely to see the same. Also, the bottle will act the same way regardless of if you or I act upon it. But morality in the descriptive sense is the science of intuitions which vary widely based upon cultures and individuals. And not only this, there is nothing from the impressions of moral feeling that tell us that something is right or wrong, just as there is absolutely nothing about any “fact” of science that can tell us whether this is the real world or not, and therefore what constitutes reality which is the domain of metaphysics. This is why Skepticism seems the most honest response humans have come up with in regards to both the problems of knowledge (science) and the problems of living (applied ethics).
The moral realm of humanity is much alike the aesthetic realm. People who like science fiction movies often think that Terminator 2 is great, but people who don’t like the genre are less likely to like the film. People who have the moral intuition that what ought to be is a world of maximized happiness will promote policies that produce this; people who instead feel that what is right, what ought to be is utmost respect for human autonomy will instead promote a low tax rate and mention of the human suffering from laize-faire economic policies will not affect them unless their hearts can be stirred to change their implicit ought. When we “reason” with a person’s morality, unless we are showing errors in their logic, we are really arguing with their hearts, not their minds, for the premises of morality come from the heart, the intellect being unable to produce premises of ethics that follow from reason.
Another distinction between the descriptive accounts of science (sense data) and moral intuitions is the former is not malleable while the latter is. A person’s attitudes towards universal health care, abortion or a litany of other topics is in part based on their genetics but largely based on their upbringing and life experiences. People are both inculcated into identifying with certain views and are likely to have the experiences to have certain viewpoints based on their geography, socioeconomic status and other factors.
Unless an ethical system begins with a premise that is necessarily true all ethical systems constructed by Man begin with premises that do not follow from reasoning but from moral intuition or some other passion of the human animal. Humans become convinced of their views as definitively correct, not because they are reasoning improperly, but because they believe they are acting with reason when they are instead acting upon their sentimental convictions. Like a man of faith who believes he knows there is a God, when instead he has faith. There is nothing wrong with faith, but it’s my conviction that we should be honest and know when we are acting upon reason and when we are acting upon sentiment.
While skepticism of metaphysics produces no qualms for the lives of people living their daily lives, the reality of ethical skepticism does. Reason can only give us conditionals, and which premise we accept we can have nothing but sentiment to choose from. But we have to make a choice; normative knowledge is something we literally lack in entirety and yet it is the thing that is the most imperative for humans to have. This acknowledgement allows people the freedom to see their sentiments as they are. Just as a man of faith who sees his belief as unfounded by reason yet retains it.
That is not to say that logic is not used at all in ethical reasoning. But rather, like almost all knowledge we have, it is a series of conditionals, or “if, then” statements that at their best are logically valid but the premise is still unproven. That is to say, though the premise of Utilitarianism is ungrounded, if we accept it through our moral intuitions, it does follow that we should ban forced labor if we also have knowledge that it creates immense suffering and in the process removes actual and potential happiness. Reason is invaluable to guide us to our goal but what our goals in life are only the passions can dictate. A moral sentiment, one that guides us away from our most pressing inclinations for selfishness and instead follow a higher code or law, a premise that requires restraint is for humans equivalent to faith.
It takes a kind of strength to believe what is not seen, just as it is a kind of strength to act on a premise that provides no immediate reward. But while the Christian acts as if there is a God and Heaven, he assumes Heaven to be good and the divine order to be just. The Moral Skeptic goes one further then the Agnostic Christian, for while the Christian is unlikely to have speculated if there ought to be a Heaven, the Moral Skeptic does not even know if his ethics are correct but must act as if they are. Skepticism in the descriptive realm and skepticism in the ethical are as different as not knowing if there is a man behind the curtain and not knowing whether the man that may or may not be behind the curtain is your father. The psychological implications, though not rational, is immediately understood by all. Because being a human means we both feel and must act on sentiment. Otherwise we could not live.
It was once said that humans are half-beast and half-divine, and there is no better example of this than the normative inclination. Humans feel the world should be other than it is but can never demonstrate why, just as the beast feels its belly should be full but cannot provide an argument as to why. If the divine in Man is His ability to reason, then the action of any logically valid source is in him the divine. But what course he takes is a matter of faith. It is not the same as the animals’ actions on sentiment however for the purely animal never considers if what it is doing is right. The Ethical realm is the purely “divine” or above animal inclination realm for Man, for it is this realm where he ponders what he should do and must have the strength to either choose the moral path or live knowing he could have chosen a moral code but instead chose the path of self-indulgence.