In our last few posts, we have considered morality and its implications in society. In this post, I will draw a few conclusions which follow from the previous posts. In the first post of this series, we discussed what makes something good. In this post, we discussed that goodness is an objective feature of reality and that when we speak of moral goodness, it corresponds to the ultimate fulfillment of man. The second post of this series discusses why it is perfectly justifiable to spread, share, and promote a specific set of moral beliefs in society and we discussed why the objection “don’t impose your religion” is useless. The two reasons were as follows: (1) morality isn’t necessarily tied up with a religion in the sense that morality is knowable through natural reason alone and (2) even if morality were revealed, it is not as though revelation is arbitrary, merely personal, and not based on any evidence whatsoever. In our most recent post, we explained briefly how the government cannot take a neutral position on many moral issues because a neutral position is a logical impossibility. Given these points, what can we conclude?
The first argument I will make is for the promotion of the correct moral code in society. The first premise will be the conclusion of the first post in the series, namely, morality is objective and leads to ultimate happiness. The second premise is “We ought to promote what objectively leads people to flourish.” From this we can draw the conclusion that we ought to promote morality. Now, most people would probably say that they agree with the idea that we ought to promote morality. However, a few cases become touchy. The first case is when morality involves controversial issues. The second case is when morality involves sexual issues. The third case is when morality is promoted in an overly forceful manner.
In the first instance, the argument still stands, meaning we ought to promote the correct moral code even in controversial situations. People may object saying that we cannot know the truth in these situations, but given the objectivity or morality, we should strive to know the truth and promote it rather than shy away from the correct answer. Second, sexual issues are not exempt from a discussion on morality. Many people say that it is private but is this in any sense a refutation of the above argument? Does the private nature of sexual morality mean we ought not to help people flourish? Does it entail that morality is not objective and does not lead to happiness? The answers are of course no and no. Further, sexual morality is not as private as people think. In fact, sexual morality is extremely public in the sense that it effects all of society. It effects the foundation of the family, the entire building of the population, the relationship between men and women, and the way in which we view children. This is hardly a private issue. Third, people object to the promotion of morality when it involves saying one moral code is incorrect or when it involves taking steps to stop people from acting immorally. The objection basically says that we shouldn’t infringe on people’s personal choices. Assuming moral relativism is false and morality is objective for all people (as the first premise states), then this is simply a non-starter. The objection amounts to either saying “we should only promote what leads people to objectively flourish if they believe this is what will lead them to flourish” or “we should only promote what leads people to flourish if it does not infringe on their personal ability to make choices at all.” Both of these arguments make no sense because there is no reason to not help someone reach happiness simply because they don’t think they are being helped or because they don’t want to be helped.
The second argument I will make builds off of the first and from our last post. If it is true that we ought to promote morality, and that the government cannot be morally neutral in many cases, then it follows that the government ought to be a moral government and promote a moral society. The only other option is that the government takes on an immoral position and sanctions that which is immoral because there is no neutral position. If the government sanctions immorality, it is harming its citizens because morality leads to happiness. As we said before, the “too religious” objection does not succeed in showing that this conclusion is false. From this it is clear that government ought to have the correct view of morality and put this view into practice. The more perfect government is one that is more moral and puts this into practice more effectively.
One possible objection is that “we cannot legislate morality.” This is true to an extent, and often in private matters it would do more harm than good for the government to attempt to legislate morality. However, in public matters, and in those cases when the government cannot take a neutral position, then the government must take the right course of action. Further, the government cannot legislate every particular moral rule. In some cases the side effects of trying to impose a moral rule may cause greater evils than the evil to be prevented. For example prohibiting by law some behavior that is clearly immoral like adultery may entail creating other evils that would be intolerable ( It would likely require a government with tyrannical police powers for example.) That said the the government has an obvious basic duty to make sure people’s most basic rights are protected and that obvious affronts to human decency are outlawed. The Declaration of Independence clearly indicates this was the belief of the founders, and thus this concept is clearly part of the American tradition. Specifically the Declaration states: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men…” It is a practical question to what extent and in what specific manner the government acts to promote morality, and the topic for another day. However it is a clear principle that the government is a better government if it at least has the correct understanding of morality, even if the government has to often tolerate immorality and not put the correct views into law. In the final post of this series, we will discuss how all of this applies to some particular cases