On Knowing Morality

How are we to decide what to do with our time in a moral sense? What guides us? How do we know?

A friend of mine who I admire quite deeply brought up a simple question about moral epistemology. How do we know we are doing right and how do we discern from whom we should be guided?

He writes, “I have zero way to verify if what they’re telling me is actually the true will of the invisible judge.” Now, I’m sure some would simply respond “read the scripture”, but that begs the question in favor of a particular scripture. One would need to first come to a belief in the scripture, but even then the variety of interpretations may be a hindrance.

However, I think there is a path forward, guided by our current position in our faith journey, that can be reasonably agreed upon.

  1. People should only be held accountable for what they are able to do.
  2. If there is a best or set of best possible things a person can do, he or she should do it.
  3. We can conceive of the best possible thing we are able do with our time (in the next 5 minutes, 10 minutes, hour, etc.)
  4. We ought to do the best possible thing of which we can conceive.

Unfortunately, this leads to a difficult if not depressing conclusion. None of us really takes the time to think, “what is the best possible thing I can do in the next hour” and then actually does it. We always live our lives not only below what a perfect being might desire of us, but below what we know we are capable of.

I think this ultimately sheds light on the depravity of humanity. We constantly choose short term marginal pleasure (a better coffee, a new video game, another drink at the bar) over maximal relief (charity for those in dire straits). I am doing this now in writing this post.

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