What obligation is there to be moral? Part 2

Part 2 of a three part series. Pt1. Pt3.

Forces compel in their own realms only

If I make a social commitment, I would be compelled to uphold that commitment by social forces (e.g. social penalties like lower social status, group exclusion, etc). If I make a legal commitment, compulsion might come in the form of legal forces (e.g. the police). Social and legal obligations are only forceful in their respective realms: social obligations are not mind-independent forces, neither are legal obligations.

Assuming I can meaningfully make a moral commitment, what kind of forces would compel me to uphold a moral commitment? Strictly speaking, the appropriate answer is ‘moral forces’, and if such a force existed, it would compel us to uphold moral obligations and provide the threat of moral consequences. We need to analyse moral obligation as its own kind of force, independent of other kinds of forces (social, legal, etc).

So if we are to analyse moral obligation, and obligation requires a force or consequence, where is the empirical evidence for moral consequences or moral forces? Either would require that the universe has moral properties. These metaphysical moral properties would somehow constitute moral forces, that could make claims to moral obligation true.

Do moral consequences exist?

There are social or legal forces in the universe. These forces are not universal, metaphysical properties, but localised to human interactions and institutions. They are not claimed to be metaphysical in nature, independent of human-minds. Social repercussions for not upholding social commitments, are evidence for social forces in society, likewise, legal repercussions for breaking the law are evidence for the existence of the legal forces in society.

With the law, it is easy to see the force that makes legal commitments legally compelling. At some point, if you continue to break the law, physical force will be applied to you until you comply.

Likewise, stated or unstated social contracts compel participants to uphold social obligations. For example, if you constantly break your word, you may suffer expulsion from a group. The group’s members’ collective choice to socially exclude you does limit (or end) your ability to socialise with them.

In each case, there is a force behind the repercussions for breaking a commitment. Those forces are what establish meaningful consequences, and those forces actually exist (in their respective realms).

But by what force is a moral commitment compelled? Sure, social penalties and legal penalties may follow a supposed immoral act, or the breaking of a moral commitment, but what evidence is there for any strictly metaphysical moral consequences?

If there is no such thing as a moral force, then (as I said in part one), there would be no way to make a claim to moral obligation meaningfully. However, if we look at this another way, assuming we can make a moral claim to obligation, but there is no empirical force to compel us to uphold a moral commitment, then we can break our moral commitments. If we break our moral commitments, and there is no moral forces, there is no moral consequences. The takeaway message is that without empirical moral forces, there are no truth moral obligations.

There is no evidence for moral forces, and hence no moral obligations outside of the socially or legally associated man-made repercussions.

Obligation without consequence

One possible response to the above is that “we ought be moral/good just because”. There doesn’t need to be a consequence, or moral force, but somehow moral obligations exist without caveat.

Could someone avoid making commitments entirely, thereby avoiding obligations? Or would they still be obliged to be moral? Is morality a kind of obligation that transcends the need to commit to it in the first place?

On to part 3

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