What obligation is there to be moral? Part 3

Part 3 of a three part series. Pt1. Pt2.

Required obligations?

Which things need to be committed to (if any)? In other words, if “something being obligatory” means that it is required for something else, which kinds of “something else” must we be required to commit to in the first place?

Are there any kinds of commitments that need to be made? 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?

It seems theoretically possible for someone to avoid making social and commitments. For example, there could be a person that refused to engage with others in society, and was therefore unable even to make implicit or unstated commitments to others. More simply, perhaps this person lived on a deserted island, alone with no one to make society with. What if someone refused to make moral commitments? Other than social or legal consequences, would there be any moral consequences?

One argument might be that there are no consequences for being immoral, for failing to uphold a moral commitment, but that it is still obligatory to uphold moral commitments for their own sake. If something is obligatory for the sake of being moral, must we assume that we need to obey morality or be moral in the first place? For example –and to clarify the question– if not murdering is obligatory in order to be moral, the question becomes whether we are obliged to be moral in the first place. The question is not whether we approve or disapprove of murder, nor whether there will be legal repercussions for committing murder (if we are caught).

The question is: must we assume that we need to obey morality or be moral in the first place?

If the answer is yes, then this pushes the question back one step: if it is obligatory to be moral in the first place, then being moral itself is obligatory. If morality is obligatory, it must be required for something else. This raises the same question again: “must we be moral in the first place?” You can see how this causes an infinite loop; we never reach an independent reason to be moral. This is like saying that being a thief is required to be a thief; being a liar is required to be a liar; being happy is required to be happy; being fast is required to be fast, etc.

If the answer is no –to the first question or any of its succeeding iterations– then what “something else” is moral behaviour required for? If the answer is ‘nothing’, then it cannot be necessary to be moral in the first place. Answering with ‘nothing’ is another way of saying being moral is obligatory ‘for its own sake/in order to be moral’. There would be no way to have a meaningful obligation because “required for nothing” seems to mean “there is no metaphysical force behind this moral threat”.

If, alternatively, someone tries to define morality as: “that which is required without any further justification/requirements”, or “the obligation which has no other requirement”, then I return to my central thesis: what, then, is the consequence for not being moral?

If being moral is obligatory in any metaphysically moral way, even if it is the only kind of “obligation which has no other requirement”, what is the repercussion for not being moral? We have now returned to my central idea, and it seems that without evidence of a metaphysical  necessity to be moral, there is no reason to believe that there is force behind any supposed obligation to be moral.

Perhaps you believe moral forces exist, in which case you dismiss my entire argument. If you haven’t already, read why I disagree that moral forces exist in my post rejecting moral realism.

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