Those who have subscribed to the comments or keep an eye on the recent comments sidebar will know that the discussion started by my post “What Is Good?” It seems that we have two views colliding that stop at key points. One says that goodness simply is doing to others what you would want done to you: that’s goodness, it has its own rationale and its own reward. The other says that goodness simply is what God wills or commands, and without such a grounding, morality is not “objective”.
To stimulate further discussion (and, as always, stir things up a little), let me offer for consideration #27 of the 40 hadith of An-Nawawi:
I came to the messenger of Allah and he said: “You have come to ask about righteousness ?” . I said:” Yes.” He said: “Consult your heart. Righteousness is that about which the soul feels tranquil and the heart feels tranquil, and wrongdoing is that which wavers in the soul and moves to and from in the breast even though people again and again have given you their legal opinion [in its favor].”
It seems to me that Christians too have often appealed to conscience as a guide. Indeed, the Baptists historically (although not so much recently) have emphasized this.
This is not to say that conscience gives us some objective standpoint from which to evaluate good and evil. Our moral sensibilities are shaped by culture and upbringing, and can develop as we mature. But that is not necessarily a problem. One can take kindness as a basic principle and still acknowledge that its application in different cultural and situational settings may differ. But it seems to me that, if there is no basis in conscience and reason for morality, then even if one had a sacred text that told us inerrantly and objectively what is good, we’d be in any way helped or benefitted by it.
I’m not sure whether, in practice, there is that much difference between a view that says that there may not simply be an absolutely “right” and “wrong” thing to do in every single situation, and one that says that there is but that we as human beings may not always know what it is.
But I do find troubling any view of morality that claims to be Christian and yet seems to have nothing in practice to do with either the fundamental principle of the Golden Rule, or with the actual suffering of victims. Could it be that Christian morality is less about specific deeds, and more about compassion, even though we may still be left debating what the appropriate expression of our compassion might be in this or that situation?
One of the participants in the recent discussion seems to always reply to such arguments by asking “But what makes being compassionate good?” I don’t see that compassion being by definition good is any less coherent than saying “Whatever God wills is good by definition”. Indeed, the latter viewpoint seems problematic because it either leaves us with a God that “just happens” to command and will that which seems morally good to us as humans, or with a God who can command anything and thus make it good. It doesn’t seem to me that the attempt to define away the Euthyphro dilemma by saying “God’s will always corresponds to the good” actually solves the philosophical problem in any obvious or meaningful way, or offers something that is genuinely a third option.