Before exploring either of these two claims, it is important to primarily, identify what exactly ‘morality’ is. The dictionary definition is “conformity to the rules of right conduct; moral or virtuous conduct.” Meaning that to possess morality a person must be in accord with standards of ethically good behaviour. However there is much question as to where exactly morality derives from. It has since been, an ongoing debate as to whether morality is derived from religious roots, or separate from religion altogether.
Many believe that morality is derived purely from religion and its teachings; this term is known as Heteronomy. Consequently, a heteronomist would agree with statement A. Heteronomy trusts that morals are traced from religious authority, depending on the particular religion a believer is from. A Christian heteronomist would explain that their morals firstly come from the Bible, New Testament, 10 commandments and Holy Scriptures. And secondly from the voice of God – in the context of the Pope and their own conscience and reason.
Likewise, religious authority in Judaism provides basis for morals from the Torah and 10 Commandments, from the Talmud (an encyclopaedia of rules) and the Halakah and again from their own reason and conscience. To give a closing example of how morals can be traced to religious authority, we must look at Islam. The Quran (the revelation of Allah), the Hadith ( the sayings of Muhammad), the Sunnah (traditions of The Prophet) and Ulama (a gathering of Muslim scholars); all provide religious authority for practising Muslims.
A heteronomist would agree with statement A by providing many valid reasons for this belief. To begin with, heteronomy seems believable as it is evident that in our western society, we are influenced by strong religious values and Christian influences. This is apparent because even the very language that we use to discuss morality is derived from Natural Law and therefore religion. Furthermore morality and religion appear to be hand-in-hand as religion provides courage and conviction allowing morality to be put into practice. Finally, a heteronomist would say that religion can offer a far more realistic view of human nature, compared to philosophy, for example. So, morality must be derived from the source of all of human nature- religion.
Similarly to this, but contrasting slightly, some believe that morality is derived directly from God, as opposed to religion in general. This is known as a theonomist view. The majority of major world religions hold a belief in God (except Buddhists for example), and these religions believe that God and morality can be known through religious teachings. Hence, theonomy agrees with statement A.
Theonomy gives valid grounds for believing that our morals are derived directly from God, because firstly every human possess a conscience (an intuitive sense of good); where could this come from if not God? To expand on this, a theonomist would explain that religion and morality have a common source in mystical experience allowing us purpose and meaning to act morally.
Key supporters of Theonomy include Hastings Rashdall and Iris Murdoch. Rashdall would argue statement A, by believing that without God our morals would have no value. He argues that morality must have firmer foundation than human thoughts and wishes! Rashdall would say that a life filled with belief in God is definitely more likely to be a happier and more fulfilled life complete with moral goodness. Correspondingly Iris Murdoch acknowledged that human inclination for morality exists, but that it is God-given. Murdoch argues that everyone has an awareness for right and wrong and that it comes from God.
In great contrast to either heteronomy or theonomy, a great amount of people believe that morality is derived independently of religion and its teachings. This term is known as Autonomy, and is in accordance with statement B. An autonomist would instead believe that our morals are derived from secular authority; such as law and governments and initially the influences of school and parents (upbringings).
In his ‘Euthyphro Dilemma’, Plato sustains this argument of autonomy. Plato presents the dilemma of morality and God through his characters Euthyphro and Socrates. The characters debate the on-going issue of “Are things good because God commands them? Or does God (simply) command that which is good?”. Plato does however support autonomy; and he does this through his character Socrates. Socrates believes that morality exists independently of the God’s commands.
Autonomy is also sustained by key supporters Kant and, ofcourse, Richard Dawkins. Kant maintained that morality is autonomous by proposing the logic of the Categorical Imperative. The Categorical Imperative is a very simple test, which can calculate whether an action is moral or not; without seeking the guidance of religion or God. Kant’s Imperative states that “if an action can be applied to everyone it is moral; if it can not, it is immoral”.
A modern-day example could be if somebody made a promise to another, but knew that they could not keep it, the action would be immoral; because if everyone broke promises they would become worthless.Dawkins, famous for unshakable belief in evolution, said that our morality “had evolved over time”. Dawkins supports an autonomist point-of-view as he explains how due to influences from society (media, governments, police, changing culture) our morals have altered and adapted independently of religion and God.
Autonomists argue that it is obvious that morality does not derive from religion, since there is no clear guidance in religion. Different religions have contrasting ideals and morals and therefore a person must use their own reason as a guide (which is autonomy). Additionally, autonomy suggests that morals could not have derived from religion because religion makes it extremely difficult for people to be truly moral. This is because religion instils fear in people, pressuring them into making choices; meaning that they are not really free to make personal decisions. Lastly, an autonomist person would disagree strongly to statement A as often religion deems God as ‘omnipotent’. The problem with this is: if God were omnipotent he would stop us from acting immorally, and since he does not, we are free from moral agents- we are autonomist.
Taking into consideration each of the claims respectively, I have decided that autonomy provides the strongest claim to morality, for me alone. I feel that theonomy is the weakest claim to the source of morality, as it depends solely on a “God” or supernatural being; which for me poses many problems. I believe that theonomy can be taken very seriously as a good claim to morality, as the links between religion and early morality are undeniable. For example moral language is derived from religion evidently pointing to religion for ethical authority .
However I feel autonomy is the strongest claim as secular authority plays two key roles in our rapidly varying society. Secular authority holds great influence on us through media, advertising and technological advances. For example the large majority of teenagers, today, will have very differing morals to that of their grandparents due to television and other such publicity; which has shaped their morals (for the worst?) Also secular authority is present in the upkeep of our country; through laws being enforced and the increase of government control, proving a source of morality- that cannot and must not be ignored.