This is a question which has been asked for centuries, but is there any definitive answer even now? The most common debate is that of relativism and absolutism, whether there are things which are universally right and wrong at all times for all peoples, making morality objective, or whether everything is relative, either culturally or individually, and therefore subjective.
Morality presupposes freedom. If we are not free, then there is no actual morality, just an idea of what it should be like. There is no doubt that societies cannot function without this idea of freedom, otherwise the judicial system would collapse, since nobody could be blamed for anything, since no actions are made freely. However, just because societies would not be orderly without the concept of freedom and objective morality, this does not necessarily mean that freedom and objective morality are actualities. Free will may just be an illusion, and merely provides a basis for responsibility and a system of justice, as well as our brains tricking ourselves into thinking that we are making choices when really we aren’t.
Again, the objectivity of morality seems somewhat absurd. How does one know what is actually right and actually wrong? The general claim is that morality comes from God, thereby making it objective, but what kind of morality is it that comes from God and how do we find this out? There are so many different interpretations of scripture, and religions differ and oppose each other constantly in moral beliefs, all claiming that their own morality is the divine one. It seems to me impossible to reach past our subjective nature to any objective truth about morality. Even if there was a right answer as to what to do, how would we attain this answer without the trouble of subjective interpretation arising?
Morality keeps society orderly and maintains a system or justice, but this system of justice seems based on a set of subjective principles which are then proposed as objective from a standpoint of power. A moral statement seems to be a preference or opinion put forward as a fact. Yet this solves nothing, and the question of what is right and what is wrong may go forever.
An argument greatly in favour of religion is the one which claims that it enables us to be moral, and that without it we would become immoral human beings. People claim that morality comes from God. Everybody recognises today that the Bible is not a moral book-it is literature, rather than a guide on how to live. A common phrase is that without God or religion, how could we be good? How could we even know what was good? Religion has made a fundamental mistake here. It claims morality came from elsewhere and was put into our minds by God. But in fact it is the opposite-morality came from our minds and was then put into religion. What a religion dictates to be right and wrong is not divine revelation or Biblical quotation (although, sadly, some of it is), but is based on what appears to be reasonable. It is thus right reason which dictates to us what is truly right and wrong, rather than God or any so-called religious authority. There is one basic law of morality, and that is to treat others as you would wish to be treated. This comes in different versions, from the Buddha to Jesus to Kant, and it is a law formed by reason. Kant said that two things awed him most: the starry sky above him and the moral law within him. Moreover, he said that great minds think for themselves. This isn’t true because Kant said so, however. It is true because it is reasonable, based on right reason and natural law. The answer about what is right and wrong is not out there, in the external in the forms of dogma or the Bible or religion, rather it is inside us, but only when we allow our right reason to govern our minds through the course of the natural law.
Feuerbach begins to conclude his work by writing that believers in a monotheistic God are anthropocentric and that one begins to conclude that ‘everything is nothing compared with me…for everything is only a means for me.’ A miracle, Feuerbach writes, is the accomplishment of the dominion of man over nature-‘the divinity of man becomes a palpable truth.’ God works miracles for man, and so man feels as if he has power over nature, since God, the imaginary being, does, and therefore man must too. Feuerbach says that he hopes that the time of superstition and belief in God will pass and that ‘the pure light of Nature and reason will enlighten and warm mankind.’
Moreover, God is reliant on man, since not only is he from the mind of man, but also that God relies on the worship of man to become at all relevant. Feuerbach sums up belief: to imagine that something exists which does not exist. He uses the example of transubstantiation, an utterly irrational belief, and says that belief in God is like believing the bread and wine to become body and blood-‘something which it is not.’ The only place you will find God is in the imagination and faith of man, since God is nothing but the essence of these things.
Finally, Feuerbach writes about how the Greeks had limited gods because the Greeks themselves had limited wishes. So, Feuerbach writes, the God of Christianity in particular is unlimited because of the unlimited wishes of Christians themselves-‘their wish is a heaven in which all limits and necessity of Nature are destroyed and all wishes are accomplished.‘ Feuerbach says that ‘happiness and divinity are the same thing’ and that this is the ultimate goal of belief-to be indescribably and infinitely happy. Feuerbach finishes his work by summarising this point succinctly:
‘He who no longer has any supernatural wishes, has no longer any supernatural beings either.’
Ludwig Feuerbach 1804-1872
Feuerbach counters the argument that the preservation of the world and of mankind is some act of God which accords with his will. He says that nature has little care for single individuals-‘thousands of them are sacrificed without hesitation or repentance in the plenty of Nature’. This argument calls upon the existence of evil, especially natural evil, to present Nature’s merciless nature. Furthermore, since Nature does not care for us, and does not provide for us as we would like, Feuerbach says that at this point people turn to God ‘whose eye shines upon me just where Nature’s light is extinguished.’ When things are not going our way and nature can provide no help, it is then that we turn to God. Feuerbach also claims that God owes his existence to two things: fear and hope. It is these two feelings that rule our imagination of the future, and so we may find ourselves believing in God because of our fear and hope of the future since it is these two that sway most of our decisions.
Feuerbach argues that the existence of God stems from man’s desire to be like God: unlimited, self-sufficient, always good, immortal. God and humanity have the same rules of life, only that God has no exceptions or limitations, which is what we desire to have, and if we worship him, then we can be like that too-‘the Deity is the destruction of the deficiencies and weaknesses in man which are the very causes of the exceptions’.
In the final part, Pt.4, the thought of Ludwig Feuerbach in The Essence of Religion will be concluded.
Feuerbach writes about humanity and its relation to nature, saying that what we are as humans, God is also, just not ‘fallen’ like ourselves. We are rational, therefore God must be, and we separate ourselves from nature, so God must be separate too. He writes that one should be ‘courageous and consistent enough to give up God altogether, and to appeal only to pure, naked, godless nature as to the last basis of your existence’ because God, Feuerbach argues, only exists in our mind.
Another line of argument Feuerbach goes down is the idea of teleology, and the way that the world was designed is magnificent and clearly intellectual. He combats this, saying that due to the fact that humans have an intellect, ‘the unintentional effects of Nature appear to him in the light of his intellect as intentional ones, as ends and purposes.’ Nature is full of accidents, but due to our intellect, we perceive and interpret these accidents as purposeful. Moreover, Feuerbach uses the example of a bird to argue that the flight of birds is not founded on art or intellect. He believes that the view that thinking birds must have been designed and detailed by an intellect with intention is absurd. He says that ‘a bird cannot fly otherwise than it does, nor is it at liberty not to fly; it must fly.’ From this point Feuerbach then writes that it is our intellect that causes theoretical problems, and so what appears to be deeply intellectual and defined is, for nature done without any intellect or any difficulty caused by the intellect.
In Pt.3, further arguments by Feuerbach will be put forth.
Feuerbach was born in Bavaria in 1804 on 20th July. He was a humanistic philosopher, most famous for his book Essence of Christianity, written in 1841. The Essence of Religion, compiled in 1851, is made up of a group of lectures Feuerbach gave throughout his career. The key idea of this work is that rather than man being made in the image of God, as put forward in the book of Genesis, God is made in the image of man. There are a few certain ideas put forward by Feuerbach which I would like to touch upon.
Feuerbach points out that religion makes God an invisible being, rather than a sensual being, so that criticism and proof against the existence of God cannot be shown. It is easy to show that no blood flows through trees, as is Feuerbach’s example, because all one has to do is cut one open, yet God exists in the mind, and Feuerbach says that this is how religion escapes strong contradictions and disappointments.
A second concept that Feuerbach argues for is that God is a realization of human intellect, and its desires. The human being is limited and finite, yet God is infinite and an absolute being, and Feuerbach says that this is because monotheism makes the ‘essence of intellect, will and imagination the most real, absolute, supreme being.’ What man desires yet cannot have, God is. A further discussion of Feuerbach’s thought will continue in the next post.