Sanctity: an outdated moral concept
Posted on August 23, 2012
Or so argues Ron Lindsay of the Center for Inquiry:
I don’t deny that taboos have played a large role in the history of human morality. They can simplify matters, allow for the easy transmission of norms from generation to generation, and, especially for humans who are not accustomed to reason about moral issues, they remove the burden of thinking. Beginning with the Enlightenment, however, many in the West began to question blind adherence to various customs, including customs that were supported by religious authority. Throughout his [new book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion] book, [Jonathan] Haidt warns the reader not to equate the morality of WEIRD (Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic) cultures with morality in general. As factual matter, he’s correct that WEIRD morality is not shared by everyone in the world, and it is advisable to bear this in mind when dealing with other cultures. But, unlike Haidt, I don’t think this implies that “liberals” are overlooking a key foundation of morality when they don’t think in terms of what’s sacred and instead confine their moral reasoning largely to questions of fairness and harm. They’re not overlooking the sacred; they’ve outgrown it.
I think Lindsay has a good point, one that depends on understanding the is-ought problem. Haidt can posit that many people around the world hold moral values that are based on nothing more than some notion of sanctity or sacredness. This is a fact. But it is a giant leap from arguing the facts about certain groups of people to arguing “other people are missing out on something by not holding similar values” — a leap that, as evidenced previously, Haidt does not seem able to make.