Moral Reasoning - Why it’s Important.
There are many problems and issues that people face in their normal lives that can be put into the category of ‘life problems’. They are the sorts of experiences and events that occur in everybody’s life and that have always been a part of human experience. Then there are the big things that happen to people. Tragedies that alter their lives on a personal level and traumatise them. Then of course there are disaster’s such as war, or environmental catastrophes such as hurricanes, or the recent Wildfires in Northern California. These also have always been a part of human existence. The problems of life leave us with questions about how we should respond to them. Not just what we think about them, but what actions we should take.
One response is to connect with a religious viewpoint, and for most of our history, human communities were tied to that world view. This provided us with the answers to why things happened, what we should think about these problems, and how we should respond to them. Philosophy and Moral Reasoning are another response to our need to make sense of the problems of life, and how we should deal with them. However, where a belief system such as a religion will give you the answers, a Philosophical approach requires that you use reason as a basis for determining not just the answers, but also the questions.
Over the last few decades this has been interpreted to mean that each of us has our own set of personal values that we use to guide our actions. This idea is accompanied by the idea that all of these different individual value systems are of equal worth. But this is based on a misunderstanding of what morality actually is. Morality is a universalising concept. If it is right morally for me to be honest, it is right for everyone to be honest. Otherwise it is just a matter of personal taste and not a matter of morality
Since moral problems are different from other sorts of problems we need to look at them differently.
For example in areas of science or technology one of the important features of a successful answer is that ‘it works’. But ‘successful answers to moral questions take the form of arguments which, if examined carefully, would persuade reasonable people and lead to a convergence in their moral views’[Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2000, p593].
What this means is that there has to be a bigger picture reason behind our values besides our own personal preference or opinion. This is intuitively understood by most people because of the way in which our community has set up overarching principles of acceptable behaviour. But at some point in most of our lives we will need to explore the reasoning behind our beliefs about morals, usually because we have been presented with a moral conflict or dilemma. This is where a Philosophical conversation helps us to refine our understanding, honing our skills at moral reasoning, and giving us confidence to deal with the problems of life.
Mary Midgley, one of the twentieth centuries better Philosopher's says that 'effective thinking needs to be carried out as a co-operative enterprise' [Philosophy Now: 2016. P 34]. This statement captures the reality that no one person on their own will come up wth the answers to moral questions. That is why Philosophy is best done with others, and is a conversation that continues through time and flows amongst us all. This is why Philosophical counselling can be helpful when we are confronted with moral dilemmas.
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