Ought We Abandon Morality?

by Zack Beauchamp

Joel Marks answers in the affirmative:

I had thought I was a secularist because I conceived of right and wrong as standing on their own two feet, without prop or crutch from God. We should do the right thing because it is the right thing to do, period. But this was a God too. It was the Godless God of secular morality, which commanded without commander – whose ways were thus even more mysterious than the God I did not believe in, who at least had the intelligible motive of rewarding us for doing what He wanted.

Maybe I'm just dense, but I have literally no clue what skeptical argument Marks is trying to advance here. Is it that we have no reason to obey moral rules without someone to punish us for violationg them? No, he makes clear – he's trying to get us to rubbish moral categories altogether rather than simply concluding they're unimportant:

I was not merely skeptical or agnostic about [morality]; I had come to believe, and do still, that these things are not wrong. But neither are they right; nor are they permissible. The entire set of moral attributions is out the window. Think of this analogy: A tribe of people lives on an isolated island. They have no formal governmental institutions of any kind. In particular they have no legislature. Therefore in that society it would make no sense to say that someone had done something “illegal.” But neither would anything be “legal.” The entire set of legal categories would be inapplicable. In just this way I now view moral categories.

But that doesn't follow – at all – from the God analogy. The first argument is about whether we ought to follow moral rules, and the second argument is about whether moral rules exist at all. Neither argument is particularly well justified, so I'm not particularly sure how to go about criticizing the argument. For compelling defenses of moral truth, I would look to the Humean common morality tradition or Kantian rationalism. J.L. Mackie is a classic critic.