A former student, Anthony, links us to an interesting promo for a class on ethical issues related to the doing of justice. The class is being offered at Harvard by Michael Sandel, and interested readers can watch any or all of Professor Sandel's classes at the link:
It looks like this would be a very stimulating class for undergraduates, but I wonder whether Prof. Sandel ever asks his students the really important questions: Why, exactly, do they hold the opinion they do on any of the matters they discuss? What is the ground of their moral opinions? Do they have one or are their opinions purely arbitrary preferences that are no more rooted in anything than is their preference for pepsi over coke?
The fundamental ethical questions are these: Do ethical judgments stand on anything or are they simply matters of personal preference? Is there moral obligation or duty and, if so, what is it that obligates us? What is it that makes an act morally right or obligatory?
Until these questions are settled talking about what's right to do in a particular situation is like speculating about whether blue is prettier than green. It's not really worth debating. Moreover, these are questions for which naturalism, at bottom, must answer: Personal preference, No and Nothing, and Nothing. If we are, after all, simply the effluvium of blind, impersonal forces then it's impossible to avoid the conclusion that, as atheistic philosopher Michael Ruse puts it, ethics is just an illusion, an evolutionary ploy to suit us for survival in the stone age.
Remember Ruse the next time you hear an atheist or secularist make a moral judgment - for example, when they insist that we have a moral duty to help the poor. What they're telling you when they say that "X is right (or wrong)" is nothing more than "I like (or don't like) X." to which the appropriate rejoinder is, "So why should anyone care?" Ethics is pretty much literal nonsense unless there is a transcendent, personal, moral authority who serves as a source of objective moral obligation. The atheist who denies the existence of such an authority is only speaking gibberish when he proclaims that "we should do X" or that "X is a moral duty."
Hopefully, Professor Sandel points all this out to his students, but since he's at Harvard I suppose I shouldn't count on it.RLC