Morality is neither an external object nor a personal preference, it's a simplifying framework

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The central question in meta-ethics, and arguably all of ethics, is the question of what moral statements refer to. Several candidates have been proposed, including Platonic objects, natural objects, commands, and personal preferences. The answer, I suggest, is that it is none of these. Rather, morality is a framework. We see this by looking at common moral terms: ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, ‘justice’, ‘guilt’, ‘responsibility’, ‘blame’, and ‘rights’. These terms all have something in common: they are legal terms. Since morality dates to prehistoric times, it’s easy to see where this could have come from: prehistoric societies observed nature acting in a ‘court-like’ way – for example punishing them for overhunting – and inferred that this was a larger version of their own tribunal processes. Thus, we can define morality as an anthropomorphic framework based on the analogy of a human court, applied to human behaviour and its relation to nature. The framework persisted through human religious history, with various gods being the lawmaker and judge. This presents a problem: human society has worked hard to eliminate non-natural objects from our model of the world, replacing them with natural descriptions. Assuming we don’t really believe nature is a giant court, the question is how we replace morality with a natural description.
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Archival date: 2016-10-27
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