I proposed on Monday that we need to figure out what can cause people to internalize certain beliefs and do them because they believe they are right rather than out of fear for legal consequences. A fear of consequences will not stop the behavior from happening because, like I wrote about last week, there are people who will make the calculation that they would rather endure a certain consequence in order to engage in a particular action.
People who believe that something is not right will not do it because of that internalized belief, and if that belief is solid enough, they will not need a law because they will not violate their own belief system.
There are two, of course, important questions that we have to address within this topic. How do we decide what beliefs people ought to internalize, and how do we go about getting people to realize that these beliefs are right?
This is going to take a while because these are huge topics. Again, we’re diving into a debate that has been raging for millennia, and I somehow don’t think that anything I write will put an end to this debate.
Starting with the first question however, how do we decide what beliefs people ought to internalize? Clearly, people disagree on what is right and wrong. Some people believe it is perfectly right to live together before marriage, and for other people that is entirely wrong. Other people believe it is right to drink alcohol, and for some people it is entirely wrong to drink alcohol. You can pick your token issue, but the point of the matter is that people disagree about right and wrong.
Even back in the time of Plato, when you read the Republic, you’re struck by all the different opinions that Socrates encounters on what is right and just. This isn’t a new issue at all, but before we can even progress to the idea about these beliefs, we have to take a look at belief in and of itself. Is it even possible to believe that anything is objectively true, or are we trapped in subjectivity? If nothing is objectively true, then there is no way to answer this first question because the decision on what I ought to internalize might be entirely different than the decision that you should make. If there is one objective truth, then it is possible to say that you and I should internalize a shared set of beliefs that will be better for everyone.
This is a popular and perhaps overused illustration by Christian apologists, but I think that it is pretty useful. You are talking to a guy who says that there is no absolute truth. You should immediately respond by asking if his statement is true. Clearly, he is making a truth claim that he is alleging is objectively true. The argument that there is no absolute truth is internally inconsistent and self-defeating.
It is not possible that everything is subjective. Now, some things may be subjective, and some things may be objective. Perhaps all matters of human behavior are inherently subjective but all matters related to the operation of the universe are objective or something like that.
However, at this point, it is vital to realize that there must at least be some objective truth in the world we do not live in an entirely subjective universe. We now know that our quest is possible, and we know that it is at least potentially the case that there are certain things that can be right and wrong. Everything is not lost in some kind of relativism.