If you don’t want to read any further, here’s the one sentence summary:
The moral is material and the material is moral.
Morality is considered to be the domain of religion; an aspect of human nature impervious to empirical reality, perhaps because it descends from God or an equivalent supernatural source.
I am a naturalist in that I don’t believe there’s anything beyond this world. Everything there is is there in this world. If there’s a god, that god is in this world. If there’s a God that God is in this world. Or perhaps God is this world.
Enough with the godliness; let me end this metaphysical diversion with two claims:
- There’s no coherent notion of beyond this world.
- At the same time, this world isn’t reducible to unfeeling matter.
Shifting from metaphysics to morals, we have to seek our values in this world as well. Those values have to be embedded in this world and compel us to make it better. My worldliness makes me suspicious of transcendental ideals, of a perfect world or a pure land. There’s no unconditioned world. Samsara is Nirvana once again. Our moral condition is intimately tied to social and technological conditions.
If morals are suspect, moralizing is worse: there’s the hectoring tone of much moral advice, coming as it does from a strict uncle wagging his finger. As the saying goes, everything fun is either illegal or immoral.
I think the pursuit of flourishing is a better pursuit than the pursuit of morality. Morality tells us what not to do. Every religion I know has a version of “thou shalt not…..” In contrast, flourishing is fun, both good and good for us. Morals reinforce the hierarchies within the human world — who hasn’t heard the thought that the rich are virtuous and the poor criminal?
In contrast, flourishing is democratic. Even better than democratic, for flourishing goes beyond the realm of human well being. Every living creature desires to flourish. As a result, the study of flourishing takes us outside the human world.
Why does that matter?
There was a time — perhaps in prehistory, perhaps as recently as three hundred years ago — when we could afford to neglect the nonhuman world entirely — the human impact on the rest of the earth was small enough that we can treat it as a rounding error. It was possible to define the human as a stand-alone species, a disinterested witness admiring the spectacle of nature.
That condition has changed. Today, to be human is to be more than human. Our fossil-fueled, factory-farmed world is like a giant sacrifice at the altar of humanity. While our violence on the nonhuman may not matter to you, it should, for it destabilizes our uber-humanity as well. On the flip side, a factory farm free and fossil free world will contribute to human and nonhuman flourishing.
That’s why there are two F’s in FFreedom: flourishing, fossil free; factory farm free.
These essays on FFreedom are an exploration of flourishing, both human and nonhuman and the obstacles on the path to ensuring the flourishing of all beings. I want to pay special attention to what it means to be human in a more than human world, of how nonhumans — both other beings and other things — are agents that influence the human world.
They aren’t scholarly essays, though they might be converted into scholarship in the future; that’s why I am publishing them on Medium. I want to write them to be read by a curious layperson, even as I borrow and transform ideas from notoriously difficult authors.