1.1 Understanding Life: Discovering Moral Goals

Culturally, we live in momentous times times in which values are in a ferment. Our generation is cursed with the anguish of moral conflict and blest with an unprecedended opportunity for major reconstruction. How shall we train and mobilize our minds and souls for this confrontation?

The concern of every sane and thoughtful man with what life is about boils down to, "What am I?", "Where am I?", and "What ought I to do?". The last question, which most distinguishes man from the lower animals, introduces moral values, which are the center of all values. For the highest type of homo sapiens, no question is so important as that of the moral purpose of life; and the deepest happiness is achieved only through some understanding of it. The aim of this book is to find out what our general scientific knowledge and the psychology of human nature have to say, in the freedom of the modern atmosphere, about the roots of morality.

To understand morality, we have to understand life itself as far as we can; and men have traditionally gone in at one of three gateways in seeking that understanding: religion, the arts, and science. After sympathetically examining the inspiration of religion; the intuitive, emotional message of the arts and liturature; and the methods of truth-testing which have grown up in science, some of us at least, may be convinced that this last the most austere and sometimes emotion-starved path is actually the best. Nevertheless, before any such decision is made, it behooves us to look at the different modes of knowing and at our human equipment for knowing. Without losing ourselves in tomes of philosophy, we may yet hope in this introductory chapter, to reach the main sense of the vast body of cogitation on this question. Thence we can legitimately move to our main theme, which is the derivation of ethics from science.

Far more people have taken their morality from religion than from any other source; and our first step should, therefore, be a naturalistic, and, hopefully, unprejudiced examination of what religion has meant, historically, psychologically, as a logical basis for moral values.

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