For our next installment in the quest for a comprehensive moral theory, we turn to Richard's Joyce's The Myth of Morality. Central to his argument are two propositions: 1.) moral discourse is fundamentally flawed and 2.) "morality is a fiction...it embodies falsehood"
Joyce illustrates these two propositions via a historical example. He writes,
"Through the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the dominate theory for explaining a variety of phenomena - most notably combustion - was to posit a kind of invisible substance in the world: phlogiston. The theory allowed for various chemists, such as Stahl and Priestley, to employ what might be called 'phlogiston discourse' - they asserted things like 'Phlogiston is lighter than air,' 'Soot is made up largely of phlogiston,' etc. In the eighteenth century Lavoisier showed that this discourse was utterly mistaken: there simply was no so stuff as phlogiston."
Richard Joyce, The Myth of Morality (Cambridge university Press, 2001), ix.
In terms of Joyce's propositions the general discourse on morality is fundamentally flawed in large part because there is no such things as morality. Stahl and Priestly represent the moralists in this scenario. Lavoisier represents the moral error theorists.
Notice that Joyce's propositions contain an ontological component [i.e., the existence of morality] and an epistemological component [i.e., is moral discourse true or false]. So we ask, Is moral discourse fundamentally flawed? Is there a such thing as morality? Can the Christian worldview account for Joyce's observations? I think it can.
Let us begin with the ontological question, does morality exist in some unflawed way? Well, seeing that Joyce refuses to posit the existence of God as the prime Source of morality, then from the Christian perspective, Joyce has concluded correctly. From the Christian worldview, morality does not exist in the way or in a similar way that phlogiston does not exist without the existence of God.
The Scriptures record in Proverbs 1:7 that "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction." And why is this? In large part because," The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God'" [Psalm 14:1]. Again, we read in Proverbs 9:10, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding." What then is our result? Proverbs 18:2 that "A fool hath no delight in understanding, but that his heart may discover itself."
Whether an individual or a community, and speaking terms of morality, the Bible agrees with Joyce that without God moral knowledge, moral understanding, moral instruction, and moral wisdom are fictions. In fact, when man goes to speak about his own personal morality phlogiston, seeing he rejects the existence of God, he delights not in that which flows from God but rather delights only in the discovery of his own heart, his own internal moral phlogiston.
But the agreement on this issues does not end here even if you do believe in a god. The Psalmist writes in Psalm 115:4-8,
"Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men's hands. They have mouths, but they speak not: eyes have they, but they see not: They have ears, but they hear not: noses have they, but they smell not: They have hands, but they handle not: feet have they, but they walk not: neither speak they through their throat. They that make them are like unto them; so is every one that trusteth in them."
Man, apart from the living and true God, creates form himself false god's, fictions, if you will. Men then worship these god's which have mouths but do not speak, ears but do not hear, noses, but do not smell, hand but they do not handle, feet but they do not walk, neither do they speak. And yet man goes on and on giving much for these fictions. Their language about morality is fundamentally flawed because their god is a fiction. They claim their gods speak authoritatively and yet they do not - a fiction and a falsehood. This moral religious behavior is so fundamentally flawed that the worshiper becomes like his fiction. He becomes false. He reasons according to this fiction. He moralizes according to it. Indeed, this is the way of all those who reject Jesus as their Savior and Lord. Jesus says in John 14:6, "I am the way, the truth, and the life." Jesus spoke and He speaks. Jesus is the truth. He is no lifeless idol. In short, Joyce has touched on a profound biblical truth regarding morality. But as you can see, Joyce's theory is but a small part of the much larger system of Christian moral theory subsumed under Hamartiology - the doctrine of sin. If there is an ineliminable error in moral ontology, moral duty, and moral discourse, it is that sin pervades the world and the mind of man.
Both Mackie and Joyce have drawn conclusions concerning the perceived non-existence of morality and with certain qualifications, the Bible supports those claims. Unfortunately, Mackie and Joyce's systems are too narrow. Their explanatory force and scope seem to reject all other accounts in a de facto sort of way. But as we will continue to see, Christian moral theory acknowledges and accepts with qualification the best of what so many current moral philosophers have to say while at the same uniting them in a rational cohesive whole. Now that sounds like a supremely robust moral theory to me.
Our next installment in the quest for a comprehensive moral theory takes a look at Expressivism. See you then.