The Nature of Moral Obligations: Immateriality

Author Brett Kunkle Published on 07/07/2015

I’ve always found the argument from objective morality to God’s existence compelling. When we push deeper into our explanations of the nature of morality, I just don’t see how naturalism provides any kind of satisfactory account. In particular, four features of or related to our moral obligations seem irreducible to naturalistic explanations:

  1. Immateriality
  2. Incumbency
  3. Guilt
  4. Sociability

So for the next four days, I want to explore these features in order to strengthen our argument from morality to God.

Let’s begin our discussion with the following question: “What is the ontological status of a moral obligation?” What constitutes a moral obligation? First, it seems moral obligations are immaterial substances. More specifically, a moral obligation is a relation of being obligated to perform or refrain from a particular action. Moral obligations are only instantiated between persons, and thus, they are a relation between two persons. More on this in part four, as we discuss the social nature of moral obligations.

But certainly an obligation is not a physical feature of the world. You do not trip over moral obligations in the hallway or bump into them on the street. They have no weight, and they do not extend into space. Yet we know them to be real. We feel their force everyday.

However, naturalism requires that we confine our moral discussion to physical properties. Indeed, moral obligations would have to reduce to some kind of physical property. But physical properties do not constitute anything about moral obligations, let alone morality in general. Moral obligations seem, on almost any reading, to be about something other than physical or material reality.1 A naturalistic view cannot provide an ontology of immaterial substances and thus does not have the resources to account for moral obligations.