We can view morality in terms of particles, as in the case of the Two Score and Twelve Indelible Don’ts, where each Indelible Don’t is a distinct rule or law. Or we can view morality in terms of waves, that is, as an infinite number of moral conundrums, with each conundrum emanating from a unique set of circumstances. The particle view might say: ‘Ye shall not dishonor thy father or thy mother,’ while the wave view might say, ‘In the absence of a specific context—that is, a particular set of circumstances—the meaning of ‘dishonor’ is too vague, too open-ended, to be useful. There is, of course, a third way to view morality, one that does not so much represent a compromise between the particle and wave views as it does a synthesis of these.
This view recognizes that there are moral principles but also that these principles cannot be articulated as absolutes; in fact, in most instances, it would take an infinite number of words to do so. For example, regarding the rule ‘Ye shall not kill,’ in order for this rule to be useful, it would need to be expanded upon to address every possible situation involving the ending of a life, sentient or no. A single, simple declaration, such as ‘Ye shall not kill,’ would be far too general, far too lacking in specificity, to be useful in making moral judgments. In fact, if we were to embrace this particular rule as is, that is, as a moral absolute in and of itself, we would soon starve to death.
What we experience as morality—that is, as moral conundrums— was made necessary by an evolving brain that, once it had attained a certain level of complexity, had to begin to mediate between reflex, or instinct, and cognition. In order for it to be able to do this, however, it had to be able to bypass or modulate the absolutes that had been hardwired into it during the early stages of its development. In other words, life had to become moral—that is, messy. If this were not the case, there would be no free will, no moral responsibility, and no benefit to be gained from having a big brain.
Unfortunately, though, nothing comes to us in the absence of a commensurate cost. In the present case, this cost constitutes the relative ease with which our brains—our conscious minds—can be compromised or corrupted by all manner of pied piers.