Why moral duties don’t exist!


Many of you will already know the Christian theologian and philosopher Matthew Flannagan so I won’t spend time introducing him here. If you want more on him go to his blog:


Matthew is one of my favourite Christian writers and he made an interesting post today and so I got permission to share it. I have tinkered with the wording a bit (so any grammatical / communication errors are mine) but these are essentially his points. It is called:

‘Why duties don’t exist.’

Some people claim we have a duty to not rape women, or that religious people have a duty to not engage in wars or acts of terrorism, conduct inquisitions and so on. I think this is nonsense as it assumes there is such a thing as a moral duty and this is false and here’s why:

First, the burden of proof is on he who makes a claim, as an amoralist I am not making a claim I am simply not affirming that moral duties exist, so I don’t have to justify my non-belief in duties. Instead those who believe in duties have to come up with compelling proof they exist. 

Second, one cannot empirically verify the claim duties exist so it’s meaningless incoherent nonsense until such verification is given.

Third, no one has yet to provide a proof that duties of any sort exist. Such things if they can be decided at all must be shown to exist by the methods of natural science and to date no one has shown that belief in moral duties is necessary to any scientific theory. Neither physics or chemistry or biology has need of that hypothesis to explain the world.

Fourth, think of all the evil done in the name of duties, almost every war fought through out history has been justified by those who did it claiming they were doing the right thing. Inquisitions, crusades and the suppression of science were all done in the name of doing the right thing and avoiding the wrong thing. 

Fifth, if you claim you believe we have duties such as a duty to not rape, I’ll ask you to explain “which duty” do you follow. There are so many different “duties” appealed to. Some people claim there is one fundamental duty, but those who do disagree as to what it is or exactly how to conceive of it. Others claim there are many duties and a small number of people claim there are none. Everyone rejects some concept or account of duty; us ‘adutyists’ just deny one more duty than everyone else.

Sixth – Think of how degrading and contrary to human autonomy the belief in duties is, duties are things we are supposed to live our lives in allegiance to. Rational people can figure out what to do for themselves using reason, we don’t need moral duties to tell us what to do, it stifles human autonomy and is childish to believe in duties. 

Seventh – Evolutionary psychology shows us that small children from a very young age have evolved a disposition to believe certain things are right and wrong. The fact we can explain this belief entirely in evolutionary terms shows duties don’t exist. 

Eight – What duties you believe is determined largely by your family and cultural background. If you were raised in Iran you would believe you had a duty to execute homosexuals. If you were raised in secular western Europe you would believe you had a duty to support same sex marriage. Clearly therefore, belief in duties is the result of parental and cultural brainwashing and up bringing. 

Ninth – We should treat all our beliefs from the perspective of a sceptical outsider, hence we should treat our belief in moral duties from the perspective of moral skeptics.

Tenth – Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The claim there are moral duties is extraordinary. It claims that there are things that tell us what to do and that we have to do it and this trumps every other reason or desire we have in favour of the action and that failure to do it makes us guilty or blameworthy. No other thing in reality has these features, hence those who believe in duties must provide us with extraordinary evidence.

Eleventh – No-one has ever seen a duty. Duties have no colour, shape or smell, or sound hence they are invisible to sensory perception.

I would like to add a number 12 and 13.

12. Moral duties were developed by bronze age, desert dwelling peoples and we should grow out of such myths.

13. Those who argue for moral duties use metaethical reasoning and metaethics is not an academic subject.

At this juncture you are most likely smiling. It is the smile of a theist who has heard these popular arguments given in a different context – the question of God’s existence. Behind the wit and sarcasm is, in my opinion, a very telling critique for those who try to avoid arguments for the existence of God at extremely inappropriate sceptical costs. What this clear parody demonstrates is that many of the reasons given for not believing in God, when applied consistently to other questions, leads to some pretty absurd answers.

Thanks Matthew!

About aRemonstrant'sRamblings

I graduated in philosophy of religion many years ago and have since acquired my PGCE and now teach religion, ethics and philosophy.
This entry was posted in Atheism, Humour, Metaethics and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Why moral duties don’t exist!

  1. Pingback: Satire: The end of moral duties | Wintery Knight

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