08 February 2012

Why I Am No Longer an Evangelical, part 3: Morality

Need to catch up? Read part 1 and part 2.

This is the post in this series that will probably get me into the most trouble. Most people, even those in the so-called New Atheist movement (I'm not a member), aren't particularly comfortable with the thought of getting rid of morality. Silly secular humanists. Morality is for religions.

I'll start by clarifying how I think about morality. Morality is a value judgment by a group rather than an individual, promulgated as socio-normative by that group, and necessarily external in origin to the individual. I'm not satisfied with morality as such as a method for directing my life.

I don't consider myself an immoralist— that would mean I still subscribe to and reject some particular morality. Instead, I'd consider myself an amoralist. That doesn't mean I do whatever I please, regardless of the consequences, like some kind of radical, self-interested Randian chump. Rather, I try to do what's right according to my own internal sense of right and wrong. I don't call that sort of thing morality when it's specific to an individual, I call it integrity.

The reason I make this distinction is a direct result of my experiences as an evangelical. For most evangelicals, certain activities are irrefutably immoral. Murder's an easy example because it's one of the Big Ten (not in an NCAA sense, in a Commandment sense). But I still heard evangelicals approve of and in some cases demand the United States kill a person or a group of people, or go to war with some country, or nuke a city.

How could people who were unequivocally against murder call for the murder of innocents, or at least, civilians? Maybe they possessed a more situational understanding of murder. Maybe murder became acceptable under particular conditions. I could see either of those cases being reasoned out, just as we might consider a soldier falling on a grenade to save her comrades a noble sacrifice rather than suicide, which, I suppose, it technically is.

When I questioned one of the people who'd talked about going to war about why they wanted to, I was surprised by the answer: the people who'd be killed in the war or the nuclear attack were evil, so no big deal. They were complicit in the death of Americans, and had therefore forfeited their right to not be murdered in vengeance. It's the same logic that says, "Abortions are evil, therefore those who perform abortions are evil, therefore murdering an abortion doctor is a righteous act."

My point here is not to debate the morality of murder. If you do so in the comments, I'll just assume you didn't really bother reading. ANYWAY, I suspect some of you are thinking, "Well, maybe that particular individual was just a bloodthirsty dude." You're exactly right. That particular individual was a bloodthirsty dude. So was his wife.

Interestingly, at one point over a decade ago, I was also that bloodthirsty, which is to say I have some idea how this dude's worldview worked. Because morality applied not merely to actions but to states of being, whole categories of people could be labelled as evil and thereby dehumanized. No longer did the evil have the dignity of being human such that killing them was murder. Once classified as evil, they were sub-human until they became good, usually by converting to Christianity, even in a rudimentary form.

Again, what's important isn't the topic of murder specifically. I could have gone with anything— sexuality, science, family, etc.—; what's important is that morality in evangelical belief is frequently, if not always, coupled with a moral judgment of people in such a way that those people are no longer considered fully human.

This plays itself out on the individual level, too, not only applied to groups of people whom most American evangelicals will never meet. How many young evangelicals spend years confused and ashamed of their sexuality because they've only ever heard that sex is dirty and evil and ought to be kept for marriage? (And what's that say about marriage?)

Either morality is indeed socio-normative— thereby doing violence to individuals and groups deemed evil—, or morality is treated as subjective, situational, and particular, in which case it's not really morality any more. I think it's fine to have some external ideas inform one's sense of integrity— that's unavoidable—, but what I find in evangelical circles is that morality becomes a measure by which certain groups and individuals are dehumanized, denigrated and disparaged.

I suppose in some ideal, theoretical sense, morality is a net positive, but functionally, it serves to diminish the dignity of humankind and of specific humans, and deny life itself as a positive, creative force in the world. As Nietzsche puts it, "The Christian resolve to see the world as bad and ugly has made the world bad and ugly."

Discuss.

11 comments:

Derek said...

Tyler. This is great. You're great. I've been following this series and am wildly impressed with your ability to articulate your ideas with such a lack of polarity. Aptly-taglined blogs are my favorite.

Your musings have resonated with my own. I am thankful that you make time to craft them into public arguments and encourage discussion. If I happened upon a fedora-wearing time traveler from the past who was having a hard time conceptualizing how the internet could contribute to meaningful human communication, I might point them here. I might also point them to pornhub. Who's to say? I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

Anyway, enough about you. Many of your considerations are currently crystallized in my brainsicles as foundations from which I leap aimlessly in new directions. (My hope is that such leaping will shatter the crystals, duh.) One jump I've been contemplating is how these ideas are realized in both scale and environment.

More specifically, let's assume a large group of individuals is carrying a huge pile of their own integrity, passing it out willy-nilly. In this scenario, everyone is driven in thought and action by their own sense of reason. Let's also assume that this cadre is rich as shit. There are unlimited resources at their fingertips, as evidenced by the roast duck in their fingernails. What might that culture look like? Would people steal (I'd say murder, but I want a response) in this world?

Now, yesterday I took something that my friend said personally while setting up a projector to watch Blue Valentine, thus failing to act in accord with my personal integrity (not because I chose to watch Blue Valentine). Couple that with the fact that I just redeemed a coupon for 3 free bagels at Brueggers (I'm not eating duck tonight...) and you have yourself reality. We aren't always going to get gold stars of integrity. We don't have unlimited resources. In fact, the distribution of integrity and resources are (according to my intuition) largely skewed, and largerly inversely-related.

How do these thoughts of y(ours) map onto this reality?

I'm assuming you read much more philosophy than I do, so if this is a cliche, swiss-cheesy argument, I trust you to rip it apart with vigor and respect. At the same time.

Maybe this should have been an email.

Tyler Gagnon said...

Derek— thanks for reading and thanks for the comment. Glad to hear you're enjoying the series!

To address the first scenario you propose, what I'll call the Roast Duck Universe, I suppose that with unlimited resources, a culture might never come up with a concept of stealing. One might simply take as needed, knowing that whomever it was taken from would have the same liberty.

Clearly, as you point out, we don't live in the Roast Duck Universe.

Because integrity is something personal, I think it's important that it is also necessarily defined by the limitations of the person. While I may feel I ought to provide roast duck to those in need, I find I don't have the resources. In that case, I can lament the fact, or try to gain more resources, or re-examine what I mean to do in the first place. I might find that volunteering at a soup kitchen twice a week is a way to fulfill my desire to help those in need that fits with the resources available to me.

In short, I'd say that integrity is something that's always tied to the reality of the individual. To try to make it a universal sort of concept (such as I think you're proposing with the Roast Duck Universe), is to turn it into morality.

I hope this answers your questions. I'd be happy to provide further clarification.

Marvin said...

Mr. Gagnon,
As always, I find that your views make for an interesting read. I chanced across your posting through a link to a link from a link from somewhere I don’t quite remember. In any event, the exact vector of my arrival is not particularly important. While I am here, I would like to discuss some of the points that you have raised in this most recent post. I hope, at some point, to return and explore your other writings, perhaps when the winds of the Interwebs once more send me sailing into your harbors. In no particular order other than as they occur to me:

1) First, let’s debate about the morality of murder…just kidding! I would like to take a minute to investigate the concepts of morality however. In your second paragraph, you initially argue that “morality is a value judgment.” This already gives me pause. I think that it would be more accurate to state that morality represents a code (or standard, or expectation) of behavior. I think, therefore, that the primary criticisms of this document are leveled against reactions to violations of moral codes, rather than the codes themselves.

I would argue (if you will permit me the simplistic formulation), that morals can be seen as a sort of “action classification” mechanism that we use to interpret behavior. I believe that there are a few natural consequences that we can derive from this orientation in a practical sense:

a) If there were to exist a moral standard for which there was no differentiation between action classifications, that standard will not be applied in practice. In other words, if our test won’t actually tell us (or, at least, make us think that it has told us) anything, we probably won’t do it to begin with. For example, there is technically a difference between two physically identical scissors (i.e. they exist at separate spatial coordinates), but nobody is going to care which one you toss them to cut the wrapping paper. They would not apply a standard in an attempt to differentiate them because it would have no meaningful effect.

b) Given (a), we can safely assume that any practicable moral standard must produce some actionable differentiation between alternatives.

c) The consequences of that actionable differentiation are not necessarily (and in practice, probably never) natural consequences of the moral standard itself, but rather socio-normative group constructions. That is, in the majority (perhaps all?) of your examples deal with reactions to one possible differential state of a moral standard, rather than to the moral standard itself.

I’m not going to delve into the genesis of the moral codes themselves, because that might stray dangerously close to the “debating the morality of murder” proscription. Nevertheless, based on the above points, I think it reasonable to assume that your concerns are primarily directed toward the reactions to violations of the moral codes, rather than the moral codes themselves (at least in the context of your post). Based on that assumption, allow me to raise some potential alternatives to your formulations.

cont.

Marvin said...

2) You appear to have emphasized (perhaps understandably) a rather pejorative angle by selecting reactions to moral code violations that produce negative consequences and/or value judgments. However, in doing so, you appear to have neglected their opposite number. That is, the very same violations that can sometimes produce bloodthirsty, vengeance-filled savages (with no offence to the “dude” in question) can also produce profound acts of kindness and far-reaching charitable organizations.

Violation of a moral code may potentially lead to feelings of guilt, exclusion or ostracism from groups who hold that code in high esteem, and so on. However, psychology has repeatedly demonstrated that reinforcement, not punishment, is what generates lasting and powerful changes in behavior (in both humans and animals). That is, adherence to a moral code may engender feelings of belonging, positive regard, and so on. Although these conceptualizations may appear to be two sides of the same coin on the face of the matter, a bit more analysis reveals that they have very different underlying constructions.

Take for example, the case of a moral code that invites giving to individuals in need. In the “negatively skewed” interpretation of moral code violation, failing to give to an individual in need may invite the derision of your group. In the “positively skewed” interpretation, that same behavior causes you to miss out on whatever intrinsic or extrinsic reward you would have received, had you abided by the code. In both cases, violation results in bad stuff, but in the latter, the focus is primarily on the positive outcome that could have been attained. That is, in the latter case, the violation results in a push toward redemptive, rather than condemning, orientation on the part of fellow group members.

3) Let us wander to your example of the bloodthirsty dude and his equally vampiric wife. As you note, they make the argument (according to our modified understanding of moral interpretation) that thus and such a group of people has violated a moral code. The bloodthirsters’ response to that violation is to “kill ‘em right back.” Admittedly, this is not a great choice in terms of responses. However, let us examine that response in light of some of your comments in the last paragraph of your missive. Specifically, let us consider the functional, rather than theoretical nature of our subject.

If we were to take Mr. and Mrs. Bloodbath and put them on a hill in front of the “evildoers,” put a gun into each of their hands, and tell them to go to town, how many would they actually kill? I would be willing to wager, if they are like most folk, the answer would be “not many” (even for folks who are trained to kill - c.f. “Men Against Fire” by Marshall 1947 and “On Killing” by Grossman 1996). So, assuming that our slaughter-thirsty couple aren’t really when the rubber meets the road, how do we classify their verbal (but not actionable) representation?

It stands to reason that there are any number of potential interpretations, ranging from “simple knee-jerk,” to reactance due to fear, to misdirected expression of anger/grief. In each case however, two things are readily apparent. First, that the call for vengeance is predominantly theoretical and second, that these are reactions to the violation of the moral code and not the code itself.

I’m itching to jump into the next set of explorations dealing with guilt-redemption and scapegoating, but this text is already painfully long as it is. In any case, hopefully I will return at some point to find your musings on my thoughts. I hope that all is well with you in the meantime.
Best,

Marvin

Tyler Gagnon said...

Interesting points, Marvin. And thanks for reading!

While you are correct that moral codes— expectations of behavior— exist as a subset of morality, I'm not sure "action classification" is sufficient descriptor of what goes on. Morality, specifically as practiced by evangelicals, also consists of value judgments of thoughts and intentions.

I'd also like to challenge your suggestion that my beef is with moral code violations rather than with morality itself, or even moral codes. I do think it true that, most likely, individuals who adhere to a particular moral code will at some point break that code. Oh well.

My point is that morality (and, I suppose, moral codes as a subset thereof), has the effect in the mindsets and worldviews of (in this case) evangelical Christians of creating an "us and them" mentality which unreflectingly dehumanizes the other. It's a problem intrinsic to morality.

I think you're probably right that Mr. and Mrs. Bloodbath would probably not do any killing themselves, and I'm glad for that. But now we're debating the morality of murder. The danger isn't that they'd actually pull the trigger, but that their moral attitude that, for example, Iranian civilians are evil for not being Christians leads them to unreflectingly support wars, possible or actual, in which Iranian civilians are likely to be casualties.

You are correct that I've purposely ignored certain historic events, namely that Christians, many of them evangelicals, were a part of social reforms that helped restore dignity and humanity to particular groups of people— events such as women's suffrage or civil rights.

I don't particularly know whether the individuals involved in those movements were involved because their moral code told them to— it is possible to read the Bible such that it would seem to support slavery or misogyny or child abuse, and indeed, such readings were contemporary with the aforementioned movements— or out of their own sense of integrity.

If, however, those changes were effected due to something in the evangelical moral code, I wonder why the current evangelical hatred towards homosexuality and the rejection of homosexual individuals?

Thanks again for your comments. I hope you'll continue to read and participate in the conversation!

Marvin said...

Hmm, I think that perhaps my choice of terminology may have confused the issue. Let me back up and try to recapitulate in a more organized fashion:

Let us assume that you are the proud owner of a shiny new moral system. That moral system consists of a set of individual definitions (or “codes”) that you use to test your (and other folks’) actions. Take our favorite example of “thou shalt not kill.” The code itself serves to divide behavioral activities; you are either killin’ or not. That is, it forms a clean divisor for your behaviors into an “abiding” pile and a “not abiding” pile.

A complete moral system is composed of (ostensibly) logical combinations of these individual codes. So, as a simplistic example, “The Ten Commandments” is a moral system consisting of a series of ten “tests” of behavior. Using those tests, people’s behavior can be sorted. The sorting function of morality is fundamentally different from the consequences (explicit, implied, or added later by angry theologians and philosophers) attendant to “belonging” in one of those piles. That is, the statement that “thou shalt not kill” doesn’t contain any instructions on what to do with the folks that do kill, that gets added elsewhere.

Once we have that distinction firmly in hand it becomes clear that talking about Mr. and Mrs. Bloodbath’s propensities is not the same as discussing the morality of murder itself. We are discussing their responses toward folks that fall into a particular “bucket” by virtue of their behavior. In this case, a discussion of the mechanisms by which individuals are actually sorted into those buckets would be the true discussion of the morality of murder (e.g. where does killing to protect an innocent put you?).

By operating under the auspices of our distinction, we can see that the generation of an “us and them” mentality is not necessarily an intrinsic property of morality. As you rightly point out, folks with a moral code are just as likely to “break” it as the next person. Intuitively, most folks don’t drop themselves (or their strong ties, or even strangers) into the “them” box when they find themselves on the “wrong” side of a particular fence (even if for no other reason than blind rationalization). That is, a moral code only distinguishes between two categories of behavior; it doesn’t, by virtue of its existence, cause members of those boxes to act in any particular fashion toward one another.

cont.

Marvin said...

I would argue however, that although actionable moral codes do cause individuals to act, just not to act in a particular fashion. That is, a functional moral code will intrinsically elicit a response (as per my “identical scissors” example), just not a specific response. Rather, I think that a powerful argument can be made that responses are typically idiosyncratic. That is, a response to “violation” of a moral code can just as easily be comprised of gentleness, forgiveness, compassion, kindness, and patience as it can of condemnation, punishment, hatred, and cruelty. Someone who has killed can be treated by some folks with mercy and by others as a criminal. Both groups are using the same code to classify the behavior (i.e. “he done gone and killed somebody!”), but their responses to that classification can be widely varied.

Having said all that to say, that moral codes can just as easily serve to humanize and redeem as they can to dehumanize and condemn. As you note, evangelicals have been involved in a wide array of social justice movements throughout the centuries just as they have been involved in any number of misguided and destructive efforts. Of course it is possible to interpret the Bible in such a way so as to support all manner of ills up to and including genocide. On the other hand, you can just as easily interpret the Bible as a powerful advocate of social justice, forgiveness, and redemption. In either case, any student of theology, observer of the Supreme Court or parent of a teenager can tell you: just about anything can be interpreted to mean whatever you want if you are willing to try hard enough.

I’ll admit that I am puzzled by your final question and the assumptions that it (and several of your other comments) seem to imply. You seem to be conceptualizing evangelicals as some sort of holistic entity with uniform beliefs and behaviors. I would suggest that nothing could be further from the truth. We might play a rousing game of “counting denominations” as we wander down the streets of any town. The differences cross-culturally (between evangelicals in the US and in Southeast Asian nations for example) are even more profound.


Best,

Marvin

Tyler Gagnon said...

Thanks, Marvin, for clarifying. I think I understand your perspective better now.

I think your last comment, that evangelicals are diverse relates in a sense to my initial point; there is no morality that is really so simply as "thou shalt not kill." That neutral commandment isn't ever isolated in the way that morality is practiced. So, in a theoretical sense, I follow what you're saying about the way moral systems are structured.

In the example of Mr. and Mrs. Bloodbath, I'd argue that the problem is that for them, the commandment "thou shalt not kill" really means "thou shalt not kill the people thou considers to be good guys." What becomes problematic is what you described— the same moral code that's being understood in a nuanced way by Mr. and Mrs. Bloodbath is the one that's being used to define who the good guys and bad guys are.

So, while an "us and them" mentality may not be intrinsic to morality, neither is any self-referential, self-critical regulatory function. In other words, "thou shalt not kill" will always be so vague that it becomes almost meaningless to talk about it when discussing how people act.

I suppose that my entire argument here could be put as such: Morality isn't good or bad or necessary; it's irrelevant. I'm simply more interested in how people act, and if you're correct that a moral code, by virtue of its existence, can't cause people to act one way or another, I suppose I'm not all that interested in moral codes in and of themselves.

Maybe it's also sort of meaningless to describe evangelicals without specifying evangelicals from the late 20th and early 21st centuries in the northeast United States.

That said, here are two concerns (which contain some clarifications, I hope, of my thinking on this):

1) Given what we've discussed thus far, it seems to me that people will modify or interpret moral codes to fit what they already want to do or how they already tend to act. Furthermore, it seems like the existence of moral codes serves more to determine who's in the know (that is, understands a particular interpretation of the moral code) and who's not. What explains the sociological persistence of moral codes?

2) Regarding the homosexuality question I posed previously: At one point, evangelical or Christian moral codes seemed to favor fighting for the rights of the disenfranchised (for example, women who couldn't vote), but now seems to favor keeping a group disenfranchised (homosexual couples can't marry and are therefore denied shared health benefits or an alleviated tax burden). What changed in Christian notions of morality?

Finally, I'd like to say that I've enjoyed this conversation. It's helped me clarify my own position and even identify some questions I'd hadn't ever really put properly into words.

Marvin said...

Let me start by saying that I likewise have enjoyed this conversation. I’d also like to apologize in advance for the following post, because I suspect it will be fairly lengthy.

I’d like to begin by adding some nuance to my nuance: What I’ve been attempting to say isn’t that a moral code can’t cause people to act one way or another. On the contrary, a moral code will always cause people to act in some way. It will not, however, determine the specific act. In other words, when a person violates the code, “thou shalt not kill” their violation necessitates a response from those who adhere to that code. The content of that response is not determined by the code, only the response itself. I may be painting shadows on night sky here, but it strikes me as an important distinction.

Concern 1
I think that the variation in responses to moral code violations is an interesting area of exploration. I would posit the following as an initial thought experiment for your consideration: It is very difficult for the average person to perfectly balance and appropriately judge between orthogonal alternatives in any given situation. Sociologically speaking, it would therefore be more effective to give each alternative a “pure” advocate that competed with and balanced the others. This is (more or less) the fundamental logic behind democratic systems.

These systems, although composed of oppositional individuals/groups may hold balancing drives that are mutually exclusive but both vital to an overall central purpose. As a generic example (excuse the gross oversimplification for purposes of demonstration): The continuation of the species can be construed as an overarching “moral imperative” of the physical world. There are at least two oppositional components to the continuation of the species, survival of the fittest and sustenance of weak members.

Survival of the fittest leads to the strengthening the species by eliminating traits and genetic material that do not contribute to developing the strongest/biggest/fastest/smartest creature. By sustaining weak members however, the gene pool is wider and the species is better able to survive mutation/disease/changing conditions. Thus, although the drive for survival of the fittest is diametrically opposed to expending resources on sustaining weak members, both are necessary to attain the overarching goal of continuation of the species.

Too much emphasis on one might lead to very powerful creatures that don’t survive the next plague while too much emphasis on the other might lead to creatures that get wiped out by their next door
neighbors. An appropriate balance must be struck between the two competing drives. Now, what is true in biological constructions may just as easily be applied to sociological constructions. That is, a healthy and well-functioning society (or group) should consist of members that appropriately balance competing drives.

For example, in the case of the Bloodbaths, we have a pair of advocates for the “punish folks who kill other folks” paradigm. Elsewhere in the country we are likely to encounter an alternative couple (let’s call them the “Gandhis”) that advocate for the “forgive folks who kill other folks” paradigm. If we always went with the Bloodbaths, we’d always be killing other people. On the other hand, if we always went with the Gandhis, we’d always be getting killed. In order to function effectively from a practical standpoint, we need to have both responses as part of our social repertoire.

If we accept that balance is crucial to a thriving sociological state, it is easy to see both why moral codes have persisted and why different interpretations of identical codes are desirable (and even crucial) to healthy societal functioning. I would go so far as to argue that we can find these same functions at work inside our late 20th and early 21st century northeastern US evangelical communities (NEUSECs?). It’s a relatively simplistic way of organizing it, but I hope that it makes sense as a possible answer to your first concern.
cont.

Marvin said...

Concern 2
My instinctual answer to this question is that NEUSECs tend to be conflated (and to their detriment, conflate themselves) with conservative political establishments. I think that this alliance has arisen, at least in part, from a misunderstanding about the fundamental nature of the US Government and the constraints under which it must function. There is a popular cultural myth that the US is a Christian nation that is governed by fundamentally Christian rules and laws. This is true to the extent that the US government was formed from a predominantly Judeo-Christian standpoint with a decidedly influential Christian representation among the original founders.

However, the government was designed to represent, in many senses, a great truce. That is, the government was explicitly designed to be secular in the sense that the government would not interfere in religious practice, but nor could it favor any particular religious interpretation, rule, or practice. I’m assuming that you know all of this, so please bear with me as I trudge slowly onward toward the point.

Over the years, Supreme Court rulings and other legal statutes have removed many elements of the Judeo-Christian faith from what are technically government processes. As those elements had existed prior to that point, it is easy to see how those ruling may be interpreted as “against” Christianity. Now, I would admit that I find some of those rulings to be a bit absurd in their application, but the bottom line is that they aren’t unfair in accordance with the legal framework of the country. In any case, we have a stage that is set with “liberal attacks” on Christianity.

This brings us to the marriage issue. Typically there are two components to a marriage. First, there are legal statutes that determine joint ownership of property, tax liabilities, and etc. Second, there are the religious sacraments surrounding the tradition of marriage which may or may not (and probably not) be related to the legal statutes. I think that many NEUSECs believe that “legalizing gay marriage” (technically only the first component) means that they are going to have to allow gay people to get married in their church (the second component) in contravention of their beliefs.

So, we have a group of individuals that may already feel marginalized by the “removal” of Christianity from government that perhaps now mistakenly assumes that they will be forced to allow a practice that they do not agree with to occur on their home turf. From their perspective, opposing gay marriage isn’t necessarily about maintaining the disenfranchisement of a particular group. Rather, it is about (perhaps misguidedly) defending their beliefs from a perceived encroachment by the government. Couple this with traditional conservative rhetoric surrounding the limitation of government authority and Scriptural allusions to opposition and persecution, and we have a near perfect storm!

Of course, this is only one potential explanation, of which there are nearly as many as there are people. I have found in my own experience that evangelicals who actually know gay individuals on a personal level are much less likely to oppose gay rights even if they do not agree with the homosexual orientation. Perhaps it could also be explained as fear of the unknown? In any event, I think that these examples can be taken as alternative conceptualizations of evangelical behavior (even if construed as a unitary whole) that do not necessarily involve the frame of disenfranchisement (or perhaps, involve it in the opposite direction).

Whew! Too long I know! I'm stopping now!

Jamie said...

You start by clarifying how you think about morality. Good idea. Unfortunately how you think about morality is not at all how the traditional Western patrimony has regarded it. So that's a problem. You're defining morality in shallow ways (including how some evangelicals might understand it), and then critiquing it.

Try quoting an actual definition of morality by a moralist and critique that.

I understand morality as doing what's right according to my own internal sense of right of wrong. Oh wait, that's how you understand it too...But you don't call that morality.

Classical ethicists would root morality predominantly in conscience. The conscience is an habitual or reflexive practical judgment as to the rightness or wrongness of an act. The conscience is informed and responds. It's really just a particular function of the intellect.