Morality: Nature’s Crowning Achievement, The Making of our Moral Compass

Bill Wilson

Publisher: AuthorHouse Pages: 130 Price: (paperback) $14.34 ISBN: 9781728376608 Reviewed: August, 2023 Author Website: Visit »

Bill Wilson’s slim volume explores the constituent elements of morality, incorporating aspects of philosophy, theology, psychology, and sociology. It’s written in an accessible style and doesn’t require any particular academic background on the part of readers.

Central to Wilson’s project is dismantling the idea that morality requires a religious foundation. Although the author is himself well-versed in religious traditions, he’s also keenly aware of the global decline in religious beliefs. If morality were to require religion, then morality would be equally and alarmingly in decline, but Wilson argues that morality isn’t a theological commandment but rather a socio-psychological adaptation. Individual welfare requires the cooperation of others, which provides a foundation for empathy and altruism. All else follows from that.

Wilson’s analysis isn’t deep or original, but for the intended audience, it’s effective. Lay readers averse to more tedious academic volumes can still grasp and consider his arguments. The tradeoff is that professional ethicists will see this as an over-simplification, but an accessible argument debunking the necessity of religion for a moral life is nonetheless a useful tool to combat fundamentalists.

There are some oversights. The biological, cultural, social, and psychological sources of morality actually don’t, in themselves, provide any logical justification for its existence (a variation of what philosophers call the “naturalistic fallacy”). Wilson also doesn’t address the wide expanse of available argument between major ethical theories. Even the details of a specific moral theory never take shape; instead, the author spends the back half of the book enumerating and describing moral parables from religion, literature, and historical paragons of moral life in a lengthy section that feels like filler.

Morality doesn’t penetrate the surface of its topic enough to qualify as the sort of thought-provoking text appealing to the average philosophy student. Nonetheless, it’s lack of technical writing earns it a place among the stack of books that students might recommend to religious hardliners with whom they find themselves locked in debate.

Also available as an ebook.

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