All your life, you’ve been told about “good” and “bad,” “should” and “shouldn’t”—about what it means to be moral. And much of what you’ve been told about this is dead wrong.
“You shouldn’t be selfish”—“You should put others first”—“It’s more blessed to give than to receive.” Such claims are false. And their falseness is not an opinion. It is a demonstrable fact.
As we will see, there is a fact-based reason why you should be selfish—in the actual, rational meaning of that term. Selfishness does not mean “stabbing people in the back to get what you want” or “doing whatever you feel like doing regardless of facts or consequences.” Rather, it means thinking rationally, pursuing the goals that will make your life the best it can be, and respecting the rights of other people to do the same.
If you’ve attended church or synagogue, you’ve likely been told that self-sacrifice is a virtue and that self-interest is a vice. Both claims are false. If self-sacrifice were a virtue, then to be fully virtuous, you would have to sacrifice yourself fully and die—as, according to the Bible, Jesus did. Likewise, if self-interest were a vice, then eating, breathing, thinking, and generally taking care of yourself would be wrong. The idea is absurd.
If you were raised in a religious environment, you’ve probably heard the biblical story in which Abraham was willing to sacrifice his beloved son, Isaac, because God ordered him to do so. For this obedience, Jews, Christians, and Muslims regard Abraham as one of the most moral men who ever lived. In reality, however, a man who is willing to kill his son because “a voice in the sky” tells him to is evil (if not psychotic).
Being moral does not consist in being selfless or sacrificing for others or obeying “God” or anything of the sort. This is why those who claim that being moral does consist in such actions never provide evidence to support their assertions. They can’t. Instead, as you may have noticed, they expect you to accept their assertions because “that’s the general consensus,” or because “I know this by faith,” or because “who are you to challenge tradition or your elders?”
But neither consensus nor faith nor tradition nor elders is the standard of truth. It used to be the general consensus in America that slavery should be legal. That doesn’t mean it should have been. Likewise, some people have faith that they should kill you if you refuse to accept their religion. That doesn’t mean they should. And you know of many instances in which traditional ideas and those of your elders have been wrong. The earth is flat? Not so. A woman turned into a pillar of salt? Can’t happen. A snake spoke? Perhaps in the Harry Potter series—otherwise, no.
Truth is not a matter of counting opinions or just believing or asking elders. Truth is recognition of reality. To grasp it, we must observe reality—and think.
What, then, is the truth about morality? I’m not going to tell you. Or, to be exact, I’m not going to push some new consensus-based or faith-based or authority-based dogma on you. You’ve been spoon-fed dogma about morality all your life. You don’t need more of that. Instead, I’m going to show you how to discover the truth about morality for yourself. I’m going to show you how to derive valid moral principles from observable facts. And, best of all, I’m going to show you that such principles are guides—not to sacrificing your values—but to achieving them.