The Philosophy Café

Roots of Morality


April 28, 2014
7:30 PM


Used Books Department
1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138


This event is free; no tickets are required.

This month's topic is Roots of Morality.

What is it?

Where does it come from?

What makes it right?

What is your morality? Do you have an overall name for your moral philosophy, your sense of right and wrong, like Christianity, Buddhism, or humanism? If it doesn’t come from God, would you say your morality comes from a common human sense of right and wrong, good and bad? Maybe a sense we’re all constantly working out—though we have had some good results, like outlawing slavery, that seem to show we’re making moral progress. Do you believe that we move toward an ideal of goodness, or of doing better?

Do you have Ten Commandments (or rules) to live by, yourself? How are they for and against the Ten Commandments? Thou shalt not kill—or murder—most of us would probably agree with, but how about Thou shalt not commit adultery? You might have one Commandment—Be good—but that wouldn’t say much about what people and acts you see as bad, or good.

What’s going on when you disagree, for example, with someone who believes adulterers should be stoned to death, or with a suicide bomber? Or in a more ordinary way, when you see someone act meanly, or unfairly, or otherwise do something wrong. Maybe when they shouldn’t eat meat, they do. What’s the difference between a bad person and one who acts from a sincere belief that what they’re doing is good, or at least permitted? Can they be persuaded to see the truth, or to see it your way? You try sometimes to convince people to change course, and steer more toward the right and the good. How do you do this? Is changing people, or trying to, part of your moral duty?

Where do we go from here? Even if we have a beautiful moral vision, will it win in the end? Will we succeed in passing it on? Will society ultimately improve, because of what we say and do here? Is that what’s most important?

We teach morality by example, and with principles, and the working out of principles in arguments and stories, not to mention life. Can we teach it with religion? Is there such a thing as religion, or faith, without God? Faith in what, whom? Ourselves? Our developing ideals? Is that the direction of progress?

Used Books Department
1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138

Walking from the Harvard Square T station: 2 minutes

As you exit the station, reverse your direction and walk east along Mass. Ave. in front of the Cambridge Savings Bank. Cross Dunster St. and proceed along Mass. Ave for three more blocks. You will pass Au Bon Pain, JP Licks, and the Adidas Store. Harvard Book Store is located at the corner of Mass. Ave. and Plympton St.

Event Series: Philosophy Café

The Philosophy Café is a monthly gathering meant for the informal, relaxed, philosophical discussion of topics of mutual interest to participants. No particular expertise is required to participate, only a desire to explore philosophy and its real-world applications. Each month's topic with suggested readings is posted in advance. More information can be found at

The Philosophy Café is generally held on the last Monday of each month (September through June) at 7:30 in the Used Book department on the lower level of Harvard Book Store. (Date and time subject to change.) The discussion will end at 9pm.

Space and chairs are limited. Please plan to arrive early.

General Info
(617) 661-1515

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