A very smart family member whom I admire recently shared this quote on Facebook:
My response was this:
It doesn’t take a moral law to recognize suffering. It doesn’t take a moral law to recognize enjoyment. It therefore doesn’t take a moral law to recognize someone taking enjoyment from the suffering of others. It doesn’t require a moral law to care about your friends' and family members’ well-being. It therefore doesn’t require a moral law to dislike the idea of someone taking enjoyment from your suffering or that of your friends and family members. It doesn’t require a moral law to feel a sense of small friendship with a stranger who smiles at you as she rings up your purchases at the grocery store, or one who says, “Here, let me get that door for you” when your hands are full. It therefore does not require a moral law to dislike the idea of someone taking pleasure in the suffering of strangers.
Cruelty and exploitation and spitefulness are not Evil, but they are evils with a lowercase “e,” and they don’t require a moral law to recognize. They only require empathy, which is a quality readily observed in almost all social animals.
When we require adherence to a moral law that is given by a law-giver, we de-emphasize the importance of empathy. And we enable power-hungry people to further undermine empathy through the creation of cruel laws.
We do not have or need laws to enforce morality. We have and need them because some individuals lack sufficient empathy and/or understanding to behave in a manner that avoids unnecessary suffering. And since laws can cause unintended suffering or even deliberate suffering, they cannot be regarded as the embodiment of morality. Rather, they are a necessary evil which we must always regard through the watchful lens of our empathy.
One is, of course, perfectly welcome to believe that empathy has a higher source. But if so, then having granted us empathy, that source has also granted us the only need for and path toward law that is required. Any declaration of a moral law distinct from empathy is therefore unable to prove itself in the way that the author of the quote attempts to demonstrate. It may be accepted as a given by those who so choose. But in mathematical and logical proofs, we should remember that what is given is by definition not proven.
I thought I demonstrated a lot of empathy by writing it that way instead of just saying, "I call B.S. on this quote."