Looking for morality...
This is a tough question, for anyone - tough to answer, tough to explain, in a convincing way. And it has the same toughness as more obviously controversial questions relating to the objectivity of beauty and aesthetic quality
I take it that readers of this blog will recognise that morality is - in some sense - real, and not merely 'a matter of opinion'. But what kind of real is the tough one.
I remember before I became a Christian, I had a deep conviction of the reality and necessity of truth (and beauty) - but I found it hard to imagine the reality of The Cosmos - stars and planets, inter-stellar gases, great chunks of rock... and to ask, where could be the morals in that?
If physics was true, then how could there be such a thing as morality? Where could it be hiding? Inside each atom? In the pattern of everything? Wherever 'a moral' might be located, it seemed undetectable by our instruments, and got left-out by all the theories without any apparent harm to them.
But even after I became a Christian, I could not avoid a discomfort about the explanations of where morality came from. From what God said, as transmitted in scripture, as transmitted in the institution/ authority/ traditions of the church - or its leaders, or ordained priests, or by the work of theologians.
All of these seemed to envisage morality as ultimately a collection of laws - being imposed-upon that same universe that physics was describing. Two things - the cosmos, and the 'legal system' that God applied (by various hypothesised proxy mechanisms) onto the humans dwelling-among an otherwise inert collection of rock, fire, gases...
I find this an incoherent, hence unsatisfactory, account of reality. God created physics (and all the dead stuff), then some living things, then Man - and only near the end did morality get added-to the creation, plastered on the surface - as it were... Is that supposed to be how morality works?
Of course nobody would admit to believing exactly such an exaggerated caricature - but it does have the contours of what is a normal way of understanding morality. Morality is a system of rules that God has decided-upon for Men; and we read of these rules in scriptures and catechisms, from which we ought to derive our laws and social practices... something like that is the ideal, but what an unsatisfactory, detached, arbitrary way of comprehending morality!
But doing better than this is impossible unless we discard the usual physics-picture of the cosmos. If morality is really to be felt as an integral part of God's creation - then it must permeate every-thing; and for every-thing to be moral means that everything is alive, and conscious to the extent of capable of moral behaviours...
More than that, everything must be an intrinsically moral entity.
Once we have that picture in our minds - a picture of cosmos as consisting of living, moral Beings; there ceases to be a deep problem of 'where morality is located': morality is located in Beings.
Thus, men are moral because everything in creation is moral (and there are no 'things').
And morality ceases to be a set of laws, various transmitted, variously implemented - and instead morality is known by every thing/ Being in creation.
If morality is to be understood as an intrinsic part of reality, then there are no Things, only Beings.
So - we all, every-thing, knows morality - because it is built-into us; but what differs is how explicit, how self-conscious we are about it. What differs (in the first place) is whether we know consciously what we know from its reality.
It is from this that we get the multi-layered aspect of morality. There is the built-in morality that we understand in the sense of living-it; then the morality which is known consciously. Then there is the expression of this conscious knowledge of morality in communication with our-self, and then the communication of this to others.
While we all share the same universal morality (and we share that with every-thing/ every-Being) - there is incompleteness of conscious knowledge, and even greater incompleteness of its expression and communication.
And we may consciously go-against that morality. The more conscious the Being, the greater the degree to which the universal morality may be denied or broken.
In the end, however, we are left with the practical human, societal problem of what to do about disagreement in morals. It is true that morals are the same for everybody - but even among honest people there is different self-knowledge about morals, based on different degrees of capacity and self knowledge - and this is compounded by the problems and constraints of communication.
On top of this is the problem of dishonesty, of sin; whereby people deny what they know is true morally, where they propose what they know to be false morals - and do so for some evil reason.
Conversation about morality often circles around the problem of developing moral consensus, or persuading people to stick to a moral code or practice - or what to do about people that claim not to know or deny morality.
What we do about morality in practice will depend on the actuality of a specific society - for example, it is hard even to imagine anything moral coming from modern Western society - hard to imagine any 'system' that would identify and implement moral behaviour, given the degree of dishonesty, corruption and inversion among the people (and especially the leadership).
If people do not want to be moral, then they won't be moral - at most they may be compelled to behave (passively) in a particular way - but, even then, there has to be moral beings to do the compelling; and those in a position to compel nowadays, are (as a generalisation) among the most depraved of all people, ever.
In sum, here-and-now I don't think we can focus on morality in practice, except for ourselves and perhaps our immediate circle. The main challenge is to acknowledge the reality and universality of morality. And to do this requires a very fundamental metaphysical reconstruction - a change in how we understand the reality of creation.