A cooperative society is one where individuals share values. Either these are extrinsic, we are told to share values given to us by priests, kings, or governments. Or these are intrinsic, where we innately value certain things, and we tend to form groups of people who value the same things to the same extent that we do. Whether this is the value of materials, of labor, or of abstract things like morals, makes no difference. John Locke held that we could know of morals either by inscription, tradition, sense-experience, or revelation, of which he rejected all but sense-experience.
Beyond constitutional law, or religious edict, or messianic prophecy, there is an individual covenant with God that constitutes natural law superseding all man-made ones. Break a man-made law and you go to jail. Break a natural law and you go to hell. Belief in natural law is belief in God and constitutes the bedrock of forming a civil society that confers religious freedom and recognizes no right over an individual’s path to spiritual salvation. He was convinced that morality was a science, and that if we used our faculty of reason, we would realize that we agreed with each other on these abstract ideas.
Put differently, a civil society can be formed by those individuals who do agree on these abstract ideas, once they have put in the intelligent personal inquiry, introspection and reason required to hold these moral beliefs strongly in every fiber of the body. For instance, you may believe that murder is wrong because it is so said in the 10 commandments, or it is pronounced illegal by the state. A superior moral belief is belief that murder is wrong as a natural law, that in the absence of any constitution or religion, it would still be wrong.
One type of person who believes this is he who believes God will punish him in hell for it. I believe, like Voldemort’s horcrux, that murder will tear apart my psychology and relegate me to a descent into my own personal hell, one that requires no supernatural god or devil. There are many people who feel similarly that murder will punish them, and we are all a good match to form a civil society together, bound not by man-made laws but by the laws of nature, given that we are creatures of nature and therefore have received this conviction in the law from nature itself. So our individual differences manifest in many individual preferences, like our various routes for the pursuit of happiness, but then there is an abstracted layer of commonality above this, on which we are all agreed, and these are the laws of nature.
Our moral journey is therefore one to find that layer of natural law. Each time we find a natural law in a small group of people, that is then contradictory when we expand the group, we have thus far assumed the other is wrong, or allowed for moral relativism, agreeing to disagree. What we haven’t done is to level the playing field. Moral relativism is only pluralism that has been purified in process. By process I mean this honest exploration and discovery of moral systems through sense-experience.
If 10 of us in our spiritual village meditate for 10 years and discover our moral compass, then move to the next village which is a tyrannical dictatorship whose monarch dictates those morals that make him rich, then our moral pluralism and relativism are both flawed. There are many right answers, yes pluralism is fine. But there are also many wrong answers, and we cannot begin to consign relativism to pluralism until we’re convinced that the process has honestly weeded out the wrong answers (inscription, tradition, word of authority).
So if the concept of value stays the same regardless of money, objects, or morals, then can we not follow the trajectory of economic value in order to better understand moral value? Economic value began with the barter system. A system of surplus and need. As goods increased, there needed a better system of exchange. This is similar to population diversity increasing, and there needing to be a common moral system that would help us transact as communities. With money, we didn’t need to agree with one another on the exchange rate between rice and shoes, nor did we need to find one another. We could simply agree on the use of money, and the market would determine individually the exchange rate between money and my good.
Then we went over to the next country, which had its own money, and now we needed to work out an exchange rate between our money and theirs. For the most part we used gold, a super-currency, for which our money was just another good to be bought and sold. But soon we realized that with increasingly efficient markets and high transactions, we didn’t need any super-currency, and that money was simply a medium of exchange (not a store of value) and hence the market would sort it all out itself.
Similarly, god is a medium of exchange that allows us to agree on transactions. Instead we’ve made God a store of value, and that’s trouble, because then someone has to assign that value, and we must all agree to it, and it must never change unless we all agree to it changing. If we encounter a different community with a different store of value for their idea of God, then we need to find a super-God, a store of value like Gold, which then becomes the medium of exchange between the two Gods.
So when does this God disappear, like the Gold standard? When we build a market efficient enough to facilitate transactions between the two communities, making it clear that god is simply a medium of exchange, a notional quantity, and not a store of value. This is because there is no such thing as objective value, only a set of exchange rates that allows us to transact, cooperate and coexist.
Money and the gold standard exist, not because we want them, but because they are an independent court of justice. If I exchange my rice for your mango, and then find that noone will buy my mango, and I am stuck with it, or if I sell my rice for 5$ and find that this 5$ is worth 2$ back home, and I get half the rice I had before, then I’m too uncertain and skeptical to engage in transactions, thus making both buyer and seller worse off, with unrealized gains from trade.
The key difference we take for granted today is that we know for sure every single person we encounter in an economic transaction will acknowledge the concept of money. There is no outlet on earth that needs to say ‘we accept money in exchange for goods and services’. The less we can take this for granted, the fewer transactions we’re comfortable engaging in, and the less cooperation there is in society.
Similarly, the moral market requires things that are taken for granted, things that not only I believe but that I am sure you and everyone else believes. The fewer items there are that I can take for granted, the fewer opportunities for comfortable transaction and cooperation. If I can’t take for granted that you believe murder is wrong, I don’t hang out with you. Religion, therefore, isn’t as much a path to order as it is a path to convincing others of your knowledge of the rules, and the establishment of the many points that can be taken for granted between us.