Prescriptions without Descriptions


The largest moral force in today’s world is culture, and the prevailing moral attitude of culture is one of non-explanation. Culture tells people that morality is whatever culture has defined to be moral. As a result, while many people have strong beliefs about what is right and wrong, they can seldom provide reasons for their beliefs that are based in what causes good or bad things to happen. Instead, they embrace the philosophy of “it just is that way.” It is the philosophy of a people that have decided that whatever they were taught is self-evidently right and no other justification should be expressed. Consider the mindset of people that think in this way. “You should give money to beggars.” Why? “It’s the right thing to do.” “You shouldn’t curse.” Why? “It isn’t nice.” Whether or not charity is good or profanity is bad is not the issue. The issue is that a widespread opinion that something is right or wrong does not make it so.


“Prescriptions without descriptions” is a term I use for instructions or suggestions from people that believe they know what ought to happen but can’t define why. It is a reference to the beliefs of a world that can prescribe behavior but can’t describe goodness. It refers to how people “know” their morals are correct, but can’t or won’t say how those morals conform to reality. These people typically just automatically accept the ideals of their family as true. Ironically, they also tend to fervently denounce relativism, the theory that values are relative to the groups holding them.


Imagine what happens when the philosophy behind “prescriptions without descriptions” is the environment for children growing up trying to learn truth, value, and purpose. Imagine the discourse between a child and others in such an environment. (You don’t actually have to imagine this; it is currently happening everywhere.) Why should I read a book you recommend? It’s a classic. Why should I eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day? It’s a tradition. Why should I be pressured to play with others when I’m fine playing by myself? That’s not normal. Why do I have to make up my bed? I said so. Why should I wear socks that barely go above my shoes? It’s popular. Why should I volunteer my time to get into some academic club? It’s an “honor.” Why should I wake up early Sunday mornings, put on uncomfortable clothes, and shout praises to God? You’re supposed to. What reason is there to believe in such a being? Just have faith. Why should I pledge allegiance to the flag? It’s your country. Why should I pledge allegiance to my country? You have a “duty” to it. Why should I love my parents or government when they restrict my freedom for very poor reasons? You’re supposed to.


The barrage of naturalistic fallacies and statements that declare rightness without reason never ends. Very few children are able to withstand such an assault. Most succumb to the culture and begin to automatically follow the morals dictated to them. These people, having lost sight of the fact that what is right can only be defined by positive consequences in reality, often spend their lives frustrated to find that the values and actions they believe to be right don’t always cause a good life to them. They fail to develop their cognition or awareness, because they rely on automatic explanations rather than to understand reasons for knowledge and actions. Also, since they don’t know any better, they perpetuate this cycle of ignorance to another generation that will come to agree that value and purpose are not things for individuals to decide. It takes a great desire for truth over comfort for a person to risk the acceptance of his or her community and question the automatic prescriptions of culture.