Stephen Seminar Number 1: Richard Chemaly on ‘Facts and Moral Landscape’

Richard Chemaly

In this following number of weeks I will be blogging about a new Series of Seminars that the Department of Philosophy at the University of the Freestate will host. They are called the “Stephen Seminars” in memoriam of Stephen Pitchers that passed away in the Winter holidays. Stephen was a junior lecturer at the Department of Philosophy at the University of the Freestate and to everybody who knew him Stephen was synonymous with philosophy, hence the name “Stephen Seminars”.


With the first Stephen Seminar that took place today (2011/08/03) at 14h00 in the FGG377 lecture hall Richard Chemaly was introduced as the guest speaker talking on ‘Facts and Moral Landscape’, and with that discussion started.

Cracking open a Castle Light, mainly because of nervousness, Richard asked whether it is morally correct to drink in public even it is not allowed on the Campus of the University of the Freestate? Is it?

With this introductory illustration he started and went further by asking three fundamental questions; 
1. What is morality? 
2. What is morally correct?
3. How practical is morality?

On what morality is consensus was reached that it is a guiding factor to what is good. Fairly simple on the face of it, but coming to the next question sparks started to fly. On what is morally correct Richard pointed out that morality differs for everybody because everybody was brought up differently with different influences from Sociological right through to Theological perspectives. This contributes to the ‘correctness’ of each persons morality and thus what is morally correct will differ from one to another. Moreover he also established that there can be no field of expertise in Morality as there can be in the Medical field, for where the medical is scientific and specific the moral is subjective and open to change. On the practicality of morality there was said that morals is a very practical thing and society needs it to function in an orderly manner. 

With the stage set Richard opened a can of worms when he uttered that he believes that there can and should be a universal entity/value out there that would be applicable to all moral values, i.e. a universal morality. He connected this universal theme to human flourishing.  

So for him human flourishing is a universally accepted guiding principal behind morality. If one flourishes, it can then be said that one is moral. 

With this statement I cant agree. What is the means in order to flourish aren’t present? How would a person. then be able to live morally? And maybe more importantly, by what standard is this ‘flourishing’ being measured? 

Say for instance you are perfectly content with your circumstances as they are and you have no need to improve or move forward, according to Richard you would then live immoral. 

With all the discussion that took place one thing stood out for me in order to live a moral life, and that was choice. If you take away a persons choice in any matter you take  away that persons morality and you could justify that person as a mere puppet of your hand. So looking back to a universal guiding factor for morality I would reject ‘human flourishing’ and rather propose ‘choice’ as a guiding factor in order to live a moral life.

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