Från en intervju med A C Grayling i The Freethinker.
"PB: Without an objective moral arbiter, how can we make meaningful moral judgements, and furthermore, how can we justify them?
ACG: It is actually very easy to identify and to act upon the moral baselines. Moral baselines derive from our understanding of what it is to be human and what human beings need to flourish. For example, at a minimum people need food, they need somewhere comfortable, dry and warm to be, they need friendship, they need opportunities to use their intelligence, because we’re a highly intelligent species. People need opportunities to develop, they need time to rest and benefit from the creativity of leisure, they need safety, and they need social bonds.
We know all these things, and if you look at human rights instruments like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, what they say is what the minimum requirements are for opening a space around individuals, so that they can use their abilities to do things that are good and satisfying for them.
So this very basic understanding of what it is to be human, along with what we dislike, what we want to avoid, what we need, what we benefit from, tells us something about what our obligations are to other people. It tells us how we should respond to them, and on the basis of that, how to deal with more complicated and sophisticated matters, including recognising that other people have interests and needs that we may not share, understand or even like – while recognising that they have a right to them.
That’s where the hard work of being tolerant towards other people comes in. We all think we’re tolerant, but that’s because we usually don’t really mind what others are doing. It’s when we do mind and yet we’ve got to let other people have their margin to be their own way, that we know what’s needed to be tolerant. So we have to start with our most sympathetic understanding of human nature and the human condition, and work from that to a livable system."