By Daniel A. Kaufman
On several occasions, I have described moral ‘oughts’ directed towards others as an invitation to self-governance. Moral Realism is a bust, so these oughts don’t derive from some transcendent moral order, and regardless, whether or not morals can be construed as objective or “Real” turns out not to matter.  When we tell someone that they ought to X, in the moral sense of ‘ought’, what we are essentially saying is “Self regulate with regard to X, or we will do it for you.”
These sorts of imperatives only have force, then, when the person uttering them either (a) enjoys significant consensus as to the significance of X or (b) when the person uttering them enjoys sufficient standing or power on his or her own. Lacking either (a) or (b) means the imperative, as directed towards others, is a bluff and consequently, empty. Or at best, the expression of a wish.
But what about ‘oughts’ directed towards oneself? I find useful what Mill says in Utilitarianism regarding the “ultimate sanction” of morality, at the beginning of Chapter 3.
Of … external sanctions it is not necessary to speak at any length. They are, the hope of favour and the fear of displeasure from our fellow creatures or from the Ruler of the Universe…
The internal sanction of duty, whatever our standard of duty may be, is one and the same—a feeling in our own mind; a pain, more or less intense, attendant on violation of duty…
Also useful is something that Christine Korsgaard says in her masterpiece, The Sources of Normativity (Cambridge University Press, 1996): “A view of what you ought to do is a view of who you are.” (p. 117)
If morals directed towards us from others are an invitation to self-governance, in conformity with a significant consensus among them as to the kind of person one should be, then morals directed towards ourselves are a matter of what kind of person we think we should be. What is the force of this ‘should’? It is the force that comes from what we can and cannot stomach in ourselves; that which makes a glance in the mirror a pleasurable experience as opposed to a nauseating one.
What determines which characteristics and actions will cause a person to loathe or love him or herself? Undoubtedly, our feelings as to whether we are lovable or loathsome will have to do somewhat with the “morals” of others, by which I mean whatever consensus obtains among our intimates and peers and even the broader society as to the kinds of people they think we should be. (And it is worth noting that this is all that moral codes – as one finds in the Bible and other such places – are: reflections of some consensus among some people as to how people should be.) Equally undoubtedly, it also will have to do somewhat with our “nature,” by which I mean our biological and genetic make-up. And finally – and also equally undoubtedly – it will have to do with our individual development and experience; the distinctive path our respective lives have taken from birth.
What this means is that what determines what one will find admirable or loathsome in oneself is only partly – barely, really – subject to generalization and thus, to philosophical treatment. The biological “human nature” component is somewhat generalizable, but its role is indirect and indeterminate and always will be, given that reductive materialism is a no-go. The social dimension is also somewhat generalizable, but will vary significantly, depending on one’s circle of intimates and broader community. Regardless, so many of the remaining elements are particular and specific that the intersection of these broader, generalizable components with the particular, individual ones will yield a particular, individual result.
In what is likely the best of the Star Trek series – Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (which ran from 1996 -1999) – there is a remarkable episode, “In the Pale Moonlight,” in which the main lead, Captain Benjamin Sisko (played by Avery Brooks), is in charge of the galactic Federation’s losing war effort against an overwhelming and tyrannical enemy called “The Dominion.” The episode tells the story of how Sisko works with an alien spy to trick a major power into entering the war on the side of the Federation. In doing so, he must lie, steal, bribe, and even have a low-level criminal killed. Brooks summarizes this in a monologue at the end of the episode, in which he says, “I think I can live with it, and if I had to do it again, I would.”
And that’s what being moral ultimately comes down to. What can each of us live with? The mistake we make is in thinking that “morality” somehow determines this, when in fact, it is what determines morality.
 I make the case for this in “Value and Objectivity.”