3 of 12
3
Is There Any Hope For Morals In A Non-Religious World?
Posted: 16 November 2006 06:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 31 ]  
Member
Avatar
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  765
Joined  2006-08-16

[quote author=“Publius”]Do you agree that “Thou shalt not murder” is a justified command?  Some think it’s justified because God commanded it.  I do not.  If the command is justified, what justifies it?

Kant would say it is justified because to murder someone is to use them as a means to some end, violating his Formula of the End Itself.

 Signature 

“Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” - Voltaire

“Rational arguments do not work on religious people, otherwise there would be no religious people.”—Dr. House

Profile
 
 
Posted: 16 November 2006 06:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 32 ]  
Member
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  334
Joined  2006-11-06
[quote author=“Thomas Orr”][quote author=“publius”]First I reiterate my position: science cannot be the ground for ethics

Agree. My common sense ethics are grounded in the feelings of emphaty and compassion, and wishing well to my friends, family, children and humanity. It is actually amazing how easy and how well people can agree on those principles unless, of course, their common sense and ability to think for themselves are compromised by religion.

So ethics are grounded in our feelings but the implementation must be grounded in common sense and science. Without that you will have Christians who consider charity the sign of love yet do nothing to address the social problems underlying the need for charity in the first place.

Thomas Orr

See my reply to Salty…it’s great that you have these ethical dispositions, but that’s not any sort of rational or reasoned basis for a viewpoint.  Face it, you really are just as dogmatic as the fundamentalist.  For you ethics can’t be explained or justified in any rational sort of way.  For you, it’s just your subjective dispositions that ground ethics.  Worse still is your unwaivering faith that tomorrow science will provide you with the answers.  But the evidence suggests that science is impotent to do this.

Let’s get concrete.  Take for example a recent debate in England over euthanizing seriously disabled newborn babies.  Having compassion and feelings of benevolance is no substitute for good ethical reasoning.  (And as for religion corrupting common sense, it’s not at all clear that common sense is pure to begin with.)  The Anglican Church has come down in favor of euthanizing severely disabled babies.  (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2087-2450134,00.html)  Do you agree or disagree?  If yes, why yes?  If not, why not?  Since you’ve abandoned any theistic beliefs, presumably you are well equipped (or better equipped than a theist) to provided a reasoned basis for the position.  If you can’t provide a reasoned basis, then what is the worth of your secularity?

Profile
 
 
Posted: 16 November 2006 06:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 33 ]  
Member
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  334
Joined  2006-11-06

[quote author=“camanintx”][quote author=“Publius”]Do you agree that “Thou shalt not murder” is a justified command?  Some think it’s justified because God commanded it.  I do not.  If the command is justified, what justifies it?

Kant would say it is justified because to murder someone is to use them as a means to some end, violating his Formula of the End Itself.

Why shouldn’t one use people as means?  (And the formula for an end in itself doesn’t say what you think it does.  It says don’t use people merely as a means.  That “merely” is critical.)  Two further points.  First, let us suppose that you’ll come back to me with a knock down sort of point justifying that one shouldn’t treat people as mere means, is that a scientific point or a philosophical one?  If the latter, then it’s time we gave up this absurd notion that science tells us anything about ethics.

Second, Kant would never attempt to ground any of his principles or judgments in facts relating to human suffering or human happiness.  For that would render the categorical imperatives merely conditional and undermine his system.  A utilitarian might do this.  Indeed, it seems to me that Harris is best read as taking a kind of utilitarian view.  Thus, he emphasizes decreasing suffering (thereby increasing utility).  But here’s the problematic twist.  If most people are happier with religion, then doesn’t Harris’ philosophy militate in favor of religion?

Profile
 
 
Posted: 16 November 2006 06:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 34 ]  
Sr. Member
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  5404
Joined  2006-09-27
[quote author=“Publius”]In what way are you different from a religious fundamentalist?  The Christian fundamentalist assures me that Jesus has entered his heart and that right and wrong are clear to him.  You offer me common sense and then a rejection of Kant, without argument.  You’ve simply substituted “Jesus” for “common sense”.  Indeed, your position strikes as being far more suspect that the fundamentalist because you claim a world completely grounded in reason and yet fail to give any sort of meaningful argument or discussion or analysis of how ethis is possible.

Publius, there’s a whole universe of scientific thinking that you appear either not to know about or to dismiss out of hand. Your reliance on philosophy (“just think about the problem and you can figure it out”) is outdated now.

Ethologists already give careful consideration to the idea that people evolved “moral” reasoning a long time ago in small family groups, clans, and tribes. The reasoning is that in such a small group, another individual is likely to be either (a) related to you (b) someone you are likely to meet up with repeatedly or (c) both. The soundness of treating that individual in such a way that reciprocity will not threaten you is not all that far-fetched, is it.

Epithets of “fundamentalism” hurled at scientists for their sensibilities about what can and cannot be investigated are by now becoming old hat. Coming from one committed to philosophical traditions, such an accusation hardly amounts to more than the charcoal calling the rainbow black.

 Signature 

INVEST in cynicism!

Profile
 
 
Posted: 16 November 2006 08:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 35 ]  
Member
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  119
Joined  2006-10-29
[quote author=“Publius”]...But here’s the problematic twist.  If most people are happier with religion, then doesn’t Harris’ philosophy militate in favor of religion?

The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one.
  -George Bernard Shaw

Profile
 
 
Posted: 16 November 2006 08:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 36 ]  
Sr. Member
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  5404
Joined  2006-09-27
[quote author=“Publius”]Second, Kant would never attempt to ground any of his principles or judgments in facts relating to human suffering or human happiness.  For that would render the categorical imperatives merely conditional and undermine his system.

Good grief. Here is a real wolf in sheep’s clothing, excuse the biblical reference. Very stealthy. Except now, instead of saying we have an absolute principle for morality because God said so, we now have one established because Kant said so. Oh, dearie, dearie me. Must not have our systems of principles or judgements being undermined with mere facts.

Somebody please tell my how to distinguish this kind of thinking from religion, other than that the word “God”, whatever the heck that means, is not used.

Unless, of course, Publius is making a grand joke at my expense.

[quote author=“Publius”]In what way are you different from a religious fundamentalist?  The Christian fundamentalist assures me that Jesus has entered his heart and that right and wrong are clear to him.

In the sense that I look outside the confines of my subjective consciousness for evidence of what right and wrong might mean. Evidence in the “common” ways that people behave. Life after God does not offer us much in the way of guarantees, does it? Why not get used to the idea?

 Signature 

INVEST in cynicism!

Profile
 
 
Posted: 16 November 2006 12:58 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 37 ]  
Member
Avatar
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  765
Joined  2006-08-16

[quote author=“Publius”]Why shouldn’t one use people as means?  (And the formula for an end in itself doesn’t say what you think it does.  It says don’t use people merely as a means.  That “merely” is critical.)

As Kant points out, using other people merely as a means ignores the unique value of human life. Unless the victim wants to die (and Kant has other arguments against suicide), murder can only benefit the perpetrator so it clearly contradicts this formula.

[quote author=“Publius”]Two further points.  First, let us suppose that you’ll come back to me with a knock down sort of point justifying that one shouldn’t treat people as mere means, is that a scientific point or a philosophical one?  If the latter, then it’s time we gave up this absurd notion that science tells us anything about ethics.

I can’t locate my copy of EOF but I don’t recall Sam or anyone here suggesting that only science can tell us about ethics. Morality, like mathematics, is an abstract concept that can only be discovered through logic and reason. That doesn’t mean we cannot use the scientific method to validate our findings. Newton didn’t use science to develop calculus but it would be worthless if it didn’t confirm observations of the world around us.

 Signature 

“Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” - Voltaire

“Rational arguments do not work on religious people, otherwise there would be no religious people.”—Dr. House

Profile
 
 
Posted: 17 November 2006 03:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 38 ]  
Newbie
Rank
Total Posts:  8
Joined  2006-11-16

[quote author=“Elentar”]
I suspect that believers are getting frightened by all this because cognitive, behavioural, and neuroscience are all beginning to study emotional and ethical decisions now, which may very well squeeze religion out of its last bastion. We now have the technology to witness brain states as they occur, and are developing a fairly accurate map of which images correspond to which states. We can verify feelings. We have also learned to design experiments which uncover the preconscious processes which lead to ethical judgements.

Your probably right, however life is not a closed experiment and imagination, artistic endeavors and the changing enviroment will always create new challanges and multiple possibilities.

The primary drawback to our evolved ethical systems are that they are tribal; we still have great difficulty in extending them to others outside our tribe, unless we greatly expand the definition of who is part of that tribe.

Hence, religion has been subversive to idea that defines the tribe according to biology “flesh and blood” or race and strangely has formed an alliance with idea. Will Science map out our genome so that we habitate with like genomes and return to our biological tribe?

Currently, Humanism is providing a better standard of living in Northern Europe. I believe economics and standard of living eventually trumps both religious idea and tribalism. Atheism can subvert religious ideas by not only pointing out the contradictions, but by using its language.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 17 November 2006 06:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 39 ]  
Member
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  313
Joined  2006-11-03

Rainman—I appreciate the point you make at the end of your last post that Humanism is currently providing an improved standard of living in Northern Europe and that effects of economics and standard of living (and, as I think of it, quality of life) trump religious ideas and tribalism.  You mention that atheism can subvert religious ideas not only by pointing out contradictions but by “using its language”  (to this I say “Amen!”  and “peace, my brother.”)  I have had these same thoughts and have not been able to coherently express them as you have.  I find myself getting utterly bogged down in some of the philosophical and scientific and religious debates that go on in this forum.  Unfortunately, I cannot participate in them because they are way over my head|!  (Sometimes I wonder if I have a sufficiently high IQ to be an atheist.  Where to turn!?...  Is there an Atheist Junior Varsity?  A “B” team maybe?)  But I am concerned about the questions that are raised here.  I am very concerned about the power that is wielded by fundamentalist religious organizations.  What I think is ironic is that the atheist population, with its apparently superior intellect, is so ineffectual in influencing world events.  I imagine that Tim Haggerd could still get more done in the context of social change (even with his current troubles…) than a whole committee of the top atheists in the nation.  So much power, so much control.  I wonder how humanism was able to get as far as it did in places like Sweden.  I wonder what we can do in the U.S. to follow in their footsteps?  Guess I’ll be off to my nearest secular humanism website.  I suspect getting involved in some activity other than whining and wringing my hands on these forums might do me some good. And when I say that, I am speaking only of myself, and not implying it of anyone else.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 18 November 2006 07:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 40 ]  
Newbie
Rank
Total Posts:  8
Joined  2006-11-16

[quote author=“woofy”] What I think is ironic is that the atheist population, with its apparently superior intellect, is so ineffectual in influencing world events.  I imagine that Tim Haggerd could still get more done in the context of social change (even with his current troubles…) than a whole committee of the top atheists in the nation.  So much power, so much control.  I wonder how humanism was able to get as far as it did in places like Sweden.  I wonder what we can do in the U.S. to follow in their footsteps?

Thank you for the kind words. You are not alone. Atheism or Secular Humanism will only diminish the effects of religion if it can effectively communicate to the masses. How to do it? 

Definitely not by preaching to an academic choir (“do not the Pharisees love their own”), but by expressing idea in film, music, assessible writing and entering into the debate by subjecting themselves whenever possible…even rejection will inspire discussion.

Language is subversive. The message found in some passages and on the lips of Jesus is strangely pro-humanist and anti-religious establishment. I can make an argument that most of our religions started in a more humanist vein.  Lets point out the contradictions and hold the mirror to their faces.

Where is the parable of the “Good Humanist”?

Profile
 
 
Posted: 18 November 2006 11:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 41 ]  
Member
Avatar
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  985
Joined  2005-12-16

[quote author=“woofy”](Sometimes I wonder if I have a sufficiently high IQ to be an atheist. Where to turn!?.

The ability to recognize worthy ideas speaks for sufficient IQ. Not everybody is a talented writer. Nothing to worry about.

Thomas Orr

Profile
 
 
Posted: 18 November 2006 11:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 42 ]  
Member
Avatar
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  985
Joined  2005-12-16

[quote author=“woofy”]Definitely not by preaching to an academic choir (“do not the Pharisees love their own”), but by expressing idea in film, music, assessible writing and entering into the debate by subjecting themselves whenever possible…even rejection will inspire discussion.

Language is subversive. The message found in some passages and on the lips of Jesus is strangely pro-humanist and anti-religious establishment. I can make an argument that most of our religions started in a more humanist vein. Lets point out the contradictions and hold the mirror to their faces.

Good points showing that there is at least one smart politician among us. The points you mentioned echo my sentiments that sometimes pushing the atheist cause too hard is not the best strategy. Is really teaching the evolution that important that we must fight it all the way to the Supreme Court and unite the religious right against us in the process? Pete (hampsteadpete) told us how he enjoys showing the fossils to the young, or talking about the dinosaures. I think that the dinosaures alone did more to promote the secular view on the history of Earth than anything else. Long live Jurassic Park.

Thomas Orr

Profile
 
 
Posted: 09 December 2006 02:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 43 ]  
Member
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  313
Joined  2006-11-03

E.O. Wilson, who taught at Harvard Unversity for over forty years, recently wrote a book, The Creation, which suggested that teaching children well, specifically in the field of biological sciences, would go a long way towards promoting future generations who would put a premium on preserving life and the planet which supports it.  He made an appeal to the religious sects of the nation to use their great power and influence toward achieving the goal of preserving life on earth.  It’s a wonderful thought—to marry the knowledge of science to the power of religion.  ( a case of opposites attract, maybe?)  I much prefer the thought of preserving life and the environment to that crazy vision of destruction that John talks about in the Book of Revelation.  When people buy into a story like that, the world becomes a very dangerous place.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 17 December 2006 04:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 44 ]  
Sr. Member
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  2927
Joined  2006-12-17

As someone new to this thread I find it quite fascinating.  I would like to suggest a reading that, while answering none of the issues brought up, can cause much thought about them (it is one of the required readings in a course I teach in scientific reasoning).  Doris Lessing: Prisons We Choose to Live Inside.  The text of a series of radio lectures given in 1985.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 21 December 2006 06:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 45 ]  
Member
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  924
Joined  2006-09-07

I think the big problem people on this thread are having is that they equate morality with altruism. Since altruism cannot be justified on any rational basis, obviously neither can morality, either. But if your moral code is based on rational self-interest, this problem doesn’t come up.

All attempts I have ever heard of to justify altruism rationally have had to sneak in self-interest somehow. I’ve been told I should sacrifice my life for “society” because my life depends on the existence of all those other people. But if I’m supposed to serve society for my own survival, then its not altruism.

Just try to offer me a rational argument, based on the facts of reality, that I should act selflessly, without arguing that its in my self-interest.

I believe that altruism is what is stunting humanity’s moral evolution. It confuses our moral values, because it is not in human nature to know what is good for others well enough to make such decisions. The very concept of “value” presupposes an individual who has to use his own mind to evaluate whatever it is that is valued. As Ayn Rand said, the very concept of value presupposes a valuer.

She used to say that providing a person with some value by force was like providing his with a gallery of beautiful art at the price of cutting out his eyes.

I’ve also been reading Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations. I am on the third chapter, in which he starts working out his labor theory of value. What I have read already proves that Marx got it wrong, but the important point to this ethics discussion is that Adam Smith is saying that we judge the value of something by the amount of work we need to acquire it. For instance, I build radio controlled model airplanes. Mine are made of just a few dollars of foam, adhesives, and carbon rods, (in addition ot the electronics, which surprisingly are more durable) but they are worth a lot more to me than that because of all the work I put into them. If I tried to sell them on e-bay (minus the electronics) I probably wouldn’t be able to get anything for them. But I value them very highly because I put a lot of work into them.

It is MY mind that decided to build a model airplane, it was MY mind that decided on the design, construction, and the finish. I am the only one who really knows the value of these model airplanes.

We know the value of things that we personally worked to acquire. We work at jobs making products that other people use in order to earn money to buy goods made by someone else. Thats how a division of labor works. We know the value of the money we earn, because we did the work to earn it. Other people pay us for what we produce with the money THEY earned with their own work, so they know the value of that money to them.

We all know the saying, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I think that saying could only come to be so well known when the “good” is equated with “altruist”.

Many of us know how hard it is to buy Cristmass presents for other people, even those we know and love. Ebay just did a survey showing that 56% of people revieved Cristmas presents they didn’t want. This just shows how hard it is to know what is good for other people.

I could also go into all the totalitarian dictatorships and the altruist moral justifications for them. My version of that saying is “The road to hell is paved with altruist intentions”.

I do not deny that it is often important to think about the good of others, but I can’t think of any such case that did not involve my own self-interest in some way. Self-interest is therefore the starting point for any moral thinking. It is the justification, and the epistemological, empirical starting point to thinking on any moral issue.

 Signature 

“Capitalism without failure is like religion without sin. It doesn’t work.”—Alan Metzer

Profile
 
 
   
3 of 12
3
 
RSS 2.0     Atom Feed