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Ruv Draba
01-13-2010, 10:21 AM
Some non-theists do not drink, smoke, take drugs or have sex outside of marriage. Others -- like many religious folk -- do. But notably, crime rates (http://atheism.about.com/b/2004/12/26/atheism-theism-and-violence.htm) among atheists are lower than among many popular religious faiths, and atheist divorce rates (http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_dira.htm) are lower than divorce rates in popular religions.


I'm agnostic, yet I have never had a drink or a smoke, never committed a crime, and the closest I have come to a drug is Hershey's with Almonds or Pepsi. I've been married for sixteen years and have never cheated on my wife. [...] I did not arrive at my morality from religion.

I think I derived some of mine from the good examples set by family and teachers. Some by mentors at work, including theistic and non-theistic people. Some came from thinking about stories, both religious and secular -- and not just Christian stories but stories from many other cultures.

Much of my morality isn't based on any religious influence though. It's based on trying to understand people, my impact on them, theirs on me, and on each other. It's also based on trying to improve my own life -- along the way I sometimes find ways to help improve others'.

If you are non-theistic, where does your morality come from? Has it produced anything interesting or unusual by societal standards?

If you're theistic, does your morality ever come from non-theistic sources? Why? Do people of your faith welcome that, or does it challenge them?

knight_tour
01-13-2010, 11:22 AM
I think I had a deep-seated empathy from the start, and I see it in my children, too. Naturally, we are all influenced by culture also, so it is impossible to tell how much came from what. I do know, however, that I didn't need anyone to tell me things like cigarettes or alcohol were bad; I could tell as a very young child just from the behavior and stench of my father just how bad they were. Same thing with violence; it doesn't take a genius to feel some pain from being hit to realize that hitting is not good.

Dommo
01-13-2010, 11:23 AM
Me it's because I tend to live a life based on a philosophy of probability.

I look at life as though I'm in a casino. In the end I'll end up busting (dead), but if I make smart decisions I improve my chances of having a good run. Nothing is certain in life, and just like in a casino a run of bad luck could mean the end of me, but I feel that by making smart choices I'm going to be a lot more likely to have a fulfilling life.

That's basically it. I don't steal because I don't see the value of stealing to be worth the consequences. I don't drink (not to get drunk anyway, I might have a glass of wine or something), or smoke, because I don't think the effects are worth the destruction I'm risking towards myself or to others(I don't know what I might do when I'm drunk).

I don't doubt that a few people might live relatively happy lives as crooks and murderers, but for the vast majority it's going to end in disaster. Look at the situation in Mexico with the drug cartels. Just because I could go down there, make 10k running dope across the border in a single day, doesn't mean it's a good choice. It's called "Risk of Ruin" in gambling terms. Basically, even if something might have a potentially high payout, it's not worth doing if you've got a really high chance of running into some catastrophic consequences(e.g. ending up in an unmarked hole the desert, or in a jail cell with Bubba).

It's a pretty simple way of looking at things, but I think it makes sense. Essentially, that's sort of where I derive my morality from. It's all about cause and effect.

knight_tour
01-13-2010, 11:29 AM
One thing I really like about non-theists is that we live for THIS LIFE. We don't believe there is anything else, or at least we don't worry about it, because in our understanding if a god or gods happened to be out there, they should be enlightened enough to only care that we do the best we can with our lives. So, we don't go around worrying about sinning versus pennance, or think that this life is essentially just practice for the real life that will come after; we live this life to the fullest with no expectations beyond that. That's my take anyhow.

Dommo
01-13-2010, 11:31 AM
I agree. That's why I sort of try to "min-max" my life. I try to get the maximum out of it, while minimizing the negatives. I work on the assumption that I'm just going to be worm chow when I die, and thus I might as well try to make the best out of my current situation.

AMCrenshaw
01-13-2010, 08:58 PM
If you are non-theistic, where does your morality come from? Has it produced anything interesting or unusual by societal standards?

I meet people, read a lot, and try to learn as much as possible about other people. I learn about myself and the people close to me. Naturally, I'm a sensitive person, and empathize easily with most people I encounter. My morality generally stems from the want to ease or lessen suffering and increase wellbeing most effectively and with fewest drawbacks. It's a tough thing. I get no reassurance on heaven or earth that my morality is a good one, that my actions are the right ones, but...

AMC

DeleyanLee
01-13-2010, 09:07 PM
My morality comes from the concept of responsibility. Basically: don't do anything you don't want to pay the price for. And do expect to pay the price for it.

That works into the whole set of laws, but it also deals with the emotional value of people I know, live around, work with, love, have relationships with and what makes living harmonious and my life easier to deal with.

No gods involved, no gods needed. It works for me.

Ruv Draba
01-13-2010, 10:30 PM
Thanks for comments to date. Here's a question that occurred reading through the responses...

There's a common theme of self-responsibility and recognising that bad actions have consequences. But we don't always pay the biggest consequences ourselves for our own bad actions. Let's take the environment, for instance. In eighty years most of us can expect to be 'worm chow' as Dommo put it, but the consequences of our decisions today can be felt by people who follow us. Climate change is an example, but soil erosion, destruction of species, some kinds of atmospheric pollution are also examples.

You're going to be dead, so you won't notice. Where does your morality lie on issues like that, and why?

mscelina
01-13-2010, 10:38 PM
Common sense.

mscelina
01-13-2010, 10:45 PM
Thanks for comments to date. Here's a question that occurred reading through the responses...

There's a common theme of self-responsibility and recognising that bad actions have consequences. But we don't always pay the biggest consequences ourselves for our own bad actions. Let's take the environment, for instance. In eighty years most of us can expect to be 'worm chow' as Dommo put it, but the consequences of our decisions today can be felt by people who follow us. Climate change is an example, but soil erosion, destruction of species, some kinds of atmospheric pollution are also examples.

You're going to be dead, so you won't notice. Where does your morality lie on issues like that, and why?

I care about what happens to my children and grandchildren after I die. I'm still young, but I'm making provisions for that even now--using investments and so forth to insure that my family benefits from my life and my work. As for the environment, et cetera, my answer of common sense applies there too. When I walk out my back door, I want to smell flowers and grass, not toxins and grass.

As I said, common sense.

ChristineR
01-14-2010, 02:35 AM
Honestly, I think theists and non-theists get their morality from the same place, and that's ultimately, on a very basic and visceral level, the desire to reduce suffering. A theist might tell you that they get their morality from a transcendent god and that true morality can't exist without the transcendence, but the non-theist can just as easily say that she gets her morality from the transcendent good or some such thing.

There's ultimately nothing about the idea of a god that forces the god or creator to be good. A lot of people combine the idea of ultimate goodness with an omnipotent being, but really, it isn't required and a lot of cultures have had concepts of evil or at least less than omnibenevolent gods and creators.

knight_tour
01-14-2010, 09:39 AM
Thanks for comments to date. Here's a question that occurred reading through the responses...

There's a common theme of self-responsibility and recognising that bad actions have consequences. But we don't always pay the biggest consequences ourselves for our own bad actions. Let's take the environment, for instance. In eighty years most of us can expect to be 'worm chow' as Dommo put it, but the consequences of our decisions today can be felt by people who follow us. Climate change is an example, but soil erosion, destruction of species, some kinds of atmospheric pollution are also examples.

You're going to be dead, so you won't notice. Where does your morality lie on issues like that, and why?

I am absolutely against the idea of raping the earth for whatever we want and consequences be damned. I have children and worry about their future, but frankly I would feel the same even if I didn't have them. It may sound strange, but I view the planet itself and the life on it as being more important in the grand scheme of things than the human race. If the only choice were allowing man to do whatever he wanted and the earth gets screwed, or remove man and let the earth flourish, I would choose the latter. To me, LIFE is what is great, not necessarily human life. Take man away, and another species will rise up, either without higher intelligence (like the dinosaurs) or with.

Ruv Draba
01-14-2010, 10:23 AM
It may sound strange, but I view the planet itself and the life on it as being more important in the grand scheme of things than the human race.I feel similarly -- and that is not at all among the theistic beliefs of my culture.

I'm a humanist in that I put humanitarian concerns at the centre of my morality, but I see our species' existence as a means and not an end. Perhaps the end is to develop sustainable species that can understand and appreciate the place they live in. Humans might be that species, but they might not too.

I think I had a delight in life from a very early age, and my reverence for knowledge came at about the same time. For me the two things connect in a purposeful existence.

Ninjas Love Nixon
01-14-2010, 05:02 PM
If you are non-theistic, where does your morality come from?

I think empathy and sympathy, coupled with scepticism (specifically the understanding that I could be wrong about anything); and having grown up and been educated in a society that was, at the time, strongly religious; plus making mistakes, hurting other people, being hurt, and wanting to make sense of it.


Has it produced anything interesting or unusual by societal standards?

I don't think I can answer that. I couldn't claim to know enough about what society's standards truly are. And if that something were unusual or even interesting, either the circumstances have not arisen to illuminate it, or it has been subsumed by everyday conditioning.


In eighty years most of us can expect to be 'worm chow' as Dommo put it, but the consequences of our decisions today can be felt by people who follow us. Climate change is an example, but soil erosion, destruction of species, some kinds of atmospheric pollution are also examples.

You're going to be dead, so you won't notice. Where does your morality lie on issues like that, and why?

Complex issue. As a non-theist, I view all of man's actions as entirely natural, and governed at larger scales by the effective rule of 'winners win', which underpins all evolutionary processes and requires no dialogue with external ideology to legitimate itself.

I am concerned with stupidity, however, and do believe that curbing self-destructive potentials should be on about the same level as breathing. Mankind is astonishing, amazing, possibly unique in all the universe. But we are not separate from the world. We are not even separate from our technology, which is as much a part of humanity as self-sacrifice, or love, or cruelty, or music, or anything, really.

Taken to its extreme, nothing becomes separable. Tigers are part of our cultural and racial identity. As are raccoons, bacteria. Twinkies. Stars. And beyond those things we readily see and recognise, there are the unfathomably complex interactions of the material world, all intertwined, even with us.

Preserving that is important, but preserving it all is impossible. Nature does not work that way. And at some point, the last human being will die too. All we can do is what we can sensibly manage, weighed against all other pertinent concerns, and be satisfied that the rest will take care of itself. Between these two, hope is always the bridge.

All imo, of course.

fullbookjacket
01-15-2010, 03:18 AM
Thanks for comments to date. Here's a question that occurred reading through the responses...

There's a common theme of self-responsibility and recognising that bad actions have consequences. But we don't always pay the biggest consequences ourselves for our own bad actions. Let's take the environment, for instance. In eighty years most of us can expect to be 'worm chow' as Dommo put it, but the consequences of our decisions today can be felt by people who follow us. Climate change is an example, but soil erosion, destruction of species, some kinds of atmospheric pollution are also examples.

You're going to be dead, so you won't notice. Where does your morality lie on issues like that, and why?

Well, I do have children, and I hope they have children, too, so naturally I want to leave them a healthy, safe planet.

But I'd feel the same way if I didn't have kids. I feel a moral obligation to try and not crap on the floor (metaphorically speaking) and leave it for someone else to clean up.

Ruv Draba
01-15-2010, 03:38 AM
I have no children either, but I feel an obligation to the generations growing up now, and to their unborn. I feel that they look to me and my generation in trust while they lay claim to their futures. I feel that to put my desires above their needs would profoundly betray that trust.

I don't know that they'd miss polar-bears, say... but I can remember the first time I saw one. I was just a child and I held my breath. I couldn't believe that a furry animal could be so huge-- it could have dwarfed a camper-van, its paws were bigger than my head, and it moved with a relaxed ease. The sun blazed white off its fur and its eyes were dark and serious. I could see straight away that while it was on exhibition, it did not see itself as an exhibit. It was working... a professional bear going about serious business. A younger bear was watching it, and it knew it was being watched. Whatever it was doing -- sniffing spoor, or eyeing the water around its island for possible fish, it was doing it to be learned from, not gawked at. I got to watch a Bear teaching Bear Ways and I was ashamed that we'd given it so poor a home, so meagre a classroom in which to teach.

Such experiences change and humble us. I don't know that the children born in 2080 would miss polar bears, but I do know that if the generations living in 2010 don't leave them any, they'll be much poorer for it.

knight_tour
01-15-2010, 01:13 PM
Exactly. Even worse is the thought that by letting even unattractive species die out, that may lead to the extinctions of others due to the whole cycle of effect.

bluebell80
01-15-2010, 07:40 PM
I'm an atheist, ex-christian, explorer of many religions, believer of none. I understand the pull of religion to our monkey minds, but I can't believe in it. In fact, I believe in nothing. I think a great many things, but I don't incorporate them into a belief system. So where do I get my moral compass? I use one of my own design.

To me most things considered by religion as moral, are simply social codes of conduct to live within a group setting. Without rules humans won't get along, thus causing issues for a society and the species as a whole. So we need rules, governments make rules or laws that societies have to follow with the consequence of removal from society should you break them, or monetary punishment.

Religions make rules with the consequence of removal from the positive eternal afterlife, hell, karmic reincarnation, or what have you, should you not follow those rules.

Parents make rules for children with the consequences of physical punishement (either corporal, manual labor, chores or other such types of punishment,) removal of privilages, removal from social settings (groundings.)

In general all methods of keeping social peace have consequences. A single person doesn't normally punish themselves for doing something that goes against the social rules if they don't get caught. Morals are self-imposed rules a person puts on themselves with the consequence of feeling guilty for breaking those rules. But in essence, these personal rules mean nothing except for how much psychological weight the person applies to them.

I have my own set of rules, I don't break social laws, because there is an external punishment, not because I have self-imposed punishments for things like going over he speedlimit. I don't cheat on my partner (straight-just not married) of eleven years, because the consequence is the relationship would end -- but also because I respect my man too much to do something like that. But, then is that really "morality" as it is often defined? Or is it simply a matter of not being a big, fat, jerk of a person?

Right and Wrong, Good and Evil, are all relative and very subjective terms. This is why ethics is such a debated topic, because what one person finds ethical, may not be the general consensus.

I treat people with general curtesy. I give people respect when they've earned it. And out of general curtesy and respect for others I do things accordingly. However, a disrespectful person will receive the like back from me. Those are the things that dictate my "morality." As for things like drinking, smoking and sex, well everything in moderation is what I think.

Ninjas Love Nixon
01-15-2010, 08:21 PM
But, then is that really "morality" as it is often defined? Or is it simply a matter of not being a big, fat, jerk of a person?

In the Taoist scheme, the idea of Virtue occupies the highest position of 'good' (though that word is extremely troublesome in this context). Virtue can encompass what, in a rigid moral schema, would be considered appalling acts, but if those acts are in accordance with Tao, then the world is proceeding truly.

Morality is somewhere in the middle because, while it operates mostly for 'good', it is not truly alive, and is blind.

Ritual occupies the lowest position, because it has no sense of right or wrong, and is truly dead.

From Bluebell's reply and others, the idea of 'virtue' seems to resonate most strongly.

It is also interesting to note the associations of virtue and nihilism (which is, generally I think, a deeply misunderstood term). You can look at nihilism in the works of the Sophists in ancient Greece, for whom the form of the argument was everything, regardless of what it meant; or in Nietzche, who, imo, misinterpreted earlier understandings of the term, but who nonetheless managed to dismantle the Enlightenment's driving argument; or in the Nominalists, like Occam (who invented the razor), leading in turn to the works of Descartes, Luther, and others, all of whom tried to grapple with the paradox of a benevolent, omnipotent God who purposefully allowed his creations to wallow in misunderstanding and ignorance.

In all these cases, morality is ascribed intellectual and emotional values, while nihilism and virtue are each an aesthetic. And I do think the majority of views here express aesthetic over intellectual/emotional values. But I could be wrong.

Ruv Draba
01-16-2010, 01:16 AM
In the Taoist scheme, the idea of Virtue occupies the highest position of 'good' (though that word is extremely troublesome in this context). Virtue can encompass what, in a rigid moral schema, would be considered appalling acts, but if those acts are in accordance with Tao, then the world is proceeding truly.
This is very interesting, and makes me want to ask another question...

One of the things some theists like to say is that their morality is absolute. After all, it's Received and Documented (not true for Buddhism and Taoism, say, but certainly true for the many faiths where morality is codified as commandments, injunctions and taboos). On the other side of it, it's a popular perception that non-theists either have no morality, or import it from religion (I think we've clearly shown that this Ain't Necessarily So), or are moral relativists -- i.e. their morality wavers according to the situation.

So my follow-up questions are:

Do you see yourself as a moral relativist? Does your morality shift according to the situation? Why or why not?
Is there a problem with moral relativism? Or is it a sensible, good way to live? Why?
If you feel that there is some sort of relativism in your morality, how do you avoid applying the benefit of that relativism to yourself, and the cost to others? Or is that not an issue for you?
(For extra credit, NinjasLoveNixon, how do Taoists recognise Virtue and tell it apart from Morality or Custom or just pure Selfishness?)
Speaking personally I try to judge my deeds from what I expect them to produce, and then see if I was right. For me, custom and expectation are a tool, not a prison. I'll happily break them to do something good if the good is big enough, and I'll spurn them if I think I think they risk producing bad. That means that in the right circumstances, I can see some very disagreaable things as being virtuous -- so it has echoes of NJN's comments about Taoism and virtue -- except that I think that morality is about recognising Virtue, so I don't see myself as embracing a purely Taoist line.

I don't think I'm a moral relativist or a moral absolutist. I think that my morality isn't fixed but grows out of its own ignorance by enquiry. I also think that morality is not simply individual but collective. The role of ethics for me is to be responsible to myself and others for my impacts, my ignorance and my self-interest. Neither do I see morality and ethics as simply about avoiding doing harm (because sometimes I think we can't avoid it), but rather about learning from the good and the harm we do.

From that perspective I find it hard to define 'evil'. I can certainly describe 'bad' though -- anything that does avoidable harm. For me, 'evil' is what moral absolutists call any bad that breaks their taboos. There are certainly kinds of harm that shock, horrify and outrage me. I can denounce them, but I still can't bring myself call them evil.

So as an extra follow-up question:

Against the context of your morality, what if anything, does 'evil' mean to you?
Is it a personal, relativist definition or an absolutist one, or can you not define it at all? Why?



In all these cases, morality is ascribed intellectual and emotional values, while nihilism and virtue are each an aesthetic. And I do think the majority of views here express aesthetic over intellectual/emotional values. But I could be wrong.I sometimes find it hard to separate the two. It's not that everything which delights me aesthetically is good (e.g. a bushfire can be stunningly beautiful but horrifically bad), but to the extent that good is shaped by our empathy then many goods are also inherently pleasurable (though not all are of that sort). Yet even in the cases where I try and achieve an abstract good (e.g. as a consultant I sometimes engage in producing organisational change), there is a kind of architectural aesthetic about it.

ChristineR
01-16-2010, 05:49 AM
Everyone is a moral relativist on some level. What I find in theists is that while they are in practice no more or less relative in their morals, they claim to have an idea of moral absolutism. That is, they say that if God wants something, it's absolutely moral, and if God doesn't want it, it's absolutely immoral. Their standards in practice (such as when killing is allowed) really have very little absolutism in them, and practically speaking, codes like the ten commandments have a lot of room for interpretation.

Now a non-theist can easily say "Good and evil exist and are absolute," and it's pretty much the same as saying "God exists and he is absolute and his will is good and against his will his evil." It's a metaphysical question, and ultimately I don't think the concept of absolute morality has anything to do with theism.

And to a large extent, one's idea of absolute morals doesn't have much to do with one's practical morals. Even what people call "moral relativism" has pretty strong taboos against the most heinous of acts, and even what people call "moral absolutism" can allow some pretty hideous acts in practice.

If you're looking for non-theistic moral absolutes, you can look at something like utilitarianism--the greatest good for the greatest number, or Kant's categorical imperative. Your personal moral system sounds to me a lot like utilitarianism, but you choose to see it in a non-absolute framework.

One thing that I've never seen explored in the question of absolute vs. non-absolute is whether there's any practical difference. What I mean is, that if you got a roomful of people who call themselves utilitarian relativists and a room full of people who call themselves Christian absolutists, and you presented them with various moral dilemmas (like the one about pushing the fat guy in front of the runaway train, or the one where you go back in time and murder Hitler), would you be able to tell which is which? You might need to exclude questions about gay sex and idol worship, but even some of those might not be terribly enlightening. (Would you approve of gay sex if ninety percent of the world's females died? Would you worship an idol to save the life of your family?)

Melisande
01-16-2010, 05:50 AM
I've only read the first couple of comments, but I really have to make an input right now!

What the blip blip blip does smoking and drinking have to do with morals????????????

And if so; what about all the other things people do; gambling, shopping, eating, bragging, cheating, lying, etc, etc, etc. Is everything human immoral? And if so - Why this thread?

Morals, as it seems to me, are a set of rules set by either religious, philosophical or ethical rules determined by a kind of society, political or religious power that happens to rule rather a narrow part of the map which people just happen to inhabit.

So my being a smoking, drinking, apolitical, atheist, nonconformist, heterosexual, twice divorced, left-my-child-in-the-care-of-his-father, reactionary, republican must seem like the very lowest of the low dirt to you, oh soooo moral people.

Well, I tell you what;

I've never cheated, I don't lie, I volunteer hours on end for good causes, I donate money, I think through every choice, I respect (most) people, I firmly believe in every humans right to choose whatever religious or political conviction that is right for them, I applaud gay marriage and I honestly believe that to choose your own time of death is your right.

But because of my smoking and drinking etc, I am immoral to you??????????????????

Get a grip, people!!!!!!!!

Ninjas Love Nixon
01-16-2010, 06:45 AM
So my follow-up questions are:
Do you see yourself as a moral relativist? Does your morality shift according to the situation? Why or why not?

Hijack and tangent incoming.

We are all moral relativists. Regardless of whether we ascribe to a group that claims to believe in or practice moral absolutes, that is not the case in reality. Rather, the appearance and acceptance of such is an aspect of the amazing power of words to make meaning and distinction disappear.

No matter where a moral law comes from, it exists within an individual or individuals, each of whose life experiences inform interpretations that must necessarily vary. (Thou shalt not kill. But what about war? Self-defence? Abortion? Thou shalt not steal. But what if you are starving? What if it will save a person's life? And so on.)

If we could somehow ascribe meaningful values to each person's deep interpretations of these laws, we could construct a diagram or continuum in which all people were placed and related to each other in terms of those values. And as no absolute truth can exist in a system based in language, there could be no over-arching authority to legitimate any position over any or all others. The system is unavoidably reduced to (or, really, can exist only as) one of relativism. Social norms will take care of the rest.

Language in this case (in most cases) can only hint at the truly intended meaning. Communication is the transmission of really small, general pieces of information across channels that tend naturally toward high entropy. As such, they cannot be too precise, or the system becomes unwieldy and untenable. Language as a tool is based in carving understanding out of all possible interpretations (again, crazy entropy). It cannot be precise, though we often mistake it for such.

That said, it generally doesn't matter, because we're used to it.

The power of words in this case is to provide, in effect, a banner to march under, organising group effort to meaningful action. A group can say they practice the absolute word of God as much as they like, but the rules that govern language and communication say they cannot, because absolutes are strictly forbidden, or are utterly trivial, in those arenas.

Now, as a summary, this does a disservice to the immense complexities involved. And 'can of worms' doesn't even begin to describe it, so I hope you will forgive any and all gaping holes in the above.

Anyway, back on subject:


Yes, I view myself as a moral relativist, though perhaps not in the negative sense the term has acquired.

I believe that my morality probably does shift according to situation (mood, hormones, physical state). But then you're into the tricky area of defining the boundaries of morality, and back to words annihilating meaning again.


Is there a problem with moral relativism? Or is it a sensible, good way to live? Why?

Well, I think it's unavoidable ;) The distinction here might be do do with the notion of 'self-aware' morality, with the implication that an entity in possession of such faculties can and will act almost sociopathically, and then use some Sophist-like argument to justify any and every course of action. I'd like to think, however, that those people are just sociopaths.


If you feel that there is some sort of relativism in your morality, how do you avoid applying the benefit of that relativism to yourself, and the cost to others? Or is that not an issue for you?

It always has to be a temptation I think. But there again, I am a frothing maniac for fairness, so the idea of giving anyone preference (at least in principal) is offensive to me. I hate pandering, I hate giving people false hope, or expectation, or whatever, and I hate feeling like I didn't try hard enough myself. I guess it will be different for each person though.


(For extra credit, NinjasLoveNixon, how do Taoists recognise Virtue and tell it apart from Morality or Custom or just pure Selfishness?)

I'm not a Taoist, so this may be going well beyond my capacity to answer.

Taoism (at least as I understand it) is about individual action as opposed to an organised and over-arching social program. Kind of like a cross between a hive-mind and a perfect anarchy. Totally realised, all people operate in harmony, want little, and create no strife.

On a more analytical level, from what I can surmise, it works on a principle of performativity. If it turns out the action brought peace, happiness, and stability, it was good. If it didn't, it was bad. The sage is just a person who gets it right all the time, and, at the highest levels without ever necessarily realising so (or particularly caring - he or she just is, in perfect harmony with the will of the world).

There is quite a famous little epigram about how one becomes a sage that goes along the lines of 'Sit down. Extend your consciousness to encompass all around you, so you feel the heartbeat of the world. Then forget you are there.' I tried it. Sadly, I'm not a sage yet.

The distinction between virtue and morality, however, as far as I can gather in the Taoist view, is that morality is a code. Virtue is not. Between Virtue and Selfishness, I think the performative criteria comes into play, though an action can, I believe, be both selfish and virtuous simultaneously (I don't believe the distinction would have any credibility in the Taoist view). I'm not a scholar on the subject, however, so I'd take anything I say with only a metric ton of salt.


Speaking personally I try to judge my deeds from what I expect them to produce, and then see if I was right. For me, custom and expectation are a tool, not a prison. I'll happily break them to do something good if the good is big enough, and I'll spurn them if I think I think they risk producing bad.

Ditto.


That means that in the right circumstances, I can see some very disagreeable things as being virtuous -- so it has echoes of NJN's comments about Taoism and virtue -- except that I think that morality is about recognising Virtue, so I don't see myself as embracing a purely Taoist line.

Yeah, we're hitting a semantic border here, where we would need to rigorously define 'morality' to bring the discussion further. Even then we'd have problems. Language, I tells ya. It's evil.


I don't think I'm a moral relativist or a moral absolutist. I think that my morality isn't fixed but grows out of its own ignorance by enquiry.

But if every situation is novel, can you be genuinely sure you are learning at all? Or is that itself an illusion?


I also think that morality is not simply individual but collective.

Bam. Fantastic. Yes. Facepalm moment for me. Why did I not realise this before? And that is another distinction that can be applied between morality and virtue. Virtue resides in the individual. Morality does not. Which hopefully ties together a ton of flailing loose ends from my ramblings above. Thanks Ruv!


The role of ethics for me is to be responsible to myself and others for my impacts, my ignorance and my self-interest. Neither do I see morality and ethics as simply about avoiding doing harm (because sometimes I think we can't avoid it), but rather about learning from the good and the harm we do.

Agreed.


From that perspective I find it hard to define 'evil'. I can certainly describe 'bad' though -- anything that does avoidable harm. For me, 'evil' is what moral absolutists call any bad that breaks their taboos. There are certainly kinds of harm that shock, horrify and outrage me. I can denounce them, but I still can't bring myself call them evil.

I dunno. The wilful and self-aware infliction of unnecessary and extreme harm on others might qualify. But, as always, where the borders?



Against the context of your morality, what if anything, does 'evil' mean to you?

The wilful and self-aware infliction of unnecessary and extreme harm on others. Best I can come up with right now. But as with things like racism, sexism, and so on, I think you need to talk to the victims to decide.


Is it a personal, relativist definition or an absolutist one, or can you not define it at all? Why?

Necessarily relativist.

And omg, wall of text.

Edit: And going back to the moral/intellectual values versus aesthetic/virtue thing: Moral/intellectual values cannot meaningfully reside in the individual, because they are a property of society and require a frame of reference to be sensible; aesthetic/virtuous values can meaningfully reside in the individual with no external discourse required.

Ruv Draba
01-16-2010, 07:57 AM
What the blip blip blip does smoking and drinking have to do with morals????????????The word 'vice' (http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=vice&searchmode=none) is in secular use today, for example many police functions include a 'vice squad'. The word comes from the Latin vitium meaning 'defect, offense, blemish, imperfection', in both moral and physical senses.

Historically, certain behaviours have commonly been seen as vices: selfish, pleasure-seeking indulgences arising from or admitted by insufficient respect of self, others and traditions. These have included taking recreational drugs including alcohol and tobacco, gambling, having casual and uncommitted sex with prostitutes, strangers, people in other relationships, or outside socially-approved bounds.

Despite a liberalisation of social tradition, many of the above behaviours are considered dangerous to self and others even today. Most activities are still regulated through both criminal and civil laws -- when and where you can do them, with whom, and under what circumstances.

Does tobacco-use link to morality? I'd say certainly, under some circumstances at least. If parents gave their children tobacco they'd be administering a toxin, and I'd call that a moral concern. Is self-administration of tobacco also a moral concern? Under what circumstances? That's currently under debate, Melisande.


Morals, as it seems to me, are a set of rules set by either religious, philosophical or ethical rules determined by a kind of society, political or religious power that happens to rule rather a narrow part of the map which people just happen to inhabit.Would you say then that you're 'amoral' -- without morals? Does your own conscience alone inform what is good, or do the opinions of others matter too? Why or why not?


So my being a smoking, drinking, apolitical, atheist, nonconformist, heterosexual, twice divorced, left-my-child-in-the-care-of-his-father, reactionary, republican must seem like the very lowest of the low dirt to you, oh soooo moral people.Since you're railing at other peoples' opinions, I couldn't call you apolitical. :) But I don't think that everyone is criticising you whom you imagine to. Since we don't have an agreed definition of 'moral', I don't see how we can assign the word 'immoral' to anyone.


I've never cheated, I don't lie, I volunteer hours on end for good causes, I donate money, I think through every choiceSo you have a code that some would call a moral code. What do you call it? Why don't you cheat or lie? What makes you decide to volunteer for causes? How do you feel about your smoking or drinking?

By way of disclosure, I don't smoke, and dislike gambling, but I do drink alcohol. I most often drink it with good food, but I also drink it in social circumstances, and sometimes when I've exercised intensely or have drunk too much coffee and am anxious and irritable. So sometimes my alcohol consumption is hedonistic; sometimes I use it more psychologically.

I think that there are moral issues associated with alcohol consumption, because I think that one's health and social responsibility are moral issues. That doesn't mean that I feel that everyone who consumes alcohol is immoral or amoral, but I feel the same about people who chew tobacco or coca-leaf. From an ethical perspective, I feel that I am accountable to others in where, how and with whom I consume alcohol. Absolutely.

Dommo
01-16-2010, 12:49 PM
You missed the point completely Melisande.

The idea was that some our philosophies of ethical conduct and morality are due to cause and effect types of views on the world. I don't view smoking as necessarily immoral (it's debatable if it's done around children who don't have a choice but to experience exposure to it), but that it's a choice that offers little benefit for me given the drawbacks. I don't steal, partly because I think that the consequences of the action aren't worth it. I don't want to justify allowing others to steal from me for one, and secondly I don't feel like getting it put up my ass by Bubba in the state pen for 5 years.

So that's the idea. I don't do certain things, because by either legitimizing them, or just plain getting caught, the result is likely to be BAD for me. It's sort of like that saying "those who live by the sword die by it", because the idea is that by legitimizing violence as a tool to be used, you better be ready for it to be used on you. That's basically how I look at the situation.

fullbookjacket
01-16-2010, 05:26 PM
I've only read the first couple of comments, but I really have to make an input right now!

What the blip blip blip does smoking and drinking have to do with morals????????????

And if so; what about all the other things people do; gambling, shopping, eating, bragging, cheating, lying, etc, etc, etc. Is everything human immoral? And if so - Why this thread?

Morals, as it seems to me, are a set of rules set by either religious, philosophical or ethical rules determined by a kind of society, political or religious power that happens to rule rather a narrow part of the map which people just happen to inhabit.

So my being a smoking, drinking, apolitical, atheist, nonconformist, heterosexual, twice divorced, left-my-child-in-the-care-of-his-father, reactionary, republican must seem like the very lowest of the low dirt to you, oh soooo moral people.

Well, I tell you what;

I've never cheated, I don't lie, I volunteer hours on end for good causes, I donate money, I think through every choice, I respect (most) people, I firmly believe in every humans right to choose whatever religious or political conviction that is right for them, I applaud gay marriage and I honestly believe that to choose your own time of death is your right.

But because of my smoking and drinking etc, I am immoral to you??????????????????

Get a grip, people!!!!!!!!

Wow, where did that come from? I don't think anyone here said smoking or drinking makes you immoral.

For the record, I drink (because I likes it). I don't smoke (because I hates it).

As for the rest of your post: "apolitical"...not immoral, but I'd say it's amoral. And then you say you're a Republican, so you must not be apolitical.

"Nonconformist"...that's not entirely accurate, unless you're a bag lady. 99.999% of us conform to convention in some degree.

"Heterosexual"...did someone actually say that's immoral?

"Twice divorced"...not immoral in itself, unless there are shady,deceitful reasons, like marrying purely for money and hefty divorce settlements.

"Left my child, etc..." see above.

"I've never cheated..." at what?

"I don't lie..." Everyone lies. Lies aren't always bad.


Sounds like you're a good person on balance, although maybe overly sensitive.

bluebell80
01-16-2010, 08:34 PM
Do you see yourself as a moral relativist? Does your morality shift according to the situation? Why or why not?
Is there a problem with moral relativism? Or is it a sensible, good way to live? Why?
If you feel that there is some sort of relativism in your morality, how do you avoid applying the benefit of that relativism to yourself, and the cost to others? Or is that not an issue for you?
Against the context of your morality, what if anything, does 'evil' mean to you?
Is it a personal, relativist definition or an absolutist one, or can you not define it at all? Why?

.

1. No, I'm not a moral relativist. I have my own set of things based on personal responsibility that I feel are either a choice I would make, or one that I would not. For me something like Abortion, is not a choice I would make, because that would be an easy way out of taking responsibility for having had sex and producing a child from that union. Either don't have the sex, or make sure it''s protected to prevent an unwanted child, but there is still the responsibility should something happen and a child is produced...thus I would take responsibility for my actions. Should I push this view on others? No. It's my own person view, and if others want to have abortions, then so be it.

On the flip side of that, I would kill someone in self-defense. I have no problem taking a life if that said life is threatening mine. It's survival of the fittest. And if zombies come...I'll have no problem killing people for what I need, or shooting zombies in the head.

2. I think it depends on if there is a double standard, which moral relativism implies. What's good for the goose isn't good for the gander. My morality doesn't change based on the external circumstances, it is grounded within my own code of ethics, based on the necessaries of living in a society, and within myself. For example, stem cell research, should we be producing embryos to cure people? I say yes. I don't see a slippery slope with that one, so long as it is regulated to not go beyond that point of growth. Growing full blow humans for transplants and other such stuff (like The Island movie) would seem wrong to me. Clones wouldn't be a commodity, they would be actual humans with actual feelings, and as such should be protected by the same laws that protect all humans. Embryos, before they are to the point of surviving outside the womb, are not, to me, classified as humans needing law protection. It is a clump of cells that could not survive outside the host.

However, what one person views as morality, is completely subjective according to their relative background and their perspective.

3. No, I don't feel I am a relativist. Most things are black and white, and the places that fall into the gray are made gray by our own feelings. Take for instance the ethical question I had in college class: A man's wife is dying from a disease. Another person has her cure but refuses to sell it to the man, or is offering it at such a high price the man can't afford it. The man has now broken into the place where the cure is and doesn't know if he should steal it or not. What should he do?

Here in lies the emotional connections. The woman this man loves is dying. He is willing to break the law by breaking into this facility, and now is torn as to if he should go on to break the law even more by stealing the cure.

Well, he shouldn't have broken into the facility in the first place. While the other man, unwilling to share the cure for less profit might seem cruel, he wasn't breaking a law. His cruelty doesn't give the dying woman's husband the right to break the law by breaking and entering and theft. Should the man let his wife die when there is a cure? Well, if he can't attain the cure, yes. But, most people's emotions would come into play and they would say no, he should go ahead and steal it since he's already broken the law. However, by breaking the law, he may have cured his wife, but now he'll be spending the rest of her days in prison, still without her. So where is the morality in that?

4. The only thing that is purely evil in this world is utter, remorseless cruelty. This could be anything from murderers, rapists, abusers, those types of people are evil because they harm others without remorse and in fact take pleasure in other's pain. That is evil. Even people who abuse and mistreat their pets, fall into this class. I want to cry watching those Animal cop shows on Animal Planet, and I can't believe people would do half the stuff they do to these poor animals...my animals are pretty darn spoiled.

5. I am neither absolute or relativistic, I am a realist. There are social norms and rules that need to be followed to ensure the safe living of all people within that society. There are personal responsibility rules set by each individual guiding their own moves through those social norms. And then there are exceptions to some rules, though most exceptions people see are based on emotional connections and responses (much like the ethical situation above.)

In most cases laws have a reason...Don't steal, not just because it's wrong, but because you are taking something that doesn't belong to you, and a person or company is out the money for that product. If it's a company, they must make up for that loss by cutting back hours, causing people to lose money or jobs, or they raise the prices of all their products to make up for the profits loss by theft. This in turn punishes all shoppers and employees for that company.

But then you have feel good laws, put in place by misguided politicans, like the Seat Belt laws. You have to wear your seat belt or get pulled over and fined $250 bucks, but it's for your own good. It's one of those laws that only impacts the person driving, it doesn't impact others like say Drunk Driving laws do. There is no good reason to have a seat belt law. You should be free to wear a seat belt or not. But this law wasn't really put in place for the safety of the driver, it was put in place to reduce the payouts insurance companys give for deaths and injuries caused by not wearing a seat belt in an accident. It has nothing to do with the wearer's safety, it has to do with money.

No smoking in bars...that's another one that is a stupid law. If there was a demand for non-smoking bars, then let people open them, don't put the law on to everyone. Bar tenders have a choice to work in a smoking environment or not, as do the people who go into the bars, they have a choice as well. If no one wanted to go to smoking bars, then they would go out of business and only non-smoking bars would make it. But the government took that option away. You can't open a "smoking bar" now, it's illegal (at least in many states.) That to me is a useless law and an example of the government overstepping it's bounderies into the land of commerce dictation. If there was a demand then there would be smoke-free bars open and doing well, and the smoking bars would be out of business...but that's not how it was, so they had to pass a law forbiding freedom.

I subscribe to freedom with personal resposnibility. While we are never fully free, we should be allowed to make some choices. And we should be able to make them with our own personal responsibility in mind. But as our culture in the USA is devolving, people have less and less ability to take personal responsibility thus the governmental rules imposed on everyone for those who can't take that resonsibility.

Ninjas Love Nixon
01-16-2010, 09:55 PM
3. No, I don't feel I am a relativist. Most things are black and white, and the places that fall into the gray are made gray by our own feelings.

So you do not believe in questioning the received values of morality within society? You seem to be saying that the failure to understand anything as black/white lies with individual failure. Why then do we need judges in the legal system? The very existence of a variable sentence system implies 'grayness' without necessarily involving an invested emotional bias.

Though is there any such thing as a subject that is not invested with emotional bias? I'm not sure how it is possible to separate emotion from any and all decisions made. If you take a look at most controversial topics, emotion rules far more strongly than reason in people's reactions, and in everyday life in general.


Take for instance the ethical question I had in college class: A man's wife is dying from a disease. Another person has her cure but refuses to sell it to the man, or is offering it at such a high price the man can't afford it. The man has now broken into the place where the cure is and doesn't know if he should steal it or not. What should he do?

Here in lies the emotional connections. The woman this man loves is dying. He is willing to break the law by breaking into this facility, and now is torn as to if he should go on to break the law even more by stealing the cure.

Well, he shouldn't have broken into the facility in the first place. While the other man, unwilling to share the cure for less profit might seem cruel, he wasn't breaking a law. His cruelty doesn't give the dying woman's husband the right to break the law by breaking and entering and theft. Should the man let his wife die when there is a cure? Well, if he can't attain the cure, yes. But, most people's emotions would come into play and they would say no, he should go ahead and steal it since he's already broken the law. However, by breaking the law, he may have cured his wife, but now he'll be spending the rest of her days in prison, still without her. So where is the morality in that?

Odd that you seem to support a position on this that the first line of your next sentence


4. The only thing that is purely evil in this world is utter, remorseless cruelty.

practically defines as evil. Not that this doesn't happen all the time - the coercive dynamics under which big pharmacy operates are frequently labeled evil or worse.

More pertinently, if you've watched someone near to you die, you know that you would do almost anything to change that, regardless of consequence. Armchair ethics are fun for the classroom, but fail as an exercise when brought into the real world.


5. I am neither absolute or relativistic, I am a realist. There are social norms and rules that need to be followed to ensure the safe living of all people within that society.

Hmm. But you go on to say that seatbelt laws are ridiculous. In that case, what about people in the back set, whose forward velocity in the event of a crash will likely kill both them and anybody sitting in front of them? Or maybe society actually views you as valuable, and the $250 is a reminder not to treat your own life so callously. After all, if you die, your family might be out a provider, and your death unquestionably make their lives worse. What about the responsibility to your family?

As someone who can't see how moral relativism cannot exist, I respect your views, but there seem to be inconsistencies within what you have presented here that are difficult for me to understand.

The Black Ghost
01-18-2010, 01:44 AM
It has everything to do with upbringing I think. You will be influenced by your parents and family, how they act, you will act. Also, it depends who your friends are.

-I have a sense of responsibility, and logic. I laid down my own rules as sort of a code to follow, because its just right and wrong.

In the end, I dont want to become a nihilist, because that can drive you insane.

Ruv Draba
01-18-2010, 03:05 AM
I find myself somewhere between Bluebell's and Ninja's positions here. I don't believe that moral questions are necessarily relativistic, but neither do I feel that morality is often simple or obvious.

I think it's not normally relativistic because we can't keep growing frames forever. Through diligent enquiry, moral questions can easily reach a point where all the significant stakes are made evident; after that it's a matter of resolving the issue based on a comprehensive, shared understanding.

But the resolution itself is seldom simple. The consequences of what we do depend on the circumstances. So if we don't have a deep understanding of circumstances and causes then our actions can have unintended consequences. Whether we recognise this depends on whether we try and fit our solution to the problem, or simplify the problem to match our traditional stories.

I don't think that morality is about producing the perfect response, but the best response our knowledge, examination, compassion and collective wisdom will allow. Neither do I think that the quality of resolution is relative to individual perspective.

Rather, I think that some people find it hard to operate selflessly (or don't see a good reason to do so) -- past a certain point, they turn their compassion off. In such a world, the moral becomes mere politics. But in a world where people can step beyond their self-interest, the moral transcends politics and becomes humanitarian. Humans are hit-and-miss about this, but I think we have a fair track record of choosing the humanitarian above the political or the traditional at critical times.

JeremiahJohnson
02-03-2010, 06:58 AM
quote: 3. No, I don't feel I am a relativist. Most things are black and white, and the places that fall into the gray are made gray by our own feelings.

reply: I think our response to (nearly if not) all situations, our understanding of whether one action is right, wrong, distasteful, comes from our emotional reaction. Often our emotions are in conflict with one another, and when they aren't, a given action is obviously correct or obviously incorrect.

Whether God or gods exist, how we respond to them comes down to how we feel about them.

I think moral questions are relativistic, but that a universal moral code would be worth enforcing if it minimized the destruction, restriction, & suffering (the most common form of restriction) of the free will of emotional (including the ability to feel pleasure or pain at any level) life - beings capable of benefiting from ethical appropriateness. In that sense, my morality involves a Libertarian transition into Universal Anarchy.

Ruv Draba
02-03-2010, 02:57 PM
reply: I think our response to (nearly if not) all situations, our understanding of whether one action is right, wrong, distasteful, comes from our emotional reaction. Often our emotions are in conflict with one another, and when they aren't, a given action is obviously correct or obviously incorrect.Some people make their decisions principally from emotion; some do it principally from thought. For most decisions, I'm in the latter category. I'm generally aware of my emotions, but often deal with them after I've made a decision rather than use my decisions to help deal with them. It can depend on circumstance though. Larger emotions have more influence than smaller ones. I don't know whether thinking through decisions is better or worse than feeling through them -- I think it depends on the decision.

knight_tour
02-03-2010, 06:24 PM
I think that the older and more experienced one gets, the less likely they are to see most things as black and white. Sure, there are exceptions and some people will just insist on thinking there is no gray. I just rewatched Dead Poets Society the other day, and afterwards I spoke with my children about it. I said that one of the things I loved about the movie is how it illustrated how life is NOT all black and white. Was the teacher wrong for being a great teacher, even though it certainly was a catalyst leading to the death of a student? No, a teacher should be as great a teacher as one can be; you can't hold off on doing good simply because there is the possibility that something may go wrong down the line. Life is like that- things will go wrong. Yes, the majority of the blame for the suicide had to be laid on the father, but there is no question the death would not have happened if not for the teacher. I say the teacher is blameless, and that life is simply not black and white.

JeremiahJohnson
02-03-2010, 10:40 PM
Some people make their decisions principally from emotion; some do it principally from thought.

Even the computations of mechanical devices occur directed by emotional motivation. Without motive, there is no conscious reaction. If I didn't want to turn on the machine, it would remain dormant.

The emotionless analytical part of mind is similar: capable of objective computations, but only if someone is motivated (emotionally driven) to so use it.

I'm generally aware of my emotions, but often deal with them after I've made a decision rather than use my decisions to help deal with them.

To think objectively rather than passionately, I can get behind. The fact (I think fact) remains that the decision is determined by emotional interplay, emotional disposition, at the moment of decision. Why did you decide to attempt an objective, emotionless, analytical computation? I would venture to guess, because you wanted to - were emotionally driven to do so.

DeleyanLee
02-03-2010, 11:02 PM
I think that the older and more experienced one gets, the less likely they are to see most things as black and white. Sure, there are exceptions and some people will just insist on thinking there is no gray.

Billy Joel® wrote and recorded Shades of Grey (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wyVcHuV2MHQ&feature=PlayList&p=C5B0A4B96E67EAC5&playnext=1&playnext_from=PL&index=18) with much the same sentiment.

bluebell80
02-04-2010, 03:38 AM
To think objectively rather than passionately, I can get behind. The fact (I think fact) remains that the decision is determined by emotional interplay, emotional disposition, at the moment of decision. Why did you decide to attempt an objective, emotionless, analytical computation? I would venture to guess, because you wanted to - were emotionally driven to do so.

I don't agree with this.

I have a deep understanding of my own emotions. I can feel something and quickly identify the emotion, the deeper reasons for the emotions, and I can accept that I am feeling those emotions, essentially releasing myself from their control over my rational thought process.

To me things are much more black and white once you remove the emotional ties that bind. Not allowing emotions to take control and make the decisions for you is actually a conscious choice we can make.

I'm not say that if faced with an ethically difficult situation, I'm 100% certain I'd do what's appropriate per societies rules. However, I'd never defer responsibility for the choice to do something against the social rules off on my emotions. I made the choice through a conscious thought process, emotionally influenced or not.

However, many people use their emotions as an excuse for bad behavior. What's the first thing a person caught doing something wrong who used emotions to rule their decision says? "I wasn't thinking, I was upset, stressed, scared, blah, blah, blah." The first thing is " I wasn't thinking." Of course they were thinking, but by having the emotions make the choice for them they have a cop out. Making excuses is an automatic human response to not wanting to be in trouble. Kids do it from the time they can speak, and we continue well into adulthood, only our excuses become more complicated and our web of lies bigger.

I think. I don't let my emotions rule my thoughts. I am fully aware of my thoughts at all times, and my emotional state of being. I have worked through all of my past issues and no longer feel controlled by emotions. This is very freeing, but in exchange The world becomes much more black and white, and the grays fad away. When emotions don't rule, the water is no longer muddied and thought is clear.

There are always exceptions to everything. Not every single circumstance out there is clear cut and well defined. There are sometimes conflicts between societies rules and what should be humanities rules. In this case, sometimes laws are made to be broken, for the sake of humanity.

JeremiahJohnson
02-07-2010, 07:56 PM
Without motivation, what is the point in making a decision at all? That's what I was trying to get at. Why move, if some feeling or sensation isn't driving you?

Perhaps the wind is pushing you forward. But if you are consciously motivated to act, you are motivated by some emotion or sensation. It doesn't matter how rational you are - your emotion(s) still at least motivate your decision.

bluebell80
02-07-2010, 09:40 PM
I think survival is a large motivating factor. Why go to work? To have money to buy food/pay bills/roof over your head. Many decisions have a motivation of dealing with social settings, since we do live in a social setting...most of us aren't hermits (at least not yet.)

Of course there are motivating factors to making decisions. Many people are emotionally motivated and lack the self-awareness to define why they are motivated to behave in such a way.

Personally, I don't have that. I am not motivated by emotions, but by thought processes.

Living in and of itself is my motivation. I don't wish to die, thus I do these things. The instinct of survival is a large motivational factor. Conscious motivation doesn't have to be dictated by emotions (those feelings that are created by rampant thought processes that most people aren't even aware of,) but can be motivated by conscious thought processes ignoring any emotional feelings that come to the surface.

So no, my emotions don't motivate me. The instinct to survive and conscious thought motivates me to make decisions.

Ruv Draba
02-07-2010, 11:33 PM
There seem to be two uses of 'emotion': that which moves us, and how we feel. The first use dates from the 16th century. The word comes from an Old Fench word emouvoir meaning 'stir up'. Eighty years later, the word was used to mean 'a strong feeling', then by the 19th century it meant 'any feeling'.

I definitely have motives, but feelings play little conscious part in them. I can tell, because my feelings change constantly while I undertake an activity, but I still persist with what I'm doing, and do it much the same way. If my task were based on how I was feeling, I'd surely change or stop it once those feelings changed.

AMCrenshaw
02-08-2010, 12:16 AM
By the way, I'd posted about the Ideal Observer (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=139948) elsewhere, which might have something to do with this thread!


AMC

JeremiahJohnson
02-08-2010, 10:15 AM
I am using "emotion" in the sense of any sensation or feeling. Maybe that's why I'm having a difficult time communicating my idea.

I don't wish to die, thus I do these things.

I define that as emotional motivation. And if you have a decision to make: move or be killed, and you are completely impartial (identical to being without emotion), you will die.

I think it is possible to enter into states of (basically) total apathy, and continue acting as you would were your emotions to have persisted. I think this means those emotions exist somewhere below the surface.

If my task were based on how I was feeling, I'd surely change or stop it once those feelings changed.

I think this is like apathy. There are the feelings you notice, and the feelings that exist below the surface.

Example: Manual labour. Hard manual labour can be irritating, it gets to the point where you feel like crap, there's nothing in it for you that moment to keep you going. But there's that pay check in your future, and you need it to survive. So: the emotional strength of your survival instinct, or if you want some beer your desire to get drunk, or if you have a family, your love of your family, wins out. These emotions persist, I think, whether we notice them or not.

I define any motivation as an emotion. E - motion. That which determines motion.

JeremiahJohnson
02-08-2010, 10:27 AM
I also think that the more intellectually driven a person is, the more a person takes pride in intellect, the more likely a person is to be capable of thinking in an unemotional manner. Of mapping things out with a relatively high level of objectivity. Of appearing unemotional to others.

With such people, the Ego protects intellectual achievement and ability. It is easier to accept the intellect is the only driving force.

I do not refute that one can be ruled by principles, and use principles to prevent emotions from creating inconsistencies in one's behaviour. But it is an emotional investment in these principles that permits one to adhere to them.

Ruv Draba
02-08-2010, 02:34 PM
... or perhaps the more confusing and disturbing one finds emotions to be, the more one may seek the calm of rationality. Perhaps a low EQ can sometimes drive a higher IQ? Just a thought...

My personal experience is that I sometimes set aside a lot of emotion in order to do something. That includes fear, anger, resentment, and self-pity. I can't conceive of what emotion would counter-balance these to motivate me forward. My personal answer is 'concentration'. :)

JeremiahJohnson
02-20-2010, 12:41 AM
I see concentration as a tool useful for reconciling emotional drive's goals

confusion can be an emotional motivation to think rationally, i don't disagree

Ruv Draba
02-20-2010, 12:59 AM
We can describe everything people do in terms of thoughts or feelings as the primary motivator, but in neither case is it entirely fair to do so. Try and describe a thinky in feely terms and they'll often look malign or eccentric. Try to describe a feely in thinky terms and they'll often look ignorant and deluded.

small axe
02-20-2010, 04:50 AM
You guys are far more elegant than I. :)


I'm an atheist, ex-christian, explorer of many religions, believer of none. I understand the pull of religion to our monkey minds, but I can't believe in it. In fact, I believe in nothing. I think a great many things, but I don't incorporate them into a belief system. So where do I get my moral compass? I use one of my own design.


That's very concise. And in quoting it, I don't argue against YOUR personal positions ... but against the position. (I assume that's fair)

I'd have to suggest that if we ALL 'use one of [our] own design' ... then there is absolutely no 'moral' basis for me to NOT FORCE MINE ON YOU.

Because 'my' moral design would tell me that's the moral thing to do (if I were a sociopath, which I'm not, but even as a sociopath I'd get to 'design' my own morality, right?)

Obviously then I'd be the most hated S.O.B. on the planet, right? Except ... no ... because terrorists who blow up skyscrapers seem (it sickens me) to be beloved by millions of people. (And no, it doesn't matter if those are 'religious' people or not ... or nutjob haters like those who praise the recent Texas incident for POLITICAL reasons. They're just ALL people 'designing their own morality' ... even if you see them as 'religious' dupes or 'political' dupes or 'non-theist' dupes ... they're the Crown of Creation, they're the darwinian latest new best thing evolution-wise: humans. Dupes!)

Some may argue that humans being social creatures, then 'morality' should at least serve social interaction (mutual respect, harmony, etc) ... but even THOSE are constructs I'd suggest are 'borrowed' from our past cultures ... and how many of those past cultures were 'non-theistic' or 'atheistic' ???

Mutual respect and harmony? Among humans?

Sometimes it falls apart as soon as there are TWO people involved, sometimes a family or a community can sustain those ideals ... but go two streets over and the distrust and friction and DIFFERENCES in 'morality' are already arising and the nice humanist reality is coming unglued.

And that's among folks UNITED by a common idea of 'moral behaviour' ...

What would happen if everyone accepted it was PROPER to just live by our own 'moral designs?' (Because, to too many folks, their 'morality' goes no further than them justifying doing whatever they want)

Some folks would say that the truest morality is to at least have everyone share and understand the Rules that 'moral' behaviour imposes.

I hate saying it ... but imposed means IMPOSED. Period.

The neighbors from that other culture we all respect? They don't get to B-B-Q your pet for their celebration; they don't get to sell their underage children into marriage (and flip it around: Mr. & Mrs. America's son doesn't get to mess with their daughter, even if we think their protection of their daughter is some sort of cultural oppression)

Now ... what or who has the moral authority to IMPOSE morality on everyone?

Some guy?
Some group of guys?
ANY GROUP of guys (no matter how large the group) who are possibly worse flawed humans than the rest of us?

Even when the Theocracy (booo. hisssss theocracy) was democratically elected?!

I just have to suggest the obvious: NO ONE who's NO BETTER than me (or us) has any moral Authority over us. (If so ... HOW? Where's the authority come from? Someone's "feelings?" Not even if they're MY feelings.)

'Morality' needs to be seen as coming from ABOVE. imo
From BETTER.

And I said 'needs to be SEEN' -- so that's allowing that it may only be our monkey brains agreeing on an IDEA ("religion"), but it's still us AGREEING that it's NOT our monkey brains imposing Right and Wrong onto OUR monkey brains.

Because what authority does any monkey brain have on any other monkey brain? Everyone wants to be the navigator and steer the ship? that ship goes nowhere (well, actually it goes where it amorally drifts)

Nobody chains us, that's the basic existential rule.

The thread asked where Morality comes from, that's my fair answer, my two cents. Repeat the question and if it's the right answer then the answer gets repeated too. Counterpoint was merely the tactic to illustrate my OPINION, I'm not here challenging or debating anyone else's fair opinions.

But disagreeing? Yes. Scenarios where "human-originated" moral codes work ... depend on people AGREEING. which, obviously, people don't!

No, I'm not a "non-theist" ... so whatever the club house ... I guess that's one theist's fair perspective on the topic of the thread. We get to have opinions too, separate from the dogma! :)

Ruv Draba
02-20-2010, 05:22 AM
I'd have to suggest that if we ALL 'use one of [our] own design' ... then there is absolutely no 'moral' basis for me to NOT FORCE MINE ON YOU.I'd suggest that recognition of fallibility, ignorance and dispassion are strong reasons not to force a moral code on others ab initio. I'd also point out that historically, many of those who do harm in the name of morality believe somehow in the infallibility, supreme knowledge and compassion of doing so.

In other words, it can be argued that they show unquestioned and unjustified arrogance.

Some folks would say that the truest morality is to at least have everyone share and understand the Rules that 'moral' behaviour imposes.Some others may say that rules have very little to do with morality, and that those who confuse morality with rules are highly self-interested, disinterested in the circumstances of others and largely ignorant.


'Morality' needs to be seen as coming from ABOVE.People with a punitive morality need authority to justify the punishments and rewards they consider right and inevitable. This engenders a 'compliance through transaction' view, which not everyone agrees has anything to do with morality.

Another view is that our morality is what we do when there is no chance at all of personal punishment or reward. A non-punitive view of morality often leans heavily on shared compassion and understanding rather than the use of authority and force.

Some might argue (I'd be among them) that law and order may require authority and policing, but that this is not morality.



The thread asked where Morality comes from, that's my fair answer, my two cents.Actually as the original poster I'd like to point out that the topic is non-theistic morality. So you're off-topic, Axe, unless you'd like to address the question of the origin of non-theistic morality as your principal subject

small axe
02-20-2010, 05:48 AM
The thread asked where Morality comes from, that's my fair answer, my two cents.



Actually as the original poster I'd like to point out that the topic is non-theistic morality.

My comments addressed that throughout.


So you're off-topic, Axe, unless you'd like to address the question of the origin of non-theistic morality as your principal subject

No, actually, it's not that I'm off-topic this time, it's that the topic evolved along one possible tangent (of many).

To suggest that there is no such thing as 'non-theistic' morality ... would be still on topic. :)

It's on the topic's spectrum of possibilities, and unless you wanted to begin a discussion by purposefully ignoring possibilities (which I know you wouldn't, because you deal in richly thought-provoking threads) you wouldn't artificially blinder the topic.

Here I said:

Now ... what or who has the moral authority to IMPOSE morality on everyone?


That's basically on topic, and a fair question. The answers certainly can range from soap bubbly feelings to tyrannical human law.

But if there is no 'non-theistic" answer that stands up under scrutiny (brought forth via discussion) ... then the alternative is revealed and is still 'on topic'

Note, I'm not concluding that no such thing as 'non-theistic' can exist.

I'm wondering aloud "How could it exist?"
And asking (as were you, imo) In what forms?
According to what foundations and principles?

Again, that's certainly the topic of our thread here! (I realized I had drifted off-topic in others of your threads, sir, and so was very careful here to stay on topic, is my point. But merely offering an alternative interpretation or disagreement isn't "off topic" imo)

ChristineR
02-20-2010, 06:03 AM
The basis of all morality is human compassion, as has been said.

The problem with saying morality comes from above, is that it's completely vacuous. What if your morality from above tells you to blow up skyscrapers, or be a sociopath? Who's to say that's immoral?

If you have some sort of working definition like "don't hurt other people unnecessarily" or "the greatest good for the greatest number," at least you're not arbitrary. At least you can't justify moral outrages.

Furthermore, even a non-theist can believe in a transcendent morality. A non-theist can believe in good and evil, and can believe that morals "just are," are sort of inherent to the universe, whether or not they can be defined by maxims or imposed by society.

Finally, the whole idea that God imposes morality on us really has nothing to do with actual behavior. Some people impose morality on themselves, and society imposes it on us. God does not impose morality on anyone, even if God exists. I say this because it's ridiculously easy to find people justifying every loathsome crime you can name because God (supposedly) wants them do it. The concept of God's imposing morality on us is completely empty, unless you can somehow explain how God does it and how God communicates to us what we're supposed to be doing.

Ruv Draba
02-20-2010, 06:31 AM
To suggest that there is no such thing as 'non-theistic' morality ... would be still on topic. :)The topic presupposes that non-theistic morality exists. To suggest otherwise is off-topic and offensive to many people in this forum. Not to mention, willfully ignorant.

I'm going to ask that you no longer contribute to this thread, Axe.

small axe
02-20-2010, 11:46 AM
SPOILER ALERT: This is merely a reply to Ruv's public statement.
You can skip it and not lose anything about Morality. But it's addressing the issue Ruv brought INTO the thread.
And maybe it's enlightening on how non-theists (which also is in the title) and theists cause unintended friction?

I'll happily withdraw, out of an interest in friendly thread fellowship.

But I don't do so because I in any way accept (and I'm NOT suggesting you're accepting that or acting from it, either) the idea that mere exploration or extrapolation of a topic means anyone's gone "off-topic" :) or should be scolded for such, or for merely disagreeing ... however broad the consensus.

Someone mentioned once before how they're "treated" in the "religious" forums, as if that should decide how anyone is treated HERE. It shouldn't. If anyone is unwelcome elsewhere ... that doesn't mean I'm acting in any way deserving of unwelcoming HERE (when I would suppose folks here would agree we should treat people better, and with more openmindedness ... here)



Originally Posted by small axe http://absolutewrite.com/forums/images/buttons/viewpost.gif (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?p=4658278#post4658278)
To suggest that there is no such thing as 'non-theistic' morality ... would be still on topic. :)



The topic presupposes that non-theistic morality exists.

Respectfully, I don't think it 'pre-supposes' anything of the sort.

I'm certainly NOT here beating a drum of THEISM.

All I've mentioned here is a possible approach on the spectrum of Morality of having "religion" being 'seen' as a source of Morality.

Not every "religion" needs to be "theistic" (perhaps some forms of Buddhism, for instance) ...

So, respectfully, PLEASE don't presume to scold someone for their sincere comments, and PLEASE don't over-use the whole Don't comment in my thread thing either.

I've started threads too, and folks came and took them off topic (imo) ... and I've NEVER asked anyone not to comment. NEVER.

You'll recall you've asked me before, and I did.
But that's my choice.


To suggest otherwise is off-topic and offensive to many people in this forum. Not to mention, willfully ignorant.

You're getting unnecessarily personal there.
And you're pretending to speak for others who can of course speak for themselves (if they're offended, but I gave NO OFFENSE)

Most sadly, when you CLAIM that I've been 'offensive' to folks here ... if I remain silent, then that FALSE CHARACTERIZATION stands undenied. So YOU'RE FORCING ME to reply now ... right?

(Really, let's all note that: When we want to cool down a heated thread, that's a thing to AVOID doing: don't FORCE someone to see things as being "offensive" or insulting ... when you cannot prove that was ever their intent!)

And I'm not being 'willfully ignorant' ... just because I think you're MISTAKEN in claiming I was 'off-topic' (and I already did you the courtesy, above, of explaining WHY I'm not off topic)

PLUS -----> You say this in your OWN thread, IN PUBLIC, where you KNOW I'll now have respond also in public? Why? We've had perfectly respectful and productive PRIVATE MESSAGES between us. Right?

Ruv ... c'mon, man ... I'm not derailing or off topic NOW either ... I'm just answering issues YOU needlessly brought into your own thread, in public.


I'm going to ask that you no longer contribute to this thread, Axe.

'Ask' is technically polite enough ... even though bouncers at bars sometimes 'ask' patrons to leave by adding an extra ten meter hike at the door! :Hug2:

Fine. I offered my views, it was on topic, I have no reason to argue.

But still ... what's said in public threads gets answered in public threads.

*shrug*

Now, Ruv got to sling his 'willfully ignorant' barb ... so here's my own 'mind-reading' performance (Tickets on sale at the carny tent entance for two cents!)

If anyone hypothetically wants or needs to paint ME as "the unwelcome trolling Theist" :) ... that's just them building their own strawman to wail against and a crutch to lean on, imo.
And suggesting that "if" here shouldn't be 'offensive' to anyone here ... unless they decided themselves that the shoe fits.

Again: I've never asked anyone not to comment anymore in one of my threads. And you could've asked in a Private Message without inviting my response here.

... sow ... reap ... It's sort of how the cosmos works out, y'know? It never has to get personal.

That said ... sometimes I'm happy to withdraw without wanting to ruin everybody else's party! :)

Other times, somebody's moneychangers' table in the temple might get disturbed and decorum is sacrificed in the name of good discussion (but, admittedly, by someone better suited than myself) ...

I nod to Ruv's request ... The moving hand moves on, etc ...

Ruv Draba
02-20-2010, 03:51 PM
Thank you Axe. For information, I skimmed the first few paragraphs and skipped the rest.

knight_tour
02-20-2010, 03:59 PM
Axe, the very idea that non-theists do not have morality is insulting beyond belief. Not only do we have morals, but it has been my experience that non-theists are often much more highly and consistently moral than most theists (based upon logical standards of compassion and empathy).

AMCrenshaw
02-22-2010, 02:29 AM
FWIW I think Axe had a place in this conversation - a use, let's say. It's a good point that religion is a non-theistic source of morality. And if that - rather than "there is no such thing as non-theistic morality" - was the ACTUAL point, I would like to invite Axe back into the thread.

OTOH, I too find it (very) insulting to say to someone that morality only exists in the context of a belief in God. If that's your stance, Axe, why don't you tell me in a PM the point of posting in this thread or with speaking to anyone who posts in this subforum? Because from our perspective ...well, what do you think it looks like? What do you think it feels like?


AMC

Ruv Draba
02-22-2010, 03:54 AM
It's a good point that religion is a non-theistic source of morality.Sure is. Worthy of discussion too. And Axe would be a good person to talk about that, except...


And if that - rather than "there is no such thing as non-theistic morality" - was the ACTUAL point, I would like to invite Axe back into the thread.It wasn't the point, AMC -- we'd just be pretending it was. We've had two threadlocks lately -- each for posts that forced non-theists to defend themselves. This was shaping up to be another -- hence my request, to which Axe kindly acceded.

Axe is kind, polite, thoughtful, eloquent and considerate but I think he doesn't understand much about non-theism, or just how condescending and offensive some of his statements are. His posts aren't malicious or deliberately rude and I don't want to see him banned, but I think he needs to ask questions here instead of defending theosupremacist positions that to a lot of us, are all too familiar anyway.

That's a personal view, and Axe I'm sorry to be writing about you in the third person. As you'd know I've PMed similar stuff to you in the past. Asking you not to participate isn't meant to be punitive. It's damage-control because I don't know what else to do. I like having you around and if someone can find a more constructive way ahead, well that'd be fine by me.

AMCrenshaw
02-22-2010, 03:59 AM
Axe is kind, polite, thoughtful, eloquent and considerate but I think he doesn't understand much about non-theism, or just how condescending and offensive some of his statements are.

Which is precisely why Axe should be here -- if not to discuss, then to read.


His posts aren't malicious or deliberately rude and I don't want to see him banned, but I think he needs to ask questions here instead of knowingly or unknowingly defending theosupremacist positions that to a lot of us, are all too familiar anyway.


Agreed, with the addition.




AMC

Ruv Draba
02-22-2010, 04:11 AM
If Axe wants to play in this thread with you mentoring him in how to avoid savagings and threadlocks, then I couldn't be happier. I also think you're the right feller for it. :LilLove:

AMCrenshaw
02-22-2010, 04:32 AM
LoL.

You've already covered what "the mentoring" would entail. Ask questions with a curiosity toward the other's perspective rather than trying to prove one's own as true. More understanding comes out of this simple law than maybe any other.



AMC

Ruv Draba
02-22-2010, 04:54 AM
You've already covered what "the mentoring" would entail. Ask questions with a curiosity toward the other's perspective rather than trying to prove one's own as true. More understanding comes out of this simple law than maybe any other.All true. But before we can do that we need to recognise at least in principle that another's way of life can be viable and even wholesome, even if it's not for us. A lot of atheists here recognise this in various kinds of theism, but many theists do not recognise it in non-theism. That's in part why we need a list of myths and refutations.

The contraposition -- that another's way of life is not viable or wholesome -- is no basis from which to spend any time in another's society. Anyone who enters a Religious and Spiritual Writing forum with that attitude is heading for a ban, no matter the forum, no matter how they phrase their views, and ain't nothin' nobody can do about it.

Non-theists generally have viable and wholesome lives. They're known for low crime rates, stable marriages and peacable relations with a plurality of theists. Conversely, among people who have lives seen as unwholesome there's often a high level of theism -- I saw some stats to indicate that prostitutes for example, are disproportionately Roman Catholic -- though I couldn't begin to explain why.

I'd argue that part of the non-theistic story is that many non-theists have a strong moral core. Most often it's not based on received wisdom so much as educated and compassionate enquiry, but it's no less strong for all that. In-principle arguments that enquiry-based morality is somehow weak and flawed are clearly based on prejudice rather than knowledge, and anyone who doesn't understand how an enquiry-based morality can work should do themselves a favour and ask before judging.

It's especially ironic to argue (for example) that enquiry-based morality inflicts itself on others when moral codes based on received wisdom are notorious for doing so in the harshest possible ways.

(Oh look -- we're almost back on topic again...)

AMCrenshaw
02-22-2010, 05:08 AM
See I toyed with the idea originally of asking if morality is something the nontheist or anyone I suppose should pursue. I tend to think that moralizing occurs, essentially, in the realm of sacred and profane. If "morality" is just "what's good" without declaring what's "evil", I can go with it. Then again, I myself have a hard time practically distinguishing morality from ethics and think discussions of ethics are more fruitful than those about morality.


AMC

Ruv Draba
02-22-2010, 06:12 AM
moral (adj.) (http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=moral) http://www.etymonline.com/graphics/dictionary.gif (http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=moral)mid-14c., "pertaining to character or temperament" (good or bad), from O.Fr. moral, from L. moralis "proper behavior of a person in society," lit. "pertaining to manners," coined by Cicero ("De Fato," II.i) to translate Gk. ethikos (see ethics (http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=ethics)) from L. mos (gen. moris) "one's disposition," in plural, "mores, customs, manners, morals," of uncertain origin. Meaning "morally good, conforming to moral rules," is first recorded late 14c. of stories, 1630s of persons. Original value-neutral sense preserved in moral support, moral victory, with sense of "pertaining to character as opposed to physical action." The noun meaning "moral exposition of a story" is attested from c.1500. Related: Morally.

ethics (http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=ethics) http://www.etymonline.com/graphics/dictionary.gif (http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=ethics)c.1600, "the science of morals," pl. of M.E. ethik "study of morals" (see ethic (http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=ethic)). The word also traces to Ta Ethika, title of Aristotle's work.
Morality is our understanding of what is good and bad -- especially what is good or bad in a person's character. Religion of course, has opinion about this, but so too do secular cultures and just about everyone really. The question isn't intrinsically religious, though some theists might argue that the answer is. :)

AMCrenshaw
02-22-2010, 06:50 AM
Yeah, I guess I knew that and I guess that while people's characters are fascinating they don't concern me as much as people's selves, if you know what I mean. Again, we can have fun with the words "character" in the context of morality & "morality tales." Especially interesting is the phenomenon in which we conflate our characters with our selves. But what is a character except an accumulation of actions which create a sense of sameness/identity? It's because others perceive this sameness/identity more than we possibly can, that our characters are largely written by others more so than by our selves. So that when there is transgression of that character - first and foremost - shame and guilt immediately follow. Insofar as morality concerns characters, it will remain a kind of shackle, and a punitive one at that.




AMC

Ruv Draba
02-22-2010, 07:55 AM
I guess that while people's characters are fascinating they don't concern me as much as people's selves, if you know what I mean.Not yet -- you haven't explained the distinction. :) But I agree that there might be one.

'Character' comes from the Greek kharakter "engraved mark". Metaphorically it means our 'defining qualities'. So morality then is the study of those defining qualities which we consider good or bad.

Who defines those qualities? I don't know that it has anything to do with the stories we tell ourselves, or those that others tell about us. Rather I think it's to do with our motives and behaviours and how they work to create a recognisable signature for our lives. I think that such a description is consistent with religious and secular notions of morality.

Character assessments are made all the time. Friends, families, employers, neighbours all form views about our characters. Those views might be accurate or not, but we rely on them. We don't ask people of poor character to baby-sit, for instance. But we often ask people of good character for references, assistance and advice.

Though character suggests consistency of motives and behaviour, character can change. But character changes don't happen spontaneously. We look for reasons for people to change character -- that's indeed what a lot of fiction is about.

So that when there is transgression of that character - first and foremost - shame and guilt immediately follow.This presumes that character is prescriptive rather than descriptive. You then go on to make it punitively prescriptive which seems needlessly limiting. It's the sort of thing I'd expect to be justified with some metaphysical myth involving souls and karma and heaven or the like.

Suppose we agree that character is descriptive. Then why must morality be about reward and punishment? Couldn't it simply be about encouragement, deterrence and responsibility?

AMCrenshaw
02-22-2010, 08:46 AM
Well OK...For me, "description" isn't about character in the first place, but about self.

Since character / moral character concerns sameness/identity, or the transgressions thereof, by its nature it is prescriptive.


AMC

Ruv Draba
02-22-2010, 09:07 AM
Well OK...For me, "description" isn't about character in the first place, but about self.

Since character / moral character concerns sameness/identity, or the transgressions thereof, by its nature it is prescriptive.I don't follow. What's 'self', who defines it, what does it mean to transgress, and how does that have anything to do with good and bad?

AMCrenshaw
02-22-2010, 09:51 AM
Let's not worry about the self, really. I just think the self is the actual and the character is a not-completely-arbitrary fiction. The character has to do with some mark of consistency in action, establishing sameness/identity.

Because character/moral character has its code engraved in stone it has also its transgressions (changes, disruptions, breaks of character) engraved there too. Breaking moral character is a transgression; in fact breaking character of any kind is a transgression.


AMC

Ruv Draba
02-22-2010, 02:44 PM
Let's not worry about the self, really. I just think the self is the actual and the character is a not-completely-arbitrary fiction.I think we've talked about that side before. 'Self' to me is a story. There is an actual being under that story, but I don't think it's called 'self'.


The character has to do with some mark of consistency in action, establishing sameness/identity.Yes, but I think it's more than preferences. I think that character tests what we're willing and unwilling to pay to maintain constancy. So it's not the masks we wear, but rather how we act when nobody is holding us to account -- especially when in conflict or duress.

That of course is why moral understanding is important too. It's easy to do good when good is easy to do. Much harder is to seek good when it's not easy. So, no morality without character and no character without some sort of morality -- even if it's a tacit sort of morality.

In a fictional sense, I believe that every story that tests character is a moral story, and I don't deny that the morality we aspire to connects in some important way to the kinds of stories we want to tell that make up our sense of self.


Because character/moral character has its code engraved in stone it has also its transgressions (changes, disruptions, breaks of character) engraved there too. Breaking moral character is a transgression; in fact breaking character of any kind is a transgression.I didn't follow all of that, but I don't believe that morality is engraved in stone. Rather I think it's bound in compassion, wisdom, sacrifice and forbearance. So it's dynamic and strategic, but can give the appearance of being unchanging.

I'm not sure morality has much to do with transgressions so much as the effective management of strategy. This is partly why I think that morality doesn't have much to do with rewards and punishments and other transactions.

AMCrenshaw
02-22-2010, 09:04 PM
Or to put it this way...in so far as morality has to do with "moral character," change or breaking said character is considered a transgression. In respect to "moral character" this transgression is the transgression of what others, mostly, have written about us. I think such moral character is internalized; the transgression, from this perspective of morality (that is, remember, insofar as it concerns "moral character" and not, as you say, being bound in "compassion and wisdom" - and I would also ask about whether sacrifice has anything to do with morality, as opposed to ethics) is punitive by nature of producing guilt and shame.



What's interesting is I don't think we're of completely different minds on this point, more a matter of semantics. As I am a bit more of a mystic than you (:D), the self is the closest name I can give to that being beneath the story, the many stories, really. But again my definition of self is non-dualistic as you know (hence the mysticism), and essentially without limit, which from my perspective nonetheless opens up one's character (what you call the self, what I could call the practical self-- remember what you said a while back? The practical self refers to the subject of your sentence (paraphrased): "I should have the wits to bite my own fingernails rather than my neighbors" :D) to compassion and wisdom as the foundations for conscience and ethics. And it seems to me conscience in this respect would replace the function of morality ...even if morality precedes conscience? That is, if one has conscience founded on compassion and wisdom, what part does morality play?



AMC

ChristineR
02-22-2010, 10:09 PM
Concerning theists and crime.

I think there's enough data to show that theists are more likely to be criminals than atheists. As appealing as it might be to blame this on theism, I think it has more to do with intelligence and education than theism per se. If it's true that Catholics are disproportionately prostitutes, then that probably has to do with Catholics being poorer and more urban (especially in the Hispanic subculture) than other populations.

Sometimes this cuts both ways. For instance, there's less alcoholism in Mormon populations, and less in other denominations that disallow drinking. This seems to be one of the few moral vices that religions have actually managed to dissuade people from. On the other hand, there's more abuse of prescription drugs.

I have to say I was a little surprised when I learned that religious people have more abortions, more divorce, and commit more crimes, simply because I assumed that people would self-select. If you consider divorce to be a valid choice, it seems you wouldn't choose go to a church that rails against divorce. But in fact the numbers do show that seems to be the case. It's a powerful argument that people's religious choices are determined by something other than than moral choices.

AMCrenshaw
02-22-2010, 11:11 PM
It's a powerful argument that people's religious choices are determined by something other than than moral choices.


In my opinion religions, especially the authoritative varieties, tend toward moralizing so that leaders can shield themselves from judgment or criticism by their peers. It might be that the wisdom of the moral life is different from and maybe insignificant relative to the "divine" life. But also, along the lines of socio-economic disadvantage... religion historically has been the bread alone of the masses: the food, shelter, and clothing distribution centers, again, typically aimed toward the poverty- or disaster-stricken populations (these aren't unique or intrinsic to religion, but it is a humanistic niche they've happened to fill). Like if the simple need for meaning or comfort, if debt, community gratitude, authority, and tradition have greater roles than morality...

What's interesting that feelings of need for meaning or comfort, feelings of indebtedness, of gratitude, the influence of authority and tradition -- are all non-theistic, and perhaps a few of these give way to "morality" as well.


AMC

Ruv Draba
02-23-2010, 01:44 AM
Or to put it this way...in so far as morality has to do with "moral character," change or breaking said character is considered a transgression.I don't agree. If I go for a three mile run and stop part-way to sit on a bench, is that a transgression? It may depend on what sort of story we tell ourselves about the run. If we're trying to tell some sort of hero-story about it then maybe it's a transgression. But if we're just some schmo running and we get tired then maybe it's not.

Ethics I think have transgressions. If I steal from you then I've done some sort of harm to you, to me, to the trust between us and to the trust our society can put in people. In my study of ethics I might think about what I can do to undo some of that harm, restore trust.

But in morality? I'm not clear that it has transgressions. I think it has understanding and insight, commitments and growth. Certain religions choose to add transgressions and atonements and the like, but certain religions also don't. If religion can manage such diversity, obviously secular morality can too.


What's interesting is I don't think we're of completely different minds on this point, more a matter of semantics.Semantics yes, but also intent. I get a sense that guilt and shame may be a bigger deal for you than for me. You might want to give it a bigger part in the narrative because it feels more important to you.


if one has conscience founded on compassion and wisdom, what part does morality play?Let's say that one has a conscience, and hopes it's founded on compassion and wisdom.

Morality would be an investigation into whether one was right. :)

AMCrenshaw
02-23-2010, 02:14 AM
Ruv we're not speaking in each other's language. I will try again to say what I mean. In so far as (MORALITY / manner) has to do with (MORALITY / CHARACTER "engraved mark"), the engraved mark is the "set in stone" aspect of the "moral character." Thus, actions which are outside of the boundaries set within this "moral character" are by definition transgressions, or "the exceeding of limits or boundaries".

EX

If I -- AMC the nonviolence activist -- get into a fist fight at a bar... claim responsibility "I did it" ... and feel guilty or shameful (self-denigrating, the character attacking the self) I know exactly why: because I had internalized my own character in such a way that the moment I acted outside of that projection, it looked upon me with scorn (which is really me looking at me, through my own character's perspective, with scorn).

But insofar as morality itself is not characterized / set in stone, it cannot be transgressed.



Semantics yes, but also intent. I get a sense that guilt and shame may be a bigger deal for you than for me. You might want to give it a bigger part in the narrative because it feels more important to you.

It's a contextual thing you wouldn't understand (I had a Catholic background :D). No, really, people feel guilt and shame in very profound ways that have everything to do with themselves, their characters (which I believe are projections), their moral characters (which are no less projections), and, in short, their conscience. As guilt and shame have been used a-plenty to enforce behavior throughout history, with the idea of course that the enforced behavior was Good, I do think those ideas are important, especially in the context of non-theistic sources of morality -- I see shame and guilt as obstructions to growth, though they try to enforce a kind of correction through self-hate.



AMC

Ruv Draba
02-23-2010, 03:06 AM
Ruv we're not speaking in each other's language. I will try again to say what I mean.Thanks for your patience, AMC. I'm definitely interested. Sorry for being thick.


the engraved mark is the "set in stone" aspect of the "moral character." Thus, actions which are outside of the boundaries set within this "moral character" are by definition transgressions, or "the exceeding of limits or boundaries".I think I get what you're saying, but in conventional usage your character is who you are... not who you say you are, or who anyone else says you are...

So if you say you're a pacifist but wade into a fist-fight then you're a person who (perhaps reluctantly) fights. That's your character. You might not like it, but that's what it is. Perhaps you'll seek to change that; perhaps you'll succeed. But meanwhile all you've transgressed are your character aspirations -- not the character you have.

You might feel that fist-fighting is always bad, and perhaps your bar experience confirms it. 'Never again!' you promise yourself. But what has changed? So far, only your intention.

But then suppose you're in a bar with a friend and some guy whales on him and you call the police and yell stop but otherwise don't physically confront the attacker. Maybe afterward your friend looks at you like you betrayed him. What has changed?

You didn't fight. Even when you wanted to. Even when perhaps it cost you a friendship.

So you've changed.

Are our emotions part of our character? I think it depends. Our emotions are easily manipulated by the stories we tell. I trust motives more than emotions when it comes to speaking to character. It's what we intend while we're taking action that reveals our character, rather than how we feel between bouts.


I see shame and guilt as obstructions to growth, though they try to enforce a kind of correction through self-hate.I agree that shame and guilt are exploited to control behaviour. I think that they can be used to shape character, and also that they can be a reflection of character -- in the sense that they can be connected to concern and remorse, which can trigger action.

As with all emotions though, the problem is in sorting out what's what. Am I reacting to a story, or to a real event? Is my display of emotion a reaction of my character, a mask I present to the world, or simply a socialised response? It's hard to know until we see a person in action. It's sometimes hard to be sure within ourselves.

AMCrenshaw
02-23-2010, 06:14 AM
OK. I'm saying by and large that "moral character" (what is deemed goodness of character) often comes "from above", from other humans, from our own artifice, and at some point we conflate or internalize the artifice, or-- let me use your language -- the characters we aspire to with our "real" characters. The conflation or internalization doesn't have to be neat and clean and very often it isn't. Cognitive dissonance is a common psychological effect that comes from something of this conflation/internalization, for example.


Here's how I could break down how I view "character" :

there is character in the sense of sameness/identity (who we aspire to be or call ourselves; what we are called; what defines us; what is expected --- prescriptive)

character in the sense of selfhood/identity (who we actually are --- descriptive)


AMC

Ruv Draba
02-23-2010, 07:18 AM
Here's how I could break down how I view "character" :

there is character in the sense of sameness/identity (who we aspire to be or call ourselves; what we are called; what defines us; what is expected --- prescriptive)

character in the sense of selfhood/identity (who we actually are --- descriptive)Thanks for clarifying, AMC. I think it's making more sense but I feel that there's a middle missing, so let me try and fill it in.

A prescriptive view of morality presupposes that we have an absolute understanding of what 'good' morality looks like. That might work fine for 'received wisdom' philosophies in which morality is codified somehow, but I don't think it's terribly sensible when morality is something we explore experientially through observation -- as I think many non-theists (and indeed some theists) do.

An empirical view of morality is descriptive and predictive -- we can describe and anticipate the moral consequences of (for example) killing someone. But we can't necessarily say that killing someone is bad in all cases; only in the cases we already understand.

We can say that we have a personal aversion to killing someone (i.e. it's a part of our character), but we can't say that this aversion is good or bad in all cases -- unless we appeal to some external authority we have to explore the cases first.

So in terms of character, we might (if we're lucky) have a reasonably clear view of who we are. We might have some idea of how we could be better, but we may never have a complete view of who we ought best to be.

We know a lot about what's good and bad in our own experiences because we examine those things, but outside our experience, our knowledge falls away. Where some appeal to external authority, others may seek to sound the consequences as they go. This is in fact what many children do, and sometimes, grown-ups feel they need to do this too. A lot of it comes down to who we think should be responsible.

Where moral wisdom comes down as a set of rules, people often marshall a case for punishment when anyone breaks the rules. But where we reject received rules I don't think it's so clear-cut. We might make a case to punish when we know and ignore the moral consequences of our actions. We might make an ethical case for being responsible regardless, but we might not be able to make a case to punish when the moral consequences are unknown despite making every reasonable effort to anticipate them.

So I don't think morality is intrinsically punitive, and I don't think it's about making up stories. I think it has to do with conscience, but not just conscience since conscience can be very ignorant at times. It has much more to do with understanding consequences and impacts, and the value we place on others -- and hence it's the natural underpinning for ethics.

AMCrenshaw
02-23-2010, 08:59 AM
Excellent. I think we've made it through to the other side.




A prescriptive view of morality presupposes that we have an absolute understanding of what 'good' morality looks like.

It does. And I don't believe we have an absolute understanding of what good morality looks like.



That might work fine for 'received wisdom' philosophies in which morality is codified somehow,


Right, but do you see what that leads to, from my perspective? A "moral character" to transgress. . .



but I don't think it's terribly sensible when morality is something we explore experientially through observation

Correct, and that's my point. Insofar as morality is not prescriptive I am OK with it. (again, from my perspective, this does not limit morality to an empirical view -- I tend toward phenomenological 'models' and models existing on the level pf metaphor; the latter runs its own dangers if it's taken to replace (or pose as) an empirical view).



So I don't think morality is intrinsically punitive,

No, but I think some morality is - and that prescriptive morality in particular is. Much of the violence and cruelty that has occurred in the name of this religion or that isn't possible without this prescriptive sense of morality.




It has much more to do with understanding consequences and impacts, and the value we place on others -- and hence it's the natural underpinning for ethics.

Yes. and maybe another way to state my position is that i don't concern myself with morality when it doesn't directly entail a discussion of ethics as well.





AMC

Ruv Draba
02-23-2010, 09:24 AM
Yes. I see morality (what is good) and ethics (what we owe one another) as inextricably intertwined. Study of A leads to insight in B, and vice-versa.

Ethics I think has a prescriptive component -- though I don't think it's absolute, since we learn ethics as we go. I see nothing in ethics to force it to be punitive -- any punishment is normally inherited from the moral code, or perhaps adopted from some sort of custom.

Morality I think has descriptive and predictive components. Prescriptive component is optional, and punitive component is too.

small axe
02-24-2010, 03:24 AM
Look, I'm not re-entering the thread.

I was OUT.

I assumed (and hoped) discussion wouldn't continue about ME after I exited.

But first AMC pm's me and was very thoughtful, so I answered AMC by pm.

THEN I come back here out of respect for that, to make sure I hadn't left things wrongly ... and I find there are comments STILL mis-characterizing my comments?

Please. If you "ask" me OUT (and I left fairly) then why not freakin' LEAVE ME OUT ??? :D

Originally Posted by AMCrenshaw http://absolutewrite.com/forums/images/buttons/viewpost.gif (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?p=4663863#post4663863)
It's a good point that religion is a non-theistic source of morality.


Sure is. Worthy of discussion too. And Axe would be a good person to talk about that, except...

Quote:
And if that - rather than "there is no such thing as non-theistic morality" - was the ACTUAL point, I would like to invite Axe back into the thread.



It wasn't the point, AMC -- we'd just be pretending it was.

No, Ruv ... That WAS the point.

So the 'pretending' you need to stop is: pretending to characterize my meaning, and my INTENTIONS (whether you're pretending I'm being 'offensive' or 'being 'willfully ignorant') ... and just deal with what I actually WRITE here.

In comment #52 you wrote:


Thank you Axe. For information, I skimmed the first few paragraphs and skipped the rest.


Yeah, that would be YOUR problem then. :) Read fully ... then critique and complain (if you must).

But leave 'pretending' out of it, okay?


We've had two threadlocks lately -- each for posts that forced non-theists to defend themselves.

Well, forum comrade ... THAT is an issue between you and whoever LOCKS THREADS.

Asking ME to leave (or talking of 'banning' others) ... really wasn't your best solution.



This was shaping up to be another -- hence my request, to which Axe kindly acceded.


Gladly. Yes. Kindah hoped you'd quit re-interpretting my comments and positions once I'd acceded, though.


Axe is kind, polite, thoughtful, eloquent and considerate but I think he doesn't understand much about non-theism, or just how condescending and offensive some of his statements are.

See?

My silence would let your accusations STAY UNCORRECTED.

So how could I NOT respond ... again?


His posts aren't malicious or deliberately rude and I don't want to see him banned,

I don't want to see YOU 'banned' either, Ruv. (I don't want ANYONE BANNED)

But honestly ... I think you're the one who extended these bad vibes, even after I had left your thread! :Hug2:



but I think he needs to ask questions here instead of defending theosupremacist positions that to a lot of us, are all too familiar anyway

Well, TWO ISSUES:

1) You SLAM ME that I should 'ask questions' ... but when I DO ASK QUESTIONS then I get accused of demanding evidence.

I'm not so much branding that hypocrisy ... as just being an unfortunate CATCH-22.

But I see myself as ASKING FAIR QUESTIONS here.

Sometimes I frame the questions with hypotheticals, or by offering my position (inviting it to be COUNTERPOINTED) ... but that's not 'theosupremacist'

2) You write that I'm: 'defending theosupremacist positions' ... ???

I've never even HEARD that word. And now that I have ... I'm NOT 'defending' anything ... I'm ASKING about YOUR ALTERNATIVES.


That's a personal view, and Axe I'm sorry to be writing about you in the third person.

well then ... STOP IT. :)
Or at least GET ME right! :)


As you'd know I've PMed similar stuff to you in the past. Asking you not to participate isn't meant to be punitive.

Well, my point (in the comment you didn't read) was that you could've / should've expressed your concerns in a PM and not brought it here.

And since I figure you have NO POWER to be 'punitive' ... it never crossed my mind that you meant it that way, Ruv.


It's damage-control because I don't know what else to do.

Don't imply my intentions.
Don't presume I'm willfully 'offensive' to 'others' here or 'willfully ignorant.'
Don't become unnecessarily negatively 'personal' in an open, public thread ... when you could have addressed it in a PM (which again, has worked well for us both in the recent past)

I figure that (again) I am basically forced to answer IN PUBLIC when you drag me out IN PUBLIC. (My only alternative is to accept your mis-characterizations by my silence -- which I don't owe you to do)


I like having you around and if someone can find a more constructive way ahead, well that'd be fine by me

When it arises IN OTHER, FUTURE threads ... just deal with my QUESTIONS and my POINTS ... as if each one is from a brand new person.

(Because I fear you have some error-tainted "baggage" when it comes from "me" ... and that lets you and others PRESUME that I'm some strawman you've built, some 'insulting' or 'theosupremacist' thing that ISN'T THERE in my actual comments)

To me, that's the 'constructive' approach you say you want.

But ... If I'm in for a penny, I'm in for a pound.

NO ONE should expect ANYONE to tread on eggshells just because someone claims I'm 'insulting' them by asking a valid pointed question.

All I can say is ... I know a good insult when I see one (I write a lot of dialogue, so I study verbal barbs and reparte), and so I know when I'm being extra, extra careful NOT TO INSULT.

I've never insulted anyone here. (But I'm only responsible for what I actually write and IMPLY ... I don't take responsibility for what others mis-characterize or wrongly INFER)

If (in a sweeping hypothetical) I challenged anyone to the core of their worldview with a simple (even if pointed) question ... then anyone 'feeling insulted' would merely tell me I'd presented them with something they couldn't answer with intelligent or reasonable counterpoint.

EXPLAIN why or how you feel you've been 'insulted' and maybe I can explain why or how you mis-understood ... or I'll have the opportunity to understand whether or not I mis-spoke and appologize. :) Really.

But tell me I 'insulted' anyone here because you somehow know I'm a 'theosupremacist' ... and I know that's defensive, wounded bulls**t that I'm hearing.

fullbookjacket
02-24-2010, 03:26 AM
I haven't read all the above, so forgive me if this rehashes something already said.

Morals and ethics can be on opposite ends of an issue, and both be right. The moral thing to do is not necessarily the ethical thing. For example, if a public relations consultant disagrees on a moral level with the sale of tobacco, he or she should not sign a contract to represent the tobacco company. However, if he or she DOES sign said contract, he or she is ethically bound to represent it fully. Representing it halfheartedly would be unethical, but not immoral.

Similar thing with law. An attorney might have moral nightmares about defending a child molester, but it would be unethical to give that defendant anything less the best defense possible. So perhaps ethics is superior to morals. Would we want a moral society in which no one would stoop to defend those charged with despicable crimes?

AMCrenshaw
02-24-2010, 03:39 AM
Small Axe, I don't want to regret PMing you, but you just came back saying the same stuff you left saying. You said that you "never insulted anyone" -- Did you get this part of what I wrote to you?


The main thing I want you to get out of the PM is the reminder that as posters and as writers it is our jobs to be as clear as possible. We cannot blame the listener if they are offended by our messages. (We might admit, yes, that we can't please everyone or that someone out there is bound to be offended) Rather, it might be more productive to back-track, exclude any notion of praise and blame, and try to send the messages more clearly the second time around. It's tough not to react and move to defend oneself, I know, especially if people seem to be reacting very negatively to something you've written, or are outright attacking you, the poster (not saying that happened here). But remember that as you didn't mean offense, they probably didn't want to be defensive or to feel insulted and they probably would prefer just to continue with the discussion in a reasonable manner.

Are you willing to reconsider your last post which is essentially an echo of what you've already written?



... Ruv, might you admit also that saying someone is a theosupremacist (something like an accusation of "sexism" or "racism) isn't going to be very helpful, ultimately?



Then, with that in mind, I would think there's nothing left to say on this matter. Resume?





AMC

AMCrenshaw
02-24-2010, 03:50 AM
I haven't read all the above, so forgive me if this rehashes something already said.

Morals and ethics can be on opposite ends of an issue, and both be right. The moral thing to do is not necessarily the ethical thing. For example, if a public relations consultant disagrees on a moral level with the sale of tobacco, he or she should not sign a contract to represent the tobacco company. However, if he or she DOES sign said contract, he or she is ethically bound to represent it fully. Representing it halfheartedly would be unethical, but not immoral.

Similar thing with law. An attorney might have moral nightmares about defending a child molester, but it would be unethical to give that defendant anything less the best defense possible. So perhaps ethics is superior to morals. Would we want a moral society in which no one would stoop to defend those charged with despicable crimes?

Right, and that's sort of what I was saying about morality and transgression. It seems the edges of ethics transgress moral "codes".

Ruv Draba
02-24-2010, 05:19 AM
Axe, I haven't read your whole post (I find the volume, the underlines and bold oppressive and dogmatic) but I understand that you don't want to return to the thread or be discussed in your absence. Both are entirely reasonable. I'm sorry for my contribution to the latter.

All the best, Ruv.

small axe
02-24-2010, 11:57 AM
ETA: Here, I'll do us all a favor ... I've massively cut my reply down to this:

Thank you for your insightful comments and PM'd advice, AMC. You were the voice of calm and reason. You have nothing to 'regret'

I'll spare everyone further explanations.
I stand by my words here.

I admit to focusing the quote below to the only point I'll repeat here (and thus, the reader will easily see I'm leaving out other comments addressed to me ... but again, my respectful reply to AMC is I stand by my words ... none were blaming or praising, none were meant to offend.)


AMC wrote: ... Ruv, might you admit also that saying someone is a theosupremacist (something like an accusation of "sexism" or "racism) isn't going to be very helpful, ultimately?

I may make that sound sharper in quoting you, than you probably meant it to be.

Thank you for seeing that. AGREEING with me isn't the issue ... no one has to 'agree' with anyone here, that's why we DISCUSS others' viewpoints ... and viewpoints other than our own.

But thank you for seeing that.

As far as anyone accusing ME of being offensive or insulting here ... What can I say?

I know I didn't hurl anything like the one above ... and those who don't see that as BEING insulting or mis-characterization ...

Well, I'm content to leave them to their own interpretations, and lets not worry whether that's in illumination or darkness. Illumination or dark in the purely physical eyesight meaning :)


RUV wrote: Axe, I haven't read your whole post (I find the volume, the underlines and bold oppressive and dogmatic) but I understand that you don't want to return to the thread or be discussed in your absence. Both are entirely reasonable. I'm sorry for my contribution to the latter.

All the best, Ruv.

Ruv, I guess it takes two to tango, and friction to make a spark (but from the spark, Light and Heat! All mankind's friend!)
So I regret we've been having friction, and regret my part in that too. Peace to you.


Then, with that in mind, I would think there's nothing left to say on this matter. Resume?
AMC

Please, do resume.

Again, I left the FIRST TIME respectfully (though less amused) with no intention or desire to comment further. PM's and others' comments invited my reply.
I replied.
I'm out.

Ruv Draba
02-24-2010, 03:24 PM
Thanks Axe. I read your whole message this time. There's no friction here, I assure you.

AMCrenshaw
02-24-2010, 03:31 PM
fullbookjacket:


Morals and ethics can be on opposite ends of an issue, and both be right. The moral thing to do is not necessarily the ethical thing. For example, if a public relations consultant disagrees on a moral level with the sale of tobacco, he or she should not sign a contract to represent the tobacco company. However, if he or she DOES sign said contract, he or she is ethically bound to represent it fully. Representing it halfheartedly would be unethical, but not immoral.

Similar thing with law. An attorney might have moral nightmares about defending a child molester, but it would be unethical to give that defendant anything less the best defense possible. So perhaps ethics is superior to morals. Would we want a moral society in which no one would stoop to defend those charged with despicable crimes?

Do you think ethics is a primary concern in the construction of law? Does it depend on the kind of law? A lawyer proceeding in defending "whomever" may be justified by the ethics of the laws themselves. If "in good hands," so to speak (public option justice system...?).

But for some reason the morality underpinning the ethics is limited compared to it.


AMC

fullbookjacket
02-25-2010, 08:02 AM
fullbookjacket:



Do you think ethics is a primary concern in the construction of law? Does it depend on the kind of law? A lawyer proceeding in defending "whomever" may be justified by the ethics of the laws themselves. If "in good hands," so to speak (public option justice system...?).

But for some reason the morality underpinning the ethics is limited compared to it.


AMC

It SHOULD be and I hope it is (although the cynic in me whispers that an unreasonable number of laws are written to keep certain groups or individuals in power...therefore immorality is the underpinning). "Insider trading" in stocks is considered unethical and is illegal here in America, as it should be. But is it immoral? I don't know. It certainly gives one party an advantage over competitors in the marketplace.

For that matter, is capitalism a moral economic system? It openly encourages rivals to destroy each other. Is communism more moral? It openly requires one to submit to a state and suppresses individuality.

I'm a landscape architect. In my final semester of college (a LONG time ago), we had a course called "Professional Practice". Professional ethics was one a topic of study. I remember my professor saying you have an obligation to represent your client and to perform every service for which you are paid, as long as the service requested is legal. If you have a problem with that, you should cancel the contract and return any monies paid in advance, or better yet, don't take the contract to begin with.

Immoral persons can be made to conform to acceptable rules by ethics codes. Therefore, an argument could be made that ethics is indeed on a higher plane than morals.

Ruv Draba
02-25-2010, 09:22 AM
Do you think ethics is a primary concern in the construction of law? Does it depend on the kind of law?Law is sometimes based on ethics (what we owe one another); sometimes it's based on custom (what we usually do). If ethics are based on what we think is good (and I'd argue that that if they're not, they're not really ethics), then ethics and custom may disagree.

I also agree with FBJ that ethics may not produce the moral outcome we most desire. When morality is placed into conflict it often resolves through our sympathies (e.g. if we have a family-member whom we know does bad we may let them continue to do bad because they are family). When ethics are placed into conflict, they often follow our duties (e.g. our civic duty is to stop people from doing harm, regardless of who they are).

But I don't think that ethics are amoral. Rather, the morality they concern themselves with may transcend our personal sympathies. The more our morality transcends our personal sympathies, the more our ethics will tend to align. Or put the other way, the more tribal and self-interested our morality is, the more pressure it can put on our ethics.

semilargeintestine
03-31-2010, 12:29 AM
I've argued before that morality as we define it today definitely has its roots in monotheism. That is not to say that there was no sense of right and wrong before the Bible and monotheism, but that the high level of morality that we often associate with being "moral" simply isn't found on a national level before this.

For example, before the Bible, we have examples of morality as found in the Code of Hammurabi. This list of laws shows that they viewed stealing, murder, and other "bad" things as wrong; however, the punishment for almost every transgression was death. Even other ancient peoples did not view death as an appropriate punishment for things such as stealing.

The Bible, on the other hand, has a complex set of punishments for a complex set of commandments. Death is prescribed for many of them, which is often a point used by critics to show the barbaric nature of the Bible; however, what they fail to mention is that the Bible also requires a certain number of requirements to be met for the death penalty to be carried out, some of which make it virtually impossible to execute someone. In practice, it was rarely used, especially compared to today. Additionally, it was required that places of refuge be set up for those who commit what we would call manslaughter.

The ancient Israelites developed as a nation with their religion. I think the fact that they had (and have) on a national level what is closest to our modern view of morality is a result of this, and I think that is probably the key--that morality is linked to culture rather than a specific book or beliefs. Because even when Rome adopted Christianity as its state religion, there was still state-sponsored raping, pillaging, murdering, slavery, etc. The cultures that adopted Christianity--a religion that professes to be about love and brotherhood--had no problem slaughtering entire groups of people and spending 2,000 years hunting down and torturing and killing Jews. But their original cultures saw nothing wrong with this either, which is the point. There is no evidence that the original Christians were even remotely violent or took up arms against the Jews, because that's who they were. They were a people who already believed that murdering your neighbors was wrong despite religious differences.

Basically, this is a long way for me to say that I think I have had a change in view. I don't think that morality is linked to a belief in God or monotheism at all. I think it is simply something that is innate in a specific culture, and while an individual can change his view on morality, it is something that must be investigated and researched for the self. This is pretty evident in today's society when most atheists have a view of morality closer to what the Bible teaches than many theists. Whether it occurs in practice or not, modern society teaches that how we interact with others is important, and doing so in a positive manner is what we consider moral (obviously, it goes much deeper than this). Because of this, someone who has never even read the Bible and doesn't believe in God likely has a strong sense of what is right and wrong that is similar to what most theists profess to be moral. One could argue that this is because we have developed as a culture based on theistic concepts of morality, but I think that is a faulty argument. We have 2,000 years of cultures being quite aware of the Bible and completely going against its concept of morality on the state (Church run!) level.

Personally, I would have to say that I draw my concept of morality from theistic sources because that's how I was raised, but that I don't think it's necessary to believe in or learn about God to be moral.

veinglory
03-31-2010, 01:23 AM
I think our mainstream sense of morality is drawn from the bible much like Christmas is based on the birth-date of Jesus.

Ruv Draba
03-31-2010, 01:34 AM
Thanks for the update on your thoughts, Semi. I think it's true that one's culture is a big source of influence for morality in oneself, but there are some caveats around that:

Firstly, a culture's standards of good behaviour change according to its wealth and technology. Just about every farming culture in the iron age or earlier has had slavery in one form or another, for instance. The economic benefit at low-tech is obvious: you feed your slave labour at subsistence levels, sell their children and that gives you a food surplus to help grow your own family. In a world where two bad harvests can kill you off, that creates a huge insurance policy. Likewise, infanticide rates are high in cultures where birth control is low... Similarly, it takes a certain economic surplus for prisons to figure into a penal system -- prior to that, corporal punishments, maimings and executions are the rule. As a broad rule, lower technology means that people accept higher levels of brutality.

Secondly, a culture's standards of good behaviour change according to its security. Prolonged threat for instance, leads to corruption. Corruption leads to distrust, and distrust promotes self-interest. This can be seen in the wartime behaviours of most every country, from Europe through to Asia, Australia, Africa, the Americas and the Middle East. As development agencies constantly tell us, a functional justice system requires prolonged peace to sustain.

Thirdly, a culture's standards of good behaviour change according to its tribalism. Tribes tend to favour their own, and it's only prolonged dealing with other tribes that cause tribal biases to break down, and tribes to offer better equity outside their boundaries. History is full of examples where tribal bias has resulted in inhuman behaviour between tribes, and alas, current affairs still show this.

Lastly, the morality of one's culture is only an initial foundation for one's own morality. For many people, personal morality sits somewhere between what one's culture will tolerate, and what one aspires to -- which can sometimes be far beyond what the culture requires.

So, to what extent do dogma and belief influence behaviour? I think it varies according to how strongly the dogma is propagated and enforced, how advanced the wealth and technology, how secure the culture is, how tribal it is and how imaginative and free-thinking are the individuals. The answers to all those factors vary from culture to culture, and period to period. But I agree with you: we can't see a trend that monotheism has developed strongly compassionate cultures; indeed, in a lot of cases it's the reverse. Arguably, steel and a couple of centuries of steam technology have done a better job of civilising humanity than 2-3 millennia of monotheism has.

bigb
03-31-2010, 01:46 AM
The Bible, on the other hand, has a complex set of punishments for a complex set of commandments. Death is prescribed for many of them, which is often a point used by critics to show the barbaric nature of the Bible; however, what they fail to mention is that the Bible also requires a certain number of requirements to be met for the death penalty to be carried out, some of which make it virtually impossible to execute someone. In practice, it was rarely used, especially compared to today. Additionally, it was required that places of refuge be set up for those who commit what we would call manslaughter.

I may be mistaken, but you mean Old testemant. The bible has two books, Old and New. The Old testemant gave death penalties for abominations. There is a long list of those. Most are quite ridiculous. My favorite, sowing two crops in the same field, is an abomination. It's these abominations that people use to discriminate against homosexuals.

jazzman
05-15-2010, 04:10 PM
I think I derived some of mine from the good examples set by family and teachers. Some by mentors at work, including theistic and non-theistic people. Some came from thinking about stories, both religious and secular -- and not just Christian stories but stories from many other cultures.

Much of my morality isn't based on any religious influence though. It's based on trying to understand people, my impact on them, theirs on me, and on each other. It's also based on trying to improve my own life -- along the way I sometimes find ways to help improve others'.

If you are non-theistic, where does your morality come from? Has it produced anything interesting or unusual by societal standards?

If you're theistic, does your morality ever come from non-theistic sources? Why? Do people of your faith welcome that, or does it challenge them?

Anyone who can dispassionately weigh two opposing ideas objectively but still tries to argue that "morality" springs from an invisible, totally imaginary supernatural Big Brother in the sky owes it to himself to read Sam Harris's The End of Faith and/or Letter to a Christian Nation.

After reading Mr. Harris's powerful essays. it should take no more than a milligram of critical thinking to quickly disabuse him of such blatant nonsense.

Ruv Draba
05-16-2010, 01:46 AM
Harris has recently argued that science can answer moral questions (http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/sam_harris_science_can_show_what_s_right.html) -- in other words, that the Non-overlapping Magisteria (http://www.stephenjaygould.org/library/gould_noma.html) of the physical and the moral, argued by agnostics like Stephen Jay Gould is in fact one domain -- the domain of the physical. He argues that happiness is increasingly measurable on a common and authoritative scale, and that therefore there are absolute answers to moral conundrums about whether it's okay to make moral commentary on other people, other families, cultures and societies -- or on our own.

Although I'm a fairly strong secular humanist I don't agree with him on this. I think that while morality can be compared, critiqued and improved, it can't always be optimised or prescribed, and comparisons and critiques aren't always conclusive. We notice this feature with many human systems, like health, economy, education and psychology.

But I agree with him in two other areas: Firstly, I agree that at times, moral critique does produce unambiguous, fact-based answers. We know for instance, that foot-binding infants causes untold suffering throughout their lives. There's no ambiguity about that, no countervailing argument to show that great good is being done. When we have unambiguous moral knowledge, we also have an ethical obligation to act on it.

Secondly, I agree that not all moral expertise is equivalent. A layman's view of health will never be as strong as a doctor's, for example. To understand what is good for people we must first understand people. If our understanding is provably false then our moral judgements can't be relied on either. Many religious authorities have very little scientific expertise, and rely on theology instead to make pronouncements in scientific domains. Such people should be viewed the same way that any other fraudulent professional is viewed -- prosecuted for setting up practices in which they aren't qualified, and held accountable for any harm caused by their advice.

blacbird
05-16-2010, 09:02 AM
I don't need to be frightened into morality by threats of eternal punishment. I consider myself better than that.

caw

WriteKnight
05-16-2010, 09:23 PM
I've been following some scientific reports on 'empathy' found in nature. Elephant, chimps, dolphins and a few other animals, that display what scientists describe as 'empathy'. Compasion for the other animals plight, mourning over death, outrage at percieved injustice to others. These emotions indicate an emotional empathetic connection for 'others' - that influences their actions. Is this 'morality'? Or is this part and parcel to the mental facilities of higher thinking beings? Do animals have a concept of "God"?

Empathetic actions help to insure the collective good and advancement of a culture/tribe/society. Not ALL animals exhibit this trait , and yet they managed to survive and thrive as well. So it cannot be said that it is NECESSARY for the survival and/or propegation of the species.

Morality presuposes empathy. Perhaps 'morality' is a construct created by humans to help 'teach' or 'guide' empathy? I don't know, just suggesting a line of thought.

My point is that empathetic actions that underlie morality can and do exist without the instruction of religious principal.

Ruv Draba
05-17-2010, 02:20 AM
Elephant, chimps, dolphins and a few other animals, that display what scientists describe as 'empathy'.Several of these species also demonstrate self-awareness. Empathy assists cooperation, which helps food-gathering, education and mutual defence, and in humans it's essential to our study of medicine, psychology and social sciences.

Our notions of morality -- what is good -- are informed by our experiences in our own lives and empathic observation of the lives of others. Our notions of ethics -- what we owe one another -- are informed by our sense of individual and group morality.

empathetic actions that underlie morality can and do exist without the instruction of religious principal.Not only does morality exist independently of religious dogma, religious moral instruction often runs contrary to empathic observation -- indoctrinating people to view others without compassion. In other words, it's not simply unneccessary; in some cases it's immoral.

One of the more unfortunate effects of religious propaganda is the supremacist claim that religion is the author and sole legitimate source of morality. So strongly do people believe this that many non-theists have equated morality with religious dogma, and abandon discussions of morality when they abandon religion. This has if anything, fortified religious bigotry against secular morality. It can also undermine any attempt to discuss ethics -- ethics without morality is simply custom.

jazzman
05-17-2010, 08:18 PM
[I]One of the most pernicious effects of religion is that it tends to divorce morality from the reality of human and animal suffering.

[Religion] explains why Christians . . . expend more "moral" energy opposing abortion than fighting genocide. It explains why [Christians] are more concerned about human embryos than about the life-saving promise of stem-cell research. And it explains why [Christians] can preach against condom use in sub-Saharan Africa while millions die from AIDS there each year.

[Christians] believe that [their] religious concerns about sex, in all its tiresome immensity, have something to do with morality. And yet [their] efforts to constrain the sexual behavior of consenting adults --- even to discourage [their] own sons and daughters from having premarital sex --- are almost never geared toward the relief of human suffering. In fact, relieving suffering seems to rank rather low on [their] list of priorities.
[Their] principal concern appears to be that the creator of the universe will take offense at something people do while naked. This prudery of [theirs] contributes daily to the surplus of human misery.[I] --- Sam Harris, [I]Letter to a Christian Nation[I]

Punk
05-18-2010, 12:32 AM
I think much of our morality comes from our nature and mortality. We probably learned fairly quickly that if you kill, rape, and steal, you're likely to face retaliation and your chances of survival will go down drastically. Sure, we think that those three things are very bad, but there is little that will stop an individual once he weighs the odds and decides that it's worth carrying out one of those acts for whatever sort of satisfaction that he may feel afterward. The more civilized we became, I think the more we began to realize how much easier and happier life could be if we were just kind to one another. Morality concerning subjects such as abortion are a bit more complicated and require research and exploration, mostly because it usually doesn't effect us directly.

I could be wrong on all of that, haha but regardless, a person definitely doesn't need a God in their lives to be moral. I've never understood the common theistic belief that you need a God to be moral, especially when I disagree vehemently with many of these so-called theistic morals.

Ruv Draba
05-18-2010, 01:21 AM
[Religion] explains why Christians . . . expend more "moral" energy opposing abortion than fighting genocide. It explains why [Christians] are more concerned about human embryos than about the life-saving promise of stem-cell research. And it explains why [Christians] can preach against condom use in sub-Saharan Africa while millions die from AIDS there each year.
...except that right-wing Christian politics isn't the same as Christian morality, any more than Harris' politics is the same as atheistic morality. Harris has picked on a narrow target in the Christian right, and thus offended the 85% or so of Christians who'd probably consider themselves centre or left: the ones who either publicly or privately approve the use of condoms, don't believe that AIDS is the wages of sin, and who've either had an abortion themselves or who've had a close friend or family member who did, and might feel uncomfortable (as I do) about trafficking human embryos for research, but would probably use stem-cell technology if it were available.

Christian moderates tolerate the rantings of the Christian right for the same reason that most Muslims tolerate Islamicists and most atheists tolerate Harris -- they're not the ones normally targeted, threatened or offended. So rather than perpetuate this blinkered ideological self-interest I'd like to take an exemplary departure here and say that I think Harris was being an idiot.

Harris' basic point seems the same as my own -- that dogma blinds us and inhibits our compassion. But the point he misses is that this is just as true of secular political dogmas and unquestioned scientific dogmas as it is of religious dogmas. We have plenty of examples to show how being zealously American, British or French in foreign policy is every bit as oppressive as being zealously Socialist or Capitalist in domestic policy, or being zealously Freudian in psychiatry, say.

If dogma isn't questioned or challenged constantly, it grows outmoded. It's well within Christian capability to challenge Christian dogma -- and indeed some Christians are very good at this. But they'd argue (and I'd support them) that a faith isn't a single dogma any more than science is a single theory. A nation is defined by much more than what books it reads, and I don't think that there has been a single Christian nation since the sack of Constantinople.

We can mount other objections to religious belief, but the needless propagation of social ills isn't so much about what we believe as the mindless zeal with which we believe it. In the final analysis, the objections in Harris' quotes are not to religious belief but dogmatic zeal, and he may have fallen prey to his own.

jazzman
05-18-2010, 02:07 AM
.
Christian moderates tolerate the rantings of the Christian right for the same reason that most Muslims tolerate Islamicists and most atheists tolerate Harris -- they're not the ones normally targeted, threatened or offended. So rather than perpetuate this blinkered ideological self-interest I'd like to take an exemplary departure here and say that I think Harris was being an idiot.

If dogma isn't questioned or challenged constantly, it grows outmoded. It's well within Christian capability to challenge Christian dogma -- and indeed some Christians are very good at this. But they'd argue (and I'd support them) that a faith isn't a single dogma any more than science is a single theory. A nation is defined by much more than what books it reads, and I don't think that there has been a single Christian nation since the sack of Constantinople.

We can mount other objections to religious belief, but the needless propagation of social ills isn't so much about what we believe as the mindless zeal with which we believe it. In the final analysis, the objections in Harris' quotes are not to religious belief but dogmatic zeal, and he may have fallen prey to his own.

Harris is far from an idiot. About religious "moderates" he says this:

People of faith fall on a continuum: some draw solace and inspiration from a specific spiritual tradition, and yet remain fully committed to tolerance and diversity, while others would burn the earth to cinders if it would put an end to heresy. There are, in other words, religious moderates and religious extremists, and their various passions and projects should not be confused. However, religious moderates are themselves the bearers of a terrible dogma: they imagine that the path to peace will be paved once each of us has learned to respect the unjustified beliefs of others. I hope to show that the very ideal of religious tolerance-born of the notion that every human being should be free to believe whatever he wants about God-is one of the principal forces driving us toward the abyss.

We have been slow to recognize the degree to which religious faith perpetuates man's inhumanity to man. This is not surprising, since many of us still believe that faith is an essential component of human life. Two myths now keep faith beyond the fray of rational criticism, and they seem to foster religious extremism and religious moderation equally: (i) most of us believe that there are good things that people get from religious faith (e.g., strong communities, ethical behavior, spiritual experience) that cannot be had elsewhere; (2) many of us also believe that the terrible things that are sometimes done in the name of religion are the products not of faith per se but of our baser natures-forces like greed, hatred, and fear-for which religious beliefs are themselves the best (or even the only) remedy. Taken together, these myths seem to have granted us perfect immunity to outbreaks of reasonableness in our public discourse.

Many religious moderates have taken the apparent high road of pluralism, asserting the equal validity of all faiths, but in doing so they neglect to notice the irredeemably sectarian truth claims of each. As long as a Christian believes that only his baptized brethren will be saved on the Day of judgment, he cannot possibly "respect" the beliefs of others, for he knows that the flames of hell have been stoked by these very ideas and await their adherents even now. Muslims and Jews generally take the same arrogant view of their own enterprises and have spent millennia passionately reiterating the errors of other faiths. It should go without saying that these rival belief systems are all equally uncontaminated by evidence.

... While moderation in religion may seem a reasonable position to stake out, in light of all that we have (and have not) learned about the universe, it offers no bulwark against religious extremism and religious violence. The problem that religious moderation poses for all of us is that it does not permit anything very critical to be said about religious literalism. We cannot say that fundamentalists are crazy, because they are merely practicing their freedom of belief; we cannot even say that they are mistaken in religious terms, because their knowledge of scripture is generally unrivaled. All we can say, as religious moderates, is that we don't like the personal and social costs that a full embrace of scripture imposes on us. This is not a new form of faith, or even a new species of scriptural exegesis; it is simply a capitulation to a variety of all-too-human interests that have nothing, in principle, to do with God.

Unless the core dogmas of faith are called into question-i.e., that we know there is a God, and that we know what he wants from us-religious moderation will do nothing to lead us out of the wilderness.
The benignity of most religious moderates does not suggest that religious faith is anything more sublime than a desperate marriage of hope and ignorance, nor does it guarantee that there is not a terrible price to be paid for limiting the scope of reason in our dealings with other human beings. Religious moderation, insofar as it represents an attempt to hold on to what is still serviceable in orthodox religion, closes the door to more sophisticated approaches to spirituality, ethics, and the building of strong communities.
Religious moderates seem to believe that what we need is not radical insight and innovation in these areas but a mere dilution of Iron Age philosophy. Rather than bring the full force of our creativity and rationality to bear on the problems of ethics, social cohesion, and even spiritual experience, moderates merely ask that we relax our standards of adherence to ancient superstitions and taboos, while otherwise maintaining a belief system that was passed down to us from men and women whose lives were simply ravaged by their basic ignorance about the world. In what other sphere of life is such subservience to tradition acceptable? Medicine? Engineering? Not even politics suffers the anachronism that still dominates our thinking about ethical values and spiritual experience.

Imagine that we could revive a well-educated Christian of the fourteenth century. The man would prove to be a total ignoramus, except on matters of faith. His beliefs about geography, astronomy, and medicine would embarrass even a child, but he would know more or less everything there is to know about God. Though he would be considered a fool to think that the earth is flat, or that trepanning constitutes a wise medical intervention, his religious ideas would still be beyond reproach. There are two explanations for this: either we perfected our religious understanding of the world a millennium ago-while our knowledge on all other fronts was still hopelessly inchoate-or religion, being the mere maintenance of dogma, is one area of discourse that does not admit of progress. We will see that there is much to recommend the latter view.

With each passing year, do our religious beliefs conserve more and more of the data of human experience? If religion addresses a genuine sphere of understanding and human necessity, then it should be susceptible to progress; its doctrines should become more useful, rather than less. Progress in religion, as in other fields, would have to be a matter of present inquiry, not the mere reiteration of past doctrine. Whatever is true now should be discoverable now, and describable in terms that are not an outright affront to the rest of what we know about the world. By this measure, the entire project of religion seems perfectly backward. It cannot survive the changes that have come over us-culturally, technologically, and even ethically. Otherwise, there are few reasons to believe that we will survive it.

Moderates do not want to kill anyone in the name of God, but they want us to keep using the word "God" as though we knew what we were talking about. And they do not want anything too critical said about people who really believe in the God of their fathers, because tolerance, perhaps above all else, is sacred. To speak plainly and truthfully about the state of our world-to say, for instance, that the Bible and the Koran both contain mountains of life-destroying gibberish-is antithetical to tolerance as moderates currently conceive it. But we can no longer afford the luxury of such political correctness. We must finally recognize the price we are paying to maintain the iconography of our ignorance --- Sam Harris

Ruv Draba
05-18-2010, 04:45 AM
... While moderation in religion may seem a reasonable position to stake out, in light of all that we have (and have not) learned about the universe, it offers no bulwark against religious extremism and religious violence.That's rhetorical exaggeration when there are clearly people of strong religious conviction working actively, visibly and committedly against religious extremism, even in their own faiths.

I think it's truer to say that the bulwarks against excesses of zeal and tribal inhumanity are inadequate, and that the problem extends well beyond religious zealotry into nationalism, economic and political zealotry and ethnic supremacism.

All ideologies tend to attract falsehoods, and it's only by constant challenge that they can be winnowed out. Moreover, our moral character is constantly developing, so the values underpinning our ideologies need constant challenge too. So to call any ideology sacred and unchallengable is ludicrous and dangerous. That much I support -- in fact I extend it beyond religion and into secular affairs.

What I don't support is Harris' de facto position that there is a single story so pure, robust and enduring that it should be inflicted unilaterally on human minds and used to extirpate 'taboo' religioius beliefs. That's simply another kind of zeal. What keeps our stories improving is that we challenge them and ourselves, so prescriptive storytelling will only lead us down more intellectual and moral cul de sacs.

And further, Harris' idea of extirpating religion is as meaningless as the religious beliefs he wants to dispense with. Human belief runs a gamut from traditional to progressive, pragmatic through to aesthetic and mystical. It's impossible to even try to find the edges of religious belief, and there's substantial evidence that most human minds can't thrive without some belief in magic.

It is possible to be ideologically moderate, yet relentlessly committed to human welfare. One can embrace robust, vigorous discussion, dispense with any notion that ideas are sacred or taboo, yet still respect the human right to revere any part of life they choose. Human diversity has always admitted multiple stories and it's that very diversity that has helped us develop; what matters most is that we put our care and concern for one another above our zeal for storytelling.

And yes, Harris is at times, an idiot.

jazzman
05-19-2010, 04:08 PM
T

What I don't support is Harris' de facto position that there is a single story so pure, robust and enduring that it should be inflicted unilaterally on human minds and used to extirpate 'taboo' religioius beliefs. That's simply another kind of zeal. What keeps our stories improving is that we challenge them and ourselves, so prescriptive storytelling will only lead us down more intellectual and moral cul de sacs.

And further, Harris' idea of extirpating religion is as meaningless as the religious beliefs he wants to dispense with. Human belief runs a gamut from traditional to progressive, pragmatic through to aesthetic and mystical. It's impossible to even try to find the edges of religious belief, and there's substantial evidence that most human minds can't thrive without some belief in magic.

It is possible to be ideologically moderate, yet relentlessly committed to human welfare. One can embrace robust, vigorous discussion, dispense with any notion that ideas are sacred or taboo, yet still respect the human right to revere any part of life they choose. Human diversity has always admitted multiple stories and it's that very diversity that has helped us develop; what matters most is that we put our care and concern for one another above our zeal for storytelling.

And yes, Harris is at times, an idiot.

It’s hard to argue with Harris’ position when he says that any proposition, before it’s accepted as valid, is subject to challenge, i.e., it must produce evidence to support that proposition’s validity. When proponents fail that challenge --- even after having been given thousands of years to do so, it is, and rightly so, rejected as false a proposition: any proposition, that is, except the proposition of religion. In our civilized society, religion is exempt from challenge. It has been set above any kind of criticism whatsoever, and when someone does have the temerity to put it under a microscope, he is called an idiot.

If “moderate” Muslims had not remained passively silent both before and after 9/11, it’s entirely possible that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq would have been avoided. If “moderate” Christians had spoken up when blacks were being persecuted by “extremist” Christians in the American South, they wouldn’t have had to wait until 1964 to be able to cast a vote. And maybe if “moderate” religionists would speak out now to encourage government participation in embryonic stem cell research, thereby mitigating the terrible human suffering caused by diabetes, arthritis, chronic spinal disorders, or promote the use of condoms to combat the AIDS epidemic in Africa.

Some of the criticisms of Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation:

Sam Harris is a brave, intelligent, clear-sighted author whose brilliant essay should be read by every adult who has ever believed that a religious faith can solve the world’s problems. --- Desmond Morris, People Watching and The Nature of Happiness

Sam Harris’ elegant little book is most refreshing and wonderful source of ammunition for those like me who hold no religious doctrine. Yet I have some sympathy also with those who might be worried by his uncompromising stance. Read it from your own view, but do not ignore its message. --- Roger Penrose, Emeritus Professor, Oxford University

Sam Harris fearlessly describes a moral and intellectual emergency precipitated by religious fantasies --- misguided beliefs that create suffering, that rationalize violence, that have endangered our nation and our future. . .Janna Levin, author of How the Universe Got Its Spots and A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines

Ruv Draba
05-19-2010, 05:36 PM
It’s hard to argue with Harris’ position when he says that any proposition, before it’s accepted as valid, is subject to challenge, i.e., it must produce evidence to support that proposition’s validity.That being so, let us consider the proposition that humans try to live without belief in magic, when there has been no time in human history when even 10% of the human population has managed to do so. Even when they're not taught to believe in magic, humans invent magical explanations for the unknown. Even quite rational people do this.

If magical belief can't be extirpated from human minds in general (and there's evidence that it's unhealthy to try), how does Harris hope to extirpate religion from human society?

Science works well, but that doesn't mean that all humans can function as rationalists. In fact, science itself tells us that they probably can't.

Harris' position is ignorant and faith-based.

MGraybosch
05-19-2010, 05:50 PM
If you are non-theistic, where does your morality come from?

I don't have morality or ethics. I've come to accept that nothing is true and everything is permitted. Instead of adhering to abstract rules or principles, I make my decisions based on what's good for me and mine in both the short term and the long term.

I want to live a long and reasonably prosperous life, so I'm careful not to fuck over anybody else. That sort of self-interest has worked for me so far. I see no reason to abandon it.

Ruv Draba
05-20-2010, 12:51 AM
I don't have morality or ethics. I've come to accept that nothing is true and everything is permitted. Instead of adhering to abstract rules or principles, I make my decisions based on what's good for me and mine in both the short term and the long term.That's interesting, MGb... Do you treat people and places differently then, depending on what use they are to you and whether you expect to see them again? Do you routinely fake close friendship and trust for self-gain? Are you likely to lie or steal if there is low chance of detection? If killing a rival workmate could get you a better job and you felt you could do so safely, would you do it?

MGraybosch
05-20-2010, 01:05 AM
That's interesting, MGb... Do you treat people and places differently then, depending on what use they are to you and whether you expect to see them again?

No. I'm always polite, if a bit aloof, because I find that that's the best way to keep one's distance without causing trouble.


Do you routinely fake close friendship and trust for self-gain?

I might develop friendships based on whether or not somebody has something to offer me, but those friendships are never fake.


Are you likely to lie or steal if there is low chance of detection?

I don't steal because I don't think it's in my best interest to get into the habit of simply taking what I want.

As for lying: I always lie to people who I know mean me harm. I also lie to strangers if they invade my privacy. I will not apologize for either.


If killing a rival workmate could get you a better job and you felt you could do so safely, would you do it?

No. It's not in my best interest to do so, even if killing the other guy did result in my getting a promotion. It's not in my best interest to get in the habit of killing to get my way. Remember that I said that I wanted to live a long and reasonably prosperous life. Killing for gain, even if I am never charged or made to stand trial, is hardly conducive to such a goal.

Ruv Draba
05-20-2010, 01:54 AM
Followup, MGb: what differences do you see, if any, between the behaviour you've described and that of say:

a monotheist who's afraid of punishment but fundamentally looks out for himself anyway?
a sociopath who's scared of being caught doing anything really criminal?

MGraybosch
05-20-2010, 02:03 AM
Followup, MGb: what differences do you see, if any, between the behaviour you've described and that of say:

a monotheist who's afraid of punishment but fundamentally looks out for himself anyway?



To begin with, I do not believe in gods. Furthermore, I don't fear punishment, I simply find it inconvenient. I can't make the life I want for myself if I'm rotting in prison.





a sociopath who's scared of being caught doing anything really criminal?



Sociopaths lack empathy, remember? I never claimed to not have empathy. I simply think that all morality and all idealism is bogus.

Ruv Draba
05-20-2010, 02:32 AM
I asked about behaviour rather than feelings, MGb... And sociopaths have empathy (they can correctly guess emotions from faces, for example); they don't always let it inform their decisions.

These questions aren't meant to be critical by the way; I'm genuinely interested in how much of our moral sense is simply storytelling. Because you say you have no moral sense it offers an interesting way of comparing behaviour with story. :)

richcapo
01-09-2011, 04:35 PM
If you are non-theistic, where does your morality come from?I simply believe in the intrinsic values of good and bad, which have been shaped by my life experiences, including to some degree being raised Catholic, and what simply seems logical to me.
Has it produced anything interesting or unusual by societal standards?Unless you believe atheism is unusual by social standards, I don't think so, no.

_Richard

PinkAmy
01-09-2011, 08:03 PM
Common sense and decency.
I don't thinking finding morality is a complicated endeavor. I always roll my eyes when theists suggest otherwise.

Nagneto
07-19-2011, 12:30 PM
My morality comes from empathy. That empathy stems from being born slightly above the poverty line and that this existance is a transitory one shot deal. Thus life is "sacred" for lack of a better word. Not because some blood god demanded it be, but because it is so fragile.

Butterfingers
12-28-2011, 05:09 AM
From a psychological perspective it could be argued that morality cannot be rationalised at all, rather that it is simply a primitive animal force within us. Most psychologists would agree that morality comes from a mixture of two things: cognitive dissonance and conditioning. Cognitive dissonance is the feeling of tension a person feels when they commit an action that violates the social norm. This applies for actions that go against the common societal conception of morality. Conditioning suggests that humans come to associate certain actions with social reward, and some with social scorn. They seek to repeat actions they associate with reward and avoid those associated with scorn. In this way a person's 'moral compass' is formed. Those who insist that they have no morality must be either sociopaths or psycopaths, as no sane human being is free from the bindings of their own brain.

RichardGarfinkle
02-01-2012, 08:37 PM
Morality can be defined without recourse to either religious or social stricture, simply by dealing with commonalities of the human condition.

I usually use the following.

An action is bad if it creates unnecessary suffering.

An action is good if it alleviates unnecessary suffering.

This does open two cans of worms on the matters of what suffering is and what is or is not necessary. But starting with a framework like this it becomes possible to make moral decisions and have discussions of morality without invocation of outside sources.

Libbie
04-30-2012, 12:52 PM
I think we all get our morality from the same exact place: instinct. As societies change, relative morality changes with them. Even theists, who believe they derive their morality from their holy books, adapt their views of those same holy books to suit present societal moralities. It's only the extremists in any given religious group who do not. The majority of theists have fluid morality, dependent on the norm, as do the majority of non-theists.

Once!
05-03-2012, 11:25 AM
I think a large part of our morality comes from our environment and our up-bringing. I live in a basically christian but largely multi-cultural tolerant democracy called England.

And that undoubtedly colours my sense of right and wrong. I suppose I'm basically a christian who doesn't believe in god. Or, probably more accurately, even at the ripe of old age of 47 I am still my parents' child. My ideas of right and wrong have a large part to do with what I was taught and the home I grew up in. I have added some personal elements, but they too were partly influenced by geography and experience.

But ... what if I had been born in a different country or a different era? Then I have no doubt whatsoever that I would think differently. I would have different values.

And that's a challenge. How do I reconcile the fact that my views and standards feel rock solid and fundamental to me ... and yet I have to acknowledge that they come to me via a zip code/ postcode lottery?

According to Wikipedia, there are roughly:

2 to 2.2 billion Christians
1.3 to 1.65 people who believe in Islam
1.1 billion people with no religion
0.8 to 1 billion people who follow hinduism
0.8 to 1 billion people who believe in folk religions
0.4 to 0.5 billion buddhists
And so on. All with different views of morality. And my contention is that the 1.1 billion people with no religion will tend to think along similar lines to the majority view in their country, which probably means that a large proportion are sort of christian. Like me.

Maxinquaye
05-03-2012, 12:05 PM
It's called being a "cultural christian". I mean, the neglectful sloppy moniker of being a Christian without actually believing in any of it, while at the same time going to funeral and weddings because the buildings are pretty and by gum it's tradition.

I think someone did a survey in England where 75 percent identified as Christian, but another survey dug a bit and found that of those 75% only 20% or so actually had any religious sentiments.

It's the same here in Sweden. Up until 2000 everyone that was born here was automatically registered with the Lutheran Church of Sweden, unless your parents were jewish or muslim or belonged to some other protestant denomination or the Catholics. So, 77% of Swedes are actually members of the Lutheran Church, but only 10% or so consider themselves to be religious. I think more than half considered themselves agnostics or atheist, which paradoxically makes the Swedish Lutheran church the largest atheist assembly in the country.

Once!
05-03-2012, 12:40 PM
I go to funerals to comfort the living and to give myself a sense of closure. I don't expect that the dead person really notices whether I'm there or not.

I was puzzled when so many people prayed when the pope died. What exactly were they praying for? They surely weren't praying for him to be admitted through the pearly gates. I would have thought that he of all people would have booked his ticket for that gig long ago.

Unless, of course, their prayers were to help themselves. A way of venting feelings of loss and grief. Feeling better about themselves.

It was fascinating to watch on the good/evil atheist thread how a number of people were trying to create a sort of supernatural belief system for atheists. It was almost as if people wanted an atheist religion. "I might not believe in god but I do believe in these innate ideas of right and wrong."

And that might be the point. Just about every society on earth has come up with a religion at some point or another. A sense of right and wrong. Funeral traditions. Ideas of the after life. That might suggest that there has to be a god after all, and all these people are trying to grope towards what he/she/it or they might look like.

Or it might be that there is a fundamental human need for some of the things that religions provide - explanations, reassurances about life after death, rules, a helping hand when things aren't going quite your way.

And being tool using problem-solving creatures, to address these needs we invent religions. And having invented religions, we adapt them, refine them, change them. And then we forget that we invented them in the first place.

Roxxsmom
11-05-2012, 12:58 AM
...And being tool using problem-solving creatures, to address these needs we invent religions. And having invented religions, we adapt them, refine them, change them. And then we forget that we invented them in the first place.

And we forget that the rules are supposed to serve a purpose and not to have our purpose being to serve the rules for their own sake.

They called me Bruce
08-02-2013, 06:49 AM
Interesting.

I was under the imression that the basic morality of all humans started with toilet training, teaching very small children not to snatch, what 'No' and 'Yes' mean and so on. Most of this we can't remember as adults.

The same process can be seen with animals who operate in groups (cat teaching kittens how to hunt, where the toilet area is, not to pounce on mum's tail etc.)

You have to lean language before you can be taught abstract concepts. According to the Sunday school manuals for the church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints, the instruction into spritual morality (rather than just being human) starts at age 4.

Kalsik
03-03-2018, 01:11 AM
A simple place to get morality without religion is to use your own experiences to determine what you should do.

Someone stole from you, you felt bad, so you associate stealing with being wrong. On and on.

HOWEVER, absolutism is never the way. Cause and reason for committing such acts have to be done.

Survival is a more forgivable reason to commit wrongs, as this is our only life. Same goes for anyone else a person might have done wrong to try and help.

Selfish reasons, such as deriving pleasure, not so much.

Knowing what is right and wrong is inherent by our experiences, under most circumstances [there's always outliers, maybe some masochists for example]. The reasons are the complex secondary layer that must be considered.