Thursday, July 26, 2007

Atheist FAQ

Via the other Jewish Atheist, the Atheist Jew, an atheists' FAQ by the Friendly Atheist.


Why do you not believe in God?

Why do we believe anything? After much investigation and thought, the idea that there is no God strikes me as more plausible than the idea that there is one. (The two primary reasons for this are that nature and human history are "red in tooth and claw" and that the scientific method has explained more things more satisfactorily without resorting to "God" in a few hundred years than religion has done in a few thousand or more.)


Where do your morals come from?

From a sense of empathy, which itself is probably partly innate and partly cultural.


What is the meaning of life?

What is the meaning of a Wednesday morning? The question is nonsensical.


Is atheism a religion?

Not by any reasonable definition of "religion."


If you don’t pray, what do you do during troubling times?

I talk to friends, loved ones, and professional therapists; I write; and I eat too much.


Should atheists be trying to convince others to stop believing in God?

Define "should." Personally, I feel a need to explain myself, which is part of why I have a blog. I also enjoy debate. I don't think an atheist has any particular responsibility to Spread the Word or anything like that.


Weren’t some of the worst atrocities in the 20th century committed by atheists?

Yes, but I do not believe the link is causal.


How could billions of people be wrong when it comes to belief in God?

That billions of people are wrong there can be no doubt, since there are over two billion Christians and over one billion Muslims and billions of others and religions are for the most part mutually exclusive. How can so many people be wrong? Because it's human nature to believe things without adequate cause.


Why does the universe exist?

No idea.


How did life originate?

On Earth? Probably with the whole primordial soup thing, followed by descent with modification. If life exists elsewhere, I imagine it started the same way, although I imagine there are or will be plenty of forms of life that are created by intelligent lifeforms as well. It's also possible that there are forms of life we haven't yet imagined.


Is all religion harmful?

Like everything else, it has good and bad. Some forms of religion are much more harmful than others. On most issues, you'll find religious people on both sides, because religions are not well-defined. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Fred Phelps are/were both "Christian." I will say that most religions are harmful with regard to uncovering empirical truths.


What’s so bad about religious moderates?

Sometimes, they make it possible for religious extremists to do bad things. Other times, they themselves do some (usually lesser) bad things because they are religious.


Is there anything redeeming about religion?

Religious people have provided great things to the world as well as horrible things. I don't think it's possible to know whether the world would be better or worse without the influence of religion.


What if you’re wrong about God (and He does exist)?

If he's a reasonable bloke, I imagine we'll have a good laugh. If Pat Robertson is right, I'm going to burn.


Shouldn’t all religious beliefs be respected?

Mencken said it best: "We must respect the other fellow's religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart."


Are atheists smarter than theists?

According to studies, atheists in America have on average higher IQs and more education than theists. Whether that's the same thing as being "smarter" is left as an exercise for the reader.


How do you deal with the historical Jesus if you don’t believe in his divinity?

I haven't studied the subject much, but I suspect that there was a charismatic Jew named Jesus (Ίησους/יהושע/ישוע) around whom the mythology and religion of Christianity was later erected. I wouldn't be shocked, though, if it turned out "Jesus" is really a composite of several actual or mythological people or demigods.


Would the world be better off without any religion?

Impossible to know.


What happens when we die?

We decompose.

50 comments:

Holy Hyrax said...

>Sometimes, they make it possible for religious extremists to do bad things. Other times, they themselves do some (usually lesser) bad things because they are religious.

And sometimes, they are able to counter the extremists or even influence the extremist to be less.

Michael said...

"We decompose"
More to the point, other people keep living.
Also, if we are sensible about it, we don't decompose in any event.
http://www.alcor.org/FAQs/faq01.html

Jewish Atheist said...

Michael:

Even with cryonics, which I expect won't work for quite some time, we're all dead eventually, although "eventually" could admittedly turn out to be a very, very long time from now.

BEAJ said...

The theistic meaning of life is to die, make it to heaven, and hope that God will tell you what the meaning was.

David Fryman said...

I love that Menchen quote.

jewish philosopher said...

I do believe in religion because science answers none of the questions that religion does.

And I don't understand what carnivores have to do with atheism.

CyberKitten said...

JP said: I do believe in religion because science answers none of the questions that religion does.

That's hardly surprising as science and religion ask different questions - on the whole - and go about finding the answers in very different ways.

There are many questions that science has no interest in and cannot even begin to answer. This is no reason in itself to dismiss or diminish the power or usefulness of science. There are, of course, many answers that science does provide that religion fails spectacularly at.

Such is the way of things.

Orthoprax said...

"Where do your morals come from?

From a sense of empathy, which itself is probably partly innate and partly cultural."

That's kind of a sneaky question/answer combo. The question should be really "How do you defend being moral?"

Being innate or cultural are not reason enough because he also says that "it's human nature to believe things without adequate cause" and his cultural values are suffused heavily with religious concepts even if he rejects them superficially.

Dawkins did the same thing in that open forum at Randolph-Macon Woman's College. The question is "Why should you act morally from an atheistic perspective?" not "What are the origins and reasons behind morality's existence?"

JA, I know you've personally given empathy as your personal reason for being moral. But it leaves you at a distinct disadvantage in order to tell other people to be moral. You have zero authority, being wholly relativistic like that.

Orthoprax said...

"Is atheism a religion?

Not by any reasonable definition of "religion.""

I know this is a very old and stale debate, but I'd like to point out that 'atheism,' generally speaking, is a basic theory of reality which defines mankind as an accident in the universe with a subscription to materialism.

If we understand 'religion' as meaning, in an intellectual sense, "a basic theory of the universe and mankind's relation to it" (a reasonable definition, I think) then atheism, as generally understood, would actually fit the bill.

That said, atheism, strictly speaking as just a non-belief in a deity is as much a non-religion as could be theism itself alone without any further amplification.

BEAJ said...

Orthoprax, define morality and morals for me before I answer your question.

Jewish Atheist said...

But it leaves you at a distinct disadvantage in order to tell other people to be moral. You have zero authority, being wholly relativistic like that.

From where I sit, theists have the same problem. Even if we knew what God wanted, we don't know if God is moral. I'd rather people start from empathy than from rules like "stone to death people who violate the sabbath."

Foilwoman said...

I'm doing the same questions as an agnostic. If you, or Friendly Atheist or anyone else objects, just email me at Foilwoman at gmail etc. and I'll take it down. I don't want to plagiarize (and I'll give you all credit), I just want to answer the questions too. Religion according to Foilwoman and all that.

Orthoprax said...

BEAJ,

"Orthoprax, define morality and morals for me before I answer your question."

Doing what is right. The specifics of what is right is immaterial, really, as long as we can work casuistically on the foundation that some acts are right (moral) and others are wrong (immoral).

If you personally don't care or believe that there is an objective right or wrong then the terms are meaningless and you might as well give up on the whole exercise. It then becomes merely a matter of taste.

But that then leaves you completely unable to judge others since you have no real basis for such judgement. You can't say "That's wrong!" All you can say is "I don't like that."


JA,

"From where I sit, theists have the same problem."

So? How does that help you out?

"I'd rather people start from empathy than from rules like "stone to death people who violate the sabbath.""

Ok, so you prefer. And then what? I'd rather people start giving me free money than billing me for stuff that I buy.

CyberKitten said...

Orthoprax said: JA, I know you've personally given empathy as your personal reason for being moral. But it leaves you at a distinct disadvantage in order to tell other people to be moral. You have zero authority, being wholly relativistic like that.

Morality/ethics is a human construct with a dash of genetics thrown into the mix. It is (largely) cultural and temporal - which is why what people think of as Moral varies from place to place and over time. We can only judge other peoples moral behavious from our point of view. There is no absolute standard or Universal Morality Code. How could there be? We have no 'authority' when we criticise the moral actions of others in different cultures or in history. We are not standing on any moral 'high ground' in order to do so as none exists.

Jewish Atheist said...

orthoprax:

"From where I sit, theists have the same problem."

So? How does that help you out?


It shows that it's the question that's at fault.

jewish philosopher said...

I am agreeing more and more that atheism is not a religion. It's a personality disorder, involving narcissism and/or hedonism. Like is alcoholism a religion?

Orthoprax said...

Cyber,

"We have no 'authority' when we criticise the moral actions of others in different cultures or in history. We are not standing on any moral 'high ground' in order to do so as none exists."

It's a well-defendable perspective but you are impotent in the face of evil and in reality that just won't fly. Your reasons for stopping murder, if you care to, are no better than the murderer's and it would then be hypocritical and irrational to interfere. PoMo is also well-defendable, but people still do science.

It's relatively easy to make theories which unhinge one's footing. But nobody practical can take them seriously.

Orthoprax said...

JA,

"It shows that it's the question that's at fault."

No, the question is surely valid. I would even say that it is among the most important questions out there.

There are problems with the theists' answer, sure, though I would argue that your given issue demonstrates a view of a very small conception of God, but if you take morality seriously (and not hypocritically) then you need to have some answer.

BEAJ said...

I defined what morality means to me here.

Aside from that Orthoprax, what standards do chimpanzees use in doing right and wrong things? To me, chimps behave morally most of the time. Why is that?

BEAJ said...

Orthoprax, what you are saying is that you need a belief in God to have moral standards.

That is nonsense.

Again, it is innate. Our ancestors would have made it so that we were extinct over 100,000 years ago, if we didn't have a concept of right and wrong.

Jewish Atheist said...

No, the question is surely valid. I would even say that it is among the most important questions out there.

The idea that there needs to be some sound philosophical basis for morality is silly. I mean, I guess it would be nice, like it would be nice if we all really do go to Heaven, but that atheism doesn't necessarily provide such a basis is hardly a flaw of atheism. That religions declare there is a basis for Objective Morality is, like their claim that there is a Heaven and only they can get you there, self-serving and completely unsupported by any evidence.

Just because most people like to pretend that their moral sense is Objectively Correct doesn't make the rest of us wrong.

Orthoprax said...

BEAJ,

"To me, chimps behave morally most of the time. Why is that?"

It's funny, but that's not the point. You make the same slippery move that I just said that other atheists make. The question is _not_ about the origins of morality or the reasons for its existence. It is a problem directed on an existential level of how you can justify your own moral activities without being hypocritical.

"Orthoprax, what you are saying is that you need a belief in God to have moral standards."

Actually, no, that's not what I said at all.


JA,

"The idea that there needs to be some sound philosophical basis for morality is silly."

If you say so. But then, theoretically, you undermine your whole justification for action. Nothing is right or wrong and then you really have no basis for interfering with others.

But practically I believe you'd still stop a murder if given the circumstances. Do you see the absurdity of your position?

CyberKitten said...

Orthoprax said: you are impotent in the face of evil and in reality that just won't fly.

How so? Are you saying that because I question Moral Absolutism that I cannot make moral choices? Nonesense! I assure you that I make moral choices on a daily basis.

Can I judge between Good and 'Evil'? Of course I can. Can I justify my moral choices to everyone on the planet throughout all of time? No I can't. That's just plain silly. One (very) obvious difficulty with the idea of Moral absolutism is just which particular absolutism you choose to accept? Jewish? Christian? Muslim? Hindu? If you have more than one 'school' of moral absolutists to choose from how exactly do you decide which one is the 'correct' one?

Can I presume that you believe in Moral absolutes? If so answer me this simple question:

If person A kills person B are they acting in a moral or an immoral fashion?

Jewish Atheist said...

But then, theoretically, you undermine your whole justification for action. Nothing is right or wrong and then you really have no basis for interfering with others.

I have no philosophical basis for interfering with others. But who says I need one?

But practically I believe you'd still stop a murder if given the circumstances. Do you see the absurdity of your position?

It's only absurd if you think every action needs to be justified from first principles. If anything is absurd, I think that thought itself is.

Orthoprax said...

Cyber,

"How so? Are you saying that because I question Moral Absolutism that I cannot make moral choices? Nonesense!"

No, I'm saying that with relativism you have no basis to call something moral or immoral. It's just a matter of taste. You might as well be saying that it is immoral to get a Sprite because you prefer a Coke.

"I assure you that I make moral choices on a daily basis."

Indeed! And that's the irony which betrays the hypocrisy. No offense.

"Can I judge between Good and 'Evil'? Of course I can."

No. You can't. Because those terms are meaningless to you. You can only judge between 'What I Like' and 'What I Don't Like.'

"Can I presume that you believe in Moral absolutes?"

You could, but I wouldn't.



JA,

"I have no philosophical basis for interfering with others. But who says I need one?"

Then you have no philosophy. Just arbitrary values which you treat seriously for arbitrary reasons. Are you comfortable with that?

And yet you criticize others for acting irrationally.

"It's only absurd if you think every action needs to be justified from first principles."

Hardly. But _some_ justification would be dandy.

Jewish Atheist said...

Then you have no philosophy. Just arbitrary values which you treat seriously for arbitrary reasons. Are you comfortable with that?

They're not arbitrary. There are reasons, like the fact that other people feel pain, too. There's just no way to say it's objectively true. But that's only an issue because one group of people is pretending that such a thing is even possible.

And yet you criticize others for acting irrationally.

From a few basic, related premises, like needless suffering is bad, people are intrinsically valuable, etc., the rest comes quite rationally. Declaring that there is a supernatural being who defines Good and Evil... well, that's not so rational.

Hardly. But _some_ justification would be dandy.

Hence, empathy. Show me an issue and I'll show you how empathy will get you a more moral (in your own opinion) outcome than will religion, I'd bet.

CyberKitten said...

Orthoprax said: No, I'm saying that with relativism you have no basis to call something moral or immoral. It's just a matter of taste.

No, it's a defendable point of view. I really don't understand how anyone can say that something is moral or immoral regardless of circumstance or context. That doesn't make any sense.

Orthoprax said: Indeed! And that's the irony which betrays the hypocrisy. No offense.

None taken. Though I, of course, do not view my moral judgements to be in any way hypocritical.

Orthoprax said: No. You can't. Because those terms are meaningless to you. You can only judge between 'What I Like' and 'What I Don't Like.'

Erm, I beg to differ (though I admit that Evil is a meaningless concept to me hence the '....'). Morality is not meaningless to me just because I do not believe in absolutism. I judge between what I consider to be moral and immoral. Just because I have no absolute yard stick doesn't mean that I cannot pass judgement. It just means that I (probably) cannot justify such judgements to *you*.

Orthoprax said: You could, but I wouldn't.

So you are *not* a believer in Moral absolutes and are merely playing devils advocate and yanking our chains? Are you having fun yet?

I see that you didn't want to answer my question...... Understandable I suppose.

Orthoprax said...

JA,

"They're not arbitrary. There are reasons, like the fact that other people feel pain, too."

The point, again, is that you have no means to differentiate between what is morally meaningful from what is merely a matter of taste.

I have reasons why I like ice cream but that isn't a moral issue. Yet you do have a conception of morality that you treat more seriously than ice cream. The question is how do you justify that difference?

We can go back and forth like this all day, but I suspect that you wouldn't be satisfied with the kind of answers you're giving if they were coming out the mouth of a killer. He, not much for empathy, just has different tastes than you.


Cyber,

"No, it's a defendable point of view."

Sure, you can defend preferring Sprite to Coke. But that's not morality.

" really don't understand how anyone can say that something is moral or immoral regardless of circumstance or context. That doesn't make any sense."

Ok, but that's also a false division. Objective is not the same as being without regard for circumstance. It's about the _reason_ behind one's actions.

"None taken. Though I, of course, do not view my moral judgements to be in any way hypocritical."

The point is how can you call them moral and not merely preferrence? I don't see a difference in how you'd use them.

"I judge between what I consider to be moral and immoral."

Based on what? Feelings?

"I see that you didn't want to answer my question...... Understandable I suppose."

I did not answer your question because I do not believe what you presumed and therefore the question does not apply. So, yes, that should be pretty understandable.

CyberKitten said...

Orthoprax said: Sure, you can defend preferring Sprite to Coke. But that's not morality.

Then what is... in your opinion?

Orthoprax said: The point is how can you call them moral and not merely preferrence? I don't see a difference in how you'd use them.

It's a point of view - as is *your* moral standpoint. How do you justify your own take on morality?

Orthoprax said: Based on what? Feelings?

No. Based on things like harm. If an action does no harm to anyone can we say it is immoral? Masturbation is a case in point. Some people think such acts are immoral because their God tells them so. I make a moral judgement that this is not the case. See... I *can* make moral judgements with the need of absolute morality.

BEAJ said...

Orthoprax, what stops you from stealing if you thought for sure that you could get away with it?

Your belief in God? Guilt? Empathy? I'm sure there are some religious folks out there who say that it is OK to steal from certain people at certain times and under certain conditions. What stops them from being arbitrary?

You know what stops me from stealing?
Guilt and empathy, and the small chance I might get caught combined, but it is mostly knowing that I'd have to live with myself the rest of my life. And that is a product of nature and nurture.....no God is needed.

At worst, you don't want to piss off God and I don't want to go to jail.

Jewish Atheist said...

I have reasons why I like ice cream but that isn't a moral issue. Yet you do have a conception of morality that you treat more seriously than ice cream. The question is how do you justify that difference?

What do you mean by "justify?" Nobody can "justify" their moral beliefs to those who don't share them. Neither you nor I nor Moses himself could justify to Hannibal Lechter the claim that murder is wrong. I couldn't justify to OBL that 9/11 was wrong. Hitler couldn't justify to any of us that the Holocaust was right. This is just a fact. Morality is in the eye of the beholder.

It seems to me that your quarrel isn't with atheists, but with the way things are. I could just as easily declare that there exists an Objective Reality on some Platonic level of Being, but then I'd be BSing just as much as the theists.

I understand that people would prefer Objective Morality, but atheists aren't disrobing the emperor; we're just pointing out that he's naked and always has been.

BEAJ said...

Lets assume man created God and the bible texts, which is the case btw.

Religious folk are therefore basing their morality on the word of another man or men (who based it on their own opinion which was the product of nature and nurture) and their OPINION of what is right and wrong.

I base right and wrong on my own opinion, which is mostly derived from nature and partly nurture.

At worst, I base right and wrong based on laws which are also derived by man's opinion of right and wrong.

Orthoprax said...

Cyber,

"Then what is... in your opinion?"

What is morality, you mean? BEAJ asked me that earlier. Please scroll up.

"It's a point of view - as is *your* moral standpoint. How do you justify your own take on morality?"

It's complicated but it presumes that humanity can be broken down to its fundamentally constituent values and then there exists a moral code through which humanity can best exist as derived from those values. It involves no absolute moral sources, but a messy venture of self-discovery as humanity stumbles along the path, finding that optimum moral state.

Operatively some moral limits are objectively immoral and demonstratably so - say like murder. Others are less clear - say like abortion, and so I allow more personal autonomy. Although I often disagree with peoples' conclusions.

So although I cannot prove the above, I believe it is as objectively true as the laws of physics. There is one optimum state for humanity and theoretically a moral code can be created/discovered which allows it to manifest.

This is a rather different understanding of morality as compared to something no different than a matter of taste.

"No. Based on things like harm.
If an action does no harm to anyone can we say it is immoral?"

You're missing a step. Why don't you want harm?

"See... I *can* make moral judgements with the need of absolute morality."

No, you express your preferences and then call it moral judgement.


BEAJ,

"Orthoprax, what stops you from stealing if you thought for sure that you could get away with it?"

Integrity. The dishonor I'd do to myself by not living up to my ideals would be more costly than anything I could materially gain.

"I'm sure there are some religious folks out there who say that it is OK to steal from certain people at certain times and under certain conditions. What stops them from being arbitrary?"

Nothing necessarily. So?

"You know what stops me from stealing?"

No, I actually don't. I want to know how you can justify forcing other people to stop stealing.

"And that is a product of nature and nurture.....no God is needed."

I get it. You're an atheist. So what? Not everything is theism vs atheism, y'know.



JA,

"What do you mean by "justify?" Nobody can "justify" their moral beliefs to those who don't share them."

That's not what I meant. I don't mean that you need to prove your moral ideas to others - but how you justify forcing others to your personal moral values if it's just in the eye of the beholder.

If the emperor has no clothes, why should you stop a murderer? I get how empathy stops you from murdering others but if morality is objectively meaningless then it makes as much sense to stop an unrelated murder as it does to stop someone from ordering a Coke because you prefer Sprite.

BEAJ said...

I want to know how you can justify forcing other people to stop stealing.
*********************
1. Because it is against the law. A law that was created by men, much like the bible was.

2. Because it hurts someone else (on purpose), and I know that if everyone went around stealing, we would have nothing but bloodshed and most likely our species would go extinct.

3. I don't like watching it (and this is something hardwired in me), just like I don't want to see someone hurt an innocent physically.

How do you justify forcing other people to stop stealing?

Jewish Atheist said...

I get how empathy stops you from murdering others but if morality is objectively meaningless then it makes as much sense to stop an unrelated murder as it does to stop someone from ordering a Coke because you prefer Sprite.

Empathy gets me to stop a murder just as it prevents me from murdering.

CyberKitten said...

Orthoprax said: It's complicated but it presumes that humanity can be broken down to its fundamentally constituent values and then there exists a moral code through which humanity can best exist as derived from those values.

Thay's one *heck* of a presumption! You expect to find a common moral thread running through all human culture throughout all of our history that can be objectively verified as True.....? I'm amazed that such a thing hasn't been 'discovered' before now: A Science of Morality.... [grin].

Orthoprax said:Operatively some moral limits are objectively immoral and demonstratably so - say like murder.

Actually murder is a legal construct rather than a purely moral one. Murder is *illegal* killing. Therefore what actually constitutes murder depends on time & place and just exactly what jurisprudence that culture maintains. For example in many ancient societies (in fact until fairly recently in some places) killing a slave was not murder. Also in Japan a Samurai could kill anyone (peasents) who 'gave offence' without it being considered murder. Murder is a legal/social construct - as is much else in human society.

Orthoprax said: So although I cannot prove the above, I believe it is as objectively true as the laws of physics. There is one optimum state for humanity and theoretically a moral code can be created/discovered which allows it to manifest.

That's an interesting idea... hilarious but interesting. If there *is* such an optimum natural moral state why hasn't it manifested itself before now? What is preventing it from being a reality? Even if such a 'code' was discovered how many people would actually agree with its precepts. If it said something which other people found offensive or wrong how could they be convinced that their moral point of view was the wrong one. How could you *prove* for example that homosexuality was OK or 'bad'?

Orthoprax said: This is a rather different understanding of morality as compared to something no different than a matter of taste.

That presumes that this Optimum Code is nothing more than another Point of View dressed up in 'scientific' clothes.

There have also been many attempts to produce wide ranging justifications for morality. Are all of these simply matters of taste? Are any of them close to the Optimum? If so how exactly would we know?

Orthoprax said: No, you express your preferences and then call it moral judgement.

So *you* say [rotflmao].

Orthoprax said...

BEAJ,

Justifying a moral act by pointing to the law goes nowhere. Slavery was legal once. And "I don't like watching it" is hardly a good justification to force your will on others for anything.

"How do you justify forcing other people to stop stealing?"

Substantially the same way you do by your Reason #2. If theft was permitted then property rights would be meaningless - so then it's inconsistent to take advantage of the great social advance that is such rights by not duly recognizing it for others.



JA,

"Empathy gets me to stop a murder just as it prevents me from murdering."

By what right? My love for Coke gets me to stop people from buying Sprite!


Cyber,

"You expect to find a common moral thread running through all human culture throughout all of our history that can be objectively verified as True.....? I'm amazed that such a thing hasn't been 'discovered' before now: A Science of Morality...."

Why not? All humans are basically the same with the same basic sets of needs and wants. You don't think it even possible that there is some moral code that manifests a reality where those requirements are all optimally satisfied?

"Actually murder is a legal construct rather than a purely moral one. Murder is *illegal* killing."

Yes, yes. I know that. If you want to nitpick instead of talking with substance then I'm not interested. I meant it in a moral sense - wrongful killing.

But indeed, as you note, the concept of who's not allowed to be killed and when has evolved to be generalized and more just. This is due, I believe, to increased moral knowledge and sophistication.

"That's an interesting idea... hilarious but interesting."

It's easy to mock. That's your prerogative.

"If there *is* such an optimum natural moral state why hasn't it manifested itself before now?"

Ignorance. Selfishness. Dogmatism. Blind traditionalism. The obvious reasons.

"How could you *prove* for example that homosexuality was OK or 'bad'?"

On the long term we are engaging in a social experiment as we speak in the Western World. One way or the other we will see if accepted homosexuality has any positive or negative effects on society and humanity by extension.

Furthermore, if the reasons for excepting homosexuality are based on objectively determinable facts then that too ought to be bourne out in time one way or the other.

"There have also been many attempts to produce wide ranging justifications for morality. Are all of these simply matters of taste? Are any of them close to the Optimum? If so how exactly would we know?"

No, real morality does not have anything to do with matters of taste. Some of the moral theories may be closer than others but time will tell.

It will require a very sound understanding of the human being and human society to create a fully applicable optimum moral code. We are not yet at that stage of knowledge so the moral codes we have today are likely mistaken in many respects. Some of the basics though, I think we have a good handle on.

"So *you* say [rotflmao]"

Yes, I do. And it's still an accurate statement. Turning your criticism on my theories does not mean that your non-theories have suddenly become valid.

For the record, your maturity leaves me something to be desired.

BEAJ said...

So Orthoprax, how come you get to use my reason #2 for a basis of morality, but I can't because I'm an atheist? Even though I do.

Elrod said...

I'm not sure Orthoprax's justification for morality requires God at all. In fact, it seems quite the opposite.



It's complicated but it presumes that humanity can be broken down to its fundamentally constituent values and then there exists a moral code through which humanity can best exist as derived from those values. It involves no absolute moral sources, but a messy venture of self-discovery as humanity stumbles along the path, finding that optimum moral state.

Operatively some moral limits are objectively immoral and demonstratably so - say like murder. Others are less clear - say like abortion, and so I allow more personal autonomy. Although I often disagree with peoples' conclusions.

So although I cannot prove the above, I believe it is as objectively true as the laws of physics. There is one optimum state for humanity and theoretically a moral code can be created/discovered which allows it to manifest.


The key here is human reflection. We know some things are objectively wrong (so long as we can control for the context as much as possible) because we've seen what happens when we do them. We develop moral codes about murder based on the empirical observation of the consequences of murder, the rational delineation of the precisely troublesome component of the murder, and the instinctive desire of humans to avoid harm for those we care about. The big step is universalizing this principle about murder to apply to those whom we have never met. But we do that because we also understand that human rationality demands at least the pretense of consistency.

In other words, morality evolves, and emerges through debate, experience, trial and error, codification and reform. It is based ultimately in the human desire to cause no harm - empathy. It is hardest when it is most transcendent. It's much more emotionally troublesome to steal from a friend than it is to take an extra candy bar from a malfunctioning vending machine. Yet, both are acts of theft. What makes them both wrong is the transcendent nature of theft's immorality. That we don't see the victim in the candy machine manufacturer doesn't mean we don't sense the immorality of rigging the vending machine; it just means we don't always follow our moral codes. It's why we justify wars in other lands after all.

CyberKitten said...

Orthoprax said: If theft was permitted then property rights would be meaningless - so then it's inconsistent to take advantage of the great social advance that is such rights by not duly recognizing it for others.

..and what if property 'rights' themselves are immoral? Some do not see such 'rights' as an advance at all but merely a legitimised form of exploitation. As I have said before the basis of your morality (and mine) is culturally determined. You might believe that private property is a great social and moral advance and I might believe that it is nothing more than a method whereby the rich can justify their dubious position to the poor.

Orthoprax said: All humans are basically the same with the same basic sets of needs and wants.

That's a debatable assertion. At a *very* basic level we all need air to breath and water to drink. Go much beyond the physical needs though and you're on shifting sand. A *belief* in basic human dignity etc is a recent (and local) belief not a suddenly discovered 'fact'.

Orthoprax said: You don't think it even possible that there is some moral code that manifests a reality where those requirements are all optimally satisfied?

No. It's Utopian nonsense. A Universal Morality Code will never be agreed upon, will never apply to all situations for all time and will be amended as soon as it is written down by those with axes to grind and positions to defend.

Orthoprax said: If you want to nitpick instead of talking with substance then I'm not interested.

It's called dissecting your argument and correcting any misinterpretations. It's how debate (hopefully) moves forward. For instance - now we know you didn't actually mean murder in the legal sense but 'wrongful killing' whatever you mean by that....

Orthoprax said: But indeed, as you note, the concept of who's not allowed to be killed and when has evolved to be generalized and more just. This is due, I believe, to increased moral knowledge and sophistication.

Ah, now I see where you're going wrong. You are assuming that morality 'evolves'. It doesn't. Morality changes over time. It does not 'progress' any more than cultures progress. They may on the surface of things become more sophisticated but there is nothing stopping them from reverting to an earlier state. History is not linear 'progress' that's a Victorian conception. We look back on morality in the past and feel superior to it (usually by sweeping much of our moral history under a bulging carpet). That smug feeling of superiority does not translate into moral evolution. Athens at its height considered itself a shining becon of morality in a barbarous world. They were wrong as we are if we think the same.

Orthoprax said: It's easy to mock. That's your prerogative.

Indeed it is. I mock all ideas I consider to be silly. Though a good idea should be able to stand up to any amount of mocking.

Orthoprax said: Ignorance. Selfishness. Dogmatism. Blind traditionalism. The obvious reasons.

...and are you actually expecting these reasons to somehow stop operating in the future? How far into the future are we talking here? Hundreds of generations?

Orthoprax said: On the long term we are engaging in a social experiment as we speak in the Western World. One way or the other we will see if accepted homosexuality has any positive or negative effects on society and humanity by extension.

We are constantly engaging in a 'social experiment' - its called life (or from another perspective History). I seriously doubt if we will ever reach a definitive conclusion. Is that how you would judge something - by its effects on society or humanity in general? That's a *very* tall order. Just how long do you let the experiment run before such a decision is made - at which point surely it will already be too late.

Orthoprax said: No, real morality does not have anything to do with matters of taste. Some of the moral theories may be closer than others but time will tell.

Are you indicating that you think that all of the moral theorising of the last 10K years are simply discussions of 'matters of taste'? How long are you expecting to wait until the 'moral optimum' is discovered? Will it be another 10,000 years?

Orthoprax said: It will require a very sound understanding of the human being and human society to create a fully applicable optimum moral code.

I have a feeling that it'll take a (long) while [grin].

Orthoprax said: Turning your criticism on my theories does not mean that your non-theories have suddenly become valid.

Impressive - you have *therories* and I have *non-theories* - how can I possibly compete with you? Maybe I should just shut up and accept everything you say?

Orthoprax said: For the record, your maturity leaves me something to be desired.

Your personal comments do you and your arguments great credit.

Jewish Atheist said...

By what right? My love for Coke gets me to stop people from buying Sprite!

1) By no (absolute) right.
21) But your love for Coke does not in fact get you to stop people from buying Sprite. I bet you would stop a murder if you could, though, even if you didn't believe in God.

Orthoprax said...

BEAJ,

"So Orthoprax, how come you get to use my reason #2 for a basis of morality, but I can't because I'm an atheist? Even though I do."

Why can't you ever think two steps out of your atheist box?

Your reason implies only your motivation, not a justification. These are different.


Elrod,

"In other words, morality evolves, and emerges through debate, experience, trial and error, codification and reform. It is based ultimately in the human desire to cause no harm - empathy."

I think you basically have a handle on it but I would say that empathy is only a motivational force, not a basis for moral action in itself.


Cyber,

"Some do not see such 'rights' as an advance at all but merely a legitimised form of exploitation."

Yes. They are wrong. It is exploitation that is wrong - which can be done through abuse of one's wealth - but the prospect of being against the concept of property is internally inconsistent. You literally could not live if you did not keep some things for yourself.

"Go much beyond the physical needs though and you're on shifting sand. A *belief* in basic human dignity etc is a recent (and local) belief not a suddenly discovered 'fact'."

At the very least, people are generally the same and whatever rights your recognize in yourself - you would likewise have to grant to others in order to be consistent. You can tell by the fruits of the belief whether it leads to good or bad.

"No. It's Utopian nonsense. A Universal Morality Code will never be agreed upon, will never apply to all situations for all time and will be amended as soon as it is written down by those with axes to grind and positions to defend."

That's your perspective. Perhaps you have a dimmer view of humanity than I. But, in any case, I'm not talking about it ever being written down but of being theoretically possible. Like the mass of an electron is a theoretical specific, yet I don't know if we'll ever know it to an arbitrary decimal point. But we will continue to know it more precisely as our machines get better at weighing it.

"It's called dissecting your argument and correcting any misinterpretations. It's how debate (hopefully) moves forward."

Don't patronize me.

"Ah, now I see where you're going wrong. You are assuming that morality 'evolves'. It doesn't. Morality changes over time. It does not 'progress' any more than cultures progress."

I disagree. I also think that cultures progress too. We learn from our collective experiences and theoretical projections.

Just because you don't recognize morality as anything but a matter of taste - and therefore meaningless on anything but a personal scale - does it mean that humanity is not generally getting better at being good. Sometimes I get cynical myself but then I just need to review some history.

"Indeed it is. I mock all ideas I consider to be silly. Though a good idea should be able to stand up to any amount of mocking."

Not if you don't give it a chance.

"...and are you actually expecting these reasons to somehow stop operating in the future? How far into the future are we talking here? Hundreds of generations?"

Yes, people are less ignorant now than they were in the past. They are less dogmatic too. Not uniformly so, but more so. I project that this trend will increase in the future. It may take thousands of generations to reach a precise optimum code - but the point is that we're getting closer all the time.

It is interesting to note that the dawn of recorded history until today do not rack up more than 250 generations on a high estimate.

"We are constantly engaging in a 'social experiment' - its called life (or from another perspective History)."

Indeed! And we learn from it.

"Is that how you would judge something - by its effects on society or humanity in general? That's a *very* tall order. Just how long do you let the experiment run before such a decision is made - at which point surely it will already be too late."

As long as humanity exists it will be learning from itself and getting better at being good. Why should it ever be too late?

"Are you indicating that you think that all of the moral theorising of the last 10K years are simply discussions of 'matters of taste'?"

No, I think most people think morality is more important than you do.

"Impressive - you have *therories* and I have *non-theories* - how can I possibly compete with you? Maybe I should just shut up and accept everything you say?"

No, but again, you don't think that morality is, well, anything at all but a passing fad. With that understanding you have much bigger problems than I do.



JA,

The point is that your empathy is only meaningful to you and is _as meaningful_ as someone's love for Coke.

Suppose someone says that he loves money and is willing to murder people for it. He's working on the same exact moral level as yourself and his interference is equally as justified as your own.

CyberKitten said...

Orthoprax said: Yes. They are wrong.

I can't but admire your confidence and certainty. Maybe *you* are wrong?

Orthoprax said: You literally could not live if you did not keep some things for yourself.

Really? Life is impossible without personal ownership? What a very strange idea.....

Orthoprax said: At the very least, people are generally the same and whatever rights your recognize in yourself - you would likewise have to grant to others in order to be consistent.

Sounds very Kantian.... But of course the 'rights' I recognise in myself won't be the same as those you recognise in yourself. Because those things I recognise as rights are part of my particular cultural heritage and personal history. So it doesn't really move the debate on very much.

Orthoprax said: That's your perspective. Perhaps you have a dimmer view of humanity than I.

Quite possibly. Maybe mine is just more realistic?

Orthoprax said: But, in any case, I'm not talking about it ever being written down but of being theoretically possible.

Many things are theoretically possible. It is entirely possible, for example, that we are mere software living in a complex computer generated animation and that nothing, including our own existence, is real. Such a thing can probably never be proven or disproven. Its an intetresting idea but that's about as far as it goes.

Orthoprax said: Don't patronize me.

Just as soon as you stop.

Orthoprax said: I disagree. I also think that cultures progress too. We learn from our collective experiences and theoretical projections.

Individuals can learn from experience - although many do not. Cultures have a history but it is clear that they do not learn from histories mistakes, but make them over and over with each new generation. To understand this we only need to turn on our television sets and be aware of some history.

Orthoprax said: Just because you don't recognize morality as anything but a matter of taste - and therefore meaningless on anything but a personal scale - does it mean that humanity is not generally getting better at being good.

..and we're back to being patronising again. It is clear to me, at least, that humanity is most certainly not getting better at being good. We are no nearer to your idea of Utopia than we were 10 years ago or 500 years ago. Some small parts of the world may have developed more 'advanced' ideas of morality but they hardly appear to be spreading much further or digging deeper roots in the cultures that have developed them. I for one am not confident that they will do either for the bulk of humanity.

Orthoprax said: Sometimes I get cynical myself but then I just need to review some history.

That's strange... My cynicism comes from *reading* history. What history are you reading... because it clearly isn't the same as mine!

Orthoprax said: Yes, people are less ignorant now than they were in the past. They are less dogmatic too. Not uniformly so, but more so.

We certainly know more (as a culture) than ever before. However, despite our education systems and media outlets people are still depressingly ingorant of much that is going on in the world. As to less dogmatism.... Really? Maybe in some places yes... but this is more than countered in the apparent *rise* of dogmatism in others don't you think?

Orthoprax said: It may take thousands of generations to reach a precise optimum code - but the point is that we're getting closer all the time.

Right.... So we *are* talking about Utopian dreaming then....

Orthoprax said: No, I think most people think morality is more important than you do.

That's a very interesting statement considering that you know very little about me. You also seem to have your finger on the pulse of world opinion on the subject. Did you hold a poll on the subject?

Orthoprax said: No, but again, you don't think that morality is, well, anything at all but a passing fad. With that understanding you have much bigger problems than I do.

...and there you go again with the patronising insults. But I guess that I should be expecting them by now.

Maybe we should both wait a thousand generations and see how your 'theory' works out? I'm game if you are.....

Jewish Atheist said...

Suppose someone says that he loves money and is willing to murder people for it. He's working on the same exact moral level as yourself and his interference is equally as justified as your own.

Only if "justified" means Objectively justified, in which case, yes, we both have zero justification. 99% of humanity -- the non-sociopaths -- will recognize at least in theory that murder for money alone is not justified. Why? Because of empathy -- the one murdered is just as human as the one murdering.

I'm not saying it wouldn't be convenient if there were an objective morality that we can point to, but wishin' ain't having.

BEAJ said...

Orthoprax, I'm beginning to think you are insane.

I asked:

"How do you justify forcing other people to stop stealing?"

Orthonut replied:

Substantially the same way you do by your Reason #2. If theft was permitted then property rights would be meaningless - so then it's inconsistent to take advantage of the great social advance that is such rights by not duly recognizing it for others.

I said:

"So Orthoprax, how come you get to use my reason #2 for a basis of morality, but I can't because I'm an atheist? Even though I do."

Orthonut replied:

Why can't you ever think two steps out of your atheist box?

Your reason implies only your motivation, not a justification. These are different.

mnuez said...

Some time ago Godol Hador or Google HaDor or whatever the fuck he calls himself nowadays - you know the guy, the fellow with wonderful middos who's always standing somewhere between the two camps, any two camps - anyhow, so godol/google had a little blog and it became quite a popular little hang out spot (probably only so that people could complain about the slifkin ban) and then somehow topics turned to more substantive issues and - blaming the farfrumte frau - he took down his blog and vanished. Unfortunately for me however he chose to do so just a few hours after I posted perhaps the longest comment that I had ever put up on a blog.

Now I'm'a not'a goona say that he took down his blog so that my lil bit of apikorsus shouldn't poison the kahal, but nevertheless, it had that effect.

Of course I only wrote what I wrote because I wished to write it and (though I did go through the effort of cutting and pasting it from it's originally mistaken location) I really couldn't care less as to whether anyone read it or not. I was however more than a little miffed that even I (italicize that "I", a word that doesn't italicize well) - yeah, I was somewhat miffed that even I no longer had access to that hour long composition of mine that had devoured an hour that really should have been better spent.

Happily - for myself and for Am Yisrael - that piece was not eventually entirely lost and so I'm republishing it here. But before I give you any intro to this most important and revolutionary pieces of religious thought (can you smell the sarcasm?) lemme just of course waste a few words of caveat in reminding you that a point made (by me at least) does not imply that this is the only view that I see or consider seriously. But if you want people to understand purple you've gotta present blue b'chol koach and then red the same way - blandness will get you no where (yet alas, such a caveat reeks of pareve "elu v'elu". vei vei... )


Anyhow, so someone had asked the world famous mis-nagid as to what he would do were he to be god ( - misnagid you see was having a Twain-esque time of making a mockery of people's beliefs in a loving god in a pain-filled world, or something like that) - a question that mis-nagid had refused to answer but didn't quite explain as to why he refused to answer the question. And so, I put finger to keyboard (hey, two fingers, alright) - and I started clicking away my pov on the subject of snag's refusal to answer. Unfortunately the subject is a larger one than I had realized and so I had to end my piece somewhat shorter than I would have liked to - but in any event t'was a good thing because the heilege godol took down his apikorsishe blog: And without further ado -






The question asked of snag is a good one, not good as a shtuch or as a query but good in that it has no answer but the predetermined one of the believer. It’s the sort of conundrum that confounded a great many of us as kids when someone had us “pick a number between 1 and 10” and then add 5, multiply by four, divide by two, divide by two a second time, subtract 1, subtract the number you chose, add seven, minus 2, divide by two … “the number you’re left with is 4.5!” So too with the question of God, the only real answers you can come up with are the answers already supplied by religion. Here’s why.

To understand what’s asked of snag, you have to first realize your Tremendous, and very strange bias. You accept the concept of God as a given. You may or may not “believe” in God, but you see the issue as one serious enough to have a point of view on.

The belief in some divine, great power was a very logical one for our stone-aged ancestors. There are a thousand and one natural phenomena, some of which are very scary, that, having no other explanation, we very naturally would (after some generations perhaps) attach to some sort of mighty beings living up on, say, Mount Olympus. Aswell, we have tremendous emotional incentive to believe that there’s some way to get things that we want – and more importantly, to be saved from things that we’re petrified of. At some point therefore, someone may have screamed to the mighty ones on the mountain to be saved from a hurricane or some such, and whatta you know, he was saved. Of course the fact that he was spared was nothing but his having beaten the odds, but a man drowning in the terrors of the pre-scientific age will grasp at any hope he can get his hands on.

And so (once again, over many generations perhaps,) the news spreads until entire extended families stand together to cry out aloud to the gods (or god) on the mountain, in the cave or above the clouds. After some time perhaps, some bright lad might come up with the idea of appeasing the god by offering him a fine maiden, a fine bull or some other object of desire to his community. Through trial and error - urban legend really, of course – the community will grow to know more of this god’s likes and dislikes; What sort of foods, praise and obedience makes this powerful being happy.

Quite logical.

Aswell the idea of the creator-god (whether the same as the rain-god or not) is a brilliant and logical one from the vantage point of our predecessors. The only other brilliant and logical conclusion one could come to would be to say that the world always was. Both conclusions of course make no sense, but they Are the only two possible ones.

Standard-Man came to the simple conclusion that what exists must have been created by something. Obviously all that we see couldn’t have come from nowhere, ergo it must have been created by some real powerful Force/”Being”. Smarter-Man realized that the question of that Force’s own birth left the original mystery of existence’s origin still quite mysterious and therefore considered the possibility that “it’s turtles all the way down” i.e. matter has no beginning.

And it seems, interestingly enough, that a great many communities, perhaps most, lived comfortably with the masses imagining some early creator and imagining no farther, and the intellectuals understanding that there were great logical mysteries to the whole thing and considered the implications of an ever-existing creator, ever-existing universe, or ever-existing creator-universe. But some sort of creator for mankind seemed somehow to make more sense than an endless backward thread of progenitors.



Now however we live in the scientific age. Not scientifically special for its discoveries, which are almost certainly miniscule compared to the discoveries that are Yet to be made (if civilization doesn’t self destruct first), but scientifically special for the objective, experiment-based scientific Method which has borne such extraordinary fruit over the course of the past century and a half. And that fruit has shed some light on the issues that worried and confused our ancestors, so much light in fact that there are millions of people the world over today whose grandparents believed Strongly in a rain-god and/or creator-god, yet who, but two generations removed, have cast off those beliefs.

However, though they may have cast off the god-belief of their grandparents, they inherited the language and thought patterns of their grandparents and of thousands of generations prior. Though they personally see no evidence for an interceding god who can be pacified, mollified or ingratiated to some benefit – and therefore believe in no such power, Their belief, coming on the heels of tens of thousands of years of god belief is the one that doesn’t quite fit the culture and that therefore always seems somewhat suspect, even to themselves. Of course such suspicion is granted short thrift in their writings but, being the bedrock of their culture in thousands of ways (e.g. the existence of right and wrong), their atheism is defined by that in which it does not believe, thus granting some serious standing, through their own vocabulary, to the belief that they logically deny. Consider the philosemitic, yet somewhat insulting, understanding of Sartre’s that the jew was simply a non-goy. Conversely, consider the fact that non-mormon christians acknowledge the fact that they are “gentiles”, thus guaranteeing the jew a special place in their interests. Of course their Basic identity is as christians thus saving themselves from the atheist’s unenviable position of having to state his understanding as the opposite of some other understanding.

In short, the culture belongs to the theist.

The only honest way therefore that an atheist could answer the question of what he would write in his Bible were he God, would be to imagine himself born into a world that never had a need to create the concept of god and that therefore has no word for god, nor one for bible.

Such a world shouldn’t be too hard to imagine, as all of the philosophical underpinnings for it are considered basic, proven truths by the scientific world that we live in today. Without any need to Create the gods of rain and creation (thanks to meteorologists, biologists and physicists) this imaginary world, born into the 21st Century would obviously never have created such gods. (The question regarding the makeup of the first turtle – being no better explained by theists than by physicists – could only be imagined as leading inevitably to a “god” conclusion by one born into a world with tens of thousands of years worth of belief in such a god and therefore a natural disinclination to part with that belief.)


But living in this world that was born into the knowledge of the 21st century and that therefore has no word for god - and certainly none for atheism - were you to ask a man what he would write in a book given to mankind were he (the individual being addressed) the Creator of the universe, he would have nowhere to start in his response. The only way that We are able to amuse ourselves with such imaginings is because of all the religious “givens” proffered over the millennia that we take as axiomatic: That there exists a thinking something that created this universe for some reason… that that something is good and “loves” non-furry bipeds… that nonfurry bipeds didn’t evolve “accidentally” through random chance but rather for some purpose… that that something that chose to create this tremendously large and nuanced universe is perfect and therefore created a perfect universe, and being that the purpose of the universe is for the goodness of nonfurry bipeds, the something (let’s randomly choose a series of sounds for it g-o-d) – this god then must have created the universe in such a way that it’s for the perfect goodness of nonfurry bipeds… death therefore must not be an important issue, perhaps because death is non-permanent in some way… “suffering” therefore is obviously really somehow “good” for mankind as well, perhaps because it will help him realize how to get the “greatest” good, but for whatever reason, suffering is necessary and the world couldn’t be any other way...

Given all these preconditions – as of course you’re given when asked to author a bible for the actual world in which we live – you aren’t actually being asked as to “what you would write in the bible were you god”. You’re being told to accept all of the above as true and Then asked, “were you that god, what would you write in a book you were to give mankind?”

Have you stopped beating your wife?

mnuez
www.mnuez.blogspot.com

(this comment posted way back when here: http://mnuez.blogspot.com/2005/08/some-time-ago-godol-hador-or-google.html )

Jewish Atheist said...

mnuez:

Don't have time to really get into your comment now, but Gadol Hador (now Ex-Gadol-Hador) has been posting here for some time. Every now and then he seems to decide that blogging is a big mistake and he's pulled down the entire thing a couple of times, but it's been up at the new place for quite a while.

Orthoprax said...

Cyber,

"I can't but admire your confidence and certainty. Maybe *you* are wrong?...
Really? Life is impossible without personal ownership? What a very strange idea....."

Of course I could be wrong, but I explained why I thought otherwise. If you need to eat food then how can you have food if it's not yours? You can technically define things however way you want, but the food on your plate cannot be communal property.

"But of course the 'rights' I recognise in myself won't be the same as those you recognise in yourself. Because those things I recognise as rights are part of my particular cultural heritage and personal history. So it doesn't really move the debate on very much."

No, it actually does because the point is how you apply them not specifically what they are. Universality is key here. The ideal specifics are purified through cultural conflict, debate, etc.

"Individuals can learn from experience - although many do not. Cultures have a history but it is clear that they do not learn from histories mistakes, but make them over and over with each new generation."

Slow learning does not equal not learning at all. The Bill of Rights isn't exactly a concept that you'd find during the Middle Ages.

"That's strange... My cynicism comes from *reading* history. What history are you reading... because it clearly isn't the same as mine!"

Ha. The point is that history is full of terrible events that are simply not countenanced anymore in places where people have learned from it. The point that America has progressed from slavery being the popular moral problem of the day to issues of racial profiling or slurs demonstrates an increased moral awareness and sensitivity.

"We certainly know more (as a culture) than ever before. However, despite our education systems and media outlets people are still depressingly ingorant of much that is going on in the world."

But still the ignorant masses of today know much more than the ignorant masses of yestercentury. You are comparing things unfairly.

"As to less dogmatism.... Really? Maybe in some places yes... but this is more than countered in the apparent *rise* of dogmatism in others don't you think?"

No. Dogmatism used to be the standard of the entire world. The progress is uneven, but it's there.

"Right.... So we *are* talking about Utopian dreaming then...."

As a finished product perhaps, but that's not what I'm talking about for contemporary goals. The point is that the theory is sound.

"That's a very interesting statement considering that you know very little about me."

But I know your extremely relativistic stance on morality.


JA,

"Only if "justified" means Objectively justified, in which case, yes, we both have zero justification. 99% of humanity -- the non-sociopaths -- will recognize at least in theory that murder for money alone is not justified. Why? Because of empathy -- the one murdered is just as human as the one murdering."

Some people simply do not have empathy for other people. They're not sociopaths, just bigots. Are they allowed to murder? Why shouldn't they?

You're calling on the popular ideas of humanity to defend your position, but sometimes the popular ideas of humanity are wrong. Black slavery anyone? Or even a more obvious event?



BEAJ,

I don't know I should even bother responding to you since you're being a jerk. But the point was that _I_ gave a justification while _you_ only gave a motivation. I said that our reasons were substantially the same but I logically justified it too.

CyberKitten said...

Orthoprax said: Of course I could be wrong, but I explained why I thought otherwise. If you need to eat food then how can you have food if it's not yours? You can technically define things however way you want, but the food on your plate cannot be communal property.

I disagree. It is easy to imagine a group of people who farm communially. The land is owned (if indeed it *is* owned) by the community. Any food produced by the land is also community 'property'. When the food is on a plate in front of you it is arguably 'yours' in that it is for your personal comsumption. Again once you have eaten it & its resting in your stomach you could then say that you 'own' the food but only in a rather strange abstract sense. It isn't that difficult to conjure up a picture of society where nothing is actually owned by individuals - most certainly without having a detrimental effect on anyone's ability to live out their lives.

Orthoprax said: Slow learning does not equal not learning at all. The Bill of Rights isn't exactly a concept that you'd find during the Middle Ages.

As I said things change over time. But I do not believe that they 'progress' in the same way as, for example, technology does. What we have now is not simple improvement built on past achievements but reflects the society/culture that produced them. Medieval society has a set of morals and values that we would find very strange indeed. Likewise the moral structures of early 21st Century Western Capitalist cultures would be something of a shock for someone from Medieval times - and more than likely not a good shock either. Our sexual morality would probably be deeply shocking and offensive for one thing!

Although the US, for example, has a Bill of Rights (which is in many ways a good thing) it also has things like imprisonment without trial, extraordinary rendition, state approved torture, pre-emptive war and so on. These are hardly what I would call moral advances!

Orthoprax said: The point that America has progressed from slavery being the popular moral problem of the day to issues of racial profiling or slurs demonstrates an increased moral awareness and sensitivity.

Slavery is an interesting case. Sure slavery has been abolished and yet at the same time we (in the West) often have laughably low 'minimum' wages and short term contracts which keep the *very* low paid works on a very tight and frightening leash. 'Slave' conditions are still talked about in the West without going into the morality of 'out-sourcing' work to countries who treat their workforce even worse than we often do. It is certainly not a dead issue.

Orthoprax said: But I know your extremely relativistic stance on morality.

I would certainly take issue with your use of the word *extremely*. I certainly do not believe that there is anything like a Universal Morality Code. I see no evidence for its existence in what I know of human history. Nor do I see a great deal of evidence to support the position that morality in any way 'evolves' into a higher state. Again my reading of history does not support this idea.

Yet, just because I believe as I do (rather than agree with you) I do not believe that it invalidates in *any* way my ability to make moral judgements. I doubt very much if we will ever agree on this but I thank you for prompting me to collect my thoughts on the issue.

David Fryman said...

>>Where do your morals come from? From a sense of empathy, which itself is probably partly innate and partly cultural.

What I like about this answer is that it's true for theists as well (at least theists who understand their own position).