An Atheist Ethic

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An Atheist Ethic

Pretty straightforward question. What is a philosophically consistent atheist ethic composed of? How should one act under the assumption there is no god? What restrictions are(n't) there on behavior? But most importantly, on what is an atheist ethic based which gives it credence?

 

Note: It's worth pointing out that I ask this out of authentic curiosity. I'm not waiting for some sort of expected response so I can make a rhetorical leap for the jugular.


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There is no atheistic ethic.

There is no atheistic ethic. There is nothing you can derive from the lack of belief in god except a lack of belief in god. There is no atheistic morality, ethics, creed, or tribe.

Some (if not most) atheists are also humanists of one sort or another. This means these people believe it is important to work for the betterment of humanity, and that humans are worthwhile, and so on. You can derive an ethic from that.

Me, I'm a rational hedonist. I believe the entire point of life is to enjoy it. So, I try to maximize enjoyment -- not just for me, but for others around me. This leads to things like sustainable environmentalism, working for a strong society (as most of the things I enjoy stem from a stable, equitable society), and so on.

Being an atheist means figuring life out for yourself.

"Yes, I seriously believe that consciousness is a product of a natural process. I find that the neuroscientists, psychologists, and philosophers who proceed from that premise are the ones who are actually making useful contributions to our understanding of the mind." - PZ Myers


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nigel said it.

nigel said it.


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Indulge me in a followup if

Indulge me in a followup if you will.

Ethics is by definition the philosophy what one should do and why. What is it that makes you a rational hedonist as opposed to an egoist? On what do you base the belief that the rational hedonist ethic is what you should live by? To expand further, do you think that rational hedonism is the "correct" ethic or is there a spectrum of permissibility as to what appropriate behavior could be according to personal preference?


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DMC wrote:Ethics is by

DMC wrote:
Ethics is by definition the philosophy what one should do and why.

From what I've read of ethics, it seems more like a philosophy of coming to terms with the idea that there might not be one universal standard for what one should do. I'm not correcting your definition, which no doubt is textbook, but in the reading of ethics, I find philosophers have moved away from a morality based on hard and fast rules to one that examines our morality beyond our cultural revulsions.

DMC wrote:
On what do you base the belief that the rational hedonist ethic is what you should live by?

In my case (I won't speak for nigel) it's the observation that certain behaviours lead to other people's happiness. Other people's happiness is primarily what makes me happy, so I go after that. I should qualify that, though: I'm mostly concerned with the people who are my friends and family. Their happiness (or at least comfort) is a major motivating factor in my life. I'm fortunate enough to have people around me who can be happy or comfortable, so it's an occasionally achievable goal.

DMC wrote:
To expand further, do you think that rational hedonism is the "correct" ethic or is there a spectrum of permissibility as to what appropriate behavior could be according to personal preference?

To enter into a discussion of the "correct" ethic would be getting messed up in the is-ought problem. Determining the best course of action depends heavily on how someone would value the process and results. It's not the kind of question that gets a simple answer.

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DMC wrote:Indulge me in a

DMC wrote:

Indulge me in a followup if you will.

Ethics is by definition the philosophy what one should do and why. What is it that makes you a rational hedonist as opposed to an egoist? On what do you base the belief that the rational hedonist ethic is what you should live by? To expand further, do you think that rational hedonism is the "correct" ethic or is there a spectrum of permissibility as to what appropriate behavior could be according to personal preference?

Rational hedonism is what I have chosen for myself. Others may choose other paths.

There is nothing intrinsic in humanity that necessitates one ethic over another. We currently live in a time in which we nominally pay lip service to such things as democracy, freedom (though I prefer liberty), honor, and so on. From my chosen philosophy, this is correct. All people should be treated with equality. We should maximize liberty. We all should participate in politics, society, and so on, to help make sure the future is also secure and happy.

But there's nothing that demands it. I used to worry about mankind wiping itself out, along with a good chunk of the world. Now, though I care, I realize it doesn't really matter. There's nothing special about us, exactly. We think we're special, but really, why should we be? Even if we are the only life in all the vasty universe (highly improbable, I suspect), why should it matter? You and I and everyone else will die one day anyway, so it shouldn't matter to us as individuals.

Of course, it does. Most of us care not only about ourselves, but very few of us think it would be a good thing if humans were to disappear, even after we're dead. We are special, at least to ourselves. To most of us, anyway.

From that simple realization, that most of us care about humanity, that we are special to ourselves, you can derive a core morality. Those are the few things that most societies seem to re-invent almost every time: murder is bad (though war is acceptable, for some strange reason), that thieving is not good, and cheaters suck. These are the sorts of things that are discoverable using simple empathy: "How would I feel if I were the victim?"

The fact you can arrive at the same core ethic by a variety of different assumptions indicates there really is an objective ethic, or at least one that is almost universal. Whether you start as a nihilist, hedonist, humanist, or even Christian, there is a shared subset of ethical behavior.

Ultimately, it is up to society to encode the behaviors that are permissible, and proscribe punishment for violation. Doing this can be a problem, considering the great variety of groups that want more than the core set of ethics established as law. And, what do you do with the ethics that are common to many groups, but are not universal?

Sorry. That's a lot of rambling to get to a simple answer.

No, I don't think rational hedonism is the "correct" ethic. It's what I live by. I can't even say it's what I should live by. It's simply how I view the world. We all must discover the meaning of our lives. I believe the meaning of life is to enjoy living. Others have given their lives different meaning. Mine's kinda selfish, I admit. But part of the core is helping to create an environment that allows others to enjoy their lives, as well, so there is a certain amount of selflessness.

There is always a range of permissible behavior. I am intrinsically resistant to causing other people pain. It is outside the normal range of my allowed behavior. However, for someone in a an S&M relationship with a willing partner, it is perfectly permissible to cause a certain amount of pain.

That's just one example among many.

Keep in mind, this is not a universal atheist position. This is my position. My lack of belief in god has perhaps shaped my views, but they are entirely my own. You will find others that agree with some of what I say, but they came to their own conclusions.

"Yes, I seriously believe that consciousness is a product of a natural process. I find that the neuroscientists, psychologists, and philosophers who proceed from that premise are the ones who are actually making useful contributions to our understanding of the mind." - PZ Myers


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It benefits us to be a

It benefits us to be a social species.  So lets go back to cooperation.  Lets say animal A wants to take down big animal C, but is unable to do so.  Animal B thinks if it works with animal A it can take down animal C. Animal B has determined that animal A would be a useful tool in taking down animal C.  B helps A take down C.  Now a couple of things can happen.  B can now chase off A, but that would lead to A never helping B again.  B could share with A.  and vice verse.   So there is now a short term verse long term gain.  What determines which one A and B will choose.  The more successful choice will help in determining the survivability of  A and B.  The cooperative nature can be pass onto the next generation or taught to the next generation.  So that is what would make things cooperate in the first place.  What makes them happy and want to cooperate without evaluating this.  Any animal who gains satisfaction from working with each others will be more likely to cooperate and to share thus helping their chances of surviving more and thus increasing the chance of carrying that trait to future generations.

 

Just a quick thought on the subject.

Sounds made up...
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The way I see it, there's 2

The way I see it, there's 2 parts to morality:
First there's recognising your own needs as a human being.
As selfish beings, they're what we rationally aim for.

Morality comes in about what we do for the needs of others.
Because our own selfish needs require us to get along in society, selfishness requires us to lose a lot of our selfishness.
Even then, looking at it from a purely selfish perspective, people might only do the minimum they think society around them will let them get away with.
A lot of the time our motivation comes from a more emotional source, e.g. natural empathy, an aesthetic for justice and righteousness, a desire to be the "good person" that people admire, etc
I think that as the motivation for morality or lack thereoff tends to be emotional rather than rational, I think it will be largely depend on the environment that someone is in.
And I think that we as humans we are all striving to create environments where people get along better.
So I think that our rationality has an indirect effect on morality.
I think that our selfish rationality encourages us to create a society that will encourage others will be more moral and treat us right, and we just happen to get encouraged along in the process.


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@Nigel,If I summarize

@Nigel,

If I summarize correctly your position basically goes this way:

 - Most people care about humanity generally

 - As a result of this care, humans will(should?) act for its preservation/continuance.

It seems to me that your main basis for determining this morality is general consensus. Naturally, there's a lot of issues with that stance. Should we go by local or consensus? National? Global? If one people group is agreed on a particular ethical issue and another is agreed in a different direction, should the issue be abandoned and relegated to a matter of personal preference because there is disagreement? How large should a consensus be? History shows us that under certain conditions large groups of people can be caused to believe in things "we" find reprehensible today (e.g. the Holocaust)

Of course, there is also a more basic issue with this line of reasoning. What does such an ethical system have to say about issues where the continuance of humanity as a group is not in question? Clearly, a survival instinct would have us shy away from things like nuclear war or unmitigated use of biological weapons, but what of lesser questions? Theft? Lying for pragmatic reasons? None of these get covered in a convincing way.

The main thing that stuck out to me in your post though (and the reason I asked why you would be a rational hedonist instead of an egoist is this:

 


There's nothing special about us, exactly. We think we're special, but really, why should we be? Even if we are the only life in all the vasty universe (highly improbable, I suspect), why should it matter? You and I and everyone else will die one day anyway, so it shouldn't matter to us as individuals.


If, admittedly on your part, life has no "ultimate" value, then why would one acknowledge the need to care for others at all? Inevitably there will be a few people to which a given person is attached. It's in our nature, however it got there. With the realization that in a godless universe we are meaningless to everything and everyone but ourselves, why would anyone feel obligated to do any so-called "good" on behalf of anyone outside their circle of close relationships? Moreover, why would the continuance of humanity make any difference to someone at all? Humanity could end tomorrow and there would be no ultimate difference.

My point, or rather question is this: In an existence devoid of meaning, why should anyone be compelled to do or not do anything? The implications of ceasing to exist altogether really pulls the rug out from under an ethic.

In essence, by that admission, you've come to say that no one should do anything. I mean once you've written off the possibility of meaning to life the ship has pretty much sunk.


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DMC wrote:@Nigel,If I

DMC wrote:

@Nigel,

If I summarize correctly your position basically goes this way:

 - Most people care about humanity generally

 - As a result of this care, humans will(should?) act for its preservation/continuance.

It seems to me that your main basis for determining this morality is general consensus. Naturally, there's a lot of issues with that stance. Should we go by local or consensus? National? Global? If one people group is agreed on a particular ethical issue and another is agreed in a different direction, should the issue be abandoned and relegated to a matter of personal preference because there is disagreement? How large should a consensus be? History shows us that under certain conditions large groups of people can be caused to believe in things "we" find reprehensible today (e.g. the Holocaust)

Of course, there is also a more basic issue with this line of reasoning. What does such an ethical system have to say about issues where the continuance of humanity as a group is not in question? Clearly, a survival instinct would have us shy away from things like nuclear war or unmitigated use of biological weapons, but what of lesser questions? Theft? Lying for pragmatic reasons? None of these get covered in a convincing way.

What you've described is essentially the world as it is. This indicates there is no divine derivation for ethical behavior, as the evidence points to naturalistic derivation. If we are to derive an ethic at all, it must be from the assumption ethics is internally derived, and not imposed externally.

If we can agree that a stable, sane society is desirable, we can derive much of the same ethics handed down by mandate from religion. For instance, a stable, sane society must offer some form of protection from rogue entities, whether other citizens or external agents. The society must provide an economic framework which supports sustainable production and consumption. And so on.

Using that as a starting point (the desire for a stable, sane society), it is easy to come up with some basic rules for playing and living together. These would include proscriptions against murder and theft (if possessions are allowed in the society). Otherwise, you would not have a stable society, as cooperation requires trust.

From there, the form of society, and the ethics of that society, are entirely up to the members. How else could it be? Whether those members accept the ethics as divinely-revealed, or simply as mutually beneficial, makes no difference. The ethics must be commonly-accepted, or society will not be stable or sustainable.

In the cases where consensus is unobtainable, there is no cohesive social structure.

Ultimately, we all must adhere to a form of egoism, certainly. We must do what we consider right. We must also be willing to accept the consequences, whether or not we consider the consequences just. That is part of our contract with society. If we are to partake of society, we must abide by its rules, or accept the penalties for breaking the rules.

So, yes. Most of your complaints are accurate. They are also irrelevant. You might as well say, "The problem with gravity is that a long fall can cause bruises, break bones, or even kill."

Quote:

The main thing that stuck out to me in your post though (and the reason I asked why you would be a rational hedonist instead of an egoist is this:

 


There's nothing special about us, exactly. We think we're special, but really, why should we be? Even if we are the only life in all the vasty universe (highly improbable, I suspect), why should it matter? You and I and everyone else will die one day anyway, so it shouldn't matter to us as individuals.


If, admittedly on your part, life has no "ultimate" value, then why would one acknowledge the need to care for others at all? Inevitably there will be a few people to which a given person is attached. It's in our nature, however it got there. With the realization that in a godless universe we are meaningless to everything and everyone but ourselves, why would anyone feel obligated to do any so-called "good" on behalf of anyone outside their circle of close relationships? Moreover, why would the continuance of humanity make any difference to someone at all? Humanity could end tomorrow and there would be no ultimate difference.

That is also correct: that's why I no longer worry about humanity killing itself. The transience of life (our own personal life, and the continuous existence of life on earth) are both doomed anyway. We will one day die, taking with us a continuous thread of life that started with the first self-replicating cell all the way to ourselves. Also, all threads of life will one day disappear. This might happen in a nuclear holocaust tomorrow, or it might end in a billion years, when our sun consumes the earth. In all cases, life is transient.

As I stated earlier, most people do care about the general existence of humanity. Given a choice between their own death, or the death of the rest of humanity, many people would elect to die. (There are many who would not, of course.) Life itself doesn't need an ultimate purpose.

The experience of life is pleasurable, at least to many. There are many people who are not in a position to enjoy life. I see it as a pleasurable duty to help those who are in these joyless positions. My pleasure in life is largely derived from a stable, happy society, and so it is my duty to help maximize happiness, with the end result that society is more stable, furthering my purpose of enjoying life.

This is why I am a rational hedonist rather than an egoist. The ultimate purpose of existence is to exist. We might as well all make the best of it.

Quote:

My point, or rather question is this: In an existence devoid of meaning, why should anyone be compelled to do or not do anything? The implications of ceasing to exist altogether really pulls the rug out from under an ethic.

In essence, by that admission, you've come to say that no one should do anything. I mean once you've written off the possibility of meaning to life the ship has pretty much sunk.

This is the flaw in your argument. I have not written off the possibility of a meaning to life. I have written off the possibility of some "ultimate," externally-imposed purpose. My meaning to life is simple: enjoy existence. I think about not existing, and I don't like that idea. Why not? Because I'm enjoying life. Ergo, the meaning of life is to enjoy it. And rational hedonism kicks in.

Are you ready to stop living? Are you tired of this life? Do you not enjoy it?

In any case, it's up to you to supply your own meaning. You aren't required to borrow mine, or accept religious mandates, or anything else; but of course, you are free to do so.

(This, of course, doesn't address the futility of attempting to define an "ultimate purpose" of life. This argument merely addresses the necessity of such a purpose.)

"Yes, I seriously believe that consciousness is a product of a natural process. I find that the neuroscientists, psychologists, and philosophers who proceed from that premise are the ones who are actually making useful contributions to our understanding of the mind." - PZ Myers


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nigelTheBold wrote:If we can

nigelTheBold wrote:
If we can agree that a stable, sane society is desirable...

Agreement or consensus in fact has very little to do with it. Power is not necessarily distributed in an equal fashion and history shows that it usually is not. Sane and stable could describe many governments and societies that did "horrible" things if you'll permit and emotivist tone, but they were nevertheless, stable. Look at pre-civil war America. There was widespread slavery, but nothing derived from your utilitarian ethic of a sane, stable society prohibits enslavement. And even if there was a "consensus" or a concentration of power against such a thing, it still would not be "wrong". Such a prohibition would only express a "want", not a moral imperative. If someone were to ask "Why is slavery wrong?" there would be no forthcoming response unless you yourself were slave, and even then it would still be a matter of "might makes right". Moreover, because of "permissible spectrum" of ethical theories, one has no power or basis for enforcing a particular value, for example liberty, on behalf of anyone else.

nigelTheBold wrote:

That is also correct: that's why I no longer worry about humanity killing itself. The transience of life (our own personal life, and the continuous existence of life on earth) are both doomed anyway. We will one day die, taking with us a continuous thread of life that started with the first self-replicating cell all the way to ourselves. Also, all threads of life will one day disappear. This might happen in a nuclear holocaust tomorrow, or it might end in a billion years, when our sun consumes the earth. In all cases, life is transient.

As I stated earlier, most people do care about the general existence of humanity. Given a choice between their own death, or the death of the rest of humanity, many people would elect to die. (There are many who would not, of course.) Life itself doesn't need an ultimate purpose.

The experience of life is pleasurable, at least to many. There are many people who are not in a position to enjoy life. I see it as a pleasurable duty to help those who are in these joyless positions. My pleasure in life is largely derived from a stable, happy society, and so it is my duty to help maximize happiness, with the end result that society is more stable, furthering my purpose of enjoying life.

This is why I am a rational hedonist rather than an egoist. The ultimate purpose of existence is to exist. We might as well all make the best of it.

You seem to be hung up on a crucial distinction in ethics. I have no argument that people do act morally (whatever that means). That is a sociological or psychological issue. The ethical question is, "Why do they/should they act morally?" So far, you have only affirmed that the do.

Furthermore, the utilitarianism you describe is all good and well on the surface. "Enjoy life and in doing so help others do the same" but it falls prey to the well-known problems with consequentialism:

  1. Incommensurability. There is really no way to judge the happiness generated by an action except in a personal context. Once the action effects others outside, derived pleasure becomes incalculable and adds a further element of moral relativism to the philosophy.
  2. It begs the question, "Why is happiness the goal of ethics?" A common example for this is the happy pill. The happy pill guarantees that anyone who takes it will be inconceivably happy for the rest of his life. The catch, is that whoever takes it goes into a relatively vegetative state, able only to sustain his own life. The momentary distress of thinking of the consequences of taking the happy pill would immediately dissolve into oblivion once taken. But who is there that would actually choose to take it? Would you? If not, doesn't that say something about good or morality being equated with pleasure?
  3. Finally, since pleasure is an end, decisions are simply a means to an end, and what that decision actually is, is irrelevant to the question of morality as long as it can be shown that the action itself brought about the greatest possible pleasure. See the above example regarding exploitation of minorities.

nigelTheBold wrote:
This is the flaw in your argument. I have not written off the possibility of a meaning to life. I have written off the possibility of some "ultimate," externally-imposed purpose. My meaning to life is simple: enjoy existence.

Apply some transitivity to what you are saying and the truth of my remarks becomes obvious. You use the phrase "my meaning to life." Your life, according to what you have said, is transient, short, and ultimately doomed. You use the phrase my meaning, but as soon as you cease to be there is no more your. I do not argue that there is relative meaning present, but just as you say there is no ultimate purpose, also there is no ultimate meaning, because nothing is ultimate. Even the relative meaning I referenced is scarcely longer lived than you yourself. Your relative meaning is only via other equally transient, equally meaningless lives (lives without ultimate meaning) all of whom will someday be dead and whose descendants will all also be dead and forgotten in totality. The so-called meaning you claim to  have is at least as fleeting as life itself.

This is a long coming about to saying two things.

  • In the absence of some self-sustaining, purpose giving entity, there is no ultimate meaning and by extension no meaning at all, and
  • You have yet to give a reasonable workable ethic that is self-supporting and consistent in the absence of some greater power upon which to base ethics.

 


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DMC wrote:Pretty

DMC wrote:

Pretty straightforward question. What is a philosophically consistent atheist ethic composed of?

Not making shit up without evidence. Not pretending to believe something just because if might make you feel better or give you a potential reward in an afterlife.

DMC wrote:

How should one act under the assumption there is no god?

Science tells us that our genetics drive us to pursue pleasure and avoid discomfort. This is all religious people do as well. Religion gives them comfort and anxiety relief. So they are religious, how is this not egoistical and hedonistic? Religion had to invent heaven and hell because all humans are hedonists.

DMC wrote:

on what is an atheist ethic based which gives it credence?

We all have the same ethic(hedonism), we don't have an ability to choose any other motivation for what we do.

 

“Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.” Seneca


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DMC wrote:In the absence of

DMC wrote:
In the absence of some self-sustaining, purpose giving entity, there is no ultimate meaning

"Ultimate" meaning? What are you talking about? What assigns meaning other than us?

DMC wrote:
and by extension no meaning at all

Hold on. Because a certain type of meaning that you've introduced isn't satisfied in this example, there is no meaning at all? That seems like quite the jump.

DMC wrote:
You have yet to give a reasonable workable ethic that is self-supporting and consistent in the absence of some greater power upon which to base ethics.

But that's a begged question. Your assumption is already that a greater power is the only way to have a system of ethics that is reasonable, workable and self-supporting. I don't see the problem with a human-created ethics. Let's create a system of morals, and see how we do.

First rule: try not to harm others

Second rule: try to help others when they ask for help

Okay, that's a bare-bones system of ethics that I think is reasonable, workable and self-supporting. Many ideas could come from those two rules. For one, meddling where it wasn't warranted could be avoided by reading "... when they ask for help" literally.

Do you see a problem with the above system? Do you find it unreasonable or unworkable?

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EXC, there is a glaring

EXC, there is a glaring discontinuity in your second statement. The genetic tendency to avoid pain and pursue pleasure is a physical distinction and is not fit to explain the cause of painful martyrdom or any number of other situations where it would be less painful not to believe in a religion. You may not believe in a god, but the concept of ethics from a theistic perspective is much easier philosophically than from an atheistic one. Please refer to my other posts on the shortcomings of hedonism.

While you can criticize an opposing position easily provided that you assume you are right (as you just did in defending the statement that religiosity is a hedonist pursuit, criticism of another does not cover the holes in your own philosophy. The difference is this: provided there is a god then the basis for objective morality is a relatively simple one. Provided there is no god, your ethic has all the problems I pointed out already.

Your post reduces to "No, you." and is void of rhetorical or constructive value. You were only able to criticize the practice of religion by assuming that you were right in the first place.


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HisWillness wrote:"Ultimate"

HisWillness wrote:
"Ultimate" meaning? What are you talking about? What assigns meaning other than us?

From an atheist perspective? Nothing. And since we ourselves are fleeting in existence and ultimately doomed to annihilation in the universe, so then is any meaning we assign. Ultimate meaning means just what it says. Some assigned meaning that is not dependent on a doomed, transient being. The point of all this was that since there is no "ultimate" meaning then the question of what we should do is irrelevant and anyone can act in any way howsoever they please and it will not make any ultimate difference.

HisWillness wrote:
Hold on. Because a certain type of meaning that you've introduced isn't satisfied in this example, there is no meaning at all? That seems like quite the jump.

Tell me, in another 20 billion years (or however long you think it might take for the last human breath to be breathed if you are willing to entertain the idea that your influence will reach so far) what is the meaning of anything you or I do? I didn't introduce some special type of meaning. I simply pointed out that the meaning or worthiness of a life as assigned by human beings is ultimately irrelevant.

HisWillness wrote:
But that's a begged question. Your assumption is already that a greater power is the only way to have a system of ethics that is reasonable, workable and self-supporting.

I made no such assumption and fail to see where I did. I challenged an atheist to give a reason for morality without the benefit of a deity on which to base the authority of said ethic. Morality implies an "ought". An "ought" implies some kind of basis of authority for being able to say what one "ought" to do. Nigel presented rational hedonism. I made several points on it which have yet gone unchallenged.

HisWillness wrote:
Let's create a system of morals, and see how we do.

First rule: try not to harm others

Second rule: try to help others when they ask for help

It is not enough to simply arbitrarily state an ethical code. That's not difficult or even all that interesting. The philosophical question is "Why?" You say people should try not to harm others. What answer can you give when someone asks "Why should I?" That is the question not being answered. Repeatedly, a few of you have simply tried to state an ethical code without giving any reason why it should be so.


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DMC wrote: This is a long

DMC wrote:

This is a long coming about to saying two things.

  • In the absence of some self-sustaining, purpose giving entity, there is no ultimate meaning and by extension no meaning at all, and
  • You have yet to give a reasonable workable ethic that is self-supporting and consistent in the absence of some greater power upon which to base ethics.

There's definitely no 'ultimate' or 'cosmic' meaning, but I don't see how that leads to no meaning at all. Words like meaning and purpose are, for me, subjective human concepts. What you're implying feels too...Platonic, like someone could buy me a can of 'purpose.' In short, purpose exists whenever I have a purpose; meaning exists wherever I find it. 

I know not if this earth on which I stand is the core of the universe or if it is but a speck of dust lost in eternity. I know not and I care not. For I know what happiness is possible to me on earth. And my happiness needs no higher aim to vindicate it. My happiness is not the means to any end. It is the end. It is its own goal. It is its own purpose. Ayn Rand

Perhaps absolute morality that comes from a transcendent source would be a more stable(?) way to approach ethics, but the discussion reaches nowhere unless we actually possess knowledge of what some higher being would want. Plus, there's just so much here that I can't quite wrap my brain around. For instance, how does the entity "give" me purpose? Why should I base my ethics on this entity? If it's possible to explain why this entity's morals are superior, then I don't see why we would even need it in the first place. If it simply dogmatically asserted that it was superior, then all I'm doing is obeying authority.

Our revels now are ended. These our actors, | As I foretold you, were all spirits, and | Are melted into air, into thin air; | And, like the baseless fabric of this vision, | The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces, | The solemn temples, the great globe itself, - Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve, | And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, | Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff | As dreams are made on, and our little life | Is rounded with a sleep. - Shakespeare


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I didn't suppose any

I didn't suppose any properties about an entity. Only that such an entity (I resist saying god for fear of tripping some kind of text based gag reflex) in some form or another could give purpose.

In philosophy, appeal to authority is about as useful as a screen door on a submarine if you can't back up your quotes as well as your own words.


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DMC wrote:The philosophical

DMC wrote:
The philosophical question is "Why?" You say people should try not to harm others. What answer can you give when someone asks "Why should I?" That is the question not being answered.
 

There is no answer. Or, at least, the kind of answer you're looking for probably won't be found on this forum.

Morality deals with right and wrong, with what ought to be. At some point, you're always going to reach a point at which is something is right or wrong simply because it is, like an axiom. Religions like Christianity and Islam deals with this by saying that absolute morality comes from God. 

I'm an atheist. I don't hold the beliefs necessary to use that line of reasoning, so I refer to my instincts and logic. However, these only tell me what is good or bad. They can't tell me why it's good or bad. Obviously, there's lots of different utilitarians, humanists, hedonists, nihilists, pluralists...whatever. In the end, the atheist doesn't do bad things because the atheist doesn't want to do bad things, period. So, I'm going to guess that the theist also refrains from doing bad things because the theist doesn't want to do bad things. However, this is not enough for the theist to feel secure. The theist needs a deductive proof to be emotionally/intellectually satisfied while the atheist simply believes that this is a subject in which one does not exist. 

Our revels now are ended. These our actors, | As I foretold you, were all spirits, and | Are melted into air, into thin air; | And, like the baseless fabric of this vision, | The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces, | The solemn temples, the great globe itself, - Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve, | And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, | Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff | As dreams are made on, and our little life | Is rounded with a sleep. - Shakespeare


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The interesting thing about

The interesting thing about theistically based ethics is that so few theists actually abide by them. 

  Great thread BTW.


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DMC wrote:EXC, there is a

DMC wrote:

EXC, there is a glaring discontinuity in your second statement. The genetic tendency to avoid pain and pursue pleasure is a physical distinction and is not fit to explain the cause of painful martyrdom or any number of other situations where it would be less painful not to believe in a religion.

I think science has demonstrated that all behaviors are based on an expectation or pleasure or avoidance of pain. Pavlov's dogs still salivated even when the reward was not realized once they were conditioned. Same is true of religious martyrs that have been conditioned with expectation of heaven.

We see examples in the animal kingdom of martyrdom:

Puzzle of ants' suicide mission to protect the nest

What is the ethics of these ants? Why is a male spider willing to mate with a black widow? Why do human and animal parents risk their lives to protect their young? Why do firemen and soldiers risk their lives?

I think in all these cases there is a expectation of reward. These activities all get mapped to bio-chemical reaction in the brain that produces good feelings. Societies reward people with the brave tag and punish others with the coward tag. Why? Because we are social animals we seek pleasure in the approval of others.

Can you think of an activity that any human or animal does that does not produce a reward or an expectation of one? I can't. So we're all hedonists without any free will to change this.

DMC wrote:

You may not believe in a god, but the concept of ethics from a theistic perspective is much easier philosophically than from an atheistic one. Please refer to my other posts on the shortcomings of hedonism.

But the whole concept of ethics is based on the assumption that humans have free will. I think science has shown we don't or at least the tradition concept that religion and ethics assumes is highly flawed.

Hedonism may be flawed, but it's what evolution has produced, 6 billion human hedonists. Liking cheeseburgers, pizza, etc.. has it's shortcomings to when it comes to keeping my weight under control. But I don't have a free will switch where I can just turn off me liking something. This is what my genetics decided I should like. How do I stop liking cheeseburgers? How do I stop being a hedonist?

DMC wrote:

 The difference is this: provided there is a god then the basis for objective morality is a relatively simple one. Provided there is no god, your ethic has all the problems I pointed out already.

How does having a god change anyone's morality or ethics? All it changes is what one believes he must do get pleasure and avoid punishment. You change your strategy but not your hedonistic drive. If you believe you get eternal rewards, you just follow a strategy of delayed pleasure. You try to please Mr. Invisible so he will get you high and give you nice things. How is this not a hedonist/egoist 'ethic'?

Listen to any church sermon. It's all about acting and believing in a certain way and giving money to church so you can get "the power of god" in your life. This is the reward in this life, then heaven in the next. Pure hedonism.

DMC wrote:

Your post reduces to "No, you." and is void of rhetorical or constructive value. You were only able to criticize the practice of religion by assuming that you were right in the first place.

Do you want to have a debate about whether we have free will or a choice about a hedonist? I think I can produce of ton of evidence in my favor. What evidence do you have that we don't?

In order for the concept of ethics and morality to enen be valid, don't you need to demonstrate that your assumption that humans have free will that would allow us to not be hedonists is valid?

What is your suggestion then so that we can have ethics? We should lie to ourselves and others about believing in the god that happens to me most popular in the country we happen to live in? The only way for us to have ethics and morals is to start lieing about believing in a god?

 

“Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.” Seneca


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 There is absolutely no way

 There is absolutely no way to derive an atheist ethic.  Atheism is simply a statement of what someone doesn't believe.  It gives no indication of what a person does believe.

There are many ways to construct a system of ethics without a reference to a god.  Pragmatism, utilitarianism, stoicism, hedonism, evolutionary ethics, etc, etc.  There are lots of ways to go about it.  The basic way to get started is to decide the goal of your system.  Do you want to maximize pleasure, minimize pain, make things as equal as possible?  Once you know your goal, simply do the science.  Look at which behaviors tend to produce the result you want, and call those "good."  The ones that produce opposite results are called "bad."

Bingo, whammo... you've got ethics.

 

Atheism isn't a lot like religion at all. Unless by "religion" you mean "not religion". --Ciarin

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Hambydammit wrote: There is

Hambydammit wrote:
There is absolutely no way to derive an atheist ethic.  Atheism is simply a statement of what someone doesn't believe.  It gives no indication of what a person does believe. There are many ways to construct a system of ethics without a reference to a god.  Pragmatism, utilitarianism, stoicism, hedonism, evolutionary ethics, etc, etc.  There are lots of ways to go about it.  The basic way to get started is to decide the goal of your system.  Do you want to maximize pleasure, minimize pain, make things as equal as possible?  Once you know your goal, simply do the science.  Look at which behaviors tend to produce the result you want, and call those "good."  The ones that produce opposite results are called "bad."

 


As stated several times before, ethics is a why, not a what. Regardless of reason, most humans will make similar decisions or at least be able to identify the "right" choice in the most common moral scenarios. That is not the question. All the ethical theories you listed identify the "good" in a decision in some particular place. The question for all of them, is why the do so. Like it or not, there is a causal relationship between one's ethical philosophy and their comprehensive worldview. It is just such a worldview that is the final basis for an ethical theory.


From a naturalist worldivew, "morality" is just a genetic predisposition developed by natural selection because it increases the survivability and prosperity of the group. Of course, place that alongside the admission that there is no free will as EXC stated and we are not morally responsible to begin with. Misbehavior is a fault of a person's genes, not a free will of a moral agent. Where this then goes is easy to show.

Herein lies the problem with this thinking. Consider the justice system of the United States or any other comparable system of law. When someone breaks a law which is simply an enforced permutation of a genetic development, they are incarcerated or put to death. Why is this? One might argue that if we are not morally responsible beings and have no free will then why should we “punish” anyone who breaks a law without free will? A materialist (metaphysical) would argue that the act of incarceration is necessary because the liberty of law breakers endangers the welfare of the group. That is all well and good, but it’s implications lead us to a very different thinking of law. If there really is no free will and the reason we incarcerate people is so that they will not have the freedom to break the law again, why should we wait until someone breaks a law to incarcerate them? If we find that they have a certain probability of doing so (and since human behavior is in this sense deterministic so such behavior should be scientifically predictable) then should not they be incarcerated before they have the opportunity to break the law? Moreover, what would be the point of incarcerating anyone at all if it can be shown that they will not break the law again? In this case, despite their original transgression their freedom as a productive member of society would be beneficial. Even the most heinous crime would be excusable if there was a reasonable assurance it would not be repeated. Furthermore, what would the difference be between the death penalty and lifetime imprisonment? If the conclusion is that an individual can never again be allowed in society then why keep them alive at all? This wouldn’t even apply strictly to involuntary criminals. Any person who proved to be a burden on society would be expendable and useless because the genetic basis of “morality” is not being served. But the list goes on, why not force unlawful people (those who do not serve the common good) into servitude so as to not waste their existence? Surely some menial role could be found for most law breakers. In fact, if anyone could be forced to serve the group in a greater way than they do voluntarily, then they should be so forced. There is really no immediate end to this drive to the logical conclusion.

It would be a simple matter to argue against your hedonism or utilitarianism in such a way. You cannot appeal to the general morality of humanity and say, "Well it's all working out pretty well," because they act the way they do because of beliefs that you do not share. A responsible ethical theory is consistent with the worldview that spawned it in the first place. Hedonism and utilitarianism are then, as nigel said, simply an attempt to assign meaning where there is no intrinsic meaning. It is a poor attempt at that because it is not even consistent with the atheist position. If one wished to any number of the things listed above there would be very little recourse for you take against it.

 


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DMC wrote:Agreement or

DMC wrote:

Agreement or consensus in fact has very little to do with it. Power is not necessarily distributed in an equal fashion and history shows that it usually is not. Sane and stable could describe many governments and societies that did "horrible" things if you'll permit and emotivist tone, but they were nevertheless, stable. Look at pre-civil war America. There was widespread slavery, but nothing derived from your utilitarian ethic of a sane, stable society prohibits enslavement. And even if there was a "consensus" or a concentration of power against such a thing, it still would not be "wrong". Such a prohibition would only express a "want", not a moral imperative. If someone were to ask "Why is slavery wrong?" there would be no forthcoming response unless you yourself were slave, and even then it would still be a matter of "might makes right". Moreover, because of "permissible spectrum" of ethical theories, one has no power or basis for enforcing a particular value, for example liberty, on behalf of anyone else.

Everything you are saying is correct. I'm failing to see the problem.

Quote:

You seem to be hung up on a crucial distinction in ethics. I have no argument that people do act morally (whatever that means). That is a sociological or psychological issue. The ethical question is, "Why do they/should they act morally?" So far, you have only affirmed that the do.

No. I have stated there is no single reason they do. I have offered several different reasons in passing, applicable to individuals. I have presented one slightly more in-depth, the one you specifically asked about. I have also presented evidence that there is no single objective source of an ethical system; rather, ethical behavior is entirely naturalistic, and situational. The most we can hope for is to derive the most common elements of various ethical systems as actually practiced by humanity, and build from there.

You seem to be hung up on the idea that ethics must be objectively derivable. This is a fallacy. You can only derive ethics from a set of goals. This can be derived individually, or in groups. If you wish to participate in a group, you must abide by the ethics of the group. This is your social contract.

Ethics is nothing more and nothing less than a behavioral contract between an individuals of a group, a protocol for interaction. Ethical behavior in ancient Egypt was quite different from ethical behavior in modern Canada. Even in modern societies, ethics are not universal: it's not ethical to murder, but the death penalty is fine. So is war, in which many people are murdered. And so on.

In general, social contracts tend for the enrichment of the group. That's generally the point of grouping together. Ergo, the "sane and stable society." Because groups tend to form for the purpose of the enrichment of the group, there are some commonalities in social contracts.

Philosophically, you can only derive an ethical system once you have defined the goals of society. Practically, those goals are defined by consensus.

Quote:

Furthermore, the utilitarianism you describe is all good and well on the surface. "Enjoy life and in doing so help others do the same" but it falls prey to the well-known problems with consequentialism:

1. Incommensurability. There is really no way to judge the happiness generated by an action except in a personal context. Once the action effects others outside, derived pleasure becomes incalculable and adds a further element of moral relativism to the philosophy.

This flaw is intrinsic to all ethical behavior. One can only act with the knowledge at one's disposal. Would it be moral to kill Jeffery Dahmer before he murdered the first time, thereby saving the lives of innocents? Perhaps, but only if you knew the results of your actions.

Morality is, in general, judged by the intent of the person performing the action, and not the results of the action. That is why there is a difference between murder, manslaughter, and a simple accident.

Quote:

2. It begs the question, "Why is happiness the goal of ethics?" A common example for this is the happy pill. The happy pill guarantees that anyone who takes it will be inconceivably happy for the rest of his life. The catch, is that whoever takes it goes into a relatively vegetative state, able only to sustain his own life. The momentary distress of thinking of the consequences of taking the happy pill would immediately dissolve into oblivion once taken. But who is there that would actually choose to take it? Would you? If not, doesn't that say something about good or morality being equated with pleasure?

"Brain Candy." I love Kids In The Hall.

To answer your question: what if a person had a terrible life, and never experienced pleasure? What if they were immensely poor, had no hope of any enjoyment at all, and could look forward only to a long, sheltered life of loneliness and despair. Would your magic pill not be appealing? If so, doesn't that say something about good or morality being equated with pleasure?

If you were to look at the reasons people would or would not opt to take the magic pill, you'd discover that those with enjoyable lives don't need it, and prefer the real thing to illusion; those with a reality that sucks may very well wish to take it. If this were not true, there would be no such thing as suicide.

Doesn't this say something about good or morality being equated with pleasure?

Quote:

3. Finally, since pleasure is an end, decisions are simply a means to an end, and what that decision actually is, is irrelevant to the question of morality as long as it can be shown that the action itself brought about the greatest possible pleasure. See the above example regarding exploitation of minorities.

You seem to be ignoring the "rational" part of rational hedonism. As I explained before, to maximize enjoyment of life means maximizing the enjoyment of society. I realize very much that my currently-enjoyable life is a result of living in a society that has, as its stated goals, liberty and justice and equality. Those goals demonstrably contribute to my current happy life, by helping to create this society. This also helps ensure that the majority of people are happier than they would be otherwise.

The greater the enjoyment of life of society in general, the greater my ability to enjoy life. It's as simple as that. It is in my own best interest to attempt to help make society enjoyable for everyone involved. Not only that, but I enjoy the simple act of helping others, so it's a win-win.

In any case, all ethical behavior is a means to an end -- the ability for humans to congregate in groups.

Quote:
Apply some transitivity to what you are saying and the truth of my remarks becomes obvious. You use the phrase "my meaning to life." Your life, according to what you have said, is transient, short, and ultimately doomed. You use the phrase my meaning, but as soon as you cease to be there is no more your. I do not argue that there is relative meaning present, but just as you say there is no ultimate purpose, also there is no ultimate meaning, because nothing is ultimate. Even the relative meaning I referenced is scarcely longer lived than you yourself. Your relative meaning is only via other equally transient, equally meaningless lives (lives without ultimate meaning) all of whom will someday be dead and whose descendants will all also be dead and forgotten in totality. The so-called meaning you claim to  have is at least as fleeting as life itself.

You make the common fallacy that without "ultimate" meaning, individuals cannot have meaning. This is a bald assertion, with no basis. Yes, the meaning of my life dies with me. So do my thoughts, the essence of everything that is me. I fail to see the problem.

There is no demonstrable truth to your remarks. You start with the assumption that life must have transcendent purpose (an ultimate meaning), and conclude that ethics must match this ultimate purpose. This is a circular argument, with no method of philosophical or empirical analysis. Therefore, there is no method of judging your assertions for truth.

Quote:

This is a long coming about to saying two things.

  • In the absence of some self-sustaining, purpose giving entity, there is no ultimate meaning and by extension no meaning at all, and
  • You have yet to give a reasonable workable ethic that is self-supporting and consistent in the absence of some greater power upon which to base ethics.

The first bullet point is a bald assertion, demonstrably untrue. I have demonstrated meaning, however transient it might be. You have admitted that it is meaning, when you correctly stated it was as transient as life. You have failed to refute that meaning.

I have also demonstrated a reasonable, workable ethic for me. As I stated in my very first post, there is no universal ethics derived from atheism. We have the consensus of the social contract, which is externally-applied, and could be called a "greater power," as I certainly couldn't tear down society.

As for your second bullet, as there is no philosophic necessity for an "ultimate meaning," there is no necessary greater power, either. As the greater power fails philosophically, it must be demonstrated empirically before it can be assumed, as you have done here.

Your personal desire for a moral imperative does not constitute a philosophic argument.

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 Damn, DMC.  You read an

 Damn, DMC.  You read an awful lot into my short little answer.  The OP asked how to make a system of ethics without God.  I answered that.  I didn't even mention how to evaluate one system against another or whether or not there could be such a thing as a "true" system of ethics, or what constitutes "responsibility."

I appreciate your thoughts, but maybe you could direct them towards someone who addressed the topics they entail.

Quote:
 Hedonism and utilitarianism are then, as nigel said, simply an attempt to assignmeaning where there is no intrinsic meaning. It is a poor attempt at that because it is not even consistent with the atheist position.

No, they're not inconsistent with the atheist position because atheism is not a position.  How hard is that to understand?  Both hedonism and utilitarianism can work perfectly well without a god in the picture.  Sheesh.  I'm not arguing for any of these philosophies.  I'm just pointing out how stupid simple it is to create a system of morals without God.  That's what the OP was about, right?

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It seems that this "ultimate

It seems that this "ultimate meaning" idea is simply Platonic idealism applied to human nature. Am I correct in this, DMC?

You do realize Platonic idealism is a failed philosophy, correct? Therefore, any assertion of a necessary "ultimate meaning" without philosophic or empirical support is fallacious. Also, this means that "ultimate meaning" is not required for common, everyday meaning, such as enjoying existence.

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  DMC wrote: Herein lies

 

DMC wrote:
 

Herein lies the problem with this thinking. Consider the justice system of the United States or any other comparable system of law. When someone breaks a law which is simply an enforced permutation of a genetic development, they are incarcerated or put to death. Why is this? One might argue that if we are not morally responsible beings and have no free will then why should we “punish” anyone who breaks a law without free will? A materialist (metaphysical) would argue that the act of incarceration is necessary because the liberty of law breakers endangers the welfare of the group.

The current system is has a huge problem as well. It's based on the Judeo-Christian eye for an eye value. It does not take into consideration a person's likelihood to re-offend. If you followed this Phillip Garrido case, he served 11 years for kidnapping and rape. The psychologists all say it's extremely likely this person would re-offend. But society just says he paid his debt, the prisons are overflowing and the governments are bankrupt, so he goes free to re-offend.

If science can tell us if a person will re-offend, this should be the determining factor rather than seeking vengeance.

 

DMC wrote:

That is all well and good, but it’s implications lead us to a very different thinking of law. If there really is no free will and the reason we incarcerate people is so that they will not have the freedom to break the law again, why should we wait until someone breaks a law to incarcerate them? If we find that they have a certain probability of doing so (and since human behavior is in this sense deterministic so such behavior should be scientifically predictable) then should not they be incarcerated before they have the opportunity to break the law

Science is not that advanced yet to be able to predict this. Society also believes in proving something beyond a reasonable doubt so innocent to not get punished. We also believe in privacy from government. So I think these values would trump this.

But  intervention before a crime is committed is better. I think this is the only implication of this. We should focus more government resources on people before they commit a crime rather than after.


DMC wrote:


Moreover, what would be the point of incarcerating anyone at all if it can be shown that they will not break the law again? In this case, despite their original transgression their freedom as a productive member of society would be beneficial. Even the most heinous crime would be excusable if there was a reasonable assurance it would not be repeated.

Because others would think they could get away with a crime with little or no punishment. So for now, incarceration is the best deterrent we have, but perhaps someday we could have something better.

 

 

DMC wrote:

Furthermore, what would the difference be between the death penalty and lifetime imprisonment? If the conclusion is that an individual can never again be allowed in society then why keep them alive at all? This wouldn’t even apply strictly to involuntary criminals. Any person who proved to be a burden on society would be expendable and useless because the genetic basis of “morality” is not being served. But the list goes on, why not force unlawful people (those who do not serve the common good) into servitude so as to not waste their existence? Surely some menial role could be found for most law breakers. In fact, if anyone could be forced to serve the group in a greater way than they do voluntarily, then they should be so forced. There is really no immediate end to this drive to the logical conclusion.

But, we view the cause crime as a combination of genetic and enviromental factors. Not as a moral failing. So therefore, we can have a rational understanding and empathy with these people. So why would we want to kill or torture prisoners unless it was absolutly necessary to protect society? What do we gain from it? We'd rather see the government focus it's efforts on curing the genetic and environmental factors that cause crime rather than killing and torturing people. It's the fundamentalist Christians and Muslims that think they are doing God's work by killing and torturing criminals for their 'moral' failings.

An atheist is not likely to believe he is morally superior to others. Therefore, a combination of genetic and environmental factors could cause us to commit a crime. If we were convicted, we would want to be treated humanly. Therefore if we would want to be tortured, we can't support torture ourselves. It's easy for a religious person to support death and torture of prisoners if they believe they are morally superior and can not commit a crime.

If we have social contracts with fellow citizens. Then "do unto other as you would have them do unto you" would become the rule right? We dont' need the fear of hell to come to this conclusion.

 

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DMC wrote:The point of all

DMC wrote:
The point of all this was that since there is no "ultimate" meaning then the question of what we should do is irrelevant and anyone can act in any way howsoever they please and it will not make any ultimate difference.

So are you arguing that unless something has eternal meaning, it has no meaning?

DMC wrote:
Tell me, in another 20 billion years (or however long you think it might take for the last human breath to be breathed if you are willing to entertain the idea that your influence will reach so far) what is the meaning of anything you or I do? I didn't introduce some special type of meaning. I simply pointed out that the meaning or worthiness of a life as assigned by human beings is ultimately irrelevant.

Again, it seems as though "ultimately irrelevant" is based on time, such that anything that is not "eternally relevant" is not relevant full stop. Relevance is certainly time dependent, but to say that anything not "ultimately" or "eternally" relevent automatically is irrelevant isn't a clear line of reasoning.

DMC wrote:
An "ought" implies some kind of basis of authority for being able to say what one "ought" to do.

See, again, you base morality on authority, so I'm left to wonder why you object to my saying you base your argument of morality on authority. I said it was a begged question because of your statements implying that an authority is required for morality.

DMC wrote:
Repeatedly, a few of you have simply tried to state an ethical code without giving any reason why it should be so.

Oh, I see. So you're willing to accept that human beings can create an ethical code, but you question the validity of the ethical code. You actually seem to be suggesting that any ethical code can be invalidated, save one with a specific type of authority attached to it. Why is that?

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HisWillness wrote:Oh, I see.

HisWillness wrote:
Oh, I see. So you're willing to accept that human beings can create an ethical code, but you question the validity of the ethical code. You actually seem to be suggesting that any ethical code can be invalidated, save one with a specific type of authority attached to it. Why is that?

I believe he's struggling with the idea that an "absolute" ethics does not exist. His definition of "ethics" seems to be similar to his definition of "meaning," in that there must exist an eternal Platonic ideal of both. An absolute ethical system necessitates an authority, as all other proposed ethical systems result in moral relativity. So, the idea of an absolute, objective ethical system is tied intimately with the concept of "ultimate meaning" and "higher power."

I'm not entirely certain what he has against moral relativity, when it is empirically evident that ethical behavior can only be judged within the context of society, and the interactions of individuals therein.

This philosophic attempt to wander into the territory of science ('why do people in general behave ethically?') seems to be driven by the same problems a lot of creationists have with evolution: he's not happy with the answers science has discovered. (I may be incorrect on this point; I'm basing it entirely on his insistence that the meaning of an individual life is predicated by some transcendent "ultimate" meaning.)

In any case, I was enjoying the discussion until he started his unsupported assertions that ethics can't exist within a framework without "ultimate meaning." Suddenly I felt like I was arguing with Paisley, and we were going to be subjected to more sophistic nonsense about the "absurdity of life without ultimate meaning."

 

"Yes, I seriously believe that consciousness is a product of a natural process. I find that the neuroscientists, psychologists, and philosophers who proceed from that premise are the ones who are actually making useful contributions to our understanding of the mind." - PZ Myers


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nigelTheBold wrote:I believe

nigelTheBold wrote:

I believe he's struggling with the idea that an "absolute" ethics does not exist. His definition of "ethics" seems to be similar to his definition of "meaning," in that there must exist an eternal Platonic ideal of both.

I know you used the word "Platonic" to guarantee my wrath on the subject, but I'm willing to entertain the idea of "ultimate meaning" if it can be shown that either A) the concept exists in a relevant way, or B) the phrase itself has meaning (or some combination of both).

If I understand correctly, "ultimate meaning" is meaning that is eternal. I think by "meaning", we're saying "has significance", here, not discussing the semantics of things. So the phrase could be more accurately rendered "eternal significance".

Now we see the question begged more clearly. Significance to whom? Obviously to an eternal being, because nothing else would be able to sustain an eternal effort of considering something significant.

So without this eternal being -- which is also capable of considering things significant -- we would have no eternal significance. But does that eliminate significance entirely? That would be suggesting that significance itself was an all-or-nothing proposition, and that only eternal significance can be "counted" as significant.

The counter argument is that significance can be temporary. As a child, one can consider candy bars and toys very significant, and as an adult, one's interest in both could wane (though, it seems, that is not always the case).

Significance, furthermore, seems culturally based, in that certain groups consider events such as the death of Michael Jackson to be of great significance, and others see it as less significant than other issues or deaths. Some cultures see Washington's crossing of a river to be of great and monumental import, and others can't remember the name of the river, because it has strangely been replaced with Caesar crossing the Rubicon now that school has started again.

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HisWillness wrote:So without

HisWillness wrote:

So without this eternal being -- which is also capable of considering things significant -- we would have no eternal significance. But does that eliminate significance entirely? That would be suggesting that significance itself was an all-or-nothing proposition, and that only eternal significance can be "counted" as significant.

This is the reason why I think he's using it in a platonic fashion. The only way a lack of "ultimate meaning" could imply a lack of any meaning whatsoever is if you take Plato at face-value and assume  that if ideal meaning doesn't exist, then non-ideal meaning does not exist.

Otherwise, all he's doing is trotting out Paisley's old argument that our life must make a difference on a cosmic scale; otherwise, what's the point of existing? This is a false dichotomy between nihilism and theology, and his argument breaks down due to the myriad counter-choices. This also conflates his desire for his life to have meaning with reality of that meaning, which is nothing more than argument-from-narcissism.

In any case, his argument of exclusion is fatally flawed. I'm not denying there may be a potential "ultimate meaning" to life. I'm just saying his arguments for the exclusion of transient, subjective meaning as a basis for an ethical system is not merely weak, but completely fallacious.

I'm also claiming that "ultimate meaning" is a far less parsimonious proposition than the proposition of transient, subjective meaning.

[EDIT]

Damnit, I mean "argument-from-solipsism," not narcissism.

"Yes, I seriously believe that consciousness is a product of a natural process. I find that the neuroscientists, psychologists, and philosophers who proceed from that premise are the ones who are actually making useful contributions to our understanding of the mind." - PZ Myers


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DMC wrote:I didn't suppose

DMC wrote:

I didn't suppose any properties about an entity. Only that such an entity (I resist saying god for fear of tripping some kind of text based gag reflex) in some form or another could give purpose.

Yes.

But, I don't understand how an entity can, technically, give me purpose. I can only imagine how I could give myself purpose based on the change in reality in the case that such an entity exists. Perhaps this is trivial and nitpicking, but what the entity wanted me to do would only be my purpose if that was also what I wanted to do. Hmmm, I'm not expressing this point very well.    

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In philosophy, appeal to authority is about as useful as a screen door on a submarine if you can't back up your quotes as well as your own words.

What? My quote?

I was not appealing to authority nor am I an Objectivist. I posted that quote because it reflected my perspective on the topic.  

 

Our revels now are ended. These our actors, | As I foretold you, were all spirits, and | Are melted into air, into thin air; | And, like the baseless fabric of this vision, | The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces, | The solemn temples, the great globe itself, - Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve, | And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, | Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff | As dreams are made on, and our little life | Is rounded with a sleep. - Shakespeare


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I guess I have a lot to

I guess I have a lot to cover (this'll teach me to leave my computer for a few hours) and I'm gonna split into ethics and the tangential topic of "ultimate meaning".

nigelTheBold wrote:
Everything you are saying is correct. I'm failing to see the problem.


No I'm not taking this out of context. Quote pyramids make me dizzy. To summarize, you're saying that there's no problem with "morality" being determined by whoever has the power to enforce their morality (which was the basic idea behind my post). While I used slavery in my example, I could have as easily used the holocaust. By your own admission then, the holocaust in and of itself should not have been stopped. Arguably then, the only time we have any kind of "ethical" obligation to stop unethical behavior is when it is our desires being dashed. I suppose you could say I'm slightly surprised by a bald faced lack of issue with slavery and genocide.

I'm sure you noticed that I keep bring up the "why" question and the response so far is that it's irrelevant since ethics are just constructs that we created as it suits us. I probably should explicitly state why the "Why?" question is important to ethics. I apologize for my assmption that it was obvious.

The goal of an ethic is not just so one individual can decide how to live their own life. If it was, the why question would indeed be irrelevant since it would be simply a personal matter. I may as well give a philosophical justification for why I prefer spicy mustard to other mustards. But alas, that is not what an ethic is. An ethic is only a necessary piece of machinery when there are other individuals in the equation. Why does that make any difference? Well, it's actually a critical distinction and I will explain why. Take any moral dilemma which is likely to divide people with different ethical systems. Suppose a choice must be made one way or another and there is a discussion about what to do. Any given opinion is worthless since it represents only a personal choice. The result is that any ethical dilemma is unsoluble by definition. The problem with not having an asnwer to "Why?" begins to become apparent. An ethical system without a basis is intransitive. It cannot be reasonably applied to anyone else. If someone "wrongs" you gravely but in a way not illegal (even if by loophole or technicality) there is no basis for saying someone did something wrong. The only statement that can be accurately formed is that you feel wronged since wrong takes on a strictly emotivist meaning. The lack of an answer to "Why?" immediately castrates any ethical system since it gives no reason for any other individual to abide by it.

The Law is the most common expression of ethical systems as far as enforced ethics. One might argue, "Well there ya go. Most advanced nations today rule by democracy. There's consensus ethics in practice. Something is right becausee the most people say it is." But there is a fly in that ointment. Most democracies (popular government of any form) are constitutional in one way or another. That means the collective will of the people is itself subordinate to some set of stated value or principles. Life, liberty, property, etc. These and various others depending on the specific example chosen are held to belong to people regardless of whether they are in a minority, majority, or plurality. If might really does make right as has been conceded, then how does any such universally applied right come to exist? "Perhaps," one could argue, "the writer of such a constitution did so out of fear. Conceding his ability to subjugate others in exchange for not being subjugated himself." That may well be, but it does not apply to any situation where those advancing equality did not already have legally secured protection. From the atheist standpoint, slavery would never have been abolished (for even he "felt" opposed to it himself he has no authority to impose that idea or even argue it convincingly to anyone else), genocide is acceptable as long as the most powerful group present is the one doing it (again, might makes right) along with any other atrocity you care to add to the list under "appropriate" circumstances. The really fantastic thing about this though is if an atheist were the one being enslaved or murdered, he has no right to object to it, or rather, no basis for doing so other than self-love. The very idea of an inalienable right is foreign to the atheist since a right is only a hollow construct of society to begin with.

The reasons you presented nigel, fail the test of transitivity. Of course, I am admittedly just blowing hot air to someone who doesn't see a problem with the continuation of slavery or genocide as outlined above.

There's another myth that seems to be underlying in several posts but isn't explicitly brought out. It too has to do with consensus. When I, by example, take the ethics presented here it goes with the supposition, "If everyone believed this way..." That's the nature of taking something to it's logical conclusion. You start by assuming the truth of a proposition, and move forward from there. The unspoken assumption I'm referring to is this, "There is no god, and society's moral sensibilities have done pretty well so far, so we must not need a god to make ethics work. Consensus is how laws are made now and those turned out okay, so consensus clearly works relatively well by historical example." I really shouldn't have to point out the problem with this, but experience is telling me I shouldn't take anything for granted so I will anyway. Whether or not there is a god, a not insubstantial portion of today's ethics are based on the conception that there is. To use American examples, the idea of an inalienable right (which is the philosophical basis for the Bill of Rights) is distinctly theistic and not just because the phrase "endowed by their creator" precedes it. It is theistic because if man is the measure of all things, and there are many men to measure against, nothing is inalienable because inalienable implies absolute. The point is two-fold. The atheist cannot take credit for the deontology of the theist simply because no god exists (for the sake of argument). Videlicet, the performance of humanity in the ethical arena cannot be said to be acceptable in the absence of god and therefore not based on a god, existent or otherwise. That is why when you appeal to consensus who seem to have a consensus of morality, I challenge the atheists' part in this consensus.

Quote:
This flaw is intrinsic to all ethical behavior. One can only act with the knowledge at one's disposal.


This is simply not true. A deontologist or a virtue ethicist would not base moral decisions on outcomes, theist or otherwise. It's rather revealing that you assume consequentialism is the only group of ethical theories. Moreover, the incommensurability argument just beats the dead horse of intransitivity since there is no standard (objective or not) by which to measure pleasure.

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Morality is, in general, judged by the intent of the person performing the action, and not the results of the action. That is why there is a difference between murder, manslaughter, and a simple accident.


Let me get this straight. In theory, you approach all actions with the same intent (greatest good, most people) and then you say that actions are judged by intent first and foremost? How very Robin Hood of you. Steal from a rich man since his wealth suffers diminishing returns for his happiness and generate more happiness by giving it the poor. Your intentions were good so there you are.

In the example you cited (murder, mansalughter, accident) the distinction between the first two is not one of what the intention was, but one of whether there was an intention at all. The distinction between the second and third is deontological. Were you already doing some wrong, wreckless, or questionable that led to a death?

Quote:
If you were to look at the reasons people would or would not opt to take the magic pill, you'd discover that those with enjoyable lives don't need it, and prefer the real thing to illusion; those with a reality that sucks may very well wish to take it.


I believe I stated this in the original example, but just for clarity's sake I'll reiterate. The use of the pill causes so much pleasure that it would strongly outweigh the pleasure of any given life regardless of details. Nevertheless your reply is interesting. You say some might prefer the "real thing". If good = pleasure then the so-called "real thing" is less good. A true rational hedonist would say that the intrinsic desirability of a life is equal to the sum of all the pleasure (weighted for intensity) experienced in that life. To satisfy the rational side we simply offer the pill to everyone. Done and done.

@Hamby: The whole post wasn't directed at you. Only the paragraph after the quote.

Quote:
Both hedonism and utilitarianism can work perfectly well without a god in the picture.  Sheesh.  I'm not arguing for any of these philosophies.  I'm just pointing out how stupid simple it is to create a system of morals without God.


I pretty much adressed this farther up on the wall of text. Note the parts about creating an ethic the relevance of the "why" question. Based on that, the intransitivity can be argued to void the validity of the ethic because it only applies to you, and an ethic by definition guides groups of people. I'm not the one who said that. Nigel did.

Quote:
If science can tell us if a person will re-offend, this should be the determining factor rather than seeking vengeance.


The problem with this is that there is no upper limit to the atrocity of the crime or lower limit to the necessity of punishment. If a terrorist nuked a major city and then retired from his life of terror and this could be demonstrably shown, then by that logic he really shouldn't be punsihed at all except perhaps detained to determine the above information.

Quote:
Science is not that advanced yet to be able to predict this. Society also believes in proving something beyond a reasonable doubt so innocent to not get punished. We also believe in privacy from government. So I think these values would trump this.


 I mentioned it earlier, but you really can't reap the benefit (in a hypothetical instance) of a justice system based on a judeo christian ethic when you're on atheist. First you'd have to investigate whether or not there is sufficient reason for these "values" before implementing them.

Quote:
Because others would think they could get away with a crime with little or no punishment. So for now, incarceration is the best deterrent we have, but perhaps someday we could have something better.


A deterrent to what? People aren't morally responsible for what they do. They don't even have free will. The perpetrator was just a victim of his nature. If he really isn't going to commit a crime again, then there is no reason to hold him.

Quote:
But, we view the cause crime as a combination of genetic and enviromental factors. Not as a moral failing. So therefore, we can have a rational understanding and empathy with these people. So why would we want to kill or torture prisoners unless it was absolutly necessary to protect society? What do we gain from it? We'd rather see the government focus it's efforts on curing the genetic and environmental factors that cause crime rather than killing and torturing people. It's the fundamentalist Christians and Muslims that think they are doing God's work by killing and torturing criminals for their 'moral' failings.

An atheist is not likely to believe he is morally superior to others. Therefore, a combination of genetic and environmental factors could cause us to commit a crime. If we were convicted, we would want to be treated humanly. Therefore if we would want to be tortured, we can't support torture ourselves. It's easy for a religious person to support death and torture of prisoners if they believe they are morally superior and can not commit a crime.

If we have social contracts with fellow citizens. Then "do unto other as you would have them do unto you" would become the rule right? We dont' need the fear of hell to come to this conclusion.


You almost appeal to an unspoken consensus here, as if it's obvious that we would want to bee treated this way and everyone would agree to it. If rational hedonism or a social contract is the way you want to go, let's see how long they last without a basis next to the natural selfishness of mankind. That is the point I continue to make. There is no transitive support for your ethics and are thus inapplicable. There is only consensus. Ever-changing, ever-insecure consensus. I would further criticize the social contract idea in the sense that it depends upon democracy. There is little social contract of an security when power is unequally distributed as is usually the case.

Quote:
Oh, I see. So you're willing to accept that human beings can create an ethical code, but you question the validity of the ethical code. You actually seem to be suggesting that any ethical code can be invalidated, save one with a specific type of authority attached to it. Why is that?


Let me put it another way if you fail to understand all I have said so far. Instead of invalidating them, consider each of them equally valid. Ergo, the preceding.

I'm gonna take a crack at the whole "meaning" thing later. Have some sympathy. I have quite the one man task here.

 


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DMC wrote:Quote:Oh, I see.

DMC wrote:

Quote:
Oh, I see. So you're willing to accept that human beings can create an ethical code, but you question the validity of the ethical code. You actually seem to be suggesting that any ethical code can be invalidated, save one with a specific type of authority attached to it. Why is that?


Let me put it another way if you fail to understand all I have said so far. Instead of invalidating them, consider each of them equally valid. Ergo, the preceding.

You mean all moral systems are equally valid including ones with a specific type of authority? There's a lot that you seem to be trying to get across, so I'm not sure which of the preceding applies, here.

DMC wrote:
I'm gonna take a crack at the whole "meaning" thing later. Have some sympathy. I have quite the one man task here.

Okay. I don't mind taking it one step at a time.

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HisWillness wrote:Let me put

HisWillness wrote:

 

Let me put it another way if you fail to understand all I have said so far. Instead of invalidating them, consider each of them equally valid. Ergo, the preceding.

I'm not exactly sure what you're saying. I'm speaking as to the philosophical state of things under the assumption there is no god. My point there was to say that having all systems equally valid creates the same problem as invalidating all of them. You would never know which one is "right" and so it reduces to simple consensus which I talked about earlier. Whether you state in the negative or the positive the same problem crops up.

 

 


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DMC wrote:I'm not exactly

DMC wrote:

I'm not exactly sure what you're saying. I'm speaking as to the philosophical state of things under the assumption there is no god. My point there was to say that having all systems equally valid creates the same problem as invalidating all of them. You would never know which one is "right" and so it reduces to simple consensus which I talked about earlier. Whether you state in the negative or the positive the same problem crops up.

What's the problem? That morality is cultural? There are also people within cultures who form sub-cultures because they disagree with mainstream values. How do we treat those values as a "simple consensus"?

What I'm reading from you is:

God? Check. Whew! Problem solved!

No God? Total chaos ensues.

And it seems a bit dramatic.

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Quote:How do we treat those

Quote:
How do we treat those values as a "simple consensus"?

I'm not quite sure what you mean here.

 

You're absolutely right. It is a dramatic shift, but considering the properties with which a god is generally believed to possess you could say it makes a dramatic difference to how things "really are."

You're summary isn't an incorrect assessment. Maybe I can frame it with a little more clarity though.

I haven't really gone into the implications for morality in the case of the existence of God (not in any detail anyway) and that is purposeful simply because to do so I would need to develop characteristics properties and nature thereof to justify which is really outside the scope the discussion. I could "for sake of discussion suppose 'God'..." but frankly I think that's more likely to derail into an unrelated discussion.

Quote:
No God? Total chaos ensues.

You don't necessarily have to frame it in terms of the existence of God or not. It's more a matter of investigating the results of subjective morality. That's really what I'm talking about. I think that the lack of a superhuman authority (again, a as opposed to any) from which to derive objective morality is definitely contributory, but the OP could have as easily said, "How do you approach ethics if ethics is subjective."

 

Edit:

In lieu of me having time to address it right now, the implications for meaning in existence without God comes primarily from philosopher Dr. William Lane Craig. I'm sure if you want you can google related articles or books.


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DMC wrote:The problem with

DMC wrote:


The problem with this is that there is no upper limit to the atrocity of the crime or lower limit to the necessity of punishment. If a terrorist nuked a major city and then retired from his life of terror and this could be demonstrably shown, then by that logic he really shouldn't be punsihed at all except perhaps detained to determine the above information.

We don't any ability to "demonstrate" this so this is a ridiculous hypothetical. Keeping the terrorist in jail would still be a deterrent to others. A better question might be giving this person a death penalty or torturing them. Would this be a deterrent?

DMC wrote:
 
 I mentioned it earlier, but you really can't reap the benefit (in a hypothetical instance) of a justice system based on a judeo christian ethic when you're on atheist.

I'd rather reap the benefits of a justice system based on evidence of it's effectiveness(prevention).

DMC wrote:
 
First you'd have to investigate whether or not there is sufficient reason for these "values" before implementing them.

They are not values, they are methods. What methods of crime prevention work, not what is correct according to some religion.


DMC wrote:
 
A deterrent to what?

A similar crime. Obviously if we did not punish crime we would have more. I don't want to be a crime victim. So I want a deterrent.


DMC wrote:
 

You almost appeal to an unspoken consensus here, as if it's obvious that we would want to bee treated this way and everyone would agree to it. If rational hedonism or a social contract is the way you want to go, let's see how long they last without a basis next to the natural selfishness of mankind. That is the point I continue to make. There is no transitive support for your ethics and are thus inapplicable. There is only consensus. Ever-changing, ever-insecure consensus. I would further criticize the social contract idea in the sense that it depends upon democracy. There is little social contract of an security when power is unequally distributed as is usually the case.

So argument is that rational hedonism based on social contracts can't work because people are just to selfish. This may surprise you but I agree that it may not work, humans may destroy ourselves and perhaps all life on earth due to our selfish hedonistic pursuits. And Religion is one of these selfish hedonist pursuits. Nothing is more narcissistic than believing you are highly favored by the creator of the universe and will live forever.

Where we differ is that you claim we have a choice about not being a hedonist, you have zero evidence to support this. I think our only hope is to admit we are all hedonists and selfish, that religion is a hedonist pursuit of no value in helping humanity in a scientific era. I think if we accept and understand this nature, perhaps we can come up with rational solution to solve our common dilemmas.

 

“Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.” Seneca


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Kinda took that deterrent

Kinda took that deterrent comment a bit out of context.

You are right about that being an unlikely hypothetical, and you could certainly consider the deterrent value of punishment. However, while the extremes of a heinous crime and a next day release aren't realistic, the principle still holds. If a criminal has truly been rehabilitated (a subject about which we make judgments today) and served a long enough deterrent sentence, there really is no need why the most destructive criminal could not be re-released. In fact, the thought experiment reveals one very clear thing: sentencing is not punishment, only the necessary follow through of a deterrent.

Earlier you mentioned something about "reasonable doubt" in response to the idea of locking up probably criminals before they commit a crime. Under a utilitarian or pragmatic society who recognized themselves as such, there would be no need for this. It would simply be a question of probability and quantifying the pleasure in each outcome. Even if there is a reasonable doubt, a judge could argue, the potential loss of pleasure in the world should this be the man and we find him innocent, outweighs the small loss of sending an innocent man to prison.

Not that there is really a need for any such reasoning since it is the majority that would decide such rules anyway regardless of whether some value like pleasure is preserved in the process.

I guess with your penultimate paragraph we've come to something of an understanding about the value of subjective morality. Not very much. Now I agree with you that if I am wrong about the existence of God, then religion is just another hedonistic, narcissistic activity. It's your premise I disagree with, not your conclusion.

Quote:
Where we differ is that you claim we have a choice about not being a hedonist, you have zero evidence to support this.

That's a pretty bold accusation and I don't remember ever trying to argue for the existence of free will so to accuse me of having no evidence to support something I never tried to support in the first place is sort of discourteous. I could repeat pretty much everything I've said in one form or another from a theistic determinist's perspective. Very little would change.


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DMC wrote:In lieu of me

DMC wrote:
In lieu of me having time to address it right now, the implications for meaning in existence without God comes primarily from philosopher Dr. William Lane Craig.

Yeah, I know. I thought I was hinting enough that I knew that's where your ideas were coming from by quoting Shelly Kagan, who already took apart Craig's standard lines in debate. I promise I was going to give attribution to the quotes, I just figured if you were a Craig fan, you might have watched that one.

Craig didn't have an answer for the question of "ultimate", either.

 

PS

Don't get me wrong. William Lane Craig is the finest apologist (especially in debate) to ever live, in my opinion. He is the Tiger Woods, the Michael Jordan, and the Wayne Gretzky of apologetics. He just gets stuck in a rut sometimes.

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DMC wrote:"How do you

DMC wrote:
"How do you approach ethics if ethics is subjective."

It's fine to present that as a question, but ethics really isn't subjective. It seems to be a network of fuzzy valuations regarding behaviours between people. Since we have no way of quantifying the influence of others in our decisions, we can't know exactly how much subjectivity we all share in the process. That's why I use "network" and "fuzzy". To simply say that this one thing is bad and this other thing good is to ignore our actual behaviour with regards to what we call moral reasoning.

Having a super-human authority just seems to confuse the issue. Not only are we suggesting an authority that cannot be shown to actually be present, we're suggesting that this dubious presence be responsible for the entirety of our moral process. That's pretty shaky ground for authority, and especially authority over something we consider so important.

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Oh I think I could take a

Oh I think I could take a pretty good run at it, but as you can see it took me a massive wall of text just to address a day's worth of posts on the one topic.

The problem with defining it is that you have to define things like "meaning". I'm a mathematician and one thing every mathematician knows is that some terms must remain undefined by their very nature. Like a set. We don't define a set generally in math, we simply state that it exists and give examples to prove the point. This concept applies equally to other disciplines because of the fact that repetitive definition leads ultimately to an infinite regression through a finite universe of words. Some things must simply be understood.

I use the word "meaning". I could try to clarify it with phrases like, "a way in which something matters; significance" but even that is pretty sketchy. As far as "ultimate" is concerned I feel that the trusty old dictionary gives a pretty good definition.

Quote:
1. last; farthest; ending a series;

5. final; total

So the the question could be rephrased as some like, "What is the final (and the study of time tells us there will be a final since time is a form of energy crudely stated) value, worth, or significance of a human life in totality?"

So if you'll permit me to appeal to a basically undefined term I think we can make some headway. Suppose by some freak act of evolution you were the only self-aware being to ever exist. Also assume for sake of simplicity that your psychology is basically what it is either because of evolution or teleology. No matter which. You go your whole existence without ever meeting another being capable of giving a damn. <insert w/e here> Then you die.

Take that together with the implication in a number of posts about other people (e.g. relationships) giving a kind of "meaning" to life. We could argue that our current existence is more "meaningful" than the hypothetical. Why? It's difficult to say because the term is so vague. Many people are concerned about their "legacy" in life. What should it matter? They will be dead, not even aware that they ever existed. Most of us would like to leave some kind of legacy. Some impact. Some contribution. We need not even reject that we are hedonistic beings for this line of reasoning to be valid. I could acknowledge that this is simply a hedonistic expression of some desire or other etc.

It really doesn't matter why. The point is, that we could point out, and to some extent, rank various degrees of meaning. Now I can understand how this isn't convincing coming from the atheist perspective as seeing the life you live as encompassing the full range of possible meaning. The crux of this "thought experiment" and that's really what it is, is seeing the contrast. Taking ten steps back as it were. You may construct whatever god figure you wish if you don't approve of the conventional models or grant yourself some manner of life after death other. Whatever conception it is that generates more comparative meaning for you.

The range of potential meaning then, expands from the naturalist perspective to being relatively limited, to encompass as grand a scale as you can conceive of.

It's really not Platonic. If you wanted to compare it to something the classic ontological argument for god would be better with the important distinction that this does not claim to be an argument. It only seeks to reveal relative calibers of meaning in supernaturalism versus naturalism. That's basically how Craig uses it anyway. I partially invoked in the sense of "What the hell difference does it make what we do?". I probably shouldn't have if I wasn't going to develop it fully since it's not a particularly integral part of any theistic position.


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It's pretty easy to straw

It's pretty easy to straw man your way through that one if there isn't a particular conception of a god-like authority on the table. I opted for the "assume god does not exist" approach.

Quote:
It seems to be a network of fuzzy valuations regarding behaviours between people. Since we have no way of quantifying the influence of others in our decisions, we can't know exactly how much subjectivity we all share in the process.

That's kind of a sketchy description and I don't think I can make a meaningful reply based on that. Perhaps you could develop it a bit further?

 

[EDIT]

Maybe we could split this off into a different topic. Maybe? Mods?


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DMC wrote:I use the word

DMC wrote:
I use the word "meaning". I could try to clarify it with phrases like, "a way in which something matters; significance" but even that is pretty sketchy. As far as "ultimate" is concerned I feel that the trusty old dictionary gives a pretty good definition.

Quote:
1. last; farthest; ending a series;

5. final; total

So the the question could be rephrased as some like, "What is the final (and the study of time tells us there will be a final since time is a form of energy crudely stated) value, worth, or significance of a human life in totality?"

The logical answer is, "We won't know until the end, will we?"

My biggest problem with assuming an "ultimate meaning" must exist, and we can derive ontological or ethical meaning from it, is that we must first know what that "ultimate meaning" is. And so far, nobody has proposed an effective way of defining it, let alone discerning it (assuming it exists).

The assertion that "there must be ultimate meaning" simply because ethics is messy is a non sequitur.

I'm still digesting and preparing a reply to your Wall-o-Text; I'm trying to work it down some, and gain some education in the process. Your conversation with HisWillness will most likely be more fruitful, as he's actually studied some philosophy beyond the basics. Me, I consider philosophy a good way of convincing yourself of something that is patently absurd (such as Zeno's Paradox), and derailing productive thought. (And I've not progressed much beyond Hume.)

It's a lot of fun, though, I have to admit, especially with someone intelligent. So, thanks.

"Yes, I seriously believe that consciousness is a product of a natural process. I find that the neuroscientists, psychologists, and philosophers who proceed from that premise are the ones who are actually making useful contributions to our understanding of the mind." - PZ Myers


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DMC wrote:It's pretty easy

DMC wrote:
It's pretty easy to straw man your way through that one if there isn't a particular conception of a god-like authority on the table. I opted for the "assume god does not exist" approach.

That would be fine, except that you keep implying that the alternative is a god-like authority. I'll ignore that if it helps, though.

DMC wrote:
Quote:
It seems to be a network of fuzzy valuations regarding behaviours between people. Since we have no way of quantifying the influence of others in our decisions, we can't know exactly how much subjectivity we all share in the process.

That's kind of a sketchy description and I don't think I can make a meaningful reply based on that. Perhaps you could develop it a bit further?

Of course -- I'm sure someone has done a better job of developing the idea, I'm just not well read enough on the subject to know if I'm repeating what someone has already said. Morality is never strictly subjective. There's no lone man performing a moral act without other people. In the absence of other people, there can certainly be moral acts, but there would have had to be people around at some point, because we don't spontaneously appear. The expression "no man is an island" comes to mind.

What I'm arguing is that no discussion of morality can be done as though it were a simple case of subjectivity when human beings are such an interdependent species. We depend on each other for culture and ideas, and those ideas include mores. To determine whether someone's moral decision is more subjective than culturally influenced would certainly take more information than we have on any given individual.

So to mark it down as "merely subjective" or "merely consensus" isn't really getting the full picture. Our ideas make up a network of imprecisely conceived, shared cultural artifacts, and our judgments of things fall more into the domain of a fuzzy (or n-valent) ethics than one that's bivalent (bad OR good to the exclusion of the other).

DMC wrote:
Maybe we could split this off into a different topic. Maybe? Mods?

If you think I've made a real departure from the original focus on morality, then I'd rather get back on track than split it off. I didn't intend to derail the topic.

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DMC wrote: In fact, the

DMC wrote:

 In fact, the thought experiment reveals one very clear thing: sentencing is not punishment, only the necessary follow through of a deterrent.

Even for a theist, sentencing as pure punishment makes no sense. They believe that god is the ultimate punisher. So unless you think god is incapable of this, why try to punish people?

DMC wrote:

Earlier you mentioned something about "reasonable doubt" in response to the idea of locking up probably criminals before they commit a crime. Under a utilitarian or pragmatic society who recognized themselves as such, there would be no need for this. It would simply be a question of probability and quantifying the pleasure in each outcome. Even if there is a reasonable doubt, a judge could argue, the potential loss of pleasure in the world should this be the man and we find him innocent, outweighs the small loss of sending an innocent man to prison.

It's not a small loss if you're the innocent one sent to prison. I think people value their own freedom so much that we've decided it OK to let 100 guilty people go free rather than 1 innocent is punished. I think this is where most people what the scales of justice to balance.

Quote:
Where we differ is that you claim we have a choice about not being a hedonist, you have zero evidence to support this.

DMC wrote:

That's a pretty bold accusation and I don't remember ever trying to argue for the existence of free will so to accuse me of having no evidence to support something I never tried to support in the first place is sort of discourteous.

OK. Maybe I was presumptuous. But you seemed to presume that morality and ethics exist and that we are capable of choosing to not being a hedonist. Is this the case? If so, how can this be unless you presume the existence of free will?

 

“Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.” Seneca


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Something that occurs to me

Something that occurs to me is that it's possible for human beings to create a social contract, and by that contract create a moral standard by which acts can be judged. That standard is clearly superhuman in that it is above the individual. That might be a more direct way to lead the discussion, if you'd rather stay away from fuzzy logic and morals.

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HisWillness wrote:Something

HisWillness wrote:

Something that occurs to me is that it's possible for human beings to create a social contract, and by that contract create a moral standard by which acts can be judged. That standard is clearly superhuman in that it is above the individual. That might be a more direct way to lead the discussion, if you'd rather stay away from fuzzy logic and morals.

I think the problem is that since religion poisons everything, it has of course polluted the English language as well.

We continually get the theist argument "We'll if God does not exist, then where do morals, right and wrong, etc... come from?". Absolute morality can not be explained as a natural phenomena because it does not exist in the first place. It was just an invention of religionists and moral crusaders to get other people to behave in ways favorable to themselves. Immorality is always what someone else does.

For every action we do, at that moment we believe it is the right thing to do. So how can an action ever be immoral?

So actions are legal or illegal if we adopt the social contract view of things. So we judge things like a judge or juror should do, that decides things on their legality rather than our opinion of what is right or wrong.

“Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.” Seneca


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EXC wrote:HisWillness

EXC wrote:

HisWillness wrote:

Something that occurs to me is that it's possible for human beings to create a social contract, and by that contract create a moral standard by which acts can be judged. That standard is clearly superhuman in that it is above the individual. That might be a more direct way to lead the discussion, if you'd rather stay away from fuzzy logic and morals.

I think the problem is that since religion poisons everything, it has of course polluted the English language as well.

Here, I'd still argue that the real culprit is Platonic forms, and their warping effect on philosophy for the last 2,000 years.

EXC wrote:
We continually get the theist argument "We'll if God does not exist, then where do morals, right and wrong, etc... come from?". Absolute morality can not be explained as a natural phenomena because it does not exist in the first place.

And that's why it's explained so well in terms of Platonic forms. Things that don't exist fare better in a Platonic context than any other.

EXC wrote:
It was just an invention of religionists and moral crusaders to get other people to behave in ways favorable to themselves. Immorality is always what someone else does.

I'd have to agree. In this case, we would call them "neo-platonists", like St. Augustine and the church fathers were (in general). The tendency that people have to rationalize their desire for power over others is always a factor in human behaviour. Just because it's unconscious, as it is in the church movement's history, doesn't mean it's not there.

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I have trimmed this down as

I have trimmed this down as best I can. If any context is loss, I apologize.

Perhaps we should split this out into pertinent threads? There's a lot going on here. That is, if you consider the conversation still worthwhile.

DMC wrote:
nigelTheBold wrote:
Everything you are saying is correct. I'm failing to see the problem.
No I'm not taking this out of context. Quote pyramids make me dizzy. To summarize, you're saying that there's no problem with "morality" being determined by whoever has the power to enforce their morality (which was the basic idea behind my post). While I used slavery in my example, I could have as easily used the holocaust. By your own admission then, the holocaust in and of itself should not have been stopped. Arguably then, the only time we have any kind of "ethical" obligation to stop unethical behavior is when it is our desires being dashed. I suppose you could say I'm slightly surprised by a bald faced lack of issue with slavery and genocide.

I think we may not have agreed on our terms before starting this discussion. I suspect we may be arguing slightly different things.

I would first like to assure you I find both slavery and genocide abhorrent, emotionally and ethically.

I had written a long rebuttal the first time through that post, but realized it was rationalization. What you had said was true. If you start with the basic purpose of ethics as I had stated (ethics is the set of formal and informal rules by which people interact to form groups for the purpose of survivability), then people that practice slavery in societies that allow it are behaving ethically.

I would argue that genocide is rarely, if ever, associated with a stable society, and so is generally not ethical even within the strictures of that society. Perhaps I am rationalizing my emotional reaction, though. In the specific case of the Holocaust, I would say that Germany broke their social contract with the rest of Europe when they started killing masses of their own people. (Actually, they broke the contract at the first signs of aggression against their neighbors.)

The definition of "group" has evolved as the ethics have evolved. The more complex interactions of all groups affect other groups. These "groups of groups" can either go about as rogue individuals, or form more-complex relationships, which require social contracts.

In any case, in this model, ethics that promote survivability are preferable to those that don't. I would submit that this is the barest test of ethical systems. You may build on top of it, certainly, and provide for the quality of life of the individuals, but anything above this is inherently subjective.

You asked about my personal ethic, after I stated there is no atheist ethic, as you cannot derive ethics from atheism any more than you can derive ethics from not believing in elves. Then suddenly I'm in a junior-year philosophy debate, and a wee bit out of my depth.

 

I'm enjoying it more, especially now that I know your stance a bit more, and can see this may be worthwhile.

Quote:
I'm sure you noticed that I keep bring up the "why" question and the response so far is that it's irrelevant since ethics are just constructs that we created as it suits us. I probably should explicitly state why the "Why?" question is important to ethics. I apologize for my assmption that it was obvious.

They "Why?" is actually pretty simple, and has been answered quite adequately by evolutionary psychology.

As a survivability mechanism, our human or pre-human ancestors began hanging around in groups. Those that could survive in groups had the evolutionary advantage, as groups enhanced the survivability and reproduction of its members. Over time, we evolved the ability to get along in groups. There are two components: the genetic predisposition to get along in groups, and also the evolving social codes that are the psychological embodiment of that predisposition.

So, "Why?" is pretty simple. We evolved to get along in groups. The remaining question is then, "What are the social patterns that evolved that allow us to get along in groups, and what are their underlying principles?"

Some of these are obvious: trust is important, for instance, or groups would not be able to form. Others are perhaps obvious only by observation: we seem to have a drive for dominance, and play subtle and overt dominance games all day. Other traits are not obvious at all: why do some people have a strongly-developed sense of empathy, while others have none? What is the group benefit?

Normatively, the core essence of ethics is group survivability. This is the "stable" part of sane and stable.

Do you see this differently? I'm making this up as I go along, so I could be way off base here.

Quote:
An ethical system without a basis is intransitive. It cannot be reasonably applied to anyone else. If someone "wrongs" you gravely but in a way not illegal (even if by loophole or technicality) there is no basis for saying someone did something wrong. The only statement that can be accurately formed is that you feel wronged since wrong takes on a strictly emotivist meaning. The lack of an answer to "Why?" immediately castrates any ethical system since it gives no reason for any other individual to abide by it.

Again, I'm not sure I see the failure.

You have presented a realistic scenario (someone wrongs me and gets off on a technicality -- the OJ problem), and pose it as an ideal. Are we discussing normative ethics, or practical ethics? If we're talking normative ethics as applied to practical ethics, then you have a non-ideal formal codification of the ethical base, and the codification needs to be amended. If we're talking normative ethics alone, then you could equally assume a perfect codification (no technicalities or loopholes) in which I will be wronged, but the other person behaved ethically.

From a practical ethics standpoint, this is unavoidable without turning humans into mental clones of each other. We all have different thought processes, and interpret different things as being "wronged." Certain people feel wrong when someone uses the word "fuck" around them. I feel offended when creationists attempt to scuttle science (both the practice and the epistemology) in an attempt to preserve outdated philosophies. And so on.

Even in a perfectly transitive ethical system, I suspect you can imagine an hypothetical situation in which similar actions under similar circumstances have different moral implications. As long as humans are allowed to think for themselves, and remain individuals, there can be no perfectly transitive system.

The only way this is not true is if you assume divine agency.

As the naturalistic model described above more matches observed human behavior, though, I'm going with the cognitive, naturalistic model.

Quote:
If might really does make right as has been conceded, then how does any such universally applied right come to exist? "Perhaps," one could argue, "the writer of such a constitution did so out of fear. Conceding his ability to subjugate others in exchange for not being subjugated himself." That may well be, but it does not apply to any situation where those advancing equality did not already have legally secured protection.

This is patently false, as demonstrated by history.

Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson (both arguably important contributors to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States) owned slaves. They did not propose liberty and equality and apply them to all men, even then. They did not do so out of fear. They did so out of the realization that a democracy, liberty, and equality contributed to the stability of a nation, especially one without centuries of political tradition. This was, perhaps, internalized by the consideration of the kind of nation they themselves wanted to live in.

But they continued to own slaves.

Both eventually felt regret at their hypocrisy. Washington emancipated his slaves after both he and Martha were dead. Jefferson freed 5 after his death, though he had the opportunity to free them all.

Is it so hard to imagine that, in an evolving ethical world, the realization that you value freedom means you must also value the freedom of others?

It was the evolving consensus of the nation that eventually lead to the issue of slavery within the civil war. As abolition was forced on the very religious South, this was another case of "might makes right."

Quote:
From the atheist standpoint, slavery would never have been abolished (for even he "felt" opposed to it himself he has no authority to impose that idea or even argue it convincingly to anyone else), genocide is acceptable as long as the most powerful group present is the one doing it (again, might makes right) along with any other atrocity you care to add to the list under "appropriate" circumstances. The really fantastic thing about this though is if an atheist were the one being enslaved or murdered, he has no right to object to it, or rather, no basis for doing so other than self-love. The very idea of an inalienable right is foreign to the atheist since a right is only a hollow construct of society to begin with.

Why are you attributing this to the generic "atheist?" As has already been stated, there is no atheist ethic. We started this discussion talking about my ethic, not about generic atheist ethics (which does not exist).

As far as my ethic goes, slavery is abhorrent, as it does not contribute to human happiness. It might contribute to a few humans, but the happiness deprived of many others goes against my ethics. As stated. So both on the generic "atheist" strawman, and my own personal ethic, this argument fails.

Also, as I stated above, even looking at the most basic ethics (that of group survivability), genocide seems never to be a requirement for group survivability, and so is not ethically positive. At most, it can be ethically neutral. Also, as genocide will often result in other groups attacking the offending group in self-defense, it can be seen as ethically negative, even from this barest purpose of ethics.

Quote:
The reasons you presented nigel, fail the test of transitivity. Of course, I am admittedly just blowing hot air to someone who doesn't see a problem with the continuation of slavery or genocide as outlined above.

This argument has bifurcated into discussion of two ethics: the first is the barest purpose of ethics, group cohesion. Please do not conflate that with my own ethical beliefs, rational (epicurean, I discovered in my research) hedonism. From my ethical standpoint, I absolutely have a problem with the continuation of slavery and genocide. (As I've outlined above, genocide is ethically untenable in almost any situation.)

The core concept (ethics as group cohesion), group ethics are transitive within the group. So, no, I believe this doesn't fail transivity. They might not be universally transitive, but I have yet to see an acceptable ethics that is perfectly transitive. My own personal ethics are not transitive, and so I would not force them on anyone, nor expect them to apply them to me.

Do you have an example of an acceptable ethics that is perfectly transitive?

Quote:
The atheist cannot take credit for the deontology of the theist simply because no god exists (for the sake of argument). Videlicet, the performance of humanity in the ethical arena cannot be said to be acceptable in the absence of god and therefore not based on a god, existent or otherwise. That is why when you appeal to consensus who seem to have a consensus of morality, I challenge the atheists' part in this consensus.

This is an excellent point.

I would argue that Spinoza was an atheist. His God or Nature was essentially atheism with awe. David Hume was a great influence on Benjamin Franklin in the years before the Declaration of Independence was drafted. Both of these great philosophers have affected our society tremendously.

However, this is argument from tradition, and is so a fallacy. It has no logical ramifications for normative ethics.

I would argue that it's easier to get consensus if you have a central authority (the Church, the Bible, or the State) dictating what constitutes an ethical choice. As atheists have no central organizing tenet (they have only the rejection of one), it's a bit harder to gain consensus when you are an unorganized minority.

Also, you bring up genocides: religion is used to justify both good and bad. If you are going to accept the good, you must also accept the bad. Religion has been the justification (and has been perhaps the driving force) for many genocides -- from Hitler to Malaysia to Rwanda.

If you are looking for an unalloyed argument for the influence of religion on ethics, you will not find it.

Quote:
Let me get this straight. In theory, you approach all actions with the same intent (greatest good, most people) and then you say that actions are judged by intent first and foremost? How very Robin Hood of you. Steal from a rich man since his wealth suffers diminishing returns for his happiness and generate more happiness by giving it the poor. Your intentions were good so there you are.

Is it any wonder Robin Hood is portrayed as a hero?

I try to be more epicurean than that, of course. Accepting robbery as ethically positive would do more harm to society (and thereby reduce overall happiness) than any Robin Hood action could provide. This is balanced against the nature of the wealth of the rich man, of course. Did he procure his wealth in a way that contravenes the social contract? Are the poor that are to benefit the ones that suffered because of the rich man's breach of contract? That is the heart of the Robin Hood tale, of course, and why he is a hero rather than a scoundrel.

Quote:
In the example you cited (murder, mansalughter, accident) the distinction between the first two is not one of what the intention was, but one of whether there was an intention at all. The distinction between the second and third is deontological. Were you already doing some wrong, wreckless, or questionable that led to a death?

That was kinda my point. We judge things not by consequences, but by intention. Intention is based on knowledge. For instance, killing Jeffery Dahmer before you knew he was going to kill and eat little kids would be unethical in our society; doing it to immediately save the life of his first victim would be ethically acceptable. At least, within my ethical framework.

Do you have examples of acceptable ethics in which it is ethical to kill Dahmer before you have knowledge of his actions, or an example where it is unethical to kill him to keep him from killing others? Note this assumes that you have personal knowledge that is impossible to share. For instance, perhaps you have seen it, but have no evidence, and nobody believes you. You are the sole person who may stop him from killing and eating kids.

Quote:
I believe I stated this in the original example, but just for clarity's sake I'll reiterate. The use of the pill causes so much pleasure that it would strongly outweigh the pleasure of any given life regardless of details. Nevertheless your reply is interesting. You say some might prefer the "real thing". If good = pleasure then the so-called "real thing" is less good. A true rational hedonist would say that the intrinsic desirability of a life is equal to the sum of all the pleasure (weighted for intensity) experienced in that life. To satisfy the rational side we simply offer the pill to everyone. Done and done.

Sure. That's ethical. It's also perfectly ethical for individuals to not take the pill.

Basically, you're just presenting a "brain-in-a-jar" scenario. If someone opts to be a brain in a jar for the purpose of maximizing their pleasure, and can do so without breaking the social contract, it is perfectly ethical for them to do so.

This assumes, of course, that the group goal is not continued propagation. The voluntary extinction of a group is ethical. In some cases, it may be the only ethical choice.

I assume you have a philosophical punchline. At least, I hope so. Otherwise, this'll be anti-climactic.

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Hi DMC. Great thread.And Hi

Hi DMC. Great thread.

And Hi everyone else. Sorry for being so indecisive Eye-wink

 

I'll have to admit up front that I couldn't be bothered to read through the whole thread, because I allready have way too much to comment on this whole thing.

The first and most obvious thing I'll point out is that, as far as atheistic ethics are concerned, I trust you will agree, there is no such thing. As has allready been stated, atheism deals solely with what is not believed, so it contains no imperitive towards anything in and of itself.

But obviously you are interested in what does lead people, atheists in particular, to believe what they should do. How they should act. Hence utalitarianism, hedonism, et.c.

 

But the flaw, I feel, lies in your definition of "ethics" as: the question of why one should do what one should do.

 

And here's why:

 

The trouble with "why"

 

Have you ever noticed how children can ask a series of "why"s, so honestly, and so genuinly, that it can stump even the most knowledgeble adult?

 

Child: "Where does the sun go at night?"

Adult: "To the other side of the Earth."

Child: "Why does it do that?"

Adult: "Because the Earth rotates."

Child: "But why does it do that?"

Adult: "Because of Newtonian physics" (an attempt at a childfriendly explanation of physics then follows)

Child: "Okay. But why does the Earth follow the laws of physics?"

Adult: "Because everything in the universe does. Everything has to abide by the laws of physics."

Child: "But why are the laws of physics the way they are then?"

Adult: "Ehh..."

 

You see, "why", as a question is an infinite regress, and no amount of so-called "ultimate" purpose or meaning can stop a child from spotting that obvious fact. Lets just try an introduce an "ultimate meaning" explanation into our above conversation. The adult there is now a theist, and instead of "Ehh..." can now answer the child with confidence:

 

Adult: "Because God made them that way"

Child: "But why did he make them that way?"

Adult: "Ehh..."

 

Or if you prefer a more insistant adult:

 

Adult: "Because he wanted them to be that way."

Child: "But why did he want them to be that way?"

...And so on and so forth ad infinitum.

 

So now lets try that with some of the things you bring up. Take genocide for example. I'll play the role of the inquisitive child, and you be the explainer.

 

You: "Hitler killed a lot of people. He shouldn't have done that."

Me: "Why shouldn't he do that?"

 

Now you...

 

Not to put words in your mouth, so lets now call my interlocutor Adam, and try a few answers.

 

Adam: "Because it made alot of people fell bad"

Me: "But why should people felling bad mean he shouldn't do it?"

Adam: "Because making people feel bad is not good"

Me: "Why isn't that good?"

 

So let's try it with "ultimate meaning" them.

Adam: "Because God doesn't think it's good."

 

And then consider all the potential "why"s:

 

Me: "Why doesn't good think it's good?"

Or: "Why should God's opinion of what is good supercede Hitler's opinion of what is good?"

Or: "Why is your opinion of what God thinks is good more correct than Hitler's?"

 

Try and think of some more yourself.

 

Now, I can see that you obviously aren't a God-with-a-capital-G believer at all, which is why I let Adam state God's opinion there. But let's try a more broad answer:

 

Me: "Why shouldn't genocide happen?"

 

You (?) : "Because it is not the purpose of the universe."

Me: "But why is it not the purpose of the universe?"

 

If that sounds flippant at all, consider that it does infact happen in the universe (Sorry to disappoint any Holocaust-deniers), so if for example Hitler's actions shouldn't happen in the universe, then why did they?

 

You'll note that many theologians deal with this, the Problem of Evil, by saying it should. That it was God's will, or rather that God's will is to let humans have free will, and therefore Hitler's will should be free to do as he did.

You hear it so often: "Things happen for a reason."

But that doesn't close off the infinite regress of "why"s at all, because the word "why", is nothing but an inquiry into reasons, or rather causes, as in: "cause and effect".

"Why?" and "For what reason?" is the same.

 

Now, if people insist on "ultimate meaning", they are ignoring what is blatantly obvious to everyone, including themselves, that whereever you end your line of inquiry, there is a "why" that you are willfully ignoring.

"Why God?"

"Why The Purpose Of The Universe?"

"Why this God and not that one?"

"Why this purpose of the Universe and not that one?"

 

The only possible way to get around it is to accept it, and move on.

 

So here are my morals: Don't be bad.

 

Why?

Because I don't want you to.

But why should I do what you want me to?

You shouldn't. But now you know how I feel. Maybe you agree. And if you don't, then we will have different ideas about what is moral and what is not. So what else is new?

 

People break eachother's moral standards all the time. And sometimes, they fight over it. Verbally, physically or otherwise. The winner gets to moralize another day, and the loser might do the same, provided he lives, and doesn't change his own moral standards because of the debate he just had (and even if he did, he might still moralize in future, it would just be a different message he brings).

 

Personally, I moralize all the time. I have opinions about what is good and what is bad, and since my moral (s) is/are "don't be bad" I interact with the world around me to change what I think is bad, to what I think is good. I argue: pragmatically, emotionally, philosophically. I have never, and hope I never will, physically attacked anyone, but depending on the level of "badness" I perceive, who knows wether one day I might?

 

You wrote:

 

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The philosophical question is "Why?" You say people should try not to harm others. What answer can you give when someone asks "Why should I?" That is the question not being answered. Repeatedly, a few of you have simply tried to state an ethical code without giving any reason why it should be so.

 

If you think that recognizing that there is no "ultimate meaning" to the universe means that you inveriably sit idly by while genocide and slavery takes place then I have two things to say to you:

 

The first is:

Everyone sits idly by while "bad" things take place, otherwise how could anything bad ever happen?. The holocaust was terrible, but most Germans sat idly by, and so did the rest of the world. Some people didn't, at least after a while, and I'm glad they didn't, but was this an objective "goodness" of the universe, or was it because their subjective morals compelled them to do so?

 

And secondly:

If "ultimate meaning" is the true way to justify anything, and you are honest about finding it, then sitting idly by is the only possible option, because you must follow every "beCAUSE..." answer with a follow-up: "Why?". It is an infinite regress, no matter how you spin it, and you will be caught in an endless loop of question/answer/question, just like with a little child.

Anyone who has chosen an arbitrary "ultimate meaning" has just willfully ignored the thousands of potential "why"s that they could ask, if they were honest about finding "ultimate meaning".

 

There is undoubtably a man somewhere in the world right now who has very recently violently raped a young girl, and maybe even killed her.

Now you tell me: How will you go about convincing him that he shouldn't do that?

 

Because I can think of alot of ways to react to that, and none of them include "The ultimate meaning of the universe".

Well I was born an original sinner
I was spawned from original sin
And if I had a dollar bill for all the things I've done
There'd be a mountain of money piled up to my chin


DMC
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Well hey again. I just now

Well hey again. I just now have time to write something meaningful here. At the risk of repeating myself to excess I must point out that I just can't respond to everything that's been said in response to my own comments. If I don't respond to something it's not because I'm unable to, but time constraints literally prevent me from doing so.

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My biggest problem with assuming an "ultimate meaning" must exist, and we can derive ontological or ethical meaning from it, is that we must first know what that "ultimate meaning" is. And so far, nobody has proposed an effective way of defining it, let alone discerning it (assuming it exists).

Admittedly, there is no way to quantify it, at least not objectively, but I believe the types of comparisons that I introduced in the post you quoted go along way towards an inductive argument for the existence of greater meaning. This is as good a time as any to point out some flaws in the "Platonic" labeling I'm seeing. Suppose you have a yardstick (or meterstick w.e.) without any markings. Now, you know what it would mean for something to be longer than your yardstick even if you don't know by how much. You would simply be able to see that it is so. Now suppose I in some exercise consider something of arbitrarily greater length some known measurement. Whether or not such a distance exists does not make Platonic simply because it restricted to the idea of conception. Moreover, you might consider an infinite distance as is often done in math. This does not necessarily mean that infinity "exists" but it is something we can conceive of and is very useful in certain contexts. I can understand the urge to write off the existence of of something "ultimate" that doesn't necessarily exist, but that does not mean you cannot make an inductive argument that it could. I will say no more about the matter simply because it draws more time than it is really worth.

Next I'd like to respond generally to some of the ethical issues being raised.

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Even for a theist, sentencing as pure punishment makes no sense. They believe that god is the ultimate punisher. So unless you think god is incapable of this, why try to punish people?

Not so. The existence of an "ultimate" punisher does not interict the right of less-than-ultimate punishers to exist. The idea is a question of "Who is wronged?" God is the one ultimately wronged (I will go more into this later) but that does not mean another human being is not wronged as well and also has the right to see their antagonist punished. From a naturalist, social contract reasoning, it was the whole interconnected community of humanity that was wronged. This is significant because the idea that in any immoral act there is at least one entity being "ultimately" wronged (term borrowed from the idea of an ultimate punisher; not mine) means that there are things which may be wrong that do not wrong humanity or another human in particular.

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I think people value their own freedom so much that we've decided it OK to let 100 guilty people go free rather than 1 innocent is punished. I think this is where most people what the scales of justice to balance.

Definitely something I've already addressed.

Not really a rebuttal there (appeal to authority). I'm not say that such is the case, but such certainly could be the case. It seems to the trend that when I point out a logically consistent possibility in naturalistic ethics that response is some permutation of, "But that isn't how things are." That's not the point and why should be obvious. Your counter relies solely on the perception of people's values. If those change (and not even drastically) the consequences are as I have outlined.

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Absolute morality can not be explained as a natural phenomena because it does not exist in the first place.

This is definitely one major point of mine. It may not seem that critical, but I believe the numerous thought-experiments I've posed concerning subjective morality (again HisWillness I'm really not understanding what you mean when you deny that this is what it is; I'd be happy to read an article on it though) should demonstrate just what all follows absolute morality out the window.

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I would first like to assure you I find both slavery and genocide abhorrent, emotionally and ethically.

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then people that practice slavery in societies that allow it are behaving ethically.I would argue that genocide is rarely, if ever, associated with a stable society, and so is generally not ethical even within the strictures of that society. Perhaps I am rationalizing my emotional reaction, though. In the specific case of the Holocaust, I would say that Germany broke their social contract with the rest of Europe when they started killing masses of their own people.

Genocide may be rarely if ever, but the real point of the Holocaust example is that it is definitely within the realm of possibility. The reason I quoted these two sections is because it is this disparity that I am driving at. You find them unethical, but in the next paragraph you admit that they are not necessarily so. If you were transported into a society that considers slavery unacceptable as slave even, you would be left only with your first judgment that slavery is "emotionally abhorrent." I will touch on this again later in another context.

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They "Why?" is actually pretty simple, and has been answered quite adequately by evolutionary psychology.

This may answer why "morals" exist, but it does not answer why they have credibility or merit. If you choose to argue that the utilitarian value of the evolutionary process is its merit, then we may as well take up the practice of eugenics again. I have expanded on this elsewhere.

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The only way this is not true is if you assume divine agency.

As the naturalistic model described above more matches observed human behavior, though, I'm going with the cognitive, naturalistic model.

You're dead-on correct in the first the line, although I'm not sure you've laid the foundation to make the second statement.

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This is patently false, as demonstrated by history.

Remember what I said about taking credit for a theistic based ethic? A counter-example is only valid in this particular argument if the the agent of said counter-behavior justified it from an atheistic ethic. There isn't an argument about what people do or have done. It's about whether they were ethically justified in doing so.

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Why are you attributing this to the generic "atheist?" As has already been stated, there is no atheist ethic.

I believe I have done a satisfactory job of showing that intransitivity applies to any non-theistic ethic, and you yourself have tacitly admitted as much. As intransitivity is the basis of the statement, it does indeed hold for the generic atheist.

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Also, as I stated above, even looking at the most basic ethics (that of group survivability), genocide seems never to be a requirement for group survivability, and so is not ethically positive.

But now you are using a particular ethical axiom (group survivability) to condemn genocide. Once again, the intransitivity argument destroys the idea of something "never" being wrong. I don't believe that is even the only problem with your argument. As I said earlier, eugenics carried out in a Nazi-esque manner with scientifically defensible data is not wrong at all even under this particular axiom.

I'm gonna cut off my responses to your post here nigel, simply because I won't keep beating the same drum for another 5 paragraphs and their really isn't that much variation in principle to what my responses will be.

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You see, "why", as a question is an infinite regress, and no amount of so-called "ultimate" purpose or meaning can stop a child from spotting that obvious fact.

I am certainly not going to debate the nature of the question why, but just because a question has certain properties when used ad infinitum, does not  mean it isn't useful up to a certain point. You see, I didn't simply stop when there was no answer to "Why?" and flatly state, "Then that's just not good enough for me." I outlined in rigorous detail the implications of what no answer to such a question meant. We can all imagine a great many pedantic and irritating uses for the question of "Why?" but I believe I can defend my particular use of it and in fact, already have. "Why?" is an acceptable question when an answer or lack thereof has demonstrably significant implications for the issue at hand. As I said, having already gone into what implications those are, I need say no more about it.