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 Morality

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Gomez
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PostSubject: Morality   Thu Feb 18, 2010 2:21 am

Here's some old business we touched on, but never finished. (my fault)

I don't understand the atheistic position on morality. Not the question of what specific actions are moral, so much as how do we know an action is moral or not.

The question is simple enough for me, because I believe morality is dictated by an all-wise God. If you don't have a deity, who gets to decide what is moral and what is not? If morality is a purely human invention, that seems to me to paint the world as a very bleak place, being as for the majority of human history, cruelty and indifference have been the hallmarks of our actions toward one another.

If we are moral when we obey the state, or act in accordance with societal norms, then the NAZIs must have been right in doing what they did. Yet I have yet to meet an atheist who agreed with NAZI principles. I'm sure there are some, somewhere, but I'm quite convinced they don't represent the mainstream.

So was Hitler right or wrong to do what he did, and if he was wrong, according to whom, or by whose standards? For me, I say he was wrong because he acted out of accord with God's will. For me, that is the definition of evil. What defines evil for the pantheist, the agnostic, or the atheist?
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PostSubject: Re: Morality   Fri Feb 19, 2010 5:51 pm

Speaking as a Humanist inspired by Satanism, for me it is simply a rarional choice.

Right and wrong are determined by what is the MOST BENEFICIAL decision in maintaining and improving my environment. This generally includes maintaining social stability, ensuring the welfare of other individuals, working towards scientific and social development, and other means of making my (and, by extention, our) survival easier.

In a lot of issues there is a certain degree of grey area, but I feel that this adds to the versatility of my worldview by making it more easily adaptable to differing situations. What is 'right' tends to be the solution that makes the most sense in that situation, and that is not always the same.

(As a side issue, how does religious thinking overcome situations where the proscribed behaviour seems 'wrong' for the situation in hand?)
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PostSubject: Re: Morality   Fri Feb 19, 2010 8:25 pm

PorcelainPirate wrote:
Speaking as a Humanist inspired by Satanism, for me it is simply a rarional choice.

Right and wrong are determined by what is the MOST BENEFICIAL decision in maintaining and improving my environment. This generally includes maintaining social stability, ensuring the welfare of other individuals, working towards scientific and social development, and other means of making my (and, by extention, our) survival easier.

Again, this is precisely what Hitler was trying to do, and yet I hear him universally denounced by atheists and humanists, not simply as being mistaken or inefficient, but as being a horrible monster. What is it, precisely, that makes him so horrible from the humanist standpoint? What he did made sense from the evolutionary standpoint, and the Germans (and others) stood by him. From the theistic perspective (or some of them at least) what he did was monstrous, since it involved the killing of millions, and we call that murder. Atheists seem to agree that "murder" is wrong, but we disagree wildly on what constitutes "murder" as (depending on the humanist) they might not define abortion, euthanasia, or infanticide murder, and consider it justifiable to abort people because of "defects" like downs syndrome or physical abnormalities. Outspoken proponents of abortion such as Margaret Sanger embraced eugenics - and from the purely humanist point of view, I don't see the problem with eugenics. My objections are faith-based. I believe each person is a being that is unrepeatable, possessed of an immortal soul, and endowed by her creator with certain inalienable rights. If, on the other hand, we're just another species of animal, then what's wrong with breeding us for the best traits and eliminating the unfit as Sanger and Hitler (and others) proposed?

Quote :
In a lot of issues there is a certain degree of grey area, but I feel that this adds to the versatility of my worldview by making it more easily adaptable to differing situations. What is 'right' tends to be the solution that makes the most sense in that situation, and that is not always the same.

Great in theory, but in practice I see it leading to the Bolshevik Revolution and the Russian Meat Grinder, or the Reign of Terror in France, or the Communist Regime in Mexico. Certainly theists have created horrors, too. I'm not denying that - I'm pointing out that neither camp is innocent of oppression, hatred, or murder, historically speaking. And at least theistic horrors were perpetrated in stark opposition to the principles they claimed to follow. Are atheistic horrors similarly hypocriful, and if so, what is the "higher law" that they fail to follow which makes them hypocrites? I say atheism paints us as just another kind of animal, and as such, fit for the slaughter.

And if you try to take the other side, and say that slaughtering any animal, including man, is wrong (as I've often seen attempted), you run into even more problems, as you've just damned all the lions, tigers, and house-cats in the world. Who are we to look at the natural order of everyone eating everyone else, since long before man arrived on the scene, shake our righteous stick at the world and say, "Naughty, naughty!" What makes us fit to judge the actions of the eagle, shark, or tarantula?

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(As a side issue, how does religious thinking overcome situations where the proscribed behaviour seems 'wrong' for the situation in hand?)

Well, "religious thinking" is quite broad. Almost as broad as "wrong." "Proscribed Behaviour" is seldom the same across the board from one sect to the other. Had you a spectrum of examples in mind, or are we just generally discussing the views of various religions towards the philosophical Problem of Evil?
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PostSubject: Re: Morality   Fri Feb 19, 2010 11:13 pm

Ooh, lots to reply to. Just how I like it!

I'll begin with your ending question: What I was getting at is how much flexibility can religious morality have whan dealing with complex situations. One that's thrown up in any 10th grade RE class is the issue of, say, abortion after rape, or euthanising the terminally ill when they are in a lot of pain. Virtually any dogmatic religion will preach that murder is wrong, and its leaders (and followers) will, in the majority of faiths, apply that to these situations.
Perhaps not the perfect examples, and ones I didn't want to bring up because it's been done to death, but I think it clarifies where I was coming from in a crude sort of a way.

I would argue your point about Hitler's morality. It may be based in the same ideas, but those are only ideas that work when you consider every possible angle. Frankly, the short-sightedness of angering most of the world and causing internal social upheaval is completely inefficient if you're going for increasing your personal survival odds, which anthropologically we all are.

Anthropological view aside, I'd also like to add that most people have compassion for other living beings, and killing a large portion of your nation would not be a good thing to do for those people, because remorse is an unpleasant and distracting feeling.
Those who are capable of such acts will likely perform them regardless of whether they use God or godlessness to justify it.


From a less philosophical and more personal point of view, my moral compass is based on making the deicsion that with will bring me the most pleasure and prevent others the most pain, with equal priority. It's worked for me so far.


I'll come back to anything I may have missed, I've not been sleeping well, so my brain is all ooky!
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PostSubject: Re: Morality   Mon Feb 22, 2010 7:37 pm

Just wanted to say - hold that thought. I have lots to say, just can't... My life

Getoff!! Back back!

My life keeps bombarding

Augh! Stopit!

My life is kinda....

Uh... gotta go...

Augh (ouch)

brb
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PostSubject: Re: Morality   Wed Mar 10, 2010 8:42 pm

PorcelainPirate wrote:
One that's thrown up in any 10th grade RE class is the issue of, say, abortion after rape, or euthanising the terminally ill when they are in a lot of pain. Virtually any dogmatic religion will preach that murder is wrong, and its leaders (and followers) will, in the majority of faiths, apply that to these situations.
Perhaps not the perfect examples, and ones I didn't want to bring up because it's been done to death, but I think it clarifies where I was coming from in a crude sort of a way.

I agree, the discussion is done to death to the point where we likely know each others' responses inside out, but I'll stick to the script.

Regarding killing those who were conceived under the wrong circumstances, I think Rob Roy said it best: "It's not the child that needs killing."
Regarding euthanasia of the elderly and infirm; Yes, I do believe that's wrong, dogmatically, but the practical ramifications go far beyond dogmatic pragmatism. Historically, cultures that have sanctioned voluntary euthanasia have often wasted little time moving on to mandated euthanasia. If it's okay for someone to take his own life under certain circumstances, that quickly moves to the realization that it's okay to take that other guy's life if he has the same circumstances. I understand that in theory it's supposed to be about putting choice foremost, but in practice, it usually comes to the more black-and-white philosophical question of "Is life precious?" Attempts to say, "Well, this one is, but that one isn't," usually end up as simply saying "no" by the time they get ground up in politics and administration.

Added emphasis mine to reference my questions:
PorcelainPirate wrote:
I would argue your point about Hitler's morality. It may be based in the same ideas, but those are only ideas that work when you consider every possible angle. Frankly, the short-sightedness of angering most of the world and causing internal social upheaval is completely inefficient if you're going for increasing your personal survival odds, which anthropologically we all are.

So, are you saying then, as I would expect a Humanist to (but as I've never seen one do) that Hitler was not so much wrong as sloppy? If he had committed those genocides more carefully, that wouldn't have been wrong, and might have actually turned out great?

PorcelainPirate wrote:
Anthropological view aside, I'd also like to add that most people have compassion for other living beings, and killing a large portion of your nation would not be a good thing to do for those people, because remorse is an unpleasant and distracting feeling.

Okay, this one is a sticky wicket because we could probably argue it till we're blue in the face and not reach consensus, but I disagree - first on a practical level, then on an ideological:

1) I've seen to many kids gleefully squishing bugs, raiding robins nests, frying ants with magnifying glasses, randomly vandalizing houses, beating people down for daring to be the wrong color, shooting groundhogs they don't eat or skin or anything, etc., etc., to agree with your assessment that "most people have compassion."

2) Even if I were to admit that "most" people were in fact compassionate, which I'm not really optimistic enough for, I say that still isn't enough. Being in a room where only 25% of the people are cruel doesn't strike me as good odds. As the pithy saying goes, one bad apple can ruin the whole barrel. It only takes one f***nut abusing his freedom to screw it all up for all the rest of us; hence, I can't agree with the notion that allowing people to abide by their own consciences and do whatever they feel right will end in anything other than pain and horror. I know that's a bleak view, but that's my view of humanity in general, and I don't think it an uneducated one.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm a hedonist at heart, in an underlying idealistic sense - but I'm a realist at heart. I WANT a world where everyone lives to love one another and have fun. I WANT a world where nobody rapes, kidnaps, punches, steals, or terrorizes simply because it's the wrong thing to do. I WANT the world to become a place where each person realizes for himself the futility of evil and chooses the good because it's what's best for him at that moment in time, and not because some impersonal code of law crams morality down his throat.

I want that. I want a world that's all about sharing, hugging, sexing, laughing, dancing, singing, and working side-by-side. I'm just too old to believe humanity ever has or ever will see such a society that can survive the dawn and the onset of cruel reality and broken human nature.

I want to believe in the goodness of humanity - even just it's potential goodness - but I can't. I'm sorry, but I can't. I've seen too much.







"Life IS pain, Highness. Anyone who says otherwise is selling something."
-the Dread Pirate Roberts

PorcelainPirate wrote:
Those who are capable of such acts will likely perform them regardless of whether they use God or godlessness to justify it.

This point I do quite agree with. There are kindness and cruelty in the ranks of any club, religion, nation, or whatever. But it still does not address the question of what IS morality? What is moral or immoral for the atheist, and why?

PorcelainPirate wrote:
From a less philosophical and more personal point of view, my moral compass is based on making the deicsion that with will bring me the most pleasure and prevent others the most pain, with equal priority. It's worked for me so far.

I think that's a fairly admirable thing, and a fairly accurate compass, so long as your looking at what's best for you in the long run. Donuts bring great pleasure short-term, but obesity causes suffering in the long term - to pick an obvious example. The same principle works for most vices. A good taken to excess becomes a source of suffering. If you understand what's truly best for you, and what's truly best for others, then this compass should be accurate.
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PostSubject: Re: Morality   Wed Mar 10, 2010 9:31 pm

Hooray! You came back! Smile

While I tend to a different view, I will at least concede that your point on euthanasia holds some validity when applied to society. I would like to see voluntary euthanasia incorporated into our legal systems, but, as with much left-wing thinking, it's a little naive to expect it to work in a culture shaped by right-wing values. I could discuss in more detail, but it's only one small part of the issue at hand, and we're looking at the big picture Smile

Quote :
So, are you saying then, as I would expect a Humanist to (but as I've never seen one do) that Hitler was not so much wrong as sloppy? If he had committed those genocides more carefully, that wouldn't have been wrong, and might have actually turned out great?

In a roundabout way, I am saying that he was simply sloppy. But it was the idea itself rather than the execution of it that was sloppy. There is no situation I can think of where genocide has any tangible benefits for either an individual or a group. Anyone truly embracing Humanist values would, in my experience, have a grasp of the difference between something they don't like, and something that it would be genuinely beneficial to be rid of.

Quote :
1) I've seen to many kids gleefully squishing bugs, raiding robins nests, frying ants with magnifying glasses, randomly vandalizing houses, beating people down for daring to be the wrong color, shooting groundhogs they don't eat or skin or anything, etc., etc., to agree with your assessment that "most people have compassion."

People do horrible, horrible things. Most of the time, the motivation seems to be either:
-knowing that the act is wrong but feeling it's a means to a morally right end, and ultimately noble.
-in the case of children, as a means of learning their limits in terms of what they can get away with and how society feels about certain things.

That doesn't make the actions or the decisions involved any prettier, but my point is, people tend not to make decisions that they believe are wrong. And we're hard-wired to feel that harming (in the very least) our own species is wrong. As for the other 25% of the population you're concerned about, I acknowledge and fear their existence. However, I put forward the point that 'playing along' with dominant cultural values is usually in their best interest, so the percentage who are actually a feasible threat would be much lower.

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I WANT the world to become a place where each person realizes for himself the futility of evil and chooses the good because it's what's best for him at that moment in time, and not because some impersonal code of law crams morality down his throat.

I agree with that statement entirely, despite my slightly looser definition of "good".

Quote :
I think that's a fairly admirable thing, and a fairly accurate compass, so long as your looking at what's best for you in the long run. Donuts bring great pleasure short-term, but obesity causes suffering in the long term - to pick an obvious example. The same principle works for most vices. A good taken to excess becomes a source of suffering. If you understand what's truly best for you, and what's truly best for others, then this compass should be accurate.

Thank you. The willingness to evaluate consequences is a big part of Humanism. Very few poeple get it right every time, but I feel that the combination of rigorous thought and good intent is a good way to live.
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PostSubject: Re: Morality   Mon Mar 22, 2010 6:18 pm

Okay, there's a lot I could respond to here, but I don't want to get off on tangents either. I'm trying to draw this back to the original topic, which I don't think we've quite cut to the heart yet. Rather than evaluating an act, even genocide, as moral or immoral, I'm still trying to cut to the core of how you define what is a good act and what is an evil (or at least bad) one.

I'm not quite done with Hitler, he's an interesting object lesson, in that he was so extreme.

Quote :
But it was the idea itself rather than the execution of it that was sloppy. There is no situation I can think of where genocide has any tangible benefits for either an individual or a group.

If you're serious about this, it strikes me as very interesting. A species or subspecies often benefits from the depletion or eradication of rivals. There's no reason I can think of that this shouldn't be true for humanity as well. If the Germans had eradicated the Poles, Jews, and what-have-you, they would have had access to the resources that their rival subspecies would have consumed otherwise. Now, it is true that killing a man deprives you of the resources that man could produce and contribute, but the NAZI regime was not simply about wanton destruction, but rather about wanton destruction and re-population. Had the Germans succeeded in killing everyone else, they would have populated France, England, Spain, Russia, New Zealand, Mars, and what-have-you with Germans. At that point, the Germans would have been very successful - from the evolutionary point of view. They would have survived and passed along their genes. Those are the tangible benefits for their group. On what grounds can you say it was wrong of them to pursue those ends? Wolves hunt coyotes with much the same intention, and elephants and rhinoceroses are sworn and bitter enemies. Can we condemn them under the same ruling as the SS?

By what authority, by what natural principle, can you say that any person, not just Hitler, but ANYone is empirically "wrong?" Is there such a thing as "wrong," or is it just a matter of relativistic consensus? If there IS and ontological wrong, and inherent evil, who gets to define it as such? And if there is not such a thing as objective evil, on what grounds can we condemn any act even down to such horrors as rape or torture - neither of which is the human race unique in. Ducks rape, cats torture... it all seems quite natural.
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PostSubject: Re: Morality   Wed Apr 07, 2010 2:48 pm

Sorry I am so late to the party everyone.

Assuming that this is a genuine enquiry and not just an exercise in sophistry, I'll throw in my opinion.

I am a believer in the sort of humanism espoused by Epicurus.

Things are good which increase the amount of happiness in the world, or which decreases the amount of suffering.
By happiness I mean (to use Epicurus's phrase) "A body free from pain, and a mind free from disturbance".

I am sure Gomez will at this point suggest that this is open to interpretation, and it is difficult for any individual to always know what actions will increase the overall level of happiness in the world.
I won't argue with that.
I will, however, suggest that the word of God is also open to interpretation, and it is difficult for any individual to always know what actions will best please God. (If not, why are there so many branches of christianity? With the best will in the world, the Catholic Church has made mistakes in the past. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/7337748.stm for a case in point.)

But let's be honest, we can spend as long as anyone likes discussing the application of morals, be they god given or derived by man, the question was about their underlying source.

Lastly to Hitler (although I am a little disappointed at Gomez using him as an example, as I remember being chided in the past for using Vlad the Impaler as a too obvious example of a 'bad' christian! Very Happy ):
Hitler is regarded as evil because he increased the amount of suffering in the world. It can be argued that early on there was some good in the way in which Nazism united the German people, but this was short lived.
Aside from the physical suffering the Nazis caused to their enemies, I regard the oppressive nature of Nazi society towards its own people as evil.

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PostSubject: Re: Morality   Wed Apr 14, 2010 5:48 pm

Hold that thought. I'm sick atm. Dammit.

Give me a little time to clear up the sinuses and I can think clearly enough to reply intelligently.

This is the second time I've posted to say I intend to post eventually.

I think that technically qualifies me as a "loser," at least temporarily.

Sorry folks. I fail. Be back later.
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PostSubject: Re: Morality   Mon Apr 26, 2010 2:00 pm

All right. Let's see if I can even remember all of where I was going with all this.

First off, two things: Yes, it's a genuine inquiry, and no I'm not holding up Hitler as an example of Humanism.

Whatever his own beliefs, I think in practice he was anything but - nor am I at all convinced he was an atheist. He was far more superstitious than I would expect an atheist to be (not that this alone disqualifies him), and he invented his own religion, cobbled together from Aryan, Norse, and Roman religions. Now while it's not unheard of to fashion a religion that you don't believe in in order to keep the rabble at bay, I think the jury's still out on Hitler's own spiritual beliefs, and don't feel confident labeling him an atheist.

That Hitler was a non-christian is undeniable, but neither is that my point. Christianity as a whole (or any other religion) is irrelevant to my question.

The reason I'm using Hitler is not as a stick to beat up on any one party, but just as an example.

Hitler is common ground for very nearly everybody. Humanists, Buddhists, Muslims, Christians, Witches, Hindus, Hippies, Americans, Brittains, Poles, Russians, Germans (even)... We all hate Hitler.

Why?

Well, because he was evil, of course!

And what does it mean to be "evil?" from the humanist point of view. That's the question. That any one man should be nearly universally regarded as evil by (nearly) all people of (nearly) all creeds is interesting, and I think worthy of study. The reason he would be called "evil" will vary from one person to the next. That's why I'm looking for the atheist angle on it, because atheism is something foreign to me. My definition of "good" and "evil" are entirely religious - what these definitions are for me is a point entirely beside this one. I'm just looking to learn something about atheism. Or rather about the atheistic mindset.

What I'm getting from what I've read here, and correct me if I'm wrong, is something to the effect that good and evil are closely tied up with the concepts of pleasure and pain. Now this is in no way new to me, so please don't think I've not heard and tried to understand the concept. I can recite it just fine, I just don't understand it.

The argument goes something to the effect that an action which causes more pleasure than pain is a good one, and an action that causes more pain that pleasure is a bad one.

I understand the syntax, but there's a lot in there I can't wrap my mind around.

One problem that I usually try to avoid is the idea of quantifying pleasure relative to pain, and vice-versa. How many gallons of pleasure are equivalent to a mile of pain?

To put it more practically, suppose I think it's funny to slap people. Suppose I find a random stranger and slap him. I derive pleasure, he derives pain. Now, let's put that on the scale. Perhaps I'll enjoy that memory for years to come, and he'll soon forget the experience. Then it's good. Suppose it's not as funny as it should be because he's a kung-fu master who just kind of looks at me funny and wanders off, but it causes him great unrest trying to fathom why a stranger would slap him. Then it's evil.

I use this frankly stupid example to illustrate that it works on just about any level. How much pain is worth pleasure, and how much pleasure is worth pain, ESPECIALLY when it's inflicted on OTHER PEOPLE? This issue CANNOT be dodged, because it's a matter of policy; of society.

You decide to put a public swimming pool in your town. Okay, well that's fifteen tittles of pleasure for Mr. Swimmer there, eight tittles of pleasure for each member of the Wader family, and none for Mr. Hydrophobia. Meanwhile, that's balanced against one jot each of pain for every taxpayer in the town who could be spending the money on a bag of crisps or something instead. Is the act good or evil?

Now that example is usually pretty easy to solve by looking at public opinion, but the point remains that I don't get how you quantify these things against each other - and when you get to international policy, it suddenly becomes not random musings about slaps and swimming, but real and concrete issues. Take the Israelis and Palestinians arguing over a spot of land. What is pleasure for one camp is pain for the other. Land disputes like this are always the case. Now suppose we say, "Well, whatever makes the most people happy!" Okay, you've satisfied your equation and made your answer scientific, but you've said that minorities have no right to happiness in the face of the happiness of the majority. This one rears its head in the news all the time.


Another, and more concrete problem I have is the practical application of the pain-vs-pleasure principle leads to some very hypocritical ends, in my experience.

Now, please, please, be aware as I say this that I'm well aware that these could be places of people misapplying humanist principles, or cases of individuals ignoring them altogether. A humanist acting in a non-humanist way does not represent humanism any more than a priest buggering a boy represents the tenets of Catholicism - I get that. But what I'm talking about here seems to be a matter of consensus.

Take murder. You find a crack-whore who has no means to restore herself to polite society, let alone sufficient income. You take a gun and off her. Most atheists I've heard from would instinctively call that evil - yet it certainly eliminates a fair bit of suffering. This is labeled as "vigilanteism" (which is somehow evil, apparently).

Yet I hear it often posited in defense of legal abortion that it is wrong to bring a child into the world who's in a less-than-ideal situation. I'm not seeing the distinction.

It's "good" to kill a fetus in order to prevent a child from suffering the evils of poverty, or a birth defect, or down syndrome or something ... but it's "evil" to kill someone because they are poor or look different. These principles are at odds and yet I often see people hold both perfectly comfortably in their skulls.

I'm not saying that this is a doctrine of humanism, I'm just asking: Is it?

And when you throw life and death into the equation, you end back up at the NAZI dilemma. If the NAZIs had won, then their enemies would be dead, and no longer suffering. Would that have made them right?

Assuming EHE is right and the lifestyle of the Germans themselves under Hitler's regime would have been a moral evil... let's say for argument's sake that he could have fixed that. If he could have found a way to make everyone in his empire happy, then would that have justified wiping out everyone else?

Now we can argue the practicality of whether anyone could make that many people happy, I suppose, but that's beside the point. I'm asking about the theory. If he could have made everyone happy by blowing all the Jews, Africans, Brits, Aussies and other assorted apes and sub-humans off the planet, would that have been "good" or "evil" from the atheistic point of view?
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