Burn Baby Burn

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This topic contains 32 replies, has 8 voices, and was last updated by  Davis 5 years, 11 months ago.

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    The philosophical inquiry into ethics is a bit different than the anthropological/psychological inquiry into ethics. While not comparing, it’s about as related as law and criminology.



    David I am not arguing that atheist morality doesn’t exist, there simply isn’t one. Unless you can spell it out for me. I’d be curious what hundreds of millions of Chinese and Vietnamese atheists (who make up quite the majority of the Worlds atheists) would have in common per the moral systems of atheists in the UK or the United States or Denmark. Perhaps you can give an answer to these moral problems in a way that atheists around the world would recognize and mostly agree with and the atheists justification or explanation behind your answer:

    The termination of zygote is not murder.

    The execution of a criminal is not state-murder.

    A woman has completely bodily autonomy when it comes to having or terminating a pregnancy.

    A person should be given broad freedom to make their own choices despite the detriment to their families.

    Agressive insulting criticism of ones deeply held beliefs should be considered no different than making a mean joke about something non-personal.

    Complete freedom of online expression is an essential right all should be afforded.

    Parents should be obligated to pay for and support their children’s post-secondary education regardless of their child’s choices in field of study and their behaviour at university.

    Religious minorities should be respected to a limited extent and their own civil rules and laws should be permitted in autonomous zones.

    It is completely natural that one dominant culture should pervade the entirety of a nation and that minor cultures should only be allowed in a highly regulated and limited extent with proper censorship.




    As for your critique of humanist principles as bulky, I’ve never heard anyone claim that five basic principles is a “bulky” one. Personally I’ve never read a moral system that was spelled out in less than 100 pages. These principles are embedded in the EU and followed by all of the most democratic and prosperous countries in the world. Humanism has been endorsed by virtually all active atheist-secularists including Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennet and Harris. [By the way the Amsterdam proposal has two more principles that are not included in most others]

    So what is it about human rights, rational inquiry, personal autonomy, secularism and human prosperity that you think is impractical?


    Simon Paynton

    @david – “Does it need to be shared then?

    – I don’t know what you mean.  I think that strictly speaking, morality refers to our relationship with others, or our relationship with the larger group.

    the ‘foundations’ do not measure freedom or equality

    – these foundations are catch-all terms for large groups of related values.  I think that “freedom” falls under the “authority” foundation, and “equality” is part of “fairness”.

    atheist morality

    – one problem with this is that, like Davis says, atheism is not a monolithic block: different people are always going to believe different things.  The other problem is that saying “atheist morality” is like saying “atheist chemistry” or “atheist biology” – it’s just the study of “morality”, which includes the study of religious morality as part of the overall picture.

    Humanism is a great attempt at developing a code but it is bulky and nebulous and impractical.

    – I agree, the principles are good, but when it comes to real life, they suck, because they’re too vague.  Real life is detailed and not vague.  The humanist code does not give me much of a clue about how to treat individuals on an everyday basis.


    You cannot use evidence to fully spell out the foundation of a moral code.

    Personally I’ve never read a moral system that was spelled out in less than 100 pages.

    100 pages = doing it wrong.  Here is a moral framework spelled out using evidence in 2 pages:

    part 1


    part 2






    Simon Paynton

    @arcus – “While these models are good, they are a bit convoluted

    – I prefer Haidt’s to Schweder’s model.  I don’t find them convoluted at all – I’ve had no reason to disagree with them, I find that they match up with the overall evolution of morality, starting with the “second-personal” relationships within the small groups of our pre-human ancestors (kindness/fairness) and incorporating the move to large groups (group loyalty, respect for authority).  Also, “sanctity/degredation” is also a “thing” as evidenced by, when we say for example, “you dirty rat” – mixing the metaphors between physical and moral uncleanliness.

    Divinity: Your body is merely a vessel for the soul, which belongs to a higher being and must be protected from degradation and disgrace as this would be an insult to the higher being.

    – this raises an important point.  Organised religion starts to look more and more like a giant moral enterprise.  In religion, the moral and the spiritual – you could say, heaven and earth – are closely intertwined.  They are right about this.  It is a reminder that spirituality can be seen, in one sense, as a purification or distillation of morality.  Any moral system worth its salt has to have spirituality built in from the beginning.

    So it’s possible to use basic evolutionary knowledge to reveal the meaning of some core beliefs in Buddhism, for example.  (unfinished)


    Simon Paynton

    @strega – “Understanding the distinction between right and wrong – that in itself demands a cohesive definition structure around the words ‘right’ and ‘wrong’.

    – I agree – I think it’s perfectly valid to use the concepts “right” and “wrong” without defining them, but there comes a point when they do need to be defined.

    I define “right” as “when you act, each person affected by your actions is to receive the maximum benefit and minimum harm available to them”.  This encapsulates both the “benefit/harm” and “fairness” foundations, all of second-personal morality.  I think that a good definition of “benefit” is “to increase thriving” and “thriving” can be defined as “a state of physical or psychological health and strength”.  The only conflict is between “physical” and “psychological” – what makes someone feel good may be bad for their physical safety, for example.  “Thriving” has to be split into short term and long term.

    It’s a good question how these first two foundations interact with the others.  This definition of right and wrong implies a definition of “human rights” – since each of us constantly experiences an existential pressure to thrive, and this is the most important goal, it follows that human rights must respect this basic goal.  So to give someone their human rights means to treat them with the maximum benefit and minimum harm available to them.

    This respecting of rights can follow through into the other foundations.

    • This reply was modified 5 years, 11 months ago by  Simon Paynton.


    Both Haidt and Fiske are based on Schweder, but Fiske’s Models are easier to use to evaluate real life dilemmas because when the wrong model is used it is clearly a social faux pas.

    For instance, if an acquaintance invites you to dinner you are supposed to used the communal sharing (CS) model of ethics – say thank you and compliment the food. If you use the equality matching (EM) model, ie by insisting on doing the dishes, or the market pricing (MP), ie trying to pay, it is easy to see why it went wrong. On the other hand, if you go to a restaurant using a CS or EM model you would obviously be in the wrong.

    A lot of misunderstandings (see: Borat) and also political leanings are based on models, especially when one is dedicated to a subject only being applicable to one model and everything else is morally disgraceful. The best example is of course, as always, sex. A conservative/reactionary view is that it belongs to AR: the wife has a duty to her husband and must obey his wishes. The anarchist model would be CS; think free love and hippies. Feminists would argue that it belongs to EM: both parties must consent and enjoy it. The liberal model would also include MP, as in prostitution, though not to the exclusion of EM.

    As for personal relationships, it is important to generally use the same type of models. Getting back to the meal above, if your spouse cooks for you under an assumption of EM, but you use an AR model, what do you think would happen..?




    Simon, if you have an internal definition of right and wrong, you can’t really apply an objective moral framework around it.  I know your project concerns this, but if you’re trying to encompass all humanity, you’ll fall over.  Conceptually, your moral code would look like ant behavior.



    I consider morality to simply being as fair as you can.

    As for “an atheist morality”, that would be akin to a “stamp collector, or, a not a stamp collector’s”, morality, etc…in that there is no moral code required to not believe in gods.

    That said, if you simply look at prison statistics, say, in the US for example, theists are over represented, and, atheists are under represented in the prison populations.

    IE: There are almost no atheists in the prison system, some prisons have none for example.


    If “Christian Morality” worked, we should EXPECT to see very few Christians in prison, and, if “Atheist Morality” did not work, we would expect most atheists to be in prison.


    In reality, its the opposite, so, while there is no atheist moral code per se, whatever the Christian code is, produces far more criminals on a man for man basis….than a lack of a code.


    Perhaps simply having human empathy, and treating others accordingly, is more effective than having a supernatural score keeper.

    Perhaps the need to apologize to a fellow human being, for being unfair to them, and knowing that one is responsible for one’s own actions, and the repercussions, causes people to act more fairly to each other than a system where, if you are unfair to a human, you instead apologize to a supernatural entity instead of your victim?






    @TJ. I’d be more impressed with such statistics if they were assessing the criminals before they were locked up.  At arrest, for example.  Lots of people in prison ‘find god’ because it helps them deal with their fellow inmates and includes them in a part of the prison community. It can be a helpful safety mechanism.


    Davyd R Ondrejko

    I define “right” as “when you act, each person affected by your actions is to receive the maximum benefit and minimum harm available to them”.

    How does this (if it does) differ from utilitarian philosophy?


    Simon Paynton

    @arcus – if people find that that model works for them, then good luck to them.  I’m not going to argue against its correctness, since it’s a cousin of a model that I agree with.  There’s more than one way of looking at a complex situation.

    But if it’s claiming to be a complete moral framework (i.e. an underlying structure on which to hang the rest of morality) then I reject it, because it seems dead and soulless: it reads like a manual for how to run a supermarket or something.  If I thought this was all morality is about, then I would get in my car and drive off a cliff.  (If I could drive/had a car.)

    A moral framework or system needs to make people feel encouraged about being alive.  It should hold out some promise of happiness.  If you look at Buddhism, Christianity and Islam, they all do this.  Morality began life as a survival strategy, and along with survival, this immediately implies making life better.


    Simon Paynton

    @Davyd – “How does this (if it does) differ from utilitarian philosophy?

    – you could call it a form of utilitarianism, but not the simplistic utilitarianism of (I believe) Mill, Kant, and Pete Singer (the greatest good for the greatest number).  In this form, it’s simply inhuman, not to mention unnatural: it’s not what people actually do.  Presumably, in simple utilitarianism, it’s perfectly OK to leave some people out and not take care of them at all – as long as “the greatest number” is OK.

    In the version I put forward, each person is considered, rather than just the lucky “greatest number”.  So it’s consistent with, for example, human rights, and the (very good) religious idea that “God loves everybody”.

    When people seek to put simple utilitarianism into practice, such as within public policy (the only place where it has any useful validity) they always convert it to my version, because they’re human beings and not robots, as Pete Singer seems to see the world, in his wrong-in-the-head psychopathic way.


    Simon Paynton

    @strega – “an objective moral framework

    – I’m not necessarily trying to do this, as “objective morality” can mean a number of different things, none of which I’m trying to achieve.  But “universal”, yes.

    if you’re trying to encompass all humanity, you’ll fall over. Conceptually, your moral code would look like ant behavior.

    – I’m not sure what you mean.  There are universal ethical principles, and there are local ones which belong to particular cultures.  My strategy is to focus on the universal ones, as these apply to everybody, except bad people.  Bad people will try and do bad things and then justify them.  But that’s the point in a way: they always have to try and justify it.

    ant behavior

    – yes, it’s necessarily abstract, and this might look kind of mechanistic, but that’s to be expected.  This abstraction is part of its power and reach.  It’s also very human, and structurally it incorporates the promise of happiness, like a religion.


    Simon Paynton

    @TJ – “there is no moral code required to not believe in gods.

    – I find this kind of argument a bit disingenuous.  If we take a philosophical position that we don’t believe in gods, then there are necessary implications to this position: i.e. how do you do all the things that a religious God provides (such as morality) without a God.

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