Sunday School

Sunday School June 18th 2017

This topic contains 73 replies, has 12 voices, and was last updated by  John Major 4 years, 10 months ago.

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    Right and wrong are subjective, not objective words. Similarly with good and bad.  Events are neutral – humans apply significance, emotion and judgement.

    If we are considering a broad brush philosophy rather than a personal one, we have to attempt to minimize the subjectivity element.

    This is why I requested the applicable definition for ‘wrong’.


    Simon Paynton

    @strega – I think that’s a good point.  If God’s goodness is defined as objective because it is both universal and impartial, then this version of goodness which is objectively “good” or “bad” still needs to be defined in terms of an abstract formula specifying the ideal way to behave within a given situation: i.e. the behavioural definition of “ethical” behaviour, “right” behaviour or “goodness”.

    This illustrates that “love is a verb”, “love is work, not leisure”.

    So, if there exists a solution, a formula of ideal behaviour, it has to have the properties of being both universal and impartial.

    There are two versions of this solution: the philosophical and the religious.

    The philosophical one is:

    1. individual humans survive, thrive and reproduce through general cooperation
    2. individual humans affect other individual humans while living in the cooperative environment of the human race (or any subgroup)
    3. because of the need to cooperate, humans have both ultimate (ancient evolutionary) and proximate (present-day psychological and strategic) reasons for wanting to benefit and not harm the people we interact with, in a way which is fair and pleasing to all concerned.  In other words, in the ecological conditions of the human race, and taking fairness (balance between competition and cooperation, one’s own and others’ needs) into account, individuals maximise their thriving, surviving and reproducing when cooperation is maximised.  What’s more, there is an ethical pressure – a need to be as “good” as possible –  supplied by the evolved, biological pressure to maximise thriving, surviving and reproducing.  The result is a “maximing ethic”.
    4. the formula is “when we act, each person affected by our actions is to receive the maximum benefit and minimum harm available to them”

    This is universal, since it can be applied to any situation within the human race (at least).  It is impartial, because it is an independently constructed definition of the concept of fairness, and fairness has impartiality as one of its natural attributes.  It is true that the idea of fairness varies in certain ways between cultures and times, but humans in general have a need to be treated fairly, and fairness is impartial by definition.

    So we have a philosophical formula for goodness that is behavioural, universal, and impartial.  I hope you agree that the logic makes sense, based on 1) the pressure to maximise thriving, surviving and reproducing; 2) the human necessity to achieve this through cooperation (balanced with competition).

    The Christian formula for goodness, which is a restatement of the philosophical one, but in more vague and less detailed terms, is “love God and love your neighbour as yourself”.  The Christian and philosophical definitions of “goodness” are equivalent.

    So since they are equivalent, is Jesus’ formula also behavioural?  If love is a verb, then Jesus’ formula is behavioural.  God’s moral function, in theory, is to maximise human cooperation, and in “real life”, cooperation is universal to the human race (and family tree).  For each individual, life consists of “me” and “other people” or “neighbours”.  So this is also universal.  Jesus’ formula implies the need to balance the needs of oneself and others, in some way, which is a definition of fairness, and this is impartial by definition.  Therefore we can justify why Jesus’ formula of goodness is objective: behavioural, universal and impartial.


    Simon Paynton

    “Wrong” means to fail to follow this formula, and Buddhists maintain that this is always a result of greed, hatred or ignorance.




    In line with your intent of maximum benefit to humanity, you should be also promoting genetic engineering and institute a selective breeding program.



    @ Cruelty is always wrong

    Cruelty may involve justice, say, a man tortures and kills your son, and, the sentence is you get to get even.

    IS it “wrong” to inflict pain upon the torturer in retribution?

    IS punishment for a crime always wrong, as the party being “punished” is suffering (If you do it right at least, etc)?


    I like to distinguish between objective and subjective morality in terms of context and exceptions.

    If truly an OBJECTIVE moral, the context doesn’t matter, and, there are no exceptions.

    The masochist says: “Hurt Me!”

    The Sadist then replies: “No!”


    To me, “Be fair” might be as close to an objective moral as I can get, as it automatically takes most contexts into account.



    Other attempts at morality seem to have exceptions and context dependent scenarios that they don’t work within…making them, therefore, subjective.


    Many theists then argue that if there are no objective morals, then anything goes, and if someone thinks killing is good, and feeding the starving is bad, then everyone has their own morals, and, therefore, there are NO morals.


    This, logically, is invalid of course, as, the very NATURE of subjectivity ACCOUNTS for these exceptions and context changes.

    So, sure, the bible says “Thou Shall Not Kill”….yet, soldiers and cops and executioners, and Pro-Lifers, all feel justified in killing other people.

    The soldier kills as its his job to defend his country (From not having another country’s resources, etc), the cop to protect himself from bad guys/innocent people mistaken for bad guys, the executioner kills whoever’s turn it is at the electric chair at the moment, and the Pro-Lifer waits for the fetus to finish medical school, and THEN aborts it.

    And so forth.







    Simon Paynton

    @TJ – it’s an interesting question.  Cruelty means to get pleasure from inflicting harm.  Whether or not pleasure is obtained, sometimes that harm is deserved.  If harm is unnecessary, then it’s unfair.

    You could say that fairness is the essence of right and wrong, or at least, a summary description of right and wrong.  There’s no exception to this as every socialised human being has a concept of fairness (which varies according to context or culture).


    John Major

    @ Simon Paynton. ” it’s an interesting question. Cruelty means to get pleasure from inflicting harm. Whether or not pleasure is obtained, sometimes that harm is deserved. If harm is unnecessary, then it’s unfair.”

    I think this is true. It’s wrong to inflict unnecessary harm for pleasure. It doesn’t matter a person’s sex, colour, religion size or shape. Inflicting harm on them is wrong as it makes them suffer. Suffering is key here. That’s why I argue is just as unfair and immoral to inflict harm unnecessarily on other animals. You can add species to the list of arbitrary differences often used to justify cruel treatment (colour, sex etc.) What matters is that they suffer and it’s against their interests. We don’t need to eat other animals and so causing their death and suffering is wrong in my opinion.


    Simon Paynton

    @john Major – it’s debateable, isn’t it?  Personally I think it’s OK to eat animals but not to treat them cruelly or harm them unnecessarily.


    John Major

    Yes it’s completely debatable. That’s why morality is subjective. Surely is you don’t have to eat them but still do, the harm is unnecessary. Is captivity cruel? Is forcible insemination cruel? Is removing a calf from its mother cruel? To me, yes. But because it’s another species it doesn’t get proper consideration.


    Simon Paynton

    That’s why morality is subjective.

    – but there is a universal structure, and a universal adherence to a morality, even if the details vary.  Kindness, fairness and cooperation are fundamental to the human race.  But “fairness” is dependent on culture and context, so it is depressingly subjective.

    The biggest problem as I see it is the tyranny and cruelty of culture and religion, and the way they all too easily trample on individual rights, on kindness and fairness.  Religious morality seems to be grounded in “a holy book” rather than human values – sooner or later, logic and reason run into the brick wall of faith and “God agrees with every thing I say”.  What’s more, in many societies, if you speak out or try to effect change, you’re liable to be horribly killed.

    But subjectivity can also be a strength – flexibility.  I think the only hope is that in time, people will start to prefer logic, reason, and human values to “a book”.  Organised morality is quite sophisticated, so there needs to be bodies and institutions to teach and uphold it, otherwise left to their own devices, people can be dumb as fuck, understandably.  I think it’s a nice idea to put accessible, logical moral philosophy into the hands of everybody, it can only improve things over what we have now.


    tom sarbeck

    John Major wrote: “But because it’s another species it doesn’t get proper consideration.”

    Our species are pragmatic, and those and similar species do get proper consideration. Their bodies do what our bodies cannot do; thrive on grasses and change them to protein, which our bodies need.
    Yes, we carnivores eat dead animals. The foods vegetarians eat, if recently gathered, might still be alive. They might be feeling what our teeth do and be protesting vigorously.


    John Major

    Yes, we need protein but not necessarily animal protein. Not all animals eaten graze.

    We are not carnivores. We lack incisors.  Besides the rest of our teeth are grinders and our mouths work differently to those of carnivorous species. Our jaws move from side to side unlike the huge majority of carnivores. Ours are more like herbivore teeth than carnivore teeth, that is certain. But it’s silly really even to enter into this debate. We aren’t governed by our teeth. We’ve brains and can choose. Our bodies clearly don’t need meat and so it becomes a lifestyle choice. I choose not to inflict unnecessary pain and suffering on other animals because I like a particular taste. For me, avoiding that cruelty is the right thing to do.

    Plants almost certainly don’t feel pain. Other animals have brains and central nervous systems like humans and the react to pain stimulants like humans do. There’s much less evidence plants feel pain. This far-fetched argument also fails to recognise all the grasses those grazing animals eat before their slaughter. If you are concerned about minimising pain and suffering, this needs consideration.


    tom sarbeck

    John Major wrote: “We are not carnivores. We lack incisors….”

    OED: carnivore – an animal that feeds on other animals.

    You’re right, John; it’s silly to enter into this debate.


    John Major

    I agree. Silly. Plants feeling pain!

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