A common comment that will be thrown at you when debating or discussing with a theist will be that "if you don't get your morality from god, where do you get your morality" or "are atheists then immoral" or something else of that flavor. There are many way to address these comments such as discussing where morals come from and the definition of morals, which can be tricky, or that morality is intrinsic in each being and you don't need god to have them or that morals preceded religion and there are plenty of examples that can go along with that last point. These can all be very effective but I heard something the other day that I felt made a lot of sense.

When asked "were you a moral person", the person, who was an atheist said, "you're right I'm not moral because morals is a set of behavioral guidelines derived from authority whether real or imagined and I don't use morality in my day to day life to make decisions, however I'm a very ethical person, and I think that social ethics as they evolved out of social dynamics, are a better course to pursue then morality, because if you're being a moral person, and you are doing what the authority has instructed you to do,  that authority may not in itself be moral. So for me social ethics are the way to go."

Now I understand that by ethics are defined as moral behaviors. But the distinction is blurry to me. So I would like to hear your opinion on a) the differences between the two if there are any in your view and b) your preferred method to answer this question. How do you answer someone who comes at you with the "morality" argument?

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Replieth John. Wrong - unethical, betraying a lack of compassion and empathy.

Replieth Unseen: Wrong = Contrary to one person's code. Typically applied to another person.

@Unseen. Some things other people do are wrong. Keeping slaves is wrong. I am quite happy to say so. Recognising we all have different codes can only be stretched so far. What sayeth thee?

"Unethical."  That assumes a standard of ethics.  Is the remainder of your post your definition?

"Betraying a lack of compassion and empathy."  I'm sorry but you're going to have to do better than that.  Compassion and empathy for whom?  For all other humans?  For all living creatures?  For all of existence, living or not?  I know that White Supremacists have compassion and empathy for other whites, does that qualify?

David - RE: "I know that White Supremacists have compassion and empathy for other whites, does that qualify?"

And I know from experience that White Supremacists really don't have all that much compassion or empathy for other Whites, who just happen to be taking part in Civil Rights Marches --

(PS - I think you said you're from Oklahoma - if so, is Clara Luper still among the living? Great lady!"

@Davyd. What I'm saying my ethics is based on the goal of the avoidance of causing unnecessary harm and suffering and promoting happiness and well being. People who don't accept this as a an ethical basis might not have the required empathy and compassion which is implicit. So, while white supremacists may have compassion for one another, their racism does cause unnecessary suffering and it is unethical.

Killing and causing suffering is prime facie wrong insofar as the creature has the ability to suffer. It's not very clear-cut. Highly developed intelligence might be a prerequisite for suffering.

One thing I'll also say is that just because there is no "arbitrary measure" of a point at which one thing can be said to be different from another, it does not mean there is not a difference. For example, there's no specific point on a color wheel where red stops and green starts, because it's a continuum. But that doesn't mean red and green must therefore be the same color. Intelligence and the capacity to suffer are not arbitrary to the issue of animal rights.

You may prefer to think that humans and less intelligent humans are the equivalent to red and green on the colour wheel, but what is the evidence. Intelligence could negate suffering as well as amplify it.

Given our shared evolutionary origins, similar physiology and observed reactions to pain, why assume we are red and green? Shouldn't our ethics demand we see ourselves as red and red until we are sure otherwise?

Why are people dwelling on the ability to suffer? Let's imagine a person who couldn't suffer and who, yet, was also self-aware and aware of his/her surroundings.

Would that actually make a difference? or would there be more arguments to follow? Ones not based on ability to suffer? Maybe then the arguments would be based on the person's inability to suffer. Damned one way, damned the other.

So, we really should be talking about something else.

For the imagined person, who could not suffer or feel pain, would he/she have interests we should consider. I can't see why, seems we are talking a robot here. Our ability to feel pain and suffer, to feel happiness, to my mind is a good ethical basis.
I agree that some, perhaps most, humans do not have moral concern for the unnecessary suffering or death of other animals. Why would other animals be excluded from the 'Golden Rule'? Just because they are another species? This seems to me to be a domionist view of the world.

Some humans do not even require that they be of another species to lack moral concern for their unnecessary suffering of death.

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