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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Any person who thinks morals come from scripture must have very low standards of morals and possibly don't' have any morals. However in most cases people who think this are being dishonest. Most religious people don't' even get morals from scripture, they get morals and ethical principals from the same origins as atheists do:

Life experience, influence of others (family friends etc), the acknowledgment of consequences of positive or negative actions and need for unity within society.

When it comes down to it, morals aren't' religious at all. 

@John Major

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.

So now it's about interests, not so much suffering?

And if a robot could suffer (and we've all seen computers suffer abuse of various sorts), what would ethics dictate?

It seems to me that this appeal to pain and suffering is what should be called an emotional appeal, not a logical appeal.

@Unseen. To be clear, it is the capacity to feel pain and suffer that gives one interests.

“The question is not, "Can they reason?" nor, "Can they talk?" but rather, "Can they suffer?"”
Jeremy Bentham.

I am unsure why people treat the suffering of other animals with indifference. They are less intelligent, often have more legs, can't talk etc etc. To me these criteria are arbitrary reason to inflict cruelty. Suffering is something that unites us, across races, sexes and species. No better basis for ethical decision making in my book.

I think I agree with your assessment. It is compassion based. I am not a robot and see nothing wrong in compassion. But this is not to denegrate the good logical argument that I can make for vegetarianism.

There are people who cannot feel pain. There are people who are in a permanent state of happiness. Combine the two in an animal and then there'd be no reason even for you not to eat it, right?

@Unseen. There are people in a permanent state of happiness? You mean hari Krishna?

People who cannot feel pain may still be able to suffer.

The reverse of trying to avoid unnecessary pain and suffering is promoting happiness and well being. So, I would not want to unnecessarily end a life, suffering or no, because my action would stil cause harm. The harm would absolute - death. A complete deprivation of the opportunity to have sensations promoting happiness and well being.

So, I got you past the suffering argument. Good.

Is death harm or is it actually a state beyond harm? Is it a state at all in the usual sense of the word "state" as we use it when describing people? To give the attributes of a dead being is a bit odd grammatically. I mean, unless you're talking externally about the being's absence and decay.We can say a live person misses his youth, but can we say a dead person misses his life?

A dead person isn't literally missing anything experientially is he? Is Abraham Lincoln missing the computer revolution? Is there really an Abraham Lincoln to experience the loss? Not unless you believe in life after death. A soul that survives the death of the body.

That's an an extreme example designed to underline the absurdity of this way of talking. We are so used to the religious talk of experience beyond death that even atheists somehow unconsciously use the phraseology. So, let's admit something: dead beings have no need for the opportunity for happiness and well being and they certainly don't miss it. Once dead, one has no regrets.

We need to stick with talking about before death.

Tell that person holding a gun to your head and forcing you to read the thread to go away.

@Unseen. Thanks for taking my hand and guiding me through the suffering argument. lol.

Except, to me it's all the same argument. We work on soundbites here. I can give a full argument of you likde but I know you don't like wading through long posts.

Suffice to say, I believe out of compassion that it's wrong to cause unnecessary harm and suffering (Unseen reply - not unnecessary, we do what it is on our nature to do). I believe that I have no proper basis to llimit that just to my own species. I am aware that death that does not involve suffering and pain is far better than one that does (i.e. most factory farmed animals) and that killing is usually unethical because of the deprivation of a chance to live and feel pleasure and happiness.

I woudl say being dead is a state beyond harm. That is obvious. But causing a death is the ultimate harm in most cases. Of course dead people don't regret missed opportunities. That's ludicrous and not what I'm saying. But to my thiinking, it's equally ludicrous to think death causes no harm.

Does death cause harm before death? No.

Does death cause harm after death (to whom)?

If harm is defined as physical or psychological injury or damage, how can death not be the ultimate injury? Is this worth actually arguing. I enjoy (most) of your comments Unseen, but I don't think we can ever have a productive discussion for reasons. First, you seem to,reject compassion as a basis for an ethical standpoint, preferring pure logic. Secondly, your standpoint that 'unnecessary' is meaningless in the light of your deterministic world.

Well, your argument ultimately rests on a matter of opinion, not fact. What is compassionate isn't a matter that can be settled in the laboratory. It's bound to the mores or attitudes of a particular time and place, which should be obvious.

It should be equally obvious that you can't base an ethic on anything so bound up with time- and place-localized attitudes.

A real and objective ethic has to be based on something timeless and NOT subject to time- and place-based attitudes. It's easy to look back and history and see that radically different mores held sway from epoch to epoch.

Living in Spartan Greece would be about as far from living in contemporary Western civilization as one can imagine. However, if you were Spartan, your idea of compassion might be totally different from the one you have today. And the one you have today is your simply because it's today and not 500 BC.

Of course, you can argue that we today are more evolved, but that, too, is a time- and place-based opinion.

Well, I am not so,sure as,you that compassion is quite so time based, geographically based. But
let's set that aside for a time. What ethical basis do you have that passes the tests you set. I'd be interested to know.


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