Hi All,

We had a discussion many moons ago about atheists and morality and a lot has happened since then. I reached some new conclusions (which I'll withhold for now so I don't poison the water) and at least one other poster here has some new ideas about it.

So, I was wondering what the prevailing opinion is out there on this topic. Do you believe that atheists can be "moral"? Is it impossible for an atheist to be truly moral? Is "morality" something to which adherents have a valid claim? The infamous Dawkins and Harris had a discussion at Oxford about this about a year or so ago that was very good and I would also be interested in what anyone thinks of what was discussed there.

Thanks and all are welcome.

- kk

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The question then becomes, "Is objective morality a contradiction in terms?"  I suspect that the answer to the question "Is morality absolute/universal or situational?" is: yes.  Perhaps ethics is about what we ought to be/do and morality is about what we think we ought to be/do.

I quite like that, Glen.

You have it somewhat backwards. Ethics is about what we decide we ought to do based on reason. Morality is about doing what someone/something tells us to do (The Ten Commandments, The Golden Rule, Hammurabi's Code, etc.). 

Thus, for example, so-called professional ethics propounded by professional associations are really prescribed morality. 

You're not being ethical by simply following a code of conduct; you're being moral.

Christians only believe in morality, not ethics, because they think all you need is a code to follow.

Hey Glen,

But that's the key problem, isn't it? Deconverts have to be disabused of the notion of their objecitve morality system provided by "Gawd". So, to offer something appealing, I have to provide something just that unassailable else they don't trust what I'm selling.

- kk

Kir - are you still saying that morality doesn't exist?  I'm not going to get drawn in here, but ---

does behaviour exist?  [from a previous post:] 

From "Wild Justice - the moral lives of animals":  

"Social animals live according to well-developed systems of prohibitions against certain kinds of behavior and proscriptions for certain kinds of behavior.  These prohibitive and proscriptive norms govern the behavior of individuals within a group and relate to harm, welfare and fairness.  These behaviors, in philosophical lingo, are other-regarding, as opposed to self-regarding." 


We can behave in a moral way - i.e. do the right thing - even though this moral choice may be unpopular with our peers.  



I think we can divide moral behaviour as follows:



    [idiosyncratic] social conventions

    [universal] social conventions




"Wild Justice" talks about various "clusters" of behaviour.  The boundaries are always approximate.  I've adapted their model slightly.  Here is my rough version:





Empathy cluster

sympathy
compassion
caring
helping
grieving
consoling



Cooperation cluster

reciprocity
generalized reciprocity
trust



Altruism cluster

generosity



Fairness cluster

sharing rules, eg. who eats first
impartiality (ie. everyone is treated the same without favour)  
expectations of what we deserve and how we should be treated
indignation



Justice cluster

forgiveness
punishment
revenge
retribution


I've noticed that "fairness" is relevant to our feelings of dissatisfaction in life. 

As you know, I'm going to play certain roles of advocacy for my own purposes. Let me take the position that morality is public myth. By saying that, I'm saying that an objective form of morality cannot, does not, never did and never will exist (with certain key exceptions schooled to me by a kitten on a keyboard across the SF Bay named Tammy) and that religious converters (and religious leaders) have used this idea of morality to subjugate and control.

So, it isn't that we cannot agree to a set of rules to live by. It is only that we cannot guarantee that for some codification, call it M, any subject x will concur with and agree either intellectually or in deed for any arbitrarily selected instance, q. In reality, Simon, its more of a statement about the both non-algorithmic and non-deterministic nature of human cognition. So, no religion has this monopoly either. It is all myth. But, that isn't to say that we cannot come up with a moral system that has certain qualified objectivity practicably sufficient to solve the deconversion dilemma.

This dilemma is that the adhernet is much expecting any deconverter to offer them a moral system they can live by, however pointless it in reality may be, because they cannot cope with the cognitive dissonance of losing their moral system. When I'm deconverting someone, I am already asking them to widen their eyes quite a lot. If I then tell them that there is no objective morality as I've characterized that claim above, they will have to swallow too much at one time. They'd rather stick to their beliefs, for the meantime, for example, that only heterosexual people should be married.

See, I have to give them not only a moral system they can "factor" to deliver up these ready made conclusions at least temporarily (called decompression) but also one which they cannot assail by rigorous intellectual skepticism, which is one reason why Harris' formulation is so inept.

Now, you and I can come up with a qualified objective morality that we would regard as reasonable. Both of us look to biology for that. But I can't load this onto an adherent at the same time I'm asking them to accept their own mortality. One step at a time.

Speaking of deconversion, if anyone wants to see what it looks like in action you can see my thread at http://debatingchristianity.com under "Christianity and Apologetics" the title of "How do I know that your god is the One, True God?" Its the number one topic most of the time. Online deconversion is not very effective and much harder than doing in person, but you can get an idea of what actually works by following that thread (as opposed to that practiced by the bane of my work Dawkins / Harris, et al).

I've also found that deconversion is not a popular topic amongst atheists, what I call evangelical atheism. It needs to become so, imo.

- kk

Kir -

"certain qualified objectivity practicably sufficient" - that's the one. 

"a moral system they can live by, however pointless it in reality may be,"  - you must have had an easy life. 

"See, I have to give them not only a moral system they can "factor" to deliver up these ready made conclusions at least temporarily (called decompression) but also one which they cannot assail by rigorous intellectual skepticism, which is one reason why Harris' formulation is so inept."  - I agree, Harris' formulation is barely there.  It doesn't do any kind of job at all. 

"Now, you and I can come up with a qualified objective morality that we would regard as reasonable. Both of us look to biology for that. But I can't load this onto an adherent at the same time I'm asking them to accept their own mortality. One step at a time." - when it's finished, we can do that.  For everyone - whatever their religious persuasion or history.  They don't even have to accept their own mortality.  I don't.  It's just unprovable dogma.  

"I've also found that deconversion is not a popular topic amongst atheists, what I call evangelical atheism. It needs to become so, imo."  - certainly we have to be available to give proper support when people do want to deconvert, and people on this site can do an excellent job of that, but otherwise - Look, my friend, this is just where you and I differ.

Simon,

"certain qualified objectivity practicably sufficient" - that's the one.

Agreed.

"a moral system they can live by, however pointless it in reality may be,"  - you must have had an easy life.

Its interesting you say that. Why do you think so? In some ways, very much so. In other ways, not really. I grew up too fast and was forced to know too much about the real world before I was ready. Sob, sob ;-)

"See, I have to give them not only a moral system they can "factor" to deliver up these ready made conclusions at least temporarily (called decompression) but also one which they cannot assail by rigorous intellectual skepticism, which is one reason why Harris' formulation is so inept."  - I agree, Harris' formulation is barely there.  It doesn't do any kind of job at all.

Good, I think that's key.

"Now, you and I can come up with a qualified objective morality that we would regard as reasonable. Both of us look to biology for that. But I can't load this onto an adherent at the same time I'm asking them to accept their own mortality. One step at a time." - when it's finished, we can do that.  For everyone - whatever their religious persuasion or history.  They don't even have to accept their own mortality.  I don't.  It's just unprovable dogma. 

Interesting. I'd like to talk more about that. I never undestood the fear of death ... not the way adherents frame it. I don't fear the "unknown", I just want to be sure I do enough cool stuff before I'm pushing up daisies.

"I've also found that deconversion is not a popular topic amongst atheists, what I call evangelical atheism. It needs to become so, imo."  - certainly we have to be available to give proper support when people do want to deconvert, and people on this site can do an excellent job of that, but otherwise - Look, my friend, this is just where you and I differ.

Okay. I'm strangely comfortable with that ;-) But ;-) ... if you're willing to entertain this, do you want the world to be a better place? Do you think it would be if a greater percentage of people were atheist / anti-theist / whatever?

- kk

"certain qualified objectivity practicably sufficient"

Never mind "objective", although that would seem to be a good thing.  I think what people are looking for is a moral standard which -

  • they can have confidence in
  • is very quick and simple to use in practice
  • they can justify clearly and rationally, right back to the dot (even if they disagree with the rationale)
  • works miracles.

Hey Simon,

Here you go:

Background: the 4 F's of the hypothalamus known common to all of the homo sapiens species; feeding, fighting, fleeing and ... sex

Thos who are familiar with my posts will note that whether using the Harris Fallacy or the approach I’ve developed here with the 4 Fs, both cases depend on an objective basis for definition. What I mean by this is that we are justified in using the 4 Fs as a basis for a “morality” precisely because we know that phenomenon to be generally operative of all human beings. But this is misleading since a system of “morals”, in the sense that the term is understood, requires an objective referent other than that of the same type and kind; i.e. an objective referent separate and independent of human beings. For purely Machiavellain purposes we can call this “morals”, but strictly speaking it is not. Rather, it is only a system of agreed upon boundaries based on an understanding of what all human beings value, not necessarily of any kind of ultimate, most general definition of value. To understand this, we can imagine at some point in the future making contact with “conscious” exobiological beings who do not possess any analogue to the 4 Fs. Now, we can see that our system of “morality” is not generally applicable, and hence, not truly objective. Indeed, what we have devised here is merely a system of boundaries between human beings which can be generally applied to any human being. But this is just a social contract predicated on a common basis for applicability. The only “new aspect” of this is the fact that we are predicating it on that common basis rather than something arbitrary, or some ideological or religious argument. This now brings us full circle and informs the conversation sufficiently to contemplate a proof that “morality” is in fact a fiction derived of mythology and that an atheist can thus never be “moral”. Let me explain.

We prove this using an approach similar to the one used to identify the Harris Fallacy; to wit:

For any purportedly objective moral system x predicated on any set of valuable constructs common to a set of beings i; there may exist any arbitrary set of beings j such that the predicates of x are not common to all members of both i and j.

Therefore, even if we can solve the “moral” dilemma as it has been traditionally framed, we next encounter this more fundamental limitation that proves the impossibility of a “moral” system; and in fact demonstrates that we can’t even define the term sufficiently well. But we need to add another caveat. This does not actually prove the ‘impossibility’ of an objective “moral” system, it proves that we can never know if any given “moral” system is objective.

But the useful part of this proof is that it proves that we can never sufficiently define the word “morality”, thus proving the very term itself to be a fiction or myth.

This is why I’ve referred to “morality” as a fiction. But what this proof does admit of is a system of agreed upon boundaries predicated on a set of constructs valued by all members of a finite group, also known as law and equity.

What we are once again curiously seeing is the distinction between the group and the individual; while no human being can claim access to any objective “moral” system, a group of human beings can, upon the basis of biological fact alone, assess what is valuable to the entire human species as a whole.

That becomes the subject of law and economics whose full treatment is beyond the scope of this work. But the point is that Harris and Dawkins are vastly oversimplifying their true capacity to speak authoritatively on moral issues in society precisely because of their incompetence in law and economics, their refusal to engage it, or their mistake of not engaging it.  Harris’ decision to suggest that something akin to reciprocal altruism or compassion would just “take care of itself” is a disastrous mistake and will be handily dispatched should his social ideas ever result in consideration in law, which it ultimately would if successful. All of Harris’ examples of this type suffer from the same problem. This will not work aid to atheism.

I have provided a lengthy proposition regarding the matter of law and economics as it relates both to the social contract generally and to atheist morality in the form of the fundamental law for a general federation supra. That should be taken as a companion to this work and we shall proceed with the topic at hand. But whatever the specifics of a legal system are, the point to be taken here is that what we are in need of is not a system of atheist “morals” but just commonly predicated law and equity. And it is certainly the more reasonable conclusion for an individual to base their personal morals on the same precepts as does our system of law and equity; the logic behind that being that if natural selection led to this program it is far more likely to work favor to the individual.

Consequentialism is not a word

That whether something would be adjudged “good” or not should rely on empirically measurable outcomes is, for this author, the proverbial no-brainer and does not require a two-cent word. This is not intended to be facetious: it may be that this term has academic merit but we do not want to put this in front of the public for several reasons we do not need to engage here. And on this larger point there seems to be fairly wide agreement amongst atheists and to some imperfect fidelity, adherents.

We will now attempt to apply reason to establish value from fact in law and equity to generate a more complete picture of that which has already been discussed.

An executor of the social contract acting in combination of rule of law and equity in law, and presuming general equity as described in general federalism, renders the following objects as fundamental human rights that are inalienable and cannot be granted by any government, but merely exist stare decisis:

1.)   Allowing for/guaranteeing and enabling all the ways one might want to mate or simulate the act through sexual relations, regardless of kind, scope, extent or type (qualified against 4 in fl). A natural person cannot be made to suffer an infringement of their human sexuality, regardless of kind.

2.)   Allowing for/guaranteeing and promoting one’s capacity to be a “financially productive” (this phrase has a specific statutory meaning in fl) entity. A natural person cannot be made to suffer an infringement of their capacity for livelihood, regardless of kind.

3.)   Allowing for/guaranteeing space, sovereignty of abode, and a viable guarantee of housing for all with no homelessness. A natural person cannot be made to suffer an infringement of their right to be secure in shelter whose space they control, regardless of kind.

4.)   Supporting/guaranteeing individual safety and the personal boundaries that speak to it; even if to some degree if by perception only (to be expounded upon). A natural person cannot be made to suffer an infringement of their general safety and reasonable sense thereof, regardless of kind. Numerous human rights come out of this – see Article 7.

The fundamental requirement to meet this goal is that we must be able to advance by applying reason to fact from the so-called 4 F’s to the 4 statements above. The actual identity between fact and value occurs at the level of Biology as previously described. But we have here assumed this extended understanding of the four F’s because it seems reasonable and reflects what appears to be the interpretation of the “4 F’s” by most biologists who study it. However, this set of steps needs to be tightened up by someone competent in that field. I would point out to the reader that these four F’s emerge more or less fully in human beings at approximately puberty, a foreshadowing of the human rights of youth and something that is often overlooked.

To advance this discussion the reader will need to divert from here to the fundamental law already mentioned. This represents the interface between what are fairly basic sciences and law and economics (the plan is to write an “interface” document to connect the provisions of Article 7 formally). We now proceed to the main topic. You can find all this junk at kirkomrik.wordpress.com

- kk

Simon,

So, to make a long-winded answer shorter, practicably sufficient means objective to the extent that it is objective for all human beings. We'll have to revise our work when we make contact with ET.

- kk

And Simon, our ideas overlap with the fourth F, general safety and resonable sense thereof - my Article 7 which is pretty darn exhaustive.

- kk

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