If you agree with the definitions that follow, do freethinkers havr morals or ethics, or a combo?
Ethics: A system of thinking about correct behaviour that comes from personsl introspection.
Morals: A system of thought about behaviour that is based on some outward form od authority such as government ornreligion.
To the extent that an individual thinks and is ready to ignore prescriptive guides like the Ten Commandments, they are engaged in ethical thought, not morality.
That's true: an individual can engage in ethical thought, moral philosophy, for their own benefit or that of others.
I'd say that morality exists at the individual level, while ethics deals in meta-knowledge: knowledge about the subject of morality. It's all rather much of a muchness I think, there is so much overlap.
Morality, as prescriptive, exists at the social level. Ethics is an individual enterprise.
To answer the OP, atheists are probably no more or less moral (pro-social) than any other group. However, atheism currently doesn't have a widely known, formal moral framework.
As for the religions: that's pretty much what a religion consists of, along with some other things: a supporting mythology, a charismatic founder, a system of social control, and an organized hierarchy. These are not necessarily bad things: in "olden days", when our protection from barbarous natural contingency was much more precarious than it is now, we needed a fairly rigid system of social control so that we could cooperate together for purposes of survival. This is why radicals (such as Jesus) were treated with so much suspicion and hostility.
It reminds me of this scene from Pulp Fiction:
Vincent dries his hands on a towel while he continues his
dialogue with the mirror.
...It's a moral test of yourself,
whether or not you can maintain
loyalty. Because when people are
loyal to each other, that's very
Mia is on all fours trying to crawl to the bathroom, but
it's like she's trying to crawl with the bones removed from
her knees. Blood begins to drip from Mia's nose. Then her
stomach gets into the act and she VOMITS.
So you're gonna go out there, drink
your drink, say "Goodnight, I've had
a very lovely evening," go home, and
jack off. And that's all you're
That's what I want my website to be like, but without the references to blood and jacking off.
Like I've always said... well, once or twice anyways... well, paraphrased:
The phrases "moral behavior" and "ethical authority" are not as meaningful or useful as the phrases "moral authority" and "ethical behavior". Morality is presumed ideal, possibly of divine origin, and non-negotiable. Ethics promotes and thrives on the reliability of repeatable, mutually-beneficial agreements, yet still allows leeway for negotiation between specific parties involved.
I agree: morality is "ideal", an essence. Ethics is how that plays out in the real world.
In the course of studying morality I've come across three separate, though complementary, ways of looking at it.
- a small set of moral values which are shared by almost everybody
- a specific set of behaviours which have co-evolved with us, to do with getting along with each other, and which are largely shared by the other social mammals
- an objective, almost mathematical essence which forms the basis of religion and spirituality.
There are also things that don't fit into any of those categories. Observations. Proverbs. Illustrations.