Over the past decade, I have formulated my philosophy of life. The entire exercise has been personally beneficial, and I hope that you will benefit from reading it.
I am posting my philosophy here to solicit feedback so that it may be improved. I look forward to a productive discussion.
There is very little I would disagree with. I can see you have given it plenty of constructive thought to be able to condense it as you have done.
I do believe that starting from a position of “I am an atheist” and “I am aware of my own mortality” allows us a better perspective on life. I will admit than it may take a certain amount of time to achieve the ability to realise the merits of those two statements. Formulating a personal philosophy of life is always a work-in-progress. Understanding that it is a guidebook rather than a static instruction manual is important. From there you can achieve your own “wisdoms” and that in turn allows you to prioritize what is or is not important in your life because the meaning of life is whatever you want it to be.
The problem I have (ok, one of the problems) with religion is that I seldom meet theists that are at peace with the fact that they will face death at some point. If they really believed the (false) promise of their faith then they should be very happy about it. I think deep down they know that they will not become immortal but the group think keeps them captured in believing otherwise. Atheism removes those mental chains and any philosophy that flows from that understanding can only lead to a more fulfilled life…in the real world.
Thank you for reading and commenting, Reg. I agree that a philosophy of life is always a work-in-progress, and my philosophy will remain open to revision until I am permanently incapacitated.
"moral naturalism cannot account for the categorical quality of moral requirements."
- but you've read Michael Tomasello, who claims, plausibly, that human beings possess a moral "ought" in their nature, which is that cooperative partners "ought" to be treated fairly, or how they "deserve", which is at least with mutual respect. This comes from the evolutionary requirement to take cooperative partners seriously and treat them as equals, because of one's dependence on those partners to further one's own interests.
Moral facts are a strange idea, but (on the surface) I'm not sure if "queeerness" is enough to say that something doesn't exist. A moral norm needs to be held "by" somebody, and if there's no supernatural ruler of the universe, there's no-one to hold this mythical authoritative opinion. So maybe that's why it doesn't work. What you can have, is facts about morality.
I agree that "peace of mind" or "the absence of trouble" is a good state to be in. At the same time, have you seen anything about the positive philosophy movement? (See e.g. Martin Seligman, "Flourish".) I see you've gone through that at the end.
You advocate the Platinum Rule, which I think is good, and powerful, but maybe not entirely satisfactory on its own, for the reason that it's too personal and local to "you". On the other hand, this is also a strength, as it provides a humane standard by which to treat others (your own experience). It also has the drawback that it doesn't translate to wide-scale government policy. But it definitely has its place within a small collection of generally applicable ethical norms.
What I prefer is something that applies within the same scenario: when one is interacting with others. The idea is that we go about pursuing our own interests, and sometimes, we interact with others in the process. So the formula is "everyone affected by your actions is to receive the maximum benefit and minimum harm available to them". I call it "Perfect Compassion". This turns out to be one of those basic constants like Pi which pops up all over moral philosophy. It's more general, more abstract and more powerful than the Platinum Rule, while being easier to use in everyday life. The Platinum Rule on its own can't take all this weight, even though it's a good supplement.
I disagree with your arguments for why we "should" follow the Platinum Rule - i.e. behave well. It seems that all of these depend on self-interest - as if we should only be good to people who are useful to us. But what happened to "doing the right thing" for the sake of it? I think it is saying too much to try to justify why someone "should" do something - that's up to people to decide for themselves. It also, rightly, lays atheists open to the charge that they will only be nice if there's something in it for them. The reasons you give are all things to think about, but maybe people can be informed of these by other means, and then make their own minds up.
The motivations for "Perfect Compassion" are some of the most fundamental ethical principles of the entire human race. I.e. fairness (the formula is a form of fairness), empathy and targeted helping, taking responsibility for one's actions, and respect for others. We instinctively like to behave this way because it is "written on our hearts" to feel that these are among the highest principles of behaviour. Any deviations have to be either hidden or justified.
Finally, have you considered that the unifying thread, the underlying driving force for humans and all living things, is to thrive, survive and reproduce. I think that in morality, the emphasis is on the thriving. If we consider the statement "craving is the source of suffering" then we can see that this drive to thrive can sometimes have [long-term] positive and sometimes [long-term] negative results. Because it's not always in our conscious control, it can be expressed in some unhelpful or destructive ways. On the other hand, it drives us to want to be happy. So my point is, it needs to be harnessed and worked with in such a way as to produce positive long-term results. This translates to your concept of "living well". I think that if this underlying force is specified and made clear, people can concentrate on their own personal list of what works and doesn't work for them.
All in all I think your "manifesto" is really good and you've obviously done some serious work on it.
Thanks for reading and commenting, Simon.
Tomasello's work actually provides support for the evolutionary debunking of moral intuition and belief, thereby undercutting the only evidence we have for moral facts.
As you noted, I discuss some aspects of positive psychology on page 14. If you believe that I have missed any simple and effective ways to produce positive emotions, please do share.
My support for the Platinum Rule is provided in the context of the goal of peace of mind. But recall that on page 5, I include "concern for other sentient beings" as one of two plausible ultimate motivational considerations. And this concern can provide further support for the Platinum Rule.
Thanks again for your feedback.
"evolutionary debunking of moral intuition and belief"
- surely he provides evidence for the evolutionary reasons for moral intuition and belief. He confirms their existence and gives reasons why they exist. How does this undercut our evidence for moral facts?
- I'm still reading Michael Tomasello, and trying to make sense of what he says. It seems that my understanding was slightly mistaken, and the actual answer is more interesting.
According to MT, the human sense of "ought" comes from 1) the need to carry out some task successfully - to do it the right way ("role ideals"). 2) the sense of self-other equivalence, which, according to MT, comes from the idea that roles are independent of people; any competent person can fill a particular role, so people are interchangeable within a cooperative task. 3) the fact that other people are valuable to us as cooperative partners. 4) the necessity to maintain a long-term public and personal identity as a good cooperative partner. Putting these together, we "ought" to fulfil our alotted role properly, for the sake of both our success.
It is interesting that this self-other equivalence, combined with the need to cooperate, may be the basis of the Golden Rule. The explicitly stated Golden Rule arose independently in Chinese philosophy under Confucius and also in ancient Judaism. This suggests that it has deep natural roots based on evolved human moral intuition - unlike many of the lame artificial creations of modern philosophy.
I just think that the Golden Rule has some weaknesses: it is cognitively and emotionally demanding; it is somewhat unreliable; it depends on some deeper, more authoritative standard. Also, there may be an element of guilt because other people are just not on a 100% equal footing with ourselves. The picture is more complicated than what the Golden Rule captures, therefore it is far from complete. The Platinum Rule basically states "help according to need" which is good, and fundamental, but again, far from complete. I think that the formula I have given contains both the Golden and Platinum Rules and it captures the entire fundamentals of human morality.
Sorry 14 pages is to many for me. I live by the realistic version of the Golden Rule: Do onto others before they get a chance to do unto you. :)
Or shorter yet - "have fun".
Wow....that's more like a mission statement combined with a constitution and a bill of rights than a philosophy.
My version is basically in two, essentially similar rules of thumb.
1) Try to be as fair and helpful as reasonable, and avoid being unfair or hurtful. (This one is an internal set of checks and balances.)
2) Live as though your children will know everything you do, or don't do, and might question you about your choices. (This one assumes they act as a cricket on my shoulder)