Christians may pretend to think that we atheists are all "this" close to committing rape and murder, but the fact is we don't commit rape and murder, any more than they do.
When people ask "why should atheists be moral?", that is a misleading question. They should really ask, why ARE atheists moral? [Why do they hardly commit rape and murder at all ...?]
Good question. Why.
Why do you, personally, always try and do the right thing? Why do you, personally, sometimes do the wrong thing? Do you go against your own moral code?
Christians seem to spend a lot of time agonising over moral issues. I think that is great. We do the same thing here on Think Atheist. Both Christians and atheists explicitly feature the study of morality as part of their belief systems. I think it's fair to say that the two groups are roughly equal in moral standards and behaviour.
I'm not looking for theories about society or stuff Richard Dawkins says or anything like that. I just want to hear about your personal experiences of yourself. I'm hoping some patterns might emerge. After all, we're all human beings, and there's only a limited number of reasons why we do things.
The reasons I try and do the right thing are probably that: I want a clean conscience and an orderly life. I don't want to s*** in my own bed. I think I derive confidence from feeling I'm doing the right thing morally. I feel empathy for other people and don't want to hurt them unnecessarily. If I love someone, I'll move heaven and Earth for them. If I have a strong belief that something is right, I will aim to uphold that belief.
I would go against some of my normal moral beliefs if I thought it was justified and wouldn't cause too much trouble. There would have to be a very good reason - beyond just getting my end away, for example.
Ward - are you saying that morals are beliefs, whereas ethics are behaviour?
Also - the moral beliefs that you seem to profess, are all very general and simple. I personally agree with this policy. To me, this is the is/ought problem. We can specify in advance what we believe, because beliefs are general. We can't specify in advance what we will do, because real-world situations are too messy and variable to be able to generalise about.
What if we can find moral beliefs which are based on logic and reason?
Then they are ethical positions based on logic and reason, not moral 'beliefs.' 'Belief' by definition implies lack of evidence. Once there is evidence, belief becomes irrelevant.
I can 'believe' it is wrong to steal because I have been told it is wrong without having any understanding of why, or how it hurts others, or what the real consequences are. Once I do understand why, and I see what the real consequences are, I no longer have to 'believe' it is wrong, I know it is wrong. A moral belief based on uncertainty (or authority) has been replaced by an ethical position based on logic and reason.
Incidentally, it is also via logic and reason that we can know ethically that sometimes, a 'moral wrong' is ethically right. Stealing food if it is the only possible way to feed yourself or others - it is still morally wrong, but not ethically. Ethics require independent, critical thinking; morals, as beliefs independent of evidence, do not.
Both morals and ethics define behavior.
Most dictionaries reference belief when defining morals. Additionally in America (if not other places) theists are heavily pushing the definition of morals as behavior based on religious precepts. Thus they can (and are) presenting athiests as immoral.
"Board of ethics", "medical ethics", "ethical practices" - these are all terms commonly used in business (and theoretically in government) and are defined as a code of behavior that is thought out and (usually) logical.
Given the verbal shift in progress why allow the theists to continue to have the upper hand by using the word "moral" for our behavior? They would love that.
I'm glad to see that others also use the morals/ethics distinction.
Morals: a code of behavior based on belief, usually religious belief.
Ethics: a code of behavior based on logic and reason.
Ethics closely resemble laws with less potential for the codifcation of stupidity.
Most morals are immoral by someone else's morals. Ethics tend to be immoral. Most morals are unethical.
Xians and Moslem morals allow for persecution of gays and lesbians - this is unethical.
Moslem morals allow for the murder of innocents (if they are preceived as unbelievers) - this is unethical.
Xian morals support wife and child abuse - this is unethical.
Xian morals support slavery - this is unethical.
Thank you for clarifying your position for me. I think I understand where you are coming from on the issue now.
Aren't you splitting hairs? Surely the two terms, morals and ethics, are effectively interchangeable. The difference is that "moral" has bad connotations of hypocrisy; and "ethical" sounds good.
moral belief, ethical position - the same thing.
If we want to avoid using the term "belief", then "moral principle" is perhaps a good alternative. There's no point getting hung up on words: the concept is the important thing. Each word can have several different meanings, but the concept is a single precisely defined entity.
We can't have ethical behaviour without moral principles to guide it. Moral principles have to be based on reason and logic, otherwise they're unreliable. Reason and logic are somewhat dry, mathematical concepts, whereas human beings are natural, biological creatures. We're not based on the odd, simplified world of abstract logic. We're based on DNA and we have to stay healthy and alive in a competitive natural world long enough for our DNA to copy itself - to reproduce.
The difference may not lie in the terms 'moral' and 'ethical' per se. However, there is a significant nd crucially important difference between the two concepts as outlined here, regardless of what words one uses for them. Since there seems already to be a cultural perception of those words as fitting those concepts, it seems to be a clear way of distinguishing between them.
There are plenty of 'moral' principles that are not based in reason or logic. THings like sexual conduct, modes of dress, styles of music, art, or expression, have all been considered moral or immoral, even though they have no ethical implications whatsoever. There are also things that may have had ethical bases at one time, which are now entirely obsolete, but remain part of a traditional moral code. These things too have no foundation in ethics. Finally, things that are wrong according to a moral code are always wrong; things which are determined to be unethical may, in fact, be ethical in certain circumstances, but would still be considered morally wrong.
Mith - you still haven't told me the difference between morals and ethics. I think that morals are things that you think in your head and feel in your heart - "values" - and ethics means the study of how to apply those values or morals or principles.
# There are plenty of 'moral' principles that are not based in reason or logic. THings like sexual conduct, modes of dress, styles of music, art, or expression, have all been considered moral or immoral, even though they have no ethical implications whatsoever.
# things that are wrong according to a moral code are always wrong
Those two statements seem to contradict.
# things that are wrong according to a moral code are always wrong
Objectivity? What's that?
Yes, I think I have, quite clearly.
By the way, since you seem to have misunderstood my saying that 'things that are wrong according to a moral code are always wrong;' this is not my saying that I think this is the case; rather it is a core failing of moral thinking as opposed to ethical thinking. (Perhaps I should have been clearer: "things that are considered wrong because of moral dictates would be considered wrong even when they are not ethically so, or if circumstances make them ethically right.")
In my original comment, I gave the example of theft. In most cases, theft is both morally wrong and ethically wrong; morally because 'custom' says it is, and ethically because it does harm. However, I think it is easy to make a case where it would be morally wrong but not ethically so. In my example above, for a starving family living in a society which does not offer them any support, theft may be necessary. Stealing a few loaves of bread is a lesser ethical wrong that knowingly letting one's children starve. However, by moral dictums, it would still be considered wrong, and refraining from such a theft, even if it meant a greater harm, would be considered the morally superior position.
This is the same dilemma that pays out in so many areas of debate over personal freedoms. For example, some consider sex before marriage immoral, though it carries no ethical harm. Many of these same people think that 'abstinence only' education is morally better, even though it has been shown to cause actual harms.
Morals rely upon custom and belief to dictate modes of behavior without necessarily considering reasons of consequences). In fact, morals often dictate codes of behavior that deny the individual the freedom to consider choices or take responsibility for them. Someone inculcated with a moral view will simply choose behavior based on the morals they have learned, not because they have considered or even are capable f identifying possible harms (or benefits).
Ethics, however, consider actual, rational harms, and adjust behavior in order to minimize harm. They require active consideration of choices and consequences, as well as taking responsibility for those consequences.
If that isn't clear enough, I don't know how I can make it clearer.
Mith - I've learned a lesson: I assumed that because you didn't agree with me, you weren't saying anything. Of course, that's blind and idiotic.
So you are saying that morals are what society and religion hands down to us, and ethics is the study of the practical results of behaving in certain ways?
To me, morals are particular values such as courage, loyalty, compassion, - selfishness, snobbishness...
and like you, I believe in examining practical results before making any "value judgements". (See? Words are so vague and treacherous, we have to be very careful how we use them, and make sure we don't get mixed up in the first five seconds, like philosophers nearly always seem to do.)
In writing this, I realise something I didn't see before. A "moral value" according to my definition (see? again) is something that only exists in people's heads - a potential - but it has an active component. It is an intention of how to behave. We may have feelings, such as jealousy or love, but a moral value combines a feeling with an intention. I can feel jealous but know that jealousy is selfish, and believe that unselfishness - being fair to all concerned, without putting my own needs inappropriately (ie. not usefully) before those of others - is "right".
So it was worth listening to you after all. (I'll assume an e-slap in the face.)
With any terminology there comes a point where one is splitting hairs. For example "slut" & "whore". These used to mean two different things. A slut was an easy woman. A whore was a prostitute. Not the same but current usage in America is gradually equating them.
Words can also drift apart in meaning as is naturally happening with "morals" and "ethics". They still tend to be used interchangeably even though the religious right is doing what it can to claim the word "morals" for themselves. Because no atheists are speaking up to stop that claim to the word, we are being painted as immoral.
Have you encountered the concept of the meme yet? Roughly put, it is the mental equivalent of a gene. Generally concepts are what matters but the words can make or break how well the concept is transmitted from person to person so they can matter very much.
I'm saying let the Xians have the word "morals". Atheists can claim the word "ethics" and make it clear that the principles underpinning our ethics are based on logic and reason about the human condition. We can then also point out the flaws of morals – clearly and concisely because of careful consideration of concepts and word choice for easy transmission.