What follows completely replaces the original discussion post.

I wrote a blog post, a few months back, that wondered if nature's prime directive (survival) could be used as the basis for morality. Since then, I've realized that I missed the most important point of all: survival of our species depends on cooperation. Survival is the purpose of cooperation, so survival is still the basis of morality but the operative principle is cooperation. This is because we are intelligent social animals who can choose to cooperate instead of fight or kill. Nature may be "red in tooth and claw" be we are more than mere animals.

One could pose moral questions in context of cooperation but I don't think humans can achieve perfect objectivity with any moral standard or principle. Everything gets interpreted subjectively and this is especially true with morality. People tend to bend reason to suit their existing ideas and beliefs.

Having said all that: I'd like to test both objectivity and cooperation as tools for moral decisions. I haven't found any moral quandary that can't be analyzed in context of cooperation. But the analysis is always MY application of cooperation. This doesn't automatically make it invalid but I find it hard to believe that humans can reach a consensus based on ANYBODY'S application of cooperation.

The lure of an objective moral principle or standard is, of course, as a tool to settle disputes and make public (and private) policy. Some would say that we already have an objective moral standard: based on the Bible or Quran or whatever. But there's a serious logical problem with basing morality on God's (or Allah's) will . . .

. . . If something is good because God wills it, why does God will it? Does he have a reason? If he has a reason, then good exists independent of God. If he has no reason, then good exists at the whim of God. "Thou shalt not kill" could just as easily be "Thou shalt not cover your bodies" if God has no reason for what he wants or likes.

If we can't logically look to God for our morality, we need to look elsewhere. If morality is not to be found in the supernatural realm, that leaves us with the natural realm. Is there a natural principle for morality that would apply to all intelligent life (humans)? I say that, if there is an objective moral standard, cooperation must be it. If you know of a better standard, please tell me what it is. If you don't, then give me a scenario in which cooperation would fail as an objective moral standard.

P.S.The word, "altruism" has a different meaning in science than it does to us laymen. Most dictionaries give the layman definition first, then the scientific definition.

According to (Webster's) Dictionary.com, altruism is:

1. The principle or practice of unselfish concern for, or devotion to, the welfare of others (opposed to egoism).2. Animal Behavior. Behavior by an animal that may be to its disadvantage but that benefits others of its kind, as a warning cry that reveals the location of the caller to a predator.

According to OxfordDictionaries.com, altruism is:

1. Disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others2. Zoology. Behaviour of an animal that benefits another at its own expense

Altruism is the opposite of selfishness. An altruistic person is motivated by others instead of himself. A purely altruistic person is entirely selfless. Please note that all these definitions define altruism as a one-way street. Concern is for others and not for one's self ("unselfish", "disinterested", "selfless", "at its own expense", "opposed to egoism").

I would agree that we feel great respect for the soldier who dives onto a hand grenade to save the lives of his fellow soldiers . . . or the fireman who races into a burning building to save people trapped inside. Heroism inspires and impresses us by its selflessness. But there are more common, mundane, forms of altruism as well. There are people who are masochists or emotionally needy or have low self esteem who sacrifice their own interests for the sake of others. Often, there's a religious component to their behavior because the Bible teaches that pride is a bad thing and that all credit goes to God. Whether or not these people are motivated by masochism, self-loathing or religion, they often evoke pity or disgust from us because they make human doormats of themselves. Despite what the Bible says, pride is normal and healthy unless in excess. So I disagree that "altruistic alternatives are good": some (if not most) clearly are not.

However, cooperation is based on mutual benefit and respect. This is more rational than behavior based on altruism. For this reason, I've excluded altruism, in favor of cooperation, from the main discussion.

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Replies to This Discussion

I guess she was 16 when she got married. Or at least, she was "promised" when she was 16.

It's hard to imagine the nightmare she endured.

I hope her picture on the cover leads to more people looking into Islam, the Taliban and Shariah law; especially in the U.S. Europeans have been educating themselves about Islam. It's time the U.S. did too.

Here's the closing text from the article:

    "When we talk about women's rights," Jamalzadah says, "we are talking about things that are important to men as well — men who want to see Afghanistan move forward. If you sacrifice women to make peace, you are also sacrificing the men who support them and abandoning the country to the fundamentalists that caused all the problems in the first place."

Write the President, your congressmen, your newspapers. Say NO to ANY compromise with the Taliban.

Hi Rich Hugunine,

My apologies for this late response to your insightful post.  I've been offline (with the exception of a few minutes, here and there) for over a  month.

I've wondered the exact same things you wrote about.  I hope your musings prove prescient.  It's my hope that technology might spell the rise of moderate, progressive, Islam.  Another benefit of all our technology is the exposure to Western values that oppressed people receive through the media and Internet.  Although I've dreaded the advancement of Islamism, I think the values they show the world through their militancy and terrorism make a poor comparison to Western values.

Not that Western values are all goodness and light but, overall, I believe that prolonged exposure to values like freedom of expression, human rights and equal rights will prove more attractive to Muslims than the values of their xenophobic, domineering, religion.

So yes, I think (hope) this might very well be the beginning of a Secular Democratic civilization.  We have a vested interest in ensuring that the region succeeds in self-governance . . . and hope that these citizens don't choose to erect Islamic states under Shariah law.

It's funny I should run across this quote, on a Filipino website, while hosting this discussion . . .

. . . “I think perfect objectivity is an unrealistic goal; fairness, however, is not.”
~Michael Pollan
The failure was not on your part.
You're a moderator? I had no idea. I'm sure you'll do better than those A|N moderators!

I too hope Larry apologizes. I've always liked him.
I'm sure you deserve it, Neal :-)

Reggie's a moderator too? Geesh . . . how come they don't have avatars or identifiers to show they're moderators?

Perhaps there should be a complaint forum named, "Dissed and Pissed".
Neal often does deserve it. :-)

Under the Members tab, you can find the Mod list.

Personally, I'd rather it not be advertised as I do enjoy the debate and discussion. Some people might not be so free to vigorously disagree with a mod as they would with just another member, the latter being what I am 95 percent of the time I spend on T|A.
I see you're actually an Admin, Reggie and Cara is a moderator too! I had no idea I was surrounded by TA brass.

With 3 moderators in this discussion, I'm amazed at your collective restraint. You guys make AtheistNexus look like a bunch of amateurs.
Even though cooperation might be essential to morality, that doesn't mean cooperation always involves morality. Cooperation can also be motivated by financial profit, friendly relations, or shared ideals or goals.

Yikes, I'm getting a headache trying to figure out some way to achieve an objective moral standard. I'm giving up and proclaiming the goal impossible.
My parting shot . . .

The lure of objective morality is as a tool to settle conflict. As I've said all along, I'm dubious of ANY claim of an objective morality but . . . could there be some objective basis for moral decisions? I've been trying to think of the principles that come into play if we used cooperation as a basis for our morality. I think certain traits or principles, like (a modicum of) intelligence, empathy and survival value will come into play if one makes cooperation a basis for morality.

The question seems more difficult the more I think about it and I'm already admitting defeat. Perfect objectivity is virtually impossible, it seems, with subjective beings. Although, in science, we come closer to perfect objectivity than in any other human endeavor. Perhaps this is facilitated by the spirit of cooperation found in the scientific pursuit of knowledge.

If religion fosters divisions in society and science fosters cooperation, then that says a lot about their relative moral values.


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