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Thread: Secular Moral Philosophy

  1. #1 Secular Moral Philosophy 
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    I don't for one second think that a God is required for morality, but is there any such thing as 'absolute morality'?
    People claim that without God, morality would just be subjective, but if there is a God, how exactly how does that make morality absolute?
    Is it because whatever God says is moral, and if so how are we making that judgement, and couldn't that just be its opinion?
    In the case of there not being a God, wouldn't I need to rely on consequentialism to determine between right and wrong? And in a hypothetical case where the pleasure a rapist gets is more than the suffering the victim endures, such that there is a net gain of happiness, under that alone, it would make it moral. But I don't for one second think it's moral, but then I'm relying on how I feel about it to inform my morality, and that can't always lead to me the moral answer either.
    In the end, are we just left with subjective opinion on what is moral, as informed by the consequences and intent, as well as the emotional response it produces in us?

    As you can see, I'm really lost.


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    Quote Originally Posted by Curiosity View Post
    In the end, are we just left with subjective opinion on what is moral, as informed by the consequences and intent, as well as the emotional response it produces in us?
    That sounds like a pretty good description to me.

    Religious morals are as ambiguous and as 'flexible' as non-religious morals.
    You only need to look at the "Thou shalt not kill" command which can also be translated as "Thou shalt not murder" (- which is ambiguous in and of itself).
    One exception to that command is capital punishment for adultery.
    How many Christians support killing adulterers?

    The only people we see adhering to religious texts/morals 100% are also considered to be sociopaths.


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    Haha, I'm just mildly uncomfortable with the fact that it seems no approach is correct on its own, but somehow it's meant to work together. Though it occurred to me that consequential ism is in a way subjective, as to judge the impact your actions may have on someone, you'd have to empathise and predict how they'd respond, which is largely influenced by how you yourself would respond.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Curiosity View Post
    Though it occurred to me that consequential ism is in a way subjective, as to judge the impact your actions may have on someone, you'd have to empathise and predict how they'd respond, which is largely influenced by how you yourself would respond.
    I would agree.
    The 'golden rule' (i.e. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you) actually relies on that, but it is kinda wrong.
    It should really be "Do unto others as they would wish you to do unto them".
    Putting ourselves into someone else's shoes is often difficult but we shouldn't just assume we all wear the same shoes. (Maybe I have stretched that metaphor too far.)
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    Well, that clearly isn't going to work because the criminal will not want to have anything done unto him at all.

    I think this is a real dilemma. In order for morality to work, people have to really believe in it as if it were absolute on some level. Even if it is demonstrably not.
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    Both forms of the golden rule "as you" and "as they" have their point of diminishing returns. Think masochists or suicidal persons. I certainly feel no moral duty to kill or hurt another person simply because they might request it of me. And just because I might think I would like to be hurt or killed it doesn't mean that I should hurt or kill others.

    For any moral absolute that I can imagine there is a point of diminishing returns. Think "Thou shalt not kill", but then what if one had the opportunity to eliminate Ted Bundy or Jeffrey Dahmer? And under such a condition would killing such an individual become a moral requisite?

    Moral relativism is vulnerable to errors of interpretation and moral absolutes have points of diminishing returns which belie the intent of greatest good. The best I can come up with is "the choice of least harm/greatest good". As a specific and practical standard however, it is just a vague collection of words.

    Truly, the consideration of morality is a very Gordian knot of a problem. Say there is an android/robot of great power, and you want it to be a superhero/goodguy robot. How would YOU​ program it?
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    Quote Originally Posted by Harold14370 View Post
    Well, that clearly isn't going to work because the criminal will not want to have anything done unto him at all.
    True. True.
    Basically, it looks like the golden rule is not a rule to live by.
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    Yeh, and in regards to criminals, society is consequentialist when it comes to how to deal with them. I mean, what would happen if there were no negative repercussions from committing anti-social actions?
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    Most morality systems are tailored for the society that adopted them. The moral systems code for behaviours that promote the wellbeing of the society.
    Militaristics societies require a different system of morality than merchant or trading societies do.
    A nation can have several different societies existing inside of it, merchants, soldiers, thieves, politicians, researchers, all with different moral codes.
    It can get confusing if you forget to keep them separated instead of just trying to lump everybody in a nation together under a single moral code.
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    Yeh, I suppose I and a lot of other people lose sight of the fact that morality comes from us, and the different systems as you rightly pointed out, show just how true that is. Maybe we should just focus on how morality is useful, in line with evolutionary theory that given that moral judgement exists in almost all humans, it must aid survival in some way, and in the modern context, how it aids society.
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    OK. Lets try thinking about the different groups and the behaviours they regard as moral.

    Bankers and traders require public trust, so you get honesty towards strangers held up as a moral behaviour. You also don't kill strangers and rob the corpses because it is not a good way to get repeat customers.

    Is that a start?
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    Scientists require volunteers for experiments, so having harm come to them is not a good idea if you want more volunteers in the future. Yeh, we have a start :P
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    Quote Originally Posted by dan hunter View Post
    OK. Lets try thinking about the different groups and the behaviours they regard as moral.

    Bankers and traders require public trust, so you get honesty towards strangers held up as a moral behaviour. You also don't kill strangers and rob the corpses because it is not a good way to get repeat customers.

    Is that a start?
    But you would still want to kill your enemies, and not let the dead take all their wealth with them into the grave.
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    In the context of business, would you want to kill them? That sounds rather unnecessary when you can just destroy their desire and ability to fight, and save yourself the constant fear of being caught. Furthermore, it's not rationally consistent to say that it is okay to harm others, but it's not okay for others to harm you, so that's why there should be a basic prohibition against causing needless harm to others.
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    If we consider morality as a set of behaviors, then we may consider biology and evolution as antecedents of morality. Look at the success of species that are cooperative in a social structure, ants, bees, etc... Social cooperation is a moral precept of many human societies and a successful adaptive behavior.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Curiosity View Post
    Furthermore, it's not rationally consistent to say that it is okay to harm others, but it's not okay for others to harm you,
    I think it would be rationally consistent for someone to behave in their own benefit, even if it meant killing someone else. I don't recommend it, but would not argue against it based on logic.
    Quote Originally Posted by GiantEvil
    If we consider morality as a set of behaviors, then we may consider biology and evolution as antecedents of morality. Look at the success of species that are cooperative in a social structure, ants, bees, etc... Social cooperation is a moral precept of many human societies and a successful adaptive behavior.
    This is true, but I don't think it gives an individual a reason why he should conform to the moral code, if he thought he could get away without being punished. Nor does it give the individual a reason to choose between competing moral codes within a society or between different societies.

    Also, cooperation is not the only aspect of social structures. A tit for tat approach is usually more successful. Prisoner's dilemma - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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    Quote Originally Posted by Robittybob1 View Post
    But you would still want to kill your enemies, and not let the dead take all their wealth with them into the grave.
    That would be moral behaviour in many military societies.
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    Quote Originally Posted by dan hunter View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Robittybob1 View Post
    But you would still want to kill your enemies, and not let the dead take all their wealth with them into the grave.
    That would be moral behaviour in many military societies.
    Do you personally agree or disagree?
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    [QUOTE=Robittybob1;590194Do you personally agree or disagree?[/QUOTE]

    If I personally agree or not doesn't matter to what I am saying.
    I am not trying to judge if the morals of a group are good or bad according to the morals of my society.
    (or to my personal interpretation of what constitutes moral behaviour on my part)
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    Secular Humanism has indeed many followers. Even the Dalai Lama of Tibet (The 14th one who is now alive on Earth) embraces it as worthwhile and fruitful. Of course Buddhism is not theistic in the sense that Abrahamic ones based on the old and new testaments of the Bible are, so maybe more like Human secularism than the theistic religions are.

    The difference is not real so far as I see it. You are the one choosing to believe in whatever you believe in, and so it is just purely subjective on the part of the human to choose what they think and do and say.
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    [QUOTE=dan hunter;590197]
    Quote Originally Posted by Robittybob1;590194Do you personally agree or disagree?[/QUOTE

    If I personally agree or not doesn't matter to what I am saying.
    I am not trying to judge if the morals of a group are good or bad according to the morals of my society.
    (or to my personal interpretation of what constitutes moral behaviour on my part)
    But wouldn't it be a consensus of opinions that would establish secular morals? Like if Moses went up the mountain and came back down with a set of rules that were already in place, that wouldn't really be news would it? So I was looking for a stand on the issues.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Robittybob1 View Post
    But wouldn't it be a consensus of opinions that would establish secular morals? Like if Moses went up the mountain and came back down with a set of rules that were already in place, that wouldn't really be news would it?
    No, but 3500 years later it might be.
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    While consensus is necessary, I'm pretty sure secular morality requires some logical justification for why a person thinks as they do. Furthermore, the secular moral system established by consensus may only be valid for that society. I can comment on other societies however, in which women are not educated and say that that is morally wrong, if their justification for why that is the case, is based on incorrect premises. If the whole reason they did it was because they thought women were evil and did not deserve to get an education, right away I can challenge the premise that they're evil, and show that the neurological make up of women does not mean they are inherently evil.
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    Quote Originally Posted by billvon View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Robittybob1 View Post
    But wouldn't it be a consensus of opinions that would establish secular morals? Like if Moses went up the mountain and came back down with a set of rules that were already in place, that wouldn't really be news would it?
    No, but 3500 years later it might be.
    That is a weird answer, for it doesn't lead me on in the conversation. What was society like before Moses? Did everyone covet their neighbor's wives and have adultery with the girls around town. Did they steal what they wanted killing anyone if they get in the road?
    If they did, you could imagine that to bring in a change in culture you'd need an entrance as dramatic as Moses.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Curiosity View Post
    right away I can challenge the premise that they're evil, and show that the neurological make up of women does not mean they are inherently evil.
    Are you sure about that? What is the definition of evil?
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    I'm not providing the working definition for evil, I'm merely saying how I can respond to someone else's claim and their definition would be the one I'm addressing. You're welcome to have a crack at it.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Curiosity View Post
    I'm not providing the working definition for evil, I'm merely saying how I can respond to someone else's claim and their definition would be the one I'm addressing. You're welcome to have a crack at it.
    You said you could demonstrate that they are not evil because of the neurological makeup. Wouldn't you need to define evil to demonstrate such a thing? Or what did you have in mind?
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    Because in the example, by claiming that women are inherently evil and men aren't, it is fundamentally a claim of different biochemistry and or structural differences in the brain region(s) relating to moral judgement. So if you observe no statistically significant difference between the two genders, there is therefore no difference in inherent morality of the genders. It's the same way that we may not be able to define intelligence, but amongst different races, we observe no statistically significant difference in structure that would suggest that some races have higher cognitive capabilities.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Curiosity View Post
    Because in the example, by claiming that women are inherently evil and men aren't, it is fundamentally a claim of different biochemistry and or structural differences in the brain region(s) relating to moral judgement. So if you observe no statistically significant difference between the two genders, there is therefore no difference in inherent morality of the genders. It's the same way that we may not be able to define intelligence, but amongst different races, we observe no statistically significant difference in structure that would suggest that some races have higher cognitive capabilities.
    Do you think behavior is determined only by brain structure? Statistically, men commit many more violent crimes than women. For one thing, their hormones are different, and that affects behavior. I suppose you could say men are inherently evil if you defined evil as prone to commit violent crimes. But there are probably other ways to define it if you were so inclined.
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    No, of course I don't think it's only due to brain structure, I just used it as an example of a way in which you could go about investigating whether a moral code is correct, by targeting the premises of the argument.
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    Well I think all sane people would agree that genocide and torture are not civilised behaviours. I think right and wrong however are mystical concepts that have crept into thinking from the metaphysical and theological speculations of primitive societies. Although it begs the question of what does or does not constitute a civilised behaviour, and to say we can intuitively know such a thing contradicts thousands of years of history, it's interesting to note however that there is general agreement among countries that utilise science about what constitutes good or bad behaviour, and how they differ from more theological and metaphysical societies that outlaw behaviour such as homosexuality and in some cases punish it by stoning.
    Last edited by Trivium; September 26th, 2014 at 05:23 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Trivium View Post
    Well I think all sane people would agree that genocide and torture are civilised behaviours. I think right and wrong however are mystical concepts that have crept into thinking from the metaphysical and theological speculations of primitive societies. Although it begs the question of what does or does not constitute a civilised behaviour, and to say we can intuitively know such a thing contradicts thousands of years of history, it's interesting to note however that there is general agreement among countries that utilise science about what constitutes good or bad behaviour, and how they differ from more theological and metaphysical societies that outlaw behaviour such as homosexuality and in some cases punish it by stoning.
    Well I think all sane people would agree that genocide and torture are civilised behaviours. ???
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    Quote Originally Posted by Robittybob1 View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Trivium View Post
    Well I think all sane people would agree that genocide and torture are civilised behaviours. I think right and wrong however are mystical concepts that have crept into thinking from the metaphysical and theological speculations of primitive societies. Although it begs the question of what does or does not constitute a civilised behaviour, and to say we can intuitively know such a thing contradicts thousands of years of history, it's interesting to note however that there is general agreement among countries that utilise science about what constitutes good or bad behaviour, and how they differ from more theological and metaphysical societies that outlaw behaviour such as homosexuality and in some cases punish it by stoning.
    Well I think all sane people would agree that genocide and torture are civilised behaviours. ???
    Lol whoops.
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    I think consensus is important. But consensus is difficult to reach, because morality is a subject that is difficult to talk about. At least in the United States. The U.S. is a nation largely founded by religious dissenters, a fusing of several different groups with their own ideas about what constitutes right and wrong, ideas that are largely set in stone by religious dogma. Talking about morality is largely taboo here, because such conversation usually lead to angry confrontaions.

    I have long felt part of the reason the U.S. seems to be drifting towards greed and self interest is because we are reluctant to discuss the value of other moral imperatives.
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    Quote Originally Posted by danhanegan View Post
    I think consensus is important. But consensus is difficult to reach, because morality is a subject that is difficult to talk about. At least in the United States. The U.S. is a nation largely founded by religious dissenters, a fusing of several different groups with their own ideas about what constitutes right and wrong, ideas that are largely set in stone by religious dogma. Talking about morality is largely taboo here, because such conversation usually lead to angry confrontaions.

    I have long felt part of the reason the U.S. seems to be drifting towards greed and self interest is because we are reluctant to discuss the value of other moral imperatives.
    The problem with consensus is problems like slavery and racism that have been accepted for centuries, consensus alone seems an insufficient guide to civilised conduct.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Curiosity View Post
    I don't for one second think that a God is required for morality, but is there any such thing as 'absolute morality'?
    People claim that without God, morality would just be subjective, but if there is a God, how exactly how does that make morality absolute?
    Is it because whatever God says is moral, and if so how are we making that judgement, and couldn't that just be its opinion?
    In the case of there not being a God, wouldn't I need to rely on consequentialism to determine between right and wrong? And in a hypothetical case where the pleasure a rapist gets is more than the suffering the victim endures, such that there is a net gain of happiness, under that alone, it would make it moral. But I don't for one second think it's moral, but then I'm relying on how I feel about it to inform my morality, and that can't always lead to me the moral answer either.
    In the end, are we just left with subjective opinion on what is moral, as informed by the consequences and intent, as well as the emotional response it produces in us?

    As you can see, I'm really lost.
    Even in secular morality, I don't think quantity of pleasure or pain is the only moral aspect people consider. For example if you believe that all human beings have worth and dignity, using others as means to your selfish ends, with zero regard for their freedom or welfare, would be immoral, even if as you say, your pleasure outweighed their pain. That's why the rapist example doesn't work.
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