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View Diary: Atheist in a Moral Foxhole: The Conscience of an Atheist (153 comments)

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  •  The problem with religious-based morality... (15+ / 0-)

    is that its concept of evil will probably not line up with your own.  Shopping at Walmart is not likely to be a problem, but working on the Sabbath is an evil punishable by death.  I'm not sure what it means if you are shopping at Walmart on the Sabbath.

    •  If you shop at Walmart on the Sabbath you (1+ / 0-)
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      are deserving of being stoned twice.  One, it is the modern equivalent of picking up sticks on the Sabbath and, as such, it is work and you should be stoned to death.  Secondly, through your sin you are causing others to work on the Sabbath and should be stoned for that as well.  God said it, I believe it.  That settles it.

      Of course, "God" was wrong in this silly rule and the punishment thereof.  This negates his claim of perfection and proves he is a liar because he claimed perfection.  Homey doesn't worship lying, wrong "gods".

      We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them. Albert Einstein

      by theotherside on Thu Oct 31, 2013 at 08:29:59 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Religious believers fail (4+ / 0-)
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      boofdah, pvasileff, JerryNA, codairem

      to notice that even their moral beliefs aren't based on religion.  Take every Christian you come across.  You'll find that they reject all sorts of "moral" commands put forward by Scripture.  The very fact that they pick and choose among these ethical teachings entails that they have a higher-level principle that allows them to evaluate what religious teachings are matters of morality, what ones are mere customs, and what ones are, in fact, immoral.  That higher-level principle comes not from religion but from the use of their noggin or reason.  No religion is necessary for morality.  Indeed, religion often gets in the way of being a moral person by leading to abominable treatment of others and privileging membership in the religion over what is right.

      •  All that proves, though (2+ / 0-)
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        boofdah, probably jay

        is that even in a nominally Christian-dominated society, by far most people absorb and internalize notions of right and wrong from sources other than the Bible.

        The "higher-level principle" you cite doesn't arise in a vacuum, or spring fully formed from use of one's rational mind.  People learn the difference between "matters of morality" and "mere customs" only by having multiple sources of input as to which is which.

        Talk to people raised in a truly insular religious society sometime, and see what they think is moral and what's just customary.

        •  I don't know that (1+ / 0-)
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          I entirely agree with this.  Experience, of course, might be the source of this moral knowledge as ethical thinkers such as Aristotle, Epicurus, and J.S. Mill argued.  However, this knowledge could be a product of pure reason as Kant argued or might be a natural sentiment as David Hume argued.  The strength of the latter positions is that they're able to explain how people who come from truly abysmal circumstances and historical settings are able to nonetheless question the mores of their group, e.g., the abused and isolated child that nonetheless recognizes these things are wrong and doesn't repeat them or Germans who clearly saw Nazism was wrong despite pervasive anti-Semitism in European culture.

          •  I suspect those Germans who saw Nazism was wrong (1+ / 0-)
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            were able to do so because it went against other mores they were raised with: the imperative against cruelty to others, for instance.  Their insight was not in questioning everything they'd ever been exposed to, but in realizing the contradiction inherent in the morals of their society -- a contradiction that becomes apparent only when one accepts the notion that those morals ought to apply to all people.  Which, not incidentally, is a notion included in the teachings of the Christian Bible, which declares that God loves all humanity equally.  (Whether or not the Christian elements of German society adhered to that notion in practice is irrelevant: the idea was there, to be taken hold of by anyone who cared to.)

            In that sense, reason has an active role in this kind of realization: examining various contradictory ideas to which one has been exposed, and determining which ones seem better than the others.  But reason can't pull moral imperatives out of nowhere, and can't reject internalized moral imperatives without having some alternative to replace them with.

            •  What makes you suppose (2+ / 0-)
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              Tonedevil, boofdah


              But reason can't pull moral imperatives out of nowhere, and can't reject internalized moral imperatives without having some alternative to replace them with.
              Take the example of mathematics.  Certainly people have been able to invent/discover new forms of mathematics without there being any precedent.  If this is possible in maths, then why not in other domains of life?  

              A deeper concern with your position is that it effectively renders morality immoral.  If moral knowledge is dependent on persons having the right sort of encounter with the right teachers or sacred texts, then moral judgment is injustice writ large.  We are, in effect, holding people responsible for things that they couldn't have known without having the right revelation (sacred texts) or teachers.  It is only where reason or experience can lead to moral knowledge that we can coherently hold people responsible for their actions.  The situation is exactly the reverse of what you suggest.  People don't learn morality from religious texts, but rather religious texts reflect moral truths that any human being is capable of knowing.

              •  I think I may have been unclear. (1+ / 0-)
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                Teachers or sacred texts aren't necessary for morality, and I in no way meant to suggest that they are.

                My position, as I stated in my first comment, was:

                People learn the difference between "matters of morality" and "mere customs" only by having multiple sources of input as to which is which.
                And I think you may be moving the goalposts slightly by saying "reason and experience" where previously you said "pure reason."  Experience counts as one of those above-mentioned sources of input.  It is the opposite of pure reason: it's coming up with moral principles based on what you have encountered in life and what has struck you as good or bad.

                My point in bringing up the Bible in the last comment was to point out that even people who grew up in Nazi Germany(your example) had exposure to moral codes that told them that what was going on was profoundly wrong.  Nobody living there had any need to sit down and reason it out ex nihilo.  Likewise, abused children who do not repeat their parents' abuse are generally able to do so by means of learning about better models of parenting.

                Perhaps a better historical situation to cite might be ancient Rome: do you know offhand if anybody there questioned the morality of, for instance, a father having the right to order an unwanted infant abandoned to die?

                •  I never used the term (1+ / 0-)
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                  "pure reason", I just used "reason".  At any rate, I do think you have a rather cynical and depressing conception of the capacities of human thought with respect to your experientialism or thesis that we're basically robots that can only repeat what we've been taught in one form or another.  I think that there are rife examples throughout human history of people transcending or thinking beyond anything they've learned or been taught, introducing something new into the world.  This is attested to above all by maths, but can also be readily seen in science, art, and politics.  There's no reason to suppose that this sort of transcendence isn't also possible in the case of morality.

                  •  You did in fact use the term "pure reason" (1+ / 0-)
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                    "... as Kant argued," in your first response to me.

                    And I'm not sure where you're getting the idea that I think people are only capable of repeating what they've been taught.  What I've been saying all along is that people are capable of moving beyond what they've been taught if exposed to contradictory ideas or experiences.

                    If you have a counterexample, of anyone producing ideas counter to everything they've been taught without having been exposed to alternate ideas or experiences, I would be fascinated to hear about it.  If you have any data regarding people doing this en masse, rather than in individual exceptional cases, I would be even more fascinated.

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