Understanding of morality

My recent blogpost about my banning from Leitmotif has drawn a commenter who proceeded to give me a very lengthy and interesting reply. I was seriously impressed and started replying within the comments but seeing how big my reply was starting to become and how derailed from the original topic, I thought it might be worth giving it its own blogpost. What follows is Apple’s comment and beneath it you will find my own reply.

Forget about Objectivism. Let’s just focus on understanding what morality is.You sound like a nice guy just trying to struggle through life in a European society. Does the society you live in define what is moral? What is it that is moral in this society? Is it working 39 hours a week for a company, getting married at 29, having two kids, retiring at 59, living and vacationing to 69? Is that the moral life? WHO is society? Is it the local government? Is it the Eurocrat in Bruxelle?This is your life we’re talking about, man. Do you want to let somebody else or something else tell you what you should live for? As an atheist, there is no second ever-lasting life to look forward to. This is it! If so, I would think before you do anything in this life, you’d want to be damn sure you have figured it all out one step at a time.Morality is one of those pesky things that come up. Do you really know what it is? Ergo at Leitmotif, if I understand the gist, is remarking that, in your atheistic rush to abandon religion you in the process abandon morality. You throw the baby out with the bathwater. Is he right that morality is inescapable, even in the jungle? Who cares. But the point is you’re in a society, and there is a morality that many people in it accept. Is it right FOR YOU?As far as I can tell, morality is a collection of values to guide a man’s life. More simply, morality is a generic how-to manual for life. Like a car, you as a human being come out of an assembly line with the same owner’s manual. You may be painted black, blue, green; you may be a convertible, a hatchback, a sedan, a sporster; you may have six-cylinder, or four-, front-wheeled, automatic, or manual. But generically, you are like a car. And like cars, you have basic maintenance requirements: gas of this type here, oil of this grade here, anti-freeze fluid at this level here, brake shoes after so many km here, tire pressures per kpc here,

Unlike a car, which is designed and manufactured by some company, by some designer, by a creator, you as a human being aren’t designed by ANYONE, (Evolution is not any conscious entity; evolution is a process) But you still have basic maintenance requirements. But beyond that, even if there’s another twin you/car, the owner will want to customize it with different personality and style, accessories, companions, baggages, radio-station presets, aspirations,

Society didn’t design and create you. Society is just a bunch of people in a geographical area. They are just people like you. Do human beings have invariant maintenance requirement or not?

A morality, to repeat, is a how-to manual for life. And a human being is, as a matter of plain fact, an oxygen-breathing, water-drinking, omnivorous, thinking animal with varying desires for sex, rock-n-roll, sushi; Chances are very, very high that human beings have generic maintenance requirements.

That said, religions write a number of how-to manuals for life. Islam, for example, tells you to face Mecca and pray five times a day. That’s a how-to rule in the manual to a good life. Islam’s view of life is of a second, ever-lasting life. How Is this particular rule to be judge? Well, scientifically, you have to weigh it against human needs or generic maintenance requirements. Obviously, the goal –ever-lasting life– is false, and the means –praying 5 times a day– is therefore false. So, followers of Islam are using a how-to manual that is anti-this-life.

We can say this to just about every religion that posits an ever-lasting life or reincarnation. So, scientifically, religion provides moral codes that aren’t meeting the basic maintenance requirements for a human life on this earth.

But does that mean that morality as such is not a human requirement? You know what I mean? Every car comes with an owner’s manual. Just because human beings don’t come with one doesn’t mean that they don’t need one. We come with the ability to choose alternatives. Superficially, you choose vanilla and chocolate easily, but on the big choices that take your life in one long-term direction or another you do require some standard of maintenance requirements. (Driving without replacing shoe brakes after so many years will wreck it. Trust me.) Thus, morality, like oxygen, is a human need.

So everyone needs some morality, and everyone has to write his own owner’s manual–plus, to customize and accessorize his own life. But the question remains. As with organized religions, how does each person ensure that his copy of his maintenance manual is the CORRECT one and not some cheap, plagiarized version from a whole bunch of religious copycats? To be sure, the morality manual has to allow for customization. Some people are born stubborn, moronic, deformed, slow; some are born defective as a human being. Cars off the assembly line have defects too. So, the manual of life, while generic has to account for some slight differences. But at the very least, it has to get the generic principles the same for every car and every person.

You are then faced with two questions: 1) Is your moral code at the generic level a guide to your life to meet your human maintenance requirements as a living thing, a fucking animal, a thinking animal, a musician, a producer, a scientist, a businessman? 2) How are you customizing your moral code for your individual customized purposes?

The first question is absolutely crucial to get right if the second is to have any chance of coming close to correct. The first question is independent of you; it is not a subjective thing. It’s universal to every human being on earth, past, present, future. The second question is just about you, right here, right now.

If you throw out all religions and their crappy moral codes, I’m with you. But you still need to know how to conduct your life to meet your needs. Is a good life simply a mere subsistence–a subsistence of 2000 calories a day, 2 liters of water, a vitamin pill, and three conjugal sessions a week in an enclosed space?That may be a fulfilling life generically for an ape, but not for a thinking man.

WHO is privileged to write the moral code for everyone? No God. No one. Everyone is responsibile for writing his own owner’s manual, but the basic manual he writes–before he customizes it–is the same as everyone else’s because he is a human being, not an ape or a dolphin or a crow.

And that is what ethics is about. Ethics is a science that deals with studying man (not chimps) to define a proper morality at the generic level. Ethics is a science, like physics and biology and chemistry, to test each principle and weigh each in accordance to a human maintenance requirement. Its goal, like the goal of physics, is truth. In this case, the truth is in the realm of human conduct, at the generic level, truth for all humans, whether in a religious society, a secular society, or in a jungle.

Morality is thus the product of this effort of ethical/scientific inquiry? If it is scientific, morality is about the discovery of facts of reality–facts about human beings and the how-to of living. Morality, scientifically speaking, isn’t about a convention by this or that society. Morality is an objective discovery of what is true universally, to guide you on what ought to be done. What is true for you morally is also true for me morally (with some limited degrees of optional customization). In short, morality is a code of values to guide individual human beings.

Everyone human being has one whether he acknowledges it or not. He doesn’t have to discover a morality; he can choose from among the many moral codes available. But whichever he chooses, he has to take the consequence. The wrong moral code will give him a miserable life.

This is the sense that a morality is inescapable. It’s the job of ethicists and, yes, religionists to discover and define morality. (Well, in the case of religionists, they don’t discover; they get high, hallucinate, and dream it up.) But the responsibility to validate and accept a moral code cannot be shirked by anyone. You have one life to live, you cannot afford to be wrong at this fundamental level.

What are the basic principles for guiding your own life? THAT is your morality, dude? “There is no God to guide man’s life.” That is definitely one moral principle arising from atheism–the conviction that there isn’t a supernatural entity. It does offer moral guidance. It helps you to eliminate in one sweep a whole bunch of false, religious moral codes from consideration; these are codes that can potentially ruin lives, foremost yours. But there is more to a moral code than to reject other moral codes. What are the positive moral principles? What should you–or any man–do with your life? Considering your customized conditions living in the 21st-century in Europe in some town, with some degrees of competence, having two arms, two legs, presumably single, good-looking, what are you to do with your life, not just at this moment but in the continuous span of life ahead of you? Consider all the self-help books out there in bookstores. Which ones embody the correct moral code to help you improve yourself? Consider all the jobs out there, which ones will enhance your potential as a human being? Consider all the potential mates out there; which ones to choose from? By looks, by intelligence, by moral codes? By religion–bypass that… By ambition? By popularity? To make any choice in life, you really need a moral code. You need moral principles you hope to be universally true, not subject to revision by fickled bureaucrats or the consensus of some majority in society.

Do you have a morality? Of course you do. The code of values guiding you–the moral principles–are they true? Surely some are. Obviously, you are succeeding somewhat. But a comprehensive owner’s manual tells you what you can gain and keep by doing certain activities, telling you generically what is the best in you and how to go about achieving it. Do you know what is the best in you? Are you striving for it?

Everybody has a morality, just as everyone has a right to his opinion. Ah, but opinions can be wrong, and morality can be false. You know for sure the religious morals are false. How sure you know about yours?

Wow, heavy reply!First of all, thank you Apple for the lengthy reply and for taking the time to actually write the thing. Also thanks for the interest in me.I am not certain why you got the impression that I am uncertain about my morality or that I have abandoned it altogether. I have not even started discussing what I think is moral or not.
Needless to say that I agree with the gist of what you write. Morality is like a guide of conduct but I do not see it as something as powerful as a way of life. The reason is that its rules can easily be broken, given enough of an incentive. It is not that the person will (necessarily) have a problem with his life if he does break them, but he may have a problem with his fellow humans.Thus a more apt analogy, to take you car example, would be the rules of the road which, like morality, have various levels of severity or importance. For example, passing a red light of a busy street is a big no-no, so it could be related to a big moral choice like killing another human being. And just like in morality, there are other rules that are less important, even down to the custom unwritten rules of each area. You even have a basic “generic guideline” for both which you use to align you common sense: In morality it’s the Golden Rule, while in driving it’s “to avoid hitting other vehicles, pedestrians, etc”.
Strangely enough, even though these rules were written by consensus and do make the roads safer, you can still see that there are areas of the world where driving in a completely “illegal” way is the right, as in driving on the left side of the road. Because it is only illegal for us. And while it may seem strange or dissorienting, it still works…Hell! I could even throw religion in my example and show how an irrational belief, let’s say, that the great car factory in the sky will not take you in the afterlife of blissful cruising if you do not always drive below 40kph. It may seem harmless or just annoying (at least for the unfortunate person behind you) but it is still irrational. And like religion, there is no limit to how dangerous those belief can be and what rules they ignore or set up.

I could even argue that if someone from another planet were to come here and observe our rules of the road he would find us absolutely bat-shit insanse. Not because the rules do not work, but because in his planet, failing contact with our idea of rules, they have created something completely different and incompatible. Perhaps it is because of the way their cars are manufactured or because of their environment but in general it is because when they were designed, they were lacking contact with our idea. Now were a human from earth to go to that planet with the strange cars and environment, and design a appropriate “rules of the law”, you can be certain that they would be quite similar to earth’s.

You may argue thus that only one set of rules is the truly right, because it is less prone to accidents or whatnot, and you might be correct but, barring gargantuan differences in the numbers of accidents, nobody would change it. Maybe modify it with ideas from the other and thus evolve, but not throw it away altogether. Because none of the are objectively correct.
So, I agree that it is commendable for Ethicists to try and find the correct set of morals but I do not know how useful it will be in the long run. What comes out, although (hopefully) better, will still be subjective and it will need a strong memetic attribute in order to spread and enter the norm. Nevertheless, what you are not considering is that these morals are still being considered by humans with their own subjective perspective which is firmly grounded in the western morality. They are not creating morals off the top of their head, but rather they are using their current idea or morality to try and find something better. It’s like forced evolution! What may take humans ages to agree as something ethical (as what happened with the woman’s suffrage), these people might discover now. But good luck convincing anyone to use it (Like trying to convince someone for the moral right of woman vote in the 10th century…). Not only that, but many moral values sometimes require a catalyst before they can even start to take root. In the same way that the abolition of slavery demanded an Industrial Revolution.

So, what I am doing Apple, is not throwing out morality altogether. Nor am I considering all moral values to be on the same scale, as Evanescent and Ergosum want to think of me *[1]. I still have a sense of right and wrong and the root of it comes from my upbringing. However my own, subjective sense has evolved to the point where I personally do not accept many of commonly accepted moral rules. I avoid doing those things which would create problems with the law for me, and I do not always express my more radical ideas (altough this is what I’m slowly trying to do through my blog) out of fear of ostracising but I still keep them, not because I am irrational, but because I have judged them in my own mind and my own reason to be right.

However -and this will answer your final question – I am aware that I am not objective here. I do not perform the hybris of the Objectivist to assume that because I consider something moral, it must be rational. If, during the course of the conversation, one of my moral values are challenged and I am shown where and why they fail, I will either modify it or discard it altogether. This is not something that a person who considers morals something “Objective” will be willing to do however. For to accept that something he considered “Objective” all his life to be false, wrong or plain irrational, would have unfortunate reprecursions on his view of the world. “Who was it that decided this objectivity of the value for me” he will think (Bear with me, I know I am caricaturing).
Was it reason? “But that would mean that I was unreasonable! Irrational! And this simply cannot be for I know myself to be rational. Thus you are wrong and my moral value must still be true. We’re just missing something.”
Was it God through the holy scripture? “But that would mean that God is not infallible or that the Bible is not his word and this cannot be! I based my whole life on these rules so it must be true. There must be something else we are not considering. Let me ask my preacher…”

We all know what happens when a theist just knows that a moral value in the scripture is wrong. Because he must accept that morality is objective and comes from God, he will form excuses in his mind for this apparent problem and then ignore it. That is why it is so hard to change the morality of a person who considers morality to be objective, even when those morals are shown to be wrong. I do not suffer from such a drawback.

[1] To tell you the truth, this is a bit disheartening, I wanted to believe that other “rational” atheists would not be so quick to jump to conclusions. Like a theist jumping to conclusions from the label “Atheist. But I digress…

7 thoughts on “Understanding of morality

  1. If I could identify but one word to amplify your understanding of what morality is, I would pinpoint it to a key understanding of “principles.”

    Rules are step-by-steps instructions, ways of life, do-this-and-then-do-that commands, all without further thinking on the part of the rule follower. Principles are generalizations that require continual thinking to particularize them into action. Crucially, whatever guidance that admits an exception is not a generalization. A rule that is sometimes broken, is not a generalization. If a counterexample can be discovered, it immediately invalidates the generalization. These are strict criteria underscoring the fact that principles are exceptionless generalizations.

    How does a scientist discover a scientific principle? How long does it take for other scientists to discover a counterexample? How much effort did it take Mendel to discover the principle of genetic inheritance? Didn’t it take several hundred years later for Watson and Crick and others to build on and establish the principles of biochemistry. Now apply the same intensity of effort and the vastness in elapsed time between the discovering of ethical principles about human maintenance.

    Implicit in the rules of the road, or rules of anything, is one oft-neglected question: who made them? Ethics deals with principles, not rules. Rules are man-made. Ethical principles, like physical laws, aren’t man-made (or alien-made). Mother Nature or the universe is not a consciousness, not a “who”, to decide on rules or principles. Rules are created; principles are to be discovered.

    Principles are exceptionless. “No ordinary matter in the universe (here or in the next galaxy) can travel faster than the speed of light in a vacuum.” It’s a discovered physical law, not a negotiated law. “Human beings are oxygen breathers.” That’s a discovered biological principle, not one reached by consensus among the elected. “There is no God to guide man’s life.” That’s a discovered moral principle that is exceptionless and nonegotiable. (If it did accept exceptions, miracles should happen. If it were negotiable, praying would work.) Don’t kid yourself on this matter. Principles to guide a human life are exceptionally rare to find. After all, there are six billion people that can potentially falsify any candidate principle. Find me a *living* person who doesn’t breath oxygen, and I will concede human beings can dispense with the “rule” about oxygen breathing.

    You may say that people will evolve one day to not need oxygen. Great. But so long as there are people who breath oxygen to live, the principles for human maintenance stay invariant and exceptionless for them, whether they know it or not, whether they acknowledge it or not.

    So the principle behind scientific principles is this: If you observe reality a lot, generalize, test, and keep on testing, look for counterexamples, integrate to what is already known, expand the context of knowledge–then, maybe, at last, a principle. The types of evidence for principles in biochemistry differ from those in ethics, but the method for discovering principles are the same.

    Ignorance of a principle is the real test of subjectivity. Millions of people don’t know that their bodies need vitamin C. “Humans should eat foods with vitamin C to prevent scurvy.” “Foods with vitamin C are good for humans.” “Human nutrition ought to include some vitamin C to preserve health.” These are moral principles, albeit only in the specific area of nutrition, which is a tiny aspect of physical health, which is only one part of general health, which is only one component of the good life. Are they subjective? Does ignorance absolve the ignorant from the consequence of contracting scurvy? No. That millions of them contract scurvy in today’s world is testament to the unbiased objectivity of exceptionless principles. Whether they know it or not, whether they accept it or not, whether they like it as a Western norm or not, the absence of vitamin C in them causes the presence of scurvy.

    Religionists write moral codes which are composed of rules and edicts from the alleged supernatural realm. So these rules are prone to exceptions. The Golden rule is a rule; it demands, nay, it commands a duty. Of course, some of these moral rules (for example, “don’t murder”) are sometimes correct in the same way that sometimes during the day stopped clock is correct. But they are rules nevertheless, because rule makers do not attempt to give an answer to the whys and wherefores; they seek agreement and consensus. They hide behind the consensus of the majority, of traditional upbringing, of the ways of the past; but they never answer why it is so. (Why should I not murder?) Behind a rule, there is also a rule enforcer, a human enforcer, to enforce obedience.

    True moral principles, on the other hand, are true because of the observed evidence and the underlying reasoning process involved in their integration. They are discoveries coming from science, not from divine negotiation or social legislation. Universally, moral principles, like all scientific principles, exemplify what knowledge is. So knowledge by consensus is a contradiction in terms. Principles are condensed knowledge of the workings of nature; and there is no need to posit a conscious enforcer, whether human or divine, in its workings.

    Therefore, because human beings are beings of nature, scientists-ethicists can study us as things in nature, thereby discovering moral principles for humans to live lives as human beings. Legitimate writers of moral code, ethicists, adhere to the principle of scientific principles. The resulting moral code, if true, cannot be conventional rules that carve exceptions for this group of humans or for that society or for that jungle of the world. Thus, moral principles, if they are to guide anybody, must be capable of guiding everybody.

    In the here and now, you are living your own private life. You, dude, are living it, not me, not anybody else. What principles guide you? What moral code have you accepted to help you decide and act? What principles or rules have you subconsciously absorbed from your upbringing, your European society? Are they correct in guiding you toward what is good for your life? Can you be sure what you think as good is really good? By what standard? By what moral code?

    Have yourself a good life, man!

  2. Apple, I still disagree with you. I do not accept that moral values can be defined as principles. Moral decisions can almost always have an exception that allows the acting person to break the generic rule. This is the reason thT moral dilemmas and paradoxes exist.
    Not only tha,t but it is not even as set in stone as breathing oxygen. No moral decision will kill you if you do not follow it. None! This is a fundamental difference from human necessities or laws of physics. A moral decision only has a good/bad value if someone (and that someone can include yourself) is there to witness it, or its results.

    “Human nutrition ought to include some vitamin C to preserve health.” These are moral principles…

    These are not moral principles, they are medical/health facts. Taking or not vitamin C is not a moral decision, it is a survival question. There is no morality included in this choice. Either you take it, or you don’t and get scurvy – No moral decision here. You are not an immoral person if you do not take vitamin C, just stupid or uninformed.
    You would, however, be an immoral person if you witheld vitamin C from other people in order to hoard it up for yourself. You could even face a moral dilema if you had a choice of fairly distributing vitamin c in a village or give it first to your family.
    Without the context of other people the taking of vitamin C is not a moral decision.

    True moral principles, on the other hand, are true because of the observed evidence and the underlying reasoning process involved in their integration…

    What I am trying to explain is that moral values do not have any evidence behind them. This is impossible. They cannot be discovered because they are strictly theoretical ideas. They do not have any material substance behind them in order to discover. In order for something to be discovered, it must exist beforehand and for that to happen moral values have to be something that existed as long as the universe has. They would be laws, like the laws of physics that demand obedience.
    They are not however, which is why you can ignore a moral rule, quite unlike the law of gravity.

    Therefore I reject the idea scientists can discover the moral laws that will allow us to “live as human beings”. They can perhaps make sociological studies and theorize some enhanced moral guidelines that if accepted by all would make life better for all but it is impossible to discover a “moral principle”. For the discovery of that principle would mean that all humans would be following it already, like breathing. You may wish that this kind of “true moral principles” can be discovered by ethicists but I wouldn’t hold my breath. There has been no such “true principle” discovered as of yet and nor will it be for morality is subjective and situational.

    In the here and now, you are living your own private life. You, dude, are living it, not me, not anybody else. What principles guide you? What moral code have you accepted to help you decide and act? What principles or rules have you subconsciously absorbed from your upbringing, your European society? Are they correct in guiding you toward what is good for your life? Can you be sure what you think as good is really good? By what standard? By what moral code?

    I do not have moral principles. The moral guidelines that I have accepted are a modified version of western morality, always subject to change depending on my improved understanding of life. I believe they are correct (notice the emphasis on “I”) or I would not be using them. But I can always be wrong. No I cannot be sure that what I think is good is really good but unless someone presents a compelling case on why it is not “good”, I see no reason to change it. Hell, I can even consider situations, where what I consider good now might not be good.
    The standard that I consider my morals good is my own subjective ideology which has its root in modern western morality.

    Have yourself a good life, man!

    I will attempt to. I hope we all manage it.

  3. Hm.. a lot of stuff to read and to roll around in mind.

    As far as I am concerned – objectivity has no degrees, thus is absolute. One can only reach it abolishing everything connecting him in any way to anything but distance. Not even ratio itself will do the thing in my opinion. Its not enough – one has to go further. Beyond logic. Beyond definition. And then it’s just harder to describe. But that’s a perspective thing, I guess..

    Sometimes it seemed to me that morality was the “lex anima” of the actions and thoughts, how you reflect upon that and how you feel results from it but no more than this. On the other hand, I do not necessarily link moral and ideology/codex. I am too much a patterns-person to apply it in general to me. It’s a little bit like the flexibility of the tao with the understanding of the circumstances for me.

    That’s not about it, but it is about now. 😉

  4. The science of nutrition tells you what IS vitamin C. The science of morality tells you whether you OUGHT to take vitamin C. “Good”, “should”, “ought” are moral terms. Try living anywhere without knowing the goods and the shoulds. Try living in a society without knowing whether you should take this job or that, live here or there, associate with this group or that, love this person or that. “Life” is a biological term. “A good life” is a moral term.

    Moral paradoxes arise in ethics because the principle of scientific principles aren’t being adhered to properly. Just as there are quack scientists, there are quack ethicists/moralists. All religionists are by definition scientific quacks, but some ethicists are also scientific quacks. They give you moral paradoxes. (This post, if you can stand to look beyond the personal, addresses the topic.)

    Recall that ethicists and religionists write moral codes. Thanks to atheism, you have a delimited moral principle to reject moral codes written by religionists. (Religious moral codes are rules-based and are dreamed up, and neither principles-based nor discovered.) But some ethicists also come out with moral codes having no moral principles; they tell you, as a matter of principle, moral principles don’t exist. Are these ethicists quacks or not? Are they following the principle of scientific principles? This becomes your area of responsibility. In this particular division of labor, while ethicists are responsible for discovering and defining moral codes, you (in fact, everyone of us) are responsible for validating for yourself whether their moral teachings are true before accepting them.

    So every man has accepted a moral code. How he comes to that code depends on how rigorous his validation process. Has he accepted religion? Has he accepted astrology instead of astronomy? Is his morality a plagiarized copy of Western norms? Did he copy the norms without thinking? Or did he validate every line of code himself?

    Life requires an owner’s manual for successful living: a moral code for choosing and acting. If so, here is your real dilemma: Either moral principles don’t exist or they do. If scientific moral principles don’t exist, then none can ever be discovered, and there is no universal moral code for living as a human being. But if moral principles do exist, then they can be discovered and defined by ethicists, and there is a moral code applicable to every human being to guide him toward a good life.

    Morality is either rules-based or principles-based. Rules are made up, dreamed up, voted up, forced up. Principles are discoveries from observing people living their lives: the evidence of happy lives, tragic lives, long lives, short lives, lives of luxury, lives of poverty, lives of freedom, lives of slavery, lives of friendship, lives of loneliness, lives in society, lives in the jungle.

    If moral principles don’t exist, then morality is never principles-based and can only be based on exception-laden rules. But if they do exist, then a morality that is true for everyone can be discovered. If they do exist, an owner’s manual for humans can be discovered.

    Religionists are pessimists of this life. They tell you to look forward to the next. Atheists have a negative principle to reject all moral codes that are religion-based. But religion-based moral codes don’t exhaust the variety of rules-based moral codes. So, in the end, some atheists accept that which amounts to the same pessimistic view of this life: that man cannot act with integrity on moral principles, that no principle can guide him, that a man of principle is an oxymoron, that this social situation requires five rules and two exceptions but that social situation requires seven rules and four exceptions, that there are 11 rules to date singles but 15 to date divorcées with children, that these rules apply to whites only or to men only or to singles only or rich folk only, that the rules are all conventions and are subject to change.

    But what if it is possible to be optimists of this life? Only if moral principles exist. The moral optimists are those who are confident that while human beings may be born without an owner’s manual, they can, through the science of ethics, come to discover it. Is there cause for optimism about this life, the one irreplaceable life that is yours?

    That’s the real dilemma.

  5. The science of morality tells you whether you OUGHT to take vitamin C. “Good”, “should”, “ought” are moral terms.

    The fact that you can word your sentence in this way does not make it true. Language does not define reality, it’s the other way around.
    In the same sense, I could say that “you ought to eat” or “you should breathe” but these still would not be moral choices. Scurvy invariably leads to death thus taking vitamin C falls into the same category as any other survival choice. I already explain what would constitute a moral choice when vitamin C is concerned. Do you dissagree?

    Try living in a society without knowing whether you should take this job or that, live here or there, associate with this group or that, love this person or that. “Life” is a biological term. “A good life” is a moral term.

    Exactly! You need a society before you can even contemplate morality. This is what I was trying to explain to Ergosum before. Furthermore. a “good life” is, of course, something absolutely subjective since everyone of us, find his own way to achieve this “good life”. There is no objective path that everyone can follow to have a good life. Such a belief would borders on religion.

    Moral paradoxes arise in ethics because the principle of scientific principles aren’t being adhered to properly. Just as there are quack scientists, there are quack ethicists/moralists. All religionists are by definition scientific quacks, but some ethicists are also scientific quacks. They give you moral paradoxes.

    That is your belief.Has there ever been a moral value that’s been found through proper scientific principles and thus unaffected by moral dillemas? If not, can you think why? If yes, can you give me an example?

    (This post, if you can stand to look beyond the personal, addresses the topic.)

    Unfortunately I do not care to read what Ergosum has to say on anything on this matter. Not because he is invariably wrong but because if I have any objections or arguments then he is not prepared to listen. For a more detailed explanation just look at his response to your comment…

    This becomes your area of responsibility. In this particular division of labor, while ethicists are responsible for discovering and defining moral codes, you (in fact, everyone of us) are responsible for validating for yourself whether their moral teachings are true before accepting them.

    No. This is exactly why ethics is not compatible with the scientific method. Whereas a discovery via the scientific method is impossible to refute or invalidate in any case, when the data is correct that is; in ethics, according to you at least, the results are subject to the recipient’s approval. This just means that ethics does not discover morals via the scientific method. Of course this is obvious for me, for there is nothing to discover as I argued in my previous comment.

    A correct way to decide on your morality is realize that it is subjective, to keep it open and amendable. Then critisize everything before you accept them as moral or not. You should be validating every “line of code” yourself or else you risk falling into a mentality where you accept the “objective” results of “experts” (read: ethicists) without question. In the old days, the experts where the priests, you shouldn’t just replace one false expert with another. Since then you are validating what is “objective” it is obvious that it is not objective at all or else it would not be subject to validation.
    Now, I know what you are going to argue as an Objectivist: That a rational person would always reach the same conclusion and thus if all were thinking rationaly then the truly objective moral principles would be accepted and the wrong ones discarded. Before you say that though, consider that not all people consider the rationale of Objectivists correct and even reason itself is subjective. (And please, for the love of of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, I do not want to deal with any circular arguments today…)

    Life requires an owner’s manual for successful living: a moral code for choosing and acting. If so, here is your real dilemma: Either moral principles don’t exist or they do. If scientific moral principles don’t exist, then none can ever be discovered, and there is no universal moral code for living as a human being. But if moral principles do exist, then they can be discovered and defined by ethicists, and there is a moral code applicable to every human being to guide him toward a good life.

    Exactly! This is what I’ve been trying to say all along. Moral principles do not exist. They cannot be discovered. You are just being wishful here. I agree, it would be grand if there were objective moral principles that everyone could blindly follow to lead a good and happy life. It would also be grand if a true benevolent and all-powerful god existed that protected and cared for us. Unfortunately he doesn’t, in the same way that they don’t. Wishing it does not make it so…
    Find your own moral code that leads you to a good life, that is all you can do.

    Morality IS rules based. These rules are arbitary but succesful in an evolutionary way. You can of course make sociological studies and try to develop/theorize new and improved moral values but they will be still subjective. The reason for this is that your new theorems will invariably be based on your previous moral values and you subjective look on the situation.
    The only objective thing that you can find is the optimal moral choice for any given situation, that will lead to the best results for the individuals concerned. However you can never take into consideration all possible situations and thus make a moral principle that has everything covered and thus you need generic guidelines that “usually” are correct. Thus morality.

    Atheists have a negative principle to reject all moral codes that are religion-based.

    This statement is patently incorrect. If you do this then you are wrong. You should not reject a moral code just because it is religion-based. After all even religions have been known to get at least some things right. No, you should judge and critisize this moral code and accept or reject it on its own merits.

    o, in the end, some atheists accept that which amounts to the same pessimistic view of this life: that man cannot act with integrity on moral principles, that no principle can guide him, that a man of principle is an oxymoron

    Once again this sound like something a theist would say. I can argue that “some” objectivists do something. “Some” atheists are also paranoid sociopaths, so what? We can only discuss what an individual should be doing, not what an individual that is looking at this the wrong way is probably doing.
    In this sense I can only talk for my self when I say that I am an extemely optimistic person in the majority of the situations. I also consider morality subjective, go figure…

    There is a cause for optimism in this life. I have found mine and so can you.

  6. FO, I can see that you found me through Ergo’s blog where you are having a discussion for some months. Welcome and beware of antagonizing him too much 😛

  7. One issue that both comment and response ignore is that morality must be a social construct — just like rules of the road, whether on the right or the left, must be agreed to by the entire community, to function. Rules cannot be judged in isolation for one individual as being right or wrong — because this depends on the social norms which prevail within the community. This leads to larger issues such as: among vastly different possible social norms which all function, which should we choose for our society? If we find the optimal one to be different from the one prevailing in our society, should we (i) try to change society, (ii) drop out of society, (ii) find like minded individuals to form a utopia separate from the dominant culture. Atheists have only one chance to live. They cannot trust the heritage of knowledge left by deluded individuals and must solve all of the biggest problems that humans have faced within a tiny lifetime starting from scratch.

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