Friday, April 14, 2006

Morality: Is it Different from Everything Else? Many Atheists Think So.

Dear Atheist,

You like facts and science, don't you? When determining the truth of a situation, we must use reason, and reason means using facts. So far, I know you agree with me.

I know you agree with me, because I know that you use facts and information to determine whether or not certain unnamed deities exist or existed. If the facts don't present themselves, you don't allow yourself to believe, or, if you are bolder, you say you are pretty sure they don't exist.

Say you want to buy a new house. This is a very important decision that will affect you life, and the lives of your family. You must decide whether you can afford this house by knowing the facts about your income and credit. You must decide which house to buy, based on facts like location, size, repair, number of rooms, and value. Because this decision affects your and you family's life, the decisions involved in buying this house are moral decisions.

But you balk, because I just said "moral." There's nothing that gets me into tiffs with other atheists more than when I use the term "objective morality," for the sole reason that I say morality is based on facts.

It seems really weird to me that this one issue is a deal-breaker for you. It's almost as if you think that morality either should be left to religion, or that there just isn't any such thing, or morality is only decided through a kind of democracy within some ethnic group. That's the part that gets me. An atheist should be the absolute last person to claim that democracy can ever determine the truth of anything. After all, just because there are a billion Christians doesn't mean Christianity is true. (And if you say "it's true for them," you're not allowed to participate. Just go into the corner, suck your thumb and replay The Matrix in your mind.)

But you still do it, because "morality is different." Morality is only about opinion, and tradition, unlike every single other thing in the universe. Morality is special.........


I think I know why this emotional reaction comes out in most atheists to the point where they are no longer able to reason about this, only rationalize. It's because of religion. You managed to reject most everything from religion, except you still believe them about morality. They say their religion is objective, and you say it is not. You would be right of course. Christian theory about morality is totally wrong in that it is totally subjective. Any individual Christian, though, would be nuts to base his morality on the subjectivity of a belief in this deity. If he based his moral decisions on facts, and most of them do anyway, while pretending it's God, he'll be moving toward a better decision. You should know better than anyone that making any decision disregarding facts and relying solely on belief and culture is foolish. But I hear you all the time saying "it's good to them, it's better for them."

It's only better for them if their government is holding a gun to their heads if they don't make fake decisions based on their culture. At that point, the only morality involved is survival. Which is still a moral decision based on fact now, isn't it?

You don't like me saying that morality is objective, because you think it means that I think I can impose "my values" on you. That there is One Standard, like God, that gets imposed on everything. "That's just not right!" I hear you saying. But you must know, as an atheist, that the standard is inescapable. It's called the laws of nature. If you think you can escape those, even with what you think are fuzzy moral decisions, you shouldn't be an atheist. Because no matter how fuzzy you think morality is, even if you think it's some kind of floating ghost in the universe, even if you think it doesn't exist, causality, sure as gravity, does.

The thing is, I know you make most of your decisions based upon the facts in the situation, and the fact of your own values. Your values tell you why you make decisions, and the facts inform them. However, values are evaluated by facts. If the value is faith, you would be the first to evaluate that value--through facts. Your morality is not some dream or wish based on the colour of your skin, or how spicy your momma's food is. Your morality is a science. So get with the program and be honest with yourself. After all, if it's "good" for a certain culture to kill all atheists, then you should by all means surrender--unless you want to go ahead and evaluate their "moral decision" based on facts.

For more on this, visit my husband's blog at Goosing The Antithesis.


Simon said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Francois Tremblay said...

You didn't read the entry, did you ?

By the way, why the hell would you think that "Hellbound Alleee" is not an atheist ?

Simon said...

I guess I was confused by "Dear atheist". Or maybe I'm just stupid.

Adi said...

I'm interested to know what your definition of morality is. In your example about the decision to purchase a house what is infered is not 'morality,' but 'aesthetics.' Morality relates to behaviour in the context of other people. The decision to wear a blue sweater, to buy a certain kind of car, or to behave in a certain way within a personal environment is not moral, but the decision to respect the property of others is.

Or am I looking at it wrong?

Hellbound Alleee said...

You didn`t read it correctly. Although I disagree with you about morality being only about behavior with others, I said that buying a home affects your life and the lives of your family.

If you make moral decisions based solely on a belief system BELIEVED to be BELIEVED in by an imaginary group of individuals, you're either insane or crazy, or both.

Morality: the study of causality as it applies to human behavior.

Now read the post again, and think about how you make decisions every day. Decisions that always affect your life. Just throw out anything you assume to be aesthetic. Now, evaluate your choices. How do you make one, just one decision without taking into account facts?

Now lets get back to this business about morality only being about interacting with others. Whatever would make you say such a thing (I know, culture)? If you nmake a decision that does not affect others, do you not have to live with the results of that decision yourself? How about, say, maintaining your health? That's called a value. Something you must work to keep. Even if you never talk to another person, if you value anything in your life, you must value some kind of health. These and other values are weighed when making what you might think of as solely "aesthietic" decisions. But they're not. How do aesthetic decisions not affect your well-being? Of course they do.
We cannot ignore (even though I see it ignored every damned day) the fact that we can evaluate these beliefs and come to moral judgements against the supposed values of the culture we identify with. We can only evaluate a proposed value of a culture, though, because we cannot show or prove that any such thing called a "culture" possesses such a moral. We can't define culture, and we know that popularity does not define truth. And, as modern people, no one can claim one culture--that doesn't contradict the claimed "values" of another.

You asked for it.

Adi said...

Ok, can we say that the person that does not watch over his health to be immoral?

I'm saying aesthetics in the general sense of human prefferences. While we can say there are ways to value objects, the "appealing" factor cannot be placed precisely within objective constraints.

Don't make assumptions beyond the meaning of my words. I'm not saying anything about culure.

Hellbound Alleee said...

OK, so you would or would not concede that a house has value over "appeal?" (Which is a value in itself.) Would you buy a house for no reason, other than a belief?

Of course people have values that are unreasonable. That doesn't matter. We still evaluate them on the basis of fact. A person who buys a house based on a feeling that is not evaluated will probably lose his shirt and maybe his family.

If you are not saying anything about culture, that's good. But I was responding to the person who deleted his post.

A person who neglects his teeth will lose his teeth. This is how we use facts to evaluate actions. There is no opinion that matters in this case. Human teeth are really crappy things and must be treated with care. But if you're talking about how much time he spends flossing, that's based on his values. More facts: is having perfect teeth important to furthering his values? If he does not take into account these facts, he cannot make good decisions relevant to his life.

Adi said...

If an action pertains to morality, then we can asess the moral nature of the person performing it. If a person performs an immoral act, then that person is immoral. Is a person immoral for not treating his teeth with care?

I'd say a house has value to the extent that people value it. People might value other things, such as shelter, warmth, furniture, walls... and that goes into the equation of buying a house. But again, people value shelter because they don't want to be hit by rain, wind, sun or cold weather. Things can go on in a kind of recurrent fashion towards a few basic desires: to live and to be happy. But there are different ways to achieve those, so that's where I think prefferences come in.

Hellbound Alleee said...

"If an action pertains to morality, then we can asess the moral nature of the person performing it. If a person performs an immoral act, then that person is immoral. Is a person immoral for not treating his teeth with care?"

You started getting it, but then you lost it. You're stuck on people "being immoral." No, it doen't work quite like that. You said "if a person performs an immoral act, then that person is immoral." Well, you've got yourself a problem there. See, that person most likely has also performed a moral act--probably 99% moral acts. So that makes him moral. Morality, as I stated before (you forgot) is the study of causality as it relates to human action. Think about that a little more.

As far as the house goes, yes. You're getting it. There are different ways to achieve these values than by buying a house. This is why we use morality along with our values. You're definitely getting it. You can call them preferences, but you'd be hard-pressed to make a major life decision involving your loved-ones based on unfounded belief. If you're trying to show me how you can't make better moral choices about this based on fact, you're not doing a very good job.

By the way, just what is your position? If you're saying morality is relative, but not culturally relative, what are you basing it on, or do you even think it exists? Where does it come from? I know my answer, and it ain't belief or culture.

Cai said...

Perhaps I've misinterpreted what you've said...

If Mr. Christian says "It's wrong to kill, because God says so and God is always right", then that's a statement of objectivity: If killing is wrong, then it's Wrong (with a capital W) for everyone regardless of their frame of reference or personal views. If someone kills and thinks it's ok, they're mistaken: It's Wrong. This Christian may or may not be correct, however: perhaps God did say that, perhaps God is always right, or on the other hand perhaps he doesn't even exist. But whether the believer is right or wrong, he claims to make a statement which is objective: It's either true or false. Personal opinion doesn't come into it. Incidentally, it's not a very useful statement, as it contains very few peer-reviewed facts, but that's besides the point.

If Ms. Atheist then goes and says "Stabbing someone to death is wrong because killing goes against my particular desires-set", then that is surely a statement of subjectivity: True, there are some facts in there: Stabbing to death is an example of killing, killing goes against Ms. Atheists' desire-set; but the morality bit, the " wrong..." bit is surely not a statement of objectivity: If someone else says: "stabbing to death is justified in some circumstances, this is in accordance with MY personal desires set" then you'll notice that even though they disagree with Ms. Atheist, it's not a case where only one of them can be right. Why? Because desire-sets are inherently personal things. In other words, they're subjective. They're not 'either right or wrong', they're just a statement of personal preferences. Call those values if you want.

It's clear that most members of a particular culture will have similar desire-sets, that's kinda what "culture" means. There's nothing more or less subjective or objective about this: these people are drawn together because of their common desires, and because desires are prescriptive (because people like to preach, and other people like not to think for themselves).

It's not that democracy determines the truth of anything, it's just that people on the whole don't like to go to jail, but don't want the bother of a revolution.

In other words, because desire-sets aren't open to dispute, they're not objective, and so any kind of "morality" that an atheist may or may not have must be purely subjective.

i.e. relativism.

Hellbound Alleee said...

If Mr. Christian says "It's wrong to kill, because God says so and God is always right", then that's a statement of objectivity:

No. I don't know if I should go on, because you've got it mixed up. The Christian idea of morality is completely subjective. In this case, it's subject to God. At this point, my answering the rest of your post is meaningless, if it's based on this statement.

Besides, we're not using the terms objective and subjective. We're saying that morality is based on the facts of the world, not on someone's say0so or belief. If you make your decisions based on your circumstances, you're making them based on the facts of your circumstances.

I see from your post that, like other people, you've confused what we're saying with absolutism. I am not a moral absolutist. For morality to be...ahem...objective it doesn't (shouldn't) be absolute.

Do you understand?

1. Christian morality is subject to God.
2.Morality based on fact is neither absolute or subjective.

Cai said...

Ah, ok. If you consider a god to be a subject, then I guess the Christians are also subjective.

But the thing with facts is that they're true or they're not true. Gravity is a fact, causality is a fact and they're both true. The earth is flat is not a fact but it's a statement of fact (for lack of a better phrase) which happens to be false. If someone says "the earth is flat", they're just wrong. If someone says "the earth is spherical", they're just right (give or take a mountain).


But if someone says "the earth is nice" (or "killing is wrong", or "I should act to please my family and friends") then they're not right or wrong, because they are based on a desire-set.

Desire-sets are subjective, are they not?

Also, I think perhaps I'm not understanding the differences between "objective" and "absolutist".

Surely they both refer to the nature of something as being either right or wrong, independent of peoples' set and setting?

So sure, my morality is based on some facts (like "stabbing is an example of violence" and "if I don't feed my cat, it'll die"), but the really important bit of it is my own personal preferences, which are no more objective than my preferenecs of ice-cream flavour.

So my morals certainly aren't absolutist, but I don't think they're objective either. Otherwise, how could people disagree with me without being wrong?

Hellbound Alleee said...

You have preferences based on belief? So you can make judgements on your values based on fact. When you talk about your preferences, you're talking about your values. Who said values couldn't be irrational? Evaluate your values based on fact. Are they rational or irrational? The process is called morality.

"Otherwise, how could people disagree with me without being wrong?"

They can if you are misatken, or they are mistaken.

Hellbound Alleee said...

Christian morality is subjective because God is supposed to be the first cause. Therefore, morality is based on his whims. For God to be objective, the morality he made up (lists of "don'ts" is not morality), he has to base his morality on something that already existed before him.

Cai said...

I agree about the Christian part.

But here's my problem:

Person A: "Chocolate icecream is the best kind of icecream."
Person B: "No, Pistachio icecream is the best kind."

That's exactly how my morals work. They're based on my personal preferences (values, morals, whatever you want to call them).

And in this case, which is the wrong one? Neither, because neither claims to make a statement of fact (even if it sounds like it). You'd have to be incredibly naive or incredibly arrogant to think that chocolate was the best, just because you liked it the most.

When I evaluate the above 'morals' (or whatever), there is very little rationality.

That's not to say that there's never any rationality: my vegetarianism is grounded in a lot of rationality, but at its base, is just my belief that I don't like to see sentient creatures killed for fun or profit. There's more rationality on top of that, but the rationality is objective (absolute) and open to dispute, whereas my own preference is not. Unless I'm mistaken about my own preferences, which I doubt.

So: my morals are neither derived from experience ("the sky is blue") or first principals ("2+2=4"), and while it may have some reasoning and facts in there, it also contains a kernel of arbitrary preference.

Subjective arbitrary preference, so far as I can see...

Francois Tremblay said...

"Person A: "Chocolate icecream is the best kind of icecream."
Person B: "No, Pistachio icecream is the best kind.""

Choice of ice cream flavour is not a moral issue, unless there is one that you particularly like or are allergic to, or somesuch exception. It's a very bad example. Try to use an example such as "buying a car", where facts are highly relevant.

Cai said...

Okay, fine. My point was, though, that no matter how much reasoning and how many facts you may use to arrive at some "morals", you must start with some arbitrary set of desires; be that "Survival, Inquiry, Sophistication" or "chocolate, vanilla, grapefruit", it still is not open to dispute and still varies from person to person. I call that subjective. Maybe I'm wrong.

Using an example with lots and lots of facts and reasoning just clouds up what I think is the fundamental issue here. Because almost everything about a car is objective and open to dispute (by that I mean, it's possible to be right or wrong about it) it partially disguises the fact that there is at the core of the matter just a set of desires which is not based on facts or logic. Call them "desires", "preferences", "values", "morals", whatever.

You say "Choice of ice cream flavour is not a moral issue", but what is the fundamental difference between "I prefer mango to rum and rasin" and "I don't want AC because it's bad for the environment, and things which are bad for the environment cause innocent beings to suffer, and I prefer that innocent beings don't suffer"? They're both just preferences. One has more facts and reasoning in, and sounds more important, but I don't see a fundamental difference.

Francois Tremblay said...

"you must start with some arbitrary set of desires; be that "Survival, Inquiry, Sophistication""

No, you don't have to.

"Using an example with lots and lots of facts and reasoning just clouds up what I think is the fundamental issue here."

Facts and reasoning are the fundamental issue in any other area of life. To claim this about morality is therefore hypocrite.

"You say "Choice of ice cream flavour is not a moral issue", but what is the fundamental difference between "I prefer mango to rum and rasin" and "I don't want AC because it's bad for the environment, and things which are bad for the environment cause innocent beings to suffer, and I prefer that innocent beings don't suffer"? They're both just preferences."

Wrong. Both have to do with facts. Of course, in the second case, you're wrong, but they are both matters of facts. Even your "preference" of ice cream is a mental fact. To deny facts in any moral choice is to deny reality.

Cai said...

I disagree. There's a good reason why you don't find these "values" in encyclopaedias and peer-reviewed journals: though they do have facts and reasoning, they do also have the arbitrary preference bit too.

Seriously: you show me a value which is derived entirely from experience or first principals, and I'll agree that I'm wrong.

I think you may have misunderstood my second point:

"Cai likes cranberry icecream best of all" is a statement of fact. It's easy to tell if it's true or not: just ask me.
"You shouldn't strangle because killing is wrong" isn't a statement of fact: you can't show me some evidence which either supports or contradicts this. This is because the "...killing is wrong" bit is subjective (so far as I can see).

I guess I am saying that morals are different to other things. But that's not me claiming that they're somehow mysterious or untouchable; only that "morals" is a word used to describe those things which are based on preferences.

Clearly there are preferences.
Clearly there are "things" which are based on preferences, with the addition of facts and logic.
I call these things "morals" (or whatever).
I reckon that when you also talk about "morals", you're in-fact talking about the same thing that I am.
Therefore, if you try to take these morals, and deny the "preference" bit of them, I'm going to say you're wrong.

You're wrong.

Hellbound Alleee said...


Read this. Please. I`m tired of repeating myself at this hour.

The Morality Disconnect

Go comment there for awhile--this post has dropped off anyway.

Special Pleader.

The Peer said...

Interesting discussion.

I've been thinking about exactly what morality is, lately, and I posted this
about it.

Sean said...

Morality is obviously fact-based. I don't know what atheists you've been talking to...

The Celtic Chimp said...

Hi there Hellbound,

Buying a house is not a moral decision. Causality has absolutely nothing to do with morality. Before even attempting to refute you arguments I would suggest that you are confused about what morality is. If you want to take the view that simple causality relates in any way to morality, you are including an absurd number of actions into the realm of moral behaviour.

Consider this example.
You park your car on a hill and get out. The car rolls down the hill and kills someone. You had forgotten to engage the hand brake (not sure what this is called in the states - parking brake or something). You have caused the death of a person. Was you action moral? Were you evil to forget? Most people would view this as a tragic accident. At worst you were neglegent. Hardly a morally bad act though.

If on the other hand, you deliberately did not engage the hand brake becasue you wanted to kill the person. Does this alter the morality involved? Most people would say this was a morally reprehensible act. An evil act, if you like.

Causality is irrelevant.

As to moral fact. Who decides these facts? what scientific method are you using to determine if an action was good or bad? It seems self evident to me that morality is relative. I have posted on the topic recently, drop by and weigh in.

The Celtic Chimp said...

Oh also,

Morality is very far from being the only concept to exist in the realm of the subjective.

Taste, fashion, beauty etc. are all entirely subjective concepts.