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For an atheist, are there any sure reasons to be ethical?

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Jackwhitlocke_005

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For an atheist, are there any sure reasons to be ethical?

Post Number:#1  PostMay 1st, 2012, 9:35 pm

I am an atheist and I can think of no irrefutable reason to be ethical. This is, of course, a bit distressing. What are your thoughts about ethics and atheism? Is there any proof that suggests humans should act ethically? And can you recommend any books written by atheists on ethics?

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Gareth

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Re: For an atheist, are there any sure reasons to be ethical

Post Number:#2  PostMay 1st, 2012, 9:57 pm

There are many ethical theories

One should be good to make people happy; one should do good because it is ones duty etc.

Doing good so that you get a reward or avoid punishment is not imho ethical but rather prudential, so I throw the question back to you, would it be possible for you to be ethical if you were anything other than an atheist?
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Scott

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Re: For an atheist, are there any sure reasons to be ethical

Post Number:#3  PostMay 2nd, 2012, 9:25 pm

Jackwhitlocke_005, what do you mean by the word ethical? What do you mean by the word should? As you use the term in the context of your original post, what would be the difference in meaning between saying, 'I am doing X,' 'I should be doing X,' or between saying, 'I will do X,' I should do X'?

What would be the difference in meaning between saying 'I believe I will not do X,' as opposed to saying, 'I believe it would be unethical for me to do X'?

I am fine using these terms if you define them and then I know what you mean. But I personally avoid them when I can and almost always find them too vague, equivocal and ill-defined to understand when other people use them without explicitly defining them -- for the reasons explained in my topics: The Clarity of Amorality and What Moral Terms Can Mean.

If either in raw definition or ultimate effect, whatever is meant by ethical or moral terms like should refers to one acting compassionately, then in regards to the god topic I also wrote one of my most popular blog post 6 years ago about that topic: A Monopoly on Philanthropy
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Re: For an atheist, are there any sure reasons to be ethical

Post Number:#4  PostMay 2nd, 2012, 10:07 pm

Jack,

Read Derek Parfit's new book "On What Matters" and don't let Scott's bleak (and perhaps unreasonable) view scare you.
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Re: For an atheist, are there any sure reasons to be ethical

Post Number:#5  PostMay 3rd, 2012, 3:47 am

If you're an atheist there is no sure reason to be ethical, then again if you are religious there's no sure reason to be ethical.
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Re: For an atheist, are there any sure reasons to be ethical

Post Number:#6  PostMay 3rd, 2012, 4:19 am

Grendel wrote:If you're an atheist there is no sure reason to be ethical, then again if you are religious there's no sure reason to be ethical.


What do you mean no sure reason?
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Re: For an atheist, are there any sure reasons to be ethical

Post Number:#7  PostMay 3rd, 2012, 5:15 am

For an atheist the reasons for morality are that man is a social animal, and mores are how people get on with other people and with their natural environments.

The causes of man's being a social animal are evolutionary and are probably ultimately caused by the geography and climate of wherever the particular group first evolved as a distinct species.

Ethics are the standardised formulations of mores.
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Re: For an atheist, are there any sure reasons to be ethical

Post Number:#8  PostMay 3rd, 2012, 6:04 am

Bigstew wrote:
Grendel wrote:If you're an atheist there is no sure reason to be ethical, then again if you are religious there's no sure reason to be ethical.


What do you mean no sure reason?



The OP uses sure reason in the title nd irrefutable reason in the body. I am meaning it in his context.
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Re: For an atheist, are there any sure reasons to be ethical

Post Number:#9  PostMay 3rd, 2012, 6:16 pm

Jackwhitlocke_005 wrote:And can you recommend any books written by atheists on ethics?


Practical Ethics by Peter Singer. It contains a chapter on "why live ethically", it's not completely convincing but it's a start, and the rest of the book is great. There's a third edition that just recently came out.

Reasons and Persons by Derek Parfit would be my second recommendation.

Maybe the concept of "personal identity" is flawed, there are arguments suggesting that it might be no more rational to care about your future self than to care about someone else's future self. Imagine you're killed, and at the same time reassembled molecule-by-molecule somewhere else, but not once but twice. If you know in advance that this is going to happen, and if you can make decisions that will affect the happiness of the two clones of you, should you care about them both equally, as if they were both you? But only *one* will be you, at least from their perspective. It seems that if you split the happiness available to distribute to the two instead of giving it all to one of the two clones, then you might as well split happiness among strangers and care about all sentience in the universe. Or care about nothing but the very moment you exist in, only the current stream of consciousness. Either stream egoism or open individualism.

If the chance that the above argument makes sense is only 0.1%, it would seem to be the rational choice to become a hardcore utilitarian.

Bigstew wrote:Jack,

Read Derek Parfit's new book "On What Matters" and don't let Scott's bleak (and perhaps unreasonable) view scare you.


Bigstew, have you read it? It's really thick... I've been meaning to check it out but I haven't gotten to it. What's the general direction his arguments are going?
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Re: For an atheist, are there any sure reasons to be ethical

Post Number:#10  PostMay 7th, 2012, 2:55 pm

I have given this question some thought. I am not an atheist. I think that this question is a good one and it naturally should come up in one’s mind as an overall argument against atheism. Without a God to provide a foundation for morality ethics and to form a basis for principles of goodness there would be no reason to be ethical or moral. A society with the idea of atheism as a foundational construct will surely collapse. Without a God there is no afterlife and then correspondingly there is no reckoning. This ultimately would cause chaos in our society.
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Re: For an atheist, are there any sure reasons to be ethical

Post Number:#11  PostMay 7th, 2012, 3:02 pm

I'm frightened by the thought of people whose only reason for behaving kindly and compassionately or whatever is meant by "ethically" because they believe they are being coerced or bribed as such by some magical god-like creature such as by being threatened with hell and heaven. Indeed, a society made up of such people would constantly be on the brink of collapse with these only-kind-under-perceived-supernatural-duress apparently ready to abandon charity and take up raping and murdering and such as soon as they doubt their religion. I'd feel much safer in an atheist society which presumably be a lot more stable in terms of kind and charitable behavior and self-control against agreeably nasty things rape, murder and general unkindness and hate.
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Re: For an atheist, are there any sure reasons to be ethical

Post Number:#12  PostMay 7th, 2012, 5:09 pm

Wowbagger wrote:
Bigstew wrote:Jack,

Read Derek Parfit's new book "On What Matters" and don't let Scott's bleak (and perhaps unreasonable) view scare you.


Bigstew, have you read it? It's really thick... I've been meaning to check it out but I haven't gotten to it. What's the general direction his arguments are going?


Yeah I've been working my way through the first book and referring to the second book. It is probably one of the best philosophy books I've read in a long time- thanks to Parfit's clear analysis and prose. His writing on reasons and how they function is very informative.

The general argument in the book is:

(1) we should accept an object based (as opposed to desire based) theory of value (2) we shoud accept an objective theory of normativity (as opposed to subjective theories) (3) normative concepts are non-natural (as opposed to natural)

If you're interested Wowbagger, we should get a reading group started on it.
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Re: For an atheist, are there any sure reasons to be ethical

Post Number:#13  PostMay 7th, 2012, 7:38 pm

Bigstew wrote:Yeah I've been working my way through the first book and referring to the second book. It is probably one of the best philosophy books I've read in a long time- thanks to Parfit's clear analysis and prose. His writing on reasons and how they function is very informative.


Exactly, I like when people write clearly and notice what the crucial problems / assumptions etc. come down to.

An object based theory of value? I'm curious to check it out.

Bigstew wrote:If you're interested Wowbagger, we should get a reading group started on it.


I am interested, but I'd have to read the first one first, and that would take some time since I'm quite busy with uni and utiltiarian stuff.

Mmfiore wrote:I have given this question some thought. I am not an atheist. I think that this question is a good one and it naturally should come up in one’s mind as an overall argument against atheism. Without a God to provide a foundation for morality ethics and to form a basis for principles of goodness there would be no reason to be ethical or moral. A society with the idea of atheism as a foundational construct will surely collapse. Without a God there is no afterlife and then correspondingly there is no reckoning. This ultimately would cause chaos in our society.


"x is comforting" isn't the same as "x is true". Likewise, just because an idea would have bad consequences doesn't mean it's wrong. Actually, the opposite is often the case, humans have a tendency to wishful-thinking, so we should calibrate our beliefs accordingly.
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Re: For an atheist, are there any sure reasons to be ethical

Post Number:#14  PostMay 7th, 2012, 9:24 pm

For me, the idea that there isn't or may not be a "god" does not factor into ethics.

In my experience I have learned that it's generally wrong to hurt others, prevent them from living their lives unmolested or unduly take advantage of them. It's wrong to lie with the intent to injure, mislead or escape the consequences of our own mistakes or bad bahavior. We can develop ways of dealing with people who demonstrate a predilection toward malevolence, but we need wise people to do this who are able to abstract themselves from base needs of revenge and opportunism.

I laugh when people advance the idea that, absent authority, they can do whatever they want.
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Re: For an atheist, are there any sure reasons to be ethical

Post Number:#15  PostMay 9th, 2012, 12:45 am

Mmfiore wrote:I have given this question some thought. I am not an atheist. I think that this question is a good one and it naturally should come up in one’s mind as an overall argument against atheism. Without a God to provide a foundation for morality ethics and to form a basis for principles of goodness there would be no reason to be ethical or moral. A society with the idea of atheism as a foundational construct will surely collapse. Without a God there is no afterlife and then correspondingly there is no reckoning. This ultimately would cause chaos in our society.



The whole flaw in this argument is god doesn't provide a foundation for morals and ethics, its an unsubstantiated assumption.
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