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do we need the supernatural for morals?

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cab21 Posted: Fri, Dec 28 2012 2:03 PM

since some people say moral foundations crumble without the supernatural, do we need the supernatural for morals?

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That was Kant's assertion. I don't think it's the case. I'm a good guy because it makes me feel like I'm in line with my conscience. I don't care about an afterlife when I do things the help others and so forth. So my answer is no, I don't believe you need a belief in the supernatural to be moral.

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Anenome replied on Fri, Dec 28 2012 2:51 PM

Rand's solution was that all people must implicitly value life. It's a universal value. For to value anything else you must at least be alive. Thus, she built a moral system built on the truly common value of life.

Those who stop valuing life die, so you don't need to worry about them.

That which supports the value of life is moral, that which negates that value is immoral. To live you must eat--this is true. But it is more true to say to live you must eat good food, for you can eat poison and die also.

Thus to feed someone food is a good, and to feed someone poison is immoral. Etc., etc. I think as an areligious value system it has some value in its universal character. Others don't like it. Fine :P

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Rand's solution was that all people must implicitly value life. It's a universal value. For to value anything else you must at least be alive. Thus, she built a moral system built on the truly common value of life.

Could you please clarify this a bit?

What I don't understand:

1. It seems false that everyone values his own life. Plenty of people commit suicide. In Japan it's more popular than pizza.

2. I think I see a logical error. The argument seems to be: I value my own life. Therefore I value the other guy's life. Sorry. Non sequitor, and clearly false in the real world.

3. The argument makes no distinction between a cow's life and a human life. Cows like to stay alive, too. So should we all be vegetarians [and also never swat mosquitos]?

4. Lions are alive, but they don't seem to value lives of animals they kill to eat, or human life under certain circs.

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Malachi replied on Fri, Dec 28 2012 4:34 PM
Define "supernatural", please.
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cab21 replied on Fri, Dec 28 2012 4:49 PM
of, pertaining to, characteristic of, or attributed to God or a deity.
so by supernatural i mean a god or deity.
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Malachi replied on Fri, Dec 28 2012 4:57 PM
Ok, define "morals" as one single objectively significant thing* without referring to God or a deity. Thats your answer.

*what I mean is that it has to be the same thing for you as for me. By pluralizing "moral" I presume you mean to suggest a plurality of rules. I am ok with that idea, what I mean is that those rules should be the same for any two given people, otherwise you could define morals to be the idea of morality that exists in people's heads, which exists and affects their behavior, so presumably that would satisfy your criteria. However I think you are looking for the other thing. Let me know if youre picking up what I am laying down.

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cab21 replied on Fri, Dec 28 2012 5:22 PM

i'm thinking along the lines of universial rules, such as rules involving consent such as not murdering or stealing. do we need a commandment that says to not murder from a authority to recognise that murder is universialy wrong and inconsistant with universality, as it can't be moral for one person to murder and immoral for another person to murder if universality is applied.

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Malachi replied on Fri, Dec 28 2012 5:51 PM
Well there are two types of rules. Some rules are descriptive notions of comprehensible acts that are in fact impossible (or considered to be) and other rules are another description, this time a curious phrasing of a causal relation in accessible human experience. So I assume youre talking about the latter. Can you conceive of an atheistic universe where people's malbehavior always and necessarily comes back to them? Also, see karma, or at least the layman's concept of karma.
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Neodoxy replied on Fri, Dec 28 2012 7:05 PM

I think that Dave hit the nail on the head in terms of Rand's ethics. It seems to be a vague and awkward line in between a praxeological ethic (you must do this to do this) and a deontological ethic (do this because it's inherently good). There is no reason not to do something besides the fact that it harms your ultimate interests, but that ultimately doesn't lead to an ethic which universally favors the market economy. There are pleanty of cases where it makes sense to steal, kill, and lie. I encourage everyone to read Rand's essay/speech "the Objectivist Ethics" for an example of something which is complete bullshit but which comes so close to making sense. It's probably the most clear of any of Rand's writings yet it's full of assumptions, loose ends, and straight up bullshit/mysticism.

I talked to some objectivists about this and how they seem to get around it is through psychological crankery and "normality". What I mean by normality is by saying that "in most situations it makes sense to work with people instead of attacking them". Fine, but what if it does in a peculiar instance? Why shouldn't governments rob and steal from their populace? That's where the pseudo-psychology comes in. They argue that one could never be happy through stealing, that instead he must work to produce value to be happy, which I think is bullshit since this is a matter of psychology and I've never met an objectivist who's a psychologist.

Anyway, I'd argue that truly objective ethics are just downright impossible and they don't make sense, it's not even a case of it could happen. Even a god could only make objective ethics true through word games.

Nonetheless, the fact is that most people do just fine and are plenty "moral" without any sort of god. Shame, violence, rationality, and societal norms all do the job just fine.

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fakename replied on Fri, Dec 28 2012 8:38 PM

If you believe that metaphysics and/or theology has some essential connection with ethics then you do need the supernatural for morals. For instance, if you think that the nature of a thing is how it ought to behave, then I think (if your view of nature is tied to a teleological god-as-a-last-end) you must believe that god is necessary for morals.

But even if you do, it is possible at least conceptually to say that morals and the good life is independent of a god (just as one can conceive of music w/o math even though math is needed to develop music).

More practically, if you need theological virtues, these are beyond a person's effort by definition and so they do need a god.

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Anenome replied on Fri, Dec 28 2012 11:58 PM
 
 

Well, I'll try. Even if I don't claim to be an objectivist nor hold to these ideas.

Smiling Dave:

Rand's solution was that all people must implicitly value life. It's a universal value. For to value anything else you must at least be alive. Thus, she built a moral system built on the truly common value of life.

Could you please clarify this a bit?

What I don't understand:

1. It seems false that everyone values his own life. Plenty of people commit suicide. In Japan it's more popular than pizza.

Those who stop valuing their lives die and remove themselves from society and thus need not be dealt with anymore. To the extent anyone is alive, they are still valuing their life in some measure. Only the irrevocably dead has actually given up life as a value. The rest of us continue to breath, eat, drink, etc., as if we valued being alive, for we are continually maintaining our life by our action.

Smiling Dave:
2. I think I see a logical error. The argument seems to be: I value my own life. Therefore I value the other guy's life. Sorry. Non sequitor, and clearly false in the real world.

It's a good point. Let's see. I suppose I could appeal to the universality of ethical rules here. If I demand a rule for myself then I must grant it to you. Thus if I demand that others respect my right to live, then I must reciprocate their right to live. Anyone who violates another's right to live has abandoned the right to demand others respect their right to live, and by such do we punish crime and also execute murderers.

Smiling Dave:
3. The argument makes no distinction between a cow's life and a human life. Cows like to stay alive, too. So should we all be vegetarians [and also never swat mosquitos]?

Perhaps, but the fact of nature is that life lives on life. This is the natural order, and no one could live without being a burden on other living species, be they plants or animals. You cannot even take a breath without killing millions of inhaled pathogens, nor wash your hands, nor take even a single step without killing many things in your way. But that is the nature of human life, and to live you must do that. It is no more wrong for a person to eat a cow than for a lion to do so. Both are predators.

Besides which, it is possible to live without killing another human being, but not possible to live without killing anything. And on top of that, we can deal with other human beings by communicative rather than coercive means. When it comes to dealing with an animal, we have only coercive means at our disposal. You cannot reason with an attacking animal, and if you want to preserve your life you must use force.

Apart from that it would be a question of how much you value any individual animal. If you value one lowly, as a food source, eat it. If you value it as a pet, keep it alive. Neither is immoral.

Smiling Dave:
4. Lions are alive, but they don't seem to value lives of animals they kill to eat, or human life under certain circus.

But again, force is our only means of dealing with animals. Lions do act generally as if other lions have a right to live. Rights act within a speciest framework. If we met another species that could communicate, we would deal with it on that basis and not on force, granting too them the same rights we grant to each other via reason.

 
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Bert replied on Sat, Dec 29 2012 8:40 AM

I had always been impressed by the fact that there are a surprising number of individuals who never use their minds if they can avoid it, and an equal number who do use their minds, but in an amazingly stupid way. - Carl Jung, Man and His Symbols
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Autolykos replied on Sat, Dec 29 2012 10:00 AM

Anenome:
Those who stop valuing their lives die and remove themselves from society and thus need not be dealt with anymore. To the extent anyone is alive, they are still valuing their life in some measure. Only the irrevocably dead has actually given up life as a value. The rest of us continue to breath, eat, drink, etc., as if we valued being alive, for we are continually maintaining our life by our action.

By your reasoning, if I pull the trigger of a loaded gun that I'm pressing against my temple business-end-first, then I'm necessarily valuing life. Yet I'll presumably die as a result of pulling the trigger, because that'll cause the gun to shoot a bullet through my head. If I pull the trigger because I want to be dead, how am I valuing life? That seems like a contradiction to me.

Anenome:
It's a good point. Let's see. I suppose I could appeal to the universality of ethical rules here. If I demand a rule for myself then I must grant it to you. Thus if I demand that others respect my right to live, then I must reciprocate their right to live. Anyone who violates another's right to live has abandoned the right to demand others respect their right to live, and by such do we punish crime and also execute murderers.

There's no logical reason why one must endorse universality. Furthermore, there's the issue of what one takes "universality" to mean in the first place.

Anenome:
Perhaps, but the fact of nature is that life lives on life. This is the natural order, and no one could live without being a burden on other living species, be they plants or animals. You cannot even take a breath without killing millions of inhaled pathogens, nor wash your hands, nor take even a single step without killing many things in your way. But that is the nature of human life, and to live you must do that. It is no more wrong for a person to eat a cow than for a lion to do so. Both are predators.

Besides which, it is possible to live without killing another human being, but not possible to live without killing anything. And on top of that, we can deal with other human beings by communicative rather than coercive means. When it comes to dealing with an animal, we have only coercive means at our disposal. You cannot reason with an attacking animal, and if you want to preserve your life you must use force.

Apart from that it would be a question of how much you value any individual animal. If you value one lowly, as a food source, eat it. If you value it as a pet, keep it alive. Neither is immoral.

For one thing, there are conceivable situations where it's impossible to live without killing another human being. See The Road as an example.

For another thing, many would argue that it's possible to live without being a predator.

Finally, Randian ethics would inform the lion to kill the human (because it's hungry) and the human to kill the lion (because the lion's trying to kill him). In other words, Randian ethics, being purely instrumental in nature, doesn't take sides.

Anenome:
But again, force is our only means of dealing with animals. Lions do act generally as if other lions have a right to live. Rights act within a speciest framework. If we met another species that could communicate, we would deal with it on that basis and not on force, granting too them the same rights we grant to each other via reason.

I'd argue that our attitude of "live and let live" toward other people is ultimately instinctual and founded in our evolutionary heritage. But anyways, why do you say that rights act within a speciesist framework? That is, what reason(s) do you see for that?

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Autolykos:

There's no logical reason why one must endorse universality. Furthermore, there's the issue of what one takes "universality" to mean in the first place.

Do you agree or disagree with Kant's Categorical Imperative principle?

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Anenome replied on Sat, Dec 29 2012 7:47 PM
 
 

Autolykos:

Anenome:
Those who stop valuing their lives die and remove themselves from society and thus need not be dealt with anymore. To the extent anyone is alive, they are still valuing their life in some measure. Only the irrevocably dead has actually given up life as a value. The rest of us continue to breath, eat, drink, etc., as if we valued being alive, for we are continually maintaining our life by our action.

By your reasoning, if I pull the trigger of a loaded gun that I'm pressing against my temple business-end-first, then I'm necessarily valuing life. Yet I'll presumably die as a result of pulling the trigger, because that'll cause the gun to shoot a bullet through my head. If I pull the trigger because I want to be dead, how am I valuing life? That seems like a contradiction to me.

Perhaps I should say that we don't have outside evidence that any person has truly given up life as a value until the moment they're dead by their own action or inaction. Certainly it's possible to give up the value of life and still be alive. I was only trying to point out that those who truly do give up the value of life are likely to be very shortly thereafter dead.

This would include such rational decisions as someone whom decides a certain value is more important to them than life in that moment, such as the many whom decided to die rather than recant. Actually that's not a good example, since that goes into ordinal values rather than giving up the value of life, when in fact what I wanted to say was that to remain alive you must to some degree value life, because by your actions you are maintaining it.

Although, in practice, every suicide is an ordinal value decision. That life is not worth living under X circumstances, not that life becomes entirely unvalued. So we see that even the suicidal, and those who go through with it still value life in some ordinal sense. It is impossible to be alive and not in some way value life if you are conscious, as it is a basic human drive.

Thus Rand's use of it as a universal value. Only the dead do not value life.

Autolykos:
Anenome:
I could appeal to the universality of ethical rules here. If I demand a rule for myself then I must grant it to you. Thus if I demand that others respect my right to live, then I must reciprocate their right to live. Anyone who violates another's right to live has abandoned the right to demand others respect their right to live, and by such do we punish crime and also execute murderers.

There's no logical reason why one must endorse universality. Furthermore, there's the issue of what one takes "universality" to mean in the first place.

All people are ethically equivalent. We are all human beings, of the same species, no morally inferior or superior intrinsically. That's the reason. We are all self-owners. If I demand you respect my person, it would be hypocritical to not give the same respect in turn.

Autolykos:
For one thing, there are conceivable situations where it's impossible to live without killing another human being. See The Road as an example.

Impossible? That's a strong word for any situation. For all you know, a comet could streak down in the last moment and kill off your attacker before you have to kill them. It's possible...

Autolykos:
For another thing, many would argue that it's possible to live without being a predator.

Certainly. Unless you take my example of continual killing via breathing, drinking, and moving. Unintentional killing of microbes and barely seen animals is practically genocidal in its mind-boggling numbers of killed :P How many water-bears did you drink today? >_>

Autolykos:
Finally, Randian ethics would inform the lion to kill the human (because it's hungry) and the human to kill the lion (because the lion's trying to kill him). In other words, Randian ethics, being purely instrumental in nature, doesn't take sides.

Okay.

Autolykos:
Anenome:
But again, force is our only means of dealing with animals. Lions do act generally as if other lions have a right to live. Rights act within a speciest framework. If we met another species that could communicate, we would deal with it on that basis and not on force, granting too them the same rights we grant to each other via reason.

I'd argue that our attitude of "live and let live" toward other people is ultimately instinctual and founded in our evolutionary heritage. But anyways, why do you say that rights act within a speciesist framework? That is, what reason(s) do you see for that?

Just observation. Many species will not attack others of their own kind, especially the higher orders, nor prey on them. Rivers full of crocodiles, but they lay side by side waiting for gazelles. Cheetahs do not hunt cheetahs.

We do not grant human rights to the non-human. Neither does a crocodile allow a human to lie in the water beside it and wait to ambush gazelles :P humans are fair game.

 
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Neodoxy replied on Sat, Dec 29 2012 11:55 PM

@Anenome

"It's a good point. Let's see. I suppose I could appeal to the universality of ethical rules here. If I demand a rule for myself then I must grant it to you. Thus if I demand that others respect my right to live, then I must reciprocate their right to live. Anyone who violates another's right to live has abandoned the right to demand others respect their right to live, and by such do we punish crime and also execute murderers."

That's where the system falls apart. There is no reason why I should accept the same rights for you that I wish for you to grant me if I am in a position to prevent that. If I am a government official and I don't fear your retribution then there is no reason why I should respect your life and "rights".

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Malachi replied on Sun, Dec 30 2012 12:45 AM
1) is life after death supernatural?

2) is becoming part of an "island of chaos" a net bad? Could it be in the long term?

3) Neodoxy is right, there are no morals without consequences.

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Malachi replied on Sun, Dec 30 2012 1:41 PM
http://www.theopedia.com/Noetic_effects_of_sin

The noetic effects of sin are the ways that sin negatively affects and undermines the human mind and intellect.
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Anenome replied on Sun, Dec 30 2012 4:55 PM
 
 

Malachi:
1) is life after death supernatural?

It would have to be, sure. We know of no physical way for a consciousness to exist except as produced by a physical body.

Malachi:
2) is becoming part of an "island of chaos" a net bad? Could it be in the long term?

Certainly, if you choose to characterize a free society as chaos! I would not characterize it thus however. It is ad-hoc organization, not a complete lack of organization (chaos).

 
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Malachi replied on Sun, Dec 30 2012 5:01 PM
I dont necessarily agree as I think that if you "prove" the supernatural to exist, scientists will just scramble to redefine it in scientific terms. However if you dont accept life after death then karma ia a hard sell. It depends on what morals the individual believes in.

an island of chaos is created whenever coercion is employed to gain resources because they miscalculate based on their nonproductive gains. Its an austrian term.

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Not all moral systems rely on a belief in the supernatural, no.  According to Plato, Socrates didn't believe an ethic was valid solely because it was espoused by a god, and as I understand it the classical Mediterranean world in general, at least, agreed.

If you're asking if there is a universal moral possible, I say no.  The best you can ever do is collect a series of the most common virtues that people place value on, but they can never be really universal.  Even within a single social group each individual places higher value on some rather than other of the virtues extolled by their society. 

The rule with humans is, if anything, that what works for one person or group will not work for another.

It seems to me that NAP is the closest thing we can get to a universal, only because it demands that people negotiate a common ground when they interact.

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cab21 replied on Tue, Jan 1 2013 2:36 AM

from what i read there are so many different christian thoughts on what the consequences of our actions will be and how they affect the afterlife that even the supernatural consequences are unclear to make a universial moral standard. also for debate are what god actualy wants as ways for salvation

http://www.northforest.org/ChristianTopics/hell.html

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Malachi replied on Tue, Jan 1 2013 11:15 AM
from what i read there are so many different christian thoughts on what the consequences of our actions will be and how they affect the afterlife that even the supernatural consequences are unclear to make a universial moral standard.
correct me if I'm wrong but it seems like youre saying that "there are too many conflicting opinions for their to be an underlying fact." which is a non sequitur.
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cab21 replied on Tue, Jan 1 2013 12:21 PM

there could one right answer and fact, but it's hard to get a moral system if noone knows it or can convince others that it is right. these oppinions are given as fact's and doctrine rather than oppinions. a society won't have a consistant moral code if many people in society beleive in different facts as to what that moral code should be.

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Malachi replied on Tue, Jan 1 2013 12:24 PM
Your confusion is not an existential condition. The existence of conflicting opinions doesnt make it impossible to determine fact.

a society won't have a consistant moral code if many people in society beleive in different facts as to what that moral code should be.
youre confusing morals and ethics.
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cab21 replied on Tue, Jan 1 2013 12:38 PM

so who has figured out the correct moral facts?

 

 

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Malachi replied on Tue, Jan 1 2013 12:55 PM
All of the law can be summed up in only two rules, Love God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength; and love your neighbor as yourself.
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cab21 replied on Tue, Jan 1 2013 1:21 PM

 how are those rules defined, as in what does it mean to love god with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength?

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Malachi replied on Tue, Jan 1 2013 1:49 PM
Love is an emotion that means at its most basic that one identifies with the recipient to such a degree that when something happens to that person, it is as if the thing happened to onesself. For instance, I love my brother, so when he makes $800 on a financial deal I myself am as happy as I would be if I myself had made the $800. So to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength you would identify with God and want what He wants for the universe, instead of getting upset when it rains, youre glad the plants are getting water, instead of being upset when you get sunburnt, you thank God for the life-giving radiation and resolve to be more careful in how you expose yourself to God's blessings in tne future, etc.

loving your neighbor is the same, its "lead reciprocity" instead of "follow reciprocity." you treat other people well because you want them to treat you well. You set the example for how to treat others by your own treatment of them. This extends to how you react to them when they wrong you, you want to resolve the dispute peacefully if possible, and in any event with a minimum of violence. We have all wronged others, and I know that I would rather have had those disputes resolved in an efficient, surgical manner, rather than beefs and duels and vendettas and sabotage etc. So we always treat other like we would want to be treated. This also entails self-defense, if you were in an aggressive violent fever, and looking for prey, you would rather no one give you a target and therefore allow your fever to pass, right?

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cab21 replied on Tue, Jan 1 2013 2:16 PM

 

i can get that loving neighbor as myself can mean that it's best for violent situations to be resolved without harm to one another, that's harder to understand this antihomosexual stuff i see some of these churches support. i figure gay people can have a loving relationship with god and each other as much straight people can, or what is there keeping this from happening?from loving god by following his commandments, figures a gay person could follow those two main ones as much as any straight person. if being gay is a rejection of god, then there must be a lot of detail to how to not reject god and follow gods other commandments. i see some churches say both gay and straight can follow those two commandment's while others say only straight people can.

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Malachi replied on Tue, Jan 1 2013 2:32 PM
i can get that loving neighbor as myself can mean that it's best for violent situations to be resolved without harm to one another, that's harder to understand this antihomosexual stuff i see some of these churches support.
maybe you should ask them about it then.
from loving god by following his commandments, figures a gay person could follow those two main ones as much as any straight person. if being gay is a rejection of god, then there must be a lot of detail to how to not reject god and follow gods other commandments. i see some churches say both gay and straight can follow those two commandment's while others say only straight people can.
yes, theres a wide arange of opinions on homosexuality among people who call themselves followers of Christ. Thats why I cant address the "antihomosexual stuff" you mentioned above.
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