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Secularism and Morality

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Re: Secularism and Morality

Post  jimhabegger on Fri May 31, 2013 9:02 pm

I am so over Sam Harris, after reading some more of his talks and articles.

----

So now it looks to me like what I mean by morality, is about love. Not everything that anyone calls love. Love of beauty, love of justice, love of truth, love of humanity, love of nature. Every kind of nurturing, healing, uplifting love. Love that rejoices in the well-being and progress of others, in growing a garden, in watching a sunset or some busy ants. What I call "morality" consists of rules that I follow for the sake of that love.

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Re: Secularism and Morality

Post  mood2 on Sun Jun 02, 2013 2:19 am

Mood, logically there is no way to get from an "is" to an "ought," if you mean something that morally impels us to choose one moral system over another. If that isn't what you mean, then what do you mean? Do you mean something that impels us logically, or some other way besides morally, to choose one system over another?

Well I think generally there's a problem getting from an Is to an Ought, and in this context if the Is is our shared instincts then choosing one over another is an example of the general problem.

But I also presented Moral Foundation Theory in the context of where can we find our foundational axiom, our starting point on which to build a logical coherent system too. Something which is at least internally consistent even if you ignore the Is-Ought problem. Which still leaves us with the prob of what to do in situations where different instincts give different answers. You don't even have internal consistency then. Unless you apply some kind of hierarchy, or pick one as over-ridingly important. Like Harris does. But then you have to justify that, because you're saying there's some other axiom which is objectively more foundational than the objective Is of our shared moral instincts. I think that leaves Harris stuck. Or any of us who are more inclined to subjectively value one over another. As you put it - 'It's like they think they've gotten out of the matrix, but they're only dreaming that they got out of the matrix.'


What do you mean by "the problem of moral relativism," and what makes it a problem?

Culture A thinks sewing up a 5 year old child's vagina and cutting off her clitoris is morally good based on the evolutionary shared moral value relating to purity.

Culture B thinks it's immoral based on the evolutionary shared moral value of Care/Harm.

We're left with no way to objectively choose. Or justify arguing against or outlawing such practices. That's the problem. Not for everybody, some people are happy to accept moral relativism. But if say the UK wants to criminalise fgm, or the UN wants to bring in Human Rights guidelines or make certain practices a bar to certain benefits, then it's effectively cultural imperialism.

Personally I don't care, I'd just ban it. But where's my moral justification?

Another problem is that if our shared moral instincts are the ultimate objective foundation for morality, where's the impetus to progress?


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Re: Secularism and Morality

Post  mood2 on Sun Jun 02, 2013 2:30 am




Considering what I've seen so far, it looks to me like Harris's interest in morality revolves around feeling justified in condemning what other people do, more than around improving his own character and conduct. If I'm seeing that right, then in my view what he's promoting is as harmful as any religion..



I take my hat off to people like Harris who try to navigate a way around these problems, ultimately I don't care if his theory is dodgy, I like his answers.

And I like that he's prepared to take on the really tricky issues atheists face even when I disagree.

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Re: Secularism and Morality

Post  nullnvoid on Mon Jun 03, 2013 4:52 pm

Jim,

Uh, oh. This is exactly what I was afraid of. If the reason Harris wants to objectify morality is remove his inhibitions against imposing his values on other people against their will, then what he's trying to do is exactly what makes religion and belief in God harmful.

Harris is unfairly accused of this. It's nonsense. He doesn't at any point advocate imposing HIS values on anyone.

He comes closest to this when he proposes the idea that if a scientific study of morality were to discover a truth about morality that could be reliably demonstrated, then he could foresee that there could be public policy imposed on people who were not in agreement - in exactly the same way we would do so for public health issues. We do this all the time where there is a good reason - without much controversy. For example, few people argue that we should force people to adhere to restrictions towards murder. This is a pretty uncontroversial of a moral imposition.

Making public policy adhere to an identified reality is actually Harris' strongest argument. The problem with religions is not that they impose specific morality on people. The problem is that the specific morality is disastrously bad for a significant portion of the population.

Mood2,

When you define morality as pertaining to the well being of conscious beings it removes the problem of moral relativism. Looking at the list of foundations - each of them relate directly to well being. Well being IS at the heart of what we consider moral and thus I suspect that in reality we can consign moral relativism the realm of academia.

Objectively every moral action will be better or worse or the same as some other moral action in it's capacity to create well being. It's obscured by how much we can actually know to any reasonable degree. In the case of cultural imperialism, you could argue that the problem was one of failure to identify factors which cause harm. Imposing the morals of a conquering group over a conquered group is immoral in so far as people are harmed by the destruction of their culture. Identifying that this was a particular harm to people was by and large conveniently ignored by the people pushing the change when they tried to claim that they were acting in the best interest of another culture. The book Brave New World pretty much nailed this problem in the character of the native american. We can now express the moral issue with cultural imperialism, because we have a better understanding of the effects.

Similarly it is only possible to defend female genital mutilation when you fail to understand the effects of performing such an act.

There is no benefit to evolution from 'purity'. In fact, 'pure' species are at high risk of extinction as purity makes it far less likely for a species to adapt to changing conditions (diversity is a survival advantage). So their argument is just factually incorrect. Conversely, such an act does cause REAL harm. Any surgery is associated with complications, accidents and other potentially life threatening problems. Thus any justification for taking an action should require a damn good reason. Also, more importantly assuming that it does diminish the sexual response of the organ, it involves taking something irreparably away from a child. And again - you need a DAMN good reason to do this to someone against their will. (And NO 5 year old is capable of making such a decision willfully with informed consent.)

There has to be a right answer to questions like this. Not all opinions ARE equally right. Now...that said, we can imagine a world where such an operation might have a specific advantage to the individual - be it that they would not be exposed to some form of disease, or that such an action would increase their lifespan significantly. So we can theorise that such an act could be moral. But...this is academic in light of the complete lack of evidence that it's actually the situation. For example, it is immoral to set someone on fire, UNLESS setting the person on fire somehow improves their well being. And even then it is only moral within the bounds of the specific set of circumstances which make it an improvement to their well being. But we're arguing here about something completely made up which has no bearing on reality - setting fire to someone doesn't help people at all.

Much of what Harris is arguing is that these academic arguments are about morality in theory. Moral actions are contextual, and what applies to one situation may not apply to another. In practice many of these situations are actually a great deal simpler to evaluate - as they pertain to the world as it is, rather than to some imaginary world.

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Re: Secularism and Morality

Post  mood2 on Wed Jun 05, 2013 7:22 pm

My heart's not really in arguing null because my values are very similar to yours and Harris', and I take your point that well-being is closely linked to the evolution of all those instincts.

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Re: Secularism and Morality

Post  nullnvoid on Thu Jun 06, 2013 11:21 am

That might be the main problem with our site. Smile No worries.

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