Here is my unscripted off the cuff remarks on my interest in Buddhism
A typical argument for God from theists is that claim that without God there is no objective morality. The only morality, in this view, is Darwinian in nature, and some atheists actually agree. Most atheists, who I’ve heard, do not think there really is objective morality. Many people balk when they hear this. Of course, everyone wants to hear that pedophilia and murder are unequivocally wrong, and those deeds are actually wrong. The problem is using terms like “objective morality” in the first place.
I would argue that morality is more complicated than just either being objective or relative. Furthermore, I think the term “objective morality” is a little like the word “evil.” We want to call Hitler evil. We don’t want to think of him just as a bad person who did horrible things, but the term “evil” tends to evoke supernatural or other thinking that is not in the arena of reasonable thinking. Thus, I want to talk just about morality in general instead of arguing against objective morality. It’s just not a useful topic for what I’m trying to say, and I suspect discussing it is a less useful conversation than people tend to think.
What are morals? Morals, I suspect, had it’s origins in biology, but like I said before it’s more complicated than that. People are smart, and as such, inventive. Some amount of morality is certainly hardwired into us, but people are smart enough to out smart their biology. It’s too simple to say morality is objective, or morality is just an evolutionary byproduct. People can and have invented or changed what it means to be moral, as well. Slavery went on for a long time, but now it is seen, almost universally, as the terrible thing that it is.
The problem with morality now is that it still appears to be in it’s infancy. Many people disagree about morality. Many people use religion to decide what is moral. Others pick a moral philosophy, and still, others don’t even think about morality. We all have a long way to go, and I doubt we’ll ever reach perfection. However, my point is that morality is complicated. It’s more complicated than just biology. It’s as complicated as trying to figure what works best for humans individually and as a whole, which is no small task. Still, the shock people feel with atheists saying that there is no objective morality is not useful. The theist is simply shocking their audiences’ emotions, and atheists need to talk more clearly about morality.
Utilitarianism is, basically, the philosophical notion that our morality should consist of maximizing pleasure and minimizing suffering. At first glance, this sounds like a good idea. It certainly doesn’t sound nefarious. After all, who wouldn’t want “the most good for the most people.” However when taking utilitarian notions to their logical ends, leads me to say that I disagree with this philosophy.
For example, we can all agree with that the Holocaust was immoral, and of course, it wasn’t just immoral because it resulted in the death of millions. There were cruel and painful experiments forced on the victims. Now, take into consideration utilitarianism. If these cruel and unusual experiments could result in a large gain in pleasure, in the future, they are allowable. After all, the victims were going to die anyways, or so the argument could go. I cannot agree with this kind of logic.
Secondly, I don’t find utilitarianism practical. Utilitarians, usually, see the need to treat everyone equally, which sounds great, but it is problematic. Can anyone ever, really, value a stranger the same as they value their own mother? I doubt it.
As an atheist, I have to think critically about moral philosophy. I cannot just trust a book as infallible, and while I know utilitarianism is popular, I have to disagree with it. This is not to say I agree with Kant either. Instead, I find myself delving into other moral philosophies to try and find something I can salvage. I, also, find that the practicality of any moral philosophy is usually understated. What good is it to have a moral philosophy that is logically consistent but can’t be implemented?
For now, I will state where my thinking is. I am for differentiated caring, which I am stealing from Confucius. It is not that it is okay to not care about all people, but everyone, can’t value everyone equally, in my opinion. Thus, we should continue to value those close to us the most, but we shouldn’t stop caring for others with our spare emotional and materiel resources. I believe there are plenty of these spare resources around, and most of us are just selfish.
As always, let me know what you think!
Atheists, obviously, do not derive their morals from scripture, and many of us are proud of that. Many see certain laws in scriptures as harmful and immoral. Lately, I’ve taken an interest in metaethics and moral psychology. I will start to post more on these subjects when I have more readings under my belt. I did take a biomedical ethics philosophy course, but I still feel the need to dig deeper. Below is my initial position:
Morality only exists in a world with somewhat complex creatures. Morality is a product of evolution in social animals. Humans are capable of superior morals. Look at how some of us can do complex differential equations in our head! Certainly, we could be able solve complex moral and social issues.
I’m not saying morals are subjective. I think, objectively, there are both good and bad behaviors. Still, I AM saying, if there was only one complex being alive, then many moral rules wouldn’t matter.
I am skeptical of utilitarianism. I don’t think the main thing that matters is the amount of pleasure, nor do I think the end always justifies the means. I think part of utilitarianism could be right, but I think it needs some additions and subtractions.