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Old 12-27-2004, 03:30 PM   #346
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Hey Dandy,

Thanks for your response. It wasn't meant to presume that you have no basis for morality- just the opposite really- I was asking out of curiousity.

In fact I had assumed that I might recieve an answer like "mutual respect for the dignity of fellow human beings". And I think that it is difficult to operate an ordered and safe society without these basic assumptions. This is an admirable quality in anyone, and as your story points out it is possible to have these without the necessity of belief in God. But I guess what really intregues me is aside from just deciding to live in this way, what underlying elements are there to keep to this code? Self preservation maybe?

But then what about integrity/lying, cheating (say in commerce), unfaithfulness etc. where one may argue there is no physical harm (including to self). You mentioned fundamental principles of justice, but where do these principles come from, and how are they arrived at in the same way? ie. What one person may consider just may be unjust to another.
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Old 12-27-2004, 04:32 PM   #347
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Originally posted by NotAnEasyThing
One of the things that I've often wondered about in terms of atheism is as an atheist, what basis do you have for ethics. Those who have read this thread will no doubt be aware that I have a christian worldview. But I'm interested to hear from atheists as to how they go about constructing a framework for ethical behaviour and what makes something ultimately right or wrong.
This kind of question always puzzles me. Unless you happen to grow up in total isolation in a cave somewhere, not one of us grows up in a vacuum where at some point you construct a framework for ethical behaviour for yourself. Whether the society you grow up in is religious or not, you are inevitably going to be taught "right from wrong" by your parents, elders, family, school, the stories and art of your culture which you absorb from childhood, etc. Of course that's not to say that you may not denounce or re-evaluate those values some time later on (especially if you move to another society and have a chance to look at the place you grew up in from the outside), but the point is that in any given society there're -always- rules for behaviour that no one is completely immune to and which inevitably leave an imprint.
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Old 12-27-2004, 07:21 PM   #348
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Originally posted by NotAnEasyThing
One of the things that I've often wondered about in terms of atheism is as an atheist, what basis do you have for ethics. Those who have read this thread will no doubt be aware that I have a christian worldview. But I'm interested to hear from atheists as to how they go about constructing a framework for ethical behaviour and what makes something ultimately right or wrong.

I guess the line of discussion would start off with the issue of life and taking life. If there is no god, and life is just a result of chance, then why is it wrong to take another's away? Wouldn't a darwinian approach be to suggest that the stongest should survive while the weak die out?
This question surprises me...I mean, do you only think that murder is wrong because God told you so? Do you only have an ethical system because God directed it? That just strikes me as so odd.

So what's the basis for my framework of ethical behaviour? It's actually very simple -- empathy (the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner *). Essentially, if I wouldn't want something happening to me or someone I care for, I know it's wrong to do it to someone else. I don't need a god to tell me that, and I'm very surprised (and a bit horrified) that others do.



* definition from Webster's online
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Old 12-27-2004, 07:53 PM   #349
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I didn't actually explain my own ethical framework- instead because this is "the atheist thread" I was just asking how an atheist might work these things out. But I guess sinsce you bought it up...

To me the universe is created by an ethcial creator. As such we are made in that creator's image. This is why I believe we are able to percieve things such as empathy like you've mentioned. It is not so much that God arbitrarily decides "X" is wrong, therefore it is wrong. Rather morality is an expression of his nature. There are absolutes in this model.

What are the absolutes in your empathy model? What I mean is what if person A decides that child abuse is ok for his loved ones or even himself, does this make it ok for them to abuse person B. I'm sure you would probably say not. So this is in essence what I'm asking. What is the underlying framework that you can tie your system of ethics to. And it does not have to be a god. I'm just curious to know.

Please don't take offence, I don't for a moment want to suggest that atheism is somehow synonomous with unethical. But I am interested to know how you might sought out these issues in your own mind.
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Old 12-27-2004, 07:58 PM   #350
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Quote:
Originally posted by Saracene


This kind of question always puzzles me. Unless you happen to grow up in total isolation in a cave somewhere, not one of us grows up in a vacuum where at some point you construct a framework for ethical behaviour for yourself. Whether the society you grow up in is religious or not, you are inevitably going to be taught "right from wrong" by your parents, elders, family, school, the stories and art of your culture which you absorb from childhood, etc. Of course that's not to say that you may not denounce or re-evaluate those values some time later on (especially if you move to another society and have a chance to look at the place you grew up in from the outside), but the point is that in any given society there're -always- rules for behaviour that no one is completely immune to and which inevitably leave an imprint.
Rules are not an ethical framework, they are agreed values. Yes they are important but they are easily discarded too. What I'm asking is what can you base rules on.

Imagine for instance that someone founds a new country with rules that say killing others is ok, stealing is fine etc etc. why is that any less valid than the rules in your country?
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Old 12-27-2004, 08:00 PM   #351
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Originally posted by NotAnEasyThing
What are the absolutes in your empathy model? What I mean is what if person A decides that child abuse is ok for his loved ones or even himself, does this make it ok for them to abuse person B. I'm sure you would probably say not. So this is in essence what I'm asking. What is the underlying framework that you can tie your system of ethics to. And it does not have to be a god. I'm just curious to know.
I personally hold to the belief that people are entitled to do whatever they would like to do in this world, as long as it's not harmful or endangers people's lives. If somebody does something that is harmful or endangers people's lives, that is when I step in. And since child abuse falls into that category, I would do what I could to stop that, and I sure as hell wouldn't partake in it myself. Same would of course go for murder or rape or things along that line, too.

Angela
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Old 12-27-2004, 08:12 PM   #352
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Originally posted by Moonlit_Angel


I personally hold to the belief that people are entitled to do whatever they would like to do in this world, as long as it's not harmful or endangers people's lives. If somebody does something that is harmful or endangers people's lives, that is when I step in. And since child abuse falls into that category, I would do what I could to stop that, and I sure as hell wouldn't partake in it myself. Same would of course go for murder or rape or things along that line, too.

Angela
Good post Angela, only who decides what is harmful?
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Old 12-27-2004, 09:54 PM   #353
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Originally posted by NotAnEasyThing


What are the absolutes in your empathy model? What I mean is what if person A decides that child abuse is ok for his loved ones or even himself, does this make it ok for them to abuse person B. I'm sure you would probably say not. So this is in essence what I'm asking. What is the underlying framework that you can tie your system of ethics to. And it does not have to be a god. I'm just curious to know.

Please don't take offence, I don't for a moment want to suggest that atheism is somehow synonomous with unethical. But I am interested to know how you might sought out these issues in your own mind.
But I already told you how I arrive at my system. What Jimmy Bob thinks really has no bearing on what I think. If he said he got his belief that child abuse was fine from the Bible, would you just say, "Oh! Well that's OK then"? I seriously doubt it. So how do you justify the differences in the way you and Jimmy Bob understand the same thing? I think you would say, "Well, he's understanding it incorrectly."

So...Jimmy Bob is doing the same thing with what you call my empathy model. If Jimmy Bob truly thinks that child abuse is fine, then he is a sociopath and nobody should change their view of what is right or wrong because of what a sociopath thinks.
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Old 12-27-2004, 10:08 PM   #354
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Rules are not an ethical framework, they are agreed values. Yes they are important but they are easily discarded too. What I'm asking is what can you base rules on.
I see what you mean. I thought about it many times, and IMO there's nothing out there -but- agreed values. Which can be discarded, true, but the fact that they're flexible also makes social changes possible.

Overall, it's just hard for me to believe in absolutes when people throughout the ages agreed on different definitions of absolutes and how they should be applied in real life.

Quote:
Imagine for instance that someone founds a new country with rules that say killing others is ok, stealing is fine etc etc. why is that any less valid than the rules in your country?
There's no need to imagine a new country; if I remember correctly, death penalty is still active in many countries around the world.
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Old 12-27-2004, 10:18 PM   #355
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Overall, it's just hard for me to believe in absolutes when people throughout the ages agreed on different definitions of absolutes and how they should be applied in real life.

I agree. The idea of moral absolutes gives me a bit of a case of the willies. What I notice throughout history is that there are many cases of moral absolutes that later weren't absolute anymore. Our understanding of, well, everything, has evolved over the ages (and will continue to evolve), and so absolutes do change.
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Old 12-28-2004, 01:38 AM   #356
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But I already told you how I arrive at my system. What Jimmy Bob thinks really has no bearing on what I think. If he said he got his belief that child abuse was fine from the Bible, would you just say, "Oh! Well that's OK then"? I seriously doubt it. So how do you justify the differences in the way you and Jimmy Bob understand the same thing? I think you would say, "Well, he's understanding it incorrectly."

So...Jimmy Bob is doing the same thing with what you call my empathy model. If Jimmy Bob truly thinks that child abuse is fine, then he is a sociopath and nobody should change their view of what is right or wrong because of what a sociopath thinks.
Indra, can I just say I really appreciate the way that you take the time to post thoughtfully. I've seen the way you've posted in many different threads and you usually do so with good will and a healthy degree of wit. While we might have a very different approach to life I value the opportunity to interact in this way.

The example I was giving regarding (as you've named him) Jimmy Bob was to reveal one flaw, as I saw it, in your basis for ethics. Namely that it can't really work on a community scale because of the differences in what one person may consider to be empathic as compared to another. The reason it matters is because we have to live together.

Now you have suggested that a biblical approach to ethics will run in to the same problem. While I agree that people can certainly reach different conclusions as to biblical interpretation, the difference in my model and yours is that there is ultimate truth. Sure I may not have a mortgage on it all (in fact I am quite sure I don't), but it doesn't change the fact that there are moral absolutes and acountability. What the bible does provide is a point of reference with which to at least draw some boudaries. For instance it is not a difficult thing to build a case for the value of life.

In the "empathy" model the goal posts can be moved constantly.

Now I see the posts about not believing in absolutes, and while I thought that's the only conclusion one could come to atheisticly, I guess I was kind of hoping there would be some basis. Because to my mind that seems the more terrifying option. With no absolutes, you can't really say that something is wrong, just that it is not benificial or that you don't like it. Jimmy Bob then isn't a sociopath, just has a different view.
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Old 12-28-2004, 02:31 PM   #357
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Good post Angela, only who decides what is harmful?
I'm just going by the laws regarding this stuff-according to the law, it's illegal to abuse, murder, rape, and so on and so forth, other people, and for good reason, because all of those things are harmful and endanger people's lives. The laws have decided that since this stuff is harmful, that's why it's not allowed.

I also personally agree with indra and them on the absolutes thing-everyone can have their own ideas of what is good and bad, so to have absolutes in regards to thoughts doesn't work with me. But the laws prevent people from acting on things that, while they don't see them as bad, are proven to be harmful to others, so that's why certain actions are limited, and thoughts aren't (or shouldn't be).

I hope that made sense to all who read that.

Angela
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Old 12-28-2004, 02:40 PM   #358
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Originally posted by Moonlit_Angel
I personally hold to the belief that people are entitled to do whatever they would like to do in this world, as long as it's not harmful or endangers people's lives. If somebody does something that is harmful or endangers people's lives, that is when I step in. And since child abuse falls into that category, I would do what I could to stop that, and I sure as hell wouldn't partake in it myself. Same would of course go for murder or rape or things along that line, too.

Angela
How do you measure what is harmful to another? What one person deems harmful? What the majority deems harmful? Harmful only to people?

It is an easy thing to say, but nearly impossible to measure without some external frame of reference.

You can't simply point to a law as the reference for what is harmful, because some laws passed by a majority are harmful to a minority.

Also, if there are no absolutes, then it is relative and everything you argue for is relative to you and cannot be made to apply to everyone else.
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Old 12-28-2004, 07:00 PM   #359
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What if your morals structure is based pretty much on reaction alone? You use that as your measure?

Say for instance, I'll use me cos I cant offend anyone lol. I have based my moral values on what my actions and thoughts do to others, how it's taken, the reactions my actions and words or views may cause. It could be deemed very restrictive and living by what others want, but as a result I dont believe in the death penalty, I dont actively encourage abortion, I dont believe in violence, I dont believe in isolating anyone simply because something about them might be different to me or something I dont understand (homosexuality, race, gender, age), I belief abuse is wrong in all forms, stealing is wrong...Anything which harms or has a negative effect on someone else is wrong. On the surface, you'd say that's all good stuff. Valuing life, honesty, respect and all the rest. Do I need God to do this though? Does a lack of God make it less commendable? Or invalid?

Dont think so Tim.
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Old 12-28-2004, 09:34 PM   #360
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How do you measure what is harmful to another? What one person deems harmful? What the majority deems harmful? Harmful only to people?
No, good point, it doesn't have to be harmful to just people-animals can factor into this, too (although in a way, I'd be a bit hypocritical, then, 'cause I've been known to kill spiders...).

"Harmful" in the sense that it will cause physical pain, like bruises, cuts, black eyes, broken bones, etc., etc., and in the sense that if it's done, it could kill somebody (although one exception I'd have is if you were protecting yourself or a loved one from an attacker-if you need to defend yourself there, no problem for me).

As for opinions on what's harmful...even those who have no problem with abusing others know full well that what they're doing causes someone else physical pain. Everyone may have their own ideas of what is acceptable treatment towards others, but you won't find too many people out there who will disagree that beating someone up leaves physical scars, or that shooting someone with a gun or stabbing them with a knife can potentially kill them.

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Originally posted by nbcrusader
You can't simply point to a law as the reference for what is harmful, because some laws passed by a majority are harmful to a minority.
True.

Quote:
Originally posted by nbcrusader
Also, if there are no absolutes, then it is relative and everything you argue for is relative to you and cannot be made to apply to everyone else.
I don't agree with absolutes namely because there are exceptions to a lot of situations in this world, and it's hard to say that something's wrong all the way across the board or right all the way across the board as a result of that.

Angela
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