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Atheist Morality

The purpose of this group is to discuss morality from all points of view: biological, evolutionary, philosophical. Specific moral questions are encouraged: if you have a moral question for us atheists, feel free to post it here.

Location: #philosophy
Members: 94
Latest Activity: Jul 18

Do atheists have morals?

We atheists are pretty tired of hearing that without religion, there would be no morality. It is offensive to us atheists, since this implies we cannot possibly be moral, or if we are in fact, moral, it is because we were raised in a culture in which morality was initially acquired, and still perpetuated, by religion.
 
While it is indeed possible that some people may need religion in order to be moral, this is a scary thought: their morality has not been reasoned or felt in their gut, it was "ordered" from above.
 
Human beings have had moral laws and codes for thousands and thousands of years before religion was ever invented, at least in an organized form.  Human beings around the globe, from many religious backgrounds, have pretty much the same basic set of rules, starting with the Golden Rule. Why? Because our moral sense comes from the evolution of our brains and the need to live as a social species, avoiding conflict and increasing cooperation.  Our moral sense is based on our emotions: it feels good to help others, and it feels bad to harm others.
 
The scientific study of human nature has naturally lead to the scientific study of human morality. A good start if you're new to this fascinating and important subject is The New Science of Morality, from Edge.org.
 
Useful links or articles:
 
The Moral Instinct- great long article in the NYT by Steven Pinker
 
The communication of emotions and the possibility of empathy in animals, by Stephanie Preston and Frans de Waal (book chapter)
Preston_deWaal2002chapter.pdf
 
The Normative Insignificance of Neuroscience- Scholarly article by Harvard philosopher Selim Berker (hat tip to Julia Galef) who argues that we can never derive normative implications from neural facts about how we reach moral decisions. Opposite point of view to Peter Singer and Joshua Greene. Not sure I agree completely but it's good to challenge ourselves with opposing views in any field.
berker_norminsignifneuro_Final.pdf
 
Moral psychology: The depths of disgust
Is there wisdom to be found in repugnance? Or is disgust 'the nastiest of all emotions', offering nothing but support to prejudice? Dan Jones looks at the repellent side of human nature.
Howandwheredoesmoraljudgmentwork.pdf


Recent evidence suggests that moral judgment is more a matter of emotion and affective intuition than deliberate reasoning.  Psychology and cognitive neuroscience studies point to the importance of affect, although reasoning can play a restricted but significant role in moral judgment. A preliminary account of the functional neuroanatomy of moral judgment is presented, according to which many brain areas make important contributions to moral judgment although none is devoted specifically to it.
 
We will be adding recurrent threads that people keep adding new material to, for reference or because the subject is a tidbit that does not warrant its own separate discussion:
 
The Moral Treasure Chest
 
Moral Dilemmas- this is a thread for moral dilemmas (a part of applied ethics), feel free to post your favorite moral dilemma, real of made up, and what you would do and why (coming up soon).
 
Online tests: These are academic tests designed to probe our moral sense, moral cognition, and what drives our moral decisions and judgments. They are fun, they will tell you a lot about yourself, and you'll be helping researchers add to their current data.
 
YourMorals.org (Jonathan Haidt's group and collaborators).
 
The Moral Sense Test (Joshua Greene-Harvard University)

Discussion Forum

"We have failed Leah Lebresco"

Started by Don. Last reply by Onyango Makagutu Nov 4, 2013. 54 Replies

Erstwhile atheist blogger Leah Lebresco is a profound and engaging thinker whose writing I had been following for a short while.  She and my daughter were college classmates, graduating last May, and I used to enjoy her opinion pieces in the Yale…Continue

Why?

Started by Jacqueline Little. Last reply by Lester Unega Waya Oct 21, 2013. 66 Replies

I'm an Atheist. I have been for a while now. But What I don't Quite understand is why Are So many people against it?Continue

What Isn’t for Sale?

Started by A Former Member. Last reply by Onyango Makagutu Apr 30, 2013. 3 Replies

What Isn’t for Sale?Market thinking so permeates our lives that we barely notice it anymore. A leading philosopher sums up the hidden costs of a price-tag society.THERE ARE SOME THINGS money can’t buy—but these days, not many. Almost everything is…Continue

Tags: ethics, free-market capitalism, morals, economy, capitalism

The 'Truth' About Why We Lie, Cheat And Steal

Started by A Former Member Apr 21, 2013. 0 Replies

Chances are, you're a liar. Maybe not a big liar — but a liar nonetheless. That's the finding of Dan Ariely, a professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University. He's run experiments with some 30,000 people and found that very few…Continue

Tags: ethics, morality, psychology, Ariely, honesty

The empathy machine

Started by A Former Member Apr 20, 2013. 0 Replies

The empathy machine Sherlock was right – new research shows that seeing through another's eyes takes a detached mind not just a warm heartWhat’s the first thing you think of when you hear the name Sherlock Holmes? It might be a deerstalker, a pipe…Continue

Tags: autism, morality, feeling, Sherlock Holmes, creativity

The Moral Treasure Chest

Started by Adriana. Last reply by A Former Member Apr 9, 2013. 87 Replies

This discussion is for all the great links, pdfs, videos, or general…Continue

Tags: reports, ethics, studies, videos, philosophy

Simon Blackburn and Moral Quasi-Realism

Started by Adriana. Last reply by Adriana Apr 7, 2013. 5 Replies

I've been thinking hard about how I would describe my moral position, from a philosophical point of view. Since I do not agree with moral relativism or with moral absolutism (perhaps better called "moral realism"), I think I found a position that…Continue

Tags: philosophy, humanism, moral, quasi-realism, Simon Blackburn

How mood influences moral decisions

Started by Adriana. Last reply by Neal Mar 12, 2013. 2 Replies

Here's a great blog post in Scientific American: "How Your Moral Decisions are Shaped by a Bad Mood"…Continue

Tags: cognition, emotions, decisions, psychology, morality

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Comment by doone on July 18, 2014 at 6:05pm

A lunch sign about morality 

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Comment by doone on July 7, 2014 at 2:16pm

The Tears Of An Elephant

JUL 7 2014 @ 12:03PM

Thailand's Elephant Hospital and Mahout School

Yesterday, there was a strikingly good reported piece in the NYT magazine on the growing evidence that consciousness does not have some kind of radical break between humans and every other species on the planet. And by consciousness, at varying levels, I mean, for example, the ability to feel fear, or joy, or anxiety, or even grief. This is emphatically not about anthropomorphism. It’s about the reality of creation:

A profusion of recent studies has shown animals to be far closer to us than we previously believed — it turns out that common shore crabs feel and remember pain, zebra finches experience REM sleep, fruit-fly brothers cooperate, dolphins and elephants recognize themselves in mirrors, chimpanzees assist one another without expecting favors in return and dogs really do feel elation in their owners’ presence. In the summer of 2012, an unprecedented document, masterminded by Low — “The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness in Human and Nonhuman An...”[PDF] — was signed by a group of leading animal researchers in the presence of Stephen Hawking. It asserted that mammals, birds and other creatures like octopuses possess consciousness and, in all likelihood, emotions and self-awareness.

And then I come across this rather beautiful story about an elephant around my own age, captured in his infancy, chained and shackled his entire life, until he is released by an animal welfare group:

Comment by doone on March 22, 2014 at 7:09am

A POSTHUMAN ETHICS

CroooMichael Cronin at The Dublin Review of Books:

Louis Borges once grouped animals into three classes: those we watch television with, those we eat, and those we are scared of. Another more psychoanalytically inflected way of classifying these relationships might be the oedipal (you and me on the same sofa), the instrumental (you will end up by being eaten) and the fantasmatic (how exotic, sleek, dangerous you are). In Braidotti’s view a posthuman ethics implies an end to forms of “anthropolatry” which not only obscure emergent forms of species thinking but consign all other species to dangerous, destructive and ecologically untenable forms of subordination. If “becoming animal” in Hiberno-English is an occasional and unfortunate consequence of excessive alcohol consumption, for Braidotti it is a way of realising the irretrievably embodied, material nature of our existence on a planet that we share with innumerable other species that we continue to destroy in vast numbers. The current rate in the loss of species diversity alone is similar in intensity to the event that 65 million years ago wiped out the dinosaurs. As against this, the emerging fields of eco-criticism and animal studies show the new kinds of transdisciplinary formations that are coming to the fore in the wake of the crisis of the human in the Anthropocene. In a post-Orwellian move, some animals are beginning to recognise that they might not be more equal than others and are starting to wonder what this might mean for the planet. 

more here.

- See more at: http://www.3quarksdaily.com/#sthash.JSJTb6KU.dpuf

Comment by doone on February 18, 2014 at 9:40am

Don’t Fear The Worst

FEB 17 2014 @ 7:27PM

But, if you borrow a page from the Stoics’ playbook, you may want to anticipate it:

The Stoics, who inspired the pioneers of modern cognitive-behaviour therapies, recommended a practice called premeditatio malorum. This involved envisaging all the evils one could foresee – such as being sent into exile, tortured or shipwrecked. The idea behind this seemingly morbid exercise was that it would help them to react to bad news with equanimity. If such things actually happened, they’d be well prepared. The Stoic advice was to anticipate, not fear, the worst.

The second component of the practice – cultivating equanimity – is as important as the first. If we just focus our attention on all the things that are bound to go wrong and how awful it would be if they did, the exercise would be likely to cause depression rather than serenity.

Most of us are not Stoics but we could still benefit from reflecting on how we think of potential negative events. The first point is to remember that these things may, rather than definitely will, happen. The second is to ask what the most constructive reaction would be if they actually happened. Imagine you lost your job: what resources could you draw on to deal with the situation?

Comment by doone on January 23, 2014 at 11:30pm

HAPPINESS AND ITS DISCONTENTS

Photo_45547_portrait_largeMari Ruti at The Chronicle Review:

If all of that isn't enough to make you suspicious of the cultural injunction to be happy, consider this basic psychoanalytic insight: Human beings may not be designed for happy, balanced lives. The irony of happiness is that it's precisely when we manage to feel happy that we are also most keenly aware that the feeling might not last. Insofar as each passing moment of happiness brings us closer to its imminent collapse, happiness is merely a way of anticipating unhappiness; it's a deviously roundabout means of producing anxiety.

Take the notion that happiness entails a healthy lifestyle. Our society is hugely enthusiastic about the idea that we can keep illness at bay through a meticulous management of our bodies. The avoidance of risk factors such as smoking, drinking, and sexual promiscuity, along with a balanced diet and regular exercise, is supposed to guarantee our longevity. To a degree, that is obviously true. But the insistence on healthy habits is also a way to moralize illness, to cast judgment on those who fail to adhere to the right regimen. Ultimately, as the queer theorist Tim Dean has illustrated, we are dealing with a regulation of pleasure—a process of medicalization that tells us which kinds of pleasures are acceptable and which are not.

more here.

- See more at: http://www.3quarksdaily.com/#sthash.7KrAuyG3.dpuf

Comment by doone on January 12, 2014 at 12:12pm

The Foundations Of Morality

JAN 12 2014 @ 9:31AM

Just before Christmas, Ross Douthat wrote a column (NYT) wondering how scientific materialism and its account of “a purely physical and purposeless universe” could provide the basis for liberal egalitarianism. Jerry Coyne took the bait:

I’m not sure what Douthat means when he says “cosmology does not harmonize at all” with the moral picture of secularism. Cosmology doesn’t give one iota of evidence for a purpose (it could!) or for God. Most of the universe is cold, bleak, airless, and uninhabitable. In fact, such a cosmology harmonizes far better with a secular moral picture than a religious one. Secularists see a universe without apparent purpose and realize that we must forge our own purposes and ethics, not derive them from a God for which there’s no evidence.

Yes, secularism does propose a physical and purposeless universe, and many (but not all) of us accept the notion that our sense of self is a neuronal illusion. But although the universe is purposeless, our lives aren’t. This conflation of a purposeless universe (i.e., one not created by a transcendent being for a specific reason) with purposeless human lives is a trick that the faithful use to make atheism seem dark and nihilistic. But we make our own purposes, and they’re real.

Comment by doone on December 30, 2013 at 8:14am

Comment by Chris on December 30, 2013 at 8:09am

Comment by doone on December 29, 2013 at 3:48pm

Our Genetic Moral Code

DEC 29 2013 @ 3:31PM

Back in November, in an interview with Sam Harris, Paul Bloom explained the thesis of his new book, Just Babies:

Certainly some morality is learned; this has to be the case because moral ideals differ across societies. Nobody is born with the belief that sexism is wrong (a moral belief that you and I share) or that blasphemy should be punished by death (a moral belief that you and I reject). Such views are the product of culture and society. They aren’t in the genes.

But the argument I make in Just Babies is that there also exist hardwired moral universals—moral principles that we all possess. And even those aspects of morality—such as the evils of sexism—that vary across cultures are ultimately grounded in these moral foundations.

A very different misconception sometimes arises, often stemming from a religious or spiritual outlook. It’s that we start off as Noble Savages, as fundamentally good and moral beings. From this perspective, society and government and culture are corrupting influences, blotting out and overriding our natural and innate kindness.

This, too, is mistaken. We do have a moral core, but it is limited—Hobbes was closer to the truth than Rousseau. Relative to an adult, your typical toddler is selfish, parochial, and bigoted. I like the way Kingsley Amis once put it: “It was no wonder that people were so horrible when they started life as children.” Morality begins with the genes, but it doesn’t end there.

Comment by doone on December 28, 2013 at 2:30pm

‘JUST BABIES: THE ORIGINS OF GOOD AND EVIL

Simon Baron-Cohen in The New York Times:

BabyIs morality innate? In his new book, “Just Babies,” the psychologist Paul Bloom draws from his research at the Yale Infant Cognition Center to argue that “certain moral foundations are not acquired through learning. . . . They are instead the products of biological evolution.” Infants may be notoriously difficult to study (rats and pigeons “can at least run mazes or peck at levers”), but according to Bloom, they are, in fact, “moral creatures.” He describes a study in which 1-year-olds watched a puppet show where a ball is passed to a “nice” puppet (who passes it back) or to a “naughty” puppet (who steals it). Invited to reward or punish the puppets, children took treats away from the “naughty” one. These 1-year-olds seem to be making moral judgments, but is this an inborn ability?

...He also describes remarkable classic experiments, some of which left this reader stunned. One study by the psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark involved presenting black children with black and white dolls. In the segregated South, a ­majority of children preferred the white dolls and used negative attributes to describe the black dolls. Bloom says this study, referred to in the Brown v. Board of Education decision to end school segregation, “might well be the most important developmental psychology finding in American history.” But how it fits into his theory of morality is less clear, since the experiment only really shows that, without exposure to people from different backgrounds, we have a tendency to judge others based on stereotypes.

More here.

- See more at: http://www.3quarksdaily.com/#sthash.ddtsF8Db.dpuf

 
 
 

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