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Thread: To what extent can ethics be anchored in reason?

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    tWebber carpedm9587's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by showmeproof View Post
    Having children, i've often marveled at how we survived the savanahs. Incessant and untimely screams would have kept me from sleeping in fear of lurking predators.
    Good point...

    Having children, I am in awe of single parents. I have no idea how I would have survived without my wife - and we have just our two boys.

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    tWebber Starlight's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by guacamole View Post
    I'm curious how atheists and other non-religious folk find or create ethical rules. A lot of Christians assert that with out God, there is no reason to be good. I'm interested in turning the question around. What is the basis of ethics in non-theistic systems?
    To me, I take the words "morality" or "ethics" to simply mean altruism.

    Why be altruistic? There are a huge range of reasons from evolutionary impulses to do so, to game-theoretic analyses that suggest some variant of "forgiving tit-for-tat" strategies are almost always most beneficial, to the observation that being a nice and kind person has its own psychological rewards, to scientific findings that happiness is contagious and so the effects we have on the people around us in turn affect us, to simply arbitrarily deciding to be a nice person etc.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Starlight View Post
    To me, I take the words "morality" or "ethics" to simply mean altruism.

    Why be altruistic? There are a huge range of reasons from evolutionary impulses to do so, to game-theoretic analyses that suggest some variant of "forgiving tit-for-tat" strategies are almost always most beneficial, to the observation that being a nice and kind person has its own psychological rewards, to scientific findings that happiness is contagious and so the effects we have on the people around us in turn affect us, to simply arbitrarily deciding to be a nice person etc.
    That get's us into an interesting place. Is there REALLY such a thing as altruism?

    Or do we always act for some sort of personal gratification?

    Even in the moral realm - cannot we argue that we act morally because it brings us a degree of well being to do so?

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    Quote Originally Posted by carpedm9587 View Post
    That get's us into an interesting place. Is there REALLY such a thing as altruism?

    Or do we always act for some sort of personal gratification?

    Even in the moral realm - cannot we argue that we act morally because it brings us a degree of well being to do so?
    I think it is generally in people's selfish interests to act kindly and with love and compassion toward others and 'unselfishly'. From a moral perspective I don't view their reasons for acting with positively toward others as mattering.

    I see morality is a measure of whether the intent behind interpersonal interactions is positive or negative. So if someone is nice to someone else, that's all there is to it as far as morality is concerned - they are being nice, they are acting with positive intent toward another person. It doesn't matter why they are doing so - they might be expecting God to reward them for it in the afterlife, they might just be in the habit of acting that way, they might be hoping that person will agree to have sex with them, they might be a moral philosopher who has made a philosophical decision that they will live their live morally and always be nice to others, etc.

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    tWebber
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    Quote Originally Posted by carpedm9587 View Post
    That get's us into an interesting place. Is there REALLY such a thing as altruism?

    Or do we always act for some sort of personal gratification?

    Even in the moral realm - cannot we argue that we act morally because it brings us a degree of well being to do so?
    Personally I think there's a bit of both, i.e. there's the personal gratification we get in helping others, as well as altruism which i think is just another term for human empathy or love. But I also don't believe that such human characteristics are inherent, or if they are, they're not developed. I think empathy matures in time, that over time, one either learns, or doesn't learn, to walk in anothers shoes. But, its a hard question! People are different.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Starlight View Post
    I think it is generally in people's selfish interests to act kindly and with love and compassion toward others and 'unselfishly'. From a moral perspective I don't view their reasons for acting with positively toward others as mattering.

    I see morality is a measure of whether the intent behind interpersonal interactions is positive or negative. So if someone is nice to someone else, that's all there is to it as far as morality is concerned - they are being nice, they are acting with positive intent toward another person. It doesn't matter why they are doing so - they might be expecting God to reward them for it in the afterlife, they might just be in the habit of acting that way, they might be hoping that person will agree to have sex with them, they might be a moral philosopher who has made a philosophical decision that they will live their live morally and always be nice to others, etc.
    Unfortunately, that tends to gut the whole concept of morality. Intent is a key part of moral action. If I act in accordance with my moral code, and there is an unforeseen negative impact - it does not mean I acted immorally. Likewise, if I take an action that aligns with my moral code, knowing there will be a negative outcome and intending it, I cannot truly be acting morally.

    Case in point - I save a child from being hit by a bus at the risk of my own life - moral act. That the child turns out to be Hitler does not change the good of my act.

    However, if I am careening towards an accident and will intenvitably hit one of two people, and I purposefully aim my car at the man I owe money to knowing it will relieve me of my debt - my intent mars the morality of my act.

    Intent, in the world of morality, is critical, IMO.

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    tWebber carpedm9587's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JimL View Post
    Personally I think there's a bit of both, i.e. there's the personal gratification we get in helping others, as well as altruism which i think is just another term for human empathy or love. But I also don't believe that such human characteristics are inherent, or if they are, they're not developed. I think empathy matures in time, that over time, one either learns, or doesn't learn, to walk in anothers shoes. But, its a hard question! People are different.
    In general, I agree. No motive is pure. We seek to do good - and we delight in the sense of well being it gives us. The latter does not negate the former.

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    tWebber Starlight's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by carpedm9587 View Post
    Unfortunately, that tends to gut the whole concept of morality. Intent is a key part of moral action. If I act in accordance with my moral code, and there is an unforeseen negative impact - it does not mean I acted immorally. Likewise, if I take an action that aligns with my moral code, knowing there will be a negative outcome and intending it, I cannot truly be acting morally.

    Case in point - I save a child from being hit by a bus at the risk of my own life - moral act. That the child turns out to be Hitler does not change the good of my act.

    However, if I am careening towards an accident and will intenvitably hit one of two people, and I purposefully aim my car at the man I owe money to knowing it will relieve me of my debt - my intent mars the morality of my act.

    Intent, in the world of morality, is critical, IMO.
    Hmm, I agree with what you say here, but for some reason you seem to think you are disagreeing with me?

    I consider the intention (rather than the consequences) to be what makes an action moral or immoral. If the intent is positive toward others in the mind of the actor, it is moral, if not not.

    What I am saying is that I am not particularly interested in the causal chain any further back than that. I am not generally interested in what inspired the person's decision to act with positive intent at that moment, only that they did act with positive intent at that moment. So if a person gives $1000 to charity to help sick children because they want to help sick children, that is moral because they acted with positive intent toward others, and I am not interested in psychoanalysis of their life history to try to determine whether they were led toward this action by evolution, a childhood experience, or flipping a coin, as long as at the instant they undertook the action their intention in taking it was to help others. So, for example, what could make the $1000 donation to charity not a moral act would be if they were guilt-tripped into doing it by ten people glaring at them until they did it and they undertook the donation with no thought of or interest in helping the children and solely out of a desire to reduce the embarrassment they were currently experiencing due to peer pressure.

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    tWebber carpedm9587's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Starlight View Post
    Hmm, I agree with what you say here, but for some reason you seem to think you are disagreeing with me?

    I consider the intention (rather than the consequences) to be what makes an action moral or immoral. If the intent is positive toward others in the mind of the actor, it is moral, if not not.

    What I am saying is that I am not particularly interested in the causal chain any further back than that. I am not generally interested in what inspired the person's decision to act with positive intent at that moment, only that they did act with positive intent at that moment. So if a person gives $1000 to charity to help sick children because they want to help sick children, that is moral because they acted with positive intent toward others, and I am not interested in psychoanalysis of their life history to try to determine whether they were led toward this action by evolution, a childhood experience, or flipping a coin, as long as at the instant they undertook the action their intention in taking it was to help others. So, for example, what could make the $1000 donation to charity not a moral act would be if they were guilt-tripped into doing it by ten people glaring at them until they did it and they undertook the donation with no thought of or interest in helping the children and solely out of a desire to reduce the embarrassment they were currently experiencing due to peer pressure.
    Understood. And you're right - I did misunderstand your statement. My bad.

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