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Where morality comes from.

Enter here to explore ethical issues and discuss the meaning and source of morality.
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Curtains
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Where morality comes from.

#1 Post by Curtains » May 16th, 2008, 5:39 pm

In spite of my submersion in the English language over the last five years, I sometimes still have comprehension problems. Can someone explain to me what Richard Dawkins means in this interview when he says that morality comes from

"a steadily shifting consensus of moral philosophy, of legal judgements, of parliamentary votes, of journalistic editorials, of dinner party conversations. There is a whole zeitgeist that is steadily moving that is fed by this complicated interplay of the things I just mentioned and it is across all of society..."

Do you agree with him?

Lord Muck oGentry
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Re: Where morality comes from.

#2 Post by Lord Muck oGentry » May 16th, 2008, 6:36 pm

As far as I can see, he's saying that what moral consensus there may be is influenced by many things. These influences are largely secular, and those religious people who insist that their moral opinions are derived from their religion are often simply mistaken. Many religious people are within the same moral consensus as irreligious people on many questions, and for the same reasons.

Religious thinkers pick out those bits of scripture that best suit the consensus of the day. Dawkins mentions slavery. Most people nowadays, whether religious or not, would say that it is morally vile. But it's easier to find passages in the Bible condoning it than condemning it, so the suggestion that religious people condemn it for religious reasons looks pretty suspect.
What we can't say, we can't say and we can't whistle it either. — Frank Ramsey

tubataxidriver
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Re: Where morality comes from.

#3 Post by tubataxidriver » May 16th, 2008, 10:00 pm

I think what Dawkins is also saying is that in the real world morality is a large scale social phenomenon, that develops and changes by social consensus, rather than being an individual thing between yourself and your conscience.

I think the example sources he mentions rather betray his "chattering classes" background - in practice any social situation will result in communication and refinement of the moral consensus of the day around the group, be it academics pontificating, parliamentarians expounding, the middle classes out shopping or the binge drinkers showing off their latest body piercings (to pick some trite stereotypes).

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Alan C.
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Re: Where morality comes from.

#4 Post by Alan C. » May 16th, 2008, 10:33 pm

Read this short piece of uninformed nonsense, and see if you can keep your supper down.
Humanism Leading Us Down Dangerous Path.
God commands that we must not murder. But under humanism, that command cannot be taught for the fear of violating the constantly misapplied “separation of church and state.
There's worse, and of course Adolf gets a mention (or three).
I mention that because of the parallel between our lack of moral standards and the chaos that we see, like the Columbine tragedy (which ties to Hitler and Darwin).
Edit. Sorry Alan it was only when I hit the back button that I realized this was from the "media scan" I thought I was somewhere else :puzzled: It's been a hard week and I'm knackered.
Abstinence Makes the Church Grow Fondlers.

Lord Muck oGentry
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Re: Where morality comes from.

#5 Post by Lord Muck oGentry » May 31st, 2008, 9:03 pm

A piece by Howard Jacobson:
http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/co ... 37436.html

I generally enjoy his cultured rants: often pigheaded, seldom blockheaded. But he's got this one badly wrong.
We forget the religious bedrock of decorum and decency on which our humanism is built. Some of my best friends are humanists, but there's not a one on whom you can't smell the long-anterior influence of the ethics which religion once taught.
Decorum and decency? The gospel-based charge of deicide against an entire people? The subjection of women? Vilification of homosexuals? If these represent religious decency, we need more godless wickedness.

Of course, it's always possible to pick out the good bits and give religion credit for them, while dismissing the bad bits as perversions of the True Meaning of religious belief. But why should we?
What we can't say, we can't say and we can't whistle it either. — Frank Ramsey

Lord Muck oGentry
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Re: Where morality comes from.

#6 Post by Lord Muck oGentry » May 31st, 2008, 9:11 pm

More from Stephen Law's site on the " moral capital " argument:
http://stephenlaw.blogspot.com/2007/12/ ... -move.html
What we can't say, we can't say and we can't whistle it either. — Frank Ramsey

Jem
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Re: Where morality comes from.

#7 Post by Jem » June 1st, 2008, 11:44 am

It's commonly claimed that even those of us who've abandoned it get our morals from religion but surely it's the other way round: religions are created by people so they get their morals from people and that's why so much of it sucks.

Apart from that last bit, I quite liked the HJ article and especially love some of the comments like this one:
Every time I read one of Howard Jacobson's smug, patronising and
self-satisfied articles I have violent fantasies of hitting his smarmy
face with a cricket bat. This proves that his writing is dangerous and
should be censored.
LOL!

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Alan H
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Re: Where morality comes from.

#8 Post by Alan H » June 1st, 2008, 5:08 pm

Unless you are an 'it all started with Adam and whatshername' type person, surely there was a time when religion hadn't entered the minds of early humans (certainly not xtianity). If they had no recognisable religion, how did they ever survive? Surely they would have all killed each other because they had no morality?
Alan Henness

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Emma Woolgatherer
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Re: Where morality comes from.

#9 Post by Emma Woolgatherer » June 1st, 2008, 8:20 pm

And there is evidence that other social animals possess at the very least some kind of proto-morality. There's a book I'd like to read sometime called Animal Passions and Beastly Virtues, by Marc Bekoff, that explores the subject.
Bekoff (2006: 140-1) wrote:Recent overviews of research by Stephanie Preston and Franz de Waal from the Yerkes Primate Center in Atlanta and Stanley Kuczaj's group at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg show that empathy is more widespread among animals than science has so far been willing to recognise. They point to research that suggests non-human primates, dolphins, whales, elephants and hippopotamuses, and even some rodents, behave in ways that support the claim that empathy has deep evolutionary roots.

In one classic study published in 1964, Stanley Wechlin and his team at the Northwestern University Medical School in Illinois showed that a hungry rhesus monkey would not take food if doing so meant another monkey got an electric shock. In similar situations rats will also hold back if they know their actions would cause pain to another individual.

Then there's the study published two decades ago by Hal Markowitz from San Francisco State University. He reported that after training Diana monkeys to insert a token into a slot to get food, he observed a male helping the oldest female who had failed to learn the task. On three occasions the male picked up the tokens she had dropped, put them into the machine and allowed her to have the food.
Emma

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Alan C.
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Re: Where morality comes from.

#10 Post by Alan C. » June 1st, 2008, 9:03 pm

Emma
Animal Passions and Beastly Virtues, by Marc Bekoff,
After reading the bit you quoted above, this is definitely on my list of must read books, thanks Emma.
Abstinence Makes the Church Grow Fondlers.

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Sauwelios
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Re: Where morality comes from.

#11 Post by Sauwelios » June 16th, 2008, 4:07 pm

Lord Muck oGentry wrote:Religious thinkers pick out those bits of scripture that best suit the consensus of the day. Dawkins mentions slavery. Most people nowadays, whether religious or not, would say that it is morally vile. But it's easier to find passages in the Bible condoning it than condemning it, so the suggestion that religious people condemn it for religious reasons looks pretty suspect.
But this fact (that it's easier etc.) shows that, in the past, slavery has been condoned. This suggests that the idea that slavery is morally vile is historical (that is, conditioned by one's place in space-time, and not just in time -- for as you say, most people, not all people, nowadays).
"The superman's willing of this eternal return is possible only if his will can emancipate itself from hatred of its past, a hatred responsible for modern egalitarian demands to be liberated from that past." (Harry Neumann, Liberalism.)

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Sauwelios
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Re: Where morality comes from.

#12 Post by Sauwelios » June 16th, 2008, 4:10 pm

Lord Muck oGentry wrote:The gospel-based charge of deicide against an entire people? The subjection of women? Vilification of homosexuals? If these represent religious decency, we need more godless wickedness.
Why? Are the things you mention objectively wrong?
"The superman's willing of this eternal return is possible only if his will can emancipate itself from hatred of its past, a hatred responsible for modern egalitarian demands to be liberated from that past." (Harry Neumann, Liberalism.)

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Sauwelios
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Re: Where morality comes from.

#13 Post by Sauwelios » June 16th, 2008, 4:11 pm

Jem wrote:It's commonly claimed that even those of us who've abandoned it get our morals from religion but surely it's the other way round: religions are created by people so they get their morals from people and that's why so much of it sucks.
Does this mean Humanism does not get its morals from people?
"The superman's willing of this eternal return is possible only if his will can emancipate itself from hatred of its past, a hatred responsible for modern egalitarian demands to be liberated from that past." (Harry Neumann, Liberalism.)

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Sauwelios
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Re: Where morality comes from.

#14 Post by Sauwelios » June 16th, 2008, 4:15 pm

Alan H wrote:Unless you are an 'it all started with Adam and whatshername' type person, surely there was a time when religion hadn't entered the minds of early humans (certainly not xtianity). If they had no recognisable religion, how did they ever survive? Surely they would have all killed each other because they had no morality?
Before religion there was shamanism, animism, and the like. Quote:

"We shamans come from the Stone Age. We have no religion. Religion is for those who can no longer see."
[Indra Doj Gurung, as quoted in Shamanism and Tantra in the Himalayas.]

See what? -- Spirits...
"The superman's willing of this eternal return is possible only if his will can emancipate itself from hatred of its past, a hatred responsible for modern egalitarian demands to be liberated from that past." (Harry Neumann, Liberalism.)

Maria Mac
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Re: Where morality comes from.

#15 Post by Maria Mac » June 16th, 2008, 7:19 pm

Sauwelios wrote:
Jem wrote:It's commonly claimed that even those of us who've abandoned it get our morals from religion but surely it's the other way round: religions are created by people so they get their morals from people and that's why so much of it sucks.
Does this mean Humanism does not get its morals from people?

:puzzled: No. Why would it?

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Sauwelios
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Re: Where morality comes from.

#16 Post by Sauwelios » June 16th, 2008, 8:31 pm

Maria wrote:
Sauwelios wrote:
Jem wrote:It's commonly claimed that even those of us who've abandoned it get our morals from religion but surely it's the other way round: religions are created by people so they get their morals from people and that's why so much of it sucks.
Does this mean Humanism does not get its morals from people?

:puzzled: No. Why would it?
Well, if its getting its morals from people is why so much of religion sucks, then that implies that if Humanism, too, gets its morals from people, much of Humanism sucks as well.
"The superman's willing of this eternal return is possible only if his will can emancipate itself from hatred of its past, a hatred responsible for modern egalitarian demands to be liberated from that past." (Harry Neumann, Liberalism.)

Lord Muck oGentry
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Re: Where morality comes from.

#17 Post by Lord Muck oGentry » June 16th, 2008, 8:43 pm

Sauwelios wrote:
Lord Muck oGentry wrote:Religious thinkers pick out those bits of scripture that best suit the consensus of the day. Dawkins mentions slavery. Most people nowadays, whether religious or not, would say that it is morally vile. But it's easier to find passages in the Bible condoning it than condemning it, so the suggestion that religious people condemn it for religious reasons looks pretty suspect.
But this fact (that it's easier etc.) shows that, in the past, slavery has been condoned. This suggests that the idea that slavery is morally vile is historical (that is, conditioned by one's place in space-time, and not just in time -- for as you say, most people, not all people, nowadays).
If you mean that people may pick up ideas from their own time and place, then I agree.
But their propensity to do this has no bearing on the quality of the ideas.
What we can't say, we can't say and we can't whistle it either. — Frank Ramsey

Lord Muck oGentry
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Re: Where morality comes from.

#18 Post by Lord Muck oGentry » June 16th, 2008, 8:50 pm

Sauwelios wrote:
Lord Muck oGentry wrote:The gospel-based charge of deicide against an entire people? The subjection of women? Vilification of homosexuals? If these represent religious decency, we need more godless wickedness.
Why? Are the things you mention objectively wrong?

Those things are morally nasty, all right.
I'm not sure what work the word " objectively" is doing there.
What we can't say, we can't say and we can't whistle it either. — Frank Ramsey

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Sauwelios
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Re: Where morality comes from.

#19 Post by Sauwelios » June 16th, 2008, 8:58 pm

Lord Muck oGentry wrote:
Sauwelios wrote:
Lord Muck oGentry wrote:Religious thinkers pick out those bits of scripture that best suit the consensus of the day. Dawkins mentions slavery. Most people nowadays, whether religious or not, would say that it is morally vile. But it's easier to find passages in the Bible condoning it than condemning it, so the suggestion that religious people condemn it for religious reasons looks pretty suspect.
But this fact (that it's easier etc.) shows that, in the past, slavery has been condoned. This suggests that the idea that slavery is morally vile is historical (that is, conditioned by one's place in space-time, and not just in time -- for as you say, most people, not all people, nowadays).
If you mean that people may pick up ideas from their own time and place, then I agree.
But their propensity to do this has no bearing on the quality of the ideas.
But according to which standard will you measure the quality of ideas? If you regard the idea that slavery is morally vile as a good idea, have you judged it by a timeless standard or by a historical standard?
"The superman's willing of this eternal return is possible only if his will can emancipate itself from hatred of its past, a hatred responsible for modern egalitarian demands to be liberated from that past." (Harry Neumann, Liberalism.)

Maria Mac
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Re: Where morality comes from.

#20 Post by Maria Mac » June 16th, 2008, 10:09 pm

Sauwelios wrote:
Maria wrote:
Sauwelios wrote: Does this mean Humanism does not get its morals from people?

:puzzled: No. Why would it?
Well, if its getting its morals from people is why so much of religion sucks, then that implies that if Humanism, too, gets its morals from people, much of Humanism sucks as well.
It doesn't imply anything of the sort, Sauwelios. Humanists recognise that all systems of morality come from human beings - of course they do, where else can they come from? - but this doesn't mean that all systems of morality suck.

Jem's point was that religion is man-made and reflects human prejudices. For example, the reason religions say homosexuality is wrong is because this is what human beings have believed and continue to believe, not because any god has said so. And a morality that says that homosexuality is wrong does suck because homosexuality per se hurts nobody but declaring it a sin and discriminating against homosexuals does hurt people.

In making moral decisions, humanists strive to overcome silly human prejudices and be more sensitive to the joys and sufferings of others.

So humanism doesn't suck.

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