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Introduction - a discussion 
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Post Re: Secular morals
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Until there is an attempt to refound the moral concepts that lay at root in any modern cultural unit on a thoroughly secular foundation, the suspicion that those moral concepts are actually dependent on latent, possibly forgotten, religious trains of thought ought to remain firm.
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It is not at all clear what is meant to say that one moral framework is based upon, or derived from, or dependent upon another. If all it means is that "this is where we got the idea", it doesn't seem to be very important. Maybe the Christians had the idea first, but so what!

It might be implied, however, that the validity of a value system I support is dependent upon the assumptions (i.e. the truth) of the earlier system. i.e. if there is no God then I cannot demonstrate the validity of my moral judgements.

But the whole question of "deriving" moral claims has been totally in doubt since (at least) Hume pointed out that you cannot derive an "ought" from an "is". No agreed set of facts, he is saying, ever allows you to logically derive a moral judgement.

So it is not at all clear how any set of "religious" facts can ever be used to demonstrate a moral statement in the first place. OK. God says we ought to do it. But does that make it good? What if God is not good? If you start off by claiming that God is good, then you are sneaking your moral value in right there. If you can jump straight into evaluations of what is good and what is not, so can I!




Fri Aug 05, 2005 11:07 am
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Post Re: Introduction
Holy cow, I thought I would just pop in and give some thoughts, but I'm only half way through the thread. First thing I wanted to point out was the definition of secularism that Jacoby gives in a footnote since Mad had asked about it. Since he isn't reading the book I will just put the whole foot note from the second page up.
Quote:
Throughout this book, I have taken the liberty of using the words secularism and secularist-even though the latter was not in common usage until the second half of nineteenth centure-to denote a concept of public good based on human reason and human rights rather than divine authority. The Oxford English Dictionary Defines secularism as "the doctrine that morality should be based solely on regard to the well-being of mankind in the present life, to the exclusion of all consideration drawn from belief in God or in a Future state." The term first appeared in print in 1851 and soon took on a political as well as a philosophical meaning, distinguishing the secular (a much older word than secularist) functions of government from the domain of religion. In eighteenth-century political discourse, the adjective civil was the closest equivalent of secularist, and many of the founders used the word to refer to the public, nonreligious sphere of government, as distinct from the private role of religion.
I will have to go back to look for what Mr. P is talking about, I don't remember anything specifically on secular conflating or not conflating with non-religious.

From MadArchitect:
Quote:
Because morality must ultimately stand on a foundation of values, and the practical validity of any moral or ethical claim will ultimately require the substantiation of those values by reference to something absolute or near absolute.


Why? Who says this is so, and who left him in charge?

A group of people can choose to adopt a set of values and then base their morality on that. I see no reason why a consensus cannot act as the reference point for values. Who says it has to be the guy who says the invisible dude in the sky told him so? If that is good enough to be an absolute point to base a moral system on, then I see no reason why a group of people can't decide to make a basis of what they have discussed and decided as a group. Do not misunderstand and think that I am claiming that one can reach the beginning point of morals using logic. I am saying examining starting points and systems and then making a choice is a preferable method to accepting a moral system based on values that some dude says some god gave him. The latter method is absolutely ridiculous.

Quote:

That foundation cannot, of course, be substantiated by a secular framework, but it's really only vulnerable to the same argument we would have against secular values, which is that they must ultimately be founded on faith.


The part I disagree with is that secular values must ultimately be founded on faith. When you grind value systems down to the point that they are based on, it is not having to believe that some god talked to some guy and you just have to believe him, it is a given reason and you either choose to accept it or choose to reject it.

From Mr. P:
Quote:
Just because a majority want or need something, does not mean it is necessary.

Isn't need what makes something necessary?

I do not think that all things about all religions are all bad. Allow me a comparison...some people like to use drugs to alter their perceptions. They enjoy the state that their mind enters when they are under the influence of something. Religion is not all about rules and morals and giving money and hierarchy and taking over the world. A huge part of it mentally satisfying. There are rituals that have been handed from one generation to the next that alter the perceptions or heighten awareness in a similar manner to taking drugs. Some people are religious without believing in supernatural beings. Have you ever met a Wiccan who simply loved the rituals? Have you ever met a Catholic who felt a beautiful sense of calm after attending mass while not even buying the bs?

MA:
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Careful now, or we're likely to get back into that argument about whether or not myths support all belief structures, religious or atheist.

I do not understand. Do you mean myths existing don't support all things that have belief structures? Okay, now I don't even understand what I'm typing. :)

And about religions being the catalyst for lots of what we enjoy today, do you claim that without religion humans would never have come up with most of it? I would disagree with that. There would have been other motivations. But then, I do not claim that all things religious are anathema, so I really don't care if monks invented wine when I take a glass, and it doesn't bother me that the pasteurization process was invented for wine.




Tue Aug 09, 2005 3:22 am
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Post Re: morals
misterpessimistic: From what you imply by your statement, logic is ultimately insufficient in spite of itself and thus is not valid as a method of discerning anything, since it is based on something that cannot be logically sound. It is subjective.

Yes and no. Logic is insufficient by itself, and reason follows suit in so much as you see the two as more or less synonymous. That doesn't make logic invalid, though it invalidates the notion that you can arrive at any knowledge by logic alone. Logic itself is about as far from subjective as human thought can get (which doesn't necessarily make it truly objective), but it doesn't work without premises that are, the more you boil them down, subjective.

So, for all your study of logic and your knowledge of it, it means nothing by your own definition. Sounds like you wasted your time in that case.

Would my time have been better served by accepting at face value what the majority thinks is implied by logic? At any rate, you're wrong: my study of logic hasn't brought me to the conclusion that it "means nothing." It's brought me to a far sharper understanding of logic that I would have gotten simply from accepting it as its presented in normal conversation.

Logic is essentially a language that describes the relationship between ideas. That's all it is, and on its own it is incapable of producing anything. You can no more produce a logical proof without alogical premises than you could produce a grammatically correct sentence without words.

Whatever...but maybe I just consider much of what you propose in this and similar topics not worthy of discussion.

I'd certainly assume that to the case if you read but didn't respond. But you seem to think that what I've said at least demands a response.

You have this bad habit of chastising others for not wanting to talk about what you want to talk about.

I didn't draw you into this discussion. I don't recall having chastised anyone for not talking to me about this. I made my point, and people responded, including you. I'm just opposed to the view that we've demonstrated the incommensurability of our positions. I think that if we really sat down and discussed this, placing the desire to understand above the desire to "win", we could eventually arrive at the common ground that woul allow both of us to see the other's position in a clearer light. And I may be wrong about that -- it may be that there is no common ground -- but I don't think we've discussed this anywhere near enough to conclude that as of yet.

The only proof you offer for this is your statements...and you totally mis-understand & underestimate the power of reason if you cannot understand that there is a reality out from which we can base our existence.

Not at all. Here's the catch -- logic cannot touch the reality that is "out there". Reason can only do so if you include experience as part of reason, but that has complications. A major complication is one that you've brought up in another thread -- that our apparatus for gathering and interpreting experience is designed not as a means of discerning truth, but as a means of promoting survival. Human sight, for instance, has evolved to identify outlines and solid spaces, even though these shapes may not correspond directly to what is actually before us.

I think that there are a number of good reasons for excluding experience from the category of reason -- the very fact that we talk of people having irrational experiences says much. And if that's the case, then I'm not sure that you can make appeal to pure reason, because the statements which make up the premises required by any rational argument must then come from experience, which lies outside of reason.

But then, I'd be interested to hear exactly what you mean when you say reason.

There is much we do not understand in our world and universe, but reason and the idea of science is the best way we have to figure that out...because it is the only way we can be honest with ourselves about reality.

Science can never lead us to understand everything about the world and universe, because in order to arrive at its reliable methodology it must exclude the consideration of anything that is not quantifiable. Science, in a certain sense, proceeds by quantifiying everything. And in doing so, it may produce a kind of knowledge that is about everything, but in doing so it limits what can be known about everything.

If you've gotten the impression that I am hostile to science, let me disillusion you. Science does what it does terribly well. I'm simply opposed to the idea that science should stand in the place of all knowledge. It has its limitations, just like any methodology, and the more willing we are to recognize those limitations the more capable we are placing its conclusions in the proper context.

re: the relationship of morals to values,
scrumfish: Why? Who says this is so, and who left him in charge?

I say so, and no one left me in charge, although some people seem to think that my arguments either have to be accepted at face value or altogether rejected.

As for why, I'd say that it's inherent in the intent of morality. What is the purpose of morality, if not to protect that which we value?

Let's look at it in terms of an example: It's a widely held moral axiom that it is wrong to murder. But why? The easiest way to express why is that we value human life.

But then someone might argue the social contract perspective: murder is wrong not because we value human life itself, but because we agree not to kill one another. That seems, to me, merely to put off the identification of the underlying value. Because wherever we accept the argument from social contract, we may then also take the examination a step further and ask why anyone should uphold the social contract. And there are at least two possible answers here. One is that we uphold the contract so that it will be upheld with us, which leads us further back to say that we uphold it because we value our own lives. The other is that we uphold the social contract as a matter of honor and trust, both of which are values.

Who says it has to be the guy who says the invisible dude in the sky told him so?

No one. I certainly haven't argued that. Don't read too much into my suggestion that all these values have their basis in a religious perspective. I am not suggesting, as some people seem to have assumed, that our morals have necessarily come from divine revelation. When I talk about a religious basis for values and morals, I'm talking largely about a particular kind of intuitive leap that allows us to create these categories. The concept of truth, for instance, is not something that we encounter in nature, nor does it appear to be something that we reasoned towards. It was a leap, similar to the sort of unheralded mutations by which evolution progresses, and a historical analysis points to religion as the cultural perspective that facilitated such a leap. The result is not that some guy says, "Hey, let's use truth as the cornerstone of our morality" -- there is, prior to the conceptual leap, no notion of truth. The result is the advent of this notion of truth, a whole new category of reality, which facilitates ideas and systems that were not possible beforehand.

The part I disagree with is that secular values must ultimately be founded on faith. When you grind value systems down to the point that they are based on, it is not having to believe that some god talked to some guy and you just have to believe him, it is a given reason and you either choose to accept it or choose to reject it.

Again, I think you're reading too much into what I mean by faith. I don't want to follow that tangent out to far, as it's something that I've discussed at length in the "Philosophy, Religion and the Arts" forum. Suffice it to say that when I talk about faith, I'm usually not referring to the big-F Faith that seems to be the primary interpretation here. By faith I mostly mean the kind of thinking that takes a particular idea as given, without recourse to further logical analysis. In that sense, faith is necessary to any logical argument, as your conclusion must ultimately stand on premises that are unquestioned.

I do not understand. Do you mean myths existing don't support all things that have belief structures? Okay, now I don't even understand what I'm typing.

Heh, neither do I, but it might be an interesting idea, once we sort out the grammar.

What I meant to refer to was an argument that Mr. P and I had in the "Battle for God" discussion, in which I asserted that myths are essentially stories that constitute a given idea or institution, that is, they make something possible. And that characteristic is not a side effect of something more essential in myths -- it's the entire modus operandi of myth. If you look hard enough, I think you can see myths just about everywhere. They're operative in nearly every social institution imaginable -- there are myths that undergird the idea of the United States, myths that undergird Catholicism, Anarchist myths, and so on. Italian historian Guglielmo Ferrero points to Roussea's "social contract" as a kind of myth, though I doubt Ferroro ever followed out the idea to the extreme that I have.

And about religions being the catalyst for lots of what we enjoy today, do you claim that without religion humans would never have come up with most of it? I would disagree with that.

No, I wouldn't make a claim quite so sweeping. I will say, however, that there's no evidence to suggest that we would. But lack of evidence is not proof.

The positive claim that I will make is that it would have been stupendously difficult to arrive at our current level of conceptual sophistication by other means. The bases for our modern way of thinking are so primordeal -- the notions of truth, beauty, good, dispensation, justice, and so on -- that I doubt that anyone living today can imagine another avenue that would have really worked. To take these things as simple ideas is to underestimate the difficulty that must have taken place in giving them birth in the first place. R. G. Collingwood has traced the development of philosophy back to Greek and pre-Ionian religious thought, and without philosophy I'm not sure how we would have ever instituted reason or science.




Tue Aug 09, 2005 1:25 pm
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Post Re: morals
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Because wherever we accept the argument from social contract, we may then also take the examination a step further and ask why anyone should uphold the social contract. And there are at least two possible answers here. One is that we uphold the contract so that it will be upheld with us, which leads us further back to say that we uphold it because we value our own lives. The other is that we uphold the social contract as a matter of honor and trust, both of which are values.

If that's an attempt to show how secular values depend on a religious framework, it doesn't succeed. I guess you would have to go back yet another step and show how valuing one's own life, honor, and trust depend on religion.
Quote:
Many people who accept evolution still feel that a belief in God is necessary to give life meaning and to justify morality. But that is exactly backward. In practice, religion has given us stonings, inquisitions and 9/11. Morality comes from a commitment to treat others as we wish to be treated, which follows from the realization that none of us is the sole occupant of the universe. Like physical evolution, it does not require a white-coated technician in the sky.

Steven Pinker

There's a succinct description of the situation from an eminent scientist. I don't think you have made much progress in showing how secular morality requires a religious framework.




Mon Aug 15, 2005 8:39 pm
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Post Re: morals
LanDroid: If that's an attempt to show how secular values depend on a religious framework, it doesn't succeed.

It's an attempt at making you see that we're mistaken in taken Rousseau's ideas at face value. The social contract is ultimately a kind of myth -- we don't actually affirm any sort of contract, and our society isn't ultimately premised on agreement and obligation. Moreover, a careful historical analysis will show that "The Social Contract" was written not in order to explain something observable within society but in order to substantiate a particular kind of social reform.

I guess you would have to go back yet another step and show how valuing one's own life, honor, and trust depend on religion.

Not one's life in its rawest form, but honor is certainly a virtue that arose in a religious framework. Trust is a mixed issue, and much depends on what you mean by that term, but I will agree that there is at least a basic sense of trust that can be maintained on pragmattic grounds alone. That said, there are broader sense of trust -- the trust that holds together an entire society, for example -- that is historically rooted in magico-religious conceptions.

I don't think you have made much progress in showing how secular morality requires a religious framework.

Nor have you given me the impression that you're very much interested in actually considering my argument. You've staked out your territory and you're willing to refuse consideration of any argument to the contrary beyond its most superficial expression. That kind of discussion bores me, quite frankly. When you're interested in actually discussing this as a possibility, look me up. But when every response to my points is merely some variation on "I'm not convinced" or some soundbyte from someone else's argument, I don't see much reason to carry on.




Thu Aug 18, 2005 2:25 pm
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Post Re: morals
And from my perspective, you haven't made an argument, just unsupported assertions. I agree this got boring a while ago...




Thu Aug 18, 2005 7:33 pm
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Post Re: Introduction - a discussion
As someone who has read 'Age of Reason', it is pretty obvious to me why Paine gets slammed. He using the most cutting prose to just completely shatter any hope that the bible is an inspired document, unless you think it is inspired by a madman. One of my favorites is his discussion of the Book of Ruth. It is something like "a sorid story about a woman who seduces her cousin. But as a whole it is better than most of the rest as it contains not as much murder and rapine." I am quite sure that he pissed off a LOT of people writing stuff like that. It was definitely what was on his mind.




Sat Aug 20, 2005 1:35 am
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Post Re: RE: Introduction
Lawrence,

that's a really interesting idea. I wonder what identifies that morality as unique to america or unique to that commonality that made him think it was valuable? From a morality perspective, I'd doubt very much that we were that much different than the 'old world'




Sat Aug 20, 2005 1:48 am
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Post Re: Morality
I don't think I agree that religion is necessary for a moral code. The religion of the greeks said nothing about moral, yet aristotle still produced his ethics. To me, the root of a moral code is the idea that people want to be treated in a certain way. Perhaps the golden rule spells this out the best. However, the golden rule can and does exist without religion.

That being said, it seems like the goal of religion should be to expand and improve on the system of morals, something it seems to do with mixed results.




Sat Aug 20, 2005 1:54 am
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Post Re: Introduction - a discussion
Wow, I had NO idea this thread was going to be so long. And it is just the introduction!

I just wanted to add what a rousing speach is used to close the introduction. I really wish it was possible to hear Ingersoll make that speach the way we can hear MLK make the I have a dream speach. To have seen him in person must have been very rousing.

To add to the 'what is secularism' thread: Ingersol says:
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Secularism teaches us to be just here and now. It is impssible to be juser than that... It depends on realities, upon demonstrations; and its end and aim is to make this world better every day-- to do away with poverty and crime, and to cover the world with happy and contented homes"
It seems to me that we could all use more of that.




Sat Aug 20, 2005 2:02 am
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Post Re: Introduction - a discussion
Gino, it's great to see you around! Since you have read Paine's "Age of Reason", you may want to visit our "Additional Book Discussions" Forum. We have a thread there for discussing Paine's "Age of Reason". A few of us decided to read it along with Freethinkers.




Sat Aug 20, 2005 11:29 am
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JoshiGlobal Brain by Howard BloomThe Lucifer Principle by Howard BloomGuns, Germs and Steel by Jared DiamondThe Demon-Haunted World by Carl SaganBury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee BrownFuture Shock by Alvin Toffler

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