December 28, 2006

Back To Morality

A couple of posts ago I did a piece on morality that got pretty good response.
I gave readers a rating system and a series of 11 questions that pretty much popped into my head over a 20 minute period. I'm not trying to pretend I'm a philosopher or an expert on morality.

Two things. It was not an empirical study; it was a casual quiz. I was not collecting data, merely openly comparing results. Secondly, the purpose of the quiz was to prove that everyone has a different concept of what the DEFINITION of morality is. I wanted to illustrate that the DEFINITION of morality is SUBJECTIVE, not that morality is subjective....this is a different idea. My point is that unless we can make the DEFINITION of morality OBJECTIVE we cannot even attempt to answer whether morality in itself is objective or subjective.

I hope that isn't confusing.

Speaking about confusing, I think I sort of confused a few people like The Ethicist Atheist (he is really the Atheist Ethicist, but he calls me the Jewish Atheist, so this is my revenge). He wrote a blog entry ripping me to shreds I think, and I think he was implying I'm stupid or something like that, but I can't really tell because I can tell by his writing that he is smarter than me, and by the fact that I find a lot of what he writes hard to comprehend and follow. I believe he was confused about what I was trying to prove (once more, that the definition of morality is subjective). He wrote a further piece that gives me the impression that he finally got what I was trying to say. I did leave a few comments on his blog. And even though I was tempted, I didn't whip out the thesaurus to sound smarter.

I started a thread about the definition of morality being subjective over at Raving Atheists. Feel free to read it. It does get off topic and bizarre at one point.

If you are still here, now for the fun part. I would like to see your definition of morality. Try to make it as broad or concise as you feel you need to make it, and post it in my comments.

To help everyone along, I'll give you my refined definition:

The parameters in my definition are that any act that anyone on this planet deems to be a moral or immoral act is one that I have to address as either moral or immoral to at least some degree.

That being said, to me, a moral act is an act that is not immoral. And an immoral act is an act as an act that causes the individual committing the act any degree of guilt and/or an act that was done maliciously or selfishly or unlawfully that causes any degree of hurt or grief onto another living being.

Oh and the guilt can't be caused by failure of motor skills (a dropped ball in a football game) or the guilt caused by failing to do a job properly when the intent was to be successful and not to screw up.

Now, your idea of of what morality might be what you think God or Jesus or Allah thinks you should do in any given situation, or it could be simply not breaking the laws of the state, or it might be a combination. It could also have to do with what is evolutionary beneficial.

Besides giving an exact definition of morality, you can also mention where you think morality comes from. To me, I think it is mostly innate and evolutionary in origin, and partially based on societal laws (that are really offshoots of what is innate).

Oh and the point of this. Unless someone defines morality, they have no business making statements like "Atheists have no morals," or "Atheists have no real basis or guidelines for morality."


  1. Your blog is proof that you are incapable of original thought and that you are an expert in plagiarism. That is typical of your species.

  2. Never spent much time tryng to define "morality". Seems like one of those airy-fairy words that means whatever the individual wants or needs it to mean.

    I'll try. Not unlike your take, what makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. Take it one further: what is most conducive to pushing humans in the direction one believes would be most beneficial.

  3. My favorite kind of definition: the ones I make up.

    Moral: anything I do.
    Immoral: anything done to me.
    Amoral: something I choose not to do.
    Earl Morrall: losing QB in Super Bowl III.

  4. I enjoy Alonzo's posts on ethics. I think he has a very good hypothesis about morality. At times I think he defends his hypothesis too much as if it's more than his idea, rather it is how morality works in this world. Really I think morality is to a large degree relative, mostly because I believe morality is a social construct that arises out of compromising interaction that a group of people must have in order to move the group where it desires. Morality is dependent on the group, I don't think it exists independently of the group. As an individual all there is is selfish desires, as a group you need to compromise in order to benefit yourself and the group.

    So, really my idea of morality is very similar to Alonzo's. As I really do think he is on the right track, but I do agree that defining morality is somewhat relative. Not Your Mama's post I think defines morality in a similar manner.

    What is unfortunate about trying to define a code of morality on what is moral or immoral is dealing with an assortment of groups. It's not like we have one group (human beings) on this planet. I am an individual, with a family, friends, a city, a nation, an ideological viewpoint (atheism), a heritage. Also, there are other social groups like sports or other interest related groups. Trying to sort out the web of interaction is not an efficient process. So we humans have developed systems of justice. These systems are simplified compared to any rationally developed morality. But, they have to be in order to perform their function.

  5. Having read your critic, I surmised he was well educated in the school of philosophy. The structure of his arguments and reasoning made it apparent.Of course, if you are interested in moral philosophy, you can't do better than read Peter Singer, the Australian guy who started the animal rights movement. He does examine morality from a philosopher's point of view, never makes convoluted and complicated arguments. He is fascinating reading.

  6. Lex, I think I'm done with the philosophy of morality. I'm just going to use this post whenever Christian bloggers state that Atheists have no morals or a basis for morality.
    I'm sure the Singer dude makes great points. Does he say that morality exists in the animal kingdom (non human). I do.
    Not sure if I can understand a book written in Australian though:)

    Bill, unless someone defines the group that they are in or what is their definition of morality, they shouldn't use it in a sentence, especially to chastize Atheists, or whoever.

    Mike, the best unexpected quote to come from a football QB:
    “I'm a polyatheist - there are many gods I don't believe in”
    -Dan Fouts

    NYM, close enough to mine.

    Anon/Rickey/Oink, bite my left one.