View Poll Results: Are Secular Ethics Possible?

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Thread: Is Religion Needed For Morality? Are Secular Morality and Ethics Possible?

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    Question Is Religion Needed For Morality? Are Secular Morality and Ethics Possible?

    Can such a thing as secular morality exist? Is it possible to have ethics that do not have roots in religion?

    I've been reading up on both Nietzsche and Nihilism (=migraine), and both philosophies seem to be at odds with each other and it had me thinking about the possibility of ethics without a theological backing. Could secular and non-religious governments like the Soviet Union and China have any real form of justice since it was not religious?

    Nietzsche said that once religion dies man must find a new morality, and hence he becomes some higher being, while Nihilists believe that secular ethics cannot exist.

    Also, is there any real reason for Atheists to fear death since they do not believe any judgement awaits them?

    ---------------------------------------

    Sorry this is not a rambling post and that I can't put it more eloquently. I'm not a good public speaker.

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    Re: Secular Morality

    Quote Originally Posted by Brunnhilde View Post
    Can such a thing as secular morality exist? Is it possible to have ethics that do not have roots in religion?

    I've been reading up on both Nietzsche and Nihilism (=migraine), and both philosophies seem to be at odds with each other and it had me thinking about the possibility of ethics without a theological backing. Could secular and non-religious governments like the Soviet Union and China have any real form of justice since it was not religious?

    Nietzsche said that once religion dies man must find a new morality, and hence he becomes some higher being, while Nihilists believe that secular ethics cannot exist.

    Also, is there any real reason for Atheists to fear death since they do not believe any judgement awaits them?

    ---------------------------------------

    Sorry this is not a rambling post and that I can't put it more eloquently. I'm not a good public speaker.
    I think a person can definitely be without religion (or at least, as without religion as is humanly possible) and yet have ethics.

    I think it's very possible to develop a system of ethics that doesn't depend at all on anything metaphysical. I think Aristotle's ethical system is that way. I also think Kant's is.

    And I think atheists can indeed fear death. In fact, in my experience, atheists tend to fear death more than religious folks. Religious people tend to think that death isn't going to be the end of their existence. Atheists tend to think that it is going to be the end. People don't seem to really be in love with the idea of ceasing to exist (except for Buddhist monks, I guess), so a belief that death won't cause that is a comfort to most of those who hold it. The absence of that belief leaves people somewhat unshielded from the potential nothingness of death.

    I think the prospect of ceasing to exist is more terrifying the prospect of divine retribution. I'd rather receive a bad gift from God than nothing anymore ever again forever.



    You might enjoy Taras Bulba's thread on Nietzschean Christianity:
    http://forums.skadi.net/showthread.php?t=66109

    Here are a couple of good excerpts:
    Quote Originally Posted by Moody Lawless View Post
    But was a belief in God always indentical to a morality?
    I doubt it.
    One can have a moral code and yet believe in no God [and vice versa]. Haven't God and Morality rather been lumped together out of convenience rather than out of necessity?
    Quote Originally Posted by Drake View Post
    It is true that one can have a moral code and not believe in God, though those who maintain that one must adhere to a strict moral code, such as Christian conservatives, do so by maintaining that God exists. That is their justification for imposing a moral code on people, and likewise, their belief in God means nothing more than that it requires people to live a certain way; it has nothing to do with love or transcendence, but only control. This is evidenced in the denial of the Documentary Hypothesis of the Pentateuch; if the Pentateuch were written by numerous people and synthesized during the Babylonian exile, it would seem that God never gave these commands to Moses on Mount Sinai, and for all practical purposes, there is no God, or at least no Yahweh. The only reason they maintain the existence of God is to control people. I won't say that this has always been the case; the belief in God was perhaps originally created in order to entreat him to send forth rain for one's crops.

    Certainly, morality can exist without God.

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    Sv: Secular Morality

    Quote Originally Posted by Brunnhilde View Post
    Also, is there any real reason for Atheists to fear death since they do not believe any judgement awaits them?
    The ancient Greek materialists, for instance Democritus and Epicurus, argued exactly this: that death is not to be feared, since it is nothing. "Where I am, death is not; where death is, I am not" said Epicurus.

    Also Socrates (for the sake of argument, he was not an atheist/materialist): "when are we ever happier than in deep, dreamless sleep?"

    Still, I agree with Leofric, that it is usually not pleasant to try to imagine not to exist.

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    Re: Secular Morality

    Quote Originally Posted by Brunnhilde View Post
    Can such a thing as secular morality exist? Is it possible to have ethics that do not have roots in religion?
    I tend to distinguish 'morality' [which for me has an implication of a metaphysical imperative] from 'ethics' [which for me has an implication of a situational imperative].

    As a general rule I would say then that 'Morality' is religious, while 'Ethics' is secular.

    So of course it follows that I believe ethics are possible without religion.

    It is also possible that religion can be used to make people behave unethically, because there is usually a conflict between religious morality and secular ethics.

    In order to follow his Faith a man may break the law and commit murder in the name of God, for example. Or he may take up civil disobedience in the name of secular Humanitarian Ethics.

    Of course, when you say "religious roots", then it could be argued that as religion was once all-pervasive, then it necessarily influenced all morality and ethics.

    However, the point is that ethics do not need religion.

    Ethics can have a philosophical background, a psychological background and even a biological background.

    So yes, we can root our ethics in things other than religion.

    Could secular and non-religious governments like the Soviet Union and China have any real form of justice since it was not religious?
    What is "real justice"?
    Is the justice system in a Theocratic [religious] State [such as the former Taliban government of Afghanistan] any more "real" than the justice system of a secular state like modern France?
    Don't all states operate justice by the application of laws?

    It is noticeable that Fundamentalists, whether secular [like Marxists - and one could argue whether or not Marxism is a religion or not] or religious, like the Taliban, tend to regard earthly manifestations of law as being imperfect and unsatisfying.

    Therefore it could be said that Moralists believe that morality is not possible here on earth due to our fallen state, while Ethicists (?) are much more pragmatic and accept that ethical systems are prone to imperfections because mankind himself is.

    Nietzsche said that once religion dies man must find a new morality, and hence he becomes some higher being, while Nihilists believe that secular ethics cannot exist.
    Nietzsche held the view that Morality is always a corrective.
    Therefore if we look at the particular moral and ethical codes of peoples we can surmise what their inherent faults were/are.
    So that an overly passive and victimised people would have an "eye for an eye" morality, while an overly aggressive people might impose "turning the other cheek" upon themselves etc,.

    Some Anarchists believe that if we rejected all Morality/Ethics and Law then eventually society would find its own level and there would be no need for rules.
    This is still in the realm of theory - I wonder why?
    If all judgement is God's, then why have any laws or rules in society at all?

    This latter suggestion implies that morality and ethics are not actually religious but are rather ritual [i.e., they give form to experience].

    Also, is there any real reason for Atheists to fear death since they do not believe any judgement awaits them?
    The 'judgement' is meant not so much to put the fear of death into believers [or if so that is a side-effect]; it is meant to encourage them to behave in a certain way upon earth so that they may not be harshly judged in Heaven.

    So the fear is a fear of Judgement, rather than of Death.

    Of course, one can use judgement here on earth [punishments etc.,] to similar effect.

    Indeed, it could be said that the man who is convinced that he will go to Paradise will not care how he is judged here on earth.

    In that sense, religious morality could be seen as encouraging unethical behaviour.
    Why are there beings at all, & why not rather nothing?
    [Leibniz/Heidegger]

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    AW: Secular Morality

    Even if I do not belong to any religion, so I cannot imagine that nothing more comes after the death. It is fundamentally more difficult for me to imagine "nothing" as to think the following feature:

    Maybe I believe in God and in a life after the death. If my assumption is wrong, I will not be able to learn this just like somebody who is atheist from the start. I have at least the hope, that it could go on and hope gives strength.

    Adopted I do not believe in God and in a life after the death. Now if my assumption is wrong and it goes on anyway, it then gets enormously embarrassing for me.
    Wer die Wahrheit nicht weiß, der ist bloß ein Dummkopf.


    Aber wer sie weiß und sie eine Lüge nennt, der ist ein Verbrecher.


    -Bertold Brecht-

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    Re: Secular Morality

    Quote Originally Posted by Leofric View Post
    I think it's very possible to develop a system of ethics that doesn't depend at all on anything metaphysical. I think Aristotle's ethical system is that way. I also think Kant's is.
    I think it's possible too, but I'm very weary of secular morality as a way of life for the nation. It's far too difficult to be reasonably sustained by the majority of a people - beyond the more intellectual circles and families. Such morals tend to be more flexible - or very time-bound.

    Right and wrong, according to my book, should be backed by a higher authority than man. If it isn't one nation under (the) God(s), regardless of who (S)He is in this or that culture - it's one nation under a spell.

    That said, I prefer an atheist with an ethnic conciousness to a globalist believer - 'cause ethnic preservation itself is taking care of he universe.
    “Remember that all worlds draw to an end and that noble death is a treasure which no-one is too poor to buy.” - C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle

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    AW: Re: Secular Morality

    I do not think that morals or ethics without a metaphysical belief (which is not necesarrily religious) is possible since there is a higher instance needed to judge the right or wrong than men. Assuming I were an atheist and follow that idea consequently I am nothing more than an animal with the urge to reprduce (well since I'm asexual I don't have it but it's just about assuming this time) so I would use my cognitive abilities to do that. There is no place for morals or ethics in evolution it's just survival of the fittest. So for being a complete atheist ethics have no foundation since you'd need to reject darwinism for it and therefore you'd need a metaphysical entity to judge the right and wrongs. This can be a God, some kind of collective or whatever and keep in mind that thinking a god exists is not necessarily religious. Religion is just a system of worshipping it.
    Ceterum censeo Iudaeam esse delendam.

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    Re: Secular Morality

    I do not think that morals or ethics without a metaphysical belief (which is not necesarrily religious) is possible since there is a higher instance needed to judge the right or wrong than men. Assuming I were an atheist and follow that idea consequently I am nothing more than an animal with the urge to reprduce (well since I'm asexual I don't have it but it's just about assuming this time) so I would use my cognitive abilities to do that. There is no place for morals or ethics in evolution it's just survival of the fittest.
    Human beings, just like other animals weren't put on earth to live morally. To me, reducing life to a search for morality is perverse. Rather, morality should be designed to help us live better.
    -Hyge sceal ðe heardre, heorte ðe cénre, mód sceal ðe máre, þý úre mægen lytlaþ. -The Battle of Maldon
    -I love the great despisers, because they are the great adorers, and arrows of longing for the other shore. -Thus Spake Zarathustra

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    Quote Originally Posted by Leofric View Post
    I think it's very possible to develop a system of ethics that doesn't depend at all on anything metaphysical.
    As I have said in a thread on 'Honour', it is the sense of shame which most impells one towards ethical behaviour.
    Shame before one's fellow men is always a stronger imperative than shame before God.

    Ultimately ethical behaviour is guided by the stick and carrot found on this earth.

    Quote Originally Posted by Enibas View Post
    Maybe I believe in God and in a life after the death. If my assumption is wrong, I will not be able to learn this just like somebody who is atheist from the start. I have at least the hope, that it could go on and hope gives strength.
    Adopted I do not believe in God and in a life after the death. Now if my assumption is wrong and it goes on anyway, it then gets enormously embarrassing for me.
    This sounds like a version Pascal's Wager, put in a moral context;
    'if I behave well, and God exists, then I will go to Heaven. If I behave badly then I will go to Hell'.
    But if God does not exist then whether I behave well or not makes little difference.
    Best thing is to behave well rather than take the risk'.

    Hardly a courageous outlook.

    Quote Originally Posted by Parsifal View Post
    I think it's possible too, but I'm very weary of secular morality as a way of life for the nation. It's far too difficult to be reasonably sustained by the majority of a people - beyond the more intellectual circles and families. Such morals tend to be more flexible - or very time-bound.
    This is why it is good to belong to an Order which has its own strict ethics.
    If you break the rules then you are shamed before your fellows and can be thrown out of the Order.
    But here, as always, it very much the practical consequences which act as a stick and carrot [shame, punishment etc.,].

    Right and wrong, according to my book, should be backed by a higher authority than man. If it isn't one nation under (the) God(s), regardless of who (S)He is in this or that culture - it's one nation under a spell.
    But why?
    Surely it is the easiest thing in the world to call God's Bluff and break that "spell".

    I am going to blaspheme against God now! [I have just done it privately]: what is God going to do to me - stike me down with a thunderbolt?

    Doesn't the enforcement of morality/ethics ultimately depend upon the restrictions of law and shame here on earth?

    Quote Originally Posted by Illuminatus View Post
    I do not think that morals or ethics without a metaphysical belief is possible since there is a higher instance needed to judge the right or wrong than men.
    If that were the case then we woudln't judge anybody here on earth.
    The fact is it is we here on earth who, as human beings, judge and punish fellow human beings - not God.

    Question; are people more moral/ethical when they are more religious?

    Aren't people just more moral/ethical when the state has a very strong and severe system of shaming & punishments?

    There is no place for morals or ethics in evolution it's just survival of the fittest.
    I disagree; examples of altruism are seen in Nature where the ethic is 'Thou shalt preserve the genes of the species'.
    A particular creature may sacrifice itself so that the species may continue.

    Religion is about the sense of awe and wonder felt by man towards the wider cosmos.
    It has little to do with ethics. It is only because religion enveloped everything that religion became the custodian of morality too.

    Just as religion tries to tell us what to eat in some situations - is food religious?
    Why are there beings at all, & why not rather nothing?
    [Leibniz/Heidegger]

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    Re: Secular Morality

    I think that it is possible to have ethics without religion, assuming that one has faith - which is not necessarily a religious quality - as well as understanding of fairness! Reading some of the Roman authors who wrote on education and ethics, who did not necessarily follow the relgions of the day, seems to back up my opinion.
    Revanchist.

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