The Relevance of the Concept of God

Discussion in 'Religion' started by Syne, Oct 15, 2013.

  1. cole grey Hi Valued Senior Member

    well it is quite difficult to talk about masses of people without talking about politics. And of course, without political examples, there don't seem to be many examples of mass movements. I mean we could talk about post-modernist art or commercialism, but i thought political examples would stick closest to my point about "top-down" morality. If you have an apolitical model to work with, I would be happy to switch to that. If we stick with personal models of morality, we don't have to even talk about relativism, or dependence on another human for interpretations. I am just trying to have a conversation.
    A society or a person? Discussing societies without talking about politics is hard.
    no and I also eat shellfish. I guess I just can't get that purist thing going. I am pretty sure there is some point in what Nietzsche said that could be pulled out of the chaff though. He was very anti-political in general, I mean denigrating mass movements of all types. Perhaps he just hated,"getting along," so much because he thought it wasn't as valid as having personal value systems. Perhaps it relates to what he might have seen as people ignoring humanity's real violent struggle to survive by pretending we could get by with getting along and no personal responsibility. I don't know.
    i personally am going for a synthesis starting from first principles, some of which I attribute to the people you mention, or my understanding of their positions on being human. I would suggest that we do depend on these types of "advanced" thinkers not only to build but to fortify our own moralities all the time.
    1- human rights - which I claim from philosophical and not scientific principles, and I have yet to hear an argument against human rights that appears logical.
    2- human responsibility - this is a hard one for materialists and fundamentalists
    3- epistemological sophistication - dependence on non-empirical data for philosophy, empirical for science of course
    I don't always experience them in that hierarchical order I guess they kind of all relate and entangle each other.

    Are you saying I have to pick one book to find valid points in? I never said that.
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  3. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

    So there was no morality in societies prior to the birth of these thinkers? It was just a sort of anarchic chaos of everyone doin their own thing? Not buying that.
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  5. cole grey Hi Valued Senior Member

    I would say he and I are judging things from a different starting point, and i have the benefit of many years of historical and international examples he didn't have. I agree with the founding fathers that a pure ochlocracy, i.e. pure democracy, is not what I want. I would guess Nietzsche didn't have a great understanding of our type of government which was a representative democracy governed by rule of law, since a lot of Americans don't even understand it, and if he saw how we treated slaves and American Indians, before we got the system on a better trajectory, he shouldn't be impressed anyway. I don't know about that weak and jealous bit, I would say he was being vitriolic. But then again, I guess I would actually say that Americans in their dealings with the Indians were exhibiting exactly what Nietzsche would call weak morals, i.e. not standing up for higher principles, and just "getting by", somehow not taking responsibility for white America's territorial demands, even though they were part of the social group making those demands.
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  7. cole grey Hi Valued Senior Member

    Those guys have been around a long time. Hammurabi, the Vedas, the Hebrews, etc. Of course I am not an anthropologist, but I would suggest that there were tribal moralities which did have top-down rules long before that. And shamans and chieftains definitely interpreted the "will of the gods", although very many probably just had pure feudalism instead, simply waving a big club or sword. And if we are going to go back to the Neanderthals or something, I just don't know how to navigate that area. This is why I have such a hard time with people who say,"secular morality". It is a little bit like saying "anaerobic morality", at this stage of our history.
    Speaking of anarchism may be useful, but I am not an expert on that, although I have doubts in their basic postulations based on my so-called cynicism that I just call awareness.
  8. Syne Sine qua non Valued Senior Member

    Atheists admit that their own morality is only relative, while the religious generally make no such admission. Which do you think is a more confident assertion of their morality?

    Yes, that is correct, but only from the specific viewpoint of someone who espouses moral relativism (hence the entry title). But notice that it points out "moral appraisals". That is what you seem to be missing. Moral relativism is all about appraising all moral systems to be relative. Since the religious do not, the term in inapplicable.

    You seem to be saying nothing more than that you think everyone should espouse your moral relativism. How is that any different from the religious thinking you should espouse their morality?

    It is not, no matter how justified you believe your view to be. The religious believe they do have clear revelations, just as much as you believe they do not.

    Cognitive bias keeps you from understanding.

    It is not my goal here to tell you how to "find god", and whether you realize it or not, that is what you are asking. I assume you have already dismissed any answer anyone is likely to give you on the matter.

    Relativism is no different in this respect. You find absolute moralities to be bizarre or irrational, and as such universal ethical principles are not likely to make much sense to you.

    The only problem is one of not applying in-group moral values as equally applicable to out-groups. Not even moral relativism offers any reliable "assessment criteria".

    There is not even any reliable secular criteria for adjudicating rival laws, mores, or customs. It helps to have the confidence in your own morality to apply it equally, even when adjudicating your actions toward a rival. Moral relativism basically assumes any given morality (your own included) is just the luck of the draw.
  9. Syne Sine qua non Valued Senior Member

    That is exactly the reason why the US has the Senate, where each state has an equal number of representatives regardless of state population. This helps ensure that the minority opinion/need is not completely trampled, especially where that opinion/need is concentrated geographically.
  10. cole grey Hi Valued Senior Member

    Unfortunately, in the south, the minority was not being represented by their senators, who were generally acting as instruments of oppression, if not authors of it, from what i understand. We have an interesting balance of fair and unfair, top-down and bottom up government in the usa. Clearly, even a good system can be abused. Especially when "good" people stand by and do nothing as people are harmed.

    P.S. I would like to add this thought regarding the basic goodness of people - i am suggesting that we don't say "not harmful" is "good", so we are at least looking at things clearly. People are basically ok, not good or evil, as a species, looking at it all, i think that makes more sense.
  11. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    You, of all people, see his posts that way??

    Stranger than fiction ...
  12. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    There was a fabulous topic posted a while back, but it hardly received any attention:

    Can a moral relativist be trusted?:

  13. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    Arguments about the true nature of phenomena are tricky. Because whatever we declare to be the true nature of a phenomenon, we end up in some kind of trouble or other.

    If we say that people are by their nature good, we have trouble explaining why they do bad things.
    If we say that people are by their nature bad, we have trouble explaining why strive for justice and goodness.
    If we say that people are by their nature neutral, we have trouble explaining why we bother with anything at all.

    Saying that people are "basically ok" doesn't solve anything either, has similar problems as the above examples. But perhaps it is actually meant as a general expression of good faith, of a faith or conviction that eventually, things will work out fine for humans and the whole universe.
  14. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    Not sure why you think this is a problem.

    Applying in-group moral values as equally applicable to out-groups actually does away with groups altogether, there is no "us vs. them" nor "us and them" anymore.
    Absolutism is the great equalizer, not relativism.
    (It's funny how people when they want equality resort to relativism, when in fact it's absolutism that makes it possible.)
  15. cole grey Hi Valued Senior Member

    a neutral view doesn't insist that people can't improve.
    it solves a problem of language being misused and people not calling something good that is merely functional. I don't know about that next part.
  16. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    It doesn't explain why they would or should bother.

    If you're making claims about the functionality of something, how can those be separate from the claims about its nature?
    If it's functional, it's good.

    It's the better part ...
  17. cole grey Hi Valued Senior Member

    perhaps they are pulled, or even forced, forward by the "good" group". Of course it is quite difficult to speculate as to whether humans improved willingly or unwillingly, or even if they've improved on a personal level or rather that our systems have improved. Alsooooooo, someone who is merely "ok" isn't going to have the same objection to being good that they would to being evil, so they might in this way be predisposed to becoming good over time, rising with the tide so to speak. Never thought about that in that way before, but it would make an argument for a god creating a neutral species being able to logically say they created a good species. Just very slowly. haha.
    sharks are highly functional. There is obviously a difference between "good" and "good at". Let's you and i not waste time pretending either of us are materialists.
  18. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    We were talking about whether humans are good or bad by nature - or what's with the whole thing about human nature.

    The shark whisperers.
  19. Capracus Valued Senior Member

    You conveniently left out the core concepts.
    The above aren’t mystical concepts? Is your concept of god equally as unmystical?

    I don’t assume the existence of gods either, but I do realize that the perceived notion of their existence governs the behavior of their adherents. To clear your confusion look up the word govern.

    Moral relativism is the acknowledgement that there are no moral absolutes. Moral concepts and behavior are as much products of evolution as our biology and culture. Why would you expect unlike human experience to produce like behaviors? My morals reflect the conditioning of my life experience, not that of a Neanderthal of the Pleistocene. I don’t expect the morals of my distant descendants to resemble my own.

    Many concepts of god, many unsavory by our cultural standards. If you’re going to argue the benefits of a particular belief system, then you also have to acknowledge its associated damages.
  20. (Q) Encephaloid Martini Valued Senior Member

    Not at all, it is bad ideologies, like religions, that teach and cause good people to do bad things. There are also mental disorders that can cause people to do bad things. Often, many extreme religious people have mental disorders.

    People by nature are not bad, those who strive for 'justice and goodness' use reason and rationale to do so, based on their own evolved compassion and altruism.
  21. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

    You seem to be asserting again the thing you were so insistent you weren't--that belief in a God or gods is necessary for morality. Do you really think a person who does good out of empathy and compassion cares one iota whether it is the will of God or not? I don't. When I help someone it has nothing to do with a God or higher authority telling me that is what I should do. I think this is the primary source of morality for our species thruout time--the sense of empathy and loyalty and community one feels for one's fellowman. This instinct for altruism and reciprocity of actions is not something we derived from philosophers, lawgivers, or a God. It is a result of millions of years of evolution and of living in tribes where this instinct for empathy was selected for and refined over time. We are moral creatures because we are hardwired to be this way. It's just part of being human. Or maybe of just being a primate!

    "Scientist Finds the Beginnings of Morality in Primate Behavior


    Published: March 20, 2007

    Some animals are surprisingly sensitive to the plight of others. Chimpanzees, who cannot swim, have drowned in zoo moats trying to save others. Given the chance to get food by pulling a chain that would also deliver an electric shock to a companion, rhesus monkeys will starve themselves for several days.

    Biologists argue that these and other social behaviors are the precursors of human morality. They further believe that if morality grew out of behavioral rules shaped by evolution, it is for biologists, not philosophers or theologians, to say what these rules are.

    Moral philosophers do not take very seriously the biologists’ bid to annex their subject, but they find much of interest in what the biologists say and have started an academic conversation with them.

    The original call to battle was sounded by the biologist Edward O. Wilson more than 30 years ago, when he suggested in his 1975 book “Sociobiology” that “the time has come for ethics to be removed temporarily from the hands of the philosophers and biologicized.” He may have jumped the gun about the time having come, but in the intervening decades biologists have made considerable progress.

    Last year Marc Hauser, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard, proposed in his book “Moral Minds” that the brain has a genetically shaped mechanism for acquiring moral rules, a universal moral grammar similar to the neural machinery for learning language. In another recent book, “Primates and Philosophers,” the primatologist Frans de Waal defends against philosopher critics his view that the roots of morality can be seen in the social behavior of monkeys and apes.

    Dr. de Waal, who is director of the Living Links Center at Emory University, argues that all social animals have had to constrain or alter their behavior in various ways for group living to be worthwhile. These constraints, evident in monkeys and even more so in chimpanzees, are part of human inheritance, too, and in his view form the set of behaviors from which human morality has been shaped.

    Many philosophers find it hard to think of animals as moral beings, and indeed Dr. de Waal does not contend that even chimpanzees possess morality. But he argues that human morality would be impossible without certain emotional building blocks that are clearly at work in chimp and monkey societies.

    Dr. de Waal’s views are based on years of observing nonhuman primates, starting with work on aggression in the 1960s. He noticed then that after fights between two combatants, other chimpanzees would console the loser. But he was waylaid in battles with psychologists over imputing emotional states to animals, and it took him 20 years to come back to the subject.

    He found that consolation was universal among the great apes but generally absent from monkeys — among macaques, mothers will not even reassure an injured infant. To console another, Dr. de Waal argues, requires empathy and a level of self-awareness that only apes and humans seem to possess. And consideration of empathy quickly led him to explore the conditions for morality.

    Though human morality may end in notions of rights and justice and fine ethical distinctions, it begins, Dr. de Waal says, in concern for others and the understanding of social rules as to how they should be treated. At this lower level, primatologists have shown, there is what they consider to be a sizable overlap between the behavior of people and other social primates.

    Social living requires empathy, which is especially evident in chimpanzees, as well as ways of bringing internal hostilities to an end. Every species of ape and monkey has its own protocol for reconciliation after fights, Dr. de Waal has found. If two males fail to make up, female chimpanzees will often bring the rivals together, as if sensing that discord makes their community worse off and more vulnerable to attack by neighbors. Or they will head off a fight by taking stones out of the males’ hands.

    Dr. de Waal believes that these actions are undertaken for the greater good of the community, as distinct from person-to-person relationships, and are a significant precursor of morality in human societies.

    Macaques and chimpanzees have a sense of social order and rules of expected behavior, mostly to do with the hierarchical natures of their societies, in which each member knows its own place. Young rhesus monkeys learn quickly how to behave, and occasionally get a finger or toe bitten off as punishment. Other primates also have a sense of reciprocity and fairness. They remember who did them favors and who did them wrong. Chimps are more likely to share food with those who have groomed them. Capuchin monkeys show their displeasure if given a smaller reward than a partner receives for performing the same task, like a piece of cucumber instead of a grape.

    These four kinds of behavior — empathy, the ability to learn and follow social rules, reciprocity and peacemaking — are the basis of sociality.

    Dr. de Waal sees human morality as having grown out of primate sociality, but with two extra levels of sophistication. People enforce their society’s moral codes much more rigorously with rewards, punishments and reputation building. They also apply a degree of judgment and reason, for which there are no parallels in animals.

    Religion can be seen as another special ingredient of human societies, though one that emerged thousands of years after morality, in Dr. de Waal’s view. There are clear precursors of morality in nonhuman primates, but no precursors of religion. So it seems reasonable to assume that as humans evolved away from chimps, morality emerged first, followed by religion. “I look at religions as recent additions,” he said. “Their function may have to do with social life, and enforcement of rules and giving a narrative to them, which is what religions really do.”

    As Dr. de Waal sees it, human morality may be severely limited by having evolved as a way of banding together against adversaries, with moral restraints being observed only toward the in group, not toward outsiders. “The profound irony is that our noblest achievement — morality — has evolutionary ties to our basest behavior — warfare,” he writes. “The sense of community required by the former was provided by the latter.”

    Dr. de Waal has faced down many critics in evolutionary biology and psychology in developing his views. The evolutionary biologist George Williams dismissed morality as merely an accidental byproduct of evolution, and psychologists objected to attributing any emotional state to animals. Dr. de Waal convinced his colleagues over many years that the ban on inferring emotional states was an unreasonable restriction, given the expected evolutionary continuity between humans and other primates.

    His latest audience is moral philosophers, many of whom are interested in his work and that of other biologists. “In departments of philosophy, an increasing number of people are influenced by what they have to say,” said Gilbert Harman, a Princeton University philosopher.

    Dr. Philip Kitcher, a philosopher at Columbia University, likes Dr. de Waal’s empirical approach. “I have no doubt there are patterns of behavior we share with our primate relatives that are relevant to our ethical decisions,” he said. “Philosophers have always been beguiled by the dream of a system of ethics which is complete and finished, like mathematics. I don’t think it’s like that at all.”

    But human ethics are considerably more complicated than the sympathy Dr. de Waal has described in chimps. “Sympathy is the raw material out of which a more complicated set of ethics may get fashioned,” he said. “In the actual world, we are confronted with different people who might be targets of our sympathy. And the business of ethics is deciding who to help and why and when.”

    Many philosophers believe that conscious reasoning plays a large part in governing human ethical behavior and are therefore unwilling to let everything proceed from emotions, like sympathy, which may be evident in chimpanzees. The impartial element of morality comes from a capacity to reason, writes Peter Singer, a moral philosopher at Princeton, in “Primates and Philosophers.” He says, “Reason is like an escalator — once we step on it, we cannot get off until we have gone where it takes us.”

    That was the view of Immanuel Kant, Dr. Singer noted, who believed morality must be based on reason, whereas the Scottish philosopher David Hume, followed by Dr. de Waal, argued that moral judgments proceed from the emotions.

    But biologists like Dr. de Waal believe reason is generally brought to bear only after a moral decision has been reached. They argue that morality evolved at a time when people lived in small foraging societies and often had to make instant life-or-death decisions, with no time for conscious evaluation of moral choices. The reasoning came afterward as a post hoc justification. “Human behavior derives above all from fast, automated, emotional judgments, and only secondarily from slower conscious processes,” Dr. de Waal writes.

    However much we may celebrate rationality, emotions are our compass, probably because they have been shaped by evolution, in Dr. de Waal’s view. For example, he says: “People object to moral solutions that involve hands-on harm to one another. This may be because hands-on violence has been subject to natural selection whereas utilitarian deliberations have not.”

    Philosophers have another reason biologists cannot, in their view, reach to the heart of morality, and that is that biological analyses cannot cross the gap between “is” and “ought,” between the description of some behavior and the issue of why it is right or wrong. “You can identify some value we hold, and tell an evolutionary story about why we hold it, but there is always that radically different question of whether we ought to hold it,” said Sharon Street, a moral philosopher at New York University. “That’s not to discount the importance of what biologists are doing, but it does show why centuries of moral philosophy are incredibly relevant, too.”

    Biologists are allowed an even smaller piece of the action by Jesse Prinz, a philosopher at the University of North Carolina. He believes morality developed after human evolution was finished and that moral sentiments are shaped by culture, not genetics. “It would be a fallacy to assume a single true morality could be identified by what we do instinctively, rather than by what we ought to do,” he said. “One of the principles that might guide a single true morality might be recognition of equal dignity for all human beings, and that seems to be unprecedented in the animal world.”

    Dr. de Waal does not accept the philosophers’ view that biologists cannot step from “is” to “ought.” “I’m not sure how realistic the distinction is,” he said. “Animals do have ‘oughts.’ If a juvenile is in a fight, the mother must get up and defend her. Or in food sharing, animals do put pressure on each other, which is the first kind of ‘ought’ situation.”

    Dr. de Waal’s definition of morality is more down to earth than Dr. Prinz’s. Morality, he writes, is “a sense of right and wrong that is born out of groupwide systems of conflict management based on shared values.” The building blocks of morality are not nice or good behaviors but rather mental and social capacities for constructing societies “in which shared values constrain individual behavior through a system of approval and disapproval.” By this definition chimpanzees in his view do possess some of the behavioral capacities built in our moral systems.

    “Morality is as firmly grounded in neurobiology as anything else we do or are,” Dr. de Waal wrote in his 1996 book “Good Natured.” Biologists ignored this possibility for many years, believing that because natural selection was cruel and pitiless it could only produce people with the same qualities. But this is a fallacy, in Dr. de Waal’s view. Natural selection favors organisms that survive and reproduce, by whatever means. And it has provided people, he writes in “Primates and Philosophers,” with “a compass for life’s choices that takes the interests of the entire community into account, which is the essence of human morality.”---
    Last edited: Oct 23, 2013
  22. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    Can you say more about why you think samsara, karma and nirvana are "mystical"?
  23. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    Then the "goodness" of those supposedly good people is weak, and not worthy of being called "good" at all.

    And some people are more "not bad" than others?

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