Up@dawn 2.0

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Morality 1: Good without gods

Here is one of my favorite videos, dealing with our ability to be good without the "benefit" of belief in gods. It's very well done, and addresses the very question that we hope to reach some kind of consensus on this semester. For what it's worth, there are two other videos in this series, with another forthcoming. Enjoy.


  1. "Part of morality's essence is adopting a plural view..." Exactly. This means tolerating a plurality of views, in addition to recognizing a plurality of moral agents.

    Thanks for posting this, David.

    1. I take that to mean that there may be numerous peaks on the moral landscape, ie there may be a plurality of ways for people to thrive in any given situation. This does not obligate me to tolerate every moral view equally, or indefinitely. It is possible for moral agents to be mistaken in their views about what constitutes moral behavior, no?

  2. Tolerance is not a virtue. There are many things we, as a modern society, don't tolerate, e.g., murder, rape, theft, slavery, etc. So, I think "tolerance" gets tossed around as worthy of moral desert when, in fact, it is much in need of clarification.

    And, as Dr. Oliver said, "tolerating a plurality of views" seems to extrapolate to ideas or speech (e.g., views), which I would have to agree we should tolerate on that level. I think Sam Harris put this as "conversational tolerance."

    But, by the same token, as David noted, "This does not obligate me to tolerate every moral view equally or indefinitely." I don't believe in genital mutilation, subjugation of women, demonization of LGBT citizens (see David's post on morality), denying children medical care because of religious beliefs, or killing people for apostasy, blasphemy, or drawing cartoons of fictional deities. Religions don't deserve exemption or special privileges just because they are certain their competing myth among myths is the one ‘true’ myth.

    The point being, it's *how* I communicate my intolerance that is most important--with argument, reason, and facts rather than suppression and violence.

    Ridicule, mockery, and satire are very effective rhetorical devices to bring clarity and understanding to arguments. This is not religious persecution or suppression of speech. For a better understanding of religious persecution, please see the torture tactics used on heretics during the Christian Crusades. For examples of suppression of speech, tune in to almost any news channel and watch the Arab Spring unfold before your very eyes.

    1. "Ridicule, mockery, and satire..."

      Now you're speaking my language. I struggle to keep a more detached attitude towards intellectual discussion of religious topics, and I consistently lose the battle. Oftentimes, the best I can manage is an attitude of "you have the right to be offended, and I have the right to offend you."

  3. Yes, I agree. I was just clearing up the free speech and persecution issue.

    Here's an old chestnut from our friend Thomas Jefferson who, as you know, did some fancy scissor work on his King James Bible.

    "Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man ever had a distinct idea of the trinity. It is the mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus."

    -Thomas Jefferson, letter to Francis Adrian Van der Kemp, 30 July, 1816

    Somehow the right to not be offended has been sanctioned to mob rule or privilege. But, as you noted, none have the right not to be offended.