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Atheists, how do you define morality?

Do you believe in an absolute morality for everyone? Do you believe that morality is chosen by the individual? I'm asking for an explanation on why murder and any other bad thing is wrong. Please don't say majority is right, mainly because majority also believes in a religion, also believed the earth is round. So lets assume the majority can be wrong. Shouldn't be a problem. Or is it all irrelevant and there is no meaning. Assuming that to know there is no meaning that we should be able to define meaning. What is permissible, what isn't. What makes a good person or a bad person good or bad. That sort of thing. I'd like beliefs, not a debate.

Topics: atheism belief
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    Jul 21 2013: I am a Theist, NOT an Atheist. But I have know a number of atheists & I have debated several of them privately (never publicly). I had a good friend in college who died fairly recently. His name was Tim. He was an atheist. He was a very special kind of person. Tim had a very well developed sense of morality based in the common sense understanding of reciprocity (social psychology). And he had a good understanding of people.

    I grew up Christian from my earliest age. I was a member of the largest protestant denomination in the U.S.A., a conservative, evangelical group called the "Southern Baptists." I believed that God was the source of ALL wisdom; and without God there was simply NO wisdom available! Except for Tim! Just the existence of Tim was a mystery that I was hard pressed to explain within my limited notions of Christian Faith. That was a challenging, but very rewarding.

    Morality is not simply the result of religious teachings - Morality is the result of good teaching, period. We are all on this Earth together. And ultimately we all benefit by fair dealings and truth speaking ALL the time.

    Sam Harris made a good TEDvideo on morality - from an Atheist point of view. He believes that Science can do that. Many agree w/him. I agree w/him. But faith/religions is a source of ancient wisdom and social cohesion that we need to examine carefully & better understand.
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      Jul 22 2013: Juan, I'm really glad you shared this experience of your friend Tim.

      Many individuals have a wonderful sense of morality.
      And why not?

      If believers would take a minute to think, and meditate on what they say they believe, they would realize that we humans are made in the Creator's image. So how can we not have a sense of morality, whether we are believers or not? Having a relationship with the Creator is like a french benefit.......we may choose to have it, or not. But, my friend, we are still able to enjoy all he has given us in his wisdom, and decide to use it for good, or not. Would we expect any less of our magnificent God?
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        Jul 22 2013: Look out Mary, this is TED . . . let's just keep that secret about our "Magnificent God" between the two of us. It's something you have to be willing to be a part of - if any of it is to have any meaning at all.

        My secret theory is that many Atheists/Agnostics actually wish that they could believe. It's an excuse to be happy when absolutely nothing else is going on! And I've heard some Agnostics say as much: 'I wish I could believe!' But they never say it except in the most secret places in the most secretive ways.

        The funny thing is that you don't HAVE to believe to make 'faith' work for you. Just TRY! Just try to follow the rules & be a good person. If all that 'religious content' is too much for you to take, Great! Just follow the rules. It grows on you. Your priorities change. And maybe we can live forever . . . but all that means very little if we can't live it & do it RIGHT NOW!

        Sending happiness vibrations your direction, Mary M. Have a wonderful day. And lets' hold our shared secret close for a bit today! I don't want to disrupt the Academic complicity within the overall TED conspiracy - by sounding 'religious.' Yee! Gawd!
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    Jul 22 2013: morality is accepting and respecting another persons' rights to live and act freely, just as we do. i don't think there is more to it than that.
  • Jul 22 2013: I view morality as something of an artificial construct that doesn't actually reflect any physical reality, or universal truth.

    Its the result of years of (ever shifting) societal consensus and irrational whims. It is completely relative, though in many places, it is legitimized by society as either unofficial norms or official laws--doesn't make it having any more meaning outside where its legitimized though.
    Take for example the most supposedly universal "though shalt not kill"--I've been a soldier, that's hardly as universal as you think. I've seen killers praised both on my side of the fence, and among the enemy (turns out you just have to kill the right person for it to be ok...).

    Still though, it is a very handy tool when it comes to explaining things to children, who lack the rational thought construct a responsible adult ought to use for his decision making. A shame many still use this childhood moral model to decide their actions for them later in life.
  • Jul 22 2013: As an athiest i try to live by the "do unto others" mantra, as well as "an eye for an eye".
    Everyone is going to have different standards. Even the mantra "do unto others" will not always work because how i would like to be treated by others might not be the same as how others would like to be treated by me.
  • Jul 26 2013: Morality, from my perspective, is simply behaving in a a manner that doesn't negatively affect the people and environment around you. My moral views play a large role in my atheistic views. I don't think that a misogynist, homophobic, megalomaniac, sadomasochistic god is a very moral concept to invest faith in.
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    Jul 23 2013: I would recommend you to read Sam Harris "the moral landscape" or Daniel Dennet or some other contemporary secular thinkers about morality (quite some talks about the topic as well). Also look into positive psychology.

    Morality can be traced back throughout evolution, where you can see that cooperation is a good survival tactic.

    And there are also quite some theories (like Rawls idea of the hidden veil) that come to morality through abstractions and what is better or worse.

    And there is the idea that you make a social contract (like Rousseau wrote about) and come to agreements which behavior is prefered vs untollerated in a sociëty.

    I personally think morality is about avoiding harm and increasing pleasure (and other positive emotions). An act could in principle be thought of as having both positive and negative consequences. If you'd make the calculus, one can try and judge the overall effect.

    Is there an absolute morality? Is it individual?
    I think that are wrong (because leading) questions. Yes, you can try and use a uni-dimensional or a relativistic view on morality. I think a five dimensional model (like Nicholas Chistakis proposes) is a better idea, and thinking about a moral landscape like Sam Harris does, is in line with that.
    There are at least some objective measures, but there is ample of room for "on-par" alternatives without reverting to a relativistic "all moral is equal and therefore meaningless" approach.
  • Jul 23 2013: If you are gonna kill someone, there would be someone stronger to you who can kill you. So the early stone men kinda did the civilization process for their own safety I guess. I too am a agnostic atheist but I don't go around killing because I want myself to be safe, if everyone starts killing like I do there would be no human race on the planet.
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      Jul 23 2013: What is agnostic atheist?
      There is either an apple or an orange. Atheistism is a belief.
      • Jul 26 2013: Atheism, by definition, as the lack of a belief. So, you either believe in a contradictory religious text, you are not sure about the nature of existence, or you except that the scientific method is the only reliable fashion with which you can understand the universe around you.
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        Jul 26 2013: "There is either an apple or an orange."

        No, there are lots of fruits, Vincent. Atheism is not a belief system. It's just operating without gods. That's neither apple nor orange.
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    Jul 23 2013: I claim no religion here, I answer the question only. I treat others as I would want them to treat me. That sums up my morals. I don't know or have any concern where it came from but it was taught and I do believe it is correct so I did pick it up. It is the closest path to harmony in the shortest amount of words. The hardest part about it is not acting out on revenge and treating others as they treat me. I'm having a very hard time with this revenge thing in my life at the moment. I could have the clearest opportunity to do the same back to them. Holding revenge back empowers me to be a bigger person within myself.
  • Jul 23 2013: As a young child, I was taught that many things are immoral thus, wrong to do.
    One of those was murder or killing. Everyone in the world is guilty of that one.
    The Sixth Commandment says, "Thou shalt not kill," but it doesn't say, "what."
    So, I assume it means anything but perhaps it really means not killing those things
    so important to maintaining a "moral world, culture or life," namely things like trust,
    love, safety and inclusiveness in ones community. I don' t know.
    But this I did know. How can killing for instance, be wrong or immoral when those teaching me,
    those of authority, those whom I am to trust, believe and follow to some degree, are doing it all the
    time, throughout all of time, and regardless of any kinds of implied punishment to follow once they die?
    So, me thought, it must not be wrong. All their talk of immorality or morality is really a cover for a more
    important truth to learn and live by. They do it but they don't want you doing it. It is, "to thine own self be true."

    To me there are very few things in life that can be determined ahead of time (happening),
    by using or defining morality or immorality.
    Very few, so they don't actually count in that regard.
    What I mean is, most things do not have an intrinsic, inherent and essential moral nature to them.
    The moral nature in life (for humans and I guess how I would define morality), is in how we treat
    one another, not in the subject per se. Thus, in most cases I guess, murder and killing are in how we
    are treating one another and it would be close to 100% of the time, immoral to do that. With exceptions.
    Let's say, your father tells you to go tend the goats. You do and watch from the hillside as Croats came
    and murdered your father, sisters and brothers, mother, other family members and the entire village.
    As an adult, you found them and killed as many of them as you could. To thine own self be true,
    but the pain exists and must be allowed to exist. Killing doesn't end pain. How you treat you
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    Jul 22 2013: I think all moral codes stem from the simple moral that any animal, plant, insect, etc. should not kill another in its own species. Now since most humans have a pretty decent brain, they take this simple moral and expand in around the following order: don't kill another human (the basic 'moral') -> don't harm another human (then expanded into don't harm financially or in other sectors (i.e. don't steal)) -> don't harm yourself (drinking, drugs, etc.) -> help other humans -> branches off into specific areas.
    I think the above morals are the foundation of almost any moral part of any religion (if you can give me an example that you don't think is part of the above, please reply with it!). The only universal moral being don't kill another human. I think every human expands from that moral differently. Some going farther than others and some not going much far than the basic one. It's pretty hard to judge if a person is good or bad, because humans are much more complex than that. It's more of a spectrum and maybe you could judge if someone is more bad than good or vice versa but either way it's very hard to give a definite answer to.

    Hopefully that helped!
  • Jul 22 2013: As usual, I would go to wiki and see how the word was defined:

    Morality (from the Latin moralitas "manner, character, proper behavior") is the differentiation of intentions, decisions, and actions between those that are "good" (or right) and those that are "bad" (or wrong). The philosophy of morality is ethics. A moral code is a system of morality (according to a particular philosophy, religion, culture, etc.) and a moral is any one practice or teaching within a moral code. (Wiki)

    Morality is a big discussion topic in philosophy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy). From this discussion:
    "Ethics, or "moral philosophy," is concerned primarily with the question of the best way to live, and secondarily, concerning the question of whether this question can be answered. The main branches of ethics are meta-ethics, normative ethics, and applied ethics. Meta-ethics concerns the nature of ethical thought, such as the origins of the words good and bad, and origins of other comparative words of various ethical systems, whether there are absolute ethical truths, and how such truths could be known. Normative ethics are more concerned with the questions of how one ought to act, and what the right course of action is. This is where most ethical theories are generated. Lastly, applied ethics go beyond theory and step into real world ethical practice, such as questions of whether or not abortion is correct. Ethics is also associated with the idea of morality, and the two are often interchangeable."

    Personally, I think I would start with the Golden Rule, followed by Scout Oath and Laws, then add to it the good things from all religions I discover and philosophies I embrace, after they have been thoroughly scrubbed of doctrine and agendas. I add the wisdom from life lessons passed on to me by people I respect, and my own opinions about the best course of action in any particular situation. I also ask "What would most help my family and future generations?" in my dicisions.
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    Jul 22 2013: Morality is individualistic

    Every one justify their actions.

    Even a murderer seeks justification for his action.

    A mafia don justifies his action and does not feel guilty.
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    Jul 22 2013: The 'Golden Rule' (regula aurea) with situational, dynamic exceptions based on my current, personal Ethic. But I am Agnostic, in case that matters to you.
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    Jul 22 2013: Morality is an agreement, it has nothing to do with right or wrong, other than according to the groups agreement.

    Ethics does have to do with right and wrong.
  • Jul 22 2013: Oh my gosh, do you really want a lecture on secular huamanism.
  • Jul 22 2013: Morality.. I think morality makes people feel comfortable. And it is valid when people can be themselves. With some kinds of strict standard (like, LAW), morality offers community with safe boundary between what is wrong or right.
    This kind of abstract concept is hard to be difined. ^^ );
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    Jul 22 2013: There is nothing called absolute morality.....morality evolves...it's my belief.
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      Jul 22 2013: Has 'evolvement' a neutral or positive notion to you in this context? In other words, do you think 'moral' is improving over time?
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        Jul 23 2013: If level of our understanding / knowledge improves then so does morality when it is aligned with that improved knowledge.....

        Say not too long back, organ transplantation was considered immoral in many countries , societies & religions....similarly Birth Control .....

        Both of the above examples are not considered to be immoral any more.....what do you think about this change of "morality".....negative /neutral / positive ?
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          Jul 23 2013: Is seems unpredictable to me, as with increasing understanding and knowledge, new challenges a given moral has to face. ABC weapons for instance, land mines, cluster bombs and the newcomer 'drones' for instance.

          Although all of them are morally highly questionable, many societies aren't really dealing with them.

          Lack of interest for instance is a wide spread phenomena by which a given moral code is no longer challenged and can cause morality to fall back again. Double standards is another challenge. For instance, my country, Germany, is highly aware about its history of the Third Reich. Any child gets educated about in and it is always somewhere in the media by documentaries. The current German army is also very sensitive about it, especially if German forces are being send in other countries, like Afghanistan,no name one. Yet on the other hand, and this is not in the media as much, is the fact, that Germany is world's No. 3 exporter of weapon and military technology. With a bit of imagination one may see, that there is no such thing like 'safe countries', as the international arms smuggling sector is known to find its ways ... These double standards have the capacity to bypass a given moral code, which effectively undermines it. The consequence would be a reduction in moral decision making, as its deeds not words thats counts.
  • Jul 22 2013: You might want to investigate this:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-aggression_principle
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    Jul 22 2013: .

    Morality is the rules for symbiosis,
    which are our ancestors' successful experiences in our DNA.