Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Reason - how many of us use it?

My head is swimming with the ideas of Plato, Socrates, Kant and issues of "right" and "wrong", as well as the concept of "Justice". For the rest of this week, I'm going to go through "The Republic" by Plato, which is actually an attempt by him to define what Justice is and how we can achieve it. Last night we covered something particularly interesting, how is the human psyche divided.

Plato thought it was divided into three: Reason, Appetite and Spirit. Each of these is in constant struggle with the other though usually spirit can be found to ally with Reason. For Plato, the society where reason triumphs over the appetite and spirit is the one where justice can be found. Appetite may be to do with food, drink and sex as well as a number of other things which, if driven to excess, lead to injustice, namely to ones self. Spirit is a sense of Honour and where anger also comes from. Spirit is also the source of shame when ones sense of worth has been slighted and what can drive someone to knee-jerk reactions they may later regret. It is only with Reason being triumphant that all these can be kept under control and only used where required. It puts a whole new image in my mind with regards to things such as fasting, abstinence and controlling ones temper. I sometimes wonder if a line can be drawn from people such as Socrates to Bhudda, Jesus and Muhammad.

On Monday we had a class where the topic was about abortion. We had been asked to read a paper in defense of abortion in which the author put forward a number of arguments in favour of the practice. Interesting questions arise from this paper which even the author wasn't able to answer for at the end. She still acknowledged that it was something which was not to be trivialised and taken lightly. In turn, people who argue against it can't quite tell you why exactly it is wrong. As the lecturer pointed out, somebody who feels they can just abort a foetus in it's final stages and think nothing of it is missing something that many people have. It's like drowning a kitten, you can do it if you wish but you don't. What is it that holds you back? I can happily say I have that "thing", but I can't honestly say that abortion is something to be banned completely. To me, there seems to be problems with both sides of the argument and, like my lecturer, I too think it's not a decision to be taken lightly. It's fascinating how I explore my feelings about different topics and what I am coming up with.

What's even more fascinating is how a strong debate in philosophy is where right and wrong comes from if not from some "creator". J.L. Mackie in his book, Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong argues that there is no objective right or wrong. His argument does not even address theism which, in his opinion, is indefensible and a non-argument. I haven't finished his highly convoluted and extremely difficult book, but it just doesn't seem clear to me how he's going to get himself out of his self-dug hole. Frankly I believe that morals and ethics have their origins in theism and sometimes I wonder if those who try to argue for them outside this framework are more like someone trying to reinvent the wheel and pretend it was them who the credit should go for. It all strikes me as a bit foolish sometimes.


majed97 said...

Morals and ethics have nothing to do with theism. Quite the contrary, theism derives its priciples from morals and ethics during various time aras. That's why most of the original religious values are abandoned today as they lost their relevancy over time. Morals and ethics are as old as human existence. They are the products of human experience over miilions of years. They gradually evolved with us to where they are today. They will continue to evolve as our social and economic standards change. "God" was not the first one to preach that killing and stealing are wrong. Human learned that over time as they become more of a social being in ordere to co-exist and preserve their own interest in the community they were in.

Wassim said...

Hi Majed,
Thanks for stopping by. Well that's debatable. Socrates himself followed an "inner voice" and the "one God" who told him when something was just or unjust. His predecessors such as Pythagoras, Parmenides (in particular these two former ones) and even Heraclitus had similar views. Plato might have deviated slightly but we find a startling chain which goes back quite far that tells us theism is in fact the foundation of where our existing morals and ethics came from. For example, the story of Cain and Abel is remarkably ancient and has gone through numerous changes since ancient Babylonian times even, but we cannot discount its validity nor its importance.

majed97 said...

Socrates' inner voice is not the voice of "God". It's the voice of reason, which we all have to listen to once in a while when we are wondering and rationalizing about life's phenomenas. God(s) himself has evolved drastically over time to slowly become more mysterious and elusive, constantly changing prophits and revising ideology, all the more reason to question his perfection and require more tangible evidence of his existence. By the way, quoting various philosopher of various convictions, including all Greek philosophers, does not make god more or less credible. Logic and tangible proof are more meaningfull, just like in science.

Wassim said...

Hi Majed,
I'm sorry if my mentioning of those philosophers seemed like name dropping or as 'proof' of God's existence, it certainly wasn't my intention. My main reason for mentioning them was because, as in my post, I felt it interesting the similarities in thought between them and various prophets and religious men. Logic and tangible proof are indeed more meaningful and it appears they have been already for those men to drive them to say and do what they did. You cannot discount that the people who believed in them then were every bit as sane and rational as people are now, granted technologically backwards, so perhaps we should try to understand these things in their context and without using hindsight.

Also you mention some interesting points but allow me to correct you. If you recall Socrates' farewell speech to his juror, it is quite clear his own belief of an afterlife. He does for the sake of argument argue with them that even if there was no afterlife, he still had nothing to fear from death and everything to gain. Socrates does however, show his firm belief in an afterlife and a judgement of some sorts on his actions. I'm not too sure on what basis you claim that the voice is quite simply "Reason", I think the translations show he felt it was more than just that, so perhaps that is just your opinion?

Also, your claim on God "evolving" over time is interesting. I take it you mean the human perception of him perhaps? I know of no instance where he becomes more elusive and mysterious though, the problem is I can't demonstrate to you the similarities because it doesn't seem like you've read much of these religious texts in the first place, which is fair enough. From Socrates to Abraham to Muhammad one can argue that there are remarkable similarities in the arguments for "the good" and the importance placed on "reason" dominating over the other parts of the human psyche. The exception to these may be Christianity and it's ideas of the Trinity and a son of god which shifted their debates on him in a slightly different direction but within the same dialogue nonetheless.

I think you're holding back your views for some reason, so I'd like you to know that you don't have to hold back or think this is a competition. I'd genuinely like to hear your opinions and I like philosophic discussions. Hope to hear from you soon and more often!

majed97 said...

There is nothing mysterious about the similarities in the teachings between Greek philosophers and the prophets. The prophets have borrowed and enhanced most of their teachings from Greek methodology, which borrowed and enhanced theirs from earlier belief systems, and so on...

I don't doubt the sanity and rational of people who believed in Greek mythology back then, again… back then. However, it is not fair for us, nor is it reasonable, to judge their knowledge by our standards today. It is also silly for us to use their primitive interpretations to make sense of our current issues/events. Their understanding of their surroundings was primitive and far too simplistic by today’s standards. I don't discount their advanced civilization in relation to their time. Their contribution to human civilization is impressive and we should understand it and appreciate it, but beyond that it's time to move on and embrace our amazing knowledge today and find solutions to our current problems. The solutions to today's problems lie in today's knowledge. We can go on and on intellectualizing and fantasizing all we want about ancient cultures and belief systems, but let's not lose our focus on the concept of "relevancy".

By the way, Socrates' belief in God and the afterlife was far from certain. His most admirable stand was his power of conviction in justice/reason and his integrity by refusing to spare his own life in exchange for a compromise on his principles. Hardly anyone reference his belief in god, or lack of it, as a reason to admire him. Socrates’ action was not a confirmation of his belief in an after life as you concluded. It’s a confirmation of his integrity and sense of justice. There were other individuals throughout history, many of whom are non-believers, who took similar stands on issues of principles. In any case, what Socrates believed in is hardly relevant today. We have plenty of wise men with far more in-depth knowledge of our surroundings to help us better understand and deal with nature today. They're called “scientist” and their contributions to our daily lives have been amazing, evidenced everywhere, including this wonderful tool called the internet.

God is certainly more elusive and less mysterious today (I meant to say less mysterious in my earlier post). He is hardly present or needed in our lives and his assistance is less in demand today in managing our daily lives as we have come a long way in better understanding and controlling our surroundings, particularly in the more advanced countries (Europe and North America). Some may feel (emphasize feel) the need for spirituality to find some comfort in rationalizing their lack of understanding of nature's kind and cruel swings. That's fine, as long as they don't impose their belief system on the rest of us, as they have done so often in history.

Wassim, you shouldn't assume and pass judgment on what I know or don't know. It’s an obvious and obsolete debating technique to gain/regain control. I know plenty about the religious texts. I also know that religion(s) was not invented by Abraham. Human have always worshiped some form of a god, and there were plenty of them everywhere. Each society invented its own to deal with its most pressing fears. Over time and as we learned to overcome certain fears and control the smaller gods, bigger gods appeared to accommodate our more developed mind, until the all knowing all controlling god appeared in recent history to consolidate all the gods, reducing/demoting those smaller gods to mere “angles” with smaller tasks. See Wassim, it's not unlike human behavior in seeking to consolidate their power and control over others...isn't it?

Wassim said...

I have to stop you in your tracks as I can see you trying to steer the discussion into a framework which neither my posts, nor my arguments relate to. The reason I stop you in your tracks is because continuously throughout your comments you talk as if with authority on human history, the development of religion and the nature of God. You can proceed, but please be aware that what you are saying is your opinion and I do not take it as definitive nor entirely accurate, simply your opinion. That - I respect, but it is far from convincing.

My reference to the sanity and rationality of the people back then was in actual fact for the people who followed the prophets and let me assure you that I do not believe for an instant that these technological trappings and trinkets we surround ourselves with today have made an iota of difference to the eternal and unchanging "human" nature. That, sadly, remains as it was 3000 years ago and has not changed. You will disagree and this is where we would come to loggerheads, but I want us to be clear on where you and I base our understanding of history and human development.

Your paragraph on Socrates has misrepresented what it is we were discussing about him, as can be seen with a quick scroll upwards. You denied that the "voice" he heard was from a one "God" as he himself said. I corrected that statement. The reasons he died are just as you said and I don't think I've disputed that anywhere, so I don't think there is a reason to enter this non-debate. What he died for is irrelevant in the context of our discussion, in case you had forgotten what we were originally discussing. We can open another line on that if you so wish, but I just wanted you to realise that you were drifting away.

With regards to God and your interpretation of him, well again, that's your opinion, but I think you should be wary of stating that as fact since from your arguments so far, you lay yourself open to devastating blows. Again, this is rooted in your and mine interpretation of human nature and development so I don't think there is any point in getting into this. As they say wars start with words so let's not bring this aspect into our discussion :)

I didn't mean to pass judgement on you from a moral or ethical perspective, it was just what I was able to reason from the way you discussed religion so far you have demonstrated that you know quite little about the texts. It's not an insult, just an observation. Finally, thank you for the anthropology lesson on human spiritual development, though I'm unsure on what authority you present it apart from again, your opinion. I'm sorry to say this Majd but you've given me an appetite but had me break my fast on a radish :) please give me something to sink my teeth into.

I think the bottom line is you want me to know that you do not believe in some supernatural being or creator and that such belief systems are relics of a primitive way of life which is unnecessary. My argument is that from early philosophy to these religions themselves, there is in fact a recurrent theme of how the human being is to lead their lives morally and justly, regardless of the trappings of "modern" life. You're argument is that morality supercedes theism and has outlived it, mine is that it can only come from that. We are back to where we started and I'm sick of radishes!!

majed97 said...

I happen to like radishes and they're all I have for you, which is more than you offered me.

Your obsession with authority as a pre-requisite for discussion is another old debating technique to dance around a subject. Do I have to present you with my credential in order to provide my analogy and engage in a discussion with you? You don’t see me questioning your authority. Just address the point, please. You don't have to be an authority on human history to know that god(s) has always been part of human history, Wassim. Also, human history and the invention of god did not begin 3000 years ago, as your argument is constantly locked in that time period. The development of religion and the nature of god go back millions of years. It's not my opinion, anthropology has determined so. Do your own research.

It's funny how you actually represent yourself as an authority on the sanity and rationality of ancient people, as if you have just landed from there. Believe what you want, but it is amusing how you equate rationality of today people with ancient people. You're placing a lot of pressure on ancient people, which isn't fair to them. Perhaps no one have told you about all the scientific progress we've made in unraveling many of nature mysteries that have troubled ancient people and scare them into “rationalizing” them as the work of a god. How silly do you think those prophets will look today trying to sell their message and perform their miracles in our sophisticated and scientific world today? In fact, many new prophets keep popping up everyday only to be laughed at. There is a new one in Indonesia who has a “new and improved” version of Islam. Wassim, living in the past is not the same as learning from the past. Ancient civilizations and belief systems have done their jobs in contributing to our development, but now they lay dead in ruins.

You’re right, discussing Socrates’ inner voice and what he believed in is a waste of time and hardly relevant. Your interpretation and mine are two of thousands.

“With regards to God and your interpretation of him, well again, that's your opinion, but I think you should be wary of stating that as fact since from your arguments so far, you lay yourself open to devastating blows.” Really? Thanks for the warning, I’ll dress properly and try to preserve my pride by smiling a lot when receiving that “devastating blow”.

Wassim, I am not trying to sell you anything. I simply replied to your assertion on morals and ethics when you ridiculed those who believe that morals and ethics are not the work of god. My argument is that morality and ethics have always been present in human history in some shape or form and have evolved as we did and will continue to do so, as we will. It’s an evolutionary process and its development is connected to human development. On the other hand, your argument is it is the product of some Devin being has yet to be proven. Remember, the burden of proof is on you, believers, not us doubters. Here, have some more radishes, Wassim. They’re good for you, and no, I’m not an authority on radishes.

Wassim said...

What's this? Everytime I tell you something you come up with "this is an old debating technique". It seems not only are you an expert historian and anthropologist but also a masterdebator. You can keep your radishes, but one thing I do expect from anyone who argues a point with me is that they should at least back up their arguments, which you have not done once on this thread. What you are giving me is "pub politics" and your opinion, nothing more.

By the way, I have no onus to "prove" anything to anyone. I'm seeking things just like you and whether you believe in something or not is up to you. One thing you cannot ignore is that you exist from something and you were once nothing, science complements this enigma and does not negate it. Until such time as these things become clear, you are no more knowledgable than those religious people you hold in contempt. Don't ever think you are better than anyone past or present just because you are "modern".

majed97 said...

Your obvious attempts to discredit me as a debater by questioning my authority and competency on a subject do not strengthen your argument. It's rather a reflection on how primitive and desperate your approach is to avoid substantiating your position on the subject matter. You seem to constantly insist on only dealing with expert historian and anthropologist, forgetting that you're not one of them and do not belong in their league, not from what you've offered thus far anyway. You expect evidence to back up my argument, but you forget that I am not the one who is required to provide the evidence because I'm not the one claiming the existence of God and alleging to know that he is the “creator” of all things and author of our moral and ethic code. I’m simply saying that anthropologists have studied many civilizations from various time eras going back many thousands of years and found evidence of some form of worshipping of some god that differed from one civilization to another and the closer they came to our time the more consolidated and sophisticated religions and gods became. It seems beyond doubt that primitive man had religious beliefs. For instance, Neanderthal man, who lived 50,000 years ago, is known to have buried his dead with ceremonies that clearly suggest a belief in a life after death.

"One thing you cannot ignore is that you exist from something and you were once nothing, science complements this enigma and does not negate it". Wow…where did you come up with that science? What science are you reading, Wassim? Not true at all. Science never made that assertion. That is what the Quran and bible claim, which lay the foundation for the conclusion that God and only God created things from nothing. Science said we were always something (never nothing), but we have evolved and transformed over billions of years through various chemical and physical process to where we are today. Read Richard Dawkins' book "The Selfish Gene" who can help you better than I can understand life’s evolutionary process from a simple life form to a more complex one. Dawkins is a world known evolutionary biologist who has done extensive research on human biology and the evolutionary process. You see Wassim, while all the answers are not in (yet) things are much clearer than you think for many people who follow science. They may not be as clear to people like you who believe and live in lullabies, but that's your loss. In a free society you have every right to be as ignorant as you like, but be careful in falsifying evidence to give your argument grievance. It's called "snow job", but educated people can still see clearly through it.

By the way, I don't hold ancient people and their leaders in contempt, as you accuse me of doing. Quite the contrary, I place them in high regards as great revolutionary thinkers for their times. In case you forgot, this is what got my attention and prompted me to respond to your post: “Frankly I believe that morals and ethics have their origins in theism and sometimes I wonder if those who try to argue for them outside this framework are more like someone trying to reinvent the wheel and pretend it was them who the credit should go for. It all strikes me as a bit foolish sometimes.” You need to get off that high horse of yours, Wassim, and try reading your posts before posting them to avoid embarrassments. Who hold who in contempt now?

Now you're calling my argument "pub politics". I guess that's an upgrade from I wonder what you will label me as next...No more radishes for you.

Wassim said...

My attempts to discredit you? Majd you are doing wonderfully well on your own. Just look at the mess you have worked yourself within in the clutter you've just typed up. I've never denied that there have been religions since the dawn of time, in fact, my argument, if you even remember it, was that morality and ethics have their origins in theism and cannot be independent of it. You've just said yourself that religion has been with us since the time of Neanderthal man, or as in an earlier posting where you believed that the "The development of religion and the nature of god go back millions of years". Millions of years Majd? Who is being naive about science and the origins of man now? How long have homosapiens even existed? Let's please move the framework from that of an eight year old. Not only do you reinforce what it is I've gone blue in the face trying to tell you since the beginning, but you don't even realise that you now have no argument. Instead you remain obsessed with radishes and waste my time responding to you with your convoluted and torturous arguments.

Richard Dawkins is not the only scientist in the world and I'm not in a position to criticise him because neither am I a biologist nor have I read his book (notice here the requirements I place for criticising an idea or citing someone, not plucking ideas off of trees.) Again, thanks but I don't need a history or biology lesson to discuss philosophy or religion. Like I told you before, I have no obligation to make you believe or not believe in some supreme being, that's the job of someone else. Nor do I have to prove his existence. I study philosophy, I am interested in religions and I drew comparisons between the way both areas converged when it came to how human beings should lead their lives ideally, something which science does not tell us. Science cannot tell us whether abortion is ethical or not, whether torture is wrong or right and indeed whether a man should steal or not. The fact that you can't even comprehend that this is what the post is about is what is ridiculous about this whole exchange. Rather than stay "relevant" you have only used it as a platform to try to justify your atheism, I'm sorry but I think you confuse me with someone who cares? Don't project your hostility of a society I have nothing to do with unto myself, I have nothing to do with that society you think you are rebelling against nor with your failure in articulating yourself.

Time and again you drag the discussion into a non-debate and have lost touch with what the post is about, sadly you only had to ask me what I meant and I could have explained, instead you thought you could get away with lecturing me. You did not and as a result you now look ridiculous, not least by your atrocious english "but be careful in falsifying evidence to give your argument grievance" give my argument grievance? What on earth does that mean? What do snowjobs or any other jobs have to do with anything I've said? I'm not on a high horse Majd, it's you that keeps digging yourself deeper and deeper into a hole. Anyhow, don't quite the day job.

ما ناقشت جاهلا الا و غلبني
و ما ناقشت عاقلا الا و غلبته

majed97 said...

Wow…you sounded very angry and frustrated. Sorry, I didn’t mean to get you blue in the face, nor did I want to torture you, not my style, nor is it my nature to do that to people. Relax, it’s a debate that you started and invited me to participate in, remember?. Perhaps your regret doing so now and may even want to withdraw that invitation. Your call.

From where I am, I don’t see that mess you said I dug my self into, nor do I see any clutter on my side of the debate. I've simply responded to your argument regarding theism as the source of ethics and morals. As I understood it, “theism/atheism and ethics” was the topic de jour here and that’s what I’ve been addressing throughout this debate. There is no platform to launch my atheistic revolution on here. Not big enough audience for that. Again, I simply said that moral and ethics are the product of human experience over millions of years, yes millions. Homo sapiens (modern man) may be 200,000 years old, but earlier man is much older and is part of our evolutionary process so we shouldn’t exclude him. In any case, my point is the development of man brought with it development in his belief and moral standards, including religion. God did not provide man with any text outlining the code of ethics. It was man all along who set the moral standards and kept upgrading them as he developed socially and intellectually. Your argument, on the other hand, is that morality and ethics have their origins in theism and cannot be independent of it. Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t that mean you’re suggesting that God, through his various religions and prophets, was the driving force behind our morals and ethics? If so, we have to first establish the existence of such being (God) before crediting him with such contributions, don’t you think? So, how am I off topic?

Expressing an opinion on a subject is what you do everywhere on this blog Wassim. Who said you need some form of authority or a certification to do so. You don’t have to read Dawkins books to have an opinion on the subject ( I don't deny it will help). I see you’ve been very active and forthcoming in presenting your opinions on various subjects. By the way, I agree with many of them, particularly the political ones. You make it sound as if “plucking ideas of trees” is a bad thing. I find that healthy as long as you can defend them and articulate them properly. Otherwise, none of us would be able to speak out at all, because none of us is smart enough or has the time to know it all. Like you said, you don't need a history or biology lessons to discuss philosophy or religion. All you need is to back up and substantiate your belief with logic, particularly if you’re promoting it, as you have been.

You said you study philosophy and you are interested in religions. So why do you get so upset when I bring up God and faith, and why do you accuse me of having an agenda to launch some kind of rebellion against God. I assure I have no such agenda, nor do I have the time to waste for that. I just need those who have such passion for promoting God’s existence and credit him with so many things to prove it. Otherwise, they should keep their mouth shut. I agree with you that how human beings should lead their lives is not a scientific matter. I never claimed it was. Show me otherwise. I only reference science as a requirement to prove the existence of a supreme being who allegedly guides us in doing so.

I am well aware of the topic at hand, Wassim, and have been responding to your points throughout this whole exchange. I don’t have any illusions here. But your approach has been confrontational and progressively turned personal until your last explosive post which sounded very loud and emotional. Rest assured that I have no hostility toward you or society. You have spent too much time tackling me personally and hardly any time on addressing the issues at hand. You even went after my English for making a typo. By the way I meant to say “credence” not grievance, sorry. Perhaps I should be more careful, but I never thought you’ll be that critical. Well, you surprised me. Should I start pointing out your English errors as well? You do have few you know.

By the way, the expression “snow job” is used in certain part of the word to describe someone who tries to blind you with incorrect information…like a snow storm. I was using that expression in response to your allegation that science endorses your allegation that we came from nothing. Also, thank for your recommendation for me to hang on to my day job. Don’t worry, I plan on doing so.

Wassim said...

Ahlan Majd,
I assure you the blue in the face comment was purely figuratively speaking. Far from being frustrated I enjoy this and my invitation as always remains since you have "stepped on my carpet". Apologies if my last post seemed like a personal attack, but there was a need to puncture your balloon before you overinflated your arguments. First I have to respond to some of the accusations you've made against me quickly, since you seem to enjoy inventing non-debates and also amazingly, crediting me with positions I did not assume. Your first paragraph is good, because there you've asked a question and I'll answer it. The rest, well it needs to be put out of the way first.

You deliberately misrepresent my instructions to you to back up your arguments. While I don't have a problem with someone expressing an opinion, you should firstly say that it is so, rather than assert it as true (this also includes your belief that God is a fairytale). You've said it yourself, if you defend and articulate your opinion properly then fair enough, I told you many times earlier I don't have a problem with your atheism or arguments for it. I ask you to honestly reflect again on where in my post or the discussion I have claimed with passion God's existence and credited him with everything, this, you will realise, has not been what my arguments have been about. I will flesh out my argument again for you later. I'm not worried in the slightest about your comments on religion and I think you give yourself far more credit than you deserve, in fact I appreciate your critical mind on the idea of a creator, though I don't really like your arrogance in assuming that your beliefs are bullet proof, which they are not. We can get into another discussion on whether God exists or not, a fascinating topic, but the reason why I had to cut you down to size is because I want you to realise this is not actually what we need to discuss. The fact I have done this is because I am trying to make you rejoin the discussion rather than have a conversation with yourself, something which appears to have worked. You're welcome to point out my English errors by the way as in the end, we both benefit. Anyhow, no hard feelings here and genuinely I say you are always welcome here.

Let's start again, and I'd like to look at your first question, if you wish to continue this discussion.

I don't really think we do need to establish whether God exists or not in order to discuss this topic Majd. My claim that theism is the origin of morals still stands, simply because we can both agree that theism as a phenomenon does in fact exist whereas, as we have seen painfully, we cannot both agree on the existence of a divine being controlling everything. What is theism? It is essentially a belief in a divine being who has created the universe and interferes in it. I use it here to refer to the body of beliefs which people assume, religion, and which would determine what moral actions and ethics they are to follow. I just don't believe that Mackie or others can honestly tell us why certain things are "wrong" and when certain things are "right" unless in the end, they do resort to something beyond the human body. My question to you remains, "why" should a person be just, why should they be moral? Is it as Mill would argue, for something utilitarian? If I drown a kitten, why would I feel bad? It does not affect me, and I think you would agree that anybody who does so and feels absolutely nothing is missing "something, so we can leave such people out of our thought experiment. Why do these things make us feel bad or to put it in a better way, why "should" such things make us feel bad? The utilitarian view that it is not "conducive to the greater good" or as Kant would call it, the General Happiness, just doesn't quite cut it. These answers aren't satisfactory enough for the average human being. There is something within us which we cannot measure or examine normally, that holds us back from doing things like this and bothers us, our conscience. Moving on from this, things such as murder, lying, adultery and theft are all things which the basic theistic religions all argued were "wrong". These were "categorical imperatives" as Kant would argue, they are just wrong, you must not do them. Now the problem with non-theistic attempts to categorise "why" these things are wrong, for me, is that they can't tell us "why" doing such a thing is wrong. Here is a little thought experiment for you.

Say someone comes to you and says, for 2 million dollars, I want you to press this button on a box. Nobody will ever find out what you have done, nor will there be repercussions for this. You do this and you can forget about it, just 2 million dollars happier. The only thing that will happen is somebody you don't know, who has no involvement with you in your life in any shape or form, a non-entity you have never heard of, will die. What would you do?
2 million dollars is a lot of money to do something which will never impact your life and for which you won't ever be called to account for by the law or police or society. Would you press it? Why not? What would hold you back? Who would know?

I hope we can use this as a starting point for the discussion.


majed97 said...

Good to see you’ve toned it down a bit. However, you’re approach is still confrontational. Listen to yourself talking:

“Apologies if my last post seemed like a personal attack, but there was a need to puncture your balloon before you overinflated your arguments”. I’m still flying as high as ever.

”I'm not worried in the slightest about your comments on religion and I think you give yourself far more credit than you deserve”. I will continue to do so and maybe someday, if you bring some substance to the table, you’ll get some yourself. No credit from you is needed. I have plenty of credit worthy people who are very generous, thank you.

“We can get into another discussion …. But the reason why I had to cut you down to size…” Well, last time I checked, my measurements are still unchanged, but good try.

“You deliberately misrepresent my instructions to you to back up your arguments.” Your instructions!! How does it feel to be so all mighty? Who gives himself too much credit, Wassim!?

These just few of many examples of your arrogance Wassim, yet you accuse me of carrying an attitude. Get a grip on your ego for once and try living with less vanity, preferably within your limitations.

Opinion is what this is all about, Wassim. What did you think we’re doing here? Did it go that far into your head that you thought you’re performing some valuable research to qualify you for the Nobel Prize? I simply presented you with MY argument, which I believe in firmly. Where did I say that my argument is the ultimate truth and you should adopt it? I think you’re confusing me with God, which is flattering but not suitable to my interests. I’m starting to believe that you’re reading too many posts and perhaps confusing me with someone else. I do believe that theism’s tall tales are good fairytales suitable for very young children. It simply lacks logic and void of any scientific proof. What else do you call such lullabies?

Here is what you said “in fact I appreciate your critical mind on the idea of a creator, though I don't really like your arrogance in assuming that your beliefs are bullet proof, which they are not.” Well, you have just decreed that my argument is now null and void… Was that the devastating blow you were warning me about? What do I do now? It’s all over for me, I guess. Incidentally, what’s wrong with having a firm conviction in what I believe in? You make it sound like something to be ashamed of! I better believe in my philosophy of life as it is the truth, my truth. Otherwise, I should shut up and listen to your rhetorical nonsense and self serving posts. How is my believe in my ideology is wrong? Isn’t that what people of principles are admired for? Religious and non-religious people all over the world pride themselves on their conviction. Many of them go even further than that with it, they impose it on others, not my style. I told you what I’m convinced of in response to what you’re convinced of. How else should two people debate? Based on their half ass conviction? I was responding to your ethical issues with MY interpretations. My lack of belief in a God is because I have not seen any evidence of his existence, period. I don’t have to prove that he doesn’t exist because I am not the one marketing him to the world. It’s like asking an Arab to prove he’s not a terrorist! It’s up to the prosecution to convince us that he is, don’t you agree?

Having a discussion with my self is apparently what I’ve been doing. I did notice that you were truly absent here because you were, and still are, too busy trying to “cut me down in size”, instead of engaging me in a meaningful debate. Cut me down in size!! Come on, Wassim, really! Don’t you find that arrogance comical? You don’t have the proper tools to perform such a miracle on me or anyone else.

Now that you've re-stated your position, I’m not sure there is a debate here, Wassim. If I understand you correctly, you are now not claiming that God is the author of our code of ethics. I agree. You are also saying theism has been a driving force in forming our ethics. I don’t disagree either, only if you qualify that by adding to it that theism is a man made institution and was part of our social and intellectual evolution. It’s just a marketing tool to rationalize and justify man’s need to control others by subjecting them to certain order that empowers him. Not unlike what George Bush is doing to the Middle East nowadays through his new religious-like message that he calls “democracy”. It’s just another form of creating a new code of ethics for that region to enable him and his masters to rob the Middle East’s resources. He would have claimed to be the new messiah if he could sell it, but, like I said before, most people today are too sophisticated to buy into it, so he instead uses a more fashionable message.

As for your rhetorical debate on ethics and morality, I would like to emphasize relevancy here. Telling right from wrong is not a standardized procedure. Every individual and society lives by different rules depending on their environment. Therefore, pushing that button in exchange for $2 million is a decision that would be made based on various drives. We are selfish beings by nature and therefore are programmed by nature to seek to maximize and preserve our interest, sadly, at the expense of others. We must also take into consideration what is the relevant value of that sum of money to different people. For example, $2 million to Bill Gate is hardly an incentive, but $2 million to some Iraqi family stuck in that horrific Iraqi democracy is very tempting indeed. Your question as to why a person should be just or not is rhetorical. It’s all circumstantial. Some of us are born in a very hostile environment, some in disorderly communities, some in highly competitive places, and some of us are just born biologically defective, in another words, natural born killers. Court rooms are filled with “experts” and witnesses who always try to rationalize someone’s wrongdoing by bringing in their upbringing and psychological factors that drove them to do such acts. Why should these things make us (most of us) feel bad? It is because there is something biological within us embedded into our conscience that makes us feel complex emotions that need rationalization for the things we do. It’s the product of our highly developed brain. As to why these things are wrong from a non-theist point of view is because it’s instinctive in our psyche which is the product of the chemistry in our brain that makes us feel conscious emotions (unlike the instinctive emotions which control the less developed animals). Let’s not forget that morality has evolved and its code continues to be revisited. Yesterday’s code was far more liberal in tolerating killing and stealing than today’s code. Ancient man was not as sensitive as we are today in doing what he had to in order to partake in that survival of the fittest world. Only when he came out of the cave and became more sociable did his morals pick up speed. They didn’t have to rationalize their behavior back then when practicing cannibalism, while today such practice is unimaginable even in extreme situations, like that Argentinean soccer team in the 70’s.

When it comes to those $2 million, theist and atheist morals become irrelevant. Individual’s circumstances and make up (biologically, socially and economically) take over. Most horrific acts throughout history are carried out by strong believers. The Black Water personnel push that button daily killing innocent people for a lot less than $2 million (around $200,000 annually). Most of them are theist and not destitute. Why do they do it, against their God’s instructionA? My guess is for economical reasons, which serves their selfish nature.

Again, these are my views on these subjects. I think we now understand each other better and unlikely to agree on much, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Thanks for the ride, but now I must go back to my day job.


وسيم said...

Hope your better at that than in Philosophy :)