Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Moderate scarcity, and secular and religious bases for the moral life

There may be a certain modicum of decent behavior that we need to engage in in order to function socially. But sometimes people have a lot of money thrust into their hands, and so don't have to have the ordinary middle-class pressures. Or one can be very poor and desperate for money. If you are moderately privileged, you need morality to get along, but if you are really poor, you can't afford it, and if you are really rich, you don't need it.

Professional athletes and singing stars often find themselves with a lot of money, power, and acclaim that is beyond their maturity to deal with, and they often wreck their lives because of it. (Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, etc.) Kurt Warner seems to want to use his position for the benefit of others, but he is motivated, quite obviously, by religion.

To sum up, certain situations give us a reason to be moral, but those reasons don't hold up if the situation changes. A belief in moral theism, on the other hand, provides a moral motivation that transcends the situations in which we find ourselves.

21 comments:

Doctor Logic said...

I don't think you've made this case very well. Lots of the "wrecks" claim to be "moral theists". Maybe they're not true Scotsmen.

How about Angelina Jolie? Or George Soros?

I don't think anecdotes make the case that moral theism is effective in the way you suggest it to be. That's not to say your statement isn't true, but only that the case isn't made without better statistics.

Also, by your phrasing, you seem to be holding up "moral theism" as motivation for certain moral behavior, not reason for moral behavior. Was this just a grammatical accident, or are you saying that being good or obtaining moral motivation is non-cognitive?

Ken Jacobs said...

Victor says: A belief in moral theism, on the other hand, provides a moral motivation that transcends the situations in which we find ourselves.

Ken says:
I disagree. Various theistic religions merely provide rough templates for rationalizations of base desires as well as our basic moral impulses. I think that we all rationalize our moral and intellectual inclinations to some degree and it is naive to dismiss that possibility. IOW feeling comes first, rationality second even if the latter is well-thought out and sophisticated. Judging by certain wealthy evangelists, the human ability to harmonize one's base desires with one's theistic beliefs is unlimited.

And with the WTC terrorism in mind, moral theism does not provide a moral motivation that transcends the theistic religion in which we find ourselves.

David said...

Can one live a "moral life" by "walking in the Spirit?" In contrast to living by the law (i.e. a set of rules) as a freedom found in Christianity and taught in Galatians?

Blue Devil Knight said...

Clinical psychology should also provide resources for people seeking to live a moral life. That's probably why many secular rich people see a shrink 40x a week. This is orthogonal to theism/atheism. Victor seems right that the wealthy/powerful have special needs. I know if beautiful women threw themselves at me sexually everywhere I went, being a good husband would be much more difficult and I would have to seek some kind of guidance to stay on the straight-and-narrow. Given my atheism, I'd seek out friends or pay psychologists to help me figure out tools to be a good boy.

Mark Frank said...

Why this continuing confusion between the cause of being moral and the reason for being moral?

It may be that the cause of Jones helping a neighbour is that kind of behaviour is required to function socially. But that is not his reason, motivation. He may do it for a number of reasons but a prime one would be that wants to help people - period. The cause of that desire may be that societies where the individuals do not have that kind of desire collapse.

Anonymous said...

Good point, Victor. For the theist, morality and moral behavior is a concern which never goes away, no matter what situation an individual is in.

Incidentally, why the rush to assume that a con-artist preacher has "harmonized" anything? Does a man selling snake oil always think his snake oil works? Or is that a charade?

I now and then see atheists decrying televangelists, etc, as con-men who are willfully, knowingly bilking their flock and selling them on things they themselves don't believe. Which of course would suggest that some of the worst abusers of religion... are atheists.

Mark Frank said...

Atheists also have reasons for being moral and these never go away whatever situation they are in. The reasons include such things as compassion, duty, and justice. The difference is that atheists want these things for their own sake and do not require an additional justification to pursue them. The theists reasons for being moral would presumably go away if they lost their faith?

Blue Devil Knight said...

I used to get very uneasy around Christians I met who would tell me they would have no reason to be moral if they lost their faith. One guy was like "Why not go rape that hot girl if you don't believe in God?"

So if you think God is telling you to go rape or murder, then what?

Now, having watched a few of these people become nonbelievers, I realize they were just selling themselves short morally.

Anonymous said...

Selling themselves short morally? Nonsense. There's no "morally" for the materialist atheist, other than "doing whatever I damn well please because I decided I want to". Hard to sell oneself short by a standard one makes up on the fly. Now, there IS a "get arrested, become a social pariah, and/or get your balls chopped off by a vindictive husband/boyfriend/father/brother" aspect. Which, admittedly, can keep a would-be rapist in line.

And for a materialist atheist, "compassion, duty, and justice" are nice-sounding words and little more. At least, if they're consistent and think things through. Luckily, a good number tend not to be, or at least tend to be cowed by laws and social standards (typically put into place by, you know. theists.), even while trying to change them.

Of course, every now and then one or another may go on a killing spree in a school or such. Alas.

Mark Frank said...

And for a materialist atheist, "compassion, duty, and justice" are nice-sounding words and little more.

It would be nice to see some evidence for this. Compassion means "a deep awareness of and sympathy for another's suffering". Is there any reason why an atheist should not have this awareness? How would "thinking things through" change this awareness and sympathy?

Blue Devil Knight said...

Anon: good point about atheistic school shooters. Theists never murder lots of people. Historically, we know such acts have always been undertaken by atheists.

If you want to go the route of playing the game "who is more moral than whom", then read this post. For reasons spelled out in the comments thread at Debunking Christianity, I think these types of arguments are inane. Atheists make them all the time, and they aren't any more convincing when they come out of the mouths of theists.

Ken Jacobs said...

BDK:

Although you don't refer to my post directly, I'd like to make it clear that my WTC 9/11 remark was not a "holier than thou" post, but meant to illustrate that theistic morality does not transcend circumstances, of which disparate theistic religions are one important circumstance that may vary, even within a single community.

Moral relativism is just as much a problem for theists as it is for nontheists--and it is a problem.

Mark said...

Selling themselves short morally? Nonsense. There's no "morally" for the materialist atheist, other than "doing whatever I damn well please because I decided I want to". Hard to sell oneself short by a standard one makes up on the fly. Now, there IS a "get arrested, become a social pariah, and/or get your balls chopped off by a vindictive husband/boyfriend/father/brother" aspect. Which, admittedly, can keep a would-be rapist in line.

Yikes.

On a different note, I would deny that Paris Hilton has wrecked her life.

Clayton said...

"To sum up, certain situations give us a reason to be moral, but those reasons don't hold up if the situation changes."

Sorry, Victor, but I think this is simply confused. Moral reasons are categorical reasons, they don't depend upon the desires that an agent has. These posts seem to confirm that you equate acting as if you are moral with moral motivation. They aren't the same thing at all.

Also, Ricky Gervais vs. Britney Spears. He's atheist. She's a theist.

Steven Carr said...

Britney Spears was famous for her Christianity.

But Christians are famous for their generosity, inspired as they are by the words of their Lord and Saviour :-

'"Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
"So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men.'

I've lost track of the number of Christians who tell me how much they give in anonymous donations.

Gordon Knight said...

its objective morality, not theism per se that is necessary. theism is compatible with ob. morals but neither entails nor is entailed by it. Divine command theory is just subjectivism writ large, and of course one can hold there are moral truths w/o believing that there is a God.

Gordon Knight said...

When this question comes up, I am always reminded of Prichard's classic but perhaps less read article "Does Moral Philosophy Rest on Mistake?"

Doctor Logic said...

Gordon,

Objective morality is necessary for what?

Gordon Knight said...

BDK: I mean, I don't think y ou need a reason to be moral. being moral (something being good or bad) is itself a reason.

To see the good is to recognize a reason for doing it, namely, that it is GOOD> you don't need anything else.

Of course the good does not compell, it does not hurt to have jails, social sanction etc.. but if you recognize x is good that gives you a reason, a motive, for doing x.\

So methinks, anyway.

Gordon Knight said...

sorry, I meant dr. logic, not BDK

Doctor Logic said...

Gordon,

To see the good is to recognize a reason for doing it, namely, that it is GOOD you don't need anything else.

This doesn't seem like an argument for objective morality. I think I could find subjective things that would fit this sort of pattern.

If I'm reading you correctly, you're saying that goodness is that which necessarily justifies a decision. I agree that all proper decisions are necessarily justified by the mind that decides them. However, justifications could be subjective.

If we can be mistaken in our recognition of the good, what is the corrective mechanism? I think this is the key point.