Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Nothing New Under The Sun...

"Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones."
— Marcus Aurelius

via greater than lapsed

It's funny that this is the view I have come to embrace regarding the whole god/no god thing. And, I guess because my education is spotty, I thought it was pretty novel when I arrived at it.

Turns out people had been growing exasperated with the silliness of revealed religion long before I was born.

9 comments:

Willie Y said...

That's it in a nutshell.

Steve Perry said...

This perspective seems to undermine the concept of justice.

epstew said...

how so? does this undermine the concept of justice?

the elegant ape said...

"I have recently been examining all the known superstitions of the world, and do not find in our particular superstition [Christianity] one redeeming feature. They are all alike, founded upon fables and mythologies." Thomas Jefferson

dig it....

Steve Perry said...

First, if there are virtues then who says what they are? And why should anyone want to achieve them? Second, if there are no Gods then it doesn't matter what you do. Its meaningless besides the reassurance that somehow your life is remembered. This is no less superstitious than the Eqyptians who believed that the memory of their lives was what kept them in existence after they died.

Spencer Troxell said...

"First, if there are virtues then who says what they are?"

Each of us individually has to decide what code we're going to live by. Even if you follow a religious worldview, this is true too.

"And why should anyone want to achieve them?"

Different motives, I suppose. Self interest for people lacking in empathy, and an innate sense of justice for those who do have empathy.

"Second, if there are no Gods then it doesn't matter what you do."

I think the opposite is true. The real way to trivialize morality is to say that behavior is good because god says it is good, and bad because he says it is bad.

And I don't think what we do doesn't matter if there are no gods. A person who you do a right turn to (or a wrong one) certainly wouldn't feel that way.

'This is no less superstitious than the Eqyptians who believed that the memory of their lives was what kept them in existence after they died.'

Taking comfort from the thought that the people you love will remember you fondly is not superstitious at all. It's a way to assure yourself that you've done right by them, and that they won't be totally destroyed by your absence because they have good memories of you to comfort them. Plus, everyone wants the people they love to love them back.

Nothing supernatural about that at all.

Steve Perry said...

Spencer,
I don't think you are appealing to groupthink for your position here are you? You've basically stated a relativistic ethic of personal arbitrary values. Can you flesh out what you mean by "everyone" and how that has any bearing on what we call ethics? This relates to your second point, why should we favor those with empathy over those who don't and what is justice? These are hardly defined by the above quote and the assumption of their existence begs the question. This is equally true of your comments on right and wrong. You're using terminology as if it is axiomatic and that is the case if you are borrowing the concepts from theism or other well defined ethical systems. However, you have to make an argument for the terminology from the ground up if you are going to use those terms in contrast to other ethical systems. The fluidity and indeterminate meanings of these concepts as it stands in the above quote makes the quote either completely dependent upon ethical concepts wholely borrowed from religion or simply undefined. Justice, right, wrong, evil etc. all have very clear delineations in theistic dialogue. I am trying to understand where you are getting your ethical standards from a non-theistic perspective. Are you dependent upon theism for your own articulations?

Spencer Troxell said...

"I don't think you are appealing to groupthink for your position here are you?"

No.

"You've basically stated a relativistic ethic of personal arbitrary values."

Not arbitrary. I choose my values based on a cocktail of reason, empathy, and self interest. No doubt some of my values are purely primitive and reactionary, too. God's morality seems to be based on similar principles (including the primitive and reactionary part). I deem myself more moral than the god of the bible though, because I value empathy and reason more highly than he seems to. His moral compass seems to be designed to point more towards self interest and the primitive and reactionary.

"Can you flesh out what you mean by "everyone" and how that has any bearing on what we call ethics?"

The part of my response you are referring to was addressing your claim that wanting to be remembered by your loved ones was somehow superstitious. I was pointing out that this isn't so. I wasn't talking about ethics.

"why should we favor those with empathy over those who don't and what is justice?"

self interest, and because--hopefully--we also have empathy. What is justice? It is a manmade concept (like religion), and its definition depends on your perspective. I view justice as the vindication of my personal definitions of right and wrong, which are derived from my personal value set, which is based upon the values cocktail I described above. That is how it is with everyone, and that is why after any criminal verdict some folks will declare 'justice has been done!' and others won't. They have internal moral compasses too. I am willing to wager that you have rationalized away or minimized various aspects of christian morality because they don't jive with your moral compass as well.

Any values that I have taken from christianity I have done so because they jive with my own orientation, and I see reason behind them, or they resonate with me emotionally. I believe that christianity is a man-made value and philosophical system, just like objectivism, nihilism, existentialism, etc., and just like them (some more than others) I will borrow from them as appropriate. I recognize the goodness (and badness) of some christian values not because they are dictates from god, but because they are inherently sound (or unsound), and they mix well (or don't mix well) into my personal values cocktail.

Steve, if you discovered there was no god, how would it change your morality?

thesmolderingremnants said...

Hey Spencer,
I tried to post the other day but got an error. Thanks for clarifying your thoughts above. It helps me understand where you're coming from. I think I would not be as good of a person if there was no God but that all depends on what you mean by good etc. Sometimes I feel like you are more reliant upon your upbringing than you give it credit for but thats just my impression and I don't want to impugn you of that here. Just wanted to play devils advocate for a moment and get some clarification on a few things. Thanks for your response.

Steve