The Instigator
pocketoxford1
Con (against)
Winning
3 Points
The Contender
PowerPikachu21
Pro (for)
Losing
0 Points

'Is there a sound foundation for atheistic morality?'

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Post Voting Period
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after 1 vote the winner is...
pocketoxford1
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 7/4/2017 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 6 months ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 370 times Debate No: 103092
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (1)
Votes (1)

 

pocketoxford1

Con

Atheists comprise an increasingly large proportion of the population, however the philosophical implications upon the atheist of atheism are seldom discussed beyond academic circles. Religious people can clearly locate their ethics in the omnibevolence of their God, yet where can an atheist locate their morality? The debate does not concern whether or not atheists do hold moral views and principles, this is manifestly evident, rather the debate concerns whether the atheist has a legitimate philosophical foundation for morality. I shall seek to argue that there is not in fact a valid philosophical framework for atheist morals; most attempts at the rationalisation of atheistic morality invariably commit the naturalistic fallacy, I.e they move from an 'is' propositional statement to an 'ought'. Take for example non-religious utilitarianism; the principle that we should seek the greatest balance of pleasure over pain for the greatest number; that humans do indeed desire pleasure I agree, but to move from the statement humans do desire pleasure, to the statement humans ought to desire pleasure some sort of unjustified leap has to be made. Believers in God can invoke God in order to locate deontology (moral duty or obligation), atheists have no such luxury. Atheist morality then is nothing more then a sort of subjective emotivism; 'I condemn murder because it upsets me' etc. In addition, the atheist cannot say that something is definitely and objectively wrong, no matter how detestable or repulsive the crime or action an atheist can only say 'I believe that is wrong'; as opposed to saying that something like murder is wrong now and always regardless of my opinion. Moreover most 'new atheists' such as Dawkins and Sam Harris subscribe to hard determinism and deny the presence of free will. This has two significant connotations for atheistic morality; firstly that moral culpability is in the words of Galen Stawson a moral impossibility hence no nine is blameworthy for their actions; and secondly that the atheist must view any subjective moral judgement as the arbitrary product of random physical processes within the brain. Still more atheists view morality as a biproduct of evolution and social conditioning. In sum the atheist cannot view humans as having s profound sense of some deeper moral code rather they view morality as some novel human abstraction. The increasing prevalence of atheism means that the task of establishing a foundation for atheist ethics beyond mere arbitrary opinion is an increasingly significant task. I myself am an atheist and many people reading this probably are too, do not feel anger that I am labelling your sense of morality meaningless and unjustified - rather be intellectually honest and rigorous and consider whether there is really a basis for morality in the atheist world view. This debate is not about the validity of atheism, it explicitly refers to the nature and possibility of morality within the philosophy framework presented by atheism so please engage with this topic.
PowerPikachu21

Pro

Interesting to see someone questioning their own beliefs (known as Devil's Advocate). Let's see if there is a reasonable moral standard for Atheists.

First, I'll examine the individual points and see what I'm dealing with.

"A sound foundation"

So we're seeing if it's reasonable to trust in an Atheistic Morality. If we're to believe in a set of morals, there has to be reason to abide. The resolution doesn't require me to say this foundation is better than a Theist's morals, just that the Atheist has a good reason to follow their own moral standards.

"atheistic morality"

Basically, how an Atheist knows right from wrong. Atheists don't believe in gods, so their sense of morality must come from a logical foundation.

But the question is: What is the valid morality standard? I'd answer with Utilitarianism. It states that whatever produces more happiness than unhappiness is moral. Here's a popular example: Do I save the 1 person, or 100 people from death? I can only choose the 1 or the 100. If the 100 people died, then there would be many families grieving, whereas only 1 family would grieve over the 1 person. Seeing as how saving the 100 people produces far less unhappiness, it's moral to save them.

So what do you think? Do you believe Utilitarianism is a valid foundation for Atheistic Morality?
Debate Round No. 1
pocketoxford1

Con

Firstly, I would like to thank my opponent for taking on this debate; it was intended as an exploratory debate about atheist morality as opposed to an attempt to reach a binary yes/no answer and they have embraced this aspect of the debate.

My opponent has recognised the difficulties an atheist faces in attempting to establish a moral philosophy; they have attempted to use utilitarianism in order to locate a secular ethical standard; let us analyse the possibility of utilitarianism serving as a basis for atheistic ethics.

I would argue that utilitarianism is actually just a formalised framework for the expression of the subjective emotivism which I previously argued was all that atheistic morality could be. What this means is that atheist moral value judgement is actually little more then an expression of the emotional opinions of an atheist. And, as stated earlier most atheists sustain a belief in determinism and that morality is a random byproduct of evolution. In the various moral thought experiments such as the scenario of having to divert a train to kill 1, instead of 5 people; most people do adopt utilitarian principles. However, atheistic morality must, by virtue of locating moral value in the individual determination of 'good'; be considered in a reductionist sense. Therefore, we must ask of utilitarianism, no matter how callous it may appear why? why? and why? What actually makes the salvation of 100 people over 1 the most moral action other than "I feel it is the best thing to do".

The fundamental issue the atheist apologist must answer for is the justification for a deontological and not merely teleological ethical system. In other words what reason is there for an atheist to feel a duty to act in certain way. If an atheist says 'I feel a duty to do the right thing, because it is the right thing to do'; not only are they being illogically tautological they are also committing the previously mentioned 'naturalistic fallacy' and falling prey to Hume's 'is-ought' problem. Fundamentally, to demonstrate that there is a sound foundation for atheistic morals my opponent must demonstrate with logical cogency how they move from the statement "it IS the case that I want the greatest good for the greatest number" to "I OUGHT to pursue the greatest good for the greatest number". Moreover a more explicit and full explanation of the atheistic good must be described. Indeed I contend that even if the logical basis for atheism was established (I firmly believe it won't be) then there would be huge disparity between atheists over what represents 'good'. Since all atheist moral judgements must, for the previously discussed reasons be subjective opinionated value judgements what an atheist does ascribe as good will be relatively meaningless; given the huge disagreement there would be between atheists. Any argument along the lines of "it is obvious that killing people is wrong" are not effective or valid, as I have demonstrated most atheist view human morality as a psychological quirk - hence what seems 'obviously' wrong is as arbitrary as hair colour in the atheist world view and not a 'sound foundation' for atheist morals.
PowerPikachu21

Pro

Thank you for raising these questions. I'll answer them as I can.

Cross Examination:

"I would argue that utilitarianism is actually just a formalised framework for the expression of the subjective emotivism which I previously argued was all that atheistic morality could be."

It is true that what makes people happy can be different from person to person, but this doesn't mean they aren't happy when they get what they like.

"And, as stated earlier most atheists sustain a belief in determinism and that morality is a random byproduct of evolution."

This isn't where I'm going with my argument. Let's get back to Utilitarianism.

"In the various moral thought experiments such as the scenario of having to divert a train to kill 1, instead of 5 people; most people do adopt utilitarian principles. However, atheistic morality must, by virtue of locating moral value in the individual determination of 'good'; be considered in a reductionist sense. Therefore, we must ask of utilitarianism, no matter how callous it may appear why? why? and why? What actually makes the salvation of 100 people over 1 the most moral action other than "I feel it is the best thing to do"."

You probably missed the point. My thought process is that I don't want people to be sad, and killing 1 instead of 100 makes less people sad. Unless you do want people to be sad, this should also be your thought process.

Argument:

Pro wants me to show why I want to do good, and how this fits into me doing the good. Here's another basic Utilitarian argument:

P1) I like being happy.
P2) My girlfriend wants flowers.
P3) If I give her the flowers, she'll like me more.
P4) If she likes me more, I'll be happy.
C) Therefore, I should get her the flowers.

Defense to P1: We all like being happy. It feels good to have this feeling in you, so naturally you want to be happy whenever possible. I do this by playing video games.

Defense to P2: This is the situation. My girlfriend wants flowers. I can choose to give flowers or not.

Defense to P3: Naturally, if you get something you like, you'll be pleased with whoever gave you the gift. This is true in lots of games: Gift = Happy

Defense to P4: If my girlfriend likes me more, I feel a closer connection. If I continue making her happy with me, we could even take it into her bedroom.

But that's me. I need to answer the question of "Why should I care about others?". Well for one thing, seeing other people happy can reflect onto you, making you happy.
Debate Round No. 2
pocketoxford1

Con

"Defense to P1: We all like being happy. It feels good to have this feeling in you, so naturally you want to be happy whenever possible. I do this by playing video games."

The issue I take, philosophically with this reasoning is that it isn't a moral argument. The explicitly moral term 'good' is being equated with the non-moral terminology of pleasure, happiness etc. In fact the entire argument is constructed within non-moral parameters. The argument is simply a formal justification for why one individual is compelled to act in a certain way; a sort of egoism is invoked - that is the ethical theory that equates good with self-interest. If the tenets of the ethical theory being proposed in the argument given in the previous round are extrapolated, we are simply left with the idea that we should all act in our own interest; and only in the interest of others when it has positive ramifications for ourselves. If we imagine a society that utilised these ethical principles; I believe most atheists would recoil at the thought. The principle that altruism (helping others) only has moral value if the person whom you treating well has some net utility to you, as in the example of a girlfriend who if we buy nice flowers will reciprocate the act with affection. However, what of charity, what of the faceless an unknown masses that money given to the redcross or other charities serve to help; does a child in Syria's inability to 'return the favour' of charity mean they warrant less? Even if we accept the argument that we should do 'good' (as it is commonly defined) because we get a sort of self-satisfaction from doing so; if the measure of moral value is self satisfaction why wouldn't I spend my money on myself therefore deriving unmediated pleasure. Acting in an ostensibly moral way out of self-interest has been the subject of critical writing on ethics throughout much of philosophical history. Indeed Emanuel Kant would call someone immoral for giving away all their property to charity if their motivation for doing so was self interest.

By stumbling onto a logical justification for why atheists ought to act in a certain way (a logical justification I myself have tried and failed with), the key issue of establishing a sound foundation for atheistic morality has been touched upon. Without God, we are forced to conjure up a purely logical justification for why atheists OUGHT to act in a certain way. However, as I believe I have demonstrated, these arguments cease to be moral at all; they merely serve to justify why I act selfishly and in essence they say I act selfishly because I act selfishly. The link between acting in self-interest and acting MORALLY is never actually made. Saying I should buy flowers for my girlfriend because it will make her, and in turn me, happy is not a moral argument, it seems moral; but as a proposition it is no different to me saying 'I'm hungry, therefore I SHOULD order a pizza' or even 'I want a promotion so I SHOULD laugh at my bosses jobs'.

More then this though, in the atheist's quest to find a purely rational justification for their intuitive morals - they are forced to construct arguments that don't actually tally with their own, or many others moral compasses. I doubt that pro sincerely believes that we should only care about others if there is some benefit to ourselves. It is not a sound moral foundation that forces us to forgo our intuitive morals in order to eek out an argument to act in a certain way. As I said earlier I think the argument fails by not actually being a moral argument, but the principles this and any other logically based ethical theories espouse are important too and need to be assessed.

I would agree with the readers who at this point are questioning why we need to bother with a theoretical justification for atheist's morality at all. There are two reasons I will briefly make at this juncture as to why I think this question is important. Firstly, in reality, our job, nationality possessions all pale in comparison to the importance of questioning whether there is a God or not? What is right or wrong? etc. Does the question of what is right and wrong not merit greater consideration then simply saying 'I act like this because I feel like it'. Secondly, it is intellectually lazy to not try to grasp a better explanation of our personal philosophy. It is for this reason we must be critical of all attempts at establishing atheistic morality. This debate is concerned with whether there is presently an adequate justification and foundation for atheistic morality; it possible there is and it is possible that there simply is not. Yet I would argue that pro has so far failed to provide one , but we shall see.
PowerPikachu21

Pro

I'll have to do a bit more research on Utilitarianism to determine how to go about why we should concern ourselves about others. But for now, I think the answer's simply "because it would be moral", but then it would become circular, as Con points out. There might not be a clear cut moral guideline. I say this all the time "Every argument has flaws", but I fail to live by my own rule.

I'm going to concede the debate, as I'm not sure if I'll be able to fully connect the dots I'd need. Good game.
Debate Round No. 3
pocketoxford1

Con

I thank pro for conceding and for taking on the debate; I'm just posting this so the debate has some sort of conclusion.
As a closing note I would say it is important for all atheists to philosophically explore their own morality, but as has been demonstrated here it's actually very difficult.
PowerPikachu21

Pro

Good game. (Also, there's a flash game about how a good guideline for morality is very difficult to find. It's called "Socrates Jones: Pro Philosopher". Go check it out if you like Ace Attorney!)
Debate Round No. 4
1 comment has been posted on this debate.
Posted by missmedic 6 months ago
missmedic
To follow God's morality, one must be willing to kill in his name.
An objective morality, is based on the facts of reality. All one needs in order to be objective is to refer to some facts of reality as source of moral judgments. We don't base morality on revelation from authority, that would render us merely obedient.
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by dsjpk5 6 months ago
dsjpk5
pocketoxford1PowerPikachu21Tied
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Total points awarded:30 
Reasons for voting decision: Concession.