Guns, Gods and Goodness - The Use and Abuse of Ethics

Why be good? Until we have an answer, all we will have is abuse. From Freedomain Radio --

There's this very tragic continuum in human thought wherein - in general - if somebody tends to be less religious, they tend to be more statist - like Communists are atheists, most socialists are agnostics and so on - whereas if somebody tends to be anti-state, then there is a tendency to be more religious.

I think this arises from the fundamental problem that society has which is: why should we obey those in authority? Why should we obey moral rules?

'The Lord, the Lord Jehovah, has given unto you these 15 -- oy -- 10, 10 Commandments for all to obey...'

Those who are more religious have the magic pixie dust called 'God' to sprinkle on their Commandments, to raise them from mere mortal rules to divine absolutes. Whereas those who don't believe in the magic dust of religion have to turn to the state and to physical aggression, to incarceration, to kidnapping, to imprisonment, in order to turn mere human rules into moral 'absolutes.'

So you kind of have to hold your nose; like if you're an atheist, you pretty much have to hang out with people who are very pro-state, and if you're anti-state then you have to hang out with people who are very religious - but neither of these approaches solves the basic problem of human morality.

Threatening somebody with supernatural punishment is merely verbal abuse, and it doesn't raise the truth status of any of the moral rules proposed. Whereas threatening people with kidnapping and incarceration is mere physical abuse - and also does not make any moral rules that are supported by such attacks any more valid.

It is really only philosophy that will solve this problem for us, and will give us reasonable and consistent and empirical arguments from first principles that will allow us to convince people to be virtuous rather than threatening them with random and destructive punishments if they fail to conform to fairly arbitrary rules. So the first thing we need to do is to understand that we don't have a good rational basis for social rules at the moment - that's real tragedy, something we all need to work to sort out, to figure out, to solve.

I've made my efforts in this direction with a free book called "Universally Preferable Behavior: A Rational Proof of Secular Ethics." But until we recognize that we don't have a rational and philosophical basis for morality at the moment, we're forever going to be swinging between these two awful poles of the verbal abuse of religion and the physical abuse of statism.

But we don't have to - we can find a third rational peaceful way to have social rules without abuses - and I hope that you will continue to explore this incredibly fertile area in the realm of philosophy.

Stefan Molynuex, is the host of Freedomain Radio (, the most popular philosophy site on the Internet, and a "Top 10" Finalist in the 2007-2010 Podcast Awards.

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May 2024

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