I just read the article in which this extended quotation occurs and thought this was an interesting, eloquent summation of many recurring thoughts on secular morality. Philip Kitcher writes:
The overwhelming majority of the world’s moral practices are intertwined with religious views. One of the ways of making moral progress consists in freeing ourselves of the need for this system of enforcement, in rejecting the false religious presuppositions, and in disentangling and dismissing the special injunctions that the religious framework has introduced. In part, this is simply a matter of replacing superstition with true belief (or with the absence of judgement) – and notions of truth and falsity apply directly here because of the religious claims purport to describe the decisions and volitions of person-like entities. It’s also a matter, however, both of reinforcing our altruistic dispositions, preventing irrelevant moral commands from interfering with the plans and interests of our fellows, and of expanding the range of opinion available to people. We should think of our moral system as a spare and streamlined device for developing the dispositions that first made social beings of us, unfortunately overlain with excrescences that were once useful in ensuring conformity, but that can now be scraped away to benefit effect.
The last part reminds me of the famous Heinrich Heine quotation, from his Gedanken und Einfalle (that also appears in Hitchens’ god is Not Great)
In dark ages people are best guided by religion, as in a pitch-black night a blind man is the best guide; he knows the roads and paths better than a man who can see. When daylight comes, however, it is foolish to use blind, old men as guides.
I’m currently busy exploring how sanctity was used in Western society as method of latent social control, thus becoming equated with the “highest good”. One of the arguments I am making is that we are better off without sanctity and Kitcher has attempted to formulate a normative reason for this – as the quotation highlights at least.
Kitcher, P. (2006). Biology and Ethics. In D. Copp (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Ethical Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 178-179
I don’t consider myself an expert on any topic. Nevertheless, it is nice to be featured among such amazing contributors to Big Think. You can find my page there. I currently have two articles up. The latest one on incest is getting very lazy and emotive comments, as well as a few really complimentary ones. The most insulting comment I’ve received from it points out a typo. The rest is about someone called god, something about evolution being good and others pointing out how it leads to deformities (despite me dealing with it in the article).
It’s an amazing website. You should subscribe to their feed.
This is a guest post by Elaine Hirsch. In this short post, she looks at what has been certainly occupying my interest lately, namely capital punishment. – TM
Utilitarianism and Capital Punishment
by Elaine Hirsch
Gurney from San Quentin State Prison where prisoners are restrained before being killed.
Utilitarianism is a form of ethics which seeks to maximize the benefits from human actions. As a theory, utilitarianism promotes the idea that the moral worth of a certain act is determined by the outcome. John Stuart Mill, a philosopher and economist, is perhaps the most prominent adherent to utilitarianism. In his (aptly titled) book, Utilitarianism, Mill stated that human action should adhere to the “greatest-happiness principle,” which strives to produce the greatest utility among all parties involved. Often covered in PhD programs, this theory has many applications to how public policies are devised.
In terms of public policy, utilitarianism isn’t (and doesn’t claim to be) a panacea for the world’s problems. Maximizing the benefits of policies doesn’t guarantee fairness nor does it take into account moral issues which populations value above other results. Regardless, utilitarianism provides a framework for public policy, and this article will look at how the theory relates to the death penalty.
In Defence of New Humanist Magazine and Peter Singer against Nadine Dorries
This post is in response to claims made by someone called Nadine Dorries who says that the magazine New Humanist is an “extreme” organisation and apparently a “cult”. She claims that humanists advocate “infanticide” – and apparently that’s a bad thing. We need not be interested in her weird accusations of calling a magazine a “cult” (what would you call Cosmopolitan? A religion?). I want to focus on her claims that infanticide is (by definition) immoral, evil, and so on. And, therefore, anyone who advocates must bad, too. These claims are nonsense if we actually examine the arguments.
The Humanist Logo (from Per Caritatem blog) / The Symbol of "Evil" to Dorries
Some brief background: Dorries became the frontrunner for New Humanist’s Bad Faith Award, which is the award the “worst enemy of reason” for that particular year, according to New Humanist’s readers. Past “winners” have been such notables as Sarah Palin and the Pope. Anyway, in response to discovering herself at the front end of apparent silliness, Dorries responded with, well, precisely how a frontrunner for the Bad Faith Award would. Continue reading →
Today I discovered two things: Firstly, my blogpost for the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF), is up. And, secondly, my abstract has been accepted for the Postgradute Philosophy Association (PPA) of South Africa, for their conference later this year. Next month in fact!
Too much, too soon!
The comments at JREF are, um, interesting. Both of these pieces of news are great honours for me despite whatever the feedback might be (I’m particularly looking forward to seeing what my colleagues say about antinatalism and pro-adoption ethics).
I have never been to a conference before, let alone presented a paper. It will be an interesting experience. I also have only met very few fellow postgrad philosophy students — unfortunately, most (not all) tend to fall into two camps of incomprehensibility. Either they are doing things so far beyond me, so incredibly intricate and brilliant, I can’t even see the path they’re on let alone the continent. The other has thrown up a haze of pomo bullshit or existential angst as a mask for making grand, unfalsifiable claims. I’m being deliberately crass and of course this is from a very small sample (as in less than 20). My aim is to demolish this perception at this conference, since I barely am in the intellectual battleground — I’d be mere cannon-fodder anyway.
I’d be interested to hear of your experiences, if any, at conferences like this. If you have been to postgraduate conferences, especially the PPA ones, please let me know what they are like. I look forward to feeling completely inadequate in the presence of smarter minds.
When people strap on boots of “moralising” and start raging through the territory of ethical debate, many things get crushed in the process. Spurned by emotion, people often overlook arguments that have refuted their own ones or, more importantly, improved on them. I’m an advocate of clarity and openness in the academic world, especially in philosophy; this is not an attempt to tell “laypeople” – for I am also a laypeople – to shut their traps about moral philosophy. Indeed, in many instances it is philosophers making boring noises about moral philosophy that should quiet down. Nevertheless, with that disclaimer out the way, I want to point to an instance where muddled-thinking, combined with the tightly worn boots of moralising, are seen in full display. Columnist Khaya Dlanga, at News24.com, has made some silly noises regarding abortion that deserves scrutiny.
The blog’s name, you’ll notice, has changed. Instead of my name glaring at would-be readers, I now have an actual title, taken from Charles Darwin’s The Descent of Man (1871). Since I’ve had to start thinking about a thesis-topic, I’ve had to aggregate my views and, indeed, the views I oppose into neat headings. Thus, when contemplating what it is I stand against, what the special contentions are that manage to crawl beneath my skin, set fire to my blood and dance between the raised hair on my skin, I came to a conclusion: it is the persistent view that our existence, as a species, is something meaningful beyond the bounds of human ties.Continue reading →