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Author Topic: Religion. Again.
kmbboots
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If "God" asked me to commit an atrocity, it wouldn't be God.
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MrSquicky
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I'm not able to commit all that much time here, so my contributions are kinda limited.

So I'll just ask, how do atheists avoid justifying atrocities?

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kmbboots
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Some of them don't avoid it at all.
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Raymond Arnold
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Edit: directed towards kmbboots.

What you have yet to explain is how you came to believe in God, and goodness, respectively. 3,000 years ago our moral schema was very different than it was today. If God asked people to commit what we'd now consider an "atrocity," nobody would even blink. How do you know that you're interpretation of goodness, or of God, is correct? And which came first, because when you say "I know God would want something because it is good" and "I know what good is because of God" you are sounding ludicrously circular.

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Raymond Arnold
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Depends on the atheist. Me, I know that I am happiest when I am doing things that help other people. I also know I am happiest when other people are doing things that help me. Thirdly, I know from experience that I am more likely to be kind when I am inspired by others kindness and others are more likely to be kind in turn by my kindness.

The inverse of the above is similarly true. Acts of cruelty tend to beget other acts of cruelty.

So with all of that in mind, I find that I am best off if I am doing my personal best to make the world a better place for everyone in it. Atrocities make the world a worse place for everyone in it, so I generally try to avoid them.

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Tresopax
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quote:
Tres, you seem to be arguing that because human reason isn't perfect, that anything widly irrational can't be a worse way to think.
That's not what I'm arguing. I'm arguing that because human reason isn't perfect, a rational person bases beliefs on their personal judgements of what is most likely to be true based on all the evidence (even the ambiguous evidence, such as hearsay) available to them. And I'm arguing a rational person should trust those beliefs as long as their personal judgement says those beliefs are best, while keeping an open mind towards new evidence.
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MrSquicky
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What if you (or some other atheist) find that committing atrocities makes you happy or that you find that committing atrocities would lead to what you see as a better world?

Historically, atheists haven't exactly been shy about committing atrocities and your moral reasoning seems to me that it can easily be used to justify committing them.

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kmbboots
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Of course it is circular! If God is good by definition, than how could it not be circular?

Why is that a problem?

As far as how I came to believe in God? I don't remember. I do remember when I was maybe four or five reading a book about God or Jesus and recognizing what I already knew in a sort of ,"that's what we call this" kind of way. Possible that I picked up something from my parents though they didn't give us any formal religious training. They wanted us to choose for ourselves. Also possible that I picked up something from my great-aunts when I went to visit.

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MattP
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quote:
Historically, atheists haven't exactly been shy about committing atrocities and your moral reasoning seems to me that it can easily be used to justify committing them.
Those atheists tend to also be something-else-ists and it's the something else that drives the atrocities. Very little is done in the name of atheism itself.
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Raymond Arnold
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@MrSquicky

Certainly, there are people who make that determination. On a smaller scale, there are people who think that shorted sighted greed and pleasure make them happy. Usually, however, I think those people are wrong - the harm they are inflicting or the pleasure they are seeking may grant them a superficial level of happiness, but the kinds of happiness that come from community, peace and kindness are longer lasting and more substantial.

By and large, the traits we have come to describe as "good" are considered good specifically because they improve the quality of the world. The question of whether people are inherently good or selfish is a false question. People are selfish, and goodness is in their best interest.

There are some people who either haven't bothered to try being "good" or who have unfortunately found themselves in a situation where goodness is punished (if you live in a violent, dangerous area, goodness may be taken advantage of to the point that whatever happiness you glean from it doesn't end up helping). There are also people who are just plain bad (psycopaths, etc). This is unfortunate, and the only thing we can do is encourage people who are on the wrong path to get onto the right one, and when necessary punish those who refuse to stop inflicting harm on others.

There is no particular evidence that "bad" people are more likely to arise in an atheistic setting. In fact, peace and prosperity have been found to be correlated with secularism.

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Raymond Arnold
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quote:
Originally posted by kmbboots:
Of course it is circular! If God is good by definition, than how could it not be circular?

Why is that a problem?

As far as how I came to believe in God? I don't remember. I do remember when I was maybe four or five reading a book about God or Jesus and recognizing what I already knew in a sort of ,"that's what we call this" kind of way. Possible that I picked up something from my parents though they didn't give us any formal religious training. They wanted us to choose for ourselves. Also possible that I picked up something from my great-aunts when I went to visit.

I wasn't talking about God, I was talking about your understanding of him. And yes, I absolutely have issues with such an important basis of anyone's morality to be derived from circular reasoning (i.e. blatantly illogical thinking).
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kmbboots
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Some people have pretty horrible ideas about how to improve the world and what is good. Community, peace and kindness are not universally admired.
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Raymond Arnold
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And I believe those people - whether they are atheists or not - are wrong. I said specifically it depended on the atheist. These are my beliefs, not necessarily anyone else's.
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MrSquicky
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Ray,
I'm going to quote you here:
quote:
The point is that other people have used the exact same reasoning presented by people in this thread to do terrible things. If your reasoning can result in such things, you should rethink your reasoning.
Haven't we agreed that this applies to your reasoning as well?
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The White Whale
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I have a problem with reasoning based on circular reasoning. If you are trying to build a foundation of an argument, and it is based in whole or in part on circular reasoning, it will not (at least to me) be convincing. Not in the slightest.
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MrSquicky
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quote:
Originally posted by MattP:
quote:
Historically, atheists haven't exactly been shy about committing atrocities and your moral reasoning seems to me that it can easily be used to justify committing them.
Those atheists tend to also be something-else-ists and it's the something else that drives the atrocities. Very little is done in the name of atheism itself.
While that's not all that relevant to what I'm getting at, I also don't think that it is true, really. The persecution of religious people under Communism seems pretty clearly atrocities done in the name of atheism.
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Raymond Arnold
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quote:
Haven't we agreed that this applies to your reasoning as well?
My moral framework is derived from basic sense experience, evidence and logic. It is possible to derive a wrong moral framework from those things, yes. But it is significantly harder to do so than if you are relying on instinct and faith that cannot be checked by other people. It's also easier to make mistakes if you prefer to jump to any conclusion given a lack of evidence rather than admitting you do not know and leaving it at that. ESPECIALLY if you are then going to derive or refute other things based on the conclusion you reached without evidence.

I didn't say you should abandon any form of reasoning that can possibly produce bad results, simply that you should rethink it. It wasn't a particularly persuasive line, I admit. Faith based knowledge is not bad because it can produce wrong results, it is bad because it is more LIKELY to produce wrong results.

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rivka
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quote:
Originally posted by Raymond Arnold:
Faith based knowledge is not bad because it can produce wrong results, it is bad because it is more LIKELY to produce wrong results.

I don't think you have shown this.
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MattP
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quote:
The persecution of religious people under Communism seems pretty clearly atrocities done in the name of atheism.
You are disagreeing with my statement about the necessity for other "-isms" by citing one of those other isms?

My position is basically that of Sam Harris:
quote:
People of faith often claim that the crimes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot were the inevitable product of unbelief. The problem with fascism and communism, however, is not that they are too critical of religion; the problem is that they are too much like religions. Such regimes are dogmatic to the core and generally give rise to personality cults that are indistinguishable from cults of religious hero worship. Auschwitz, the gulag and the killing fields were not examples of what happens when human beings reject religious dogma; they are examples of political, racial and nationalistic dogma run amok. There is no society in human history that ever suffered because its people became too reasonable.
Perhaps I need a new label - adogmaist?
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The White Whale
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MattP, is that from this speech?. I just listened to this yesterday. It's a great one.
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MattP
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It's on a list of "10 myths about Atheism". It may be incorporated into one or more speeches. I haven't actually seen that speech.
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The White Whale
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Matt, that's funny. He has the same lines, sometimes verbatim, starting around here (a three minute section of the video).
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kmbboots
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quote:
Originally posted by The White Whale:
I have a problem with reasoning based on circular reasoning. If you are trying to build a foundation of an argument, and it is based in whole or in part on circular reasoning, it will not (at least to me) be convincing. Not in the slightest.

Why do you think I am trying to convince you of anything? I don't have any intention of converting anyone nor do I think it would be a good thing. At best, I am trying to clear up some common misunderstandings.

Raymond, just like I believe certain theists are wrong. You may be dealing with "reason" and "evidence" still have some pretty subjective ideas about what is good and right.

MattP, do you think that "religious" wars are really fought over minute points of doctrine?

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Armoth
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quote:
Originally posted by Raymond Arnold:
quote:
Atheists also have to engage in a whole host of self deception and distraction to find their lives fulfilling as well.
Such as?
This is a bit of a deep exercise to do on a forum. But what do you see as a the telos of your life? What do you live for? Work for?
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Armoth
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quote:
Originally posted by MattP:
quote:
Please don't lump theists together.
Well OK, but...
quote:
Atheists also have to engage in a whole host of self deception and distraction to find their lives fulfilling as well.
Hrm.

Hahaha. I hear that...

It's definitely useful to lump. I just wanted to make sure I distinguished myself from Kmb.

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Armoth
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quote:
Originally posted by swbarnes2:
quote:
Originally posted by Armoth:
If God asked me to commit an "atrocity" it wouldn't be an atrocity.

I have to admit, you are one of a very small number of theists I have seen on these boards who is willing to own up to the consequences of their beliefs and arguments, even when those consequences are unpleasant and unpopular.

Things would be much simpler if the other theists would be so straightforward.

Thanks. I hope you meant this as a compliment, and I will take it as such.
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MattP
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quote:
MattP, do you think that "religious" wars are really fought over minute points of doctrine?
Did I say I thought they were? People go to battle "in the name of <deity/church/religious leader>" in a way that doesn't really have a parallel in atheism. "In the name of Stalin" invokes Communist ideology, not a mere lack of belief in God. "In the name of atheism" just sounds silly - you'll never see it as a battle cry.

Religions were persecuted when they challenged a power structure. The Communist purges affected anyone that was seen as a threat. An outspoken atheist humanist would have been killed just as quickly as a Christian priest.

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Armoth
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quote:
Originally posted by MattP:
quote:
The persecution of religious people under Communism seems pretty clearly atrocities done in the name of atheism.
You are disagreeing with my statement about the necessity for other "-isms" by citing one of those other isms?

My position is basically that of Sam Harris:
quote:
People of faith often claim that the crimes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot were the inevitable product of unbelief. The problem with fascism and communism, however, is not that they are too critical of religion; the problem is that they are too much like religions. Such regimes are dogmatic to the core and generally give rise to personality cults that are indistinguishable from cults of religious hero worship. Auschwitz, the gulag and the killing fields were not examples of what happens when human beings reject religious dogma; they are examples of political, racial and nationalistic dogma run amok. There is no society in human history that ever suffered because its people became too reasonable.
Perhaps I need a new label - adogmaist?

I think that the argument I'd make in response to this is that people want something to live for. We like to organize ourselves to become a part of a greater whole. Freud talked about this in Civilization and its Discontents. You may be adogmatic, but it is in our nature to unite behind something and stand for something. If it isn't religion it's something. We love our isms.

Many of our isms are productive, and beautiful. The way we unite to respond to tragedy - democracy - maybe even Capitalism (Read: American Dream). Our isms are only evil when they are fueled by human flaws - ego, pride, etc. It's not isms that are the problem, it's humanity.

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MattP
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quote:
This is a bit of a deep exercise to do on a forum. But what do you see as a the telos of your life? What do you live for? Work for?
My own satisfaction (the measure of which is not fixed). The happiness/betterment of friends, family, and community(broadly defined). That's pretty much it.
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MattP
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quote:
Many of our isms are productive, and beautiful.
I didn't mean to imply otherwise. I was just noting that atheism, itself, is not a cause any more than theism is a cause. It takes quite a bit more than either to create an ideology that drives action, good or bad.
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Raymond Arnold
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quote:
This is a bit of a deep exercise to do on a forum. But what do you see as a the telos of your life? What do you live for? Work for?
The short answer is the pursuit of art and knowledge, and (ideally) to share them in a way that makes the world a better place. But honestly, this is not something I need to justify to you. I find my life fulfilling. You asserted that I need self deception and distraction to lead a fulfilling life. Surely you had a reason for that assertion?
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Armoth
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quote:
Originally posted by MattP:
quote:
This is a bit of a deep exercise to do on a forum. But what do you see as a the telos of your life? What do you live for? Work for?
My own satisfaction (the measure of which is not fixed). The happiness/betterment of friends, family, and community(broadly defined). That's pretty much it.
1) Why do you care about the happiness of others?
2) why did you not say that you care about the happiness of "others" but instead of friends, family and community - is that in order? Do you care about the happiness of friends or family more than about my happiness?
3) If so, Why?

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MattP
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quote:
1) Why do you care about the happiness of others?
I'm reasonably confident that it's a feature of our species. I can generate any number of post-hoc hypothesis for this (the golden rule, etc.), but not being the self-deceptive type [Smile] , I won't pretend to know which of any of them are correct.

quote:
2) why did you not say that you care about the happiness of "others" but instead of friends, family and community - is that in order?
Ditto. Like any social species, we tend to put primacy on familiarity. I'm defining community very broadly - as a progression from greater to lesser familiarity to myself. I include essentially every human being, though some are weighted more heavily than others.

quote:
Do you care about the happiness of friends or family more than about my happiness?
Sure.

quote:
3) If so, Why?
See #2
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Armoth
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quote:
Originally posted by Raymond Arnold:
quote:
This is a bit of a deep exercise to do on a forum. But what do you see as a the telos of your life? What do you live for? Work for?
The short answer is the pursuit of art and knowledge, and (ideally) to share them in a way that makes the world a better place. But honestly, this is not something I need to justify to you. I find my life fulfilling. You asserted that I need self deception and distraction to lead a fulfilling life. Surely you had a reason for that assertion?
We don't have to engage in the exercise if you don't want to.

There are moments in life and in history where all seems meaningless. Earthquakes, wars, terrible tragedies, etc. I also know that we spend so much of our lives distracting ourselves, building our fortunes or entertaining ourselves. We need to lie to ourselves to make our lives meaningful, or else we'd cease to see purpose in existence. Cat's Cradle, Mad Men, etc.

But what do you mean by "make the world a better place?" - Is it to prevent disease, so that we live longer? Well, we all die eventually, is it that every moment of life is so precious and so we seek to extend our lives? Well, why is every moment of our lives so precious? Is it merely because our minds and bodies shout that they want to remain alive?

And if it is to make other people happy, see the post above.

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MattP
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quote:
We need to lie to ourselves to make our lives meaningful, or else we'd cease to see purpose in existence.
I'm still not following. Can you provide an example of a way that I must lie to myself in order to make my life meaningful? I'm not able to make that leap based on your mention of earthquakes, wars, etc. I don't see how they have a bearing on the meaningfulness of life.
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Armoth
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So Matt, your answers are basically definitional.

You are happy when others are happy, because you are programmed as a species to be happy about this. This means that if you are not programmed this way, and you have a great time killing people, then your problem with this is that it gets in the way of what makes you happy.

But that doesn't matter to me as much as the why? If you were to think about things in a hardcore logical way, I think you'd find it to be meaningless. Why does the happiness of others matter? We will all die one day. We will probably all experience great pain. Why do you acre about a world that exists after you die? Is it all because you have this evolutionary feeling? Say you could overcome it. It's not exactly logic. It's just using human feelings as the baseline for what is happy and what is not. And by that logic, if religion makes you happy, you might as well be religious.

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Armoth
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quote:
Originally posted by MattP:
quote:
We need to lie to ourselves to make our lives meaningful, or else we'd cease to see purpose in existence.
I'm still not following. Can you provide an example of a way that I must lie to myself in order to make my life meaningful? I'm not able to make that leap based on your mention of earthquakes, wars, etc. I don't see how they have a bearing on the meaningfulness of life.
Sure. I understand I'm not being clear. I think that when we are in our clearest state of mind, when we are able to keep all in perspective, then we find that things are not meaningful. I think that wars, earthquakes, they help us reach this clarity of perspective. We tend to fog this clarity with the distractions of our everyday struggles.
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natural_mystic
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The tension is that you're looking for some objective criterion for meaningfulness. The tendency to eschew the subjective (e.g. love of one's family etc) as giving meaning has its own pitfalls.

For one thing, in many cases the original pit has merely been delayed. If I find meaning in some movement, unless that movement is itself somehow objectively meaningful, I'm no better off.

Religion is a special case because you can basically say that God is the ultimate explanation. However we can still ask why it's meaningful for God that we live life in a particular manner. I'd like to hear your answer to this. The answers I've heard amount typically to us being incapable of comprehending the mind of God. Contrast MattP's answer: "Friends/Family/Loved ones give my life meaning; Why? Perhaps biological; don't really know" with this: "God gives my life meaning; Why is such a life meaningful to God? For reasons too profound for me to understand." I don't regard substituting "I don't know" with "Too complex to understand" as an improvement.

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MattP
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quote:
I think that when we are in our clearest state of mind, when we are able to keep all in perspective, then we find that things are not meaningful.
This seems similar to saying "You don't really love your wife. You're just interpreting a complex machinery of chemical processes and biological proclivities as love." Yeah, that may be the case, but "love" is my shorthand for the experience regardless of its fundamental basis. Being unaware of, or unconcerned with, that basis doesn't indicate self deception, IMO.
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TomDavidson
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quote:
We need to lie to ourselves to make our lives meaningful, or else we'd cease to see purpose in existence.
No. "Meaning" itself is something that I invent. It is not a lie to say that I have determined that something has meaning to me; in fact, I am the only person capable of doing so.
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Hobbes
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This is coming several pages late but here it is:

Ornicoro: you're right, I have not participated in threads like these with much consistency or substance for several years and thus really don't have the right to call you out in your participation. I apologize. I will attempt to engage in these kinds of discussion with greater frequency and depth.

Hobbes [Smile]

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King of Men
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Armoth, your own morality is just as vulnerable to the criticism you are making: Why should you care what your god wants? To obey it is just as arbitrary a choice as obeying primate instinct. This is not a critique of theism or of atheism; it can be applied to absolutely any moral framework whatsoever. The question "Why do you care about X?" is a Universally Valid Counterargument; no moralist has an answer to it, and consequently it does not actually weaken any morality.
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BlackBlade
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quote:
Originally posted by King of Men:
Armoth, your own morality is just as vulnerable to the criticism you are making: Why should you care what your god wants? To obey it is just as arbitrary a choice as obeying primate instinct. This is not a critique of theism or of atheism; it can be applied to absolutely any moral framework whatsoever. The question "Why do you care about X?" is a Universally Valid Counterargument; no moralist has an answer to it, and consequently it does not actually weaken any morality.

Hey! Why aren't you trouncing about Italy and Norway with Queen of Men?
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Armoth
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quote:
Originally posted by King of Men:
Armoth, your own morality is just as vulnerable to the criticism you are making: Why should you care what your god wants? To obey it is just as arbitrary a choice as obeying primate instinct. This is not a critique of theism or of atheism; it can be applied to absolutely any moral framework whatsoever. The question "Why do you care about X?" is a Universally Valid Counterargument; no moralist has an answer to it, and consequently it does not actually weaken any morality.

I think you're right and that I should revise my argument.
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Raymond Arnold
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I think most of the explanation I could have given has been made by others by this point. Like Tom, I do not find any inherent meaning in the universe - only meaning that make up myself. The only useful definition for "meaning" that I can think of is "things that matter to people." I'm a person. Some things matter to me, not necessarily for any particular reason.

I do art and learn things because I find learning and art fun and fulfilling.

My position on happiness and making the world a better place was pretty much covered by Matt (I also already explained some of it earlier on this page).

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Tresopax
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So do you think other people matter only insofar as they matter to you?
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TomDavidson
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I'm pretty sure they matter to themselves, too, and probably matter to other people as well.
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Raymond Arnold
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The full explanation is more complex than that. I started to touch upon it and decided there wasn't a good way to do so without writing a lengthy dissertation. I'll try to strike a balance here.

I donate some money to Doctors without borders and Heifer International each year because yes, the people over in Africa and Haiti and whatnot do matter to me. I am a vegetarian and make an effort to conserve resources because animals and people in the future who I'll never meet matter to me. To some extent this is rational (insofar as I'd rather live in a world where people take care of each other). To some extent it is just a product of empathy combined with abstract reasoning and the means by which to contribute.

Regardless, there's a limit to how much time and money one can invest in distant, nameless faceless people without burning out. If everyone tried to divide their attention equally among distant suffering people, they won't have the time left over to take care of themselves and their loved ones. Self actualization and human connections are important for everyone's happiness. Connecting with and helping immediate family and friends also comes more natural to people than helping people on the other side of the world. While helping those distant people is important, I think we're most effective at improving the world if we focus first on the things we, as biological creatures, are most inclined to do.

Everyone has, through a combination of genetic and upbringing, a set of things they are good at and drawn to. I think it is in the world's best interest for people to do what they are best at. In some cases that means doctor or teacher or other professions that directly alleviate suffering and improve our quality of life. In other cases that means artists whose contribution to society is less quantifiable but nonetheless makes the world a beautiful place.

I also think that most people (and this certainly includes myself) could probably do more than they currently do to improve the world around them and in turn improve themselves. I don't blame them for not doing that, because, well, it's hard. I encourage myself and others (as much as I can without sounding like a holier-than-though know it all) to do better, but constantly comparing yourself to a perfect version of yourself doesn't necessarily help either.

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King of Men
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quote:
Originally posted by BlackBlade:
quote:
Originally posted by King of Men:
Armoth, your own morality is just as vulnerable to the criticism you are making: Why should you care what your god wants? To obey it is just as arbitrary a choice as obeying primate instinct. This is not a critique of theism or of atheism; it can be applied to absolutely any moral framework whatsoever. The question "Why do you care about X?" is a Universally Valid Counterargument; no moralist has an answer to it, and consequently it does not actually weaken any morality.

Hey! Why aren't you trouncing about Italy and Norway with Queen of Men?
Well, in fact I am. But the workshop is having a break at the moment, and the weather outside is not very sunny. In fact it's a soggy sort of sleet. So I'm glad enough to be sitting in a warm conference room.
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King of Men
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quote:
Originally posted by Armoth:
quote:
Originally posted by King of Men:
Armoth, your own morality is just as vulnerable to the criticism you are making: Why should you care what your god wants? To obey it is just as arbitrary a choice as obeying primate instinct. This is not a critique of theism or of atheism; it can be applied to absolutely any moral framework whatsoever. The question "Why do you care about X?" is a Universally Valid Counterargument; no moralist has an answer to it, and consequently it does not actually weaken any morality.

I think you're right and that I should revise my argument.
This is well done. Not many posters here will just plain back down when they meet a convincing argument.

[Smile]

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