Philosophical morality

In archaic Greece, philosophy was a big deal, and the more intellectual you were, the more successful you became. Socrates is claimed by many historians to be the founder of western philosophy. He believed that philosophy was all about achieving results that were beneficial to a society, and he studied ethics based on human reason.

Socrates

‘A system of morality which is based on relative emotional values is a mere illusion, a thoroughly vulgar conception which has nothing sound in it and nothing true.’ – Socrates

The Greek word ‘êthos‘, meaning character and moral nature, is where the word ‘ethics’ originated from. Ethics is to understand and think critically about moral values and how they are to be applied to a situation. Meta-ethics is about questioning the true meaning of ethics understanding how to tell what is good, and what is bad, and philosophers deem this as a necessary component to evaluate moral decision making. To start one must understand the definition of what ‘good‘, ‘bad‘, ‘right‘ and ‘wrong‘ mean? And how actions can have implications that can dramatically affect an outcome, as in every action has a reaction.

Ethical naturalism is essentially objective ethics, meaning that we can understand the difference between something that’s empirical and something like ‘pleasure‘, ‘wanting‘, ‘needing‘ or ‘desiring‘ which are non-ethical, which displays cognitive reasoning. This takes away personal opinion and involves the application of ‘fact‘, ‘truth‘ and ‘realism‘.

Axiology is derived from Greek meaning ‘value‘, ‘worth‘ and is a necessary part of the study of ethics and aesthetics, and understanding value and why it’s valuable. This generally falls into two categories.

• instrumental value

• intrinsic value

Instrumental value isn’t the value of the subject, it’s the subject that gives value. Faith to a Christian, harmony of humanity to a Humanist, a book to an intellectual, or sex to a hedonist.

Intrinsic value is the value of right, or good, or necessary, and many philosophers believe it’s at the basis of ethical, and moral judgement.

consequentialism, whether an action is morally right or wrong has exclusively to do with whether its consequences are intrinsically better than those of any other action one can perform under the circumstances.’ –Stanford

The main way the Greeks studied was through observation, and to approach situations through a rational mind, and question what had previously been answered by religious doctrine. This is basically the way that Humanism approaches life.

‘Humanists are people who shape their own lives in the here and now, because we believe it’s the only life we have. We make sense of the world through logic, reason, and evidence, and always seek to treat those around us with warmth, understanding, and respect.’

The Greeks believed that you must be able to supply justification before morality can be applied.

How can you prove that murder is bad?

Murder is bad because not only are you taking a life that isn’t yours to take, but it involves malice. The desire to cause harm to another human being. Often murder is premeditated which means there was time to consider the action before the act was carried out. So, the act of murder is immoral because I’m able to justify it. The way I personally see morality is something that’s beneficial to the majority, and immorality is something that has a negative impact on the majority. Take honesty as an example. Being honest is being truthful to someone, with no motive, no agenda and no desire to deceive. Being honest is beneficial to everyone. Whereas lying is being dishonest, usually with an agenda, be it guilt, deception or a motive to trick someone into a false belief. Lying isn’t beneficial to the majority.

This is essentially an example of Utilitarianism, but it can cause dilemma in some situations. Is it ethically correct to let one person die to save five people? If it means taking a life, to save five lives that’s doing something beneficial to the majority, but is immoral as it’s taking a life. Moral actions aren’t as black and white as they sometimes appear, especially in the modern world. The Bible was written thousands of years ago, and Greek philosophers only understood the world around them, and the history that preceded them. In the modern world we have situations that thousands of years ago wouldn’t have been imagined never mind considered. Take Nuclear energy, stem cell research, organ transplants, abortions, or gender modification. Only through moral philosophy can modern ethics be studied and acknowledged, without dogma or superstition.

‘An ethical idealist, a person whom embraces the honorable philosophy of ethical idealism, performs acts that are honest, pure, and righteous regardless of their fearfulness.‘ – Kilroy J. Oldster,

Secularism: Protection or Persecution

There are a few cases in the U.S that’s sparked the secularism debate. The first is the much debated 40 feet tall cross in Maryland. The justices voted a 7-2 position to allow the cross to remain on public land. The American Humanist society decided that the ‘peace cross‘ erected in 1925 in Bladensburg violated the first amendment, which prohibits the government from establishing an official religion, or favouring one religion over others. The issue here was not all of the soldiers were of a Christian faith, so the peace cross should be replaced by something neutral.

Whilst I agree with the sentiment, the cross symbolises the fallen in World War I and to take it down would surely be disrespectful to them and their families? The second case to come up is the 92 year old Ten Commandments plaque that was situated at the Joseph Welty Middle School in Ohio. The freedom from religion foundation (FFRF) said it was a flagrant violation‘ of the first amendment and it made children of other faiths, or nonbelievers uncomfortable and makes them feel like outsiders.

The (FFRF) said.

”We applaud the district for taking action to remedy this violation, students in our public schools are free to practice any religion they choose — or none at all. In America, we live under the First Amendment, not the Ten Commandments.”

I’ve read many Christians claim that it’s a sin, it’s persecution against Christianity , and America was founded with God in mind. All this is completely disregarding the first amendment which is essentially stating that the U.S is a secularist state and no laws, or priorities shall be given to any one religion. We all know that there are plenty of states that don’t adhere to this, and the removal of the plaque will set the motion for many more future cases.

The meaning behind secularism is often misinterpreted, and the religious seem to think it’s against them, but little do they realise that it also protects their religious freedom. When states are not secular, like Saudi Arabia for example, they obviously value Islam over any other faith. This means that Christians have few rights, if any. This is why secularism is important to all, as it guarantees the freedom of all religions.

Humanists U.K. say this:

”The communal institutions that we share (and together pay for) should provide a neutral public space where we can all meet on equal terms.

Many religious people claim that giving the LBGT community rights and focus is destroying religious values that they believe their country is based upon, but in essence it’s all about equality and everyone has the right to express themselves. Despite this and other attempts to make the U.K. a secularist society, religion still has a firm grip on some areas. Assisted dying, religious state funded schools or Humanist weddings are a few key areas that need working on.

Below are the areas where Humanism U.K. are campaigning to promote secularism:

Have you, or someone you know ever been in a situation where something could have been prevented if you lived in a secularist society?

More information on secularism can be found at National Secularism Society

Lex naturalis

Natural law theory has been discussed throughout religions and philosophies for millennia. It’s essentially a code of ethics that humans intrinsically possess that are supplied by reason, or faith in god/a depending on one’s stance. Yet a universal moral standard cannot exist by default from human nature, or can it? Aristotle seemed to think so and claimed that it was virtue which influenced the moral actions we’ve acquired from nature, so it is a universal standard that isn’t influenced by politics, society, or faith in divinity. These natural values are governed by reason and it defines our actions. Thomas Aquinas believed it was guided by reason and virtue but these couldn’t exist without divine law as well. And that if you denied god, committed idolatry, atheism or polytheism then it was the ultimate sin and against the principles of natural law.

“Man is a product of nature, a part of the Universe. The Universe is operated under exact natural laws. Man is a product of millions of years of evolution. He adapts himself to the laws of nature or he perishes.” – James Hervey

Deism is a form of acceptance of natural law in which reason and observing the natural world gives sufficient evidence of a creator. Divine revelation and natural reason makes up a term known as natural theology‘ and the start of the 1776 Declaration of Independence acknowledges this. Deism literally believes that a divine creator made everything within the universe and once it was established he never observed his creation again, so the act of miracles, or praying wasn’t taken seriously. Biblical teachings were also not observed as they not only defied reason but wasn’t knowledgeable within the emerging scientific community during the Age of Enlightenment when Deism became popular.

If it wasn’t for the existence of prominent philosophers like Francis Bacon, and René Descartes, then who knows how science would have progressed. Deism encourages reason and whilst Bacon was an Anglican he was extremely liberal for his time and actively discouraged people to claim the Bible was either a source of scientific knowledge, or be used to question scientific findings. He said that to claim god as the first cause belonged to theology, and not science, and people should never combine the two.

“The inclination to goodness is imprinted deeply in the nature of man.” – Sir Francis Bacon

Natural Law theory claims that humans have a universal standard of knowing the difference between good and bad, or wrong or right. We inherently know when something is intentionally cruel, perverse or harmful to others, or is inhumane and is a direct violation against the rights a human has to exist in harmony. Yet try telling this to theists and they simply cannot accept that you can be good without a source of morality supplied by a divine power. I’d comfortably argue that without religious influence you’re more likely to reach the correct conclusion through reason rather than through faith.