But Why?

I cannot present an intelligible account of my moral philosophy in the space of a single forum post. In the present context, it might suffice to say that if some people are suffering, and I have the means to alleviate their suffering without aggravating the suffering of other people, then that is what I should do.

I lifted this from an atheist’s post on a debating site. I grant that the person cannot present an intelligible account of a moral philosophy in a single forum post. But if this is what you do have to say, then it would be best not to say anything.

Why should you do it?

You can’t just take such things as the given.

I have never heard of a remotely sufficient reason for selfless behavior on atheist premises. I have heard countless, excellent reasons for selfish behavior, indifferent behavior, even have the question of helping others turned around on the person bringing it up as suspect.

We’re talking about helping complete strangers here, not your poor old grandmother. What, aside from feeling, would compel a real atheist to come to the aid of someone of whom it would be easier to cross the street and ignore than to waste one’s time, money and effort? Feeling is not an argument, and, besides, I’d want to know what gave rise to that feeling?

The only remotely reasonable explanation is a karmic/reciprocity one. Although he certainly didn’t get that from Nietzsche or Ayn Rand!


10 thoughts on “But Why?

  1. “What, aside from feeling, would compel a real atheist to come to the aid of someone of whom it would be easier to cross the street and ignore than to waste one’s time, money and effort?”

    Why should feeling not be sufficient reason?

  2. Why should feeling not be sufficient reason?

    Because feelings of compassion can be subverted and cruelty rationalized. Feelings may also interfere with a right course of action that by outward appearances may appear cruel (e.g., punishing misbehavior or cutting into someone in surgery).

    Emotion alone is not sufficient. Reason alone (for instance, utilitarian calculation that does not recognize the unique status of human life) is not sufficient.

    1. “right course of action”, of course, presupposes that there is a right course of action, which has not been established. I took the cited statement prima facie – why must I depend on anything other than my feeling to want to help someone in need? Do I really need a reason? Subversion and rationalization are not pertinent to this particular scenario. If a person is in need, and I see this person in need, why do I need anything other than my empathy to help this person?

  3. By definition, morality is a matter of right action. If you grant to everyone your standard of morality — the consequences arising from one’s particular level of empathy — then morality per se is arbitrary.

  4. But I don’t grant to everyone my “standard of morality”. We are just speaking on this particular scenario, in which I am acting in my own right. And yes, I would agree that morality is arbitrary, but again that is not pertinent to this scenario. I am acting how I see fit – arbitrary or not – why should that not be sufficient reason for me alone to act in such a way? Arbitrary or not, why does that matter?

    1. So, would you agree that your desire to live and your murderer’s lust to shed your blood have equal moral status? Or the mob’s lust for your blood, say, if you were an apostate in a Islamic state? If morality is arbitrary, your protests are pointless squawkings of no more import or meaning than the arbitrary preference for Skippy peanut butter over Jif.

      Except to you, but I suppose even the gazelle has some say as it falls to the ground under the lion’s teeth. But the lion also has his arbitrary say in the growl of his stomach. Neither “opinion” contradicts the other – except that the lion wins by Might.

      That is the project you propose for humans with an “arbitrary morality”.

      Morality as arbitrary = Might makes Right.

      We are just speaking on this particular scenario, in which I am acting in my own right.

      Cherry picking and concept stealing. You are merely hiding behind a safe action, the moral import of which only an Objectivist would disagree. You are denying morality while hiding it in your back pocket.

      Tai, and I as well, were talking about universal principles of human action (more popularly known as morality). You want to stick to one action only (the safe, non-objectionable one) and then to declare the whole field of morality as invalid – which is what is meant when someone says morality is arbitrary.

      You do not leave anything open for discussion. You say your question was never answered after disregarding the entire subject. This is like presenting us with a question of mathematics, but that you don’t believe in mathematics so we will have to answer you by non-mathematical means.

      Tai’s response to your declaration of the arbitrariness of morality, “Well, there it is then.”, was perfectly just and the only response possible. Suppose you proposed to enter into a discussion of epistemology and as your starting premise you asked the table to accept, as an axiom, that man is a wholly determined creature of no free-will, that he functions as a falling rock functions, or as the snail-darter functions. The conversation would be wholly senseless then – everyone would, on those premises, have to believe whatever the unfathomable forces that determined his mind made him believe – and yourself likewise.

      A sounder foray into the field of morality, indeed one of its founding questions, is: Are there universal principles of right action (and the resultant finding of right action which we call virtue) applicable to all men at all times or are there not? The question of whether morality is arbitrary or not reduces to: Is there morality, or is there not?

      An arbitrary morality is a contradiction in terms.

      You are also smuggling in a morality while declaring it arbitrary. Where did your empathetic feeling come from? And is it just that the needy have to wait for your empathy to spring up? Or are you one of the rare breeds that bleeds with the pain of the world 24/7? Don’t have a day where the world can just go piss off? Or that you are just indifferent? Bored, cynical, spent? Rolling in your own merriment (a date, perhaps) to give two hoots about some stranger’s discontent on this fine day? After all people the world over suffer everyday. Can’t you have a day off, two, three, a hundred?

      If it is all arbitrary, each of those feelings are just as valid. You can’t really blame the person who can step over the homeless man without pausing to look or care. He simply has not the special feeling that unerringly compels him into action. You can’t object to him not having it any more than a psychologist can cure a depressive by screaming, “JUST BE HAPPY!”

      And there is certainly nothing to say to the person who takes advantage of the person in need (robbery, murder, etc) he obviously is responding to a different emotional response. You may not like his action, nor the feeling that gave rise to it, but so what? He has his feeling, you have yours. Now, if you are bigger than he is, or have better weaponry, or a bigger gang or mob, you may enforce your arbitrary empathy over his arbitrary lust and greed.

      Or do you say it is wrong for him to take advantage of someone in need?

      Wrong? By what standard? You have disregarded those by disregarding morality.

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