Sobriety Quote War

whirling_dervishMy view of mind, beliefs and life claims that false beliefs can still be used well and serve what people of diverse views agree to be good.  Thus not all religion is bad, not all religious practice is bad and perhaps at any given time a wrong belief does more good than a correct belief.

This simple paragraph seems to split the blogging atheist community into two camps.  On my recent “What are Beliefs” post,  some colleagues argued against my position.  To accent their point, a poignant quote by George Bernard Shaw was put forward.  So I have decided to put together a little quote war below.  The “Sober Camp” are the hyper-rationalists (who believe that wrong beliefs are always bad because they always lead to bad outcomes)  and the “Drunk Camp” emotive-rationalists (my camp, and yes, I made up that word, who belief emotions and beliefs are always linked and that the emotional life is as important as the mental life – perhaps, at times, more important.)  In a later post, I shall enjoy writing more about alcohol.

“Sober Camp”:  Hyper-Rationalists

“The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact than a drunken man is happier than a sober one”
-George Bernard Shaw(Irish literary Critic, Playwright and Essayist. 1925 Nobel Prize for Literature, 1856-1950)

Strength of mind rests in sobriety; for this keeps your reason unclouded by passion.”
-Pythagoras (57- 495 BCE)

“Drunk Camp”:  Emotive-Rationalists

“To the sober person adventurous conduct often seems insanity.”
-Aristotle(Ancient Greek Philosopher, Scientist and Physician, 384 BCE-322 BCE)

“Let the lover be disgraceful, crazy, absent-minded. Someone sober will worry about events going badly. Let the lover be.”
-Jalal ad-Din Rumi(Persian Poet and Mystic, 1207-1273)

“The problem with some people is that when they aren’t drunk, they’re sober.”
-William Butler Yeats(Irish prose Writer, Dramatist and Poet. 1865-1939)

“The sway of alcohol over mankind is unquestionably due to its power to stimulate the mystical faculties of human nature, usually crushed to earth by the cold facts and dry criticisms of the sober hour.”
-William James(American Philosopher and Psychologist, leader of the philosophical movement of Pragmatism, 1842-1910)


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

29 responses to “Sobriety Quote War

  1. It sounds a bit like the debate over hyper-realism and theism. The hyper-realists say that theists are deluded, while the theists claim that the hyper-realists have ignored their spiritual needs by requiring all beliefs to be scientifically defined or verifiable.

    Then someone comes in and says that the hyper-realists and the theists are being idealists and hypocritical to a degree, because despite their claims both camps are doing something in between, “picking and choosing” what they want to follow. The theist picks and chooses their beliefs, practicing life in a very realistic way for the most part, and the hyper-realist practices life with a sense of “faith” in the unknown and joy in the mystery of life.

    So I think that applies to your camps as well, with most people in the sober and drunk camps actually living live somewhere on the spectrum of beliefs in between the two extremes.

  2. Ian

    Superb post. I’m not sure which camp I sit in. Somewhere in the middle.

    I’m keen to find out why and how (and whether) religion benefits its believers, but that would be the first step. The second step for me would have to then be to seek to provide the same benefits in a way that doesn’t involve the woo.

  3. Oh yeah, like Ian said, I’m definitely in the middle on a case by case basis, people need different things, and there are not always viable more realistic options of beliefs for people.

  4. It’s not really a matter of what people “need” but of what provides the best objective outcome. It’s the difference between being rational and being emotional. No matter how much you might want or “need” something to be true, the only thing that matters is if it is actually true. That’s what theists completely overlook. Fact isn’t based on desire.

  5. geoih

    Quote from Cephus: “It’s not really a matter of what people “need” but of what provides the best objective outcome.”

    Best outcome based on whose opinion? Its a value judgment, which is always subjective.

  6. @ Ian & ATTR: I wonder if my writing was unclear. I see you both as in the “Drunk Camp” along with myself. As you both know already, I use titles dramatically to catch the reader’s attention — sure, no one wants to see themselves as “drunk” but I am embracing the implications of both Shaw and Pythagoras instead of running from it.

    So, I am trying to imply that the “middle ground” is the emotive-rationalist (which I think geoih is challenging Cephus to see). Cephus, along with several other Atheist bloggers, believes that ALL wrong beliefs ALWAYS lead to more bad outcomes than good and therefore wrong beliefs are ALWAYS bad. I think all four of us here disagree with Cephus — am I right?

    We can tinker with more exact definitions for the “Drunk” group, but I was intentionally making an oversimplified, two-camp, inflammatory-labeled distinction to make the choices clear.

    As you know, I think these epistemological beliefs have huge implications of how we treat both ourselves and others.

    @ ATTR: These two epistemological stances are not limited to theists and atheists. Not only do I feel that atheists tend to fall in one or the other camp, but that theists do too.

    @ Ian: As you know, I totally agree with your statement !

    Thank you all for endulging my habitual addiction to playful taxonomy — smile.

  7. Ian

    Okay, I’ll move my pin badge to the drunk column then.

    Its a characteristic of thinking people generally, I think, that given two choices they’ll make up a third.

  8. Ian, LOL. Chuckling quietly actually. 8^)

  9. Interestingly enough many atheists were hard core religionists at one point. Maybe in their present state they could be compared to a “Dry Drunk”.

  10. Sabio

    @ T4T: Funny ! But actually, it is more probably most of the ex-Christian Atheists who are in the “Sober” crowd, were in the “Sober” crowd when they were theists. You know, you can change ideologies but your temperment and thus the flavor of your beliefs, remains unchanged.

  11. You know, you can change ideologies but your temperment and thus the flavor of your beliefs, remains unchanged.(Sabio)

    Exactly, hence the title “dry drunk”, they no longer have their “Holy Spirit”. Lmao. 🙂

  12. My opinion is that a person doesn’t have a choice. I don’t think I can ever be persuaded to be in either camp. Although I’m not even sure what camp I’m in, I am where I am and I think it fruitless to fight my stance because that’s who I am.

    I am truly unable to fight my natural (or bred) inclinations.

    All that to say that as much as I want to believe that religion can be good at times, I can’t get passed the fact that it is all based on a lie.


    Because in my worldview (or value system) truth has the utmost value. Give me truth or give me nothing. And trust me, I am not saying that to convince myself of it. I am saying that because after years of careful inner search, I’ve reached the conclusion that truth is the only thing that moves me.

    For instance, my M-I-L is a nasty co-dependent woman whose only mission in life is to go around complaining and making up stories about people.

    Since I am her evil daughter-in-law, then, she lies through her teeth about me constantly. Her friends think I am the devil incarnate.

    When she sees me, though, she tries to be nice. She buys me expensive presents. Cooks my favourite foods. Tries to agree with me by lying about her likes and dislikes.

    But all that is bullshit to me, because the truth is that she hates my guts, as exemplified by the evil stuff she goes around saying about me.

    You see, the underlying truth is what’s important to me. I’ve tried for years to change myself, but I’ve reached the conclusion that self-acceptance is the way to go.

    So, you are who you are, and I am who I am. I don’t believe we can–or should try to–change each other.

    With any luck, we both have something to contribute to society at large.

  13. I don’t buy that it’s solely a value judgment. If a parent believes that God is going to cure their kid so they deny them medical treatment and the kid dies, is that a value judgment or is there something more to it? Certainly there may be a subjective component to it and in the least harmful examples, where no one is directly or indirectly affected except the one holding the belief, one might ignore the irrational thinking as irrelevant, but that doesn’t mean it really is, just that the measurable harm is so small as to be of lesser importance.

  14. @ Cephus
    Can you imagine a wrong belief that has measurable harm at 5% and measurable help at 45%?
    How about a right belief with measurable harm at 30% and measurable help at 5%?
    I am sure you see my point.
    Ideas have multitude of effects in the same person and the same community. Don’t you think?

  15. @Sabio
    Why don’t we just look for beliefs that are both true and not harmful instead of settling for things that are wrong and cause harm? It seems absurd to embrace falsehood simply because it’s commonplace and reject the idea that people ought to accept only that which is factually true.

    Regardless, the most comforting lie is still a lie and the most uncomfortable truth is still the truth. Accepting that which is factually true and rejecting that which is factually false, to the best of one’s ability, is always the rational, intellectual way to go.

  16. @ Cephus — please answer my question. I need to know how you think about these things before we move the conversation. Thanks

  17. Ian

    I don’t want to hijack your question to Cephus, Sabio, but your question did make it explicit that we seem to be assuming a consequentialist morality: moral rights are those things that lead to the best possible consequences.

    I lean that way too, but it would also be possible to be deontological about it and say that, whatever the consequences, falsity itself is morally wrong, and cannot be used as the basis of a moral life.

    It may be that, even if a lie had 100% good consequences, and the truth had 100% – one could argue that the moral right lies in the truth.

    [The third ethical basis in philosophy is virtue ethics: things are morally right if they were carried out with good intention, or if they were the kind of act that would be carried out by a virtuous person. I don’t think that applies so much here.]

  18. geoih

    Quote from Ian: “It may be that, even if a lie had 100% good consequences, and the truth had 100% – one could argue that the moral right lies in the truth.”

    Now all you have to do is define “good”.

  19. @ Ian — Great points
    Actually, my feeling on morality is that none of us really make moral decisions based on any system. Instead we have consequentialist modules, deontological modules and many more in the brain which evolved for different benefits and thus the conflicts in theories.
    But just entering Cephus’ apparent intellectual moral model to hopefully show how his own positions demand a more complex understanding of beliefs.
    Did I write that clearly?
    But I like your way of analyzing the question in light of the three major divisions you see in how people intellectualize morality.

  20. @ geoih,
    Come on, lad. Stop playing Socrates ! (smile) — But indeed it is an important question. But how about putting your cards on the table. What is your moral system or philosophy? (I imagine we are close) I wonder how you’d verbalize it in light of Ian’s 3 systems. But, as Ian earlier states, when someone gives you three choices, you want to make a 4th, no?

  21. Ian


    Its worse than that. If you take Nietzche seriously you also have to answer the question why, even if one could define ‘good’, one would want to prefer the morally right action.

    At some point one has to realise that philosophy is a tool for separating things for clearer analysis: types of ethical belief, in this case. It is not, IMO, a formal system for understanding the world.

  22. Ian


    Yes, absolutely it was clear. Sorry again for the hijack.

    Interestingly there has been work done on people’s natural tendencies to switch ethical reasoning style, broadly under the field of ‘neuroethics’.

    Philipa Foot’s “Trolley Problem” is a classic example of the kind of tool used (easily googlable). Most people will switch handily between ethical styles as they confront these thought experiments.

  23. Yes, obviously I can imagine such things but that doesn’t mean that they exist in fact. Just saying that position X ought to be acceptable to hold because it causes less harm than position Y, when both X and Y are false beliefs, is absurd. One can come to a conclusion that is as harmless as X, or more harmless, yet is true. Both X and Y ought to be rejected on the basis of their falsity regardless.

  24. @ Ian
    I used to teach a short simple grad course in medical ethics and used the “Trolley Problem” with students — it worked well to help students realize that they had multiple moral calculators in their heads that give conflicting outputs. It helped them to see the triggers needed for the brain to use one calculator vs another. I think the calculators are automatic — the brain gives us “reasons” or “beliefs” only AFTER the calculations are made and create the illusion that we made the decision based on our beliefs whereas the “decisions” were automatic and consciousness, yet alone intellect/reason/beliefs, played no role. Yet hyper-rationalists seem to be unaware of this phenomenal at an intellectual level yet alone from a personal observational level. My previous diagram of “What are beliefs” illustrates this. But I would guess you are in total agreement with me here — so this is for other readers, I guess. Smile. (Thanx always for your comments ! )

  25. Ian

    Excellent, yes I do agree. A medical ethics tutor too, eh? You really are an onion (if you get the Shrek reference).

  26. Hmm … I’d have to go with the drunks in this case.

    To paraphrase President Roselin (from Battle Star Galactica), “Sometimes the Right thing isn’t the Smart thing.”

  27. West Virginia Salvation

    Don’t get too excited, I had to sit through that damned ‘Trolley Lecture’ about 6 years ago when Sabio was one of my most dreaded professors! (Fibbing of course)

    I will check my old Power Point files and see if that lecture is saved somewhere. I will email it to you on a personal email.


  28. geoih

    Quote from Sabio Lantz: “What is your moral system or philosophy?”

    Again with the categorizing.

    My original question was completely sincere (i.e., what is the definition of good?). Discussions on morality are almost always filled with subjective value judgments on basic premises that there are few agreements on. Even where there are agreements, there are almost always exceptions.

  29. Pingback: Bitch Spot » Blog Archive » Take the Trolley Problem

Please share your opinions!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s