What are Ethics?
People disagree on ethics — and for very good reasons. To clear up the disagreement, the wrong move is to try and figure out the “right” ethical theory — arguing endlessly about the truth of your system and the foibles of others. Instead, understanding how our minds work may reveal far more useful information.
Every Ethics 101 course classifies the majority of ethical systems into:
- Deontological Ethics: methods matter
- Consequentialism Ethics: consequences matter
- Virtual Ethics: attitudes matter
Our brains seem to contain all three of these behavior calculators (and more). Depending on situations (triggers), the brain uses one calculator, at the exclusion of others, or uses two or three but weighs them each differently. We are complex creatures. We are not what we think we are. It is this phenomena that leads us to all our wheel spinning when discussing ethics.
Another wheel-spinner is the debate of whether “all-religion-is-bad” or not. Massimo Pigliucci discusses this issue on his post criticizing a 3-Quark daily post (remember, the site where I was banned — it is safer to criticize them from your own blog.)
Massimo criticizes the pro-religion go-free-card position often promoted by 3QD authors, but also lambasts many blogging atheist who loudly exaggerate that “all religion is bad”. Massimo interestingly points out that typically those atheists’ arguments are based on an ironic illogical jumping between contrary ethical platforms to rationalize their claim — a fault of theists too he emphasizes.
The hyper-pseudo rationalist atheist will claim that:
False beliefs always (eventually) lead to bad consequences.
Did you catch that? They just told us that “false beliefs” [a method or attitude, depending how you view beliefs] should not be used. That is the Deontological or the Virtue Ethical calculator going off. But when you read posts by these anti-religion atheists, their judgement that bad beliefs are always bad is based on the consequences of those bad beliefs — they tell us all the horrible things religion do. That is their Consequentialism calculator weighing in.
The 3QD article pejoratively creates the phrase “undergraduate atheists“, which Massimo concedes may be appropriate since such atheists have:
“… simplistic, scientistic, anti-intellectual streak of self-professed “rational” thinking that too many atheists quickly and shamelessly engage in.”
And he broadens the criticism saying:
“We talk a lot about supporting critical thinking in the skeptic/atheist community(es), but we aren’t necessarily that good at cleaning up our own sloppy reasoning.”
I love Massimo because he is clear writer, very bright and does not pull punches. So if you disagree with him, it is easy to figure out where you disagree!
I won’t go into all the subtle nuances of this argument about “Is ALL religion bad” — please don’t clutter the thread with those rants because that is not the purpose of this post and would ironically indulge in the very error of thinking I am trying to illustrate here. Namely, that we [theists, atheists: all of us] are often deceived about how our minds work, and that this confusion then causes us the spend millennium in useless debates.
Blending Confusion: ethical delusions & the myth of religion
As a final caveat, in such conversations, what adds insult to injury of our foolishness is, as I have written often, the illusion that we know what “religion” is. Further, people continually forget the nature of language and that “religion” is a created word used in many different ways. Religion is not something out there waiting to be discovered — anathema to Plato fans. Thus, we don’t understand our own ethical declarations, nor our own use of language, so how can we even begin to adress the question of this post intelligently.