Most Morality is Wholly Emotional

system-of-morality-which-is-based-on-relative-emotional-values-is-a-mere-illusion-a-thoroughly-socrates-174031After the end of the Atheist Experience show I talked about here, I stayed in the chat channel and talked to a couple of people. Things shifted to morality and wow, there are a lot of irrational people about who unfortunately are convinced they are rational.  The discussion was sparked by people talking about claims of religious morality during the show and moved to a discussion of Matt Dillahunty’s “superiority of secular morality” which I talked about here.

One person got really upset that I wouldn’t accept his subjective criteria for what makes up objective morality. He kept saying that things were “good” and “decent” and promoted “well-being” and when I asked him to define those things objectively, he got mad.  Apparently, he thinks that what he believes to be “good” and “decent” and promoted “well-being” are the same things everyone believes about those things.  The very idea that anyone might disagree is anathema.  In fact, he started defining “all moral people” believe what he believes, leaving the assertion that anyone who doesn’t believe what he  believes to be immoral. He just couldn’t get it through his head that every time he came up with a criteria, that criteria was, by definition, subjective and thus could not be used to demonstrate objective morality.  He kept getting madder and madder and calling names, all the while proclaiming his morality to be entirely objective.

Of course, this is wholly emotional, something that I kept trying to steer the ship away from, yet every single one of the people involved kept forcing it back.  They couldn’t even see that they were being emotional about it, they kept demanding that their views were right and nothing anyone could say could show otherwise, in fact, anyone who disagreed had something wrong with them.

Just like theists, in fact.

In fact, all of these arguments are just subjective, based on individual biases and things that the person has been indoctrinated into.  My goal is to move beyond biased opinions and cultural indoctrination to a discussion about what really constitutes an “objective morality”.  To be honest, it very well might not even be possible, I think that all moral codes are inherently subjective and I’m fine with that, so long as people stop pretending otherwise.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing about debating morality, I think that’s something important to do, I am against people simply holding out their own morality as the sole model and demanding everyone else comply because they say so. Discussing morality isn’t simple, it’s an inherently messy process that requires a lot of time and effort to define your terms, defend your terminology and explain why you think what you think.  Using “moral” as a philosophical shorthand is meaningless.  That means that any discussion about what is moral and what is not is going to be a long one.

It just disturbs me to see so many atheists who really ought to know better, doing the exact same thing that theists do, declaring their view of morality to be factually and objectively correct without understanding that it simply isn’t.  And then, faced with this failure, they get emotionally upset instead of learning from their mistakes.  By the end, I had the remaining handful of people in the channel cussing at me because I kept asking them to justify their positions and they simply  could not.  I’m not sure if it was more sad or more funny, it was certainly a mixture of both.

Morals are subjective, emotional things, there isn’t any moral code you can point out that can be demonstrated objectively. There are no criteria that you can point out that you can show to be factually true.  Just declaring your criteria to be worthwhile, just because you think it is, just proves the subjectivity of it all once again.

And that’s something most people, even supposedly rational atheists, don’t want to admit most of the time.

3 thoughts on “Most Morality is Wholly Emotional”

  1. So should we try to first figure out which morals can be defined as objective, then go from there?

    We could work from the idea that since we are social animals, we probably have some morals built in as a template so we don't wipe out the species. We could then define which ones fit under that heading and build on them, using our current collective subjective views on morality. These of course can be and frequently are modified by memes of various sorts, like religions or humanistic outlooks or whatever.

    Does this look like a useful starting point to begin a conversation?

    1. I just think we should stop pretending that morality is objective at all and acknowledge the truth. There's nothing wrong with having a commonly-defined subjective morality, so long as we acknowledge that's what it is.

  2. Putting aside for the moment the issue of whether there is a set of objective moral principles, do you think that all sets of moral principles are equally valid, equally rational, equally worthy of adoption?

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