October 2007

I would be very happy to be involved in discussions of your book! I’ll keep my eyes open for the opportunity.

I believe I understand your two rules, and agree with their principles. I also agree with your application of a belief in self interest to a moral code.

Obviously, problems arise when people fail to formulate philosophies that abide by these rules, or fail to obey the moral code of their own two rule abiding philosophy (something I am often guilty of).

Another obvious problem is that, as you seem to imply, not ALL people appear to have the innate moral sense that is often presumed to be a crucial ingredient of humanity. In other words, some people appear to lack a conscience, and are therefore ‘free’ from morality in general.

Can such people be punished or condemned? If a person is amoral, with no sense of right and wrong, and thus no intention to DO wrong, surely they cannot be called IMmoral, evil or wrong. From a theistic viewpoint, if amoral people, like animals, were created by God without morality (evidence strongly suggests that amorality occurs naturally in some individuals), would they be recieved in heaven or in hell upon their death?

If God’s Goodness and guidance is what makes people good, then why does he miss some people out?

I think I spot a further flaw in common theistic belief.

More common, and possibly worse than the above problem, is that emotions and desires often outway the conscience and compassion, and that many individuals seem so ruled by these drivers that they effectively learn to ignore their conscience entirely.

Is it possible that some people simply get so used to behaving purely upon self interest that they accept such a way of life as normal, and perhaps even lose the function of empathy, being so completely focused on their own inner drivers?

How should people like this be dealt with?

How can society create and enforce a single ruled system of punishment, prevention and judgement, without being guided by a moral authority and without individuals being required to disobey their own personal philosophies?

Thanks for your patience while I work on my book — writing it has also gotten me even further behind with my IAmAnAtheist.com correspondence than usual.

You ask an important question about whether people without a moral sense can be punished or condemned. Let’s examine it in detail.

You talk about a person “with no sense of right and wrong, and thus no intention to DO wrong.” I think we need to be careful here. A person with no sense of right or wrong can still know the difference between right and wrong intellectually (by observation or logic) and therefore intend to do wrong. Such a person could be immoral, evil, or wrong, depending on their specific understanding of morality, whether they have a moral sense or not. But let’s just consider the case of someone who is, say, not mentally equipped to tell right from wrong in any way.

I don’t think you could condemn such a person, but I do think you could justifiable punish them. However, the punishment should take into account the situation. For example, someone who doesn’t know it’s wrong to kill could be imprisoned to teach them the consequences of their actions or to just remove the possibility of their repeating the action. They also might be put in a mental institution if it is determined that they cannot function as part of society.

An amoral human is morally different from an animal because a human has the ability to introspect. Would God treat such a human differently from an animal? From what I know of Christianity (assuming we’re talking about Christianity), the person would be treated the same as everyone else. Why would God make a person with no moral sense? I have no idea.

You are completely correct that many people act on their emotions and on unreflected self interest, and that they seem to have an atrophied sense of empathy. I very often see people trying to justify what they want to do instead of reasoning out what should be done, and this is sad. For example, I once had a very detailed discussion with a Christian woman who insisted that the correct thing to do if you found a box with $15,000 in it was keep it. She went to great lengths to justify this position, and ended up defining her personal morality in such a way that, when asked, she admitted she would not want anyone else to have.

How should people like this be dealt with? It depends on the situation, of course, but in general I’d try and get them to start thinking about their own beliefs. Many people are surprised that their own inconsistency once it becomes clear.

Your final question is a biggie: “create and enforce a single ruled system of punishment, prevention and judgement, without being guided by a moral authority and without individuals being required to disobey their own personal philosophies?”

The simple answer is that it can’t. This is why, ideally, there is some “wiggle room” built into the judicial system so that punishment can be determined on a case-by-case basis.

Disagreement on moral standards is also why, in my opinion, government should stay out of the business of making laws based on morality whenever possible. There are plenty of reasons to make murder, theft, assault, harassment, fraud, etc., illegal without worrying about whether or not such actions are immoral. True, sometimes law will require someone to disobey their personal philosophy, but if the law isn’t based on morality, then you can’t say that the law is promoting one moral or philosophical system over another — it is, essentially, morally neutral.

Posted on October 19, 2007 at 9:39 am by ideclare · Permalink
In: Morality

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