Friday, September 10, 2010


Allow me to let you in on a little secret: I am 100% amoral. That's right: I do not have a shred of morality in my being. Not a jot, a tittle, a soup├žon, or a wee dram. None, zero, zilch, nada.

Before you get alarmed you should ask me the very first question you should always ask a philosopher: what exactly do you mean by "morality"? And there's the rub. I do not do anything, ever, only because it is the right thing to do. I act only to maximize my own personal happiness and satisfaction.

As it happens, I have a brain: I can remember the past, predict the future, and imagine possibilities. I can rationally know that my own happiness and satisfaction is greater in a world where people tend to refrain from killing each other, beating each other up, or stealing their stuff. And since I live in a world where other people also have brains and imagination, and they know too they themselves will be happier if people don't go around killing each other. So we make promises to each other, and — more importantly — enforce those promises with police and prisons, judges and jails, soldiers and the occasional nuclear bomb. Because I know that if we all make and keep certain promises we will all be better off, I have a good reason for making and keeping these promises myself: I will be happier and more satisfied.

But that's not morality, at least not as some people construe morality. Morality means doing what's "right" without regard to your own or anyone else's benefit. In fact, we know that we are acting morally only if our actions benefit no one. It just doesn't matter, for example, that women are people, with their own wants and needs, and we would all be better off — women and men alike — if they had all the freedoms, responsibilities, and benefits afforded men. The right thing to do is for women to be submissive and subservient to men regardless of the cost to men and women alike.

This is the morality that people like Vox Dei correctly argue is unavailable to atheists. It is the morality of acid thrown in a woman's face, the morality of faggots tortured and strung up on fence to die, children left by their parents to die of appendicitis. It's the morality of genocide, slavery, tyranny and oppression. Yes, that's a morality that as an atheist I'm proud to say does not apply in the least to me: you can be damn sure that I'm completely amoral.


  1. I think I understand...

  2. Wow!! you have put to paper the vague ideas I've never been able to say in just that way. Thanks!
    I've always felt and known what you wrote but can now say it clearly.

  3. I've always taken what is truly "the right thing to do" as what is empirically right - what benefits everyone - equality for all, and so forth.

    I've taken that position and then when in discussions with morality with, say, Christians, I smash them over the head with the fact that my simple morality is far superior to theirs and their religion and religious figures. Like for instance I point out the gay hating Christians are bigots and assert my superiority over them for being bigots.

    But I freely admit, I mostly had those sorts of discussions with Christians just out of a perverse sense of enjoyment at watching them sputter and spit as they try to deal with the fact that I, as an atheist, have superior morals to their entire religious system.

    On a related note - I saw a new Futurerama some weeks ago about "Robot Marriage" - robots and humans, that is, as an analogy to gay marriage now, and it was hilarious and so spot on. Nothing beats satire and ridicule for destroying ridiculous positions - sort of like your whole "it burns" series here. The best part of the show was an anti-robot marriage ad, which really has to be seen to be appreciated - in 30 seconds it eviserates the entire anti-gay marriage position.

  4. The first part of this post makes you sound very much a moral skeptic (or moral nihilist, depending on one's preference), but then you define morality almost the same way Kant does. Why do you choose that conception of what morality is, over, say, a consequentialist approach? I have to admit, I find consequentialist approaches much more attractive emotionally - I find Mill far more congenial than Kant, but in the end, I find error-theorists like Mackie and Joyce and Russell Blackford most convincing. All three of these moral skeptics still want to retain "moral discourse" (as any sane person would, it seems to me), and, interestingly (to me) they all seem to be generally consequentialist in their outlook (as does Sam Harris, based on his TED talk and the reviews I've read of his book - though he strangely wants to eschew philosophical concerns). So, what makes you (seemingly) prefer a deontological approach to a consequentialist approach?

  5. but then you define morality almost the same way Kant does.

    Sorry, I'm simply repeating Kant's definition (or the definition you attribute to Kant). The sentence should read "Morality on that account means doing what's 'right'..."


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