Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

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Comment by John Jubinsky on January 18, 2011 at 4:25pm
Very honestly and respectfully (and I actually mean that) my impression is that there has been a ducking out in defensiveness by some who fear that they will not be able to rationally deal with points they think I might raise. Generally, when people feel that they can rationally deal with the points another might make they do it. Rob introduced himself to me in an attacking manner and cleverly dismissed me the same way. Given the entire context it is obvious to me that it was because he saw tough questions coming and decided to evade them. John D with all due respect I feel that you have been exceptionally defensive and attacking. Wanderer you have been most considerate but also became defensive and attacked when I suggested that there could be a basis for objective morality in what some call the basic human rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness applied in a manner consistent with the golden rule. It is clear from the intercourse that this perspective is inconsistent with yours. I believe that when you saw it developing you decided to evade also with the smoke screen that I had been disrespectful. I have been direct (very frank) but not attacking. To the contrary I qualified my frankness with comments underlining the respect I meant to accompany it. This was more than was afforded to me. It is a shame that a deeper discussion of morality did not result. Rob: In order to better understand your perspective of nihilism and for no other reason could you deal with a frank specific question delivered with respect like: "How do you feel about the sexual molestation of children by adults?" or would this throw you into another attack on me? Wanderer, could you go deeper into the question of whether an objective morality might stem from what some call the basic human rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? I will field any question by anyone regarding the subject of morals and, although I might be frank and direct, I certainly won't be disrespectful.
Comment by Rob van Senten on January 18, 2011 at 1:54pm

To me this means that nihilism is not the best way to think about morals.


And I would agree on that, to me it is the perfect starting point to think about morals, just not fitting as a conclusion because it does not say anything about what it is, despite it not being objective. 


I joined this group for several reasons, and in fact I do take myself to be a humanist, in that I think that the human condition should be the basis to an investigation into how to live our lives. We as humans need to find a way in which best to live together while respecting our liberties and obligations as well as those of others.


We are all basically build and wired the same way although we do differ enough in details to be able to come to drastically different conclusions on what is the better human experience/condition and how to achieve this, which is why philosophers still exist today, I presume, to attempt to answer these questions.


I'm not trying to mock philosophy here, these are valid questions that hold great importance on how we should treat each other and which liberties we should give and to whom. We may attempt to reach for goals such as equality, yet we are forced by necessity to restrict this in a practical sense. 


I hope that we can all agree that there should be an inequality of freedom in society, which is a practical necessity. Which freedom can be granted or taken and on what basis is subjective, in that we all differ in whom should be punished or praised, imprisoned or empowered.


"But is all this true?' said Brutha. 
Didactylos shrugged. 'Could be. Could be. We are here and it is now. The way I see it is, after that, everything tends towards guesswork.' 
You mean you don't KNOW it's true?' said Brutha. 
I THINK it might be,' said Didactylos. 'I could be wrong. Not being certain is what being a philosopher is all about."  - Terry Pratchett -

Comment by Geraldo Cienmarcos on January 18, 2011 at 1:18pm

new book on Stephen Jay Gould's philosophy

New Book promotion : Monthly Review
[just posting this for interest. No, I don't have any financial interest in the sales, but I liked Gould a lot and I like seeing a book on his philosophical views. There is also an informative bio about Gould on

On the death of paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould

 - Gary ]

The Science and Humanism
of Stephen Jay Gould
by Richard York and Brett Clark
223 pages / $16.95 paperback

"This thoughtful and perceptive presentation of the remarkable work of Stephen Jay Gould is most welcome. With skill and insight, the authors elucidate Gould’s contributions to evolutionary theory and to the understanding of the interactions of science and human life in many dimensions, from the social factors that enter into serious scientific inquiry to the ways in which recognition of the meaninglessness of nature sets the conditions for a humanistic concern for the achievements of creative intelligence and for how to live a decent life. Not least, they bring forth Gould’s dedication to presenting to the general public the discoveries of biological science, and what it reveals about the wonders of nature, and his inspiring commitment to justice and freedom in his life and work." — Noam Chomsky

"York and Clark present a sympathetic and expansive overview of Stephen Jay Gould’s scientific and popular writings, emphasizing how his humanism penetrated every aspect of his work. They offer an insightful interpretation of Gould’s scientific, historical, and philosophical endeavors, giving the reader a refreshing and unified view of his life’s accomplishments." — Elisabeth A. Lloyd, Indiana University, Bloomington; author, Science, Politics, and Evolution

"Stephen Jay Gould will be remembered for many things. He made major contributions to post-Darwinian evolutionary theory, its philosophy, and history. His many essays and books are models of popular science writing. Above all he had a passionate concern for social justice and was a powerful analytical critic of the ways in which 'science' has been used in support of racism and sexism. Here, sociologists Richard York and Brett Clark bring together many facets of Gould's vast output in an accessible exegesis of his ideas." — Steven Rose, editor, The Richness of Life: The Essential Stephen Jay Gould


Comment by Jedi Wanderer on January 18, 2011 at 11:04am
Thanks Rob, this is a well thought-out position I think. If I may press the issue though, since I wouldn't call myself a nihilist, I have some more questions.

I agree that there is no objective meaning or purpose for our lives, so we do in a sense create these things for ourselves. On the other hand, however, these things are already created for us to some degree. It is in our nature (owing to evolution, I think we would all agree) to have a very specific set of desires and to receive a very specific set of rewards from very specific stimuli. In other words, we all (to varying degrees and with some very few special exceptions) feel love and hate, pride and shame, courage and fear, etc., we all (same qualifiers) want to be appreciated and respected by others, and so on. We all are repulsed by and are attracted to pretty much the same things. While I don't call this a set of purely objective facts, I also don't call this a set of purely subjective desires either. It seems to fall somewhere in between.

So while on the theoretical level I say that morals (as well as meaning and purpose) are ultimately subjective, I treat them much as someone who treats them as objective do, following the golden rule, etc. To me this means that nihilism is not the best way to think about morals. Nihilism seems to say that morals aren’t objective, and that’s it, but it doesn’t say what they are. There are of course some purists who really think morals are just a lie, a false construction which people are perhaps duped into believing. But for the rest who say that morals just aren’t objective, more needs to be said. I take it by your entrance into this group that you take yourself to be a humanist. So your position seems to be that while morals aren’t purely objective, there are some very clear ways which morality should be thought about, and this means that when we are thinking about morals we ought always to reference them to ourselves as human beings.

I think we can get even more specific than that. I don’t think just being a human is enough. We need to think about what qualities of human existence are the ones which need to be emphasized and which should be given less attention, and why. This is of course the job of the philosopher. I can tell you its not an easy task. It seems like we (philosophers) have been talking about it for centuries and are no closer to a clear answer than was Plato thousands of years ago. I do of course have my own sophisticated answer, but I won’t just plop it in right here. I can do two things for those who are interested. I can put my whole theory up on this website somehow, probably in a group of my own making. That is the harder of the two. The other thing I can do is post the most recent paper I wrote to the group. Reading it would give anyone a pretty good idea of the direction I am heading. So I’ll do that when I get back here a little later.
Comment by Rob van Senten on January 18, 2011 at 10:26am

@ Wanderer,


Thank you for asking before declaring me mentally ill or a sociopath, it really helps the general atmosphere if we were to ask before assuming.


To answer your question, I would say that I'm a nihilist because I do not believe that life has a purpose, that we as humans are free to create our own purpose.


I'm also not convinced that there is an objective standard for morality because good and bad are concepts that are dependent on the observer. In my opinion, an objective moral would be something that can exist independent from our perception, and that just doesn't make sense to me. 


This does not mean that I am amoral (or immoral) in my daily life, I actually happen to value the "golden rule" a great deal. 


@ John D,


Perhaps a moral person would apologize for implying someone is a sociopath... 


Quite frankly dear, I don't give a rat's buttocks about apologies from mr. Jubinsky so let's just move on and continue discussing the subject at hand, we've seem to have captured a philosopher in our midst, so let's use it to our advantage ;P.

Comment by Jedi Wanderer on January 18, 2011 at 9:06am

It really is a shame this discussion has turned from what could be a very profitable debate in ethical theory to personal attacks. I really get fed up with the whole online experience when this happens. Why is it so hard to remain civil? I suggest we put all of these petty arguments behind us and start anew.


Let me begin by responding to John J. First, I would not say that nihilism is sociopathic at all. Nihilism is just a set of beliefs, and whether or not a person actually believes them or not does not entail that he will act as if he doesn't really believe in acting according to some moral standard. The only accusation that can be thrown out here is whether or not Rob is acting rationally, that is, in accordance with his own beliefs. A charge of sociopathy is a very serious one indeed, one that shouldn't be so lightly thrown about. Further, its very likely that all Rob means by nihilism is that he doesn't believe that morality is objective. I would like to hear more from Rob about what exactly his beliefs are, and then we can discuss this topic further without getting personal.


Secondly, to be accurate the moral philosophy I suggest is not "organism" (that term means something quite else), but "organicism".


Third, this whole business about human rights is a very messy one indeed. Do they hold up under all circumstances and for all people? Take liberty, one of the three you suggest. Should we therefore not keep prisoners? But we can't kill them either without violating your first " human right", life. In any case, I think you did not fully grasp my position. Say we do agree that there are certain minimal standards which we would see granted to all people if we had the means, and say we also dismiss the perspective of retards, sociopaths, and other amoral individuals. The question becomes, why do we grant these sorts of "rights"? On what basis? If you think that it is not because this is what humans LIKE to have, what FEELS good for them, relative to them as subjective experiencers of reality, then why is it that we do want to grant these rights?

Comment by John Jubinsky on January 18, 2011 at 8:15am
@ John D:

I am not attacking Rob nor do I have any desire to do so. However, this should not mean that I must compromise directness in making points. You have referenced Wikipedia regarding this. What we are talking about is moral nihilism. Below is what Wikipedia says about it. As you can see it says a moral nihilist finds nothing wrong with indiscriminantly murdering somebody. This is at best asocial and, as such, is sociopathic.
Comment by John Jubinsky on January 18, 2011 at 7:20am
@ John D with no disrespect to Rob: You say "for sure Rob is not a sociopath." In his homepage he expressly claims to be a nihilist. Please look up what this means. We just had someone of that mind set go on a shooting spree here killing six people including a 9 year old girl and wounding many others including a U.S. congresswoman whom he shot through the brain.

@ Rob: Very respectfully Rob if you are a nihilist what are you doing in a Humanist group?

@ Wanderer with no disrespect to Rob: Firstly please look at Rob's homepage. He expressly claims to be a nihilist. Nihilism is sociopathic. This is by no means an attack on Rob it is simply the truth.

Secondly, I agree that it is important to have clearly defined terms. When I used the term altruism I meant what you are calling organism. It seems that we agree that organism (or what I was calling altruism) is the appropriate moral philosophy.

What we disagree on is whether morality is objective or subjective. You say it is subjective so obviously I hold it to be objective. To determine which it is we must first realize that positions stemming from legitimate mental illnesses should not be considered.

My position is that mentally healthy people regardless of where in the world they live agree that they are entitled to basic human rights even (and sometimes especially) if they are denied those rights by the society in which they live. For fear of wearing out an expression it is my position that those basic human rights (those I say are claimed as entitlements by all mentally healthy people) may be described as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I have never heard of a mentally healthy selfish nor narcissistic person who did not claim entitlement to these for him or herself and, in this, all mentally healthy people claim entitlement to them.

This gives us a basis for an objective morality. That is, if we apply the golden rule to these rights the result is an objective morality. On a case by case basis it may be used to adjudicate who is denying these entitlements to whom. In fact, although there are abuses of power which are irrelevant to this discussion, we see this done every day in every free society and to some extent in those that are not free throughout the world.
Comment by Rob van Senten on January 18, 2011 at 3:01am

I would agree that altruism is at one extreme end of the spectrum just as selfishness is at the other end. Although I'm not convinced of the existence of an objective standard for morality, on a personal level I do try to find a balance between these two extremes in my every day decisions.


John (Jubinsky), thanks for clarifying your point so eloquently.

Comment by Jedi Wanderer on January 17, 2011 at 6:44pm

I am sad to see the conversation turning sour, but hopefully it will not last. Anyway, to stick with my point, a lot of confusion stems from this objective/subjective basis for ethics. As Rob says, altruism is not objectively good, and in a fundamental sense, since all ethics are based in subjective feelings, he is essentially correct. But since all value judgments are of this same nature, it is generally understood that when we say that a thing like altruism is good or bad it is meant in the less absolute way, which is to say that once we get past the fact that nothing is absolutely good or bad, many things are actually good or bad relative to us.


As for altruism itself, the way I understand it is as an extreme. Let me explain. On one side of the spectrum is pure selfishness, and on the other extreme is pure selflessness/altruism. As Aristotle would have it, the virtue lies somewhere in between. I understand this virtue to be organismic, which is to say that we should look after the interests of both our individual selves and others in our group (organism). The result is that we look after the interests of our in-group, and being a part of that larger group, we all share in some of the reward. Take love as another example. Self love is called narcissism, and other-love is called altruism. Love of the group, and of oneself as a member of a group, this is what I call organismic love.


So, if one loves only others but not oneself, we would be justified in thinking that this is unsustainable and detrimental to the health of that individual, just as pure narcissism would be equally unsustainable and self-detrimental. But most people understand altruism to be much more like organismic love. Its important to have clearly defined terms, don't you think? This aids in preventing people from accusing others of being sociopathic, if nothing else.



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