John Jubinsky proposed this discussion in a separate thread where I remarked that we should let the giant panda die out (it's at an evolutionary dead end anyway) and concentrate our resources on looking after the species that we can save.
Several of us feel that this warrants a discussion of its own since this is very important issue - and probably the most critical one we all face.
I'm deliberately altruistic in my daily life - but also hold a cold, unfeeling scientific intellect - which is a contradiction to many - as John writes:
As this is John's proposition, may I (with respect to John and in the absence of a decent label) suggest that we refer to this problem as the Jublinsky Paradox?
Our problem has been that, because of the voices of some Atheists, by and large the masses hold Atheism to be synonymous with heartlessness, and in that the masses consider positions founded in heartlessness to be uncredible (and are reinforced in this in that heartless positions have never stood the test of time) they have rejected the many very credible positions of Atheism without due consideration.
The operative dynamic has been that by and large the masses have turned to a consideration of theism which (in at least claiming to be in the name of love) has not precluded itself as a course worthy of investigation for them. Unfortunately, many have resultantly become indoctrinated.
We who claim to believe so much in reason would be served well to exercise it to the understanding that heartless Atheists can be no more good for Atheism than Joseph Stalin was. Because the masses will not reject the motive of love, in order for Atheism to displace theism it must be in the form of Secular Humanism.
I don't feel obliged to honor the wishes of others that I am affiliated with under the banner of "atheism". I have my own ideas and my own opinions and frankly I could care less about people that want me to be quiet for "the greater good".
I'm sick and tired of people complaining about those "nasty and mean" atheists that dare to speak out and offer an opinion that conflicts with the opinions of others. It's about time that we (as people, not just "us" atheists) speak up for what we stand for as individuals.
Heartless atheists? How about I call everybody that wants the "nasty and mean" atheists to be quiet a bunch of cowardly appeasers from the school of Neville Chamberlain? Do these people honestly think that I will give up my right of free speech and my individuality for the sake of not scaring people away from atheism? Should we lie and hide who we are? I don't think so.
I'd rather be honest and hated then loved and a liar.
What a false dichotomy! No, Marc, this is not the Jublinsky paradox, this is the same philosophical discussion that has been held for eons - are we to be guided by our reason or by our passions? And like I said, it is a false dichotomy. They are merely two sides to the same coin. We are motivated fundamentally by our passions, and we use our reason to find the best, most efficient ways of getting what it is we want. It is a simple matter of prioritizing our values. Do we utterly lament that we may make the occasional lie to save someone's feelings? Or that we might kill in self-defense? Or that we don't buy the expensive birthday present for our child so that we may pay the rent? It is not that we are cold or heartless when we make these often hard decisions, it is rather just the opposite - it is BECAUSE we care so much about ourselves and those close to us, and even people we have never met, that we make the tough choices according to what will actually protect our deepest interests. If you have reasoned that it would be better to let the Giant Panda die off so that we may save many more species from extinction, it is not because you hate the Giant Panda, but because you love life in a more general way that you are willing to make hard sacrifices to protect more, to save more, to do more good, to do what is the greater good.
You can tell anyone who doubts it that it is because we care more and feel more deeply about life that we are atheists. Atheists are just generally better at understanding what truly should be valued, like truth, and reason, and the value of life, and this is the reason why we have become atheists in the first place. We don't let false sentimentality get in the way of the things we really should value, like this life, and actual things in existence. We use reason because we understand that faith is, by its false nature, inimicable to the things we value. It is precisely because we are lovers of life that we turn to reason, and anyone who thinks otherwise hasn't learned the first thing necessary for achieving any sort of actual values.
Firstly, realize that it was you who suggested that my remarks should be in another thread and this was then underlined by Dr. Meaden. I simply had no problem with it. The posts exist to support this.
I don't think that what I stated above suggests that anybody's free speech should be stiffled. It simply presents a reasonable argument for Secular Humanism. I am entitled to free speech also and I exercised it. Does anyone think mine should be stiffled?
What I have to say to hard core heartless Atheists is, very respectfully, I believe the most emotionally mature thing we can do is agree to disagree.
Can you perhaps explain what you mean by "heartless" or "hardcore heartless" atheists? Perhaps you can provide an example of it so as that I can better understand your opinion on this matter. Maybe you and I hold a different meaning to the word heartless.
I'm going to go out on a limb here and say (not to put words in JJ's mouth) that where this line of thinking usually goes is that atheists who are pure egoists have an immoral set of beliefs. I agree. Being an egoist (like the Ayn Rand Objectivists) entails having a very limited (by definition) group to whom one feels any responsibilities for. It means being responsible only to the self, period, the end. I, and many others, find this to be morally reprehensible because it means that another person only has value as a means to the ends of the individual in question. It erases all sense of nobility or love of one's fellow man and replaces these with a narcissistic love of the self. In this philosophy, morality is just personal power to do what one pleases, without any call for these desires to be reflected against another. This transforms value into love of power, especially over others, and love of another is itself only love of the power one has over another to "keep getting what one wants".
What I argue is that the only alternative to egoism is not altruism, as is so commonly thought. I think this is a seriously false dichotomy as well. It is not just "love of the self" vs "love of others", rather, there is a vast middle ground that goes completely unobserved by most people. I call this realm "organicism". What this means is just what John D was referring to above when he said "All I can tell is that my compassion expands in spheres of influence. Those who influence me, and who I have influence upon, become stronger in my sphere of compassion." This is the essence of organicism. It means we love ourselves AND (some but not all) others. We love some others, not because of what they can do for us, but because we see them as extensions of ourselves. We may even love complete strangers in this way, though obviously this "organismic love" as I call it is far stronger for one's in-group, i.e. one's family members, fellow soldiers in battle, friends and those with whom one shares values, etc. This means two things. Firstly, it means we don't have to give a damn about the common good, as you say Rob, because that would require caring about everything and everyone virtually equally, and this is altruism and it is an impossible ideal. We don't even need to be humanists, if by humanism you mean caring about all of humanity. But secondly, it does mean that, if you can see the broad picture, and you are powerful enough to care and to want to take responsibility for the good of the greater organism to which you see yourself belonging, we can care about what happens to generally good people, here and there, now and later, through the connections we have by our shared values (those of us who share them). It means we can distinguish between those we care about and those we do not. We can include or exclude people according to how we see our organismic connections. I just remembered, Rob, that you are one of the few people here who have actually read my paper on Thumos. You may recall some of what I mention here from that paper, I dunno. I will actually want to write another paper regarding this vast middle ground between pure egoism and pure altruism, neither of which are realistic philosophies. We all do actually act, with the exception of children and sociopaths, with organismic love rather than with simply altruistic or narcissistic love. So that is my whole point anyway - if we can see that we really do care about others as if they were just another part of some greater whole to which we also belong, then we have the justification we need to explain why we do actually want to sacrifice ourselves for our children or the people we care about, why we do want to take social responsibilities and responsibilities for people all over the world, people whom we have never even met or will meet, or even for animals (read: animal rights), etc. If JJ means that there are atheists who not only think but actually act on the premise that they really are the only people that matter, and who truly do not care about the general welfare of living beings, then these are people who I would say do not truly understand their own motivations and their own deepest values, or else there is some undeveloped part of them which prevents them from being fully human.
atheists who are pure egoists have an immoral set of beliefs. I agree. Being an egoist (like the Ayn Rand Objectivists) entails having a very limited (by definition) group to whom one feels any responsibilities for. It means being responsible only to the self, period, the end.
I'm not that immoral I hope, although I do see myself as a inherently selfish being because of our nature as self-duplicating DNA machines. When you know that the most horrible things imaginable can be done by otherwise decent, good human beings I truly believe that our morality is but a thin layer of veneer on top of our egoistic animal nature.
This is not to say that we are powerless over our selfish side or that this thin layer of morality is somehow not important, quite to the contrary I would think.
pure egoism and pure altruism, neither of which are realistic philosophies
They're not, they're absolutist mind farts with serious practical limitations and either one will cause as much suffering as the other if we'd live our life by them. I don't remember you using those words in your paper but I think we're pretty much on the same page there.
people <..> who truly do not care about the general welfare of living beings, then these are people who I would say do not truly understand their own motivations and their own deepest values, or else there is some undeveloped part of them which prevents them from being fully
I do believe that these people are missing out on what it's like to be human, I'm not a psychiatrist but wouldn't people like that be considered sociopaths?
Most people that I know of are not cold, uncaring and heartless even though they appear that way. Especially through a filter such as non verbal text based discussions.
Does this indicate, as you point out, that morality may not go very deep into our natures? I don't know, but I am inclined to disagree. <..> I would probably say that it rather points out that we have a huge tendency to overinflate our value
We lose perspective of our part in the complicated workings of human society which can cause us to act selfish and harm others without even caring about those inflicted. This follows directly from our inherent selfish nature, from our biology.
However, human society is hugely complex and we simply cannot live in peace without curbing those drives to such a degree that we do not harm others in the pursuit of our selfish desires, while the rest of society does the same (social contract).
I know of some experiments that were performed where people were being told to inflict pain upon others by a person in a lab coat. More often then not people felt no longer responsible for their own actions and completely bypassed their sense of morality. Truly a terrible consequence of our tendency for obedience to authority.*
If our sense of morality is so easily bypassed, it seems logical to assume that it is only a thin layer of civility. In our nature, our biological programming we are selfish bastards that care only about those things that are important to the self.
* Yes, we are talking about the same research paper... Kind of funny.
Both compassion and submission to authority are mechanisms on how our ethics work.
When we forget or deny our responsibilities to ourselves and others because of submission of authority I do believe that we risk to lose a bit of our humanity.