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Do you need to be religious in order to be Moral?

Do you need to be religious in order to be Moral?

I will try to resist this reply: that depends on what you mean by "religious" and "moral." But definitions do matter, and I will not be able to avoid appealing to definitions.

If you have a very broad definition of "religious" according to which being religious involves reverence, caring about what is sacred, being consistent (as when someone might say of an athlete that "she works-out religiouslyl") and if "morality" includes such elements, then, yes, there is an important (at least) intersection between being religious and being moral.

But if by "religious" one means that one adheres to religious traditions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam.... then most philosophers have not thought that being religious is essential for being moral. In fact, many religious thinkers (theologians or sages) have insisted that morality (both the awareness of what is moral and the ability to live a moral life) is available for persons in general independent of one's religious beliefs and practices. There are various nuances, however, that I address below. Sorry if this reply might appear pedantic, when you probably are hoping for a 'yes' or 'no' response.

Many religious thinkers believe that religion involves far more than "morality" --the worship of God, for example, which is sometimes described as a duty but often portrayed as a great, transcendent experience that goes beyond the realm of morality --just as, on a minor scale, the pursuit of something aesthetic (beauty in the arts) might involve matters that extend beyond (without being in conflict with) morality and ethics. It would be hard to put the greatness of Beethoven's Ode to Joy in narrowly moral / ethical terms.

I suggest that three of the many interesting, debated questions that bear on your question concern (1) whether acknowledging morality as an objective, binding code that calls for (or demands) our allegiance requires a religiously oriented worldview; (2) the extent that religion itself can be reduced to morality and (3) the extent to which religion can either enhance or conflict with moral beliefs and practice (as captured, for example, from a secular point of view).

On the first point, you might find the work of George Mavrodes interesting or challenging. He proposes that an acknowledgement of objective morality requires viewing the world in teleological (purposive or, in his case, theistic terms). Probably the leading advocate for that position today is C. Stephen Evans. On the second point, Kant would be your key reference point. Scholarship on Kant is divided and complex, but more often than not he is seen as a key promoter of the view that at the very heart of Christianity, and all religions when properly purified through philosophical criticism, is ethics. In terms of the third category, perhaps there is no more provocative philosopher for you to engage than Kierkegaard in his dramatic, extraordinary work: Either/Or.

For my own views, check out A beginner's guide: philosophy of religion.

We feel we choose our moral choices but when somebody feels shame do they choose

We feel we choose our moral choices but when somebody feels shame do they choose to feel that shame even though that feeling seems inescapable?

Most philosophers, me included, would say that we do not choose to feel what we do. Ever since the ancient Greeks, emotions have been thought of as 'passions', because we are passive, not active, in experiencing emotions. We 'suffer' or 'undergo' them, rather than bring them about. It may be that we can make choices, e.g. about what kind of person to be, that will change our character and that will result in our having different emotions in the future. For example, we may choose to face our fears, to become more courageous, and then feel less or fewer fears in the future. But we cannot choose what to feel in the present. Or again, we may have some indirect control over what we feel, by focusing our attention on certain aspects of a situation rather than others. But we can't directly control, by choice, what we feel.

We do make moral choices as well. Given that we don't choose our emotions, it follows that when someone feels shame, this is not a moral choice they make. Instead, we might say that our moral choices apply to actions and perhaps to future character traits, like generosity or courage. Suppose, then, someone chooses to act in a way that then causes them to feel shame, e.g. perhaps they betray a secret they had promised to keep. They choose to betray the secret, but they didn't choose to feel shame. We can't choose what to feel ashamed of.

Perhaps this looks like a threat to moral autonomy. I don't think so. Perhaps the person thinks that it is not wrong to betray this secret (e.g. it could save someone's life). Then they feel shame, but they think that the shame is inappropriate - they don't think that they did anything wrong even though they feel shame. Our feelings and our moral judgments don't always line up.

This situation strikes me as quite normal, when in adulthood, we reject some of the moral rules of our childhood, e.g. someone who feels guilty at not going to church on a Sunday morning, even though they stopped believing in God years before.

Is an act less moral if it is done by a Christian to an atheist? It seems to be

Is an act less moral if it is done by a Christian to an atheist? It seems to be this way because Christians only act morally because they're told to by god. Atheists have no need to be good but seem to act that way because they logically realise that it is the right thing to do. Not from fear of god/hell.

Is glory a worthy goal for a person? In an Astérix book, Abraracourcix, the

Is glory a worthy goal for a person? In an Astérix book, Abraracourcix, the chieftain, tells his wealthy brother in law that all of the latter's money is not a match for glory. The brother in law replies that Abraracourcix's glory could not pay the "oxen hooves pie" they were having at the time. This seems to be false in the times of "reality television": glory can be readily turned into money. Actually I suspect glory has always given people some access to material goods. But my question is rather whether glory is valuable for other reasons, specifically whether glory is valuable from an ethical point of view.

A nice place to start in thinking about this question is book I of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/nicomachaen.1.i.html
There Aristotle addresses the nature of happiness and consider the pros and cons of three sorts of lives: the life devoted to pleasure, the life devoted to money, and the 'political' life (or the life devoted to honor). You don't say in your question what you have in mind by 'glory,' but it seems similar to what Aristotle had in mind by honor, namely, others bestowing on us recognition or other goods as a mark of our merit or virtue.

Aristotle argues that the best life is not devoted to honor. Here is the main passage where Aristotle argue for this:

A consideration of the prominent types of life shows that people of superior refinement and of active disposition identify happiness with honour; for this is, roughly speaking, the end of the political life. But it seems too superficial to be what we are looking for, since it is thought to depend on those who bestow honour rather than on him who receives it, but the good we divine to be something proper to a man and not easily taken from him. Further, men seem to pursue honour in order that they may be assured of their goodness; at least it is by men of practical wisdom that they seek to be honoured, and among those who know them, and on the ground of their virtue; clearly, then, according to them, at any rate, virtue is better.

I see Aristotle as making several points against pursuing honor or glory. The first is that whether we are honored or glorified depends upon others' opinions of us, which can be fickle. (Think of all those reality TV stars that have been so quickly forgotten!) Honor and glory are therefore not very reliable or stable goods. Moreover, honor and glory are not, Aristotle says, "proper" to us. That we are honored or glorified by others tells us what others are like — what they believe is good or virtuous — but only indirectly what we are like. And it seems likely that others can accord us honor and glory for the wrong reasons. In the end, Aristotle argues, what we want is not to be honored and glorified for our virtue but really to be virtuous.

I'm inclined to think Aristotle is right: Honor and glory are not inherently or unconditionally good. They are good only to the extent that we are honored and glorified for attributes or accomplishments that are genuinely good or worthwhile. That said, it's important not to exaggerate Aristotle's conclusions though. We shouldn't conclude that glory and honor are bad or worthless altogether. As social creatures, we need the recognition or esteem of others. Presumably the best life is one where we are honored or glorified by others because of our genuinely valuable attributes or accomplishments. Glory, we might say, is the icing on the cake only if the cake is actually a good cake.

Is it ethical to have biological children when there are children who could

Is it ethical to have biological children when there are children who could benefit from fostering or adoption? Isn't creating further needs wrong, when existing needs could be fulfilled? I'm unsure about the moral status of having children reproductively when fostering is possible. There are some reasons for this concern, which are as follows: In the developed world, each person tends to cause globally disproportionate amounts of pollution and environmental harm. The world bank's statistics on per-capita GHG output by country support this. Creating a new person means that there is a new set of needs which must be fulfilled, often at the expense of the globally worst-off, who will be hurt by the effects of procuring the necessary resources to meet those needs. Secondly, it seems as if we have moral reason to meet existing needs before it is permissible to create more needs through reproduction. There are plenty of children without homes, and adopting or fostering them both reduces environmental...

I think you're onto a profoundly important question, and I share your concern that the issue is not commonly one encounters in public discourses. I think the issue of having children is, as you say, bound up with concerns about prioritizing existing needs and also about the environmental consequences of additional pollution, consumption, habitat loss, etc. I think the issue, however, concerns both the more developed and the less developed world. The impacts from reproduction in each are different, but those impacts in both are substantial. Currently the levels of consumption in the less developed world are low, but we can't demand that populations remain impoverished. Moreover, populations in the less developed world are despite low individual levels of consumption nevertheless collectively exerting enormous pressures on non-human populations through their effects on water, habitat, and pollution. It is clearly, then, not morally unproblematic to reproduce under current circumstances for any of us. There, are, however, countervailing imperatives and mitigating qualifications that argue in favor, at least in a moderated way, for reproduction. Countervailing imperatives include the imperative to sustain cultures, families, and institutions that would cease to exist without a replenishing rate of reproduction--both in the poorer and wealthier parts of the globe. In addition, individuals find important moral and personal excellences as well as extraordinarily deep pleasures in bearing and raising children that would be lost with a moratorium, even for a short period. The window of reproduction for individuals is extremely small in relation to the time it will take to solve the grand problems we're considering. Think of these as our duties to ourselves. Qualifying or mitigating considerations include that halting reproduction in the developed world is not by itself either necessary nor sufficient to address the needs of those who require more resources both in the developed and less developed regions of the globe. Many of the problem we face are related to problem rather than to the finitude of resources. My own view is that it is in most circumstances wrong to reproduce at more than the rate of replacement, and that the world generally should move towards measures to reduce reproduction to less than the replacement rate. I'd guess that human populations should be reduced by at least a half over time, perhaps by two thirds. You may have seen the recent recommendation of biologist E. O. Wilson that we set aside at least half of the Earth for non-human species. That seems a reasonable goal to me. We must also aim for a population that can not only exist in poverty but instead flourish without the use of fossil fuels and perhaps also without the use of nuclear power.

It seems that we adopt a formal ethical theory based on our pre-theoretical

It seems that we adopt a formal ethical theory based on our pre-theoretical ethical intuitions. Our pre-theoretical ethical intuitions seem to be the product of our upbringing, our education and the society we live in and not to be entirely consistent, since our upbringing and our education often inculcate conflicting values. So how do we decide which of our pre-theoretical ethical intuitions, if any, are right? It seems that we can only judge them in the light of other pre-theoretical ethical intuitions and how can we know that they are right? If we judge them against a formal ethical system, it seems that the only way we have to decide whether a formal ethical theory, say, consequentialism, is right is whether it is consistent with our pre-theoretical ethical intuitions, so we are going nowhere, it seems.

Perhaps I can play the devil's advocate and rebuild the case for thinking that systematic ethical theory gets us nowhere.

There are actually many different systematic theories--utilitarian, contractarian, deontological, etc.--but the trouble is they clash. The defenders of such theories often agree on particular moral judgments, but as to the abstract principles that define these systems, the experts disagree. In fact, it is precisely disagreement over the principles of these systems that animates much current academic debate in ethics. Yet if not even the experts can agree on which of their systematic principles are correct and which incorrect, why should anyone else rely on them? The theories in question are just as disputable as any real moral decision they could be invoked to justify.

Again, systematic ethical theories are often defended on the grounds that they are like systematic theories in empirical science. (Rawls, for example, makes this move.) Yet empirical theories in science are reliable only because they can be tested by physical experiment. When it comes to systematic ethical theories, by contrast, no one knows how to conduct a physical experiment to test the principle of utility, or Rawls's theory of the original position, or T.M. Scanlon's version of the social contract, or Derek Parfit's "triple theory" of what counts as a wrongful act. Philosophy, regrettably, is mostly just talk, and the only way to confirm or refute any of it is with more talk. If, in fact, none of these theories can be confirmed in the way that theories of science can be confirmed, why suppose that any of these systematic ethical theories are reliable in the first place?

Beyond these points, ordinary people, outside of philosophy, typically reason about right and wrong in a manner that places no reliance on such theories. Their arguments are usually particular to the case. For example, if I say that firing a pistol at my neighbor is wrong because it could hurt him, I have certainly given what counts under ordinary circumstances as a good reason. But my reasoning needn't invoke anything so controversial as the principle of utility, or the theories of Rawls, Scanlon, Parfit, etc. My reasoning relies on a specific consequence. Again, if I say that my shooting at my neighbor would be wrong because I already know that his shooting at me would be wrong, then I seem to argue by analogy. (A is like B, and B is clearly wrong; therefore, A is probably wrong too.) I need systematic ethical theory for none of this.

Now if you have read this far and have an interest in the history of political philosophy, you will perhaps see that I am merely parroting an outlook that was expressed long ago by Edmund Burke in his Reflections on the Revolution in France. Burke's Reflections defends feudalism and chivalry, but antiquated politics aside, he also argues that real moral reasoning, if reliable, avoids sweeping generalizations about rightness, wrongness, political legitimacy, and so forth. Real moral reasoning is typically particular and analogical, and it is essentially inductive. It does not rely on deducing a conclusion from systematic principles that purport to state necessary and sufficient conditions for a moral concept. Burke defended this outlook during the later, conservative period of his life, but also during the earlier, liberal period.

(Notice that Burke isn't skeptical of all of our pre-theoretical ethical intuitions. He's just skeptical of sweeping ethical theories--ones that presume to lay out necessary and sufficient conditions for moral concepts. Of course, there are also many other sorts of systematic thought in ethics and philosophy--all quite innocuous--but it is the attempt to state necessary and sufficient conditions that is the bone of contention.)

In academic philosophy today, Burke's position is definitely a minority view. Yet it still seems to match how most people ordinarily reason, and so it is still worth giving careful thought to. My guess is that other contributors may wish to weigh in on this point, and to defend different conceptions. Nevertheless, the fundamental question Burke poses is this: Given the many theoretical objections to any of these systematic ethical theories, would it actually be reasonable to rely on one of them in making a real moral decision? Burke thought the answer was no.

If A throws a ball at B with the sole intent of injuring only B but after being

If A throws a ball at B with the sole intent of injuring only B but after being thrown, the ball bounces off of B's helmet and hits C square in the face requiring stitches, who is guilty of injuring C, A for throwing the ball or B for existing/standing in that position?

Great question. Here I think legal and ethical reflection are united (they are not always, alas). With no other details added to your question, I believe that A is guilty both for attempting to injure B (A would be guilty of assault) and for injuring C even though A did not have an intent to injure C. Usually, when someone is involved in a wrongdoing the scope of responsibility extends to those injured by the wrongdoing even if not intended --in robbing a bank, for example, someone might be responsible for (unintentionally) causing a bi-stander to have a heart attack. Things get more complicated, however, when the gravity of the wrongdoing is modest -e.g. someone is arrested for speeding-- and the consequences outrageous, e.g. the process of the arrest causes a truck driver to loose control of his truck and it causes a petroleum fire that kills thousands. In the later case, we would probably assign blame to the truck driver or the company for mechanical failures, rather than the drivers (person speeding and police officer) that created the occasion for the disaster to occur.

Why do we consider lying to be illogical even when it can produce good? I can

Why do we consider lying to be illogical even when it can produce good? I can think of many examples where lying can do more good than harm especially when its used for the benefit of others and not for selfesh gain. CAL

I'm not sure that most people consider lying to be illogical even when it can produce good. More likely they consider lying to be presumptively immoral, and they allow that the moral presumption against lying is overridden in some circumstances. Take a case of the kind you described: imagine lying to a known murderer about the (nearby) location of the next innocent person he's seeking to murder. In that case, I'd agree that the moral presumption against lying is overridden by the good of protecting the innocent person. All else being equal, one shouldn't lie. But sometimes all else isn't equal.

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) is a famous philosopher who holds that lying is never morally okay: that the moral presumption against lying is never overridden. In fact, he argues that lying is illogical in a particular sense. I don't find his argument compelling, but you can learn more about it in this SEP entry; see especially section 5.

I've read and heard some atheist philosophers (like Peter Singer) argue that it

I've read and heard some atheist philosophers (like Peter Singer) argue that it's our capacity to reason that makes us moral. But this would seem to imply that we can take advantage of people who don't exercise or do not fully have this capacity, like young children. Is this point valid?

Let's begin with the statement "our capacity to reason makes us moral."

Philosophers often distinguish between moral agents and moral patients. These are somewhat technical terms, but the rough idea is that an individual is a moral agent just in case that individual can be properly held morally responsible, that is, it can be correct to say of that individual that it has an obligation to do A, a duty to do B, etc. Adult human beings are typically thought of moral agents — they are capable of acting rightly or wrongly. Bacteria, for example, definitely aren't moral agents. An individual is a moral patient if facts about it make it worthy of moral consideration. Moral patients have some property or status that necessitate moral agents taken those individuals into account in their moral reasoning.

Philosophers disagree a little about what makes an individual a moral agent -- and a lot about what makes an individual a moral patient. Some philosophers, such as Kant, thought one and the same property (in Kant's case, rational agency) makes an individual a moral agent and a moral patient. Kant's view seems vulnerable to the criticism you offer in your question.

But it's important to recognize that these are separate issues: When you say that Singer believes that our capacity to reason "makes us moral", I take you to mean that he believes that our capacity to reason makes us moral agents. But notice that it's a further question whether our capacity to reason also make us moral patients, and it doesn't follow from the claim that 'X makes someone a moral agent' that 'X makes someone a moral patient.' Singer is an excellent case in point: He thinks that rational capacities make us moral agents, but the capacity to suffer makes us moral patients. That's why (for example) he thinks that we human beings (who are moral agents because we have rational capacities) have moral duties toward animals (who are moral patients because they have the capacity to suffer) despite animals have no moral duties at all (because they lack the requisite rational capacities to be moral agents). So the inference you draw in your question does not appear valid: The claim that our rational capacities makes us moral agents does not imply that we can "take advantage" of those who lack those capacities (young children, as you mention). Such beings may be moral patients to whom we have obligations despite their lacking the properties that make them moral agents.

Should moral obligations be constructed to fit within the real world, or within

Should moral obligations be constructed to fit within the real world, or within a hypothetical utopia? For example, I recognize that utilitarianism is the system most likely to be enacted by a ruling majority, because it will favor that majority, should my moral obligations reflect utilitarianism, even though I do not think it is the right system?

Morality must, I think, be something that can guide our choices and actions. And to do this, it must take account of what is realistic - morality needs to be morality for human beings, with the kind of psychology and concerns that we have. But what is 'realistic'? It's not the same as how we find many people behaving, but how it is possible for them to behave. What we can realistically hope for from people is less than utopian behaviour, but it is much more than a more pessimistic view of 'the real world'.

Your example about majority rule is a case in point. Democracy respects majority rule more than any other political system, and yet from its beginnings, at least in modern times, it has also incorporated restrictions on what the majority can do. And that is because we can not only hope, but expect, people to take account of the interests of those they disagree with (altruism is just as much part of human nature as selfishness - the trouble is usually with how the two balance out).

I think it is perfectly possible that our moral obligations don't reflect our favoured normative theory (someone is going to be wrong, given all the disagreements, as long as we reject subjectivism). So, if utilitarianism were the right system, then your moral obligations would reflect that, even if you disagree. But I agree with you that utilitarianism is the wrong moral system. One reason I think this is that I find it very unrealistic, psychologically (this has been discussed at length in the work of Bernard Williams, among others). Like Williams, I think that moral obligations have been constructed to fit the real world, but also - like him - I think that many of these reflect past prejudices and imbalances of power, and that we would do better to change these as we come to recognise their origins.

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