Atheist Morality

Many times I have heard this question: Where do atheists get their morality from? Without god or religion there is not way that you could behave in a moral fashion. This question is thrown around as if it was the epitome of Christian arguments for the existence of god. However, religion does not equals morality. In fact, there have been many occasions in which religion has been the reason behind many immoral acts (9/11, The Crusades, the inquisition etc…) at any rate, I will answer that question here.

Morality is behavior that has serious consequence for human well being. There are many theories defining the goodness or wrongness of an action. There are two main schools of thought relating to morality; the Consenquentialist, which states that an action is right or wrong depending in the outcome of the action itself,and the Nonconsequentialist, which states that an action is right or wrong depending on the action itself. There are many theories that subscribe to these two schools of thought. For the consequentialist we have the Utilitarian theory, which states that an action is right if it maximizes the happiness of the greatest majority of people. there are many arguments against this theory, but the main ones are these: Different people have different points of view, so in others words different people have different ideas of what make them happy. Second, are some actions that are wrong even if they produce good (like torture, supposing that the information extracted prevents some major tragedy). And the last one is that utilitarianism is unjust in the way happiness is distributed. Now, you may wonder what does all of this have to do with the morality of an atheist? Well, not much, however, this is to show you that there are different ways to determine whether your actions are wrong or right without the intervention of religion.

Now, to talk about my morality. I cannot speak for all atheists, so this is only related to me. Like I said before there is another school of thought regarding morality the Non-consequentialist. The best nonconsequentialist theory is the one by Kant. Kant’s view is that moral principles are categorical , and as a result, his moral theory has come to be known as the “categorical imperative.” A categorical imperative is one that must be obeyed under all conditions, for example: don’t steal, or don’t kill.  Kant’s theory consist of two formulations of the categorical imperative. The first formulation goes as follows, “Act only on that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.”  this means that you should only act on those principles that you would be willing to have everyone act on it. In other words the first formulation states that an action is right if everyone could act on it and you would be willing to have everyone act on it. The first formulation identifies with two criteria for moral acceptability: universalizability and reversibility. A principle has universalizability  if everyone can act on it. A principle has reversibility if the person acting on it would be willing to have everyone acting on it. The categorical imperative then establishes the existence of perfect duties to oneself and others. A perfect duty is one that has no exceptions. These include the duty not to kill innocent people, not to lie, and not to break one’s promises.

In addition to  perfect duties, there are also imperfect duties to oneself and others. An imperfect duty is one that does have exceptions. These include the duty to develop one’s talents and to help the needy. These don’t always have to be obeyed . It is enough that we sometimes obey them.

The second formulation of Kant’s theory says “Act in such a way that you always treat humanity…never simply as a means,but always at the same time as an end.” so, in other words Kant’s second formulation states that what makes an action right is that it treats people as ends in themselves and not merely as means to an end. That way you don’t use people for your selfish desires, like asking money for preaching or using religion as a cover for hate. However,Kant’s theory has some flaws, like the perfect duties. It may be the case that killing innocent people,lying, stealing,breaking promises, or the like, is always evil, but that doesn’t mean that it’s always wrong. to fix these flaws we have Ross’ theories. His theories are based mainly on  duties. He attempts to deal with the problem of the conflict of duties by distinguishing between actual and prima facie duties. An actual duty is one that we are morally obliged to perform in a particular situation. A prima facie duty is one that we are morally obligated to perform in every situation unless there are extenuating circumstances. So, killing is wrong, but if a criminal threatens your family and killing him is the only way to save them, then it’s  the right thing to do.

So, I have just told you where I get my morality from, without god or religion. Even if you dont agree with me, at least you will be more educated after you read this.

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4 Comments

  1. Nice. You really know your philosophers. Scott H Young has a cool article called “Why Atheism” where he talks about how ignorant it is to think that atheists have no moral capabilities.

    I used to like Utilitarian theory until I realized that it’s all about maximizing happiness, meaning: if 51% of the population would be bothered by something you want to do in your personal life, then you are morally obligated not to do it…even if it doesn’t hurt them!

    • Thanks for you comment. Regarding Utilitarianism, it is a good theory despite its flaws. In fact, it’s the best political theory there is, as in you would vote for a Utilitarian rather than a egoist. There is a better version of Utilitarianism, and that is Rule-utilitarianism, where an action is right if it falls under a rule that if generally followed would maximize the happiness for the greatest majority of people, this is better than plain Utilitarianism because it allows for exceptions, however, it still fails to distribute happiness equally. Thanks for you comment once again.

  2. Morals – nothing complicated, it is no more than the group of qualities or actions, manner, character or behaviorimposed by society, or religion to categorize a person or individual.

    But what makes a person inmoral or abnormal? To answer this question we must concider that FACT that morality is alive, what i mean is that it had a begining and its constantly changing do to a factor called social evolution. Noting more than the renewal or update of an old age or a rebirth of society itself, where new ideas florish and new minds arrise.

    —- getting back to the question in hand—-

    Society dictates morals and along comes what is concidered normal. If a person doesnt cope with the society imposed then he wont mantally survive, since wasnt able to adapt to the changes imposed.

    Now, who dictates morality? a Holy and all mighty father figure? or simply comes out of the necessity of man to control and to make the infrastructure of society itself. Based on its morals standards societies are created.

    Religion does not create morals nor normality, it uses both as a weapon both to do good and to do bad.
    All religions have this in common, that they are an outrage to common sense, for they are piesed together out of a variety of elements, some of which seem so unworthy, sorbid and at odds with man’s reason that a strong and vigorous intelligence laughts at them.

    It is only by dispelling the clouds and phantoms of religion, that we shall discover truth, reason, and morality.

    Morals will always exist becuase we think, becuase we are humans.

    • i liked your comment however, when a society makes the morals that is cultural relativism
      societies differ and they have different standards of morality according to what they think it’s right for their social structure, you cannot based morality in what the society dictates.other than that i loved you comment


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