Quantcast

«

»

Oct 31 2013

Comparing the tens

Let’s do a comparative study, or rather, let’s compare a couple of things. The American Humanist Association has a ten commandments, and I made up a ten commandments a few weeks ago, so it might be interesting to see if they have much in common. I naturally assume they have a good deal in common – a lot more in common with each other than either has with the Old Testament version.

The Humanist version:

1) Thou shalt strive to promote the greater good of humanity before all selfish desires.
2) Thou shalt be curious, for asking questions is the only way to find answers.

3) Harm to your fellow human is harm to humanity. Therefore, thou shalt not kill, rape, rob, or otherwise victimize anyone.

4) Thou shall treat all humans as equals, regardless of race, gender, age, creed, identity, orientation, physical ability, or status.

5) Thou shalt use reason as your guide. Science, knowledge, observation, and rational analysis are the best ways to determine any course of action.

6) Thou shalt not force your beliefs onto others, nor insist that yours be the only and correct way to live happily.

7) If thou dost govern, thou shalt govern with reason, not with superstition. Religion should have no place in any government which represents all people and beliefs.

8) Thou shalt act for the betterment of your fellow humans, and be, whenever possible, altruistic in your deeds.

9) Thou shalt be good to the Earth and its bounties, for without it, humankind is lost.

10) Thou shalt impart thy knowledge and wisdom gained in your lifetime to the next generation, so that with each passing century, humanity will grow wiser and more humane.

My version:

  1. Don’t be cruel.
  2. Love justice.
  3. Embrace equality.
  4. Practice compassion.
  5. Be generous.
  6. Do what you can to make the world better.
  7. Aim for truth.
  8. Think carefully.
  9. Share what you learn with others.
  10. Amuse.

Their 1 is my 5 and 6.

Their 2 I don’t have, and that’s an oversight – I do think curiosity is hugely important and worth inculcating and preaching.

Their 3 is my 1 and 4.

Their 4 is my 3.

Their 5 is my 7 and 8, although it’s also not. There’s an important difference, which I’ll elaborate below.

Their 6 I don’t exactly have, although you could say it’s implied by some of the others – 2 and 6, basically.

The same goes for their 7.

Their 8 is my 6.

Their 9 is included in my 6.

Their 10 is my 9, almost exactly.

They don’t have my 10. I think that’s an oversight. It may seem frivolous or trivial at first blush but I don’t think it is; that’s why I included it.

Now about their 5. It’s wrong.

5) Thou shalt use reason as your guide. Science, knowledge, observation, and rational analysis are the best ways to determine any course of action.

No, they aren’t. Not always, and not exclusively. 5 leaves out emotion, and that’s dead wrong. (And surprising, from humanists of all people!) Leaving out emotion doesn’t get you cleaner, more “rational” decisions, it gets you no decisions at all. People with brain damage in the emotions can’t make decisions because they don’t care either way.

22 comments

Skip to comment form

  1. 1
    Kausik Datta

    I like yours way, way better, Ophelia. Succinct, to the point, elegant in its simplicity.

    To me, your 8 encompasses their 2 – so I don’t think you missed it. But great point on their 5. Human beings are not automatons; emotions play a large part of who we are, and it needs to be factored into anything productive that we do. That’s why I have always felt that reason that is bereft of emotion is incomplete.

  2. 2
    John Kruger

    It seems like “empathy” ought to be in there somewhere, just “emotion” feels a bit too vague. We don’t want people deliberately acting on feelings of rage, jealousy, despair, or the like. Perhaps something like “choose your goals with compassion, empathy, and concern for the well being of your fellow humans but always evaluate how you meet those goals with science, knowledge, observation, and rational analysis”.

    I always thought “do what you can to ease or prevent suffering in yourself and others” was a good rule in general, but one could get there from either set above I think. Honesty and transparency with those who are trustworthy also seems worth mentioning.

    Still, I doubt I could do much better than either set in the end. If the Bible is the bar, the bar is pretty low indeed. At least the one about boiling calves in their mother’s milk is a bit humorous, in a tragic fail kind of way (people always tend to omit that somewhat embarrassing biblical set).

  3. 3
    screechymonkey

    Their (3) is oddly worded, isn’t it?

    Harm to your fellow human is harm to humanity. Therefore, thou shalt not kill, rape, rob, or otherwise victimize anyone.

    I’m not sure why the first sentence (and the “therefore”) needs to be there. Why the need to invoke the abstract concept of “harm to humanity” to justify the rather basic moral concept of “don’t harm people”? That seems to me to get the reasoning backwards. I care about “humanity” in the abstract because humanity is made of individual people who can experience pain and joy and everything else.

    I agree with your criticism of their (5); I also think that their (2) and (5) are good advice but not really what I would consider moral commandments. If someone is happy being incurious, or basing their decisions on their horoscope, I don’t have a problem with that.

  4. 4
    Marcus Ranum

    Thou shalt Question Authority

  5. 5
    lpetrich

    Richard Carrier has a nice set from about 2600 years ago: The Real Ten Commandments, attributed to Athenian politician and reformer Solon:

    1. Trust good character more than promises
    2. Do not speak falsely
    3. Do good things
    4. Do not be hasty in making friends, but do not abandon them once made
    5. Learn to obey before you command
    6. When giving advice, do not recommend what is most pleasing, but what is most useful
    7. Make reason your supreme commander
    8. Do not associate with people who do bad things
    9. Honor the gods
    10. Have regard for your parents

    From Diogenes Laertius, Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers: 1.60

    Two other translations: Diogenes Laertius Lives of the Philosophers: Solon , translated by C.D. Yonge (1853), Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, BOOK I, Chapter 2. SOLON (archon 594 B.C.) (1925)

  6. 6
    lpetrich

    Ophelia Benson’s ones are nice and simple and mostly positive. I like them.

    Richard Carrier has noted a nice set from 2600 years ago, attributed to Athenian politician and reformer Solon (Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers 1.60):

    1. Trust good character more than promises
    2. Do not speak falsely
    3. Do good things
    4. Do not be hasty in making friends, but do not abandon them once made
    5. Learn to obey before you command
    6. When giving advice, do not recommend what is most pleasing, but what is most useful
    7. Make reason your supreme commander
    8. Do not associate with people who do bad things
    9. Honor the gods
    10. Have regard for your parents

    “Do good things” seems a bit too general, but some of the others are good. The first one can be applied to an online troll who claims to be reformed. That claim may be part of his trolling. But as to honoring the gods, how could we honor fictional beings?

  7. 7
    NateHevens, resident SOOPER-GENIUS... apparently...

    I question the need for 10. I feel like every “ten commandments” I’ve ever seen can be distilled down to one basic principle: don’t be a narcissistic asshole. Isn’t “ten” really, like, nine too many?

    Of course, the Judeo-Christian commandments spend the first three on how you should fear God, which is bullshit. So they can be ignored.

  8. 8
    NateHevens, resident SOOPER-GENIUS... apparently...

    And for the record, I do think “be a compassionate human being who embraces equality and acceptance and don’t judge people for anything other than their actions and don’t victimize people” is nicely encompassed by “don’t be a narcissistic asshole”…

  9. 9
    Ophelia Benson

    Nate, yes, in a way – that’s why I put “don’t be cruel” first. If all the others drop off, that most important one is left. (It’s another way of saying “first, do no harm.”)

  10. 10
    DavidinOz

    Why why why must they succumb to the language of the KJV?

    They’re humanists.

    Like us, they live in 21C.

    We do not speak the language of James I.

    And, although he never actually was god, Jesus’ “do unto others…” pretty well sums up the best way to live.

    Sometimes I wish there were thirty fingers and 12 strikes in baseball; that would change the entire landscape.

  11. 11
    moarscienceplz

    re #9

    I thought you put “Don’t be cruel” first because you’re an Elvis fan.
    ;-)

  12. 12
    Silentbob

    @ 10 DavidinOz

    Being a pedant, I was mostly bothered by the inconsistency. You can’t put thou, your and yours in the same sentence!! You, your, yours or thou, thy, thine – Pick one!!! :-)

  13. 13
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    Both are good sets of Ten commandments and well worth tying to live by. The Humanist version was a bit wordy and Ophelia Benson’s a bit too short for my preference.

    My ten would be :

    1) Do unto others as ye would be done by.
    2) Don’t kill if it can be avoided.
    3) Always have enthusiastic consent in sexual encounters.
    4) Don’t harm anyone in any way if it can be avoided.
    5) Treat all animals with respect and kindness – even the human ones.
    6) Don’t steal.
    7) Be environmentally aware and try for minimal ecological harm in everything you do.
    8) Don’t get lawyers involved in anything if you can possibly help it!
    9) Cherish the mind and try to understand and learn during your lifetime
    10) Try to make the world better not worse by your presence in it.

    & the unfollowed eleventh one is “Don’t make lists of commandments for everyone else to follow – let them decide for themselves! ;-)

    More serious alternative addition – if it’s not hurting you or others generally, neither breaking your bones nor picking your pocket, let others be and do as they please.

  14. 14
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    I have thought that all of human ethics could, maybe, be summed up in the one sentence :

    Be considerate of and kind to other living creatures and the world around you.

  15. 15
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    @12. Silentbob : Not sure if you meant it that way – but “one “actually does cover those well albeit when slight;ly modified to suit :

    You = one,
    your & your’s thou, thy, thine = one’s.

    One shalt do unto others as one would be done unto.
    One shalt not kill.
    One’s sexual encounters shalt all have enthusiast consent.
    One shalt be kind to animals and the living world around one
    One shalt let others be themselves where this does one and others no ill.
    etc ..

    It can sound a bit formal but is gender neutral and works pretty well I reckon.

  16. 16
    brucegorton

    My ten:

    1: You have compassion and reason, use both.
    2: Don’t be afraid to be wrong.
    3: Have fun.
    4: Don’t let the fact that a goal is unrealistic stop you trying to reach it.
    5: Be grateful to those who put an effort in for you.
    6: Don’t take greater injuries elsewhere as an excuse to do nothing here.
    7: Examine your hate.
    8: Don’t sacrifice individuals in the name of culture and community.
    9: Listen to the arguments of others.
    10: Don’t give up doing the right thing just because you failed.

  17. 17
    Marcus Ranum

    Jesus’ “do unto others…” pretty well sums up the best way to live.

    The golden rule was well known before Jesus. Depending on your world-view Jesus either plagiarized, or his sky-daddy designed that into the universe and it was figured out by Chinese and Greek philosophers hundreds of years before Jesus’ alleged birth.

  18. 18
    Omar Puhleez

    Marcus @#17: The Chinese (Confucian) form of the Golden Rule was as I recall cast in the negative form: actually superior to positive (attr. Joshua bar Joseph, aka Jesus Christ): ‘Do unto others as you would have others do unto you’.

    For example, I like massage. That should not give me a licence to go round massaging whomsoever I please, with or without their consent. Could conceivably land me in hot water, pretty smartly.

  19. 19
    Omar Puhleez

    So ‘do not do to others what you would not have others do to you’. Should be in there somewhere.

  20. 20
    Ophelia Benson

    I think that’s covered by 1-5.

    I deliberately made mine a list of broad values that would imply a lot more, because 10 is a small number.

  21. 21
    Omar Puhleez

    Probably so.
    I think that most of us are capable of empathy, out of which arises that important sense: a sense of justice, and a recognition of injustice.

    The biblical ten commandments (the ‘Decalogue’) amounted to a constitution for the society arising out of the amalgamation of the separate Jewish tribes. First and foremost was the importance of one unifying deity and source of law: a straight-out covenant between suzerain and vassal along late Bronze Age (1500-1200 BC) lines. Hence the typical such covenant will be broken legally if deals are made with other kings, with other gods involved. Very important in the context of the time: the emphasis at the outset on one and only one god (read source of authority.)

    The prohibitive (‘thou shalt not…’) formulation is implest and best for this sort of project. Don’t do A, B, C… After that, do as you please, and play it by ear. Both the humanist and OB ten are formulated the other (thou shalt) way.

    Around 1500 BC the Mediterranean was hit by a great natural disaster; the second greatest explosion in recorded history. That was the eruption of the Santorini volcano which shut down the Middle Kingdom of Egypt, and (tragically for subsequent European history) brought the high civilisation of the Minoans to an end. At times of such disruption, a transportable system of morality and law is vital.

    With the Cold War over, the greatest such threat we face, apart from some other natural disaster, is the probability that some bunch of religious fanatics will get their hands on WMD. In such times, such brief lists are handy.

    Both should be chiselled into stone tablets, just in case. (Tablet computers could have problems.)

  22. 22
    Silentbob

    Now about their 5. It’s wrong.

    5) Thou shalt use reason as your guide. Science, knowledge, observation, and rational analysis are the best ways to determine any course of action.

    No, they aren’t. Not always, and not exclusively. 5 leaves out emotion, and that’s dead wrong.

    I suppose you could say it’s poorly worded, but I think what is meant is that “science, knowledge, observation, and rational analysis” are like your GPS. They can’t tell you where you want to go (that depends on ethical “emotional” considerations), but they are the only reliable way of knowing where you are, and they give you the necessary information to chart a course to your desired destination. So perhaps not so much your guide, as your map.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite="" class=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>