I watched the Podish-Sortacast today because I thought it would be interesting to hear other FtBloggers talk about how they became atheists. The reason I bring that up is that, during the wrapup, PZ remarked that arguments for and against the supernatural really aren’t that interesting because they tend to be the same old arguments that have been made for centuries. Far more important these days are various social issues like humanism, ethics and social justice, which I agree with; so I thought I’d jump in with my own admittedly abecedarian understanding of ethics. Maybe commenters can help me get my thoughts more orderly.
Almost certainly because of the way that I was raised, there are a couple of points that I treat as if they were axiomatic:
1. People are more important than things.
2. It’s not all about me, and not all about my tribe.
Point 2 makes it easy for me to reject egoism and relativism as ethical principles; but between utilitarianism and a more Kantian approach, I confess to being very confused; and indeed I’m skeptical about both of them. “The greatest good for the greatest number” doesn’t really have any meaning absent a calculus for it; and it has always seemed to me to be a pretty good general principle that the consequences of my behavior matter.
But point 1 means that I have an obligation to get through the day without being a jerk…without causing harm to others, and particularly without exhibiting the pridefullness and hatefullness that we see in the loudest of the far right; and so, as a practical matter, I need to pick one. I tend to be more Kantian about big issues (things like hatred of folks not like me are just wrong); but I’m more utilitarian about smaller matters that are well understood. (Should I get my flu shot? Yeah, sure: herd immunity. That’s not the only reason, but it’s a sufficient reason.)
Have I gotten off on the right foot at least? I hope so because, at age 76, I’m pretty set in my ways. 😎