In Defence of Secular Morality

I posit that if a person is offered a credible chance of either eternal joy or eternal torment and they choose to act in a way which they think guarantees eternal joy they have not acted morally.

That statement is in danger of begging the question, that morality is in part defined by making a sacrifice. But I think the idea that morality incurs a cost is inherent to it. Otherwise a moral code wouldn’t be required.

This, for me, places my rather self indulgent, but basically decent, behaviour on a higher plateau morally than do gooding religionists. Many of them probably make the word a better place in terms of utility, think Sally Army Soup Kitchens, than I do, but these may be swamped by those for whom religion commands them to be cruel.

Even if you ignore utility my good behaviour is more moral than that of the saintly, because they have rewards in huge excess of their behaviour. The only reward for I receive for my behaviour to me is the behaviour itself.

As a irreligious hedonist, an argument for secular morality is important to me. I feel that doing something should be determined by whether doing that something is morally right. That seems a fairly uniquely human worry, but I have to admit that I’ve never seen any advantage in theist answers to this question. Leave aside the dodgy provenance of the Torah, Bible, Koran etc. [1], I think theistic moralisers have a deeper problem.

Karl and others have been discussing secular morality, with Ross Douthat denying it can make any strong moral claims at all and Karl himself saying…

…a coherent secular morality is a tricky problem in and of itself. One that makes absolute claims even more so, and one that makes absolute claims absolutely seems well beyond our grasp. And, I say this as a secularist who is very much concerned with ethics or what, to make the point, I have often been forced to call the-ethics-game…

Intending no disrespect to the underlying issue, the argument seems to devolve into “na-na na-na boo-boo.” Which is to say, simply refusing to accept the denial as valid.

Karl doubles down in a later post saying that Daniel Keuhn pro-pluralist defence of secular morality isn’t anything more than a weak affirmation that “some things are just wrong.” Saying “some things are just wrong” does not pass muster logically.

My primary defence of secular morality would be that only a non-theist morality can really counts as morality at all. Theist morality  is just cost/benefit analysis with better PR.


[1] Abrahamicentrism alert. Sue me, I’ve not much knowledge of eastern [2] religions other than they are mental, at least as mental as our own.

[2] Eurocentricism too.


One thought on “In Defence of Secular Morality

  1. Amen. On, a microlending site for aspiring business owners around the world, the most loans are funded from people who identify as agnostic and atheist.

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