Good without God: is a secular viewpoint our best guide to moral clarity?

The Free Society Institute is having its 2010 conference. The Core Membership Statement is as follows:

Members of the Free Society Institute commit to holding themselves responsible for what they believe, and for striving to hold beliefs responsibly, in that they will be guided by empirical evidence rather than by dogma, prejudice or superstition.

I am interested in the FSI’s (and anybody else’s) understanding of the term “good”. What is the FSI’s (and anybody else’s) fundamental idea underlying the terms “good” and “goodness”?

sex = good, whiskey = good

Springboks current form = bad

That should explain that.

Yeah maybe… that makes sen… wait what? ohhhh

So. What is your understanding of the term ‘good’ and stuff?

What is your fundumbental idea underlying the terms “good” and “goodness”?

Anybody going to FSI here? Or knows someone that is going that could perhaps help with the FSI’s understanding of the term “good”?

I believe you’re prospecting a barren mine: nowhere in the mission statement etc of the FSI do they comment on what’s good/goodness: maybe the purpose of the conference/symposium is to try to establish that.

It looks like it. Let’s hope they have some idea of what they are talking about after the conference.

Good food
Good meat
Good god
Let’s eat

How about: Social norms which a majority of a population are predisposed to follow.

I don’t like that one, because it reintroduces moral relativism. Sustainable general welfare, antidiscriminatory considerations and nature conservation must form part of a sound ethical system.

You can never avoid relativism entirely, everything gets measured relative to something else.

If the majority of a population are predisposed to follow such norms, why not. If they aren’t, good luck trying to get them to.

The membership statement of the Free Society Institute, referred to in Teleological’s OP, continues:

2. Strategic Aims and Philosophy The Society aims to encourage intellectually honest debate on topics which are vulnerable to influence and/or suppression by the entrenched interests of pre-scientific traditional dogmatism, and well as debate on the nature and role of reason and rationality itself. We hold supernatural views of reality to be one of the more powerful threats to individual liberty of thought, and strive to remove this threat on a socio-political level in both South African and international contexts, to ensure the freedom to debate any issue in a manner which leads humanity closer to Enlightenment and Humanist ideals. More specifically, we hold the following to be true:

That freedom of speech is an essential liberty and a human right
That intellectual honesty is a fundamental to a naturalistic and realistic worldview
That a naturalistic and realistic worldview is most conducive to human flourishing

I don’t know much about this institute, but their website looks good. It is directed by a Jacques Rousseau. Has anybody got more information on this?

I quite like Jacques, the FSI and what they are doing. That said I think their philosophy is a bit esoteric.

We hold supernatural views of reality to be one of the more powerful threats to individual liberty of thought

Why add “of thought” at the end? Supernatural views of reality are one of the more powerful threats to individual liberty, period. Or one could say: Supernatural views of reality are one of the more powerful threats to individuals’ ability to think. Either would be entirely accurate.

That freedom of speech is an essential liberty and a human right

Why essential? Necessary perhaps, for discussing liberty and human rights. Important, for helping to ensure that the agreed on rights aren’t infringed upon. But what could they mean by essential?

I would argue that the best guide to moral clarity begins with a proper understanding of the terms “good” and “goodness”.

So the FSI conference for 2010 is over. Has anything constructive come from the conference with regards to their fundamental idea underlying the terms “good” and “goodness”?

Teleological (Techne?), I’m not trying to generate a consensus view of what words like “good” and “goodness” mean. I have a view, but the FSI as an organisation does not, and does not need to in order to fulfill its role. The conference theme was chosen to provoke thought and debate on the issue, especially in light of recent controversy regarding the possibility of a “scientific morality”, a la Harris and contra Hume. I’ll get the video’s from the conference uploaded as soon as I can (probably at the end of the month, when I’m in the US with no bandwidth limitations), and then anyone who’s interested can see what was said.

Peter: thanks for the comments. Some of that language has changed in the Constitution that was formally adopted tomorrow, but I’ll take a look at it again to see if further revisions are necessary. But in general, it’s a mission statement rather than a philosophical treatise, so some formulations are chosen to speak to the man on the Clapham omnibus, rather than philosophers.

Cyghost I completely disagree.
sex = good (even when its bad)
good whisky = good
bad whiskey = bad
Springboks current form = atrocious
Springbok coaches public relations skills = abominable

But seriously. In answering your question Telly, I would like to rephrase the title of your post:
Good without God: Is a secular viewpoint a better guide to moral clarity than a religious viewpoint?


But then racism in 18th century Europe was a good? I really hope there is more to morality than this (but maybe there isn’t)

Fair enough. I see you are a fan of Harris’ approach (scientism applied to morality if you will). Could you unpack your view by focusing on your understanding of the terms “good” and “goodness” and how they are related to the project?

The videos will be interesting thanks.

The two problems with Harris (well the biggest ones I think) are:

  1. Harris makes no good argument for how to get from an “is” to an “ought”. In short, he provides no good argument against Hume’s argument. Does Harris go contra Hume with regards to the is/ought dichotomy but still accept Humean causation and its by-product… the problem of induction?
  2. Harris’ understanding of the terms “good” and “goodness” are non-existent at the moment and unless he can at least attempt to clarify this, I see his project not even getting off the ground with regards to morality and ethics.

Are you ever going to put your own understanding of “good” and “goodness” on the table? You would do much better if you do that sort of thing in advance so that one may see where you are coming from. (It would also help you to see these things are not really simple to explain and very subjective most of the time.)