Worlds & Time

Saturday, August 12, 2006

The Other Side of Morality

I once had a person on Christian Forums tell me that if he didn't believe in God he'd loose all sense of good and evil and would start murdering everyone that displeased him, raping women he found attractive, and simply stealing everything that he wanted.

Now, I'm not claiming that this person represents Christianity. It was just one person whom's comments were particularly emotive and over the top.

I thought I'd just take a moment to talk about my own morality for a moment. I should point out first that I don't speak for all atheists in the same way that the above person doesn't speak for Christianity.

My morality is conventionally based on what Christians know as the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Why do I follow the Golden Rule? Because I find that since I recognize that I am a person, and there are other people, then those other people probably have feelings similar to the feelings that I have. This is the basis for empathy.

Since I have empathy for other people, I'd like them to feel how I would like to feel. This is, namely, happy.

The problem is, the Golden Rule isn't perfect, because all people aren't all the same. If you're just following the Golden Rule, for example, you can be either neutral or against gay marriage because if you're straight, you probably don't want to marry another person of the same gender. The thought process is: I'm straight, and I'm trying to treat others the way that I want to be treated, so I'll treat gay people the way that I want to be treated and vote against allowing people to marry others of the same sex.

Yeah, that's overly simplistic, and it's not why most people vote against gay marriage, but it illustrates the problem, I think.

The solution is another version of the rule, my Platnium Rule: Do unto others what they want you to do to them. Not as catchy, but as a precursor to the Golden Rule, it covers the differences between different people. Now, even if you don't like getting whipped and your girlfriend does, then the Platnium Rule provides you with a basis for interacting with her in a moral way without preventing her from getting what she wants.

You'll note that all the things that the golden rule prohibits are mostly still verboten. Murder, for example, is probably not what most people want to happen to them, so that's out. I can't steal your stuff, either. Or have sex with your husband. That is, unless you want me to have sex with your husband.

See, there's the big problem with the Platnium Rule: it's really, really hard to accomplish successfully if you don't know someone. You need a lot of information about what other people want and like and what they find mortally offensive, so the Platnium rule isn't perfect, and when you don't have enough information, that's when you fall back on the golden rule.

Now, there's a problem with both of the above rules that requires and addendum that I call the Silver Rule: If either the Golden or Platnium Rules call for something that you know is not in a person's best interests, then ignore the first two rules and do what you think is best. I'm not talking about hurting their feelings though. I have to have a darn good reason to think that something is against a person's long term interests before I'll resort to the Silver Rule. For example, if someone hands me a gun and asks me to shoot them, the Platnium rule says that I should. The Golden Rule asks me how I would feel, and since I'm chronically depressed, that says I should too.

However, I know that shooting someone that's suicidally depressed (or perhaps just crazy) is not in their best interest. Silver rule wins out, and I try to talk them off the ledge.

There's one final rule that restricts what I do, the Copper Rule. The Copper Rule says: If you have no other basis for making a decision, try to follow the law. Granted, we're down to fairly common metals at this point, so there's some leeway with the Copper Rule, but at least it provides a general guideline.

And that's basically my decision making process when it comes to ethical dillemas. Granted, there are a lot of things that require a solid defition. For instance, I don't think that something that can't think and has never been able to think is a person. Also, I don't think that a corporation is a person. That sort of stuff. But all that is sort of off topic. This is just the basic process.

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