Letter to the Editor of Philosophy Now, sent in by me under one of my pseudonyms, Jack Jones.
Published in Issue 140 - October/November 2020
Robert Griffiths (‘Beyond Humanism?’, Issue 138) criticises humanism both for defining itself by its stance against theism and for not grounding morality/ethics outside the human sphere.
On Humanism UK’s website, I found a quiz called ‘How Humanist are You?’. It appears that I am 60% humanist. What the rest of me is, I’m not sure. The difference appears to be that I do not accept that I ‘ought’ to act in a particular way, whereas the quiz is based on there being a moral imperative to be nice to others.
Professor Joel Marks, your former ‘Moral Moments’ contributor explained in Issues 80/81 that he had changed his mind. He now accepted that there was no right and wrong. He said that just as the effects of natural selection gave an illusion of intelligent design, “(excepting such artefacts as beaver dams, bird nests, and architects’ blueprints), ...so, there are no moral commands but only the appearance of them, which can be explained by selection (by the natural environment, culture, family, etc.) of behaviour and motives (‘moral intuitions’ or ‘conscience’) that best promote survival of the organism. There need be no recourse to Morality any more than to God to account for these phenomena.”
In this light, it is a little strange that Mr Griffiths takes Humanism to task for concentrating on human beings and not extending our morality to sentient life in general. If morality is only a form of human behaviour honed by natural selection, then why ‘ought’ we to do this? There are clear benefits to humanity from handling the environment intelligently, but we don’t need an extension to our morality in order to act in a way which will benefit our survival.
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