I had to turn comments off on my punishment post because my real name was used. If I figure out how to get rid of comments I will turn it back on. But now let me try to answer some of you. Merciful justice is a contradiction in terms. Forgiving someone is mercy plain and simple. Justice is paying the price for what you did wrong. Justice requires that the kid that stole the candy bar goes to the store and pays the 99 cents that the candy bar costs. Mercy is when the storekeeper lets the kid pay 20 cents cause that is all the kid can pay. That is not merciful justice because it was mercy, and justice was not satisfied. It was more just than the kid not paying anything, but that does not make it just.

Ella, everyone that will read this (including me) thinks that we should do more in terms of proactively preventing crime, through education, opportunity blah blah blah. That being said there are still people who commit crime, and will commit crime. Should Ken Lay have gotten community service? Is what he did worse or better than a person who kills another? How about rape? Assault? Child pornography? Who in your world do we punish at all?

So everyone is too cool for retribution. We are only down with rehabilitation and prevention. Fishfrog is cool with societal protection. Does our system, if fully funded, not accomplish all of these things. I can think of no better way short of killing criminals to protect society than to keep them away from society. They have demonstrated that for whatever reason they do not wish to obey the law and so do we need to educate them? Heck yeah. Do we need to do it far from society until they get the lesson so they don't hurt anyone else? Heck yeah. And regardless of what we do with the poor, there will be criminals. Does coming from a poor background give you carte blanche to commit whatever crime you fancy at the moment?

If what we do on this planet has no consequences beyond those that naturally occur while we are on this planet, then we should pursue the path that will give us the greatest pleasure for the least discomfort. That is what rationally should happen. That is not what I see happen from people who believe solely in natural consequences. So either those people have a different definition of pleasure and discomfort that I do, or there is a disconnect between belief and action.


Fishfrog said...

If the question is, "Should people be punished for committing crimes?" the answer is clearly Yes. But the punishment should not be rooted in retribution. It should be rooted in the various values that Ella and I have mentioned. I'm not saying that someone who murders someone else should get a pat on the head and be sent on his way; but neither should our concern be with getting even. We should focus on rehabilitation. And to do that effectively, and to prevent or reduce future crime, we have to look at the root causes of the anti-social behavior. Why is it that criminal behavior seems to be more concentrated among those who have less wealth? That's an important issue that we should spend more time investigating. That's not to say we should ignore a murder if it's committed by a poor person, but we should be aware that human behavior is very complicated and subject to many disparate influences. Justice requires us to be aware of that.

I certainly agree that in many people there is a disconnect between belief and action. I also agree that we should pursue the path that brings us greatest pleasure and least displeasure. In other words, maximize pleasure per life. That is certainly the approach I've tried to follow for the past decade or so.

What I predict your response will be is, "You seem to do a lot of stuff that actual increases your discomfort at the expense of possible pleasure." The reason I do some stuff that is not immediately pleasurable (brushing my teeth, for instance) is because I think that it will bring me a payoff in greater pleasure lately (e.g. make out time with Nell or Matt). Some things I do give me great pleasure though someone else might view the activity as discomfort.

In conclusion, an atheist can be merciful because he does not value retribution. An atheist has accepted that the world is not a fairy tale and sometimes the bad guys win. An atheist thinks that even though we all gonna die, life and living are still capable of providing great joy. And when I speak of an atheist, I speak only for myself.

warm fuzzy said...

sorry - that was me. Ididn't know you cared b/c you've posted on my blog w/ your real name. Sorry!

You should be able to delete any one comment. If you can't do it from your blogger manager, you can do it from you actual blog when you open the comments. If you wnat to salvage my post, just copy & paste it, but delete your name.

Again, I'm sorry!

scarlet panda said...

Here's how I see your argument:

Premise 1: Atheists should desire a system that produces the greatest pleasure for least discomfort in this life.

Premise 2. Punishing serious wrongdoers harshly accomplishes justice in this life and produces the greatest pleasure for the least discomfort in this life.

Therefore, Atheists should favor punishing serious wrongdoers harshly.

I disagree with Premise 1. Just because you're an atheist doesn't mean that maximizing pleasure is your only goal. As we have discussed here before, an atheist could have beliefs about what is good and moral that have nothing to do with maximizing pleasure--for example, beliefs about mercy or kindness. They could also have beliefs about justice that overshadow their interest in retributive justice--ideas about how it is unjust to treat people identically when they come from wildly different backgrounds beyond their control.

Moreover, to the extent that an atheist has a sense of mercy, kindness, or justice (retributive but also distributive), the only place it can be put into place is in this life, so it would be particularly important to do so.

Arfanser said...

SP- Why? Or better yet, where do these morals come from? Why is there any reason at all to follow what your morals dictate?

Fishfrog said...

So, is morality handed down from God? If God told you that murder was good, would you kill someone? If you respond by saying that He would never do that, are you admitting that morality exists outside and independently from God? And if it does, then what's so far-fetched about an atheist following a moral code, based, perhaps, on either happiness or longevity of the species?

Arfanser said...

I would be happy to answer your questions about my beliefs some other time. What I want in this post is to understand yours.

What I am asking is, if your personal enjoyment conflicts with your moral code, what incentive is there to you to follow your moral code?

If there is no incentive, then what seperates your moral code from the pirates code in pirates of the carribean, "they're more like guidelines than rules."

Fishfrog said...

I guess in a way, my moral code is simply an embodiment of my beliefs as to how best maximize my net lifetime pleasure. So the two really cannot conflict.

Arfanser said...

Isn't that just hedonism?

Fishfrog said...


Fishfrog said...

To elaborate, hedonism seems to me to focus on present physical gratification, whereas my approach values psychic and social gratification. So whereas a hedonist might prefer to expend his paycheck on strip clubs and liquor, I might think it better to put some money in the bank or contribute to a charity. Focusing on the short-term is, well, short-sighted.

Nell said...

Everybody, atheist or otherwise, has a conscience. Maybe it makes me a bad Christian, but everytime I do something good I don't do it (consciously at least) because I think I will get into heaven. I do it because its what my consciounce dictates. Why should you assume it would be any different for someone who doesn't believe in God? I don't think everytime Fishfrog does something moral yet uncomfortable he calculates the net good over his lifetime. There's no need for him to do so. He's a good person, and he does good indepedent of God (or so he thinks). I don't see the contradiction.

Ella said...

Once again, I agree with both Fishfrog and Nell - but if I understand Arfanser's question - he is trying to understand is where or what or how we derive our moral code or conscience, if not faith-based.

My aunt recently started reading all of CS Lewis' books on religion and recommended 'Mere Christianity' to me. I haven't gotten very far (especially since I bought it several months ago!) but it starts with that premise. That is, we all have a conscience and most who aim for a good life choose to act within certain moral guidelines. He proposes that such guidelines cross all cultures and societies. And ultimately concludes that a greater moral law must exist, stemming from a higher consciousness. He then goes on to make his case for God and Christianity.

But I am not sure I buy it. I think there can simply exist good for good's sake. That is, even if I wanted to spend my paycheck on liquor and strip clubs, I wouldn't do so because I believe that behavior is harmful to society and people living within society. Whether or not the behavior is hedonist or sinful just doesn't matter to me and such considerations don't guide my choices in life.

Arfanser said...

"I might think it better to put some money in the bank or contribute to a charity." this is what seems contradictory in your position. I am pretty sure you would get more enjoyment out of spending your money on a new xbox game. Yet, I know you save your money, and while I dont know for a fact that you donate to charity it wouldnt surprise me. Your actions do not seem to be those of a person who is seeking maximum lifetime enjoyment, but those of a person who sacrifices for the betterment of others.

Nell- I agree fishy is a good person. The contradiction that maybe I am not making clear is that, like you said, he does things that make him uncomfortable, and that does not make sense to me if the only thing that matters is personal enjoyment.

Ella- If you believed that good was going to strip clubs and getting plastered would you do it then? What you have done is make a case for universal morality like Lewis. These two things are bad.

What I am seeing throughout all the comments is the common assertion that we do good things because they are good. Great, I think you all do good things too. While it might be an interesting discussion to have about what is good and what is bad, what I am trying to figure out is outside of a religious code, how do you decide what is good? And outside of a religious code, what makes what you think is good any better than what I think is good? And if all of our definitions of good are equal, how can you condemn the actions of people who are doing what they think is good? Does it even matter since we are all at the point of death anyway? If it does, why? If it doesnt, why care?

Squishy Burrito said...

I think Nell made a good point when she said that we all have a conscience. Its up to each individual to decide what is steering that conscience but it is our conscience that drives our moral behaviour.

I guess those that don't profess a belief in a higher being would claim that conscious is driven by societal teachings (parents, teachers, the law, even religion) and I'm sure many scientists out there will claim genetics and biology play a factor also.

Fishfrog said...

"Your actions do not seem to be those of a person who is seeking maximum lifetime enjoyment...."
I was under the impression that I had already addressed this issue in the very first comment on this thread. But I guess I will restate and try to make some additional arguments for non-religious behavioral codes.

Sure I like video games. A video game will bring me between 20 and 80 hours of pleasure. But my life experience has shown me that this pleasuure is fleeting. I have seen, over the course of my life, that some actions bring more lasting enjoyment. Charity, for instance, brings numerous joys. First, it has the potential to increase my standing in the community. An increased standing in the community will open up more opportunities to do interesting and enjoyable things. Or it may create more opportunities for charity, which, when taken, will further increase people's opinion of me, which (unfortunately, maybe) is a major way I find joy.

Pleasure is not just eating a good sandwich or playing Halo 2. As I have said preciously, there are psychic pleasures, too. Some of these I think are innate and stem from our status as an animal and a fundamental drive to perpetuate our species. So I might find it pleasurable to go to law school, knowing that I am making it easier to have a ton of offspring at some point in the future.

I think a lot of other psychic pleasures derive from social constructs. For instance, from an early age I was taught (by my parents, television, teachers, etc.) that helping other people was something I should do. So now, when I help someone, I feel good about it, because that's how my environment has conditioned me to respond.

As far as other reasons to behave certain ways during life without a supernatural threat/reward system, there are many. One that I used to be a big fan of (and I'm still a big fan actually) is humanism. Humanism values the relationships between people on this planet and seeks to establish and perpetuate a caring society where humans focus on common goals here on earth.

Communism, though a political structure, also provides a secular framework for judging behaviors. So does hedonism, as you have pointed out.

"And outside of a religious code, what makes what you think is good any better than what I think is good? And if all of our definitions of good are equal, how can you condemn the actions of people who are doing what they think is good?"
What is "good" or not, if we're talking outside religion, is more amenable to comparison. After all, the starting point in a secular belief system is not an infallible fatherly superbeing, so at least we can have an open discussion where all reasonable options are on the table. We can judge a system by its results or by reasonableness. And I certainly don't believe all belief systems are equally good. For instance, a system that rewards murder with a bunch of sexy virgins in heaven and treats women as chattel is worth less than the paper it's written on.

Arfanser said...

$&%@*%@. I just wrote a huge response and wireless ate it. I hate this schools wireless.

Fishfrog said...

Sure you did.

Fishfrog said...

I thought so.

Arfanser said...

In spite of the lack of help from the readership, I think I have answered my question and so am done with it. Thanks for trying though.

Fishfrog said...

Lack of help from the readership? I hope that's a joke. Would you care to share your answer with the rest of us, who were incapable of helping you?

Ella said...

I would like to know the answer too, please!