Atheists and Agnostics: How do you determine matters of "right" and "wrong"?

I've been thinking a lot lately about how we develop our (individual) systems of morality. Most Christians, Jews, Muslims, and many others refer to a book (or books) for our direction. Other spiritual folks may look to a guru, imam, pastor, guide or spiritual leader. But I'm curious about those who do not profess to be "religious/spiritual". How do you determine matters of morality? Do you believe in right and wrong? Or is everything relative? Are there any absolutes (as far as morality is concerned), or does the situation always determine the "rightness" or "wrongness" of a given action? NOTE: Christians, Jews, Muslims, Etc., Please do not turn this into a debate/arguement (especially about evolution!!). If you have serious questions, feel free to ask.

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kelseymh9 years ago
In reading through this thread, I find it fascinating how almost all of us humanists (agnostics, athiests, whatever) subscribe to one form or another of relativism (i.e., right and wrong are socially and culturally determined, not absolute), and at the same time we assert that we "just know" what they are. I am not casting stones -- I have said the same thing for myself. It seems to me that morality is something that "can't" (isn't?) determined rationally. We can look back on some moral decision we've made, and construct a rational justification for it, but that's not how we got there in the first place. A "sense of morality" seems to be built into the way we function, but how that sense comes to its decision is guided/programmed/forced by our upbringing, training, other beliefs, and any number of things we may not be able to articulate.
. So you think we have an innate/instinctual/built-in set of morals? Or just a sense that there is a right and wrong?
I second Skunkbait's comments below. I think that humans have an innate "sense that there is a right and wrong" (we are "dichotomizing animals," as Stephen Jay Gould wrote). What those right and wrong are is driven by culture for the most part (again, Skunkbait's comments are right on target).

...D**n. So how does someone so clearly faithful come to conclusions so similar to we apostates? Maybe there's something to this whole "logic" and "reason" thing, after all!
From my point of view, I see to many "exceptions" to the rule to make it an innate sense.

I see lives destroyed, not to save another, but to rid one of it's dependence (babies in dumpsters), and a multitude of offenses of a similar nature to make it inborn or natural. I DO see that morality seems to show itself, not in the individual as much as in the group (non-mob). That is, in a group setting, or taking the group (humanity as a whole) we get a better sense of what morality is, then asking any single person.
In most cases, there is more intelligence in a group of 50 persons, then in any one person of that group. I am constantly reminded of, and brought back to the subject of emergence and the quantitative qualities it embraces.
. That makes sense to me. . . I wouldn't be surprised if skunkbait is right about there being a few, survival-driven, universal "morals." Similar to the inborn fears of heights and loud noises. . Ol' Skunk is pretty smart for a Hillbilly, ain't he? ;)
Skunkbait is an intellectual in the tradition of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. He is the sort of person I love to debate about "religious" matters, because I'm sure that I will always learn something as a result (and you never know, maybe I'll end up converted). I just hope that I can stand up to his intellectual rigor.
skunkbait (author)  kelseymh9 years ago
You've got little to worry about. It's not true intelectual rigor, just an adamant refusal to think within the box or colour within the lines.
If it quacks like a duck... So, do you have one of those "runs with scissors" T-shirts?

Those who deny their powers are the most powerful. I loved Mystery Men
skunkbait (author)  kelseymh9 years ago
No "runs with scissors" T-shirt (yet), but it was recently suggested that I should wear a "Does not play well with others" sticker!
skunkbait (author)  skunkbait9 years ago
BTW- Duck season started today, and if you ask my kids (and hunting buddies), I quack NOTHING like a duck. The term "sick cow" comes to mind :-)
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