Book Update

I’ve finished chapter 8 of my book. (It’s considerably longer than the last few chapters, which is why it’s taken so long.) The chapter is titled “Universal Utilitarianism” and addresses the basis for an atheist’s morality and the flaws in divine command ethics, drawing on my essays “The Ineffable Carrot and the Infinite Stick” and “The Roots of Morality“.

As in the past, I’m making this chapter available to regular commenters on this site for editorial review and critique. If you fit that description and would like to review it, please let me know.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • http://stupac2.blogspot.com Stuart Coleman

    Sure, I’ll take a look at it.

  • http://deconbible.blogspot.com bbk

    Just a little remark to nag you… but Universal Utilitarianism isn’t the basis of atheist morality, just one of many options. Not judging which one is better or worse, but for example Objectivism is another valid alternative that some atheists subscribe to. Meanwhile I don’t fall into either one because I’m not satisfied with either philosophy.

  • Samuel Skinner

    Maybe I should use that page as a link whenever I hear “where do you get ethics?”. However that would involve not thinking out my stance or understanding it… decisions, decisions.

  • http://goddesscassandra.blogspot.com Antigone

    I’m not sure if I qualify as “Regular” but I’d love to take a look at it.

  • jack

    Count me in!

  • http://thestoneoftear.blogspot.com Callandor

    I’d like to see it, and hope it is as good as the other chapters I’ve seen.

  • penguin factory

    Hey, I didn’t know you were writing a book. I’m a big fan of The Atheism Pages, so I’ll be sure to get it when it’s complete.

  • Alex Weaver

    *raises hand*

    Just a little remark to nag you… but Universal Utilitarianism isn’t the basis of atheist morality, just one of many options. Not judging which one is better or worse, but for example Objectivism is another valid alternative that some atheists subscribe to. Meanwhile I don’t fall into either one because I’m not satisfied with either philosophy.

    Objectivism fails for a number of reasons: even on the level of personal self-interest it fails because it dictates the wrong choice in “prisoner’s dilemma” type situations. Additionally, it would arguably require a superhuman degree of foresight to apply it in a way that would create a stable and functional society, and applying it in that way would arguably be tantamount to adopting some form of Utilitarianism for purely selfish reasons.

    As for Universal Utilitarianism, perhaps you should tell Adam why you aren’t satisfied with it?

  • http://www.bellatorus.com Petrucio

    I’m in!

  • http://elliptica.blogspot.com Lynet

    May I?

  • http://deconbible.blogspot.com bbk

    Objectivism is a philosophy. Period. Being wrong doesn’t change that. You can argue about which philosophy is correct, but you can’t argue about which one has eminent domain over atheism. That’s nonsensical. Atheism has no inherent philosophy.

    Both UU and Objectivism have insights and thinkers in both frameworks have advanced atheist thinking in general. Some of the most elegant refutations of religion I have ever read were written by Objectivists.

    I would say that sciences such as economics and biology line up closer to Objectivism in their approach. Economic models traditionally only needed to account for selfish actions. The Ricardian theory of Comparative Advantage is an example. Darwin as well did not rely on altruism to describe natural processes. Neither did Dawkins in The Selfish Gene. I do agree with the Objectivist critique of UU, what they call the error of frozen abstraction. UU does take altruism a little too far and substitutes it for ethics itself – as if without altruism, it’s not ethics. Perhaps that’s why you fail to recognize Objectivism as a philosophy of many atheists? Objectivsts after a certain point start to go off the deep end with Libertarian economic ideals, tin foil hats, and perpetual motion machines.

    I’m quite happier with the “coldness” of Darwinism over UU and the “selfishness” of economics (real economics that account externalities and public goods, which Objectivists seem to run from) over Objectivism.

  • Alex Weaver

    Objectivism is indeed the philosophy of a significant number of atheists.

    Having recognized the problem, please help us correct it.

    would say that sciences such as economics and biology line up closer to Objectivism in their approach. Economic models traditionally only needed to account for selfish actions. The Ricardian theory of Comparative Advantage is an example. Darwin as well did not rely on altruism to describe natural processes. Neither did Dawkins in The Selfish Gene.

    What relevance does any of this have to which ethical system is preferable?

  • http://deconbible.blogspot.com bbk

    The relevance is that I continually find UU proponents downplaying the existence of other philosophies with regards to atheism. I’d like to see UU give them a greater mention and approach UU from the standpoint as being one possible philosophy, not the philosophy of atheism. Especially when we are presenting atheism to the theist or to new atheists interested in finding out where to go from here.

    Don’t get me wrong – Objectivism has a lot of non sequiturs that just leave me scratching my head. I am drawn to the positive observations Objectivism makes as its premises, but by the time they get to their normative claims, they don’t really follow at all from their premises. But I like Objectivism because at least it makes a concerted effort to only adopt as its premises positive claims that have been clearly demonstrated in science. UU makes normative claims about human nature in its very premises which as far as I can tell come strictly from the humanities or aesthetics, all of which are subjective. It’s not quite as robust as people seem to think – it’s actually quite easy to make very sensible normative claims when you actually started out with normative premises. It’s self-congratulatory. It also makes it easily corrupted when applied to real life social systems, IMO, and we need something better if it’s to be more useful than just a mental exercise.

  • Prof.V.N.K.Kumar (India)

    Can you send me a copy please ? I have read those 2 earlier write-ups of yours. But as usual,there will be a lot more in this by way of logic, ideas and connections. So please include me.

  • http://mindstalk.net Damien R. S.

    Don’t if I count as regular enough. But echoing bbk, “the basis for an atheist’s morality” sounds pretty arrogant, compared to “a basis for an atheist’s morality”.

  • http://deconbible.blogspot.com bbk

    I’m trying to figure out what the latest revision of Utilitarianism really is. Ebon seems to have his own version, which I didn’t realize until I read through his materials more thoroughly. I was getting it confused with the other name for regular Utilitarianism… Universal Hedonism.

  • http://commonsenseatheism.com Luke

    I’d very much like to review this chapter. I’d like to see if you avoid the problem of all other utilitarian theory: their dependence on the idea that the thing to be maximized should be maximized because it has intrinsic value – but intrinsic value is just as mysterious and unprovable as gods are.

  • Nes

    I don’t know if Ebon would still be handing this one out nearly a year later, especially since I think he’s almost done with the book, but I would suspect that, aside from the essays mentioned in the post, this chapter probably draws a lot from this post.