The Milgram Obedience Experiment

Stanley Milgram. "Behavioral study of obedience." Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, vol. 67, no.4 (1963), p.371-378.In the 1960s, Stanley Milgram conducted one of the most important experiments ever done in the field of human psychology and social conformity. For ethical reasons, this study probably could not be repeated today, but that only makes it even more important to raise awareness of its findings.Milgram, a psychology professor at Yale University, recruited 40 male subjects … [Read more...]

Not for the Love of Money

This month I've written two posts condemning the get-rich-quick, get-everything-for-nothing mentality prominent both in evangelical Christianity (The Root of All Evil) and in New Ageism (The Secret). (It occurs to me that this is April - tax month, for us Americans - and though I didn't intend these posts to appear during this month, the correlation pleases me.) This brand of supernatural selfishness has never brought humanity any benefits, instead only giving grief and distracting us from truly … [Read more...]

The Virtues: Be Just

The seventh and last of the Virtues is the imperative toward justice. In general terms, the virtue of being just entails treating others as their actions merit - neither withholding from people what they deserve, nor giving them what they do not deserve. Acting justly is also a core part of the ethical system of universal utilitarianism, since the guarantee that justice will be done is a major component in ensuring the happiness of all people.Like most of the Virtues, the ideal of justice is … [Read more...]

The Virtues: Be Humble

The sixth of the Virtues is humility. In many religious traditions, humility is considered the very highest of virtues, and while I think it is an important and desirable quality to practice, I wouldn't go quite so far. Furthermore, as we'll see, my idea of what constitutes humility differs somewhat from the theistic view.What I advocate is not the humility enshrined in many religious texts, the aim of which is to abase oneself and think of oneself as lowly and worthless, in order to avoid … [Read more...]

The Harris-Sullivan Debate: II

As the debate continues, Sam Harris responds to Andrew Sullivan's contention that many of the fundamentalists he knows are compassionate, caring people who do many selfless good deeds for others:For instance, you claim that many fundamentalists are tolerant of dissent and capable of friendship with you despite their dogmatic views about sex. You also remind me that many devoutly religious people do good things on the basis of their religious beliefs. I do not doubt either of these … [Read more...]

The Virtues: Be Passionate

The fifth of the Virtues is passion; in the ancient lists of cardinal virtues, it was sometimes referred to as diligence or zeal. In his famous list of virtues, Benjamin Franklin called it industry. All these terms describe basically the same quality. Passion is the opposite of laziness, apathy, and nihilism: it implies placing value on the right qualities, making the best use of one's time, and being diligent and tireless in defense of the good.There is substantial truth in the Bible's … [Read more...]

The Virtues: Be Truthful

The fourth of the Virtues is truthfulness, a quality that is in short supply for all that it has been extolled through the ages. The proliferation of new media of communication in our society, from cable news to the internet, has resulted in a wonderful diversity of previously overlooked viewpoints; but it has also created an atmosphere where half-truths and untruths of every kind can readily take root in the desires of partisans of every side.Some people, viewing this swamp of conflicting … [Read more...]

The Virtues: Be Rational

The third of the Virtues is rationality, a crucially important but often overlooked element of the virtuous life. I do not mean to say that being a good person requires being an atheist or a skeptic - for obviously, someone can believe in all manner of pseudoscience and superstition and still be a generous, benevolent and loving person. As always, how one treats one's fellow human beings is the only true marker of morality. Nevertheless, I believe that all else being equal, the rational person … [Read more...]

The Virtues: Be Compassionate

The second of the Virtues is compassion. The Latin roots of this word literally mean "suffering together", but I think this captures at most one-half of what it means to be compassionate, and the less important half at that. While being compassionate does include perceiving others' pain and distress and being motivated to relieve it, the far more important aspect of compassion is sharing not in others' suffering, but in their happiness and joy.My reasoning behind this conclusion is as follows: … [Read more...]

The Virtues: Be Mindful

As regular readers of Daylight Atheism are likely aware, morality is a major concern of mine, both in how ethical behavior finds its foundation and in how those principles can be applied to issues of everyday life. Mainly this is because I genuinely am interested in determining what best constitutes the good life, although I won't deny that my writings on this topic are also aimed at rebutting the tiresome claim that atheists are immoral or lack a basis for morality.But there is much left to … [Read more...]