You don’t need a philosophy

Back in early January, Leah Libresco offered a challenge to James Croft:

Croft, I’ll make you a deal. If you show me your philosophy, I’ll show you mine. Let’s both write up 500-750 words explaining what we believe about ethics and metaphysics. That’s way to short to defend our beliefs, so no fair complaining about that, commenters. It’s also too short to cover everything we think, so the goal is really just making it as easy as possible to tell us apart as compactly as possible. We won’t settle which (or both of us) are in error, we’ll just have made our ideas specific enough to have a chance of being wrong. You in?

Croft has finally responded, though I think his post is a bit longer than what Leah requested. Now, James’ response is interesting, but I’m not going to comment on it here, because James’ post has reminded me of some things I wanted to say about Leah’s handling of these issues, but never got around to.

I’ve dealt with some of the issues in my previous posts “In praise of boring claims” and “I’m a liberal,” but here I’ll go further. Leah’s complaining about atheists’ failing to give out detailed philosophies as often as she’d like, and demanding that they do so, strikes me as really weird. It feels like a dodge to avoid having to defend a lot of the untenable parts of Catholicism.

There’s a simple way of explaining how I see the world that I think will work for most religious believers at least in western countries. I thought it up awhile ago, but don’t think I’ve ever used it: What I believe is what you believe, minus the bullshit. For example: I can generally count on religious believers to agree with me that genocide is a bad thing. Where you get problems is when religious people insist on adding an exception for when their God tells you to commit genocide.

As I put it in my “I’m a liberal” post:

If you don’t buy attempts to brand gays and lesbians as Them (an appeal to the “loyalty” value), don’t buy the claim that homosexuality is forbidden by God (authority), and don’t buy the idea that it’s unnatural in some sense that has nothing to do with whether it’s hurting anyone (sanctity/degradation), then our other values–the ones liberals and conservatives share–make a pretty clear case for saying gay couples should have the same rights as straight couples.

And that’s really all it takes. You don’t need a grand moral theory to get these kinds of moral issues right. Nor, I would add, do you need a grand metaphysical theory for much of anything. As I’ve said before that I’m mainly a naturalist in the sense that I think the supernatural isn’t real; I have little use for the more elaborate philosophical doctrines that go under the name “naturalism” (which are all too often just straw men that exist only in the heads of religious apologists).

Relevant here is Luke’s old blog series Living Without a Moral Code.

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