[irrelig]Hey, and it’s even on time! In this episode we discuss the possibility of ethics independent of God or religion with Dominick Cancilla, author of Ask Yourself to Be Moral and developer of an innovative God-free system of ethics that revolves around two simple questions. What follows is the usual wide-ranging discussion on ethics, philosophy, religion, and slapping babies.

Check it out here.


24 Responses to “58: Ethics without God”

  1. Dietrich says:

    One of the most important insights to take away from this one is that if you want to engage in any argument or discussion about morals, you have to make sure you are either self-consistent or acknowledgedly inconsistent.

    I liked this episode a lot. And I have a lot of respect for anyone that can read philosophy books. The closest I can get is listening to the odd philosophy audiobook.

  2. somewhere in greece says:

    Another great podcast, with a wonderful guest who braved your masturbation jokes. I did miss the Mims Carter Skunk Dick Of The Week part though. Does this mean you will record an ANN for Friday?

  3. Rockhead says:

    This was one of your best podcasts. I may even buy a beer for it. I was going to buy you a beer to bribe you not do any more sucky Jack Chick shows, but then I realized that would be a dangerous precedent.

  4. hawkorhandsaw says:

    I just listened to the podcast, and it was a good one, but I wanted to comment on the godfather throwaway line.

    When people are initiated into the mob, they have to say that they understand that they will be going to hell for the sins they will commit but that they are doing it for their families. so they don’t think that what they’re doing is okay. they know that they’re sinning.

  5. Great episode!

    I disagree on one point: I don’t think the Bible should be studied in high school or earlier, even as an elective. The argument that kids won’t be able to argue or understand this major factor in our culture is just silly … that’s like saying kids should study SpongeBob SquarePants, or they won’t know what other kids are talking about. What sort of living, breathing, American can walk through society without knowing who Jesus was, or Noah’s Ark, or Adam and Eve?

    Honestly, if you can keep your home-schooled child that ignorant, their reaction to Jesus and “the One Truth” would be hilarious. A kid raised like that wouldn’t buy the story for an instant.

  6. Loved the podcast!!! Maybe it’s because I grew up in San Francisco but we had to read sections of the bible in English class to illustrate the problems of morality with people who believe themselves righteous.I went to a public school and no one argued with the teacher. In fact, I often think that that class aided in my decline (or ascension) into atheism.

  7. Travis Megee says:

    It’s too late! I already recommended your podcasts to my dad.

    Living here in Oklahoma, I can confirm that any bible study at all in a public school would mutate into sunday school in public school. I lived in Moab, Utah for a while growing up, and I am sure you would find similar problems there. Having lived on the west coast in both California Bay Area and up in the Seattle, Washington area, you might be ok. Now the idea of the elective for looking into the many different religions I would support.

  8. bukkakeface says:

    I really enjoyed this episode. I’ll definitely be checking out this guy’s book.

    My question is who was the controversial artist that Leighton references?

  9. His name is Sean (pronounced “seen”) of Creature Corps and he’s responsible for the babies on this page of their catalog:


  10. Actually, I think this was your worst podcast so far. I’ll address two minor issues and then get to my main gripe:

    a) On the question of respect: after having praised the guy for insisting on clear definitions and terminology before venturing further, we get this “respect the people” spiel where it would be extremely helpful to differentiate between respect and courtesy – and even sycophancy. Respecting someone might even entail telling that person their belief was stupid bullshit.

    b) The Golden Rule: The golden rule is stupid, as is the inverse one Chuck suggested. Neither addresses the fact that people are different and want different things, nor do they address that what people want may not necessarily be the best course of action to take for you. The simplest example is that of a sexual sadist and a masochist. One wants to be hurt, the other wants to hurt. The sadist doesn’t want to be hurt, so he won’t hurt – at the same time, the masochist would like to be hurt, so he’s supposed to dish out hurt? The Golden Rule is a rule of thumb that has only value insofar as people having no other moral inclinations – but I wouldn’t want a sociopath following it.

    C) And here we go with the Q2 system and my disappointment with this podcast. I’m especially disappointed in Chuck with his professed insight into philosphy and ethics that he did either not see or not communicate any objections to this system, but made it a softball interview to the extreme.

    Let me take up the example of the lawyer defending a guilty person. Now, what if I was a right-wing guy thinking, “but the bad guy needs to be put away, and if he got free in a fair trial due to a technicality, that’s no good. So if I want to be consistent (the first question), I guess then I would have to be against fair trials in all cases, even if I was in front of the court. Which wouldn’t happen, anyway, because I’m righteous.”

    Which illustrates the problem of the Q2 system. It addresses only inconsistencies, but gives no indication on how to resolve them. There is no mention of any values given.

    Which brings me to the second problem. There was mention of using religious rules as the basis of society, and how with question 2 that would mean granting others the right to make law based on the koran, which Christians would then be against and therefore it wouldn’t be a good moral system.

    Which brings with it two major problems. One: If you live in a society, you have to base rules on *something*. There is some form of “oppression” (with or without quotes) in any society, based more or less on shared values. For example, the value of property makes theft a crime. Now, if I wanted to make theft a crime, the second question seems to be a problem there because I could then ask “what if someone wanted to make giving haircuts a crime?” and then would have to be against that. OR I ask the question only based on the same value, which would make the example into “what if some other Christian wanted to turn the bible into law”, which I would obviously be okay with as someone wanting to do the same.

    Furthermore, it seems the only way out of these questions – and your interviewee hinted at that at the beginning where he said most ethics went out of the window and the rest were rendered less universal – is indeed only a personal code of ethics. The way I got it from the interview, the logical conclusion to these questions is to derive one’s own set of ethics and leave everyone else alone. Who am I to say your morals are, indeed, immoral? No, the only solution to these questions seems to me to be moral relativism – as long as your consistent, go ahead and kill homosexuals.

    So I call bullshit on this q2 system, and I’m sad that you didn’t.

  11. Patrick, you’ve explained why the Golden Rule fails as a moral guide (using the exact same example we did in the podcast), but you haven’t explained why the inverse fails. In the inverse case, a masochist may want to be hurt, but that doesn’t allow him to hurt anyone else — because the Inverse Golden Rule only tells him what he shouldn’t do to someone else, not what he should. Is the Inverse Golden Rule a perfect moral guide? Of course not. What I was claiming is that it is a better moral guide than the Golden Rule.

    Your problem with the 2Q system seems to be one of definitions, which happens to be a problem with Kant’s deontology as well: it may be possible to so narrowly define either the behavior itself or the reasoning process as to exempt your intended action from being immoral, because it is neither inconsistent nor would you condemn others for doing it. If you recall, I hinted at that in the podcast when I exempted myself from being treated as dumbasses deserve to be treated because I’m not a dumbass.

    On the other hand, your saying that “the logical conclusion is to derive your own set of ethics and leave everyone else alone” is absolutely wrong. If someone else’s moral system fails one of the two questions, you are correct in condemning it. The 2Q system does not lead to moral relativism, quite the opposite: it provides an objective (though admittedly imperfect) standard for judging other’s morals.

  12. Patrick: One thing to keep in mind is that 2Q is not a system of morality, it’s a method of examining systems of thought. To say that it is flawed because it does not indicate how to resolve inconsistencies seems to me like saying that the theory of evolution is flawed because it doesn’t explain how the universe came into being — they’re just separate topics.

    I also disagree that 2Q leads necessarily to moral relativism. We didn’t have time to talk about it on the podcast, but I believe there are some things that are immoral under any ethical system that can survive examination by 2Q.

    Also, there’s an assumption built into 2Q that you wouldn’t know about without reading the section of the book on fallacies of reasoning: 2Q only works if you “play fair” with it. You say that 2Q allows killing of homosexuals so long as you are consistent. You’re right; it does. But by being consistent, you would have to agree that it would be okay for someone to kill you because they found something wrong with your sexual desires, and I doubt that any sane, honest person would agree to any such thing.

    Finally, keep in mind that 2Q is a way for finding flaws in a system of thought; it’s not a way to definitively validate a system of thought. It is possible for an ethical system to survive 2Q and still be unacceptable on other grounds (although I think that such systems are rare).

  13. Chuck: I disagree. The 2Q system helps only in condemning inconsistent moral systems. I guess Dominick cleared it up a little – it’s not supposed to be a moral system itself, just a guideline for clear thought. That does help a little, but framing it in the context of ethics still chafes me a bit.

    Dominick, here’s the problem with that system. I’m going to quote you and try some html, not sure if that works:

    You say that 2Q allows killing of homosexuals so long as you are consistent. You’re right; it does. But by being consistent, you would have to agree that it would be okay for someone to kill you because they found something wrong with your sexual desires,

    By that logic, how can you consistently argue for any kind of criminal punishment? Where are the boundaries for the analogous action/idea in the second question? Let’s take another example from the realm of the sexes. Say I want pedophiles to be treated psychologically. How can I play far with the second question without getting to the boundaries of defining either causing harm or having a certain sexual orientation? I feel that I could find borderline examples for most things where people would have to fail the second question.

    I mean, why is it consistent to impose laws on people? Why does that not fail the second question? I don’t want mullahs or priests imposing their laws on me, why is it okay for me to impose my laws on them?

    Coming back to the Rule Golden, Chuck, you phrased it as “Do Not unto others as you would not have them do unto you”. Again, this looks at people as if they all wanted the same. (I think, by the way, that there was a point in this podcast where I got the same idea from Dominick, focusing very much on what people want, but I don’t remember where and how). the sadist does not want to get hurt, but the masochist still wants to be hurt by the sadist.

    To give a real-world example, I don’t want my parents calling me regularly and checking up on me. My mother still wants me to call her regularly. Following this rule I wouldn’t call her – I wouldn’t want her to call me, after all –, but that would be unnecessarily cruel by me.

  14. Well, if that is the worst counter-example you can think of, I may upgrade my assessment of the Inverse Golden Rule from “imperfect, but better than Jesus’s Golden Rule” to “ironclad ethical system whose only flaw is that under certain circumstances it is capable of hurting your mother’s feelings.”

  15. Worst counter-example? No. Better than the golden rule? Yes.

    I dislike that example, but here goes: In cultures where Female Genital Mutilation is practiced, the mothers often want their daughters to go through that procedure. They have accepted being mutilated themselves and see it as part of their culture. If you’d ask them, I’m sure you’d find women who would agree to going through that horror again. Would your inverse rule stop that? Would the second question stop that?

    If you just use these questions as one technique to filter out bad thoughts, like “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” or Ockham’s Razor – fine. But when you talk ethics, I just don’t think it’s enough.

  16. Remember, the rule is “Do NOT unto others as you would NOT have them do unto you.” It doesn’t give anyone license to mutilate other people’s genitals because they wouldn’t mind having it done to them — that’s actually the Golden Rule itself.

    If you’re saying is that these ethical systems are not sufficient for rigorous moral evaluation, I agree. We haven’t found the perfect ethical system, only better and worse ones.

  17. Well yes, that is my point. You can’t universalize wants, at least not just because they’re wants. You have to talk values.

  18. Patrick: You ask how Q2 allows for systems of punishment. In its simplest form, you just need to be able to make the statement: “People should be punished for X, and I agree that if I do X I should be punished.” That passes 2Q.

    It’s more difficult when we look at specific instances of “X”. Even if we agree that punishment in general is not ruled out by 2Q, we still have to look at our reasons for wanting specific actions to be punished (because I don’t like them, because they harm me, etc.)

    You mention that you can always find borderline cases where Q2 would fail. I have a section in the book on unanswerable moral dilemmas, so I recognize that these situations exist.

  19. Patrick- In case Chuck was too subtle you are arguing the very point he made in the podcast and with yourself at the same time. You should feel embarrassed for going on and on about a non-issue. Now, everyone point and laugh at Patrick.

  20. I’ll cop to the “softball” interview critique. To be fair, the only “hardball” interview we’ve done to date is with Sean.

  21. Foxy McLovin says:

    Contrary to what other reviewers may think, I thoroughly enjoyed this podcast. Dawkins opened my eyes to this topic a while back, but your take was far more entertaining. Since you guys seem to be craving this sort of affection: Keep up the good work you gay retards!

  22. Jacob Pope says:

    I really enjoyed this podcast, as well. This is one of the more interesting discussions that crop up in religious debates, and I’m glad you covered it.

    Also, by the way, speaking of morality, I’m sure you guys have heard all about the Holy See’s latest scandals. Well…


    I’m all for it.

  23. Hey, is Dominick from the Geekshow podcast?

  24. Kevin Tobin says:

    Hey guys, just wanted to show you definitive
    proof of god and actual photographic evidence
    of his whereabouts
    So i expect a public apology to all christians.