Monicks: Unleashed

Thinking Critically

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We are Secular Humanists

According to secular humanists, human values should comprise the commitment to improve universal well-being. Ethical principles should be assessed by their effects on people, not by how well they conform to preconceived ideas of right and wrong.

Secular humanists reject that values and ethics are imposed from any deity. In that it echoes simple atheism. Secular humanism goes further challenging humans to develop their own values, and maintains that through a process of value inquiry, where reflective men and women can reach rough agreement concerning values such as integrity, trustworthiness, benevolence, and fairness; components of effective morality that are universally recognized.

These qualities are celebrated by almost every human association, not because god ordained them, but because human beings cannot thrive in communities where these values are ignored.

Secular humanists strive to offer a nonreligious guide that hopefully one day will conduct humanity in pursuing fulfilling and humane lives – lives that are rich intellectually, ethically, and emotionally, without reliance on religious faith.

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2 Responses to We are Secular Humanists

  1. mcgees.org says:

    Secular humanism goes further challenging humans to develop their own values, and maintains that through a process of value inquiry, where reflective men and women can reach rough agreement concerning values such as integrity, trustworthiness, benevolence, and fairness; components of effective morality that are universally recognized.

    I agree that secular humanism challenges humans to develop their own values. I agree that it explores this through a process of value inquiry, and demands this of its adherents. I disagree that the aspiration or expectation of consensus of opinion is its aim.

    The realm of values is fraught with shades of grey, decisions in which the value of one outcome must be measured against the value of another. This is arguably the definition of a “value judgment”. Take any hot-button issue (abortion rights, for instance): two rational secular humanists who value integrity, soundness of argument, and methodology may, at the end of their questioning, reach opposed conclusions about the issue.

    We have not reached consensus.

    This leaves two options: first, that at least one is incorrect. This is certainly possible, but it would require, to reach consensus, that least one party to concede that he or she is wrong. This is hardly consensus.

    Second, it leaves each to argue that the other is not a “true” secular humanist, which smacks of the “No True Scotsman” fallacy.

    Now, perhaps the first is the case. Perhaps, in every disagreement, one party at most is correct. I would argue this is not true. I would argue this because I believe it proceeds from the exclusion of the middle, which, while valid in formal logic, breaks down in discussions of values. In every issue there is a balancing act; in every issue there is a judgment. And in at least some circumstances, consensus will not be reached. This does not necessarily deny that some judgments will yield consensus. After all, the existence of grey does not necessarily preclude the existence of black and white. But we are perilously close, in this case, to defining black and white based on the consensus, which begs the question. Further, in Monica’s list of values, one finds ‘fairness’. ‘Fairness’ is the premise from which the methodology proceeds. By including it, one argues that proceeding with a goal of fairness, people will reach conclusions they agree to be fair, which I argue is flawed.

    Where does this leave the secular humanist movement? Is it invalid or doomed? I would argue not.

    With a slight revision, the argument stands, and stands gloriously. What we as secular humanists seek is not consensus of opinion, it is consensus of methodology. If rational, reflective adults evaluate claims using the same valid techniques, then what we can be assured is that they have reached their arguments by the same standards. We, as secular humanists, reject the divine; reject imposed and traditional wisdom; reject supernatural criteria of morality. We demand that all people pursue their own value inquiries. And when we reach differing conclusions, we can be confident of the following: we have all pursued our inquiries with intellectual honesty, with diligence, and with respect. And that makes for a beautiful world indeed.

    (Disclosure: Monica is my fiancée and we debated for an hour over this topic, and remained civil and loving. She encouraged me to post this rebuttal. I respect deeply her intellectual honesty and integrity, and her willingness to argue tough issues, and I love her completely.)

  2. mcgees.org says:

    On a careful re-read, I believe I misunderstood Monica’s argument. What she was discussing was consensus on values, not conclusions. We are arguing the same thing — and I misunderstood her original statement.

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