Friday, June 7, 2013

Philosophy & The City

The other day I went to a philosophy Meetup group in Manhattan to mingle with other philosophy-lovers. It always guarantees good conversation, especially when enhanced with strong drink. The topic was "The Big Three - Socrates, Plato and Aristotle". It lead to some interesting conversations about the Euthyphro Dilemma - my favorite one-liner and I think the single most useful bit of philosophy that the ancient wisdom of the Greeks have left us.

What amazes me however when conversing with philosophically minded people in a big, secular, liberal city like New York, is how deeply permeated moral nihilism is. With this one guy I was talking to on morality, I simply asked him what would be morally good. He responded by saying "I don't know. I couldn't tell you that." I pressed further asking him to just give me his opinion of what would be morally right, and again he said, "It's what anyone does, there's no such thing as right or wrong."

I've encountered total moral nihilists like this before and it isn't always easy dealing with these kinds of people. I think most moral nihilists are really just people who haven't thought about morality all that deeply or they're just an extreme form of moral relativists. So I asked this guy if he believed in god and he said "God is everywhere, God is the universe." It turns out he's a pantheist who thinks everything is god, but in a way he's almost a de facto atheist since he didn't think this being really did anything other than just exist as the universe.

I couldn't get him to give me a definitive moral position on anything. When I asked him his thoughts about whether gay marriage was moral he said "it's what anybody decides."

So I pressed even further and said that at some point in every society, a law has to be made and enforced, and I asked him how could this ever be accomplished if everyone adopted this mentality of "anything goes" morality. He said "every society will decide for themselves what's right." Well yes that is true I responded but the question is what moral principles are guiding their decision making. He had no answer and we eventually moved on to another topic.

I'm not shy about my tendency towards moral realism, and my disdain for moral nihilism, one reason being that moral nihilism makes atheists look really bad and as if we have no sense of morality whatsoever. I expect that relativism and nihilism will be dealt with for a long time and with large numbers of nontheists.

The debate over morality itself is perhaps what I cherish the most. There's nothing like having a few drinks with people over a deep, intellectually satisfying conversation about philosophy. I've had some awesome conversations this way. Marijuana helps too, but I'm not always my most logically consistent when I'm high.

So cheers to good drink and good conversation!

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