Question from Rohit:
I’ve been thinking about the value of the human being in three different types of world views – the god belief world view, the atheistic-humanistic world view, the atheistic-enlightened self interest world view.
In the best form of the god-belief world view I’ve come across people who think human life is precious and all human beings must treat each other well as they are all “drops of the divine ocean”
In the atheistic-humanist world view people say that human beings have an intrinsic value and thus one important goal is the upliftment of human beings. One should not treat other human beings badly as we all have an intrinsic value.
In the atheistic-enlightened self interest world view, again the human being is important – as your self interest lies in not treating people badly, trying to help people (so that you are helped in return) but unlike the God-belief or atheistic-humanist views, no intrinsic value is given to the human being.
Being nice becomes a means to an end (the end being your enlightened self interest). Also, various degrees of “being nice” are permitted, depending on one’s enlightened self interest. This world view borders on opportunism.
And since no intrinsic value is placed on the human being (except as an enhancer of one’s enlightened self interest) – one tends to value different people differently.
Now arguably, the atheistic-humanist world view is just as deluded as the God-belief world view – it simply trades the delusion of existence of a God to the delusion of intrinsic value of the human being. Why should the human being be assumed to have an intrinsic value – is it because we are intelligent, or conscious or both? Do more intelligent human beings have more intrinsic value then? If we came across an alien civilization much more advanced than us, would their life be more valuable than the life of a human being?
I find only the atheistic-enlightened self interest to be logically consistent. It seems to me to be without any significant assumptions/ delusions.
But as I indicated above, it seems to be almost opportunistic.
I’d really like to hear your comments on this! Am I missing something here? Is there a logical, consistent atheistic world view that does not simply reduce human beings to objects/ means to an end.
Well, humans are objects. Philosophically, so is anything else with a physical or even conceptual presence. Saying humans are objects doesn’t therefore reduce or belittle them.
Humans, like anything else, can be means to an end. They can also be ends themselves, as far as a person is concerned. That’s as far as the thought process goes in most cases: you’re doing something for other people. The “enlightened self-interest” part is that you’re ultimately serving yourself because you want something for them. So no altruism is entirely pure.
This is true whether you’re religious or not, so it has little to do with that debate. If you believe in a god, the reasons you want to help others have partially to do with influencing that god’s treatment of you (and possibly them), in the here and now and in the hereafter. That’s the only difference. Where the religious sometimes fail to empathise with others is that they get the idea that without this particular reason to be good to others, there are no good reasons at all. That leads into a lot of arguments over what a “good” reason is.
Meanwhile, even if humans really have intrinsic worth we have no way of determining what it is, so it’s useless to us. However, humans have an undeniable worth to other humans. This may be subjective, but it’s so universal that it’s possible to behave for one’s whole life as if humans have truly intrinsic worth and never be contradicted or even challenged. (I’ve only ever been challenged on it on ATA, by people who advocate a divine source of human worth.) This approach is both humanist in its effects and enlightened in its concept, for it assumes no unverified absolutes.
Speaking more generally, a world view logically consistent with atheism accepts that any value or worth given to people, things or ideals is assigned by us and us alone. Therefore the values assigned by humans are unmatched in their importance to us, and as worthy as any other. Then we just have to compare contradictory valuations on merit.
” If you believe in a god, the reasons you want to help others have partially to do with influencing that god’s treatment of you (and possibly them), in the here and now and in the hereafter.”
Question from Rohit: