The “New Atheism” 20: Ethical Realism

The “New Atheism” 20: Ethical Realism

Ian Kluge

Although the new atheists and the Bahá’í Writings disagree about the role of religion in ethics, they do agree on ethical realism—i.e. the view that moral beliefs are not simply a matter of individual preference but rather that “in ethics, as in physics, there are truths waiting to be discovered—and thus we can be right or wrong in our beliefs about them.”151

This view is already implicit in their belief in some kind of universal ethical intuition (see my earlier blog on the subject) which can be applied to all peoples at all times. Leaving aside the issue of how this universal ethical intuition might be manifested in different evolutionary circumstances, the new atheists and the Bahá’í Writings can agree that certain ethical virtues are objectively valid, among them compassion and goodwill,152 justice and fairness, tolerance, generosity and a dedication to truth.

An ethical realist position also means that the new atheists and the Bahá’í Writings agree on the rejection of relativism in ethics—i.e. they agree that ethical viewpoints are more than reflections of person preferences. They reject the view that we cannot judge ethical viewpoints because we lack an objective, Archimedean standpoint from which to make judgements.

For the new atheists, this standard consists in our innate moral intuitions, and for Bahá’ís, this standard is established by God and is sometimes available through the moral intuitions of our spiritual nature.

The issue of ethical realism gives the new atheists and the Bahá’í Writings common ground in their opposition to ethical relativism as exemplified in postmodern philosophy.153 It also provides common ground in regards to the essential unity of human nature, in regards to ethical intuitions and their possible genetic basis, i.e. a universal human nature which provides an objective basis for unity.

Next time: Objective Correspondence Epistemology

====================== References =======================
151 Sam Harris, The End of Faith, p. 181. 152 Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, 301. 153 See Ian Kluge, “Postmodernism and the Bahá’í Writings,” and “Relativism and the Bahá’í Writings,” published in Lights of Irfan.

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