Friday, October 5, 2007

Feuerbach and Ethics...

For my honors course, "Does God Exist?," we read a piece from Ludwig Feuerbach's book, "The Essence of Christianity." It's a chapter called, "The Essence of Religion Considered Generally," and it talks about what religion is and why religion exists. Essentially, says Feuerbach, religion is just reflective worship. We find our own best qualities, project them onto a diety, and worship that. We're just worshipping ourselves. Feuerbach says that is we can know a man's God, we can know the man; and also if we know the man, we know the man's God. It's a really interesting critique of God and religion. Whether or not I agree with it is a different issue. What I want to talk about is the ethics behind sharing that kind of information. Lets do a little thought experiment to get at what I want to say. Nothing here is meant to be taken literally.

Suppose I have a friend who has a devout belief that there are purple unicorns which reside just beneath the earth's surface. These unicorns have crafted laws of conduct, making my friend, who believes in them, a very upstanding person who is very content in the way she lives. She is indeed a very happy person due to this belief which she builds her life upon. Now suppose that I am an earth scientist who knows that such unicorns do not, in fact, exist. They are a figment of the imagination and I know with 100% certainty that they are not real. Should I share with my friend the findings I've made to prove with absolute certainty that these unicorns do not exist? I, because I know my friend very well, know that she will believe me when I present her with the evidence and she will thus abandon her belief in the unicorns, who are her source of happiness in this world.

Is it better for her to live in blissful ignorance which causes her to be a good person (not that she couldn't be a good person without the belief in unicorns, but they are where she gets her motivation and knowledge of conduct), or is it better for her foundation to be stripped away but she knows she's correct?


lindsey said...

You are a nerd. Not only do you like thinking about this sort of thing, but you just called writing a paper "fun". Oh wait. I do the exact same thing. I'm a nerd too! ;-)

I think your thought experiment is a little flawed. The existence of God isn't really provable so there is no "right" and "wrong" and ethics don't really apply. No?

Anonymous said...

The problem I have with the thought experiment is that it presupposes that any person who is "awake" to this reality is going to be miserable as a result. It also seems like there's a connotation that the atheist can do no good in the world.

The second essay on this page:
is written by Richard Dawkins, and describes a type of atheism that I had never considered until a few years ago. It's not impossible to conceive of a world where a person is capable of happiness without God.

Mark said...

I'm not trying to presuppose anything about good or bad, right or wrong. I don't really care whether the experiment is flawed or not. I just really want to know.

The point is to isolate a person who is "happy in ignorance." If you take away the foundation their happiness is built upon because you know they're wrong, is that ethical? Is living correctly better than living happily when the two conflict?

lindsey said...

Given the new thought experiment I say yes, you are ethically obligated to tell her. All of us are caught in some web of illusion which prevents us from having true happiness.

The happiness your hypothetical friend has is not lasting real happiness. While maybe it will really hurt your friend to hear your discoveries about the non-existence of purple unicorns, you can use skillful means to help her realize gently.

Part of me wants to cop out and say that if someone is behaving in a appropriate way which benefits the community it's okay...but I'm not so sure.

Anonymous said...

I think it's more important to show the girl that the unicorns don't exist. What good is her happiness if it's built on falsehood? Even if these unicorns are her whole life, I feel that they are not the sole source of happiness in the world, and she's capable of finding meaning in other (hopefully more truthful) things.