Animal cruelty

Spectators enjoyed cruelty, even when it served no judicial purpose. Torturing animals, for example, was good clean fun. In 16th-century Paris, a popular form of entertainment was cat-burning, in which a cat was hoisted in a sling on a stage and slowly lowered into a fire. According to the historian Norman Davies, ‘‘The spectators, including kings and queens, shrieked with laughter as the animals, howling with pain, were singed, roasted, and finally carbonized.’’ (Pinker 2011:145)




The function of many charities is not to ensure that people get high-quality information about medical interventions. Instead, their rallying cry is for attention. (McCartney 2012:176)

Only a minority of donors seek out the really efficient charities such as Oxfam, which transfers about 80 percent of donations to the needy, while spending only 3 percent on administration. Charities vary enormously in their efficiency, but most donors do not bother to get good charitable value for their money. This attitude contrasts starkly with our concern for government efficiency when we pay taxes that support the ill, the elderly, and the arms dealers. (Miller 2001:322)


Conscience is the soul of secularism. (Dacey 2008:83)

[C]onscience is free so that it may respond only to the standards that define its nature, the standards of reason, impartiality, and concern for others. Conscience is open to the public. … Secularism does not privatize conscience. It keeps conscience open… (Dacey 2008:16)

Conscience weighs what we have most reason to think or do. Therefore, it constantly seeks out the interests and reasons of others. …there is no viable alternative to reasoning together. … The common, impartial point of view—conscience’s eye view—expands to include more and more reasons and interests, and the commonwealth of conscience is enlarged and enriched. (Dacey 2008:207)



Ethics (meta)

…discussions of normative ethics inevitably start to raise second-order questions about what the normative discussion is about, and what standards of reasoning and argument it should apply; and these problems about what is going at the normative level are the metaethical ones. Metaethics asks questions such as whether there is such a thing as moral truth, and if so how we can discover it, and if not, what normative disagreements are disagreements about. (Radcliffe Richards 2008:185)

Ethics (normative)

Normative ethics — the questions of what standards we should try to live by — is the familiar part of ethics. (Radcliffe Richards 2008:185)


…the Greeks had a word for this kind of happiness — eudaimonia — which translates literally as ‘good spirit’ but which probably means something more like ‘human flourishing’ or ‘life well lived’. … A few centuries later, Christian theologians added a nifty twist to this classical conception: happiness was not merely the product of a life of virtue but the reward for a life of virtue, and that reward was not necessarily to be expected in this lifetime. (Gilbert 2007:36)

Euthyphro dilemma

…does god command what is good because god recognizes what is good, or is it good because god commands it? (Krueger 1998:26–27)

One horn of the dilemma is that what is good is defined by the fact that it is god’s will. … Theists who take this horn of the Euthyphro Dilemma must admit that they really don’t have a standard of ethics. What they have is a standard of obedience—they will do whatever god commands. Slavery, however, is not ethics. (Krueger 1998:27)

Neither option allows for the possibility that god is the source of a system of ethics. The Euthyphro Dilemma has been conclusive in showing that the divine command theory of ethics cannot work, and no theist has ever been able to overcome this strong objection to the view that god is the source of ethics. (Krueger 1998:30)

If you answered the Euthyphro question with the Divine Command view, saying that the good was good in virtue of being will by God, you are saying nothing about the nature of God in saying that God is good. You have made the goodness of God a matter of definition, because whatever God did would be good. (Radcliffe Richards 2008:189)


My main goal is to understand human cruelty, replacing the unscientific term ‘evil’ with the scientific term ‘empathy’. (Baron-Cohen 2011:xi)

Evil is treated as incomprehensible… (Baron-Cohen 2011:4)

My aim in this book has been to re-stimulate discussion on the causes of evil, by moving the debate out of the realm of religion and into the realm of science. I have done this not because I have a Dawkinsian anti-religion agenda. … But religion has been singularly anti-enquiry on the topic of the causes of evil. … If I have an agenda it is to urge people not to be satisfied with the word `evil’ as an explanatory tool… (Baron-Cohen 2011:100)

The notion of the banality of evil has been challenged. (Baron-Cohen 2011:113)









Moral dumbfounding

Yet even when subjects recognized that their victim claims were bogus, they still refused to say that the act was OK. Instead, they kept searching for another victim. They said things like ‘‘I know it’s wrong, but I just can’t think of a reason why.’’ They seemed to be morally dumbfounded—rendered speechless by their inability to explain verbally what they knew intuitively. (Haidt 2012:24–25)

Moral emotions

Trivers’s theory that the moral emotions are adaptations to cooperation can be translated directly into the Tit for Tat algorithm. Sympathy is cooperating on the first move. Gratitude is cooperating with a cooperator. And anger is defecting against a defector—in other words, punishing in revenge. (Pinker 2011:534)

Moral judgements

Saying ‘‘Because I don’t want to’’ is a perfectly acceptable justification for one’s subjective preferences. Yet moral judgments are not subjective statements; they are claims that somebody did something wrong. (Haidt 2012:44)

Moral perception

By ‘‘moral perception’’… I do not mean the sort of thing that ethical intuitionists such as G. E. Moore talked about, a mysterious faculty for perceiving a ‘‘non-natural property’’ of goodness. I mean the ability to see that someone is, for example, ‘‘suffering unnecessarily’’ as opposed to ‘‘learning to take it,’’ that someone is ‘‘being refreshingly spontaneous’’ as opposed to ‘‘being impertinent,’’ that someone is ‘‘compassionate’’ as opposed to being ‘‘a weepy liberal,’’ and so on. There is no science that can teach one to make these distinctions. They require a skill that, in Iris Murdoch’s words, is ‘‘endlessly perfectible,’’ and that as she also says, is interwoven with our (also endlessly perfectible) mastery of moral vocabulary itself. (Putnam 2002:128).

Moral psychology

Intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second. … there’s more to morality than harm and fairnessMorality binds and blinds. (Haidt 2012:xiv–xv)


In what might be the pithiest and most prescient statement in the history of moral psychology, Darwin summarized the evolutionary origin of morality in this way: ‘‘Ultimately our moral sense or conscience becomes a highly complex sentiment—originating in the social instincts, largely guided by the approbation of our fellow-men, ruled by reason, self-interest, and in later times by deep religious feelings, and confirmed by instruction and habit.’’ (Haidt 2012:195)

Moralization Gap

The Moralization Gap is part of a larger phenomenon called self-serving biases. (Pinker 2011:490)




Privacy Fallacy

Conscience is personal, so politeness and civility forbid bringing it up in public. Call this the Privacy Fallacy. (Dacey 2008:24)

Problem of evil

…what the problem of evil reveals is an internal inconsistency in Theism. (Law 2011b:29)

The problem of evil arises only if you reject the Divine Command theory, and have a conception of goodness that is independent of the will of God. Without an independent conception of goodness, you could not be puzzled about how to reconcile the state of the world with the goodness of God. … whether a religious believer should see Darwinian materialism as a threat to the existence of moral truth depends on what that person’s view is about the Euthyphro question. (Radcliffe Richards 2008:191)











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