If you believe you become completely non-existent after your death, is there any meaning or value to living morally? If one believes in a finite existence, why is it wrong to try to acquire a lot of benefits or luxuries and live the 'high life' before one disappears forever?

Are there philosophers who have addressed this topic?

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    If a person has been told by 10 experts say , that the person is going to kick the bucket in approximately one month and the person believes in ONLY a finite existence what's stopping him from making his 'BUCKET-LIST' criminal ,assuming he doesn't get arrested until the end of the month? – user128932 Sep 10 '14 at 6:23
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    A terminal person who will be 'functional' for a month say and who belives in a finite existance might say to himself LIVE IT UP with no restrictions ( including legal restrictions ) assuming he doesn't get arrested until the month's 'up' he might say to himself WHY NOT? – user128932 Sep 15 '14 at 7:42
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    Other than empathy and/or thoughts of altruism or 'the common good' ( whatever that means) why is it 'wrong' to steal? ( just saying it is against the presently accepted laws in our society is not an answer) – user128932 Sep 16 '14 at 5:16
  • How is infinite life as a motivator for morality different from an arbitrarily long, but still finite time for the punishment/consequences to come to fruition? How is the idea of "infinite life" (as opposed to large but finite) a necessary component of this question? – Dave Sep 18 '14 at 13:24
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    Fundamental fear of non-existence? That's a pretty big claim you're making. – Dave Sep 19 '14 at 22:36

There's some non-sequiturs in your thought process.

  1. Generally, whether or not people consider something to be morally right is irrelevant to reward or punishment.

  2. People don't always do things they think are morally right. Maybe because they'll be rewarded for doing what they think is wrong, or they'll be punished for doing what they think is right.

Your question implies that what a person believes is morally correct depends on whether or not they'll be rewarded or punished for it. A better question would have been "Why would someone who believes in a finite existence do what they believe is morally correct?"

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  • I'm not saying the person thinks the scheme is morally right or wrong. I'm asking if a person believes in a finite existence and this 'scheme' being offered is a temptation for some implied benefit when the person might say to themselves, why not live it up by gaining more and more benefits before I don't exist anymore. What concepts or ethical principles might stop this person? – user128932 Sep 8 '14 at 3:59
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    As Ransack mentions 'Why would someone who believes in a finite existence do what they believe to be what is socially considered correct?' When people say 'do the right thing' , without saying what moral or ethical principles they are referring to WHAT does that mean? – user128932 Sep 8 '14 at 4:05
  • Usually, empathy (as you've mentioned in your question) with victims or the desire to follow their morals may stop them. – Dave Sep 8 '14 at 6:47
  • But if Life is finite and there are ways to increase ones benefits or perks without anything 'negative' happening to oneself ( if this is in fact what the person believes) what's stopping the person? Any appreciation of empathy for others may and has been overridden by the great force GREED. History shows this that any reasons to ignore empathy for others plus greed has inspired a lot of wrong doing. Believing in a finite life MAY be a catalyst to this.. – user128932 Sep 10 '14 at 6:10
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    History shows that people do horrible things despite believing in an infinite life. Why do you assume greed easily overrides empathy, and why do you assume that fear of the afterlife easily overrides greed? – Dave Sep 12 '14 at 10:10

if someone is offered a role in some possibly criminal scheme and they believe there is a GREAT chance of getting away with it ,what would stop them?

Let me interpret this question in more general form through a first-person perspective. Somebody asks, "If I could do it, in which way I would arrange everybody's behavior and ways of thinking in order that nobody can disturb my life by its crimes or evil intentions?" This is the essence of the question, and such a quest of guarantees seems to be well justified. It is supposed in your text that the fear of a final judgment after death is a guarantee.

For my opinion, in a secular society, where all such believes are put aside, things can be arranged in the next way. This question should be turned to that who asked it. Is she sure that her behavior would be also as good as she asked from others? If she does not believe in the life after death, she, probably, answer like this: "Yes, I am quite sure about myself, I will not commit any crime and nether will give way to my bad intentions, all this follows from my profound moral convictions". But, in this case, why she search for more than she can propose herself - her profound convictions without guarantees that she really has them (there is no ways to verify her personal views)?

The schema follows from this consideration and supposes only good will. Everybody can declare her prosocial moral convictions and does not propose guarantees (it's impossible, so it's useless) that she indeed has them and in her turn does not ask others to give their guarantees. The question simply should not be even asked.

if one believes in a finite existence why is it wrong to steal ,relative to them ( for example)?

You have only your our convictions and nothing more strong, therefore, they are only your mean in this case. If one does not think that all these doings are wrong you can only try to convince him that they are wrong. But you can fail.

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  • Note ; I am not talking about or thinking of this thought experiment relative to any sort of moral judgements. I'm just referring to the behavior and attitudes that some people MAY have if they believe in a finite existence and they don't want any type of moral concepts holding them back in their pursuit of great benefits.. – 201044 Jan 25 '16 at 14:05

Beyond what Ransack indicated, there's another flaw in your presentation: you assert that people who have enough empathy for the victims will be deterred by that, but then dismiss this case by saying that there are many criminals who are not empathetic. But at least a plurality of those non-empathetic criminals are not deterred by the prospect of supernatural punishment, e.g. declared Christians who have stolen from someone else.

Thus, in your own presentation you have indicated that (a) sufficient empathy for the victims will prevent someone from committing a crime, even in the absence of other punishments, (b) even supernatural promises of punishment is insufficient to deter all people from committing crimes. So my take away from your presentation is that ethics is hard.

To more directly answer your question: I'm not convinced that secular morality is in ever in conflict with enlightened self interest. The enlightened aspect include features like, considering the long term consequences, considering what would happen if your actions were a general rule (akin to rule utilitarianism), considerations of others (e.g. the veil of ignorance) etc.

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  • No I implied a person's sense of empathy MAY stop them from doing some possible crime. – user128932 Sep 10 '14 at 6:12
  • By construction, enough empathy (what I wrote in the first paragraph) or sufficient empathy, as in the second, will prevent the person from committing the crime. All that matters for my argument is that there are some people in some moral situations for whom empathetic considerations are sufficient to guide them towards the moral choice even in the absence of other reward/punishment factors. I read your question to indicate that you acknowledge that such situations exist. – Dave Sep 10 '14 at 13:04
  • Yes , empathy victums of a con-game or a white collar crime or any other crime COULD be enough to stop a person from participating BUT there is also the LOVE of money and all the perks it can supply if the scheme is not found out. How do con-artists get a 'reasonable' and up-to-now law abiding citizen to participate in a scheme? Probably the promise of money and 'perks' and the assurance it's not a crime or no one will get hurt , or it's a brilliant plan that will never be discovered. If a person believes in a finite existence and that they won't be found out in this present life, WHY NOT? – user128932 Sep 12 '14 at 5:38
  • I am not ever indirectly referring to ANY possibility of supernatural punishments , my intent is regarding the attitudes of people who believe in a finite life in this life only and how it MIGHT affect their ambitions for 'benefits'.. Of course people with empathy may limit their behavior and they may not but the point is someone striving for benefits ,without getting caught if illicit, may ignore any possible behavior limiting concepts to 'enjoy' themselves before they ultimately disappear.... forever.. – 201044 Jan 25 '16 at 14:13

Your question is if people only live for a finite time why shouldn't they do bad stuff if they think they can get away with it?

Morality is about how to make decisions. This covers everything that people usually think of as morality and more. For example, if we ask whether abortion is moral or not that's a question about how to make decisions about whether to get an abortion. People who oppose abortion would claim that a woman should always make a negative decision when considering whether to get an abortion. People who think abortion should be allowed would say that a woman should sometimes say yes when considering whether to get an abortion.

Some philosophers say morality is about emotions, dispositions and that sort of thing, e.g. - morality is about whether you should care for one child more than another or whatever. All such issues are about how you should make decisions about emotional issues and so are included in saying that morality is about how to make decisions. Some philosophers may wish to limit the set of decisions under considerations to emotions or dispositions or whatever. This rips moral problems, including moral problems about emotions, out of context and makes it more difficult to solve them. This is a substantive and bad moral theory.

The main question you ought to ask is whether the action benefits you. If the action doesn't benefit you that is a criticism of it. If there is a criticism of taking a particular action then it is a bad idea even if you don't know about the criticism. Stupidity will not stop adverse consequences of bad stuff you do, so thinking that you can do something immoral and "get away with it" will not save you.

There are some bad actions you can take that only affect you. If your respond to a fault in your computer by getting angry and hitting the computer that is bad and stupid. You took a substantial risk of harming your computer, which was a bad idea. In addition, you have wasted time by getting angry rather than trying to think about how to solve your problem. There is no such thing as getting away with doing something stupid and bad like that.

But let's suppose that you take an action that harms somebody else and you get away with it in the sense that at present the other person hasn't found out. If he does find out then he may be less willing to cooperate with you in future. You have no way of guaranteeing the other person won't find out. He might find out himself or somebody else might find out and tell him. You might inadvertently betray the secret yourself by slipping up. You have to keep track of how your deceived him and all the consequences of that or take a large risk of him finding out.

Also whether he will find out depends not just on you and him but on everybody else that either of you deals with, so there is no way you can reasonably expect to succeed. Whether other people will find out will depend on what knowledge they have now, which you largely don't know. It also depends on what knowledge they will create in the future which you can't possibly know. Other people interact with you directly and indirectly so their future knowledge is influenced by your future knowledge. You can't predict what knowledge you will have in the future because if you could predict what you will know tomorrow you would already know it.

Let's suppose that nobody finds out about the bad thing you did. Even leaving aside the cost of trying to cover up your misdeed, there is another problem. Your bad action was a result of bad ways of thinking about how to make decisions. By doing the bad thing and covering it up you have covered up your ignorance so that you haven't received feedback on how you could do better or fixed the problem yourself.

To understand more about secular morality read "The Beginning of Infinity" by David Deutsch and Ayn Rand has written a lot of relevant stuff: "The Virtue of Selfishness", "The Fountainhead", "Atlas Shrugged", "Philosophy who needs it" and "The Voice of Reason".

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    -1 for overly broad sentence here: "Morality is about how to make decisions." Not interested in arguing it, but there's much more to morality as normally defined than just making decisions -- at least for most contemporary ethicists. – virmaior Sep 8 '14 at 13:20
  • @virmaior You're wrong, see the second paragraph of my edit. – alanf Sep 8 '14 at 13:35
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    Nope, still an overstatement. Morality includes more than just decision-making. For many contemporary accounts, it also includes attitude and disposition formation, controlling our emotions in response to external phenomenon, etc. Making the blanket claim "Morality is about how to make decisions" is still wrong. Or to put it another way, a lot of morality is not about asking whether getting an abortion is or wrong or whether killing babies with down syndrome is okay. There's plenty of other content in morality. See Nel Noddings, Caring or Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics. – virmaior Sep 8 '14 at 13:53
  • Controlling your emotions is about how to make decisions: it's about how to make decisions about emotions. Attitudes are about how you make decisions, such as the decision whether to express scorn. A sarcastic person makes the decision to express scorn more than a "nice" person, so whether you should be sarcastic is a matter of how you should make decisions. Dispositions are only morally relevant if you can control them, in which case how you deal with them is a matter of how you make certain kinds of decisions. – alanf Sep 8 '14 at 14:07
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    I didn't fail to understand you believed what you wrote when you wrote it the first time. It doesn't even matter whether I agree. What matters is that the definition you're making up is not the way the term is used in philosophy. Again, all you would need to do is make a minor change but instead you argue ... – virmaior Sep 8 '14 at 14:09

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