I am an atheist and I hold a physicalist view of the world, that the
world is made but of one kind of stuff (call it "physical", if you
want) and the universe is composed only of one kind of interactions.
So you don't think that f.e. there are abstract facts?
But recently I was bumped up against the problem of morality in
atheism and I found it harder to reconcile with the context of my
beliefs, even harder than the hard problem of consciousness.
There are multiple ideas that permit "objective" (in a vague sense) ethical ideas with atheism.
1) Moral realism. There exist moral facts in some sense. There are a bunch of possibilites here:
- 1a) Non-naturalist moral realism: the view that there are abstract moral facts or properties. Kind of like we might think of mathematics of a system of abstract facts.
- 1b) Naturalist moral realism: the view that moral facts come from certain natural facts. This can be either reductive or non-reductive.
2) Constructivism. Morality comes from our reasoning.
- 2a) Kantian constructivism: the stance that rational agency leads to a morality. Those moral features are "universally binding".
- 2b) Aristotelian constructivism: rational agency leads to a morality that aims at eudaimonia. The difference to 2a is that there are no set moral principles.
1a also doesn't work when we think that there are no abstract facts. So with physicalism in the strict sense it doesn't work. 1b does work but depending on our sort of physicalism some approaches might be excluded. "Cornell realism" f.e. sort of requires non-reductive physicalism. Both kinds of 2 listed here could work with physicalism.
What I really did when I
evaluated a moral decision, was hold on to Ideals like my idea of
justice, truth, quality, meaning and purpose.
From the metaethical views listed above some might apply here depending on what reasoning you follow. Take for example an utilitarianism following a moral naturalism. Here we could see something like "justice" useful for judgment, just not instrinsically so.
(Also note that with physicalism you'll have to believe that there's no abstract concept of justice.)
I feel these emotions
What do you mean by "these emotions"? Justice doesn't have to be a concept from emotion.
and I place morality in the context of my emotions rather than
Generally if we think that emotions in the strict sense are important for moral judgment then we get into trouble for most of the projects listed above. I suppose it could fit with Aristotelian constructivism in some sense.
That being said you don't necessarily have to land at a stance that thinks that morality is "objective" (or at absolute or something). With other ideas you can land at relativism. This would f.e. be Humean constructivism. We could think of it like this: we have certain basic moral principles. Those don't have to follow reason and might conflict. However, to act against them would be immoral behaviour.
You could also think that relativism is incorrect as well. Other metaethical possibilities consistent with atheism and physicalism are:
- Error theory (all ethical propositions are wrong because it's unclear how there are any truth conditions... this doesn't have to imply that talk about morality is useless, or so error theorists think).
- Moral non-cognitivism (moral propositions aren't even truth apt: When we say "Doing X is morally wrong." we are instead prescribing something or voicing emotions. Generally this is a set of stances that comes from a view on semantics of moral talk. It has a huge problem called the Frege-Geach-Problem. But there are some new approaches that try getting around it.
For more overview, here's a flowchart from Miller's Contemporary Metaethics, I believe.