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Talking Philosophy With the Kid: Beyond Good and Evil

February 8, 2012

Recently my daughter asked me, quite out of the blue while having a bath, if there were such a thing as good and bad. Apparently she saw a movie in which a character says they do not exist, but then later on changes his mind and agrees that they do.

So I introduced her to the subject of relativity. I explained that there is no absolute good or bad, but only good or bad for someone or something. For instance, if our roof leaks that is bad for us. But it’s good for the guy who comes to repair it because it gives him work. And for someone living in a far away place who does not know us, it is irrelevant, neither good nor bad. She listened very thoughtfully and seemed to get it entirely – she was even able to think up several examples of her own. The she asked if destroying the environment isn’t bad for everyone. Yes, I explained, it is. It’s bad for all the people on earth, and all the animals, all life. But is it bad for a star in a far-off galaxy? Or any possible alien life-forms living on a planet in its solar system? No. As irrelevant as our leaky roof to the guy in Mexico City. Nothing is per se good or bad and the universe is vastly indifferent. I think she sort of got it.

Not that a believer couldn’t have this sort of conversation with their child, but to me this is an excellent example of the joys and benefits of raising an atheist child. I don’t tell her about intrinsic, sky-god morality that we must follow, but try to present her with tools to think through the complex questions of ethics herself. Her reasoning muscles are still new and weak, but she’s beginning, and I hope to help her exercise them until they are strong and capable.

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From → Education

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