Friday, October 05, 2012

Video from "An Ethic of Truth"

Spurred by his lifelong interest in and study of philosophy, BA member Josiah Van Vliet recently committed himself to the work of developing a secular ethics toolkit, in the form of workshops, essays, heuristics, and mnemonics devised for adult and youth audiences. On Thursday, October 4th, he accepted an invitation from the Humanists of Boston University to present his first workshop dealing with these subjects.

Speaking to an audience of about twenty participants, Josiah began by referencing a noteworthy principle that Enlightenment philosophe Denis Diderot found in the writings of Horace: "Omne tulit punctum qui miscuit utile dulce," 'Supreme merit to him who combines the agreeable with the useful'. Josiah's challenge to us was to figure out how the two concepts of "agreeable" (or, pleasurable) and "useful" can substitute for the somewhat more problematic concept of "ethical" when dealing with questions of moral goodness. In other words, when we're asked why we think it is true that something is morally good, we might answer by explaining that something is morally good if it brings about an increase in both pleasure and usefulness. A neat sleight-of-hand, this trick, since it changes the terms of moral consideration from "good vs. bad" (which as concepts are opaque, subjective, and private) to "useful vs. impeding" and "pleasurable vs. painful" -- terms that much more transparent, and negotiable, than the usual vocabulary of ethical value.

Josiah spent 20 minutes laying out his rubric (see the video of his talk appears above), and then broke the audience into groups that were assigned the task of figuring out whether his example scenarios -- e.g., a mother who for the sake of his son's health denies him candy, though it makes him miserable to go without! -- would fall into one of four quadrants: useful and pleasant, useful and painful, impeding and pleasant, and impeding and painful. The conversation in our group (and for all I could tell, in each of the groups) was probing, engaged, and fun.

If last night's workshop is representative of what we can expect in the other two sessions to take place this year, and of the ambition of Josiah's larger project, we have a lot to look forward to.

To learn more about his work with secular ethics, visit Josiah's blog at

Shelley Segal in Harvard Square on 10/9

The BA has booked Australian songstress Shelley Segal for a show at The Loft in Tommy Doyle's, Harvard Square. She'll be playing her unique style of thematically secular music infused with folk/blues/jazz influences, as well as material from her 2012 release "An Atheist Album."

Shelley is a popular and increasingly prominent voice in the secular movement (she was one of the featured speakers at the Reason Rally in DC this past March!), and talented, sensitive performer... for an Atheist, she's got a hell of a lot of soul. Don't miss this act! And please help to spread the world; this is a show our folks are not going to want to miss.

The Loft at Tommy Doyle's
96 Winthrop Street, Harvard Square
9-11 PM, Tuesday October 9, 2012 / Sets at 9:30 and 10:30
$5 at the door / All proceeds go to the artist / All ages

PLEASE SHARE these Facebook event links:

Check out Shelley's music:
And if you're on Twitter, tell the folks @tommydoyles that they've booked a great show!

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Dave Niose speaks about a secular life


Dave Niose, speaking with Chris Johnson of The Atheist Book project, makes a persuasive, rational, disarming case for living a secular life. Niose is the author of Nonbeliever Nation and president of the American Humanist Association.