Morality derived from empathy

Hello I am in a Facebook group where we have open discussion between christians and atheists. I happened to posse a question to my atheist friends about where they derive their morality from. Most of the answers I got is that they derived their morality from empathy.that is if am able to know how my friends fill about something then this will affect my actions when around them. How can one respond to such claim?


I could see how an argument for personal morality could be construed this way. But, no sense of objective or commissive morality could be developed this way. I once heard of a horrible story which has stuck with me. Three teenagers sat on the bank of a retention pond while a disabled person drowned in the water after he had fallen in. Despite his cries for help they stood on the side and laughed. They were not arrested because it was said that they had no legal obligation to help this person. The question is 1) did they have a moral obligaion? 2) Even if they decided not to help, was their response moral?

Your friends would not be able to answer that question. By the nature of their position they would have to punt that question to the person. What person, in the usual course of business, is going to claim that their actions are immoral? One of the most interesting things about humans is our capacity to rationalize and justify our actions. But, are we being honest here? One of the things C. S. Lewis says in Mere Christianity is that eternal morality begins to rear its head in our convictions that we should do other than what we do. Where does this “ought” come from, however strongly we may try to rationalize it away?

On your friends suggestion you could never establish for another person what is and is not moral because it would be based on my feelings. Further, could I even judge my past actions if they were based on how I felt at the time? Could I be said to improve over time? Or just that my feelings have changed over time with no corresponding moral value change? This position really becomes incoherent the more it is pushed no matter how reasonable it sounds at the outset. There is no unifying strand around which a society can be built.

Great question!


This is such a great answer. I’m still contemplating it. I’ve saved it in my files for future reference. thanks Joshua, and praying that the RZIM ministry will continue to grow.

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Thank you! I would love to hear any further thoughts you may have!

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2 questions:

Knowing how they feel impacts your actions when around them. What about when they are NOT around? Does your “morality” change depending upon your social situation?

How do you determine the moral choice when confronted with a situation involving people you do not know & who may even be from a different culture with different norms from your own? If you have no idea how they feel about a situation, are you completely stymied in knowing what to do?