Students Discuss Morality, Religion

While Opening Days serve as a chance for carefree socializing before classes start, undergraduates took up some of life’s graver matters—morality, ethics, and religion—on Sunday.

On Sunday, student groups Harvard College Faith and Action and Harvard Community of Humanists, Atheists, and Agnostics hosted a “Good without God?” discussion. Panelists debated whether morality and ethics originate from the Christian God or from human reason.

HCHAA President Elliot A. Wilson ’15 introduced the group with a short speech that got the audience laughing with a number of puns before emphasizing the importance of mutual respect.

“Both of our groups reject a model of tolerance that merely says, ‘We acknowledge your right to be wrong,’” Wilson said. “If that alone is tolerance, devoid of a commitment to mutual respect, devoid of compassion and friendship, one which does not enable us enough to effectively talk about our differences, then tolerance isn’t enough.”

One HCFA panelist laid out an argument that ethics were rooted in the principles of Christianity.

“Our goal in this debate is to present an affirmative case for Christian ethics, which is based on God’s great love and compassion for us, specifically revealed in Jesus Christ,” said Corinne Tu ’13.

She also argued that God’s “purpose” is essential to knowing the morality of our decisions.

“The concept of ‘purpose’ is necessary to legitimately evaluate the goodness of something. ‘Purpose’ allows us to determine if something is good or bad,” she said.

Melanie J. Rucinski ’15, the co-vice president of HCHAA, countered by arguing that ethics and morality are based on reason and rational thinking. She brought up utilitarian philosophy, anethical view which prioritizes achieving the greatest good for the greatest number of people.

“Our standard is the utilitarian standard, which we believe results from looking at psychological facts about the human brain and then applying reason to those facts and trying to use reason to bring the way that we make decisions now to a higher end,” Rucinski said.

After an hour, the debate transitioned to a question and answer session, during which several students asked debaters about the two sides’ ideological differences.

“Most of us have a sense of right and wrong,” said Otey, when asked why morality is important to discuss. “Asking the question ‘Why is that the case?’ is important for everyday decision making.”

—Staff writer D. Simone Kovacs can be reached at dkovacs@college.harvard.edu.

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