Because I’m a nominalist, chopping up the world without divine guidance, a theist might think any reference I might make to “humanity” can’t possibly mean anything, but is something arbitrary. Therefore, I might just as well be an “it”–and treat others like an “it.”
Absent God’s existence, why not?
But there is a way for an atheist or nominalist to ground moral behavior and orient in the world absent God, and want to go on living and being moral after losing belief in (or doubting) God’s existence.
I don’t need an elaborately worked out metaphysics to do this, only my relation to awareness and God.
Yes, I said God. Exactly like the theist, I need God to ground my morality, but not in the way that the theist does.
How so? My disappointment.
In other words, my very awareness of my own pain that God probably doesn’t exist, and that I am bereft in the cosmos, elicits in me compassion for those who I think are in the same boat.
So my disappointment, and an attribution of awareness in another person, is all I need. Once I attribute awareness to another–awareness like I have–I feel solidarity with that person (whether she believes in God or not). I want the best for me and I want the best for her, and I’m sorry we can’t have that. I feel empathy. I think we will both die, and not go on after death, and I can see that we both feel pain–and I wish it was different for both of us.
Buddha, for example, didn’t step out from under the Bodhi Tree with a conviction that God exists, only that he’d figured out a way to arrest the cycle of human pain. His compassion for other beings with awareness like his own was enough to motivate him to speak and act in the world.
I think this is enough for any evolved social animal with powerful social emotions to go on living. Suddenly, I want to say, “Well, here we are in the same bad situation. God isn’t talking, we feel pain, and will one day die. What do we do together? What sort of society do we want? Is the game worth the candle? If we say yes, and want to go on living, then let’s make the best of it.”
Think of Taylor (Charlton Heston) in the original Planet of the Apes. He is stranded on a strange and uninhabited planet (so he thinks), but then he encounters others who he recognizes as aware, who feel pain, and who will die exactly like him. He enters into solidarity with those he recognizes as seeing in him the same thing.