A question of authority

I like this cartoon, from the creationist organization Answers in Genesis. It expresses a conservative religious concern about the source and authority of morality very well.

If there is no external, transcendent, supernatural, absolute, objective, (insert any other hardening adjectives you like) source of rules, then people are just making the rules up. And if so, what stops someone from adopting self-serving, community-exploiting “rules”?

It’s a good question. Nonbelievers have to spill a lot of ink trying to answer it. I don’t think we do a bad job of it—certainly not compared to the authoritarian nonsense a cartoon like this is actually defending. But the secular, humanistic ways we figure out how to regulate our lives together are also complicated, ambiguous, imperfect. They’re hard to put in a cartoon. Compared to the visceral appeal of God-given rules this cartoon expresses, the secular version has to labor against a intuitive disadvantage.

About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03125071278187187016 jmilillustrates

    The world described in this comic is exactly the way this world is. So either there is no god, or his presence hasn't changed anything rendering him irrelevant.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10103464386296743152 Ian Andreas Miller

    "If there is no external, transcendent, supernatural, absolute, objective, (insert any other hardening adjectives you like) source of rules, then people are just making the rules up."

    I don't buy that sort of dilemma in the first place. It seems plain to me that the Divine Command Theory frames the problem in such a way that only the Divine Command Theory itself can solve it.

    All too often there is that general assumption that theism gets to hold the monopoly on ethical concerns, and therefore is the null hypothesis that all opposing positions need to refute in order to justify themselves. So, basically, "Oh yeah, Mr. Smarty-Pants Nonbeliever, if not God, then who?"

    But why should we consider transcendence and supernaturalism as necessary and sufficient solutions to the dilemma other than the Divine Command Theory's say so? What gives the Divine Command Theory the authority to call such things "absolute," "objective" at all? The Divine Command Theory is just one kind of ethical system, and yet it constantly imposes its standards on all others, and the others always fall for it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06394155516712665665 CyberKitten

    Except (of course)

    the "external, transcendent, supernatural, absolute, objective, (insert any other hardening adjectives you like) source of rules" is also 'made-up'

    because religion/God are human constructs.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    'And if so, what stops someone from adopting self-serving, community-exploiting "rules"?'

    God.

    you might have noticed god stopping hitler, Stalin, pol pot, Mao.

    It doesn't even make the headlines any more. 'God rights wrongs' is no more news than 'Dog bites man'.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06991399989312293654 DoorThirteen

    The irony of the cartoon is that the secular version might read:

    Frame 1: Regardless of the existence of god, I'm going to live by my own rules.

    Frame 2: My rules are that everyone should be loving and kind to each oth…

    Frame 3 CHOMP!

    Frame 4: Apparently, the church has different rules.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01824563181864407961 Muichimotsu

    Problem with them quoting Judges 17:6 from my quick look at the verse is that the verse itself is just suggesting what Hobbes suggested: without the state we resort to a short, brutish and cruel existence. The verse says nothing about God keeping people in order, the verse says without a "king" or by extension a ruler, everyone just does what they "think" is right. Psalsm 14:1 is the usual "Fool hath said in his heart" line.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    I don’t think that any of the posters here really engages with the cartoon’s message, which pretty concisely expresses the fundamental meta-ethical and pragmatical problems of naturalism.

    CyberKitten thinks that religion/God are constructs of the human imagination, but that’s irrelevant; after all theists think that naturalism is the failure of seeing beyond one’s nose. Rather one must approach the question from the agnostic point of view. The issues at hand are that: 1) theism comports much better than naturalism with our ethical intuition and particularly with the intuition that at least some moral truths are objective; an intuition which for many people is incorrigible, 2) pragmatically speaking theism gives people one more reason to be ethical – or, to press the point, naturalism gives people no reason to be ethical in any real sense, i.e. in a non self-serving sense.

    Ian Adreas Miller thinks that theism’s command ethics is even more problematic. But command ethics is not the official position of Christianity, let alone the strongest theistic understanding about ethics. Rather the strongest theistic idea is that ethical truths (and in general value judgments) refer to how God is, and as God is the foundation of all reality such truths are objective – exactly as our moral intuition has it. So it’s not like something is good because God says so, but rather that God asks of us to do what is good, but not in a sense which is external to God. Rather God asks us to become as perfect as S/He is. And, incidentally, God does not “say” what is good through the scriptures (which according to the best theistic understanding are human and hence flawed constructs) but through our own moral sense, i.e. by how God has created us. For, on theism, we are created in the image of God and hence with the yearning for perfection and with the cognitive capacity of knowing good and evil. So ultimately there is no opposition between theism and humanism; on the contrary theism grounds humanism.

    Steven Carr derisively answers Taner’s question “And if so, what stops someone from adopting self-serving, community-exploiting ‘rules’?”, but it seems he misunderstood the question. The question asks about what possible *reason* might stop someone from adopting such self-serving and exploitative rules. It seems there can’t be any such reason. Here’s why: Suppose one answers the question above with: “Do not adopt exploitative rule X, because of reason R1”. This only moves the question one step back, for one can now ask: “What reason stops someone from rejecting R1?” The only possible answer now is “Do not reject R1 because of reason R2”. And so, ad infinitum. It is clear then that unless one finds a way to anchor ethical propositions in objective reality they will remain arbitrary in reason.

    Now some naturalists, inspired by the theory of evolution, try to anchor ethical truths in the way the human brain has evolved, i.e. to suggest that ethical propositions ultimately refer to properties of the human brain. But this intent at a solution fails too, because a naturalist might reasonably ask: Given that the human brain has evolved in a way that makes us feel that one should not behave in a self-serving and exploitative way, why shouldn’t I nevertheless behave in such a way if it so suits me best, as is in fact often the case. For example, given that I can exploit loopholes in the tax law and legally avoid paying my fair share of taxes, why shouldn’t I do so? After all I can use the saved money to give my children a better education. Not to mention that paying more taxes than I have to will give the impression to the people around me, including potential mates, that I am stupid. As for the sociobiological evolutionary history of my brain, which makes me feel that this is not the right thing to do, well, it can go suck on an egg.

    In conclusion it seems to me that ontological naturalism fails to provide a sensible framework to answer what is probably the most important question each one of us faces, namely: “What should I do, and why?”

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06991399989312293654 DoorThirteen

    Dianelos Georgoudis: "What should I do, and why?"

    Frame 3: CHOMP

    Sorry, I couldn't help myself. I suppose Nietzsche would have something to say about my will to power with regard to self control…

    At any rate, the answer to your question is quite simple without reference to religion.

    To phrase it in your terms: You should do what social propriety requires you to do. Or as I'd prefer to put it, you must behave in a way that is socially acceptable, within the context of the culture you are participating in. The reason why is nothing more than fear of reprisal or exclusion.

    Any rejection of social rules or standards may result in imprisonment for breaking laws or in the withholding of certain perceived "rights". Such as employment, "equal" opportunity, having/keeping friends, or even something as simple as following laws to avoid jail.

    Outside of following religious morality due to the fear of hell, social integration is the ONLY reason we obey set laws and social etiquette.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17421420520561905420 YamaZaru

    Yeeesh, Christianity has such a nasty Hobbesian idea of human nature… Anxiety about losing the grounds for morality is probably one of the most compelling reasons for believers to cling to their faith. It's certainly one of the points I hear most often when I talk with theists.

    One problem seems to be that many secular justifications of cultural standards or morality are rife with appeals to authority or questionable claims about human nature- i.e. they have the same form as religious justifications! Think of all the formerly religiously justified moral codes that became enshrined in secular law and are thus maintained unquestioned even after the religious consensus that originally supported them has eroded.

    I think it's also related to how few areas in life exist where people get a chance to participate in creating rules in an open, shared manner. Formalized democracy is very, very new and not too widely applied. Using participatory, self-reflective and evidence based methods to decide standards of morality is even more radical. If most folks experiences of "the secular" (say when they deal with the law, the state, in economic transactions…) repeat the authoritarian feel of religion then they're not going to have much faith in the idea that humans can consciously create or agree on shared rules.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    I asked what I should do, and why.

    DoorThirteen responds that I should behave in a way that is socially acceptable, within my culture. And why? As to not be excluded or suffer reprisals. – But this does not look like a good answer. After all exploiting legal loopholes in order not to pay my fair share of taxes is socially acceptable, even admirable, but is not right. The same goes with buying a luxurious new car, at a time where many people around the world are starving. There are cultures today where honor killing is socially acceptable, even demanded. Not to mention that owning slaves used to be socially acceptable.

    Now, it’s easy enough for me to claim that DoorThirteen’s answer is wrong. The real problem is that on naturalism there is nothing to keep DoorThirteen from arguing that he or she is right, and that, for example, I actually ought to buy a luxurious new car if I desire it and can afford it.

    Doorthirteen also says that religious people follow morality because they fear hell. I wonder if that’s true. First of all many religious people do not believe in hell. Now I don’t know of any actual study, but my best guess is that all other factors being the same religious people who believe in hell are less moral than religious people who don’t. In any case theistic morality is not based on the fear of hell or on the desire for heavenly reward, but rather on one’s inbuilt yearning for moral perfection, which fact of the human condition comports very well with the theistic view that we are created in God’s image. That theism also implies that to do good is ultimately never in vain, and that ultimately to do evil is never a smart choice – can only help.

    YamaZaru does not propose any answer to the question above, but rather suggests that standards of morality should be the result of some ideal democratic process (participatory, self-reflective, evidence based, etc). Let’s overlook the question of why exactly the standards of morality should be the result of such a process – after all that’s an ethical standard right there. So suppose we have that process; what reason would stop a naturalist from rejecting the resulting morality standards and adopting different ones which suit her interests better? And so, round and round it goes.

    I suppose the pragmatical question that faces any naturalist is this: Given that some things which deep down I feel are wrong do in fact benefit me, and given that I can get away with doing them – why shouldn’t I?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01824563181864407961 Muichimotsu

    The reason I should avoid doing things that benefit me and yet I can get away with even if it makes others suffer is because of a principle that not all that is pleasurable or good is by necessity right or just.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17421420520561905420 YamaZaru

    Dianelos, my point wasn't addressing your concern with providing a metaphysical justification as to why a given moral precept need be followed. Rather, my stance on the ontological necessity of moral behavior is akin to DoorThirteen (and Russel Blackford here: http://metamagician3000.blogspot.com/2010/03/moral-by-definition-some-slightly.html)- there isn't any objective “value-free” grounding. Morality is socially constructed. I think you're making an error to somehow think this stops us from being able to make rational arguments for given moral standards, sliding into moral relativity of not being able to argue against, say “…cultures today where honor killing is socially acceptable, even demanded. Not to mention that owning slaves used to be socially acceptable.”

    Since all moral codes are socially constructed, that means that individuals already have been making and abiding by their own moral standards for all of human history. They just haven't been aware that they were doing so- mistaking historically given, human-created moralities as coming from a deity and mistaking their own transformations and additions to the moral code as perhaps recovering lost truths from the same fictional source. Thus my concern with democracy and participatory process comes from a practical point: if humans can realize they have always been creating cultural standards themselves we might now attempt to do so consciously. This bringing of a formerly unconscious process under conscious control would perhaps raise the rate of consensus for moral beliefs thus composed, or at least bring the maximum amount of evidence/information to bear on their formation.

    I would ask how you're able to decide what “real” theism is- seeing as how you assert

    "But command ethics is not the official position of Christianity, let alone the strongest theistic understanding about ethics. Rather the strongest theistic idea is that ethical truths (and in general value judgments) refer to how God is, and as God is the foundation of all reality such truths are objective – exactly as our moral intuition has it."

    And

    “In any case theistic morality is not based on the fear of hell or on the desire for heavenly reward, but rather on one’s inbuilt yearning for moral perfection, which fact of the human condition comports very well with the theistic view that we are created in God’s image.”

    The concrete history (and most of the older foundational texts…) of religion, especially judeo-christian religion seem to imply otherwise. I doubt you can bring any evidence to bear proving God's “real” intentions; after all, you already concede the texts are, “according to the best theistic understanding” flawed constructs. Thus we can only take history as our guide to what real theism is. That history isn't very pretty.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Dianelos said:

    "But command ethics is not the official position of Christianity, let alone the strongest theistic understanding about ethics. Rather the strongest theistic idea is that ethical truths (and in general value judgments) refer to how God is, and as God is the foundation of all reality such truths are objective – exactly as our moral intuition has it. So it’s not like something is good because God says so, but rather that God asks of us to do what is good, but not in a sense which is external to God. Rather God asks us to become as perfect as S/He is."

    I don't see how theism provides a framework for the justification of morality. The comments above seem to ground one obscure mystery in another even more obscure mystery, rather than providing insight and clarification into the nature of morality.

    The IS/OUGHT divide is a key puzzle in Western philosophy and ethics. Simply asserting that "ethical truths (and in general value judgments) refer to how God is, and as God is the foundation of all reality such truths are objective" fails to address the key issue.

    You are claiming that ethical judgments "refer to how God is" and thus are factual claims (i.e. realism or correspondence theory of truth – ethical claims are true because they refer to or correspond to some part of reality). But if ethical judgments are just an odd sort of factual claim, how do they have any normative force? Factual claims don't tell us what to do; they just describe how things are. Different people can react to the same facts/realities in different ways.

    As far as I can see, neither theism nor naturalism provides clear insight into the nature of morality or ethical judgments. Additional moral theories are required by both metaphysical systems, and nobody has a really good moral theory.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Dianelos said:

    "The question asks about what possible *reason* might stop someone from adopting such self-serving and exploitative rules. It seems there can’t be any such reason. Here’s why: Suppose one answers the question above with: “Do not adopt exploitative rule X, because of reason R1”. This only moves the question one step back, for one can now ask: “What reason stops someone from rejecting R1?” The only possible answer now is “Do not reject R1 because of reason R2”. And so, ad infinitum. It is clear then that unless one finds a way to anchor ethical propositions in objective reality they will remain arbitrary in reason."

    This is very interesting stuff, and I think this is near the heart of the issue too.

    Since Aristotle, God has been put forward as necessary to end an infinite regress. The "first cause" argument puts forward the idea that God is needed to put an end to an otherwise inifinite regress of causes and effects.

    Both theoretical and practical reasoning can generate a potential infinite regress of reasons. God, it seems, is being put forward as a way to avoid such an infinite regress.

    Theoretical reasoning has the same potential infinite regress of reasons as does practical reasoning, so do we need God as the ultimate ground of theoretical reasoning too?

    Wasn't that Descartes project? The existence of God is needed as the foundation upon which the rest of theoretical knowledge can be built? The problem was that Descartes justification of belief in God was at least as dubious as anything else, and just as much a bit of theoretical reasoning that had its own potential for infinite regress (i.e. Why accept the premises of Descartes arguments for God?)

    Getting back to the specific question of infinite regress in practical reasoning and moral reasoning: How does God stop the regress? Do you stop giving reasons, and just "point" to God? I'm not sure that one could "point" to God, even if God in fact existed, but such pointing would surely have a point, have a meaning. And if one can interpret that meaning, wouldn't that amount to just one more reason in the chain of reasons?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Bradley,

    There are several posts here I intend to comment on, but as I have been recently working on precisely this point I would like to respond right away to this question you raise: “Getting back to the specific question of infinite regress in practical reasoning and moral reasoning: How does God stop the regress? The question as I understand it is this: If moral propositions ultimately refer to properties of how God is, how does one find out how God is in order to ascertain the truth value of such propositions?

    In the Christian tradition there are at least four ways to find out how God is, and hence to objectively ground moral propositions:

    1) By acquaintance. According to both the mystic and the monastic tradition of Christianity God is an object of immediate perception. One can build a direct relationship with God which is at least as intimate as one’s relationship with other people, and indeed come to know God better than one can possibly come to know other people.

    2) By finding out how we ourselves are built, for we are created in the image of God precisely in the sense of being moral agents capable of knowing good and evil. (Therefore there is really no tension, let alone opposition, between theistic morality and humanism, and every theist should whole-heartedly embrace humanism.)

    3) Empirically, by finding out how different ways of life transform how we are and how we experience life. The quality of our experience of life is a dynamic thing, and doing good transforms us toward a state of greater personal perfection, and hence a state that is closer to God’s. This is the way of the dictum “From its fruit you shall know the truth” in Matthew 7:15ff, but also in Luke 6:43ff, as well as in many other places in the Gospels.

    4) By finding out about God’s special providence and revelation in history, including in such scripture that strikes us as inspired. Which is, incidentally, why I included the quotes in #3 above. But, as far as I am concerned, this way is only supportive to the other three above, which are far more certain and grounded on our immediate experience of life. As far as reading scripture is concerned, the key issue here is to find out what strikes us as “inspired”, which is really a version of #2.

    There is perhaps a fifth way, which to my knowledge does not form part of the Christian tradition, but which may form part of the Islamic tradition. Arguably this way also forms part of our philosophical and poetical traditions, and even scientific and mathematical traditions. The idea is that there is a deep connection between truth and beauty, so that by its beauty one can also know the truth. I wonder sometimes whether it’s not this way we employ when we say that we intuitively know that some particular moral proposition is true.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Dianelos said:

    I would like to respond right away to this question you raise: “Getting back to the specific question of infinite regress in practical reasoning and moral reasoning: How does God stop the regress? The question as I understand it is this: If moral propositions ultimately refer to properties of how God is, how does one find out how God is in order to ascertain the truth value of such propositions?
    ========

    You have answered an important question, anticipating a likely objection from a skeptical viewpoint. However, that was not the question I had in mind. My question is focused on relevance and meaning more than truth.

    If I set aside, for the time being, skeptical issues about knowledge or justification of beliefs about God's nature, and assume that those concerns could resolved and that I could figure out God's nature, character, and purposes, I don't see how that does anything for grounding moral judgments.

    Facts about God's nature and character (assuming there is a God)are still facts: descriptions of an aspect of reality. But the IS/OUGHT problem is about how to bridge the gap between what IS and what OUGHT to be the case.

    How is it that facts about God are sufficiently different than facts about the universe or facts about evolution so that such "divine" facts can somehow bridge the gap between IS and OUGHT while other (more mundane facts) cannot?

    It seems to me that you have gained objectivity in morality by sacrificing the normative character of moral judgments. This looks like an attempt to reduce values to facts, and it is hard to see how that could be done without at the same time eliminating what is most essential about values.

    The usual way to get a value out of a fact, is to add an evaluative assumption to the fact in question. That will give you a standard form of practical or normative reasoning. But then we are back to the same infinite regress that you were trying to avoid.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Bradley said: “ But the IS/OUGHT problem is about how to bridge the gap between what IS and what OUGHT to be the case."

    The is/ought problem is only a problem on naturalism. Each ontological worldview carries its own set of problem; so, for example, the problem of evil is only a problem on theism. Indeed, the very meaning of common propositions such as “this apple exists” carries a different meaning on naturalism (“this apple exists as an autonomous mechanistic thing”) and on theism (“this apple exists as a manifestation of God’s will”).[1]

    So why is there no “is/ought” gap to be bridged on theism? Because on theism what is fundamental to reality, i.e. what all existential "is" (or whatever all factual claims refer to) depends on and is reducible to, is not a matrix of mechanistic particles as naturalism has it, but rather a single person.[2] So, on theism, what is fundamental in reality has all the properties a person has, such as intelligent mind, will, and – what is relevant to our current discussion – moral character, which moral character instantiates moral qualities. So on theism to say that one can derive an “ought” from an “is” even though true is actually misleading, for on theism the “ought” is a property of the “is”. There is thus no is/ought gap on theism, let alone an is/ought problem.[3]

    Bradley said: “ How is it that facts about God are sufficiently different than facts about the universe [as understood by naturalism]?

    I trust the answer now is clear: Facts about God are personal in nature; facts about the universe as understood by naturalism are mechanical in nature. You write “assume […] that I could figure out God’s nature”, as if this is a difficult thing to do. Similarly, in a previous post you wrote of God as an “obscure mystery”. But God is difficult to figure out only if you try to think about theism from a mechanistic mindset. In fact God is trivially easy to understand, for the nature of God is just like our own nature, namely personal. We intimately know, indeed cannot fail to know, the meaning of “consciousness”, “beauty”, “love”, “good”, “value”, “freedom”, “will”, “mind”, “character”, and so on, which are all properties of personhood, and hence of God. But we don’t really know (as philosophers of ontology have long found out) the nature of “matter”. For example, we have absolutely not the foggiest idea what “electrical charge” (one of the basic properties of matter) actually is. We only know how to use this concept to model physical phenomena, and that’s all there is to it. So, if you think about it, it’s naturalism that describes a reality which is deeply mysterious and ultimately unknowable. It’s only because the regularities present in our experience of the physical universe, which allow us to mechanistically model and hence predict physical phenomena, that we get the illusion of “understanding” the physical world.

    [1] Indeed there are important differences in the meaning of this proposition on dualistic versus idealistic theism. On the dualistic understanding the apple has a separate material existence, albeit one continuously upheld by God’s will. On the idealistic understanding the apple is just a property of God's relationship with us, namely a stable pattern in our experience of life as shaped by God’s will.

    [2] Whereas then naturalism must find a way to reduce the existence of persons to mechanistic particles (which turns out to be the hard mind/body problem), theism must find a way to reduce the existence of mechanistic particles to a person, which is trivial. So the mind/body problem is another problem that is only naturalism's.

    [3] A corollary here is this: That theism is a dynamic and creative worldview precisely because the “is” entails the “ought”. Which goes a long way of explaining creation: God creating the world is from God’s point of view what God ought to do.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    DG
    And so, ad infinitum. It is clear then that unless one finds a way to anchor ethical propositions in objective reality they will remain arbitrary in reason.

    CARR
    So they are the not arbitrary if they come from a being whose nature is just an arbitrary brute fact.

    'This is the way things are' is totally arbitrary.

    And what is objective reality? Jas DG found it?

    Suppose further research discovered that it was 'objective reality' that 2 out of 3 babies should be killed at birth?

    Would DG then claim that this is what we should do?

    Or does he rule out such a possibility as he knows what objective reality is and that objective reality could never be like that?

    How did DG find out what objective reality was? Did he search his feelings to find out what 'objective reality' says about killing babies?

    How did DG find out what 'objective reality' says about killing babies? Did he Google it?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    DG
    Not to mention that owning slaves used to be socially acceptable.

    CARR
    So?

    It used to be medically acceptable to use leeches to cure people.

    We now know better. The opinion amomg medical society has changed.

    But, according to DG, we should not do what doctors think is acceptable, because look, those doctors used to use leeches!

    Look, says DG, if you do what society thinks is acceptable, who can say that using leeches is bad, because society used to accept that.

    So because society used to use leeches, we can not rely on medical treatments that society approved.

    Instead, we have to go back to the Bible and have people cure mental illness by driving out demons.

    DG
    According to both the mystic and the monastic tradition of Christianity God is an object of immediate perception

    CARR
    Yes, and that means the Yorkshire Ripper must have been right when he knew by 'immediate perception' that the Christian God was telling him to butcher prostitutes.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    DG
    . In fact God is trivially easy to understand, for the nature of God is just like our own nature, namely personal.

    CARR
    Of course it is.

    This imaginary god was created by human beings.

    And other human beings then realised they could seize power if this god agreed with them about everything.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    DG

    we have absolutely not the foggiest idea what “electrical charge” (one of the basic properties of matter) actually is. ….. So, if you think about it, it’s naturalism that describes a reality which is deeply mysterious and ultimately unknowable

    CARR
    Let me see if I can follow the 'logic'.

    Naturalism posits the existence of 'electrical charge'.

    Nobody knows what electrical charge is, so naturalism is the world view that is mysterious.

    Supernaturalism does not have these problems.

    I guess DG doesn't believe in electricity as he claims his world view does not have the problems that naturalism has.

    So he obviously can't believe in electricity, or else his worldview would be the one that was 'mysterious'

    DG
    On the idealistic understanding the apple is just a property of God's relationship with us, namely a stable pattern in our experience of life as shaped by God’s will.

    CARR
    And so is that cancer you have.

    You might want that tumour to shrink.

    Tough.

    That tumour is stable, sustained as it is by God, and shaped by God's will.

    It is God's will that this tumour is sustained…..

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17700271084635840759 davmab11

    you little liars do nothing but antagonize…

    and you try to eliminate all the dreams and hopes of humanity…

    but you LOST…

    THE DEATH OF ATH*ISM – SCIENTIFIC PROOF OF GOD

    http://engforum.pravda.ru/showthread.php?t=280780

    Einstein puts the final nail in the coffin of atheism…

    *************************************

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V7vpw4AH8QQ

    *************************************

    atheists deny their own life element…

    LIGHT OR DEATH, ATHEISTS?

    ********************************
    ***************************LIGHT*********
    ************************************

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Dianelos said:

    "The is/ought problem is only a problem on naturalism."

    "So why is there no “is/ought” gap to be bridged on theism?"
    =========

    The IS/OUGHT gap is related to the infinite regress issue that you have pointed out. The IS/OUGHT gap is a matter of logic, and applies to all metaphysical and philosophical viewpoints: Factual claims don't logically imply Evaluative or Normative claims.

    It is this very assumption that generates the infinite regress of normative claims that you yourself described. Apart from this point of logic, your infinite regress worry would disappear.

    So, the bottom line is, is there a bottom line in the case of moral reasoning?

    In the case of theoretical reasoning, the foundations of knowledge were thought by some philosophers to be self-evident truths. Self-evident truths were thought to be the end of the line, or, better, the ultimate starting points of theoretical reasoning.

    What about practical reasoning, and moral reasoning in particular? Are there any "foundations" or ultimate starting points for moral reasoning?

    Moral judgements can be justified in terms of moral principles, and moral principles can be justified in terms of a moral theory (e.g. rule utilitarianism), but why should I live my life according to a particular moral theory, or according to any moral principle or moral theory?

    On the traditional view of ethics in western philosophy, a theory of ethics is at or near the foundation of moral reasoning. But one can push back one more step and ask "Why be moral?" The answer to this question needs to involve some normative assumption or premise, even if the norm is one of self-interest: "Because you will be happier if you live your life in accordance with morality." or "Because if you don't God will eternally punish you for your immoral actions."

    What is your response to this question? If you have no response, then your philosophy still suffers from the IS/OUGHT gap, and the resulting infinite regress problem.
    If your answer is to point to some alleged fact concerning God, such as "The ultimate source of all being is personal and intelligent." Then my response is that this is just a fact (if it is true), and it carries no normative implications, by itself. You have to assume some sort of norm to get the ball rolling.

    Let me put the point bluntly. Are theists excluded from the requirement of justifying their moral judgments? Are only atheists and skeptics required to justify their moral judgments? I think it is obvious that we all are required to justify our moral judgments; nobody gets a free pass.

    But once you start down the path of moral reasoning, you are faced with the potential of an infinite regress. We all are faced with this potential, theists and naturalists alike. This is a problem that we share.

    My question is: How does theism help to resolve this problem?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Bradley said: “The IS/OUGHT gap is related to the infinite regress issue that you have pointed out."

    All rational (i.e. epistemically well-grounded) fields of knowledge avoid infinite regresses. Take for example the natural sciences. Scientific reasoning always stops at some observational fact. So, for example, a scientist may claim theory “T because of R1” and “R1 because of R2” and finally “R2 because of observational fact F1”. So in science regressions of reason are stopped by the scientist’s direct perception of physical phenomena.

    Theistic ethics is based on a well-grounded epistemology which, similarly, offers ways of escaping infinite regresses and stops at direct perception. In a previous post I offered several ways to ascertain the truth of ethical propositions on theism. If you check you’ll see that all of them stop with some direct perception of the theist. The direct perception of what exactly?, you may ask. Well, the direct perception of the moral realm, which on theism exists objectively, as it forms part (or is a property) of what is the fundamental nature of reality, namely personhood. Indeed the first way described stops with the direct perception of God’s nature, the second with the direct perception of our own nature, and the third with the direct perception of how our ethical choices transform the quality of our experience of life. So theism offers not one, but several independent and mutually reaffirming ways of ultimately grounding one’s ethical reasoning on direct perception, thus avoiding infinite regresses.

    Bradley said: “ The IS/OUGHT gap is a matter of logic, and applies to all metaphysical and philosophical viewpoints: Factual claims don't logically imply Evaluative or Normative claims.

    I don’t see why you still think that. As I tried to point out, on theism ontological facts about how reality is *entail* (or perhaps I should say "contain") normative facts, and therefore, trivially, also imply them. So, on theism true normative claims are also factual. On exactly the same epistemic warrant that the scientist can claim that it is a fact that apples water freezes when sufficiently cooled, the theist can claim that it is a fact that one should not torture a child for fun.

    Bradley said: “ In the case of theoretical reasoning, the foundations of knowledge were thought by some philosophers to be self-evident truths.

    Given the scope of the truths of direct perception which a theistic worldview entails, I wonder whether a theistic epistemology requires the existence of self-evident truths. In the context of ethical reasoning at least a theist need not claim anything as self-evidently true. (Incidentally, there is much more to be said on theistic ethical epistemology. Significantly, on theism, what one should do depends not only on the external state of affairs, but also on the internal state of affairs. So, it is possible that two different people confronting the same situation should behave in different ways. Let me know if you want me to expand on this point.)

    [continued in the next post]

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Bradley said: “Why be moral?

    This is a separate question from the question of epistemology discussed in the previous post. As you suggest I think the right answer is “Because it benefits us.”. Indeed, I’d claim that it is a psychological fact that one cannot wish to do something that one thinks does not benefit one. The difference of course is that theism entails eternal life which gives one a completely different perspective of what benefits one in comparison to naturalism which entails that our life, and hence what can benefit one, is not only limited to our current existence in this universe but, also, can end at any time.

    Now not everybody agrees with this answer. Kant, for example, thought that the right answer is “because it is our duty”. Anyway, beyond how natural and indeed how psychologically necessary my answer arguably is, it is also quite convenient for me that Jesus in the Gospels consistently and repeatedly asks His followers to consider what benefits them, e.g. when He says that they should seek the treasure that thieves cannot steal and moth cannot destroy (see for example the very beautiful text in Luke 12:32ff). Incidentally the answer “because it benefits us” does *not* entail the doctrine of hell: In what is in my view the strongest theistic theodicy, namely Irenaean theodicy, to do good always benefits one and to do evil always hurts one, even if in the end we shall all be saved and be eternally joined with God.

    Bradley said: “ My question is: How does theism help to resolve this problem?

    Please let me know if you still see something wrong or difficult to understand in the way I describe ethics on theism. To me it all seems very clear, and I would really like to understand what problems you might see.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Yamazaru:

    Let me start with the easiest part. You ask: “I would ask how you’re able to decide what the ‘real’ theism is.

    I concern myself with what I find is the strongest theistic worldview, i.e. the worldview I judge to be more probably true. This also is the only theistic worldview I am interested in defending. Surely it is pointless to think about and to defend a theistic worldview which is less. Similarly it is pointless for an atheist to think about and to attack a theistic worldview which is clearly *not* the strongest one, such a Christian Fundamentalism.

    [As the scriptural texts are flawed constructs] we can only take history as our guide to what real theism is.

    I’d say that reason is our guide to what the strongest theistic understanding is.

    Coming back to the issue of ethics. You write: “Morality is socially constructed.

    If so, would you say that a society which constructs a moral code that forbids honor killing is no better than a society which constructs a moral code in favor of honor? If your answer is that the former society is better than the latter then there must be something more to ethics than just a social construction.

    I read the piece you recommended. I was struck by this: “We can define "moral", "morality", and related words such as "ethical" and "ethically" and so on, however we choose – but choose we must!” To me it sounds strange to say that we can define “morality” *however we choose*. Isn’t this like saying that morality is an arbitrary concept? Here is another quote: “[Peter Singer’s] own eventual approach is to try to sell us the attractions (the sense of meaning it can give us, and so on) of living a "moral" life. This entails that we do not necessarily have reasons to be moral.” Isn’t this like saying that we sometimes may have reason *not* to be moral?

    In order to bring some order in one’s thinking about morality I think one should concentrate on answering two questions: 1) What is it that ethical propositions refer to? 2) What’s the relevance of knowing the truth about what ethical propositions refer to?

    On naturalism there are to my knowledge the following alternative answers:

    1. Ethical non-cognitivism: There is nothing that moral propositions refer to. It’s all nonsense.

    2. Ethical subjectivism: Moral propositions simply refer to somebody’s attitudes and tastes. Knowing what one’s moral attitudes and tastes are is relevant to the degree they help one decide whether some of them may be hurtful and should be changed, in the same way that it is helpful for a smoker to know that she likes cigarettes and that’s basically why she smokes them. Knowing other peoples’ attitudes and tastes is relevant, for example, if one wishes to predict their actions.

    3. Ethical relativism: This is really a type of ethical subjectivism, the difference being that it holds that peoples’ attitudes and tastes are largely defined by their social environment. The relevance of knowing the truth value of moral propositions is similar to #2 above.

    4. Ethical realism: Moral propositions refer to objective features of the world. On naturalism then, moral statements refer to properties of the socio-biological evolution of our species, which is as much an objective physical process as, say, the shifting of the tectonic plates. There is thus quite some scientific relevance in knowing the truth value of moral propositions in that they help us understand how ethical beliefs came about, and this may be useful if one wants to engineer a shift of such beliefs. In a personal context the only relevance I see is to empower one to *not* put too much emphasis on one’s ethical beliefs, and certainly in applying them with good measure and only as long as they provide the attractions Peter Singer speaks of, thus escaping the absolute notions and excesses which are typical of religious ethics. In this context I wonder whether Peter Singer’s decision to not wear leather shoes is coherent.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    To Dianelos:

    I enjoy discussing various questions on theism vs. naturalism/atheism with you, and this particular discussion is especially interesting. Thank you for your many comments and clarifications on this topic.

    Your most recent responses clarify your views on theism and ethics nicely.

    As you no doubt realize, I find realism, objectivity, and "faith in reason" more attractive than relativism, subjectivism, and a more doubtful attitude towards reason. Nevertheless, I find your theistic way of encompassing realism, objectivity, and rationalism perplexing and even foreign.

    That is a good thing, though. The contrast between your views and those of Taner Edis could not be sharper, and that inspires me to think more about these important issues.

    "The Devil is in the Details". I think I just might put that on my tombstone. It certainly has application here.

    You speak of ascertaining "the truth of ethical propositions" by means reasoning that has ultimate starting points that are grounded by "direct perception" of certain "ontological facts".

    Can you give one example (or two) of a chain of moral reasoning in which an infinite regress is avoided by being grounded in some "ontological fact" that is grounded in "direct perception"?

    Since reasoning occurs in terms of propositions, I am looking for a series of propositions, one of which is the ultimate starting point of a chain of moral reasoning, and one of which is a moral claim or judgment that is the conclusion supported by the chain of reasoning.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Bradley:

    You write: “ As you no doubt realize, I find realism, objectivity, and "faith in reason" more attractive than relativism, subjectivism, and a more doubtful attitude towards reason.

    I find there is a general movement in atheism away from ethical subjectivism and related ideas. For example, in a recent talk at TED (see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sam-harris/moral-confusion-in-the-na_b_517710.html) Sam Harris defends an objective concept of ethics. I am now reading “The Cambridge Companion to Atheism” edited by Michael Martin (our Keith Parsons has a piece there) first published in 2007. It includes a paper on ethics, David O. Brink’s “The Autonomy of Ethics”, that does the same. I suppose we all deep down know that some ethical truths at least are objective. How do we know that? I claim that ultimately we know it using a faculty of perception. The question is what kind of faculty is that, and what exactly it is we are perceiving. In this context I’d like to suggest that there is no such thing as theistic ethics, or theistic ethical epistemology. There is just one thing, ethical knowledge and its epistemology, and the question is how to fit that what is within one’s ontological worldview. Being a theist, I believe that atheists, when they do ethics, use some of the three methods I described in the previous post, albeit, in a sense, they don’t know they are doing it.

    Nevertheless, I find your theistic way of encompassing realism, objectivity, and rationalism perplexing and even foreign.

    New ideas are often experienced in this way. The important thing to consider is whether an idea works. I recently discussed with theists a possible solution to the problem of animal suffering (which is probably the most difficult variant of the problem of evil). They reacted kind of negatively, not so much because they found something wrong with the idea itself, but rather because it struck them as too weird.

    Can you give one example (or two) of a chain of moral reasoning in which an infinite regress is avoided by being grounded in some "ontological fact" that is grounded in "direct perception"?

    Some time ago I read atheist James Rachels’s “The Elements of Moral Philosophy”. His reasoning about utilitarianism is particularly noteworthy: The theory is first explained, then a counterexample is given, then the theory is improved, then a counterexample to the improved version is given, and so on. The thing that made me wonder though is this: How does he know the truths of his counterexamples? After all, by definition, he is not basing them on any theory, but is rather using them to test a theory. I suppose he would say that they are self-evident. Well, I claim what we call self-evident truths is in fact the content of the direct perception of ontological facts. In the case of math this view is not especially disputed by atheists, and some speak of the existence of a Platonic mathematical real to which we have access. In the case of ethics it’s more difficult for an atheist to conceive of an impersonal realm in which ethical truths are grounded. On theism the issue is trivial: The ontological facts in question are facts about the ethical nature of God.

    Another example: Sam Harris in the above mentioned talk claims that stones are not objects of moral concern. This struck me (and others) as wrong. Here is the reasoning:

    1. Strip mining a mountain is ethically questionable (even in the case that no conscious being will ever experience the destroyed mountain). [premise from direct perception of an ethical fact]
    2. If an action to X is ethically questionable then X is an object of moral concern. [premise by tautology]
    3. Therefore, a mountain is an object of moral concern. [from 1 and 2]
    4. If X is an object of moral concern then it remains an object of moral concern if it is increased or decreased in size. [premise]
    5. A stone is a small mountain. [premise]
    6. Therefore, a stone is an object of moral concern. [from 3, 4 and 5]

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Dianelos said:

    "The [ethical] theory [of utilitarianism] is first explained, then a counterexample is given, then the theory is improved, then a counterexample to the improved version is given, and so on. The thing that made me wonder though is this: How does he know the truths of his counterexamples? After all, by definition, he is not basing them on any theory, but is rather using them to test a theory. I suppose he would say that they are self-evident. Well, I claim what we call self-evident truths is in fact the content of the direct perception of ontological facts."

    [...]

    "The ontological facts in question are facts about the ethical nature of God."

    I'm confused by this. On the one hand you seem to be saying that the ultimate starting points of moral reasoning are normative claims or propositions, and that one can directly perceive the truth of such propositions, and on the other hand you say that what is being perceived is "facts about the ethical nature of God."

    If what is being perceived is a fact about the nature of God, then wouldn't the proposition that represents this perception be something like: "God's nature is X" or "One aspect of God's nature is X."?

    The statements "Strip mining is morally wrong" and "Strip mining is morally questionable" do not appear to be statements about God's nature.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    If I know the empirical proposition "The cat is black." and if I know this proposition by directly perceiving the fact that the cat is black, then isn't it the case that WHAT I am directly perceiving is a cat, and a property or characteristic of that cat?

    If I know the mathematical proposition "Two is greater than one." and if I know this proposition by directly perceiving the fact that two is greater than one, then isn't it the case that WHAT I am directly perceiving is the number one and the number two and a difference between the nature or properties of these numbers?

    If I know the moral proposition "Strip mining is morally questionable." and if I know this proposition by directly perceiving the fact that strip mining is morally questionable, then WHAT I am directly perceiving is a collection of actions and the properties or characteristics of the actions in that collection of actions.

    I'm not sure it makes sense to talk about "perceiving" a universal as opposed to a particular thing. I suppose the same issue arises in epistemology of mathematics, and the platonic view is that we can perceive a universal. But aren't platonists saying that we "perceive" universals through reason, and not through our senses? If so, then the meaning of the term "perceive" seems to be broadening out, and is in need of definition and clarification.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Bradley,

    You write: “If what is being perceived is a fact about the nature of God, then wouldn't the proposition that represents this perception be something like: "God's nature is X" or "One aspect of God's nature is X."?

    Yes, indeed. And that’s what moral propositions refer to, namely to the moral nature of God. So, for example, the proposition “you should not return evil” refers to an aspect of God’s moral character, namely that God does not return evil. And as our own nature is created in the image of God’s [1], the same proposition refers to the ontological fact that the natural way of human growth is one in which one does not return evil, or, conversely, that a development in which one does return evil leads to an un-natural and broken development. Moral propositions then express as objective a fact as the biological fact that to water an apple seedling helps its growth, and to put it in a dark room stunts it.

    The statements "Strip mining is morally wrong" and "Strip mining is morally questionable" do not appear to be statements about God's nature.

    I think they do. Mountains, as well as individual stones for that matter, are a manifestation of God's creative nature. The reason why strip mining is morally questionable is that mountains (as well as individual stones) are created by God as a part of a greater purpose and are therefore valued by God. So it stands to reason that our actions towards every part of creation are natural and pleasing to God to the degree that they comport with God’s purpose for creating them. So in some particular state of affairs it may be the case that to strip mine a mountain is a good thing, or it may be the case that it is bad thing. One way or the other, what one does with any bit of creation, including with inanimate objects, is a matter of moral concern.

    [1] "Image" in the sense that an architectural plan is the "image" of the house to be built, or that an apple seed is the "image" of the apple tree to which it is meant to grow.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Response to Dianelos:

    Wow!

    Lots of interesting stuff in your most recent post. I think the devil in the details is showing his tail and horns now.

    In any case, I hope this conversation continues, because we seem to be making good progress, at least in terms of clarifying your views about the nature of moral reasoning and the epistemology of moral judgments (and this is helping me to form my own thoughts on this subject).


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