He’s a writer at FreeThought Blogs and has been engaging pretty respectfully (without sacrificing aggression!) with me and my ideas (as gleaned from posts and comments). I particularly appreciated the post he did excoriating my some of my atheist friends for claiming atheists can’t be moral realists. That’s a fight I tried to start in the atheist blogosphere when I was one, and I’m glad he’s carrying the banner.
Now, he’s got a new post up, with the amusing title “In Which I Answer Leah Libresco’s Moral Philosophy Concerns So You Don’t Become A Catholic Too.” Here’s an (long) excerpt:
Teleology should not be at all out of bounds for atheists. Teleologists do not need to posit that there is an intelligent goal-giver who gives natural beings purposes to fulfill, as many theists think. Just as we understand that natural “selection” can occur without an intelligent “selector(s)” so we can talk about the ways that natural beings function optimally according to their natures without their requiring any intelligence that gives them their functions deliberately. This is because every being, I would argue, is understandable precisely as something which is the functional result of its component beings. Water is what emerges when 2 hydrogens function together with an oxygen, for example.
Each reality which is composed of further parts can be understood to emerge from the interaction of those parts such that those parts function to create the more complex result. The parts are constitutive of the emergent whole. The emergent whole is a function of the parts. Each of these is a functionality relationship. Some parts of physical reality function together to make an emergent feature of physical reality, some complex object from not just the sum of the parts but the patterned way they behave. The patterns beings follow are regular, general, recurrent. They are “universals” or “forms”. They can emerge without any divine intelligence somehow having to intervene to create them. They evolve of their own under the pressures of natural selection with no intelligent guidance. They exist “eternally” not in some other realm as things but as eternal possibilities that always could emerge if the right conditions in the right universe were ever to be met. There are forms which are not actualized in reality but which some day will emerge under the right conditions or (possibly) never will emerge because the conditions will never be right.
Among those complex functional beings that do exist are us human beings. We are each composed of trillions of cells functioning together to create, and to be constitutive of, numerous complex organs which each function together to create, and constitute, the total human organism. For a being to be human is for it to be comprised of the right kinds of cells functioning as “human”. There need be no divine intelligence that created the goals of the human or said that humans must function in this way but not that. There just is this formal possibility for being and through an unguided natural selection process it (we) emerged. Taken together, we are just the general kind of being that emerges from our specific sets of sub-functional capabilities which function together in certain characteristic ways to make the complexly human capabilities possible.
We are what happens when the distinctive functional complex capabilities which constitute us function together. Take away those distinctive functional capabilities (or “powers”) and there is no human being. Our powers of reason, emotion, sociability, physical coordination, technological inventiveness, artistic creativity, sexuality, morality, and others, are foundational to our being because we exist through them. We cannot exist as human beings apart from all of these powers (or even without most of them). And except in those cases where there are serious neurological problems, we each have all of these powers to at least some minimal degrees. And taken together they constitute our very being.
Humans are particularly fascinating emergent beings because we can function more or less according to our characteristic patterns. The patterns that constitute a human being at our most complex, ordered, and externally effective level are our rational capabilities, our emotional capabilities, our social capabilities, our artistic capabilities, our technological inventiveness, our athletic and physical coordination abilities, and our moral capabilities. There may be some other basic powers I did not enumerate. This is not meant to necessarily be an exhaustive list.
These capabilities also mutually constitute each other in that our rational capabilities, for example, play a role in our effective realization of our social, moral, emotional, technological, artistic, and athletic powers. Similarly other of our basic powers can (and do) combine with each other in a myriad of complex ways to can create greater and greater powers.
These powers are what constitute being human. Without all or most of these powers, we fail to maximally effectively realize the basic nature of what we are as humans. When all these powers terminate completely, we are gone—even if our lower powers of basic organic function can be kept going artificially, the “human being” in the robust psychological and social senses, and not just in the minimally biological sense, is effectively dead.
So, we have these powers, they constitute our very being. It is irrational for us to try to destroy these powers (all things being equal) since they are us ourselves and they are the precondition of every conceivable good we could achieve.
So, in this context, I am an atheistic virtue ethicist requiring no divine agency for the teleological dimensions of my ethics to make minimal sense and have minimal coherence. I am just describing purely naturalistically occurring patterns as universals or forms. I am saying that since humans’ very natures are constituted by a specific set of powers, fulfilling them is incumbent on humans as the beings that we are. It is irrational and a practical contradiction to destroy the very precondition of our own being (all things being equal). We have a rational imperative instead to flourish maximally powerfully according to the powers which constitute us ourselves.
In keeping with my not-letting-the-blog-comments-or-counterposts-take-over-my-life strategy, I won’t have any kind of response until Monday at the earliest. You’ve got the weekend to noodle over Finke’s arguments and comment on them here or over at his place.