Camels with Hammers has a rebuttal

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.

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as an Editorial Assistant at The American Conservative by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • http://iubilatio.blogspot.com Jason Schalow

    ” 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.”

    The problem with this logic is that the ‘powers’ of human beings include not only a potential for things we would consider good (virtues) but also for ‘negative powers’ (vices). Sorting out the list into those powers that we should be fulfilling (say, for example, composing great music) and powers that we should be repressing (for instance, murdering people who we don’t like) requires some objective standard that transcends simple facts about human beings and thier capabilities. Certainly some set of human ‘powers’ is ordered to the right end of human beings–if not, life would simply be a sick joke. But I cannot decide what they are without some external yardstick.

    In other words, the “rational imperative instead to flourish maximally ” only makes sense if “flourishing” is well defined.

    • http://iubilatio.blogspot.com Jason Schalow

      After re-reading the above comment, it almost seems like I’m walking down a logical road toward denying natural law (which I’m not trying to do). There is certainly much (in fact most) of moral truth that can be known without positive divine revelation (this is, btw, a Catholic teaching). To know these things requires introspection on our purpose as human beings–something that an atheist is quite capable of–yet to know that this introspection is rational we must know that 1) there is an actual purpose for humanity (even if we don’t know quite what it is) and 2) some part of us (for instance the deepest part of our conscience) actually is grounded in that purpose. Otherwise we are choosing arbitrarily what are virtues and what are vices. The fact that, even without divine revelation, people have been able to come to large concensus on goods and evils is tesimony to the fact that there is a part of us that is, indeed, grounded in a greater reality of human purpose.

  • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

    But the flourishing needs to be well defined to more than just PhD’s in moral philosophy. All humans are bound by morals and all human need to know them. So whatever is determining right and wrong also must be communicating same in some way to all human hearts. Because said thing is itself moral it must be doing that in a loving way.

    • Epicurean

      “But the flourishing needs to be well defined to more than just PhD’s in moral philosophy.”

      Untrue. There are several concepts that aren’t well understood by most people that still influence their lives. Chemistry for instance. The fact that a particular kind of knowledge is specialized doesn’t show that God did it.

  • Gerry

    Uh, I don’t think so. I hope realize that a typical blog visitor may spend less than a minute to see if anything is of interest These long screeds are going to unread by the masses.

    • JohnH

      But does she want the masses or does she want those that will read the long screeds and give constructive comments that are more than *emote on leah’s change in religious status* then *suggest something for her to read or point out something that you think she might not have considered (ignoring that there are now probably dozens of similar comments (which you didn’t read, because the comments are too long))*?

      If I were in her position I would put up quite a few of these long posts, particularly about topics that make one or both sides slightly uncomfortable, but not too uncomfortable that they get upset and start flaming. That way only those that actually are willing to care about her and meet her on her grounds stick around. But perhaps you are right and what she really desires is the adulation or attention of the crowds.

  • http://thecornerwithaview.blogspot.com Julie Robison

    There are a lot of big words being used up there, and I guess that’s where arguments like that lose me. Yet, despite the complex sentences and excellent vocabulary, I find the above to be a grand over-simplifcation. One does not look at the ocean and see only its volume of water, diversity of life forms, or great depths. We feel it, we smell it, and we admire its great mystery. We’ll never see the whole ocean; we’ll never know all its hidden corners and legions of undiscovered fish, etc. That doesn’t stop of us from looking more deeply, so that we can at least appreciate its great beauty and awesomeness.

    I see humans the same way (as taught by the Church-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named-Or-Converted-To), because humans cannot be so neatly boxed into our emotions, actions and feelings. We cannot claim to know humans based on their cell count. For one, what of people with trisomy abnormalities? Human beings are so much more than their rationale capacities, more than their behavioral patterns, more than their belief in virtue ethics or their love of hamburgers.

    I think moral philosophy is not a good unto itself, and if one simply dissects, the whole picture can be lost. I enjoyed the part of his article on the point of morality and by what metric it is measured; I just think “Moralities serve as rules to stick too when we would otherwise be tempted to be shortsighted about what maximally benefits us in the big picture.” is missing the picture: that morality is intricately connected with love and our relation to Love and our capacity to love. It is immoral to cheat a person because it is not loving towards your fellow human, it hurts that other person (financially, emotionally), and white it could be maximally beneficial in the big picture if your picture is finite, it is still wrong.

    What God gives us, if anything, is a responsibility and love for every person because they are made in the image of God, even if they are our enemy. I get that belief in God is hard. You can’t see him, smell him, touch him. He left behind a weird book and his Church is broken. His followers can be annoying and close-minded. But guess what? So can other people. The title of “In Which I Answer Leah Libresco’s Moral Philosophy Concerns So You Don’t Become A Catholic Too” really says that to me. It’s a funny title, but it is also a telling one. It says to me A) At least one human person has the answer(s), and everyone should thus read and consider what is said; B) But whatever you glean from this post, don’t become a Catholic.

    His conclusion is my favorite: “Unfortunately, since she only assumed evolution could contribute to morality only by making morality necessary for minimal survival and not as developing the tools for our flourishing beyond minimal reproductive capacities, she threw up her hands and instead went into wildly speculative anthropomorphic territory about Morality being a person that loved her. And she judged mysteriously that this meant that this meant Catholicism, in all its bizarre particular beliefs, simply was true. …I will talk more about the inadequacies of her reasons for selecting to be a Catholic tomorrow.”

    Is Love really an inadequate reason?

    I have a hard time following atheistic arguments because they’re willing to pull from the archives of science and social sciences and history and anthropology, etc. and swim deeply in its traditions and theories and word choices, but consider God on his terms and not their terms? What of the soul? What of the Logos and the Word made flesh? Why can these not be logical consequences in the conversion process?

    What if the world is not a purely quantified experience?

    • http://alephsquared.wordpress.com aleph

      Is Love really an inadequate reason?

      If the love in question doesn’t exist? Yeah, sure. Anthropomorphic bias is a thing. Saying that you believe morality is a person who loves you doesn’t make that real or true.

      I have a hard time following atheistic arguments because they’re willing to pull from the archives of science and social sciences and history and anthropology, etc. and swim deeply in its traditions and theories and word choices, but consider God on his terms and not their terms?

      I’m not following you, sorry. Yeah, we debate based on empirically verifiable evidence. What do you mean we consider God on his terms, not ours?

      that morality is intricately connected with love and our relation to Love and our capacity to love. It is immoral to cheat a person because it is not loving towards your fellow human, it hurts that other person (financially, emotionally), and white it could be maximally beneficial in the big picture if your picture is finite, it is still wrong.

      Love can trigger abuse, possessiveness, jealousy.* You need a more precisely defined metric to determine moral action than love. Indeed, I’m told that Christians “love the sinner but not the sin.” Is the act of not loving the sin immoral then? Or is it only possible to do moral or immoral actions with regards to other human beings?

      *Now, you may say that that’s not really love. I’d debate that point. But regardless, that means that there are other, more basic concepts that determine what love is, and hence, in your view, morality. In which case, discarding the notion of love as a basis for morality is the most effective way to be able to talk about morality: since the kinds of love which have lead to abuse etc. are, traditionally, considered love despite their negative consequences.

      • Chip

        “I’d debate that point.”. Ok, go ahead.

        Love is directed to the good of the other. The actions and emotions are not, but are rather directed to the “good” of oneself. How, then would you debate that all of those things are love, and not not-love, or anti love, or selfishness?

    • Gordon

      There are no good reasons to believe something without evidence.

      • http://www.theforkstrikes.wordpress.com SAK7

        Gordon…. Gordon…. wake up, it’s all been a dream…it’s a dream Gordon…. or is it? Is your “evidence” real or a dream? What is reality? Can you prove you exist and are not in a dream? Is life somehow a rerun of Newhart?

        Demanding “evidence” is a strange bar to measure against. How much evidence is enough? How big a sample size? Does one fact that doesn’t conform destroy the theory? Or are there many many good reasons to believe things while being open to continued additional data points along the way?

        • http://alephsquared.wordpress.com aleph

          Is your “evidence” real or a dream?

          Are you real or a dream? Seriously, if we’re going this way, you can’t be certain about anything, much less God or your own belief in God.

          Demanding “evidence” is a strange bar to measure against.

          No, because without a requirement of evidence every belief is equally likely. Without any requirement of evidence, it is equally correct to believe that the Earth is the center of the solar system as the Sun. Only with evidence can we correct our beliefs to conform with what it is possible to observe about the universe.

          (And if you maintain that it is impossible to trust our senses, then it is impossible to trust *your* senses, and so your claims are equally false.)

          • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

            Are you real or a dream? Seriously, if we’re going this way, you can’t be certain about anything, much less God or your own belief in God.

            I do not know SAK7, though I believe that’s Kierkegaard’s icon. I would suspect that SAK7′s point is that yes, in fact, certainty is not an option anyway, so why pretend that it is?

            Only with evidence can we correct our beliefs to conform with what it is possible to observe about the universe.

            I’ll join in the fun: what evidence do you have for that claim?

          • http://alephsquared.wordpress.com aleph

            I would suspect that SAK7′s point is that yes, in fact, certainty is not an option anyway, so why pretend that it is?

            But if certainty is not possible, we cannot be certain that certainty is not possible. We cannot propose to know or believe in anything. Leah, for example, should not say she is Catholic, because she cannot be certain she is Catholic. This is the problem with taking that tack in a debate.

            I’ll join in the fun: what evidence do you have for that claim?

            History. If we didn’t accept empirical evidence, we’d still all believe the earth is flat and at the center of the universe. It was only empiricists who were able to correct their beliefs to correspond with observable facts about the universe. If we demanded no evidence as bases for our beliefs, it would be just as correct to think that the sun revolves around us as us around the sun.

          • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

            But if certainty is not possible, we cannot be certain that certainty is not possible.

            It’s a good thing we don’t need to be.

            Leah, for example, should not say she is Catholic, because she cannot be certain she is Catholic.

            Leah doesn’t say she’s Catholic. She’s in the process of becoming Catholic. Have you not read her posts?

            And, Leah doesn’t need to say “I’m certain I’m Catholic” anyway. She can get by with “I think I’m Catholic”. And yes, that can be shorthand for a big chain of “I think I think I’m Catholic” and so on.

            Nor do I think all certainty is impossible. Cogito ergo sum, for example.

            History. If we didn’t accept empirical evidence, we’d still all believe the earth is flat and at the center of the universe.

            Your evidence that only with evidence can we correct our believes to conform with what’s observed is yet more evidence? That’s your reply?

            Also, do you realize that the belief that the earth was flat and at the center of the universe were beliefs based on empirical evidence?

          • http://alephsquared.wordpress.com aleph

            Also, do you realize that the belief that the earth was flat and at the center of the universe were beliefs based on empirical evidence?

            Yes. That’s part of the whole point. When you require views to be grounded in evidence your beliefs correct themselves. The earth is flat is still “correct”, but only in a very small range of experiences. If we didn’t require that our world-views corresponded to empirical evidence, people could still claim that the world is flat in contradiction of the evidence and be justified in doing so.

            Leah doesn’t say she’s Catholic. She’s in the process of becoming Catholic.

            So she can’t be certain she’s becoming Catholic.

            Seriously, do you not understand how taking an epistemic stance that we cannot be certain about anything is a self-contradiction?

      • http://theroundearthsimaginedcorners.blogspot.com Rosemary Z.

        “If we didn’t accept empirical evidence . . . it would be just as correct to think that the sun revolves around us as us around the sun.”

        One can accept empirical evidence and still disbelieve that “there are no good reasons to believe something without evidence.”

        So what’s your justification for the latter belief?

        • Kristen inDallas

          I love that he used that… because the sun DOES revolve around us. This thing gravity (as we’ve agreed to understand it anyhow) is exerted by anything that has mass. So while the very massive sun pulls us around it with a lot of force, we do simultaneously pull it around us (just much much less noticably). You can see this effect with proximate stars that are closer together in size, spiraling around each other. It’s all very cool and sciency.

          And while we’re at it, we don’t actually have any empirical evidence for the CONCEPT of gravity (Gravity with a capital G). We have a ton of evidence for the EFFECTS of gravity. Things fall, planets orbit, and we accept the concept of gravity because it offers us a pretty good explanation of it all (although our tiny minds still can’t really explain why it is with any fullness). Yet I’ve never seen Gravity, never touched Gravity, never really felt Gravity, only it’s effects. I’ve seen a ball move towards the earth, touched objects that strained my muscles, and felt the weight of the earth into my feet, just like I’ve felt love for a family member, marvelled at the beauty of a sunset, and felt my soul stir at the end of a great story. And even though all these things could be seen as independent and I could try to explain them away with intricate and compllicated theories, I chose to believe in Gravity because it offers a simpler, cleaner explanation of many different behaviors (even though it’s nature and purpose isn’t fully understood). Just like I believe in the the concept of “Perfection” even though I’ve never met anybody perfect, just like I believe in “Infinity” even though I can’t even really understand let alone experience the infinite, and just like I believe in God.

          • Ron K

            The Theory of Gravity sure is a concept. It exists in people’s minds. So are prime numbers. So is infinity, gods, Anna Karenina, souls, unicorns and lots of other things. The fact that we have a concept of something doesn’t mean it’s true.

            The difference between the Theory of Gravity, and the Theory of Souls is, that one is falsifiable and the other isn’t. Not only is the theory of gravity tested every day, it has also been famously scratched and replaced by another theory *SHOWN* to be more consistant with evidence. Many people are trying to poke holes at the theory of gravity every day, and would be highly rewarded if they do. Not unlike the adversarial judicial system, it seems to me to be a better way to get to truth given our error-prone, faulty mind.

            The theory of souls is different – it cannot be tested. One either believes in it or not, but there couldn’t be one shred of measurable evidence either way. It wil forever remain just an idea — etheral, untestable, unfalsifiable. According to my standards of evidence, that’s reason enough not to accept it as true.

            Still, it might be true. I may be wrong. I’d rather step on the side of prudence, and disbelieve true things, than the other way around, because I think that believing falsities is more dangerous to the pursuit of truth than disbelieving truths.

    • Ben Dunlap

      ” One does not look at the ocean and see only its volume of water, diversity of life forms, or great depths. We feel it, we smell it, and we admire its great mystery.”

      The classical way of expressing this is: “Substance is distinct from, and prior to, accidents’. This is the philosophical underpinning of the theology of transubstantiation. From a classical-philosophy perspective, Camels with Hammers is all wrong here:

      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

      And I think you’re exactly right to hint at the troublesome implications of that statement for bioethics.

  • Ted Seeber

    I see the same problem with this that I see with all similar arguments- God isn’t a part of the universe (not bound by space and time) but that does NOT eliminate the universe from being a Part Of Him.

    In other words- the real point of this long screed is summed up in:

    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.

    The problem isn’t with his creation, it’s with his conclusion. He’s describing parts of God without realizing it.

    • http://alephsquared.wordpress.com aleph

      God isn’t a part of the universe (not bound by space and time) but that does NOT eliminate the universe from being a Part Of Him.

      How do you know this?

      (Is there any way to know this short of divine revelation, or a Kierkegaardian act of sheer willfulness?)

      • http://www.theforkstrikes.wordpress.com SAK7

        Causa sui

        • http://alephsquared.wordpress.com aleph

          How do you know that God is causa sui? How do you know God exists? Is there any way for someone to know this outside of divine revelation?

          • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

            I’m sure you’ve heard of the various cosmological arguments, Aquinas’ Five ways, and far more than that before. You may disagree with some or all of those arguments or their conclusions, and I certainly value some more than others, but there they are.

          • http://alephsquared.wordpress.com aleph

            I was asking SAK47 to answer my actual questions. “caua sui” does not answer those questions. It isn’t even clear what SAK47 meant. But if SAK47 meant that “god is causa sui” that still doesn’t answer my questions about whether or not it is possible to ever determine these short of divine revelation, which was directed to Seeber’s apparent belief that “but everything is God, so you are actually describing God” is an honest response that doesn’t simply beg the question of God’s existence.

      • Ted Seeber

        It’s a matter of theological mathematics- the set theory in the axiomatic definition of the Catholic God. And not just the Catholic God either- Robert Heinlien wrote a very famous novel, Stranger in a Strange Land, exploring this idea (though of course, he attributed the belief to Martians who had *direct evidence* of spirituality).

        • http://alephsquared.wordpress.com aleph

          What the heck? Searching google for the phrases set theory, axiomatic definition, and Catholic God just turns up your post.

          Back this up, please.

          I’m an actual mathematician, and nothing I’ve ever seen from Catholicism (and I’ve read all the Aquinas/Paul/What-have-you) justifies the usage of those very particular technical terms from my discipline.

  • John

    “We have a rational imperative instead to flourish maximally powerfully according to the powers which constitute us ourselves.”

    As has already been noted, we have to define flourishing. For example, is kenosis flourishing? Does Salvifici Doloris describe flourishing? (Great doc by JPII on the meaning of human suffering.) If a starving child goes unnoticed, can this situation be her creative (if mystical) contribution to the well-being of humanity, as a Catholic would have it? If she is noticed by someone who has compassion, can that also be a creative contribution to humanity, even if a “herd” would push the compromised child to the edge as perhaps a lost cause? …the herd is always interested in maximal flourishing. (My son has a rare chromosomal abnormality which causes a profound intellectual handicap… does humanity flourish by identifying and killing these humans [e.g., the deadly combo of amniocentesis and abortion] or by sacrificing some other form of flourishing to help them?

    Suppose we can derive precisely Catholic values naturalistically…. then why don’t naturalists espouse them, except for accidentally/haphazardly?

    • http://alephsquared.wordpress.com aleph

      If you head over to Dan’s site, you’ll see that he has an abundance (30-40 or more) posts going over in more detail his idea of flourishing (links to them are at the end of the quoted post over at his site.)

      • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

        Why should we be concerned with his personal ideas on what does or does not constitute “flourishing”? And how does he demonstrate his rational imperative? Is there any way to know what is or is not rationally imperative aside from divine revelation? ;)

        • http://alephsquared.wordpress.com aleph

          You’re so clever.

          (1) John felt that flourishing wasn’t well-defined enough. In case John wasn’t aware that Dan has done much, much more writing on this, I wanted to let him know, because Dan does take more time to carefully develop these ideas in the posts linked to from his commentary on Libresco’s conversion. *You* might not be concerned, but since John felt that he could make this rebuttal, he should be concerned if he wants an honest conversation.

          (2) How does he demonstrate his rational imperative? Again, instead of asking these questions, read what he actually writes. Look! You actually are interested!

          (3) See, context is important. When someone proposes that, in fact, the nature Dan is describing is, in fact, God, the idea of divine revelation is important, particularly if God is considered to be something (causa sui) for which there is no other evidence. Rationality has nothing to do with divinity, so your attempt to mimic my question is a non-sequitur. Oh, and, once again, you express interest in knowing how Dan develops his ideas.

          • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

            Rationality has nothing to do with divinity, so your attempt to mimic my question is a non-sequitur.

            Actually, it has everything to do with divinity. ;)

            I’d be more interested in Dan’s ideas if you showed some yourself. “Go read his articles, there’s 40+ of them” without any attempt to explain them sort of indicates “I didn’t read them myself”.

            Let me know if that changes!

          • http://alephsquared.wordpress.com aleph

            What, so it’s my job to do your reading for you? In response to someone asking questions about his ideas, I pointed out that there’s a lot of information on them. It isn’t my responsibility to then repeat that here (tbh, I disagree with Dan on a number of issues.) I have read them. The reason there are 40 some odd posts are because this shit is complicated.

          • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

            What, so it’s my job to do your reading for you?

            It’s your job to, if you wish to have a conversation, actually have a conversation. Otherwise I’ll just say, “Dan’s been refuted – here’s 40 things to read that show this” and we’re both quite done.

  • Nick

    I swear the secret purpose of this blog is to make me sink hours and hours of my time into reading /other people’s/ blogs—because ever since I heard about your conversion that’s all I’ve been doing! :(

    (On the bright side, I’ve learned a thing or two….)

  • Alazon basileus

    “We have a rational imperative instead to flourish maximally powerfully according to the powers which constitute us ourselves.”

    _I_ have a rational imperative to flourish maximally powerfully, by taking over the world and making all things serve me. The first step is to propagate moral philosophies which will assist me by impeding all my rivals from coming to the analogous realization. I must study whether some form of virtue ethics can perform this function.

    • Owlmirror

        > _I_ have a rational imperative to flourish maximally powerfully, by taking over the world and making all things serve me. The first step is to propagate moral philosophies which will assist me by impeding all my rivals from coming to the analogous realization.

      You’re too late; Catholicism already exists.

    • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

      Also, is the rational imperative only for myself? Or for some collective?

    • MountainTiger

      This is a vulgar misunderstanding of what “power” means in this context.

  • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

    This is because every being, I would argue, is understandable precisely as something which is the functional result of its component beings.

    “Functional result”? This sounds like a mechanist spin on natures and teleology.

    Does a serial killer have a serial killer’s nature? If so, does the serial killer have a rational imperative to do that which allows him to flourish maximally, namely add to the body count?

    Now, one response I’ve heard to this kind of objection is, “Well, if the serial killer is caught, he’ll no longer flourish. And he’s likely to get caught. So, he should alter his nature and find some other way to flourish.” Except that opens up even more objections – first, it turns on “he’s likely to get caught”, so if he’s not likely to get caught, the reply dies immediately. Second, it makes for a very reactive morality – let’s say I live in North Korea. Now, my ‘function’ at one moment may be, ‘take care of the oppressed’. But taking care of the oppressed may likely lead to my no longer flourishing – I may be killed or imprisoned as a traitor. So I guess I should function in another way, and conform to the state’s will on that front.

    Trying to rework “natures” into “functions”, I think, ends up not working. Making sense of natures in an Aristotilean sense – formal and final causes, etc – seems to be a lot more hopeful, but that also seems to put the quoted OP down immediately.

  • http://www.soulsprawl.com Matt DeStefano

    Does a serial killer have a serial killer’s nature? If so, does the serial killer have a rational imperative to do that which allows him to flourish maximally, namely add to the body count?

    Individuals don’t have individual natures, according to Prof. Fincke’s account, but human beings as a collective do. So, a serial killer still has a human being’s nature.

    While I can’t answer from the view of Prof. Fincke, I would imagine a response to the serial killer objection might entail this snippet: “And except in those cases where there are serious neurological problems, we each have all of these powers to at least some minimal degrees.”

    • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

      Individuals don’t have individual natures, according to Prof. Fincke’s account, but human beings as a collective do.

      Stated that way, the project doesn’t even make sense – if individuals have no natures but ‘human beings’ as a collective do, how do you tell what individuals are part of the collective to begin with?

      “And except in those cases where there are serious neurological problems, we each have all of these powers to at least some minimal degrees.”

      But that doesn’t help at all, since we then end up asking “what makes this or that particular neurological makeup a ‘problem’”? And this comes hot on the heels of the claim that individual humans have no nature, which makes the task of determining some neurological makeup to be a problem objective, rather than in some subjective and interest-dependent way, more arduous.

      • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

        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.

        Also, there’s a context problem with this selection: a serial killer doesn’t lack any of the following necessarily: ” Our powers of reason, emotion, sociability, physical coordination, technological inventiveness, artistic creativity, sexuality, morality, and others”

        Fincke was saying that, outside of cases of neurological problems, humans have all those things.

      • http://www.soulsprawl.com Matt DeStefano

        Stated that way, the project doesn’t even make sense – if individuals have no natures but ‘human beings’ as a collective do, how do you tell what individuals are part of the collective to begin with?

        What I said was “individuals don’t have individual natures” meaning that it doesn’t make sense to have a “serial killer nature” anymore than it makes sense to have a “pro-basketball player nature”.

        But that doesn’t help at all, since we then end up asking “what makes this or that particular neurological makeup a ‘problem’”?

        It’s a problem if it interferes with the proper functioning of our component parts. If an individual’s neurological makeup prevents them from an “effective realiziation”, as Fincke puts it, of their rationality, morality, sociability, emotion, etc. then it is a problem.

        Also, there’s a context problem with this selection: a serial killer doesn’t lack any of the following necessarily: ” Our powers of reason, emotion, sociability, physical coordination, technological inventiveness, artistic creativity, sexuality, morality, and others”

        I would actually suggest the opposite: I doubt there are many serial killers who show empathy, sympathy, and a variety of other emotions that generally constitute an “effective realization” of these powers.

        • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

          What I said was “individuals don’t have individual natures” meaning that it doesn’t make sense to have a “serial killer nature” anymore than it makes sense to have a “pro-basketball player nature”.

          On what grounds? How does Fincke establish that there’s a single, universal human nature, and not several distinct natures, and do so without violating naturalism? Really, I don’t think he can even do that for the single, universal human nature. But putting it this way puts a point the question, given his appeals to function.

          It’s a problem if it interferes with the proper functioning of our component parts. If an individual’s neurological makeup prevents them from an “effective realiziation”, as Fincke puts it, of their rationality, morality, sociability, emotion, etc. then it is a problem.

          You have to see here why the answer you just gave me is circular and non-helpful. I’m asking how Fincke finds out the true functions for humans, you highlight the section that loosely refers to how humans act “without neurological problems”. I ask how you tell what is and isn’t a “problem”, you refer to the true functions for humans.

          I doubt there are many serial killers who show empathy, sympathy, and a variety of other emotions that generally constitute an “effective realization” of these powers.

          And again, how exactly are we determining what is or isn’t the “effective realization” of these powers? Please don’t tell me something like “you can tell because they aren’t functioning properly!” A subjective appeal, whether to your own feelings or to a crowd’s feelings, remains a subjective appeal. And that would be fine, except Fincke seems to be insisting that his is an objective and right standard.

          I also hope you’re not about to appeal to statistics, like, “well most people aren’t serial killers, therefore being a serial killer must be a flaw”.

  • Sarah

    Eh. Never really got behind that Kantian deriving-morality-from-reason stuff, and I don’t think this is a particularly good case for it. If you want atheist-humanist teleology, why not just assert atheist-humanist teleology? As far as I can tell, saying “Human beings have a purpose” isn’t either more or less of a leap, as premises go, than saying “There’s a God who assigns human beings a purpose,” or “People should try to preserve what is essential to their nature.”

    The point is that everybody needs premises. You can’t derive them rationally, because the only thing reason can do is take two premises and make a conclusion. You still need the two premises. The places we get premises are from are not reason–they’re feelings, dreams, books, thoughts, reactions. Then we see where those premises take us, and if it’s to a place that doesn’t feel true, we try again.

    Leah, as you retold it in your conversion post, you found your belief in morality-as-being not with your conscious mind but with your unconscious mind. Later, you realized it was a premise that rationally supported and was in accord with your other pre-rational truth instincts.

    Is that an account you can accept? I don’t think it’s so different from the one you gave in your local maxima post, but maybe you disagree.

    If you do agree, I want to know as best you can explain it what about the morality-as-being thing rings true for you. Personally, it’s a concept I find very hard to empathize with, so I want to know what makes it appealing to you. Can you trace how this idea grew for you? Are there experiences, books, and conversations that were especially influential?

    If you disagree, I want to know whether you’re with the assorted crowd (Kant, Descartes, Camels with Hammers) who believe they can rationally prove their moral system from the ground up, nothing taken for granted. How exactly do you want to use reason in this project, and how powerful do you think it is?

  • Jon H

    “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.”

    How do we even know if something is truly a “neurological problem” or not? When every being is a work-in-progress with no ultimate purpose, how are we supposed to define humanity? Humans are bound to become superintelligent galaxy hoppers, right? Or are we going to all end up extinct? What’s the point of defining anything that is supposedly in constant flux?

  • http://inandoutoftheditch.blogspot.com/ Matt H

    I recall a quote from Walt Kelly’s Pogo where Albert Alligator said “You just used a whole mess of words, boy.”

    The whole thing with arguing a sort of “internal universal morality” is that I think it creates a sort of model of reality as opposed to considering reality as such. What I mean by “internal universal morality” (IUM for short) is that if we take all the complex factors that we have working at once and consider them as they should be acting we get a human being and nothing else. This is all pretty hard to explain in simple terms, I’m afraid.

    “Without all or most of these powers, we fail to maximally effectively realize the basic nature of what we are as humans.”

    I would like to point out that there seems to be a pattern in this argument that “maximize” and “basic” and words similar to them are paired together. Even his original blog post on this, which is 5x longer, if not more, he goes into a lot of talk about the natural occurrence of goodness.

    But his idea of “natural goodness” is tied in with evolution (of ideas and us humans, among other things–I assume) and there I think is a hinge-point in his argument. In effect, I’ve seen evolution used more and more to sort of stuff difficult questions such as this into the idea ‘it needed to happen so we could get to where we are’:

    “Whether or not “horrendously immoral behaviors” are evolutionarily stable does not mean that they are optimal for human flourishing, all things considered. There may be times and places at which actions we would be horrified by are genuinely in the best interest of humanity itself or a culture to flourish and so worth being moral. It could even be that the winding unguided road of natural and social evolution required at various times all sorts of brutalities which proved the most efficient route to overall long term progress. Those might be harsh truths.”

    That he qualifies with “those might be harsh truths” is really him saying that he doesn’t know but that it “might” account for a sort of relativism that really works towards the greater good.

    Again, if I were to make a guess as to a few cracks in his argument (by only an initial reading) they would be:

    1) A “scientific model” of reality by which everything is considered as a perfection producing a result. This draws one to conclude that things could not have happened any other way, given the circumstances. In matters of moral consideration I wonder how true that is–Bad Catholic’s post on “Determinism” might be some food for thought.

    2) Evolution seen as something that is bringing us “somewhere” wherein all that we do, consciously or unconsciously, makes us better (or we die, I guess).
    In terms of moral matters, I can’t say I’m fond of this argument. The Catholic counter-premise is that sin is something that damages us. Because we have free will we sometimes forsake what is good for what is evil (and sinful) and, as a result, it ‘dehumanizes’ us, meaning it makes us less of what we are and not in a physical way but in a holistic way (body and soul).
    I’ll admit I’m not really well versed in all the arguments in the evolution camp, but I’m reading.

    3) His view on human nature might as well be a very “scienced” Hobbsean view. In some cases how we see ourselves makes all the difference.

    Sorry for the length all. I’m a philosopher by “trade” (sort of) but have much to learn nonetheless. I just put this in as my thoughts.

    • http://theroundearthsimaginedcorners.blogspot.com Rosemary Z.

      “Evolution seen as something that is bringing us “somewhere” . . . In terms of moral matters, I can’t say I’m fond of this argument.”

      It’s crummy biology, too, for the record.

  • Ron K

    If Finckle is trying to understand why humans have developed moral feelings, moral social structure, etc., he could have just said: “humans are social animals, social animals have a social system”.

    If he is trying to say, that because these natural properties of the human animal do exist, they *ought* to exist, or are *good*, then his whole argument is one giant heep of naturalistic fallacy.

    • http://theroundearthsimaginedcorners.blogspot.com Rosemary Z.

      Ron, that’s how it struck me, too. A very thoughtful, well-considered heap of naturalistic fallacy, but nevertheless . . .

  • Pingback: Camels with Hammers has a rebuttal [To Leah Libresco] « Religious Leaders: Misogyny is NOT a virtue!

  • Cous

    Is there an enterprising soul out there who wants to re-construct Fincke’s argument in premise+conclusion format? (I don’t have time right now but I think this would make the discussion more efficient and make it easier to pinpoint where the supposed fallacy is). E.g.:
    P1 – For an organism to have a telos/for teleology to be possible, it is necessary (and sufficient?) for the organism to have a nature.
    P2 – There is such a thing as human nature.
    P3 – Human nature is constituted by a specific set of powers ABC.
    P4 – To flourish is to DEF.
    P4 – There is a rational imperative for organisms to flourish maximally powerfully according to the powers which constitute their nature.
    P5 – Objective morality is defined as GHI.
    P6 – The necessary/sufficient conditions for objective morality are JKL.
    .
    .
    .
    C – It is possible to account for both ethical teleology and moral objectivity without assuming an intelligent goal-giver or creator.

  • John

    The phenomenon of concepts and written language geuinely communicating concepts to distant people is one of the proofs for the existence of God for me…. the built in intelligibility of the cosmos is the other “proof”.

    So two proofs for me that God as “ipsum esse subsistens” who is Intellect and Personal exist for me:
    Everywhere I look in the cosmos beings have intelligibility and order, ergo, Being itself is full of intellect and order. Spirit would be ” the organizing principle of intelligibility and being (material and not).

    Makes sense to me.

    Whereas soul – again an organizaing principle of our matter – gives rise to self-aware conceptual thought which we commonly express through written (thus abstract) language using words…. that too is a phenomenological proof for the spirituality of mind and hence, the metaphysical need for an intelligent, willful, benevolent spirit to give rise or ’cause’ for the effect of my mind and personhood.

    And taken together, both from the cosmos out there and my own self-reflection “in here”, the conclusion that God exists and is somehow close to me even as a rule-giver is consoling not outrageous as though his rules are unfair or a killjoy.

    OH and coincidence, this all jives with Catholicism, doesn’t preclude love for scientific inquiry, technological advance, invention and innovation, improving my relationships among friends and family and on the larger macro level, pushing for social and political reform for the good of all people…

  • http://catholicgamer.com darrenl

    “We have a rational imperative instead to flourish maximally powerfully according to the powers which constitute us ourselves.”

    …ahhhh…someone has been cuddling up to Sam Harris’, “The Moral Landscape”, I see.

    Strip out all of the presumed intellectualism in his post, I see a fancy type of utilitarian reductionist in his argument sprinkled with a pinch of relativism….which seems to be where most atheists need to go to in order to avoid nihilism. Anyone else see this?

    Why think that “flourish maximally powerfully according to the powers which constitute us ourselves” is good and not doing so, is bad? In a moral sense, I see no reason to think this is true. Why, on Atheism, think that when questions of human flourishing arise, that this is a moral question?

    • Ron K

      I don’t agree with Finke, but I do think you’ve misread him a bit. He isn’t saying that the moral imperative of an individual is to “flourish maximally powefully”. He isn’t thinking in terms of individuals at all. Like Sam Harris, he’s comparing and contrasting different moral systems of different *societies*. He’s trying to determine, without resorting to revealed truth, why are western moral values better than, for instance, the moral values of an Islamic society? Why was granting equal rights to minorities and women the moral thing to do in the 20th century?

      According to my understanding of Finke, the society as a whole should promote a morality that lets us “flourish maximally powerfully according to the powers which constitute us ourselves”. Morality, according to this approach, is a tool that is fashioned in order to better human society, and through it better human life. That links Finke not to utilitarians, but to Plato and other virtue ethicists.

      Although emotionally this rings true to me as a pinko Atheist ;-), I still think his argument is logically flawed.

      • http://catholicgamer.com darrenl

        “According to my understanding of Finke, the society as a whole should promote a morality that lets us “flourish maximally powerfully according to the powers which constitute us ourselves”. Morality, according to this approach, is a tool that is fashioned in order to better human society, and through it better human life. That links Finke not to utilitarians, but to Plato and other virtue ethicists.”

        I understand that, but the question still remains…and I’ll rephrase it in the terms you used: Given atheism, why is “a better human society through a better human life” a moral question? Given atheism, why is promoting human flourishing a moral question? I just don’t think he makes the case…he just tells us that it is. Of course, if he defines “morality” AS the flourishing of humans, that just begs the question.

        I agree with you though…his logic does not follow.

        • Ron K

          Well, morality is a set of values a society has, educates to and judges by. At least, that’s the part of morality Finke deals with. I think it’s a very partial attitude, failing to explain the diversity in moral values one can find even between people in the same culture, but let’s accept his definition.

          You ask why is promoting human flourishing a moral question. I think you got it backwards. Finke arrived at the conclusion, that society should promote human flourishing. The question is how should it do that? The *answer* is morality. One of the values of this morality would be sceptical, scientific thinking, the *result* of which is atheism (or a very diluted and amorphic ‘cultural’ religion).

          According to this view, different societies have different moral values because they have either constructed their morality, or it has evolved over time, to promote a meta-moral goal. Do you want to educate an obedient or individualist population? a population with a collectivist or capitalist economic outlook? If we agree on the goal of our society, we can construct such a morality to promote that goal. “a better human society” isn’t a moral question – it is above the field of morality. It a meta-moral goal, the value that all moral values are chosen to conform to.

          If you accept the premise that “human flourishing” blah blah blah is the ultimate goal, morality, democracy and anti-fundamentalism follow. Did he make a good case for accepting that as a premise? Not in this blog post.

          • http://catholicgamer.com darrenl

            Lol. I submit that it is he that has it backwards ;P. One discovers what is true (…in all senses of the word…), one does not make it up as one goes along. One should be able to show that human flourishing is a moral question, not state that morality is human flourishing. It looks like he is actually defining morality as “human flourishing”. If that is the case, then he is indeed begging the question. Redefining the terms so that your argument works really doesn’t wash with me…and it looks like it’s not sitting with right with you either.

            What if there was a world in which rapists, murderers, and thieves were at the top of the maximum of human flourishing? In that case, there would really be no morality at all, but hey…there is human flourishing. I think it’s not hard at all to show that such a world can exist, and if that is the case, then indeed human flourishing and morality have nothing to do with each other at all.

            Looks like you and I are basically calling shenanigans here.

          • Ron K

            Umm, no. One can’t show that something is a moral question. One can only show that people think it is a moral question. Doesn’t mean it is.

            Morality and Ethics are all about what ought to be. David Hume famously stated that ‘you can’t derive an “ought” from an “is”‘. The fact that things work in a certain way in reality, doesn’t mean it’s the right way, or the wrong way, just what exists. Any discussion about morality can’t depend, therefore, on any sort of evidence or inquiry — it has to be top-down, like math. First, you define your values or moral imperative (axioms), and second, you derive how they translate to ethical situations. At most, you may show how these solutions jive with people’s moral intuition, but you are free to claim that relying on moral intuitions is itself a moral wrong, and be freed of that too.

            I would hardly call a society headed by rapists a society that promotes human flourishing. The social structure ought to promote the flourishing of humanity as a whole, not of some elite group.

          • http://catholicgamer.com darrenl

            I think you misunderstand my premise…and actually, I left out the most important part in my last response: Given Atheism (…important part…), why should human flourishing be considered a moral question at all? After all, given atheism, we are just biological accidents of evolution, thrown together by various natural forces in a far off corner of the universe. Given atheism, there really is no reason to suppose that human flourishing is any more a moral imperative than a common house fly’s flourishing. Certainly, science can tell us what makes humans’s flourish, but in no way can it tell us that human flourishing is necessarily good, or that humans ought to flourish (…this get’s to your “ought” from an “is”…).

            Yes…of course you would not call a society headed by rapists, etc., human flourishing, but the rapists would…and they are top dog in this world since they are flourishing and you are not, so what are you going to do about it? Much like that blog post, they would just claim the phrase “human flourishing” and bam!…morality has been established. This proves my point, that morality and human flourishing are not equal since it can be shown that there exists such a world where they are not equal.

          • Ron K

            Given Atheism, morality is merely a human phenomena – a way to organise *human* society. Without any humans, there would be no morals. Therefore, what’s good for humans is, by definition, morally good.

            Sure, rapists could define ‘flourish’ as they want to. They could also define blue to be red, and the sun to shine in the west. The point of Finke’s reasoning is, that if a rational person cosiders the issue, even if he is a rapist, he would reach a conclusion that rape is immoral. I don’t agree with him, but I do think that any half-rational person could understand that it is better to live in a society where everybody gives up their right to kill, or rape, than to pay the price of being constantly vigilant. These social pacts happen not only in humans, but also in other social animals.

          • http://catholicgamer.com darrenl

            Without humans, there would certainly be morals…there would just be no human flourishing. Just as, without humans, the earth would still be round…and indeed there would still be an earth. Truths are independent of human knowledge or, indeed, how that knowledge is acquired. It’s the equivocation of the morality with human flourishing that is fallacious here…and one certainly does not imply the other. Morality is, I submit, true regardless of humans knowing it or not. How we discover it or that we discover it is irrelevant. Morality just is (…as Leah has discovered…). Important point: I’m clearly talking about moral ontology here, not moral epistemology.

            …and sure, the rapist would define red, and blue…but they could not redefine redness or blueness. They can redefine east, west, up and down…but they can’t redefine directionality. And yes, they may have come to the conclusion that rape is morally repugnant, but still, the driver for them is that it causes them to flourish. Again, we show a tension between equivocating the two.

            Sure, given atheism, I can see that it can be concluded to be an organizing principle for humans, but that still puts no moral weight behind the principle. I see no obligation there. I mean, what’s really stopping someone from raping a 9 year old girl? Given the atheistic view, he’s just acting unfashionably…like passing gas at the dinner table. He’s just breaking an organizing principle, and nothing objectively wrong is being done. This is usually the path atheists are forced to take, and like I said it usually leads to moral nihilism. They simply state there is no right or wrong, good or bad to avoid God.

            I get his point, and I understand your clarification…I just know where the argument eventually leads, and I disagree with it because of where it leads.

          • http://dyslexictheist.wordpress.com/ Michael H

            He has also failed to define “human flourishing,” nor has he demonstrated why his view of human flourishing is preferable to the Catholic’s, the Muslim’s, the Jew’s, the Buddhist’s, the whatever’s. It ultimately just comes back to “I think humans should live this way, and this is the best way to do it.” But he’s failed to answer why humans should live this way at all. Because that requires externalizing morality, ascribing value to something that cannot be measured.

          • Ron K

            darrenl,
            just two questions for clarification:
            1. We probably mean very different things by “morality”. What kind of morality poses an obligation? Can any moral values, christian, buddhist, atheist or otherwise ever prevent a man from not believing in them and doing things that are defined by them to be immoral?

            2. What do you mean by “Morality” anyway? Why do you think you are justified in believing it exists in reality?

          • http://catholicgamer.com darrenl

            Sure thing Ron. Just note, I’m on the road for the rest of the weekend, so this will probably be my last response here…but I’ve really enjoyed our exchange.

            1. Well…there are moral values and there are moral duties. Moral values are our sense of good and bad. Moral duties are what is right and wrong. Together, one could argue that both of these form the basis of a person’s conscience, i.e. the sense of good, bad, right and wrong. Now, is one obligated to follow one’s conscience? Yes…i would think they are. Why? Among other things…because I don’t think you’d be human if you didn’t. How the conscience is actually formed is another argument….and yes, I would argue you are obligated to form your conscience properly.

            2. What do I mean by Morality? I think I answered that sufficiently in (1). Why do I think it exists in reality? Personal experience and data collected over my life so far which leads me to the conclusion that objective morality exists, i.e. a sense of right, wrong, good and bad that exists independent of what I “feel” or “think”. That data set is quite large and draws from books, debates, and observation.

  • Erick

    > We have a rational imperative instead to flourish maximally powerfully according to the powers which constitute us ourselves <

    If there is no God, I don't understand why we have to have a rational imperative at all?

  • Tara S

    Catholic here! I think Camels With Hammers is absolutely right in everything he says, except if he concludes that God *necessarily and definitively* does not exist because these systems are self-explanatory and self-regulatory. I think Leah hit the nail on the head with the question, “Does Morality love me?” I look at what Camels describes – and I think of the order, the possibility, the core way that “Is” vs. “Is Not” can create something so complex as a person or a galaxy or an objectively good moral imperative, and I love that system (and that drive and that eternal quality) in a way even beyond what I can feel for the products of the system. I love it because it made me and all the things that are, and it made us very well – whether it was consciously done or not. As a system that creates all the various ways of being, it is perfect. Whether it’s a Person or not, it’s what makes everything possible. It makes love possible, and so it is by definition the source of love. So the question is – does that system love me back? Whether you answer “I think so” or “I don’t think so”…this is really the heart of faith. Because whatever answer you make and decide to act upon, you do it on faith and on a feeling you can’t export to anybody else.

    But the best theists and the best atheists have this in common: they love the wonder of creation, and love the creator of it, whether their faith tells them that it is an unconscious order and set of eternal possibilities, or an eternal conscious Person who creates the order and possibilities. I feel loved and I feel known, and that’s why I believe in God. It may be crazy, but if that’s so then sign me up for looney bin, ’cause I don’t care!

  • larry

    “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.”

    That’s assuming a priori that God isn’t the one that set up those conditions for it to happen.

  • BMTA

    If I can be forgiven for posting without parsing the whole of Mr. Fincke’s expansive website, it seems to me that he accurately describes the Aristotelian element in morality–complex beings can be rationally understood as flourishing according to the harmonious and optimal working of all their capacities–without at all explaining the Platonic element, which is the factor that makes morality actually prescriptive. Yes, given naturalism, we can assess many facts about a teleologically fulfilled being–its capacities are working at full cylinders, it achieves a high ratio of act to potential, and it probably even enjoys a high degree of subjective well-being–but how does this “rational imperative to flourish” produce a prescriptive moral imperative to the same, unless we presume an antecedent desire to flourish on the part of the agent? There appears to be no bridge from the is to the ought, nor can there be without positing that spooky, non-definable, virtually magical normative binding prescriptivity that Mackie called “queer” and justly excluded from an atheist metaphysics. Believing in that kind of hard moral realism takes two articles of faith: that the transcendental Good exists and that we have some way of accessing it. And to posit some relation between man and the transcendent is the start of religion.

  • http://last-conformer.net/ Gilbert

    After reading a few of his articles I have a somewhat inflammatory question to people more familiar with Prof. Fincke’s philosophy.

    If I get his system right, he ultimately derives his morality from rational self-interest. Then he talks of humans being defined by functionalities so that we think is our interest may not actually be it. And, if I get it right, some of this functions are social so that some behaviors are immoral by being self-defeating on a social level.

    So now for the inflammatory question: If we write “egoism” for “self-interest” and “qua man” for “effective” isn’t this just the ethical account of Randian Objectivism? I get that the association could seem unfair because Prof. Fincke clearly doesn’t share the politics, economics, aesthetics, and sexual perversion of the Randroids. Also he is much classier because he acknowledges his debts to Nietzsche and Kant where Rand plagiarizes and then calls the sources evil. But still, looking at the ethical system only, isn’t it the same? (I can’t ask him directly, because he isn’t familiar with the Randian formulation. I basically need an answer by someone who knows both. )

    The reason I’m asking is that if I’m right on this the charge that Leah didn’t give serious atheist philosophy a chance pretty much collapses. Because then she did know of an ethics grounding attempt pretty much identical to what Prof. Fincke claims she should have been looking for and rejected it long before she turned theist.

    And now I’m very curious what Leah’s rebuttal will look like. The best I could do would basically be “there are some moral truths I am sure of, stars above me, moral law within me, yada, yada, and if this is the best approximation atheism allows of them, that is proof of God right there..” But maybe Leah has something more sophisticated?

  • Iris Celeste

    The problem with the question of asking about morality is that the atheist and Catholic have different definitions. When an atheist says someone is moral it means someone is law abiding and does things which are praised by society. When a Catholic says someone is moral, they mean someone is Holy. That individual has become Christlike and is law abiding, and does praise worthy things, but he is more. He puts others above himself even when it is not “visible” to others. He becomes the least and the servant, putting the needs of other before himself; many times not even thinking of himself. He is a saint. I know the atheist has no concept of this, because my husband has no concept of this, and he was raised atheist. He though an individual praise worthy that I found proud and spiteful. In this individual generosity only extended where praise could be obtain. The individual made sure those around knew of the generous act, while the Christian is admonished not to let the left hand know what the right hand is doing.

    Another point to make is that the Western idea of what is moral is shaped by its Christian Heritage. I remember reading the Nibelungenlied and being horrified by the conduct of Siegfried. He basically raped a woman with the use of his invisibility cloak. The entire Germanic concept of the heroic which was a remnant of the pre-Christian era was repugnant to me, even with the attempt to Christianize it.

    Christianity is what allowed the idea that slavery was wrong to develop in the Western world. This can be seen as slavery is alive and well in the Islamic world and in other non-Christian and post-Christian areas where human trafficking for the sex trade is prevalent.

    The question is not can Christians be hypocrites, since all humans have that capacity, but whether the concept of morality is more complete as an ultimate goal in the Christian frame.

    Iris Celeste

  • Daniel A. Duran

    I don’t see why morality should concern itself with flourishing or the happiness of the individual. “Do not eat pork,” or “ash Wednesday is a day of obligation,” how does that help the flourishing of the species or our happiness? What about becoming a martyr? It seems a huge mistake to think that morality is based on what the nature of that being is or its telos or whatever since you will always find counter examples to all these things.
    There might be some teleological underpinnings in what makes something moral or immoral but it cannot be the whole or even most of the story.

  • Daniel A. Duran

    Here’s another problem with teleological ethics: why should I keep a promise? the teleological ethicist might say that it will contribute to my happiness or overall flourishing, which might be true. But the problem is that it tells me why I would *want* to keep a promise but it fails to tell me why I *ought* to keep a promise.
    But it gets worse than that, the bible is filled with moments where God dispenses from laws; he commands Abraham to sacrifice his son, God allows slavery, polygamy etc. Christian morality, at best, will deal with human flourishing loosely .

    • Andrew EC

      Define “ought.”

      (I’m not being snarky here. In a Kantian framework, for example, asking “why should I do what I ought to do?” is a nonsensical question, in the same way that asking “why ought I believe that 2+2=4?”

      You ought to believe that 2+2=4 because 2+2 does, in fact, equal 4. If there are objectively-determined moral duties, then you ought to do them, because they’re moral duties. The “I could recognize them but not do them” problem doesn’t invalidate objective morality; it just shows that sometimes people don’t do what they themselves recognize that they ‘ought’ to do.

      • Daniel A. Duran

        Don’t get me wrong, I am a moral realist and I believe that we ought to do or avoid certain things because it is the right thing to do. The problem I have is that the virtue ethicist will try to give an account of the good that is, in my opinion, wrongheaded from the start.

        “Why are homosexual acts wrong?” the virtue ethicist will give you a narrative as to why homosexuality is wrong. He will tell me, perhaps, that sexual organs are made for procreation and that using them in another way gets in the way of the flourishing of the species.

        There are quite a few problems with the above but I will merely point out that the original question (why is homosexuality wrong) never gets answered; the virtue ethicist is changing the subject to how it might harm one’s flourishing; a non-moral fact. The reasons the virtue ethicist give might seem attractive and might give us a reason for *wanting* to avoid homosexuality but it never tells you why you *ought* to avoid homosexuality. The virtue ethicist takes this non-moral fact (homosexuality impedes the flourishing of the species) to leap to the conclusion that is wrong to engage in homosexuality.
        Frankly, I find this leap question begging.

        • Andrew EC

          I agree entirely, Daniel.

          Kind of disappointed to see that Leah hasn’t yet engaged with Finke’s argument; it seems pretty devastating. Essentially, his argument is that ethical realism and naturalism and compatible, and this not only seems intuitively correct but also well-supported by several centuries worth of western philosophy.

  • Zack

    Good for Camels with Hammers! Becoming a Catholic is.. it’s… it’s just unconscionable!

  • http://purl.org/NET/JesseW/SundryStuff/ Jesse Weinstein

    I don’t want to rush you (and I have some of your old posts that people have pointed me to that I haven’t gotten around to reading yet, either), but it doesn’t look like you’ve written the promised rebuttal for this yet, or written any of the other posts expanding on your conversion, either. I’m particularly interested in the one about why you consider the factual claims of Catholicism to be sufficiently likely to be true. If you have written such, and I missed them, I’d love a link.


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