The power is trickling back on. Well, for now at any rate. There’s still a live utility pole a few blocks from my house that’s apparently teetering over a gas station. Sigh. So as I work through my backlog of comments and email and promised replies, I’ve got another reading recommendation.
Because, speaking of promised replies, Camels with Hammers had a really nice essay up titled “How Ethics Is More Like Physics Than Faith.” I’m not really in agreement with Dan’s definition of faith:
First, let’s clarify the difference between faith and other kinds of uncertain belief. Faith entails an implicitly or explicitly willful belief that is obstinate in the face of counter-evidence and goes so far as to disdain changes in belief as a matter of principle. Faith also usually involves trusting as a matter of principle in dubious authorities disproportionately more than their actual, demonstrable expertise warrants.
But I’m very much in agreement with this section:
So, are most people just faith-believers when it comes to morality? Is the average atheist still guilty of faith in moral fictions, even as he or she might be clean of faith in religious ones? Some philosophers would say yes. Nietzsche would not only say yes that ordinary people believe in morality by faith but even go much further and say that even many philosophers who claim to examine morality rationally are self-deceived and actually just the protectors of a faith. I think I can show textually how Nietzsche thinks he (or the philosophers of the future whom he influences) can break with this pattern and determine a genuinely better value standard for not only assessing but deliberately creating genuinely better moralities.
For my part, I do not think that it is generally correct to equate moral decision-making with faith-based thinking and here are my reasons why.
There are two senses in which someone could be said to know with respect to morality. On the one hand, someone can have theoretical knowledge and a mastery of numerous technical truths with respect to morality which can be aids in coming to better specific conclusions about specific moral problems than the average person, unaided by philosophical clarifications, would. But, on the other hand, someone can be knowledgable about morality as a matter of competence at moral evaluations and decision-making, even where technical theoretical competence is missing (or, even, badly carried out).
To use an analogy: I am embarrassed to admit this but I do not know a thing about calculus. I dropped out of that course as an apathetic high school senior and never returned (to my eternal regret). So I cannot do the basic physics calculations that explain how the angle and the speed at which I should duck my head to avoid a ball of a specified speed, direction, and angle from knocking me unconscious. But even without the slightest real knowledge of theoretical physics or basic college level math, I am rationally competent not only at evading your average errant projectile but also at not bumping into objects, not tripping, and not getting hit by cars (except for that one time in February).
So head over, read the whole thing, and tell me your thoughts. Especially if you have a better definition of faith, since I don’t think we came up with anything satisfactory the last time we had an argument on this topic. I should be back to my usual posting habits by the end of the week.