Head to Head with Hemant Mehta

Last week, I got to do an interview/argument with fellow Patheos blogger and Friendly Atheist Hemant Mehta on Justin Brierley’s podcast Unbelieveable!   You can stream the podcast from Justin’s website or you can download it from iTunes.  This is probably my favorite media thing I’ve done so far, since I find it easier to express myself in the context of an argument than I do in the scope of a conventional “How do you feel?” interview.  It’s easier to realize when you’re not being clear when you have a sparring partner.

We cover a lot of ground and I’m much too lazy to transcribe or summarize, so I’m just going to give you a teaser by expanding on one part of our discussion.  At some point during the show (kicking off around minute thirty), I was asking Hemant if he thought moral claims were more like aesthetic preferences (“I prefer Sondheim to Andrew Lloyd Webber”) or more like empirical facts about the world (“Greenland is out of scale on this map”).  He pretty much ended up picking the latter, since, in the example we ended up on, he and I agreed that our claim that women and men were of equal moral worth was more correct than the claim of, say, a Taliban leader that women were worth less.

I wanted to go from there to talking about Hemant’s heuristic for judging that one moral claim was truer than another (Where did his yardstick come from? How does he check that his yardstick is accurate? What is the yardstick measuring? etc).  On the way to that discussion, Hemant said something that I didn’t really have time to follow up on, but I want to highlight it here.

Me: Is there something that [the Taliban] is missing?  Are they missing out on a fact that would tell them that’s not true [that women are worth less than men]?  Is that an arbitrary distinction and you just don’t share that belief but there’s not a reason they should share yours?

[...]

Hemant: What’s the reason other than that some religious person told them otherwise or they interpreted some holy book as being right so they’re just following that step?

Justin: I suppose what Leah’s asking is what grounds your belief in the equality of human beings.

Hemant: I didn’t realize that needed justification.  To say that people ought to be treated equally, that we ought to live by that golden rule so we can live a better life, to me, none of that stuff requires justification.  To say that anything deviated from that, you’ve got to have a really good reason to say that you’re superior to someone else, that someone else deserves the same rights you do.  As soon as you start making claims like that, you’d better have a good reason for it.

From there we got onto a discussion of where the heuristic for ‘better’ life came from and what you do when people report high subjective satisfaction with a stable system that you believe to be wrong, so I didn’t get to follow up on the first thing Hemant said in response to me.

It sounded like he was saying that everyone starts out with the right beliefs (or a certain subset of right beliefs) and it is necessary that they be deceived (whether intentionally or unintentionally)  in order to end up wrong.  Based on what Hemant said, I would guess he thinks the default set of beliefs hews pretty closely to a lot of our shared beliefs.

What I’m really curious about is how he thinks you can check if you’re being deceived.  Are the Taliban just supposed to notice because some of their morality is grounded in an appeal to authority?  They probably think it’s borne out by their subjective lived experience as well.  How should Hemant and I each notice our incorrect moral beliefs?

The other big question I have is why does Hemant think our default beliefs are so close to the ideal?  As I’ve said before, I don’t expect that evolution is necessarily optimizing for ethics.  So how is it that we’re getting so good at this?  What kind of data is our reason responding to?

If Hemant has time to expand on this, I’d be delighted to continue the conversation.  I’d also be especially interested in the perspectives of some of the atheists commenters.

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as a statistician for a school in Washington D.C. 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://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

    It seems like the “right” set of beliefs are basically the Christian tao. That is all the morals Christians agree on and not those they argue over. The equality of humans is not an obvious idea outside of Christianity. The golden rule is more common but it is typically not universally applied. It applied to your tribe but you would not apply it to the tribe you are going to attack. That universal golden rule is pretty much a Christian idea as well.

    • Ryan

      Please research other belief systems before claiming something came from/is exclusive to one. For example, regarding the Golden rule, there are a number of belief systems reaching the same conclusion that are much older than Christianity, and here is an example:
      “The sage has no interest of his own, but takes the interests of the people as his own. He is kind to the kind; he is also kind to the unkind: for Virtue is kind. He is faithful to the faithful; he is also faithful to the unfaithful: for Virtue is faithful.” –Laozi[16]
      Your argument from it being an ethic not universally applied means that it isn’t Christian, either. See the Crusades for an example where this is made evident…

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

        I am not sure I understand your point. I was saying that the golden rule is a basic of human socialization. But we tend to limit it. Typically we do it implicitly. We don’t say the golden rule does not apply outside my social circle but we can easily live that way. Barriers of race and culture make it less likely we will apply it. My understanding is that the universal application was a new and radical idea that came with Christianity. That there should be no Jew or Greek, no slave or free, no woman or man, etc. Not that we are all the same but basic human dignity applies regardless.

        The Crusades is not an exception. They are complex. Some can be viewed as just wars. Some are just plain bad behavior. But nobody said the Muslim person was not a child of God. They may not have lived like they really believed that. They didn’t do enough to evangelize them. St Francis of Assisi tried to change that.

        There are a ton of examples. Catholics tried to evangelize Indians and were willing to be martyred in the attempt. Yet many Indians were still treated badly because they were Indian. Slowly the radical teaching of Christ began to take hold. There is still a long way to go. But we can’t confuse the teaching and the implementation.

        • Ryan

          “I am not sure I understand your point.”
          Well,
          “My understanding is that the universal application was a new and radical idea that came with Christianity”
          My point is that this understanding is incorrect. See the Dao De Ching quote. Or perhaps…
          “If people regarded other people’s families in the same way that they regard their own, who then would incite their own family to attack that of another? For one would do for others as one would do for oneself.” – Mozi
          Both of these are centuries before Christianity existed.

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

            The point is the application is often understood to be limited. A rich man would treat another rich man according to the golden rule. But not a woman, not a poor man, not a member of another ethnic community. Quotes like these were understood this way. The universal application has not always been obvious. The fact that it is obvious now is because western moral thinking has grown to accept it as a given. You might not want to give Christianity any credit for that growth but it is hard to deny it has happened somewhere along the way.

          • Ryan

            “But we can’t confuse the teaching and the implementation.”
            Your own words. You apply scrutiny to other traditions you do not wish applied to your own.

          • Ted Seeber

            Yet the author of the Dao was from a culture that didn’t see the Ainu as human- and so colonized Japan in the Land of the Rising Sun (have you ever thought about why Japan is named the “Land of the Rising Sun”? Because it was colonized from the ONE culture that saw the Sun rise over Japan- CHINA!).

            Would you say the teaching in the Dao was wrong, or not universal, or that it took a long time to sink in?

          • Ryan

            It didn’t sink in. Much the same way that Christian teachings didn’t sink in when Christians who viewed the natives of the Americas as less than human came and slaughtered them in great numbers weren’t following the teachings of Christ, the Chinese didn’t always(or even usually- Taoism isn’t exactly the real majority religion of the majority of Chinese history) follow the teachings of Lao-Tsu. The point is not that people always followed it, any more than Randy’s point was that Christians always followed the golden rule. The point is that the idea of universality of the rule isn’t an invention of Jesus or Christianity.

          • David

            For the record, Ted’s history is totally wrong. Japan was never colonized by China (the reverse, on the other hand, did happen, though much later than the time period Ted seems to be talking about). Japan did take its writing system from China, as was given the name 日本 (“nihon”/”nippon” in the Japanese pronunciation, “riben” in Chinese) by the Chinese, but that’s a fair bit different from colonization.

            It doesn’t really affect the underlying point; the Chinese have at various points (probably including the present) treated people of other backgrounds as inferior, but they never did anything of the sort to the Ainu (the Japanese themselves, on the other hand, certainly did). But Ryan’s response also stands; nothing the Chinese did or are doing to the Tibetans, Uyghurs, Thai, Vietnamese, etc is any worse than what Christians did to Australian aborigines, native Americans, Africans, Maori or Jews (in fact, I’d argue what Christians did to each of those groups is probably worse than anything the Chinese have ever done to anyone, though that’s probably due more to luck and ability than to ideology).

      • Ted Seeber

        Can you read? He said the golden rule WAS more common, not less, than the belief in egalitarianism.

        In Catholicism- or at least post-Vatican II Catholicism- our measuring stick is doctrine, which is the logical consequence of dogma. Dogma is just those items we have faith in without proof- like Hemant’s faith in egalitarianism; it’s axiomatic to the rest of the logical system, just as 2+2=4 is axiomatic to mathematics.

        What Hemant is missing is that his axioms and the Taliban’s axioms are NOT the same. No place close. Entirely different universes.

        The golden rule is modified by the set of axioms you already have in place. If you don’t see women as equals, then why in the world would you consider them to be the same worth as yourself?

        • Ryan

          Why yes I can read. He did say the golden rule was more common. He also claimed the “Universal” application to be a Christian invention. It is not. I gave a counter example. Your commentary about the modification by one’s set of axioms also applies to Christianity, as I pointed out with the example of the Crusades. Randy above denied that the teaching and the application should be used as metrics for each other, making my first point regarding the existence of prior universal applications of the rule once more valid in this dialogue.
          I really only see two ways this can go- either people’s actions somehow change the value of the teaching(which I do not believe to be the case), and no culture or religion has ever had a universal golden rule, or they do not, and this universal version of the rule has indeed existed before Christianity.
          Which is it? As a bonus, if you can answer without insulting my intelligence this time, I might be inclined to take your arguments more seriously.

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

            Sorry if anyone insulted you. I do see your point. Both teachers seem to state a simple principle. I am saying Christian tradition makes clear that earlier understandings of the golden rule were limited. Those limits were challenged. All of humanity was seen as one big family. It is normal for us to talk about our brothers and sisters in Syria being massacred. We don’t get how people didn’t always think that way.

            I do think it is different from the quotes you gave. Absolute statements are easy to make. We rarely actually mean them absolutely. Maybe they did mean it in the same radical way. I have my doubts.

            The point is that his absolutes that require no justification are only absolutes because our culture has not questioned them recently. Once we start questioning them there is no good reason to suppose they will survive unless the world and life view that they flow from remains. If you were talking about replacing Jesus with Laozi then I would grant you the point. If you are talking about replacing Jesus with nothing and nobody then your objection is quite irrelevant. Suppose Laozi was talking about exactly the same thing. We still have no foundation for our basic moral principles. What if someone challenges them? All you have is feelings and tradition to support them. If we have already established that feelings and tradition are not to be respected then why would this change. The moral decline would just continue.

          • Ryan

            It is no issue with you. You weren’t the one doing the insulting, Randy. On the contrary, your discoruse has been quite respectful.
            I see your assertion, and I wasn’t objecting to the need for a basis of morality. I was simply objecting to the idea that the Christians originated this basis. Perhaps there is a different explanation, but it seems to me that many cultures have come across it some way or another. Humorously, I am not a Daoist, it was just easier to find quotes in the Dao De Ching, which I have studied extensively, than equivalent statements in the Vedas, from the religion I actually am a part of…
            In brief, I agree with the spirit of your objection, but objected to the Christian priveledge claimed in the arguement. From my experience and study, quite valid ethical systems have been found in other areas of the world without Jesus, but still with a basis (one based on divinity, even) for justification. The debate over the specialness of Christianity in this is admittedly, a little off topic, when I more or less agreed with you when the statement is taken more generally…

      • Mark

        I haven’t read all of the post for this article due to time constraints so I don’t know if anyone has responded this way yet but, the difference between Christ’s teaching and the Golden Rule is that Jesus pushed it to the extreme. Love your enemy, do good to those who persecute you, if anyone slaps you on the right cheek offer them your left cheek as well, if anyone looks at a woman with lust in their heart they have already committed adultery. What must I do to inherit eternal life – Go, sell all you have and give the money to the poor then come and follow me. He didn’t mince his words and he didn’t compromise. He did however also show compassiona dn love both in word and deed, even unto the cross.

        We can’t confuse Christians with Christ and we can’t confuse the Golden Rule with Christ’s teachings, they are radically different… And they are life giving. To not attack someone’s family because you don’t want your family attacked doesn’t quite measure up to Love your enemy, do good to those who persecute you, sell all you have and give the money to the poor. Especially, in a time when survival of the fittest was a reality.

        Anyone who lives their life according to these teachings does know true peace and happiness.

    • David

      I’ve been thinking about this whole debate, and think this point is off the mark. The equality of all humans is not in the least unique to Christianity; it’s inherent in all proselytizing religions (of which Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism are the largest examples), for probably obvious reasons. All three religions hold that all people are capable of salvation (or the equivalent, for Buddhism it’s something more like escaping the cycle of reincarnation) and do not limit themselves to people of a specific race, ethnicity, nationality, language or anything else. In essence, they hold that all people are equal.

      Now wait, you will say, the original discussion was on the difference between the beliefs of most Westerners and those of Muslims on the place of women. And yes, that’s true, but in the end Christianity and Islam don’t really differ much on the place of women on the moral level. Most Muslim societies treat women like crap (much more so than most Christian societies), yes, but Islam certainly holds in principle that women and men are equal to the same extent as any traditional sect of Christianity (there are some liberal modern versions of Christianity that do treat women as more equivalent to men than do Islam or Catholicism, but how many of you Catholics really consider Unitarians real Christians?).

      If you ask a Muslim well versed in the scholarship of his or her religion, even a member of the Taliban, why they treat men and women differently, you will probably not get the response that everyone here is pretending you’ll get: namely that women are inherently lesser than men, are not human, are not worthy of respect, etc (you might get such a response from some Muslims, though you also would from some Christians, which is why I’m limiting myself to those as seriously intellectually committed to their religion as most of the Christians here are). Rather, what I’ve read and heard suggests to me that you’ll get a response very much like what Ted Seeber says below: “While I agree with egalitarianism that men and women are of EQUAL WORTH- their contributions are different, and if we base our morality on feelings alone, then their morality is going to be different. Different input into the functions WILL yield different output. Why would we expect anything else?”

      Now we may think the sort of discrimination that most Islamic societies practice on that basis is worse than that most Christian societies practice, and I would agree, but that’s a different of scale, not of kind. Both Catholicism (to take the sort of Christianity most present on this blog) and Islam hold that men and women are equal, but both also hold that they are different and thus have different societal roles. Catholicism, after all, prohibits women from becoming priests, denies them control over their reproductive functions (leaving aside abortion, look at church teachings on contraception; yes, the rules apply equally to men and women, but so do Islamic laws on stoning for adultery, that doesn’t mean that in practice women don’t end up suffering far more), and frequently makes demands for female modesty in dress of the same sort (if not to the same extent) as Islam (information about touring the Vatican always points out the need to wear clothing covering the knees and shoulders, which is, in fact, a greater level of covering than that demanded by the mosques I’ve been to, though to be fair, they were in China, which has a pretty moderate version of Islam compared to, say, Saudi Arabia).

      Some of our progress in the West on equality for women has been based on Christian thought, but much of it has also been based on the rejection of Christianity and the traditional place of women within the religion (and, further, Qu’ranic law almost certainly represented major progress in the status of women at the time it was formulated; in fact it was more progressive than anything in the Christian world, for instance guaranteeing women an inheritance, that though less than that of men was more than the amount women would usually inherit in Christian Europe at the time, which was, of course, nothing at all). Yes, to a large extent, all Western campaigners for women’s rights or other values we hold dear today were brought up in a society with a value system based on Christianity, but many of those “Christian” values pre-date the existence of the religion; Christianity itself is basically a religious system arising from a combination of ideas from Judaism and from Ancient Greece and Rome.

      In short: no, the belief in the equality of all humans is not unique to Christianity, and does not actually describe the difference between the beliefs most of us share and the beliefs of, say, the Taliban.

  • deiseach

    “To say that people ought to be treated equally, that we ought to live by that golden rule so we can live a better life, to me, none of that stuff requires justification. ”

    This ties in with the problem of the chronophone; if you’re going to make statements like that, you have to have some justification or grounds for them to explain to someone why their cultural acceptance of slavery or exposure of female infants or wars of aggression are wrong and need to be questioned.

    It’d be lovely if it were only a question of “religious people told them that” but I imagine if you were to argue with Lucretius, the agnostic/atheist poet and philosopher, that slavery was wrong, unjustified or immoral, you would need some sttucture of conviction that if he needed a new scribe, the correct solution was not to go down to the marketplace and buy a Greek, not even if he treated his slave well and the slave could save up money to buy his freedom.

    Saying “it’s self-evident that X, Y or Z” doesn’t hold water if we’re going to look at the animal kingdom; we can see examples (e.g. hyenas) where the females are dominant and we can see examples where a dominant male keeps the breeding females for his own and status is very much a determinant of how you thrive.

    • Hibernia86

      Either A) objective morality exists with or without a God or B) objective morality does not exist in which case I am perfectly free to say that I’d prefer to live in a world where people are treated equally regardless or race or gender and am willing to fight for that reality.

      • deiseach

        In which case, speaking to a 1st century Roman, your personal preference is your own business but you can’t tell him he shouldn’t keep slaves or expose his unwanted infant daughters.

        You need not bring God into it, but you do need something more than “It’s perfectly obvious that – ” or “I would like this kind of society”.

        • jose

          Of course I can tell him he shouldn’t keep slaves. I would give the same reasons against slavery that I would give to you today.

          In fact I don’t think you need more than “I’d like this because A, B and C, so if my arguments for it are compelling please let’s do it” in order to fight for any cause. “They want to lay off six hundred workers; let’s make a protest.” The approach works. In my opinion it’s the only way possible to give operative function to ideas like “good” and “bad” so they acquire meaning instead of remaining nebulous, indefinible words (which is very handy for concrete down-to-earth fights like labor rights, particularly in these days of financial crisis). You have a certain interest and reasons supporting it, and so you act upon it. If the Roman (or the board of directors) wants to explain his own reasons, he’s welcome to do so.

          Given that meaning, it doesn’t make sense to think whether my approach or the roman’s is truer. “Please let’s do it” isn’t true or false, it’s just an appeal. I do think universal moral reality doesn’t exist, if that’s where you’re going.

          If you think you need more than a set of arguments supporting your interest, what else in your opinion do you need?

          • Brandon B

            Well, what are the arguments? Why is slavery bad? Some possibilities:

            Slavery makes me unhappy personally, therefore slavery should be abolished (assumption: my personal happiness has value);
            Slavery makes society as a wh0le less economically productive, therefore slavery should be abolished (assumption: society’s economic productivity has value);
            Slavery makes the slaves unhappy, therefore slavery should be abolished (assumption: the personal happiness of people, including slaves, has value);
            Slavery deprives the slaves of freedom, therefore slavery should be abolished (assumption: the personal freedom of people, including slaves, has value);
            etc.

            If your own personal happiness is the only thing that has value, you have a very weak argument. The 1st century Roman would only find your argument compelling if he accepted your assumption, namely that your personal happiness is valuable. Your argument would boil down to “Please, abolish slavery, because it would make me happy.”

            If you think that your argument is stronger than that (and you probably do), then there must something else that has value, and your argument would be that slavery is contrary to that value. So: what is the value that grounds your opposition to slavery?

          • jose

            My argument against slavery is that I see no reason to treat a person differently because I see no reason to believe that person’s interests with respect to slavery are above or below mine. If I don’t want to be a slave, and that person doesn’t want to either, is there a reason why she should be one and not me? If I want freedom for myself but slavery for others who have the same arguments for freedom that I have, then I’m facing a contradiction.

            Then the Roman might say the slaves were war prisoners and they brought it on themselves for not submitting and trying to resist Rome, so her responsibility for having fought Rome trumps her interest in freedom. And then I would respond in turn and the discussion would continue.

            Now you will ask why do I think freedom has value. It’s because it allows you to act and live according to your convictions and preferences, which makes for a more satisfying life. And then you will ask me why do I think living like that has value. Why satisfaction has value. Why not contradicting myself has value, and so on. But if you read my previous comment again, you will see that I focus on interests, not on goodness/valuableness/correction or any other universal property. In my opinion, there isn’t an universal quality called goodness or valuableness against which to check your statements to see whether they’re measure up. No rulebook. No inherent properties. That’s why I said concepts like good and bad remain nebulous and indefinible unless you apply them to concrete, reasoned interests of people.

            In fact, I’d say your questions, taken further, make a pretty good case for the idea that properties like goodness or valuableness can’t be defined at all. All you have is your interests and the reasons you base them on.

            In my opinion, the way to judge a moral claim is not to check the index of some cosmic morality rulebook, but to evaluate how solid the arguments that back up the implicit appeal are. And that’s what I think people really do all the time when talking morality: express support or rejection and back up their stance with arguments. Nobody really looks at the cosmic moral objective rulebook because nobody knows where it is or what it looks like, although religion often claims to have found it, despite its unsurprising reluctance to produce it.

          • Brandon B

            “I see no reason for slavery” is not an argument against slavery. I imagine that, during the 1700s and 1800s, when slavery was a big political issue, some people didn’t care much one way or the other, because they felt it didn’t affect them. However, you seem to disagree with them. Why?

            I see your point about “value” vs. “interest”, so I’ll try to use your terms. I can accept as premises that you have an interest in not being a slave yourself, and someone who is currently a slave would have an interest in being free. Perhaps you personally even have an interest in no else being enslaved (because you’re just a nice guy, or something). What I don’t yet see is how any of these interests ought to persuade a rational slaveowner to free his slaves. If the slaveowner is free to pursue his own interests, and there is no objective morality which might give him a reason otherwise, then isn’t he free to pursue his own interest at the expense of everyone else’s interests?

          • jose

            Yes it is, if you continue reading that first sentence of my comment. Different treatment of people with the same interests in the same circumstances is a contradiction. Again: “If I don’t want to be a slave, and that person doesn’t want to either, is there a reason why she should be one and not me?” Why the double standard? That’s my argument.

            The slave owner of your example has failed to justify his action. He doesn’t provide a reason why his interest should prevail over that of the slaves. He is applying a double standard concerning himself and others. This is why imo his current stance is untenable. Can he make a solid case for his desire? What are his reasons to deny his slaves what he wants for himself? Is he special somehow?

            He may come up with new arguments, and more discussion will be had. Moral disagreements can be discussed and resolved by talking. The point is none of us are checking our claims against a supposed objective standard of morality to evaluate if this is moral or that isn’t moral. Nobody does that because nobody has been able to discover such standard. People claim we have. Leah says we discover pieces of objective morality like we discover mathematical theorems. But I can come up with plenty of theorems, like Bolzano’s theorem, which is definitely independent from humans and objective. Can’t say the same in the other case, not even in the case of the golden rule, which depends strongly on a particular kind of life based on social interactions among equals. As far as I know, nobody has ever produced any moral rule which is demonstrably objective and independent from its proponents. Consequently I frankly don’t know why people believe such a thing exists. I’d say this supposed standard is as elusive as God himself (or UFOs, or bigfoot… you get the point). What we’re really doing is to make implicit appeals (“let’s not be slaves, let’s not hold slaves”) and providing arguments to make the appeal reasonable.

            When arguments fails and the desire itself prevails against all reason, when productive discussion is shut down and a desire is imposed upon others, that’s when slavery can happen.

          • Brandon B

            Asking the question “Why the double standard?” is not an argument. As Socrates could tell you, asking questions can be a good way to get people to reason things out for themselves. However, questions are not reasons. Similarly, “I see no reason to treat [any] person differently” is not a reason, but a request for either concession or a reason. If you say you don’t see a reason why X is true, then your audience may think you should keep looking. On the other hand, if you come up with a positive reason why X is false, then the discussion ends, because your audience should now agree with you (assuming we’re all reasoning perfectly).

            From the slaveowner’s perspective, there is also a difference in circumstance between himself and the slave: he is not the slave. The slaveowner doesn’t want to be a slave, and he knows the slave doesn’t want to be a slave, but there is no compulsion for him to pay attention to someone else’s desires. Why? Because (he believes) morality is subjective; his morality is particular to his own point-of-view. It does not appear to be a double standard to him, because the slaveowner’s own desires are different from the slave’s desires, in virtue of coming from a different person. In short, yes, he thinks he’s special, because he is himself, and not the slave. “Thank God I’m not that miserable wretch!” he says, happy to be himself.

            In order for us to call this a “double standard”, we need objectivity.

            If slavery is the result of desire prevailing against all reason, then slavery is unreasonable. Reasonableness is objective. That is, in a particular circumstance, if an act is reasonable for Bob, then it would also be reasonable for Charlie, if he were in Bob’s shoes. You’re already applying an objective standard for morality (reasonableness), even though you assert that morality is subjective.

          • jose

            Brandon, I hate to say the same thing again, but if you read the comment again, you may realize I’m not only asking a question. Please read carefully. “Different treatment of people with the same interests in the same circumstances is a contradiction.” And in a previous comment: “If I want freedom for myself but slavery for others who have the same arguments for freedom that I have, then I’m facing a contradiction.” For now, the Roman has failed to make his case; he hasn’t come up with solid arguments. Therefore at this moment his interest is worthless and can be dismissed.

            It’s not “his actions are immoral because he is breaking a moral rule” but “we don’t have to put up with him because he isn’t making any sense”. My question is an illustration of how morality is discussed and often resolved: by judging the arguments. Not by checking a rulebook. Again, that’s the point.

            About your second point, I hope you will realize two things: one, that resolving a moral question by evaluating arguments doesn’t have a lot to do with the existence of universal moral reality, which is what I said I don’t think exists in my first comment. If something is inherently good, we don’t need arguments to justify that it is good – being good is part of its definition. Two, that my argument against slavery only applies to humans, because it’s based on our equality. It’s not hard to imagine hypothetical species whose members aren’t equal (similar to the caste system of insects, for instance. There are many examples of this in literature, for instance the mri in CJ Cherryh’s Faded Sun Trilogy), which would make the argument baseless. I think there is no such thing as the inherent wrongness of slavery. I just think it’s unjustifiable in our case because as far as I know there aren’t solid arguments that justify it, that’s all. Nothing to do with the universal properties moral realists cherish.

            The slaveowner can think whatever he likes, wishful thinking is free; if he fails to provide solid arguments, he won’t convince anybody in a discussion – which, again, is the point. In my opinion moral answers aren’t discovered; they are decided. But not decided randomly, but through rational discussion. When the slaveowner is ready to participate in a rational discussion, I’ll be all ears.

          • Brandon B

            Thank you for being patient and repeating yourself; I think I understand your position a little better now. What I don’t yet understand is what you mean by “contradiction”. I understand the concept of contradiction as used in logic, namely that asserting (P ^ ~P) is a contradiction, and is therefore false. What confuses me is that logical truths are objective, yet you don’t seem to think that morality can be objective. A moral statement, something like “slavery is X” (where X is a moral term like “bad” or “evil”) is objective if X is objective. Based on your comments, I would conclude that “slavery is contradictory”. However, “contradictory” is an objective term.

            To put it another way: you said, “In my opinion moral answers aren’t discovered; they are decided.” If these decisions have more seriousness than a coin flip, they have reasons behind them. What are the reasons? One thoroughly subjective set of reasons is personal preferences. The slaveowner could choose to have slaves simply because he prefers it. On the other hand, you seem to have chosen logical consistency as your foundational reasons. If an action is inconsistent in some way, and produces a contradiction, you decide not to do it. Thus, since you see that slavery embodies a sort of contradiction in the way it treats people, you would choose for slaves to be free rather than enslaved. However, “contradictory” is an objective concept. You have chosen an objective standard by which to make decisions about actions. That sounds like objective morality to me.

            Suppose the slaveowner, for his part, is not yet convinced by your arguments, but could be if you persisted. If faced with this situation, would you keep talking to him, hoping to convince him to set the slave free, or do you walk away, because moral obligations do not exist, and therefore you have no moral obligation to help the slave? I take it that you would continue, because you are convinced it would be a contradiction to abandon the slave. If you stay and talk with the slaveowner, though, “The slaveowner can think whatever he likes” is no longer a useful approach to the situation. For the sake of this hypothetical, suppose that you can’t call in the army or a mob to free the slave by force, so the only way to free the slave is to convince the slaveowner to do it.

          • jose

            Hi,
            to me all moral claims have two parts:
            1) an implicit request based on a certain interest (“let’s do this or that; let’s not do this or that”.)
            2) arguments supporting your proposal.

            Logic and rationality pertains to the 2nd part. We can discuss the 2nd part. What I don’t buy is that a certain request is inherently worse than any other. We can decide it is worse after we’ve talked about it and judged the corresponding arguments. Don’t get stuck in the specifics. The contradiction thing is just one argument I came up with for the comment, not some Rule to follow; I could have brought up a different argument or a different example altogether. It doesn’t matter. I know you can work your way to the point.

            What to do if someone won’t listen to reason is another very complex matter that depends on many circumstances, and that’s for another day. Today’s thread was only about how we talk about moral questions.

            Try to apply both approaches to different topics. Gay marriage, for instance. Why is it generally considered moral now in the west? Did people become enlightened and discovered the supposedly inherent goodness of it (whatever “goodness” means… I already said I think it’s undefinable), or is it maybe that we are in a social environment in which the arguments and actions of the proponents of gay marriage can actually be heard before being shut down by other powers (namely, the Church)? Consider how public opinion shifts a little further with each celebrity coming out of the closet. That’s an argument in itself: a real life demonstration, and the result is normalization. No higher principle, no moral discoveries; just people making their case.

            Plenty of topics of all sizes to consider. Mixed schools; nude beaches; missions in the third world; the environment and the extinction of species; the pay gap; franchises versus local stores; terminal disease; cheating on the girlfriend; war. The list is endless. Put yourself in my shoes and try to see the world at large like I do.

            As always, the topic is huge and complex; two many factors for one comment. What I mean is to illustrate how we decide moral answers. We don’t discover them. They don’t exist by themselves; they only exist when we’re able to reach a conclusion that sounds reasonable. This also explains why many moral questions are impossible to decide: happens when there are perfectly good arguments supporting different actions. In such cases all we can do is to be political and compromise.

          • Brandon Biagioli

            You keep saying that there can some “arguments”, and as a result of those arguments multiple people would come to agree with you. I don’t understand what reason they have to agree with you, or even to listen to a word you say. As you more or less said, an argument might is something like “1) You do X 2) because of Y”, where X is an action and Y is a reason. You can’t just ignore “the specifics” here, because the content of X and Y determines what kind of morality you have. You need to put in a reason Y that other people care about if this argument is supposed to convince them . Therefore, if your argument fails to convince the slaveowner, it’s not because he’s being unreasonable, but because you haven’t come up with a reason that he cares about. “Do it or I’ll kill you” might be a convincing argument, if you could carry out the threat. “The slave doesn’t want to be a slave” is not a convincing argument, because the slaveowner doesn’t care about the slave*.

            The idea of “perfectly good argument on both sides” is absurd, if you look at it carefully. True, they might both sound good, but if they disagree with each other, one side or the other has to be wrong (this is the law of non-contradiction again). I know that some people think “right” and “wrong” are also meaningless, but then the whole concept of reason goes out the window, and “argumentation” is just a shouting match.

            Admittedly, the world could work this way. I just think it doesn’t. In particular, almost few people think “Do it or I’ll kill you” is a morally acceptable argument. You might think that evolution would mold our species to have higher standards, but as Leah has pointed out in other posts, evolution has encouraged various behaviors that we find repugnant.

            *I’ve been sticking with slavery because it doesn’t matter which topic we discuss, and I wanted to stick with the same hypothetical.

        • Hibernia86

          No deiseach, you are confusing meta-ethical moral relativism with normative moral relativism.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_relativism#Variations

          If there is no objective morality, then there is no reason for me to respect other people’s moral beliefs. If I want to live in a world without slavery and support Presidents who will use the US military to enforce that ban on slavery across the world, I can do that. There is no moral code of tolerance that says I have to allow people to own slaves. I can just chose to ban slavery if I want.

  • MumbleMumble

    I believe that true morality comes from the ability to sympathize, when we are able to step out of our own shoes, and imagine how we would feel as another person. I don’t want to be stabbed, or have my lunch money stolen, or have my voting rights repressed, so I don’t wish those things on anyone else. This is where my sense of morality comes from. I may very well be wrong, but I am comfortable defending this viewpoint, more so than any other.
    When people argue that morality must come from some higher power, and they point to God as that source, it, frankly, terrifies me. It suggests to me that if this person were to stop believing in God, they would feel free to go on a crime rampage. Essentially, the only control they have keeping them at bay is a belief in a supernatural being. This is not a comforting thought.
    The other problem with this argument relies on the specifics of the god being cited as authority. Using the Catholic God as an example, you would then be required to address how I (me, myself) have established a moral code. I have never believed in the Catholic God, or the Catholic Church’s teachings; why then do I have any sense of morality? Perhaps more importantly, how has any culture that has been separated, either by history or geography, from the Catholic Church established a moral code? There are clearly examples of such, so how are these explained?
    Finally, if you’re using a specific religion to make your case, what makes your argument any stronger than any other religious moral code? If one religion says that stoning a girl who had sex before she was married is okay, but your religion says that this is sort of an over-reaction, what support can you offer for your viewpoint? In other words, why did you CHOOSE that specific moral code, as opposed to any other?

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

      You create a false choice here. That morality must come from God or from our feelings for one another. Why can’t it be both? The trouble with feelings is sometimes we don’t have them. We can rationalize exceptions. Normal human sympathy should have prevented the holocaust. It didn’t. We can hate. We think we are above it. We just aren’t.

      I agree that which moral code to choose needs a lot of thought. All humans have some sense of it. All societies have had some great moral thinkers they want to use in forming their children morally. Which are most right? On the surface that seems very hard.

      Jesus claims to be God. If that claim is right then He is going to be a better source of moral information. Others are discerning what goodness is. Jesus is Goodness incarnated. So if that claim is true then we can shorten the analysis of where to go for morals. We still need to understand why Catholicism and not some other form of Christianity but you get the idea. Reasons exist. Just seeing the differences and declaring the choice impossible is a bit strange.

      • MumbleMumble

        If morality can come from both God and our feelings for one another, why is this the case? How does God define morality then? Where does He get his definition of morality, and how does He impart it to everyone else?
        If Jesus’s claim is wrong, and he is not God, then we are not closer to knowing the source of morality. Unfortunately, we cannot say with absolute certainty whether this claim is true or false (some of us have strong opinions though).
        Regardless, the presence of morality still does not require a higher power to impart it. And even if it did, we are completely unable to discern that power and its meaning with certainty. There are simply too many sources, too many religions. You can’t say that one is right and another is wrong.

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

          You are right that if Jesus is not God then all we have is a collection of human opinions about God. We can still pick the best one but give that the definition of “best” is precisely what is at issue we might have a problem.

          I think objective morality does require a higher definition. If morality is limited to feelings then it does not. Then saying women are inferior to men is not better or worse than saying women are equal to men. The Taliban have a right to their feelings as much as we do. But if there is more than a feeling then we need something beyond humanity that defines right ans wrong.

          • MumbleMumble

            When male members of the Taliban repress women, I believe that this requires either an ability to disregard what another person is feeling, or simply the lack of such a skill. Either way, it is immoral (in my mind). And it is immoral to me, because I would not like to have to wear a burka all day long.
            How can you say that your definition of morality, based on what you believe to be God’s teachings, is accurate, while the Taliban are basing their moral conduct on THEIR religious teachings? I think you need something beyond religion that defines right and wrong.

          • Ted Seeber

            Or the Taliban simply have the assumption that women aren’t human and thus aren’t worthy of trying to figure out how they feel (heck, even Christian men and Atheist men have problems figuring out how women feel- it changes with hormone levels that MALES do not experience at all).

            Are you really so blind as to think you can tell how somebody of the opposite gender FEELS when emotions are largely controlled by the very hormonal changes that make men have a penis and women have a vagina?

            While I agree with egalitarianism that men and women are of EQUAL WORTH- their contributions are different, and if we base our morality on feelings alone, then their morality is going to be different. Different input into the functions WILL yield different output. Why would we expect anything else?

          • http://www.virtue-quest.com/ Robert King

            Well, at least we require something beyond human feeling. We need a rational, objective basis for a moral absolute such as the equality of dignity among all human beings.

            Whether knowledge of this rational, objective basis must be super-human, or extra-human, or divine, is a matter of debate – even among some Catholic theologians. The Catholic teaching insists that the objectivity of morality ultimately derives from the way God created us; but the Church also insists that direct revelation is not necessary to know at least the broad outlines of objective moral truth.

            Since we only know what we know, the (presumptive) fact of objective morality is not, in and of itself, a proof of God’s existence. But it could be taken as not-yet-conclusive evidence pointing toward God’s existence.

            Leah’s insight that morality is personal – and identifying that/those person(s) with the Christian Trinity – is a separate step in the argument.

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

            You are right that we both say the Taliban are wrong. You say their moral feelings are wrong. I say their opinion of how God sees men and women is wrong. The difference is I admit there is an external standard. You don’t want to admit it. But if you don’t have the external standard then they can accuse you of being wrong right back and there is no difference between you. It becomes a question of who can control the guns and impose their idea of right and wrong on society.

          • Brian Westley

            “But if you don’t have the external standard then they can accuse you of being wrong right back and there is no difference between you.”

            How does adding gods change it? You say you’re right and they’re wrong, they still say they’re right and you’re wrong. Same impasse.

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

            It isn’t the same impasse. We are no longer arguing over their state of mind. We are arguing over objective truth. We can then say they are wrong and it makes sense. It is still a matter of declaring the western mind to be better than the Taliban mind but it is objective. If we say baseball is better than soccer so you have to play baseball we are being jerks. If we say our medicine is better than theirs we are not being jerks. It is objectively true. The difference is the external standard. One exists for medicine. None exists for sport.

        • Ted Seeber

          Where do you think our feelings for each other come from, if not from God?

          • http://www.offthewrittenpath.com Andrew

            Human decency? The ability to empathize with other human beings, as evolved over the course of many millennia of living with each other, building societies, and learning? This still doesn’t require God.

          • Ted Seeber

            So where does human decency come from if not from God? Where does evolution come from if not from God? Where does Quantum Mathematics come from if not from God? Where does the idea of building societies come from if not from God?

            You see, that’s the problem with a universe that has no creator- it doesn’t have a cause.

          • http://www.offthewrittenpath.com Andrew

            So where does God come from? And you can’t use some B.S. excuse about God existing always and forever, because I’ll just use the same excuse about the universe minus God.

    • http://catholicgamer.com darrenl

      I’ll add to Randy’s comment.

      The Church asserts that God wrote the Moral Law into the hearts of men…meaning that all humans have a basic understanding of God’s moral law even if they don’t know or believe in God. This also has ties to Natural Law and how it governs the human condition.

      This gets to Christianity, because if Jesus is God, then clearly his laws are to be obeyed. It gets to Catholicism if the Catholic Church’s claim of Apostolic succession and Tradition is true.

      • MumbleMumble

        But this is almost as simplistic as Mehta’s argument that morality required to justification. You’re saying that God places it into all humans (which begs the question why humans have such radically different beliefs of what is and what is not moral). There is no proof for such a claim. Mehta is saying morality comes from nowhere, you’re saying it comes from an unprovable source. Logically, we’re no better off than we were at trying to figure out where morality originates.

        • MumbleMumble

          * “morality required NO justification.” sorry.

        • http://catholicgamer.com darrenl

          Mumble,

          I think you’re being overly skeptical

          In order for a explanation to be the best, one does not need to give an explanation for the explanation. Nothing would function if we were to adopt such a viewpoint. Now, we’re talking about the source of morality. Mehta is saying there isn’t any…or we don’t need to answer that question. Theists will say it’s God. There’s your choices for the explanation of morality. You’re now asking a different question, which is the proof of God’s existence….but this is not the subject of the debate.

          • MumbleMumble

            Is there such a thing as overly skeptical?
            My answer to the origins of morality was not Mehta’s and it was not God. If you say the answer is nothing, like Mehta did, the conversation does tend to suffer. If you say the answer is God, there are thousands more questions that you raise, including the existence of God. Without that, you can’t rely on your answer as being correct.

          • http://catholicgamer.com darrenl

            Heh…yeah, I think there is such a thing as being overly skeptical. What’s to stop you from getting into an infinite regress of explanations: What about an explanation for the explanation or the exploitation….and then an explanation for that…etc etc. Can’t do science that way…can’t do philosophy that way either. So, to answer one question, find your terminator. It’s OK if it raises other questions, just recognize that it is indeed a separate question.

            You are totally correct though, stating God as the answer raises other questions….but since when did finding an answer ever NOT raise more questions ;P

          • http://catholicgamer.com darrenl

            …stupid spell check failure there…but I think you get my point.

          • MumbleMumble

            I get that you can’t keep running around in circles looking for explanations. My main point is that using God to answer a question is, in my mind, inadequate, because of all the other religions bouncing around. Without proof for your God, you can’t say that all the other ones are wrong.

          • http://catholicgamer.com darrenl

            I understand your point….and it is a valid one.

            So from your point of view, every religion and god must be proved as wrong in order for the Christian God to be the answer to the question of morality then?

          • MumbleMumble

            Not only that, but the ABSENCE of a god would also have to be disproven, as well as the possibility for any other previously unknown god. A bit of a tall order, I admit. However, that could be circumvented by merely providing sufficient evidence for the Christian God (or whichever god was being promoted). But that would be tough, because, as you know, I am very skeptical.

          • http://catholicgamer.com darrenl

            You…skeptical? Nahhhhh. Crazy talk. ;P

            I would suggest any resource by Thomas Aquinas to get you started. He’s kind of “The Man” when it comes to proofs for God’s existence. Edward Feser has an excellent book called Aquinas (..surprise, surprise…) that helped me a lot, Peter Kreeft is also quite good….both solid philosophers.

          • MumbleMumble

            Thank you for the author and book recommendations. I will check them out.

          • http://catholicgamer.com darrenl

            My pleasure Mumble.

            …great chatting with you.

          • MumbleMumble

            Ditto.

        • Ted Seeber

          I thought Ockham’s razor demanded simplicity?

        • Ted Seeber

          That question is also answered by Catholicism. The tension between selfishness and socialization is why men sin. Aka original sin. aka teenage rebellion.

    • Anonymous

      I can imagine that other people don’t want to be told anything about how they are to live. I can imagine that they may encounter a situation where they find murder acceptable (though, my imagination still only leaves a few cases)… and perhaps their belief on this doesn’t match my own.

      Is there ever a situation where you can sympathize with the state of another, yet still believe that their belief/behavior is wrong? If so, on what grounds?

      • MumbleMumble

        Certainly agree on that first point.
        For your question, I can sympathize with an individual growing up in a culture that teaches you from day one to hate, or repress, a certain group. When every teacher that you have is telling you the same thing, honestly, how can you be reasonably expected to go against that grain all on your own. Obviously there are exceptions, but these are not the rule. But I will still believe that their actions are immoral when they hurt another person for no reason other than their learned hatred.

        • Oregon Catholic

          And I can sympathize with someone who’s life experiences have brought them to an understandable conclusion there is no God. But I will still believe they are wrong and hope they will change their mind.

        • Anonymous

          I’m not sure that your response is relevant. You’ve attempted to insert what you think is a moral defect into the object of sympathy prior to the act, thus allowing the defect to deflect the blame.

          Suppose instead that a person very much like yourself lived a life very similar to yourself. However, when placed in an extreme situation, they deemed a murder justifiable, while you wouldn’t have. Can you feel sympathy for their response to the extreme situation while still believing it to be wrong? Again, on what grounds?

          Additionally, don’t you need an additional “sympathy calculator” built-in with all the morality that you already like in order for everything to boil down to sympathy? To go in the opposite direction, consider a murder of a slave back in the early 1800s. Perhaps the lawman feels sympathy for whatever situation led the plantation-owner to murder the slave, but perhaps the law still requires him to be punished. Wouldn’t we say that this is the wrong kind of sympathy, appealing to either some higher moral code or a “better” sympathy calculator? If so, you’ve fallen right back into Leah’s trap: why do you think your sympathy is better?

          Why would you trust your sympathy to get both of the above cases right? (Remember, you like the culture the first guy grew up in.) Why is maximizing sympathy better than maximizing happiness or a more general utility? How are we ever to get a calculator for any of these things without smuggling in a morality a priori anyway?

      • Ted Seeber

        Only a few cases? My imagination, informed by Catholic Teaching, has me down to three- all joined together by defense of an innocent third party:
        1. Triage- a doctor faced with two patients, one he can safe, the other he can’t, and he needs to kill the one he can’t to save the one he can (MASH had a wonderful episode on this, but it also comes up with Trauma and Disease induced abortions in emergency rooms).
        2. Protecting one’s family from an invading army. Some people add property to this, I don’t, because much as it hurts to abandon property, it’s better to run away and start someplace else fresh.
        3. Taking out an insane killer who has already started firing- but the criminal should ALWAYS fire the first bullet.

        • Oregon Catholic

          But anonymous’ comment was about justifiable murder. Ted, the scenarios you describe aren’t murder. Not all intentional killing is murder.

          I can think of any number of scenarios in which a person could be so harrassed or so fearful of future harm that I could sympathize with murder. But it would still be wrong, although I wouldn’t want to have to be on the jury that heard their case.

        • Anonymous

          You listed three cases. That’s still a few, right? ;) Of course, I meant “relatively few compared to the total number of reasons for murder and/or more general killing.” I don’t really want to get into a detailed discussion of murder/killing and when each are possibly justified. I really just want to see what I can learn from Mumble’s idea of using a sympathy-basis for morality. The focus is really sympathy, not murder.

    • Ted Seeber

      In that situation, I am incapable of your true morality entirely. Having autism, my morality is based on reason, not imaginary empathy.

      • MumbleMumble

        I’m not very familiar with the specifics of autism; are you able to imagine something happening to you that hasn’t happened, and how you would respond?

        • Ted Seeber

          I am simply not able to imagine that. In fact, it has harmed my Catholicism- many points of Catholic Moral Teaching I needed to *personally experience* before I could understand them.

          I will never know how it feels to give birth to a child. But I certainly DO know how it felt growing up to be persecuted for what I now know are my more socially inappropriate autistic tendencies- and so I’m pro-life because I’m against bigotry and discrimination, for instance. And came late in life to that, as I didn’t get a diagnosis until I was 30.

    • Steve

      Randy… The important question isn’t ‘why can’t it be both’ but ‘why does it need to be both’

      “Normal human sympathy should have prevented the holocaust.” There are countless factors that compel people act a certain way, many beyond the simplistic scope of ‘normal human sympathy’. A growing feeling of anti-semitism in a region that was economically devastated following WWI (arguably unfairly) created a political climate were more radical voices were listened to and obeyed. Our sympathies are only part of the equation.

      “Jesus claims to be God. If that claim is right then He is going to be a better source of moral information. Others are discerning what goodness is. Jesus is Goodness incarnated. So if that claim is true then we can shorten the analysis of where to go for morals. We still need to understand why Catholicism and not some other form of Christianity but you get the idea. Reasons exist. Just seeing the differences and declaring the choice impossible is a bit strange.” There are a lot of ‘ifs’ here. ‘Jesus claims to be God’… OK so what IF that claim is false?? Should we then find his moral claims to be false as well?? On what grounds beyond bible verse should we accept this claim to be true?? ‘Jesus is Goodness incarnated.’ Beyond the obvious question of what exactly does this mean, what IF this claim is false as well?? You’re needlessly weakening a moral system by making it’s validity rest upon assuming the existence of a vague supernatural source rather then the on the strength of the values themselves.

      Personally I don’t believe in an objective morality, at least in an absolute universal sense of the term. There might be values that are so common amongst various cultures as to give the appearance of an objective moral standard, but this an illusion. All moral views are subjective and exist only within our minds. We build societies and act within a collective typically surrounded by people who share common moral tastes, so to speak, but each individual has a slightly different sense of what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’. For me, subjective morality (even if it appears objective on ‘obvious’ issues like murder, rape, child abuse, etc.) is more consistent with the world I see, as as such, doesn’t require the existence and interference of a deity.

      Daren… “In order for a explanation to be the best, one does not need to give an explanation for the explanation. Nothing would function if we were to adopt such a viewpoint. ” Yikes… Examining claims critically and holding them up to a proper level of scrutiny demands we account for the validity of the source (ie. the explanation of the explanation). Judging a claim (ie. Jesus is God’s son) requires more than the assumption that the claim is simply correct. I’m not suggesting every claim requires diving into an infinite regress of an endless round of ‘why is that’ like you would with a child, but I’d say the number of ‘explanations for the explanations’ needed to make a reasonable assessment of an arguments value is higher than 1. Using ‘God’, in any form, as the default answer that doesn’t require any additional examination is just lazy.

      Ted… I’ve always found Ockhams Razor a better argument for the Athiest view rather than the Believer view. If you can reasonably show that something functions in a manner that does not require the assumption of a deity existing, then God can be removed from the equation all together at no loss to your overall argument. Why say ‘The Earth moves around the sun due to Gravity & God’ when you can say ‘The Earth moves around the sun due to Gravity’. Even were you to suggest that ‘God made gravity’ (or something to that effect), there is still no reason to assume his (or her) continued involvement or existence.

      Anonymous… If someones daughter is sexually assaulted, I can sympathize, as a father, with going out and killing that person. In my opinion this manner of seeking retribution is wrong. The grounds for which I judge this are that the greater societal good is served by having matters of justice determined within a courtroom, rather than by a gun in the hand of a vengeful father.

      • Anonymous

        The only way you could go that route and still save the idea that objective morality comes from sympathy is to label “the greater societal good” as something like “sympathy for the theoretical people who are harmed when we don’t determine all matters of justice within a courtroom.” Unfortunately, that might require a pretty good sympathy calculator which has the rest of your morality already built into it.

        Of course, as a relativist, if we supposed you lived under the Taliban, you might think the greater societal good is served by executing your own daughter in an honor killing.

        • Steve

          Anonymous… I don’t think objective morality comes from anywhere. I believe it is an illusion created by a highly pervasive subjective morality making them effectively objective, without truly being objective. When a person or group of people are certain their views are absolute and objective due to some sort of divine mandate, it’s only reasonable to follow that they’ll find any alternative to their views as ‘immoral’, obscene & otherwise appalling. I’m hesitant to claim moral high ground on issues I can’t strongly oppose. On matters of murdering your own child with sticks and stones because she ‘dishonored’ the family, I oppose that in any manner possible. Bear in mind, that sort of behavior is the logical extension of religious extremism.

          I suppose an action that best serves the ‘greater societal good’ is generally the one that promotes the best balance between freedom and happiness. I’m afraid I don’t have a better definition and I’d be willing to hear suggestions.

          • Anonymous

            “Bear in mind, that sort of behavior is the logical extension of religious extremism.” Then suppose that you lived in a culture where this same exact behavior did not come from religious extremism… just a strange sense of honor.

            “I suppose an action that best serves the ‘greater societal good’ is generally the one that promotes the best balance between freedom and happiness.” And there it is, folks! Packed inside ‘greater societal good’ is all the morality that you already liked! Why value freedom at all? Is it just to avoid Cartesian’s Naziland example? How could you justify this when you could, as a relativist, simply have grown up in a society that didn’t value freedom? One can at least intuitively make an argument for why happiness should be maximized (though it almost certainly fails, as Naziland shows)… but there doesn’t really seem to be any reason why freedom should be included at all, save for the extent that it increases happiness.

          • Steve

            I’m curious which cultures around the world kill their children without religious extremism. Within a community obsessed with the everlasting afterlife, the taking of someones life in this world might be somewhat redemptive in the grand scheme of things. It is a strange sense of honor, but also one that’s consistent within that persons warped frame of reference.

            Freedom is only valuable with respect to its effect on the overall happiness of societies members. We have laws tempering our freedoms to maximize both of happiness of society and of the individual. Typically societies that allow the free exchange of ideas and allow their economic systems to be open have prospered and lead to populations that are ultimately happier. (See North vs. South Korea). I included freedom as it has correlated directly with prosperity and happiness for quite a long time. I’m not entirely sure where a disagreement might be, if anywhere?? And I’m afraid I don’t know what Naziland example you’re referring to. Perhaps if I did I’d be better equipped to respond.

          • Anonymous

            I’m curious why you would think religion is required for killing children. It’s present both in all human societies and throughout the animal kingdom (Leah’s favorite example is courtship-by-infanticide in gorillas). It could be born of population controls, a strange sense of honor, a quirky equilibrium in evolutionary strategy, a desire to relieve the burden of damaged or problematic children, or many other things. None of them seem necessarily religious. In fact, I seem to recall a recent non-religious bioethics publication making some noise for claiming the last of my examples as legitimate.

            I think that if freedom is simply an input to happiness, you still run into the Naziland problem. It was originally formulated for the desirism style of happiness-is-morality argument. I can’t link straight to the original comment, but here is the post. Just Ctrl-F “Naziland”, and you’ll see Cartesian’s post. It’s been reasonably influential in the blogosphere, so I apologize for referencing it without a linky link the first time.

          • Steve

            I’m not referring to infanticide in rest of the animal kingdom. I’m also not referring to instances among humans via mental illness, duress or a crime of passion. I recall that article, essentially a post-birth abortion that the author suggested might be morally acceptable. I disagreed with the author on that issue (and what honestly taken aback by the suggestion, and I’m pro-choice), but again, that’s not what I’m referring to. I’m referring to it being an acceptable practice in a society, even as a smaller segment of a society while the greater nation as a whole might turn a blind eye.

            I’m afraid my knowledge of this ‘naziland’ bit is limited to skimming that post and can’t really offer anything constructive at this time. (I didn’t realize blog commenters were ‘famous’ enough to be referenced in such fashion).

          • Anonymous

            “Aside from all the people/animals which kill their children without influence from religion… there doesn’t seem to be any people/animals which kill their children without influence from religion!”

            For relativism, we don’t need an actual successful society with an appreciable number of people believing it. We simply need that to be a plausible scenario… like Naziland. Suppose the gorillas who court via infanticide took another evolutionary step, but retained that particular custom. We would think it’s morally reprehensible, but we would have to accept that it’s perfectly fine for them!

            In actuality, while you’d like to blame the “warped state of mind” that religion causes… this is still accepting that other cultures could have these morals… and your relativism should simply say, “That’s ok.” You are essentially required to do this, regardless of how morally reprehensible or warped you personally find it! …or are you backtracking on your relativism?

            Again, I apologize for assuming people actually know Naziland. There used to be quite a bit of cross-readership between Unequally-Yoked and Common-sense Atheism. I’m still getting used to the changed readership.

          • leahlibresco

            I think now that Common Sense Atheism doesn’t blog about atheism, people are discussing its thought experiments less and people have less exposure to the site generally.

            Also, since I’m at lesswrong camp and you used the example of highly-evolved, infanticidal gorillas, I’m going to have to recommend Three Worlds Collide to everyone.

          • Steve

            Anonymous… I’m not speaking of killing your offspring amongst animals where there might be a drive among males to eliminate children not of your genetic line (I believe this happens among lions as well). Nor am I referring to people who are mentally ill (like someone who thinks satan told her to drown her kids) or people who might kill their child in anger or duress (perhaps severe financial difficulties or if the child was developmentally disabled) as each of these instances would result in the parent being locked up in jail or committed to a psychiatric institution for committing a crime. I’m referring to a socially accepted practice of dragging your child, usually women, into public places while family members and friends beat her and ultimately kill her for some alleged offense to herself or her family. This seems like a phenomena that’s limited to having some sort of religious beliefs as the cause. If you can give me an example where this or a similar practice happens that is not related to the religious beliefs of the killers I’d be happy to hear it.

            From what I read, the naziland example doesn’t seem like a highly plausible senario in a global sense. It seems to be the most extreme example of a situation used as an argument against desirism. For me, the strain of plausibility makes it a moderately compelling point in a discussion or series of thought experiments, but one of little value beyond that.

            I believe the notion that any system of ethical values have some sort of divinely mandated truth is false. I believe moral value judgements, while having the appearance of objectivity, are ultimately the product of the subjective views of the individuals making up a particular group. This isn’t to say we are then powerless to form a strong and defendable system of ethics. There are commonalities in our individual subjective values where we can act as these are effectively objective and most of these will be those values that appeal to our sense of harm & pain & suffering. We still can say ‘this is right’ or ‘that is wrong’, but it must be under the pretense that what we are really saying is ‘it is of my opinion that this is right’, not that any individual act is right or wrong. At what point does the brick of the individual subjective value become the wall of apparent objectivity?? I suppose that’s up to the subjective individual.

            I will extrapolate this point further, specifically to everyones favorite point for extreme versions of human cruelty, the Holocaust. This will be a tough pill to swallow, but the actions of the Nazis were not wrong or right in and of themselves. Our sense of what is ‘right’ or more specifically in this case why their actions were wrong is a function of our individual values applied to these events. We might find them appalling (as I certainly do)… we might oppose and condemn these acts in any manner possible (and I do)… and we might take steps and support efforts to ensure that these events never take place again. The uniformity of human opposition against these instances might create the appearance of some sort of objectivity in our value system, but I believe this to be an illusion.

            Because conclusions drawn by Nihilism (and for the record I’m not a Nihilist… though that’s for another time) are cold, sometimes shocking and otherwise depressing, doesn’t mean there isn’t truth in them. For me, the conclusion that the world is without inherent purpose or meaning simply means that should I desire a higher purpose to my life or give my existence meaning beyond reasons explained by simple materialistic causality then it is up to me to create those for myself.

            Does this seem like I’m backtracking on my relativism??

            Leah made an offhand remark insinuating that newbees in her debate group (or thought group or whatever it was) fell into some sort of trap of giving Nihilistic responses to questions, like this was some sort of a bad thing. I found this puzzling. Why are we to automatically dismiss Nihilistic or Existentialist conclusions??

          • Oregon Catholic

            Steve – “I’m referring to a socially accepted practice of dragging your child, usually women, into public places while family members and friends beat her and ultimately kill her for some alleged offense to herself or her family. This seems like a phenomena that’s limited to having some sort of religious beliefs as the cause. If you can give me an example where this or a similar practice happens that is not related to the religious beliefs of the killers I’d be happy to hear it.”

            I curious as to why this is the only type of killing scenario you want to discuss? Why aren’t you interested in discussing the socially accepted and state supported euthanasia taking place in Holland for example?

          • Steve

            Oregon… General summation of the conversation thus far (which can be easily read in the above posts) was a specific mention by Anonymous regarding ‘honor killings’ (not every instance of parent-killing-offspring in the animal kingdom btw) with respect to my morally relativistic viewpoints… I mentioned that I would oppose the practice and noted that this practice is directly tied to religious beliefs… there was a bit of back and forth but not much more to that part of the conversation.

            Frankly I’d prefer not to discuss any killing senario. I’d rather discuss the merits of certain films or lament amongst friends as to why the NY Mets are just not a really good baseball team this year or any in recent memory. But I also find engaging philosophical discussions enlightening, even ones examining killings so I find myself here. I don’t know if I have the energy to go into the differences between honor killings & euthanasia, though if you’re looking for a simple opinion, the practice of the former is as barbaric as the prohibition of the latter.

          • Oregon Catholic

            ” the practice of the former is as barbaric as the prohibition of the latter.”

            And that in a nutshell is why I find that kind of relativistic thinking frightening and monstrous. All the more so because of your apparent rationality and good manners and no doubt sincere belief that you are a moral person. In your moral world I can envision someday being strapped to a gurney while a smiling and gentle young civil servant comes at me with a needle to end my life for my own good and the good of society.

          • Anonymous

            Steve,
            You’re not backtracking on your relativism. You’ve taken the stand you have to in order to defend it. I just want it to be known that every time you make a statement like “the practice X is barbaric”, there is nearly always an immediately available thought experiment that goes along the lines of:

            Suppose practice X developed without religion in another culture (we don’t actually need the “without religion” qualifier except for an irrational errata in your application of the theory). You can’t say it’s wrong (just that it’s wrong for the purposes of pursuing your personal interests)… but you can try to stop it in order to further your own interests.

            And that’s ok. It’s a fine theory… that many people find barbaric and would like to stop, lol. Would killing you in order to pursue that interest be alright for them?

            Leah,
            Good link! I enjoyed it, even if it hurt a little inside. Have you posted your thoughts on this story? Did I miss them?

          • Steve

            Oregon… I’m puzzled, and perhaps I’m not familiar with the particular euthanasia debate in Holland. If you’re under the assumption that I feel old, sick & dying people should be force to be euthanized because of the burden to society, you’re incorrect. If you’re under the assumption that I think legalizing the practice should be done without every consideration given to assuring that said people aren’t pressured or guilted into it, you’re incorrect. If you’re under the assumption that I think this should be an option offered to people who might be simply depressed, or who have a case of the flu, you’re also mistaken. If someone is lying in a hospital bed with the assurance that their condition is all but guaranteed as an imminent but unimaginably painful and un-dignified death, then they should have an option to end their lives in a manner they see fit. The benefit of euthanasia is NOT the ability to re-distribute resources (financial, medical or otherwise) that were keeping the sick person alive, but reduction of unnecessary suffering by giving them a humane option to end their life in as painless a way as possible. It is about offering them an alternative to the often unimaginable pain of a terminal disease. Taking away someones ability to make that choice due to your preference their needless suffering because it’s all part of God’s big plan is barbaric.

          • Steve

            Anonymous… Moral Relativism isn’t by itself right or wrong (in terms of an ethical standard of ‘right v. wrong’ rather than ‘correct v. incorrect’). It’s not an action or a suggestion of one and as such I find it curious that you’d suggest it’s ‘barbaric’. Suggesting moral judgements are subjective ones doesn’t mandate or justify some sort of response that increases suffering. I can, and do condemn things as ‘wrong’ and praise things as ‘right’… it’s just with the caveat that what I’m really saying is ‘in my opinion, this is wrong’.

          • Oregon Catholic

            Steve, it all sounds reasonable the way you have laid it out for people who want to speed up the dying process. No need to go into Catholic morals on why we think this is wrong.

            But that’s not the limit of it. Euthanasia also currently extends to disabled children and others who can’t speak for themselves. Once you open the door to allowable killing (abortion kicked it wide open) then you open the debate on deciding who we are allowed to kill and why. Remember the so-called philosopher/ethicists who coined the Orwellian term “post-birth abortion”? You think that’s awful but remember they have supporters such as Peter Singer, another so-called ethicist, respected in many quarters, not the least of which is the journal that chose to publish the rubbish. Euthanasia of the type you oppose is out there being discussed among the bio-ethics ‘elite’ right now and it is coming because there is nothing in our morally relativistic society to stop it (except Catholics and a few others).

            If morality is relative, like yours, then we no longer have the absolute and objective criteria that killing is wrong all the time. You or I become at risk of ending up as one of the humans it’s OK to kill whether we want to die or not. Moral relativism has NO checks and balances or defense against slippery moral slopes. You should be very concerned about euthanasia based on your own comments about what you would oppose.

          • Anonymous

            An attempt to insulate your theory from the ire of others in no way convinces those others to refrain from pursuing that ire. Remember that your theory is simply incompatible with their subjective moral perspective… regardless of whether the adherents of your theory view it as benign… and regardless of whether you can comprehend an opposition to something so seemingly benign. Therefore, given that others view your theory as barbarism and would like to eliminate it, would you suggest that killing you is alright for them… though probably not for you (or many others)?

          • Steve

            Euthanasia extended to disabled (but not in some sort of perpetual unfixable terminal pain) children is not something I can currently get behind.

            With regards to people who can’t currently speak for themselves, I only have to point back to the Terry Schaivo case from a few years back. Once it was decided to remove the feeding tube with the full intention of letting what was left of that poor woman die, it was barbaric to simply have her body starve to death over the course of a week or two, rather than simply end her life immediately.

            I am pro choice, though I disagree fully with the author of that post-birth abortion article, nor do I support late term abortions. We all draw different lines in the sand (because moral values are relative :) ) and I draw mine there.

            The permissible killing of another human being isn’t something that I take lightly. There are numerous ways this could lead to problems. These issues can be discussed in a reasonable manner but the solution isn’t to put your head in the sand and forbid it in all cases. The paranoid outright opposition to this might be the result of watching too many Charlton Heston movies…

            Would you say homicide in self defense is the ethical equivalent to accidental vehicular homicide or capital punishment, or killing someone in combat, or walking in on a cheating spouse and murdering them, or walking into a movie theater and opening fire or dropping a nuclear bomb?? Perhaps you might (as I don’t really know you and morality is of course relative), but I do not. Assuming you might differentiate between these events, we’ve already begun to ascribe different levels of ‘wrongness’ (and even some cases of ‘rightness’) to the act of killing based on the context of the individual situation. The assumption that there is an objective value that says ‘killing is wrong all the time’ is an illusion.

            The way I see it, moral relativism isn’t some sort of man made system so much as it’s a simple truth. Being as such, the fact that we still debate ethical issues in an honest and open dialogue inspite of not really having concrete ground to stand on, so to speak, is evidence that the extent of your concerns are unwarranted. The checks and balances you look for against ‘slippery slopes’ will arise naturally as a result of thoughtful human reasoning and discussion.

          • Steve

            Anonymous… I don’t recall making any attempt from insulating my theory from anyones ire. That it might make people upset is irrelevant to it’s strength as an argument. My continued existence is also not a pre-requisite for the truth of morality being a subjective set of values. If it’s not compatible with someone else’s subjective world view, perhaps they should alter their view or convince me that there are compelling reasons beyond a deity to put any stock into some sort of objective moral truth. As moral relativity isn’t an act or a suggestion for actions, I don’t think barbarism is an appropriate term for it, even if you don’t agree with it. It might be unpalatable for people who are otherwise convinced of their ethical positions and feel justified because they deemed their values objective & absolute, but again that’s not really my problem. Show me I’m wrong, beyond blindly labeling it barbaric.

          • Anonymous

            We agree on your position. Others finding moral fault with your position does not make your position faulty. However, your position does not allow you to find fault with the others’ desire to kill you, either. Of course, after they’ve done so, it won’t make your theory any less true than it was to start out with… but it seems to fly in the face of your hopes for the greater social good (whatever that means). Truths don’t have to be palatable. This is the point at which we can conclude, seeing where Oregon’s slippery slope proceeds out of the pitchforks which you are powerless to forbid.

            However, if you are interested, the reason why some might consider the theory barbarism is that even if we assume it is true, it is totally cool for others to kill in order to bury the truth and advance their own subjective moral interests (regardless of whether those subjective moral interests are masquerading as objective moral interests or not). So long as the label “barbarism” is totally cool with them, it doesn’t matter if you think it’s an inappropriate term. That’s not really their problem.

          • Steve

            My position doesn’t prohibit me from developing a set of ethical values, passing judgements and taking the actions I deem appropriate, especially in regards to my own safety. The passivity you describe is not consistent with what I’ve been saying. My ethical value set would probably be consistent with most of what we’d commonly term moral or immoral. The point of a morally relativistic worldview is that I’m can’t condemn or condone any action on grounds other than with respect to my own unique value-set.

            ‘Barbarism’ is an inappropriate term because it doesn’t make any sense in the context of this argument. It’s like calling a frying pan or a rock ‘barbaric’. The act of picking them up and clubbing someone over the head with either of them is barbaric, but were I to simply call a rock ‘barbaric’, it wouldn’t make sense. Similarly were you justify a harmful act under a morally relative (or objective) framework, this doesn’t make the framework itself barbaric any more than a positive act makes the framework benevolent. Referring to moral relativity as ‘Large’ or ‘Egyptian’ or ‘Purple makes similar sense. It’s not an intellectual objection, but a simple language one… though I suppose large groups of murdering word bandits are free to use whatever words they see fit in whatever situation they deem appropriate.

            You might consider honestly re-examining your viewpoints. It’s a puzzling defense mechanism that simply assumes other views will automatically lead to widespread murder & chaos.

          • Anonymous

            The point of a morally relativistic worldview is that I’m can’t condemn or condone any action on grounds other than with respect to my own unique value-set.

            And they condone killing you on the grounds of their own unique value-set. I haven’t attempted to show that your theory is false or leads to a contradiction. I’ve simply shown that your theory thinks your death is just dandy for them. There is a difference between you being passive and your theory being happy for them.

            It’s like calling a frying pan or a rock ‘barbaric’… It’s not an intellectual objection, but a simple language one.

            Perhaps I should change my sentence structure. How about instead of finding the theory barbaric, they find the action of believing the theory barbaric. Nothing meaningful has changed except the validity of your objection. Of course, like you said, they’re free to use whatever words they’d like… and your theory thinks that’s just dandy for them.

            You might consider honestly re-examining your viewpoints. It’s a puzzling defense mechanism that simply assumes other views will automatically lead to widespread murder & chaos.

            I have not assumed that any other view will automatically lead to widespread murder or chaos. Nor have I examined my own viewpoints in this forum (but I’m betting your theory says they’re positively dandy for me!). So far, we’ve simply examined your viewpoints. What we’ve concluded is that if we have widespread murder and chaos for the purpose of eliminating adherents to your theory (note that this is very clearly not stated as a logical conclusion of any other view), your theory says, “Ok. Good for those murderers.” Of course, if we don’t have murder and chaos, your theory says good for them, too.

            (I almost want to pull an Oprah… YOU get moral validation, and YOU get moral validation, and EVERYONE gets moral validation!!!)

          • Steve

            They’d commit the act of harming me, and condone it only within the framework of their own moral view. You could have easily have suggested they gave me $1,000,000 (or some similar ‘positive’ act that would be ‘right’ only within their own frame work as well), but your adherence to violent acts to show some point (which has yet to reveal itself) is bizzare. Maybe you thought the shock value would sway me. I’ll save you the trouble, it’s hasn’t. I’m not sure ‘my theory would be happy for them’, (or whatever that means).

            I’m uncertain how it can be considered barbaric to believe in a theory. You’ve simply altered one un-intelligible sentence into another. You might not understand why I think that way, but barbarism is something relatively specific, and doesn’t apply in any meaningful way here.

            My theory (not that it’s ‘my’ theory per se) doesn’t make judgements one way or another about someones actions or values. It simply states that judgement of those actions & values is done subjectively by the individual, not by some pre-ordained divinely inspired objective rule book. No ones morals are validated or dismissed by anyone else other than the individual making that judgement.

          • Anonymous

            You could have easily have suggested they gave me $1,000,000 (or some similar ‘positive’ act that would be ‘right’ only within their own frame work as well), but your adherence to violent acts to show some point (which has yet to reveal itself) is bizarre.

            Actually, I kinda like the theory. Anytime murder is hot-swappable with million dollar gifts, I’m rather intrigued. I think my interest is due to the bizarreness of the nature of a theory that allows such equivocation, rather than the bizarreness of any particular example.

            I’m uncertain how it can be considered barbaric to believe in a theory.

            You don’t think that believing euthanasia is always wrong is barbaric? You don’t think believing in an extreme sense of honor due to religious fanaticism is barbaric? Beliefs don’t necessitate action. Of course, these beliefs seem more likely to spur action than general belief in the relativeness of morals… but they’re still beliefs concerning a theory. Of course, your out is that your theory doesn’t seem to prescribe that you should do anything except what you already find moral. And thus, if what you already find moral is a bunch of barbaric acts, then suddenly, the theory is barbaric!

            But wait! It doesn’t seem to tell me to perform barbaric acts! Of course, for the theory to be barbaric, it probably don’t need to prescribe all barbaric acts all the time (certainly the beliefs on euthanasia or honor don’t always lead to barbaric acts (though how can we actually judge what is barbaric when we’re considering moral theories?… acts probably aren’t ever barbaric to those performing them)). So, we’ll consider those times that the theory does prescribe barbaric acts! Well, remember, we have some people who have barbaric value-sets (whatever that means)… and the theory prescribes that they pursue this value via actions… lo and behold we have a barbaric theory! I don’t think this line of reasoning requires anything more than you would need for the euthanasia or honor theory. The theory is sometimes totally cool with some people doing barbaric things.

            No ones morals are validated or dismissed by anyone else other than the individual making that judgement.

            That’s entirely consistent with what I’ve said. Everyone validates their own moral judgement quite suitably. We agree. You just don’t know it yet.

          • Steve

            Euthanasia isn’t a theory, it is an act. As such, descriptions such as ‘barbaric’ would be appropriate, though in my estimation it’s far more barbaric to forbid someone who is in perpetual pain the ability to end their life in a humane willful way. In my opinion, applying ‘barbaric’ to Euthanasia is simply incorrect, rather than your previous versions which are simply incoherent.

            It’s really the actions of religious extremists that are barbaric, though if their value sets lead to or even necessitate barbaric acts then I don’t object to including them as well. Google ‘Du’s Khalil Aswad’ and feel free to watch the videos that come up if you’re unclear of how barbarism applies to action and how I might define it. It’s clearer than any dictionary.

            Objective universal 100% concrete definitely unmovable correct beliefs DO necessitate action. People holding such beliefs do not compromise. If you are 100% certain Allah demands you to fly planes into western building, it is only reasonable to do so. Doubt & uncertainty never should occur to the objective moralist on issues they’re certain of. And nothing gets the sightless faithful going then a belly-full of self-righteous indignation.

            You keep insisting moral relativity, at least the version I’ve described, has qualities it cant by definition have. The only claim it makes is whatever moral system the individual follows is a result of their own subjective experiences, even if the values are so common among the community as to appear objective & universal. My theory suggests neither judgement of values nor subsequent actions based on those values. Whether they are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ has nothing to do with my claims. I’m growing tired of having to explain this.

          • Anonymous

            …the theory that euthanasia is always wrong… is a theory. A moral one, at that.

            Believing that morality is objective is not equivalent to believing one has 100% correctly modeled all aspects of morality. Leah, for example, believes in objective morality… yet also believes that 1 is not a probability.

            The only claim it makes is whatever moral system the individual follows is a result of their own subjective experiences…

            This is unfortunate. Either your theory is so broad to prescribe all kinds of actions to each person (namely, whatever they wanted to do in the first place)… or it’s so narrow that it simply describes that people do things that they want to do based on their past experiences. The former is a statement on morality. The latter is a statement on biology. Not even the hot-swappable quality of murder and million dollar gifts keeps my interest anymore. It seems there is really no information in this theory… at least not morally relevant information.

            Eugh. At least it was fun trying to learn something. Thanks for chatting! Have a (not ‘good’, but somehow more positively-oriented with respect to your previous experiences and the ‘betterment’ of society) day!

      • Brian Walden

        Steve, I apologize for jumping in while you’re in mid-conversation with others, but…

        “Personally I don’t believe in an objective morality, at least in an absolute universal sense of the term. There might be values that are so common amongst various cultures as to give the appearance of an objective moral standard, but this an illusion. All moral views are subjective and exist only within our minds.”

        I worry we may all be using the same word to describe two different things and are talking past each other. I don’t think anyone thinks God is necessary for the subjective morality you describe to exist. But those of us who disagree with you wouldn’t say that this subjective morality is morality strictly speaking. We’d say that morality is by definition universally and objectively true – if it’s not then there may be very good social norms and values but morality wouldn’t exist. I hope someone will correct me if I’m putting words in their mouth, but I think the believers’ position could be said in this way: For objective morality to exist the universe must be created with a purpose – otherwise man’s actions wouldn’t be required to conform to a purpose. And for a purposeful universe to exist there must be a Creator.

        • Steve

          Brian… no apology necessary, and in fact I jumped in late to the conversation as well. Welcome.

          Do you think killing a cow and eating steak is immoral?? Would a hindu share this moral view??
          Do you shares the moral views on alcohol consumption that mormans or muslims do?? (perhaps you do as I don’t know you… but I don’t, though I don’t really drink either ;))
          Would you find it more appalling to see someone throw a bible in a fire, rather than, say a copy of ‘the Illiad’?? If someone who hasn’t been exposed to christianity didn’t see a difference, are they behaving immorally??
          What about the death penalty?? Are supporters of that immoral?? Are opposers of that immoral??

          It’s comforting to think that there are objective ‘rights’ & ‘wrongs’, but I think the universe is otherwise indifferent on such issues. Our own consciences and value sets are the results of cultural practices, life experience and perhaps even genetic predisposition to feel one way or another on an issue. I think you can say ‘morality exists’, just that it’s less like a dollar and more like 100 pennies.

          In regards to “for a purposeful universe to exist there must be a Creator”… I haven’t seen any evidence to see purpose in the universe, rather I see it being the end product (or more accurately the present product) of indiscriminate naturally explained phenomena. I marvel at natures magnificence even MORE because of the observed complexity without the need for a Creator. Many people find purpose in believing in a creator without evidence. I find this unsatisfying and otherwise inconsistent with the world I see. I find purpose in the things I devote my time too, family, friends, work, hobbies, etc. and none of these require leaps of faith.

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

            Actually, it requires huge leaps of faith. I have always found this position incredibly unappealing and at the very least philosophically lazy if not intellectually dishonest. The universe is a present product, as you say, of certain explainable and observed natural phenomena. I can accept this position. The logical consequent to such a position is that science qua science does not matter, for there is no “purpose,” there is no order, merely chance, randomness rathe than structure.

            But this is not the case; it is not the position people tend to take. We observe discrete temporal events presently, and then that becomes the past. For example, we drop a tennis ball and it hits the floor. We may do this many times over many years, and the ball always drops to the floor. Based on this observation, we make propositions about the nature of the universe and how we expect it to behave in the future which has not yet been and cannot at present be observed.

            Based on this practice, I can read into a substantive belief, namely that we tend to believe the universe is ordered; it is not random: subatomic molecules behave according to a set of laws (granted we cannot know those laws in advance, we must derive them by observation, but our practice indicates that we believe there are a set of laws to be derived). Because of these subatomic laws, there follows a set of atomic-level laws, molecular laws up to the entire body of physics. At present, of course, there is tension between the quantum model and the Newtonian model, although both seem to be true in respective applications, so we look for a model that will unify them. The universe is not divorced from itself, but self-referential and contained.

            Now the models we work up, say, mathematics as a symbolic language. There are certain axioms of mathematics that we accept as true which allows our models to be workable, such as, for example 1=1. This axiom is accepted and it works to our ends, but it is a matter without proof. We make two leaps of faith in such a position: 1) the universe is ordered and can be known, or, if you like, truth can be grasped (which assumes the existence of truth!) and 2) that our system developed though it was by man is reliable (which requires putting faith in man’s faculties).

            The second position is the one that has always bugged me. Say I am with friends at a music festival. Some of my friends drop acid and trip during a show; I do not. Nonetheless, I have a “religious” experience based on my emotional reaction to the music and the generation of experiences by my own mind. Now many experiments in the last 50 years have demonstrated that drugs (and more recently exposure to electromagnetic radition) can facilitate “spiritual” experiences. Thus, sometimes, they say we can discount spiritual experiences as generated in the mind. What we perceive is all mechanical, they say. If this is true then the mere perception of the experiment in question is also mechanical and can be faked, fabricated by the proper conditions on the brains of the observers.

            However, we once believed with available evidence that the Earth was the center of the universe, that the sun orbited us, et cetera. We may conclude that genetics play a role based on available evidence, but over time such a theory may be disproven with still more evidence down the line. Scientific demonstration does not make something true, it makes something workable. Belief is not evidence; belief is a matter of faith. Namely, I put faith in the geneticists and behavioral scientists doing this research; I put faith in the lab assistants collecting and recording the data; I put faith in the data itself not being flawed in some way; I put faith in the self-report of the subjects. It is turtles all the way down.

            If I believe that the universe is random, then I should not believe that the universe is ordered and can be known. If I believe that human faculties are not to be trusted, I should not trust that 1=1. Science as a discipline collapses on itself in such a situation. The whole realm of experimentation must rest on a series of axioms and faith in these axioms.

            To bring this back to morality, we then look from an evolutionary perspective: the universe selects for survivability. Certain ideas have proven to survive very well. Certain behaviors and frameworks for acting with our fellow man have survived very well. We run into the is-ought problem: it is true in a given society that female circumcision occurs and is accepted, even encouraged. It is true in another society that such behavior is considered abhorrent. Both are is realities. But if these two cultures come into contact, what ought be?

            The one out I see here for the naturalist is in saying that law is also determined. Our responses are determined. It is not that the law has any transcendent right to curb behavior; it is merely that law does curb behavior because society developed on such a line. When a group splits away and sets up their own set of laws, that is also an evolutionary fork. So when Mehta claims “I don’t think these things need to be justified,” he has two choices: 1) these things are real and are held up on their own, that morality is part of the order of the universe or 2) these things are cultural relics that we use because they work without necessarily being true, much like the geocentric model of astronomy.

            If his position is (2), then whenever he encounters a different morality, he would have to weigh its evidence and its workability. In discrete social contexts, it is possible that honor killings work just as well as social rehabilitation programs. Thus morality shifts from culture to culture (and from person to person as they exist in the cultural construct) and Mehta has no reason to say someone ought do something. Why should I not murder? Well the human being is intrinsically valuable. What makes them valuable? Well they’re human. What makes them human (central to the abortion debate) and why are humans valuable at all?

            If he takes position (1), he joins Leah’s virtue ethicist position. This can work without necessarily becoming “religious.” One does not need to choose a particular God to believe that certain moral orders are true. He could be a deist, really, that this thing created the moral order, imprinted it on the universe and has since been indifferent. But then if such a deity is indifferent, why care about adhering to the moral order? What if I don’t care how society functions? What if I just want to watch the world burn? Who are you to stop me?

            This is just a matter of opinion. I think my way is better than your way. There’s nothing that upholds such a position other than me. Now if we both believe there is something right, you can say I have it wrong. And then we can figure out if such is true. But if we don’t believe there is something right, we are merely yakking past each other. There’s nothing to prove at all. Even saying it is best for society is pragmatism. But if I don’t think pragmatism is right then what?

            I just can’t conceive of a universe where faith isn’t a natural part of the reasoned order, even if it is a faith so simple as “murder is wrong” being a true statement.

          • Steve

            Michael… I believe you’re mistaking the appearance of order and complexity as justification for a position that there is an inherent self-evident righteousness (or wrongness) in any action or that our lives have any meaning beyond that which we ascribe to them. The observed structure of the universe doesn’t compel me to assign its cause to a diety (Christian or otherwise), but rather I believe that it (the observed structure of the universe) is the result countless physically describable events that took place post-big-bang. These individual laws aren’t random, nor is there compelling evidence to say that they were divinely created. To a great extent I believe the universe can be known. You might find this view unappealing, but I find it more defendable than giving credit to an unobserved man in the clouds.

            What’s to say that the truth of the universe is that there is no point or purpose to it? That might not be a satisfying answer or perhaps the one you’re looking for, but does that make it less true?? Perhaps people who are satisfied with accepting a deity to fill in answers they don’t have or don’t like aren’t looking for truth, but for comfort.

            One could argue that drug use (or any spiritual experience) is simply the result of perceptions created by various chemical reactions in our brain. The feeling of ‘one-ness’ (or whatever) might be a pleasurable and even worthwhile experience, but it’s ultimately an illusion, no less real in a quantifiable sense than a hallucination of Santa Claus. Yes you can argue that then the ‘experiment’ or shall we say the perception of the perception can also then be faked… but perhaps certain assumptions ignoring any ‘Matrix’-type situations are worthwhile in having any meaningful sort of exchange. Certain assumptions, such as homogeneity and isotropy in cosmology, are reasonable assumptions to make in order to create any meaningful framework for a scientific theory.

            I feel in efforts to show why moral relativism isn’t valid, you’re simply pointing out that it’s not palpable to your sensibilities.

      • Ted Seeber

        Ockham’s razor is about simplicity, not dieties. If anything, the theist argument is often the simplest argument- for to replace a God you need several extra steps of logic, starting with the completely irrational assumption that the universe can exist without a God.

        • Steve

          It is about simplicity. Ascribing cause to a deity, when natural laws alone suffice, is an unnecessary step. What is irrational about assuming an un-observed un-necessary ultimately unknowable entity probably doesn’t and never did exist?? What is your evidence or reasoning supporting God’s existence that is superior to, say, evidence or reasoning supporting the existence of the tooth fairy??

    • Brian Walden

      I’m late to this party, but I’d like to go back to MumbleMumble’s original comment.

      “I believe that true morality comes from the ability to sympathize, when we are able to step out of our own shoes, and imagine how we would feel as another person.”

      Why do you think our feelings have any correlation to moral truth (or any philosophical truth for that matter)? In my experience, my feelings and emotions mostly just tell me about myself. For example if something angers me, It’s more much likely that the reason I’m angry is because of my temperament than because the situation is objectively worthy of anger.

      “When people argue that morality must come from some higher power, and they point to God as that source, it, frankly, terrifies me. It suggests to me that if this person were to stop believing in God, they would feel free to go on a crime rampage.”

      Believers don’t think that morality comes from their subjective belief in God (at least most don’t, I’m sure you can always find someone who believes anything). I think the more accurate portrayal of a monotheist’s belief that morality comes from God is that morality comes from the fact that the universe was created with a purpose. Because of the intentionality of the Creator in creation, says the monotheist, men are governed by the moral laws of the Creator just as the universe is governed by physical laws. If a monotheist lost his belief in God, he would still have his conscience and, as you’ve noted, his feelings of sympathy toward others. He wouldn’t go off on a crime spree, but he would lose his intellectual argument for believing in morality.

      “The other problem with this argument relies on the specifics of the god being cited as authority. Using the Catholic God as an example, you would then be required to address how I (me, myself) have established a moral code. I have never believed in the Catholic God, or the Catholic Church’s teachings; why then do I have any sense of morality?”

      Very good question. Catholics believe that all men have the ability to know moral truth through their conscience. Catholics don’t believe that conscience is like an internal algorithm that automatically spits out an answer for every situation. It’s more like an internal metal detector – we have the ability to turn it’s volume down so it’s beeping won’t bother us or even take out it’s batteries altogether and we have the responsibility to train ourselves on how to use it so we can tell whether we’re picking up a good signal or just interference (ok, that’s probably about as far as I can extend the metaphor). Anyway, Catholics believe that revelation from God (whether personal in prayer or public like God giving Moses the Commandments) is not strictly necessary for knowing the moral truth. This is why individuals such as yourself or even whole societies are able to figure out much or even all of the moral code without any divine revelation.

      “Finally, if you’re using a specific religion to make your case, what makes your argument any stronger than any other religious moral code? If one religion says that stoning a girl who had sex before she was married is okay, but your religion says that this is sort of an over-reaction, what support can you offer for your viewpoint? In other words, why did you CHOOSE that specific moral code, as opposed to any other?”

      The deciding factor between competing religion’s moral claims is judging how they correspond to the nature (or purpose) of man. I’m Catholic and the reason I’m Catholic is because I started looking into what seemed to me to be the Church’s most insane moral teachings – it’s ones on sexuality. I knew that if I could find some internal inconsistency I could write of Catholicism as a world view (and Christianity in general would be left teetering on one leg with such a historically important sect discredited). Well, I still haven’t been able to find an inconsistency (in the Church’s moral teachings, there are many in it’s members actions especially my own) – in fact what I found was an amazing consistency. The Catholic Church’s moral teachings are like a sweater so intricately and delicately made that pulling out one thread would cause the whole thing to unravel. In short, I find that the Catholic Church presents an accurate view of who man is and how he must act because of who he is. Other philosophies may get things mostly right but are like a puzzle that has a few missing pieces and has few others from another puzzle mixed in – most of the picture is there but they can’t complete the whole thing.

      P.S. I don’t believe that whether or not capital punishment is the proper penalty for fornication is a moral question, strictly speaking. Whether or not fornication is wrong is a moral question. Whether or not the person administering the judgement and penalty has the authority to do so is a moral question. But it seems to me that the decision to apply the death penalty is a matter of prudence. While I can’t think of a situation I’d expect to occur in my lifetime where the death penalty should apply to fornication – I would suppose it’s possible for a culture to exist where the act is so harmful to society as merit such a severe punishment.

      P.P.S. Just so I don’t scandalize anyone, I don’t believe private consensual sexual activity should be criminalized not even if the penalty was extremely minor such as a nominal fine – but I hold this as a prudential judgement not a moral truth. Also, I picked up an implication that in your hypothetical example a woman could face the death penalty for fornication while a man wouldn’t for the same crime. This, I would say, is morally wrong. If fornication is wrong, it is equally wrong for men and women.

      • MumbleMumble

        Thanks for the response.
        First, I’d like to clarify a little bit that I think that sympathy is a ROUGH guide, not a hard and fast rule. There are too many variables both within an individual and especially between individuals (how can you say how two different people would respond to something?). But, as a general rule, I think it can help direct people to what is the moral path. Do you want to be killed because of your skin pigmentation? Do you want your rights curtailed due to your biology? Do you want your wallet stolen? If your answer is no, then you probably shouldn’t do those things to others. After thinking about it more, I could probably try to expand on this further by arguing about actions that either hurt or help humanity, and have that be the objective moral standard. That’s a bit beyond me at the moment. I don’t think it’s possible to really know everything about what is and what is not moral. I think there are things that are clearly wrong, things that are probably right, and a whole lot of murky grey area.
        However, I am curious about two things regarding your final paragraph (before the post-scripts). You said you were looking for an internal inconsistency, and were unable to find one. I’m not sure what you mean by that. Just because a set of teachings are consistent, this does not make them true. They can be consistently wrong. The Catholic Church at one time claimed that the Earth revolving around the sun went against Scripture – this was consistent within the religion, but not consistent with reality. How can you be sure that consistency equals truth?
        The second thing is a bit unrelated (sort of). You said the reason you’re Catholic is because of the moral teachings (or at least, that contributed a large part). The moral teachings are only one aspect of the Catholic faith structure though. By accepting the moral teachings, do you then default into the entire mythology behind the teachings? Obviously different Catholics have different beliefs about evolution and the time span of the universe, or about the literal truths behind the stories in the Bible (e.g. Noah’s Ark). But by accepting the Catholic Church’s moral beliefs, are you then required to believe in Adam and Eve?
        P.S. And why the heck is there such an extreme difference in beliefs among individuals of the SAME religion? Why do some Catholics look at the Creation Museum in Northern Kentucky as an embarrassment, and others treat it like it’s the Gospel? Who’s right? And who decides who’s right?

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

          I’m not catholic, but to answer your question: Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 are both creation accounts. They do not line up with each others’ timeline. In one, before any plant springs up from the ground, God crafts Adam out of the muck and breathes into him the breath of life. In the other, God speaks all of creation – animals, plants, et cetera – into being and then creates man before resting. Which is true?

          The simple answer is both. One shows a sovereign God whose voice is action. The other shows a deeply personal God involved with his choice creation, man. The Bible is not to be read as a history or biology textbook (though it speaks truths in both places; for example, there really was a guy named Jesus in the Roman province of Judea in the first century who was crucified, died, was buried and rose again – this is an indisputable historical truth central to the biblical Christian faith, as Paul says “if Christ is not raised, we are not raised”).

          The RCC Catechism
          1782 Man has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions. “He must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters.”

          I don’t know how the Church could possibly be more clear that individual conscience is inviolable, even in religious matters. Conscience cannot be coerced through appeals to blind obedience or through threats. Conscience must be “Formed” through reflection, prayer, reason, persuasion and careful attention to the deepest promptings of the heart.

          and

          1783 Conscience must be informed and moral judgment enlightened. A well-formed conscience is upright and truthful. It formulates its judgments according to reason, in conformity with the true good willed by the wisdom of the Creator. The education of conscience is indispensable for human beings who are subjected to negative influences and tempted by sin to prefer their own judgment and to reject authoritative teachings.

          We are the image of God created in freedom and possessing an incomparable dignity by virtue of our very nature. Every person is born with a conscience, and conscience is the place where the one true God is encountered face-to-face. We are inherently capable of good.

          Yet, we are also effected universally by original sin. We are born in situations of social sin. Furthermore, an effect of original sin that persists even after baptism is concupiscence – an inclination to sin.

          In other words, people believe according to their reason and faith. For different people, this means being at different stages and reaching different, honest conclusions. The Church does not coerce faith in any particular thing out of anyone. If a person believes in a 6500 year old Earth, well, God bless ‘em as wrong as they may be. What is essential to the faith is 1,700 years old:

          I believe in one God the Father Almighty,
          Maker of heaven and earth,
          And of all things visible and invisible:

          And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God,
          Begotten of his Father before all worlds,
          God of God, Light of Light,
          Very God of very God,
          Begotten, not made,
          Being of one substance with the Father,
          By whom all things were made;
          Who for us men, and for our salvation came down from heaven,
          And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary,
          And was made man,
          And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate.
          He suffered and was buried,
          And the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures,
          And ascended into heaven,
          And sitteth on the right hand of the Father.
          And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead:
          Whose kingdom shall have no end.

          And I believe in the Holy Ghost,
          The Lord and giver of life,
          Who proceedeth from the Father [and the Son],
          Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified,
          Who spake by the Prophets.
          And I believe one Catholick and Apostolick Church.
          I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins.
          And I look for the Resurrection of the dead,
          And the life of the world to come.
          Amen.

          If you don’t see it listed there, the Church may teach it, it may even ask you to believe it – encourage you to do so; say if you do not understand then proceed with a trust in the Church as God’s agent and bride; say it is based on centuries of expounded faith and systematic, rational theology…but the conscience of man and its ties to reason cannot be violated. So who cares if people of the same religion believe different things? Leah prior to conversion was an atheist and virtue ethicist, yet here stands Mehta saying such virtue doesn’t matter, morality is pragmatic, so what works is necessary, and over there stands a determinist who doesn’t believe in morality at all but only in what is, so we respond to murder not because it is heinous but because we were bound to respond to murder.

          Within the Church, there is freedom of believe what is come to by conscience, reason and faith in such faculties. We don’t care if there are Franciscans, Dominicans, Augustinians, Jesuits, whatevers. We care that there are Christians. That’s pretty much about it.

          • Ted Seeber

            For not being Catholic, you gave a better answer than I ever could.

        • Erick

          Mumble,
          =But by accepting the Catholic Church’s moral beliefs, are you then required to believe in Adam and Eve?=

          No, we are not required to believe in a literal Adam & Eve. This is entirely food for thought, i.e. belief in them is not essential/central to Faith. We are, however, required to believe that God chose humans particularly to have a special relationship with Him. Seeing as no one has a working knowledge of how evolution works on an individual level, there is simply no answer to the question of the truth of Adam and Eve. So whether God really did evolve a literal Adam and Eve, or whether God chose to give Sapiens souls over Neandrethals, or whether evolution occured at all or any other such question are free for individual interpretation. Hence, you’ll get Catholics who believe in Creationism and Catholics who don’t.

  • http://catholicgamer.com darrenl

    ” I didn’t realize that needed justification. To say that people ought to be treated equally, that we ought to live by that golden rule so we can live a better life, to me, none of that stuff requires justification. ”

    Well, of course it requires justification and simply say “I don’t need too” is a bit lazy.

    The Atheist will always have trouble finding a foundation for moral duties and obligations. More accurately, they’ll have trouble giving reasons that don’t come down to a “majority rule”, i.e. utilitarian, because all they have to draw on are materialistic explanations. In which case, the Atheist gets into even more trouble because the “majority rule” will not always result in a morally correct outcome. On day, gay marriage is OK because of “majority rule”, the next gays are being stuffed into concentration camps because 51% of the voter base said that was the right thing to do.

    • Steve

      Agree with the assessment of Hemant’s claim in so much that assuming gender equality doesn’t need justification is a little lazy.

      I don’t agree that Athiests have trouble finding moral foundations. I find it puzzling that people equate religious belief with ability to construct a set of values. I don’t need to believe in God to come up with a set of values that deem it wrong to, say, harm a child. Majority Rule, in an of itself, isn’t an adequate method to determine right and wrong. The majority of the US had little interest in freeing slaves during the early & mid-19th Century. Systems of government work best with a majority rule that have built in mechanisms that protect the minority members of society. In modern politics, the filibuster in the US senate is an example of this, though lately it’s a mechanism that has been abused.

      Moral viewpoints should be held up to critical examination to determine their worth. Simply because Athiests, Agnostics, Free-Thinkers, etc. dismiss the dogmatic elements typically found in organized religion doesn’t mean their moral systems are any less strong than those of believers. In fact non-believers can craft a moral system that isn’t bound by the sometimes immoral stances of the church and it’s members by ignoring the inherent rigidity of dogmatic religious views.

      • Oregon Catholic

        “I don’t need to believe in God to come up with a set of values that deem it wrong to, say, harm a child.”

        No, you don’t need to in our culture which has been heavily influenced by Judeo-Christian moral thought. But you have no true basis to say that someone who thinks differently than you is wrong.

        There are other cultures that have far less respect or concern for children and if you were raised in those cultures, without the influence of Judeo-Christian thought, you would probably think the same way the culture does, consider yourself a moral person, and be quite willing to do things to children that would abhor you now. So in which culture would you be a moral person or is it completely relative?

        “Moral viewpoints should be held up to critical examination to determine their worth.”

        Against what standard? Whose definition of worth? If there are no moral absolutes everywhere and always then it’s just a circular argument as to what morality is.

        • Steve

          There are plenty of nations that haven’t been influenced by judeo-christian thought that feel similarly with regards to children being hurt. Jews & Christians weren’t the first to invent laws against stealing and murdering.

          “But you have no true basis to say that someone who thinks differently than you is wrong.” This is really my point I’ve made in prior posts with regards to the illusion of ‘objective morality’.

          Starting with physiological constants, we probably agree that the experience of physical pain is a bad thing. We might start by using pain and suffering as a yard stick for making moral measurements. From there we might infer that that actions that maximize happiness & positive experiences and minimize suffering & negative experiences are more preferable. This seems to be the simplest framework I can come up with as a standard of moral judgement, built upon the common simple physiology of all people, but not restricted to the views of a single culture or ideology or individual. For me that’s the standard worth judging by.

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

            To quote you: “Majority Rule, in an of itself, isn’t an adequate method to determine right and wrong. ”

            So who cares if we agree that pain or whatever is bad? We agree. So what?

            The state of something being (is) does not imply ordered imperatives (ought). This is straight out of Hume and yet most atheists completely ignore it.

  • Oregon Catholic

    “Hemant: What’s the reason other than that some religious person told them otherwise or they interpreted some holy book as being right so they’re just following that step?”

    So here all he is showing is his own bias for which authority to follow but it provides no answer. I don’t know his history but assume for the sake of example that he was raised by atheist parents in a largely atheist milieu. Then using his statement he should admit he doesn’t have any justifiable reason for his own moral code either except that he believes his parents and follows what they taught him.

    So we’re back to square one – how do you decide which authority is right other than belief/faith and why is one belief/faith better than another?

    • Oregon Catholic

      …and to address your comment Leah,
      if we all start out with a basic set of moral beliefs or even a blank moral slate is atheism less likely, just as likely, or more likely to skew an inate moral code as theism? Again, who decides and on what authority?

      I think the more and more you examine the atheist notion that morality doesn’t come from one God the closer and closer you get to nihilsm as being the only possible “moral’ truth. And yet many (most?) atheists would not consider themselves nihilsts. We can also see that if nihilsm was our inate moral code society would have collapsed before it even got started.

      • Steve

        I can’t speak for all Athiests, but my views are parallel to Nihilism in that there is no inherent meaning to life nor any inherent absolute moral values we all share. This might appear to make the world a colder place, but it feels more honest and real to me. Where I differ is that I feel we can pick ourselves up by our boot straps, so to speak, and create a purpose in our lives that gives in value and makes it a rich worthwhile experience. The values we have, moral or otherwise, are assigned by the individual (though not necessarily chosen) and are a product of cultural environment, life experience and genetic pre-disposition. I also wouldn’t say that nihilism is a moral code.

        • Oregon Catholic

          Explain to me where in your moral code there is anything except maybe fear of punishment to keep you from murdering someone that was aggressively and persistently getting in the way of your purpose in life and making you miserable and you could see no end to the harrassment? Assume for the sake of argument this person had no family or friends and no one to miss him or be harmed by his death. The murder would have no effect on anyone but you and him.

          Yes I know nihilism isn’t strictly a moral code which is why I put scare quotes around it.

          • Oregon Catholic

            oops, should have added he was doing nothing illegal that the law could restrain him for.

          • Steve

            There are few things more frightening than believers continually suggesting the only reason they don’t commit murder is that they believe someone to be watching them. I find that utterly bizarre. I can have a value set that dictates murder as a response to a pest as wrong, with or without someone or some-god witnessing it. If that was the case, every Atheist in New York would be murdering their neighbors for playing music too loud or not taking out the trash often enough.

          • Oregon Catholic

            That’s not what motivates me at all (God is watching). I believe it’s wrong to kill people because people have an intrinsic worth endowed by our Creator. I also believe that no one owns their own life, we are God’s. So if I were to take someone’s life unjustifiably I would be taking what is God’s and the wrong of that is far more motivating to me than just the wrong of taking another’s life.

            That is also why I cannot accept abortion, euthanasia, or suicide. Relativists for the most part have no such hindrance and that’s the problem. None of those things were morally or socially acceptable 50 years ago, in fact they were all illegal. In a morally relative society that rejects objective meaning and purpose and morality what is unthinkable today can become acceptable tomorrow. If we had this conversation 50 years from now you will probably have a different moral code and mine will still be the same.

  • Hibernia86

    I think the trap a lot of people fall into (and I do mean a lot of people. I’m not just aiming this at Leah) is to say “I want to believe in objective morality, therefore I will believe in God”. It doesn’t really matter what you WANT to believe in. The only thing that matters is what the evidence says. It might be that objective morality exists or it might be that it doesn’t, but you can’t invent God just to allow you an excuse to believe in objective morality. There needs to be some independent evidence before God is thrown into the equation.

    Second of all, as I’ve pointed out before, even if objective morality exists, that does not mean God exists. “We should obey God because he is our creator” makes no more sense than saying “we should always do what our parents say (even if it is murder or rape) because they created us”. Authority is not the same thing as morality. Objective morality could exist with or without a God the same (to use an example Leah likes to use) way math does.

    • Ted Seeber

      To me, the laws of physics apparently exist, therefore God exists.

      But I believe that rain is wet, so what do I know?

      Without authority, morality can’t exist- AT ALL. But then again, neither can science, or any higher thought.

      The idea of appeal to authority being a fallacy is in and of itself a circular fallacy- because stating rules for logic is an appeal to an axiomatic authority that has no proof.

      • http://www.virtue-quest.com/ Robert King

        Interesting. I would have said: without morality, authority can’t exist at all.

        Are you thinking of morality as essentially a rule-based system of duty? Or are you using “authority” to include the idea of God as author/creator of all that is, and therefore of all moral relationships between existing things? Or am I wandering in entirely the wrong direction?

        • Ted Seeber

          I am autistic, as I revealed earlier- so yes, to me morality is basically a rule based system of authority, which is logically derived from almost arbitrary axioms.

          I am also using authority to include the idea of God as author/creator of all that is, but that’s a recursive layer or two down from where I am at.

          • http://www.virtue-quest.com/ Robert King

            I’d agree that, autistic or not, morality tends toward rules (or maybe heuristics, to be more exact) on a practical level.

            On a meta-ethical level, I would put God’s authority as creator as the foundation for his authority as lawgiver. With God, it’s all one, but logically it seems to me that duty follows on nature rather than the other way round.

            So… are we basically in agreement? Or do I misunderstand you?

      • Hibernia86

        Why would the laws of physics require God? We shouldn’t just invent an invisible super being to explain why things exist. If God created the laws of physics, then what created God? And if you say God always existed, then why can’t that be true of the physical reality as well (yes, this universe is 13.8 billion years old, but reality as a whole may be larger than that and could have existed forever like you claim God has).

        Morality doesn’t require a God any more than the physical laws do. They either exist or not, with or without God.

        • http://www.virtue-quest.com/ Robert King

          The basic response to this is: nothing comes from nothing – or, to be less Julie Andrews about it, nemo dabet quod non habet.

          The universe we know is contingent: it changes, it moves, things come into being and go out of being and change the kind of being that they are. I haven’t seen anything in contemporary physics that challenges this (though I’m open to arguments).

          But the power to exist cannot come from anything that begins to be and ceases to be – that is, from anything that moves and changes. Rather, it has to come from a higher form of being, that is, something that is existence itself. This is how Catholic Christians (and at least some Jews and maybe Muslims as well) interpreted God’s revelation on Mt. Sinai: “I am who am.” God is the source of all being.

          Because, by this definition, God is not a thing in the universe that comes into being or changes or moves, the question “what created God” becomes nonsensical. God is being itself, and therefore cannot not exist. God cannot have been created, and if you point at anything created you can be certain it is not God, in this understanding.

          This is an attempt at explanation, not necessarily at argument. The question whether there must be an absolute source of existence is open to philosophical debate; but I hope it clarifies why someone could reasonably say “the laws of physics require God.”

          • Hibernia86

            I agree that for the universe to exist, there presumably needs to be something permanent that allows it to exist (I do, however, believe that it would have been possible for the universe not to exist, though it does). While something permanent presumably exists that allows the universe to exist, I don’t think that thing is conscious awake being. I think it is unconscious laws and matter of existence. Many physicists think that this may be explained by the existence of multiple universes that bud off from one another (the multiverse). While we don’t have direct physical proof for the multiverse, we do have mathematical proofs that support it. Furthermore, we have physical evidence for at least one universe while we don’t have physical evidence for any gods.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multiverse

          • http://www.virtue-quest.com/ Robert King

            Aristotle may have agreed with “I don’t think that thing is conscious awake being,” but he would point out that “unconscious laws and matter of existence” is exactly what needs explaining, exactly what needs a source the being of which is its very self: the uncaused cause, the unmoved mover.

            The so-called multiverse doesn’t really address the problem. Other “universes,” if they exist, still are contingent beings: time and space, matter and energy, coming into being and changing and becoming things that they weren’t before. Aristotle figured that the material universe was eternal – but still required a cause.

            This cause is not physical. It is the cause of physical things having existence. Therefore it would be impossible to have physical proofs for it.

            This cause is outside time and space – no matter how many times and spaces there are in the multiverse – because it is the cause of time and space having existence. It is the cause of order in laws of physics and laws of mathematics and (to get back toward the main topic of this blog post) the moral relationships between people.

            Again, I’m not here trying to argue for the existence of such a God. I’m simply trying to explain what Catholics and many others are actually talking about when they say, “God.” God, in the Platonist and Aristotelian philosophical tradition, as well as the Judeo-Christian tradition (and in at least parts of the Hindu and Taoist traditions, if I understand them rightly,) is utterly transcendent.

            Of these, it is only the Judeo-Christian tradition (so far as I know; Hinduism seems ambiguous on this point) that considers this transcendent God also to be personal, and to engage in relationship with us mere mortal creatures. This idea – to say nothing of the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ – seems scandalous to many other theisms and philosophies that hold to an transcendent God. But that’s really leading down a rabbit trail….

            My real point is, I’m not sure we’re using the word “God” to mean the same thing. If God is a thing among other things in the world, just super-awesome-powerful, then I agree that it’s nonsense to say that this God is a source of the laws of physics or of morality. But if God is an utterly transcendent source of all being, then it makes a great deal of sense.

          • Hibernia86

            I agree that there may be a frame work beyond space and time of the one or more universes on which these universes are based on (thus being transcendent) but I still don’t think that frame work is conscious or awake. You can call it “God” if you want, but I think it is very different from the Christian view in that it is not a being.

          • http://www.virtue-quest.com/ Robert King

            The Christian (or, at least, Catholic) view is exactly that God is not a being in the sense of a thing among other things. God is being itself, and so is not *a* being.

            The classic expression of this is in what Christians call “Negative Theology”, that is, the recognition that we speak more accurately by saying what God is not than by saying what God is. See, for example, The Divine Names of Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite.

            A fairly concise summary of the Catholic position is found in St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa in his discussion of how we name God, immediately followed by whether we can say anything positive about God at all.

            Recognize that Thomas writes in the form of a debate. “Objections” are various opinions on the question. “To the contrary” presents an authority that says otherwise. “I respond” gives Thomas’ own reasoning. “Replies” address the objections and contrary authorities directly.

            And it is true that whether this beyond-time-and-space ground of all existence is personal or not is a separate debate.

          • http://www.virtue-quest.com/ Robert King

            Actually, the Catholic view is exactly that God is not *a* being, in the sense of one thing among other things. Rather God is being itself: the ground and “frame work” as you put it of all that exists.

            St. Thomas goes into great detail discussing how, for the whole universe, “to exist” is a distinct act from “to be this thing”, while for God, his existence is his essence. Here is a quick starting point on Thomas’ approach, in his Summa where he discusses how we name God.

            There is a longstanding tradition in Christianity known as negative theology, which basically says that it is more accurate to speak about what God is not, than about what God is, because God is so beyond anything in our actual direct experience.

            Now, whether this “frame work beyond space and time of the one or more universes” is personal is certainly a different debate. But Christians believe that the personal God they worship is, in fact, this transcendent ground of being.

          • Ted Seeber

            Even the multiverse, has to have something that allows it to exist. The laws of nature show signs of intelligent design; they are too arbitrary to be random.

    • http://catholicgamer.com darrenl

      It can certainly and logically follow that if morality exists, then God must exist. The form of the argument can be as follows:

      1. If God does not exist, then objective moral values and duties does not exist.
      2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.
      3. Therefore, God exists.

      Logically airtight…you just need to show that one of the two premises are not necessarily true to avoid the conclusion.

      • Hibernia86

        The problem is that you haven’t proven line 1 or 2. You just stated what you want to be true rather than give evidence for it. For line 2, there is the issue of you basing your morality upon feelings rather than on any objective proof. If objective morality does not exist, evolution can give a pretty good explanation for why we act the way we do (despite what Leah says).

        More important is the fallacy of line 1. Objective morals and duties CAN exist without God (whether they do or not is a separate question). Morality could exist the way the laws of physics exist or math exists. If God exists, him telling us what to do doesn’t make it right just like our parents telling us what to do doesn’t make it right. Under this understanding, something is evil whether or not God tells you it is (if you doubt this, then answer this question: If God told you to sexually molest a child every Tuesday, would that make it moral? Or would it be wrong. If you say God would never do that, then that means that God is limited by moral laws outside of him).

        • Oregon Catholic

          “If God exists, him telling us what to do doesn’t make it right just like our parents telling us what to do doesn’t make it right. ”

          Hibernia this is rationalizing that is characteristic of very early grade-school age. It doesn’t even qualify as logic. I suspect this is where your catechesis stopped or you stopped learning it. If this is really your notion of God it’s no wonder you are an atheist!

          • Hibernia86

            Um, you know you were supposed to answer the question, right? You just said that I was wrong and never did attempt to show what was right.

            The fact of the matter is that there are many of your fellow Christians (often of the Calvinist persuasion but also of Catholicism too) who believe that whatever God says is good because he created us. That opens the questions of whether, if we had been created by the devil, we should obey the devil instead. It seems silly to say that just because someone creates you that that person is automatically perfect. I hope that there are some things (like torturing a child) that you would never do even if God told you to. If you would, then you are a problem for this country.

        • http://www.virtue-quest.com/ Robert King

          Actually, I’m not sure darrenl’s point was that this is a convincing argument; merely that it is logical. He even points out that you must grant the premises to arrive at the conclusion.

          As to the objection that “Morality could exist the way the laws of physics exist or math exists.” – see our discussion above. I’m not sure we’re referring to the same thing by the word “God”, so this objection doesn’t actually touch the argument.

          The moral conundrum of God commanding something evil is an impossibility, not because God is bound by a morality beyond himself, but because God is himself morality and truth. God cannot contradict himself, and that’s about the only “limit” on God – as understood in the Judeo-Christian tradition. So God would not both create a child whose good is to grow up happy and healthy, then command someone to attack the happiness and health of that child. Even God cannot say “Yes” and “No” about the same thing in the same way – not because the “law of non-contradiction” is somehow beyond or bigger than God, but because the “law of non-contradiction” expresses one implication of the absolute unity and being of God.

          • Hibernia86

            So you are saying that the only reason why helping sick people is good is because God tells us to? What if God decided to change his mind and say that killing sick people is the right thing to do? If God is morality, then he presumably has the ability to change his mind and reset the moral rules if he so choses. Even if you don’t believe God can change his mind (which greatly decreases his power, but I digress) it still seems shallow to say that the only reason something is good is because God says so. Most people want a greater moral reality rather than just something someone said, even if they are a god.

          • http://www.virtue-quest.com/ Robert King

            I am exactly *not* saying that “the only reason why helping sick people is good is because God tells us to.”

            Rather, God tells us that helping sick people is good because some of us are so selfish that we look for excuses not to help sick people. The law – whether divinely revealed or civilly legislated – exists to make sure we have no excuse for doing something evil.

            Morality is not a set of rules to obey; morality is the practical pursuit of the good. God is goodness itself (in the same way that he is being itself). So for God to command something contrary to what is good would be to contradict himself.

            And that would not be good.

          • http://www.virtue-quest.com/ Robert King

            At the risk of oversimplifying, I’ll try to lay out the Catholic perspective briefly.

            1) God is goodness itself
            2) God creates all things, and all things are therefore good, because they share in God’s being and goodness
            3) Freedom is a good thing, so God gave freedom to some of his creatures – for example, human beings. But we are limited in our understanding, so we sometimes choose against the good of God’s creation; we call this “sin” and it is the source of evil in the world
            4) The more the world and our lives are damaged by sin and evil – whether we have personally committed the sin or not – the more difficult it is to perceive and choose what is good
            5) God’s revelation and commands guide us back toward true goodness; the more we live virtuously, the easier it is to percieve and do what is good, and the more clearly we see God

            In other words, divine commands are not the source of morality; they are a crutch for the crippled.

            It is possible, even natural, to have knowledge of what is good without divine revelation. This is why the obvious moral teachings (don’t murder, don’t steal, etc.) are pretty universal. But life is not always simple, so there is disagreement once we get beyond the obvious. This is why explicit moral teachings are important: for times when my own knowledge and experience aren’t enough to figure out the best course.

            So, the reason some Catholics will often say, “Without God, there is no basis for morality,” is not because we’re looking for someone to write the rules and tell us what to do; it is because God is the standard by which every good is judged, and the source of all value in the world. Without God, there is no good or evil, and it is not better to help the sick than to stomp on them. But because we have the idea that it is better to help than to hurt, this points to an absolute standard, a source of goodness, that Catholics know as God.

          • Ted Seeber

            Yes, the only reason why helping sick people is good is because God tells us to.

            In fact, by strict evolutionary principles, we’d be better off killing the sick rather than helping them get well; helping them get well uses medicines that produce an evolutionary pressure on the illness, making it get worse for the next person that gets that strain of bacteria or germ. And of course, eugenically people who get sick are too weak to be worth supporting- so better off to kill them so that there are more resources for a healthy person. That’s what a strictly materialist philosophy teaches.

          • Oregon Catholic

            Yes Ted. In strict eugenics, care such as vaccinations or antibiotics would be forbidden because it provides an artificial assist that helps a weak body to survive. Better the weak die off from infections, preferrably before reproducing, making the gene pool stronger.

  • hiero5ant

    “…he and I agreed that our claim that women and men were of equal moral worth was more correct than the claim of, say, a Taliban leader that women were worth less.”

    If this is true, then Christianity is false. And indeed it is.

    Starting right from Genesis, women are depicted as lesser, derivative beings, their essence stolen from the bones of the Man. And this is only a prelude to the law code revealed in the subsequent books that adopts the human chattel model of women, and treats rape and adultery as property crimes that one man commits against another man.

    The New Testament is pretty explicit about the level of women’s moral and intellectual authority to teach (i.e., zero), and reaffirms their status as the property of a man’s household, expected to convert when the man converts, no ifs, ands, or buts.

    I love debating metaethics and its relationship to religious belief, but that relationship is highly philosophically abstract and indirect. Whereas the refutation of Biblegod on the grounds of first-order normative truths like these requires very little in the way of shared presuppositions, only the ability to understand modus tollens and a basic sense of moral decency.

    • http://catholicgamer.com darrenl

      …and yet you seemed to have missed the parts where Jesus approached the women Samaritan near the well…something unheard of at the time. The fact the empty tomb was discovered by women..and reported on. And on and on it goes. It was a historical fact that Christianity was better for women than Paganism in the Roman Empire.

      I also disagree with your Genesis 2 interpretation. If it was simply the case that women were made from “the bones of man”, then why is a rib of any consequence at all. Why not the leg bone…or the finger? I find it compelling that, in that part of Genesis 2, that the bone was from the very center of man. Of course, in Genesis 1 both man and women were created at the same time….therefore it doesn’t point to any “lesser” status at all.

      In addition, during the fall, the snake went through Eve to get to Adam knowing it was only through the influence of Eve that Adam could be convinced.

      I think your interpretation assumes that that Christianity is hostile to women, and then goes to find the evidence to support such a claim….else such simple facts would not have been missed, and indeed completely omitted, in your analysis.

      • hiero5ant

        Of course! Genesis 1 contradicts Genesis 2, so the latter does not say what it clearly says!

        How could anyone fail to understand that one time Jesus asked a woman to perform manual labor for him, then berated her about her personal sex life, and therefore the bible never says that you are supposed to stone non-virgin brides to death on their fathers’ doorsteps?

        Clearly, an archetypal motif of ritual mourning laments, in no way offered as “evidence”, completely erases from the record the Church’s refusal to ordain women as priests. Yes, anyone can see I’ve simply assumed my conclusion from the start…

        • Oregon Catholic

          If you are going to insist on a literal, fundamentalist interpretation of Genesis then you better start arguing for creation in 6 days.

        • http://www.virtue-quest.com/ Robert King

          @hiero5ant -

          You could at least acknowledge that the passages you cite are open to multiple interpretations.

          You might then notice that the interpretations most often given by Christian theologians and authorities – some of which are included as early as the letters of St. Paul, such as the idea that man and woman are one in Christ (e.g. Galatians 3:28) – are interpretations of the equal dignity of man and woman, slave and free, Jew and Greek.

          In other words, yes, it looks very much as if you’ve assumed your conclusion from the start, because you appear to be ignoring or rejecting without cause any evidence that opposes your conclusion.

          • http://www.offthewrittenpath.com Andrew

            Religion (particularly Christianity) is used to justify the prevailing morality of the time period, not to set it. That’s why in past centuries the Bible was used by Christians to justify the Crusades, the feudal system, the divine right of kings, slavery, oppression of women and other races, and all sorts of fun historical atrocities, while now Christians argue that it teaches equality for all. But the words of the Bible haven’t changed, only people’s reading of them has. Modern Christians don’t have a greater understanding of the Bible than past generations. You just read it with modern sensibilities.

          • keddaw

            Matthew 7:20 “By their fruit you will recognize them”
            While many passages are open to interpretation (some by exceedingly agile mental gymnastics), we are told to judge them by their actions. The actions of Christians towards women throughout the ages has been unsympathetic, unproductive, injurious to social, economic and technological progress. It may have been better than the prevailing attitudes, but that’s not exactly a point in the favour of a so-called perfect, objective moral system. NB. At no point did I say ‘good’ or ‘bad’ because I am going with the point of this post and trying to show in terms that (I imagine) people find important why it is not ‘good’ for their sensibilities rather than appeal to some generic, meaningless term like good or bad.

          • http://www.virtue-quest.com/ Robert King

            @keddaw –

            It may have been better than the prevailing attitudes, but that’s not exactly a point in the favour of a so-called perfect, objective moral system.

            So you acknowledge that Christians have, historically, treated women with more respect and dignity than many (dare I say most? dare I say all?) of the cultures they have lived in. Thank you.

            This is despite Christianity not being, primarily or in the first place, a moral system. It is a religion: a system of worship based on an understanding of the nature of the universe and of the Creator of the universe. A variety of moral systems have come and gone within Christianity as Christians have sorted out the implications of their theology for their behavior. Yes, there are many direct moral teachings, but these are ultimately derivative from the insight into the Trinity and the Incarnation. And “love God, love neighbor” is about as systematic as Christian revelation gets. Everything else is, “okay, how do we do that, practically speaking?”

            One way is by treating women as equal in dignity – though not necessarily equal in social status or social role – with men. That has been constant from the beginning.

            Have Christians made mistakes? Have they betrayed the principles they profess? Sure. Who hasn’t? It’s not like we’re not human.

            On the other hand, if you’re really looking for a perfect moral system that infallibly makes every single adherent perfectly moral, well, let me know when you find one. Just know that this is not what Christianity claims to be.

          • keddaw

            I’m pretty sure that’s NOT what I said Robert. Sure, in some places, at certain times, Christian treatment of women was much better* than the culture it replaced, but in some places it was worse (e.g. today in the US). But of course you may think that ‘dignity’ is greater in importance than certain other rights or freedoms, and then you’d be bang in line with the Taliban if you just replace dignity with purity.
            If Christianity is not meant to be a moral system, could you please tell Churches to stop moralising on social issues for people not in their sect? It is getting quite tedious to be told what’s right and wrong by people who are apparently trying to understand ‘the nature of the universe’ but have somehow also stumbled upon perfect, unchanging moral teaching – despite having no decent claim on either.

            *Given them rights, opportunities, autonomy, freedom from persecution, not treated them as property**, ability to own property and make a living, love whomever they want etc. etc.
            **Oh, perhaps not this one!

          • http://www.virtue-quest.com/ Robert King

            @keddaw -

            First off, whether Christianity treats women “worse” than the general culture in the contemporary US is hardly a given; it is a matter hotly disputed in many quarters, as are the justifications for holding various stances in the debate.

            Second, we’re both making historical assertions without support. A good summary of the Catholic take on women in history (including the 20th century) is over at the Anchoress.

            Could you point me toward support for your take on Christianity’s treatment of women?

            Third, dignity and purity are not analogous. Dignity is a value or worth inherent in a person; purity is an attribute of a person. Moreover, dignity is the foundation for rights and freedoms, so where we recognize dignity we then also acknowledge rights and freedoms. Purity (or any attribute of a person), when elevated to an absolute, tends to limit that person to the single attribute.

            How we recognize rights and freedoms changes from culture to culture, and it’s not always going to be a perfect recognition. It’s going to be a matter of arguing through what is the best practical way to live out our principles.

            Finally, I said the Church is not primarily a moral system. I did not say that the Church had nothing to say on morals. Rather, morality is the practical application of what we know about reality. This is why many physicians, climate scientists, political scientists, journalists, and psychologists also feel free to give moral advice and to publicly announce that some things are good or bad for us to do.

            In other words, please don’t tell the Church to “stop moralizing” unless you’re willing to restrict any moral discussion to … I don’t know? Who would qualify as a moral “authority”?

        • deiseach

          Oh, if we’re going to start arguing about this – extract swiped from a post on yesterday’s Feast of St. Mary Magdalene (emphasis mine):

          St. Augustine’s Tractate on the Gospel on John:

          3. “Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; to my God, and your God.” There are points in these words which we must examine with brevity indeed, but with somewhat more than ordinary attention for Jesus was giving a lesson in faith to the woman, who had recognized Him as her Master, and called Him so in her reply; and this gardener was sowing in her heart, as in His own garden, the grain of mustard seed.

          What then is meant by “Touch me not”? and just as if the reason of such a prohibition would be sought, He added, “for I am not yet ascended to my Father.” What does this mean? if, while standing on earth, He is not to be touched, how could He be touched by men when sitting in heaven? for certainly, before He ascended, He presented Himself to the touch of the disciples, when He said, as testified by the evangelist Luke, “Handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have;” or when He said to Thomas the disciple, “Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and put forth thy hand, and thrust it into my side.” and who could be so absurd as to affirm that He was willing indeed to be touched by the disciples before He ascended to the Father, but refused it in the case of women till after His ascension?

          But no one, even had any the will, was to be allowed to run into such folly, for we read that women also, after His resurrection and before His ascension to the Father, touched Jesus, among whom was Mary Magdalene herself; for it is related by Matthew that Jesus met them, and said, “ ‘All hail’. And they approached, and held Him by the feet, and worshiped Him.” This was passed over by John, but declared as the truth by Matthew.”

          And asking someone at a well with a jug to pour you out a drink of water is demanding manual labour of them? Son, I was reared in a house without running water – lemme tell you, manual labour is when you’re seven and helping your mother haul full buckets of water a hundred yards from the pump to your house for washing, drinking, cooking, bathing, etc., not pouring out a drink for someone when you’re standing right beside the spring.

          • Peggy Hagen

            Yep – and simply telling her (as a complete stranger) her “living situation” is berating her. :-)

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

    (If you only read the snippet and didn’t listen to the whole thing this won’t make sense)

    Hemant Mehta’s argument really reminds me of the old joke that an economist won’t pick up a 50$-bill from the street, because if it really was an opportunity for profit someone else would already have picked it up.

  • jenesaispas

    Herman (I think) says that most Christians are ignorant of philosophy but in my experience the same is true of Atheists. And practically everyone I know is one.

    LOL, I think most of us Brits don’t particularly enjoy Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music:)

  • AHBritton

    Leah,

    I personally find Desirism most compelling, as an atheist (or theist) ethical foundation (nothing about it requires one be an atheist), as I said in a previous comment. In addition, despite scouring your blog, I have had difficulty finding much of any arguments against it, and it in fact seems to solve many of the issues you had with other theories, and it is basically a form of Virtue Ethics to boot!

    I will address a couple of criticisms you seem to have had below.

    “I read all Luke’s posts on the topic, but it didn’t feel like he ever got beyond very abstract foundations of desirism [...] The examples of the rock gathers and rock scatterers didn’t give me a very good sense of how a human desirist approaches a decision. So I didn’t have any desirism outputs I could compare to some moral choices I was pretty confident in to see if the theory covered the known data.”

    That might be because you were looking to find applied ethics in a series basically dedicated to describing the ontology and grounding of ethics (despite its probably poorly chosen title). I don’t see this as a fault of the series or theory. Unlike you, Fyfe and Luke came at the issue more interested in demonstrating it was based in reality, as opposed to in accord with any one individuals moral intuitions.

    I personally think intuitions are a bad way to judge a moral theory. Many of are strongest and clearest moral intuitions (murder, rape, etc.) are nearly universally supported by any moral theory I would imagine. So what are you basing it on? If you decide to base it upon your intuition about more controversial ethical issues, then I don’t see how that isn’t just searching for a system to justify your already held ethical leanings, which seems like a bad idea for if you are just going to end up supporting whatever you decided on anyway, why bother going through the charade of justifying it?

    I think a true moral system should probably fit with the most basic of intuitions, but also help IMPROVE are ethical reasoning to accord more closely with reality.

    So what exactly are these empirical tests you propose will weed out true moral systems from false ones? And how is attempting to decide on a moral system in this fashion not an example of confirmation bias?

    Secondly, if you wanted examples of someone applying this moral theory to real world situations, Alonzo Fyfe’s blog the Atheist Ethicist has a plethora of such examples.

    I will caveat that by pointing out that Fyfe has no divine moral authority, and as such he could very well have a system based on true principals of ethics (in Unequally Yoked speak “axioms” :), but as the theory also requires true knowledge of the world for input, if he is factually incorrect, or uses faulty reasoning in deriving his “theorems,” what results can be faulty. Regardless, unless you find fault in the basic foundational concepts, I don’t see why one would reject it as false.

    So I would be interested if you have any substantive criticisms or confusions that you would like addressed/clarified?

  • http://delphipsmith.livejournal.com Delphi Psmith

    It sounded like he was saying that everyone starts out with the right beliefs (or a certain subset of right beliefs) and it is necessary that they be deceived (whether intentionally or unintentionally) in order to end up wrong.

    I don’t think his statement says anything at all about what people’s default beliefs are; I think he’s saying something about what people’s default beliefs ought to be. In other words, given that all human beings are members of the same species, logic dictates that one ought to assume, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, that all human beings are equal and therefore deserve equal treatment. The problem is that most people are influenced by a plethora of things such as learned prejudices and religious dogma, so instead of the default belief that they ought to have based on logic, they get some distorted version that says one subgroup of human beings are, well, less than human and therefore it’s OK to stomp on them, literally or figuratively.

    What it comes down to the belief that unfairness/discrimination carries a higher burden of proof than fairness. That seems to me to rest on logical principles, not religious ones.

  • http://www.catholicmusings.blogspot.com Stephen M. Bauer

    Fr. Luigi Giussani defines morality as an attitude.

    • Brandon B

      What does Giussani mean by “attitude”? “I’m better than everyone” is an attitude, and strikes me as a different category of thing than morality.

  • jose

    I guess I can try to be part of those some atheists. Responding the questions in order,

    You can check if you’re being bamboozled by applying a critical mind to the arguments you’re being given. The taliban have to ground their way of life somehow, some sort of convictions, arguments that can be discussed. This is why I believe feminism for instance is good skepticism put into practice. They examine the arguments behind a wide range of phenomena, in their case social and political. It’s always the same: you believe something. You want to do something. What are your reasons for it? Can you make a good case?

    I don’t think incorrect moral beliefs exist, only unsupported ones. If there are many different positions regarding a situation and all of them are solidly backed up, that is, the arguments are all solid and true, then that’s as far as you can get (note that it’s the arguments the ones that are true, not the accompanying moral judgment, which is an appeal more than anything else; appeals aren’t true or false).

    Typical example: to lie to the terminal patient or not. Both sides can have perfectly good reasons, yet the appeals for what to do are incompatible. In my opinion all we have here is conflicting interests: “Please let’s lie because A,B, and C” on one side and “Please let’s not lie because X, Y and Z” on the other side. Requests have no value of truth, so no side is truer (or can be true at all; truth just doesn’t apply here).

    In your case with talibans, I’d say their traditions can’t be supported rationally for a whole lot of reasons that I’d be happy to enumerate elsewhere because it’s a big topic.

    As for being close to the ideal, I don’t know what that means. I suppose people in the s.XXX will think we’re barbarians for some reason or another and they may be right, it’s something impossible to predict. The data we respond to… the more, the better? More data means your arguments will be better backed up. If you forget or dismiss contradictory evidence, that will weaken your position.

  • Matthew

    “I don’t think his statement says anything at all about what people’s default beliefs are; I think he’s saying something about what people’s default beliefs ought to be. In other words, given that all human beings are members of the same species, logic dictates that one ought to assume, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, that all human beings are equal and therefore deserve equal treatment. The problem is that most people are influenced by a plethora of things such as learned prejudices and religious dogma, so instead of the default belief that they ought to have based on logic, they get some distorted version that says one subgroup of human beings are, well, less than human and therefore it’s OK to stomp on them, literally or figuratively.”

    Human beings are not “equal” in all sorts of ways. We have plenty of “evidence to the contrary”, as you say. What you really mean, I suppose, is that we don’t have “morally relevant” evidence to the contrary. But this is to beg the question. You haven’t made any headway. I am capable of running 18 miles per hour. My obese fellow human isn’t. My friend’s black lab is. Perhaps I ought to form a confederacy with the latter against the former. On what grounds do you dismiss my singular obsession with foot-speed as “not morally relevant”? Why is it obvious or “logical” that a shared bipedalism ought to trump vast differences in intellect and physical capabilities? Why does a common genetic make-up call us to charity? Logically, I don’t see how logic comes into it. Nor does observed experience, really. This species-equality doesn’t seem so deeply ingrained in the animal kingdom. Runts are routinely rejected in many species- species waylaid by no religious dogma or learned prejudices. But I suspect that were I to deposit my smallish infant on a lonely street corner, on the grounds that intra-species interaction often goes this way, you’d think I’d made an error somewhere.

    Moral conclusions are interesting, in part, because a great many people think the big ones are “obvious” and “logical” despite the curious absence of anything we normally associate with logic. So something else is going on here. We’re making moral leaps without noticing we’ve left the ground. And when we do notice, we have little difficulty staying suspended. Yes indeed, an ability to run 18 mph might be the Supreme Element of Moral Worth: nonetheless, it isn’t.

    • http://delphipsmith.livejournal.com Delphi Psmith

      Of course I’m not claiming that everyone has equal abilities, but that’s not what’s at issue here. This particular discussion began with the issue of the Taliban treating women like second-class citizens. You’re talking about physical or intellectual abilities, but the question (as I read it) was about equal worth and whether people should by default be treated with equal respect, as beings of equal value.

      • Anonymous

        And yet Matthew’s challenge is still strong. How do you determine what things have equal worth or value? Perhaps it’s that we share >98% of our DNA. Well, that seems as arbitrary as, “The person who is wearing the crown/running faster/has blue eyes/beat up the former leader/sacrificed the highest number of his previous children is better than others… but everyone in that category is equal.” This question is muddied further when you consider the linguistic history of “worth” and “value”. They’re relative to what you can get out of the object… which pretty quickly leads back to Matthew’s comments concerning physical or intellectual abilities. The idea of equality is awesome in a lot of ways, but one would be hard-pressed to support the claim that it’s the logical default.

    • jose

      It’s very interesting what you say at the end of your comment about the big ones. We all, as a species, share something in that respect, don’t we? Sometimes we see things. They aren’t reasoned, not backed up by an argument. The thought of approval or disapproval is immediate, it hits us right in the gut. Someone drowning, for instance. We get all worked up. We sweat, the heart beats faster, the eyes focus. That’s not the brain thinking reasons – the whole body is reacting. Fortunately, these symptons, though pointless for us, are homologous with traits we share with our animal relatives. This is demonstrated with a great deal of detail in a book Darwin published in 1872 called The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals, which proved the vestigiality of those reactions.

      In the drowning case, I identify that immediate feeling of uneasiness and disapproval with the thought “Stop this; this is bad”. If you had to put your anxiety in words, likely it would sound similar to that. (needless to say, later you must find rational arguments so your rejection has a sustainable basis). The sentiment is shared, we have it in us, also inherited like our physical reactions. This is not to say a property called badness exists “out there”, independently from humans, that we “just see” intuitively; what’s happening imo when we all agree and we all think a certain moral question is obvious is just our common inheritance at work.

      Many times this intuitive feeling gets it wrong, as the arguments we find when we consider the question may go against it. For instance, our dog has a terminal disease and gets a lethal injection. He falls asleep and dies. We can’t help our anguish, we definitely don’t want any of that to be happening; but we can rationally understand it’s for the best so the dog doesn’t agonize and suffer from the disease… that still doesn’t comfort us at all. Our built-in empathy can be myopic. Our intuition is simply a product of our past, not a special lens into some universal truth. The evolutionary precursors of this intuition of ours have been studied for many decades; Darwin himself dedicated chapter 5 of The Descent of Man to it. More recently, I figure the most popular researcher involved would be Frans de Waal, and as a preventive disclaimer let me tell you that this topic has next to nothing to do with the typical unfounded fairy tales of evolutionary psychology that we can see ripped to shreds in many skeptic blogs.

  • AHBritton

    Leah,

    Desirism has the added benefit of accounting for things that Catholicism and Christianity I think do not.

    For instance I have never heard a Christian explanation for societies ethical progress. Most Christians I have spoken to that address it at all, discount that it actually exists, claiming we can’t really say modern day morality has really improved over history.

    I am not claiming that moral progress has taken place on a straight line, but I find the claim that it hasn’t taken place at all rather hard to justify.

    • leahlibresco

      Interesting argument, I haven’t heard it before. Do you think Christianity also predicts that we wouldn’t see an improvement in math? Because that’s also a system of truth claims were (except for the fields where we’ve been using computers) no new data has emerged. There’s no reason that we couldn’t know Fermat’s Little Theorem are arbitrary span of time before Fermat. We weren’t waiting for a new instrument, the way we needed microscopes to understand the shapes of microorganisms. What factor leads Christianity, in your mind, to predict progress in math but not in morality.

      P.S. Not sure that Christians discount moral progress. I’ll ask around.

      • hiero5ant

        There is currently an extensive discussion on the topic of how moral realism could possibly explain moral progress in this thread at the Secular Outpost:
        http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/2012/07/in-defense-of-moral-non-cognitivism.html#disqus_thread

        Bottom line is that the pattern in the historical data seems to fit extremely poorly with the hypothesis that moral progress is a kind of epistemic progress.

        • http://www.virtue-quest.com/ Robert King

          Intriguing link. I haven’t finished reading it yet – much less digesting it. But it’s already pointing me in interesting new directions.

          Thank you!

    • http://www.virtue-quest.com/ Robert King

      For the record, I think we have to distinguish between kinds of moral progress. There could be progress in principles, such that our understanding of what good or evil are changes/improves over time. Or, there could be progress in practice, by which we discover more and/or better ways of applying principles that we already hold.

      A Catholic believes that the fulness of Truth resides in the person of Jesus Christ. He is the complete revelation of God, because he is himself God made human. So, a Catholic could see progress in principles up to the time of Christ; but now that Christ is in the world, he is the perfect principle of morality, and the absolute unchanging standard by which we judge morality. In other words, there is no further progress in principles because we have reached the absolute good in that regard.

      On the other hand, I don’t know any Catholics who would deny progress in practice. This is much like any field of knowledge: we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us, and often can see farther than they, at least in some respects.

      At the same time, I’m far from convinced that such moral progress is inevitable. Modern chattel slavery was far different (and mostly worse) in character from ancient slavery; and the industrial revolution developed a wage-slavery which dehumanizes workers in new and disturbing ways. Technology has introduced all sorts of new moral questions, which we sometimes answer very badly: new killing techniques in war, distortions of truth or attacks on human dignity in media (especially in advertising and/or pornography), destruction of natural resources for the sake of short-term gains, and so on.

      We are better in some ways than the generations that have gone before us; but we are not better in all ways, and I think it is worthwhile to remember that the past may still have something to teach us.

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

      Christians do believe in progress. Catholics call it development of doctrine. That is the idea that our understanding of God grows deeper all the time. Questions get debated for a time and then they get settled by the magisterium. Once they are settled then we can start asking the next questions. It is a slow process.

      Protestants do have changing doctrine but they have less reason for it. They believe that the scripture is the only infallible revelation. So anything deeper is speculation. There is no way to ever be sure if it is true. In practice protestant theology gets diverse when it tries to go deep. So the deeper you go the smaller the subset of protestants are still on board. A strong leader can drag a significant group with him.

      Math theorems are in a different category. The logic is more rigorous. Comparing the argument for Fermat’s Last Theorem and the argument for the Immaculate Conception, they are like chalk and cheese. One logically compels a conclusion and the other appeals to what is fitting and beautiful. That is why we need God to confirm through the gift of infallibility that the Immaculate Conception is true. The argument alone would not be enough.

  • Doragoon

    “How should Hemant and I each notice our incorrect moral beliefs?”
    Am I right in thinking that he said it would be known by his relative subjective happiness? So I guess it’s if he thinks he’s not happy enough. Though by that metric, how would you know if the moral beliefs need to be changed, or your brain chemistry.

    Also, something I wondered if anyone else picked up on, did he say that whatever moral system gives people better lives is the better moral system? As in, “For the greater good”?

  • http://moralmindfield.wordpress.com Brian Green

    “I didn’t realize that needed justification. To say that people ought to be treated equally, that we ought to live by that golden rule so we can live a better life, to me, none of that stuff requires justification.”

    No justification = no reason or evidence = pure reliance on cultural authority = blind faith

    Even (most) Christians claim evidence and reason support their faith, and that their faith is therefore not blind. I wonder if Hemant can come up with something better if he thinks about it. Because for 99% of humanity over 99% of history this “I don’t need justification for my bias” has run exactly the other way with regards to equality. He really needs to come up with a better answer because otherwise he’s just another “believer.”

  • keddaw

    People ought not to be treated equally*; we ought not to live by the Golden Rule**.
    I can argue this on many levels, using many metrics and situations that almost all readers here would agree with, but as a working heuristic they’re pretty good.

    Moral Error Theory is the only logical and consistent moral theory going. Unless you take the leap and assume a supernatural law giver who has provided us with discoverable objective moral laws, or provided us with a handbook, which is why the religious people are on much safer ground talking about morality (even if they disagree and are confused about what it is) than atheists.

    *Children, for example, should be treated very differently from sane adults.
    **Businesses, and capitalism, would not last long if they operated under the Golden Rule. This would lead to a reduction in economic, scientific and technological progress which would lead to much greater problems than the small scale ones addressed by adhering to the Golden Rule.

  • Random atheist

    I’d say what the Taliban is missing is that women are as capable of reason as men are (this can be tested) and that denying them opportunities to improve their lives, through education for example, causes these women to suffer. I think you can test suffering too, or at least look for the results of it like mood disorders, or ask the women themselves.
    Why is suffering bad? Because it has negative consquences, it damages women and diminishes their quality of life.

    If you take your morality from God, you have to ask, how does God know what is good or bad? If God has reason for thinking things are good or bad, then he is not the source of morality- those reasons are and we could use them instead of referring to God. If things are good or bad because God says so then it seems to me that morality is essential arbitrary.

    • Brian Walden

      “If you take your morality from God, you have to ask, how does God know what is good or bad? If God has reason for thinking things are good or bad, then he is not the source of morality- those reasons are and we could use them instead of referring to God.”

      Yes. You’re exactly right. God isn’t some super being who’s smarter and more powerful than everyone else and discovered morality and wants everyone to follow along. God is the cause of everything that exists, you could say he is existence himself.

      “If things are good or bad because God says so then it seems to me that morality is essential arbitrary.”

      Yes. As arbitrary as the physical laws of our universe. Arbitrary in the sense that there could be millions of different hypothetical universes with different laws of morality and physics but the only one that actually exists has our set of laws.

    • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

      Unfortunately, the construct, “God defines morality arbitrarily or there is something greater than God,” fails because it necessitates that God exists in time and relation to other things.

      We will assume that a thing exists that God can observe which will provide morality. The thing’s justification of morality would then be a cause in its own right. That cause would have had to have had a antecedent cause. The antecedent cause is necessarily a causal chain, and therefore we need one thing at the head of the causal chain which is an… OH WAIT, we’ve already been there.

      • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com/ Jake

        Unfortunately, the construct, “God defines morality arbitrarily or there is something greater than God,” fails because it necessitates that God exists in time and relation to other things

        Right, I think that was the original point- this is an attempt at a proof by contradiction. Assume God exists, assume God does not define morality arbitrarily, and (the argument goes) you can derive a self-contradicting conclusion. Therefore, one of your assumptions must be wrong. This isn’t a failing of the construct, it’s a failing of the logic of a non-arbitrary diety-based morality.

        Of course, you can also argue (as most Christians I know do) that this is really just a failure of our logical faculties- “His ways are higher than our ways”, etc. But if you take that route, you give up your strict dependence on reason (or logic, or consistency, or what-have-you) in making your argument, and the Theist is in no better position than the Atheist.

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          I think the bigger issue is that what is being asserted is contradictory negatives (principle of explosion much?). “Either God is basing this on something, or God is arbitrary. God is not arbitrary, therefore God must be basing this on something. If God is basing this on something outside of Himself, then that thing must be superior to God. Therefore God cannot be God.”

          God is not “arbitrary”, but morality is not based off of any truths outside of God.

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com/ Jake

            I think the bigger issue is that what is being asserted is contradictory negatives

            Again, I think this is exactly the point OP was trying to make- that these two assertions cannot coexist. This isn’t a problem for his argument- it’s the substance of his argument.

            God is not “arbitrary”, but morality is not based off of any truths outside of God.

            I’m not getting what you’re saying here. It sounds like you’re arguing that the nature and character of God are not (and cannot be) affected by any outside influences- they exist as completely self contained “things”. How is this not arbitrary?

            Put it another way- are you saying the nature of God could not have been any other way? If so, that sounds like a claim that the nature of God is affected by outside influences- namely, that it is constrained by some underlying fact about reality that is seperable from God. The only alternative I see is to claim that God could have been some other way, and he simply isn’t. If that’s what you’re arguing, then that exactly fits my definition of arbitrary. I guess I’m saying, something is either constrained or arbitrary, but it can’t be both. We need to pick which one God is before we can engage in rational discussion over where our morals come from.

            Perhaps it would help me understand you position if you pinpointed precisely where in the argument you presented you think the atheist goes wrong:

            “Either God is basing this on something, or God is arbitrary. God is not arbitrary, therefore God must be basing this on something. If God is basing this on something outside of Himself, then that thing must be superior to God. Therefore God cannot be God.”

          • http://www.virtue-quest.com/ Robert King

            @Jake –

            You say: the nature of God could not have been any other way? If so, that sounds like a claim that the nature of God is affected by outside influences- namely, that it is constrained by some underlying fact about reality that is seperable [sic] from God.

            I’m missing the steps between “could not have been any other way” and “affected by outside influences.” God’s necessity, at least in the Catholic understanding, is part of his essence. He is necessary being, and necessary goodness, and necessary truth. One way of defining God is, that which is necessary in and of itself, that which does not depend on another for its necessity.

            St. Anselm went over this ground: if we can conceive of something greater, then what we conceive of is not God; rather God is greater than what we can conceive.

            On a distinct question: It would help me a great deal if I understood what you mean by “arbitrary.” Do you mean “undetermined”? Do you mean “not bound by necessity?” Do you mean “fickle”? If I don’t know what you’re arguing, I’m afraid I’ll tilt against a straw man.

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com/ Jake

            I’m missing the steps between “could not have been any other way” and “affected by outside influences.” God’s necessity, at least in the Catholic understanding, is part of his essence. He is necessary being, and necessary goodness, and necessary truth. One way of defining God is, that which is necessary in and of itself, that which does not depend on another for its necessity.

            I’m saying that for something to be necessary, something must necessitate it. We must have an answer for why the Catholic conception of God is the only possible one. If God simply is as he must be, then something must be forcing him to be this way. Saying God is necessary in and of itself and does not depend on another for its necessity doesn’t free you from this burden. It makes no sense to say God is necessary without saying what makes him necessary- in this case, that means it makes no sense to talk about God’s necessity without appealing to a moral standard external to God. Your claim (as I understand it) basically amounts to saying God must be good because good is a real thing- and that’s exactly the point I (and, in my understanding, the OP) am trying to make.

            if we can conceive of something greater, then what we conceive of is not God; rather God is greater than what we can conceive.

            Saying “God is greater that what we can conceive” just isn’t very helpful. You’re not the only religion that makes this claim. More to the point, it kind of makes any reasoning about God a moot point. If we no longer hold our idea of God to a standard of reason, then we’ve lost our basis for believing in him- or more specifically, we’ve lost our basis for not believing in anybody else’s idea of God.

            It would help me a great deal if I understood what you mean by “arbitrary.”

            Sure- I’ll go with the first definition returned by google: “Based on random choice or personal whim, rather than any reason or system.” Something doesn’t have to be necessary for it to not be arbitrary, but it does have to have at least some reason behind it. If God’s character is not arbitrary, then his character must be as it is for some reason.

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com/ Jake

            forgot to mention-

            One way of defining God is, that which is necessary in and of itself, that which does not depend on another for its necessity.

            This is not a terribly useful definition either, because “that which is necessary in and of itself” is not any more clear than the answer to the question “what is God?” Namely, atheists legitimately disagree on what is “necessary in and of itself”, as do Muslims, and Buddhists, and just about everybody else. Even if God is really simply “that which is necessary in and of itself”, that doesn’t actually get us any closer to who or what God actually is (he could even be the empty set!)

          • http://www.virtue-quest.com/ Robert King

            First off, though I am a Catholic, I am not here arguing *for* a specifically Catholic notion of God. It doesn’t bug me that other religions agree with Catholicism on these points. Nor am I suggesting that necessity is the only attribute of God, or the only defining attribute of God; merely that it is one part of the definition of God.

            Rather, I am arguing *against* the idea that God’s necessity must come from something external to God himself. Thomas Aquinas argues this as a demonstration (not really a “proof” in the mathematical or empirical sense, but an argument) of God’s existence.

            So, we know that God is necessary because contingent beings necessarily depend on something else, and ultimately there must be a necessary something else for them to depend on. This is as true of goodness (the basis of morality) as it is of physical causality.

            An aside: I understand that there are lots of arguments about infinite regress. I’m not really competent to engage in them, nor is this really the best forum for it. For the moment, my point is simply that it is possible for God’s necessity to arise from within himself, not from something else external to him.

            Note that this “reason” for God’s intrinsic necessity is about how we know of it. I am specifically not arguing that the contingency of finite being is the cause of the necessity of infinite being.

            That is because God is beyond our comprehension. However, this does not mean, as you suggest, that “it kind of makes any reasoning about God a moot point. If we no longer hold our idea of God to a standard of reason, then we’ve lost our basis for believing in him.”

            God is not held to a standard of rationality, but rather is held to a standard of intelligibility. God is infinitely understandable, infinitely intelligible. But our minds are finite, small compared to the infinity of God.

            Our rationality is how we, finite and bound by time and space, are able to be intelligent. We understand things by going through logical steps, by moving from what is known to what is unknown. We learn, we speculate, we test, we learn more.

            God simply knows. God simply is Truth.

            So to say that God is beyond our comprehension, beyond our ability to fully conceive, does not mean that we cannot conceive of God at all. It means that our understanding of God will always be limited by our finitude.

            This isn’t unusual. I don’t think any of us has the expectation that any one of us will ever completely and entirely understand the physical structure of matter, or will perfectly know another person, to the extent that there is nothing new to learn or discover. Life is short, and our minds are limited. If we can only comprehend other finite creatures with difficulty, if at all, why should we expect to be able to comprehend God, who is infinite? Instead, why not rejoice in the challenge and opportunity of learning something new?

          • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

            @Jake God could not be any other way because he isn’t any other way even though he could be if he wanted to. Or you could say it, “God must be the way He is because He wanted/wants to be that way.”

            As to the “God is not God because morality,” well, the instruction in morality can be summed up in two parts as, “Follow the highest moral standard” along with “I am the moral standard.” From a less paradoxical perspective, it can be said, “God has made man in such a way that the highest morality of man is to follow God.” Therefore God is the source of the rule and the end of the rule (a wonderfully Catholic way of looking at things).

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

          Jake, the problems you’re talking about can be sorted out, but not in a blog comment. So even if it looks like a cop-out I can only recommend you read Edward Feser’s “Aquinas”.

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com/ Jake

            I realize much has been written on the Euthyphro dilemma and all its variants, but there’s a difference between “lots of smart people have thought hard about this” and “it can be sorted out”. Lot’s of smart people have thought hard about Islam and Buddhism as well, but I don’t think either of those are true.

            I do agree that comment threads are not the place most of us will sort out our ultimate metaphysical leanings- but that’s true about pretty much anything Leah writes about. I know a single comment buried in a thread of 250 isn’t likely to do much, but I don’t think it lets us off the hook for arguing our position. If the position is so complex that it can only be addressed in a several hundred page book, then so be it- though occam’s razor makes me pretty suspicious of such a position.

  • Mitchell Porter

    That cleared up everything. Leah, you should seriously consider becoming a moral phenomenologist. The fact that you can talk to the friendly A.I. people, yet you’ve somehow avoided the naturalistic apriori which would normally cause a person from that milieu to reject your hypothesis about the nature of morality out of sheer metaphysical incredulity, makes you very important. May I suggest that you take a look at the works of Husserl – who was Catholic – and perhaps the phenomenological writings of the previous pope, who drew on Husserl’s ideas; and whoever it is that has written about moral phenomenology, not a branch of phenomenology that I know much about. You should also be interested in essays by Tragesser and Rota on phenomenology of mathematics, given your liking for that subject; they may help you get the hang of the technical methods whereby epistemological and ontological analysis is performed in phenomenology.

  • Charles

    I have to say after listening that Hement seemed to be completely unprepared for a debate with you AT ALL. He made no valid points and finally rested on “well lets see if other people buy it” ? If I was reasonably sure I knew something was true I would consider it valuable even if the WHOLE world disagreed. He then discounted your questions by either feining ignorance or just litgitamately not understanding basic questions.

    I am sorry but arguing that he thinks its not required to defend his morality may be a fine statement if all youve ever seen is western society that agrees with you, but the mere fact that the taliban exists proove that you better have a good reason for arguing that women should be equal, there are people ALIVE today, running governments who disagree with you, and they have REAL impact on peoples lives. How can it not be important to defend our morality if there are people we believe are hurting others by violating it?

    The funny thing is I am almost completely sympathetic to your points, and really do agree with you on a lot, however none of that has given me the slightest inkling to actually believe there is a deity. I just don’t see that leap.

  • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

    (Hermant’s argument that it is more common to leave the Church than it is for people to join rings very true: before I converted I vehemently argued that very point trying to prevent others from becoming Catholic… it does not work)

    • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

      (And the point about the Church having the best Axioms is an extremely important point)

      • jose

        What axioms?

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          She made the point that the Church has certain axioms which form the basis of her philosophy. I think that these are most simply summed up: Trinity, God-Man, Resurrection, Church. You can derive all doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church from these four points without self-contradiction. Don’t know, maybe I like it because it is something which I have firmly believed (and am in total awe of) for quite some time.

          • jose

            Leah doesn’t think those things are axioms. She can’t.

  • AHBritton

    Leah,

    “Do you think Christianity also predicts that we wouldn’t see an improvement in math?”

    There are two different issues here, and I think they are separable, and it may depend on Catholic doctrine, of which I am no expert (although I have had discussions with Catholics, I am probably more aware of mainline Protestant thought on the matter).

    First, does Catholicism make a specific prediction at all? This would likely be the easier argument to make. If one wishes to claim that Catholicism accounts for moral progress, the defender would have to make a non-ad hoc argument that something about Catholicism makes such a prediction.

    In this sense I would probably see it as no difference from your question about math. I see no reason why Catholicism would be in tension with a world in which there is a stagnation of mathematical progress, a regress of mathematical knowledge, or progress in mathematics. Based solely on what I know of Catholicism I see no priori probability that any one of these would be more likely than another. In this case the main point would be the explanatory scope of desirism vs. Catholicism.

    I think a good argument can be made for a stronger claim, however. Most of this is based on discussions with protestants, but I believe a Catholic apologist I have heard speaking on the radio program/podcast you were on, Unbelievable, has also spoken about this… Off the top of my head I cannot think of his name.

    That is the concepts of “fallenness.” Many I have spoke to parallel this with entropy, i.e. a continuous degenerative process. Now I realize this may not be a universal interpretation, (but like I said I have heard MANY a Christian defend this view). Setting that aside, unlike Robert, I don’t think all moral progress can be attributed to improvement in the efficiency of application of those principles. It is not merely that we never realized that we were treating people unequally, we fundamentally did not consider unequal treatment to be immoral in certain circumbstances.

    Under Catholicism, what explains this? Has God provided us with a better and better “moral compass?”

    Desirism accounts for this because ( I am sorry to say Leah :) ) discovery of what we should do as an individual and a society is not like math…. but more like science! What I mean by this is that we cannot establish a set of axioms and then sit in a room and derive the entirety of our ethical landscape devoid of any other inputs. Although, as with science, there is a strong foundation in arguments derived through reason and logic, those arguments must also be based on the real world as it exists and by which our best method of discovery is empirical.

    Thus, as we gain empirical knowledge of our world, we may discover an ethical principle we currently hold is based upon a faulty assumption or belief. This would explain why it seems that moral knowledge progresses along with knowledge in other fields. Societies that are less well developed may definitely have solid and well thought out moral codes, but they are more likely to be lead astray by faulty reasoning and factual claims. This makes discovery of new knowledge a matter of great ethical concern in desirism.
     
    Finally, from what I can tell, unless you reject the central claims of desirism, the rest is naturally and rather directly derived from those claims.

    1. In response to a should claim, the only reasonable response is to respond with a reason for action.

    Ex. It doesn’t make sense when answering the question “Why shouldn’t I murder?” To respond “Because blood is red.” A legitimate response has two parts, a state of affairs and a desire, “because murder will result in punishment from God and you have a desire to avoid God’s punishment” or “murder is likely to result in your imprisonment, and you do not desire imprisonment” are valid responses… Although in practice the desire part is often assumed because rarely do people desire God’s wrath or jail time. And before Catholics/Christians jump all over my examples, they are merely for illustration, I am not claiming this is what most Christians would themselves claim.

    2. The only reasons for action that exist are desire, where a desire is described as a propositional attitude. If you desire X, then your attitude toward X is that it should be made or kept true.

    Note: Desire in this case doesn’t have the primal associations that it often has in the English language. Someone can desire a family, desire to help the homeless, etc.

    3. Some desires are malleable.

    It seems that unless you deny one of these to be true, then desirism would be true

  • AHBritton

    Robert,

    I am a little unclear on your distinction and it’s application. For example, in the case of women’s suffrage, is your claim that for a couple of thousand years society had the basic principles necessary for this, but “we discover[ed] more and/or better ways of applying principles that we already [held]?”

    It seems to me that this was an alteration of principles, society didn’t just “discover” that denying suffrage was anathema to the principle of equal rights, the principle had to be discovered in the first place.

    This is another claim I have seen difficulty justifying. The claim that all these ethical principles existed and were preached by the earthly Jesus, yet for some reason it took people a couple thousand years to realize many of these teaching were there and what there implications should be.

    “I’m far from convinced that such moral progress is inevitable.”

    Did I ever claim it was? No form of progress, scientific, mathematical, or ethical is inevitable in my opinion. I think there is a strong drive and impulse for improvement, and I think at this point it would take something rather drastic to reverse the progress of science, but all of these depend on human diligence, education, and cooperation to continue.

    So to be clear, by moral progress I am referring to a very wide view of history. I think as one travels back in time, most forms of progress become more volatile and erratic. After the fall of the Roman empire there was a massive regression in scientific and mathematical knowledge for instance. As governance structures and methods of preserving knowledge have become more stable, the ethical progress has become more stable in my opinion.

    “Modern chattel slavery was far different (and mostly worse) in character from ancient slavery,”

    Would you deny the current state in which industrialized nations have abolished both is better? In addition, slavery has existed in a wide gradation of forms across time and geography, so I don’t think it is obviously clear that being a slave 2,000 years ago was on average better than being a slave 200 years ago, despite Christian apologists attempts to paint a rosy picture of ancient slavery.

    Even if it was, that would be only one measure of possible improvement, there are many other shifts in law, culture, and attitude to take into account. The United States, England, etc. made great strides in the promotion of more equitable political systems not based on authoritarian rule, which I believe ultimately paved the way for many of the future advances in equality. Not to assume to much, but I am guessing you would not oppose these political developments, which I would describe as more ethical in structure (even though obviously far from perfect) would you?

    • http://www.virtue-quest.com/ Robert King

      Actually, I don’t think that any one political system is necessarily or absolutely better than any other. Monarchy has its pros and cons, as does democracy, as does representative republicanism, as does feudalism, and so on. The question in my mind is how well the political system fits the practical needs of the community it serves.

      For example, in the case of women’s suffrage,…

      I’d point out that pretty much nobody had suffrage for a couple thousand years – and longer. Large-scale political franchise arose in a fairly patriarchal milieu, and it took a while to give the vote to non-land-owners, people of different skin colors, as well as women. So I don’t see that this is an objection to a developing application of principles; rather, I do see it as an example.

      By the by, I’m very cautious of equating civil and/or political rights with the natural rights which follow upon the dignity of the human person. A person’s dignity can be acknowledged and honored in many ways besides political franchise or other legal recognition.

      Would you deny the current state in which industrialized nations have abolished both is better?

      I would agree that it is good to abolish all forms of slavery. I would argue that industrialized nations have introduced a wage-slavery which is in some ways worse (not least being the illusion of freedom while still prostituting one’s labor for another’s ends) and simultaneously in other ways better (the slavery does not always extend to the whole of a person’s life) than the various forms of explicit slavery of other times and places.

      The claim that all these ethical principles existed and were preached by the earthly Jesus, …

      This is not what I claimed. We have only snippets of Jesus’ teaching, and teaching was not his primary mission in his earthly life.

      I claimed that Jesus is himself the moral standard. His person is goodness itself revealed to the world. Morality is, in Catholic thought, not based on propositions, but on a person, and on the relationship between persons.

      It’s much easier for us to think with propositions; but language is insufficient to the whole of reality. It is difficult to understand, to categorize, to reduce to an algorithm a person or a relationship. But it is possible to live a relationship with a person, even if understanding fails us at a certain point. This does not mean that the relationship or the person is irrational, or insufficient as a moral principle; rather, it means that our minds are insufficient to totally comprehend the moral principle we live by.

      • AHBritton

        Robert King,

        I don’t know how far down this political rabbit hole we should go, as that is a big topic. Are you really saying feudalism can’t be judged to be a less moral system than democracy?

        • http://www.virtue-quest.com/ Robert King

          Feudalism, as I understand it, is a sort of tiered monarchy, in which local aristocrats pledge service and loyalty to a higher tier of aristocrats, who themselves may pledge to a still higher tier, perhaps culminating at a king or emperor (but not necessarily). Each tier has fiduciary and military responsibilities regarding the land they govern and the people inhabiting that land. They also have the right to make some demands of those people inhabiting their land.

          I don’t include serfdom as an intrinsic part of feudalism, but rather as something that frequently coincided with feudalism. And since we’re talking about feudalism as a system of government, we are not talking about whether the practices of this or that feudal society.

          I’m not an expert on feudalism, so I’m open to correction on my understanding of it. But from what I know, it doesn’t contain anything intrinsically immoral. So at least for the sake of argument, I’ll answer: Yes, I am saying feudalism cannot be judged less moral as a governmental system than democracy.

          The biggest problem I see with feudalism is that it seems to regard land as the primary object of governance rather than people. I’m not sure how essential this is to the definition of feudalism, and I’m not sure how big a problem this really is in terms of a governmental system.

          In any case, I’m open to corrections about my understanding of feudalism. I don’t see much point in debating the relative merits of feudalism vs. democracy, since nobody is arguing that we should institute a feudal system today. But I’m happy to argue, if only so that I can learn new stuff.

  • oldwizenedone

    I think there is too much chatter unaccompanied by thought here. Our present day morality is a product of our evolving culture. We started with humans living in community with naturally evolved tendencies to live socially, much like chimps and bonobos currently do. As culture arose, many approaches evolved which entail complex rules such as laws and customs which made culture viable. With the advent of the enlightenment era and science, much of the foundation of early religious codes of conduct were discarded in favor of rational moral and legal principles born of the struggle of populations to live harmoniously. Democracy is the outcome in terms of politics. It relies not on religious inspiration, but upon the experience of the majority. So, morality, long held as the province of religion has been given over to the secular culture through democratic government. E.g. Catholic priests abusing children are today subject to secular law. This is clearly an advancement. The more I listen to the Leah’s argument, the more I came to think she is marginally insane.

    • Pattsce

      You are begging so many questions here, I can’t even…

    • Caveman

      Leah,
      Please delete the insults.

  • Dianne

    I haven’t read the thread and apologize if you’ve already covered this, but it seems to me that you’re out of step with Catholic doctrine if you’re claiming equal value for men and women. The Catholic church maintains inequality in ways from not allowing women to take the more powerful positions in the church to insisting that women risk their lives repeatedly in reproduction whether they want to or not. How do you justify your claim that men and women are of equal value* theologically?

    *Which I agree with, incidentally.

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

      It’s a matter of function, not value. The Church believes that God ordered creation a certain way, that He established the priesthood of Israel for Aaron and his sons and Christ as a the High Priest was necessarily an Aaronic priest of a sense. God ordered creation of man to be priests. Because priests fulfill this role in Christianity as much as they do in Judaism, they follow the order of God’s creation.

      Your idea of woman being brood mares in Catholic thought is so laughably and demonstrably wrong that it’s painful. The Church teaches against the use of contraception for a number of reasons*; it’s not because all women have to be mothers. Indeed, there are woman who become nuns and business leaders and heads of religious orders and any number of things. Surely we don’t think Mother Teresa was meant to “risk her life repeatedly in reproduction” even in Catholic thought?

      Equality is a matter of ontology, not function. Are women as essential to the order and practice of creation as man? Yes. Is their role in creation identical to that of man? No. I, sadly, can never be a mother because I don’t have a uterus. This is a role that is restricted to me by virtue of my sex.

      *I’m Lutheran and don’t necessarily agree with this teaching, but let’s at least be intellectually honest about it.

      • Ted Seeber

        THAT explains why your answers are so Catholic. Catholicism with Luther’s prejudices subtracted equals Lutheranism- there is little difference between the two.

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

          If you click on my name, there’s a blog authored by yours truly. Honestly, in the grand neighborhood of catholic Christianity (lowercase C obviously intentional), I theologically hang out a lot more with my next door neighbor’s the Catholics than the next door neighbor’s on the other side, the Presbyterians.

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

            I also practice better grammar. What are those apostrophes doing in “neighbors?” Ye gads.

      • jose

        Function, not value: the people in the assembly line and the CEO. Pretty obvious they aren’t equal even though both roles are essential to the order and practice of the company. So being essential doesn’t mean being considered worth the same.

        Breathing is essential. Insuline is essential too. Which one is more important? Consider the consequences for you of being unable to breathe and being unable to produce insuline.

        Your analogy of a man being unable to get pregnant and a woman being unable to be a priest doesn’t hold up, either, because I’ve seen what a priest does and a woman could do it just fine. They already do it in other denominations. It’s just that the church doesn’t want them to do it. Same for the different roles the church encourages for secular life depending on sex.

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

          No, you have not seen what the priest does. You have seen the physical accidents of the priest’s spiritual role. He has muttered some words over some starch wafer and cheap wine. He has sat on the other side of a screen and said “your sins are forgiven” after patiently listening to the confessions of a discontent soul. He has read from the Bible and expounded the meaning of those messages in a speech that we haughtily call a sermon to fellow believers. He has sat in an office and helped set program schedules and budgets for the ministry of his parish.

          But this is not what a priest actually does. These are all incidental to his role in the church. Indeed, a casual reading of Acts sees the Apostles defer resource and charity management to a group from the congregation. My kindergarten teacher (I went to a private Pre-K) can give me Bible stories and talk to my class about what these mean for us today. I can just as easily say “your sins are forgiven” and mean it as a priest, and there is no less truth to my words than his – the forgiveness as such is offered by God, not the man uttering as much. A well-spoken four-year-old could speak the words of institution. Any person, from an atheist woman to a Buddhist child to a deist octogenarian to (gasp) a devout Christian man, can do any one of the things – and in most cases, all of the things – expected of a priest.

          But the priest’s role is not any one or even all of these things. The priest’s role is much, much simpler than that: he stands before the people as an icon of God. He himself is not God; he himself does not execute all the duties of God; he himself is not our Creator, our Savior, our Guide. But the priest through his office reveals truths to us about the role of God and our relationship to Him. We do not call God “Father” because we are backwater patriarchal loons. We call God “Father” despite the fact that even woman is made in His image, despite the fact that not being human he doesn’t have sex the way we think of sex. We call God “Father” because God has revealed Himself as Father and Son.

          We claim the incarnation as a historical event. Indeed, this is why Christianity sits apart from, say, Buddhism or Islam: even if Siddhartha Gautama never achieved Enlightenment, the claim of reincarnation and the extinguishing of desire could not be disproven; even if Mohammed never spoke the suras that became the Qur’an, the idea of one God and the political subjugation to a theocracy led by his prophet could well be true; but if Christ did not appear, if there were no Messiah, if there were no resurrection, then everything Christianity claims is actually wrong. There is one simple truth criterion, and that is the historicity of the Gospel narrative.

          Because of this, we understand God to be male. Even in the Lutheran Church where we don’t believe pastors to derive their right from the vicar of Christ in Rome, we understand that God has called specific people to specific roles for specific purposes. It is not an arbitrary thing. In the order of Creation, the Son proceeded from the Father, in whom sits all authority, and the Father made man in His image through the Son, and seeing that man was alone, God crafted woman as a helper – not as a slave, not as a servant, not as a brood mare, as a helper. And through woman man is sustained from the simplest of things (reproduction and nursing) even to the highest of things (the mother of our Lord who through her submission gave unto us eternity*). This does not diminish woman, it celebrates her.

          You misread my analogy because you are busy divorcing body and spirit instead of being holistic. What a priest does is not what a priest is. A woman cannot be a priest. What a woman does in childbirth is not what a woman is. A man cannot be a mother. Physical truths and spiritual truths for man, who is body and soul conjoined and inseparable, are not separate.

          *There are certain Lutherans who would be flabbergasted to read this; said Lutherans need to cease being such anti-Catholic reactionaries for the sake of being anti-Catholic reactionaries and read their Bible…also their Book of Concord, but I doubt most modern Lutherans even know what the Book of Concord is. It is kind of funny, actually, that I can honestly write this and still say the reason I am Lutheran instead of Catholic is partially due to Mariology.

          • Dianne

            Jesus was Jewish. Therefore, the God is revealed as a Jewish man. How is it that non-Jews are allowed to play Jesus in the rites? Isn’t that just as much a movement away from the God as revealed as a woman playing the part?

          • jose

            - In short, a woman can’t be a priest in religion A because religion A has a dogma that says they can’t.
            - Religion A says woman was created as a helper to man. There you go. CEO and secretary. Surely the CEO would make a mess of everything if his secretary didn’t remind him of his appointments and all the other functions secretaries undertake. Both essential, yet inequal.
            - I don’t think spirits exist.

      • Dianne

        The Church believes that God ordered creation a certain way, that He established the priesthood of Israel for Aaron and his sons and Christ as a the High Priest was necessarily an Aaronic priest of a sense. God ordered creation of man to be priests.

        At least some branches of Judaism have decided otherwise. I’ve read the Torah* and it’s not at all clear to me that women are strictly forbidden or incapable of being priests. Additionally, although I’m not Catholic, some of my family is and I’m quite familiar with Catholic mass. There is nothing the priest does that could not be done equally well by a man or a woman.

        As to it being “God’s plan”, unless God sends you a text message or the stars spell out “Male Popes only” how can you be so sure you know God’s will? The Bible was written by people and has been translated many, many times by people. Perhaps it’s corrupted. Maybe the word translated as man meant person in the original language. Maybe the first person writing down the rule misunderstood and God was unwilling to correct him because people must have free will to be wrong as well as right. There are many theologically reasonable possible ways to allow women to be ordained. The very fact that the Catholic church doesn’t go with them should indicate their feelings on the relative value of men and women. Separate but equal…isn’t.

        *Admittedly, quite a while ago and I may have missed/forgotten something.

        • Oregon Catholic

          “…I’m quite familiar with Catholic mass. There is nothing the priest does that could not be done equally well by a man or a woman.”

          You have just shown that you have zero understanding of what is actually taking place at the Mass.

          • Dianne

            You have just shown that you have zero understanding of what is actually taking place at the Mass.

            So…enlighten me. Which part can only be done by someone with a penis? Or is it the masculine identity that counts? Would a transman be acceptable? What about a person with XY chromosomes who is phenotypically female (that is, testicular feminization)? Male or female? What part of masculinity is required to make mass work right?

      • Dianne

        Surely we don’t think Mother Teresa was meant to “risk her life repeatedly in reproduction” even in Catholic thought?

        Certainly. If Mother Teresa had been raped and conceived, there would be no excuse for her not completing the pregnancy, according to Catholic doctrine. Even if it were a tubal pregnancy with zero chance of coming to term. Even if she were dying of primary pulmonary hypertension exacerbated by pregnancy. Even if she were 9 years old when it happened. If she refused to die on command, she and not her rapist could be excommunicated.

    • http://catholicgamer.com darrenl

      CCC369:
      “Man and woman have been created, which is to say, willed by God: on the one hand, in perfect equality as human persons; on the other, in their respective beings as man and woman. “Being man” or “being woman” is a reality which is good and willed by God: man and woman possess an inalienable dignity which comes to them immediately from God their Creator.240 Man and woman are both with one and the same dignity “in the image of God”. In their “being-man” and “being-woman”, they reflect the Creator’s wisdom and goodness.”

      So…there is the Catholic Church’s doctrine, which seems to be “out of step” with your understanding of Catholic Church’s doctrine.

      One of your premise is also questionable. Show that having equality necessarily follows from having powerful positions. The other one about the Church requiring that women “risk their lives” in child birth is laughable and has already been rebutted by Michael H.

    • Oregon Catholic

      Dianne,
      You are mixing up your terms. Equality in value (human dignity) is not measured by equality in roles. Or better to say, the same roles, because different roles can still have equal value. Despite what the new gender ‘experts’ would have you believe, men and women are different and are meant to be different. It is radical feminism (not equal pay for equal work feminism) that has told women that if they aren’t just like men they aren’t as good. Well, women aren’t just like men and the Catholic Church has always recognized this. It is the Church that today tells women that they still have equal value to men even when they aren’t just like men. It is the Church which values the feminine. It’s feminism that has harmed women by devalueing what is truly feminine and telling you you have to be like a man in society to be worthwhile.

      • Dianne

        So you’re going for separate but equal then? Got it.

        • Oregon Catholic

          Different but equal is a better description. Like mother and father. Different roles but both equal in “value” to procreation and child rearing.

          • Dianne

            Oh? How is a mother definitively different from a father?

          • Oregon Catholic

            If you can’t figure that out it’s because you’ve gotten too deep into your gender studies.

            As to why a priest can’t be a woman you already hit on the answer when you talked about the Torah. Basically, God said that’s the way He wants it. Argue away…

          • Dianne

            If you can’t figure that out it’s because you’ve gotten too deep into your gender studies.

            In other words, you have no answer and are trying to appeal to authority without even coming up with an authority to appeal to.

            As to why a priest can’t be a woman you already hit on the answer when you talked about the Torah. Basically, God said that’s the way He wants it. Argue away…

            As I said earlier, how do you know? The Torah was written by people. Even if we take as a given divine inspiration, the chances of no one screwing up the transcription from God or the translation through various languages and times is so unlikely as to be laughable. And if God is so uncomfortable with women being priests, why hasn’t He smote the Presbyterians, Unitarians, reformed Jews, etc? Again, no evidence.

      • Dianne

        Another thought: I’ve heard apparently sincere, practicing Islamic Afghani men talk about how women are of equal value to men but different and so of course can’t be expected to do the same things men do. And how Islam protects and treasures women and their unique value. So how does your position differ from that of the Taliban again?

    • Ted Seeber

      Well, aside from the idea that reproduction is a risk is more modern myth than reality (if even 25% of births resulted in the death of the woman, the species would have died out about 2 million years ago from other accidents), there’s also the fact that the Catholic hierarchy doesn’t stop with people who are alive, and that the greatest Saint of all is she who said YES to reproducing (the virgin birth wasn’t forced upon Mary, God, unlike Zeus, isn’t a rapist). So I find your idea that Catholicism teaches that women have less value than men to be a bit strange.

      And that’s not even touching the point that not all religious (even males) are clergy, or that when you consider food is necessary for life, one of Pope Benedict XVI’s greatest enablers is a nun.

      • Dianne

        if even 25% of births resulted in the death of the woman, the species would have died out about 2 million years ago from other accidents

        Ok, problem #1: the species H sapiens is not 2 million years old. It’s no more than a few hundred thousand years old.

        Problem #2: Maternal mortality is traditionally quite high. Consider, for example, rural Afghanistan where the maternal mortality is about 6% per pregnancy. Of course, many women even in rural Afghanistan have skilled attendants and thus this number is lower than the “natural” number.

        Problem #3: Conditions with a 25% mortality rate exist and flourish. Consider sickle cell anemia. Twenty five percent of the children of two people with sickle cell trait (one gene) will have sickle cell anemia (two genes) and will, without intervention, die before they reach reproductive age. Yet the gene flourishes. A 25% mortality does not mean instant death for the gene or the species carrying it.

  • AHBritton

    @Oregon Catholic,

    What is an intrinsic value, and how does it work? Does God simply declare something to have value?

    • http://catholicgamer.com darrenl

      Queue Euthyphro…

      Christianity…and indeed Catholicism…has dealt with the Euthyphro dilemma in great detail, AHBritton. Solutions to this go waaaay back to Augustine.

      • AHBritton

        That question is not the Euthyphro dilemma, although it is related I suppose, so I don’t see how the common response to the former (divine simplicity) applies to where intrinsic values come from and how they work… But maybe you can enlighten me.

  • AHBritton

    Ted Seeber,

    Physicists Alexander Vilenkin has developed a model by applying the laws of quantum mechanics to relativity whereby space-times fluctuate in and out of existence from an empty geometry of zero radius outside of space and time. So it is possible all of what you say came from that, pretty amazing huh?

    Another answer is that the universe exists nessecerily as a four-dimensional space-time whole.

    • Ted Seeber

      And where did the laws of quantum mechanics come from? Where did relativity come from? Where did space-time come from? Better yet, where did the four dimensions come from?

      All any atheist or scientific model has ever done is move the goal posts. It’s Zeno’s Paradox applied to theology. You can’t get there from here.

      • AHBritton

        Ted Seeber,

        Under Vilenkin’s theory the laws of nature would exist outside of space and time, so the question “where did the the laws of nature come from?” would be meaningless, unless you could formulate it in a way that applies to timeless/spaceless entities.

        Similarly in the 4-dimensional view (a philosophical position known as eternalism) all points in time have equal ontological status, so the universe could exist eternally.

        • Oregon Catholic

          None of that answers the question of how does something come from nothing. What is the first cause?

          • AHBritton

            Oregon Catholic,

            First how? What does “first” mean outside of space and time?

          • Erick

            AHBritton,

            The reason defining spaceless/timeless entities seems unfathomable to you is because you are trying to turn a derivative of existence (laws of nature) into an ultimate cause of existence, even though in the universe we live in they’re defined as having a cause.

            Just to go with the laws of nature thing, I’ve been asking people… how do you reconcile gravity? In Einstein’s theories (which is today’s standard), gravity is a derivative of matter existing in space-time? How then can a byproduct of matter be the ultimate cause of matter?

            For a Catholic, God is outside of space and time. By his very definition, he is a logical cause without cause. Laws of nature, not so much.

          • Oregon Catholic

            As Erick stated, Catholics believe God exists outside of time and space (he also exists within as well). God created time and space so He cannot be constrained by His own creation. God is the uncaused cause of the universe. Everything began from God but God never began. He always was. Because we only exist within the experience of time and space where everything has a beginning we can sort of imagine eternity going forward but our minds simply can’t grasp something having no beginning.

      • http://homeschoolingphysicist.blogspot.com PhysicistDave

        Ted Seeber wrote:
        > And where did the laws of quantum mechanics come from? Where did relativity come from? Where did space-time come from? Better yet, where did the four dimensions come from?

        Well… perhaps they have just always been there, Ted. World without beginning. (Anyone who thinks this contradicts the Big Bang theory is decades out of date on their cosmology: google “eternal inflation”.)

        But, doesn’t there have to be something outside this eternal universe to explain its existence? There is no “outside.” Self-caused, self-sustaining, universe without beginning or end.

        Could be. It is certainly a lot easier to imagine than a God who is “outside of time” (yeah, right!), who is the source of morality but not arbitrarily so (vide Euthyphro), and all the other theological antinomies.

        You may not like it, but there is nothing contradictory about it, and it is not very hard at all to imagine (indeed, it is the arguments against this view, such as William Lane Craig’s, that exceedeth human understanding).

        As the old punchline has it: “I know what you’re driving at. It’s turtles all the way down!”

        Dave Miller in Sacramento

        • Oregon Catholic

          “Self-caused, self-sustaining, universe without beginning or end.”

          ROFL! Now that IS nonsensical. There is nothing to prove matter or energy spontaneously generate, let alone spontaneously organize into a coherent set of laws or life forms.

          • Oregon Catholic

            But I must say that having faith that something can have no beginning puts you much farther down the path to being able to believe in God than a lot of other atheists.

          • http://homeschoolingphysicist.blogspot.com PhysicistDave

            Oregon Catholic wrote to me:
            >Now that IS nonsensical. There is nothing to prove matter or energy spontaneously generate…

            And, that is why scientists tend not to have much respect for Catholics.

            I did not say that “matter or energy spontaneously generate…” As usual, a Christian inventing something and accusing someone else of having said it!

            All I said was that there was nothing logically contradictory about the current cosmological model of eternal inflation in which the larger universe has been around forever.

            You don’t like that? Learn some modern cosmology. Your ignorance of science is certainly a problem but it is not my problem.

            Dave

          • http://homeschoolingphysicist.blogspot.com PhysicistDave

            Oregon Catholic wrote to me:
            >But I must say that having faith that something can have no beginning puts you much farther down the path to being able to believe in God than a lot of other atheists.

            I take it you have not been communicating with any real atheists? Talking at them perhaps, but not listening.

            What so many atheists object to is the claim by so many Christians that nothing can exist without a beginning, but then making an exception for God. “Sauce for the goose, sauce for the gander.” Just announcing that by definition God is an exception is just as cheesy as us announcing that by definition Plymouth Rock is an exception.

            Definitions created by human beings do not constrain reality.

            But, this sort of silly playing with words is all you guys have left.

            Dave

          • Oregon Catholic

            OK, so I went and looked up eternal inflation. From what I can tell in a few minutes read it describes the Big Bang. Tell me where it describes the universe “being around forever”. Big Bang = beginning.

          • http://homeschoolingphysicist.blogspot.com PhysicistDave

            Oregon Catholic wrote to me:
            >OK, so I went and looked up eternal inflation. From what I can tell in a few minutes read it describes the Big Bang. Tell me where it describes the universe “being around forever”.

            Ooooooh, boy! That sorta boggles the mind, kinda like if you had looked up “Frank Sinatra” and concluded that he was really the same person as Beyoncé!

            No, you have it completely wrong – the whole idea is that eternal inflation is what was happening long, like forever long, before the Big Bang.

            You see, that is why it includes the word “eternal.”

            By the way, I knew the guy, Alan Guth, who originated inflationary cosmology, when I was a doctoral student at Stanford, so I have followed this from the beginning.

            Tell me what site you went to and what led you to misunderstand it so unbelievably badly, and I will see if I have a bit of time to help you get this straightened out.

            In all honesty, though, if you went to any sort of legitimate site, this level of confusion should not have been possible. It may be that you have so little knowledge of science that this just cannot be explained to you in less than ten thousand words – i.e., without filling in all the basic grade-school/high-school science background. If that is the case, all I will be able to do is tell you to get over to the local library and start reading elementary science books.

            By the way, is there any chance that you and the other non-scientists here who are religious believers might take this as a sign that you should stop being so arrogant about science that you know absolutely nothing about? No, I didn’t think so.

            Dave

          • http://homeschoolingphysicist.blogspot.com PhysicistDave

            By the way, Oregon Catholic, as I have indicated elsewhere on this thread, while I rather doubt that any being that might reasonably be called “God” exists, neither I nor most of my fellow physicists would make any claim to have proved that. You would probably call me an “atheistic agnostic” rather than “atheist.” (I won’t review again the rather pointless debate as to who is a “real” atheist.)

            However, most scientists do claim, quite correctly, that science definitively disproves any literal, fundamentalist version of Christianity. I do realize that this is not the form of Christianity advocated by most of the Christians who visit Leah’s site.

            But, clearly a lot of you do want, in some way or another, to hold that Jesus of Nazareth is of overwhelming theological/cosmological importance. (If not, welcome to the ranks of deists, which makes you almost an honorary atheist!)

            And, even a very slight acquaintance with modern astronomy produces a real problem there: as I hope you know there are hundreds of billions of stars in the Milky Way and around a hundred billion or more other galaxies in the observable universe; furthermore, our universe (i.e., ignoring the other possible universes posited by inflationary cosmology) has been around for well over ten billion years. We now know that planets are quite common around other stars.

            Given those huge numbers, it is not plausible that we are the only, or the first, intelligent species to have evolved within our universe. And, in that case, how could it be that God chose our little, insignificant mudball out here in the boondocks of a middling galaxy as the one and only place for the one and only Incarnation of his one and only Son?

            The whole idea all starts sounding like some Walter Mitty who has really come to believe he is emperor of the world.

            The Christian conception of the Incarnation is just too small in terms of the universe as we know it to be.

            Of course, you can try expanding it with multiple Incarnations across the stars and across the galaxies: work out the numbers, and you will find that Christ is very busy indeed with all these Incarnations – indeed, he may have to do several at once!

            Personally, I encourage such speculation, because it diminishes the importance of the Crucifixion, the Atonement, and all the rest.

            At any rate, it is hard for most people who really grasp the immensity and timescale of our universe to take altogether seriously the traditional teachings of Christianity.

            Those teachings developed in a culture that had what we now know was a very cramped, overly cozy view of a very tiny little universe.

            The traditional Christian world-view, and your Savior, is just too small.

            Dave

          • Alex

            @OregonCatholic

            Something from Leah’s interview that jumped out at me was when she pointed out the beliefs in the Sacraments are at the theorem level. Without accepting the axioms of the Church, the Sacraments are meaningless just as the Poincare Conjecture is meaningless to someone who doesn’t understand topology. This is the problem with the reductio ad absurdum that Hemant kept trying to use (how can you think that a cracker turns into Jesus). If you don’t accept the axioms of the Catholic faith, you’re almost certainly going to misunderstand their consequences, furthermore, their consequences are irrelevant to you.

            It seems to me that you are using “how can the universe come from nothing” in a similar fashion to Hemant’s argument, and the same problem is cropping up. You’re misunderstanding what physicists mean by the terms time and inflation because:
            1: you’re unfamiliar with the axioms of the Standard Model and the mathematical formalism
            2: these words are defined operationally and hence have slightly different meanings as compared to their English counterparts.
            3: because of 1 and 2, if you don’t accept the axioms of modern cosmology then you’re going to disagree with its conclusions.

          • Oregon Catholic

            Thanks Alex for the comparison. I’m sure you’re right. I wonder if PhD Dave can still understand the popular meanings of the words in order to communicate with us lesser beings.

            At the risk of giving him another headache – it still strikes me that believing a theory like eternal inflation with it’s ‘infnitely’ small time increments doesn’t require a much bigger leap of faith than any theist’s. And there is still that singularity thingy that supposedly ‘began’ the whole thing. Where did it come from? Or has that theory been discarded now?

        • http://homeschoolingphysicist.blogspot.com PhysicistDave

          Oregon Catholic wrote:
          >And there is still that singularity thingy that supposedly ‘began’ the whole thing. Where did it come from? Or has that theory been discarded now?

          Yes, the “singularity thingy,” as you so elegantly put it, was discarded long, long ago: or, perhaps, it would be more accurate to say that it was always recognized as simply a mathematical artifact due to not including quantum effects.

          I know the cheap pop-science books and PBS specials used to make a big deal of the “singularity thingy”; hint: don’t trust cheap pop-science books or PBS specials; check out the actual science.

          OC also wrote:
          >At the risk of giving him another headache – it still strikes me that believing a theory like eternal inflation with it’s ‘infnitely’ small time increments doesn’t require a much bigger leap of faith than any theist’s.

          Well… there are not “ ‘infinitely’ small time increments”: once again you are either just making it up (AKA lying), or you went to a really bad site for information, or you really, really misunderstood what you read.

          I offered to try to help you out of your confusion if you would tell me the Website which is the source of your confusion. You have thus far chosen not to do so.

          It is becoming pretty clear that you do not want to know the actual science but merely to spread a fog of disinformation in the hopes of fooling some of your co-religionists. Well, lying has worked for Christians for two thousand years – why stop now, eh?

          P.S. I am getting tired of this: if anyone really wants to know anything about the actual science involved, just politely ask me for some references, and I might have time to respond. WordPress is telling me that I have been posting too much recently (didn’t know wordpress would do this), and I must acknowledge that wordpress is no doubt right.

  • http://homeschoolingphysicist.blogspot.com PhysicistDave

    Leah wrote:
    >So how is it that we’re getting so good at this? What kind of data is our reason responding to?

    Leah, this is a good example of what I find to be so bizarre about the liberal atheist blogosphere you used to inhabit, and the liberal Catholic blogosphere you now inhabit: you guys all seem to think that your own tribal liberal morality – AKA liberal ethics – has some universal significance beyond your own tribe!

    Your question “How is it that we’re getting so good at this?” presumes that “we” are indeed getting good at this. Your question “What kind of data is our reason responding to?” ignores the obvious answer: like most humans, you are merely conforming to the mores of the group to which you belong. Really, how many people – friends, relatives, etc. – with whom you closely identify have moral views at radical variance with your own moral views?

    Typical human tribal behavior.

    I live in an upper-middle class area in central California; my extended family, with whom I remain in close contact, live in and around a large city in the Midwest.

    Yet, among my neighbors, friends, and relatives, only a very small number share the general moral sense of you and your comprades.

    I could go on and on about specific issues on which you and your comrades have blogged – homosexuality, torture, etc. – your views are not the general consensus of Americans not even well-educated Americans, and, most certainly, not the human race at large.

    Much of what gives your writings on meta-ethics a superficial plausibility is that you really have not seriously engaged – at all! – with people who think that gay marriage is a sin against God, that torturing bad guys is exactly what they deserve, that nuking Mecca would improve the Mideast, and on and on.

    I know that you and Hemant both really, really, really feel very, very, very strongly that your ethical views are truly, truly, truly right.

    Well… so do the members of the Taliban, the Aryan nation, etc.

    To really be serious about such matters, you really have to seriously consider the likelihood that your cherished moral feelings are nothing but the strong tribal emotions that most humans have with regard to the mores of their own tribe: your tribe just happens to be a particular, parochial group of liberal, post-modernists from a specific social stratum in the contemporary West.

    Alas, very few people, whether atheists or True Believers, are willing to see their own tribe as just one more tribe among all the others.

    Dave Miller in Sacramento

  • AHBritton

    Erick,

    I will explain as best I can, though I am a layman and do not understand the complex mathematics, I have read quite a bit on this topic.

    “The reason defining spaceless/timeless entities seems unfathomable to you is because you are trying to turn a derivative of existence (laws of nature) into an ultimate cause of existence, even though in the universe we live in they’re defined as having a cause.”

    Well, first of all, even the physicists working on the subject are likely to say that the cutting edge physics and research is unfathomable. Despite quantum mechanics making extraordinarily accurate predictions, conceptualizing the processes going on is mind-boggling even to the physicists.

    In addition, if un-fathomableness ( not a word I know :) ) is an argument against a hypothesis, where does God stand? Is God fathomable?

    Next, laws of nature are defined as having a cause? I am not sure sure what you are claiming. What causes quantum mechanics or relativity? Laws of nature are ways of describing the way nature behaves. In addition most people use the laws of nature AS the cause, though of course physics is always trying to reduce down to more fundamental causes when possible.

    “In Einstein’s theories (which is today’s standard), gravity is a derivative of matter existing in space-time?”

    Some of the words like “derivative” that you are using are confusing, I have not heard of physics being described this way.

    Relativity is a framework for thinking about the nature of space, time, and gravity, so I am not sure what your confusion is.

    I can describe how the theory of relativity works, as well as the particle perspective of gravity, but I don’t know what this has to do with anything I was stating.

     “How then can a byproduct of matter be the ultimate cause of matter?”

    I never said it was, relativity deals with more than just gravity.

    “For a Catholic, God is outside of space and time. By his very definition, he is a logical cause without cause. Laws of nature, not so much.”

    How do you know “not so much?” I know of no physicist working in the field that says this, so what makes you think this is so? Why couldn’t the laws of nature be fundamental?

    I don’t really see an argument here.

    • AHBritton

      Here’s the paper by the way:
      http://mukto-mona.net/science/physics/a_vilinkin/universe_from_nothing.pdf

      If you find a fault in it, let me know.

      • Mitchell Porter

        Quantum mechanics is full of formulas that give you a probability for starting in condition A and ending in condition B, by summing over “histories” that start with A and end with B. Vilenkin’s model describes cosmic histories that “end with B” – they arrive at the present-day universe – but they don’t start with a particular moment in time. It’s a four-dimensional analogue of a ping-pong ball sliced in half, with the present-day universe being like the circular boundary of the remaining hemisphere. You can go down the sides of the ball, but there isn’t another edge, instead it just flattens out. In Vilenkin’s “Euclidean histories”, the distinction between space and time is abandoned, you just have a four-dimensional space of “events”, and as you head towards the big bang, you lose even the property that one direction looks different to the other three. So the quantum sum over histories is no longer “histories that start with A and end with B”, it’s just “four-dimensional ping-pong balls that end with B”. (This is also in Hawking’s famous book.)

        As for how seriously you should take this… I’m not aware of any successful predictions that only come from a model like this. The universe has to be severely simplified – e.g. treated as a single variable, the size – and the predictions will be for very generic properties of the early universe. So predictive success doesn’t mean we should take it that seriously. The conceptual meaning of imaginary time, euclidean histories, no beginning to time, and so on – that is all up in the air; these are formal calculations which are mathematically possible but whose meaning in reality is unknown. And finally, it doesn’t explain why there is something rather than nothing. The probabilities that such a model produces are not “probability that a universe is created”, they are “probability that the universe looks a certain way”.

        I’d say there is a significant likelihood that this whole research program, of universes that “tunnel” from nothing to something, is not just metaphysically confused, but also just physically wrong – i.e. the equations don’t pertain to reality under *any* interpretation, the true equations are something else entirely. As I said, these calculations are made using very severe simplifications of Einstein’s theory of gravity, which are then “quantized” in a particular way, so if the simplifications are invalid, then the quantum theory built on them is also likely to be invalid.

        • http://homeschoolingphysicist.blogspot.com PhysicistDave

          Mitchell Porter wrote:
          >Vilenkin’s model describes cosmic histories that “end with B” – they arrive at the present-day universe – but they don’t start with a particular moment in time.

          Yeah, as a physicist, I think that is a problem, too.

          By the way, one of the early physicists to try to work out such models was Heinz Pagels, the late husband of the well-known New Testament scholar Elaine Pagels. I had a chance to talk with Heinz briefly about the issue you raise back around 1980: unfortunately, I unwisely used the phrase “moment of Creation” as short-hand for this quantum tunneling event when talking with him. He blew up – that was the end of our discussion, and I never got to explain my question about how the tunneling event could occur after an infinite amount of time in a realm before time (I know that sounds meaningless – that was my point).

          I later realized that Heinz must have gotten so tired hearing about religious stuff from Elaine, that when a fellow physicist seemed to make a religious reference, Heinz just couldn’t take it, even though I did not intend any religious allusion at all!

          Incidentally, Heinz died tragically a few years later in a climbing accident.

          Anyway, I remain unconvinced that the “tunneling of spacetime out of nothing” scenarios can ever make any real sense. Perhaps, that is why most cosmologists today seem to prefer inflationary cosmology, as I mentioned above.

          Dave Miller in Sacramento

        • AHBritton

          Mitchell Porter,

          “In Vilenkin’s ‘Euclidean histories’, the distinction between space and time is abandoned, you just have a four-dimensional space of ‘events’, and as you head towards the big bang, you lose even the property that one direction looks different to the other three. So the quantum sum over histories is no longer ‘histories that start with A and end with B’, it’s just ‘four-dimensional ping-pong balls that end with B’. (This is also in Hawking’s famous book.)”

          Again I will stress that I am a laymen, so I apologize if anything I say is too off the mark :)

          I know this describes Hawking’s no-boundary proposal, but I thought Vilenkin’s hypothesis was different the way it is formulated.

          Vilenkin’s model, as I understand it, originally developed from the idea of our universe tunneling from another universe. He realized however that the universe being tunneled from could be arbitrarily small, and thus that it could even tunnel from a universe with a radius of zero. Most of these universes would be blips at the quantum scale, but some of them could tunnel past the quantum scale into a stage of hyper-inflation.

          That is how I have come to understand it at least. I have seen Vilenkin hint at the possibility that his model may be another way of describing a Hawking style model though, but I always took this in the way that other things in physics have turned out to have multiple mathematical descriptions that end up producing the same results.

          “As for how seriously you should take this… I’m not aware of any successful predictions that only come from a model like this. The universe has to be severely simplified – e.g. treated as a single variable, the size – and the predictions will be for very generic properties of the early universe. So predictive success doesn’t mean we should take it that seriously.”

          To be clear, I am not in the slightest arguing that this describes the true conditions of the universe’s origin. For all I know Vilenkin and Hawking’s models could both be completely off the mark.

          That is not the point I was trying to make. What I was trying to respond to is the claim that God is necessarily the explanation for the existence of the universe. If that is the claim then one must show that alternatives such as those proposed by Hawking or Vilenkin are incorrect or not adequate explanations. So agreed.

          “The conceptual meaning of imaginary time, euclidean histories, no beginning to time, and so on – that is all up in the air; these are formal calculations which are mathematically possible but whose meaning in reality is unknown.”

          I think it is very possible that these things not only haven’t been conceptualized, but may be unconceptualizable. I don’t necessarily see that as a problem with the theory as relativity cannot be directly conceptualized, but only conceptualized by analogy to the 3-Dimensional space which we directly experience.

          Similarly quantum mechanics usually requires changing one’s conceptual model depending on what one is trying to describe, in certain situations it is best to think of it as a wave, other times as a particle.

          That is one reason why I find people’s attempts to appeal to something seeming “unintuitive” as a poor argument against an explanation. I think on cosmic scale such as this we are often faced with situations where BOTH options are unintuitive. For instance WL Craig argues against an infinite past by appealing to one’s intuitions that infinities are too strange to really exist. But what about the alternative? Is trying to conceive of a beginning of time any more intuitive? A time when there was no “before?” To me that is equally bizarre and involves equally inconceivable intuitions.

          “And finally, it doesn’t explain why there is something rather than nothing.”

          There are few things I am absolutely certain of, but one of them is that there is no emotionally satisfying answer to this question. It maybe that it is an incoherent question, like asking “how tall is yellow?” or it may be the same answer that the theist gives, something necessarily exists. I find the idea that a cosmic intelligence necessarily exists equally, if not more, unsatisfying. Either way I think one will ultimately just have to say either “I don’t know” or accept that the answer is what it is and the fact that we don’t like it is just too bad.

    • http://homeschoolingphysicist.blogspot.com PhysicistDave

      AHBritton wrote:
      >I will explain as best I can, though I am a layman and do not understand the complex mathematics

      AHB, I am a physicist (Ph.D. from Stanford), I do understand the math involved, and I want to back up what you have said.

      For example, gravity is not, contrary to Erick’s claim, necessarily “a derivative of matter”: gravitational waves can and do exist independent of matter.

      Erick also said:
      >By his very definition, he [God] is a logical cause without cause. Laws of nature, not so much.

      To which you replied:
      >How do you know “not so much?” I know of no physicist working in the field that says this, so what makes you think this is so? Why couldn’t the laws of nature be fundamental?

      Indeed. Physicists generally do not talk the way Erick talks. We talk not in terms of ultimate causes (if such exist, which is doubtful) but in terms of what we have managed to discover, so far, about how nature actually works. Similarly, you’ll not find many physicists arguing about whether or not the universe is “contingent”: to the degree that “contingent” means anything, it means something like “not made necessary by what we know about the laws of nature.” I.e., in any reasonable sense, the meaning of “contingent” is contingent on the current state of our knowledge. To talk about whether the laws of nature, or the universe itself, are or are not “contingent” in some absolute, metaphysical sense, goes way beyond the current human level of understanding and borders on being what philosophers call a “category error.”

      In the last few years, a number of Christians who know next to nothing about science have taken to slinging scientific jargon around on the Internet, apparently in the hope that it will re-assure their co-religionists that science is on their side.

      Of course, if they hew to the literalist interpretation of the Bible, science is emphatically not on their side. And, if they wish to make all Christian teachings merely metaphorical, well, arguing about the “truth” of metaphors is a pastime only for fools.

      I know their reply will be that, then, physics can not disprove at least some vague form of theism, and, indeed, almost all physicists will acknowledge that this is indeed true. There are no coherent arguments for theism, but it is also true that physics provides no coherent arguments against a bare-bones, no-miracle, dime-store theism.

      Christians would do better to just leave physics alone.

      Dave

      • Oregon Catholic

        “Christians would do better to just leave physics alone.”
        All christians? Or just the ones that tweak your arrogance because we believe there is more to reality than what you can describe with your math and cosmology theories? If you think all reality is contained within time and space then we can’t help it if you’re constrained within your intellectual box (prison?) and that’s YOUR problem not ours.

        • http://www.offthewrittenpath.com Andrew

          I know, right? How dare he suggest that reality is defined and constrained by actual reality, as opposed to being defined by A Mythical Omnipotent Eternal Entity Cleverly Hidden From Any Means of Physical Detection Who We Should Worship And Just Accept is The Driving Force Behind The Universe Even Though This Entity Itself Has No Origin or Cause or Ability to Even Be Detected Scientifically.

        • http://homeschoolingphysicist.blogspot.com PhysicistDave

          Look, Oregon Catholic, you really made a fool of yourself, as anyone can check via Google, when you arrogantly tried to tell everyone what physics really has to say and managed to mess up royally.

          And, because I pointed this out, you and your friends want to label me as the arrogant one? Even though I acknowledge that physics, and science in general, cannot prove that theism is false (although I think there are good reasons to be a bit doubtful about theism)?

          I think I shall just let this stand without further comment and use it as an honesty test for anyone who wanders by.

          • Oregon Catholic

            I come up in a Google search? Coool!!

          • AHBritton

            Physicist Dave,

            I am not trying to undermine your previous comments.

            Let me try and explain it this way. I am trying to encourage people towards my point of view. Let us say we were in a work situation where someone completely misunderstanding you, but you still had to work together on a project. Wouldn’t you be as charitable as possible to their perspective in order to better understand and persuade them? Or would you just point out what you see as all their faults and hope they decide that they were in fact completely mistaken and completely denounce their former views?

            Personally I think the latter is unrealistic.

            Like I said, I appreciate your input.

            (is there some place where it is best to contact you? I had a question about Vilenkin’s recent papers arguing against past eternal cosmological models. My e-mail is AHBritton at gmail dot com if you want to contact me directly).

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

        Someone has a Ph.D. in physics but not a Ph.D. in philosophy, and it’s showing.

        • http://homeschoolingphysicist.blogspot.com PhysicistDave

          Well, let’s see, Michael H: the one thing – as far as I can tell the only thing! – on which the vast majority of philosophers are in agreement is that most of the stuff written by their fellow philosophers is horribly, ludicrously wrong.

          So, to trash the philosophy profession, all I have to do is urge people to read what philosophers say about each other.

          It is a hobby of mine to ask philosophers to provide even a handful of results in philosophy that are non-obvious, significant, substantive (i.e., about the real world, not just comments about each other), and generally accepted among philosophers for at least a half century. So far, I have not been provided with even one example, after asking numerous philosophers, Christian and atheist philosophers alike. (I urge everyone to pursue this hobby: I started it hoping to get some real answers, and I am eternally optimistic that maybe someone will actually find some important, valid result in philosophy!)

          What I have been given is numerous lectures on how useful philosophy is despite its lack of results after more than two millennia. Then, I naturally ask to be provided with concrete examples of how philosophy is useful.

          I’m still waiting for answers on that, too. (There are of course two quite obvious answers, which for some reason I am never given: it is useful for a handful of people to make a living without doing any actual work, and it is useful for those who want to lord it over undergraduates.)

          Of course, the natural sciences have quite obvious answers to these questions: no one seriously doubts that physicists, chemists, and biologists have discovered very significant, very non-obvious, and very useful truths about reality.

          Which is why almost everyone goes to a scientifically-trained physician when he has a problem with his body and almost no one goes to a philosopher! If that seems too obvious to mention, in the ancient world many people really thought that philosophy was of practical use in real human life: vide Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy.

          Two millennia of failure seem to have dissipated that illusion.

          My earlier comments on this thread were directed towards science, which is my area of expertise: this is the first time I have mentioned philosophy, and I do so only because you brought it up.

          But, you do not need a Ph.D. in astrology or phrenology to know that those fields are fraudulent. And, in truth, even phrenology and astrology can make better arguments for their value than can philosophy.

          • http://catholicgamer.com darrenl

            Nothing like watching a scientist philosophize how useless philosophy is.

          • AHBritton

            PhysicistDave,

            Although I appreciate your input on these issues (I would actually be interested in contacting you about a couple of questions I had, if you had the time), the tone of your response does make it more difficult for me to make my case.

            I understand there is plenty of disagreement on this issue, and I know you are free-will to handle it any way you wish, I do find responding in that manner shuts down conversation and is more likely to make someone ignore you than try and understand you.

            Again, I definitely appreciate your input, I just had to point out the difficulty it causes me in making my case.

            Also, I don’t find philosophy as useless as you do, although I don’t find it as useful as most philosophers seem to either ( one benefit to being neither a physicist or philosopher I guess :) ). One thing I would point out on the question you raised is that although philosophers disagree about many things (I can link you to a poll of professional philosophers if you are interested in what they tend to agree on), I think one of there roles is to eliminate those philosophies that are untenable. Although nothing ever gets universal agreement, even in physics, there are definitely philosophical claims that are generally considered untenable by most philosophers.

          • http://homeschoolingphysicist.blogspot.com PhysicistDave

            AHB wrote to me:
            > the tone of your response does make it more difficult for me to make my case…

            Well… the comment was not directed to you and I certainly said nothing insulting to you in the comment. Nor, for that matter, did I say anything personally insulting to Michael H (despite the fact that he did make a negative personal comment about me), nor did I use “crude” language, etc.

            Most of the post, in fact, reported factually on questions I really have asked of philosophers.

            I did draw what I think are negative but fair conclusions about philosophy based on its documented history, but, again, I did not use crude terms: e.g., “pile of c***,” “a f****** disaster,” etc. (No, I am not trying to sneak those characterizations in here: I don’t write in those terms, which is my point.)

            And, yet, my tone was so bad you cannot bear to comment in response?

            I’m afraid I am at a bit of a loss to figure out what you can possibly be talking about: all I can conclude is that laying out my case as convincingly and clearly as I can constitutes “bad tone.” Indeed, I am tempted to suspect that my post indeed “does make it more difficult for [you] to make [your] case” for the simple reason that the facts I laid out about philosophy are known by everyone to be true and that therefore no truly credible response can be made.

            For some reason, in discussions about religion there is an accepted norm among not only most religious believers but also many non-believers that it is fair game for Christians to engage in personal insults, including outright lies, towards non-believers, but that those of us with some real knowledge are obligated to go to extreme ends to sugar-coat our responses, not only to avoid crude language or personal insults (which I did avoid) but to somehow make sure that our “tone” does not offend the sensitivities of anyone at all.

            Sorry, but that is really, really sick.

            If my “tone,” as restrained as it was, truly prevents you from responding, then don’t.

            Dave

            P.S. I am familiar with that poll: it makes my point – you will not get that spread of disagreement on key propositions in natural science among scientists. We scientists actually have real, verified, useful knowledge. Philosophers just don’t. Also, you said that “there are definitely philosophical claims that are generally considered untenable by most philosophers.” Perhaps, which is why I asked for substantive results, not just comments on each other’s work: Not just “Philosopher Joe Shmoe really blew that one!” but rather This is true about reality:…” If anyone really can offer any such propositions that are non-obvious, significant, substantive (not just comments on other philosophers) and overwhelmingly accepted among philosophers within the last fifty years, I genuinely would like to see it. So far… nada.

      • Erick

        PhDave, I’m no physicist, so I can’t say I speak with the proper usage of your jargon for you to sufficiently understand what I mean. But I’m pretty sure I was using the idea of gravity pretty well, speaking as a mere layman of course.

        Gravity is defined as curvature in space-time no? That’s how I was using it. And these curvature waves originate from a source? If I understand correctly, the source usually being some mass or the motion of some mass? Did I use it wrongly? It may be true that waves continue to exist well beyond their creation (in time) or far away from their source (in space)… but in layman’s terms, it still means that gravity (as we understand it today) derives (a derivative of) from matter, does it not.

        • AHBritton

          Erick,

          I believe local space-time curvature is mostly caused by the mass of objects. How does this relate to the issue at hand?

        • http://homeschoolingphysicist.blogspot.com PhysicistDave

          Erick wrote to me:
          > Gravity is defined as curvature in space-time no? That’s how I was using it. And these curvature waves originate from a source? If I understand correctly, the source usually being some mass or the motion of some mass? Did I use it wrongly?

          Yes, you are wrong. The waves do not have to originate from a source of matter.

          And your other comment about gravity being a “derivative” of matter is similarly wrong. In fact, the best understanding we have is that, due to quantum effects, gravity waves are always there (so-called “zero-point fluctuations”) even in the complete absence of matter.

          Of course, we might be all wrong about all this, but you were professing to report on what physicists think about these things, and you are simply wrong on that.

          Look: you and a whole lot of Christians very arrogantly and very confidently assert a huge number of things about science that are untrue. And, when a scientist like myself happens by and points out some of these errors, as Oregon Catholic so nicely illustrates above, we are simply showered with abuse.

          I cannot possibly explain all the details of General Relativity or inflationary cosmology in the comments section of Leah’s blog. All I can do is suggest some references to anyone who really wants to learn science (which will take a very long time and a huge amount of work) and suggest that you avoid pontificating on a real scientific subject until you have learned something about it.

          Of course, when any of us scientists do this, we are lectured interminably on our supposed “arrogance,” our “bad tone,” and all the rest. For some bizarre reason (okay, it’s not that bizarre: it is simply typically nasty human tribal behavior), when a scientist says flatly that a non-scientist has made an error about science, we are being very cruel, but when Christians hurl personal insults at us scientists we should just meekly accept it.

          “No good deed goes unpunished.”

          Dave

          • Erick

            I may not be a physicist, but it sure doesn’t take one to know you are trying to fool people. Our best understanding involves Quantum effects and gravity together?

            The models most widely accepted (and therefore promulgated to us laymen) by the scientific community are clear about one thing… at this point in history, quantum mechanics and relativity are not unified models of understanding. There is not yet an accepted Theory of Everything.

            In the future please don’t try to confuse us with “your best understanding” which is only considered viable by science and what science actually has proven and tested enough to be accepted and taught to school kids.

          • http://homeschoolingphysicist.blogspot.com PhysicistDave

            Erick wrote to me:
            >I may not be a physicist, but it sure doesn’t take one to know you are trying to fool people. Our best understanding involves Quantum effects and gravity together?

            Oh, Erick! Why do you assume I am trying to fool you? Could it be perhaps that you are so used to lies from fellow Christians that you assume that everyone is a pathological liar?

            Look: as I keep telling you guys, if you insist on not learning science and on picking up distorted bits and pieces from very disreputable sources, you are going to get very, very mixed up.

            That is not my fault nor the fault of most scientists. We have neither the time nor the power to stand over you and make sure you do not read idiots who pretend to know something about science.

            You wrote:
            >The models most widely accepted (and therefore promulgated to us laymen) by the scientific community are clear about one thing… at this point in history, quantum mechanics and relativity are not unified models of understanding. There is not yet an accepted Theory of Everything.

            Again, you are very, very mixed up. We have very, very good theories combining quantum mechanics and special relativity – quantum field theory.

            We do not completely understand how to combine general relativity with quantum mechanics. I did not say in my earlier posts that we did. But we do understand enough to make good estimates as to when quantum effects kick in and invalidate the purely classical calculations, such as the classical calculations that give the singularity.

            This work goes way, way back. For example, I myself attended a lecture by Steve Hawking back during the ‘75-’76 academic year (I just ran across my old copy of the paper Steve handed out to all of us) in which he detailed his quantum calculations of radiation coming off of a black hole.

            In short, the ability to do some calculations concerning quantum effects involving gravitational collapse goes way, way back, nearly four decades, perhaps older than you yourself.

            I am getting tired of you: you keep very insistently and very confidently spouting off nonsense about science based solely on your own ignorance, and then when I try, fairly patiently I think, to explain the actual physics, you have the nerve to accuse me of “trying to fool people”!

            Enough. It should now be clear to any honest person wandering by here what your moral character is. I occasionally slum on these sorts of websites just to do my bit to prove to all the honest people on the Web what the moral character of Christians is.

            I think I have now succeeded in doing that with you.

            Dave

      • Erick

        =In the last few years, a number of Christians who know next to nothing about science have taken to slinging scientific jargon around on the Internet, apparently in the hope that it will re-assure their co-religionists that science is on their side.=

        Considering a Catholic monk is the father of genetics, a Catholic cleric first proposed heliocentrism, a Catholic priest first proposed what is currently the Standard Model of the universe, and so on and so forth… I think Catholics are pretty much within their right to believe that science is on their side.

    • Erick

      AHB,

      =if un-fathomableness ( not a word I know ) is an argument against a hypothesis, where does God stand? Is God fathomable?=

      Here’s the difference: As a Catholic, God’s ineffability is an axiom. For science, unfathomableness goes against an axiom. To believe in science over God, one must believe that everything is testable and explainable (eventually, if not currently).

      =Next, laws of nature are defined as having a cause? I am not sure sure what you are claiming. =

      I admit I think this is where a lot of people go sideways with each other in the argument. Ultimately, the theism/atheism argument always boils down to “ultimate cause of existence”. To put your faith in Science is to put faith in the idea that one day science will find the ultimate cause. All fundamental forces exist as an interaction of elementary particles. So, when you start telling a Catholic that the laws of nature are sufficient to explain the existence of the universe… a Catholic (like me) will start asking: how can forces that derive from elementary particles in the universe (laws of nature) ultimately be the creator of said elementary particles?

      =Some of the words like “derivative” that you are using are confusing, I have not heard of physics being described this way.=

      Derivative = to be received or obtained from a source.

      • AHBritton

        Erick,

        “To put your faith in Science is to put faith in the idea that one day science will find the ultimate cause.”

        I don’t consider this true at all. For example it could be true that other universes exist causally unconnected to our own, and it is possible science is unable to verify or falsify this claim. I don’t see how that in anyway undermines a scientific, or atheistic world view. Obviously having all the answers would be nice, but I see no tension between believing there are undiscoverable elements of reality and not believing God exists, or believing that the scientific method is the best method for discovering truths about empirical reality. In fact, if I was to guess, I would expect there to be such facts, physicists already seem to be reaching pretty close to their maximum ability to create and observe the extreme conditions necessary to probe some of these fundamental questions.

        Why do you think such a tension exists?

  • Norm

    Truth is Hemunt just doesnt get faith because God has to do things his way to make sense to him,and guess what,Hemunt isnt that threatening to God with his insecure arrogance.

    • Sagrav

      Hemant doesn’t want God to do things his way because he simply doesn’t believe that God exists. Hemant isn’t even attempting to threaten God. How can you threaten a being that you believe to be fictional? Have you ever tried to threaten Superman?

      Getting back to the subject of this article: Why does one need justification for not doing horrible things to other people? When I spend my time not raping, stealing from, or murdering people, I don’t think to myself, “How do I justify not doing horrible things to people? Am I right to not rape and murder people? If only I had an ancient religious text or complicated philosophical argument justifying my non-violent ways!”

      • keddaw

        It’s not that you need justification for not doing those ‘horrible’ things, it’s that you need justification for calling them ‘horrible’. (I know some theists actually think the former, but they’re at such a basic level of thinking that it’s barely worth interacting with them.)

        Since we are working from different, albeit similar, premises/values/preferences then there is a great deal of overlap as to which things we’d call ‘horrible’, so much so that many people think it must be objective (or natural in Hemant’s case). However, this simply is not true without objective morality which is much, much easier to posit, define and explain in theism than in a non-theistic framework. Which is one of the reasons I tend toward Moral Error Theory.

        • AHBritton

          Keddaw,

          What do you think of Desirism as an ethical theory, if you have heard of it that is.

          • keddaw

            Even though I admit I approached it with skepticism, I have to say it seems trivially false. It immediately talks about fulfilling ‘good’ desires while not defining how we decide which desires are good or how we could possibly determine that, even if it was simply those desires that allowed more desires to be fulfilled.

            Maybe I just skimmed it and missed the main points, but I think it fails on exactly the same pragmatic terms utilitarianism does (human well being/desires are not easily to determine, outcomes are never certain especially long term) and has the same problems linguistically (most people, when thinking about morality, don’t think a personal desire fulfillment or increase in one’s own well being are moral). My view is that these things already have preferences hard wired into the brain so don’t need social encouragement (which is what I think moral language is) whereas those acts that are not obviously in the average person’s self interest, but help others, are the acts that should, and do, receive moral praise, e.g. fire fighters rushing into a burning building to save someone.

            I think there are two versions of morality: one is a social signal whereby society encourages acts that are generally considered good for both society and people in general* but would occur less frequently without the praise as they are not in the average person’s self interest to do (hence we don’t praise the grocer as even though he provides food to those without, it is in his self interest to do so and will be done regardless, but we do praise those who run soup kitchens); the second is an internal version of morality that we think we, and others, should live by – this is the one most people here are discussing – where it is so internal, so personal, so obvious that they tend to think it’s universal. It’s not.

            If you have any points in favour of desirism, or links to them, I’d happily give them a read as all I’ve done is skim the desirism wiki.

            *Society and people in general are not necessarily the same thing.

      • http://catholicgamer.com darrenl

        “Why does one need justification for not doing horrible things to other people?”

        …the question answers itself.

        You’ve already identified these things as “horrible”, therefore you’re making a moral assertion that these things are not objectively justifiable by definition. You wouldn’t have used the word “horrible” to begin with if you thought that rape, stealing or murder were justifiable actions.

        • Sagrav

          But why do I need a religion or formal philosophy to call those acts horrible? I don’t care what over peoples’ imagined deity (and without physical proof of their existence, I have no reason to believe any of them exist) thinks about my use of the word “horrible” to describe rape, murder, and other severely anti social behavior. I also don’t care what Hobbes, Kant, Plato, etc. would say about my wording. I don’t need those concepts to view horrible acts as horrible. That’s Hemant’s point, and mine too.

          If you really need a source of morality, look no further than nature. We evolved as social creatures. As such, evolution has left (most of) us with an innate aversion to anti social behavior. Non-desensitized people wince when they witness extreme violence. We shun bullies and we want to punish thieves. Extreme forms of exploitation and unfairness are instinctively wrong. If we weren’t social animals, we just wouldn’t care about such things.

          Declaring the concept of morality as some law decreed by some invisible super being is your right, of course. However, said being is totally unnecessary for the rest of us to avoid committing atrocities. I don’t need Yahweh, Zeus, or Odin to tell me that murder is wrong. I already know.

          • Erick

            It’s not about a particular religion or philosophy Sagrav. The point everyone has been making is that religion provides a standard for judging moral assertions. Atheism in its various philosophical schools provides no standard of any kind. That makes for anarchic (i.e. anti-social) relationships.

          • http://catholicgamer.com darrenl

            You’re right, you don’t need religion or philosophy to have basic moral beliefs…but that is not the argument. The argument is what is the grounding of these beliefs and why are they even binding in the first place. And you’re also right that you don’t need to believe in a deity to have moral values…again that is not the object of the debate here. Essentially, what we’re talking about is moral ontology not moral epistemology….or, that morality just is, not how morality comes to be known. You can come to know what is right and wrong many different ways, but that still does not answer the question of why right and wrong exist.

            Evolution and/or nature tells us nothing of moral duties or obligation. Evolution, by definition, only describes how organisms came to be, it does not prescribe how things ought to be….it certainly does not prescribe how humans ought to behave. In other words, evolution…by the very nature of it being a scientific theory…is descriptive, not prescriptive.

          • http://www.offthewrittenpath.com Andrew

            Erick, you’re right in that atheism does not provide a moral standard. But that doesn’t mean that without God-imposed moral standards we would all be antisocial psychopaths.

            Rather than re-hashing all the arguments that you’ve apparently skipped over, I’m just going to link this instead. http://lmgtfy.com/?q=atheist+morality

          • Erick

            Andrew, you seem to have misunderstood.

            I did not mean that people would be anti-social psychos. I meant relationships between people who had no objective standard would be anti-social… in the sense that they would never promote social cohesion/community.

          • http://www.offthewrittenpath.com Andrew

            Whether you mean antisocial in the clinical sense or in a sense of “not promoting social cohesion,” my link still applies.

    • AHBritton

      Although he has always seemed like a nice guy to me, and though I agree with him on the subject of atheism, he definitely was no where near the best person to have on to discuss these issues.

  • AHBritton

    Anonymous,

    “It was originally formulated for the desirism style of happiness-is-morality argument.”

    The Naziland example has been thoroughly responded to elsewhere, and I can summarize the critiques if you wish. First I would read what desirism actually claims however, as it has nothing to do with “happiness-is-morality” even remotely.

    • Anonymous

      I would love to hear it. Your summary and linky links would be awesome. I know it’s not happiness-is-morality… it’s (desires which we swear are not happiness)-is-(judgements on desires, not actions, so we swear it’s totally not morality)!

      • AHBritton

        Anonymous,

        Since I don’t know if the “desires which we swear are not happiness” was meant sarcastically, I will point out that desire satisfaction and desire fulfillment are definitely not equivalent to happiness. For example, I could have the desire to keep my child safe by jumping in front of a bullet aimed at him. Even if I died instantly, the desire would still be fulfilled, even though I received no “happiness” from the act. If you are going to disagree with the theory, fine, but at least represent it for what it claims, not a straw-man version.

        “judgements on desires, not actions, so we swear it’s totally not morality”

        I don’t know what that means.

        Although the basic principles of desirism are not that complicated, it is easily misunderstood. The reason the Naziland example fails is the following, the appropriate question to ask is whether a desire tends to thwart or fulfill more and greater desires.

        Does encouraging people to torture, or worse, enjoy torture tend to thwart desires or fulfill them? It seems obvious that it tends to thwart them, thus it is a bad desire. The fact that one is it some alternate Nazi dominated timeline does not alter that fact. Aside from the fact that to even ARRIVE at such a scenario requires people to desire to brain wash and murder recklessly (all desires that should be discourage), the desire to torture is not a desire fulfilling desire, even in a society that desires to watch torture.

        In addition, in the real world there are very real facts about human psychology, so we can not hold everything equal without completely abandoning the reality of the situation. Humans cannot torture people without a reason. Human psychology requires that in order to perform such acts we must dehumanize them. Encouraging the easy dehumanization of others is desire thwarting I would argue. The Nazi’s were only able to perpetuate such crimes by spreading lies about the Jews and portraying them as nefarious, their police state made many besides the Jewish uncertain of their safety, as the famous quote by Martin Niemöller states:

        “First they came for the communists,
        and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

        Then they came for the trade unionists,
        and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

        Then they came for the Jews,
        and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

        Then they came for me
        and there was no one left to speak out for me.

        That is the kind of activity promoting scapegoating and paranoia promotes and which thwarts a wide range of people’s desires.

        These are just a few of the reasons why such a world should not be promoted, and if already existing, should not be perpetuated.

        • Anonymous

          Jumping in front of a bullet is analogous to desiring the fulfillment of Betty’s future desires, while subjecting the weaker desire for Alph to live, himself. Thus, in order to make sense of your example, we have to assume that Betty’s living desires (i.e. her happiness) is something Alph desires.

          Can we push your logic even further? We still need to die in the act (otherwise, we’ll gain personal happiness from fulfilling our desire). Only now, our desire needs to be purely oriented toward thwarting the happiness of others. In theory, Alph just has to desire, “Dying while scattering stones,” since Betty desires to scatter stones. We need Alph to desire dying while scattering stones. We can have that, since we have total control over this theoretical playground. Now what does desirism tell us about this desire? Well, this desire tends to thwart more and greater desires… namely, the only desire that still exists… Betty’s desire to scatter stones. Therefore, we would conclude that this desire is wrong. Surprise surprise! This result exactly matches the result we would have gotten if we applied a form of “societal happiness” utilitarianism. Desirism looks like a duck.

          Does encouraging people to torture, or worse, enjoy torture tend to thwart desires or fulfill them? It seems obvious that it tends to thwart them, thus it is a bad desire… the desire to torture is not a desire fulfilling desire, even in a society that desires to watch torture.

          If Alph’s only desire is to scatter stones (and he can do so much more quickly than Betty), and there are a billion people named Joe whose sole, massive desire is to watch Alph scatter stones, then his scattering stones would tend to fulfill more and greater desires than it would thwart. Therefore, he would be right in scattering stones regardless of what Betty thinks on the matter. Substitute “torture Betty” for “scatter stones”, and it doesn’t matter how obviously wrong torture seems to you… desirism simply comes to the opposite conclusion.

          How we arrive at a scenario is not relevant for desirism. Desirism does not consider time-history or those who were killed in order to obtain the present state. You said as much in your own example. All that matters is when we plop ourselves down in Naziland… is torture good?

          Finally, the biggest thing that the addition of human psychology does for us is that it destroys the possibility that Alph desires dying while thwarting everyone’s happiness. We simply don’t work that way. People may do tragic things which have the effect of destroying happiness, but what they desire is some sort of twisted positive effect on humanity in the long-run. So, even the theoretical exercise most likely to kill the link between desirism and happiness utilitarianism quacks like a duck.

          • AHBritton

            Anonymous,

            “Jumping in front of a bullet is analogous to desiring the fulfillment of Betty’s future desires, while subjecting the weaker desire for Alph to live, himself.”

            I am not trying to be difficult, but I honestly don’t know what this sentence means.

            “Thus, in order to make sense of your example, we have to assume that Betty’s living desires (i.e. her happiness) is something Alph desires.”

            I am not sure what you are trying to argue. We don’t have to make any such assumption, why would we? Certainly they likely would desire their child’s happiness, but that would be a separate desire, one could be fulfilled and not the other. In fact, though not likely, someone could desire to be unhappy. I will try to dig up a thought experiment Fyfe has that might help illustrate the difference.

            “Can we push your logic even further? We still need to die in the act (otherwise, we’ll gain personal happiness from fulfilling our desire). Only now, our desire needs to be purely oriented toward thwarting the happiness of others. In theory, Alph just has to desire, ‘Dying while scattering stones,’ since Betty desires to scatter stones. We need Alph to desire dying while scattering stones. We can have that, since we have total control over this theoretical playground. Now what does desirism tell us about this desire? Well, this desire tends to thwart more and greater desires… namely, the only desire that still exists… Betty’s desire to scatter stones. Therefore, we would conclude that this desire is wrong. Surprise surprise! This result exactly matches the result we would have gotten if we applied a form of ‘societal happiness’ utilitarianism. Desirism looks like a duck.”

            What? This bizarre use of the Alph and Betty scenario seems to show nothing unless you can point out how this is relevant. Betty may be made less happy by this, but she may not, she may desire it for a reason entirely unrelated to happiness. If your point is that a strong desire people often have is happiness, I fully agree, but you have not demonstrated that the only desire that exists is happiness, have you? Even if the only desire that existed was happiness (which my bullet scenario I think convincingly disproves) that doesn’t make desirism false.

            “If Alph’s only desire is to scatter stones (and he can do so much more quickly than Betty), and there are a billion people named Joe whose sole, massive desire is to watch Alph scatter stones, then his scattering stones would tend to fulfill more and greater desires than it would thwart.”

            My first question, what does any of this help us understand about morality in the real world? No matter what system of morality you give me, I can make it result in absurd outcomes given I am allowed to manipulate all variables freely. In reality this is not the case. In your scenario I suppose Alph scattering the stones would be the moral choice.

            “Substitute ‘torture Betty’ for ‘scatter stones’, and it doesn’t matter how obviously wrong torture seems to you… desirism simply comes to the opposite conclusion.”

            Scattering stones and torturing Betty are not analogous even in your simplified hypothetical world. Unless you are assuming no one else wants to be tortured, are you?

            Either way, I don’t know enough about this world to make confident assessments, and I doubt you even have very confident intuitions about such extreme abstractions. These were originally meant as overly simplified examples mean to illustrate basic principles.

            “How we arrive at a scenario is not relevant for desirism. Desirism does not consider time-history or those who were killed in order to obtain the present state.”

            What? Desirism is future oriented for sure, but the past is not irrelevant for desirism.

            “You said as much in your own example. All that matters is when we plop ourselves down in Naziland… is torture good?”

            I pointed out that to even arrive in this scenario requires extreme evil, but once IN that scenario, it is still wrong. Why? We are talking about human’s aren’t we? Do you really think a society encouraging torture ultimately satisfies more desires than one prohibiting torture? I mean I can explain why if you need, but I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to figure out why this would be undesirable.

            “Finally, the biggest thing that the addition of human psychology does for us is that it destroys the possibility that Alph desires dying while thwarting everyone’s happiness. We simply don’t work that way. People may do tragic things which have the effect of destroying happiness, but what they desire is some sort of twisted positive effect on humanity in the long-run. So, even the theoretical exercise most likely to kill the link between desirism and happiness utilitarianism quacks like a duck.”

            I am being honest, after reading it a few times I still have no idea what you are trying to say.

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

            Anonymous named the people involved in the bullet taking example. The bullet was originally intended for Betty and Alph took it.

            You think it’s morally right for Alph to do that. Now look at the desires involved. You have a good desireist excuse to exclude the desires of whoever tried to shoot Betty. So the remaining desires are (a) Betty’s desire to go on living, (b) Alph’s desire to go on living, (c) Alph’s desire for Betty to go on living, and maybe (d) Betty’s desire for Alph to go on living. The available options are (I) Alph taking the bullet and dying and (II) Alph not taking the bullet in which case Betty dies. I thwarts b and d. II thwarts a and c. A solution thwarting no desires isn’t available.

            If you want I to be preferable on desireist grounds, the only way to get that result is to assume that b and d together are weaker desires than a and c. I think that interpretation of the action is already a reduction against the theory, but perhaps that doesn’t seem obvious to you. However, if you go with that interpretation you have committed to sacrificing weaker desires. In which case you have no workable excuse left for not doing so in the Naziland example.

          • Anonymous

            I will try to go through this one again, more slowly. I suggest you refresh your memory concerning what desirism claims and the challenge that the Naziland example presents.

            Suppose we have Alph and Betty. What state of desires must exist in order for Alph to jump in front of a bullet for Betty? First, Alph needs to desire the fulfillment of Betty’s future desires. Secondly, we need to be concerned that Alph might have a desire to live. If he doesn’t have any desire to live, great! We’re home free. If he does have a desire to live, that desire must be weak enough that he places it beneath his desire for the fulfillment of Betty’s future desires.

            Now comes the great part. We simply reword “Alph desires that Betty’s future desires be fulfilled” to the equivalent concept “Alph desires that Betty gain happiness/utility/whatever… because fulfilling her desires are really just one of these things.” The only reason why your thought experiment seemed to point to a difference between desire and happiness/utility is that it did not consider societal happiness/utility. It assumed that fulfilling Alph’s desires were the only things that mattered… and if he was dead, no one could enjoy the fruit of his sacrifice.

            Betty may be made less happy by this, but she may not, she may desire it for a reason entirely unrelated to happiness. If your point is that a strong desire people often have is happiness, I fully agree, but you have not demonstrated that the only desire that exists is happiness, have you? Even if the only desire that existed was happiness (which my bullet scenario I think convincingly disproves) that doesn’t make desirism false.

            Again, my point is that if we simply reword “fulfilling the desires of society” as “societal happiness”, we always get the same outcomes as a happiness/utilitarian theory. It is not that the only desire is happiness… it is that desire fulfillment is an equivalent concept to happiness/utility. I desire X. If X, my desire is fulfilled. Yet, why can’t say, “If X, I am happy that X (gain utils from X)?” The burden is on the desirist to show a distinction between the two. Please survey Fyfe’s work and find one for me.

            The sentence, “Betty… may desire it for a reason entirely unrelated to happiness,” does not make sense if we simply recast desire fulfillment as happiness/utility. I need to see a clear difference.

            My first question, what does any of this help us understand about morality in the real world?

            Desirism is presented as a moral theory. You claimed it can handle Naziland. Don’t move goalposts.

            In your scenario I suppose Alph scattering the stones would be the moral choice.

            Now we’re getting somewhere. Agreement is good.

            Scattering stones and torturing Betty are not analogous even in your simplified hypothetical world. Unless you are assuming no one else wants to be tortured, are you?

            No one else is being tortured. Remember Naziland. Only a small subset (could be reduced to a single person) are being tortured. This is the world you said you could explain via desirism.

            …I doubt you even have very confident intuitions about such extreme abstractions. These were originally meant as overly simplified examples mean to illustrate basic principles.

            That’s the great thing about a moral theory that is supposed to be logical and principled. We don’t need intuition. We have the claims of desirism. We apply them to the scenario. Please demonstrate how I’ve applied them incorrectly to Naziland… or change the claims of desirism.

            Desirism is future oriented for sure, but the past is not irrelevant for desirism.

            Luke’s Desirism FAQ, a decent repository for desirism info, says, “desirism claims that moral value exists as a relation between desires and states of affairs.” My work includes dynamical systems theory. There is a vast difference between a state and a time-history. Once Alph is dead, Alph is dead. He no longer has desires. His desires in the past are irrelevent, unless they influenced Betty to have some desires now. Of course, if Betty did change her desires because of the past with Alph, that is reflected in her current state of desires. Again, the time history can be ignored, because the important information is contained in the current state.

            Do you really think a society encouraging torture ultimately satisfies more desires than one prohibiting torture? I mean I can explain why if you need, but I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to figure out why this would be undesirable.

            Desirism says it does if we have a billion Nazis who love nothing more than watching torture. This is the scenario you said you could explain. Again, please don’t move goalposts. (As an aside, I actually am a rocket scientist.. but I still need you to actually use the claims of desirism in this case. This rocket scientist doesn’t like torture under any circumstances. Desirism doesn’t like torture under some circumstances.)

          • AHBritton

            Anonymous,

            “I will try to go through this one again, more slowly. I suggest you refresh your memory concerning what desirism claims and the challenge that the Naziland example presents.”

            I am rather familiar with desirism having listened not only to all the podcasts multiple times, but read the vast majority of Common Sense Atheisms material on the matter and being a rather regular reader of Fyfe’s blog… so I don’t think that is a problem.

            In addition I have just over the last day or two gone over much of the debate surrounding Cartesian’s Naziland argument, in addition I have heard and responded to similar arguments before, and have seen people such as Luke and Fyfe respond to such arguments before, so I don’t think that is a problem either.

            “First, Alph needs to desire the fulfillment of Betty’s future desires.”

            This is a false assumption. The ONLY desire that must exist is Alph’s desire that Betty not be shot. Period. End of story. Where are you getting the idea otherwise?

            It is true that in human society (Alph and Betty are extremely simplified agents for the purposes of illustration) most often the desire for a child’s survival is ACCOMPANIED by other desires, such as the desire for their happiness, etc. but these desires are separate and separable.

            For instance, a father may desire that his child survives and also the the child goes on to get a college degree. This doesn’t mean that the desire to save the child is dependent on, or un-separable from, the desire that they attain a degree.

            This is part of a rather rudimentary understanding of desirism, so it is concerning that you do not know this.

            A desire is a propositional attitude such that a desire for proposition ‘P’ is a motivational attitude such that P is to be made or kept true.

            “Again, my point is that if we simply reword ‘fulfilling the desires of society’ as ‘societal happiness’, we always get the same outcomes as a happiness/utilitarian theory. It is not that the only desire is happiness… it is that desire fulfillment is an equivalent concept to happiness/utility.”

            I believe this is false and it has certainly not been demonstrated by your comments to be otherwise.

            To give an example from the podcast which you seem to have listened to (this is an off the top of my head paraphrase). Say Alph is the only agent with desires that exists. Now also say that his only desire is that the moon continues to exist. Let’s further say that his continued existence threatens the continued existence of the moon, so Alph kills himself. The desire has been fulfilled and there is not even a being in existence left to experience happiness.

            A sense of subjective desire satisfaction (what you seem to be referring to) is separate from objective desire satisfaction (what Fyfe previously called “desire fulfillment”… I personally prefer this term to the new one), Alonzo is VERY clear on this. I desire can be subjectively satisfied, but not objectively satisfied. If someone is tricked into thinking their child is still alive, they have a sense of subjective desire satisfaction, but the desire has not been fulfilled (objectively satisfied).

            Your confusion seems to be with the fact that in reality, humans very often desire happiness and happiness for others. I would not disagree, but these are separate issues. Alonzo Fyfe has EXPLICITLY addressed this in the second podcast of Conversations from the Pale Blue Dot I believe, not to mention in debates, on his blog, and elsewhere.

            “Please survey Fyfe’s work and find one for me.”

            From Fyfe’s blog:

            “A parent may believe that his child is safe at a friend’s house. At that moment, unknown to the parent, she may be the victim of a violent attack. The parent’s desire that their child is safe is subjectively satisfied (he believes it is true) but not objectively satisfied (true in fact). Of the two, intentional action aims for objective satisfaction (making a proposition true in fact), not subjective satisfaction (making oneself believe that it is true).”

            “Psychological hedonism is an internal state theory. It holds that the only thing in the world that matters to an individual is having its brain in a particular brain state. Other internal state theories hold that happiness is the only thing that matters – or desire satisfaction.
            Note: Desire satisfaction is not the same as desire fulfillment [objective desire satisfaction]. Desire satisfaction is a feeling – much like pleasure or contentment – that one gets when one (thinks that) the world is going the way one wants it to go. Desire fulfillment [objective desire satisfaction], on the other hand, takes into consideration that a desire is a propositional attitude – it takes as its object a proposition P. (Thus, desires can be expressed in the form “agent desires that P”) A “desire that P” is fulfilled [objectively satisfied] in any state of affairs in which P is true. A desire that I am saving children from disease is fulfilled [objectively satisfied] in any state of affairs in which the proposition ‘I am saving children from disease’ is true.
            […]
            Briefly, one of the major objections is that no internal state theory can handle the issue of the experience machine.
            An experience machine is a machine that feeds electrical impulses into your brain that puts your brain in the state that the internal state theorist claims to be only thing that matters. Your brain is put in a jar, electrodes are hooked up into it, the electrodes produce the brain state of value and keeps it in that state.
            Faced with this possibility, many people – most people – will claim that this is not what they want.
            Desire fulfillment [objective satisfaction] avoids the problem with the experience machine by holding that what matters to a person who desires that P is that P is made true. The desire to help protect children from disease can’t be fulfilled by an experience machine. It can only be fulfilled by creating a state of affairs in which one is actually protecting children from disease.”

            As your reply is based on this fundamental error, I will hold off on addressing the rest until we make sure we are on the same page on these issues. I would suggest that you read up on this issue at Fyfe’s blog or elsewhere, as these are rather fundamental errors.

          • Anonymous

            Say Alph is the only agent with desires that exists. Now also say that his only desire is that the moon continues to exist. Let’s further say that his continued existence threatens the continued existence of the moon, so Alph kills himself. The desire has been fulfilled and there is not even a being in existence left to experience happiness.

            The ONLY desire that must exist is Alph’s desire that Betty not be shot. Period. End of story. Where are you getting the idea otherwise?

            I’m sorry, I slipped in an assumption. I assumed that desirism had something to say about Alph’s sacrifice. Namely, I assumed that desirism said Alph’s sacrifice was good.

            In fact, in your revised scenario, desirism is silent on the matter. If Betty does not have a desire to continue living (the universe doesn’t have something to gain utility from), then desirism is silent on the question of whether Alph’s desire for her to not be shot is morally good or bad. Similarly, desirism is silent on whether Alph’s desire for the moon’s continued existence is morally good or bad. In a universe with only one desire, “whether it tends to thwart or fulfill other desires,” is not evaluable, as there are no other desires to be thwarted or fulfilled. This silence is identical to the silence of utility theory.

            I will also admit that I do see one possible scenario in which the theories might differ. Let’s start with your (generalized) scenario:

            For instance, [Alph] may desire that [Betty] survives and also the [Betty] goes on to [perform action X]. This doesn’t mean that the desire to save [Betty] is dependent on, or un-separable from, the desire that [Betty perform action X].

            Now, if Betty also desires either her survival or X, then both desirism and utilitarianism judge it as good. If Alph’s desires are the only desires in the universe, then both theories seem morally ambiguous. However, can X be the “other” desire that is fulfilled because of Alph’s desire for Betty’s survival? Could we judge the desire for her survival to be good via desirism (because it tends to fulfill Alph’s “other” desire for Betty to perform X)? Well, if there are no other desires in the universe, then by assumption, Betty has no desires. By definition of desire, Betty has no reason to perform X. Therfore, Betty will not tend to fulfill Alph’s desire and desirism is again ambiguous concerning Alph’s desire for Betty to continue existing.

            “But wait!” You might say. Betty could happen upon X, even if she doesn’t desire it (hopefully X is more like getting a degree and less like kicking puppies). In this case, desirism seems to say that Alph’s desire for Betty’s survival is good… because she happened upon something else he desired. Unfortunately, I do not see how this scenario makes any appreciable difference in any other aspect of the theories. Furthermore, I have a sneaking suspicion that we could probably tweak utilitarianism’s rules concerning utility after death to sync them back up anyway.

            Regardless, the equivalence of desirism and utilitarianism is a side point when it comes to Naziland. I can assume that I’m completely wrong on this equivocation and simply follow along your application to Naziland… if you’d like to present it.

            We’ve gotten far enough that if Alph and a billion Joes strongly desire Alph scattering stones, he should scatter stones even if Betty desires that he doesn’t. Now, it doesn’t take much to generalize this… if Alph and a billion Joes strongly desire that Alph perform X, he should perform X, even if Betty desires that he doesn’t. Finally, you can substitute torture and get Naziland.. or you can substitute any other thing for X. Hell, you can substitute “not torture” for X. What is the difference?

          • Anonymous

            On second thought, Betty could happen upon not X (thus, thwarting Alph’s dying desire), as well… unless of course X is framed in such a way that we wouldn’t consider it thwarted if the opposite happens. It really depends on how X is framed. This is rather peculiar. I think it’s more sensible that desirism will simply be ambiguous on the matter (like utilitarianism is). Anyway…. on to Naziland, please!! I really want to see the defense that you promised.

          • AHBritton

            Anonymous,

            “I’m sorry, I slipped in an assumption. I assumed that desirism had something to say about Alph’s sacrifice. Namely, I assumed that desirism said Alph’s sacrifice was good.”

            Desirism is essentially a social theory of action, so if no people exist, or if one person exists, it cannot be applied.

            “In fact, in your revised scenario, desirism is silent on the matter. If Betty does not have a desire to continue living (the universe doesn’t have something to gain utility from), then desirism is silent on the question of whether Alph’s desire for her to not be shot is morally good or bad.”

            True, it no desires exist, then desirism does not apply.

            “This silence is identical to the silence of utility theory.”

            I am not sure why you are so bent on reducing it to other utilitarian theories, it doesn’t so reduce for reasons already stated. In addition, most/many utility theories contain intrinsic values, so even if Alph was the only being in existence, his happiness/utility/what-have-you would still have value. Not so under desirism’s relational theory of value.

            “Regardless, the equivalence of desirism and utilitarianism is a side point when it comes to Naziland. I can assume that I’m completely wrong on this equivocation and simply follow along your application to Naziland… if you’d like to present it.”

            Let’s do that.

            “We’ve gotten far enough that if Alph and a billion Joes strongly desire Alph scattering stones, he should scatter stones even if Betty desires that he doesn’t. Now, it doesn’t take much to generalize this… if Alph and a billion Joes strongly desire that Alph perform X, he should perform X, even if Betty desires that he doesn’t. Finally, you can substitute torture and get Naziland.. or you can substitute any other thing for X. Hell, you can substitute “not torture” for X. What is the difference?”

            Desirism is a ethical theory meant to be applied to the real world. Scenarios as abstract as these are of little use as much depends on the dispositions and psychologies of the agents.

            A way to highlight this is to compare desirism to virtue ethics which shares some essential features.

            The reason desirism is not an act utilitarian theory (evaluating a good on an act by act basis) is because that is not how humans work.

            I can’t decide to have the desire to torture one day and then desire not to have that desire the next. Desires are malleable, but not instantaneously and perfectly so.

            I don’t know if any of these features also exist in Alph, Betty, and with the Joes. In fact I have no idea how the psychology of these abstract actors work at all. So instead of speculating about the hypothetical desires of moon loving aliens, I will focus on why human beings should not desire to promote torture in Naziland.

            We know certain facts about what is necessary to create a society capable of such torture. As far as I know, a society has never existed that performed such acts without them being based on false beliefs. False beliefs about the inferiority and lack of humanity of the race or group being tortured, or false beliefs about the inherent nefarious nature of such a group. This is why Nazi leaders had such an extensive program of propaganda targeting Jews and other “enemies of the state.”

            Desires that can only be justified via false beliefs are essentially false desires. This might not be intuitive, so I will explain. A desire based on a false belief is necessarily a desire as means. A desire as means is a secondary desire. For instance, if I have a desire for milk and I believe the grocery store has milk, then this is likely to create a desire to go to the grocery store. Note that I only hold this desire as a means to attain a more fundamental desire, in this case for milk.

            Now if I developed the mistaken belief that I could get milk from the laundry-mat, I might develop a mistaken desire to go to the laundry-mat. The desire exists, but is wrong in the fact that it is predicated upon false beliefs.

            This matters for quite a few reasons. If you are to object by asking, what if the Nazi’s didn’t excuse their torture by believing them nefarious or inferior? First of all that would go against all of human history, so I would doubt we were dealing with reality. What about a hypothetical world where hypothetical people had such desires?

            If there was such a possible world or culture in reality I would say they most definitely had bad desires, as the desire to arbitrarily separate off a group of people and torture them to me seems no different from randomly grabbing people off the street and torturing them. What reason would anyone else in the population have for not worrying that they would be next on the torture list?

            This is not the usual responses to these scenarios when responded to by Fyfe, but I feel is a relevant reply.

            They reply by arguing that Naziland is confusing the act that fulfills the most and strongest desires as the good in desirism. But this is not what desirism argues, it is the the desire itself that is the location of the moral evaluation, and a desire to torture is not a desire that someone should promote as it is by definition a desires thwarting desire. If no one had the desire to torture then what desires would be thwarted? None. The opposite is not true, increasing the desire to torture is necessarily a thwarting endeavor.

            I think their response is legitimate ( and apparently quicker to make :) ) than my personal response was, although I feel my response is a legitimate one that should also be made as I think all these factors serve to refute the Naziland attack, and even if one fails (which again I don’t believe is true) it still would be defeated.

            I hope that helps, and I am sorry if it is too long.

          • Anonymous

            even if Alph was the only being in existence, his happiness/utility/what-have-you would still have value. Not so under desirism’s relational theory of value.

            I don’t think this is hard to fix, but I’ll let it go, anyway. You claim to be concerned with morality in the real world… so if your only real distinction is that desirism is simply less informative in the n=1 case, I don’t think you need to be worried about there being a distinction. Naziland is supposed to be the point, anyway.

            Desirism is a ethical theory meant to be applied to the real world. Scenarios as abstract as these are of little use as much depends on the dispositions and psychologies of the agents.

            “If I ignore Naziland (or the fact that it’s just a special case of tyranny of the majority… which human psychology certainly allows and we have historical examples of), then Naziland isn’t a problem for desirism!”

            I can’t decide to have the desire to torture one day and then desire not to have that desire the next. Desires are malleable, but not instantaneously and perfectly so.

            JOE LIKE TORTURE EVERY DAY! UG!

            Desires that can only be justified via false beliefs are essentially false desires.

            The formal claims of desirism absolutely do not possess this feature for moral beliefs. The reason is fairly obvious: we would have to pack everything into a calculator for determining what is a “false belief” (legitimately false beliefs such as that the laundry-mat has milk need to be accounted for, but we can’t shove moral judgements into this ‘true/false’ slot without appealing to something outside desirism). Liking torture is no more reliant on false beliefs than liking the taste of milk is reliant on the false belief that you’re not slightly lactose-intolerant.

            The discussion concerning desires-as-means is irrelevant, because nothing stops torture from being a desire-as-end. Desiring that the subject of torture is considered inferior could easily be the desire-as-means that you’re looking for (you don’t have to look to hard to find people claiming this about, say, anti-gay studies). Your own example concerning Nazi propaganda is evidence to this fact. Desiring them to be inferior can easily be a desire-as-means, supporting the desire-as-end of torturing/killing them. Nothing in Naziland or the claims of desirism imply otherwise.

            First of all that would go against all of human history, so I would doubt we were dealing with reality.

            “If I ignore Naziland, then Naziland isn’t a problem for desirism!” (Like I said above, not-quite-Naziland (tyranny of the majority) does show up in reality.) Also, tons of people in history have liked torturing animals or humans… just not enough to give us Naziland… yet.

            If there was such a possible world or culture in reality I would say they most definitely had bad desires…

            By what standard? You’re certainly not applying any of the claims of desirism when you come to this conclusion.

            …the desire to arbitrarily separate off a group of people and torture them to me seems no different from randomly grabbing people off the street and torturing them. What reason would anyone else in the population have for not worrying that they would be next on the torture list?

            There’s not a standard here. What reason does Alph have to desire the continued existence of the moon? It seems no different than randomly picking a celestial body to save. The claims of desirism simply do not make any assumptions that the agents’ desires have to be considered reasonably justified according to AHBritton. This would be, quite literally, begging the question. Please try to stick to the claims actually made be desirism next time. One might say, “If I assume the people in Naziland think like I do, then Naziland is not a problem for desirism!” The people of Naziland respond, “If we assume that AHBritton thinks like we do, AHBritton is not a problem for desirism!”

            a desire to torture is not a desire that someone should promote as it is by definition a desires thwarting desire. If no one had the desire to torture then what desires would be thwarted? None. The opposite is not true, increasing the desire to torture is necessarily a thwarting endeavor.

            If no one had the desire to not be tortured, than what desires would be thwarted? None. The opposite is not true; increasing the desire to not be tortured is necessarily a thwarting endeavor. Obviously I’m assuming the existence of an agent who desires torturing. You were assuming the existence of an agent who desired to not be tortured. In the real world, we have both (Naziland also has both). If I’m a Nazi and I want to make my actions morally justified, I just have to make sure I kill enough people to get more of the kind I want than the other. If I’m a desirer-of-X and I want to make my actions morally justified, I just have to make sure I kill enough people get more of the kind I want than the other.

            Let’s think about this generally again. Suppose Alph desires X and Betty desires not-X. Both desires are by definition desire-thwarting-desires. If no one had the desire to X, then what desires would be thwarted? None. If no one had the desire to not-X, then what desires would be thwarted? None. Nothing about the nature of these desire-thwarting-desires changes if we add a billion Joes who desire X. The only thing that changes is that when we turn the dial down on X-desires we’re turning down a whole lot more desires than we would if we turned down the dial on not-X-desires. Since the desire for not-X tends to thwart more desires than the desire for X, X is more moral than not-X. You’ve simply not addressed this simple problem concerning tyranny of the majority (or its embodiment in the Naziland example).

            The former response betrays the claims of desirism. The latter response ignores the Naziland scenario (or any scenario which must reject someone’s desire (kind of a critical piece for a moral theory)) by packing “things I like” into “desire-thwarting-desires”. I find both quite lacking when it comes to “defeating” Naziland.

          • Anonymous

            I just realized something else. Alph’s desire for the moon to continue existing has no intrinsic value. However, since that is his desire-as-end, the situation you’ve constructed encourages him to adopt a desire-as-means, namely, to kill himself.

            This potentially creates a chain reaction (a desire to acquire a gun or other instrument, a desire to raise the gun to his head, a desire to pull the trigger, or what have you). We need all those desires in order for him to have reason to perform those acts… by definition of desire. Even though his desire-as-end of saving the moon has no intrinsic value, value is suddenly created for all these desires-as-means… simply because they “tend” to help fulfill his desire-as-end! We’re really just off-loading the value.

            In a more complicated situation, the desire to perform X doesn’t have intrinsic value, but we offload its value onto all of the desires-as-means or otherwise enabling desires. Only if the desire is a desire-as-end and it requires absolutely no means does the desire not “create” value. I hope “creating” value is theoretically different enough from “intrinsically having value” so you can rest assured that desirism is totally different.

          • AHBritton

            It might take a day or two for me to respond.

          • AHBritton

            Anonymous,

            Sorry it took so long to reply, here is part one of the reply.

            I will start by pointing out that if Desirisms basic claims are true, it seems to rather directly follow that desirism is true, even if you don’t feel the results successfully make for a prescriptive objective ethics. So one really needs to address a few issues aside from what implications might result if one wishes to claim otherwise.

            1) Desires are the only reasons for action that exist.

            -The greatest opposition to this claim would be a form of intrinsic value, but I have yet to hear of a good description of how such value could or would exist. Theists seem to claim that God simply declares something has value and **poof** it now does… Why? Could God have created a universe that was exactly the same in every way yet had no intrinsic values? Why or why not? How do we “detect” intrinsic values? Do immoral acts emit “badons” and moral acts “goodons?” Etc.

            2) The only proper response for a “should” question is to give a reason for action.

            -If someone asks, “why shouldn’t I rape someone?” You cannot respond with “the sky is blue,” or “God doesn’t like it.” You have to explain a reason why myself or people in general have a reason to act in a certain way. Desirism does not exclude God, but an explanation cannot merely state a proposed state of affairs, “God exist,” because by itself a belief or a state of affairs is not a reason for action. The theist wishing to deny desirism also needs to present reasons for action that exist and aren’t desires.

            “You claim to be concerned with morality in the real world… so if your only real distinction is that desirism is simply less informative in the n=1 case, I don’t think you need to be worried about there being a distinction.”

            I don’t know how many different ways and times I can explain the difference before giving up. If you think there is essentially no difference, you have not done a good job of demonstrating it, so far I have only seen confusion, misrepresentation, and assertion that the one reduces to the other. I really don’t mean that to sound as harsh as it probably does, but honestly as far as I am able to discern that is all I have seen. There is no intrinsic value in desirism. Desirism DOES NOT seek to maximize desire fulfillment, but is instead concerned with the better harmonization of desires. These are different in theory AND in practice.

            “If I ignore Naziland (or the fact that it’s just a special case of tyranny of the majority… which human psychology certainly allows and we have historical examples of), then Naziland isn’t a problem for desirism!”

            I am guessing this is meant to be a mocking “paraphrase” of what I argued? The only problem being of course that it is not at all what I argued.

            If your main goal in this exchange is just to create mocking straw-men out of my position out of some strange desire to make yourself feel superior, I don’t know how much further my obligation to try and explain this to you extends. I am perfectly willing to address potential problems (I am not completely convinced desirism is entirely correct myself), but merely asserting desirism claims something it doesn’t and then scrutinizing that misrepresentation, only wastes your time and mine.

            So if you wish to continue this discussion can you please attempt to do so in a politer tone, as I am doing my best to (not that I always succeed in doing so).

            I will try to reword some of my arguments to make them hopefully easier to understand.

            I addressed the Naziland scenario on a few different levels. First I criticized the assumptions and efficacy of the scenario to begin with. You seem to claim that that is the same as saying I can ignore Naziland. I will address why that claim and your response that “it’s just a special case of tyranny of the majority… which human psychology certainly allows and we have historical examples of” fails and does not even address the argument I made, but first I will begin in reverse order from last time since it appears my inclusion of that as my first argument caused you to think it was my sole or central criticism.

            In the Naziland scenario, according to desirism, the appropriate question to ask is not “what act or desire will currently fulfill the most and/or strongest desires?” This is what the desire fulfillment act utilitarian would ask, but desirism is instead concerned with the harmonization of desires. What desires IN GENERAL TEND to fulfill or thwart other desires. This is separate from what acts or desires situationally do so. In fact, going this route seems to me to just collapse into act utilitarianism.

            So the question is does the desire to torture TEND to fulfill desires when considered by itself over the range of possible situations (i.e. generally)? Or more simply, does the desire to torture tend to bring desires into greater harmony or discord? A society/world without the desire to torture would have less desire thwarting and so one should prohibit torture in themselves and others if possible.

          • Anonymous

            I’ve been eagerly awaiting part two, but I’m not sure it’s coming. Therefore, I’ll just respond to this.

            1) Desires are the only reasons for action that exist.

            This is really just giving reasons for action a name. I could say that bananabunnies are the only reasons for action that exist. If you give me a reason for action, I could respond, “That must be a bananabunny, because I’ve said that’s what they are!” What exactly does this category look like? We have no idea. What counts? Everything.

            2) The only proper response for a “should” question is to give a reason for action.

            This second principle is begging the question. “Well, if you should do something, it must be a reason for action… and thus it must have been a bananabunny all along!” There’s simply no useful information in either of these two principles. There’s certainly no way to test whether these claims are true.

            The theist wishing to deny desirism also needs to present reasons for action that exist and aren’t desires.

            That’s impossible, because the desirist has defined desire so broadly. If I define bananabunnies as all of the reasons for action that exist, can you present a reason for action that exists and isn’t a bananabunny? Ohhhh… we need to know more about what a bananabunny actually is, rather than just saying it must have been everything all along? Ok. We probably need that for desire, too. Suppose one could prove that intrinsic value is the only reason for action (I’m certainly not claiming anyone can actually do this… and it’s actually a little difficult to let your brain suppose it (because of the “desire does not have intrinsic value” mantra)). Well, then desires must have been a representation of intrinsic value all along! We’ve defined them that way! You can shove anything into the “reasons for action” slot… and there’s no way to tell the difference… because we have no independent definition of desire.

            Of course, we could say that we have a colloquial definition of what desire is. Maybe that will be the independent definition we’re looking for. It’s something like reasons that people give for acting (ok, the official claim is concerning ‘organisms’). But now we could at least plausibly have reasons for action which aren’t desires (perhaps just because they’re not desired)… and then, (2) doesn’t have to be related to desires.

            Finally, even if I’m totally wrong on the above (which is always likely), granting (1) and (2) does not imply anything about the “tending to fulfill and not thwart” principle. (2) says that I have to give a reason for action to answer a “should” question… but there’s no reason why I couldn’t just pick one. Even worse, is the “tending to fulfill” principle a desire? If not, then how could it be a reason for action or an answer to a should question? If so, then it seems irrelevant for Alph’s world… since no one desires it, it’s in fact not a reason for action or an answer to a should question in that world.

            I don’t know how many different ways and times I can explain the difference before giving up. If you think there is essentially no difference, you have not done a good job of demonstrating it, so far I have only seen confusion, misrepresentation, and assertion that the one reduces to the other. I really don’t mean that to sound as harsh as it probably does, but honestly as far as I am able to discern that is all I have seen. There is no intrinsic value in desirism. Desirism DOES NOT seek to maximize desire fulfillment, but is instead concerned with the better harmonization of desires. These are different in theory AND in practice.

            I’ve come full circle on this (thanks to my own internal arguments). At the moment, I’m back to believing that there’s no appreciable difference. I’ve granted the lack of intrinsic value and that desirism does not seek to maximize desire fulfillment… and made my argument in that setting. Restating what we’ve already agreed upon is not an argument. We can disagree on whether they’re essentially different in theory (at the current moment, I think they differ by, at most, a global additive constant… thus, I think all their prescriptions would be the same).

            I haven’t seen you present any example for which they prescribe different behaviors in practice… so I’m not sure why you’re making that claim. Actually, I still haven’t seen any example in which they prescribe different behaviors in theory, either. You can say (well, I’ve said) that in the n=1 case, desirism is silent on whether Alph should fulfill his one desire while utility theory gets one point. However, I’ve presented two issues with this. The first is that the desire still creates value for all the desires-by-means which are required (perhaps… one point worth?). The second is that since his desire is a reason for action, he’s going to take that action (whether or not desirism ‘prescribes’ it depends on how one tries to save a construction of principle 1 above)… and there’s no difference from utility theory except possibly a global additive constant in the utility function. You can’t really just ignore these arguments, restate things I’ve already granted, and declare victory. At the very least, you could try to show how my arguments betray one of the mantras you chant. Honestly, I think I’ve come up with better arguments against my position than you’ve presented.

            So the question is does the desire to torture TEND to fulfill desires when considered by itself over the range of possible situations (i.e. generally)?

            This takes what was already an absurd computation and makes it even more fantastical. Rather than saying, “Here’s my real world. Apply desirism and tell me what desires I should encourage,” we have to say, “Allow me to consider all possible worlds. Now, compute which desires TEND to fulfill other desires in general.” The problem here is obvious. If I include world X, I can create world not-X, where every desire is exactly opposite that of a desire in world X. Any general computation would result in a perfect stalemate.

            “But wait!” you might say. I don’t have to consider every possible world. I just have to consider the ones which are reasonably like my current world. Ok. Which ones count? I’m betting it’s the ones you like… or the ones that “make sense” given the way you think or the reasoning you generally use. Regardless, I’ve never seen such a general, “possible situations” computation in the claims of desirism (sorry if I try to stick to them too much). All of the claims and examples I’ve seen involve saying, “X is my world (or Alph’s world). Here’s what desirism says.”

            Or more simply, does the desire to torture tend to bring desires into greater harmony or discord?

            In Naziland, it brings desires into greater harmony. Of course, if there’s a reason I can’t include Naziland in my “range of possible situations” lurking somewhere in the claims of desirism, I haven’t heard it yet.

            A society/world without the desire to torture would have less desire thwarting and so one should prohibit torture in themselves and others if possible.

            …unless we’re in Naziland. Then it’s the opposite. Do you see why I think you’re ignoring the example that you said you could explain?

            I’m sorry if you’re upset by my tone, but I do not believe I have ever “merely assert[ed that] desirism claims something it doesn’t and then scrutiniz[ed] that misrepresentation.” I’ve tried to stay very true to the claims of desirism. To be honest again, I think I’ve stayed more true to the claims than you have. I’ve simply criticized the structure of the claims and what happens when you try to apply them. Regardless, I’d like to thank you for continuing the conversation, trying to present the opposite case, and participating in the betterment of both our knowledge.

          • Anonymous

            I would also like to note (wrt the last couple quotes) that the, “How about we gauge the desire to not be tortured by this same metric” argument has not been responded to. It still seems to be valid considering what you’ve said. And thus, it still seems to be a strong argument for the idea that desirism struggles anytime there are opposing desires… which is still a bit of a problem for a moral theory.

          • Anonymous

            Upon even further review, I’ve realized that we could perform some Aristotelian-style magic when discussing claims (1) and (2).

            Consider Alph and his one desire. Now, this one desire is the only reason for action. However, because the moon is in danger or whatever, Alph considers the possibility of desiring the acquisition of a gun. This is a potential desire… thus, a potential reason for action. It simply hasn’t been actually desired by anyone yet, i.e., it hasn’t become an actualized desire or an actualized reason for action.

            Now, we move to (2). Why must “should” questions be answered with an actualized reason for action? Could they not be answered with potential reasons for action? Now we see the nefarious nature of the way (2) is stated. It’s designed to simply confuse the meanings of “should” and “reason”. If something is a “should”… it “should” (lolz) have a reason! I claim that it may have a non-actualized reason. In that case, our answers to shoulds don’t have to be things that some organism actually desires after all.

            Of course, one could complain that acquiring a gun is a desire-as-means, and perhaps we want to claim (ipse dixit, mind you) that only desires-as-ends are allowed to be reasons for action. In that case, I think the struggle is going to be how we determine what is allowed to be a desire-as-end. If you want to go down this path, let me know and I’ll explain the difficulty. (Spoiler: ask the question about when you’re allowed to say, “You don’t really desire that as an end… you really are just using that as a means to get…”) Additionally, we couldn’t allow desires-as-ends to be malleable… because otherwise an agent could consider adopting a reason to act which isn’t allowed to be a reason to act. Our set of these things would have to be fixed for all time. (The discovery of such a set would definitely be an interesting and amazing revolution!)

            If one accepts this Aristotelian-style magic, the fundamental claims break down badly (but the good news is that one wouldn’t have to answer the question of whether the “tend to fulfill/thwart” principle is a desire!). Thus, the desirist either has to accept defeat or find a way to reject the reasoning… and then face the question of whether the “tend to fulfill/thwart” principle is a desire.

          • AHBritton

            Anonymous,

            ,

            Sorry, I have been rather busy and have been meaning to make part 2, but have not finished… I was also a little worried you had moved on from this post.

            “This is really just giving reasons for action a name. I could say that bananabunnies are the only reasons for action that exist. If you give me a reason for action, I could respond, “That must be a bananabunny, because I’ve said that’s what they are!” What exactly does this category look like? We have no idea. What counts? Everything.”

            This is false and seems to present another area where you don’t seem to have much knowledge of what desirism claims.

            It is largely based on the “belief-desire-intention” model. A desire is a motivating attitude (equal to a brain state) towards a proposition such that the proposition is to be made or kept true.

            Desires could theoretically not exist, and reasons for action could exist that are not desires, as far as I know they do not exist however. I would suggest looking into the topic further as much of what I am telling you can be easily found on Fyfe’s blog and elsewhere… I can point you in the right direction if you wish. Main point, this criticism fails.

            “This second principle is begging the question. “Well, if you should do something, it must be a reason for action… and thus it must have been a bananabunny all along!” There’s simply no useful information in either of these two principles. There’s certainly no way to test whether these claims are true.”

            I think I mis-worded that, it should be a combination of a state of affairs and a desire. I also should probably clarify that this is all in regard to intentional action, as unintentional actions obviously are not influenced by moral praise, condemnation, etc.

            If you accept the premises then the conclusion seems to trivially follow, which does not bode well for your position. So welcome to the wonderful world of desirism :)

            I am going to skip over much of your reply since it seems to be based on some fundamental mis-understandings again as I explained above.

            “I haven’t seen you present any example for which they prescribe different behaviors in practice… so I’m not sure why you’re making that claim.”

            I have presented such examples, in fact Naziland is such an example. Desire fulfillment seeks to maximize desire fulfillment, which in theory would mean the best thing to do is create desires that are easily filled, the more desires fulfilled the better! Desirism does not say this as (unless there is a completely independent desire to do so) does not care one way or another as to how many desires in total are fulfilled, or in any way to “maximize” desire fulfillment.

            “However, I’ve presented two issues with this. The first is that the desire still creates value for all the desires-by-means which are required (perhaps… one point worth?).”

            I don’t see what the problem with this is, maybe you could explain why it is problematic that there can exist desires as ends and as means.

            “The second is that since his desire is a reason for action, he’s going to take that action (whether or not desirism ‘prescribes’ it depends on how one tries to save a construction of principle 1 above)…”

            I don’t know if it is just how you construct sentences but the way you write is hard for me to parse/understand at times.

            A person WILL act on their greatest and strongest desires, given their beliefs, regardless of whether it is “right” or “wrong.” This is a fact of the matter. I don’t see the issue.

            “At the very least, you could try to show how my arguments betray one of the mantras you chant.”

            Calling my arguments “mantras” and the like are just petty attempts to “put down” my arguments rather than deal with them. If you really have the winning side in this debate you should be able to convincingly present your argument without resorting to such loaded language.

            “This takes what was already an absurd computation and makes it even more fantastical. Rather than saying, “Here’s my real world. Apply desirism and tell me what desires I should encourage,” we have to say, “Allow me to consider all possible worlds. Now, compute which desires TEND to fulfill other desires in general.” The problem here is obvious. If I include world X, I can create world not-X, where every desire is exactly opposite that of a desire in world X. Any general computation would result in a perfect stalemate.”

            This seems to be another misunderstanding. Desirism does not claim that the “right” act is the one that fulfills the most and greatest desires, as I have explained repeatedly. It instead seeks to mold desires themselves into the desires that tend to best fulfill other desires in general. We have reasons to promote an aversion to torture because torturing “tends” to thwart desires. What is wrong with this claim?

            There are obviously constraints on this as we cannot bring about impossible worlds.

            “In Naziland, it brings desires into greater harmony.”

            No it doesn’t. How does Naziland’s penchant for torture harmonize with the Jew’s aversion to torture? You make this claim as if it is obvious.

            “…unless we’re in Naziland. Then it’s the opposite. Do you see why I think you’re ignoring the example that you said you could explain?”

            You have asserted that torture would tend to fulfill more desires than it thwarts.

            I am asserting that torture tends to thwart more desires than it fulfills.

            The question is which of these is right. I was hoping to get to this with my second post, but like I said I have been busy and indeed I have had to write up this post faster than I would have liked, so sorry if there are a lot of typos.

            The point is, if promoting torture tends to thwart more desires than it fulfills, then it tends to do so as a matter of fact, regardless of whether we are in Naziland or not. The fact that a specific scenario can be constructed (which I was also hoping to more fully explain would be impossible to bring about in the real world) in which it is claimed that torture would in that moment fulfill more desires is irrelevant to what society has good reasons to promote, namely desires that tend to fulfill other desires. Naziland has good reasons to move towards a society closer to our own where Jews desires are not thwarted through torture, and we do not have a similar reason to move towards their society do we?

            If you want to argue that torture in general tends to fulfill more desires than it thwarts, feel free to go ahead, but I doubt you will find many people following you on that argument. I happen to think that it is a very real fact that torture tends to thwart desires, and you have provided no good evidence, empirical or otherwise, that discounts this.

            If you are still up for debate, I will get to my further replies as soon as possible. Also there is the option of contacting me directly.

          • AHBritton

            Anonymous,

            Are you a moral realist? If so, how do you justify your morality WITHOUT descending into desirism, since you seem to agree to its central claims, from which the rest develops?

          • Anonymous

            It is largely based on the “belief-desire-intention” model. A desire is a motivating attitude (equal to a brain state) towards a proposition such that the proposition is to be made or kept true.

            Desires could theoretically not exist, and reasons for action could exist that are not desires, as far as I know they do not exist however.

            This is fine. Perhaps you missed my statement where I connected a colloquial definition of desire to an organism (essentially referring to the idea of a brain state)… and then mentioned how this at least opens the door to other reasons for action. Also, perhaps you’ve posted before reading my later post concerning potential reasons for action.

            I think I mis-worded that, it should be a combination of a state of affairs and a desire. I also should probably clarify that this is all in regard to intentional action, as unintentional actions obviously are not influenced by moral praise, condemnation, etc.

            So what did you mean? Did you mean that “should” questions must be answered with a combination of a state of affairs and a desire? I really don’t know what you’re getting at for trying to fix (2).

            If you accept the premises then the conclusion seems to trivially follow, which does not bode well for your position. So welcome to the wonderful world of desirism

            How exactly does the “tend to fulfill/thwart” principle follow from the premises? Is this principle a desire? Is it a combination of a desire and a state of affairs? How does it become a reason for action? How does it become the answer to any should question? Why can’t I pick other random reasons for action as my answer to should questions? I think you’re skipping too much in assuming that everything follows.

            I have presented such examples, in fact Naziland is such an example.

            Can you present another (hopefully really simple one), since Naziland is still a point of contention?

            Desire fulfillment seeks to maximize desire fulfillment, which in theory would mean the best thing to do is create desires that are easily filled, the more desires fulfilled the better! Desirism does not say this as (unless there is a completely independent desire to do so) does not care one way or another as to how many desires in total are fulfilled, or in any way to “maximize” desire fulfillment.

            I’m struggling to make sense of this. I think you’re trying to contrast desire fulfillment from desirism, which only promotes desire fulfillment at arm’s length. Of course, when evaluating “tends to fulfill more and stronger desires”, one probably has to measure these desires and this tendency. It doesn’t care about how many desires in total are fulfilled, but if our measure comes back with a higher number, we might want to encourage that desire (and its associated behavior) more.

            I don’t see what the problem with this is, maybe you could explain why it is problematic that there can exist desires as ends and as means.

            I have not stated that there is a problem with having both. I’ve stated that if a desire exists (call it X)… and I’m considering a different desire (call it Y) that tends to fulfill X, then desirism says I should be more inclined to promoting Y. Y could be, for example, a desire-as-means (such as the case of Alph desiring the acquisition of a gun) or it could be a desire-as-end. Regardless, in the presence of X, we’ll want to promote Y. In the absence of X, we’ll not want to promote Y (or at the very least, want less). The difference between the two is what I call, “The value created by X.” It is not intrinsic value (so you don’t have to say, “There is no intrinsic value”). It wouldn’t exist if we didn’t consider Y. Yet, the existence of X creates value in the case that we do consider Y.

            A person WILL act on their greatest and strongest desires, given their beliefs, regardless of whether it is “right” or “wrong.” This is a fact of the matter. I don’t see the issue.

            This is in context of trying to find different prescriptions or outcomes (I think I’ll settle for either) from utility theory and desirism. If the big difference is that utility theory chalks up a 1 on the board when Alph’s only desire is fulfilled, this does not seem to be a relevant difference for two reasons: 1) In desirism (as you stated in the above quote) the outcome will be the same, as Alph will fulfill his desire (we’ll just differ by an additive constant). 2) If we have a prescription (it’s still not clear until we fix the mess that is the “tend to fulfill principle” and whether it can answer should questions with prescriptions), it certainly seems to be the same as that of utility theory (at least, as soon as we create value for desires-as-means).

            Calling my arguments “mantras”…

            Please don’t repeat, “There’s no intrinsic value” when I’ve not claimed that there is (at least, don’t repeat it like it’s a defeater). I’ve simply shown that there is created value… which happens to match up pretty perfectly with the prescriptions/outcomes of utility theory (which does have intrinsic value).

            This seems to be another misunderstanding. Desirism does not claim that the “right” act is the one that fulfills the most and greatest desires, as I have explained repeatedly. It instead seeks to mold desires themselves into the desires that tend to best fulfill other desires in general.

            No problem here. Desirism just says that we should promote the not-necessarily-right desire. Unless, of course, you still mean “in general” in some convoluted “possible worlds” manner.

            We have reasons to promote an aversion to torture because torturing “tends” to thwart desires. What is wrong with this claim?

            It’s wrong (when applied to Naziland) because it’s not true (when applied to Naziland). There, torturing tends to fulfill a hell of a lot of very strong desires. In fact, it’s the desire to not be tortured which tends to thwart the most and greatest desires. To say otherwise simply assumes that a whole lot of strong desires to not be tortured exist out there. You can only work with the desires your world has… not the desires you think your world should have.

            There are obviously constraints on this as we cannot bring about impossible worlds.

            Naziland (and other tyranny of the majority worlds) do not seem impossible. Do you have a reason that they are logically impossible? Do you just think they’re highly unlikely?

            How does Naziland’s penchant for torture harmonize with the Jew’s aversion to torture? You make this claim as if it is obvious.

            How does the Jew’s aversion to torture harmonize with the Nazi’s penchant for torture? We should definitely encourage him to stop that. Maybe better torturing would work to bring about a harmony.

            The point is, if promoting torture tends to thwart more desires than it fulfills, then it tends to do so as a matter of fact, regardless of whether we are in Naziland or not…

            So it always tends to thwart… even though it literally tends to fulfill in Naziland? A few lines down, you at least admitted that, “…it is claimed that torture would in that moment fulfill more desires…” Is this claim not true, in that moment, in that world? If it is true, then torture doesn’t always tend to thwart, now does it?

            …is irrelevant to what society has good reasons to promote, namely desires that tend to fulfill other desires.

            Like torture, if you’re in Naziland? Remember, the only reasons they have to promote anything are the desires that exist in that world.

            Naziland has good reasons to move towards a society closer to our own where Jews desires are not thwarted through torture, and we do not have a similar reason to move towards their society do we?

            Absolutely correct… too bad desirism comes to the opposite conclusion. Desirism says they should move toward a society where Jews stop desiring to not be tortured. Desirism says that we should move toward… I’ll get back to you when I get a big enough calculator.

            If you want to argue that torture in general tends to fulfill more desires than it thwarts, feel free to go ahead, but I doubt you will find many people following you on that argument. I happen to think that it is a very real fact that torture tends to thwart desires, and you have provided no good evidence, empirical or otherwise, that discounts this.

            It obviously seems like it tends to thwart in our world (and one could probably find pretty good empirical evidence for this). But it doesn’t in Naziland. If the “in general” part means that the people of Naziland aren’t restricted to things that actually exist in Naziland… and instead have to consider other possible worlds… then their calculator will run into a stalemate.

            Strangely, the best apparent fix to this is still to claim that they don’t have to look at other possible worlds… they just have to consider all the non-actualized desires! Of course, as soon as we accept this, down the rabbit hole we go. Not to mention the fact that for every potential desire X they consider, they’ll have to consider not-X.

            You accepted the argument that Alph should go ahead and scatter stones because the billion Joes wanted it… what makes this different? You didn’t say, “Scattering stones would make mining in our world a whole lot more difficult (and probably in Naziland, too!)… tending to thwart a lot of desires, so Alph should probably try to temper his desire for scattering stones.” You didn’t say, “It seems obvious that scattering stones tends to thwart more desires in general (whatever general means), so Alph should probably try to temper his desire for scattering stones.” Why is this different? Is the desire to scatter stones not an “in fact”? How do we determine which desires are in fact and which desires are attached to the world of desires they live in?

            In general (the mathematical sense of general, not the colloquial sense (yes, I joke all the time about how they’re exactly opposite because I’m a nerd)), if Alph desires X and Betty desires not-X, how do we achieve a harmony of desires? How do we decide which to promote and which to condemn? Does it matter to them what effect these desires might have in theoretical Naziland? Does it matter to them what effect these desires might have in their theoretical conception of our world? Or do only other desires in Alph/Betty’s world matter? Do potential desires (if they’re allowed to be reasons for action) in Alph/Betty’s world matter? How do they determine what might be the set of potential desires?

          • AHBritton

            Anonymous,

            I have decided that presenting the argument in a slightly different way may be helpful.

            I don’t know what you think of the study of economics, but I am going to make reference to some ideas in economics to illustrate a point.

            One of the most basic concepts in economics is the law of supply and demand. In case you don’t know this is the principle that, holding everything else equal, if the supply of a product increases the price will decrease and vice-a-versa. Similarly if the demand increases the price will also increase and vice-a-versa.

            Is this objectively true? Well it depends what one means. It is not a matter of opinion, I can’t just decide not to believe it is a true relationship in the world. If someone declares it to not be true I can explain the logic behind it or reference empirical data that strongly supports this conclusion to try and persuade them. Even if someone denied it was true, I would still say that there was a fact of the matter, it can’t both be true AND false.

            Now I can imagine worlds with properties where this relationship would no longer hold. What if a mad scientist took over people’s brains in order to decide what purchases they make? Regardless I still would assert that the principle of supply and demand is true, as markets in general tend towards this relationship.

            I think similar cases can be made for moral principles under desirism.

            There are a few desires that we have very good reasons to promote for practical, but very real and unavoidable reasons.

            First is the desire for personal autonomy. One main reason for this is analogous to what is known in economics as the calculation problem of central planning. This argument says that central planning of an economy doesn’t work for merely current practical reasons, but in principle it is flawed. The reason being that information is dispersed. When someone opens a small business they have the incentive and ability to collect knowledge on the ground relevant to their business. They likely know the community, the building, the products, and have more of an incentive than anyone else to collect and base their decisions on the best information available. It is impossible to centralize this process as the central authority has neither the incentive or ability to collect all of that information from all of the businesses in existence, and even if it could there would be massive inefficiencies in the collection and dispersal of that information.

            Similarly the person likely to have the best incentives to collect and act on good information regarding their desires is themselves. This is not to say that people can’t be wrong, inefficient, or systematically biased in this process, but the alternatively would be vastly more so (except in specific occasions I don’t really want to get into here… More a conversation for economics anyways).

            I think this is a true relationship that holds in general regardless of situation. In addition this is a good principle to promote as I think that all worlds that would fail to promote it would be sub-optimal in the fulfillment/thwarting of desires.

            You could argue this wasn’t true, and I could provide data from economics, sociology, game theory, etc. to support my position, but if you are going to argue against it you would have to do the same, you couldn’t just sit back and claim not to be convinced.

            And again, even if neither of us knew the right answer, it would not be a matter of opinion, either this desire for autonomy should be promoted or not.

            If someone asked me today, does promoting the desire to torture (or even just promoting the desire to torture Jews) tend to thwart more and stronger desires than it fulfills? I think I could confidently say yes. The reasons would be many, for instance I could point to data on mirror neurons and other systems in the human brain which promote empathy and actually make it painful to the viewer when they watch someone being tortured. I would point to the fact that scientific and historical evidence shows that in order for people to inhibit this natural empathy they must dehumanize the victim which involves making up lies as to why they should not be considered human, why they should be considered degenerate humans, etc.

            I could continue on and show the range of desires that must be promoted/inhibited in order to create/sustain this world (Naziland) that was created.

            I don’t think these arguments would be a matter of opinion, they have a truth value.

            I apologize for doing this so much, but I am going to have to come back and respond more later. Feel free to comment on what I already wrote though.

          • Anonymous

            The discussion concerning supply and demand highlights the fact that this is merely a “privileging your experience” argument. In our world, it sure looks like markets tend toward supply and demand… they must always do so! If someone lives in a world where monopolies rule nearly all markets (conditions are such that one player is nearly always able to corner the market given enough time/investment/whatever-they-use), then they would surely think that all markets must tend toward monopolies!

            But here’s the great thing about desirism: we don’t have to privilege any ideas from any worlds. We have very few claims. Organisms have desires. We encourage desires that tend to fulfill and discourage desires that tend to thwart. That is it. There is nothing else. That is why we can discuss Alph/Betty’s world without having to make “scattering stones” make sense in our world.

            Each world applies these claims to their particular situation. They’re not allowed to say, “This is the way things seem to work in my world; I’m going to ignore the actual claims of desirism and simply claim that my world’s workings are universal.”

            for instance I could point to data on mirror neurons and other systems in the human brain which promote empathy and actually make it painful to the viewer when they watch someone being tortured. I would point to the fact that scientific and historical evidence shows that in order for people to inhibit this natural empathy they must dehumanize the victim which involves making up lies as to why they should not be considered human, why they should be considered degenerate humans, etc.

            In Naziland, Jews have been put down, caged, and tortured to the point where they hardly seem human and definitely seem degenerate. The Nazis really enjoy watching them be tortured. The Nazi says, “I can point at dopamine systems which provide pleasure when viewing a Jew torturing. For people to inhibit this natural pleasure, they must humanize the lowly Jew… which involves making up lies as to why they should be considered real humans, etc.”

            I don’t know where you fall on the issue of eating meat, and I don’t want to really start a debate on eating meat… but I think it might help reduce the stakes in your mind a bit. Consider someone from Veggieland. All people there have eschewed eating animals for so long that eating meat makes many people sick (I never developed the required enzymes for certain meats, and they already make me pretty sick if I get a little bit, so this is rather reasonable).

            Now, a Veggielander would point to these biological factors… “Look! People literally get physically sick from eating meat! This is the way that EVERY world has to be!” Obviously, that is not the case. Veggielanders are privileging their experience and substituting it for the actual claims of desirism.

            Of course, the Nazi or the Veggielander who argues desirism in the manner that you have would be quite sure that their arguments are not a matter of opinion either… they’d be pretty sure they have a truth value… their truth value! Suddenly, desirism says to them that you’re objectively wrong! It’s simply not possible to have a world where people eat meat and don’t get sick!

            Or consider a world where everyone has a strong emotional belief in god. “Look at the readings from these neurons! You can’t just ignore the physical data!” Or consider a world where…

            It goes on and on. The whole idea of Naziland is that people who have an aversion to torturing Jews have been killed or brainwashed (or “encouraged”, as desirism would put it). The physical signs match up perfectly with their stated desires (namely, to watch Jews get tortured on tv). The strict claims of desirism only say that people in this world should encourage that behavior. Don’t make it worse for yourself by claiming that they could use desirism to claim that torture has got to be objectively good in our world, too.

          • AHBritton

            Anonymous,

            “The discussion concerning supply and demand highlights the fact that this is merely a ‘privileging your experience’ argument. In our world, it sure looks like markets tend toward supply and demand… they must always do so!”

            That is not quite right. They most do so apart from extreme situations (mad scientist mind control for instance) and those conditions produce sub-optimal results. I think it may even be the case that the laws of supply and demand cannot be avoided.

            In our own world people and societies HAVE tried to systematically circumvent supply and demand, but it produces very predictable effects. In other words, they haven’t circumvented them! Price ceilings lead to scarcities where people pay for products in time spent in lines as opposed to dollars, etc.

            “But here’s the great thing about desirism: we don’t have to privilege any ideas from any worlds. We have very few claims. Organisms have desires. We encourage desires that tend to fulfill and discourage desires that tend to thwart. That is it. There is nothing else.”

            I don’t know what you are talking about… desirism doesn’t claim to paint a simplistic picture of the world where only limited entities need be taken into account. It suggests empirical inquiry into the principles that govern our world in order to better organize and optimize it… As once again this sentence is very ambiguous, I can’t be sure if that is what you are claiming… I guess we will see.

            “That is why we can discuss Alph/Betty’s world without having to make ‘scattering stones’ make sense in our world.”

            I think this illustrates a point I have been trying to make repeatedly. Alph and Betty are not meant to present arguments about the real world! These characters were used MERELY to present some VERY BASIC concepts and distinctions. Sadly Luke and Alonzo did not continue the podcast further as the podcast never even really discusses desirism! If that is the only resource you have used to learn about desirism, then you basically have not read anything about desirism. They only started laying the groundwork in the podcast by defining terms and presenting basic relations, they even said multiple times that they haven’t even gotten to morality I believe. I sometimes think it may have been better if they had not done the series at all rather than leave it in its current half done state.

            “Each world applies these claims to their particular situation. They’re not allowed to say, ‘This is the way things seem to work in my world; I’m going to ignore the actual claims of desirism and simply claim that my world’s workings are universal.’”

            This argument contains an assumption, that these principles AREN’T universal. I haven’t seen any arguments or evidence provided to suggest that a world with optimized desire fulfillment can even exist along side the promotion of torture. You don’t expect me to just assume that as true do you?

            “In Naziland, Jews have been put down, caged, and tortured to the point where they hardly seem human and definitely seem degenerate.”

            I will also point out here something that I have meaning to for a little bit. The Naziland world you describe would require such an utter failure of the moral project to mold people’s desires, that if this world literally did come about in reality, I would seriously question the ability of the moral project to be successful at all. If it failed to this spectacular degree, I would probably take that as evidence that the moral project is a failed one.

            That aside, making them “seem” inhuman and degenerate does not make them so. Although this may visually help in the process of dehumanizing them, it does not change the fact that lies about their essential nature would still need to be told. If the state/Nazis that organized this admitted that their genetics, character, etc. were identical to the rest of the population and that they just selected them based on arbitrary criteria, the psychological and conceptual dissonance would be great and it would also remove any barrier to them considering even their fellow Nazi’s as having a certain dignity as humans, thus undermining the society. On the other hand, if the society promotes deceit and scapegoating, this too would have negative consequences on the whole society.

            “The Nazis really enjoy watching them be tortured. The Nazi says, ‘I can point at dopamine systems which provide pleasure when viewing a Jew torturing. For people to inhibit this natural pleasure, they must humanize the lowly Jew… which involves making up lies as to why they should be considered real humans, etc.’”

            I can point to medical literature supporting my views, can you do the same for this view? This seems to be incredibly naive when it comes to the sciences focused on individual psychologies and social psycholology.

            “I don’t know where you fall on the issue of eating meat, and I don’t want to really start a debate on eating meat… but I think it might help reduce the stakes in your mind a bit. Consider someone from Veggieland. All people there have eschewed eating animals for so long that eating meat makes many people sick (I never developed the required enzymes for certain meats, and they already make me pretty sick if I get a little bit, so this is rather reasonable).”

            I was a vegetarian for many years, I never experienced this “sickness,” though I knew people who claimed to have.

            “Now, a Veggielander would point to these biological factors… ‘Look! People literally get physically sick from eating meat! This is the way that EVERY world has to be!’ Obviously, that is not the case. Veggielanders are privileging their experience and substituting it for the actual claims of desirism.”

            I think you again have a very skewed idea of what desirism actually claims, how much have you actually read on the topic? I am really curious, because it is no where NEAR as reductionistic as you make it out to be.

            In addition, I don’t find any reason on its face to see why I should automatically accept your claim that torture thwarting desires is merely a idiosyncratic and myopic social phenomenon. I think I could present a relatively good case (and have done a little some already) that torture has necessary consequences on individuals and societies. So far you have presented me with no argument that would demonstrate it is any way akin to people feeling a little nauseous when they have not eaten meat recently, as opposed to supply and demand, which I think is essentially a basic principle built into certain kinds of social relations.

            “Of course, the Nazi or the Veggielander who argues desirism in the manner that you have would be quite sure that their arguments are not a matter of opinion either… they’d be pretty sure they have a truth value… their truth value! Suddenly, desirism says to them that you’re objectively wrong! It’s simply not possible to have a world where people eat meat and don’t get sick!”

            Again, where is your argument/evidence that this is true?

            “Or consider a world where everyone has a strong emotional belief in god. ‘Look at the readings from these neurons! You can’t just ignore the physical data!’”

            What about such a world? I don’t see the issue.

            “Or consider a world where…”

            Do any of these worlds have relevance on this world? The more extravagant they get the less they have any plausible connection to our lives and the less likely our morality should be at all influenced by them.

            “It goes on and on. The whole idea of Naziland is that people who have an aversion to torturing Jews have been killed or brainwashed (or ‘encouraged’, as desirism would put it).”

            This is another issue, in order for the tools of desirism to work there must be the freedom for them to work! If we are in a world completely brainwashed and controlled then desirism can’t really say anything because it’s principles of malleability and the efficacy of social tools no longer holds true… morality becomes pointless because there is no way for people to self determine and influence others towards and end.

            “Don’t make it worse for yourself by claiming that they could use desirism to claim that torture has got to be objectively good in our world, too.”

            That is what desirism claims… and as I argue above, you have not done a good job supporting a belief otherwise.

          • Anonymous

            In our own world people and societies HAVE tried to systematically circumvent supply and demand, but it produces very predictable effects. In other words, they haven’t circumvented them!

            Look! It hasn’t worked that way in my experience!

            [Desirism] suggests empirical inquiry into the principles that govern our world in order to better organize and optimize it.

            And it would suggest the same empirical inquiry for Nazis or Veggielanders to organize and optimize their worlds.

            Alph and Betty are not meant to present arguments about the real world!

            You mean that they’re not meant to present arguments about our real world. I agree. However, they also highlight the fact that desirism can operate in hypothetical worlds, as they possess all the requisite features for desirism’s basic claims.

            Sadly Luke and Alonzo did not…

            Please, present an actual claim that I’m missing. However, you should probably go back and fix your presentation of (1) and (2) first.

            I haven’t seen any arguments or evidence provided to suggest that a world with optimized desire fulfillment can even exist along side the promotion of torture.

            …now we’re optimizing desire fulfillment? I kid, I kid. If your answer is, “I don’t see it in my world,” then I’m really just left with knowing that you’re privileging your experience and ignoring the hypothetical of Naziland. There might not be anything left to say.

            The Naziland world you describe would require such an utter failure of the moral project to mold people’s desires, that if this world literally did come about in reality, I would seriously question the ability of the moral project to be successful at all. If it failed to this spectacular degree, I would probably take that as evidence that the moral project is a failed one.

            Suppose there are two worlds near each other (and no space travel for a while). One is Naziland; the other is EverythingAHBrittonLikesLand. Both have access to the claims of desirism. Both think they’ve wonderfully succeeded in the moral project. Now might be a good time for me to link to the story that Leah linked me to earlier: Three Worlds Collide.

            That aside, making them “seem” inhuman and degenerate does not make them so.

            Not to you or me.

            Although this may visually help in the process of dehumanizing them, it does not change the fact that lies about their essential nature would still need to be told. If the state/Nazis that organized this admitted that their genetics, character, etc. were identical to the rest of the population and that they just selected them based on arbitrary criteria, the psychological and conceptual dissonance would be great and it would also remove any barrier to them considering even their fellow Nazi’s as having a certain dignity as humans, thus undermining the society.

            But their genetics aren’t identical. They’ve been all inbred for a long time. Defects have permeated the population. And why do humans have dignity anyway? Why are we assuming they think any of the things you think? We simply know what their brain states and the state of affairs are. They like torturing Jews. They’re well-convinced, backed with sufficient empirical evidence, that their desire for torture is completely and totally natural. Everyone in their society has had it for a really long time!

            On the other hand, if the society promotes deceit and scapegoating, this too would have negative consequences on the whole society.

            Deceit and scapegoating? Lolz. The empiricism in Naziland says that Jews are inferior and that Nazis derive natural pleasure from torturing them. You can’t call peer-reviewed science deceit! And they’re not being scapegoated for anything… they’re just really fun to torture.

            I can point to medical literature supporting my views, can you do the same for this view? This seems to be incredibly naive when it comes to the sciences focused on individual psychologies and social psycholology.

            You don’t think that our pleasure systems could be co-opted to like things that you don’t like? You think that our psychologies are the only way our biological systems could have been made into social relations? Come on… try harder. Maybe go read “Three Worlds Collide”. Maybe reconsider the possibility of gorillas which court via infanticide having taken the next evolutionary step but retained that particular custom. Maybe consider the ways that we do co-opt our systems via drugs or other pleasures which somebody would like to consider “objectively wrong”.

            So far you have presented me with no argument that would demonstrate it is any way akin to people feeling a little nauseous when they have not eaten meat recently, as opposed to supply and demand, which I think is essentially a basic principle built into certain kinds of social relations.

            So far, you have presented me with no argument to the contrary besides, “They seem to be different to me.” Let’s go back to your argument about supply and demand.

            In our own world people and societies HAVE tried to systematically circumvent supply and demand, but it produces very predictable effects. In other words, they haven’t circumvented them! Price ceilings lead to scarcities where people pay for products in time spent in lines as opposed to dollars, etc.

            In Veggieland, people and societies HAVE tried to systematically circumvent vegetarianism, but it produces very predictable effects. In other words, they haven’t circumvented them! Beef leads to massive vomiting, where people lose not only the ingested flesh, but also any other nutrients they’ve taken in. Cooking fish to a crisp has led to… Wrapping duck in X has led to…

            It’s all just privileging your experience. Veggielanders think vegetarianism is essentially a basic principle built into certain kinds of beings. Of course, someone from AnimalRightsLand would think that not eating the animals is a basic principle built into their social relations. What kind of idiot would think that some completely arbitrary marker like sharing 98% of DNA is better than some other completely arbitrary marker like having a central nervous system for determining what things should have dignity and equality? What makes it better than a DNA threshold that cuts out the now-degenerate Jews? You simply have to assume too much of what you think to get the result you want. Desirism doesn’t let you do that for other worlds. It lets you use anything and everything you think for your navigation of this world… but not for your dispassionate analysis of other worlds. You pretty much just have their desires to work with (thus, the name desirism).

            Do any of these worlds have relevance on this world? The more extravagant they get the less they have any plausible connection to our lives and the less likely our morality should be at all influenced by them.

            This seems to be precisely the point. We agree that the results of applying desirism in those worlds have little to no connection to the results of applying desirism in our world. However, you seem to think that the results of applying desirism in our world do tell us everything we need to know about the results of applying desirism in those worlds. This antisymmetry is the essence of privileging your experience.

            I think the major sticking point may be that you might think the claims of desirism cannot be applied to these other worlds. However, I’ve not seen any demonstration that these hypothetical worlds have any features which contradict the basic claims of desirism. They have organisms. They have brain states which produce desires. They have states of affairs. In the wise words of.. well, you.. everything trivially follows and welcome to the wonderful world of desirism :)

            This is another issue, in order for the tools of desirism to work there must be the freedom for them to work! If we are in a world completely brainwashed and controlled then desirism can’t really say anything because it’s principles of malleability and the efficacy of social tools no longer holds true… morality becomes pointless because there is no way for people to self determine and influence others towards and end.

            You’re assuming that Naziland and Veggieland require somebody running around with brain control devices. That’s simply not true. How did Naziland get to their state of affairs in the first place? Some brute force… and the principles of malleability and the efficacy of social tools! Once they’re there, those principles still hold. It’s just that desirism now says that they “should” strive to use social tools to encourage their malleable desires to be more pro-torture. Morality becomes pointless to you because you failed to influence others toward your self-determined optimal end.

            Likewise, Veggieland requires no abrogation of malleability or efficacy of social tools. I hope you like your stay in the wonderful world of desirism :)

            “Don’t make it worse for yourself by claiming that they could use desirism to claim that torture has got to be objectively good in our world, too.”

            That is what desirism claims…

            Desirism claims that torture has got to be objectively good in our world?!? I kid, I kid. Maybe you’re just getting sloppy.

            In the end, this is what I see from desirism:

            1) A fine descriptive theory that people and organisms pretty much do what they want, i.e. pursue their desires.

            2) A shoddy attempt to distinguish the “tends to fulfill/thwart” principle from utility theory by offloading and trying to sleight-of-hand the value.

            3) A shoddy attempt at turning (2) into a moral principle by obfuscating a leap over the is-ought gap.

            4) Adding just enough assumptions (It only works when your society has X,Y,Z) that hidden in them are the things we wanted in the first place. Only now, we’ve pointed at (1) long enough and intently enough that we can try to convince you that everything else “trivially follows” and is objective for all societies.

            I don’t think we’re going to find a way to slip in enough assumptions to rule out Naziland, Veggieland, AnimalRightsLand, or anything else without sneakily assuming way too many of the things we like. And we’re certainly not going to have those assumptions paper over the problems in (2) and (3), leaving us thinking that (1) actually trivially implies such a grand moral theory via nothing but empiricism. Desirism as embodied in (1) is not a problem. Desirism as embodied in the way you’re proceeding is less of an empirical moral theory and more of a empiricism-salted method for us to improve our interpersonal relations a bit. It’s not quite pop-psychology/sociology, but it’s close.

            I kind of want to end this conversation, because I think we’ve gotten a bit too far in the adversarial mindset of the internet argument. I think it would be useful to shed that mindset and think about the big picture of what has actually been claimed and what has actually been proven. If you disagree and want to plow on, I’m game. Post on! If you want to think about the big picture for a while and continue, you can contact me at temp.public1@gmail.com and we can exchange real email addresses.

          • Anonymous

            Perhaps one more thought experiment could be useful.

            Suppose that a holy book contained all the principles laid down in (1). They’re empirically confirmable principles about physical desires. Then, the holy book proceeds, “And the Lord God spoketh, ‘Thou shalt encourage desires which tend to fulfill other desires and discourage desires which tend to thwart other desires.’”

            Person X comes to you and says, “Look here! We have an objective basis for morality! It’s empirically valid! And there is no intrinsic value!” Wouldn’t you respond, “Hold up. You waved your hands concerning the is-ought gap.”

            “No problem,” person X says. “It’s objective and empirical and it works. Everything trivially follows. And there is no intrinsic value!”

            Wouldn’t you respond, “It sure looks like there’s some value created by God.” “No, because value is only relational.” “Well, isn’t value created when we look at the relation between these desires and between desires and God?” “There is no intrinsic value.”

            Wouldn’t you mention, “But look at the things that this principle could prescribe…. horrible things… if we’ve just gotten our society to the point where they’re desired.”

            “No problem,” person X cheerfully replies again. “The Lord God only gave us rules that apply to our society. If you make theoretical changes or let society degrade to the point that the moral project becomes pointless, the theory just isn’t applicable anymore. And there is no intrinsic value!”

            Wouldn’t you complain that person X is smuggling in assumptions? Wouldn’t you complain about something?!

  • AHBritton

    Erick,

    “The point everyone has been making is that religion provides a standard for judging moral assertions. Atheism in its various philosophical schools provides no standard of any kind. That makes for anarchic (i.e. anti-social) relationships.”

    Anyone can makeup a standard for morality, the questions are, is the theistic explanation coherent, and does it conform to reality? I would argue as most often formulated it fails on both grounds. I don’t think the Euthyphro dilemma has been defeated for those unwilling to accept one of its horns, and those willing to accept one of the horns of the dilemma are few and far between as far as I can tell.

    Desirism is an alternative that does not rely on God, and I think it successfully conforms to reality. That said, even if it failed it would not mean, therefore God.

    • http://catholicgamer.com darrenl

      AHBritton,

      Catholic philosophers assert that the Euthyphro dilemma is a false dichotomy. The good is not good because God approves it, nor does God approve it because it’s good. God is necessarily good, and that the source and standard of the Good is God’s very nature. I would direct you to writings of Augustine, Anselm and Aquinas for more thorough treatments from the classicals and maybe Feser, Craig and Kreeft for more modern treatments.

      • AHBritton

        Darrenl,

        “The good is not good because God approves it, nor does God approve it because it’s good. God is necessarily good, and that the source and standard of the Good is God’s very nature.”

        This doesn’t answer the dilemma because one can ask if God’s nature is arbitrary or is there a standard of goodness to which God’s nature adheres?

        • http://catholicgamer.com darrenl

          It answers the dilemma quite nicely and as stated in the sense provided…you’re asking a separate question all together. The dilemma asks about goodness, not God’s nature. Nice try though.

          But let’s look at your new horn for the sake or argument:
          Horn A: God’s nature is arbitrary
          Horn B: There a standard of goodness to which God’s nature adheres

          Horn B has already been addressed by the solution the the original Euthyphro dilemma, i.e it’s logically equivalent to “God approves it because it’s good.”, or that there is some separate goodness apart from God to which he must point refer too. So, you’re left with no dilemma at all and just with the assertion that God’s nature is arbitrary. This becomes a separate argument altogether and it will be something you’ll have to demonstrate and prove for it to have any validity.

          • AHBritton

            Darrenl,

            “It answers the dilemma quite nicely and as stated in the sense provided…you’re asking a separate question all together. The dilemma asks about goodness, not God’s nature. Nice try though.”

            I am not trying to “pull one over” on you. If you think that this departs from standard philosophical dialogue on the Euthyphro dilemma, all I can do is recommend you look up some philosophy papers on the subject, such as those by theist Wes Morriston. What I am stating is not a unique objection, but very common, and deals with the nature of the good and it’s relation to God and whether or not DCT escapes the arbitrariness objection. These are the essential elements of the modern Euthyphro argument.

            But let’s look at your new horn for the sake or argument:

            “Horn B has already been addressed by the solution the the original Euthyphro dilemma,”

            My contention is that it is a response, but an unsuccessful response, to the Euthyphro dilemma, for the following reasons.

            If divine command theory is true, I believe it is fair to say that you would argue that without God rape and charity are objectively amoral (neither moral or immoral), correct?

            If the morality and immorality of these are based purely in God’s commands then God could have chosen that rape was good and charity was evil.

            You protest that He could not have so chosen because goodness is based in God’s nature. Unless you have a very idiosyncratic definition of “nature,” it is considered as a given unalterable by the agent. If this is the case then God had no choice in the matter and His commands, in order to be good, would need to conform to that nature.

            You may decide to accept this, in which case you arrive at the following problem. Why couldn’t God’s nature be such that He would be compelled by it to command an obligation to rape and avoid charity?

            If God’s nature is such that it would be impossible for it to condone rape and condemn murder, then you must explain what is restricting that option (and also explain why the principles restricting it are not the actual foundation of the good).

            If God’s nature could be such that it condoned rape and condemned murder, then most would likely agree that this qualifies as arbitrary.

            I can link you to some of the many philosophy papers that exist on this topic if you wish. Even though I would be working against myself, I could point you to what some theists have responded (in my opinion unsuccessfully) as well.

          • AHBritton

            Darrenl,

            You never responded to my original question about what and how intrinsic values work, by the way.

      • http://thelostcoin.org Marc
  • Erick

    There was something Hemant brought up (or maybe I misheard and just think he brought up) that I thought was overlooked a little bit — that the historical record could be looked at as the standard for moral value assertions. I’m not sure if anyone addressed this idea.

    Basically, over time, people have learned that certain actions/inactions are good/bad. For example, allowing people to go around murdering people could one day result in my own untimely death. So, our ancient ancestors decided a long time ago to declare murder morally bad. Existence and death, after all, is a universal experience, so the fact that this resolution was near universally accepted among human populations as to make it seem objective is not odd.

  • http://homeschoolingphysicist.blogspot.com PhysicistDave

    Erick wrote to me:
    >Considering a Catholic monk is the father of genetics, a Catholic cleric first proposed heliocentrism, a Catholic priest first proposed what is currently the Standard Model of the universe, and so on and so forth… I think Catholics are pretty much within their right to believe that science is on their side.

    While I am no longer willing to communicate with Erick because if his accusation that I was being dishonest when I merely posted accurate information about physics, I thought I should tie up this loose end.

    It is of course true that modern science began in Catholic Europe and that the early modern scientists had to act as if they believed in Christianity, since the alternative might be burning at the stake, as really did happen to Giordano Bruno after the Inquisition found him guilty of heresy. (Incidentally, as late as the year 2000, Cardinal Angelo Sodano defended the Inquisitors in Bruno’s case stating that they “”had the desire to serve freedom and promote the common good and did everything possible to save his life”!!! Anyone who thinks the Church has fundamentally changed should keep the Cardinal’s horrific statement in mind.)

    Once religious freedom came to flourish in Europe and its overseas colonies, the fraction of Catholic scientists declined quite dramatically. I myself have not personally known even a single research scientist whom I knew to be a Catholic. The only prominent Catholic scientist I can think of off-hand is Ken Miller, and Ken is prominent mainly because atheists find it useful to have someone who claims to be a Christian on their side in the evolution/Creationsim debate. However, Dawkins managed to publicly get Ken to admit that Ken was really not a defender of the Virgin Birth, so I suppose many Catholics might not count even Ken as a Catholic.

    I myself have personally known only one competent scientist who I knew to be a Christian at all: the relativist Don Page. Based on Don’s recent writings, I am a bit unsure if he can still be called a Christian.

    The famous Larson-Witham study suggests that my personal experience is not atypical: the study found that less than ten percent of the members of the National Academy of Sciences believe in a personal God (the study was originally published in the prestigious journal Nature: it is available online at http://www.stephenjaygould.org/ctrl/news/file002.html ).

    More recently, Professor Elaine Ecklund reached results similar to Larson and Witham: see http://religion.ssrc.org/reforum/Ecklund.pdf . By the way, there is a great deal of bizarre misinformation (perhaps it would be fair simply to call it “incredibly blatant lies”) spread around the Web about Ecklund’s research: you need to read the original source to get the accurate results, rather than the truly bizarre lies.

    Let me emphasize that all this does not mean that scientists have proven that theism is false. We have not proven that, and very few scientists think we have.

    I do think that science proves that anything but a totally metaphorical Christianity is false, but most scientists, I think, will admit that it is possible, if unlikely, that some sort of being that might be called God might exist.

    What all this does show is that, for whatever reason, top scientists today are alienated from religion. As Erick points out, this was less clear several centuries ago. Aside from the fact that we are no longer fearful of being burned at the stake and can openly express our disbelief, I think the main reason for this is that modern science does prove that traditional (Nicene) Christianity is false. I also think that traditional theism is based on a world-view that is quite alien to modern science, a pre-mechanistic, common-sense, substance-and-properties kind of world-view such as that worked out by Aquinas, which has been disproved by modern science.

    Anyway, I hope I have provided some links that anyone interested in this matter can pursue at their leisure.

    Dave Miller in Sacramento

  • http://catholicgamer.com darrenl

    If there is one thing worse than watching a scientist play philosopher, its a scientist playing historian. Seriously, I should have gotten a PhD in Physics…it would have de facto made me an authority on every subject.

    For those reading PhysicistDave here and doubting his assertions…and you should be because they are complete and utter garbage…should read this:

    http://www.amazon.com/Catholic-Church-Built-Western-Civilization/dp/0895260387/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1343304911&sr=8-1&keywords=how+the+catholic+church+built+western+civilization

    It’s by Thomas E. Woods, Jr., holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Harvard and his master’s, M.Phil., and Ph.D. from Columbia University. You know…an ACTUAL authority on historical matters.

    This at least gives you the case for the other side of the story. In it, you’ll also find references to completely secular historical scholars as well that you can chase down and research for yourself.

    • AHBritton

      Darrenl,

      Although I agree that some physicists do seem to have an arrogance about their knowledge of various subjects, I find that true of many (if not most) disciplines. It is like the old saying “If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.” I find most philosophers see everything as a matter of philosophy, economists see everything as a matter of economics, etc.

      Some physicists do seem to take this to another level, but it is basically an ad homonym to discount anyone’s view who doesn’t have a degree on the subject matter… if that was the case I am guessing we would all be extremely limited as to the matters we would be able to speak on.

      In addition, merely referring to a book written by an extremely conservative Catholic historian is a rather poor rebuttal, but if you merely meant it to express the fact that historians have differing views on the matter, then I agree…. I just happen to think those historians are wrong and distorting history for their own ends. But that is probably a debate for a different time.

    • Oregon Catholic

      The problem with PhD Dave is that he only accepts what what proves his existing bias. Hardly scientific.

      I don’t know his work situation but I suspect he is surrounded by sycophants, perhaps in academia, who defer to his (supposed) superiority in everything because they have to, much like the scientists he claims had to pretend they believed in Christianity to survive being burned at the stake. Hence his overbearing arrogance and disdain for anyone he doesn’t consider his equal.

  • Clarissa

    I know this will no be politicaly correct, but Mehta should not be calling his blog the FRIENDLY atheist any more.

    He has even admitted that is definitely NOT the “friendly” atheist.

    I was shocked to meet this guy; if he thinks you are somehow beneath him, his is not friendly.

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

      I guess “The atheist focused more on community-building than on the great battle” just doesn’t sound catchy enough.

  • http://twitter.com/blamer @b

    Here you’re mistake is promoting your shared Leftist values –as egalitarian-communitarians– from liberal fictions to universal moral “facts” that those conservative Taliban leaders are (or aren’t) factually mistaken about:

    >>more like empirical facts about the world (“Greenland is out of scale on this map”)… in the example we ended up on, he and I agreed that our claim that women and men were of equal moral worth was more correct than the claim of, say, a Taliban leader that women were worth less.

    This is liberals buying into the authoritarian propaganda that whomever is factually mistaken about the monotheism, must have bad values (not merely different values).

  • Kristen inDallas

    “It sounded like he was saying that everyone starts out with the right beliefs (or a certain subset of right beliefs) and it is necessary that they be deceived (whether intentionally or unintentionally) in order to end up wrong.”

    I’m betting this guy doesn’t have kids. Every 2-year old I’ve ever met thinks he/she is superior to all other human beings and somehow deserving of rights that no one else gets. (like eating my popsicle when his is gone). ;)

    Just trying to lighten the mood here, but we definitely have to train morality, which ever version of morality is being subscribed to, we certainly aren’t born with it.

    • texas+ranger

      That’s pretty much proving his point,you are born with egoistic set of evolutionary tools for survival which changes later, depends on your society, religion, education. No hardwired morality.

  • Sebastian Czyszewski

    Chimpanzes have some very nice morality and ethics, observed lately. Maybe they are true children of god, with us only dirty shits polluting their earth? Because well, why not.


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