Darren the Humanist Explains it All to You

This is a guest post, prompted my plea to hear more about how Humanists ground their philophies and people’s interest in Darren’s thought in the comments.  Thanks Darren for talking about what you defend!

There was discussion on Leah’s blog of last week that the tenets of Humanism (or Secular Humanism, as I prefer) appear to lack a certain satisfying specificity. Having read through a few of the official manifestos, I am sympathetic to this view. It is all well and good to espouse Equality, Justice, Freedom, and Human Flourishing, but by staking such territory, what sorts of prior probabilities could reasonably be deduced about the beliefs, rights, prohibitions, virtues, and vices that result?

Lacking the slightest official sanction, and armed only with hubris and an imperfect commitment to the rules of composition, I took it upon myself to fashion my own Secular Humanist manifesto and parceled it out through a half dozen com-box postings.

Assembled here for ease of refutation, I present:

The Secular Humanist Manifesto (as revealed to Darren (possibly on a mountaintop))

 

-1-

As a fundamentalist Christian minister once said to me, “Secular Humanism is what you get when you take God off the throne, and put Man in his place.”

When thinking of what Secular Humanism stands for and how it is different than other ‘isms that one might encounter, this sounds like a pretty good place to start. Now, what, we may ask, was God doing on that throne? For our purposes, governing human affairs I think, even to the extent of governing an individual human’s affairs (one could also posit that he was giving meaning to human affairs, if you like)

By putting Man on the throne in place of God, Secular Humanism simply claims that we humans are responsible for our own affairs. We get the credit for our triumphs; we get the blame for our failures. For good or ill, the reins are in our hands.

This is independent of a belief or disbelief in God or Gods, by the way. Whatever Gods might once have existed are welcome to continue existing if it suites them, but human affairs are human affairs, and they can keep their grubby mitts off.

 

-2-

The reins of human destiny being solely in our hands, now our problems truly begin.

What to do with them? How should we, as individual humans and as collective humans behave with this new found authority? How should we conduct our affairs?

“God is dead and we have killed him”, the sage has said, “What now, tough-guy?”

 

-3-

And lo, I stretcheth out mine hand and put forth these three commandments:

  • Commandment the First – So long as it harm none, do as you will.
  • Commandment the Second – Towards others you shall act as you would wish to be acted towards, if you were them.
  • Commandment the Third – Be a Dude, not a Dick.

 

-4-

And lo, again I stretcheth out mine hand, and found propositions resistant to proof, yet greatly desirous of their truth, and of getting on with the thing, thus I christened them axioms:

  • Axiom the First – Reason is valid
  • Axiom the Second – Truth is better than not-Truth
  • Axiom the Third – Ownership is valid

 

 

-5-

Virtue I – Freedom

A Human is a free agent. None have the right to limit that freedom without a Really Good Reason. The scope and duration of that limitation shall be confined to the extent of the Really Good Reason. The Really Good Reason shall be disclosed to all, lest Shenanigans be called.

(Deriving from Commandment the First.)

 

-6-

Defined Term I – or what are Really Good Reasons?

Really Good Reasons are those things we use to limit, amend, or abrogate a commandment, right, or freedom. They are powerful. That which is powerful is dangerous. Use them with care.

Really Good Reasons shall actually be Really Good Reasons and not Bullshit.

 

-7-

Virtue Ia – Freedom of Being

A human owns his own existence. None may deprive him of it, without an absolutely Stupendously Good Reason.

(Deriving from Commandment the First and Axiom the Third.)

 

-8-

Virtue Ib – Freedom of Non-Being

A human owns his own existence. None may extend it unbidden.

(Deriving from Commandment the First and Axiom the Third.)

 

-9-

Virtue II – Freedom of Speech

A human shall speak as the human desires to speak, so long as this does not conflict with Commandments the First, Second, or Third.

(Deriving from Commandment the First.)

 

-10-

Virtue IIa – True Speech

A human shall desire to speak that which is True.

(Deriving from Axiom the Second.)

 

-11-

Virtue III – Freedom of Belief

A human shall believe what the human desires to believe, so long as this does not conflict with Commandment the First or Commandment the Second.

(Deriving from Commandment the First.)

 

-12-

Virtue IIIa – True Belief

A human shall desire to believe that which is True.

(Deriving from Axiom the Second.)

 

-13-

Virtue IIIb – The Meaning of Life

A human’s existence has exactly the meaning that human thinks it has.

(Deriving from Commandment the First.)

 

-14-

Virtue IV – Courtesy

A human shall be courteous, generous, and hospitable, unless a Really Good Reason demands otherwise.

(Deriving from Commandments the Second and Third.)

 

-15-

Moral Imperative I – You Shall Not Lie

As a free agent making decisions about his own wellbeing and the wellbeing of his fellow free agents, true and accurate information is necessary for a human to make informed and effective decisions.

As a human is bound to the principal of treating others as he would wish himself to be treated, and as he values truth and desires to be told only truthful things, so should he only speak truth to others.

By Commandment the Second and Axiom the Second, a human shall not lie (unless there is a Really Good Reason, and then his lies shall be as limited in scope and duration as required by the Really Good Reason)

 

-16-

Moral Imperative II – You Shall Not Steal

A human may own property. To remove this property is to violate that ownership.

(By Commandment the Second and Axiom the Third, a human shall not steal.)

 

-17-

Moral Imperative III – You Shall Not Kill

A human is a free agent that owns his own existence. To remove his existence is to violate that ownership.

(By Commandment the Second and Axiom the Third, a human shall not murder.)

 

– — – — –

 

Here ends Part One of the Secular Humanist Manifesto (as revealed to Darren (possibly on a mountain top))

The goal was to set out a basic moral framework with the central tenant of human autonomy. To make that system specific and actionable, to include some points of departure with other creeds, and to do this with a minimum number of commandments and assumptions. Three commandments, three axioms, and a whole slew of derived virtues and imperatives sounds like a fairly decent first effort. Consider this a topic of discussion: agree, refute, add to, or improve as applicable.

About Leah Libresco

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

  • ACN

    “Lacking the slightest official sanction, and armed only with hubris and an imperfect commitment to the rules of composition”

    Powerful weapons to be sure.

    • Darren

      …and the ability to oversimplify complex topics with a single bound…

    • Goldstein Squad Member

      “Really good reasons”…as determined by?

      Dawkins, Dennet, Harris? Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin? Ghandi?

      Or maybe by whoever has the power?

      I know…The Golden Rule: “he who has the Gold, rules.”

      And whats all this Free Will stuff? Sam Harris says you don’t have any.

      • Darren

        Every moral, ethical, legal system has wiggle room. If it is not explicitly stated, it gets added by later theologians or Supreme Court justices. I chose to make that wiggle room explicit.
        Yet as this is only Part I of the Manifesto, and not Part II wherein I lay out my plan for a Perfect Society, the details of what constitutes Really Good Reasons are left vague.
        I did feel it worth including as a personal moral statement that any RGR’s really needed to be RGR’s; while no less vague, transparency and debate do provide a minimum acceptable error correction.

        ”And whats all this Free Will stuff? Sam Harris says you don’t have any.”

        Well, I would argue that classical Theism is incompatible with Free Will, in this I feel the Calvinists are the only intellectually honest Theists, though the Muslims get an honorable mention. We did get into this quite thoroughly in the comment <a href http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked/2013/01/god-and-the-moral-law-in-mormonism.html<God and the Moral Law in Mormonism post.

        Nonetheless, as an Atheist: “I have no Free Will, I am just indeterminate.”

        • http://chicagoboyz.net TMLutas

          No obligation of course, but it would be quite helpful if you define what a human is sufficient that it is clear that those bioethics people justifying infanticide are either:
          1. horrifying moral monsters
          2. courageous champions of a currently unpopular truth

          On the start and end points of life a surprising number of difficulties arise.

          • Darren

            TMLutas;

            A fair and relevant question. I suggest you check out Leah’s original post, “Can you spot a Humanist” for some explorations of this theme.

            For my purposes, a human is something that thinks it is a human.

  • Darren

    Damn! “Tenet”, not “tenent”! Stupid spell-check!

    • http://coalitionforclarity.blogspot.com/ Robert King

      But you get mad props for using “rein” correctly, instead of the other one.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=algmKOzTSGE

      • Darren

        Brilliant!

        “Nope, sorry, its the other one.”

        “It’s always the other one! Let me see the card!”

  • thomasc

    Two problems with: “A human’s existence has exactly the meaning that human thinks it has.”
    1) If the meaning of my existence is what I think it is; i.e. given that I think X (in this field) that is sufficient justification for X as applied to me, and I cannot be argued with or criticised about that, doesn’t that mean (a) that my existence’s meaning is something non-rational and not connected with truth; and therefore (b) my existence has no meaning in any ordinary sense of any of those words? Either that or it is something that can’t matter very much.
    2) How do you derive this from Commandment 1? If you say “Well, the meaning of life is pretty unimportant and utterly personal, so what I think about it is irrelevant to anyone else” then it comes from Commandment 1. But if it *matters* to my flourishing what meaning I have chosen, then Virtues IIIa and IIIb seem inconsistent.

    I think it would help if you gave some examples of “meanings of life” that people might opt to have.

    • Darren

      Rather, a human’s existence has the meaning that human _believes_ it to have (C1, V3, V3a).

      Exactly what meaning would that human’s life have _other_ than what he, himself, believes? From whence would that meaning emanate?

      So far as whether this is rational or not, I would posit that there has yet to be a rational demonstration that there actually is such a thing as meaning, let alone Objective Meaning.

      • thomasc

        If I understand you correctly, I think you are opting for the view that “the meaning of life” is not very important and isn’t to do with truth.

        Why have you put this up there as Virtue IIIb if you don’t think the concept of “the meaning of life” is real or important? It seems an oddly early place to address a non-issue.

        I would still like some examples of what you mean when you talk about beliefs (yours or anyone else’s) about the meaning of life.

      • thomasc

        I agree with you that “The meaning of life” is not an issue whose content is obvious – which is why I think examples would help. You won’t (as far as I remember) find a section entitled “The meaning of life” in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, or for that matter in the Gospels. I think the search for “the meaning of life” is an expression we use when talking about an existential worry about a series of things, like “Is my life important/significant? Who ought it to be important *to* for me to be doing a good job at being me? Are the things I spend my life on, like my own happiness and the happiness of others, important – is their importance grounded in some kind of reality or not? Does it matter what sort of person I am? What am I for (and so what would count as me succeeding or failing at it)?” A religious world view may address these – but if this is “meaning” it isn’t meaning like in a dictionary.

        Do you include this sort of issue in the topic of “the meaning of life”? Do you think these are questions that matter or not? And do you think that the answer to all of them is subjective? Take whether my own and other people’s suffering is or is not tragic – it might not be. It might be that the proper response to people drowning in a flood is the same sort of response to a cliff being eroded by a flood – this is just what happens. There’s a wonderful exchange in the third of the BBC’s Sherlock first series, when Holmes accuses Moriarty (correctly) of murdering several people in order to play a game against him. He says “People have died.” Moriarty replies “That’s what people do.” (I think the fact that he is clearly angry about this is interesting, but a side-issue for here) Is this a “meaning of life” issue? Is it one which is subjective?

        • Darren

          ”Take whether my own and other people’s suffering is or is not tragic – it might not be. It might be that the proper response to people drowning in a flood is the same sort of response to a cliff being eroded by a flood – this is just what happens.”

          I think people drowning in a flood is a horrible tragedy. I regard suffering as completely pointless and have yet to hear an argument which offers the slightest redemption or justification. I am quite indignant about it, actually, far more than most Theists I have met. This, I think, is to be expected as I consider the existence of Natural Evil to be the strongest evidence against the existence of an omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent deity.

          One of the purposes of my writing the Manifesto was to work out some possible reasons for _why_ I might believe as I do. I succeeded partially in this. I consider it a strong indictment to the system, so far, that you were not able to see in it opposition to suffering. Thank you for pointing this out.

    • Darren

      I would ad this does not give everyone carte blanche to assign whatever meaning they wish to their life. By Virtue IIIa, True Belief, each should seek to assign an accurate meaning to their own lives, but ultimately it is entirely subjective.

      • thomasc

        What on earth does that mean? If it is truly subjective (not merely peculiar to the individual) then what would count as an inaccurate rather than an accurate meaning? And why should they even aspire to accuracy, if it doesn’t matter?

        • http://coalitionforclarity.blogspot.com/ Robert King

          @Darren – are you distinguishing between the objective world (which exists whether or not anyone apprehends it) and our apprehension and understanding of the world (which is subject to each person’s particular and limited perspective)?

          • Darren

            Not in a Platonic manner, no.
            Me: There is a real world out there, it has qualities. I have sense perceptions and a conceptual model corresponding, more or less, with that world.

        • deiseach

          Re: assigning meaning to one’s own life, subjective, relative to truth: I suppose it might be that if you wish to believe you are Empress of the Antarctic, that’s perfectly fine up until you start trying to sell mineral rights or declare war on nations who have scientific bases there.

          To be more serious, if X believes that he was created by a loving, personal creator who wishes X to flourish and be happy and gives X this series of guidelines as to how to do that, and if Y believes we all arose out of material processes from random accumulations of matter and the interactions of forces the physical laws of which we can investigate, but there is no more ‘reason’ for our particular existence than there is a ‘reason’ why this rock is here not there, both valuations mean that neither X nor Y can use them to kill Z whether or not they think Z’s life has/has not meaning or worth.

      • Brandon B

        I don’t understand this position. “Accurate” or “true” implies that there is a correct answer to the question “What is the meaning of life?”, even if that answer varies from person to person. If life’s meaning emanates from one’s own beliefs about life’s meaning, however, then isn’t the virtue of True Belief rather toothless regarding life’s meaning? At most, it seems to encourage meta-honesty: having true beliefs about what your beliefs are. As a corollary, you can assign whatever meaning to (your own) life that you wish, as long as you are honest without yourself about that assignment. Is that the conclusion you intended?

      • Alypius

        It really seems to me that IIIa and IIIb are incompatible with each other. Or if not incompatible, at the very least full of friction. What I hear Darren saying is, so long as a person tries to know the truth about their lives, it ultimately doesn’t matter whether he/she has attained any given amount of truth about themselves; it only matters what they THINK they have attained.

        To take a rather outlandish, if tragic, example, this guy who thought he was a cat:
        http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/gossip/death-cat-man-probed-article-1.1201336

        If , per Darren,”ultimately it is entirely subjective”, one would have to conclude (wouldn’t one?) that the objective truth that he was not a cat was trumped by his subjective belief in his feline nature, and so the ultimate meaning of his life *really was* in living out “catness”…

        • deiseach

          Being fair to Darren, I think he means we can assign subjective value to our lives right up to the point where we bump against reality – so the man who thought he was a cat might be subjectively very happy (or not) living as a cat, but he could not expect the rest of us to say “Yep, that’s a cat, right enough”.

          • Darren

            Thank you, deiseach. I truly appreciate your saying what I meant better than I did myself. :)

          • B. R. Lind

            OK, and what if you were born with male genitalia and identify as a woman? Do you have a right to expect those around you to say “Yep, that’s a woman, right enough”?

          • Darren

            Are they allowed to check, or do they have to take your word on it?

          • B. R. Lind

            (I hasten to add that I support transgender equality, but it’s not clear to me how you would answer this question and why.)

          • B. R. Lind

            Well, if it’s a given that the person was born with male genitalia, what is it they would “check” to verify the person’s gender?

          • Darren

            Mostly just troll checking…

            I would distinguish between gender identity and biology, myself. As such, I would think it fair to expect people to treat a person according to the gender identity that they present to the world, where that identity is the relevant characteristic. If it where a matter of biology, or legal status, then it would be untrue to claim something different than what was actually present.

            So, biologically, male as it is a fact (VIIIa). Gender identity wise, female, by C2 (and maybe C3).

          • Darren

            BTW, I would compare it to a name, IMO.

            If everyone calls me Jimmy, but one person insists on James, despite my politely asking them not too, then they are being a dick.

            Not everyone would consider gender identity as maleable as a name, that is their right to think so, but they should respect the views of those who do.

      • Kenneth

        I sense that much of what you’re driving at has some parallels with the concept of True Will in Thelema, the religion/philosophy created by Aleister Crowley. Among many other things, there is a strong current of humanism within that system. Their key saying is “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. Love is the law, love under will.”

        Thelemites will tell you that this isn’t meant as a nihilist imperative to do whatever the hell you feel like. “True Will” is supposed to be about pursuit of one’s deepest purpose in life. That’s different for each person, but in theory, a person living their true will won’t infringe on the true wills of others. It implies a state of wisdom and perhaps enlightenment of a sort. I think there’s something to this. We’ve all seen people who are doing what they were truly meant to do in life – teacher, parent, missionary, what have you. They have a profound sense of peace and joy and purpose.

        Jack Palance had some wisdom as “Curly” in “City Slickers” which seems to convey this concept in Thelema, and perhaps Humanism, very well:

        Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is?
        Curly: This. [holds up one finger]
        Mitch: Your finger?
        Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean shit.
        Mitch: But what is the “one thing?”
        Curly: [smiles] That’s what you have to find out.

        • Darren

          Nice!

      • W J Silver

        In this “Meaning of Life” conversation are we talk about what makes a person’s life a “success” or “failure?” That a person has the right to attribute their own goals to their own lives and to judge themselves based on those goals, and declare their lives successes if the goals are achieved and a failure if those goals were not achieved?

  • thomasc

    Also, how do you get from “ownership is valid” to “I own my life”? It isn’t remotely obvious that “my life” is something I relate to in the way I relate to my car. I am not sure what “I own my life” means. If it means it is no-one’s business but my own what I make of my life, I think that seems to contravene Commandment 3.

    I am also curious why you think Virtue 1a is defeasible for good enough reasons but Virtue 1b isn’t. My death can have impacts on other people just as much as my continuing life can.

  • Darren

    Excellent.

    I am rather shy about claiming that there is such a thing as a Right. Perhaps it is a holdover from my Theistic past, but it is difficult for me to get past the implication that a Right is somehow bestowed, and without a bestower, there can be nothing bestowed.

    In writing this, I approached Rights not so much as something that I have, but rather something others _don’t_. It is not so much that I have a Right to Life, but rather that no one else has the Right to take my life from me.

    Does it proceed naturally that I own my life? So long as I can own anything (A3) and I have vast freedom to do or own as I please (C1), then I think it follows that I own my life, or at least no one else owns it, which amounts to the same thing.

    So far as Virtue 1b not having the usual post-script, I simply felt it was overkill to keep repeating the same verbiage time and again. I would posit that my life can be extended against my will, for a Really Good Reason. My apologies that this was unclear.

    • Kristin

      I’ve always wondered if rights are derived from Pareto Optimality – i.e., you can’t make someone better off (rights wise) without making someone worse off (rights-wise). I could seek to demolish you into a wisp and gain 100+ XP, but I also run the risk of you demolishing me and gaining 100+ XP and reducing me to a wisp. Or we could agree not to demolish each other, not to do what we would not want done to us, end the PVP and venture off together for 50 XP each.

      • ACN

        Yay for co-op mode!

    • thomasc

      I don’t think “I own my life” is the same thing as “No-one else owns my life”. It might just be that “my life” isn’t the sort of thing that we can predicate ownership of, not least because it isn’t an object. Human lives might not be the sort of thing that the language of “ownership” is apt to deal with. The fact that I am (to a certain extent) in control of my life and (largely) entitled not to have other people interfere with it doesn’t tend in any way to the conclusion that I have no responsibilility for how I use or develop my life. (Not that I think I have no responsibility regarding things that I own in the ordinary sense, either – if I own the patent to a safe version of paracetamol, is it morally irrelevant whether or not I allow it to be manufactured? If I own a dog, is it morally irrelevant whether or not I give it enough exercise?)

      I would have thought your C3 deals with these, or is at least relevant to them. If C3 has any weight at all to it, why is it not something that is likely to constrain such a salient decision as whether I live or die?

    • deiseach

      I might argue with you over “Ownership is valid”. How can one own a piece of earth when one’s life is more transient than that earth? When one did not make it? I come along, I see this patch of ground, I stake a claim to it. Well and good. But how do I have a better or more valid right to it than Black Bart, who comes after me and tries to run me off at gunpoint? If it is merely chronological priority, then what or who makes that the rule? How can I have any rights to hold on to the land after I die and bequeath it to my heirs, or how can I inherit from another, if my possession ceases with my death?

  • http://coalitionforclarity.blogspot.com/ Robert King

    Two questions:

    1) On what basis can we tell the difference between a Really Good Reason and Bullshit?

    2) How can you say “A human shall desire…” anything at all? Desires, in their most basic form, arise without deliberate action on my part, and so cannot really be the object of a command. Complex desires, which can be formed through practice and habit, remain based on some simple desire. Or do you mean something different by “desire” than I understand?

    • Brandon B

      For that matter, what does “shall” mean? To quote Leah’s tags, “Whence moral law?”

      • Darren

        I see no place from which moral law could spring but from the individual and / or society. Barring the discovery of a ‘Plancs Constant of Good and Evil’ what else could there be?

        The Theist will argue that morally proceeds (must proceed) from God. The non-Theist has two objections:
        1. In the absence of proof, we have only the Theists belief that there is a God, and that he has the qualities the Theist ascribes to him; and
        2. Even if there is God, how then is he moral?

        Each of these is an argument in itself.

        I propose that any moral system, and moral law, must be a consensus standard (standard as in the engineering standard). As a standard, a moral system is useful, and problematic, in just the ways an engineering standard is. It is also, at a very high level, arbitrary.
        But, arbitrary does not mean random. Standards bodies work very hard to make each decision so as to render the standard as useful as possible, and to minimize the drawbacks.

        I further propose this is the way the world already is. God may be in his Heaven, he may even be the Catholic God for all that I know, but it is the 1.2 billion Catholics acting as if he is that makes Catholicism a real thing.
        This is quite apart from the reality of a Catholic God just as 1.6 billion Muslims making Islam a real thing is independent of the existence of Allah.

        • Liam

          If only you knew how flawed we are at acting as if God were a real thing. I find that disconnect to be weighty evidence for God’s existence.

    • Darren

      Perhaps “desire” was the wrong word. I was directly thinking of this:

      The Litany of Tarski

      I should have included the hyperlink in the original post.

      But, there was more than this. We establish that beings have a right to their beliefs, but without some type of tie-back to true beliefs we end up with:

      1. All beliefs are equal
      2. You are only entitled to True beliefs

      Both of these are problematic. If all beliefs are equal, then we are morally prohibited from attempting to correct our fellows when they are in error. We can’t tell the poor chap that he really is not a rabbit.
      Yet, if we only have the ‘right’ to true beliefs? I think it quite sensible to hold such a position in the realms where truth can be established, math, science, whether or not someone is a rabbit. What of the realms where truth is more elusive? There is Objective Truth (or at least there appears to be, which is the same thing to me); God exists or he does not, yet after how many thousands of years we have yet to establish a consensus on this in the same manner that we can say that Gravity is true, or math, or logic.

  • http://paraphasic.blogspot.com Elliot

    Christians often get attacked by secular humanists because their moral code is “arbitrary”. Regardless of whether they’re right, it seems like the same critique could easily be launched against your humanist moral system. Which is to say: isn’t this list of imperatives and axioms (and even moreso the act of listing them in this way) just grounded in the availability of the concepts used, in the chance prejudices of your time and culture? I’m not interested in debating that point particularly, since it’s obviously true. What I’m wondering is whether you can come up with a compelling reason why the contingency of your humanist ethic doesn’t undo it. Can you face the facts about your intellectual genealogy without running away in shame?

  • Brandon B

    Darren,
    Although I also have expressed and will express criticism of secular humanism, I want to thank you for your boldness and courage in making this post. It’s really fantastic to have this conversation with you.

    • Darren

      Brandon B;

      Well, thank Leah for suggesting I pull together my scattered comments into a guest post, then providing the venue.

      I wrote this to clarify my own thoughts, and to (hopefully) help others clarify theirs, be it in agreement or opposition.

      Consider it a philosophical piñata’; Whack away!

  • http://turmarion.wordpress.com Turmarion

    My thing about secular humanism is that it broadly wants to have a Judeo-Christian ethics and a recognition of human value and dignity without having, IMO, a valid place from which to derive those things. The example I always give is this: if “meaning” is more or less a chimera, there is no “cosmic meaning”, the universe is at best indifferent and at worst hostile to us, and “rights”, “meaning”, and such things are more or less human constructs, then what argument can one give against Nietzsche’s ethics (the strong express their joyful will to power, and it’s just too bad for the weak) or Existentism (life stinks and reeks with anomie so you might as well make meaning in any way that suits you–drink, get depressed, or just do crazy absurd things in general–as a way of giving the finger to the cosmos, while realizing it’s all futile, anyway)?

    In short, all three systems share the same analysis of the world (no God, no meaning, indifferent cosmos, etc.). Therefore, for example, why not take Commandment the First and purge it of the initial clause, and just say, à la Aleister Crowley, “Do what thou wilt be the whole of the law”? With no Court of Meaning to appeal to, why shouldn’t I harm someone to get my way? To be a nice person? But maybe I don’t care if I’m a nice person. In that regard, why accept Commandment the Second? Or even if one did accept it, one could say, “If I’m weak enough to get caught and punished, that’s OK; and if someone else is strong enough to do what he likes and get away with it, even at my expense, that’s OK, too. It’s a dog-eat-dog world, and if you play, you play for keeps.” That accepts the idea of “do unto others” without thereby making one a good person!

    In short, for humanism to work, it has to more or less conjure an ethical basis (humans matter, ought to be treated equally, etc.) out of thin air. That’s OK in that I’d rather deal with humanists than with Nietzscheans, even if I don’t think the humanist basis has support! But still, it seems obvious that any ethic requires a certain leap of faith. I accept that God exists, and that He has expectations of us; or I arbitrarily posit human rights, because I find that more aesthetically appealing (or “nicer”); or some such. From the outsider’s perspective, both may seem arbitrary, but at least the former has a logic to it. Personally, I’m in Leah’s camp in that it seems to me that ethics have to have some source outside us. In any case, I can’t see any outside of some kind of theism to avoid having ethics (however nice they are) be arbitrary.

    Having said all of which, I second Brandon B, Darren–you make some interesting points and are willing to work them out and defend them in public. Kudos!

    • http://www.nature.com Agnikan

      “With no Court of Meaning to appeal to, why shouldn’t I harm someone to get my way? To be a nice person? But maybe I don’t care if I’m a nice person.”

      Even if there _is_ a Court of Meaning to appeal to, some people will want to harm someone else, right?

      • http://turmarion.wordpress.com Turmarion

        True, but at least there would be general agreement that it is, in fact, wrong to harm others.

  • Iota

    I could try to offer a critique, but I guess it can be condensed as follows: the manifesto would make much more sense if instead of “a human” you wrote “Darren.” Because:

    - Some of the basic concepts required for the operation of this system are subjectively experienced (what is harm? What if two people have varying definitions of it, when does one attain the status of a human, what are Good Reasons?)

    - At least one of those things isn’t even enforceable on anyone but yourself, and even then only in terms of “ascesis” is the greek sense of the word, i.e. exercise (#12 – pace Robert King’s comment).

    And, of course, the most basic, underlying question for me would be, is “What is Truth (in Ethics)?” Even “Equality, Justice, Freedom, and Human Flourishing” (which are cornerstones of other manifestos), could presumably be redefined in terms of fulfilments and breaches of Truth. But you’d still have to establish what Truth is. And this is where it get really tricky.

  • Erik

    [quote]My thing about secular humanism is that it broadly wants to have a Judeo-Christian ethics[/quote]

    None of the ethics expressed by humanists are solely Judeo-Christian though.

    [quote] and a recognition of human value and dignity without having, IMO, a valid place from which to derive those things.[/quote]

    What makes an invented creator valid? Further, what, other than an invented deity would you be willing to call a valid place to derive value or dignity?

    [quote] The example I always give is this: if “meaning” is more or less a chimera, there is no “cosmic meaning”, the universe is at best indifferent and at worst hostile to us, and “rights”, “meaning”, and such things are more or less human constructs, then what argument can one give against Nietzsche’s ethics (the strong express their joyful will to power, and it’s just too bad for the weak) or Existentism (life stinks and reeks with anomie so you might as well make meaning in any way that suits you–drink, get depressed, or just do crazy absurd things in general–as a way of giving the finger to the cosmos, while realizing it’s all futile, anyway)?[/quote]

    Here’s the best argument one can give, I’d like to remembered fondly by those I leave behind when I die. I would like to leave some kind of positive mark on their lives. Further, I’d simply rather not be an asshole. We’re social and rely on one another. I’d rather be a good guy who has a positive impact than a dick who everyone hates. In truth, because the Universe is completely indifferent it means nothing, but it means something to me. So, I choose to be a good guy. There really doesn’t need to be anything more than that.

    [quote]In short, all three systems share the same analysis of the world (no God, no meaning, indifferent cosmos, etc.). Therefore, for example, why not take Commandment the First and purge it of the initial clause, and just say, à la Aleister Crowley, “Do what thou wilt be the whole of the law”? With no Court of Meaning to appeal to, why shouldn’t I harm someone to get my way?[/quote]

    Because that would make you a complete asshole and you should punished by society for being so incredibly selfish as to harm another for your own good.
    [quote] To be a nice person?[/quote]

    Yes.

    [quote] But maybe I don’t care if I’m a nice person.[/quote]

    Then nothing beyond threat would make you a good person. Which, in turn, means that you don’t actually want to be a good person and are simply faking an ethical life to gain the reward of your invented deity.

    [quote] In that regard, why accept Commandment the Second? Or even if one did accept it, one could say, “If I’m weak enough to get caught and punished, that’s OK; and if someone else is strong enough to do what he likes and get away with it, even at my expense, that’s OK, too. It’s a dog-eat-dog world, and if you play, you play for keeps.” That accepts the idea of “do unto others” without thereby making one a good person![/quote]

    You could do those things, it just makes you an asshole. The fact is you are only accountable to yourself and the society you are a part of. If you choose to live as though the only thing that matters is your wants then go right a head and do that. But the rest of us who realize that we are in this life together will be forced to separate you from the rest of us. You can invent all the gods you want, but none will ever legitimately give ethics a basis in reasoning because those gods are invented out of thin air. You might as well say we follow a moral code because the invisible monster in the closet told us to.

    [quote]In short, for humanism to work, it has to more or less conjure an ethical basis (humans matter, ought to be treated equally, etc.) out of thin air.[/quote]

    No it just has to admit that we follow an ethical basis because it’s the only way for our species to function well.

    [quote] That’s OK in that I’d rather deal with humanists than with Nietzscheans, even if I don’t think the humanist basis has support! But still, it seems obvious that any ethic requires a certain leap of faith. I accept that God exists[/quote]

    Why?

    [quote] and that He has expectations of us[/quote]

    Why?

    [quote] or I arbitrarily posit human rights, because I find that more aesthetically appealing (or “nicer”); or some such.[/quote]

    This is the same short sighted reason of C.S. Lewis and his arguments in favor of Jesus actually divine.

    [quote] From the outsider’s perspective, both may seem arbitrary, but at least the former has a logic to it. Personally, I’m in Leah’s camp in that it seems to me that ethics have to have some source outside us.[/quote]

    Why? Also, how do you determine the source without simply making up an answer?

    [quote] In any case, I can’t see any outside of some kind of theism to avoid having ethics (however nice they are) be arbitrary.[/quote]

    But the ethics of theism is arbitrary in that it argues that God made up those rules. If God made them up in whatever way he saw fit, then they can’t be considered Truths as God could’ve just as easily made the call to go another way.

    Having said all of which, I second Brandon B, Darren–you make some interesting points and are willing to work them out and defend them in public. Kudos!

    • http://turmarion.wordpress.com Turmarion

      Rather than doing a point-by-point, as I’d originally intended, I’ll just make two major points.

      First, since one of the main topics of this blog is Catholicism, and since I happen to be Catholic, I phrase things in that terminology. However, it is possible to have an objective, universal, transcendent ethic without any belief in God or gods or divinities at all. Both Buddhism and Jainism are non-theistic. Neither has a belief in a Creator God. However, both firmly assume an objective ethical system. Karma—the idea that one’s deeds determine one’s future incarnations—is totally impersonal. People are not “judged”, “punished”, or “rewarded”. Good (or bad) karma is like physical law. If you jump of a building, gravity doesn’t “punish” you—it just works as it works and you go spat. If you exercise and eat right, the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology don’t “reward” you with good health—that’s just the natural outcome.

      Thus, when I talk about meaning or transcendent or cosmic meaning or objective ethics, I’m not necessarily limiting myself to theism. To attack such ideas as being based on mythical gods and such is invalid. It is possible to posit a completely non-arbitrary, objective, and transcendent ethical system with no belief in God at all; so it is for one who disagrees to give an account of how you can have a consistent and objective ethics that is not based on some transcendent source (be it karma, ma’at, God, or whatever). I think, keeping God strictly out of it, that one can build a stronger case for a transcendent source of ethics and morality than for the lack of such.

      Second: There are whole ethical systems—Ayn Rand’s Objectivism, Aleister Crowley’s Thelema, and the thought of Nietzsche, just to name a few—that are, not to put too fine a point on it, based on the concept of being an asshole. Rand, after all, wrote a whole book, The Virtue of Selfishness, and spoke at great length about “parasites” and other classes of useless people who deserved to be run over and exploited. Thelemites take very seriously the dictum, “Do what thou wilt be the whole of the Law.” Nietzsche thought that the “noble morality” that was based on a will to power, seeking the übermensch and going “beyond good and evil” (he wrote a book by that name) was to be desired.

      You speak of not being an asshole and such; but you haven’t explained, in a world that has no meaning, why one shouldn’t want to be an asshole. If you were arguing with a Randian or a Thelemite or a Nietzschean who would agree with you that there’s no transcendent meaning, no God, etc., how do you make your argument to them? You say, “If you choose to live as though the only thing that matters is your wants then go right a head and do that. But the rest of us who realize that we are in this life together will be forced to separate you from the rest of us.” But in fact, assholes to whom the only thing that matters is themselves are very frequently the very ones who become leaders in society—look at Napolean, Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Napoleon, and on and on and on. Not only can society not separate such people from themselves, it’s the good guys who find living in such societies difficult.

      Leah, you’ve spoken of ideological Turing tests. Maybe this would be a good context for one: have a debate between people taking different atheistic or nontheistic ethical systems. Humanist vs. Objectivist, Existentialist vs. Nietzschean etc. What do you think?

      • Erik

        Turmarion,

        I never claimed that objective morality/ethical systems didn’t exist. I was referring specifically to western theism’s moral standard that doesn’t make sense without inventing a deity. Also, Karma is not like a natural law in that Karma is an imaginary concept to facilitate magical thinking, in this sense reincarnation.

        On your second point, I understand there are some philosophies that hinge around selfishness. They generally have more to do with challenging the idea that we do things to help others without there being some underlying personal interest at stake as with Rand’s Objectivist thoughts, which I think completely ignores that the motivation to help may be rooted in some selfishness it never changes the fact that you consciously believe you’re helping because it’s the right thing to do. Rand’s philosophy always seemed to me to be about recognizing a subconscious want. Nietzsche was less about celebrating yourself and far more about finding a source of meaning in life, as well as, morality despite the lack of a god. As for Crowley, I never knew much about him so I have no comment on his thoughts.

        “You speak of not being an asshole and such; but you haven’t explained, in a world that has no meaning, why one shouldn’t want to be an asshole.”

        I actually did more than once. I would rather not be thought of poorly. It really is that simple. And, as I eluded to in that comment, if that isn’t good enough for you, then you probably aren’t a “good” person.

        “If you were arguing with a Randian or a Thelemite or a Nietzschean who would agree with you that there’s no transcendent meaning, no God, etc., how do you make your argument to them? You say, “If you choose to live as though the only thing that matters is your wants then go right a head and do that. But the rest of us who realize that we are in this life together will be forced to separate you from the rest of us.” But in fact, assholes to whom the only thing that matters is themselves are very frequently the very ones who become leaders in society—look at Napolean, Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Napoleon, and on and on and on. Not only can society not separate such people from themselves, it’s the good guys who find living in such societies difficult.”

        You forgot to mention the Church in there. Anyway, the people you mentioned took their power violently and held it through fear or military force. Your claim would assume the people to whom they were rulers were simply ok with the situation. Beyond those that simply take power and force their captures to bow to them there are criminals and we have an entire system set up to separate them from society. Sure it has problems in the U.S. but we, as a society would rather separate dangerous threats and anti-social criminals from the rest of us.

        • http://turmarion.wordpress.com Turmarion

          I never claimed that objective morality/ethical systems didn’t exist.

          It sounded as if you did. If you do think objective morality exists, where do you think it comes from? As to karma, you may choose to consider it “magical thinking”, but that’s not relevant to my point. The point is that one can posit a universal and transcendent ethical system without needing to posit God or gods. To argue against such on the basis of Western religions is like saying cars are no good because you don’t like Chevys.

          I don’t think the interpretation you’re giving of Objectivism is how they’d see it. IIRC, in The Fountainhead, architecht Howard Roark is hired to build a housing project. He give a speech in which he says that he isn’t building it for the benefit of the (I think low-income) tenants, but to express his talent and individuality. When the overseer doesn’t build the project exactly to Roark’s specifications, he destroys the whole project by dynamiting it. Too bad for those who needed a place to live! Nothing at all about subconscious wants, either.

          I would rather not be thought of poorly.

          I would rather not be so thought of, either. The problem is that in many cases that’s not an issue. A con man may deceive people to his advantage, and if he’s skillful, never get caught. People will think just fine of him because they don’t know his true nature. I teach, and have had much experience with teens and twenty-somethings. In discussions I’ve had over the years, I’ve heard young people say, with distressing frequency, that the reason cheating is wrong is that you might get caught–and many honestly don’t see what’s wrong with it if they can get away with it. If you have a situation where you can get away with something, by definition you won’t be thought ill of, because no one will know. How does your system motivate someone to be moral even if he can get away with it?

          Your claim would assume the people to whom [ruthless egotists out for themselves] were rulers were simply ok with the situation.

          The evidence is that the majority of Germans were OK with Hitler, whom we must remember was democratically elected.

          You seem to be positing that “You shouldn’t be an asshole” or “You ought to want people to think well of you” or “You ought to seek the good of society” to be self-evident propositions that don’t need to be argued. I’m much more cynical about human nature than that.

          • Erik

            “It sounded as if you did. If you do think objective morality exists, where do you think it comes from?”

            I’ve always believed that morality has been the result of interactions between members of a society over time. I also think it’s why we now declare there to be varying degrees to a criminal act. We can agree that murder is wrong, however, we are willing to declare a murder done in self-defense to be less of an offense than murder for the purpose of personal gain. Personally, I find both to be wrong, however, I think declaring equal levels of criminality to be unjustifiable. So, while I still believe both to be inherently wrong, one is less wrong than the other. I believe this sort of gray area is simply an evolution of basic empathic thought when it comes to someone being harmed in some way. This, to me, has always been the most reasonable starting point to understand a concept like morality.

            “As to karma, you may choose to consider it “magical thinking”, but that’s not relevant to my point. The point is that one can posit a universal and transcendent ethical system without needing to posit God or gods. To argue against such on the basis of Western religions is like saying cars are no good because you don’t like Chevys.”

            I liken the two because they both boil down to a system of punishment and reward. You either live a “good” and get rewarded or you don’t and end up punished in some way. To me people are not being “good” for goodness sake, they are doing so so that they aren’t punished in some way. Which ends up negating them being a “good” person. They’re basically just afraid of an imaginary punishment.

            “I don’t think the interpretation you’re giving of Objectivism is how they’d see it. IIRC, in The Fountainhead, architecht Howard Roark is hired to build a housing project. He give a speech in which he says that he isn’t building it for the benefit of the (I think low-income) tenants, but to express his talent and individuality. When the overseer doesn’t build the project exactly to Roark’s specifications, he destroys the whole project by dynamiting it. Too bad for those who needed a place to live! Nothing at all about subconscious wants, either.”

            My interpretation of it is my own. From what I know of it it’s presented as revolving around acts of kindness being rooted in selfish wants. It’s also important to point out Rand wrote more than the Fountainhead.

            “I would rather not be thought of poorly.

            I would rather not be so thought of, either. The problem is that in many cases that’s not an issue. A con man may deceive people to his advantage, and if he’s skillful, never get caught. People will think just fine of him because they don’t know his true nature. I teach, and have had much experience with teens and twenty-somethings. In discussions I’ve had over the years, I’ve heard young people say, with distressing frequency, that the reason cheating is wrong is that you might get caught–and many honestly don’t see what’s wrong with it if they can get away with it. If you have a situation where you can get away with something, by definition you won’t be thought ill of, because no one will know. How does your system motivate someone to be moral even if he can get away with it?”

            First, doing something because you might get away with it, which is rare actually, isn’t any different from following moral laws that a god determines. My reasoning is that the only reason to follow those laws would be that the god we invent, generally, knows everything we do. So we don’t commit “evil” because we can’t get away with it. This doesn’t result in “good” people. It results in people who are slaves to fear.

            As for your question, I don’t know. To me knowing that I’ve done something, or could do something, for my own benefit that harms another is enough to make me not want to screw over someone else. I honestly don’t understand why not wanting to say “fuck you, I’m in this for me” needs to be justified.

            “Your claim would assume the people to whom [ruthless egotists out for themselves] were rulers were simply ok with the situation.

            The evidence is that the majority of Germans were OK with Hitler, whom we must remember was democratically elected.”

            When he was elected sure. When he began his mass slaughter things changed. It may not have changed as much as someone like me would’ve liked, but it wasn’t though the whole of the nation was willing to turn over every jew, gay, gypsy, etc. knowing damn well what was going to happen.

            “You seem to be positing that “You shouldn’t be an asshole” or “You ought to want people to think well of you” or “You ought to seek the good of society” to be self-evident propositions that don’t need to be argued. I’m much more cynical about human nature than that.”

            Yes, you are far more cynical about human nature than I am. I see people being dicks to each other in our modern society and I can’t help but wonder if the idea that we’re all sinners, unworthy of “our” creator’s love has something do with it. That’s another discussion.

          • http://turmarion.wordpress.com Turmarion

            I’ve always believed that morality has been the result of interactions between members of a society over time.

            Right here in a nutshell is the problem. The “interactions between members of a society over time” result in radically different ethical systems. Many have advocated and practiced slavery. Others oppress women (e.g. the Taliban) or practice female circumcision. Some relegate certain groups to second-class status (e.g. the Jews in Medieval Europe). There’s not even agreement on the example you give, murder. Some societies allow or even encourage the family of a murdered person to take the law into their own hands. Some allow only the state to implement capital punishment. Some don’t consider it murder if you kill members of certain groups. If the result of “interactions between members of a society over time” is your definition of morality, then you have no basis on which to judge Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, or the pre-Civil War South, or Nazi Germany as “better” or “worse” than any other society.

            My interpretation of [Objectivism] is my own.

            Well, that was my point–it doesn’t sound like stuff I’ve read that Objectivists themselves say. I am of course aware that Rand wrote more than The Fountainhead; I was using that for an example. In any case, nothing I’ve read by Objectivists sounds like it contradicts Roark’s actions; but if you have any Objectivist essays, books, etc. that demonstrate otherwise, I would be interested in knowing.

            First, doing something because you might get away with it, which is rare actually….

            Rare?! All the global financial meltdown was caused by people doing things they thought they could get away with!

            To me knowing that I’ve done something, or could do something, for my own benefit that harms another is enough to make me not want to screw over someone else. I honestly don’t understand why not wanting to say “fuck you, I’m in this for me” needs to be justified.

            That’s wonderful–it’s good that you find that sufficient and don’t get the other side. I taught for six years in a school serving inner-city kids who’d often been in trouble with the law, so perhaps our experience is of different types of people. Let me just say that I found “f*** you, I’m in this for me” to be a distressingly common paradigm.

            When [Hitler] began his mass slaughter things changed.

            That’s debatable.

            I see people being dicks to each other in our modern society and I can’t help but wonder if the idea that we’re all sinners, unworthy of “our” creator’s love has something do with it.

            People seem pretty dickish in non-Christian societies, too. I am much more cynical about human nature–our experience is obviously different. As to who is right, that’s the $64 question, isn’t it?

          • Erik

            Turmairon,

            “Right here in a nutshell is the problem. The “interactions between members of a society over time” result in radically different ethical systems.”

            I would argue that core elements are nearly identical.

            “Many have advocated and practiced slavery.”

            And many abolished the practice as it became clear that treating people differently based on innocuous standards was morally abhorrent. No religious belief is necessary to come to that conclusion.

            ” Others oppress women (e.g. the Taliban) or practice female circumcision.”

            Many still do. In fact I would be completely willing to argue that oppression of women in the west is damn near exclusively linked to religious beliefs.

            “Some relegate certain groups to second-class status (e.g. the Jews in Medieval Europe).”

            Again, this can, much of the time, go back to religious beliefs.

            “There’s not even agreement on the example you give, murder. Some societies allow or even encourage the family of a murdered person to take the law into their own hands.”

            Technically they still view murder as wrong. The squabble would be over whether or not murder as retribution would be justifiable.

            “Some allow only the state to implement capital punishment. Some don’t consider it murder if you kill members of certain groups. If the result of “interactions between members of a society over time” is your definition of morality, then you have no basis on which to judge Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, or the pre-Civil War South, or Nazi Germany as “better” or “worse” than any other society.”

            I think you’re misunderstanding what I meant by interactions between people. I was saying that our morals evolve because of our interactions over time. As to how far they go, that’s a whole other discussion which probably has more to do with cultural variances. That said, the basic tenets will be similar not matter what. It’s the way in which those who are guilty are dealt with that becomes the basis for your counter argument. Or, as with something like slavery, a matter of when the society comes to the conclusion that race, sex, religious belief, etc. really doesn’t mean much.

            “Rare?! All the global financial meltdown was caused by people doing things they thought they could get away with!”

            That confusion is my fault. I mean that actually getting away with the action is rare.

            “That’s wonderful–it’s good that you find that sufficient and don’t get the other side. I taught for six years in a school serving inner-city kids who’d often been in trouble with the law, so perhaps our experience is of different types of people. Let me just say that I found “f*** you, I’m in this for me” to be a distressingly common paradigm.”

            Most of those kinds of kids, from my experience of growing up in urban environments, are products bad educations, lack of any decent role models(often due to circumstance), and actually being told they won’t amount to anything. I also found the vast majority of them to be religious.

            There’s something that needs to be pointed out. If all morality is based in religion, shouldn’t it follow that the highest percentage of people who attempt to live by a strong moral code be religious?

            “People seem pretty dickish in non-Christian societies, too. I am much more cynical about human nature–our experience is obviously different. As to who is right, that’s the $64 question, isn’t it?”

            Our experiences could be quite similar. Either way, I simply choose not to be cynical. Cynicism leads to Nihilism after all.

    • Iota

      Eric,

      God could’ve just as easily made the call to go another way.

      That depends on which theism, exactly, In Christianity, for example, that kind of depends on whether you’re a voluntarist. One could argue (someone correct me if I’m wrong), at least from a Catholic perversive, that the ultimate ethical rules are in a sense tied to God’s very being. So He could no more make the core ones different, than He could create a square circle (a logical impossibility).

      What God may do is demand adherence to those rules to varying degrees, or impose additional rules (e.g. the 613 Jewish mitzvot, most of which are ritual law a Gentile was never expected to keep) but the ultimate rules are immutable. AFAIR this is the “eternal law” component of Natural Law theory.

      Of course there are also lots of voluntrist theists (i.e. people who do believe God could flip morality on it’s head). I think that’s the stance of most of Islam, for example.

      • http://turmarion.wordpress.com Turmarion

        One could argue (someone correct me if I’m wrong), at least from a Catholic perversive, that the ultimate ethical rules are in a sense tied to God’s very being.

        You are correct. This, in fact, removes the bind discussed in Plato’s Euthyphro–if the Good is just what God likes, He could His mind anytime He likes and make theft or murder good. However, if the Good is intrinsic to God as such, He could not change the base rules because it would involve changing Himself, and He, by definition, is immutable.

        Of course there are also lots of voluntarist theists (i.e. people who do believe God could flip morality on it’s head). I think that’s the stance of most of Islam, for example.

        True. Many Islamic theologians went far beyond even that, taking an occasionalist view that God does everything directly (e.g. rather than making a cosmos with gravity so that an apple falls, He actually makes each apple fall personally) and can change His mind or suspend the “rules” at any time for any reason. For obvious reasons, I reject this and voluntarist theology more generally.

        • Erik

          Turmarion,

          “You are correct. This, in fact, removes the bind discussed in Plato’s Euthyphro–if the Good is just what God likes, He could His mind anytime He likes and make theft or murder good. However, if the Good is intrinsic to God as such, He could not change the base rules because it would involve changing Himself, and He, by definition, is immutable”

          First, if God is inherently good, then he would be incapable to doing bad. Thus genocide as a sentence for heresy is good.

          Second, where does evil come from? That’s a serious question by the way. If God is inherently good, how does evil come to exist? The only way such a concept could be real is if the concepts of right and wrong/good and evil are already objectively real with or without a God.

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

          This, in fact, removes the bind discussed in Plato’s Euthyphro–if the Good is just what God likes, He could His mind anytime He likes and make theft or murder good. However, if the Good is intrinsic to God as such, He could not change the base rules because it would involve changing Himself, and He, by definition, is immutable.

          Just want to point out that I don’t think this quite “removes the bind” of Euthyphro so much as it just bites the bullet and picks one of the two options. In the popular formulation, the question goes “Is a thing good simply because the gods say it is, or do the gods say a thing is good because of some other quality it has?” This solution picks the second option, at the cost of admitting that the claimed objective moral standard is external to God (and therefore nullifying any claim that God is necessary for objective morality)

          • http://turmarion.wordpress.com Turmarion

            Perhaps what I’m saying is this: The Good is good because God says so; but God’s nature is immutable, so He’ll never say otherwise. In other words, unlike the capricious deities of the Hellenic pantheon (remember, in EuthyphroJ, Socrates makes a point of saying that different gods like and approve different things), the One God (who for the purposes of the discussion can be construed as the One of Neoplatonism or the Judeo-Christian God) never changes His mind since change is against his nature. The very same Plato who wroteEuthyphro, in his later teachings and those of his followers, was very clear that the One is changeless. Thus, I don’t think that can be said to contradict the Euthyphro.

            Thus, I’m really more taking the first option, while denying that this is a bad thing that will lead to moral chaos, since I think that God is unchanging. Having said all of this, I do think it is perfectly possible for a non-believer to be perfectly moral by objective standards. The objective standards that a believer locates in God would be located elsewhere by a non-believer.

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

            Interesting…. thanks for the clarification!

      • Erik

        Iota,
        “That depends on which theism, exactly, In Christianity, for example, that kind of depends on whether you’re a voluntarist. One could argue (someone correct me if I’m wrong), at least from a Catholic perversive, that the ultimate ethical rules are in a sense tied to God’s very being. So He could no more make the core ones different, than He could create a square circle (a logical impossibility).”

        If this were true then it would mean one of two things:
        1. Moral Law exists whether or not there is a god to tell us, thus no god is necessary to discover Moral Law.
        or
        2. God’s actions are inherently morally sound. Thus, genocide of a people is perfectly moral assuming they did something that that God would dislike.

        Take your pick.

        “What God may do is demand adherence to those rules to varying degrees, or impose additional rules (e.g. the 613 Jewish mitzvot, most of which are ritual law a Gentile was never expected to keep) but the ultimate rules are immutable. AFAIR this is the “eternal law” component of Natural Law theory.”

        So you are saying Moral Law exists without God? Thereby defeating the other arguments that there has be a cosmic source of moral thought.

        • Iota

          Eric,
          > 1. Moral Law exists whether or not there is a god to tell us, thus no god is necessary to discover Moral Law.

          Yes AND no.
          The ultimate moral laws (emphasis on ultimate) are, in this theory, an emanation of God, of sorts. To say that they could exist without God is absurd, because they are OF God. It’s like saying my thoughts could exists without me.

          But it’s true my thoughts can be accessed without you knowing me in person (say, via this comment, a book, a piece f software, etc.) In some circumstances you can even know next to nothing about me and still interact with something I created. Although the more you’ll want to understand how and why I created something, the more likely you are to find out something about me.

          Similarly, moral laws can, in principle, according to this theory, be discovered to a significant extent without an accurate knowledge of God, so that a person is convinced they laws exist of themselves. That does not mean the laws exist without God but that the person perceives them as such
          .
          So yes, an atheists doesn’t, in principle, need to know God to follow at least a significant number of the right laws and, if they are sincere, be counted as righteous (Catholic concept of invincible and inculpable ignorance). But the laws are still from God.

          There were, of course, and actually still are, cultures who think that it makes sense to say moral law is above and beyond the gods. But that depends on having a definition of god that Catholicism does not share: a kind of upgraded human. For an ancient example, see the Greeks (Fate was more powerful than all the Olympians). And, of course, it doesn’t explain how things could work that way (i.e. “Whence moral law?”)

          > 2. Thus, genocide of a people is perfectly moral assuming they did something that that God would dislike.

          Yes AND no (infuriating, I know).
          1) Not all actions permitted by God correspond to the ultimate moral laws. A very simple, example is Jesus changing the law on divorce. The Catholic understanding here is AIAKR that laws used to be relaxed before the final revelation not because that was the ultimate good, but because the stringent laws would not be possible to keep until people collectively progressed in virtue. Similarly but in reverse, some demands (e.g. ritual law) are no longer binding, because people are ready to progress beyond this. Further, some punishments of the Torah are no longer binding, because the coming of Christ gave us a level up.

          So you really have to be cautious about distinguishing “God’s actions” form “actions (temporarily) permitted by God”

          2) God is not moral or immoral. God is Good.
          The way I unpack this statement (I am not a theologian, remember) is that God will attempt to enact as much good in the world as possible. But not all goods are intuitively accessible to us. For example, free will (which includes the possibility of doing evil) is a good. As In the existence of consequences as is, our existence In and of itself. And, of course, salvation.

          So the way God weighs up all those together determines what He does. He may let someone die, He may keep them alive. I’m aware of at least four classes of objections to this idea, including the one form the problem of evil. I find all of them fundamentally lacking. If you want, I can bore you with some detailed explanations. :)

          • Erik

            Iota,

            “The ultimate moral laws (emphasis on ultimate) are, in this theory, an emanation of God, of sorts. To say that they could exist without God is absurd, because they are OF God. It’s like saying my thoughts could exists without me.”

            What is an “ultimate” moral law as oppose to a generic moral law? How do you know which is which?

            “But it’s true my thoughts can be accessed without you knowing me in person (say, via this comment, a book, a piece f software, etc.) In some circumstances you can even know next to nothing about me and still interact with something I created. Although the more you’ll want to understand how and why I created something, the more likely you are to find out something about me.

            Similarly, moral laws can, in principle, according to this theory, be discovered to a significant extent without an accurate knowledge of God, so that a person is convinced they laws exist of themselves. That does not mean the laws exist without God but that the person perceives them as such”

            Couldn’t it just as easily be argued that moral laws exist despite the non-existence of god yet some people perceive them to only exist because of god? If not, why?

            “So yes, an atheists doesn’t, in principle, need to know God to follow at least a significant number of the right laws and, if they are sincere, be counted as righteous (Catholic concept of invincible and inculpable ignorance). But the laws are still from God.”

            How do you know?

            “1) Not all actions permitted by God correspond to the ultimate moral laws. A very simple, example is Jesus changing the law on divorce. The Catholic understanding here is AIAKR that laws used to be relaxed before the final revelation not because that was the ultimate good, but because the stringent laws would not be possible to keep until people collectively progressed in virtue. Similarly but in reverse, some demands (e.g. ritual law) are no longer binding, because people are ready to progress beyond this. Further, some punishments of the Torah are no longer binding, because the coming of Christ gave us a level up.

            So you really have to be cautious about distinguishing “God’s actions” form “actions (temporarily) permitted by God”

            I have two issues with this. The first, if god permits and/or demands specific actions of mortals then that god is just as a responsible for the outcome as the mortals who did what was asked/demanded of them. There is no lee-way here. Seriously, we wouldn’t accept this argument as a defense from a cult leader (presumably morally flawed from the start) so we have no reason to accept it as a reasonable argument for the source of that moral law.

            “2) God is not moral or immoral. God is Good.
            The way I unpack this statement (I am not a theologian, remember) is that God will attempt to enact as much good in the world as possible. But not all goods are intuitively accessible to us. For example, free will (which includes the possibility of doing evil) is a good. As In the existence of consequences as is, our existence In and of itself. And, of course, salvation.”

            Is it good for God to command the genocide of a people who worship a different deity? Is it good for God to command a man to slay his son to exercise his obedience to said God? If so, in what way?

            “So the way God weighs up all those together determines what He does. He may let someone die, He may keep them alive. I’m aware of at least four classes of objections to this idea, including the one form the problem of evil. I find all of them fundamentally lacking. If you want, I can bore you with some detailed explanations.”

            I would love to hear it actually.

          • Iota

            Oy vey, Old Testament exegesis AND long winded explanations on “God’s ethics”. This is going to be one LONG comment…

            So let me just ask: do you REALLY want me to try to answer your questions as best as I can? It’s going to be long, probably kinda boring and not even professional (because I’m not a Bible Scholar, for example).

            To be clear, I’m not trying to “win a debate” or some such nonsense, so it’s perfectly okay if it doesn’t convince you. But I’d like to be sure you want me to spend time to seriously engage all this.

            If you say yes, I do promise to respond (unless I get ran over by a car or something)

          • Erik

            Iota,

            Yes I would like you to respond to the questions I asked.

          • Iota

            Eric,
            Okay, this was a long time coming but I didn’t want to let posting interfere with my job. Here goes:

            What is an “ultimate” moral law as opposed to a generic moral law?

            It’s “the way things should ideally be”. God apparently doesn’t always demand that standard. in fact much of the Old Testament (from the Catholic perspective) is Jews being introduced to the highest standard extremely gradually, the ultimate standard being revealed in Christ. Also, it’s kind of the point of St. Paul’s epistles: the Law of the Torah was given basically because the people were too immature to be given the Law of Love (read: they wouldn’t have cared for it, would have seen it as weak and so on).

            The cult leader analogy presumes something that Catholics don’t believe about God. Namely, the cult leader is in total control (that is what makes it a “cult” in the pejorative sense – right?) AND is by definition malevolent (there are full-control structures – AFAIK elite army training would be in this category – we don’t necessarily call cultish). Since convincing anyone that God isn’t malevolent just by saying so is probably one of the lest effective arguments on the planet, I’m going to comment on the issue of control.

            The idea that God is in total control of humans is, from the Catholic perspective, wrong. That is the point of Free Will – that God has intentionally limited His omnipotence with respect to us, so that He will not force us to behave in a certain manner, in the sense of hijacking our consciousness.

            Couldn’t it just as easily be argued that moral laws exist despite the non-existence of god yet some people perceive them to only exist because of god? If not, why?

            Well, you CAN argue that. But if you do, I will not be satisfied until you tell me what those laws are, precisely. Specifically. In detail. And why they are there.

            IMO anyone who holds objective morality exists, just without any higher consciousness than a human one, really has a lot of legwork to do to explain even most basic things. In my experience it either ends in a kind of ad hominem (well, it’s OBVIOUS X is immoral, guess you religious folks need an authority figure to enforce stuff) or in subjectivizing morality (Well, I don’t really KNOW if it’s bad to do X but I behave as if it were).

            The thing is moral intuitions may seem obvious to us simply because we live the way we do. Most ancient Romans didn’t think it immoral to own slaves. See also: Archimedes’s Chronophone.

            So ultimately a secular absolute morality is kind of weird because, fundamentally, you can never put faith in it (pun intended). Nothing whatsoever protects you from all of your intuitions being nonsense even if you try hard. You are the product your age and place. Perhaps you value exactly the things you shouldn’t? And, what’s worse, because you are the product of your place and time it may be borderline impossible for you to identify flaws in your morality and care about them, in much the same way that social consensus and prevailing intellectual ideas limited the existence of Roman abolitionists.

            I would, therefore, suggest that only if there exists something beyond humans that at least helps them go in the right direction, is it possible to really talk about discovering objective morality. Without something bigger than us to help us, we not only are victims of our own culture, upbringing and so on, but practically slaves to it.

            How do you know?

            I don’t know. Not in the sense of having evidence. I believe. And in this particular conversation I’m explaining what Catholic teaching looks like from the inside.
            (I can give you a five minute version of the thought process that led me to becoming an active Catholic, instead of an agnostic, Blind Watchmaker deist, Muslim or Jain, but don’t expect anything really interesting).
            —-

            Is it good for God to command the genocide of a people who worship a different deity? Is it good for God to command a man to slay his son to exercise his obedience to said God? If so, in what way?

            Disclaimer: I’m not a professional Catholic exegete, I’m just a loudmouthed Jane Average. I may unintentionally misrepresent Catholic teaching (corrections welcome). I advise doing your own, thorough, research.

            If, at any point, you get the urge to ask “Why not just assume they lied, made stuff up, etc.” then the answer is “Because if I had to simultaneously argue from all the possible POVs, I’d have to write a book.” The current argument is presented from the Catholic position of the Bible as divinely inspired and inerrant, In the senses those terms have in Catholicism. We can have a different argument at a different point but arguing about everything at once is beyond my capacity.

            The problem with explaining the Old Testament is that the last thing you should read it as is literal in the sense a 21st century person thinks of as being literal. For example, Origen in the second century AD (so long, long before you can accuse anyone of obscuring things due to warm fuzzies), in response to Marcion (who posited that there are actually two gods, because the god of the Old Testament is clearly much crueller than the one of the New Testament) basically proposes that the whole Book of Joshua be read as an allegory for Jesus (the same name in Hebrew) conquering the soul. I have also heard that argument applied to all the books of Former Prophets (Joshua to 2 Kings).

            And this is not wrong in terms of how ancient literature was written. The point was relatively often not to say what historical events took place but to tell a moral story about them. And the Catholic understanding of one of the four sense of Scripture, i.e. the “literal” one, is that “literal” reflects not what the text says in plan words but what the author MEANT it to convey.

            In this case the story is basically about how Israel should obediently follow Yahweh and in this instance it’s depicted in terms of combat, conquest and state politics. (i.e. we are dealing with texts in the epic genre, to which relevant rules of interpretation apply).

            If you take the case of Abraham and Isaac, there are other issue – based both on close reading of the text and on exegetical tradition. Abraham tells his servants they will BOTH be coming back. At least some commentators take it to mean Abraham was expecting a miracle to happen. If the Lord promised Abraham that he would have an only son Isaac AND that he would become a great nation, AND then demanded Abraham sacrifice Isaac, THEN it follows God have to have a plan.

            Further, my sources (again, not in English, I’m sorry) suggest that it had been a longstanding exegetical tradition to assume that once Isaac realized he was the offering, he had to agree to it for the offering to take place. At this point in time he is suggested to be a young adult, rather than a child, and there is no way he could be single-handedly restrained by an aged father. You can see the same argument in, among others, the homilies of John Chrysostom (approx 400 AD, i.e. long before the age of warn fuzzies).

            One very common argument is that this whole incident is precisely meant to teach Israel that God never wants you to sacrifice your children (which was kind of a big improvement on neighbouring religions). That even when he tests Abraham to the highest extent possible (and possibly even with the consent of the person being sacrificed), an angel visibly stops the Patriarch. Hence, if anyone, from this point on, tells you to sacrifice a child of yours to God, they MUST be lying.

            [If you want to ask why Catholics don’t read the Gospels in that way, I’m going to direct you to a very secular source, completely unrelated to Bible Studies. This guy nicely explains how ancient Roman literature first discovered the concept of a biography.]

            Other exegesis issues apply, for example, to some of the shocking laws of Deuteronomy. Both that book and the Bible as a whole differentiates “the law of God” (Ten Commandments) from “the law of Moses”. The law of Moses is permitted by God, more than commanded (as far as I understand) and, according to at least some commentators, is a response to the fact that Israel breaks the Ten Commandments almost immediately – Moses institutes an extra set of laws, modelled largely on other legal systems of the region to “protect” the Ten Commandments.

            I have also encountered the suggestion that as time went on the Jews themselves created such formal strictures around the penal procedures that it was borderline impossible to get yourself killed for disobeying the Law of Moses.

            (Obviously, at least Orthodox Jews don’t share the distinction between the Ten Commandments and the rest of the Law with us – they hold (AFAIK) that all of the Law is from God – the Christian idea is, I would argue, largely based on Christ doing what He did to the Law of Moses).

            Going on like this through the whole Old Testament could be a little too much for me, so I’ll just stop here. if you want to make arguments from the Bible *to a Catholic*it might be a good idea to do extensive research on scripture interpretation.

            The most basic rule is that interpretation starts with the Gospels (i.e. full revelation) and works backwards. The second most basic rule is that genre plays a VERY important part. For more advanced stuff, I recommend looking for good Catholic commentaries or commentators and asking them questions, as appropriate.
            —-
            The four objections I can imagine right now to the notion of Divine Providence are:

            (1) A misunderstanding to the effect that all suffering is evil and therefore all avoidance of suffering is good. Response: go read Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World”, come back and tell me how you like it there (I recommend trying to think from the perspective of an ordinary citizen, not any of the protagonists). As extra reading, you might want to do B.F. Skinner’s “Walden Two”.

            [2] The idea that if God were Good He would stop injustice.
            The problem with this is that injustice goes down on a descending scale and most people wouldn’t be really happy in a world where they couldn’t commit/accept some of it (I’m dead serious here and include myself in that statement – I fully admit I have to consciously train myself to like that which is good, in Catholic-speak that training is called ascesis – the Greek word for exercise ).

            If God strikes down murderers, should He strike down thieves (copyright infringers too?). If He strikes down thieves, should He strike down all liars? How about people who cheated on their spouses? How about people who are lazy slackers and don’t do their job as well as they really could? How about people who don’t spend their money in a way that is the most beneficial for others (if you buy comfort food and could have given that money to an anti-poverty campaign that would have generated more good and saved lives, should you be forced to do so?).

            If at any point on this descending scale you say “No, I should be free to decide this” you are basically saying some forms of clearly unjust suffering are acceptable. The problem is that, in my experience, most people would most happily excuse the sufferings related to their own weaknesses, simply because we like to function in that way and think of ourselves as decent.

            It’s kind of my basic assumption that most people are much too self-congratulatory about their moral status (and, perhaps, a bit too likely to vilify people who do bad, even criminal, things they would have not done). Most people (including me) apparently CAN sleep at night, despite knowing that evil is perpetrated around the world, without getting an irresistible urge to spend every free waking hour (except obligatory recharging) trying to fix it.

            For me to think that someone posits the problem of evil REALLY earnestly as a challenge intellectually (i.e. not because of evil they themselves have experienced), that person would have to show me that they don’t do this. They excuse NO lack of good in themselves and always strive to be better. So basically, the only people who get to really legitimately fight over the problem of evil on an intellectual level are the ones actively doing their best to become saints (including atheist-saints, if applicable – I couldn’t find a non-religious word to explain the height of the moral demand). And I would argue that Catholicism is the likeliest system to get you to that moral high ground if you are really properly committed to it (otherwise it’s probably one of the best ways to become a skilled hypocrite).

            [a sub-problem with the problem of evil is that it doesn’t really solve the actual problem, i.e. it doesn’t further you in going away from evil. If you come to the conclusion that God doesn’t exist because there are abused children and this outrages you, it does not follow your lack of belief benefits the abused children.]

            (3) The idea that weighing two goods against one another is inhumane, to which I respond: tell that to secular utilitarians. Or to anyone who, like Darren, posits that, when two goods are in conflict, there can exist Good Reasons for choosing one or the other. The way in which the secular and religious view differ, at this point, is that they accept different classes of reasons. Not in the mechanism.

            Admittedly, applying the religious reasoning from #3 when, say, you see a terminally sick kid is very, very difficult. What possible good could justify that pain? But then the atheists answer to the existence of that kid is kind of lame too, as far as I understand (“Stuff happens” to put it politely).

            The way the conflict is usually framed (Science versus Religion, i.e. “God didn’t save him, but Medicine did!) is not really correct, because Catholicism makes ethically acceptable treatment a moral imperative too, while atheism isn’t the same thing as doing Science. Anyone who does not work in life-saving sciences but pulls that argument is basically piggybacking on other people’s achievement (and some of the people doing the achieving might even be religious…)

            (4) Quotes from the Old Testament – see the exegesis part, above.

            If you have any other objection you want to throw at me, or think I have been unfair, fire away.

        • http://turmarion.wordpress.com Turmarion

          God’s actions are inherently morally sound. Thus, genocide of a people is perfectly moral assuming they did something that that God would dislike.

          I don’t think that commands to kill entire peoples, sending bears to maul children, and the other fascinating and nasty things attributed to God in the Old Testament actually are “God’s actions”. That’s a long discussion in itself, which I don’t have room for here; but any moral system has to be consistent and apply to God as well as us.

          • Erik

            Turmarion,

            “I don’t think that commands to kill entire peoples, sending bears to maul children, and the other fascinating and nasty things attributed to God in the Old Testament actually are “God’s actions”. That’s a long discussion in itself, which I don’t have room for here; but any moral system has to be consistent and apply to God as well as us.”

            I don’t think they had anything to do with god either. I think they had everything to do with the victors writing the “history” book. And I also agree that if we are to claim God created Moral Laws, and that if they are a part of God as others have argued, then God must follow those Laws. That is of course where the problem of evil is rooted.

  • http://fidesquaerens.org/ Marta L.

    These are good starting points, but there seem to be a few rough spots. Perhaps not contradictions, but definitely tensions that need to be resolved. A few examples:

    1. In [9] you say, “A human shall speak as the human desires to speak, so long as this does not conflict with Commandments the First, Second, or Third.” But this seems to rule out all criticism at all. Back during the height of the RCC’s pedophilia scandal, if you had espoken to call attention to this situation (which you should have!) this would have violated the first commandment, because you would be harming the RCC’s position of power. This strikes me as a good kind of harm, but harm nonetheless. You need some kind of mechanism to separate beneficial harm away from unbeneficial harm.

    2. You say in [8] that “None may extend [another's existence] unbidden,” implying an absolute right to euthanasia. This may indeed be a good policy. (As someone who volunteers in a pediatric cancer ward, I’m a big fan of the right to die with dignity, even for children.) But what about situations where the person wanting to exercise this right is making an objectively bad decision, such as a terminally ill person who is also depressed and not seeing her situation clearly? The first commandment, as worded, applies to ourselves as much as to anyone else, and if euthanasia is against your best interests it seems like you have an obligation not to commit suicide.

    3. In [11] you say “a human shall believe what the human desires to believe” so long as it doesn’t harm anyone (I’m supposing the believer included) and you’re acting in a way you’d want others to act toward you. But you also say in [4-2] that truth is better than non-truth. I can think of situations where the lie is less harmful than the truth, like toward the end of the latest Batman movie where Blake (the cop who became Robin) herds those orphans back on to the bus after the bridge is collapsed so they can find another way off the island. He decides (and I think he’s right) that it would be good for those children to believe they might escape, even though Blake and the priest know this is impossible. Here, the freedom to believe whatever you want opens up the possibility of believing something untrue but helpful, which seems to violate your second axiom.

    4. You say in [1] that secular humanism’s taking God off the throne and putting man there is independent of a belief or disbelief in God because human affairs are human affairs, and they can keep their grubby mitts off. But that seems obviously problematic because the way many people view God (particularly theists in the Abrahamic vein), sovereignty is a big part of the concept. If God could be expected to “keep his grubby mitts off” the affairs of humans or anything else, He would not be the God many religious people speak of. I’m not saying religious people have to live in a theocracy (as a Christian Protestant I’m quite happy to live in a secular democracy that allows me to live peacefully with my non-Christian and even non-theist neighbors while allowing me the freedom to live according to my beliefs when they do not conflict with the social contract I’ve agreed to), but that’s quite different from saying a religious person should be perfectly happy to knock God off the throne in private affairs as well.

    This does seem like a good start, as I said, and I’d like to see it further developed. But I think these points I mention really do need to be ironed out.

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

    This looks like an illustration of Leah’s original point: It’s a longer version of “goodness is good, badness is bad”, but if you want to use it to decide real moral questions it won’t give you an algorithm to decide, just a language to phrase the answer.

    Specifically:
    Commandment the first: Really depends on what counts as harm. It’s surely not just anything someone dislikes, or else stop being an atheist you insensitive clod. In practice the difference is whether the disliked thing is immoral, but that of course would make it circular if you want to use it to explain morality.

    Commandment the second: If I were them I would want what they want, so basically like they want. So I want you to give me all your money. Or maybe like if I was in their place? Then you’ll exclude differences of taste and we should start a collection to give Leah meat and driving lessons. Effectively it’s probably if I was like them in all the ways they legitimately differ from me, but there’s the circularity again.

    Commandment the third: Like, basically, behave morally?

    Defined Term I: So limit freedom only for the reasons we use to limit freedom. Not particularly onerous. But those really good reasons shall actually be really good and not bullshit. That’s like a secretary being charged with the secretarial duties. Not wrong, but not particularly helpful either.

    It’s also interesting that you specifically derive “Freedom of speech”, even though the concept you get is much narrower than what Americans normally call by that name. I’m in Germany, where we have several speech restrictions that would make most Americans uncomfortable and I’m on board with some of them, so it’s not like I’m censor-shy by American standards. But that’s nothing compared to limiting the freedom of speech by Commandment the Third interpreted naturally. Basically reddit would have to go and don’t even think of YouTube comments. That’s a bit too narrow even for this Catholic reactionary.

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

      I think some of these criticisms are fair, but some of them rely on the fact that Secular Humanism has been defined in 750 words. I’m not sure any moral system can be accurately described in that little space (well… maybe if you used the right kind of programming language)

      Anyways, I thought I’d take my own unsolicited crack at trying to deal with a few of them (the views expressed in this interview do not necessarily reflect those of Darren):

      Commandment the first: Really depends on what counts as harm. It’s surely not just anything someone dislikes, or else stop being an atheist you insensitive clod

      This is true- but this is true in any moral system. Provisionally, I would say that which causes humans discomfort, pain, or fear could be considered “harm”. Note that this is entirely subjective, and is completely dependent on what, in practice, causes humans pain, discomfort and fear. If humans were constructed in such a way that the color yellow caused them pain, then showing them the color yellow would be morally wrong. If they were constructed in such a way that they could only be happy (or if they could be made demonstrably happier) by marrying two or more other people, then polygamy would be morally correct.

      I will return to this later, but there are certainly cases where we must choose between competing goods (your comfort and me speaking what I believe to be the truth) or competing evils (your discomfort and me lying about my beliefs), and neither Darren nor I have at this point laid out a utility function on how to do that.

      In practice the difference is whether the disliked thing is immoral, but that of course would make it circular if you want to use it to explain morality.

      I don’t think this is strictly accurate. Or rather, if it is accurate, then that’s a bug in my thinking, not in my moral system. My moral system says that if things can be shown to cause benefit rather than harm, then I should accept them as moral even if I don’t understand them or prefer them myself. The obvious example here is homosexuality- I don’t understand being attracted to members of the same sex, and I don’t prefer that lifestyle myself, but I think it can be demonstrably shown that it is highly beneficial for gay people to engage in loving gay relationships (as opposed to celibacy, heterosexual marriage, remaining in the closet, and/or being ostracized from society) and therefore homosexuality is morally acceptable and supporting the rights of homosexuals is a moral requirement.

      Commandment the second: If I were them I would want what they want, so basically like they want. So I want you to give me all your money. Or maybe like if I was in their place? Then you’ll exclude differences of taste and we should start a collection to give Leah meat and driving lessons. Effectively it’s probably if I was like them in all the ways they legitimately differ from me, but there’s the circularity again.

      I find this objection particularly interesting, since commandment the second is essentially identical to the moral prescription given by Jesus(twice)

      Of course, as in any moral system, you will eventually have competing goods you must choose between (if we say money is “good”, then there’s a competing good between you having the money and your neighbor having the money.) In secular humanism, as in Christianity, “Do unto others” is an prescription toward fairness, equality, and empathy, rather than toward the radical please-take-advantage-of-me stance that a strict interpretation would seem to imply.

      Note also that I actually don’t want my friends to give me all their money at their own expense- so giving them all my money wouldn’t qualify as “how I would like to be treated”.

      Commandment the third: Like, basically, behave morally?

      This seems like a very legitimate criticism to me- we haven’t specified what “being a dick” actually means. I put forward the following ad hoc argument:

      We kind of all know what it means to be a dick- but it’s really hard to define in words (because humans are ridiculously complex social creatures). If we have a common idea that everyone understands but is really hard to verbalize, it’s fair game to reference it in a manifesto. Moreover, by leaving it in generalized terms, we recognize the inherent subjectivity of morality- being a dick means different things in different times, places, and cultures. In some places if you drive aggressively and honk at people, you’re being a dick. In others, that’s the expected norm. A morality that can’t differentiate between the two is missing something.

      This could loosely be interpreted as saying “the norms of the culture you are currently participating in are valid, and should be followed if possible, presuming it does not infringe on other virtues or commandments. Attempts to change the norms are also valid, presuming you do so in a respectful and nonviolent way.”

      Defined Term I: So limit freedom only for the reasons we use to limit freedom. Not particularly onerous.

      This is a pretty good summary, actually. I do think there are good reasons to limit freedom, and I think for the most part we’ve got it approximately right in modern first world countries (there are certainly a few things I would tweak, but they’re relatively minor in a big picture sense).

      But those really good reasons shall actually be really good and not bullshit. That’s like a secretary being charged with the secretarial duties. Not wrong, but not particularly helpful either.

      In some cases, yes- people who legitimately hold beliefs are very unlikely to consider said beliefs bullshit, and this stipulation doesn’t help resolve those cases. In other cases though (i.e. the Patriot Act here in the states), the bullshit starts to stink a few years after we pass a law around one of these Really Good Reasons that turn out to not be so good.

      I would say that the general idea here is that limitations on freedom ought to be continually revisited, and verified as actually still having good reasons behind them. In my humble lay opinion, abrogations of freedom seem to be considered much more grave in secular humanism than in most versions of Theism, and they need to be accorded an appropriate level of gravity in our totally official and binding manifesto (as revealed to Darren (possibly on a mountaintop))

      But that’s nothing compared to limiting the freedom of speech by Commandment the Third interpreted naturally. Basically reddit would have to go and don’t even think of YouTube comments. That’s a bit too narrow even for this Catholic reactionary.

      I would certainly differentiate between “what you should do” and “what you’re legally required to do.” Pulling from my Judeo-Christian roots, this looks a lot like Biblical proscriptions against “foolish talk or crude joking”. We definitely shouldn’t legislate against such things, but if my goal is to behave morally, I shouldn’t be making racist jokes behind the anonymity of the internet.

      There are times when mocking is appropriate and called for, when there’s a Really Good Reason for it (like if it’s being used as a tool to stop hate-speech, or as an alternative to violence when defending another person), but by and large, that’s not something we should be engaging in.

      TL;DR- real life is complicated, and so are we. “Right” and “wrong” depend on a lot of different interdependent factors, but most of the non-edge-cases are pretty straight forward in secular humanism- same as in other ethical systems.

      • Darren

        There are a few of the objections that surprised me. This was the point, I suppose, but surprising nonetheless. Specifically, Commandment the First and the Second were directly copied from other sources, and I had thought this was more obvious that it apparently was.

        Commandment the Second

        As both Jake, Grok87, and others have pointed out, this is just the Golden Rule. Christianity has it, so does Judaism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam… Really now, who objects to the Golden Rule?

        If we really gave it serious consideration, it is a pretty workable ethical system all by itself. Most of the world’s (human) problems would resolve themselves. Within it is contained kindness, charity, hospitality, patience, generosity, civility, tolerance, not being a dick, etc.

        Even Kant’s Categorical Imperative falls straight out of the Golden Rule.

        Commandment the First

        I thought it was pretty obvious that I was mostly copying the Bill of Rights and subsequent additions. I chose to make it a more abstract, and I had thought a stronger, formulation, but to me it is pretty much the same thing.

        With artistic license:

        Amendment 1 – I can believe what I want, say what I want, artistically express myself as I wish, print what I want, go where I want, with whom I want, when I want.

        Amendment 2 – I can own and walk around with all manner of death dealing implements.

        Amendment 3 and 4 – I have dominion in my domain (whatever that might be). None may intrude unbidden or spy upon me.

        Amendment 5 – I can keep my mouth shut if I want.

        Amendment 9 – I can do anything else I want that has not been specifically spelled out above.

        And all of these have the fine print, “unless there is a reason otherwise”.

        A large part of the legislative history of the last 200+ years and most of the Supreme Court’s time has been spent determining when, how, why, and to what extent these freedoms can be restricted for the good of the individual and the good of society.

        Some other sources:

        Amendment 13 – establishes that I own myself (or at least no one else owns me)

  • Arizona Mike

    Commandment the First – So long as it harm none, do as you will.

    Aaaaaaaand you’re in trouble from the git-go. How do you determine whether any action harms someone in an interrelated community?

    If you eat like a pig all the time, do you harm others by being a drain on the public health system after your fifty coronary bypass?

    If you smoke cigarettes, do you harm someone if you take their place in the line for a heart transplant by the stupidity of your choices?

    If you choose to smoke marijuana to play out your Cheech-and-Chong lifestyle fantasy, does your child suffer because you get arrested? Because you don’t pay as much attention to your child? Does your wife suffer because of your lower T-count makes it difficult for her to conceive?

    If you have a drunken (but consensual) “meaningless” sexual fling with a girl at a party, are you responsible if she wakes up the next morning with a little less self-respect, a little less to offer the next man she meets, a little less feeling that the world is full of people who care about her?

    “Religious” ethics are based on concern for others, as well – but include the realization that the seven deadly sins are sins precisely because they DO affect others.

    If Darren’s first axiom is suspect, the rest also are on shaky ground.

  • grok87

    “Commandment the First – So long as it harm none, do as you will.
    Commandment the Second – Towards others you shall act as you would wish to be acted towards, if you were them.
    Commandment the Third – Be a Dude, not a Dick.”

    I agree with others in thanking you for putting “something” out there for us to discuss/dig into/”shoot at”.

    I think its instructive to compare your 3 commandments to the Gospel/Old Testament:

    Luke Chapter 10:
    “On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the Law?” Jesus replied. “How do you read it?”
    He answered: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

    I think your 3) commandments boil down to a weak version of “love your neighbor as yourself” (like your neighbor as yourself?) . The trouble is, as St. Augustine framed it “Lord you made us for yourself and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” Unless our hearts are oriented toward God, unless we love God, we don’t have the wherewithal to love our neighbor, to follow the golden rule, to “do unto others as…”

    Let me give just a couple counterexamples here:
    Commandment the First: So is it ok to walk by someone who is in dire need? After all I’m not harming them, I’m just ignoring them…

    Commandment the Second: So if an alcoholic asks me for booze, am I supposed to give it to him? The gist of your phrasing is, I think, that I’m supposed to try to put myself in the alcoholic’s shoes and try to imagine what he would want out of somebody, and then I’m supposed to do it for him. In this case he wants booze, even though it is killing him. I guess Commandment the First stops me from actually giving him the booze. But it doesn’t tell me to actually do anything else for him, so again I guess I just end up ignoring him and walking away.

    cheers,

    • Darren

      A good point, grok87. One could take it two ways (at least). Where I an alcoholic would I want the booze? Yes, then away we go.

      Where I an ex-alcoholic thinking about what I would have wanted to want when I was still an alcoholic?

      I really cannot recommend highly enough this post on Devil’s Offers!

  • http://turmarion.wordpress.com Turmarion

    Arizona Mike and grok87, well put. That’s exactly the problem I’ve always had with the Wiccan Rede (of which Commandment One is a restatement). What is “harm” and who defines it? What if individuals disagree as to what constitutes “harm”–especially if people involved in the same interaction have different definitions? I’ve always thought that since we all tend (consciously or unconsciously) to try to ennoble our motivations, “An ye harm none, do what thou wilt,” tends in practice to boil down to “Do what thou wilt.” In this regard, I respect Aleister Crowley for at least being honest and stating it outright: “Do what thou wilt be the whole of the Law.” (my emphasis)

    St. Augustine’s variation of this is better: “Dilige et quod vis fac“–”Love, and do as thou wilt.” If you love others properly and sufficiently, then and only then you can do what you want while still being moral. Of course, that gets into what we mean by “loving others”, but that’s another issue….

    • grok87

      Thanks Turmarion. I was unfamiliar with the Wiccan Rede. Here’s a link:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wiccan_Rede
      There is also Tobit Chapter 4:
      http://www.usccb.org/bible/tobit/4/
      “Do to no one what you yourself hate. …Give to the hungry some of your food, and to the naked some of your clothing. Whatever you have left over, give away as alms; and do not let your eye begrudge the alms that you give….Seek counsel from every wise person, and do not think lightly of any useful advice….At all times bless the Lord, your God, and ask him that all your paths may be straight and all your endeavors and plans may prosper. For no other nation possesses good counsel, but it is the Lord who gives all good things. Whomever the Lord chooses to raise is raised; and whomever the Lord chooses to cast down is cast down to the recesses of Hades. So now, son, keep in mind these my commandments, and never let them be erased from your heart.”

  • Darren

    Reply #1

    Sorry all, the response caught me off guard. Parental duties have kept me away, but I will attempt to address the questions and comments.

    Instead of spreading my comments about the comboxes, I will put up combined replies, hopefully this will make it easier to find. If I miss a comment, please feel free to post again. My apologies if I mistakenly cover ground than may have already been traveled by other commenters.

    I am going to use numbers to divide my replies, the numbers will not correspond to the numbers used in the main post.

    -1-
    A bit about goals and methods. My goal in writing this manifesto was to derive a moral system using a couple of commands, a couple of axioms, and to derive imperatives and virtues from there. I attempted to provide a structure where each derivative virtue or imperative was supported by what had been previously established. Though incomplete, everything was put in for a purpose, but that purpose may not always be apparent, given that I omitted a lot of the intermediate steps.

    A lot of the claims were included to deliberately end up at a particular position, duplicating a position of an existing religion or philosophy, but perhaps arrived at by a different path. I will attempt to explain.
    Also, I have a lot to cover. Grammar may suffer. 

    -2-
    The Meaning of Life
    In regards to Virtue IIIb, it was asked what my proposed meaning of life was.

    Geez, you don’t ask for much, do you? Not only that, but I was asked for examples, with an ‘s’, as in more than one! In all seriousness, though, what sort of crack-pot metaphysical system would I be selling if it did not take a shot at ultimate meaning.
    I have no meaning of life. If we are talking about the sort of, life is for being virtuous, or life is for being popular, or life is for serving God, or whatnot. I am unconvinced that life has such objective meaning; Deiseach has made a better description of it than I could.
    I cannot speak to a meaning of life, but I can address what an individual human or a society of humans may consider to be a _source_ of meaning. Given that I have already staked the ground out as secular, appeals to supernatural agency as a source of meaning are right out. What then? Some cosmic meaning quotient, like the Plank Constant? No, sources of meaning can derive from no other source that the individual human and the society of humans in which he lives.
    Sources of meaning are tremendously important, though, but I see nothing upon which I could stake this meaning other than belief, which is why I put it where I did.

    -3-
    Virtue III
    Freedom to believe. Well, this is me establishing freedom of conscious and religion. What else could these be but the freedom to believe as we choose to believe? The argument has been that this allows us to believe any ludicrous thing, and so we already have that freedom. God, Buddha, Allah, Yog Sothoth, Spaghetti Monster. We all choose to believe or not, this part has nothing to do with proof, as there is no proof for any of these.

    -4-
    Virtue III a – True Belief
    While Virtue III says we are _entitled_ to believe anything we wish, true or not, this indicates that we shall _desire_ to believe only that which is True.
    This is a pretty straight nod to the Litany of Tarski.

    Some object that with a strong relativist slant, how are we to know what is True? That is the question, isn’t it? Scientific truth is relatively easy, the Truth is out there, even when we do not know it, even if we never know it, it still exists.
    Metaphysical truth, though? There may not even be such a thing. But, if there is, we must seek it. Once found, we must adopt it. Until then, we are justified in using our best-guess working model.
    Theist’s object to any relative truth. This is understandable. But, the Theist claim to Absolute Truth is, to the non-Theist, only the Theist’s _belief_ that they have Absolute Truth, and so is just as relative…
    -5-
    Ownership
    Yeah, this went a little awry. My intent had been to establish a sentient being’s ownership of itself. Physical property rights where not really my intent, and are problematic. Were I to write it now, I might approach it as a human owning the product of his labors, the first such product being himself; more an intellectual property ownership. I had two goals in mind, which I will address next.
    -6-
    Murder
    Murder has been a tough one for me. Fifteen years of nihilism have I endured, all because I could not come up with a better reason not to commit murder than that I, myself, would not like to be murdered.
    But, this came to an end as I was laying out the structure of this manifesto.
    There is a quote from the Clint Eastwood movie, “The Unforgiven”, that strongly informed this imperative:
    [Warning – Rated R for Violence]
    “It’s a hell’uva thing, killin’ a man; you take away all he’s got, and all he’s ever gonna have.”

    I really liked that idea. That murder, it was not about taking away God’s gift of life, not about stopping the function of a body, not about breaking a social contract. Murder is the ultimate theft: it takes away a man’s past, his present, his future. Every moment of pain and joy, everything ugly and beautiful, everything that every was and would be of a human being, taken away. That, to me, impressed how monstrous an act it was.
    -7-
    The right to suicide
    I am not so much a Humanist as a trans-humanist. When thinking about what I was after when saying that a human “owns” himself, is more along the lines of owning his own source code.
    Imagine a self-aware AI. Whether we can ever build such a thing or not, one can still imagine.
    This AI, it is not a system, it is not a computer. This AI is the software, the unique pattern of information and rules that allow that information to give rise to consciousness, experience, personality.
    Now, such an AI can be paused, suspended, turned on and off at will. Such an AI can be copied, replicated endlessly. Not all of these copies may be treated kindly.
    Imagine that AI to be a copy of you. An exact duplicate of your brain state. It might not be you, but it is exactly like you. It even thinks it is you. From its perspective, some horrible accident occurred: one minute it was a living, breathing person, the next it had been kidnapped and imprisoned in this computer world. Now, imagine further this copy is replicated, copied a million times, each copy put into a box for a subjective thousand years, dissected, experimented upon, tortured, ripped apart still alive and screaming, and each of them thinking they are you?
    Even just being stored. Nothing bad happening, but put into archive, there to rest for ten thousand years, a hundred thousand years. What if that program were instantiated, run, on some future system? Would you owe that program anything? What assurances could one have that the future you would be treated humanely?
    The AI thought experiment applies equally well to a human with a soul…
    It was pointed out on this blog that one cannot feasibly apply informed consent in the case of creating and instantiating sentient beings. One cannot ask a non-existent being if it is willing to risk an eternity in Hell for a slim chance at Heaven. The only antidote for this inherent injustice is to insist upon a right to self-annihilation for all sentient beings.

    -8-
    How to make sure a Really Good Reason is not Bullshit

    Oh, this one was so much fun to write, though! Through the Manifesto, there is a strong implication (to me) of a society; it was intended to apply equally to a society as an individual. This is almost a tautology as what need is there for a moral system without more than one person?

    A consensus standard of what qualifies as a Really Good Reason, and relatedly what qualifies as Harm, would have to be determined by the societies choosing to adopt these principals. Humanism touches on more than just individual humans, and so this is appropriate. Transparency, the widest possible exposure and dissemination of what those reasons are is a useful starting point, but I pretend no special insight in how best to implement.

    -9-
    Background
    For those who might be interested, I had recently read two books which significantly influenced the writing of the Manifesto. This is as good a place as any to reference them.
    “Permutation City” by Greg Egan
    “The Golden Age” by John C. Wright
    -10-
    OK, the first response is now longer than the original post. Thanks so very much for the questions and challenges. Stand by for additional blathering’s.

    • keddaw

      If one actually owns oneself, is it not then legitimate to be able to sell oneself? If not, then how can one truly be the owner of it?

  • Darren

    BTW, follow up, then bed. I use masculine pronouns throughout. No sexism is intended, just the way English works and I have enough problems keeping my thoughts straight without worrying about gender neutral forms and all, for all that I think they are a good idea. Call me lazy, I am.

    And yes, women can be Dicks. It is a gender neutral insult, as far as I am concerned. :) For those who may not have shared my late 80′s, early 90′s cultural gestalt, a Dick is a bit worse than a Jerk, but not so bad as an Asshole.

    • Jubal DiGriz

      But can women be dudes?

      • Darren

        They can, most righteously!

      • Darren

        From a moral standpoint, that is. When distinguishing genders, the preferred term is “chick”.

        :)

    • Niemand

      No sexism is intended, just the way English works and I have enough problems keeping my thoughts straight without worrying about gender neutral forms and all, for all that I think they are a good idea.

      No sexism may have been intended, but intent is not magic and sexism occurred. Please think through the implications of what you’re saying and how you’re saying it a little better next time. Especially given that there is a huge sexism problem in some parts of the secular community.

      • http://john-c-wright@sff.net John C Wright

        Please ignore the false accusations from the accusers. Please use normal English pronouns “He” and “Him” and so on which are the correct pronouns to use when the sex of the antecedent is unknown or undetermined.

  • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

    Most of this really seems kind of pointless from the get go, but especially right here:

    Really Good Reasons are those things we use to limit, amend, or abrogate a commandment, right, or freedom. They are powerful. That which is powerful is dangerous. Use them with care.
    Really Good Reasons shall actually be Really Good Reasons and not Bullshit.

    A consensus standard of what qualifies as a Really Good Reason, and relatedly what qualifies as Harm, would have to be determined by the societies choosing to adopt these principals.

    Sounds like another axiom is needed.

    * The consensus of society is law, unless you have a Really Good Reason to oppose it. (There’s some obvious problems here.)

    If society’s consensus is able to dictate the Really Good Reasons to abandon the other axioms or their derivations, then the system is largely defunct from the get-go. (It seems like you could say a society of fideist muslims are arguably following the manifesto – they have Really Good Reasons for making all the exceptions they do, or at least believe they do.) Not to mention ‘Reason is Valid’ and ‘Truth is better than non-Truth’ don’t seem particularly “secular humanist” anyway. What happens if someone believes Reason and Truth point towards theism? And if that possibility is allowed for, then how is this even a “secular humanist” manifesto to begin with? If it’s not allowed for, then it seems like a concession that secular humanism is dogmatic and itself may be in violation of its own axioms. (Maybe we need yet another axiom.)

    Also, how did you manage to establish that societal consensus is capable of providing Really Good Reasons anyway? If this flowed from one of the axioms, I didn’t see it – it seems like an arbitrary exception.

    The reins of human destiny being solely in our hands, now our problems truly begin.

    And since when? Under atheism and materialism, the ‘reins of human destiny’ seem equally in the ‘hands’ of accidents, the general machinations of pointless nature and more.

    I could go on, but really, I just see nothing much here. Good job at taking a stab at it, at least.

  • Thomasc

    1. Meaning. You say you would be selling a crackpot metaphysics if you weren’t selling a meaning, but you then say you don’t have one and doubt that there can be one. So you arent selling a meaning. You then jump to sources of meaning and say by default that this has to be belief. I think the problem is that you have no clear idea of what sort of idea you want to identify when talking about meanings of life. Which is why I would like examples. Anyway, if you say there isn’t meaning, then it doesn’t need a source. Moreover, my believing that x is true is not normally any kind of source of x being true.

    As to suicide: I don’t think difficult practical questions,such as whether it is blameworthy for me to take my own life, are sensibly addressed by running thought experiments on subjects that we have no intuitions or experiences of. We need to deal with these problems with things we know about, not things we don’t know about. And we don’t know about what it would be like to be an AI in storage – incidentally, don’t you think it is an odd analytical tool for you use when explaining a morality based on the centrality of human life?

    You say there is a perfect analogy to that ‘injustice’ to the human condition.
    1. why, according to your system, is it an injustice? The AI didn’t make itself, and I thought you based our self determination on our ownership of our selves due to our making ourselves.

    2. It sounds nothing like the human condition: we aren’t at risk of replication over thousands of years while kept in a box. What are the analogies?

    3. Even if your thought experiment could actually be conducted. As you describe it the annihilation of one individual involved would not prevent it. The trouble here is that I can’t quite tell which injustice you are objecting to: the living forever but not being sure you would be treated humanely, the boredom, the being copied without your consent, the copies being tormented. The last two are just irrelevant to your answer.

    Are you using this as an argument for the non-blameworthyness of suicide in all circumstances? If your argument is that the very fact of being trapped in our lives is injustice as we don’t know where they are going, and that a totally respectable answer to this is annihilation, it seems so. But where is your concern for truth in this? It doesn’t seem a true way of looking at our lives to talk about them in this way. If we are severely depressed we might think so, but then we need help, not annihilation. If you think it is a true way of looking at being human, then your humanism has a very negative view of the human condition.

    • Darren

      Thomasc;
      More on Meaning and Virtue IIIb

      If belief is insufficient to establish meaning, then we are all of us, my friend, up the same creek.

      The Catholic believes that meaning is something that must be bestowed, that it is not intrinsic.
      The Catholic believes that God is, nonetheless, intrinsically meaningful, requiring no higher bestower.
      The Catholic believes that by his Catholicism, he partakes in some of God’s meaning, obtaining meaning for himself.
      The Catholic further believes that his beliefs are not “just” beliefs, but that his beliefs are Truth.
      He might be right. (1)
      But, until he can convince the rest of us, he is stuck with plain old beliefs.
      (1) – But probably not. Not picking on Catholics, here, the same goes for everyone. It is worth remembering that no matter what you believe, most people think you are wrong.

  • http://Www.humanism.org.uk Josh Kutchinsky

    Hi,
    Valiant undertaking with a lot to be said for it. I haven’t read every comment and so apologise if I am repeating what has already been said.
    It is easy to get hung up on definitions. It is said of humanists that getting them to agree is a little like herding cats. Anyway there has been some agreement among some leading humanists . IHEU (International Humanist & Ethical Union) promotes an agreed position that the lifestance or worldview that is Humanism should not be qualified by epithets. IHEU publishes an agreed position as to what Humanism is. This is an ongoing project and because of the nature of Humanism can never be completed. The latest declaration is the IHEU Amsterdam Declaration 2002 http://www.iheu.org/adamdecl.htm I hope this is helpful.

    • Darren

      Thank you, Josh.

  • thomasc

    The thing is (linking both my issues above), your defence of suicide seems to rest on quite a meaty claim about the meaning of life: something approaching the idea that our truest deepest nature, for those who see clearly, is that we are spirits trapped in a prison of the senses, against our will and against our entitlement (you say it is an injustice), sighing for the dying of the light. (I’m not really sure how it fits with your defence of the idea that my self determination comes from my ownership of my life which comes from my creation of my self, as the last point can only really make sense in terms of the embodied self in the world. If my true self, the one in this prison, is something apart from the world of experience and in a position to reject it tout court, then I didnt play any part in creating that ‘soul’ as you call it. How could I have?)

    This is why meaning of life type issues matter: you can say that they are up to the individual, are non existent or arbitrary, but then you find them standing behind bits of your moral reasoning. And they make a big difference to where you get to.

  • Gobias

    “I really liked that idea. That murder, it was not about taking away God’s gift of life, not about stopping the function of a body, not about breaking a social contract. Murder is the ultimate theft: it takes away a man’s past, his present, his future. Every moment of pain and joy, everything ugly and beautiful, everything that every was and would be of a human being, taken away. That, to me, impressed how monstrous an act it was.”

    But it sounds like you’ve smuggled in ideas about theft and its monstrousness out of some arbitrary preference. Moral accounts of the kind you are constructing only hold sway over people who say, “I want to figure out how I should be moral”—that is, they accept the category of morality in the first place—and then also happen to agree with your particular chosen principles, which are by no means necessary. What force does it have over people who reject the category entirely? E.g., the murderous despot who simply doesn’t care. Can you rationally talk him down? That is, explain why the rules apply even if they coincide neither with his will nor his earthly interest? Otherwise the moral outcry is just irrational manipulation or coercion to bring him into line with the rules the rest of us like to play by.

  • keddaw

    “So long as it harm none, do as you will”

    Well done, you messed up the very first one – here you have just given the state/others the justification for banning drugs, tobacco, alcohol, an any behaviour that may be considered harmful to oneself.

    I not so humbly suggest you change it to “So long as it harm no-one else…” and even then if you have responsibilities (parenthood, debts etc.) then non-productive or harmful behaviours would also be within the remit of others. So I’d maybe have to add a ‘directly’ in there to clarify the type of harm we should be concerned with. e.g. pollution harms people directly (even if only statistically) but owning guns harms no-one directly (even though people are harmed by guns directly).

    Wow, you also managed to mess up your second commandment by referring to the golden rule. You really are poor at this. The golden rule does not work! It leads to excessive pacifism, allows genocides, harms people with different values and goals to you and is seriously messed up in a sub-dom relationship.

    Okay, last chance, how’s the third one? Ignoring the casual sexism in it, it would appear that once again you have made a fundamental error. We need to have some idea of what a dude and a dick are before we can unpick this, but assuming some generic understanding from society at large, it appears that the third most important thing in secular humanism, the sort of stuff the state should be getting involved in, is manners.

    No, sorry, you have failed on a level that is almost as bad as the Abrahimic Ten Commandments. I will read no further.

  • keddaw

    For completeness:

    “A human shall speak as the human desires to speak, so long as this does not conflict with Commandments the First, Second, or Third.”

    So freedom of speech is limited by being a Dick? I don’t think you have a clue what freedom of speech means or the point of it.

    “A human shall desire to speak that which is True.”

    Awesome, we’re chucking out fiction too?

    So Darren, given that I have strongly disagreed with all three of your commandments, and shown hopefully good reasons why, please explain why you think my reasons are invalid or why the objections should be ignored?

    • keddaw

      Secular Humanism, showing the left’s cloying desire to control people’s lives just as much as the religious right but trying to couch it in woolly 21st century language rather than the bronze age barbarism of the religious.

  • MClark

    The faux King James-ism phrases really irritated me after about five paragraphs and I stopped reading. If you’re ditching theism, that’s your business, but don’t steal the poetry.

    • Darren

      Forty years of Monty Python and you ask me this?

      Impossible.

      You should try the Book of Mormon, it out King James’s the King James.

  • jose

    Leah, a catholic who agrees with gay marriage, complains that other people aren’t clear enough about their beliefs?

    • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

      She supports gay civil marriage. It’s a complicated subject, but she’s not exactly unclear with what she’s said so far.

      • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

        And just to be clear, I say that as someone who strongly disagrees with her.

      • jose

        I asked her once what she thought about divorce and she linked a series of about eight lengthy posts about some musical guy.

        • leahlibresco

          Is your objection that the posts were too long?

          • jose

            More like they were about musicals.

          • leahlibresco

            As a lens on marriage.

          • jose

            God doesn’t exist. <– Stating a stance isn't hard. You did it on gay marriage. We did not need to desencrypt a secret point out of a certain description of the attitudes of some characters in some play or other. It's frustrating because there are good points becoming apparent when they manage to disentangle themselves from the post. Metaphors are meant to illustrate, not to obfuscate. That said, nobody owes me anything. I shouldn't go around telling people how they should do things. That's undue entitlement and I'm sorry about that. Sorry.

  • Wladyslaw

    “Harm no one.”
    A man leaves a woman in a divorce, his choice. Is Darren saying that Darren cannot leave her, because the unwilling divorced woman certainly feels, and is, harmed?

    • Mike

      IMHO this is actually a good point.

      • Darren

        It _is_ a very good point. I feel I have addressed it in other comments, but it is worth a direct reply.

        By way of answer, I will refer you to some 200 years of legislation and legal opinions on what the Founders meant by any particular word or clause one could find in the Bill of Rights.

        For that matter, let’s look at 2,000 years of theological wrangling over just exactly what God, or Moses, or Jesus _really_ meant. What was it that Jesus said about divorce? …and there are how many divorced Catholics (oops, sorry, annulled, which it _totally_ different)?

        Even closer to home, let’s look at the ongoing debate about whether or not two men marrying each has any impact whatsoever, let alone “harm”, on my traditional heterosexual marriage.

        • Mike

          I guess you mean physical harm then, although couldn’t she then claim that her severe depression/anxiety is affecting her physical health too. Or that it is the cause of her inability to take care of her kids? or even the cause of her hitting them?

          Well, 2 men can’t marry each other but I see your point. Ok sorry cheap shot :)

          Humanism seems to me like a really really good moral system or worldview if you’re 1. a guy 2. have globs of disposable money 3. white 4. live in a rich country and 4. are a materialist.

  • Alexander Anderson

    So, at the beginning here, you have decided that God has no right to his throne over man, and have enacted a Glorious Revolution that dethrones either the most powerful being or humanity’s great projection to preserve order and imagine this world most understandable than it is. Then you place Man on the throne of the Universe, or at the very least on the throne of Human Life, with tremendous power over parts of the Universe. You allow man an exhilarating freedom as well as a crushing and totalizing sense of responsibility, as he is Ruler now. And then, after this Great Cosmic Revolution, you use the newfound power of man to re-write the laws of men, and thus proclaim that: One shouldn’t be a dick, one should live an orderly life, and one should respect the others that are also roaming around. I don’t claim to be an expert in Cosmic Revolutions, but this all seems a little anti-climatic. I know this isn’t much of a logical objection, but, aside from your rules, what is to constrain me to the dictates of logic? If I am on the throne of the Universe, why cannot logic bend to me, instead of I to it?

    • Erik

      Logic is eternal and indifferent, we are neither.

      As to the general idea of Humanist thoughts on not needing a god for moral law being anti-climatic, I guess when you don’t believe in a god and believe that it’s not the default position to want to screw everyone else over ideas like “try not be a dick” is fairly self evident and all that is necessary.

      I still don’t understand why so many people think that showing signs of extreme anti-social disorder is the nature of humankind.

      • http://turmarion.wordpress.com Turmarion

        Wait–if there is no transcendent meaning, how is logic “eternal and indifferent”, instead of just a human construct? As a matter of historical fact, different cultures have come up with very different logic systems. Example: According to Aristotelian logic, characteristic of the West, something cannot be X and not-X at the same time (law of the excluded middle). However, Jain logic allows that in some cases something can be X and not-X at the same time. If there is no external standard against which to judge, how in the world is logic “eternal”?

        I still don’t understand why so many people think that showing signs of extreme anti-social disorder is the nature of humankind.

        Umm–from observation?

        • Erik

          Turmarion,

          Logic isn’t a construct of humankind in anyway. Why would you think that? Also eternal was a poor word choice on my part. Looking back on it, it would imply that logic is somehow separate from the Universe itself. So forgive the slip up if you will be so kind.

          Also, your link leads to a page not found message.

          And anti-social disorder is a disorder because it legitimately isn’t the norm. To simply not care for others, the consequences of your actions, etc. is indicative of a psychological problem.

          • http://turmarion.wordpress.com Turmarion

            Logic isn’t a construct of humankind in anyway. Why would you think that?

            I don’t think that–what I’m saying is that if we are the product of blind cosmic forces, then on what basis can we say our logic is true, that it’s not a construct? Nietzsche pointed out (I think in Beyond Good and Evil, but I’ll have to check it) that evolutionary forces might select for delusion or falsehood if that were useful for preserving the species, and that therefore there’s no particular reason to trust our perceptions. He said that only the strong can withstand much truth, and few can withstand any.

            Put it another way: one wouldn’t expect blind, random forces to etch a sonnet on the side of a mountain. It’s conceivable, but the odds are vanishingly low. Why would we expect that the mental functions of humans, as the result of evolution selecting for the fittest (not truest), should be accurate in representing reality? Even the Stephen Hawking, who is no theist, points out this paradox.

            This should fix the link.

            And anti-social disorder is a disorder because it legitimately isn’t the norm.

            There are reasons for believing that aspects of sociopathic thought and behavior are more widespread/a> than commonly thought. I don’t find that idea appealing, but I do find it, unfortunately, likely.

          • rgrekejin

            “And anti-social disorder is a disorder because it legitimately isn’t the norm. To simply not care for others, the consequences of your actions, etc. is indicative of a psychological problem.”

            It seems to me that what you’re saying is that the vast majority of people won’t act like dicks to others because *that’s just how most people are*. For one thing, that assumes that the nature of humanity is immutable, which I find to be a questionable assumption, but that’s not my main point. Whether you feel that this innate “don’t be a dick”-ishness is the result of societal conditioning or natural selection or whatever, the point remains that it can theoretically be defied at any point in time, and when it is, you really don’t have a good explanation why doing so is wrong. Sure, you can punish them if you want and ostracise them from society and all the things that entails, but, as was brought up in upthread, what do you do about instances in which the person being a dick is not going to be caught? You don’t seem to be able to explain why people shouldn’t be a dick in those circumstances, only to reiterate that you don’t think most people will choose to be one.

            And for what it’s worth, I’m with Turmarion on this point. I’ve seen *way* more people who are willing to be a dick (especially in instances where they know they are unlikely to get caught) than can easily be dismissed as statistically negligible.

          • Darren

            Two questions that I can touch on, though strictly as an educated lay person, are:
            1. How can we trust that evolution / natural selection would equip us to accurately perceive the world and ourselves; and
            2. How could evolution / natural selection act to instill in humans some innate morality AKA without a giant man with a stick watching over us, how can we avoid being wife-beating, child-molesting, genocidal pricks.

            Much of what I can say derives from Dawkins’s, “The Selfish Gene”, and Dennett’s, “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea”.

            An example I have seen for how evolution could not give us accurate perceptions was in the area of how are we to know that a Tiger is dangerous.
            The short answer is that we don’t. We have no preprogrammed Tiger = Danger. What we do have are various behavioral recognition routines that are employed:
            There is a thing. Is it animal or landscape? Animal equals potential danger.
            Is the animal large or small? Is the animal close or far? Is the animal making eye contact? Is the animal moving towards me? Is it moving on an intercept course? At what rate is the animal moving, fast or slow?
            If all these routines yield the result Yes, then at this point our ancestors have long since run the hell away.
            How do we know these routines give us an accurate impression of the world? We don’t. Evolution does not work that way. All we know is that our antelope ancestors who ran away more often from tigers than their more trusting comrades survived to pass along their genes while their comrades helped the tiger pass on his genes.
            It is worth remembering that most of our conceptual hardware as regards perceiving the world and our place within it was built long before humans where on the schedule, much of it long before mammals. Evolution is lazy, it never throws anything away.
            It is possible that some elaborate ‘hoax’ has been perpetrated on us, that how we perceive a tiger is completely at odds with how a tiger really is, but that by dumb luck we ran away anyways.
            Perhaps the antelope thought, “Oh, a Tiger, perhaps he wants to play. I will now run as fast as I can in the opposite direction and he will chase me and we will have fun! Hey, why is he stopping and eating Bob? I thought we were friends? Oh ,well, next time I will do the same, but run even faster, perhaps that was the problem…”
            Maybe, but seems simpler to just think, “Wow, a big animal running really fast at me, I should run fast in the opposite direction!”
            And simpler is better, when you can manage it. Neurons are expensive.

            An unanswered question is evolution is “Why are humans so smart?” To be a successful hunter/gatherer, you don’t need to be any smarter than a chimp; chimps are pretty successful hunter/gatherers in their own right. So why do we need a brain three times as large that sucks up more than 20% of our total caloric expenditure, makes childbirth frequently lethal for mother and child, and requires years of parental care before a human can even manage to get around on the level of a 2 day old horse?

            No one knows for certain, but one very interesting theory is that we need it for politics.

            The conceptual architecture for perceiving the world, recognizing predators and prey, habitat, weather hazards, food, and mates was pretty well developed by the time dinosaur split from lizard. By the time birds and mammals made the scene, a new skill had emerged – the art of lying.

            Now, lying is a skill, and it is expensive. Neuroscience confirms that it takes more effort to lie than to tell the truth; one has to hold an accurate mental model of the truth, modify so as to achieve one’s ends, convincingly convey the lie, then maintain both the true model and the lie model simultaneously. Whew!

            Detecting a lie is also a skill, and also expensive. It requires building a provisional mental model of the truth, testing communications against that model, factoring in the prior probability that the communication is deceptive, and intensely perceiving if there might be any discontinuities within the communication itself that might betray it for a deception (tells).

            Now, if you are a chimp-like primate living in a group of 12 – 20 related individuals on the African savannah, your evolutionary fitness is determined not so much by how fast you can run, how high you can climb, how hard you can hit a meercat with a rock; your evolutionary fitness is determined by your group status. High status individuals get the most food, have the safest nests, receive protection by low status individuals, and get the best mating options.

            Status in an intelligent tribal society means one thing: politics. Politics is a complex art, lying and detecting lies is a big part of it, but so is keeping score, building mental models of every member of the tribe, constantly adjusting as members rise and fall, lie and get caught at lying, make and break alliances.
            Recall this is a small, isolated group, with few resources in a very hostile world. This is not UN politics. This is “Lord of the Flies” politics, “Survivor” politics, “Lost” politics.
            So, a couple of millions years of this, and what do we have? A very smart animal, that is very, very good at perceiving and understanding the sorts of things that a tribal hominid on the savannah could be expected to encounter, most especially his fellow hominids.
            We also have an animal that is very, very good at getting along with the rules of his group.
            It is pure game theory morality:
            1. Be nice to others who have been nice to me (I may need their help again someday);
            2. Be nicer to others who are more closely related to me (they carry some of my own genes);
            3. Be less nice to others who are less closely related (they have fewer of my genes);
            4. Be nicer to someone than they “deserve” if it costs me little (I might secure a new ally);
            5. Be mean to someone who has been mean to me, but more so (they will be less likely to risk it again);
            6. If an animal is not part of my tribe, it is an “other”: a resource to be exploited or a potential threat;
            7. Be merciless to “others” as they would take resources that rightfully are mine;
            8. Always keep score.

            We also have an animal that is ill equipped at perceiving things that a tribal hominid would not encounter.

            Our brain has also allowed us to invent Culture, and that has led to Civilization, but evolution has had insufficient time to adjust our underlying architecture to this new environment. We carry with us the skills, and baggage, of our tribal ancestors. Our culture itself has evolved to complement our underlying natures, sometimes compensating, other times exploiting.

            It is far from proven, but it is a plausible model, and it goes a long way in explaining the good and the bad that is Humanity.

          • Erik

            Turmarion,

            “I don’t think that–what I’m saying is that if we are the product of blind cosmic forces, then on what basis can we say our logic is true, that it’s not a construct? Nietzsche pointed out (I think in Beyond Good and Evil, but I’ll have to check it) that evolutionary forces might select for delusion or falsehood if that were useful for preserving the species, and that therefore there’s no particular reason to trust our perceptions. He said that only the strong can withstand much truth, and few can withstand any.”

            On the first point, I’m not entirely certain where the problem lies. Why would logic be void simply because we were intentionally created by a deity?

            As for Nietzsche, the same principle could be applied to belief in a deity so I’m not entirely certain what you’re trying to get at. Well I do, I’m just not certain why you think a basic materialist view is false perception while some form of theism is clearly correct.

            “Put it another way: one wouldn’t expect blind, random forces to etch a sonnet on the side of a mountain. It’s conceivable, but the odds are vanishingly low. Why would we expect that the mental functions of humans, as the result of evolution selecting for the fittest (not truest), should be accurate in representing reality? Even the Stephen Hawking, who is no theist, points out this paradox.”

            Well evolution doesn’t select for fitness. It doesn’t select for anything. There are mutations, most do nothing, some benefit and some harm. If they harm they generally find themselves purged from the gene pool. If they benefit they generally find themselves spread. If they do nothing you never really know.

            Also, why shouldn’t they be accurate?

            “There are reasons for believing that aspects of sociopathic thought and behavior are more widespread/a> than commonly thought. I don’t find that idea appealing, but I do find it, unfortunately, likely.”

            We sure there are aspects of multiple mental disorders that are widespread. But being a sociopath is not nearly as widespread as showing signs of some indicators. I have signs of narcissistic personality disorder, given they’re rather minor, but I don’t display all indicators.

            Making the connections between widespread indicators and widespread sociopathy is a bit disingenuous.

          • Erik

            rgrekejin,

            “It seems to me that what you’re saying is that the vast majority of people won’t act like dicks to others because *that’s just how most people are*. For one thing, that assumes that the nature of humanity is immutable, which I find to be a questionable assumption, but that’s not my main point. Whether you feel that this innate “don’t be a dick”-ishness is the result of societal conditioning or natural selection or whatever, the point remains that it can theoretically be defied at any point in time, and when it is, you really don’t have a good explanation why doing so is wrong.”

            I notice you guys chatting about why something is wrong a lot, it makes me wonder why the question of “why is ok” isn’t brought up. If something isn’t wrong, then there must be a reasonable explanation as to why it’s right. So if you don’t mind indulging me could you explain why being a dick to others is right?

            Also, it seems you’re making the argument that because people are able to do bad things then we have no right to say an action is wrong. Is that correct? If it is please explain it because the correlation really doesn’t make sense to me. Here’s an example to use:

            I could rob my boss, yet I choose not to. If I did it anyway, why would it be ok if a god didn’t exist?

            “Sure, you can punish them if you want and ostracise them from society and all the things that entails, but, as was brought up in upthread, what do you do about instances in which the person being a dick is not going to be caught? You don’t seem to be able to explain why people shouldn’t be a dick in those circumstances, only to reiterate that you don’t think most people will choose to be one.”

            If they don’t caught then nothing. Is this boiling down to an a sense of ultimate justice? Meaning a god sees all, so you can never get away with the crime, which will lead to some sort of cosmic punishment. Because, as someone who doesn’t believe in God and finds the concept of Hell to be as real as Never Never Land, the thought of cosmic punishment doesn’t stop me from doing anything. What stops me as that I would simply rather not do that.

            I guess what I’m relying on is people actually practicing what they preach.

            “And for what it’s worth, I’m with Turmarion on this point. I’ve seen *way* more people who are willing to be a dick (especially in instances where they know they are unlikely to get caught) than can easily be dismissed as statistically negligible.”

            Statistically, most of those people should be religious. You’re last argument hinged on an ultimate punishment being the only useful way to make people moral. How do you reconcile the problem that most of those people should be moral and fearful of their law giver yet they clearly aren’t?

          • rgrekejin

            Erik:
            “I notice you guys chatting about why something is wrong a lot, it makes me wonder why the question of “why is ok” isn’t brought up. If something isn’t wrong, then there must be a reasonable explanation as to why it’s right. So if you don’t mind indulging me could you explain why being a dick to others is right?”

            In a world with no objective morality, “right” and “wrong” don’t really exist, except as matters of personal taste. Being a dick to someone wouldn’t be right. It also wouldn’t be wrong. It would just be another thing that happened. If I feel like doing it, why shouldn’t I? Barring some objective system of morality, there really isn’t any non-arbitrary reason to say why one is a better way of behaving than the other, and you’ve dismissed objective systems of morality (even ones like karma, which don’t invoke God in any way) upthread. You just posit that most people will choose not to be a dick, on the basis of some natural inclination. Even if this inclination really is natural and not the result of some sort of cultural momentum (a position which is hardly a slam dunk), the problem is that you really have no leg to stand on when it comes to criticizing someone who chooses not to obey this inclination. If all that stops you from behaving immorally is that you’d rather not do so, and not anything having to do with the innate wrongness of it, then how can you complain if someone else chooses to behave immorally? It is, after all, only a matter of personal preference that you choose to act morally in the first place. When asked how you would deal with problem X, you just keep responding that X won’t be a problem. That’s fine, I guess, but the fact remains that in the event of X, you really have no useful means of recourse for dealing with it.

            As a side note, I would argue that the kind of “objective morality” you posit upthread, “morality has been the result of interactions between members of a society over time”, doesn’t really count for this sort of exercise, as it is only tangentially objective and not a thing that most people would recognize as a form of morality. Systems of morality are proscriptive, laying out a set of rules that you should attempt to live by, whereas your system, from what I tell, seems to be merely descriptive: you examine how people have behaved toward each other in the past, and the most common elements are what you term “morality”. But that doesn’t provide a pattern of behaviour we should strive to emulate, it merely attaches label to an act ex post facto based on the local circumstances. Furthermore, if society as a whole started to interact differently (which we do have a tendency to do), morality would have to change. That’s a relative, and not an objective, morality. Example: Was the stoning of gays in ancient times morally right, given that, at the time most members of society seem to think so, or was it wrong regardless of the local conditions?

            “Statistically, most of those people should be religious. You’re last argument hinged on an ultimate punishment being the only useful way to make people moral. How do you reconcile the problem that most of those people should be moral and fearful of their law giver yet they clearly aren’t?”

            Hey, the idea that humans are fallen creatures incapable of living a perfect life and always avoiding temptation, even when it’s in their best interest to do so, has been a tentpole of Christianity for centuries. This ain’t a problem for me.

            Also, as an aside, we have indeed talked a lot about what we should consider “wrong” in a system of morality. We don’t talk at all about things which should be morally praiseworthy. What is “above and beyond” in a system of morality? Morality, in addition to telling us what is bad and what is acceptable, also tells us what is good. Morality can drive people to do great things. But I can’t really think of what great works of charity “Don’t be a dick” is going to inspire.

          • rgrekejin

            Darren:
            I appreciate the quick breakdown, but I don’t really have a problem accepting that morality as a system could have evolved naturally. My questions, really, are these:

            1. Is the moral sense we have something which is completely internal to yourselves, or is it a system for detecting and interacting with something external to ourselves (an external, objective morality).
            2. If the moral sense we have *is* completely internal, and doesn’t correspond to an external system of objective morality, what reason do we have to listen to it in this day and age when doing so is not to your benefit? After all, as you pointed out, many of our tools for interacting with the world are evolutionarily ancient, and designed for radically different environments. In this rapidly changing day and age, how can I be sure that my moral sense is even something worth listening to?

          • http://homeschoolingphysicist.blogspot.com PhysicistDave

            rgrekejin wrote:
            >Is the moral sense we have something which is completely internal to yourselves, or is it a system for detecting and interacting with something external to ourselves (an external, objective morality).

            You assume that it is true that “we have” a “moral sense.”

            I’ve been looking for evidence of this for the last half century.

            The evidence seems to lead to the conclusion that quite a few people do not have much of a moral sense.

            Dave Miller in Sacramento

          • Erik

            Rgrekejin,

            “In a world with no objective morality, “right” and “wrong” don’t really exist, except as matters of personal taste. Being a dick to someone wouldn’t be right. It also wouldn’t be wrong. It would just be another thing that happened. If I feel like doing it, why shouldn’t I? Barring some objective system of morality, there really isn’t any non-arbitrary reason to say why one is a better way of behaving than the other, and you’ve dismissed objective systems of morality (even ones like karma, which don’t invoke God in any way) upthread.”

            You don’t have an objective form of morality though. You would have an arbitrary system of morality if it can simply be made up by a god. Now, you could do as others have done and claim that god’s laws must be moral because god must good. Well great, you’ve just argued for me that good has a intrinsic value that exists with or without a god which would thereby make the argument about a lawgiver moot.

            Karma isn’t objective either. It’s just another arbitrary system with a reward/punishment system.

            Again, I’m not dismissing objective morality. I do think that there are basic rules that as humans we have come to understand as having intrinsic value. Things like the value of life and all that stems from it. Now you’ll say why. I’ll say it’s self-evident through experience and you’ll disagree and insist on a god argument that I’ve already shown can’t work for one of two reasons that none of you have really addressed.

            “You just posit that most people will choose not to be a dick, on the basis of some natural inclination. Even if this inclination really is natural and not the result of some sort of cultural momentum (a position which is hardly a slam dunk), the problem is that you really have no leg to stand on when it comes to criticizing someone who chooses not to obey this inclination.”

            Please show that is within human nature to act anti-social despite the fact that it will lead to them becoming an outcast.

            “If all that stops you from behaving immorally is that you’d rather not do so, and not anything having to do with the innate wrongness of it, then how can you complain if someone else chooses to behave immorally?”

            Apparently you still don’t get this. I choose not to do it because I understand there is an innate wrongness to it. That innate wrongness is why I’d rather not do it. I feel it’s wrong, thus I do not do it.

            “It is, after all, only a matter of personal preference that you choose to act morally in the first place.”

            Yes, of course it is. If it weren’t then free will wouldn’t exist.

            “When asked how you would deal with problem X, you just keep responding that X won’t be a problem. That’s fine, I guess, but the fact remains that in the event of X, you really have no useful means of recourse for dealing with it.”

            Of course we do. Society has been dealing with crimes for the entire time we’ve existed as social creatures.

            “As a side note, I would argue that the kind of “objective morality” you posit upthread, “morality has been the result of interactions between members of a society over time”, doesn’t really count for this sort of exercise, as it is only tangentially objective and not a thing that most people would recognize as a form of morality. Systems of morality are proscriptive, laying out a set of rules that you should attempt to live by, whereas your system, from what I tell, seems to be merely descriptive: you examine how people have behaved toward each other in the past, and the most common elements are what you term “morality”. But that doesn’t provide a pattern of behaviour we should strive to emulate, it merely attaches label to an act ex post facto based on the local circumstances.”

            Your system of morality, again, is not objective. It is entirely arbitrary. If it has be made up by some other source, then it is arbitrary. Your system is no more objective than any other, you simply claim it is.

            You sort of understand my position. Tell me, how are laws created in a society. Get that right and you’ll start getting an idea of how I think the most plausible way morality was discovered.

            “Furthermore, if society as a whole started to interact differently (which we do have a tendency to do), morality would have to change. That’s a relative, and not an objective, morality. ”

            No actually it isn’t. The previous moral code could’ve easily been incomplete. Ya know like how western monotheisms thought slavery and genocide were reasonable. We’ve changed since then and found such actions to be abhorrent. We did that without god and without any other magical source of moral code.

            “Example: Was the stoning of gays in ancient times morally right, given that, at the time most members of society seem to think so, or was it wrong regardless of the local conditions?”

            It was wrong regardless of local conditions. The difference is we’ve discovered that gays are people too. We discovered that the religious scriptures which demanded such actions were ridiculous and thankfully come a long way in abandoning them. We’ve been working on getting away from racism, sexism, etc and it’s been wonderful. Not complete by any means, but we’re making a steps in the right direction. Now, if these things were moral from day one of god’s interactions with us, they would be moral at all times and not something that needed to change over time. My thoughts on the matter account for changes in moral thought, your’s does not. It claims a code that should be true from the start yet isn’t because that same god demanded actions we would call immoral now. Please explain this.

            “Also, as an aside, we have indeed talked a lot about what we should consider “wrong” in a system of morality. We don’t talk at all about things which should be morally praiseworthy. What is “above and beyond” in a system of morality? Morality, in addition to telling us what is bad and what is acceptable, also tells us what is good. Morality can drive people to do great things. But I can’t really think of what great works of charity “Don’t be a dick” is going to inspire.”

            Also sorts of things actually, like donating to charities or helping those less fortunate instead of simply walking past them for instance. If you want to go further than “not being asshole”, then do it and help someone. It really isn’t difficult in anyway.

    • Darren

      Alexander Anderson;
      Well, the moment I am actually imbued with Godlike powers and the laws of logic are mine to toy with, rest assured that no one will be unaware of this event. There will be no God-Darren Agnostics! :)

      • Alexander Anderson

        I just thought you did just a lot of world shaking for a relatively mundane outcome. Maybe if you had a part of your manifesto that recognized logic and reason being ontologically at background of the universe, I would have an easier time following to the conclusion. Otherwise, it seems only like something arbitrary that’s binding our morality.

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

    Re: ultimate meaning of life

    A lot of people seem to be (rightly) challenging the manifesto on that it doesn’t seem to generate any sort of grand meaning. Darren himself readily admits this- he’s not convinced life has objective meaning- but it remains a sticking point for many Theists.

    Many (I dare say most) secular humanists arrive at secular humanism only after arriving at the conclusion that Theism is incorrect. While Darren is technically correct that “[secular humanism] is independent of a belief or disbelief in God or Gods,” in practice I don’t know of any secular humanists who believe in a Theistic God (I’m sure there’s at least one example of such a person to blow my credibility out of the water.)

    A Theist seeking to better understand the mindset of a Secular humanist might be well served by trying the following thought experiment:

    Suppose you received incontrovertible evidence tomorrow that there is no such thing as God. Maybe you’re in the matrix, and the designers pull you out for a brief minute and give you enough information to convince you that they created your reality, then throw you back in the matrix. Maybe you acquire Dr-Manhattan-esque superpowers that give you some insight into the universe such that God is a logical impossibility. Maybe you can’t think of any evidence which would convince you of this fact, but try to imagine that you become convinced by some unknown means. If that happened tomorrow- what would you do next?

    It’s unlikely that you’d turn into a genocidal maniac overnight, since you no longer had an objective morality. After all, this happens to real people all the time, and they very rarely go nuts like that. It’s also probably unlikely that you would just absolutely quit on life. Much more likely, you would end up in the unfortunate position of acknowledging the (hypothetical) fact that everything is relative and there is no objective moral anything. Faced with that (hypothetical) reality, what would you do? How would your life change? What kind of “meaning” would you assign to your own life?

    If that’s not helpful to you, then please ignore my blatherings. But FWIW, I spent a lot of time stuck in no-mans-land between “there is no God” and “there can’t be any meaning without God,” and a hacked-together version of secular humanism is what I ended up with.

  • Goldstein Squad Member

    Comments…TL, DR.

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com Verbose Stoic

    Well, I promised that I’d go into detail on it when it was posted, and so I really should keep that promise:

    This is independent of a belief or disbelief in God or Gods, by the way. Whatever Gods might once have existed are welcome to continue existing if it suites them, but human affairs are human affairs, and they can keep their grubby mitts off.

    Problem: If a God exists that defines what it means to be moral, or a God exists that defines or is the objective good end for humans, or even if a God exists who knows what our true purposes are and what is and isn’t right and can convey it, then by definition human affairs should consider them and work them into their views. For the most part, it really is hard to justify gods having to have a “hands off” approach if they created the universe and everything in it.

    Commandment the First – So long as it harm none, do as you will.

    As I mentioned in the first comment thread, if you interpret this strongly, then it’s impossible to do, as there are a number of cases where you have to hurt someone, even if only a little. Heck, something as simple as buying milk could contribute to it running out and one or a number of people feeling disappointment and frustration, which I think has to count as harm. On the other hand, if you interpret it weakly, to mean basically that the benefits to people must outweigh the harms — ie don’t leave a NET harm for all people considered — then that’s Utilitarianism … with all of its well-known issues, including the one about being able to cause massive amounts of harm if it creates more benefits. So as a commandment this needs to be fleshed out — as others have said — and is likely to cause you quite a few problems when you do.

    Commandment the Second – Towards others you shall act as you would wish to be acted towards, if you were them.

    The big issue here is that you have to make sure that you consider their actual beliefs and desires when doing this, which can be awfully tough. It’s also hard to see why you need this if you have the first commandment, and it isn’t clear that the two commandments will play nicely together, especially when you get more than one person involved.

    Others have commented on your third commandment being vague, and of course wrt the axioms you are in real trouble if someone simply says “No” to any of them, since as axioms they don’t need to be proven but don’t need to be accepted either. I accept all three, but some might have problems with all of them.

    Others have also pointed out the problems with allowing for restrictions for “Really Good Reasons” and deciding between them and bullshit. For my part, I’d assume that “Really Good Reasons” should link back to your commandments, and that’s how you tell the difference; if not, then you need more principles and I very much wonder why those seemingly incredibly important bedrock principles wouldn’t be the ones you’d want to appeal to in these cases, as it seems that that’s what those things are really for.

    Your moral imperatives, at the end of it all, do precisely what I generally accuse humanism of: take the things that most people believe is moral and then define them as being whati s moral. You start from basic principles that you can expect most people to accept, and then derive out the things that … most people accept. But if someone disagrees with any of them, commandment or axiom, you have at least given no way to defend their use. And this isn’t the normal issue with moral philosophy where the justifications are shaky and we can disagree with the starting metaethical points, but that the metaethical points seem to be missing entirely, and you start from what I’d consider more ethical points. In short, you seem to have no answer to the question “Why should I accept that it is wrong to harm someone?” at all, while for other views for their principles they can appeal to “Because God says so” or “Because it’s rational” or “Because that’s human psychology” or … well, you get the idea. Even Sam Harris, for example, takes a stab at this with well-being, relating it to what conscious beings — who are the ones that can have morality — want or should want. That doesn’t seem to be present here, which is I think the underlying issue people like Leah have with humanism.

    • Darren

      Verbose Stoic;

      “”This is independent of a belief or disbelief in God or Gods, by the way. Whatever Gods might once have existed are welcome to continue existing if it suites them, but human affairs are human affairs, and they can keep their grubby mitts off.”
      Problem: If a God exists that defines what it means to be moral, or a God exists that defines or is the objective good end for humans, or even if a God exists who knows what our true purposes are and what is and isn’t right and can convey it, then by definition human affairs should consider them and work them into their views. For the most part, it really is hard to justify gods having to have a “hands off” approach if they created the universe and everything in it.”

      Partly this is just me being saucy, but also further establishing my frame of reference.
      I will agree that, should any superintelligent beings, Gods included, wish to stop by and give us all some helpful tips on ordering our affairs, it would be foolish to ignore them. Humans claiming to have been so inspired, though, are not quite the same.

      ”Commandment the First – So long as it harm none, do as you will.”

      Consider it, then, as a starting position. In all our affairs, when considering the affairs of Men, we should start at the position that each does as he pleases. Were wishes conflict, or harm might occur, it is reasonable to restrict that freedom. But restricting this freedom is a harm itself, and so we are left to balance harm against harm.

      ””Commandment the Second – Towards others you shall act as you would wish to be acted towards, if you were them.”
      The big issue here is that you have to make sure that you consider their actual beliefs and desires when doing this, which can be awfully tough. It’s also hard to see why you need this if you have the first commandment, and it isn’t clear that the two commandments will play nicely together, especially when you get more than one person involved.”

      Precisely those instances where C1 and C2 conflict is why I see the need for C2.

      C2 also recognizes that a lone Human is a pretty meager being. I am Mr. Individual, but for all that I recognize that without my fellow humans, and the society in which we live, I am a really slow-running antelope, with at best a pointy stick against the world.

      ”Others have commented on your third commandment being vague, and of course wrt the axioms you are in real trouble if someone simply says “No” to any of them, since as axioms they don’t need to be proven but don’t need to be accepted either. I accept all three, but some might have problems with all of them.”

      I _really_ struggled with C3. It is mildly vulgar. The language is sophomorically sexist, though the intent is not.

      I wonder that C3 is even needed in light of C2. After all, I like it when people are nice to me. I don’t like it when people are dicks. It should be enough.

      I worried that it was not, though, that something more explicit was needed to establish a positive moral good in people being nice to each other. I tried multiple alternates, but none of them really resonated with me until this weekend.

      Where I to write C3 today, it would be:

      Commandment the Third: Be excellent to each other.

      I like this better, for all that we can argue about just what “excellent” means, and the extent of the franchise “each other”.

      It also fits nicely into my 1980’s gestalt.

      ”You start from basic principles that you can expect most people to accept, and then derive out the things that … most people accept”

      Guilty, but I will claim to be in good company (or at least vast company). I had specific goals in mind, I have repeatedly said so.

      Does this make them invalid?

      Call it a limitation on my ability to reason entirely new moral imperatives from first principals. My philosophical Kung Fu is weak, no argument. Has there ever been such a reasoning, deriving a new principal a priori?
      What I can say, though, is that if I did find something new, I would have gone with it, or at least admitted that I had found something really awkward and asked the group to help reason it out.

      • Mike

        “Humans claiming to have been so inspired, though, are not quite the same.”

        You’re right they are not. That’s why God became incarnate in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

        • Darren

          Yes, and where Jesus to show up and issue a press release, he would be entitled to a much higher level of credibility.

          As it is, we have, at best, second hand accounts, 40 years removed, of what a half-dozen other people thought Jesus might have said.

          • Mike

            No he wouldn’t! You’d NEVER believe him! :)

          • Darren

            Then why did he come the first time?

            The argument that God revealing himself would somehow violate our free will, or that we just would not believe him no matter how stupendous the miracle, is shown false by the biblical accounts that God did reveal himself, and did perform stupendous miracles, and people did believe…

            Just a long, long time ago, in the unverifiable past, is all…

      • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com Verbose Stoic

        Consider it, then, as a starting position. In all our affairs, when considering the affairs of Men, we should start at the position that each does as he pleases. Were wishes conflict, or harm might occur, it is reasonable to restrict that freedom. But restricting this freedom is a harm itself, and so we are left to balance harm against harm.

        Well, again, the issue was in how strictly you take the admonishment to not harm others. If you take it very strongly, it’s impossible, especially if you count mental distress as harm — as you almost certainly must — and if you count restricting freedom as a harm. This, then, can lead to taking it weaker, in a notion that you seem to be implying here that you want to take the action that causes the least harm, ranging up from none to potentially a decent amount. That’s roughly a Utilitarian view, which famously have some rather interesting issues. So this was more a call out to ensure that you know which side you’re favouring so that we know how to criticize it [grin].

        Precisely those instances where C1 and C2 conflict is why I see the need for C2.

        The problem is that if you’re telling people to not cause harm to others, you run into cases where your available actions will have to cause some kind of harm to at least one person. But under the weak form, that’s what you have to do because it will cause the least harm overall. Except that it is almost certainly the case that the person you end up harming would not want you to harm them. Take this as a strong restriction, and you’re back to it being impossible. Taking it as a weak restriction and it seems that it doesn’t really do more than the first principle does.

        You can say that you should base your assessment of what they should want on the assumption that they share your moral principles … but then you would just appeal to the principles, and not what they want.

        Call it a limitation on my ability to reason entirely new moral imperatives from first principals. My philosophical Kung Fu is weak, no argument. Has there ever been such a reasoning, deriving a new principal a priori?
        What I can say, though, is that if I did find something new, I would have gone with it, or at least admitted that I had found something really awkward and asked the group to help reason it out.

        I think you miss the objection here. The objection here is not that you have to start completely from first principles or with something totally new. The objection is that you seem to be simply listing the principles that you take to be intuitively obvious, but you have nothing behind them to argue for why they should be accepted. This is not the case in moral philosophy in general, as they always have some argument for why one would accept those principles instead of others, even if the arguments are rather weak. So, it seems that your view — and this is something I think true of most humanism I’ve come across — is pretty much simply axiomatic, which means that if I don’t agree with it all I have to do is say “I don’t agree” and there’s no where to go from there. As I said, other views have something, even if it is just “God says so”.

    • Darren

      BTW, I would like to point out that I derive a human’s “right” to suicide. This could hardly be called something everyone already agrees on, for all that I personally may.

      It was a deliberate insertion. Firstly, it was a deliberate piñata for the Theists, a clear departure from their system (something that Leah had specifically requested). Secondly, I think it logically follows from the conclusions that a human owns his own life / consciousness and that a human has only the meaning that human thinks he has.

      I explained it poorly, my AI / trans-humanist blurb going over like a lead balloon, but my poor explanation does not render it invalid.

      It was also objected that this would allow any number of bad results, harming others by ending one’s life, etc.

      As I have tried to elaborate on, I think that suicide is one of those areas where society has a very legitimate interest. This interest, though, I think should be confined to ensuring the person is truly making an informed decision, that no mental illness or temporary emotional condition is clouding the person’s judgment. This is just prudent, as a decision to suicide is permanent, whereas the reasons to seek it are not always so.

      There is also the balancing of harms. Restricting a person’s freedom, even to suicide, is harm to that person. Yet, that person’s death may cause harm to others. These harms should be weighed, but it is by no means a one-sided case as most Theists would have it.

      • Mike

        But how can you ever be sure the person is sane enough to make a decision as final suicide? If suicide is the option you choose doesn’t that very choice itself count against your sanity? For who except someone clearly out of their mind would every choose death?

        • Darren

          And the entire incarnation of Christ was not, in effect, an elaborately orchestrated suicide?

          • Mike

            Good one. Like as if it was all actually orchestrated by some zaney mad cap jewish theatre producers or movie directors. Hey, that makes me wonder now…:)

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

            You can avoid making such errors if you read more Chesterton

            About the same time I read a solemn flippancy by some free thinker: he said that a suicide was only the same as a martyr. The open fallacy of this helped to clear the question. Obviously a suicide is the opposite of a martyr. A martyr is a man who cares so much for something outside him, that he forgets his own personal life. A suicide is a man who cares so little for anything outside him, that he wants to see the last of everything. One wants something to begin: the other wants everything to end. In other words, the martyr is noble, exactly because (however he renounces the world or execrates all humanity) he confesses this ultimate link with life; he sets his heart outside himself: he dies that something may live. The suicide is ignoble because he has not this link with being: he is a mere destroyer; spiritually, he destroys the universe.

            http://lewiscrusade.wordpress.com/2010/12/03/g-k-chesterton-on-suicide-versus-martyrdom/

          • Darren

            Nicely played. I enjoy the odd bit of Chesterton; sort of the Paul Harvey of Catholicism.
            We can call martyrdom a special case of suicide, then, if you like. I think the claim to martyrdom is bit of a stretch, though, in this case. Martyrdom has a strong flavor of something which is inflicted upon someone, a martyr may not flee it, but how many of them outright provoke it?
            Does it count as martyrdom if they offer to let you go, and you say no. Not only say no, but run to the gibbet, put the rope about your own next, and start tapping your foot for the executioner to bloody well get on with it, the Sabbath is about to start?
            Christ may have had a good reason. The highest reason, in fact. This does not in any way change the conclusion that the entire incarnation was an elaborate stage play to allow him to sacrifice himself.

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

            You didn’t read it. Martyrdom is not a special case of suicide. It is the opposite of suicide. If you have nothing to die for you have nothing to live for. A suicide has nothing to live for. A martyr has something to live for so he dies for it. Was Socrates a martyr or a suicide? He could have escaped but believed he was under a social contract to abide by the laws of the city even when that law required him to drink poison.

            Jesus knew he had to die. He knew the world of sin could do nothing else but kill a truly holy man. He died because something was worth dying for not because nothing was worth living for. That is a martyr. It is not a suicide.

            A suicide bomber is not a martyr. A true martyr must wait for the forces of evil to come after him. He does not have to run but he can’t initiate the evil. He can spark a confrontation by doing good. He can’t spark it by doing evil even if that is motivated by anger at a greater evil.

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

            It seems like you’re using a theological definition of “suicide” that includes some qualifiers about the motivation behind the act itself. I’m reasonably sure Darren is just using “suicide” to mean “The action of killing oneself intentionally.” This definition certainly encompasses the actions of at least some recognized martyrs?

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

            The action of killing oneself intentionally? I don’t know of any martyrs that did that. They took actions that they knew would result in their death but someone else killed them. Like the virgin martyrs who refused to marry or St Polycarp who refused to run away. There is no sin in running and no sin in marrying. Yet they felt called by God to refuse. Their executioners had no right to kill them. That is the key. No that there was no way out.

        • Kenneth

          If a person is not driven by depression or delusion, the decision to end one’s life is properly their own, and there are many scenarios in which people who make that choice are clearly not out of their mind in any way. Such people are, for the most part, elderly and facing terminal conditions which will progressively rob them of their ability to live as they wish and their dignity. They are people who have put their affairs in order and said their goodbyes and take that final act out of peace, not desperation or despair. Is that how everyone wants to end their days? No. Depending on the nature of the disease, hospice care and pain medication etc. can enable many of us to await our final departure from natural conditions. That choice belongs to the individual however.

          • Mike

            Is that logically possible?
            If you said tomorrow you were going to commit suicide your friends would conclude you had lost your mind. If you told them you hadn’t you’d just been diagnosed with a treatable form of I don’t know some cancer they’d still think you’d lost your mind. But in your worldview you’d be able to off yourself.
            I guess this is the point: unless the mind is so totally destroyed by the illness or whatever it doesn’t seek suicide. If you break your leg you can’t get the state to kill you can you. Of course not – that would be crazy, not just illogical, crazy.
            So unless the person has lost all of their faculties he doesn’t ask to be killed. And when he does, his asking is the biggest clue that he is not in a state of mind to make that decision for himself. It’s a catch 22. No one would choose suicide unless they’ve lost their mind yet you say people not only choose it but choose it rationally? That doesn’t make sense logically ALTHOUGH it does emotionally.

          • MountainTiger
          • Mike

            Well I guess that’s the point, who gets to decide who’s really insane/sane enough to be offed. Now of course this is in the context of assisted suicide or direct killing with consent.
            Many people kill themselves and are not insane but make rash decisions IMHO. But that rash decision, in that moment are they thinking clearly? Are they lucid enough to make the ultimate decision? It sounds insensitive but I don’t think they are.

          • Darren

            Mountain Tiger;

            Thanks, a great illustration of the terminally ill.

            How about Socrates, though? Socrates was not ill, but he faced the irrevocable loss of all that gave his life meaning.

          • Darren

            Mike, you make an excellent point. I had written a comment on one of Leah’s other posts about my decision to remove firearms from my home and how that decision was primarily motivated by the fear that one of my children might do something… rash. None of my children suffer from mental illness or other risk factors, but considering the apocalyptic consequences to me and my family, even an infinitesimal risk I judged to be too great.

            So, given that a decision to suicide is non-revocable, prudence demands that it be surrounded by robust safeguards. To my thinking, it should be guarded as closely as that other irrevocable choice, bringing a child into the world (except, whoops, we guard that one rather poorly).

            But, if one can make a rational, informed decision that one’s life is no longer of any benefit? Or, that the detriments outweigh any feasible benefits?

            If one’s life has permanently lost whatever once gave it meaning? Again, prudence would demand that we fully explore whether we might find other sources of meaning and that we refrain from irreversible acts while under the influence of distracting emotions. But if one could say one’s life was now irrevocably without meaning?

            To the Theist, there are at least two objections. One, that one’s life is never without meaning, as each human is a unique creation of God. Two, that one’s life is not one’s own, that it, in fact, belongs to God. These are valid objections, but only if one takes the underlying premises as given.

          • Kenneth

            “Is that logically possible?…”
            You seem to be saying that because you can’t intuitively grasp suicide from where you sit right now (I assume you’re reasonably healthy and happy), that no person could ever make that choice while lucid. That’s a very human assumption, but not a terribly useful one.

      • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com Verbose Stoic

        I’m talking about your base principles, not necessarily what is derived from them. That being said, your discussions about suicide do harken to the recent debate over assisted dying, and it seems to be a liberal position that it should be allowed, so it isn’t drifting as far from the norm as you might think. Anyway, I hope I explained better what I was after above.

        • Darren

          You are correct, I am hardly the first. I suspect the only things novel in my system might be the mistakes. :)

          Leah had asked for a clear departure from other ‘isms, and I thought this one fit the bill and that it made sense as I was sketching things out.

          You have made your objections clear, thank you, I had not read closely enough the first time. It is a fair, and strong, criticism that this system has nothing really under it except a couple of consensually agreed commandments and the rest built up from there.

          Perhaps it is some type of cognitive bias on my part, but for the life of me I cannot think of a system that is any different. Some may propose an entire herd of assumptions, tied together like logs on a Sawyerian raft and call it a system. I don’t see how this is qualitatively different (again, perhaps me).
          Others propose a God on high, but, until they can convince the rest of us, it is a consensus belief about a couple, or couple of hundred, commands that God may have issued.

          • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com Verbose Stoic

            Others propose a God on high, but, until they can convince the rest of us, it is a consensus belief about a couple, or couple of hundred, commands that God may have issued.

            I think that’s where the real difference comes in, though. They have a set justification — God — and a proposed way to determine what God is saying — scripture — which we can examine and argue over. Of course, if their factual starting points don’t hold or aren’t convincing, then we at least have an outlined debate over reasons for accepting it.

            Let me give another example, of how you could dervice Sam Harris’ “well-being” argument from humanism. Start from the presumption that it’s all about humanity, like you do. Then ask what it is about humans that makes them humans, or at least morally relevant as humans. You can single out consciousness and, perhaps, that we care about our well-being and the well-being of others, and particularly in a forward-looking way. Then you can derive that morality should be about the well-being of conscious beings and voila … the rest of Harris mostly follows.

            This is not to say that this is proven and that there’s nothing to argue over. We can deny that morality should be about humanity, but we can always wear that down to a “Is there a God?” debate. The real disagreement could come in where we look at what is distinctive or important about humanity or humans as moral agents, and there’s a lot of room there for debate, but we’d end up debating over what that is and how to figure that out, and not merely be saying “I don’t accept that” to each others’ axioms.

  • Mike

    So Humanism sounds alot like what today’s lefties consider being a chilled out kinda person; like common sense wrapped in something important sounding doesn’t it?

    What I am more interested in is how Humanists sees punishment and transgressors. Like, what right would they think they had to transgress against someone else’s personal freedom say if the person committed some crime against another humanist. Basically where would they locate that authority outside their system or would just draw upon things somewhat arbitrarily?

    “BTW To Each His Own” is so much easier to remember.

    • Erik

      Society always makes the rules. All rules/morals are based in our sense of empathy when it gets right down to it. How a society determines who criminals are and how to deal with their transgressions is entirely cultural and bound to change over time. More often than not they will become more moral about the way in which they deal with criminals as they abandon your typical prejudices about race, sex, faith, etc..

      • Alan

        “More often than not they will become more moral about the way in which they deal with criminals as they abandon your typical prejudices about race, sex, faith, etc..”

        I’m not sure the evidence for that is all that strong – it seems that historically morality has behaved more like a random walk than a general progression. That we happen to be living in 2012 instead of 1941 might not tell us very much about what morality will look like in 2083.

  • Hanan

    Does Leah ever chime in about the subject? :D

  • Darren

    Darren the Absurdist finds the introduction of the word “Dick” as a valid term in philosophical discourse to be most amusing.

  • http://turmarion.wordpress.com Turmarion

    Darren and Erik: It is probably true that much human social behavior arose out of evolution via paths that game theory would explain. My point here is that we humans, especially in science, tend to think that we have a true (even if imperfect) grasp of reality, as if there were a “neutral” ground on which we could stand, surveying everything else. The problem is, we’re part of everything else, with no separate existence (what Buddhists would call shunyata. It’s true that the assumption of a deity wouldn’t necessarily change this—he, she, or they could deceive us (see Descartes); but the point is that the option isn’t a clear view of reality, but one we assume to be true.

    Simple example: Blind cave fish have evolved to have no eyes. This made them fitter, but made their perception of the cosmos less accurate (since they are not aware of light). If these or creatures with similar adaptive deficits developed logical systems, these systems might themselves be flawed, since they’d be based on flawed perceptions and thinking patterns, and the creatures would have no way of knowing. If one assumes no teleology in the universe, there’s no reason to assume that adaptations that make us fitter necessarily make us perceive reality more accurately or even develop accurate logic. We can never know, since we can’t step outside the system. It’s like Descartes again—the only thing you can ever be sure of with 100% certainty is that you exist (cogito ergo sum). You can’t even really be sure of that–the “you” that thinks it’s thinking may be an illusion. That is, there may not actually be a unitary self, but a thought process that perceives itself as an individual. Thus, you can’t even say, “I think, therefore I am,” but “Thinking occurs, therefore something is.”

    As to objective morals, you’re missing the point. The assertion is not that morality is valid only because God will punish or reward people; that’s really irrelevant. The assertion is that a moral code derives from God, and that otherwise any code would be arbitrary. If I get a job at a factory making widgets, I’ll learn a procedure and standards. This procedure and standards are what I go by in order to ensure that the widgets are made correctly. If the standard says each widget should be 5 cm wide, plus or minus 0.01 cm, then if my widget is 7 cm wide, I know I’ve screwed up, since it’s outside the parameters given by the standard. Whether or not my boss punishes me is completely beside the point. The point is that I have a criterion by which to determine if I’m doing the job right. On the other hand, if the company had no procedures or standards in place, then I might make 5 cm widgets, Suzie might make 7 cm widgets, and Sam might make 15 m long widgets, and none of us could claim any of the others had messed up, since there’s no standard.

    That’s the argument we’re making: that with no God or other transcendent, external standard against which to measure our behavior, there’s no ultimate way to privilege not being a dick over being one that just restate one’s preference. Heaven, Hell, and their existence or nonexistence have no bearing on the issue.

    [P]unishment doesn’t stop me from doing anything. What stops me as that I would simply rather not do that.

    That may well be, and kudos to you if that’s sufficient. You seem to be generalizing to all humanity. Why do you think police forces, jails, courts, etc. even exist if punishment (or reward) is a base motive that doesn’t work? If it’s just a matter of persuading people that they just ought not to want to be dicks—which is what you seem to imply—then how do you account for the suffering and misery of the world? How do you account for the fact that dicks exist?

    Statistically, most of those people [with a f*** you, I’m in it for myself attitude] should be religious.

    On what basis do you assert this? Crime, dicks, assholes—they exist in plenitude in atheist societies as well. You seem to attribute nearly all behavioral pathology to religion. Are you claiming that the non-religious are never jerks, bad people, or even evil?

    More broadly, I’d refer all and sundry here. It pretty much summarized my views.

    • Erik

      Turmarion,

      “It is probably true that much human social behavior arose out of evolution via paths that game theory would explain. My point here is that we humans, especially in science, tend to think that we have a true (even if imperfect) grasp of reality, as if there were a “neutral” ground on which we could stand, surveying everything else. The problem is, we’re part of everything else, with no separate existence (what Buddhists would call shunyata. It’s true that the assumption of a deity wouldn’t necessarily change this—he, she, or they could deceive us (see Descartes); but the point is that the option isn’t a clear view of reality, but one we assume to be true.”

      My question would be why assume it to be false? A+B=C would be true whether or not we existed or managed any way to communicate the thought. If you would like to argue the point, I would be interested to see what it is you have to say.

      “Simple example: Blind cave fish have evolved to have no eyes. This made them fitter, but made their perception of the cosmos less accurate (since they are not aware of light). If these or creatures with similar adaptive deficits developed logical systems, these systems might themselves be flawed, since they’d be based on flawed perceptions and thinking patterns, and the creatures would have no way of knowing. If one assumes no teleology in the universe, there’s no reason to assume that adaptations that make us fitter necessarily make us perceive reality more accurately or even develop accurate logic. We can never know, since we can’t step outside the system. It’s like Descartes again—the only thing you can ever be sure of with 100% certainty is that you exist (cogito ergo sum). You can’t even really be sure of that–the “you” that thinks it’s thinking may be an illusion. That is, there may not actually be a unitary self, but a thought process that perceives itself as an individual. Thus, you can’t even say, “I think, therefore I am,” but “Thinking occurs, therefore something is.”

      There’s a problem with your argument in that you are comparing our senses to that of another organism and then claiming one to be better than the other in some way. I think that’s a flawed argument specifically because we have different pressures and have adapted to those pressures differently. One is not necessarily better than another, it’s just the way they happened to evolve. Frankly, without being highly social and capable of relatively sophisticated communication, we’re quite weak as a species. I don’t think your example really emphasizes what you’re trying to say about bad perceptions. Though that’s irrelevant since all you’re saying is that we have limited perceptions, so in some roundabout way God must be the law giver. One really has nothing to do with the other.

      “As to objective morals, you’re missing the point. The assertion is not that morality is valid only because God will punish or reward people; that’s really irrelevant. The assertion is that a moral code derives from God, and that otherwise any code would be arbitrary.”

      No, moral law would be arbitrary if it were decided by a god because that could just as easily say the exact opposite action is moral. If that god can not, then that god is limited in some way. As an example, if god must follow a specific moral code that would indicate that morals exist with or without god.

      “If I get a job at a factory making widgets, I’ll learn a procedure and standards. This procedure and standards are what I go by in order to ensure that the widgets are made correctly. If the standard says each widget should be 5 cm wide, plus or minus 0.01 cm, then if my widget is 7 cm wide, I know I’ve screwed up, since it’s outside the parameters given by the standard. Whether or not my boss punishes me is completely beside the point. The point is that I have a criterion by which to determine if I’m doing the job right. On the other hand, if the company had no procedures or standards in place, then I might make 5 cm widgets, Suzie might make 7 cm widgets, and Sam might make 15 m long widgets, and none of us could claim any of the others had messed up, since there’s no standard.”

      Actually you would know since you know who made what sizes. Simply using the widgets would determine which were right and which were wrong. Eventually, after multiple accidents, the company would be forced to create standards and procedures which they have the employees follow. So, society could easily come up with morals in the same fashion.

      “That’s the argument we’re making: that with no God or other transcendent, external standard against which to measure our behavior, there’s no ultimate way to privilege not being a dick over being one that just restate one’s preference. Heaven, Hell, and their existence or nonexistence have no bearing on the issue.”

      If Heaven, Hell, etc. have no bearing, then you’re left with God either making up moral law, which makes them arbitrary by default, or commanding man to follow specific laws that are “good” with or without the existence of God. No matter what you have to argue why God is necessary and either concede his laws are arbitrary or concede that god is not necessary.

      “That may well be, and kudos to you if that’s sufficient. You seem to be generalizing to all humanity. Why do you think police forces, jails, courts, etc. even exist if punishment (or reward) is a base motive that doesn’t work? If it’s just a matter of persuading people that they just ought not to want to be dicks—which is what you seem to imply—then how do you account for the suffering and misery of the world? How do you account for the fact that dicks exist?”

      Because some people will just do as they please despite the fact that it will hurt them in the end. They’re the dicks for a reason you see. The ones who do things simply because they can. I don’t claim people to be perfect, far from it. I’m simply arguing that God has nothing to do with morals. Suffering isn’t a problem in my world view, it is for you. This is where I bring up arguments about a benevolent god and all that nonsense, Heaven and Hell, and then the haphazard free will argument comes into play and we end up right back where we started.

      “On what basis do you assert this? Crime, dicks, assholes—they exist in plenitude in atheist societies as well. You seem to attribute nearly all behavioral pathology to religion. Are you claiming that the non-religious are never jerks, bad people, or even evil?”

      No, there’s simply more religious people than there are non-religious so there must be a higher number of religious criminals statistically.

    • Darren

      Turmarion:
      True Perception
      We move from the world of logical proof and into the world of probability, but I posit that a naturalist world gives us a better chance of perceiving and reasoning accurately than a Theistic. Descartes was a Theist, and yet he handily proved that we can know nothing for certain beyond the highly abstracted fact of something existing that is able to question its existence. He then winds his way back out of the labyrinth, but the only cord he can find to guide him is that God would not deceive him, because that would make God a dick.

      It is a rather flimsy cord, I think. There are any number of reasons why God might perpetrate such a hoax and be justified in doing so. Perhaps we are just disembodied souls, dreaming of the world. This is a pretty good answer to the Problem of Natural Evil; it seems rather unfair to inflict 2 billion years of starvation, terror, and agony on a bazillion poor animals just so that Adam can arise and eat or not eat an apple (metaphorically). To speak noting of all the poor SOB’s whose life is nasty, brutish, and short, all to provide a backdrop against which you and I sit comfortably debating the presence or absence of objective meaning in the world…

      Perhaps God is just very frugal. I don’t know how hard it is to make a soul, but making matter is quite expensive. Just because one is an infinite being, that’s no excuse for being a spendthrift. Why make “Waterworld” when all you are really after is “My Dinner with Andre”?

      In any case, Theism in no way implies that we have an accurate grasp of the world. Growing up evangelical, we got the twin prongs of: Man’s Reason is grossly insufficient to know the Truth, and Man’s Reason has been so perverted by the Fall that we actually think Evil is Good. We only ever trotted out the “man is created in God’s image with God-given Reason” when we had evolutionists to bash.

      The Catholic Church is more nuanced than that, but I do believe it is a central tenet that an entire category of knowledge, the most important category BTW, is completely beyond our grasp and thus our dependence upon divine revelation.

      The Naturalist approach, though, says that we have the senses and reason that we have because, at some point in the past, it was useful for our ancestors to have them. Truth being simpler than Fiction, and neurons being inordinately expensive, there is selection pressure towards perceiving truly.

      The blind cave fish is an excellent example that nicely illustrates the point: it has the senses that are useful to it, and only the senses that are useful to it. We light loving, fruit eating, poo flinging, optimized monkeys that we are may look down on it for its blindness, but what use is Blue to a cave fish?

      We see quite well in visible light. But there is nothing special about visible light; it is a tiny fraction of the spectrum. We should we humans just happen to see light in this narrow spectrum, and not some other spectrum? Is it arbitrary? No, it just so happens to be the same spectrum at which our atmosphere is most transparent. Sure, we could dip into the near infra-red, or climb into the ultraviolet, and some animals do, but is it worth the cost to our ancestors to do so? Throw in a bit of overcast and your UV drops to zero, throw in some humidity and near-IR drops out as well.

      And we already know we do not perceive accurately. Humans only see Red, Green, and Blue light. Was this because God had some special liking for Red / Green / Blue? Or was it because evolution, having to make due as best it could in turning black-and-white eyes into Technicolor eyes so that some uppity monkey could tell the difference between ripe fruit and unripe, all that evolution could manage was Red, Green, and Blue and then putting an image coprocessor inline so that our brains perceive the whole visible range?

      Our perceptions and reason are riddled with such limitations, though you are correct, being as we are not outside of the system, it is _difficult_, not impossible, to see it.

      The blind cave fish is blind, true, and its model of the world would exclude light. Were it to develop sufficiently to begin using tools, to develop culture, to invent science, its blindness need not overly restrict its thought.
      We are equally blind to IR, to radio, x-ray, and gamma rays. We have excellent vision for finding lions hiding in the grass or throwing a rock, but grossly inadequate for observing the cosmos. And you are absolutely correct. When we were limited to our evolved (God given) senses and reason, Aristotle and Ptolemy was the best we could manage – elegant, wondrously accurate to the extent allowed them by the tools available, but also completely wrong.

      The telescope revolutionized not only science but religion as well. No more crystal spheres, not more Heaven above.

      Radio astronomy the same, again. No more static universe, no more eternally existing cosmos.
      Newtonian mechanics, relativity, quantum mechanics, dark matter.

      Our little cave fish would not remain blind for long; for all that it might find “light” as weird and counterintuitive as we find “dark matter”.

  • grok87

    @Turmarion,
    Great post. I love the blind cave fish! And great video, especially the ending!

    Today’s Gospel: (Mark 3)
    The mother of Jesus and his brothers arrived at the house.Standing outside, they sent word to Jesus and called him. A crowd seated around him told him, “Your mother and your brothers and your sisters
    are outside asking for you.” But he said to them in reply, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”
    And looking around at those seated in the circle he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers.
    For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

    or as Larry Larstead might say it “For whoever does the will of God is not an a******”
    cheers,
    grok

  • thomasc

    Darren,

    Socrates was sentenced to death and compelled to drink poison. I don’t think it is apt to call him a suicide, unless you call everyone who doesn’t lie on the floor and kick the guards until they are dragged to the electric chair a suicide. He chose not to try to escape from prison, as (it’s the Crito, isn’t it?) he thought that would be an improper attack on the legitimate authority of the State to try him, but he didn’t decide he didn’t want to live any more. It just happened that escaping execution involved doing something he thought was wrong.

    • Darren

      thomasc;

      You are absolutely correct, I had misremembered the sentence upon Socrates as “exile or death”, not “death but he might escape”.
      My bad for not double checking what I thought I knew. Example withdrawn.

    • Darren

      Follow up as to why I made this mistake.

      Hearkening back to Philosophy 101, I now recall that I had some doubt as to whether Socrates’s reasons for facing death instead of escaping into exile were really Socrates’s own, or the rather fascistically inclined Plato putting words into his mouth.

      I suspected it was really the fear of losing everything that had given his life meaning: friends, property, city; a life of ease and respect (if not one free of controversy). Better to die still a citizen of Athens than to live as an outcast. After all, if Socrates had _really_ been so devoted to the social contract, would he have spent so much of his life thumbing his nose at it?

      Just my personal take on the matter, though, and I am certain that in the 2,500 years since, I am not the first to have such a thought, and for all I know it may be either commonly held or have been soundly refuted.

  • Darren

    Commandment the First – Making of

    I finally re-found the link. For those who are curious, when writing Commandment the First I had this LessWrong sequence and the quoted book _strongly_ in mind.

    Devil’s Offers

    • keddaw

      You may have thought you said “free men may freely harm themselves, provided only that it is only themselves that they harm” but what you actually said was “so long as it harm none, do as you will.”

      If you can’t see the difference between the two then you’re a lost cause. I have yet to see you try to amend Commandment the First to reflect that you mean the former and not the latter.

  • Darren

    rgrekejin;

    <blockquote” 1. Is the moral sense we have something which is completely internal to ourselves, or is it a system for detecting and interacting with something external to ourselves (an external, objective morality).
    2. If the moral sense we have *is* completely internal, and doesn’t correspond to an external system of objective morality, what reason do we have to listen to it in this day and age when doing so is not to your benefit? After all, as you pointed out, many of our tools for interacting with the world are evolutionarily ancient, and designed for radically different environments. In this rapidly changing day and age, how can I be sure that my moral sense is even something worth listening to?”

    I had intended for Morality and Meaning to be included in yesterday’s comment, but the explanation of how a naturalistically evolved being could develop so as to perceive and reason about the world with acceptable fidelity took longer than intended.

    The short answer is that if you are seeking objective meaning and morality in a sense consistent with Mom, Apple Pie, Baseball, Norman Rockwell, Truth, Justice, and the American Way, then we have a chance to satisfy those goals. If you are seeking _Objective_ on the scale of Gravity and the Speed of Light, then I am afraid I have nothing to offer you.

    What I do have are further explanations and arguments that, for all that they may believe otherwise, no other system has Objective meaning either. Arguing against the truth of another in no way proves my own truth, but it might illustrate that none of us has a sole lease on Truth.

    Nihilism

    The great bugaboo and bogeyman of the post-Theist age. The charge and fear that without grounding upon some unmovable mover, some inherently moral bestower of morality, then all is permitted, all is equal, Good and Evil the same and indistinguishable.

    Nietzsche feared it most of all. It drove him like a lash, fighting his entire life to escape its clutches. When I am feeling particularly Lovecraftian, I fancy it was the crushing realization that he did not succeed, that no one could succeed, that broke his mind (just a fancy, BTW, there is more than sufficient evidence that Nietzsche’s illness had purely physical causes).

    Yet the Theists are no better off. We have yet to have an acceptable answer to Euthyphro.

    Now, the fans of Feser will take umbrage.

    “Euthyphro has been soundly defeated!”, they say, “God is morality, it is his inherent nature to be Good, thus there can be no question. To even suggest it only displays the ignorance of the atheist. If only they would read and understand Augustine and Aquinas they would see how silly they are being!”

    I disagree.

    1. To claim that God simple equals Good is an unsupported claim. It does nothing to establish its own truth other than sounding mysterious and vaguely paradoxical. It is the Emperor’s New Clothes, and little else.

    2. To claim that God = Good does nothing to explain why Good is Good, one particular Good, and no other. Why shall thou not kill in some circumstances, yet it is acceptable in others, and mandatory in yet others? Vast quantities of ink have been sacrificed to get around this, but all that has been accomplished thus far is for the varied writers to prove that their own _subjective_ view of why is the only logically true why.

    3. Which God? Read “City of God” or “Summa Theologica” and replace every instance of God and Jesus with Odin, or Zeus, or Allah, or the Invisible Pink Unicorn and it reads the same. Again, some contortionist logic is used to prove that God is the Catholic God, with enough axioms to very nearly assume God to prove God, but this only confirms the writers starting assumptions, and the arguments work just as well for any number of other Gods or even non-sentient cosmic “forces”.

    One billion Catholics, five billion not-Catholics

    If one is a Catholic, one might take comfort in knowing that one has such a long history or theology and such a vast number of compatriots.

    “Of course my morality is Objective,” you think, “we have the Bible, and two thousand years of scholarship, and over a billion believers to attest to its transcendent truth.”

    Well, good for Catholics. Really, one billion is quite good.

    Realize though, that for all that one billion people think you are right, and that your beliefs are self-evidently true and obviously Objective, there are five billion who think the whole thing is a giant crock of shit.

    A Science Fiction Allegory

    In Eliezer Yudkowsky’s Baby-Eating Aliens, a future human civilization encounters alien civilizations with shockingly, repugnantly different moral systems. The humans must come to terms with the implications of this discovery and establish contact without incurring apocalyptic consequences for the future of the human species. I shall give only a bare outline of the salient points; it would be a shame to give out spoilers. You really should just stop now and go read it; I’ll wait…

    The crew is forced to conclude that each of the alien societies has a moral system which, from their perspective, is true and just, and more to the point, universal and objective. Where three incompatible moral systems collide, at most one of them can be true. It is no great leap of intuition to conclude that, most likely, none of them is Objectively True.

    This is a conclusion which should be easy to reach, our own moral architecture having changed so often. Our historical perspective, though, allows us the illusion that our moral change is _progress_, and not just drift. Encountering two contemporary societies with fundamentally alien moral structures throws this into relief in a manner than an encounter with an 18th century slave-trading, Indian-genociding, witch-hanging, child-beating Puritan would not.

    Subjective does not equal Arbitrary, nor does it equal valueless.

    In “The Baby Eating Aliens”, the humans confront the realization that their cherished moral system is at best subjective, at worst arbitrary. Nevertheless, when that system is threatened, they fight heroically, appallingly so, for its continuance. Why?

    We are left to reach our own conclusions as to why.

    For all that I have what _feels_ like a strong, objective, universal moral sense (and I do), it is maddeningly hard to find a suitable hook upon which to hang it. I think Daniel Dennett’s concept of the Sky Hook is applicable here.

    Sky Hooks .vs. Cranes

    With Theists, they hang their moral system on the sky hook of God. We non-theists have no such convenient apparatus; we must make do with cranes.

    You can argue that cranes are inadequate. After all, what is to tell one crane from another? Why this crane, and not that one? What is to keep one from bringing one’s own crane?

    These are valid objections. Cranes have no intrinsic virtue; their only virtue lies in their ability to effectively build the next larger crane, which itself has no intrinsic virtue, etc., etc., etc.

    Humanism itself has no strong answer for Euthyphro. We can only reach a local maximum in the moral design space. We might, through thought and effort identify a better local maximum, and through will and determination crawl our way to it, but there is no way for us to ever know, any of us, that our local maximum is in any sense a global maximum.

    • rgrekejin

      “The short answer is that if you are seeking objective meaning and morality in a sense consistent with Mom, Apple Pie, Baseball, Norman Rockwell, Truth, Justice, and the American Way, then we have a chance to satisfy those goals.”

      …I’m sorry, but you’ve lost me here. I really haven’t the slightest idea what you’re trying to say with this, but I think it might be important. Could you please rephrase it for me?

      “If you are seeking _Objective_ on the scale of Gravity and the Speed of Light, then I am afraid I have nothing to offer you.”

      This is probably closer to what I meant. To be clear, when I say “objective morality”, what I’m talking about is a set of moral standards that exist independent of our observations. That morality, rather than being a thing we invent, is a thing we discover. How that morality got there (Divine fiat, natural law of the universe, whatever) doesn’t concern me much, only that it be independent of the observer. Lacking that sort of morality, it really is just Nihilism all the way down.

      This is why you’ve gotten so much guff for your first and third commandments, I think. You’re attempting to establish some guidelines for how we *ought* to behave towards one another. We should strive to not harm others in the course of doing what we will. We should, whenever possible, strive to be a dude and not a dick. But you don’t really define what “harm” is, and you don’t really say what it means to be a dick. In fact, when pressed about it, you seem to be saying that there really is no hard and fast definition, that what is “harm” is relative to your culture, surroundings, or whathaveyou (at least, this is the lesson I seem to be taking from your science fiction allegory, correct me if I’ve gotten it wrong). In short, that it is your position that morality is relative.

      And once we’ve decided that morality is relative, it becomes useless for determining how we should act towards one another. Morality ceases to be proscriptive (you should act in this way) and becomes instead descriptive (based on the cultural mores of the time and place in which this act took place, this act was right/wrong). After all, whose definition of “harm” should we use? Yours? Mine? Vlad the Impaler’s? How can we expect people not to be evil when we can’t even provide them a firm definition of what evil is? Should we expect people to not be evil by our standards, or only by those of the standards we would reasonably expect someone of their local conditions to have? From my perspective, was the Rwandan genocide wrong? Absolutely. From the perspective of those who carried it out? At best debateably so. And any system of morality that prevents me from condemning the Rwandan genocide is a bloody worthless system of morality, as far as I’m concerned. How far away do we need to be from an event before we’re allowed to throw up our hands and say morality is just different there? Is it a physical distance? Ten miles? Five hundred miles? A world away? Need the distance be a temporal one? Was morality different enough to allow this a thousand years ago? A decade ago? Last week? And how do you make that distinction, in a non-arbitrary fashion?

      Once you’ve removed the fixed matrix of a morality that is external to all of us, everything can and does become relative. Everyone is just doing whatever they want, in so far as they have the power to realize their goals, whether they are aware of it or not. To your credit, you seem to be aware of this. However, instead of positing a way to remove moral relativism in your system, you instead point out that you don’t think theism really offers the sort of objective morality I’m after either, citing Euthyphro’s dilemma as your primary sticking point.

      “1. To claim that God simple equals Good is an unsupported claim. It does nothing to establish its own truth other than sounding mysterious and vaguely paradoxical. It is the Emperor’s New Clothes, and little else.
      2. To claim that God = Good does nothing to explain why Good is Good, one particular Good, and no other. Why shall thou not kill in some circumstances, yet it is acceptable in others, and mandatory in yet others? Vast quantities of ink have been sacrificed to get around this, but all that has been accomplished thus far is for the varied writers to prove that their own _subjective_ view of why is the only logically true why.
      3. Which God? Read “City of God” or “Summa Theologica” and replace every instance of God and Jesus with Odin, or Zeus, or Allah, or the Invisible Pink Unicorn and it reads the same. Again, some contortionist logic is used to prove that God is the Catholic God, with enough axioms to very nearly assume God to prove God, but this only confirms the writers starting assumptions, and the arguments work just as well for any number of other Gods or even non-sentient cosmic “forces”.

      Point 1 is at least partially true. That God equals Good is not a claim which is supported by much of anything which isn’t of the Divine Revelation class of evidence, which I’m gonna go out on a limb and say you, as a Humanist, believe to be impermissible as evidence. And if I was attempting to use the existence of morality to prove the existence of God, I would be in quite a bit of trouble, wouldn’t I? That is, however, not what I’m doing. I’m coming at this from the perspective of someone who is already convinced of the existence of God through other means. I believe in objective morality because I believe in God, not the other way around. Because my experience of God has corresponded with reality on many other topics and in many other instances, I’m willing to accept that because God claims to be Good, he does in fact know what he is talking about (and is probably not lying to me). How exactly God got to be established as Good isn’t really a question I care about. Heck, it might even be beyond the scope of human understanding. But if we’re allowed to assume an unmoved mover (especially one that cares about you personally, as Christians tend to do), it isn’t inconsistent to believe that they are inherently moral. There’s nothing stranger about that assumption than assuming an unmoved mover in the first place. That God is Good isn’t a point I have to prove: it’s an axiom.

      As for Point 3… well, let me just point out that I am, in fact, not Catholic, and I don’t really see what bearing the specific identity of the God in this question has. It can be the Catholic God, or it can be Odin for all I care. Heck, all I’m after here is some kind of objective morality. It doesn’t even have to involve a God in the strictest sense. Karma would work fine. But you can’t say that a worldview built around an expressly supernatural component, be it God or Karma or whatever, lacks an objective morality for the same reasons a purely materialistic one lacks an objective morality. I believe in what you consider to be completely crazy supernatural humbug. If I say my fictitious pink sky pony is Goodness itself, then if we were to assume that my fictitious pink sky pony actually exist, a system of morality derived from it could, in theory, be objective. Your argument seems to me to be saying that Catholics (or Christians in general) are wrong about the nature of God in some critical fashion, that their beliefs are false. That may be the case, but that’s an entire other debate. *If their initial beliefs are true* is their system of morality objective? Yes, it is. You can’t prove a position by assuming your opponent is wrong, and then showing that, if we assume they’re wrong, they are in fact wrong. If we assume that Catholicism is correct about the nature of God, then the system of morality they posit would be objective. But, as I’ve argued above, there’s just no way strict materialism gets you to a morality which isn’t relative. And that’s much worse than simply saying that none of us has a sole lease on Truth. It’s a simple assertion that Truth doesn’t really exist. To borrow your hillclimbing analogy, not only can we not find global maximums, we can’t find local ones, either, because there’s no consensus on what equations we should be plugging our variables into with respect to morality.

      • http://homeschoolingphysicist.blogspot.com PhysicistDave

        rgrekejin wrote:
        >This is probably closer to what I meant. To be clear, when I say “objective morality”, what I’m talking about is a set of moral standards that exist independent of our observations. That morality, rather than being a thing we invent, is a thing we discover. How that morality got there (Divine fiat, natural law of the universe, whatever) doesn’t concern me much, only that it be independent of the observer.

        The problem that you folks who desire an “objective” morality have is that the commandments of Joseph Stalin are “standards that exist independent of our observations.” I.e., you and I did not create those standards, you can look them up in various documents, etc. As objective as any other historical facts.

        I’m pretty sure you do not think that this objectivity is a reason to start obeying those commands!

        So, let’s chuck out this sort of objectivity – the sort of brute objectivity that it just is a fact that Stalin, G. W. Bush, God or whoever laid out some standards and wants us to follow them.

        What other sort of “objectivity” to morality can there be?

        You advocates of moral objectivity seem very clear that moral objectivity is a good thing, but quite unable to explain what it is.

        Those of us on the other side think that humans invented morality to serve very human purposes (see, e.g., Mackie’s Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong). That hypothesis agrees rather nicely with the evidence.

        Dave Miller in Sacramento

      • Darren

        Rgrekejin;

        We are rather in the weeds, but you took the time to thoughtfully lay out your objections, and there are a few areas that I would like to specifically touch upon.

        “The short answer is that if you are seeking objective meaning and morality in a sense consistent with Mom, Apple Pie, Baseball, Norman Rockwell, Truth, Justice, and the American Way, then we have a chance to satisfy those goals.”
        …I’m sorry, but you’ve lost me here. I really haven’t the slightest idea what you’re trying to say with this, but I think it might be important. Could you please rephrase it for me?”

        Consensus Standards. These are all things that are consensually agreed by some group or other as being Good things. They are, in some sense, objective of any particular individual, yet still subjective as compared to differing, or conflicting, other group consensus standards.

        “If you are seeking _Objective_ on the scale of Gravity and the Speed of Light, then I am afraid I have nothing to offer you.”
        This is probably closer to what I meant. To be clear, when I say “objective morality”, what I’m talking about is a set of moral standards that exist independent of our observations. That morality, rather than being a thing we invent, is a thing we discover. How that morality got there (Divine fiat, natural law of the universe, whatever) doesn’t concern me much, only that it be independent of the observer. Lacking that sort of morality, it really is just Nihilism all the way down.”

        And this is the sort of Objective Morality that I suspect does not exist. I am not asserting a positive non-existence, but a strongly skeptical agnosticism that I have yet to see any such Objective Morality. I suspect it may not even a coherent thing to describe:

        What, exactly, does it mean to say it is Objectively Evil to murder five million years ago when there was no-one to murder?

        I have said such before, and would be quite happy to consider suggestions as to what Objective Moral’s do exist, and how we know them to be objective…

        ”…From my perspective, was the Rwandan genocide wrong? Absolutely. From the perspective of those who carried it out? At best debateably so. And any system of morality that prevents me from condemning the Rwandan genocide is a bloody worthless system of morality, as far as I’m concerned…”

        This is beautiful, thank you, and very aptly chosen. You are quite strict, though. Here you have knocked out the ethical systems of Judaism, Christianity, and (I suspect) Islam. We do not have to journey far into the past to find examples of the faithful engaging in genocide, and the respective holy books and subsequent teachings are pretty clear about endorsing genocide… We even have apologists such as William Lane Craig drumming up sympathy with the poor helpless soldiers of God, and how difficult it must have been for _them_ to be ordered by God to put so many women and children to the sword…

        So, on this point, Darren’s moral system is superior, as I have very clear commandments against genocide. Glad to have you as a convert.

        ”“1. To claim that God simple equals Good is an unsupported claim. It does nothing to establish its own truth other than sounding mysterious and vaguely paradoxical. It is the Emperor’s New Clothes, and little else.”
        Point 1 is at least partially true. That God equals Good is not a claim which is supported by much of anything which isn’t of the Divine Revelation class of evidence, which I’m gonna go out on a limb and say you, as a Humanist, believe to be impermissible as evidence.”

        Nope. It is a common complaint raised by Theists that we Materialists unfairly exclude their evidence.

        I, for one, do no such thing. It would be horribly unfair to exclude an entire class of evidence out of hand. It would also be unfair to demand of that evidence a different standard of proof than my beloved science.

        Any Theist is welcome to submit any evidence they wish, any evidence that bolsters their argument, and I shall consider it and evaluate it using the same standards of reliability and proof that I would use for, say, celestial motion or Darwinian evolution or the proper functioning of my car’s airbags.

        ”…Once you’ve removed the fixed matrix of a morality that is external to all of us, everything can and does become relative…
        As for Point 3… well, let me just point out that I am, in fact, not Catholic, and I don’t really see what bearing the specific identity of the God in this question has. It can be the Catholic God, or it can be Odin for all I care. Heck, all I’m after here is some kind of objective morality. It doesn’t even have to involve a God in the strictest sense. Karma would work fine. But you can’t say that a worldview built around an expressly supernatural component, be it God or Karma or whatever, lacks an objective morality for the same reasons a purely materialistic one lacks an objective morality…”

        This is a very interesting thing to say… This leaves us, where? Deism, I believe. Certianly you are in good company in feeling that the existence of Objective Reality requires _something_ resembling a God to backstop it, but that the particular identity of that God is less interesting.

        I fail to see this as any less relative, though. We have moved the problem from “Darren says X is wrong” to “Darren says God says X is wrong”. You say you don’t care which God it is, just some God somewhere. The only thing you do insist upon is that this God is _defined_ as establishing Objective Morality, which is a property that is in no way inferred by the only other demanded property of simple existence. We define God as that thing with defines Objective Morality, without resolving why God would do such a thing, and which particular God, or which particular morality.

        Hume said it better than I in “Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion”. Here, under discussion is the creation / existence of the Universe and the contention that such a thing demands a God to design, craft, and animate the universe. I think the discussion could just as easily apply to the question of Objective Morality:

        “To multiply causes without necessity, is indeed contrary to true philosophy: but this principle applies not to the present case. Were one deity antecedently proved by your theory, who were possessed of every attribute requisite to the production of the universe; it would be needless, I own, (though not absurd,) to suppose any other deity existent. But while it is still a question, Whether all these attributes are united in one subject, or dispersed among several independent beings, by what phenomena in nature can we pretend to decide the controversy? Where we see a body raised in a scale, we are sure that there is in the opposite scale, however concealed from sight, some counterpoising weight equal to it; but it is still allowed to doubt, whether that weight be an aggregate of several distinct bodies, or one uniform united mass. And if the weight requisite very much exceeds any thing which we have ever seen conjoined in any single body, the former supposition becomes still more probable and natural. An intelligent being of such vast power and capacity as is necessary to produce the universe, or, to speak in the language of ancient philosophy, so prodigious an animal exceeds all analogy, and even comprehension.
        But further, Cleanthes: men are mortal, and renew their species by generation; and this is common to all living creatures. The two great sexes of male and female, says Milton, animate the world. Why must this circumstance, so universal, so essential, be excluded from those numerous and limited deities? Behold, then, the theogony of ancient times brought back upon us.
        And why not become a perfect Anthropomorphite? Why not assert the deity or deities to be corporeal, and to have eyes, a nose, mouth, ears, etc.? Epicurus maintained, that no man had ever seen reason but in a human figure; therefore the gods must have a human figure. And this argument, which is deservedly so much ridiculed by Cicero, becomes, according to you, solid and philosophical.
        In a word, Cleanthes, a man who follows your hypothesis is able perhaps to assert, or conjecture, that the universe, sometime, arose from something like design: but beyond that position he cannot ascertain one single circumstance; and is left afterwards to fix every point of his theology by the utmost license of fancy and hypothesis. This world, for aught he knows, is very faulty and imperfect, compared to a superior standard; and was only the first rude essay of some infant deity, who afterwards abandoned it, ashamed of his lame performance: it is the work only of some dependent, inferior deity; and is the object of derision to his superiors: it is the production of old age and dotage in some superannuated deity; and ever since his death, has run on at adventures, from the first impulse and active force which it received from him. You justly give signs of horror, Demea, at these strange suppositions; but these, and a thousand more of the same kind, are Cleanthes’s suppositions, not mine. From the moment the attributes of the Deity are supposed finite, all these have place. And I cannot, for my part, think that so wild and unsettled a system of theology is, in any respect, preferable to none at all.”

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

      You can argue that cranes are inadequate. After all, what is to tell one crane from another? Why this crane, and not that one? What is to keep one from bringing one’s own crane?

      You can make the exact same argument about gods. What is to tell one god from another? Why this god and not that one? What is to keep one from bringing (or inventing) one’s own god (cf. Scientology)?

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

    A human shall desire to believe that which is True.

    Does it follow then that anyone who desires to believe an Untruth is, in fact, Not Human?

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