Morality in Multiple Dimensions

In college, I got into a lot of debates about moral relativism, cultural imperialism, and epistemological modesty.  When we were picking fights, it was useful to be able to get a quick sense of your sparring partner's positions, and my friends and I had an easy way to do triage: During the British occupation of India, were the British imperialists right to condemn sati (the practise of burning widows alive on their husbands pyres)?  Were they right to want to eliminate it?  Were the women wrong … [Read more...]

We Go Together / Like Essence and Telos / Doo-bop a doo-bee doo

Here's Adam of Daylight Atheism's reply to the questions I asked him yesterday about the difference between moral and mathematical laws, and whether either is human-independent.  (He also pointed out that we've sparred on this point before, and you may want to refer back to the map-territory post). I believe that mathematics and logic are discovered, rather than invented, although those terms are apt to get us bogged down in deep semantic waters.I think it sheds more light on my position to … [Read more...]

Human-Independent Morality

Adam Lee of Daylight Atheism recently reran an essay he wrote in response to Peter Hitchens ("Atheists Don't Just Want Sex and Drugs").  Specifically, he was taking issue with Peter Hitchens's claim that a moral system that lacked God must lack authority.  Hitchens wrote: For a moral code to be effective, it must be attributed to, and vested in, a nonhuman source. It must be beyond the power of humanity to change it to suit itself. I've gone back and forth on whether I believe that first sen … [Read more...]

Empirics, Morality, and Rational Ignorance

Time for another go round of responses to comments on the last two posts in my current series on math and morality:Hendy wrote: So turn this to morality. What if smoking pot was permissible starting tomorrow. A large number of people would now take part in it while many others would consider to hold it wrong. Are their internal sensors faulty? Repeat this with abortion, nation-wide permissibility of gay marriage, etc. Some would immediately partake and others would still hold that it was … [Read more...]

On what evidence?

This post is part of a series of responses to the comments on my ongoing series on math and morality.  You can check out previous posts in this series here.So having spent one post answering questions using my sight metaphor, I’m going to move away from it in this round of answers. (Remember, as George Box said, “Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful.”).Eitan said: [M]orality is clearly quite different than EVERYTHING else we know. If there were objective values, they w … [Read more...]

Tangled up in Blue

Thanks so much for all the comments and challenges to yesterday’s post in the Math and Morality series. Rather than reply in the comment thread, I’ll be putting up response posts throughout the day. Please comment to clarify or bring up something I neglected! I’m glad Anonymous linked to Steven Pinker’s NYT article on ”The Moral Instinct” and that J.C. linked to the article on how descriptions of color vary across cultures. Hopefully pairing these two can help me clear up a little … [Read more...]

“You have to start out learning to believe the little lies”

For an explanation of what Weatherwax Wednesdays are all about, read the introduction post. This week's quote builds on Monday's post about the impact of the Santa Claus story on children.  Unsurprisingly, in Discworld, Christmas is a little stranger.  In Hogfather, Death must take over the duties of the Santa-analogue, after an attempt is made on his life.  In the passage below, Death explains to his mostly-mortal daughter, Susan, why the Hogfather can't be allowed to perish.  (Note, in … [Read more...]


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