November 6, 2018

Generally, the study of morality is split into three components: descriptive morality, meta-ethics and normative morality. Normally philosophers replace the term ‘morality’ with ‘ethics’. Descriptive ethics is concerned with what people empirically believe, morally speaking. Normative ethics (which can be called prescriptive ethics) investigates questions of what people should believe. Meta-ethics is more philosophical still in attempting to define what moral theories and ethical terms actually refer to. Or,

  • What do different cultures actually think is right? (descriptive)
  • How should people act, morally speaking? (normative)
  • What do right and ought actually mean? (meta-ethics)

Morality, as the term will be used here, will generally be understood as: “normatively to refer to a code of conduct that, given specified conditions, would be put forward by all rational persons.”[i]

The second important term to attempt to unravel is objective. This is a more difficult term to define than one may think. Usually it means something that is independent of an agent’s mind, or mind-independent. This is the understanding I will use here for the sake of argument. Thus objective morality refers to facts about what constitutes moral behavior, and these facts lie in the nature of the agent’s action, regardless of cultural and individual opinion.

One hugely important question at this point concerns the existence of properties such as “is an abstract idea.” This is important because theists end up arguing at only skin depth, at the veneer of philosophy. Whether an atheist has the right to make moral judgments is a question that has as its basis much more fundamental meta-ethical and metaphysical philosophy. What theism and theists rely on is some form of (Platonic) realism such that there is a realm where abstract ideas and forms exist. This is not immediately, or even after some critical analysis, apparent. What are rights, moral laws or morality actually made of? What is their ontology? What are the properties of these abstract ideas? The conceptualist (a form of nominalism, the position that denies the existence of universal abstract ideas in some way) claims, for example, that abstract ideas like morality are concepts in each individual conceiver’s head. Thus objective morality is potentially a non-starter or requires a more befitting definition. Now the philosophy gets very in-depth here, but is actually critically important. It is easy to say atheists have no ground for objective morality and that theists do. It is a lot harder to show how objective morality exists in some kind of mind-independent reality. Even God can be argued to be an abstraction (since he apparently has infinite qualities, a concept that has no actual reality).

Now, all of my regular readers will know this very well; or, at least, they will know that this is my approach to abstracts and thus morality.

So, for me, morality is an abstract concept or framework of concepts that exist(s) in our minds. Usually, we consider morality to be about individual actions and how they might impact on others.

Politics is, I argue, this individual approach merely on a societal level. When we talk about morality in a generalised sense, we are invariably talking about normative ethics – what one (as an individual) should do. When we talk about politics, we talk about what one (a politician or a country) should do in the context of policy. This policy then has an outcome or consequence in affecting others.

This seems as clear as day to me, but I have had some push back before in claiming that politics is morality and moral philosophy.

What should a politician do? What policies should a government enact in a given scenario?  This is obviously moral philosophy, writ large.

Given this, then, it seems incumbent upon those discussing politics and policies and governance to have a working knowledge of moral philosophy. More than that, I think it is necessary for those people, and necessary for politicians, to set out their moral philosophy first. Because their moral philosophy will define their political and policy choices.

I remember watching The Big Questions on the BBC (upon which I have featured myself), the philosophy, religion and politics discussion programme, when it topic was torture. The whole panel were discussing torture on the veneer, discussing whether it worked in a given context. The discussion was, in all honesty, utterly pointless because no one had set out their moral philosophy. One’s approach to whether torture is acceptable or good is based on two things: what your moral philosophy is and what the empirical evidence is concerning the efficacy of torture. That two-pronged approach is fundamental to worthwhile discussions on, say, torture.

In the good old days (!), UK politicians used to go to university and learn PEP – politics, economics and philosophy – and for good reason.

With regard to politics, the same is true. What is your moral philosophy, and what are the empirical evidences and outcomes of a given policy?

Morality is, I would argue, a goal-oriented philosophy. You need to set out what your goals are before setting out your moral propositions or frameworks. This is doubly important for politics. What sort of country or world do we want to live in?

Do we want to live in a sort of dystopian future with little of no biodiversity (a la Total Recall or similar), or do we want to live in harmony with a biodiverse nature? Sorting this basic goal out will then massively inform policy-making. This, in turn, will bring about discussions of the moral value of humans against other animals, and whether securing the health of other ecosystems itself secures the long-term health and future of humanity, etc. etc.

To conclude, politics is a subcategory of moral philosophy, but not enough people know their moral philosophy and end up doing politics without firm foundations. They build castles in the air.

[i] Bernard  Gert. “The Definition of Morality,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2011. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/morality-definition/ (accessed July 20, 2013)

September 29, 2018

Human rights don’t exist. By this, I mean, as I so often state, they do not have ontic existence – they do not exist outside of our minds. Like all abstract ideas, for a conceptual nominalist like myself, the existence of such mental entities (labels, morality and so on) is entirely in our minds.

This is an article I have been meaning to write for a long time.

I, and most other humans, often talk about human rights as if they exist as objective entities. However, this is lazy language. They, like any aspect of language itself, are arrived at by consensus. When we agree on the meaning of any word, we codify that by putting it in a dictionary.

Actually, it’s even more descriptive than that. When humans use language – words and whatever spelling we choose often enough – dictionary compilers recognise a certain level of frequency and deem a word and its spelling common enough to be included in the dictionary. For example, the word “gamification” recently made it in after being coined and utilised enough that it reached a tipping point of acceptance into codification.

It’s similar with abstract concepts like human rights. We think and observe and take part in society and then we make moral proclamations. I don’t know, something like these generic ones:

  • The right to life
  • The right to liberty and freedom
  • The right to the pursuit of happiness
  • The right to live your life free of discrimination
  • The right to control what happens to your own body and to make medical decisions for yourself
  • The right to freely exercise your religion and practice your religious beliefs without fear of being prosecuted for your beliefs
  • The right to be free from prejudice on the basis of race, gender, national origin, color, age or sex
  • The right to grow old
  • The right to a fair trial and due process of the law
  • The right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment
  • The right to be free from torture
  • The right to be free from slavery
  • The right to freedom of speech
  • The right to freely associate with whomever you like and to join groups of which you’d like to be a part.
  • The right to freedom of thought
  • The right not to be prosecuted from your thoughts

You might want to get more specific still.

If I thought up these ideas but no one else did, or no one else agreed, they are not really human rights in any pragmatic sense, and they certainly aren’t universal. You could argue that there is a set of human rights that exist in some kind of ether or Platonic realm of truth. Perhaps in God. Of course, the Bible contravenes even some of the most basic human rights of, say, the UN (that seems infinitely more sensible and moral in its/their proclamations). So there is a problem of the observable data of the holy book of the Bible. Let’s scrap that book as a source of information about human rights.

Indeed, this whole post is equivalent to my writings on the ontology of morality since human rights are merely moral proclamations that any assume are objective that somehow transcend time and culture.

Over time and thought and society, people tend towards agreement on moral matters. Unless you’re America right now. In fact, the States is a great example of how, in reality, human rights are conceptual, how they aren’t written into the ether. The country is divided on abortion, and the right of a woman to their own body and the right to life of a foetus. I have discussed this, with connected ideas, in terms of personhood 9as a word ascribed to a set of properties, and how this is subjective) in “What Is Personhood? Setting the Scene.

Human rights sound lovely, but until we do something with them, they are meaningless, or they have no ramifications.

Human rights, therefore, are the philosophical underpinnings of moral thought that form the foundations to law. As we grow into a global society, the term “human right” takes on a more transcendent quality that dismisses borders in favour of the human race: it becomes a universal term. This is why it is often connected to the UN, an organisation that sets to unite the world and see humanity as one. This international law, it is hoped, somehow trumps the national and parochial laws of individual countries.

Until we codify human rights into law – first into local and national laws, but more usefully into more universal, border transcendent laws – the thinking, the philosophy, behind those human rights is ineffectual and pragmatically impotent.

In short, “human rights” is a term that signifies “moral philosophy”, but the “right” part of it only means something when there is a legal framework to make the moral proclamation binding. We all know what a legal right is:

1aa claim recognized and delimited by law for the purpose of securing it

bthe interest in a claim which is recognized by and protected by sanctions of law imposed by a state, which enables one to possess property or to engage in some transaction or course of conduct or to compel some other person to so engage or to refrain from some course of conduct under certain circumstances, and for the infringement of which claim the state provides a remedy in its courts of justice

2the aggregate of the capacities, powers, liberties, and privileges by which a claim is secured

3a capacity of asserting a legally recognized claim — compare LEGAL DUTY

4a right cognizable in a common-law court as distinguished from a court having jurisdiction in equity

The law works to enable an entity within its jurisdiction the capacity to do, have or be something. Without that, you just have one person or people making moral claims to another person or people. Law makes these things binding.

To mention God, theists often claim morality is only binding when objectively embedded within the entity of God.

This is patent nonsense and is at very best a promissory note. Secular, legal rights that are binding in light of legal organisations such as law enforcement and jurisprudence, as well as prison services and suchlike, are far more tangible than what is claimed within the theistic notion of binding morality. There are real-world ramifications to not adhering to such rights as laid out in any given legal code.

In conclusion, then, set out your human rights as a philosophical endeavour and then write these into law, preferably international law that transcends borders so that they become, as much as possible, universal. The reality will be that we arrive at these agreements by consensus. Hopefully, the consensus utilises the tools of logic and reason, observation and data analysis.


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September 22, 2018

As promised, here, finally, is a hopefully succinct synopsis (ha, er, impossible) of my moral philosophy. In setting it out, I will also counter positions adopted and claimed by theistic thinkers and apologists (am I implying apologists aren’t thinkers?).

Let’s set out the basics. What is morality? Generally, the study of morality is split into three components: descriptive morality, meta-ethics and normative morality. Normally philosophers replace the term ‘morality’ with ‘ethics’. Descriptive ethics is concerned with what people empirically believe, morally speaking. Normative ethics (which can be called prescriptive ethics) investigates questions of what people should believe. Meta-ethics is more philosophical still in attempting to define what moral theories and ethical terms actually refer to. Or,

What do different cultures actually think is right? (descriptive)

How should people act, morally speaking? (normative)

What do right and ought actually mean? (meta-ethics)

Morality, as the term will be used here, will generally be understood as: “normatively to refer to a code of conduct that, given specified conditions, would be put forward by all rational persons.”[i]

Abstract Ideas

Morality is an abstract idea, so surely we would need to know what an abstract idea is and what its ontology (principles of existence) is? As many of you know, I am a conceptual nominalist.

Nominalism arose in reaction to the problem of universals, specifically accounting for the fact that some things are of the same type. For example, Fluffy and Kitzler are both cats, or, the fact that certain properties are repeatable, such as: the grass, the shirt, and Kermit the Frog are green. One wants to know in virtue of what are Fluffy and Kitzler both cats, and what makes the grass, the shirt, and Kermit green.

The realist answer is that all the green things are green in virtue of the existence of a universal; a single abstract thing that, in this case, is a part of all the green things. With respect to the color of the grass, the shirt and Kermit, one of their parts is identical. In this respect, the three parts are literally one. Greenness is repeatable because there is one thing that manifests itself wherever there are green things.

Nominalism denies the existence of universals. The motivation for this flows from several concerns, the first one being where they might exist… Particular physical objects merely exemplify or instantiate the universal. But this raises the question: Where is this universal realm? One possibility is that it is outside of space and time…. However, naturalists assert that nothing is outside of space and time. Some Neoplatonists, such as the pagan philosopher Plotinus and the philosopher Augustine, imply (anticipating conceptualism) that universals are contained within the mind of God. To complicate things, what is the nature of the instantiation or exemplification relation?

Conceptualists hold a position intermediate between nominalism and realism, saying that universals exist only within the mind and have no external or substantial reality.

Moderate realists hold that there is no realm in which universals exist, but rather universals are located in space and time wherever they are manifest. Now, recall that a universal, like greenness, is supposed to be a single thing. Nominalists consider it unusual that there could be a single thing that exists in multiple places simultaneously. The realist maintains that all the instances of greenness are held together by the exemplification relation, but this relation cannot be explained.

Finally, many philosophers prefer simpler ontologies populated with only the bare minimum of types of entities, or as W. V. Quine said “They have a taste for ‘desert landscapes.’” They attempt to express everything that they want to explain without using universals such as “catness” or “chairness.”

As ever, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on nominalism is great – here. As is the SEP entry on abstract objects – here. As is the superb SEP entry on properties found here. Other useful SEP entries are Challenges to Metaphysical Realism, Platonism in Metaphysics, and the wiki entry on the Third Man Argument (an argument from Plato that shows an incoherent infinite regress in relational universals, which can be found in the SEP here).

End result? Realism is, in my opinion, untenable and (conceptual) nominalism is not only a more coherent argument, it is also borne out by actual data and the world around us. The fact that no moral philosophy works perfectly,, the fact that we all believe slightly different things of morality, shows that there is, descriptively, subjectivity concerning moral philosophy.

Objective Morality

We apply the abstract labels of moral evaluation to actions and intentions of humans. Actions are themselves events with real, physical properties. Intentions are different to actions in that they are states of minds. Of course, with the position that the mental supervenes on the physical (as I claim), then there is a sense that such mental states of intentions are themselves reducible to physical properties.

When we talk about “morality” as a whole, we talk about the moral laws and prescriptions, and the truth values of a moral proposition. For me, there is no ether or locus for morality outside of our brains where such ideas can exist in an ontic sense. In this way, morality is a conceptual enterprise that is constructed by our brains to create a moral map of the world that we can use to navigate the social landscape.

We can use science to help us, as Sam Harris does, arrive at the best course of action, given a particular goal. But, I think, setting out that goal is a philosophical project and that requires some abstract thought, perhaps setting out axioms in one’s framework. You can argue that there is an objectively better course of action given two options, A and B. If you are looking for wellbeing or happiness (for example), as your endgame for morality, then perhaps option B empirically gets you more of those things. However, setting that as your endgame is not an objective ideal. It is a subjective, conceptual ideal. I would add that for morality to make any coherent sense, for me at any rate, it needs to be goal-oriented, and setting those goals is a subjective project.

I struggle to be able to make sense of “objective” abstracta as mind-independent “things”, since all conceptual entities must, to my mind, be mind-dependent; they are things of the mind.

Simply put, if there were no minds to conceive of morality, there would be no morality.

What do the Experts Believe?

Love it or hate it, if we are going to discuss ideas of morality and moral philosophy, then we must defer to the experts to some degree. Not, of course, in a fallacious manner of appealing to authority or, indeed, an argumentum ad populum. It is sheer folly to ignore the views of the people who spend their lives investigating moral ideas. I would not build a nuclear power station without having a few chats to well-qualified particle and nuclear physicists, while at the same time bending the ears of some proven structural engineers.

So what do philosophers think? Luckily, in 2009, the biggest ever survey of professional and graduate philosophers took place—the philpapers survey. In this survey we learned some important things. 27.7% of philosophers are moral anti-realists. What this means is that only roughly a quarter of philosophers deny the objective truth value of moral statements. Further to this, some 25.9% of philosophers accept or lean toward moral deontology, 23.6% moral consequentialism, and 18.2% virtue ethics. Now we are getting into the pertinent detail. These are the three main contenders for moral theory, split roughly equally, with a healthy “other” (isn’t there always!).

What we can learn from this is that there is a variety of different moral theories that one can adopt, including the denial of moral theories. But the important result is as follows: 72.8% of philosophers are atheists; 14.6% being theists. A huge majority of philosophers deny the existence of a god of any kind. And yet we have just learned that some 67.7% believe in deontology, consequentialism, or virtue ethics. So, clearly, many philosophers believe that you do not need to believe in a god to coherently hold a moral philosophical worldview.

What Is an Ought?

So, what is an ought? Well, oughts should be seen in their larger context. All too often, we use language sloppily in a way that we take linguistic shortcuts. For example, if I say “I ought to change the oil in my car engine” then most people understand what I mean by implication and inference. This this is actually an apodosis, the part of a conditional sentence that usually starts with then. The problem is, we are missing the protasis, which is the first part of the conditional sentence that usually starts with an if. This is because we are clever enough to make the correct inference and work out what the speaker is meaning.

However, if we were being specific and accurate, we would include the protasis. In this case, the protasis would be “If I want my car engine to work well, then I ought to change the oil in my car engine.” Without the protasis, the sentence “I ought to change the oil in my car engine” is essentially meaningless. This is because you can place anything as the protasis and completely change the overall meaning of the sentence or, indeed, render the apodosis incorrect. In this case, if I said “If, as a scientist, I am testing how well engines work without oil in them” then adding the apodosis, “then I ought to change the oil in the car engine” will not make sense, and the whole sentence is problematic.

Thus the point to make here is that, although we often do it and can make sense of it, if we are to be precise, then we should always include the protasis in a conditional statement.

What religionists do is claim that atheists are not able to ground the moral oughts in a sentence. But oughts are goal-oriented and the goal is contained in a viable protasis. Let’s now turn the tables and see how this works with the theist. The theist states, “You ought to do X” where I will translate this into a generic statement that reads “You ought to be good.” The theist then claims that they have more philosophical right to say this than the atheist. But if I was to ask, simply, “Why?” to the theist, then we start to see how problems can arise. The theist is in danger, without a viable protasis, of merely asserting oughts in a vacuum, that you must be good…in order to be good. This is rather circular and tells us nothing. You ought to change the oil in the engine in order to change the oil in the engine. So, as it stands, the theist has no coherent grounding for their own moral obligations.

On further inspection, the other choices are twofold:

a) in order to get into heaven and avoid hell

b) because God told you so.

The first one looks rather consequentialist in nature and is very self-serving, though I suspect this is the reasoning that underpins a lot of religious thinking. On the other hand, because God told you so faces all the many problems that Divine Command Theories face (I list 16 of them here). Essentially, the only reason to do what God says is to be good, without any recourse to moral reasoning so that morality is at best arbitrary and a-rational and is simply the behaviour, essence or nature of God (as claimed).

All Moral Value Systems Are the Same

Richard Carrier wrote an essay that concluded that all moral value systems are the same, anyway. In “Open Letter to Academic Philosophy: All Your Moral Theories Are the Same“, he shows how deontology reduces down to consequentialism:

Kant argued that the only reason to obey his categorical imperatives is that doing so will bring us a greater sense of self-worth, that in fact we should “hold ourselves bound by certain laws in order to find solely in our own person a worth” that compensates us for every loss incurred by obeying, for “there is no one, not even the most hardened scoundrel who does not wish that he too might be a man of like spirit,” yet only through the moral life can he gain that “greater inner worth of his own person.” Thus Kant claimed a strong sense of self-worth is not possible for the immoral person, but a matter of course for the moral one, and yet everyone wants such a thing (more even than anything else), therefore everyone has sufficient reason to be moral. He never noticed that he had thereby reduced his entire system of categorical imperatives to a single hypothetical imperative.

He then claims that consequentialism reduces to deontology:

Besides these, there are many other respects in which a full-fledged consequentialism actually ends up entailing every preferable conclusion of any deontological ethical system. Duties are morally compelling because of the wide social consequences of not obeying them. Consequentialism thus collapses to deontology, in respect to anything deontology ever had to offer. Philosophers ought therefore to be analyzing every deontological conclusion they think is sound so as to expose what consequences actually make it morally preferable to what any incompleteconsequentialism seems to entail. Notably, some philosophers have been doing this without even knowing it: it’s called rule utilitarianism. But overall, instead of just saying some deontology entails you do x, do the hard work of asking yourself why you really think doing x is consequentially better. Because really, you do. And it is doing philosophy no service to ignore the consequences you are preferring and why.

Before finally claiming they both reduce to virtue ethics, anyway.

Welcome to the quagmire of moral philosophy.

God, Divine Command Theory and Objective Morality

As Kant would say, we cannot know things in themselves. We use our subjective minds to access everything. If God did embody moral law in some meaningful way, then we have a whole series of issues. God embodies, in his nature and commands, moral prescriptive law, and we must then do what he says in order to be moral ourselves.

Indeed, we get onto critiquing divine moral philosophy. The most common version of this is divine command theory (DCT). I shall list 16 arguments against such in order to put it to bed. The Christian/DCTer would need to successfully refute all 16 points to allow their position to be coherent:

  1. Arbitrariness – There is no third party benchmark and so the idea of goodness becomes arbitrary if it is a non-rational assumption made of God. You cannot defer to something else to morally rationalise God’s nature, as this would then become the moral grounding, and this would not necessitate God. But for God to be that grounding, what makes his commands good become merely arbitrary assertions when lacking such rationalisations. Good becomes merely a synonym of God and lacks any useful meaning.
  2. Direction of causality – The direction of causality works like this: God has lovingness, mercy, kindness etc., but these are not good characteristics, because goodness is rooted in God. These are good BECAUSE God has them. They do not make God good. So if we have lovingness, if we ask why it is good, it is because it reflects God, not for any other reason. Justice and lovingness are only good on account of God having them, not because they obtain any good consequences within or for society, of for any other moral reasoning.
  3. We are good only because we reflect God – Think about the previous point on a practical, everyday basis. When you are being good, you cannot use moral reasoning to define that goodness, only that it reflects God. In other words, moral reasoning cannot ground morality, because then the grounding would not be in God. This leaves us with a weird scenario such that you cannot provide any reasoning for moral actions. “Why is this behaviour good?” cannot be answered in any way other than “because it reflects God’s nature”, and thus moral reasoning becomes impotent. It also means that God cannot have reasons for doing as he does, otherwise these will ground the moral value of the action!
  4. Defies everyday moral reasoning and intuition (in, say, consequences) – In other words, what makes rape wrong, for us, is roughly what harm it causes. For the DCTer, it is because God commanded us not to rape. Although, he kind of did in the Old Testament! We will look about the world and say, “Look how horrible rape is! Look at the harm it does.” But this in no way makes it wrong! This carries no moral value. Of course, this seems patently ridiculous. None of this plays well with our sense of moral intuition. We feel we are being good for X and Y reason, and yet this is supposed to be reflective of God, and this is what makes it good. Yet most everybody being good on a daily basis believes this or thinks of God in this way when being good.
  5.  Which God? Which Commands?  – We are also unclear as to which god exists, and what each god’s commands are. The commands in the Old Testament appear to have been replaced overnight with the commands of the New Testament. Incidentally, this looks like moral relativism (Inter-Testamental Moral Relativism) such that the historical and geographic context of the Jews defined the morality of their actions. So there is a gross lack of clarity in what actions DO reflect God’s nature – we might call this the Argument From Divine Miscommunication. Is stoning adulterers good? Is it bad? Is it only good before 33CE? Did God’s nature change then? Is all the Bible literally true? If so, then Jesus is literally a door. If not, then Jesus and the Bible talks at times in metaphor. What is metaphor and what is literal? We do not have commands for a good many things in the Bible, what of these? Such divine commands are indeed muddled and unclear at best. Slavery etc. appears to be morally bad, and yet God countenanced it in the Bible.
  6. Genocide and ordinary morality  The idea that God commanded genocide in the Old Testament is also problematic and does not fit well with ordinary morality. But given DCT, it must be morally good. This potentially gets you to an uncomfortable reality: DCT just depends on who tells you stuff. Genocide from God = good. Genocide from Hitler = bad! It all starts looking like the context (moral relativism, even) and the consequences are all important. More on this later. Hitler gets a lot of bad press for his terrible genocide. God less so. The scales are skewed, methinks.
  7. Is God a better stopping point?  – Theists have done nothing to show that God is a more appropriate stopping point than the moral properties of kindness, generosity and justice themselves. Why is it, in any rational sense, that grounding morality in God is actually any better than grounding it in real and observable features of the world, such as the consequences that such moral actions obtain? There seems to be this assumption that a framework set outside of our minds and our reality, dictated to by some reasoning or being that we cannot access or remotely understand, is somehow better.
  8. Why follow the commands? – Why should we follow such commands? Only to get into heaven and avoid hell? If so, that is not really a reason to be good. If it is because they are good things to do based on moral reasoning, then again, the framework fails. In this way, there is no reason to accept DCT, even if it is true! See the piece “Heaven & Hell Stop You From Genuinely Morally Evaluating“.
  9. Things not commanded are on limits? – Anything not commanded by God is potentially on limits. Since we cannot access the source directly (God), then we end up having to guess what is good or bad. This is a guess because it cannot be based on moral reasoning! So anything not covered by divine commands in the Bible is on limits as being potentially morally fine. Those actions lacking moral clarity leave us with either having to do moral reasoning, or simply not having a moral clue about what actions we should do in order to be reflective of God. This is even harder when it appears some things are both good and bad, depending on the context!
  10. But God would never command rape! Apart from he did. – The defence that God would never command bad things like murder and rape (i.e., that it is not in his nature) is falsified by the very fact that he DID command it in the Bible! Including the death of all men, women, children and animals in different contexts. Some examples: Murder, rape, and pillage at Jabesh-gilead (Judges 21:10-24); Murder, rape and pillage of the Midianites (Numbers 31:7-18); More Murder Rape and Pillage (Deuteronomy 20:10-14); Laws of Rape (Deuteronomy 22:28-29); Death to the Rape Victim (Deuteronomy 22:23-24); David’s Punishment – Polygamy, Rape, Baby Killing, and God’s “Forgiveness” (2 Samuel 12:11-14); Rape of Female Captives (Deuteronomy 21:10-14); Rape and the Spoils of War (Judges 5:30); Sex Slaves (Exodus 21:7-11); God Assists Rape and Plunder (Zechariah 14:1-2). Nice.
  11. But God would never command rape! Er, how can you know?  Again, the defence is common: “But God would never command rape!” Yet, in order to say that God would never command rape, you have to know that rape is already wrong, independent of God! You cannot say he would never command it because he has never not commanded it, and to say that he wouldn’t would involve moral reasoning! We have this problem with causality, and the Christian can’t say “We know he wouldn’t command rape because we know it is bad because of X and Y reasons”. You get seriously hamstrung when you cannot appeal to moral reasoning!
  12. God cannot know he is all-good… – God cannot even know that he himself is all-good because to do so, he would need to judge himself on an objective standard! This is quite a difficult concept to think about, but how would God be able to have the self-reflective knowledge to be able to claim that he was all-good. All God could say was that he was Godlike. Good, being tautologous with God, means that God would work himself into a circle in trying to define himself. It’s quite similar to God being unable to know that he is not a God-in-a-vat, and that there isn’t a chain of gods, Matrix-style, above him.
  13. Moral development of children  In Morality Without God, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong states ((p. 110):
    …anyone who helps and refrains from harming others just because God commanded her to do so might not be hard-hearted, but her motivations are far from ideal. It would be better for them to help and refrain from harming other people out of concern for those other people.
    That is what we ought to teach our children. Studies of development and education show that children develop better moral attitudes as adults if they are raised to empathize rather than to obey commands without any reasons rather than to avoid punishment. To raise children to obey God’s commands just because God commanded them will undermine true caring and true morality.
  14. Non-Christians who have no access to Christianity – People who have not read the Bible or experienced the Christian God would have no idea how to be moral (unless, again, there is an acceptable recourse to moral reasoning, which, again, has no need of God). Think of horrible people existing before biblical times, or in different countries without access to those divine commands. Is murder acceptable because they have not had divine commands?
    Apologists like William Lane Craig have even posited ideas such as that these people God knew would not freely come to love him, or wouldn’t simply be bad people, so he front-loaded their souls into these pre-biblical times as cannon fodder.
  15. Stephen Maitzen: Ordinary Morality Presupposes Atheism – Here is an argument from Stephen Maitzen. And this is an analogy used by Christians themselves. Imagine that you are a five-year-old being taken to the doctors for an injection against a deadly disease. You do not understand how immunisation works. Your parents cannot adequately explain it to you. You just have to know that a greater good will come about from your immunisation. It is a piece of necessary pain and suffering, the needle going in, that will bring about a greater good. Now, an onlooker would never see the doctor just about to inject this poor boy, run over and rugby tackle the doctor so as to stop the pain. That would stop the greater good from taking place. However, that IS what every god-fearing Christian SHOULD do. Let me explain. imagine an old lady being set upon by some youths across the road. Using our ordinary morality, if we saw this, we would like to think we would step in and stop this from happening. But there can be no such thing as gratuitous evil in this world with an all-loving God. This man getting beaten up, as horrible as it is, is necessary for a greater good to come about. By stepping in and helping this woman, we are stopping the greater good from coming about. We would be rugby tackling the doctor to stop those youths! In other words, as Maitzen states, ordinary morality simply does not make sense under theism. Ordinary morality presupposes atheism. Moreover, this whole scenario of the problem of evil and greater goods coming from suffering is consequentialist in nature. God is USING people as a means to an end. This is the sort of utilitarianism that theists decry, and attack atheists for holding to.
  16. God is a consequentialist  And finally… A fundamental problem for Christians is that theologians claim that things like DCT are correct, but actually, most of the population tend to be consequentialists. As William Lane Craig has declared: “consequentialism is a terrible ethic”. However, it turns out that about 90% of people are intuitively consequentialist. The most famous experiment to look into this is the trolley problem. 90% of people would pull the lever. This goes dramatically down if they have to push a fat man off the bridge, which shows that morality is a function of psychology. It turns out that (as Jonathan Haidt would say in “The emotional dog and the rational tail”) that we intuitively moralise and then scrabble around for reasons as to why we did something.But Christians supposedly decry such consequentialism. Funny this, because it turns out that God is the biggest consequentialist of them all. You will hear that God moves in mysterious ways, that there is a reason for everything. The Problem of Evil dictates that there can be no gratuitous evil, that every bit of suffering must be necessary towards eventuating a greater good. So the moral value of the action which brings about suffering is in the consequence of the eventual greater good. It cannot be good that all of the world, bar 8, and all of the animals bar some died in a great flood. No. So the goodness comes from the greater good which this brought about. Everything happens for a reason and God moves in mysterious ways. Jesus being sacrificed was for the sins of the world. This was pure consequentialism. In fact, every atrocity in both the Bible and the real world is explained in this way.But, according to Christians, this ethic is terrible. The ethical system employed by theologians to use in EVERY SINGLE THEODICY is consequentialist, and apparently terrible! See more in my essay here.

That should really close the case on God being the objective basis of morality. See here for problems with another Christian value system, Natural Law.

So what DO I believe?

At an ontological level, I am a moral skeptic. Morality has no ontic existence. Since abstracts do not exist outside of our minds, morality, being abstract, does not exist outside of our minds.

But it does exist in our minds, conceptually, and we pragmatically use our interpretations of morality in order to operate successfully as a social species.

My view, but I am open to change, is that morality is largely psychological. As ephemerol stated here:

…the foundation and core of our intuitive, emotional empathic responses, and I would guess, also of all our basis for cognitive moral reasoning, is the seemingly simplistic understanding that there are things we wouldn’t want others to do to us, and, just maybe, it seems like a reasonable guess that others also wouldn’t like it if we were to do those things to them either.

The funny thing is, although religious people often float the silly idea that a god is somehow involved in morality, the law of reciprocity is an entirely secular and humanistic statement, and depends solely upon the existence, not of gods, nor of religious texts, but just two or more human beings. Nor does it depend upon some unfathomable feat of wisdom such that it could only have come down from on high; it just requires someone to be neurotypical enough to possess the capacity for empathy. In fact, there’s even a fly in this ointment, such as it comes down to us, that indicates that “the golden rule” isn’t quite as wise or as golden as it might at first appear, ruling out some sort of perfectly wise divine source.

Of course, the golden rule predated Jesus by a long way and has turned up in pretty much every society and every religion. It appears to be a fundamental psychological and functional mechanism – indeed, we see it in other animals, too. The platinum rule is an upgrade:

Think about it: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The Golden Rule implies the basic assumption that other people would like to be treated the way that you would like to be treated. The alternative to the Golden Rule is the Platinum Rule: “Treat others the way they want to be treated.”

We use our psychological metrics and systems of morality as a good guide – good, because they allow us to operate with social success. This. we interpret as “goodness” (amongst possibly other characteristics).

The reason why consequentialism, as a system, is so intuitively powerful, is that a) it seems to be psychologically ingrained (89% of people would pull the lever in the trolley experiment, and the percentage is reversed if we have to actually push someone to do it) , and b) it is non-derivative.

To ground any claim, from morality to anything else, we have to face the Munchausen Trilemma:

  • The circular argument, in which theory and proof support each other (i.e. we repeat ourselves at some point)
  • The regressive argument, in which each proof requires a further proof, ad infinitum (i.e. we just keep giving proofs, presumably forever)
  • The axiomatic argument, which rests on accepted precepts (i.e. we reach some bedrock assumption or certainty)

Given the weaknesses of the first two, we are left with the last. Axioms, as self-evident truths, ground the “why” answer with a sort of “just because”. In morality, happiness (pleasure, lack of pain) is a really useful moral currency because it is self-evidently good: Why did you do that? To give optimal happiness? Why? Because happiness is good. Why? It just self-evidently is. It makes me happy. And this is as good an axiom as I think you will find.

Compare that with God as moral command-giver and not being allowed to use moral reasoning, and all you get is do good either because heaven/hell, or do good because God is good, and that is good because God. It’s all rather circular.

Now, consequentialism is not perfect. No moral value system is. After all these thousands of years, we all still disagree, so we can be assured that there simply is no right answer, and this is because it is a conceptual, subjective construction without an objectively “right” manner of being.

Consequentialism is also strong because it seeks to perpetually make the world a better place. It is not about the in-group, about the individual, necessarily – it seeks to make the world a better place. As a general principle, this is pretty noble. It can also be a weakness because it is never-ending and we end up sweeping the streets of micro-organisms in front of us so as to minimise moral impact – we become like the Jains.

It is worth saying that consequentialism has many, many different flavours and add-ons. See the SEP entry on it for more detail. As a rule of thumb, though, I think it is intuitively attractive and pragmatically useful. Indeed, we use it politically all of the time. NICE, the organisation in the NHS, uses outcome based formulae to evaluate drugs and treatments against each other in order to choose the best use of finite money and resources to choose between which drugs and treatments to afford. You can see consequentialism at play in each and every area of policy, both domestic and international.

I am not a fan of deontology – this idea of realism – I do think it is a harder system to arrive at for a naturalist (well, for anyone). Things like the Inquiring Murderer offer problems for establishing any such system that doesn’t seem to actually derive back to a form of consequentialism:

The situation in a nutshell is this: you are cornered outside of your house by a bloodthirsty madman who is looking for your friend. You know that this friend is inside of your house. The madman tells you in no uncertain terms that he will kill this person as soon as he finds him, and demands to know his whereabouts. For some reason or other, you do not have the ability to remain silent but must answer this villain with truth or falsehood. Is a lie in this case morally permissible? (On A Supposed Right to Lie 611).

Kant’s answer, of course, is that not even this horrific circumstance would validate a deliberate falsehood; lying is a priori wrong because it is not an action that can be universally enacted according to the moral law, representing a contradiction in nature. (Source)

I strongly believe that morality is underwritten by or at least heavily entwined with empathy, although the term “empathy” can be a catch-all one that needs closer defining. So, for me, morality is not some simple-to-box-up neat and succinct theory. It is problematic and messy, and it depends whether you are talking about ontology, normative values, logical constructions, truth and axioms.

Conclusion

Objective, divinely-based moral value systems don’t work at all.

Indeed, no moral value system works perfectly – they are all flawed in some way(s).

I think we can make the world a better place by implementing the platinum rule as long as that doesn’t have dire consequential outcomes. It is useful to use consequentialist rules of thumb. We reasonably want to try to make the world a better place for generations to come because it is inherent within us, for genetic reasons, and due to empathy, and psychology that can work itself into predicted futures. It feels good to do so; it feels right; it benefits us and benefits the world universally (if done well).

Now, there is ample opportunity for shed loads of argument here. Do we calculate goodness over a 5, 10, 50, 100-year basis? Is biodiversity morally better than human flourishing? How do we calculate an equilibrium? What is a better world? Can we justify our goals and axioms (when, by definition, axioms cannot be justified as they are supposedly self-evident)?

The whole crux to morality is setting out the goal, the protasis. Once we agree on that, all else follows fairly well. The world is a complex place full of gazillions of variables and this means predicting the future is bloody tough, which means being moral is bloody tough (as in, to calculate). Hence the rules of thumb. We need to teach empathy well and to understand the world better and the consequences that come about from different actions. This will underwrite good, evidence-based (moral) policy-making.

Other Labels

Cognitivism vs Noncognitivism

Cognitivism is the meta-ethical view that ethical sentences express propositions and can therefore be true or false (they are truth-apt), which noncognitivists deny.[1] Cognitivism is so broad a thesis that it encompasses (among other views) moral realism (which claims that ethical sentences express propositions about mind-independent facts of the world), moral subjectivism (which claims that ethical sentences express propositions about peoples’ attitudes or opinions), and error theory (which claims that ethical sentences express propositions, but that they are all false, whatever their nature). [source]

I think things can be true or false but that we can never know them to be either (cogito ergo sum). All we know are probabilities, all the way down to axioms. So it depends on how you define these things – it depends on the axioms  and the goals that come out of them, and definitions of truth. I am happy to be called either, as long as the definition accords with my previous sentences. Something can be true, but we could never know the truth value, and it depends on our goals, which themselves may not have truth values (if I want X – is there truth to X being something we would universally want?).

Subjectivism, Etc.

I am not a subjectivist but more of an ideal observer theory adherent: the view that what is right is determined by the attitudes that a hypothetical ideal observer (a being who is perfectly rational, imaginative and informed) would have. There is no truth to a subjective claim, where truth is a correspondence type notion of a claim mapping onto objective reality, which is itself tough because there are objective properties, but accessing them is necessarily subjective. In other words, the true colour of something can only be subjective unless describing the simple properties (knowing that language and understanding is itself subjective) of the wavelengths of light.

I am quite partial to modern interpretations of ethical hedonism, which you can read about here. In fact, I would probably advocate living in a Matrix-style utopian experience machine and allow the rest of the biodiverse world to live in balance without too much human intervention. But that’s a whole other discussion.

Phew, that wasn’t succinct.

I’ll return to some more labelling in a future post.

RELATED POSTS AND NOTES

[i] Bernard  Gert. “The Definition of Morality,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2011. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/morality-definition/ (accessed July 20, 2013)


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September 16, 2018

I will soon be writing more about the ontology and exact positions of my moral philosophy. In the meantime, here is a synopsis and set of links for some of my moral writing:

And so on.

July 6, 2018

I recently posted a piece on objective morality in response to Jeremiah Traegar’s article here at ATP. In discussing my response elsewhere, there were the following points that I would like to deal with here in order to kill two birds with one philosopher’s stone.

My original quotes are in italic, with the commenter’s comments in blockquote.

You can argue that there is an objectively better course of action given two options, A and B. If you are looking for wellbeing or happiness (for example), as your endgame for morality, then perhaps option B empirically gets you more of those things. However, setting that as your endgame is not an objective ideal. It is a subjective, conceptual ideal. I would add that for morality to make any coherent sense, for me at any rate, it needs to be goal-oriented, and setting those goals is a subjective project.

Why can’t some endgames be objectively better than others, merely in virtue of the nature of conscious beings and their capacity to suffer and flourish, independent of our beliefs about what we ought or ought not to do to others? Anyone who sets “causing abject suffering” as their endgame is doing morality worse than someone who sets “reducing abject suffering” as their endgame, it seems to me. Also, discovering which goal one ought to pursue need not be subjective, though it is often experienced this way. I think we can coherently say that some goals are objectively better than others for some people at some times.

Some endgames can objectively be better than others in terms of empirically evidenced outcomes. It’s just a sense of what is better that needs establishing objectively, and this is difficult. For example, and here we get into some standard criticisms of prima facie consequentialism, how do we objectively define a better outcome for wellbeing, even if we do establish that wellbeing is self-evidently good and therefore some kind of objective metric.?

What I mean by this is if we say that option B over option A for wellbeing is empirically better, how do we go about calculating this? Do we mean this for the person in question, or for multiple people? Which multiple people? And for how long should we look at the consequences? And what if wellbeing is positively affected in one way and negatively affected in another? When there are pluralistic methods or units of moral evaluation, who gets to define which one wins out? Is it intention or is it outcome? And the problem is, as far as I can tell, moral realism needs to be in some sense absolute. Morally real prescriptions that exist somewhere “out there”, or wrapped up self-evidently in the world, must be self-evidently true. There can be no grey that requires people to argue the toss over one option or another, one moral value system or unit over another. This would surely lead to a kind of subjectivism or conceptual approach.

Let me try to exemplify.

Imagine I give £5 to a homeless man. My intention is to make that person’s life better, and I have a rose-tinted view of what will happen. Perhaps I am being naive and my intentions are naive. Perhaps the burden is on me to make sure that that person spends the money wisely. Let’s park that for the time being.

Now imagine the homeless man (please excuse me from stereotyping – it’s just an example) spends it on crack cocaine for the first time, or Spice, or whatever. This starts him down a trail of self-destruction that massively hurts his family. He goes into a five-year downward spiral of addiction and crisis, destroying his wider family. His wife commits suicide and his children develop mental health issues.

So my intentions were good (but I could arguably have done a better job of researching or ensuring a better outcome), yet the outcome was bad.

For five years.

It then turns out that he turns his life around and makes an awesome recovery. He becomes a role model for ex-users and ends up making a huge contribution to society in stopping other potential addicts taking that route. We could now play the destruction and pain in his family off against the life-changing events to those potential addicts. Which events have more unitary power in terms of moral calculation? Is there an objective matrix of values that feed into some sort of moral calculation that can give you an objectively true analysis of a moral action?

Now, on a twenty-year outcome-based evaluation, that fiver was well spent. However, as a result of that fiver being given and his resultant addiction, let’s say he stopped becoming an ethical vegetarian. We are now playing one outcome against another, and we are not sure over what time period we cut off our evaluation.

And we could look at that event and see the whole matrix of events that would only have come about as a result of that fiver donation. After one hundred years, that fiver event could have affected billions of people. That’s the nature of causality and time.

Where do we cut time off and how wide a net do we evaluate?

It gets even worse if we take into account the counterfactuals.

What if we didn’t give him a fiver, but someone else would have given him a tenner? What if we hadn’t given him the money and as a replacement for that something happened that was either massively beneficial or negative for him? And what if these counterfactuals (or the original action from me) had really mixed outcomes for a mixed number of people? Our non-donation or actual donation can be seen in the context of not only what did happen, but also in terms of what didn’t happen.

But, you might say, morality is not evaluated by outcome. Okay, this sounds like some conceptual, abstract philosophy. We are arguably moving away from moral realism. Somehow, written into the fabric of the universe is moral obligation or law or evaluation based on our intentions: let’s say it is about desire and intention. But should my intention require some responsible analysis or can I be just as moral by going through life with a carefree hopeful attitude that all of my actions will lead to good outcomes? If I naively go through life thinking in terms of giving people fish rather than teaching them to fish, my intentions are good, but they may very well actually be naive and damaging.

And how do we link outcome to intentions? Surely outcome should in some way inform our intentions so that we have an idea of the success of our intentions and we can adapt our intentions accordingly. In other words, I can learn that my intentions are better if I responsibly research what the outcomes of my actions are or might be. Learning from outcomes that giving homeless people money is not as useful as giving them food or buying The Big Issue from them where possible means that I can intend to do better by having a better grip on the outcomes of my actions (I am not interested in whether this is actually true for the purposes of this point).

But I’m not sure that any of this helps an absolute sense of moral realism, notwithstanding problems of the actual ontology of abstract moral laws. And there is another area for discussion: are moral laws descriptive or prescriptive?

I struggle to be able to make sense of “objective” abstracta as mind-independent “things”, since all conceptual entities must, to my mind, be mind-dependent; they are things of the mind.

This is a classic struggle for modernists and postmodernists, as you lay out here. That said, secular folks seem to have no trouble making sense of the laws of physics as our attempts to describe actual features of reality that exist out there in a mind independent kind of way. The “law of gravity” is a ghost as Pirsig would say, it exists out there, but not like a thing, instead as a description of what is. We discover that description in our own subjective way, but it precedes us. Same goes with moral claims. The truth of the claim “slavery is wrong” exists out there just as much as the speed of light, long before anyone human figured out either. I don’t even think it’s that weird, just a category reification error, which was what Plato was trying to find is way through after all.

This sort of links well to the above. We discover the real properties of the world and then immediately subjectivise them. This is along the lines of Kant and his ding an sich; we cannot know things-in-themselves as everything is interpreted through our subjective sense experiences, and this would include morality. We produce our conceptual map of the real terrain but we must not confuse the map with the terrain.

Slavery is wrong when we do moral philosophising that starts with certain axioms, it’s just establishing those axioms and the resultant frameworks. But what about slavery in the natural world? Bee drones, which are all female, work to support and serve the queen and her progeny. Bee drones don’t actually consume honey. They rely on the queen’s grubs to secrete a substance to feed on. Thus they have no choice. The Polyergus Lucidus is a slave-making ant only found in the eastern United States. It is incapable of feeding itself or looking after its offspring without assistance and must parasitize members of its own species or close relatives in order to survive. It will raid other nests and carry the pupae away to be reared and eventually grow to become workers or, in this case, slaves in their own colony.

In a sense, all parasitic relationships in nature can be viewed as slavery. One organism benefits as a result of the work of another, and the working one receives no benefit and may be harmed.

We would need to establish, in terms of ontic realism, the term “slave” and to whom it precisely applies. This gets rather close to Wittgenstein and language. On this, he did a 180 flip in his philosophical life:

Wittgenstein’s shift in thinking, between the Tractatus and the Investigations, maps the general shift in 20th century philosophy from logical positivism to behaviourism and pragmatism. It is a shift from seeing language as a fixed structure imposed upon the world to seeing it as a fluid structure that is intimately bound up with our everyday practices and forms of life. For later Wittgenstein, creating meaningful statements is not a matter of mapping the logical form of the world. It is a matter of using conventionally-defined terms within ‘language games’ that we play out in the course of everyday life. ‘In most cases, the meaning of a word is its use’, Wittgenstein claimed, in perhaps the most famous passage in the Investigations. It ain’t what you say, it’s the way that you say it, and the context in which you say it. Words are how you use them.

So it becomes a case of working out the cut off point as to when slavery becomes wrong – it becomes an argument about personhood.

And, oh my, debates about personhood are precisely ones about realism and conceptual nominalism.  I set this out in “What Is Personhood? Setting the Scene…“.

If moral realism supervenes on the idea of realism in terms of personhood, then it is doomed to failure.

Simply put, if there were no minds to conceive of morality, there would be no morality.

I might disagree, depending how you mean this. Morality tells us how we ought to treat sentient entities. As long as those sentient entities entities exist, the truths would apply to them, even if no one yet existed with a sufficiently advanced mind to cognize the those truths.

This starts to look like there might be agreement. Perhaps there is a greater need to define “objective morality” in the first place.

Again, I maintain that for these ideas to be existent in our brains the ideas are necessarily conceptual. We attach mental ideas to real properties of actions and events, and call this morality. But it is a conceptual affair. The tools and metrics we use to arrive at our conclusions will be real and empirical, though, it is just a case of establishing those frameworks themselves as ontologically objective.

[The commenter here is Aaron Rabi host of Philosophers in Space and Embrace the Void @etvpod podcasts. Check them out!]

July 2, 2018

Jeremiah Traeger, here at ATP, recently posted on objective morality and referenced my beliefs in this context, especially regarding conceptual nominalism. I will look to succinctly set out my beliefs here again to stimulate some discussion.

What is a conceptual nominalist? Let me elucidate:

Abstract Objects

Abstract objects are incredibly important aspects within the context of philosophy. They include all of the labels and categories of things (tokens).These types are abstract. So, for example, a chair is both the token (actual chair) and the type (an abstract labelling as such). This can include numbers, universal ideas like redness, ideas like courage and justice, and even individual humans, such as Jonathan Pearce.

Because of their very nature, in being abstract, they can cause headaches for physicalism (and naturalism) and causality. Ever since the Greek times, there has been the famous problem known as the Problem of Universals. This briefly deals with the problem in defining what the properties of objects are, ontologically speaking (ie, what existence they have). Universals are common (universal) properties contained by more than one object. Two cars and a ball being red – what is redness? How can these different objects have an identical property and is that property real or in the mind of the conceiver, or indeed, contained within speech? Are these abstract objects and universals causally potent? Can redness take a position in a causal chain or relationship?

Platonism (realism)

Realists claim that these abstracta are real – that they exist in some tangible way. Plato, from whom the term came, believed the universals, like redness, existed separately from the particular objects (particulars) which contained said property. Platonic realism states that such entities exist independently from the particular, as opposed to Aristotelian realism states that the universals are real but dependent on the particulars.

Some arguments propose that, in order to have truth value in statements, universals must exist, such that “This apple is red” implies that the universal of redness exists for the proposition to be truthful.

The problems for such theories are where is the locus of these universals? Where can they be found and what IS their ontology?

Nominalism

Nominalism stands in stark contrast to realism in that the adherents state that only particulars exist, and not universals. Properties of particular objects can account for eventual similarity between objects (such as the green of grass and the green of a painted wall). Universals do not exist.

I am unsure as to whether the philpapers survey included conceptualism in the ‘other’ category or not, since conceptualism is sometimes called conceptual nominalism, such that universals and abstracts exist, but only in the individual minds of the conceivers (as concepts). (German) Idealism is close to this (think Kant, Hegel and Schelling) in believing universals to be in the minds of rational beings.

Nominalism can become VERY in-depth and confusing (when talking about the different types such as trope theory and resemblance theory). My opinion is that the discussions are crucial to the rest of metaphysics, it is just unfortunate that the discussion can be quite dry and dull. Here is an excerpt from the wiki entry on nominalism:

Nominalism arose in reaction to the problem of universals, specifically accounting for the fact that some things are of the same type. For example, Fluffy and Kitzler are both cats, or, the fact that certain properties are repeatable, such as: the grass, the shirt, and Kermit the Frog are green. One wants to know in virtue of what are Fluffy and Kitzler both cats, and what makes the grass, the shirt, and Kermit green.

The realist answer is that all the green things are green in virtue of the existence of a universal; a single abstract thing that, in this case, is a part of all the green things. With respect to the color of the grass, the shirt and Kermit, one of their parts is identical. In this respect, the three parts are literally one. Greenness is repeatable because there is one thing that manifests itself wherever there are green things.

Nominalism denies the existence of universals. The motivation for this flows from several concerns, the first one being where they might exist. Plato famously held, on one interpretation, that there is a realm of abstract forms or universals apart from the physical world (see theory of the forms). Particular physical objects merely exemplify or instantiate the universal. But this raises the question: Where is this universal realm? One possibility is that it is outside of space and time. A view sympathetic with this possibility holds that, precisely because some form is immanent in several physical objects, it must also transcend each of those physical objects; in this way, the forms are “transcendant” only insofar as they are “immanent” in many physical objects. In other words, immanence implies transcendence; they are not opposed to one another. (Nor, on this view, would there be a separate “world” or “realm” of forms that is distinct from the physical world, thus shirking much of the worry about where to locate a “universal realm”.) However, naturalists assert that nothing is outside of space and time. Some Neoplatonists, such as the pagan philosopher Plotinus and the philosopher Augustine, imply (anticipating conceptualism) that universals are contained within the mind of God. To complicate things, what is the nature of the instantiation or exemplification relation?

Conceptualists hold a position intermediate between nominalism and realism, saying that universals exist only within the mind and have no external or substantial reality.

Moderate realists hold that there is no realm in which universals exist, but rather universals are located in space and time wherever they are manifest. Now, recall that a universal, like greenness, is supposed to be a single thing. Nominalists consider it unusual that there could be a single thing that exists in multiple places simultaneously. The realist maintains that all the instances of greenness are held together by the exemplification relation, but this relation cannot be explained.

Finally, many philosophers prefer simpler ontologies populated with only the bare minimum of types of entities, or as W. V. Quine said “They have a taste for ‘desert landscapes.’” They attempt to express everything that they want to explain without using universals such as “catness” or “chairness.”

As ever, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on nominalism is great – here.

As is the SEP entry on abstract objects – here.

As is the superb SEP entry on properties found here.

Other useful SEP entries are Challenges to Metaphysical Realism, Platonism in Metaphysics, and the wiki entry on the Third Man Argument (an argument from Plato that shows an incoherent infinite regress in relational universals, which can be found in the SEP here).

Morality

How does this all chime with morality? Well, morality is almost the most famous of abstract objects. We apply the abstract labels of moral evaluation to actions and intentions of humans. Actions are themselves events with real, physical properties. Intentions are different to actions in that they are states of minds. Of course, with the position that the mental supervenes on the physical (as I claim), then there is a sense that such mental states of intentions are themselves reducible to physical properties.

When we talk about “morality” as a whole, we talk about the moral laws and prescriptions, and the truth values of a moral proposition. For me, there is no ether or locus for morality outside of our brains where such ideas can exist in an ontic sense. In this way, morality is a conceptual enterprise that is constructed by our brains to create a moral map of the world that we can use to navigate the social landscape.

We can use science to help us, as Sam Harris does, arrive at the best course of action, given a particular goal. But, I think, setting out that goal is a philosophical project and that requires some abstract thought, perhaps setting out axioms in one’s framework. You can argue that there is an objectively better course of action given two options, A and B. If you are looking for wellbeing or happiness (for example), as your endgame for morality, then perhaps option B empirically gets you more of those things. However, setting that as your endgame is not an objective ideal. It is a subjective, conceptual ideal. I would add that for morality to make any coherent sense, for me at any rate, it needs to be goal-oriented, and setting those goals is a subjective project.

I struggle to be able to make sense of “objective” abstracta as mind-independent “things”, since all conceptual entities must, to my mind, be mind-dependent; they are things of the mind.

Simply put, if there were no minds to conceive of morality, there would be no morality.

Of course, perhaps you could argue for some other ontology of morality other than this ontic sense of objective morality that I am putting forward here. Perhaps there is something objective about axioms: self-evident truths. But, to me, a self-evident truth is evident to a conceiver and is thus itself an abstract object.

Over to you, Traegar!

 

April 20, 2018

A Christian commenter recently claimed this humdinger:

If God exists, beauty and ugliness are not subjective but objective properties. that is the point. you used the term ‘ugly’, while you claim to be an atheist.

Yes, everything people say says a lot about them. The fact that you would be a deistic god, if you were god, says a lot about you, as well.

For me, a caring God is the kind that created us with feel will and with a plan to save us from ourselves.

and:

This is not a random assertion. For beauty to be objective, there must be a standard outside of the things themselves. While it is true that beauty is subjective, if there is no God, this is not so, if there is a God.

The view may be tragic but it is the truth. We are sinful and need to be saved from ourselves. If God exists, then a standard of righteousness exists, which flows from God’s nature.

I claimed that this view really was naive. He answered how ti could be naive, so here you go.

My belief is that:
  • Beauty is a word which all too often means “I like that”. In other words, it is shorthand for desirability, attraction etc. Stripping many of those meanings away leaves you with somewhat anaemic definition.
  • Beauty is a personal value statement ascribed to an object by the subject. It might be described as relational.
  • If there were no humans or rational agents in existence, then nothing would be beautiful, though they would still have the properties which were ascribed beauty.
  • In other words, it is dependent on perception.
  • I would think, in the ways that humans understand beauty, only humans presently have that conception, though other animals might have the same emotional reaction to some things which we might describe as beautiful.
  • The argument boils down to nominalism vs realism and it is arguably foundational to the debate. That said, real emotional/physiological reactions are also at play.
  • There are many good theories and a whole host of research concerning the evolutionary basis of things pertaining to beauty. For example, see Steven Pinker’s How the Mind Works.
  • If you think an object actually has the real properties of beauty, then these properties must exist somewhere. Either this means a platonic realm DOES exist, or that an object holds beauty like it does mass and so on. Either claim is victim to an array of problems.
Let’s say that we claim a volcano is beautiful. These questions should evoke the issues with objective beauty:
  • What about looking at the inside of the volcano? The outside?
  • Is half of the volcano half as beautiful?
  • What about where the volcano ends? If I included 2, 4, 9 miles outside the volcano?
  • Would different angles viewing the same object ACTUALLY hold different beauty values?
  • What about that same volcano but magnified to standing right in front of it? What about magnified under a microscope? What about at electron level? This same object, would it now have different objective beauty?
  • What about the volcano to an alien, monkey, bird?
  • What if it was erupting, smoking?
  • What if it was now causing widespread death and destruction? Global warming?
  • What if I kept chipping away at it, rock by rock? When would it go from being beautiful to not? Or is it gradual? If you were looking from afar, you wouldn’t see most of that gradual chipping, yet you would still claim that now different object had the same beauty value. At some point, though, there would be a tipping point.

So on and so forth.

The point is, it is easy to claim that something is objectively beautiful; far more difficult to give a coherent account of how it works.

However, from a subjective stance, all the above questions pose absolutely no problems at all.

Of course, with different definitions and ideas (a grandmother being beautiful to grandmothers as a generic concept being beautiful – visual vs abstract ideas of beauty), we have different ideas concerning beauty, and objectivity becomes even harder.

In other words, it is difficult enough to establish abstract ideas as real in philosophy (nominalism vs realism) but to then assign a supposedly objective abstract concept (beauty) to an abstract idea (grandmotherness) is even more difficult. And then to claim this is only coherent when underwritten by another abstract concept (God), well…

The case here is that if God exists, beauty must be objective. But hopefully you can see that the idea of objective beauty is problematic and those problems, highlighted above, are simply not solved by throwing God into the equation.

The final issue pertains to the meaning and purpose debate. Theists, such as the commenter above (TJT), claim similarly:

There can be no real purpose and meaning, if there is no God.

The problem is, as Kant would argue, you can’t know things-in-themselves, and this includes ideas of meaning. If God has a meaning for us, then:

  1. Why should that mean I have to adopt that meaning for myself?
  2. Meaning is by definition what things mean to me. This is the case for language. We try to codify and make it objective in creating dictionaries, but meaning is the act of a mind applying meaning and representation to a thing or a concept. This is necessarily subjective.
  3. All that saying God gives meaning does is to say another mind applies it’s own meaning to s given thing. You may or may not accord with that third party in your own representations and meaning-making.

Imagine if I cam up to you and pointed at a painting that you hated and thought was ugly and said, “That is truly beautiful!” We would argue and give reasons for our probably intuitive reactions. But that visceral reaction is neither wrong or right, and each of us is neither wrong or right.

Now imagine I am God. This does not really change the situation. I can give you all the reasons in the world, but if you don’t feel that the painting is beautiful, then you don’t think it is beautiful.

Theists love to argue that everything that has value (here, aesthetic value) must be underwritten by God. But they fail to adequately grapple with the idea that values – or the acts of evaluation – are necessarily subjective. Just because something has a price tag does not mean it objectively has that value, or that God has a price tag machine.


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April 12, 2018

In continuing to comment on the idea of divine simplicity, as it pertains to the Trinitarian God of Christianity, I am going to move on to speak about Aquinas.

Setting the Scene

Commenter (and contributor) here at ATP Ficino asked:

Jonathan, I would very much appreciate it if you can comment on the thesis that there is no composition in God but there is *real* distinction in God, not *only* notional distinction or distinction “in ratione sed non in re” or distinction as described by us.

From a commentator on Feser’s blog:

“Divine simplicity is not lack of distinction, but lack of composition. Aquinas is extremely clear about this; he repeatedly states it, so there is no excuse for ignoring it here. It only rules out distinctions that require composition … Rational distinctions are not ruled out by strictures against real distinctions that imply composition. (For that matter, real distinctions that don’t imply composition wouldn’t be ruled out, either.)”

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.co.uk/2018/04/five-books-on-arguments-for-gods_4.html

Adding: I see from a quick perusal that Aquinas holds that there is a real distinction, not only a rational distinction (i.e. only in the mind), of the Persons of the Trinity. It’s grounded in relations of origin, i.e. Son and HS proceed from Father. Aquinas says it’s the smallest distinction in quantity but the greatest in dignity. So Aquinas says the Trinity does not violate divine simplicity, since real distinction is not an instance of composition.

My initial reaction to this is “word salad” and not in what Ficino is saying, but in the source content. I suppose, some might say, this is the nature of theology. We shall see. As I write this, part of me wonders whether nominalism and realism will come into play. His (Brandon, the commenter on Feser’s blog) full comment is:

(1) Divine simplicity is not lack of distinction, but lack of composition. Aquinas is extremely clear about this; he repeatedly states it, so there is no excuse for ignoring it here. It only rules out distinctions that require composition. Your argument is based on an incorrect understanding of what Aquinas means by simplicity.

(2) Rational distinctions are not ruled out by strictures against real distinctions that imply composition. (For that matter, real distinctions that don’t imply composition wouldn’t be ruled out, either.) As I pointed out, this shows that you have misunderstood Feser, as well.

(3) ‘The will to create X’ literally and on the face of the expression refers not only to the divine will but also to X, which is not a divine attribute at all. Therefore ‘the will to create X’ and ‘the divine will’ are not interchangeable salva veritate, as your argument illogically assumes.

Likewise, ‘the will to create X’ and ‘the will to create Y’ both indicate the divine will, but do so with respect to a different source of extrinsic denomination; a distinction in the source of extrinsic denomination is not a distinction in the divine nature.

Brandon later quoted Feser himself:

As to divine simplicity, allow me to present a quote from Professor Feser himself: “There is also no distinction within God between any of the divine attributes: God’s eternity is His power, which is His goodness, which is His intellect, which is His will, and so on. Indeed, God Himself just is His power, His goodness, etc., just as He just is His existence, and just is His essence. Talking or conceiving of God, God’s essence, God’s existence, God’s power, God’s goodness, and so forth are really all just different ways of talking or conceiving of one and the very same thing. Though we distinguish between them in thought, there is no distinction at all between them in reality.”  http://edwardfeser.blogspot.be/2009/11/william-lane-craig-on-divine-simplicity.html

This is referred to in the introduction to Aquinas on the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Aquinas and his metaphysics. It states:

Primarily, for Aquinas, a thing cannot be unless it possesses an act of being, and the thing that possesses an act of being is thereby rendered an essence/existence composite. If an essence has an act of being, the act of being is limited by that essence whose act it is. The essence in itself is the definition of a thing; and the paradigm instances of essence/existence composites are material substances (though not all substances are material for Aquinas; for example, God is not). A material substance (say, a cat or a tree) is a composite of matter and form, and it is this composite of matter and form that is primarily said to exist. In other words, the matter/form composite is predicated neither of, nor in, anything else and is the primary referent of being;

Let me unpack this for you. As I understand it, Aquinas is again dealing in terms of essences and matter. A tree has the essence (form) of a tree and the matter in instantiating that essence. This is a composition of essence and matter, as well as existence.

The problem here is that I already fundamentally disagree with Aquinas’ position because I do not adhere to essentialism. Things don’t have essences or prescriptive ideas of form. Things are and we ascribe labels and categories and talk of “essences” as a way to describe these things, especially when they are similar. But these universals do not exist outside of our conceiving minds.

I will park this in a hope to better understand this Thomistic view of existence but it is fundamentally flawed in its foundation.

Composition

Let us look at what Aquinas variously means by composition:

On the basis of these considerations, we have to say that material substances are composite in several ways, depending on how we consider and identify their various integral parts.

  1. They are composed of matter and (substantial) form, as is obvious
  2. Their essence itself is also composed of matter and form considered in general
  3. They are also composed of their essence (which comprises their matter and form in general) and their individual, designated matter, which is the principle of their individuation, i.e., that on account of which one individual of the same species is numerically distinct from another individual of the same species.

These three types of composition are peculiar to material substances, since all of these are the result of their having matter, informed by their substantial form.

But they also exhibit two further sorts of composition, which they share even with immaterial substances, except for God. These are

  1. The composition from subject and accident
  2. The composition of essence and existence (potentiality and actuality)

The former type of composition is present even in angels (“intelligences”, as Aquinas also refers to them), given the fact that even angels are changeable in respect of their spiritual activity, say, changing the objects of their thought or their will. It is only God, who is eternally immutable, self-thinking thought, who knows of all changeable things by understanding His own nature, which is only fragmentarily and imperfectly represented by the finite natures of His creatures, just as the light of the sun can be reflected by several, brighter and dimmer, variously tinted mirrors.

The second type of composition also has to be present in all creatures given that their essence is really distinct from their existence (this fundamental Thomistic thesis is often referred to as “the thesis of real distinction” [between essence and existence in creatures]). It is only God whose essence is nothing but His existence, which is precisely the reason why His essence, not being distinct from His existence, does not put any limitation on the infinite actuality of His existence. By contrast, the essences of creatures, even of the highest-ranking angels, are some determination of the act of existence which actualizes this essence. Indeed, given that angels cannot be numerically different on account of their designated matter (since they are immaterial), they differ from one another in their essence, that is, in virtue of the differences between how much limitation their essence imposes upon their existence: thus they differ in their essential perfection, and so they have to differ not only numerically but also specifically; according to Thomas, therefore, there cannot be two angels of the same species.

God Is His Nature

Aquinas’ next step follows, in showing that God is not a composition of essence and existence, but that they are one and the same:

Thomas begins stage three with the premise that whatever belongs to a thing belongs to it either through its intrinsic principles, its essence, or from some extrinsic principle. A thing cannot be the cause of its own existence, for then it would have to precede itself in existence, which is absurd. Everything then whose essence is distinct from its existence must be caused to be by another. Now, what is caused to be by another is led back to what exists in itself (per se). There must be a cause then for the existence of things, and this because it is pure existence (esse tantum); otherwise an infinite regress of causes would ensue.

There is a distinction between existence and essence in, say, a tree. But with God, then, his existence and essence are one. And here is the key to the simplicity. There is no distinction between the two, and there is no matter to boot. God is an immaterial substance, like angels, but not composite where they are. We can park any problems entailed with being able to see and experience angels and God moving in the material world for a while.

God is omniscience. God is his nature.

This quote is key: “Indeed, God Himself just is His power, His goodness, etc., just as He just is His existence, and just is His essence.”

This is, it appears, a wild metaphysical assertion. Defining things like power and goodness are meaningless, in my opinion, without context. God, one presumes, existed causally prior (if that even makes sense) to the beginning of the universe. If this is so, then there was no time at the point of GodWorld, as we might call it. There was nothing else other than the pure existence in essence of God.

As Aquinas says in Summa Theologiae, “All perfections existing in creatures divided and multiplied, pre-exist in God unitedly.”

There is a problem with asserting that God has all of these properties in essential nature, but that they are not distinct properties.

All that appears to exist of God is potential. There is potential to be good, potential for power and so on. If God knows everything, where is all this knowledge stored? I don’t want to sidetrack here, but we know only of knowledge in material contexts: computers, books and brains and their storage. The meaning of knowledge is derived from thought, which appears to need a brain or other material machine in order to compute and understand. God, evidently, just does magic to allow for these abilities immaterially. Perhaps this is analogous to a brand new state ruler being a good person because they have the potential to do good – it is in their nature, or DNA even, to make benign decisions even if they have not yet done so. They also have power, even if they have not yet wielded it.

At least with humans, though, we understand potential and nature in what is materially defined by our bodies and temporally defined by our learning and past. But, with God, this is not the case. I struggle to understand nature as applied immaterially to God.

In this way, God is (prior to creation) all these good things in potentiality, rather than actuality.

Actus Purus

What we need to do, then, is describe these terms in the context of Thomistic philosophy. Potentiality and actuality are perhaps different notions than otherwise conceived.

In scholasticphilosophyactus purus ( literally “pure act”) is the absolute perfection of God.

Created beings have potentiality that is not actuality, imperfections as well as perfection. Only God is simultaneously all that He can be, infinitely real and infinitely perfect: ‘I am who I am’ (Exodus3:14). His attributes or His operations, are really identical with His essence, and His essence necessitates His existence. (Contrast this understanding with the Essence–Energies distinction in Eastern Christian, particularly Palamite, theology).

In created beings, the state of potentiality precedes that of actuality; before being realized, a perfection must be capable of realization. But, absolutely speaking, actuality precedes potentiality. For in order to change, a thing must be acted upon, or actualized; change and potentiality presuppose, therefore, a being which is in actu. This actuality, if mixed with potentiality, presupposes another actuality, and so on, until we reach the actus purus.

According to Thomas Aquinas a thing which requires completion by another is said to be in potency to that other: realization of potency is called actuality. The universe is conceived of as a series of things arranged in an ascending order, or potency and act at once crowned and created by God, who alone is pure act. God is changeless because change means passage from potency to act, and so he is without beginning and end, since these demand change. Matter and form are necessary to the understanding of change, for change requires the union of that which becomes and that which it becomes. Matter is the first, and form the second. All physical things are composed of matter and form. The difference between a thing as form or character and the actual existence of it is denoted by the terms essence and being (or existence). It is only in God that there is no distinction between the two. Both pairs – matter & form and essence & being – are special cases of potency and act. They are also modes: modes do not add anything to the idea of being, but are ways of making explicit what is implicit in it. [source]

God is pure actuality. I get a sense here of playing with terms and making definitional assertions so as to suit the purpose. God is pure act, and is not potential by virtue of that simply being how Aquinas defines him. “Act” here seems to have the sense of being rather than doing so that God is all that he can be, which leads to immutability. There is a prime mover style of argument here so that the only pure axiomatic act can be God, with all other things contingently containing potency with regard to some other act.

God and Time

But without time, you have no thought, no deliberation, no intention, no decision. Without time, there is arguably no personhood. I am struggling to make sense of a Thomistic view of God in a timeless vacuum. Ah, but the Thomist will reply that this is because God has no personhood. God is the qualities that we may ascribe to persons. More on this later.

As the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy states (on Divine Simplicity), though:

Besides perfection and necessity, immateriality, eternity, and immutability also seem to point to simplicity as their ground. Because God is simple, he cannot have parts and so cannot have material or temporal parts. And because God is simple, he cannot harbor any unrealized potentialities, and so must be immutable.

But how can he not harbour unrealised potentialities as a pure form in GodWorld without time? He is merely potential!

As mentioned, I actually refute personhood making sense without time; the problem being that God just becomes a potential to be all of these things without actually being them. But then one needs to define being. To return to the IEP’s quoteIt looks rather tautologous in saying:

Primarily, for Aquinas, a thing cannot be unless it possesses an act of being, and the thing that possesses an act of being is thereby rendered an essence/existence composite. If an essence has an act of being, the act of being is limited by that essence whose act it is. The essence in itself is the definition of a thing…

What is God? He is his essence. What is his essence? These attributes A, B and C, but not as separate composites, as one essence in existence. What is being? The act of having those essences.

It’s a very murky and circular world of assertions as claims. God is these attributes as his nature, and they exist immaterially as a single abstract entity.

Plantinga

Alvin Plantinga, a Christian philosopher held in high regard, disagrees with this approach to divine simplicity (as does William Lane Craig):

A central threat to coherence is the question of how a thing could be identical to its properties. Alvin Plantinga (1980, p. 47) maintains that if God is identical to his properties, then he is a property, and they are a single property, in which case God is a single property. Given that properties are abstract entities, and abstracta are causally inert, then God is abstract and causally inert — which is of course inconsistent with the core tenet of classical theism according to which God is the personal creator and sustainer of every contingent being. No abstract object is a person or a causal agent. No abstract object can be omniscient, or indeed know anything at all. More fundamentally, no abstract object can be identical to any concrete object. Abstracta and concreta are mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive. Objections similar to Plantinga’s have been raised by Richard Gale (1991, p. 23 ff.) and others….

It is easy to see that Plantinga-style objections will not appear decisive to those who reject his ontological framework. Plantinga, along with many other philosophers, thinks of individuals and (first-level) properties as belonging to radically disjoint realms despite the fact that individuals exemplify properties. Individuals are causally efficacious concreta whereas properties are casually impotent abstracta. Such an approach to ontology renders the divine simplicity inconceivable from the outset. For if God is a concrete individual and his nature (conceived perhaps as the conjunction of his omni-attributes) is an abstract property, then the general ontology rules out an identity of God with his nature. Any such identity would violate the separateness of the two realms. To identify an unexemplifiable concretum with an exemplifiable abstractum would amount to an ontological category mistake. At most, a Plantinga-style approach allows for God’s exemplification of his nature where the (first-level) exemplification relation, unlike the identity relation, is asymmetrical and irreflexive and so enforces the non-identity of its relata. In short, if God exemplifies his nature, then God is distinct from his nature. His nature is something he has, not, pace Augustine, something he is.

I would agree to be something more than an abstract concept, then I think the Christian has to adhere to this line of thinking. I think the Thomistic approach renders God an abstract idea in an incoherent network built upon faulty foundations of ontology.

The Thomistic Reply

The problem is for Plantinga and people who might agree with him (myself included) is that the Thomist won’t buy this. God has no personhood as he is not a person. For them, God is not in time, but is timeless:

For Aquinas, God’s timeless eternity is unending, lacking both beginning and end, and an instantaneous whole lacking succession. It is a correlate of divine simplicity (see the SEP entry on divine simplicity), and it is incapable of being defined or fully grasped by a creature. For Aquinas too, timeless eternity constitutes part of the “grammar” of talking about God. Since God is timelessly eternal it does not make any sense to ask how many years God has existed, or whether he is growing old, or what will he be doing later on in the year. [SEP entry on eternity in Christian thought]

So God cannot be in time, only his effects can be, rather conveniently. I am somewhat dubious about how this can possibly work, and how it works in terms of interactionism and the God of the Bible working in unison with mankind. The end result for the Thomist is that it doesn’t matter whether time is a necessary condition for personhood, since God is not a person (though might be personal in that he has intellect and will, but in a sense that he is those things rather than having them as properties). God does not instantiate personhood because he simply is those qualities.

I have argued in my book on free will that a timeless god acting within time simply makes no sense. It also renders God very strictly immutable such that any changing of his mind as found variously in the Bible needs to be denied in some fashion. Of course, this all plays merry havoc with the idea that God supposedly has free will. He simply cannot.

Thomists will maintain that God cannot be a potentiality but is an actuality. This looks to be a tough thing to do when considering that God is timeless.

I also find it hard to consider entering into a loving relationship with something that is so abstract in ontology, with no personhood as commonly understood. I think this is where abstracting God philosophically and working so hard to find a coherent idea for God works against the Christian who is also trying to convince others to enter into a loving relationship with such a god.

And Finally

Finally, let’s dwell on this point, but not for long:

Likewise, ‘the will to create X’ and ‘the will to create Y’ both indicate the divine will, but do so with respect to a different source of extrinsic denomination; a distinction in the source of extrinsic denomination is not a distinction in the divine nature.

Divine will is problematic, especially in God prior to the creation of the universe. I have argued before in This World as Philosophically Necessary. I adhere to the idea that, again, without time, intention and desire is meaningless.

There we have it. A whistlestop tour around some ideas concerning Thomistic views on divine existence. Personally, I don’t essentialism is coherent (given my conceptual nominalist position), and, as such, the whole project fails. I also fail to see how God can coherently have all these properties timelessly, and yet not be a complex entity with a whole host of properties. To me, every entity is an instantiation of properties, God included. I see love, power and mercy all around me, and it doesn’t depend on or dip into God’s nature. Don’t just assert God is love and mercy, and then tout the Bible as evidence of this. The book is a far cry from all those properties God’s nature is supposed to imbue.

I will, in a next post, look more closely at how this works in the context of the Trinitarian understanding of God.

[NOTA BENE – this article might well be edited for clarity if necessary, and given discussion below]

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March 24, 2018

Theodore Turner is doing what See Noevo used to do: providing stimulus for posts after placing ridiculous comments on the threads. I know many will think why bother replying but it is hopefully useful for lurkers and ammunition for others in similar arguments.

Anyway, the comments in question were:

I know that you were taught that evolution is a fact. However, it fails , when we actually look at the evidence. There is zero evidence that things evolve between kinds. Every piece of evidence that has ever been discovered is now known to be fake. The latest fatality was the evidence for whale evolution.

And:

Why do we find no links between kinds in the fossil record? Why is there no transitory fossils? As Darwin said, “”If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.”

This has been demonstrated. Even the once mighty warrior of atheistic evolution, Anthony Flew, had to summit to the evidence. Was he also a crank?

Part of me is deeply depressed that someone who purports to be really well read, but doesn’t know his evolutionary arse from his elbow:

Really? What is this based on? I am sure I have studied and read more on evolution than you have. I have 45 years of reading on the subject.

You know Geoff Benson, to whom you were replying, do you? Are you sure of this? You may well have read more on evolution than him. But what you have read must have been demonstrably stupid. Because you in no way show an even rudimentary understanding of evolution. I mean, just the basic claim that there is no evidence of a transitional fossil b when we know that all fossils are by definition transitional. So we literally have a 100% proportion of fossils found as being transitional.

D’oh.

His problems are first and foremost philosophical before they are scientific.

So I will dig up some old stuff for TJT to see if he understands the problems with his comments and his reliance on some kind of philosophical essentialism about which even Darwin at the time was well aware. This image sums up his problems:

I am going to explain to you why species do not exist and in some sense there is no such thing as speciation in evolutionary biology. This will involve philosophy, sand dunes, voting, colours and fossils. Amongst other things.

The Sorites Paradox

My favourite philosophical thought experiment, if you can call it that, and as many of my readers might know of me, is the Sorites Paradox. It can be defined as follows:

The sorites paradox[1] (sometimes known as the paradox of the heap) is a paradox that arises from vaguepredicates.[2] A typical formulation involves a heap of sand, from which grains are individually removed. Under the assumption that removing a single grain does not turn a heap into a non-heap, the paradox is to consider what happens when the process is repeated enough times: is a single remaining grain still a heap? If not, when did it change from a heap to a non-heap?[3]

The paradox arises in this way:

The word “sorites” derives from the Greek word for heap.[4] The paradox is so named because of its original characterization, attributed to Eubulides of Miletus.[5] The paradox goes as follows: consider a heap of sand from which grains are individually removed. One might construct the argument, using premises, as follows:[3]

1000000 grains of sand is a heap of sand (Premise 1)
A heap of sand minus one grain is still a heap. (Premise 2)

Repeated applications of Premise 2 (each time starting with one fewer grain) eventually forces one to accept the conclusion that a heap may be composed of just one grain of sand.[6]). Read (1995) observes that “the argument is itself a heap, or sorites, of steps of modus ponens“:[7]

1000000 grains is a heap.
If 1000000 grains is a heap then 999999 grains is a heap.
So 999999 grains is a heap.
If 999999 grains is a heap then 999998 grains is a heap.
So 999998 grains is a heap.
If …
… So 1 grain is a heap.

This is crucial for my larger point.

What creationists claim

Creationists very often demand silly things like evidence that dogs give birth to non-dogs. Indeed, in a recent thread, a creationist stated these indicative remarks:

Lots of redheads coming out of Ireland isn’t evolution. Redheads coming (eventually) out of “Rhubarb”, now THAT’s evolution.

and

You’re the one who’s confused. Evolutionists claim “evolution” happens right before our eyes when bacteria “evolve” *RESISTANCE* to antibiotics. (I say NO evolution. The antibiotic-susceptible bacteria and the antibiotic- resistant bacteria are …
BOTH BACTERIA, one is no less a bacteria than the other.)

But the same scientists demur, I guess for political correctness, that the mutation that causes some human beings to have *RESISTANCE* to malaria (via the sickle cell mutation) is NOT evolution. You know, because they do NOT want to say those blacks with sickle-cell are NOT humans anymore. (And they’re right to not say that, but they’re right for the wrong reason.)

and

Well, if scientists think that evolution does *not* mean new species AND evolution does *not* mean common ancestry, then I guess I believe in evolution.

What you should be able to see here is that such a position demands of evolution clear speciation and particular points. A dog must give birth to a non-dog.

The problem is, this doesn’t happen and evolutionary scientists will be the first people to tell you this. If you are demanding this of evolution, and never get it, it is no wonder you deny evolution because it is nothing but a shoddy straw man of properly defined evolution.

Categorising stuff

We love to use categories. That’s a blue flower, that’s a red car, that’s an adult, that’s a child. It’s how we navigate reality in a practical sense – it provides our conceptual map. However, you shouldn’t confse the map with the terrain. Essentially (good word choice), we make up labels to represent a number of different properties. A cat has these properties, a dog these. Red has these properties, blue these. Often we agree on this labelling, but sometimes we don’t. What constitutes a hero? A chair? Is a tree stump a chair?

The problem occurs when we move between categories. It is at these times that we realise the simplicity of the categories shows weakness in the system.

You reach eighteen years of age. You are able to vote. You are now classed as an adult. You are allowed to buy alcoholic drinks (in the UK). But there is barely any discernible difference in you, as a person, physically and mentally, from 17 years, 364 days, 11 hours, 59 minutes, 59 seconds, and you 1 second later.

However, we decide to define that second change at midnight as differentiating the two yous and seeing you move from child (adolescent) to adult. These categories are arbitrary in where we exactly draw the line. Some countries choose sixteen, some younger, some older. These are conceptual constructs that allow us to navigate about a continuum of time. You can look at a five-year-old and the same person at twenty-eight and clearly see a difference. But that five-year-old and the same person one second later? There is no discernible difference.

And yet it is pragmatically useful for us to categorise, otherwise things like underage sex and drinking would take place with wild abandon, perhaps. Sixteen for the age of consent is, though, rather arbitrary. Why not five seconds later? Four days? Three and a half years?

Speciation is exactly the same. There is no real time where a population of organisms actually transforms into a new species. Because species is a human conceptual construct that does not exist objectively. We name things homo sapiens sapiens  but cannot define exactly where speciation occurred. In one sense, it does not occur. In another, if you look at vastly different places on the continuum, it does (at least in our minds).

This is a version of the Sorites Paradox.

As I have shared several times, this image above sums it up with aplomb.

Examples with recent human ancestry

We know this happens very clearly because there have been skulls found that have aspects and properties of what we think one (sub)species has, and other properties of another species. It is not different enough from either to be a new species, and thus it really is truly transitional. As all fossils are. The whole continuum of any branch is transitional right the way along. There are no category markers. As Dawkins states in The Greatest Show on Earth (but without images – it’s a long quote, but nails it):

Now for my next important point about allegedly missing links and the arbitrariness of names. Obviously, when Mrs Ples’s name was changed from Plesianthropus to Australopithecus, nothing changed in the real world at all. Presumably nobody would be tempted to think anything else. But consider a similar case where a fossil is re-examined and moved, for anatomical reasons, from one genus to another. Or where its generic status is disputed – and this very frequently happens – by rival anthropologists. It is, after all, essential to the logic of evolution that there must have existed individuals sitting exactly on the borderline between two genera, say Australopithecus and Homo. It is easy to look at Mrs Ples and a modern Homo sapiens skull and say, yes, there is no doubt these two skulls belong in different genera. If we assume, as almost every anthropologist today accepts, that all members of the genus Homo are descended from ancestors belonging to the genus we call Australopithecus, it necessarily follows that, somewhere along the chain of descent from one species to the other, there must have been at least one individual who sat exactly on the borderline. This is an important point, so let me stay with it a little longer.

Bearing in mind the shape of Mrs Ples’s skull as a representative of Australopithecus africanus 2.6 million years ago, have a look at the top skull opposite, called KNM ER 1813. Then look at the one underneath it, called KNM ER 1470. Both are dated at approximately 1.9 million years ago, and both are placed by most authorities in the genus Homo. Today, 1813 is classified as Homo habilis, but it wasn’t always. Until recently, 1470 was too, but there is now a move afoot to reclassify it as Homo rudolfensis. Once again, see how fickle and transitory our names are. But no matter: both have an apparently agreed foothold in the genus Homo. The obvious difference from Mrs Ples and her kind is that she had a more forward-protruding face and a smaller brain-case. In both respects, 1813 and 1470 seem more human, Mrs Ples more ‘ape-like’.

Now look at the skull below, called ‘Twiggy’. Twiggy is also normally classified nowadays as Homo habilis. But her forward-pointing muzzle has more of a suggestion of Mrs Ples about it than of 1470 or 1813. You will perhaps not be surprised to be told that Twiggy has been placed by some anthropologists in the genus Australopithecus and by other anthropologists in Homo. In fact, each of these three fossils has been, at various times, classified as Homo habilis and as Australopithecus habilis. As I have already noted, some authorities at some times have given 1470 a different specific name, changing habilis to rudolfensis. And, to cap it all, the specific name rudolfensis has been fastened to both generic names, Australopithecus and Homo. In summary, these three fossils have been variously called, by different authorities at different times, the following range of names:

KNM ER 1813: Australopithecus habilis, Homo habilis

KNM ER 1470: Australopithecus habilis, Homo habilis, Australopithecus rudolfensis, Homo rudolfensis

OH 24 (‘Twiggy’): Australopithecus habilis, Homo habilis

Should such a confusion of names shake our confidence in evolutionary science? Quite the contrary. It is exactly what we should expect, given that these creatures are all evolutionary intermediates, links that were formerly missing but are missing no longer. We should be positively worried if there were no intermediates so close to borderlines as to be difficult to classify. Indeed, on the evolutionary view, the conferring of discrete names should actually become impossible if only the fossil record were more complete. In one way, it is fortunate that fossils are so rare. If we had a continuous and unbroken fossil record, the granting of distinct names to species and genera would become impossible, or at least very problematical. It is a fair conclusion that the predominant source of discord among palaeoanthropologists – whether such and such a fossil belongs in this species/genus or that – is deeply and interestingly futile.

Hold in your head the hypothetical notion that we might, by some fluke, have been blessed with a continuous fossil record of all evolutionary change, with no links missing at all. Now look at the four Latin names that have been applied to 1470. On the face of it, the change from habilis to rudolfensis would seem to be a smaller change than the one from Australopithecus to Homo. Two species within a genus are more like each other than two genera. Aren’t they? Isn’t that the whole basis for the distinction between the genus level (say Homo or Pan as alternative genera of African apes) and the species level (say troglodytes or paniscus within the chimpanzees) in the hierarchy of classification? Well, yes, that is right when we are classifying modern animals, which can be thought of as the tips of the twigs on the evolutionary tree, with their antecedents on the inside of the tree’s crown all comfortably dead and out of the way. Naturally, those twigs that join each other further back (further into the interior of the tree’s crown) will tend to be less alike than those whose junction (more recent common ancestor) is nearer the tips. The system works, as long as we don’t try to classify the dead antecedents. But as soon as we include our hypothetically complete fossil record, all the neat separations break down. Discrete names become, as a general rule, impossible to apply. [Chapter 7]

In philosophy, there is a position called (conceptual) nominalism, which is set against (Platonic) realism. This conceptual nominalism, as I adhere to, denies in some (or all) cases the existence of abstracts. These categories we invent don’t exist (a word that itself needs clear defining), at least not outside of our heads. Thus species do not exist as objective categories. We invent them, but if all people who knew about species suddenly died and information about them was lost, then so too would be lost the concept and categorisation.

When we look at two very different parts of a continuum we find it easy to say those things are different and are of different categories, but when we look in finer detail, this falls apart. There is a fuzzy logic at play.

Species do not exist. Well, they do in our heads. When we agree about them. And only then so we can nicely label pictures in books, or in our heads.

Some quotes

Wikipedia has some nice quotes on the subject. Follow the links for sources and references:

“No term is more difficult to define than “species,” and on no point are zoologists more divided than as to what should be understood by this word.” Nicholson (1872, p. 20).[54]

“Of late, the futility of attempts to find a universally valid criterion for distinguishing species has come to be fairly generally, if reluctantly, recognized” Dobzhansky (1937, p. 310).[13]

“The concept of a species is a concession to our linguistic habits and neurological mechanisms” Haldane (1956).[46]

“The species problem is the long-standing failure of biologists to agree on how we should identify species and how we should define the word ‘species’.” Hey (2001).[49]

“First, the species problem is not primarily an empirical one, but it is rather fraught with philosophical questions that require — but cannot be settled by — empirical evidence.” Pigliucci (2003).[17]

“An important aspect of any species definition whether in neontology or palaeontology is that any statement that particular individuals (or fragmentary specimens) belong to a certain species is an hypothesis (not a fact)” Bonde (1977).[55]

And Now:

Given a categorisation framework that can be used for pragmatic valule, let me now point TJT in the direction of a few pieces:

Just for starters.

January 27, 2018

Let’s set the record straight. I’m tired of hearing stuff like this:

“Then the Catholic Church is wrong.”

Wrong answer.

For a genuine atheist, there is no wrong. All you should say is that your opinion is different.

Let me give you some of the chapter I wrote for John Loftus’ book Christianity Is Not Great:

christianity is ot great loftus

Chapter 22: “Tu Quoque, Atheism!” – Our Right To Judge

By Jonathan MS Pearce

Throughout the chapters in this book you have seen how the authors have woven the threads of argument that have made a patchwork quilt, a tapestry of accusations, to be hung around the body of Christianity, that serves to highlight the harm done under its auspices and in its name.

Christians throw the accusation at atheists that we have no epistemic right to judge the moral dimension of the Christian faith. Take Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky (who concerned himself with the problem of evil) for example. One of the foremost modern apologists, William Lane Craig, stated in his book Reasonable Faith about Dostoyevsky:

Actually, he sought to carry through a two-pronged defense of theism in the face of the problem of evil. Positively, he argued that innocent suffering may perfect character and bring one into a closer relation with God. Negatively, he tried to show that if the existence of God is denied, then one is landed in complete moral relativism, so that no act, regardless how dreadful or heinous, can be condemned by the atheist. To live consistently with such a view of life is unthinkable and impossible. Hence, atheism is destructive of life and ends logically in suicide.[i]

Oh dear, we atheists are apparently a miserable and evil bunch! And what of Craig himself?

In a world without God, who is to say which actions are right and which are wrong? Who is to judge that the values of Adolf Hitler are inferior to those of a saint? The concept of morality loses all meaning in a universe without God…

In a world without a divine lawgiver, there can be no objective right and wrong, only our culturally and personally relative, subjective judgments. This means that it is impossible to condemn war, oppression, or crime as evil. Nor can one praise brotherhood, equality, and love as good. For in a universe without God, good and evil do not exist—there is only the bare valueless fact of existence, and there is no one to say that you are right and I am wrong.[ii]

You can’t get any clearer than that. This, I would argue, is representative of the Christian approach to atheistic morality and to whether atheists have a right to judge others. And it is this view that I will challenge.

Do we non-theists have an epistemic right to judge Christians, to assign moral value to their actions? Are we throwing around accusations of harm without having our own foundation upon which to base them, as many Christians claim?

There are three things to say in direct answer to this question. First, it doesn’t matter. By this, I mean if all the atheists and non-religious people of this world did not so much as exist, these concepts and ideas and accusations leveled at Christians and Christianity would still have merit. In fact, there are Christians around the world who are critical enough of their own religion and, moreover, of all the other thousands of denominations other than their own, as to make these accusations valid, irrespective of whether or not they come from atheists. If every author in this book happened, in some bizarre twist, to be a committed (yet critical!) Christian, would these points not still hold? Of course they would.

Consider Thom Stark, a liberal Christian, who took Paul Copan and his book Is God a Moral Monster? to task in Is God a Moral Compromiser? Stark prefaced his work with these comments:

In critiquing Paul Copan’s apologetic defenses of our frequently morally problematic Bible, my aim is not to turn anybody away from the Christian faith. In fact, I am critical of apologetic attempts to sweep the Bible’s horror texts under the rug precisely because I believe such efforts are damaging to the church and to Christian theology, not to mention to our moral sensibilities…

But despite [contemporary popular apologists’] very good intentions, they seem oblivious to the real harm they’re doing. Not only are they giving permission for Christians to be dishonest with the material, they’re reinforcing delusions that disconnect well-meaning Christians from reality, blinding them to the destructive effects many of these horror texts continue to have upon Christian communities and in broader society.[iii] [my emphasis]

So you can see that Christians themselves (the ones who are critical enough) hold similar views to mine. They see the harm that their own apologists perpetuate through the use of contrived theology whose only purpose serves as self-authenticating validation.

As Bishop John Shelby Spong stated in The Sins of Scripture: Exposing the Bible’s Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love:

This book [the Bible] has been relentlessly employed by those who say they believe it to be God’s Word, to oppress others who have been, according to the believers, defined in the “hallowed” pages of this text as somehow subhuman. Quotations from the Bible have been cited to bless the bloodiest of wars. People committed to the Bible have not refrained from using the cruelest forms of torture on those whom they believe to have been revealed as the enemies of God in these “sacred” scriptures. A museum display that premiered in Florence in 1983, and later traveled to the San Diego Museum of Man in 2003, featured the instruments used on heretics by Christians during the Inquisition. They included stretching machines designed literally to pull a person apart, iron collars with spikes to penetrate the throat, and instruments that were used to impale the victims. The Bible has been quoted throughout Western history to justify the violence done to racial minorities, women, Jews and homosexuals. It might be difficult for some Christians to understand, but it is not difficult to document the terror enacted by believers in the name of the Bible.[iv]

These are just two examples of many. Christians are critical enough of themselves to point out the harm their holy book and its adherents have caused. If their points are correct, then so, surely, are ours.

The second thing to say in response is that we are merely testing the hypothesis that God is love. One highly contentious view that almost everyone hears about God is that he is love. God is love. This view is somewhat controversial in the context of much of what you have read in this book. What the authors have established is an evidential problem of evil argument against God. Christianity and Christians have contributed harm to this world; how is this fact coherent with the existence of an all-loving, morally perfect God?

If we can establish, and I think we have quite forcefully, that Christianity has created a great deal of harm, then Christians are under even more pressure to answer the ubiquitous problem of evil. Seeing Christianity as the problem of evil has a certain ironic ring to it.

God is love is a truth claim. It is a hypothesis that is being put to the test. We can actually use the dirty linen of the Bible and of Christianity since biblical times to make the bed; and we can see if the Bible lies comfortably in it. We can use the morality of the Bible to be its own judge, jury, and executioner. And let’s face it, the Bible won’t be averse to meting out the most final of punishments: there is rather a lot of execution therein.

Accordingly, the claim that God is love is problematic on many levels.

The third response is that atheists do have the right to judge. We have an epistemic right to judge that Christianity and Christians have caused this world harm.  We do so because morality is a coherent concept in a worldview absent of a god.

To show this, I will start by defining the relevant terms then briefly critiquing the main concepts of Christian ethical systems, with particular reference to the idea that (the Judeo-Christian) God himself appears to be a moral consequentialist. This refutes the claim of his acolytes that he is needed to ground morality. I will show that most philosophers are non-theistic and hold to a variety of non-theistic moral value systems that do not necessitate a god and invariably undermine Christian morality. I will go further to argue that morality indeed presupposes atheism in order to make sense.

Defining our terms

Before we investigate morality, it is useful to establish what we mean by it. First, and obviously, we must look to find a useable definition as to what morality is.

Generally, the study of morality is split into three components: descriptive morality, meta-ethics and normative morality. Normally philosophers replace the term ‘morality’ with ‘ethics’. Descriptive ethics is concerned with what people empirically believe, morally speaking. Normative ethics (which can be called prescriptive ethics) investigates questions of what people should believe. Meta-ethics is more philosophical still in attempting to define what moral theories and ethical terms actually refer to. Or,

What do different cultures actually think is right? (descriptive)

How should people act, morally speaking? (normative)

What do right and ought actually mean? (meta-ethics)

Morality, as the term will be used here, will generally be understood as: “normatively to refer to a code of conduct that, given specified conditions, would be put forward by all rational persons.”[v]

The second important term to attempt to unravel is objective. This is a more difficult term to define than one may think. Usually it means something that is independent of an agent’s mind, or mind independent. This is the understanding I will use here for the sake of argument. Thus objective morality refers to facts about what constitutes moral behavior, and these facts lie in the nature of the agent’s action, regardless of cultural and individual opinion.

One hugely important question at this point concerns the existence of properties such as “is an abstract idea.” This is important because theists end up arguing at only skin depth, at the veneer of philosophy. Whether an atheist has the right to make moral judgments is a question that has as its basis much more fundamental meta-ethical and metaphysical philosophy. What theism and theists rely on is some form of (Platonic) realism such that there is a realm where abstract ideas and forms exist. This is not immediately, or even after some critical analysis, apparent. What are rights, moral laws or morality actually made of? What is their ontology? What are the properties of these abstract ideas? The conceptualist (a form of nominalism, the position that denies the existence of universal abstract ideas in some way) claims, for example, that abstract ideas like morality are concepts in each individual conceiver’s head. Thus objective morality is potentially a non-starter or requires a more befitting definition. Now the philosophy gets very in-depth here, but is actually critically important. It is easy to say atheists have no ground for objective morality and that theists do. It is a lot harder to show how objective morality exists in some kind of mind-independent reality. Even God can be argued to be an abstraction (since he apparently has infinite qualities, a concept that has no actual reality).

This terminology of “objective morality” is ubiquitous in debates with Christian apologists, as we can see with William Lane Craig’s Moral Argument, which he uses in every debate:

(Premise 1) If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.

(Premise 2) Objective moral values and duties do exist.

(Conclusion) Therefore, God does exist.[vi]

There is a philosophical problem here because this might well imply that there must exist some kind of Platonic realm, as mentioned, where these ideas actually exist. Without humans in the world, and the actions that carry such moral values, can we actually say that these ideas exist mind-independently? For example, if one were to posit a moral theory that was universally subjective, such that each rational and knowledgeable person with a sound mind would arrive at the same conclusion in valuing a moral action, would this qualify as “objective”? For example, if we agreed that which would be a self-evidently good state of affairs (human flourishing, lack of pain, increase of pleasure, etc.), then this goal could be achieved or known by a thorough empirical analysis (qua science)—would this qualify as objective?[vii] If ideas and concepts exist only conceptually, rather than out there in the ether, does the concept of “objectivity” even make sense?

This idea of universal subjectivity would explain commonality between people, as well as the differences (taking into account societal influences) much better than morality existing as some Platonic form. Or is it just a fanciful way of smuggling in God? If the idea of objective morality is incoherent, are we left with any grounding for moral judgments sans God, and perhaps, even with God?

I have had many conversations with theists who make claims about objective morality without properly defining it and then, upon being pressured, reveal it to mean something like “valid and binding.” But this ends up being a circular claim. You cannot have an objective morality without a god since objective morality means a value system validated by some entity. In other words, you can’t have “God-derived morality” without God! Well, indeed.

Nevertheless, let us take this mind-independent concept of objective and apply it to morality and see whether it holds up. Interestingly, unless theists also hold to some kind of Platonic form, or actual ontological existence of morality in God (whatever that could possibly mean), then they face the same questions.

[i] William Lane Craig, A Reasonable Faith, (3rd Ed., Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2008), p. 69.

[ii] Ibid, p.75

[iii] Thom Stark, Is God a Moral Compromiser? A Critical Review of Paul Copan’s “Is God a Moral Monster?”, 2nd Ed., http://thomstark.net/copan/stark_copan-review.pdf (accessed July 20, 2013), p. 1. (accessed July 20, 2013)

[iv] John Shelby Spong, The Sins of Scripture: Exposing the bible’s Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love (New York: HarperCollins, 2005), pp. 4-5

[v] Bernard  Gert. “The Definition of Morality,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2011. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/morality-definition/ (accessed July 20, 2013)

[vi] E.g., William Lane Craig, “Morality and Does God Exist?”, Reasonable Faith with William Lane Craig, http://www.reasonablefaith.org/morality-and-does-god-exist (accessed July 20, 2013)

[vii] Here we could use a goal-oriented approach such that if we wanted a (e.g. human flourishing), then would need to do x (some action to achieve a). This conditional has an apodosis (then…) which follows factually from the protasis (if…), something which could be established using an empirical method. The matter of fact aspect of this conditional statement can make such a hypothetical moral approach objective or factual, though it then becomes important to establish the goal as being self-evident ofrfactual in some such way.

In the next section, I will look at Christian systems of morality.


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