Morality Without God: Would I Care?

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doctor(logic) asked me a question yesterday that I want to respond to in a fresh blog post. What would I do with my morality if it were proved that God didn’t exist? Wouldn’t I still want to pursue justice?

No, doctor(logic), I don’t think I would. There would be no reason for me not to pursue my own pleasures above all else, and I believe I would recognize that and act accordingly.

You have to understand, this is not a new question for me. I faced it many years ago when I doubted there was a God. I recognized then that there was no restraint or constraint on me; that if I raped my girlfriend the only issue would be whether I got caught. I think a lot of young men today are raping girls (date rape) and only worrying about whether they get caught. Whatever I did, the only questions would be, “does it bother me I did it?” and “will I get caught?” If it didn’t bother me and I didn’t get caught, then I could do it freely for my own satisfaction.

Of course I had a subjective sense then that this was absurd. It’s the same subjective sense doctor(logic) has been trying to focus on in that comment thread. It’s the desire (inconsistent and incomplete, but present nevertheless) to pursue the good; for in fact I do care about justice.

I could have handled that absurdity in either of two ways. I could have said, “Oh well, life’s absurd; there’s no reason to do good but I’ll do it anyway because I feel like it. I’ll do good when I feel like it, at least.” Or  I could have said, “Maybe there’s a rationally supportable way to resolve this absurdity. Maybe there’s a God, and my desire to do good is grounded in a reality where doing good actually is good, objectively so.”

In comments on that thread, doctor(logic) has psychologized that kind of decision, saying that we Christians imagine a God who will take care of our desires for a certain kind of goodness. That’s too simple, of course It proves absolutely nothing because it cuts both ways. (In fact the general social and psychological health of believers and the strange credulity of unbelievers both count as evidence against it.)

The sense of absurdity is not just a psychological condition, anyway. To resolve it is not just therapy. It is the state associated with awareness of irrationality, and it is rational to resolve irrationality. It makes good sense. God’s goodness provides the basis whereby my subjective sense of good ties into an objective reality. It makes goodness—and my subjective sense of it—both real and rational.

So no, I would not know of any reason to practice justice if God’s non-existence were proved, and based on my past reflections on the matter, I doubt I would care about justice in that case. I think I would make my decisions based on what felt good to me and what I could get away with.

Update January 17, 2011. Apparently someone has picked up this blog post on Facebook; I’m getting a lot of traffic on it from there. Roger Williams’s comment indicates there is at least some penchant for misunderstanding among those visiting this page today. The error he made is one that was also made on another blog earlier, so in view of today’s traffic I’m going to take time to address it.

It’s easy to focus on my “what-if” conclusion here as if it represented what I believe, but it is indeed a what-if, a counterfactual scenario, in my view. It represents a philosophical answer to a hypothetical question, one which I think fails to reflect reality as it is. I believe God exists, so I believe there is a basis for moral action; and that basis for moral action obtains for all persons he created, whether they recognize his existence or not. I’ll thank you not to jump to false and uncharitable conclusions, but rather to read the entire post to see how the concept of absurdity informs my position with respect to that hypothetical situation. (See also my response to Roger.)

Note also that the hypothetical I have addressed here is not morality-without-belief-in-God. That’s a different question entirely, one that atheistic and skeptical writers have repeatedly mixed up with the real question, which has to do with morality-if-no-God-exists. I won’t take time to go into that; I’ll ask you instead to use your own reasoning to work out the difference that makes. I wasn’t intending to make this addendum an entire new blog post, after all.

232 Responses

  1. Charlie says:

    And to add to that, without God and purposeful ends, there is no such thing as justice to begin with. Justice is the situation that results when people get what they morally deserve. Without objective morality there is no proper action and, therefore, no deserved outcome. As always, there is nothing but feeling and might.

  2. “So no, I would not know of any reason to practice justice”
    Especially sacrificial justice.

    Good comment, Charlie.

  3. Wes says:

    Good points. Even if there was no God, in order for justice to be observed there would need to be some kind of ultimate authority by which humanity could measure itself. If there is no overall authority then who is to say if anything is good or bad, right or wrong?

    An atheist may suppose the government fulfills this role, but as we know what one government may permit, another issues the death penalty for… and what of no-mans land? What happens there.

    So then we must appeal to sense of reason, or fairness… but where does this ‘sense’ come from and if it is purely evolutionary why then do some cheat this ‘sense’ and in turn cheat others? And if it is because of advantage they are unfair or unreasonable then why do we feel cheated at all?

    To summarise, we cannot say someone ought to be fair, whilst at the same time saying that someone with an advantage ought to take it. So this ‘sense’ seems to me to be something else apart from our natural instincts.

    I think CS Lewis was saying something like this.

  4. Gimpness says:

    Just a slightly off-topic comment.
    I was intrigued by the "strange credulity of unbelievers" comment and looked up your post on it. I was interested as it went against
    information I have come across myself. Though a less rigorous and most likely of a smaller sample (and of a different country) nonetheless intriguing how it differed from the information you summarised. Perhaps the results you speak of are just representative of American culture? Know of any more relevant information?

    http://blogs.crikey.com.au/pollytics/2009/12/23/politics-and-faith-a-nielsen-poll/

    The information at hand
    http://blogs.crikey.com.au/pollytics/files/2009/12/belieftable11.PNG

  5. Tom Gilson says:

    Gimpness,

    Placing believers in God in the same bin with believers in a universal spirit renders this result almost meaningless.

  6. Tom,

    I’m still confused by your response.

    On the one hand you say:

    No, doctor(logic), I don’t think I would. There would be no reason for me not to pursue my own pleasures above all else, and I believe I would recognize that and act accordingly.

    Then you say:

    It’s the desire (inconsistent and incomplete, but present nevertheless) to pursue the good; for in fact I do care about justice.

    Why doesn’t the desire for good fall into the pleasures column along with the sex?

    You say you care about justice and the good. Why is that different from caring about sex?

    You speak of absurdity, but again you seem to be creating a division where I see none.

    You feel a desire to be good. You like the idea. You feel a desire to have sex with a girl. You like that idea, too. Why is the former idea absurd, but not the latter?

  7. Okay, I can’t just let this one go.

    Tom, are you seriously saying that the pain and the displeasure that would be experienced by your girlfriend would not be factors in your decision to rape her?

  8. Tom Gilson says:

    No. I did not say that, and I am not saying that. Take another look.

  9. Tom Gilson says:

    Why doesn’t the desire for good fall into the pleasures column along with the sex?

    Good? What is good? We’re talking about a hypothetical situation without God, and I don’t know how “good” is defined in that case.

    If you mean, “good” as society presents it, well, yes, that would be a factor in that case. I said, “If it doesn’t bother me and I don’t get caught…” That dual hypothetical covers it all. My inclination to follow society’s standards would have been one factor affecting whether it would have bothered me.

    Actually, “if I don’t get caught” is redundant there. The reason getting caught would have been an issue in that hypothetical case would have been that it would have bothered me. So it does all boil down to, “if it doesn’t bother me.”

  10. Tom,

    I’m still missing something. You said you would act differently and pursue your own pleasure if there were no absolute right and wrong.

    You say “If it didn’t bother me and I didn’t get caught, then I could do it freely for my own satisfaction.”

    Sounds kinda reasonable.

    But acting contrary to your present values DOES bother you, does it not?

    If it does bother you, then you wouldn’t change if morality was shown to be relative.

    I assume that the rape example was a red herring, and that rape does in fact bother you, and you wouldn’t rape if morality is shown to be relative.

    So is there some better example you can provide? An example, X, where X doesn’t bother you, X gives you pleasure, and you would do X if you could get away with it, but where moral realism stops you.

  11. Tom Gilson says:

    I was giving an example from a time in my life when I doubted there was a God. It was a genuine example of something that was actually on my mind at the time.

    Today I cannot imagine an X such as you describe. I am thoroughly convinced now that God is good, that God is the foundation of morality, and that doing the right thing is not just right but also good. I am convinced that there is no “getting away with,” since God is God. But that punishment motivation is not a strong theme in my moral choices. I am motivated more by the conviction that the pleasure of X, where X is outside God’s will, is illusory and counterfeit, and that X is a fake; in the end it does not give pleasure. Moral realism stops me, yes. It’s because I know that the “good” really is good.

  12. Tom Gilson says:

    I’ll add this: I know myself well enough to be pretty sure that apart from the grace and knowledge of God when he stepped into my life in those days, I would have moved in the direction of some pretty serious perversion. I would have thought at the time that that was my X, and I would have pursued it. I would have been wrong. I’m grateful I found out in time.

  13. Terilyn says:

    Tom,

    I really liked your response to this question; I must say your example about rape was a disturbing one, though I can see from the thread why you included it. Thanks for the brutal honesty and open heart.

  14. Gimpness says:

    Placing believers in God in the same bin with believers in a universal spirit renders this result almost meaningless.

    A valid objection Tom. I must have overlooked that. I think/agree the “New Age” universal spirit-type of person would be inflating those believer numbers. Though I do not have any data to suggest so, speculatively, I think if we were able to separate the believers in God and believers of a universal spirit we would find such a distinction. I would also not be surprised if it were these same types of people that are a contributing cause of the non-religious belief numbers.

    Either way it seems no one can claim irreligious people are less superstitious then religious without having to deal with this data. Perhaps they are wrongfully attributing non-religious people with naturalists and which case (again speculatively)I would hypothesis that the naturalist numbers would be lower then non/super-naturalists.

  15. Tom,

    I know it’s not fair to ask you for any more personal details. What I got was more than most people would give. However, since you couldn’t come up with an example, I don’t think you’ve made your case.

    I just don’t see that moral realism per se is a deterrent to people. If we were to interview incarcerated people, I think we would find that the vast majority of them are moral realists (just like the people on the outside). Either their crimes were in line with their moral reality (in few cases), or they were not (most cases). But in any case, I expect that, at least at the time their crime was committed, their crime didn’t bother them that much.

    Similarly, the people volunteering in community service, etc., probably enjoy what they are doing. Or, at least, it doesn’t bother them enough to deter them.

    I know that some religious adherents are a lot more comfortable with the idea of denial. That is, denial bothers them in an immediate sense, but it’s aesthetically pleasing to a degree that it doesn’t bother them overall. Fasting on Yom Kippur, for example. However, I don’t see this as a major factor in crime prevention. Socialization seems like the overwhelming factor.

    What we see is entirely consistent with people doing what doesn’t bother them enough to deter them. It looks a lot more like people rationalize moral reality as the things that bother them. And, since different things bother different people, you get different perceptions of moral reality. And, if moral reality is different for two men, they’ll probably find different faiths that appear to reflect those realities.

    For years, you have been talking about how religion prevents you from doing what you would otherwise do, but I just don’t see it. It looks a lot more like religion is giving you an excuse for what you would do anyway. Certainly, it is doing so today.

    You said that if it were not for your faith, you know you would have got into something perverse. It’s too much to ask what it was, but I wonder if that perversion… wasn’t so bad. 🙂 And if you think that it is bad now, does that mean that it didn’t bother you then?

    I’m also not saying that cognition has no impact on action. I can train myself to like or dislike things. I can train myself to be bothered by things. But it seems kind of arbitrary.

  16. JAD says:

    The rape Tom is suggesting is done for selfish reasons. But what if it were murder for supposedly unselfish reasons? Consider the following hypothetical:

    “Another problem for utilitarianism is that it seems to overlook justice and rights. One common illustration is called Transplant. Imagine that each of five patients in a hospital will die without an organ transplant. The patient in Room 1 needs a heart, the patient in Room 2 needs a liver, the patient in Room 3 needs a kidney, and so on. The person in Room 6 is in the hospital for routine tests. Luckily (for them, not for him!), his tissue is compatible with the other five patients, and a specialist is available to transplant his organs into the other five. This operation would save their lives, while killing the “donor”. There is no other way to save any of the other five patients (Foot 1966, Thomson 1976; compare related cases in Carritt 1947 and McCloskey 1965).

    We need to add that the organ recipients will emerge healthy, the source of the organs will remain secret, the doctor won’t be caught or punished for cutting up the “donor”, and the doctor knows all of this to a high degree of probability (despite the fact that many others will help in the operation). Still, with the right details filled in, it looks as if cutting up the “donor” will maximize utility, since five lives have more utility than one life. If so, then classical utilitarianism implies that it would not be morally wrong for the doctor to perform the transplant and even that it would be morally wrong for the doctor not to perform the transplant. Most people find this result abominable. They take this example to show how bad it can be when utilitarians overlook individual rights, such as the unwilling donor’s right to life.”
    (from Standford Encyclopedia or Philosophy, consequentialism)

    While I don’t know anyone who would really advocate anything exactly like this. (Though Peter Singer, I think, suggests some similar type of things in some of his writings.) It amazes me that secular non-theist ethicists are even debating it. Clearly without any kind of transcendent basis for morality (universal human rights) the moral thinking changes quite dramatically. What was once unthinkable now becomes thinkable. Is there a doubt that we have entered a “brave new world?”

    (I have a link to the ref, above, but for some reason I am having trouble posting this comment. It might be the link, I don‘t know. Try google to find the article.)

  17. BillT says:

    Tom is saying whay Dostoyevsky said best and what remains unrefuted by athiest thinkers to this day.

    “If there is no God, anything is permissible”.

    I hope DL can keep this in perspective. It doesn’t say what anyone will do, it doesn’t even say what anyone wants to do. It simply and quite tellingly says what anyone could do. And what anyone could do is anything.

  18. Tom Gilson says:

    DL,

    You have been trying hard to prove that persons will generally make moral choices, whether or not they believe in moral realism. How about if I just stipulate that for you? With this caveat: we have different meanings for “moral.”

    You wonder if that perversion wasn’t so bad. I’m not going to satisfy anyone’s curiosity on that, but your question is telling. I don’t know what “bad” could mean on your view of morality. There are a lot of moral relativists who have trouble identifying anything as bad. I don’t know what “good” means, either. I am quite sure that anything having to do with satisfying desires or maximizing well-being (a la Harris) is an empty answer.

    For years, you have been talking about how religion prevents you from doing what you would otherwise do, but I just don’t see it. It looks a lot more like religion is giving you an excuse for what you would do anyway. Certainly, it is doing so today.

    No, my friend. You’ve just moved into the territory of empty speculation. You had asked me if there was anything that moral realism was stopping me from doing. You did not ask me whether there was anything I am doing today on account of my relationship with God. Now you’ve concluded without evidence—contrary to obvious evidence, actually—that the answer would be no. That’s just wrong. I spent a night with a friend in the hospital not long ago just because I knew that was an expression of God’s character, for example. You will undoubtedly come back and say I did it because it made me feel good. It did. It made me feel good because I knew it was acting in accordance with God’s character. It wasn’t just emotional. It was also intellectual (based on my knowledge of God’s character) and relational (based in my relationship with God).

    Feel-good is not disconnected from knowledge. Christian believers (per Arthur Brooks’ survey of all the major recent social survey) actually give and volunteer a whole lot more than those who do not believe. It is because we understand that doing good actually (really, objectively) is good.

    On theism, regardless of your opinion, good and bad are not arbitrary. Good is an eternal aspect of the character of God. The good is actually good.

  19. Tom Gilson says:

    Gimpness, you said,

    Either way it seems no one can claim irreligious people are less superstitious then religious without having to deal with this data.

    For my part the religious/irreligious dichotomy is uninteresting. I already know a lot of religious people are pretty wacky. What’s interesting are comparisons of Bible-believing Christians with other groups, religious or otherwise.

  20. Tom,

    You have been trying hard to prove that persons will generally make moral choices, whether or not they believe in moral realism. How about if I just stipulate that for you? With this caveat: we have different meanings for “moral.”

    Hmmm. That’s probably true.

    I’ll sum up. The arguments presented to me here are contradictory.

    They say, if we abandon moral realism, then:

    1) we will just act the way we like,

    2) and we won’t like the way we act,

    3) therefore, moral subjectivism/relativism must be avoided.

    This is problematic on at least two levels. First, it’s contradictory to say that we will act how we like, but won’t like how we act. If we don’t like how we’re acting, we’ll take steps to to make actions more to our liking.

    Second, if moral realism has a case, it cannot depend on how we feel about the results.

    On your view, however, “But it seems kind of arbitrary.” Think about that a while. What is there, on your view, that isn’t arbitrary?

    Morality, on my view, is arbitrary in the absolute sense. It’s not arbitrary in the subjective sense. So there’s no argument you can possibly provide that could attack my view based on my arbitrary (from the absolute perspective) subjective dislike of fascism, genocide, murder, rape, killing unhappy people to raise average happiness, etc. If I subjectively dislike these things, then I shall continue to oppose them. Any argument you supply for realism must be independent of my subjective feelings, but, alas, no such argument exists.

  21. BillT,

    I hope DL can keep this in perspective. It doesn’t say what anyone will do, it doesn’t even say what anyone wants to do. It simply and quite tellingly says what anyone could do. And what anyone could do is anything.

    But anyone COULD STILL do anything, even if moral realism is true. Hitler murdered millions, and yet you believe in moral realism.

    I suspect you are actually saying that Hitler will get his comeuppance in your universe. That’s not the same thing as moral realism. Would it be fair to say that this (cosmic justice) is the important part of moral realism for you?

  22. JAD,

    You talk of a utilitarian scheme that prescribes what we all consider to be atrocities. And it seems we all reject such a scheme for subjective reasons. Yet you say that such utilitarian schemes are now “thinkable”.

    Are you saying it disturbs you that we all thought about it, even if we all soundly rejected it?

    Personally, I think the utilitarian case you cite is a great argument against moral realism. Moral schemes of all flavors are judged according to our subjective dislike of their consequences or policies. If morality were real, we could be wrong about such schemes, e.g., we would be forced to conclude that we ought to, say, kill off unhappy people to raise average happiness. That never happens.

  23. BillT says:

    DL,

    No one has ever said you need God to be moral or make moral choices. Nor has anyone said that the existance of God prevents anyone from making immoral choices. You have free will (which, of course, you would have without God) and can choose any course you wish. However, that doesn’t mean morality exists without God. True morality (if it isn’t objective it isn’t morality) can only exist if God does. Without him it’s all just choices.

    And justice isn’t a matter of comeuppance. It’s a matter of moral reality. If there is no justice then there isn’t a moral reality.

  24. BillT,

    True morality (if it isn’t objective it isn’t morality) can only exist if God does. Without him it’s all just choices.

    Why isn’t this the No True Scotsman fallacy?

    It seems like you’re defining morality so that the only kind of morality that can exist is moral realism.

    Let’s suppose that, as Tom suggests, we have different definitions.

    Let’s suppose that all we have is choices under subjectivism. No true morality. Only apparent morality. Why should I care?

    And justice isn’t a matter of comeuppance. It’s a matter of moral reality. If there is no justice then there isn’t a moral reality.

    What is justice without comeuppance?

    Do you think universalism is viable?

  25. SteveK says:

    DL,

    Why isn’t this the No True Scotsman fallacy?

    You are pining for a morality that is rooted in desire/preference. The reason that this isn’t True Morality(tm) is because almost nobody reports rape as being wrong because they don’t prefer it. You are trying your best to distort what morality is by changing the concept to something nobody recognizes. You admitted as much, here

    Hmmm. That’s probably true.

  26. JAD says:

    DL,

    The reason you shouldn’t kill the unwitting donor, in the example I cited above, is that he has, not only intrinsic value and worth as a human being, but very real human rights as well. What are you arguing? That his value and worth, as well as his rigths, depend upon what other people feel about him? Where were the Nazi’s feelings of sympathy and compassion when they killed innocent women and children?

    It seems to me that subjective feelings make a very poor firewall against moral decadence.

  27. Tom Gilson says:

    NTS involves changing definitions in the middle of an argument to save a theory. It does not apply (you should know this) when the definition is the point being argued.

  28. BillT says:

    “It seems like you’re defining morality so that the only kind of morality that can exist is moral realism.

    Either morality is an objective truth or it’s just a personal preference. My abhorrence to “torturing children for pleasure” isn’t just a personal preference. It’s an objective truth that is true for every person on earth. That couldn’t be true if there was no God.

  29. JAD says:

    In my view of what constitutes our conscious mind, we can describe the mind by four distinct capacities:

    (1) Our reason or intellect.
    (2) Our emotions, which includes our esthetic sense.
    (3) Our spiritual consciousness.
    (4) Our moral sense or conscience.

    Of course, there is nothing original here. We see these distinct mental capacities being talked about in writings of ancient philosophers and theologians. The apostle Paul, for example, in I Cor.2 draws a distinction between #1 and #3 and in Romans 2 he is refers to #4.

    I think I could provides some examples where Greek philosophers also discuss these kind of things in some detail. Though I can’t think of any place where all four of them are discussed together, in either philosophy or theology– not that that is important.

    It seems to me that a lot of atheists and modern thinkers want to reduce everything to #1 and #2 thus at least implicitly denying the existence of #3 and #4. Of course that makes sense if there isn’t anything objectively there for the moral sense to sense. And starting with the assumption that natural causes alone are a sufficient explanation for everything that exists that may be the only conclusion one can reach. Of course, the problem is the assumption: “that natural causes alone are a sufficient explanation for everything that exists“ is just that– an assumption. In other words, it is something that you either need to prove or accept by faith.

  30. JAD,

    It seems to me that subjective feelings make a very poor firewall against moral decadence.

    Whether you are a realist or relativist, subjective feelings are the only firewall. The Nazis were moral realists.

    Consider this. To do the right thing, a moral realist has to be in one of two positions.

    Position #1: the realist has the correct knowledge of what is absolutely right, AND emotionally desires to act in accordance with that moral knowledge.

    Position #2: the realist has the incorrect knowledge of moral reality, AND emotional desires to act against that incorrect moral knowledge. (E.g., the person who incorrectly believes loyalty is a higher moral absolute value than honesty, but tells the truth about a crime committed by a family member nonetheless.)

    In either case, the chain is no stronger than its weakest link. Even if we suppose that abstract cognitive recognition of the moral landscape was the stronger link, subjective feelings remain the firewall between “right” and “wrong” behavior, even in the realist picture.

    Of course, I think the realist scheme is nonsense (because I think the cognitive factor is relatively insignificant), but even if we posit that realism is a correct account, there’s no stronger firewall under realism than under relativism.

    Catholic priests should be a good example here. Few should be more aware of moral realism than they are. Yet they offend at rates comparable with people in the population at large. (They probably have more victims because they are in a position to victimize a lot more people.) According to your theory, priests should be like saints. They have a lot of discipline, and a lot of attention to realist moral theory. But their firewalls are just like those of people in the general population.

  31. Tom,

    NTS involves changing definitions in the middle of an argument to save a theory. It does not apply (you should know this) when the definition is the point being argued.

    I disagree. Moral realism is a theory of explanation for moral feelings.

    If you’re really just debating a definition of morality, then that’s trivial. If you want to say there’s no “morality” (= “absolute morality”) under moral subjectivism, that’s a trivial statement.

    The question we’re discussing is this: what best explains our moral feelings? Is it a matter of evolution, biology and conditioning? Or is it a measurement of an absolute?

    If you’ve been talking about the former, trivial argument above, then I’ve been completely on the wrong track. Feel free to define morality to be the same thing as absolute morality, but don’t pretend that such a definition is an attack on moral subjectivism.

    On the other hand, if the debate isn’t about a definition, and really is a critique of subjectivism, then my NTS objection stands.

  32. BillT,

    Either morality is an objective truth or it’s just a personal preference. My abhorrence to “torturing children for pleasure” isn’t just a personal preference. It’s an objective truth that is true for every person on earth. That couldn’t be true if there was no God.

    This isn’t an argument. It’s a statement of your beliefs.

    How do you know your abhorrence to “torturing children for pleasure” isn’t just a personal preference (albeit a very strong one)?

    It’s completely conceivable that we could possess very strong personal preferences about what other people do. You seem to rule this out without giving it its due.

  33. Tom Gilson says:

    dl, we are debating whether moral realism is the correct explanation for moral feelings, moral convictions, and all the other data entering into moral judgments. It is perfectly legitimate when debating whether moral realism explains these things to explore whether it explains them. It is perfectly legitimate to explore whether competing theories fail to explain them.

    You focus persistently on the psychology of morality. Psychology is not the only relevant factor. Logical coherence is, too. I believe that subjective morality fails as morality on multiple grounds, to the extent that it does not qualify to be called morality. It’s not an NTS argument. It’s an argument that says calling subjective morality “morality” is misleading and inaccurate, for it is really something else altogether. That’s the argument in process (or at least part of the argument in process) and that’s why you need not pursue this NTS issue.

  34. BillT says:

    “How do you know your abhorrence to “torturing children for pleasure” isn’t just a personal preference (albeit a very strong one)?”

    Hummm? I don’t know? Maybe it’s because it’s shared by virtually every person who has ever lived? If it is just a personal preferance wouldn’t a 50/50 breakdown be the more expected result. Or even 75/25 might convince me. But nowhere has this kind of behavior (and many others as well) ever been tolerated as anything but depraved. That doesn’t speak to a personal preferance and trying to claim it does hardly enhances your personal credibility.

  35. JAD says:

    DL,
    Morality concerns things that are real effects in the real world. Herding men, women and children into a railway car so that they can be transported to a concentration camp where they are going to be slaughtered like cattle is a moral decision that results in real men, real women, and real children with real human rights really suffering and being really put to death. There is nothing subjective about any of that. In other words, it is really evil. Furthermore, it is something that is universally wrong and evil whenever or wherever it has happened to human beings.

    Let me ask you some questions, DL. Is there such a thing as rationalization? What do people do when they rationalize? Do people ever rationalize about what might be moral or immoral?

  36. Bryn says:

    Great discussion on here everyone!

    DL,

    I just wanted to add – The existence of moral realism in no way directly relates to the following of those morals I believe. As an example, the existence of a rule generally results in people either following that rule or not. The actual existence of this rule does not govern the conformity to it!

    Going back to the original question given to Tom, I also believe that my actions would be different if I did not believe in objective BECAUSE my belief in objective morality stems from my belief in God, and this belief has changed how I behave. Hypothetically, if I believed in subjective morality, my belief in God would not be there so that is in fact the reason as to why I would act differently.

    As Bill quoted “If there is no God, anything is permissible”. I think that this is true as without God there is no objective morality.

    In the Western world we sit back and squabble about morals and if they are objective or subjective, but for the child who’s been sold into human trafficking, or the woman who is raped by her abusive husband there is no arguing about if evil does really exist. Injustice is present all over the world and without God there is no final justice – I think living in a world without moral realism would be horrifying, and people will only be held accountable for things that they were caught doing. I don’t think I could stand to live in a world like that.

  37. BillT,

    Hummm? I don’t know? Maybe it’s because it’s shared by virtually every person who has ever lived? If it is just a personal preferance wouldn’t a 50/50 breakdown be the more expected result. Or even 75/25 might convince me.

    Unanimity is not a sign of objectivity. We’re all the same species. We’re going to have a lot in common. You’re trying to argue that because we (almost) all agree on certain principles, those principles can’t possibly be the result of our shared evolutionary history.

    It’s not a good argument.

    That doesn’t speak to a personal preferance and trying to claim it does hardly enhances your personal credibility.

    Please explain this remark. How is my credibility affected? Are you suggesting I am more likely to torture children for pleasure?

    Aren’t you assuming that being a realist makes you less likely to commit crimes? Because you haven’t shown that at all.

  38. Tom Gilson says:

    Realists commit fewer crimes. Sociological fact.

  39. JAD,

    Morality concerns things that are real effects in the real world. Herding men, women and children into a railway car so that they can be transported to a concentration camp where they are going to be slaughtered like cattle is a moral decision that results in real men, real women, and real children with real human rights really suffering and being really put to death. There is nothing subjective about any of that.

    No one is disputing that people are objective, or that people’s suffering is objective, or that people’s deaths are objective. These are all material facts.

    What is being disputed is whether our dislike of those things is a reflection of something objective beyond the material facts. So far, you haven’t made a case for it. You’ve simply said that you really, really, really don’t like those things. Well, so what? I really, really, really don’t like them either. But that doesn’t mean that our dislikes are anything more than dislikes.

    Is there such a thing as rationalization? What do people do when they rationalize? Do people ever rationalize about what might be moral or immoral?

    Yes, people rationalize. There’s a classic case in which a man is hypnotized at dinner, and given a post-hypnotic suggestion: when the hypnotist taps on the dinner table, the subject has been told to get down on his knees.

    The subject is awoken, and dinner continues. The hypnotist taps on the table. The subject gets on the floor. What happens next is very interesting. The subject gives bogus reasons for why he got on the floor. He says he thought he dropped his fork. He says he thought he dropped his keys. It’s fascinating when it’s so transparent.

    Basically, the conscious mind gives reasons to justify the actions, compulsions or beliefs of the subconscious mind.

    Everybody rationalizes to some degree. A while back, I caught myself giving bogus reasons for why I did not want to execute a task. The reasons I gave (my rationalizations) were that the task would be ineffective. But the real reason was that it would put me in a difficult social position.

    Now, almost everyone feels very strong moral compulsions. We feel compelled not only to judge certain acts as bad or shameful, but we feel compelled to speak out against such acts, or act to deter others from taking such acts.

    Why shouldn’t we expect people to rationalize that their compulsions are reasoned conclusions from self-evident axioms?

    The left brain has to make sense of the compulsions somehow.

    The rationalizations aren’t that critical in the moral process. If you feel a moral compulsion, you’re not likely to destroy that compulsion just by realizing it’s nothing but a compulsion. If you had good reasons for overcoming your compulsions, you would have rationalized for them already.

  40. Charlie says:

    You’re trying to argue that because we (almost) all agree on certain principles, those principles can’t possibly be the result of our shared evolutionary history.

    Genetic fallacy. I didn’t see Bill commit this. Whether we \evolved\ the ability to see the moral truth or whether we were created with it, the truth is still the truth.

    I really, really, really don’t like them either. But that doesn’t mean that our dislikes are anything more than dislikes.

    Exactly. Neither the objectivity nor the morality is determined by our feelings.

    Some people don’t really, really, really, really, dislike herding people onto trains to their deaths. It is still wrong.

    The left brain has to make sense of the compulsions somehow.

    And yet it doesn’t cause us to try to compel chocolate lovers to love vanilla.

    If you had good reasons for overcoming your compulsions, you would have rationalized for them already.

    In your book it is all compulsions all the way down, so it doesn’t matter.

    When morality is objective we have an obligation to discipline our compulsions and then to train them.

  41. Tom Gilson says:

    doctor(logic),

    All your answers are full of “you haven’t proved… ” But have you noticed you’re not making any positive case for anything but behaviors? Consistently you point at behaviors and psychology, as if by showing that morality has to do with those two domains it doesn’t exist. We don’t dispute that it is expressed through behaviors and psychology. That’s not the nub of the discussion at all. It’s whether what’s being expressed is real.

    As for hypnotically induced behaviors, what you’re telling us is that there is no hypnotist but evolution, and no audience standing in a place to see that the subject is rationalizing. We’re all rationalizing the same thing. Can you show us that a hypnotists’ trick can work for everybody in all of human history? If it can do so, can you demonstrate that morality is a case of that?

    You remind of Dawkins. That may not sound like a putdown to you, but I don’t mean it positively in this context (he does fine work in some areas but not this one). At the end of The Blind Watchmaker he told us, “there, now I’ve shown you how biological complexity and diversity could have come about if there is no God. Therefore there is no God.” I trust you can see the chasm between premise and conclusion there. In your case it’s “I’m showing you how people could have moral feelings if there is no moral reality. Therefore there is no moral reality.” Chasm again.

    Does the possibility of rationalizations disprove our case? It does provide a defeater, in the technical sense that to the extent it succeeds, to that same extent it makes our case less secure or less successful. But your defeater succeeds only to the extent that you actually show, for example, that rationalizations can be universal. You’ve argued for this, but you need more than “we’re all the same species” to establish that billions upon billions of peoples’ convictions have been erroneous all along. I believe child torture is wrong—really wrong—and so do almost all other persons. If it’s not really wrong, and it’s just a rationalization produced by evolutionary processes, then it serves nothing (and I do mean nothing) ultimately but the Four Fs I referred to not long ago, and which I don’t think you answered.

    You also need to show that morality is of the same class of behavioral impulse as the ones you’ve referenced to in your examples here.

    You need to show that you are not undercutting your own position. Which is the rationalization: the affirmation or the denial of moral realities? How can you tell? I think your position is clearly motivated by the desire to escape theism; in fact, I think your only decent argument of any sort in favor of your position is, “since there is no God, there are no moral realities.” That could easily be a rationalization for, “I can’t stomach the thought of God, so I have to deny that torturing children is really wrong, even if everything inside of me shouts, ‘It’s wrong!'”

    So I think you’re sitting on the wrong side of the branch you’re sawing.

    Further, our argument is defeated only to the extent that you show that morality actually is the result of rationalizations, which you have not begun to show as far as I can see.

  42. JAD says:

    The following is a paraphrase from a tape recorded conversation between Ted Bundy and one of his victims.

    “Then I learned that all moral judgments are “value judgments,” that all value judgments are subjective, and that none can be proved to be either “right” or “wrong.” I even read somewhere that the Chief Justice of the United States had written that the American Constitution expressed nothing more than collective value judgments. Believe it or not, I figured out for myself – what apparently the Chief Justice couldn’t figure out for himself””that if the rationality of one value judgment was zero, multiplying it by millions would not make it one whit more rational. Nor is there any “reason” to obey the law for anyone, like myself, who has the boldness and daring “” the strength of character “” to throw off its shackles. … I discovered that to become truly free, truly unfettered, I had to become truly uninhibited. And I quickly discovered that the greatest obstacle to my freedom, the greatest block and limitation to it, consists in the insupportable value judgment” that I was bound to respect the rights of others. I asked myself, who were these “others”? Other human beings, with human rights? Why is it more wrong to kill a human animal than any other animal, a pig or a sheep or a steer? Is your life more to you than a hog’s life to a hog? Why should I be willing to sacrifice my pleasure more for the one than for the other? Surely, you would not, in this age of scientific enlightenment, declare that God or nature has marked some pleasures as “moral” or “good” and others as “immoral” or “bad”? In any case, let me assure you, my dear young lady, that there is absolutely no comparison between the pleasure I might take in eating ham and the pleasure I anticipate in raping and murdering you. That is the honest conclusion to which my education has led me””after the most conscientious examination of my spontaneous and uninhibited self.”
    (p17 Ethics: Discovering Right and Wrong, by Louis P. Pojman & James Fieser)

    It appears Bundy was an moral subjectivist. Notice how he justifies his rapes and murder:

    “[I]s there any ‘reason’ to obey the law for anyone, like myself, who has the boldness and daring “” the strength of character “” to throw off its shackles. … I discovered that to become truly free, truly unfettered, I had to become truly uninhibited.”

    In other words, rape and murder is the way he finds personal fulfillment. What is there in the universe to tell him that he ought not to fulfill his personal desires?

    I would say that he is rationalizing. But I am making that claim from the perspective of a moral realist. How can that claim be made from a moral subjectivist perspective? If morals and ethics are subjective aren’t they what ever Bundy decides to think they are? How can a moral subjectivist ever be said to be rationalizing?

  43. SteveK says:

    DL,

    Aren’t you assuming that being a realist makes you less likely to commit crimes? Because you haven’t shown that at all.

    Aren’t you assuming realism is true by even asking the question? If realism is false then what possible data/fact could be offered?

    What possible data would convince you that moral realism is true, DL? If you believe that some yet-to-be-discovered data could convince you then you are a believer in moral realism and you are searching for supporting data. If you believe that it is impossible to find data, because you believe morality is entirely subjective, then why are you asking for someone to give you data?

    I would argue that you are the former, even though you claim to be the latter. Your questions/comments are testimony to that. Or…are you irrational?

  44. Crude says:

    Since this conversation largely sprung up from the Sam Harris book, I think you may be interested in the Newsweek article: Sam Harris Believes in God.

    Some thoughts from me.

    * Harris insists he’s “against religion”. Does anyone else get the impression that what Harris is actually against is any religion but his own? Reminiscent of how Hawking declared philosophy to be dead, then proceeded to write a book where he largely advocated philosophical views and claims.

    * According to the article, Harris admits he at least *sounds* like he believes in God, but he objects to the term. Because… apparently, he wants to criticize people he dislikes who do believe in God, so he just wants another word or term for it.

    * His next book is one where he hopes to promote spirituality in ‘the atheist community’. You know, help them get in touch with a sense of the sacred. They’ll love that!

    * I also like the idea that the claim that, say, ‘God is love’ is a new thing, the stuff of the progressive religious. Not, you know.. straight out of 1 John 4:8. I get the feeling that most people would think claims that ‘God is pure actuality’ or ‘God is unchanging, immaterial and eternal’ would be some kind of strange, New Age belief. Not straight out of Aquinas or reflecting Augustine and the like.

    So hey, maybe the fatal flaw in Harris’ moral realism – his atheism – is a flaw he’s aware of and has fixed after all. The old-fashioned way.

  45. BillT says:

    DL,

    Your suggestion that torturing children for pleasure can be considered a preference (even a “strongly held one”) is simply stunning. A preference is whether you like vanilla or chocolate ice cream. Torturing children for pleasure is a heinous depravity. A preference is whether you like reading fiction or non-fiction. Torturing children for pleasure is an outrage. A preference is a fondness or a liking or an inclination. Torturing children for pleasure is abhorrent. Do you really think of torturing children for pleasure as merely a preference? It’s truly hard to believe anyone would admit such a thing.

    As far as this position affecting your personal credibility, perhaps you should try testing this out. The next time you are out, let’s say, with some casual acquaintances or someone you are just meeting why don’t you raise this subject. Explain to these folks that you believe that torturing children for pleasure is just a personal preference. I’d be interested to see whether they will agree to meet you again or possibly more telling, hire you to babysit their children.

  46. SteveK says:

    Sociopaths and moral relativists/subjectivists have a lot in common, BillT.

    Not that there’s anything wrong with that (HT: Seinfeld)

  47. BillT says:

    Steve,

    It’s hard to believe how anyone can’t see the intellectual corner this position puts them in. This is an argument to relativize the torture of children. What exactly would “winning” this argument look like. If you woke up in a world where this was true, how would you bring yourself to live out the day.

  48. Tom Gilson says:

    “What exactly would ‘winning’ this argument look like?”

    Great question!

  49. SteveK says:

    I posed a similar question. My conclusion is that anyone who is looking for data/arguments to support what they experience – that person is a realist. If they didn’t believe in realism they wouldn’t bother to look. There would be no such thing as a winning argument.

    What possible data would convince you that moral realism is true, DL? If you believe that some yet-to-be-discovered data could convince you then you are a believer in moral realism and you are searching for supporting data.

  50. Tom,

    You claim that I’m not making a positive case for subjectivism. I think that I have done so by showing that moral realists generally believe moral reality lines up with their existing moral ideals, even if they can’t live up to those ideals. (This is why I keep bringing up the evil god example.)

    However, let’s suppose that I had not made a positive case for subjectivism. I’m not the one making the strong claim. You are.

    The claim that we have biases, aversions, and subjective moral tastes is not extraordinary. It’s accepted by both sides.

    You are making the strong claim that morality is objective even beyond the mundane factors. So the burden of proof is actually on you. So far, all you can come up with is belief itself. Lots of people believe X, therefore X is true. Indeed, there’s no possible test that could ever back up your claim.

    As for rationalization, it can only be seen when we’re brutally honest and self-critical. This means taking our beliefs and honestly asking whether those beliefs are more than mere belief. When we look at moral realism in this light, it just doesn’t hold up. The only thing supporting moral realism is the belief itself. And it’s not a necessary belief in the same sense that non-contradiction is, i.e., as something necessary for rational thinking.

    Does it cut both ways?

    Well, you’re right that I don’t think your god is good. I think a good god who cares about us is obviously refuted by the presence of evil.

    However, I could have rationalized that my own moral values are somehow backed up by objective science. I worry that this is what Harris is trying to do. I’ve met other atheists who feel the same way as Harris. They try to make a case for objective morality (theirs, of course) based on some pseudo-philosophical argument (like yours).

    So, not only does my claim not look much like a rationalization, I have the evidence on my side. Mine isn’t a belief based on mere belief. It’s based on sound scientific facts of human biology and psychology.

    Further, our argument is defeated only to the extent that you show that morality actually is the result of rationalizations, which you have not begun to show as far as I can see.

    Let’s not be careless here. I don’t have to show that morality is a rationalization. Morality is real, just like taste in food is real. What’s not real is the belief that morality is objective. That’s the rationalization part.

  51. Holopupenko says:

    What would a “winning argument” like DL’s look like? C.S. Lewis provides a clue in The Great Divorce in the people who loathe to remain on the outskirts of heaven (in particular the theologian and Napoleon):

    (1) the theologian “knows” he’s “right,” and would never countenance staying in a place where his “being right” doesn’t matter, nor would he put up with people who actually take faith seriously as opposed to theoretically, and

    (2) Napoleon is in the deepest parts of Purgatory/Hell–millions of miles from the next person, pacing back and forth, mumbling to himself “he/she were wrong…”

    (3) in the man who couldn’t stand the fact that a murderer was forgiven by the murdered person, and hence the murderer chose to enter the true freedom of heaven. The man turned away because his argument was “more logical,” i.e., it was a “winning” argument.

    I’ve stayed out of this conversation because I’m deeply saddened by DL’s fallacies, his scientistic outlook on morality, his historical ignorance, his arrogant “rightness”, and his refusal to consider things beyond his own self-centeredness. I weep real tears for him.

    I’ve also stayed out because of being convicted by John Mark Reynolds’ 25 October essay “On Letting Go” the Evangel blog (http://firstthings.com/blogs/evangel/2010/10/on-letting-go/#more-9191). Way too many times I’ve fallen into the syndrome “Sorry, dear, but not now… somebody is wrong on the Internet.” Intellect ordered to evil is no longer intellect. Intellect perfected by God’s Grace is true intellect. I have a long way to go.

  52. BillT,

    This about sums things up for you, Bill:

    Your suggestion that torturing children for pleasure can be considered a preference (even a “strongly held one”) is simply stunning. A preference is whether you like vanilla or chocolate ice cream.

    At once you say that the preferences I refer to are “strongly held”, and then compare them to vanilla versus chocolate ice cream. You’re arguing against a straw man. No one is saying that moral passions are not extremely strong. They are. But they are just passions. And any cognitive model of morality is informed exclusively by these passions.

    Perhaps it is the word “preferences” which is too weak for you. How about aversion? Extreme disgust? Is the word passion strong enough for you?

  53. SteveK,

    Sociopaths and moral relativists/subjectivists have a lot in common, BillT.

    Cheap shot. That’s like me saying that moral realists and Hitler have a lot in common.

  54. BillT says:

    “Perhaps it is the word “preferences” which is too weak for you. How about aversion? Extreme disgust? Is the word passion strong enough for you?”

    Actually, no. Anything short of calling the torture of children evil, immoral and a depravity is far too weak. On top of that, in a world without God you can’t support how the tourturing of children is anything but a preference. No God, no good or evil, no right or wrong. Changing the words doesn’t change anything.

  55. BillT,

    It’s hard to believe how anyone can’t see the intellectual corner this position puts them in. This is an argument to relativize the torture of children. What exactly would “winning” this argument look like. If you woke up in a world where this was true, how would you bring yourself to live out the day.

    You think that my position, what you call “relativizing”, means accepting any moral behavior as having equal value. It doesn’t mean anything of the sort. And until you realize that, you’re out of your depth. You don’t understand moral subjectivism, and you’re making a straw man argument.

    Here’s how your argumentation looks.

    1) If there’s no absolute reason why act X is wrong, then we absolutely ought to be tolerant of X as much as not X.

    2) We have a strong moral passion/aversion against committing certain kinds of acts. That is, we have a strong subjective values about X.

    3) Suppose that morality has no objective basis.

    4) Therefore, by (1), we ought to ignore or suppress our values, and tolerate X.

    This is complete and utter nonsense. (1) is a moral realist claim, not a moral subjectivist claim. It is contradicted by (3).

    Your argument is contradictory and illogical.

    Under subjectivism, (1) does not hold. It is not the case that I absolutely ought to tolerate things that go against my values. “Oughts” are subjective, and the only thing we can do with them is either apply them subjectively, or describe them objectively.

    Until you recognize this, you can’t be said to understand what it is you are arguing against.

    Also, just because someone is a moral subjectivist doesn’t mean they are more likely to torture children. In fact, that person might have a greater aversion to torturing children than you do (and certainly a LOT more aversion than a lot of moral realist Catholic priests and nuns who have been guilty of beating and sexually abusing children).

  56. SteveK,

    I posed a similar question. My conclusion is that anyone who is looking for data/arguments to support what they experience – that person is a realist. If they didn’t believe in realism they wouldn’t bother to look. There would be no such thing as a winning argument.

    Sometimes you say the stupidest things.

  57. SteveK says:

    DL,

    Cheap shot. That’s like me saying that moral realists and Hitler have a lot in common.

    I didn’t intend it to be a cheap shot. It’s accurate wrt the moral beliefs that both hold according to the definition below. That is what I was talking about. If moral subjectivism is true then what’s the fuss anyway? I may have hurt your feelings, but I’m a realist who isn’t concerned with your feelings at this point.

    a person, as a psychopathic personality, whose behavior is antisocial and who lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience.

    I suppose that realists and Hitler would have a lot in common – but only if Hitler was a realist. If not, then what they have in common is not pertinent to this discussion about morality.

  58. SteveK says:

    Sometimes you say the stupidest things.

    Sorry to have hurt your feelings again. What about this statement is false or stupid?

    If they didn’t believe in realism they wouldn’t bother to look.

  59. JAD says:

    Holopupenko,

    I’ve stayed out of this conversation because I’m deeply saddened by DL’s fallacies, his scientistic outlook on morality, his historical ignorance, his arrogant “rightness”, and his refusal to consider things beyond his own self-centeredness. I weep real tears for him.

    I appreciate your sentiments there, Holopupenko. It is a good reminder to all of us that even though the dabate at time gets heated we are really dealing with other human beings that have real significance and worth because they have been created in the image of God , whether they are fellow believers or not.

    Ironically for me that is one of the strongest arguments for moral realism. We have a moral obligation to treat people a certain way (with a certain kind of fundamental respect) even if they do believe in those kind of moral obligations or show a willingness to reciprocate.

    Here’s a little thought experiment: If everyone in the world practiced that kind of ethic, would the world be a marginally better place?

    Of course if we didn’t have reality based categories good/bad, better/worse etc., how would we ever know?

  60. Holopupenko says:

    SteveK:

    Forget it: it’s far better to kiss the feet of Mercy and serve in Heaven than to rule as a “winner” who wants to be in Hell.

  61. SteveK says:

    DL,

    Also, just because someone is a moral subjectivist doesn’t mean they are more likely to torture children.

    When “torture” is stripped of any objective moral component it reads the same as any other action verb. So yeah, moral subjectivists do stuff to other people. In subjectivist terms expressed objectively, you would say they aren’t any less likely to interact with children compared to realists. Nothing to write home about there. The fact that you find that interaction to be subjectively good or evil is no concern to anyone but you. That’s the reality you live in.

  62. Tom Gilson says:

    The literature appears to indicate:

    Religion is negatively associated with rape:

    The effect of religion on serious felony crimes has been a neglected area of criminological research The present investigation performs an exploratory analysis of the impact of Catholicism on forcible rape Data are collected and analyzed for the fifty states. A theory relating low religious involvement to relatively high crime rates is constructed from the standpoint of Durkheim’s social integration theory of deviance. Control variables are introduced from major alternative theories of crime These include the economic deterrence, age roles, and urbanization theories of criminal behavior. The results of a multiple regression analysis indicate that controlling for the other variables, the greater the percent Catholic the lower the rate of rape. In addition, an assessment of the beta coefficients found that the religious factor was the condition most closely associated with the variance in forcible rape This finding is interpreted from the standpoint of the greater sexual regulation found among Catholics in such areas as birth control, premarital sex, and abortion. Such regulation discourages sexual deviancy, including rape Other factors significantly related to the incidence of rape include the rate of unemployment, extent of urbanization, and a state’s rate of alcoholism The model explains 55 percent of the variance in rape. The present investigation tested a Durkheimian model of the incidence of forcible rape. Given its structural mode of analysis, great caution must be exercised if one desires to extend the results to individuals. The analysis provided strong support for the thesis that Catholicism, marked by high religious integration/regulation, reduces the rate of rape. Controlling for numerous conditions drawn from prominent criminological theories, not only did Catholicism remain a significant predictor of rape rates, but it was also the most important predictor of such rates.

    Stack and Kanavy, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion; Mar83, Vol. 22 Issue 1, p67-74,

    It is probably a general inhibitor of adult crime:

    Since Hirschi and Stark’s (1969) surprising failure to find religious (“hellfire”) effects on delinquency, subsequent research has generally revealed an inverse relationship between religiosity and various forms of deviance, delinquency, and crime. The complexity of the relationship and conditions under which it holds, however, continue to be debated. Although a few researchers have found that religion’s influence is noncontingent, most have found support–especially among youths–for effects that vary by denomination, type of offense, and social and/or religious context. More recently the relationship has been reported as spurious when relevant secular controls are included. Our research attempts to resolve these issues by testing the religion-crime relationship in models with a comprehensive crime measure and three separate dimensions of religiosity. We also control for secular constraints, religious networks, and social ecology. We found that, among our religiosity measures, participation in religious activities was a persistent and noncontingent inhibiter of adult crime.

    Evans, Cullen, Dunaway, Burton, Criminology; May95, Vol. 33 Issue 2, p195-224

    It is a measurable deterrent to crime:

    Do religious beliefs and behaviors deter criminal behavior? The existing evidence surrounding the effect of religion on crime is varied, contested, and inconclusive, and currently no persuasive answer exists as to the empirical relationship between religion and crime. In this article, the authors address this controversial issue with a meta-analysis of 60 previous studies based on two questions: (1) What is the direction and magnitude of the effect of religion on crime? (2) Why have previous studies varied in their estimation of this effect? The results of the meta-analysis show that religious beliefs and behaviors exert a moderate deterrent effect on individuals’ criminal behavior. Furthermore, previous studies have systematically varied in their estimation of the religion-on-crime effect due to differences in both their conceptual and methodological approaches.

    Baier and Wright, Journal of Research in Crime & Delinquency; Feb2001, Vol. 38 Issue 1, p3-21

    Crime is lower where there are more churches per capita:

    Research on the relationship between religion and crime has typically focused on individual religiosity and delinquency, or moral communities and crime at the macro level. This study extends prior research by delineating the sociological implications of a strong religious institutional base, and investigating the ties between the religious institutional base and violent crime across rural communities. Multivariate regression analysis of Uniform Crime Report data on violent crime, Census of Churches and Church membership data, and U.S. Census data circa 2000 reveal that rural violent crime rates on average are consistently lower where there are more churches per capita. This relationship holds net of the overall adherence rates, the presence of civically engaged religious adherents, and the presence of conservative Protestant adherents. Moreover, regional variations are evident, with the South and the Midwest—two highly religious regions of the country—sustaining most of the observed institutional effects.

    Lee, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion; Sep2006, Vol. 45 Issue 3, p309-324

    And on it continues

    Several literature review articles and a steady stream of important delinquency studies have made increasingly obvious the consistent and growing evidence that religious commitment and involvement help protect youth from delinquent behavior and deviant activities…. Research on adult samples is less common, but tends to represent the same general pattern, that religion reduces criminal activity by adults. An important study by T. David Evans and colleagues found that religion, indicated by religious activities, reduced the likelihood of adult criminality as measured by a broad range of criminal acts…. All total, 80 percent of these crime and delinquency studies (n=45) reviewed show reductions in delinquency and criminal acts to be associated with higher levels of religious activity and involvements.

    Johnson, Corbett, and Harris, Federal Probation; Dec2001, Vol. 65 Issue 3, pN.PAG, 0p

    These studies do not single out moral subjectivists, and the state of the research does not appear to be settled entirely yet. It’s an under-researched topic. But if moral objectivism is more prevalent among religious believers than non-believers, then the literature does suggest that moral subjectivists may be more likely to commit crimes of many sorts—as a matter of sociological reality.

  63. JAD says:

    I was just thinking. Maybe we (or just me) don’t understand DL’s particular version of moral subjectivism correctly. Here is moral subjectivism as it is described by Keith Augustine in response to Theodore Schick’s critique of it.

    First let’s start with Schick’s argument for rejecting moral subjectivism:

    Premise 1: What makes something morally right is that a person believes it is morally right.
    P2: Person A believes genocide is morally right.
    P3: Person B believes genocide is not morally right.
    4: Genocide is morally right (from 1 and 2).
    5: Genocide is not morally right (from 1 and 3).

    Of course, Augustine agrees that if premise 1 is true it leads to a hopeless contradiction. But, he then argues that he never claimed that he believes in premise 1. Please notice that he doesn’t claim that premise 1 is true or untrue, provable or un-provable but that it is something that he does not believe in.

    Instead he responds with the following counter argument that also ironically leads to a contradiction.

    P1: What makes something aesthetically better than some other thing is that a person believes that that thing is better than some other thing.
    P2: Person A believes that rock and roll is better than country music.
    P3: Person B believes that rock and roll is not better than country music.
    4: Rock and roll is better than country music.
    5: Rock and roll is not better than country music.

    Then he explains his argument:

    Now, again we have a contradiction; but does this mean that it is irrational for me to claim that rock and roll is better than country music? No, it is a rational claim. But it is a claim about my tastes and preferences. Similarly, it is perfectly rational for me to claim that genocide is morally wrong. But that expresses my emotional reaction to the action; it does not express some objective state of the world. It is rational because here premise 1 is false, just as it was in the example Schick provided. When I say that rock and roll is better than country music, it is tacitly assumed that I am expressing an opinion and not making a claim about the actual objective nature of rock and roll. Similarly, when I claim that genocide is wrong, I am not making an objective claim about the morality of an action; I am expressing an opinion.

    http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/keith_augustine/moral.html

    Do you see what Augustine has done? He hasn’t really answered Schick’s argument; he has turned the moral argument into an esthetic one. In other words, moral arguments are not really moral arguments. How can they be?

    Now I’ll concede, as the subjectivist does, that the vast majority of people are repulsed by murder, rape and genocide. But what do you do then about someone like Ted Bundy who is not repulsed by rape and murder? Or, the Nazi’s who instituted genocidal polices?

    Bundy justified his actions because he said that is how he found personal fulfillment. Those are his personal opinions, tastes and preferences. And, if morality is just a matter esthetic tastes then we have no moral grounds to condemn his behavior because there is no such thing as moral ground.

    By the way it does not matter that the Nazi’s (at least some of them) were moral realists. The moral subjectivist (at least as described by K. Augustine) still has no way to condemn their actions morally.

    It is absurd to describe this kind of thinking either moral or ethical. If Augustine’s argument is not a classic example of a category error I don’t know what is.

  64. JAD,

    I applaud you for looking into what subjectivism is actually saying.

    Now I’ll concede as the subjectivist does that the vast majority of people are repulsed by murder, rape and genocide. But what do you about someone like Ted Bundy who is not repulsed by rape and murder? Or, the Nazi’s who instituted genocidal polices?

    But JAD, let’s turn this around…. what do YOU do?

    The Nazi’s were moral realists. It took a world war to stop them. It takes a world war to stop them whether you are a realist or a subjectivist.

    Neither the Nazi’s nor Ted Bundy were rationally persuadable because they don’t share the same moral axioms, whether they’re realist or subjectivist.

    Or, look at al-qaeda. They are moral realists. They think it is justified to blow up civilians. How’s your deductive moral argumentation going with them? Not well, I think.

    If someone disagrees with your morality, they are not rationally persuadable, even if both parties are moral realists. The only condition in which moral realists are able to make rational deductive moral arguments is when they both share exactly the same axioms. And that’s not even true among Christian sects. If you’re in the same Christian sect as someone else, then you can make a rational argument deducing a conclusion from moral premises. Even then, it isn’t easy. But I put it to you, if someone is already in your sect, you probably agree anyway, for the most part.

    When rational, deductive moral argumentation isn’t working, we go back to rhetoric, negotiation, treaties or war.

    Suppose subjectivism is true. How do I persuade the Nazi’s to get out of France? With a Normany invasion.

    How do I persuade people not to rob banks? I teach people about the value of banks and the value of making money fairly. I establish deterrents, I make movies about the nastiness of bank robberies, and I punish bank robbers.

    How do I deal with the Ted Bundys of the world? I catch them and incarcerate them (or fry them). I teach prospective parents about how not to raise a serial killer (e.g., watch your kids and don’t abuse them).

    Now, you could argue that, if most people in the world were like Ted Bundy, the world would look very different. Maybe we would be teaching parents how to raise serial killers. That could be true. But that’s not the world we live in, for reasons that make sense under evolutionary biology.

  65. Tom,

    These studies do not single out moral subjectivists, but if moral objectivism is more prevalent among religious believers than non-believers, then they do suggest that moral subjectivists are more likely to commit crimes of all sorts—as a matter of sociological reality.

    Churches are hubs for community and civic activism. I think it’s pretty obvious that these attributes would reduce crime.

    But let’s say we did a survey of secularists polling for membership in those secular organizations and structures that are most focused on community and civic activism. We would see a nice big correlation. “Secularism reduces crime!”, some might shout.

    If you divide the population into “religious people with civic activism” versus “everybody else” you might see an effect. That’s because you diluted all the non-religious people with civic activism by lumping them with the “religious people and non-religious people without civic activism.”

    Even if these studies did show that religiosity was the exclusive way to civic activism, it would be a ginormous stretch to say that this had something to do with relativism.

  66. BillT says:

    “You think that my position, what you call “relativizing”, means accepting any moral behavior as having equal value.”

    Again, no. I never said that nor are you accurately representing my argument. I never said that the lack of objective morality means we need to tolerate acts we don’t approve of. You’ve made that up out of whole cloth.

    What I have said is that torturing children for pleasure is either one thing or the other. Either torturing children for pleasure is an evil, immoral, depravity or it isn’t. If it isn’t then it’s what anyone wants it to be. You say you have an aversion to it and given that are no more or even less likely to committ such and act, fine. I believe you.

    However, what about the person who doesn’t agree with you. What do you say to the person who thinks that torturing children for pleasure is just fine. What do you tell them, that they should share your aversion. Why should they. Why should anyone do anything that they don’t feel like doing. As I said before, “If there is no God, anything is permissable.” Show me why I’m wrong.

  67. Tom Gilson says:

    doctor(logic), re: your 9:57 am comment,

    You’re a scientist. My guess is that in the field of physics you get quickly impatient with free-floating speculations. You want data.

    You know how to read a research report and an abstract. You know that other scientists know how to write them, and that if their reports are going to get into a peer-reviewed journal, their conclusions are generally going to be supportable by the data.

    Perhaps you don’t know this, but researchers in the social sciences are not unaware that religiosity and social solidarity go together. They know that, and they even know how to control for it through research design and statistical techniques like multiple regression analysis and partial correlation.

    Now with that reminder, I invite you to read those abstracts again, and to refrain from your disconnected speculations.

    Even if these studies did show that religiosity was the exclusive way to civic activism, it would be a ginormous stretch to say that this had something to do with relativism.

    It has something to do with belief in moral realities, doctor(logic). It’s no ginormous step at all. It’s a step, to be sure, and I’ll grant that there doesn’t seem to be any research specifically on relativism that I can get my hands on, but I think there’s a strong suggestion there. It’s speculative, but unlike your speculations, it does not fly in the face of research results.

  68. Tom Gilson says:

    The question JAD asked you was, “what do you do about the Nazis?” Granted that they were moral realists. On moral realism, it’s possible they were wrong. On moral realism it’s possible Al-Qaeda is wrong. On your theory that’s not possible.

    It took a world war to stop the Nazis. Was it right to stop them that way?

    Let me grant you some ground here and ask the question a different way. It took a world war to stop the Nazis. Was stopping them preferable to not stopping them? But I have a follow-up question to that one: What if the Nazis had won, and were everywhere educating the world in their beliefs, so that today in 2010 we were all pretty much brought along to accept National Socialism. That includes you and me; all of us are fairly successfully inculcated with it. Put yourself in that position and answer this question: They tried to stop us with a world war. Was it right for them to try to stop us?

    The morality of the Nazis, on your view, depends on who won the power struggle. Not just the ideological power struggle, but the power struggle that involved shooting, bombing, torching, and gassing. Relativism implies that the top military power decides what’s right for the rest of us. Are you okay with that?

  69. Tom Gilson says:

    dl, you say,

    If someone disagrees with your morality, they are not rationally persuadable, even if both parties are moral realists.

    Actually the non-realist is not rationally persuadable, because rational persuasion is ruled out on that theory. It allows for no rational answer to the question, “which is right?” I don’t deny that non-realists may be emotionally or aesthetically persuadable—you might get them to change their minds—but if you do so, it can’t be on rational grounds. Non-realism removes moral decisions from the realm of logic and places them in the exclusive territory of feelings and psychology (the very categories you keep trying to limit this discussion to).

    Realists are often resistant to rational persuasion, but at least rational persuasion is not logically ruled out by realism, as it is by anti-realism.

  70. SteveK says:

    Exactly right, Tom. DL wants there to be a way to rationally argue a subjective reality. For that to occur, there must exist some non-subjective means by which an argument can be built. But if that can be done, the reality isn’t entirely subjective. There would be a logical, stepwise, link connecting the non-subjective to the subjective such that the subjective reality could be rationally discoverable by everyone. That’s not a subjective reality.

    DL has claimed before that certain realities are objectively subjective. I’m pretty sure that is an impossibility for the same reasons given above.

  71. Tom,

    Perhaps you don’t know this, but researchers in the social sciences are not unaware that religiosity and social solidarity go together. They know that, and they even know how to control for it through research design and statistical techniques like multiple regression analysis, partial correlation, and so on.

    Oh, all of a sudden you have a big interest in eliminating bias? 😉

    I still don’t think the issue I was raising is obviously a thing they would be controlling for. These abstracts can read the same way, even if they’re not controlling for secular do-gooders.

    Suppose that they were comparing fitness of people who are members of cycling teams against the general population. They could validly conclude that joining a cycling team will improve health. And they would be right! They would only be wrong if they concluded that joining a cycling team was the exclusive way to good health.

    I don’t see these abstracts saying that religiosity is the exclusive way to avoid a life of crime. So why should they control for all the other ways of avoiding crime? They’re just claiming that religiosity is one way to avoid crime. They’re not denying that having a higher income or more education makes you less likely to commit crimes, but why should they?

    It has something to do with belief in moral realities, doctor(logic). It’s no ginormous step at all. It’s a step, to be sure, and I’ll grant that there doesn’t seem to be any research specifically on relativism that I can get my hands on, but I think there’s a strong suggestion there. It’s speculative, but unlike your speculations, it does not fly in the face of research results.

    Even the commentators on this blog don’t have much of a grasp of moral subjectivism. What percentage of the general population are familiar with it, do you think? 2%?

    What makes a lot more sense is that people who are are morally righteous simply have strong convictions. I’m just not seeing the utility of realism. What seems to have utility to conviction is conviction itself.

  72. Tom,

    The question JAD asked you was, “what do you do about the Nazis?” Granted that they were moral realists. On moral realism, it’s possible they were wrong. On moral realism it’s possible Al-Qaeda is wrong. On your theory that’s not possible.

    You have to stop using the word “wrong” when you mean either “absolutely wrong” or “objectively incorrect”. They don’t mean the same thing as “apparently morally wrong”, which is what most people mean.

    Let me grant you some ground here and ask the question a different way. It took a world war to stop the Nazis. Was stopping them preferable to not stopping them?

    Yep.

    But I have a follow-up question to that one: What if the Nazis had won, and were everywhere educating the world in their beliefs, so that today in 2010 we were all pretty much brought along to accept National Socialism. That includes you and me; all of us are fairly successfully inculcated with it. Put yourself in that position and answer this question: They tried to stop us with a world war. Was it right for them to try to stop us?

    You’re asking, if we were Nazis, would we morally prefer to be stopped. Probably not.

    The morality of the Nazis, on your view, depends on who won the power struggle. Not just the ideological power struggle, but the power struggle that involved shooting, bombing, torching, and gassing. Relativism implies that the top military power decides what’s right for the rest of us. Are you okay with that?

    This is very careless argumentation. You are equivocating when you refer to me as opposed to referring to a “me” from some parallel universe, and you’re using this confusion to to create a paradox that doesn’t exist.

    1) Under subjectivism, “the morality of the Nazis” has to be in reference to a particular person. In this case, you are asking me, i.e., doctor(logic) of early 21st century Earth. I think the Nazis were immoral. I would continue to think this if we woke up tomorrow with the Nazis in control.

    The scenario you refer to above is talking about a different “I”, i.e., a doctor(logic) of Earth in a parallel universe in which I am a member of good standing in Nazi society, and in which I have been inculcated with Nazi values. This parallel-universe-doctor(logic) is very glad that Germany won WWII. But actual Earth doctor(logic) is not that person. That person had a different upbringing, and a different personal history. The only thing we might have in common would be a name and DNA.

    So, when you ask “Are you okay with that?”, to whom are you addressing the question? Me, or some other guy from a parallel universe?

    2) You say “The morality of the Nazis, on your view, depends on who won the power struggle.”

    No, it doesn’t. My view is spoken as me, not as a different person with my name in some non-existent parallel universe. I don’t think that the strongest military force is always the most moral force. I don’t know anyone who does. Subjectivism describes how people get moral positions – it doesn’t tell people what moral positions they ought to have.

    3) If moral realism was correct, whether “I am okay with it” is irrelevant. Whatever argument you make for realism, it cannot boil down to my subjective preferring of one outcome to another. Yet every argument you supply works that way.

  73. Tom,

    Actually the non-realist is not rationally persuadable, because rational persuasion is irrelevant if moral realism is false.

    This isn’t strictly true. If I know your values, I can make an argument that policy X is a better fit with your values than policy Y, even if my values differ from yours. Of course, I will only try to make this argument is policy X fits with my values, too!

    We see this a lot of the time when people offer consequentialist arguments for policy X when they actually would always go with policy X anyway (for non-consequentialist reasons).

    For example, on the abortion issue, anti-abortion folk will attempt to use consequentialist arguments to make their case. For example, they might say that women are psychologically damaged by abortion procedures. However, if the evidence fell the other way, and it was discovered that abortion had a positive effect on a woman’s psychological state, they would not find such evidence persuasive. This is because the typical person who opposes abortion is not primarily motivated by consequentialist ethics. Yet when people debate abortion (e.g., in writing), their claims are generally phrased as a rational argument.

    If you read an anti-abortion argument that referred to psychological outcomes, wouldn’t you consider that a rational argument against abortion?

    Or would you say it was only a rational argument against abortion if the person making the argument committed himself to changing his mind if the evidence went the other way?

  74. Tom Gilson says:

    dl, you say,

    I still don’t think the issue I was raising is obviously a thing they would be controlling for.

    Then you’re wrong. How can I state that any more clearly than I already did? It actually is obvious. You, a physicist, thought of it. What makes you think it would be out of a social scientist’s reach? Good grief.

  75. Tom Gilson says:

    I’ll grant your point in your 3:21 comment. You’re right about that. People can be persuaded rationally that they are being inconsistent with their own principles.

    I don’t grant for a moment that moral realists can’t be persuaded, however. That’s your bias showing again.

  76. JAD says:

    DL:“I applaud you for looking into what subjectivism is actually saying.”

    Does that mean that you agree with Augustine? (Of course I mean Keith not the saint.)

    In the article by Schick that Augustine refers to in his essay, Schick tells this humorous joke to illustrate what he thinks are the weakness of “divine command theory.”

    ‘To better understand the import of the Divine Command Theory, consider the following tale. It seems that, when Moses came down from the mountain with the tablets containing the Ten Commandments, his followers asked him what they revealed about how they should live their lives. Moses told them, “I have some good news and some bad news.”
    “Give us the good news first,” they said.
    “Well, the good news,” Moses responded, “is that he kept the number of commandments down to ten.”
    “Okay, what’s the bad news?” they inquired.
    “The bad news,” Moses replied, “is that he kept the one about adultery in there.” The point is that, according to Divine Command Theory, nothing is right or wrong unless God makes it so. Whatever God says goes. So if God had decreed that adultery was permissible, then adultery would be permissible.’

    http://www.secularhumanism.org/library/fi/schick_17_3.html

    It seems to me that what Schick is actually describing here is a kind of moral subjectivism on the divine level. He goes on to reject divine command theory because it would, in his view, make the basis for human morals and ethics arbitrary. But if subjectivism on the divine level, involving just one moral agent (God), makes morals and ethics arbitrary, what happens when we multiply it by 300 million moral agents for a country like the US, or 5-6 billion moral agents for the world?

    From the standpoint of moral subjectivism, where by definition morals and ethics must be arbitrary, what basis do we have for universal human rights? Would a country like the US even be possible without a concept of universal human rights? Even though our concept of human rights at the founding of our country was very imperfect (slavery, mistreatment of native people, unequal rights for women)there is absolutely no basis for such universal rights from a moral subjectivist point of view.

  77. SteveK says:

    JAD,

    But if subjectivism on the divine level, involving just one moral agent (God), makes morals and ethics arbitrary, what happens when we multiply it by 300 million moral agents for a country like the US, or 5-6 billion moral agents for the world?

    When I get in one of my moods, I like to point out that even if moral subjectivism is true, the unsaved are still in big trouble if Christianity is true. They’re destined for hell either way, so I wouldn’t spend a lot of time on this debate. Time would be better spent on the question, is Christianity true?

  78. Tom Gilson says:

    dl, you say (3:18 pm),

    They don’t mean the same thing as “apparently morally wrong”, which is what most people mean.

    Evidence, please, Mr. Scientist? I am quite sure that when most people say wrong they mean wrong.

    This is very careless argumentation. You are equivocating when you refer to me as opposed to referring to a “me” from some parallel universe, and you’re using this confusion to to create a paradox that doesn’t exist.

    Your logic has now become sloppier than your science. It’s a thought experiment a thought experiment a thought experiment (excuse me, something’s wrong with my cell phone connection, I’m getting an echo here) a thought experiment a thought experiment a thought experiment. Oh heck, I’m going to hang up and try again. Okay, we back on line? As I was saying, it’s a thought experiment a thought experiment a thought experiment. Sorry, are you getting this echo too? I’ll keep trying. It’s a thought experiment a thought experiment a thought experiment a thought experiment a thought experiment (“Hee hee! Sometimes, I think the concept of a thought experiment is wasted on you guys.”) Whew, I think we got out of the echo for a while there, and I almost heard you clearly saying you thought the concept of a thought experiment might get wasted on us. Hope this clear connection lasts a while. As I was saying, it was a thought experiment a thought experiment a thought experiment.

    I’m switching cell phone providers.

    I was trying to say it was a (I’m going to see if this works this time) thought experiment, and thought experiments do not entail alternate parallel universe paradoxes. (Whoa, did I get that out successfully at last? Maybe the echo has ended.)

    You say,

    1) Under subjectivism, “the morality of the Nazis” has to be in reference to a particular person. In this case, you are asking me, i.e., doctor(logic) of early 21st century Earth. I think the Nazis were immoral. I would continue to think this if we woke up tomorrow with the Nazis in control.

    You missed the point of the (I’ll risk saying the words one more time) thought experiment. It was about the very real conclusion that your moral system seems to lead to: that morality is decided by which country has the best guns and generals. You can’t duck that by making yourself the only focus of the discussion. I didn’t make you that focus.

    Meanwhile, feel free to follow the echoing voices to see whether you can discern whether any person on this blog has ever put forth a thought experiment.

  79. Charlie says:

    Is DL having trouble with thought experiments again?
    The more things change….

    How do you know?
    Because I told you.
    How do I know the people in the row boat aren’t going to be rescued at the last minute? How do I know that there won’t be someone else to rescue the baby while I save the embryos? How do I know there are even aliens with the technology to make a vat for my brain?
    That’s how thought experiments work.
    Really, your contrived attempt to avoid answering is too transparent. I haven’t seen its like since, well, earlier in this thread. It’s like I’m in a tag team match against the WWE’s Legion of Obfuscation.

    Notice how even with you changing the subject I can still just go ahead and answer your questions.
    I contend that this is what you get when you are conversing with people who are both discussing what they think to be true and also intent on pursuing and conveying the truth.
    March 22, 2007, 7:35:43 PM MDT (CA) – Like – Reply


    So, are we done with my racist/murderer thought-experiment? No response other than to challenge my right to define its parameters?
    March 23, 2007, 9:02:02 PM MDT (CA) – Like – Reply

    Funny, when you [DL] constructed your thought experiment, calling mine absurd, I just went ahead and answered the questions.

    I didn’t bother to question how we could ever establish that only counseling, sans any jail time, would lead to rehabilitation without any recidivism or whether this could ever work with real people. I just supposed what I was asked to suppose.
    To each his own, I guess.
    March 24, 2007, 5:26:15 PM MDT (CA) – Like – Reply
    https://www.thinkingchristian.net/C2031585454/E20070316093254/index.html

  80. SteveK says:

    They don’t mean the same thing as “apparently morally wrong”, which is what most people mean.

    There’s nothing apparently wrong about the Holocaust, DL. It’s wrong. Let us know when you have the evidence to back up this claim.

  81. “Now, you could argue that, if most people in the world were like Ted Bundy, the world would look very different. Maybe we would be teaching parents how to raise serial killers. That could be true. But that’s not the world we live in, for reasons that make sense under evolutionary biology.”

    Thats a fine piece of rhetoric but actually no it doesn’t make sense under evolutionary biology. In evolutionary biology the only logical priority is survival. each organism looks out for itself and is not infused with the mission of survival for the entire species just its own existence. Atheistic evolutionists often try to infuse a mission impossible level of purpose for the organism in relationship to its species but the organism need have no tom cruise save the world – protect the future of the species mentality. So serial killers are just fine under evolutionary biology. As long as they leave enough of the opposite sex to propagate. There are “serial killers” all throughout the animal kingdom. It makes perfect sense. As usual you are merely begging for your position not making a compelling case for it.

  82. Tom,

    Um, maybe you can lay off the drugs, and get back to point I raised about your thought experiment?

    I don’t have a problem thought experiments. I have a problem with this particular thought experiment you offered, which looks like it was built to confuse.

    They tried to stop us with a world war. Was it right for them to try to stop us?

    The morality of the Nazis, on your view, depends on who won the power struggle. Not just the ideological power struggle, but the power struggle that involved shooting, bombing, torching, and gassing. Relativism implies that the top military power decides what’s right for the rest of us. Are you okay with that?

    When you ask if I am “okay with that”, you could be asking one of three questions:

    Question 1: Do I believe that a person’s morality is largely determined by historical and biological factors?

    Answer 1: Obviously, yes! How many times do I have to say it?

    Question 2: If I had been raised as a Nazi, would my ethics be pro-Nazi?

    Answer 2: Yes, I think so.

    Question 3: Do I think that I OUGHT not fight for my current moral values in the face of strong armies? Do I think that, say, a strong Russian army OUGHT to impose its morality on me.

    Answer 3: No. Subjectivism doesn’t say I OUGHT to do anything. It describes what I think I ought to do, but doesn’t prescribe anything. As you know, I don’t like fascism or communism or totalitarianism. And there’s no contradiction in my not liking what is strong. Your thought experiment does not show that I ought to desire to be whatever an army imposes on me.

    I think you were asking Question 3 in an attempt to create a paradox or contradiction in my thinking. But that was only going to happen if (1) I can’t tell the difference between me and parallel universe me, and (2) I managed to forget that subjectivism isn’t prescriptive.

    At this point, to save face, you can pretend you were asking Question 2.

  83. SteveK,

    There’s nothing apparently wrong about the Holocaust, DL. It’s wrong. Let us know when you have the evidence to back up this claim.

    Wait… it’s not apparently wrong?

    Is it apparently right?

    Just kidding, of course. You are begging the question for realism, as usual.

  84. Michael,

    In evolutionary biology the only logical priority is survival. each organism looks out for itself and is not infused with the mission of survival for the entire species just its own existence.

    It’s par for the course for Christians to misunderstand evolutionary biology.

    The evolutionary priority is survival, but it’s not survival of the individual. It is statistical survival of the race that is selected for. Evolution could push people into shorter lifespans if that increases the population.

    So the idea that evolution would select for serial killing is a tough case to make. How will this make humans more competitive with other species, or with other hominid groups that do not practice serial killing?

    Moreover, in human evolution, our advantage is not sheer numbers, or physical strength, or ability to kill. Our strength is in the plasticity of our neocortex (our ability to learn the rules of new environments, no matter what those rules are, within a generation) and in our ability to work as a group. We’re not well evolved for desert, jungle, river, temperate or any other specific environment. Crocodiles are much better evolved for their environment than we are. But crocodiles lack the ability to adapt to new environment in short timescales.

    There’s no contradiction between evolution and the existence of a small number of serial killers in the human population, but a culture of serial killing? I don’t see how that could be compatible.

    Case made.

  85. Tom Gilson says:

    When I asked, “are you okay with that?” I was asking none of those. There is no pretending here, no “saving face.” Nothing to hide. In fact, let me quote (even though you just did):

    The morality of the Nazis, on your view, depends on who won the power struggle. Not just the ideological power struggle, but the power struggle that involved shooting, bombing, torching, and gassing. Relativism implies that the top military power decides what’s right for the rest of us.

    Now let me further quote:

    Are you okay with that?

    “That” refers to the sentences that precede it, not to any of the other three imaginative options you came up with for it.

    Now, look at those three sentences. I think that they are conclusions that follow from your position. I’ll restate them with some expansion to clarify. Are you okay with:

    a. The morality of the Nazis (as seen from years later) is determined according to who won the power struggle. The military struggle, primarily. If the Nazis had won the war, then the Holocaust could conceivably be seen by the majority of Western culture as having been morally good; meaning that the predominant (regnant, ruling) cultural position would be, “That was good,” and therefore, given what you believe about morality, if the Nazis had won, then the Holocaust would fully meet your definition of “good.”
    b. The strongest power decides what’s actually good for the rest of us (and their answer becomes the right answer by virtue of their power).

    Based on your answer 1 just now (and all your previous statements thereof, which I did not miss), I think you agree with (a) and (b).

    Are you okay with those conclusions?

  86. Tom Gilson says:

    doctor(logic),

    I got to wondering something last night. It’s a recursive four-part question.

    1. Have you ever conceded a point here?
    2. Have you ever realized you were actually wrong about anything, in all the many thousands of words you’ve written here?
    3. If your answer to 2 is no, how likely is that?
    4. If your answer to 2 is yes, how would we know? (Loop back to Question 1)

    This would have been a good opportunity for you; but all I hear is silence, as you move quickly on to other topics. Which is typical for you.

    Question 5 is for when you exit the loop above, however you manage to do it:

    5. How does all this fit into your morality?

  87. Tom Gilson says:

    A check point on your 9:52 am comment:

    Your understanding of evolution, as you explained it in your first few sentences to Michael, appears to be based on a real-ization of statistical abstractions. Evolution is random variation plus natural selection, plus some genetic drift thrown in (which also amounts to a statistical gloss on the same; the same is true of punk eek and most other variations on the theory). Random variation happens to individuals. Natural selection happens to individuals.

    I think Michael’s understanding also had room for correction, and the rest of your statement here is accurate enough with respect to evolutionary theory.

  88. “It’s par for the course for Christians to misunderstand evolutionary biology.”

    and the claim that it is not understood is par for the course for atheists while missing the point.

    “The evolutionary priority is survival, but it’s not survival of the individual. It is statistical survival of the race that is selected for. Evolution could push people into shorter lifespans if that increases the population.”

    Sigh….I am well aware of that and I think this time both you and Tom totally misunderstood the point. I was very specific to indicate I was talking about the organism’s priority not making sweeping claims about the theory itself at the species level. I am not interested in silly rhetoric that assumes a misunderstanding as a base line for sophistry which is nothing more than intellectual self back patting. Its why I tend not to get into many online debates on the subject anymore because they are so predictable and straw man based.

    Certainly a species flourishes not by individual survival but collectively.

    However it is undeniable that in evolutionary biology an organisms first priority for survival has arisen over and over and over again as logical mechanism and at the higher level of animals that can decide and process logic there is no species that chooses consistently against survival.

    So in the case of a Serial killer there is absolutely nothing inconsistent with an organism choosing to eradicate competition if it sees a threat. Nada. Several serial killers in fact have that at the root of their killing. The people they kill often stand for types that they do find threatening.

    “How will this make humans more competitive with other species, or with other hominid groups that do not practice serial killing?”

    How does war? and yet we do it and far more people die by war than the do serial killing. how does that make us more competitive with species that don’t war at all? You counter point is therefore weak.

    Our neocortex does just fine killing people and we do it quite often under our ingrained desire for survival or self interest derived from that drive.

    Case reopened (and in fact never was closed)

    Both you and Tom are concentrating on a definition of evolution that I was never making. I was pointing to the logical desire to survive in evolved species not defining Evolution on that basis. From your evolutionary standpoint survival has arisen and persisted
    (I would say created not arisen) as a pervasive drive at the instinct level for the vast majority of species. The poor Christian just doesn’t understand Evolution bit is sophomoric and tiring.

    You have yet to make a case that outside of absolutes there would be anything wrong with some humans choosing to be serial killers. Far more are killed by war and we are flourishing as a species.

  89. Tom Gilson says:

    Michael,

    I wasn’t concentrating on your definition of evolution at all. I made a side comment to correct doctor(logic)’s statement. In spite of my vague statement that I thought your statement also had room for correction, I was not contradicting the overall point you were making.

  90. Charlie says:

    The poor Christian just doesn’t understand Evolution bit is sophomoric and tiring.

    But by the average internet atheist’s lights you are considered sufficiently educated in evolutionary theory if you can answer the following in the affirmative:
    do you believe it to be true?

  91. “There’s no contradiction between evolution and the existence of a small number of serial killers in the human population,”

    Who said there was? My response was to this

    “But that’s not the world we live in, for reasons that make sense under evolutionary biology.”

    You obviously were trying to trace the lack of a wide spread culture supporting an immoral act to evolutionary biology as you have been trying to do post after post.

    We can have a world in which people teach their children how to kill. we’ve had entire cultures that did. nothing forbad us based on evolutionary biology. We don’t do it because we live in a world that has been greatly steered and motivated by morality and yes Religion. Thats our undeniable history.

    You are simply doing what I pointed out to you before. Arguing in a circle. You argue that moral choices are derived biologically and then argue that the moral choices make sense in light of the same.

    Our inherited mental capabilities make it quite possible to choose behaviors that wipe out large amounts of our species at a time. We’ve even created means to wipe out nearly the entire planet under mutual destruction theories of deterrents (again the over riding first drive that from your stance emerged by evolution.)

    Like I said the organism need not have any save the world philosophy or mission. It can make decisions for its own sense of survival that can wipe out the whole human race. Nothing in Evolutionary biology forbids it. We’ve tended down that road several times and the only thing that has truly stopped us is a sense of right and wrong that historically was taught to us by a history of religion.

  92. SteveK says:

    DL,

    You are begging the question for realism, as usual.

    Sheesh! I tell you that I don’t mean “apparently wrong” when I say “wrong” and somehow I’m begging the question for realism. Uh, no. I’m telling you what I mean.

  93. “I wasn’t concentrating on your definition of evolution at all. I made a side comment to correct doctor(logic)’s statement. In spite of my vague statement that I thought your statement also had room for correction”

    Understood. I haven’t even attempted to make a definition. Sorry if I am showing too much disgust (not at you) but I don’t think anything turns me off as much as intellectually dishonesty and to me there’s nothing as intellectually dishonest as assuming and answering a point before you have even really heard it (Proverbs says as much but with a word I wouldn’t use in this context).

    This seems to be the standard self hypnosis of online atheists. They show a staggering lack of logic in several of their arguments but don’t feel they have an obligation to answer for it because its just assumed as a priori that they are smarter. Quite honestly I think that’s the only reason they really get into debates on Christian sites. They can feel smart without having to think beyond where their thoughts already are.

    Well….. on the other hand it can be quite humorous at times too. 🙂

  94. SteveK says:

    DL’s response here guarantees that he won’t become a leader for human rights or a candidate for the Nobel Peace prize.

    Media Reporter: DL, are you okay with the ongoing tragedy in Central Africa?

    DL: Well, a person’s morality is largely determined by historical and biological factors you see.

    If I was raised in Central Africa I would certainly be against this – but I was raised here so I find it difficult to take sides. Our nation has the ability to help end this situation quickly and peacefully, but unfortunately, as a card-carrying moral subjectivist, I don’t desire to help at this time.

    Media Reporter: Don’t you think it’s our moral obligation to help? We really ought to help if our nation can end this quickly and peacefully.

    DL: You’re begging the question for moral realism, sir. The answer is, no, we won’t help because I don’t feel like it. Check back with me later today, ’cause I might be feeling different then.

    Makes me sick. If you wonder why morality plays such an important part in government elections – this is why.

  95. “if you can answer the following in the affirmative:do you believe it to be true?”

    Charlie you summed it up much better than I could and then there’s the more direct one

    “Do you believe in God?” the affirmative is the very definition of ignorant because if that can be established as the definition then they don’t have to engage on merit. That and the ever more popular tactic of assuming any belief in God is synonymous with superstition.

    Lots of mind games.

  96. Holopupenko says:

    Michael:

    I’ll raise the ante: atheism (especially if intentional in spite of credible evidence and arguments to the contrary) is a profound sin against the First Commandment.

    Grace perfects nature (we are, by nature, rational animals); sin separates us from grace and darkens souls (our very natures)–making us, quite literally, less and less human… including badly affecting our capacity to reason.

    A sin like atheism that is so directly disordered against God, dehumanizes—the atheist themselves and others (if history is any witness). The more we dehumanize ourselves through sin, the more we act/behave as something lower than human. Worse, in fact, than the brute animals: their natural “passions” are not under the control of reason but instinct. The brute animals are limited in their ability to do harm: once a tiger is satiated, it will not kill.

    We are profoundly different from the brutes. A human being is the only creature on earth that can change his/her nature: we are the only creature that can behave IN-humanly. A human who sins can never satiate the infinite hunger he/she have for the Summum bonum by replacing it with a hunger for a proximate good (food, riches, honor, etc.). Our souls will never be satisfied with anything less than God.

    DL accepts morally repugnant behavior as normal (or at least subjectivizes it) because such behavior, as he’s asserted, is not much different than an acquired gastric taste. His “reasoning” mimics that Peter Singer or even Ted Bundy (as JAD correctly points out). He will not admit to his blatant scientism, fallacies, historical ignorance, arrogant pontifications, etc. because they don’t matter to him. Why? An intellect disordered by intentional sin neither can see nor cares to see the problem. (You called it “self-hypnosis.”) DL has said some pretty stupid things on this blog over the past several years because, at the end of the day, he is about power no matter the cost to his own soul.

    I would urge caution: never buy a used car from DL.

  97. Tom,

    (BTW, your server only emails me your first draft, not your edits. In future, I’ll try not to rely on the emails I get.)

    a. The morality of the Nazis (as seen from years later) is determined according to who won the power struggle. The military struggle, primarily. If the Nazis had won the war, then the Holocaust could conceivably be seen by the majority of Western culture as having been morally good; meaning that the predominant (regnant, ruling) cultural position would be, “That was good,” and therefore, given what you believe about morality, if the Nazis had won, then the Holocaust would fully meet your definition of “good.”

    There’s still equivocation all over the place, as displayed in (b).

    b. The strongest power decides what’s actually good for the rest of us (and their answer becomes the right answer by virtue of their power).

    No. I’m not happy with this. You’re equivocating on “your” and “rest of us” and “decide”. I don’t know whether your equivocation is deliberate or just careless.

    First of all, the armies of today don’t “decide” morality for the losers. They kill or suppress the losers. So, if Nazis beat the US and repress the population, the majority of Americans will still think that the Nazis are apparently morally wrong.

    However, people raised in the resulting society (i.e., NOT “the rest of us”) will typically regard the conquering army as morally righteous, assuming the standard of living in the new society is comparable.

    You also refer to my definition of “good”. If you mean my definition of “what a society calls good”, or my picture of “how a person decides what is good”, then be clear about it. Because an individual’s “definition of good” typically refers what that person finds apparently moral. My “definition of ‘good'” typically would refer to what I find apparently moral, which in your reading makes me sound like a Nazi. Was that intentional or careless?

    Maybe you agree with my clarifications here, but your original writing is not clear.

    So, let me rewrite your text.

    a. The morality of the Nazis (as seen [by people raised in the resulting society] years later) is determined according to who won the power struggle. The military struggle, primarily. If the Nazis had won the war, then the Holocaust could conceivably be seen by the majority of Western culture as having been morally good; meaning that the predominant (regnant, ruling) cultural position would be, “That was good.” and therefore, given what you believe about morality, if the Nazis had won, then the Holocaust would fully meet your definition of “good.” [People in this new society will appear morally wrong to you and me, but the way they decide what is right and wrong is practically no different than the way you or I decide what is right and wrong. Under subjectivism, we cannot point to the morality of this hypothetical society and say that their methodology for identifying right and wrong was implemented incorrectly, because the (1) there is not correct methodology, and (2) the methodology they use is the same as ours, i.e. reference to gut feelings. However, under subjectivism, we can still agree that “this hypothetical society is wrong” because “wrong” in that linguistic context refers to what is apparent to us.]

    b. The strongest power decides often determines what future generations perceive as actually good for the rest of us (and their answer becomes the right answer by virtue of their power).

    We go around in circles because you keep equivocating and being imprecise. I mean, “their answer becomes the right answer by virtue of their power”?!!

    Do you not see how that statement is imprecise at the very best?

    I have to wade through this stuff in every debate. And, in case you think that your equivocation is harmless, check out comment #95. SteveK, confused as usual, suggests that my moral convictions disappear under subjectivism:

    Our nation has the ability to help end this situation quickly and peacefully, but unfortunately, as a card-carrying moral subjectivist, I don’t desire to help at this time.

    I get this BS all the time, but I don’t see you stepping in and condemning this sort of comment as a clear misunderstanding of subjectivism. So do you not care or do you agree with Steve? Because if you don’t care then you’re not debating in good faith, and if you agree then you don’t understand.

  98. Michael,

    Our inherited mental capabilities make it quite possible to choose behaviors that wipe out large amounts of our species at a time. We’ve even created means to wipe out nearly the entire planet under mutual destruction theories of deterrents (again the over riding first drive that from your stance emerged by evolution.)

    Yes, they do. But you’re not refuting my original statement:

    Now, you could argue that, if most people in the world were like Ted Bundy, the world would look very different. Maybe we would be teaching parents how to raise serial killers. That could be true. But that’s not the world we live in, for reasons that make sense under evolutionary biology.

    The strategy of mutual assured destruction, and the strategy of war against “the other”, and “fight to the death” make complete sense from an evolutionary perspective (through group selection, psychology, etc).

    There’s no contradiction in finding that biological tendencies from our evolutionary heritage are counter-adaptive when we’re holding nukes instead of spears. And I assume this is what you refer to.

    However, the strategy of “kill people in my own tribe for pleasure” doesn’t make a lot of sense, even with spears. What kind of argument would you put forward? Would you say that it is more competitive to have a really, really small tribe of assassins, than an army of thousands? I don’t see how you’re going to make sense of it.

    Also, serial killers usually lack empathy. Not a normal (or viable) condition from an evolutionary perspective.

    We’ve tended down that road several times and the only thing that has truly stopped us is a sense of right and wrong that historically was taught to us by a history of religion.

    Do you have examples that don’t fit with evolutionary biology? Because I suspect you’re going to give examples that are better explained by our coming to see “out-group” folk as “in-group” folk.

    Maybe you’ll say that religion teaches that we’re all “in-group”. All religion? All the time? I think religion teaches that we’re all one family, except when it doesn’t.

  99. Tom Gilson says:

    dl,

    You have agreed that “People raised in the resulting society will typically regard the conquering army as morally righteous, assuming the standard of living in the new society is comparable.”

    You object to my calling those people “the rest of us.” Fine. Let’s go with “people in the remaining society,” i.e. everyone who survives and is directly affected. Now, if the Nazis had won, and if your parents had birthed you regardless, you would have been one of the people in the remaining society. But really, it doesn’t matter whether I’m talking about you, some alternate-universe-you, or not-you at all. I’m talking about the resulting society. You, doctor(logic), do not come in to this hypothetical until later. I’ll let you know.

    Now, you have also agreed, “The strongest power often determines what future generations perceive as good.”

    If that is true, then it seems you must agree that (as I wrote earlier),

    If the Nazis had won the war, then the Holocaust could conceivably be seen by the majority of Western culture as having been morally good; meaning that the predominant (regnant, ruling) cultural position would be, “That was good.”

    Now, as far as I understand your definition of good, it is that it has no independent objective existence. Insofar as “good” has any meaning, it has meaning in terms of persons’ preferences, passions, psychology, and so on. Hypothetically, if the Nazis had won, and if the regnant cultural position was “the Holocaust was good,” then the predominant passions, preferences, psychology, etc. would be in conformity to the position, “the Holocaust was good.”

    Thus insofar as “good” has any meaning, then if the Nazis had won, the result conceivably could have been that the Holocaust would have been good according to your treatment of the concept.

    You asked,

    My “definition of ‘good’” typically would refer to what I find apparently moral, which in your reading makes me sound like a Nazi. Was that intentional or careless?

    Neither. I didn’t say that. I was saying this, and I hope this clarifies the whole of it to you. Given your understanding of “good” and the contingencies of history (I assume you don’t think God was guiding the outcome of WWII), it is conceivable that history could have led us to a place wherein the dominant view among 21st century Westerners would have been that the Holocaust as good. That’s step one.

    Step Two: If that were the dominant view among Westerners, then the Holocaust (in this hypothetical) would now be as “good” as it possibly could be under your definition of “good.”

    and

    Step Three: The situation obtaining under Step Two would exist just because the Nazis won. In other words, it was military power that determined what was considered good. Their answer became the ruling answer—and insofar as their was a right answer, the “right” answer (politically right, socially expected and condoned, etc.)—by virtue of their military success.

    I did not say that you are a Nazi. I presented what I have more recently now labeled as Steps Two and Three and I asked if you were okay with that. Are you?

    I do think SteveK misrepresented your moral passions and preferences. I hadn’t read what he wrote, and in fact I don’t follow every conversation here in detail. But I have a question: Do you think (as his hypothetical reporter alluded to) we have an obligation to help?

  100. Tom Gilson says:

    While you’re complaining about equivocation, why don’t you check out this whopper:

    Maybe you’ll say that religion teaches that we’re all “in-group”. All religion? All the time? I think religion teaches that we’re all one family, except when it doesn’t.

    How often do we have to say we’re not defending all religion? MIchael did not say that the history of all religions has tended toward our current understanding of right and wrong. I’m pretty sure he was saying that our sense of right and wrong came to us by way of our history of religion. Even if that’s not what he was saying, you’re really pushing on the wrong buttons if you’re trying to get anyone here to respond to this “all religion” thing.

  101. JAD says:

    Holopupenko wrote:

    “His “reasoning” mimics that Peter Singer or even Ted Bundy (as JAD correctly points out).”

    Let clarify what I was trying say with my reference to Ted Bundy.
    https://www.thinkingchristian.net/2010/10/morality-without-god-would-i-care/#comment-24049

    There are actually just 3 simple points that I wanted to make:

    1. Ted Bundy claimed to be a moral subjectivist.
    2. Based on a subjectivist premise Bundy does give a rational and coherent argument justifying wanton murder and rape.
    3. There is no way for other moral subjectivists, who disagree with Bundy (like DL, I presume), to argue that he was wrong.

    In other words, subjectivism has no way to really distinguish right from wrong (The argument is after all is that right and wrong are subjective), which, in my opinion, makes it pretty useless as an approach to ethics and morals.

    DL has tried to come back and point out that the Nazi’s were moral realists. But, as they say in West Virginia, “that dog just doesn’t hunt.” (I live in Ohio near WV, not in it.) I can argue from my realist position that the Nazi position on ethics and moral was not only mistaken in a rational sense but wrong in a moral sense. DL has no basis for making such an argument from a subjectivist POV.

    I don’t think you were implying Holopupenko that DL was a serial killer in hiding or waiting, but I just wanted to clarify that lest we get accused of taking a cheap shot.

  102. Tom Gilson says:

    DL,

    I assume you’re busy crafting your answer to this. Something to keep in mind while you think through all my “equivocations.”

  103. “Also, serial killers usually lack empathy. Not a normal (or viable) condition from an evolutionary perspective.”

    🙂 thats actually quite funny. You have yet to make a case for morality in an evolutionary framework and you certainly have not made it for empathy. You just keeping adding any and everything you need to the evolutionary framework to get where you want to sans compelling evidence or even rational. Sorry but lack of empathy is VERY common in our species. You obviously have not traveled much. Empathy is and can be very selective. Less of us apply our empathy to murder because socially in the religious environment we live in its abhorrent. However once people get into war time situations, depressed conditions etc many often do enter into states of lacking empathy quite naturally. The circumstances/culture just have to be right. So again your logic fails. We do have the capability to have a lack of empathy . it is not hard wired into us. Your claims about killing for pleasure fail the same test. Soldiers are often very satisfied with a kill.

    “I think religion teaches that we’re all one family”

    Like I said before thats your own invented theology not mine. Quite frankly its usually the religious illiterate that make such arguments. None of the world’s three major religions heap all humans together in a shared family

    To the Jew there is and was the Gentile
    To Islam there is the faithful and there is the infidel and in Christianity children of light and children of darkness

  104. Tom Gilson says:

    I want to add this to Michael’s response, dl, while hoping you’re still busy crafting your response to this. I appreciate all the time you’re taking to think it over.

    Also, serial killers usually lack empathy. Not a normal (or viable) condition from an evolutionary perspective.

    Normal? What does “normal” mean? I think at best it means whatever happened. After all, our current evolutionary position is nothing but what happened, and as many have said, if you rewound the clock and started it all over again, it would have come out completely different. Empathy happened. So what? That doesn’t make it normal (given naturalistic evolution).

    As for “viable,” does the non-viability of lacking empathy mean that cockroaches are not evolutionarily viable?

  105. Holopupenko says:

    Hi JAD:

    I wrote: His “reasoning” mimics that Peter Singer or even Ted Bundy…

    subject: “reasoning”
    verb: mimics

    It was his “reasoning” to which I referred, not his extra-mental actions. I meant exactly what I wrote.

    But let me raise the ante again: disordered “reasoning” avalanches into more disordered “reasoning.” Eventually, that “reasoning” is acted upon. I’m not suggesting DL is a serial killer. What I am suggesting is that his disordered “reasoning” opens his soul to grave dangers. By intentionally rejecting God, and hence His grace, DL has no means by which to avoid, sooner or later, actualizing his “reasoning” into sin… Which is quite similar to Bundy’s “reasoning” leading him, ehem, “astray.” That’s why I was also serious about my admonition not to buy a used car from DL.

    By the way, DL’s whining accusation that people here don’t understand “subjectivism” simply because they don’t agree with his errors is self-serving nonsense. It is much closer to the truth that DL himself doesn’t understand subjectivism (or at least its implications) because he’s so busy warping all sorts of things to fit his preconceived notions. (He’s been shown to be “how?” wrong many times here. “Why?” he’s wrong is because the only tool he has is his scientism–itself animated by other errors: if the only tool DL permits himself is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail to him.) Remember: much of what DL is about is power.

  106. SteveK says:

    DL,

    SteveK, confused as usual, suggests that my moral convictions disappear under subjectivism

    No, you are confused…as usual.

    My hypothetical is what passes for ‘morally good’ within the confines of moral subjectivism. If it wasn’t obvious, my hypothetical wasn’t intended to represent you today. You can’t deny that everything I said there might be morally acceptable to you sometime in the future. It just depends on how your history and biology play out, right? That’s why you’d make a horrible and immoral leader – you have no anchor, you are unpredictable – and I mean that in the most absolute of terms.

    Tom,
    I hope you can see that I did not misrepresent DL in any way. I know perfectly well that, today, DL would not say these things. We don’t know what tomorrow holds though. If morality is like gastronomic taste then one day DL may wake up to find himself desiring the moral equivalent of dung.

  107. Tom Gilson says:

    I didn’t understand you as taking that “sometime in the future” approach, Steve; I thought you meant he could change arbitrarily from day to day. I don’t think he would do that.

    You’ve raised a good question, though, by putting it this way. I want to play with it a little more. Suppose DL’s moral opinions are the same ten years from now as they are today. Or suppose they’ve changed drastically so that, for example, ten years from now he thinks Cambodia’s killing fields were a good thing. What would keep him the same, if he stays the same? What would be responsible for the change, if he changes? Presumably in either case there would be a cause. Would one outcome be better than the other? What might make it so?

    Having asked that question, let’s compress the time down to one day. Suppose tomorrow morning DL’s moral opinions were drastically changed from today. Presumably there would be a cause for that change. Can DL say today that if he woke up with drastically different moral opinions tomorrow, he would not be as good a person? On what basis?

    I’d be really interested to know whether tomorrow morning DL’s answer to question five here might be different than it is tonight. Not that we know what it would be tonight…

  108. SteveK says:

    Tom,
    I took his Q&A comments about the real historical event of WWII and put a hypothetical Q&A together using those comments as the basis for a response. Enough said.

    You asked:

    What would keep him the same, if he stays the same?

    According to DL, it’s history and biology (the naturalistic kind). ***

    What would be responsible for the change, if he changes?

    Same answer. If his history included hanging around Peter Singer, and his biology is prone to being influenced by nonsense like that (I have no idea what it means for “biology” to be influenced, do you?), then he will change.

    Can DL say today that, if we woke up with different moral opinions tomorrow, he would not be as good a person? On what basis?

    If I understand correctly, he would not say that. His desires are the cumulative result of his history and biology, and if tomorrow he woke up and thought – for reasons unknown to us here – that he was doing good by actively robbing people of their money, then he would be good according to moral subjectivism.

    And to highlight the twisted nature of moral subjectivism, in his mind he was equally good the day before when he thought he was doing good by NOT actively robbing people of their money.

    Since DL equates morality to gastronomic taste, perhaps a food-related example will help.

    You go through life strongly disliking pizza and then one day you are at a restaurant and decide you’d like to give it a try because your history and biology have influenced you in some way and have brought you to the point where you want to try it. You try it and then you decide it’s not that bad. More history and biology changes occur. The next day you try it again and like it. More history and biology changes occur. In a month you start eating it once a week because you really like it.

    You were (a month ago) good to think pizza was ‘bad’, and you are (today) good to think pizza is ‘good’. Both statements are true under subjectivism.

    DL is not completely off-base though with his history/biology comment. He sort of gets it, but misses the mark when he refers to biology. He’s intent on looking through the world with “naturalistic-colored glasses” where we are only a mass of biology.

    In truth, history alters your spiritual nature which can affect your biology. We change almost daily, I think. Temptations are there every day and they do entice us. When acted upon, they alter your relationship with God which can cause you to give in more easily the next time if you don’t confess and refocus your gaze upon the one who can restore you.

    *** I now see that DL said largely determined by history and biology. What else plays a role? I suspect that DL would likely say randomness plays a role, or what some might call luck. Anything else, DL?

  109. Charlie says:

    John 3:
    19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

  110. Tom,

    From #100:

    I did not say that you are a Nazi. I presented what I have more recently now labeled as Steps Two and Three and I asked if you were okay with that. Are you?

    Yes, since you mean “okay with that” as in “do I think that’s how it works”.

    It’s not a value judgment.

    But I have a question: Do you think (as his hypothetical reporter alluded to) we have an obligation to help?

    Obligation schmobligation. You care or you don’t. If you don’t care to help, then you’re the kind of person who doesn’t care to help.

    Having asked that question, let’s compress the time down to one day. Suppose tomorrow morning DL’s moral opinions were drastically changed from today. Presumably there would be a cause for that change. Can DL say today that, if we woke up with different moral opinions tomorrow, he would not be as good a person? On what basis?

    We can ask the very same question about taste in food or music. The answer is that the changes are mostly non-cognitive.

    You can learn to like new music or food, and often, your like for these things is by association with other positive stimuli. You might learn to like sushi because of the wonderful company you have at the sushi bar.

    Or, you might think that eating sushi is trendy, and, as a self-identified trendy person bring yourself to eat sushi until you acquire a taste for it. This latter example is more cognitive, but it relies on the non-cognitive desire to be more trendy. To the extent that this move to eating sushi is cognitive, it seems sociopathic.

    Normal? What does “normal” mean? I think at best it means whatever happened. After all, our current evolutionary position is nothing but what happened, and as many have said, if you rewound the clock and started it all over again, it would have come out completely different. Empathy happened. So what? That doesn’t make it normal (given naturalistic evolution).

    Normal is a statistical term.

    As for whether empathy would evolve if we set back the clock, that depends on what species the intelligence turn out to be. If Earth were ruled by an intelligent, non-social species, say, cats or velociraptors, then maybe there would be no empathy. On the other hand, if we’re a social species, there are obvious advantages to empathy. And there are lots of reasons to think we owe our big brains so being a social species.

    But I think your point is that it could have been different. We might have found that we lack empathy, and we might then have thought empathy was perverse.

    So let me state this clearly. Evolution does not provide normative ethics. Subjectivism does not provide normative ethics. Subjectivism describes what our feeling of normativity, i.e., what we care about.

    You repeatedly offer examples of real or hypothetical people who do not care for the things we care about, and you seem to think that it is a failing of subjectivism that it doesn’t provide a means to logically convince the other person that his cares are wrong. But that’s not what subjectivism does (because it’s non-normative). Moreover, realism doesn’t help if the other party doesn’t care. Well, maybe realism makes you feel more justified when you kick their ass, but subjectivism is down with ass-kicking, too.

  111. Tom Gilson says:

    DL,

    I think you mean you place no value judgment on a hypothetical society that considers Nazi mass murders to be good. So noted.

    I asked,

    Suppose tomorrow morning DL’s moral opinions were drastically changed from today. Presumably there would be a cause for that change. Can DL say today that, if we woke up with different moral opinions tomorrow, he would not be as good a person? On what basis?

    You wrote,

    We can ask the very same question about taste in food or music. The answer is that the changes are mostly non-cognitive.

    I take it that in that case, if you woke up tomorrow morning with a strong preference to join Westboro Baptist Church’s hateful gay-bashing, presumably (on your accounting of morality) there would be some cause for your doing so, and if that happened you would not be a less good person than you are today.

    (If I’ve misunderstood you on that, please let me know, but that’s the kind of thing I was trying to ask about when I presented you the question.)

    I am continuing, in spite of your protests, to use the word “good” because I think it has meaning. Please feel free to use whatever term you wish to use in your response.

    Of course whether it has meaning is the point of the discussion. Also related to that same issue, in your last paragraph, you have again made morality about psychology and behavior and nothing else, which is begging the question. You do that consistently, you know. Now, if morality is indeed about nothing but psychology and behavior, then that’s all it is. I would concede the conclusion if I accepted the premise. But the premise is the point of the argument: is morality something more than psychology and behavior, or is it not?

    Thank you, by the way, for all the time and though you’re putting into these questions. I’m sure your answer will reflect the care you’ve devoted to thinking it through.

  112. Tom,

    I think you mean you place no value judgment on a hypothetical society that considers Nazi mass murders to be good. So noted.

    No. I’m saying that my belief that subjectivism is correct is not a value judgment. I’m not a subjectivist because I think that subjectivism is morally superior to realism. I’m a subjectivist because I think it’s an accurate picture of the way the world is.

    I take it that in that case, if you woke up tomorrow morning with a strong preference to join Westboro Baptist Church’s hateful gay-bashing, presumably there would be some cause for some doing so, and you would not be a less good person than you are today.

    (If I’ve misunderstood you on that, please let me know, but that’s the kind of thing I was trying to ask about when I presented you the question.)

    As usual, you’re using “good” without a reference to a judge. Under subjectivism, using the term without reference to a judge is meaningless.

    Think by analogy to spacetime in special relativity. In relativity, “up” only makes sense relative to a reference frame. No one thinks that “up” is meaningless if there’s no absolute reference frame.

    When a subjectivist says “X is good” without explicit reference to a judge, he means either “X is good to me” or “X is good to us, don’t you agree?”

    My waking up tomorrow and joining the WBC is not good to me in the present. However, it is part of your premise that my reference frame changes (because my mind changes) so that my joining the WBC tomorrow would be good in the reference frame of the hypothetical me of tomorrow.

    But I see what you’re trying to accomplish. You want to create some sort of cognitive dissonance where there is no contradiction. Here’s another quote from Steve:

    And to highlight the twisted nature of moral subjectivism, in his mind he was equally good the day before when he thought he was doing good by NOT actively robbing people of their money.

    Notice that he uses good without reference to a judge. In particular he says, in my mind, “he was equally good the day before,” meaning what?

    I know what Steve is trying to suggest. He’s suggesting that either (1) I presently think (i.e., in my current reference frame) robbing people is equally good as not robbing people OR (2) that there is something wrong with subjectivism if I don’t presently (in the same reference frame) think robbing people is equally good as not robbing people.

    (1) and (2) are not implied by subjectivism. I’m not an idiot, so I don’t know why you insist on trying to induce cognitive dissonance about something that isn’t paradoxical or inconsistent.

  113. Tom,

    Also related to that same issue, in your last paragraph, you have again made morality about psychology and behavior and nothing else, which is begging the question.

    Look back at the paragraph in question:

    You repeatedly offer examples of real or hypothetical people who do not care for the things we care about, and you seem to think that it is a failing of subjectivism that it doesn’t provide a means to logically convince the other person that his cares are wrong. But that’s not what subjectivism does (because it’s non-normative). Moreover, realism doesn’t help if the other party doesn’t care.

    I am answering your general criticisms that subjectivism is somehow internally inconsistent, or inconsistent with our psychology and behavior. This means I have to start from my premises, not yours. I’m not using this paragraph to prove that realism is wrong. If anything, I’m saying in that paragraph that your version of moral realism is identical to subjectivism in terms of psychology and behavior. Which agrees with you: the difference between subjectivism and realism cannot be found in psychology or human behavior.

    As for the question you asked in #87… I am disinclined to acquiesce to your request. I have better things to do than go mining for quotes from past arguments. Off the top of my head, I can think of just one area where my opinion has changed. I used to think that Jesus probably didn’t exist, and that the entire NT story was mostly mythical. Through discussions here, I now think he probably did exist, and that his followers came to believe he was resurrected within a short time (months/years) after he was crucified. I still think that a lot of the NT is false, and that myth has had a lot of influence on Christianity, but at least I think the characters were real people.

  114. SteveK says:

    DL,

    Notice that he uses good without reference to a judge. In particular he says, in my mind, “he was equally good the day before,” meaning what?

    You are the judge, DL. If I got that wrong, then explain.

    I know what Steve is trying to suggest. He’s suggesting that either (1) I presently think (i.e., in my current reference frame) robbing people is equally good as not robbing people OR (2) that there is something wrong with subjectivism if I don’t presently (in the same reference frame) think robbing people is equally good as not robbing people.

    I think you’re misreading what I said. I’m saying that yesterday (that day) you thought it was good to rob innocents, and today (this day) you think it is not good to rob innocents. That’s it.

    There is a suggestion in my comment. Perhaps you missed it. The suggestion is that common sense tells you something about that scenario when you compare it to the pizza scenario.

    Common sense tells you that there is something very different – meaningfully different – between this situation and the situation where your taste in pizza changed.

    What can account for that meaningful difference? If the only meaningful aspect of reality in play in both situations is our subjective desire/preference, then why the sense that there is a meaningful difference? There must be something else in play. What do you think?

  115. SteveK says:

    Through discussions here, I now think he probably did exist, and that his followers came to believe he was resurrected within a short time (months/years) after he was crucified.

    This is encouraging to know. Thanks for sharing, DL.

  116. Charlie says:

    Through discussions here, I now think he probably did exist, and that his followers came to believe he was resurrected within a short time (months/years) after he was crucified. I still think that a lot of the NT is false, and that myth has had a lot of influence on Christianity, but at least I think the characters were real people.

    Wow.
    My hat’s off to you, DL.

  117. Tom Gilson says:

    Agree with both Charlie and SteveK there. I appreciate that statement, doctor(logic). It was larger than I had in mind when I raised the question. I was thinking more in terms of acknowledging smaller points we’ve exchanged along the way. So thank you for saying what you have here.

    I also agree with you on this:

    But I see what you’re trying to accomplish. You want to create some sort of cognitive dissonance where there is no contradiction.

    Given your starting premises, there’s no logical contradiction involved in affirming the possibility that history could have led to a situation in which the Holocaust would now be regarded as good. You’re right. I wasn’t trying to show that there was a contradiction; in fact, I was hoping to highlight the fact that the conclusion actually follows from your premises.

    And I was hoping, DL, that something in you might flash a warning light to you signaling that the conclusion must be wrong nevertheless. Your position entails that if history had turned out differently, the world’s regnant moral position could conceivably have been that the Holocaust was good; and there would have been nothing to correct that position. I use the word “correct” advisedly. I believe that outcome would have been wrong and would have needed correcting. I had hoped that somehow you would know the same in your whole person, in your gut and in your mind: that though your premises lead to a non-contradictory conclusion they also lead to a wrong conclusion.

    The same goes for the other point of discussion SteveK and I put forward. I think your position entails that if tomorrow morning you woke up wanting to join the gay-haters at Westboro Baptist, that would be explainable by some cause acting upon and within you, and there would be no way to describe you in that case as less good than you are today. I was hoping that you would see that this too is a non-contradictory, indeed necessary outcome of your premises. I was hoping you would recognize that it must be wrong nevertheless. For obviously it is. Anyone who suddenly decided to join with Westboro’s gay-bashing would be a morally worse person for it. Your premises don’t support that conclusion. I had hoped you would both see and feel that absurdity for what it is.

  118. Tom,

    And I was hoping you would recognize that it must be wrong nevertheless. For obviously it is. Anyone who suddenly decided to join with Westboro’s gay-bashing would be a morally worse person for it. Your premises don’t support that conclusion. I had hoped you would both see and feel that absurdity for what it is.

    I’m going to ignore the fact that you’re again referring to moral positions without reference frames, and assume that I know what you mean. I’m going to assume that you mean that, with work and due diligence, any person can find THE reference frame (namely, the one we’re finding) and then agree with us.

    You say that your position is obvious, but you bring no evidence. Subjectivism doesn’t contradict the human experience of morality (by definition), and you admit that it is not inconsistent. So why exactly is it absurd?

    Subjectivism says that our moral positions are biases, and that if you try to remove those biases, you’ll find nothing at all. When you come to me and say that subjectivism is self-evidently wrong or absurd, what do you have to go on, besides bias?

    I realize that one answer for you is belief in a God who can somehow ground moral reality. The existence of such a God is another topic, of course, but I while you might argue that your other evidence for God leads you to moral realism, I don’t think the argument works the other way around. You can’t use realism to support belief in God because realism isn’t supported by experience any more than is subjectivism.

  119. SteveK says:

    DL,

    You say that your position is obvious, but you bring no evidence. Subjectivism doesn’t contradict the human experience of morality (by definition), and you admit that it is not inconsistent. So why exactly is it absurd?

    I think it does contradict the human experience. The last part of my prior comment was an attempt to point this out. It’s only when rationalization goes to work that the contradiction can be masked over and hidden – but the experience is still there as evidenced by the fact that the experience keeps bubbling up.

    The fact that you think – via rationalization – that moral subjectivism is not absurd is a contradiction to the collective human experience. You’ve papered over the contradiction and are now pretending there is none. Here’s the absurdity and the contradiction at work…

    You cut off a piece of pizza because you desire to eat it. You then cut off a piece of flesh from a child because you desire to watch it bleed. Those two situations are meaningfully different in a way that you immediately recognize. It’s meaningfully different in a way that goes beyond the subjective experience.

    We know this because when people talk about moral wrongs as opposed to food-related desires, they talk in terms of absolutes that are not a matter of opinion. So (a) it is a contradiction of human experience to say that this meaninful difference is grounded inside you when you also say it isn’t, and (b) this contradiction can be covered up and masked by rationalizing it away.

  120. Steve,

    We know this because when people talk about moral wrongs as opposed to food-related desires, they talk in terms of absolutes that are not a matter of opinion.

    I see no reason why people might feel compelled (in some cases) to reject the contrary opinion of others, even if there is no objective backing for their own opinion.

    When a person claims that something is not a matter of opinion, they typically mean:

    I believe X, and I am unable to accept anyone else’s opinion to the contrary, nor am I able to accept a consensus opinion to the contrary.

    X might have an absolute basis, or it might not. If X is “the Earth is not flat”, I have an objective, predictive basis for belief in X, and I won’t accept contrary opinions because to do so would mean a rejection of objective facts.

    However, it is also possible that X has no objective basis at all. If X is “child abuse is wrong”, I cannot find any objective basis. All I can find is my inability to accept contrary opinions.

    When we talk about child abuse not being a matter of opinion, we mean that we’re not able to accept the opinion that child abuse is okay. We mean that we cannot even accept a consensus view that child abuse is okay. But this inability to accept the contrary doesn’t mean that child abuse being bad is an absolute.

    If you look carefully at your reasoning, it has the following structure:

    1) I feel compelled to reject opinions that are contrary to objective facts.

    2) I am unable to accept contrary moral opinions.

    3) Therefore, moral opinions must be objective facts.

    This logic is broken. (1) does not imply that objective facts are always responsible for a compulsion to reject contrary opinions.

  121. SteveK says:

    DL,

    If X is “the Earth is not flat”, I have an objective, predictive basis for belief in X, and I won’t accept contrary opinions because to do so would mean a rejection of objective facts.

    What about predictability makes something necessarily objective, especially when you don’t know if it ought to be predictive? Please explain that without resorting to circular arguments or question begging. EDIT: actually, I think the problem lies in how you define predictive and how you assume that a lack of understanding defaults to unpredictive and therefore subjective.

    Objective to me means that the reality in question is grounded in such a way as to be outside of my being (the subject). What makes something objective are the facts of the matter that have nothing to do with my being – which includes my opinions, my beliefs, my experiences, etc.

    When we talk about child abuse not being a matter of opinion, we mean that we’re not able to accept the opinion that child abuse is okay. We mean that we cannot even accept a consensus view that child abuse is okay. But this inability to accept the contrary doesn’t mean that child abuse being bad is an absolute.

    I’m trying to point out the contradiction that is moral subjectivism and you are sidestepping that by arguing what is moral or immoral.

    In the example I gave above, the human experience is X (a truth claim about your being) and the rationalized experience is -X (a truth claim also about your being). That’s a contradicting truth claim about the subject – you.

    Moral subjectivism is trying to say, I’m hungry but after rationalizing it away, I’m not. Meanwhile the hunger pangs continue, which refute your rationalizations. That’s a real contradiction that you, as a subjectivist, must deal with and explain.

    When you are ready….

  122. Steve,

    Having a predictive theory of X doesn’t automatically make X objective. However, subjectivity is personal bias, and prediction is an excellent tool for eliminating personal bias.

    For example, one classic bias is the Texas Sharpshooter fallacy, in which a subject draws bulls-eyes around the bullet holes after shooting, or inadvertently re-interprets the data to suit a particular outcome. Unambiguous predictions help bypass these sorts of biases.

    Objective to me means that the reality in question is grounded in such a way as to be outside of my being (the subject). What makes something objective are the facts of the matter that have nothing to do with my being – which includes my opinions, my beliefs, my experiences, etc.

    Sure.

    In the example I gave above above, the human experience is X (a truth claim about my being) and the rationalized experience is -X (a truth claim also about my being). That’s a contradicting truth claim about the subject – you.

    At this point, I have absolutely no idea what you are talking about.

    What would be contradictory is if I am disgusted by torture, but subjectivism said that I am not disgusted by torture. But subjectivism doesn’t say that. Subjectivism says that if you work to eliminate personal bias and work to overcome subjective valuation, you end up with nothing. It says that moral convictions are personal bias. It doesn’t say we should reject moral convictions just because they are personal biases.

    Personal biases are a problem for truth-seekers when those biases interfere with our ability to clearly see reality. But morality is not about seeing reality clearly. Morality is about deciding what we want to do with that reality. So, there’s nothing irrational about personal bias in morality. People are irrational when they let their moral convictions alter their view of reality.

    For example, a lot of libertarians deny humans are causing global climate-change. A lot more than would be expected statistically. Why? The obvious reason is that libertarians are morally opposed to government regulation of any kind, and they irrationally let their moral view alter their beliefs about the facts of climate change. They believe government should not regulate or interfere, so they rationalize that the facts of global warming must be incorrect.

    Now, you might disagree that libertarians do this, but I think you can agree that if they did this, they would be irrational. A rational person evaluates the evidence for anthropogenic global warming without bias, and then, after getting unbiased facts, uses their personal bias to decide what they want to do about it. They can decide they would rather suffer the consequences of the warming than suffer the regulation, and there’s no objective way to settle this question of preference for that person.

    Moral subjectivism is trying to say, I’m hungry but after rationalizing it away, I’m not. Meanwhile the hunger pangs continue, which refutes your rationalizations. That’s a real contradiction that you, as a subjectivist, must deal with and explain.

    No. Subjectivism doesn’t say that my disgust with torture is wrong, or incorrect. Under subjectivism, I am left with all the same moral convictions and feelings that I started with. The only thing that it would contradict is a belief that my feelings were more than subjective. But if I had this belief, I would be a realist, not a subjectivist! If I am a subjectivist, there would be no contradiction at all.

    It’s exactly like musical subjectivism. Musical subjectivism doesn’t deny our passion or distaste for different kinds of music. It doesn’t deny that I like Mozart, and it doesn’t say I’m incorrect if I like Mozart. It only denies that there is an objective basis for my liking Mozart that extends beyond my personal bias.

  123. Tom Gilson says:

    dl, you ask,

    You say that your position is obvious, but you bring no evidence. Subjectivism doesn’t contradict the human experience of morality (by definition), and you admit that it is not inconsistent. So why exactly is it absurd?

    If you don’t see the absurdity in your conclusions that…

      • A different outcome to WWII could have led to the Holocausts’ being good according to any meaningful definition of “good.”
      • If you woke up tomorrow morning convinced you should join Westboro Baptists’ gay-bashing, that “would be good in the reference frame of the hypothetical me of tomorrow.”

      …then I’m sad for you. Your position is not just anti-Christian. It’s also dehumanizing in that it eliminates moral meaning from our lives. We can’t become worse persons, and the corollary is we can’t become better persons.

      What evidence do I bring for my position? We all know it’s possible to become better or worse individuals. Only your metaphysical insistence on moral subjectivism could have convinced you otherwise. I’ve already granted that your premises lead to your conclusion with no contradictions—provided that you deny the possibility of becoming a better person. Therein lies the absurdity.

    • Tom Gilson says:

      You say to Steve,

      Subjectivism doesn’t say that my disgust with torture is wrong, or incorrect. Under subjectivism, I am left with all the same moral convictions and feelings that I started with.

      If disgust is your only reaction, that’s true. I wonder in that case how torture differs for you from maggots on a carcass. Most people would say there’s a significant difference: one has a real moral dimension that the other lacks. I think you’re saying there is no essential difference; there is an emotional response in both cases, and not much more, though in one case we still use the term “moral” for reasons that are unclear to me (on your viewpoint, that is). Please correct me if I misunderstand you there.

      Anyway, if your reaction includes the belief, “torture is wrong,” then your statement quoted here is not true. So I wonder, does the thought, “torture is wrong,” ever occur to you?

    • SteveK says:

      DL,
      A quick note on contradiction. My point isn’t getting through.
      Use whatever subjective term or meaning you want for “X”. This X being a subjective truth about you.

      The law of non-contradiction applies to all reality, so when your initial subjective reality is X, and a fraction of a second later, via rationalization, it is -X, I see that as a problem. If not a contradicting reality, a sign of a schism (?).

      A person who experiences a desire for pizza immediately followed by a desire against pizza has some explaining to do. Parallel that with my child torture example if it isn’t clear.

    • SteveK says:

      DL,
      You agree with my description of ‘objective’. Under subjectivism, all of your desires must then be grounded within your being, with no connection to the reality outside of it. If there is some sort of relationship between the external reality and your subjective experience of that reality then it is ultimately objective by definition even if you are having difficulty understanding it subjectively.

      I’m going somewhere with this. Do you agree so far?

    • Tom,

      Is it possible to become a better musician, a better artist or a better cook?

      And if so, does that mean that these fields are not subjective?

      If disgust is your only reaction, that’s true. I wonder in that case how the thought of torture differs for you from seeing maggots on a carcass. I think you’re saying there is no essential difference; there is an emotional response in both cases, and not much more. Please correct me if I misunderstand you there.

      I think that torture is a lot more disgusting than maggots on a carcass. I assume you feel the same thing that I do.

      But I don’t just feel that torture is disgusting. I feel compelled to speak out against it, and stop it if I am in a position to do so. Just imagining torture is unpleasant. Torture is offensive to me.

      Of course, I can say similar things about rotting carcasses. I feel compelled to avoid them. I want to avoid death, and if things do die, I don’t want them lying around nearby. I’ll probably bury or burn a carcass to avoid the disgusting consequences of decay. I’ll probably discourage others from keeping rotting flesh around so that I’m not likely to have to encounter it. Rotting carcasses are offensive to me.

      At this point, I expect you will say that we’re more accepting of other people’s tastes when it comes to smells, tastes, art, music, etc. than we are of torture, robbery, etc.

      But this is easily traced to empathy. I can empathize with a person getting what they want, a person being free, etc. If you like country music, I empathize with your enjoyment of music, even if that kind of music would make me sick.

      But if we posit that you are being forced to listen to music you don’t like, I empathize with that unpleasantness. And it doesn’t matter if you are hating techno while I’m loving it. I empathize with your displeasure, and I don’t want you to be subjected to techno if you don’t like it.

      Now, there could be some cases where I think that your current pleasures will lead you into long-term pain, and so I might discourage you from those immediate pleasures. After all, I would want someone to intervene if they thought I was about to get myself into trouble without knowing it.

      We have all of this subtlety in psychology and behavior. Obviously, this isn’t enough for you. What’s missing?

    • Tom Gilson says:

      dl:

      Is it possible to become a better musician, a better artist or a better cook?

      And if so, does that mean that these fields are not subjective?

      You’re equivocating. Better with respect to what? Subjective with respect to what? I can become a better musician with respect to some very objective standards (intonation, accuracy, phrasing, etc.). Whether the listener likes my classical trombone style better than jazz or punk is subjective. Was Pablo Casals a better cellist than Yo Yo Ma is? That’s subjective; but Ma could still improve with respect to objective standards of (for example) speed. Is there any objective standard with respect to you could become a better or worse person? What is it? Your entire extended analogy is weak; it needs help.

      What I see in your response to torture compared to maggots on a carcass is that it’s a difference in degree, not in kind. Most people would say that one has a significant moral dimension that the other lacks. That’s what’s missing.

    • Steve,

      A person who experiences a desire for pizza immediately followed by a desire against pizza has some explaining to do. Parallel that with my child torture example if it isn’t clear.

      I don’t see what this has to do with subjectivism. I don’t like torture, and never have. Subjectivism doesn’t change that. Do you think it does?

      Subjectivism says that liking apple pie is subjective. I don’t stop liking apple pie just because it is subjective.

      So, no, this isn’t clear at all. It looks to me like you’re equivocating.

      The subjectivist says “I am offended by torture.”

      The realist says “You are offended by torture because torture is objectively offensive in and of itself.”

      The subjectivist says “I am offended by torture, but torture is not objectively offensive in and of itself.”

      You agree with my description of ‘objective’. Under subjectivism, all of your desires must then be grounded within your being, with no connection to the reality outside of it. If there is some sort of relationship between the external reality and your subjective experience of that reality then it is ultimately objective by definition even if you are having difficulty understanding it subjectively.

      No. Suppose that when you were a child, your parents brought home a blue dog. This blue dog bit you and stole your food for several years. Consequently, you hate the color blue. The color blue makes you feel ill. You act to avoid anything blue in your house.

      Of course, there’s nothing objectively wrong or offensive about the color blue itself. Your dislike of blue is subjective AND your subjective dislike of blue is objectively caused by your history of encounters with blue dogs. So, it is possible for us to objectively know the existence and origin of a person’s subjective opinion. I think we could make an objective case that your hatred of blue was caused by the blue dog’s influence on your childhood. That doesn’t make blue objectively nasty in itself.

      Moral subjectivism doesn’t say that there’s no objective cause for subjective opinions and attitudes about morality. It says that our opinions and attitudes aren’t indicative of an exactly correspondent objective fact.

      In my example, color subjectivism says that your opinion that blue is nasty isn’t indicative of blue being nasty in itself. It’s an indication of your history of experience with blue things. Subjectivism doesn’t deny that you don’t like blue, nor does it say you should stop disliking blue things. We don’t need all of our opinions to be indicative of simplistic corresponding objective truths. I don’t need my like of techno to be indicative of the objective superiority of techno. I can just like techno, even if it isn’t objectively better than country.

    • Tom,

      Better with respect to what? Subjective with respect to what? I can become a better musician with respect to some very objective standards (intonation, accuracy, phrasing, etc.). Whether the listener likes my classical trombone style better than jazz or punk is subjective.

      It’s easy to establish arbitrary but objectively measurable standards for morality. A very specific kind of Christianity or Buddhism or utilitarianism will do this. For example, we can some up with objective metrics for happiness, and then test to see whether a particular action was objectively better with respect to that utilitarian metric.

      The problem is picking the metrics. On what basis is one particular utilitarianism a better metric?

      The ONLY basis we have is subjective opinion.

      Is it objectively better to play faster? Is it objectively better to be flawless like a computer? And on what basis will you pick amongst these metrics?

      Again, the ONLY basis is subjective opinion.

    • Tom Gilson says:

      Wrong question:

      The problem is picking the metrics. On what basis is one particular utilitarianism a better metric?

      On what basis is not torturing babies for fun better than torturing them for fun? That’s the question: an actual ethical decision, not an ethical system. It’s not just subjective opinion. Your metaphysic requires you to think it is, but that’s a forced conclusion from a contingent position.

      Is it objectively better to play faster? Is it objectively better to be flawless like a computer? And on what basis will you pick amongst these metrics?

      I don’t have to. I don’t have any commitment to the universal objectivity of musical preferences. My prior statement on the question holds regardless.

    • Tom Gilson says:

      Here’s where the musical analogy fails, DL.

      There are better and worse hip-hop musicians, as rated according to hip-hop musical standards. Those standards are subjective, but how near a musician comes to meeting those standards can be judged objectively, allowing a generous margin of error. It won’t be easy to say that one top hip-hop musician artist is better than other, obviously, but it is objectively true that one or the other of them is going to be a better hip-hop musician than me.

      There are better and worse classical trombonists, and though I’m rusty, I’m probably a much better classical trombonist than the average hip-hop star. That’s objectively true.

      There are better practitioners of altruism than others. That’s objectively true. There are better practitioners of genocide than others, if genocide is regarded as a moral standard to pursue. That’s objectively true, too.

      Your original musical example relates to the musicians’ advancing within the ranks of hip-hop or classical trombone. One can become a better musician on those metrics. Is classical trombone better as music than hip-hop? I certainly think so, but others disagree, and that’s subjective (arguably so, at least, depending on one’s esthetic theory).

      If your analogy to music were accurate, then it would be just as subjective an opinion whether one should pursue altruism or genocide. Whether one decides to become a better altruist or a better practicer of genocide is a matter of taste.

      I hold that this is an absurd position to cling to.

    • Tom Gilson says:

      This needs a bit more analysis:

      It’s easy to establish arbitrary but objectively measurable standards for morality. A very specific kind of Christianity or Buddhism or utilitarianism will do this. For example, we can some up with objective metrics for happiness, and then test to see whether a particular action was objectively better with respect to that utilitarian metric.

      The problem is picking the metrics. On what basis is one particular utilitarianism a better metric?

      Let’s stipulate that there are difficult moral decisions, and hard choices between various ethical systems. The question of moral realism doesn’t hang on those difficult decisions. If there is just one genuine case, just one ethical choice where a is actually, really better than b, then there is such a thing as moral reality. If Bill Gates’s distribution of his wealth is actually, truly better than committing serial murder like Ted Bundy, then regardless of all other difficult decisions, then moral reality exists. If anything Gandhi did for India or to promote non-violence was actually better than the Killing Fields, then regardless of all else, moral reality exists. It only requires one case. To deny moral realism, you must not only establish that there are difficult moral decisions, but that there are no moral decisions—not even one—that have real significance beyond contingent personal or social preferences.

    • Tom Gilson says:

      You say,

      Again, the ONLY basis is subjective opinion.

      You deny the real evidence of billions of individuals in agreement that altruism is better than gratuitous torture. You deny virtually all human experience. You deny universal moral knowledge (predictive knowledge, by the way). You do so because for you it is not knowledge unless it supports your materialist worldview. Thus you are literally blind to all the evidence that actually and objectively defeats your assertion that “the ONLY basis is subjective opinion.” You can’t allow it as knowledge, because it would threaten your position. Your premises are invulnerable to evidence; there is (for you) no knowledge that could defeat your premises. For if it could defeat your premises, you consciously or unconsciously declare it not to be knowledge. It’s a can’t-lose proposition for you—unless you’re wrong.

    • SteveK says:

      DL,

      I don’t like torture, and never have. Subjectivism doesn’t change that. Do you think it does?

      No.

      Subjectivism says that liking apple pie is subjective. I don’t stop liking apple pie just because it is subjective.

      I don’t disagree, but keep reading…

      The subjectivist says “I am offended by torture.”

      I’m talking about the subjectivist that experiences subjective offensiveness as a result of witnessing the torture, immediately followed by the subjective experience of being unoffended after some rationalization. Followed by being offended when looking at the torture again, followed by being unoffended after rationalizing. I dare say that everyone’s first experience is one of offensiveness – even the Nazi’s.

      My description of objectivity, in which you agree, comes into play here so keep that in mind.

      If nothing outside of your being (you) grounds your subjective reality then your being is the only grounds for it. You are creating contradicting realities within your being (mind), either willingly or not – all by yourself. I’m offended. I’m not offended. I’m offended. I’m not offended…

      Either way there’s something going on that is troubling to me and needs explaining in order to resolve the contradiction or explain why the subjective experience vacillates wildly between opposites. It appears manic.

    • SteveK says:

      DL,

      The problem is picking the metrics. On what basis is one particular utilitarianism a better metric?

      The ONLY basis we have is subjective opinion.

      Unfortunately you’ve just stepped in it. This destroys the objectivity of science and everything you’ve argued for all these years.

      On what basis is the metric of repeatability and predictability, or verificationism, or Bayesian whateveritis, or the utilitarian “it works” a better metric?

      Post modernism is ugly and deadly to truth.

    • Steve,

      Either way there’s something going on that is troubling to me and needs explaining in order to resolve the contradiction or explain why your subjective experience vacillates wildly between opposites. It appears manic.

      I still have no idea what you are talking about. In what way does my subjective experience of morality vacillate wildly between opposites? If not mine, then whose?

    • Tom,

      You deny the real evidence of billions of individuals in agreement that altruism is better than gratuitous torture.

      Moral realism says that moral truth isn’t just a matter of consensus opinion. And the idea that we all know good an evil is no more predicted by realism than consensus is predicted by subjectivism. So consensus doesn’t confirm what you think it does. It’s evidence for both sides.

      You deny virtually all human experience.

      Subjectivism describes our human experience, so this is just not true.

      You deny universal moral knowledge (predictive knowledge, by the way).

      Example?

      What I’m hearing from you is that moral realism is self-evidently true, and beyond criticism. You think the alternative is absurd. I don’t think that’s an argument, but an excuse not to think clearly about the issue.

      You claim that I am closed to evidence, but I think the reverse is actually true.

      Here’s a way that we could prove that morality is objective. If morality is objective, we ought to be able to detect good or evil without knowing any other facts. Just like the Dungeons and Dragons spell. Or, under scientific conditions, people could walk into 10 identical rooms and detect which one was the scene of a murder. That would be totally convincing to me.

      Is there anything that could convince you that morality was subjective?

    • Tom Gilson says:

      DL,

      It’s evidence for both sides.

      Then it’s evidence. You had said there was none for objectivism.

      Subjectivism describes our human experience, so this is just not true.

      Out of context. The universal human experience you deny is that which says that good and evil are real.

      Your proofs for objective morality are so unrealistic and so disconnected from what they are supposed to prove, it’s laughable. Can you detect oxygen without knowing any other facts? Can you detect the presence of your wife in the room without knowing any other facts? Is “the scene of a murder” a moral reality? I don’t want to be brutal, dl, but really, now, what are you trying to pull?

      Is there anything that could convince me that morality was subjective? Sure. Strong evidence that it isn’t objective: that there is no God ruling over it.

      Is there anything that could convince you that morality was objective? This time when you answer, please answer according to what moral realism actually affirms.

    • Charlie says:

      Uh oh. Disgust = Bad.
      We’ve been down this road, as we have all the others. Before it was burn victims, now it is maggots.
      The discussion was actually another demonstration of the fact that DL believes in an objective morality.
      Of course DL, unlike others, is honest enough that he realizes objective morality is good evidence for God; therefore, he denies what he makes clear.

      DL:An act is bad to me if it disturbs and repulses me, and makes me want to act to avoid it. This isn’t a question of fashion. An act can disturb me even if I think it’s trendy. It’s trendy to get drunk and disorderly, but I find it repulsive. So one can be “in fashion,” and still be doing something bad.

      Me:
      He admits that treating burn victims is “bad” by his definition, but claims that it is worse not to treat them.
      Sounds good, right?
      But wait, we were talking about being disturbed and repulsed. The act of caring for burn victims is “bad” by DL’s standards – it is disturbing and repulsive, even more so than turning a blind eye.
      But DL claims that through the beneficence of evolution we are given empathy, and it is this empathy (and a social contract – never mind that agreements and contracts do not legislate “feelings”) which would make him feel that leaving burn victims uncared for would be disturbing, ie. “bad”.
      This is interesting, but has nothing to do with DL and his subjectivity. If he turns a blind eye to their suffering and presumes they are not cared for by someone else, he is bad. If he turns a blind eye and presumes they are cared for he is good.
      But did DL look into their care? Does he presume someone will care for them, or has he ensured it? Did he ever give it a moment’s thought?
      In DL’s definition the act is bad by the standard alone – it disturbs.
      From that perspective, it should make no difference whether there is a caregiver or not.

      Perhaps, also, DL is merely fooling himself that there are those caring for the victims. Has he independently checked that there are such caregivers? Would it be good to do so? Ought one?

      To the contrary, it is now apparent that good/bad is independent of DL’s thinking.
      It is good that the injured be cared for regardless of DL’s personal, subjective, repulsion, and bad that they not be.
      The morality is now found in the situation itself, and not in DL’s feelings about it.
      It is now objectively bad that the victims be left to suffer and good that they be tended – whether or not DL has done anything to tend to them, has done anything to see to it that they are, has even looked into the situation, or is disturbed in any way shape or form.

      As for empathy, DL claims to feel repulsion in two situations (drunken and disorderly behaviour, and the treatment of burn victims) but allows that evolution’s gift of empathy comes into play in one of the situations.
      Why does the evolving animal have empathy for the burn victim and not the reveler?
      Can’t one empathize with the desire to avoid being alone, to enjoy the camaraderie of friends, to release oppressive inhibition, etc.?
      Why can we suddenly limit our empathy?
      Do we or do we not have empathy for our fellow human beings?
      How does one feeling bestowed by evolution (empathy) override another (repulsion) in determining morality?
      How is it that empathy can be overridden in the case of the drunkards?
      Can we just choose with whom we will feel empathy? If we choose, is this really a product of our chemistry and biological evolutionary history? Is it really, then, an active participant in determining morality? Isn’t it just another preference?

      But the failures of empathy aside, DL has admitted that good and bad are no longer subject to feelings of repulsion, nor one’s feelings about his own behaviour, but, rather, in the condition of those suffering.
      It is morally objectionable that the injured be allowed to suffer. If their suffering is alleviated it is good.
      One need not have an opinion or feeling about this, and need never have looked into the situation for it to be so.
      Morality is, as before, objective.

      Charlie | 12.30.06 – 3:24 pm | #

      https://www.thinkingchristian.net/C246305481/E20061208094246/index.html

    • SteveK says:

      DL,

      I still have no idea what you are talking about. In what way does my subjective experience of morality vacillate wildly between opposites? If not mine, then whose?

      It might not happen to you, but it happens to most everyone at some point in their lives.

      Take for example, the typical person who’s subjective experience is the desire to rob innocents. They act on that desire and then, immediately, they experience, in some sense, the subjective desire to not rob innocents. This, according to your theory.

      Focus on this next part, because this is my primary point.

      If the grounding for that experience is entirely within subjective reality, then the reasons for desiring and not desiring MUST all be grounded in subjective reality.

      “I desire to because it makes me feel pleasure.”, followed by “I desire not to because it makes me feel sad.”

      If that subjective swing from desire to not desire is entirely grounded in the mind of the subject then that seems very weird to me. There is no external reason why the change occurred. Like I said, it appears manic.

      What causes a mind to swing between pleasure and sadness all by itself, or even willfully? If it was the act of robbing innocents, then objective reality would be the grounds for the subjective reality – but that’s not your theory.

      Your theory says robbing innocents has NOTHING to do with the reason for the existence of the subjective reality. That is a very anti-realistic theory.

    • Steve,

      If that subjective swing from desire to not desire is entirely grounded in the mind of the subject then that seems very weird to me. There is no external reason why the change occurred. Like I said, almost manic.

      A person is the result of their history and of the history of our ancestors, and of the history of our species. That’s what grounds the changes.

      Why do people change their moral tastes? They change because of changes in their chemistry or because of changes in their environment.

      Here are a couple of examples.

      When a boy goes through puberty, his hormones switch on, and his motivational structure changes. His values change. Where once girls were icky, now they are attractive. What he thinks he ought to do is now different.

      If a boy grows up and feels left out of the mating game, he might convince himself that spending all one’s resources on getting girls is a waste of resources, or is a less noble goal than pursuing a career. But if he reaches college and finds himself suddenly surrounded by young ladies who want to sleep with him, he might reconfigure his rationalizations for his values and his situation. Spending resources on bedding girls might suddenly seem worthy.

      These kinds of stories are familiar to us. Everyone’s story is a little different. However, the subjective judgments of each person are determined by objective facts of history and biology and environment.

      Moral realism doesn’t deny that subjective value judgments often have material or historical causes. However, moral realism claims that, even if we can say how a person came to value a thing, he is objectively either correct or incorrect about his valuing of that thing.

      Moral subjectivism is completely realistic. It says that we make subjective value judgments, and that these judgments are caused by our respective histories. What subjectivism denies is that there is any objective way to say that a person’s values are incorrect.

    • SteveK says:

      DL,

      A person is the result of their history and of the history of our ancestors, and of the history of our species. That’s what grounds the changes.

      That list is all part of objective reality. Your theory says that the moral experience is grounded in subjective reality so I don’t understand your argument now as you appear to have changed it. Or perhaps you’ve held this position all along but confused the situation by saying morality is grounded in the subjective.

      Why do people change their moral tastes? They change because of changes in their chemistry or because of changes in their environment.

      ….

      However, the subjective judgments of each person are determined by objective facts of history and biology and environment.

      Here again you are arguing for an objective basis for moral experiences. I disagree with your grounding sources, but nonetheless you are saying the experience is not grounded in subjective reality.

      Morality is not entirely subjective, you are saying.

      I’m glad to see we are making progress. Let’s now discuss the objective grounding source. Can history, environment or chemistry provide the grounding for the subjective experience “I ought to desire X, not Y”? I don’t see how they can any more than ink and paper can provide the grounding for the story in a book.

    • Charlie says:

      R.C. Sproul on absolutes, oughts, humanism and the option – suicide.
      http://www.ligonier.org/rym/broadcasts/audio/are-there-absolutes/

    • Steve,

      You’re barking up the wrong tree. Subjective judgments have objective causes.

      I gave you a very specific example of this: the dog that makes you miserable as a child. The fact that it made you miserable by biting you and stealing your food is objective. This causes you to devalue dogs in adulthood. Again, this cause of your valuation of dogs is objective – it’s objectively in your interaction with dogs. However, this does not mean that dogs inherently have less value, more value or any value at all. Dogs only have an objective value with respect to a specific subject. They do not have a value independent of subject.

      Another example: suppose the best years of your life were spent in the presence of blues music. This would be an objective fact. This causes you to value blues music more than other kinds of music (another objective fact). Does this mean that blues music is objectively more valuable than hip hop?

      NO! It means that we can say, objectively, that you value blues music. It does not mean that blues music is valuable independent of subject.

      So, the fact that your values have objective causes doesn’t mean that values of things in themselves are objective.

    • Tom Gilson says:

      I think there’s some confusion here regarding

      – Cause
      – Basis
      – Grounding

      They’re not synonymous. DL is arguing that moral sensations are caused by objectively occurring events, whether in the external environment or inside one’s internal systems. Though the sensations are caused, morality is not grounded, because for him there are only the sensations (including preferences, feelings, attitudes, etc.). There is in his view no morality to be grounded, though sometimes he equivocates and calls the sensations “morality.”

      Conversely, Christian moral realists would agree there are causes for moral sensations (preferences, feelings, attitudes, etc.), but we do not agree that the sensations are all there is to it. We take it as true that there is moral reality behind (and in some ways, though imperfectly, causing) those sensations. We take it that moral attitudes and actions can be right or wrong, and it is the rightness or wrongness that needs grounding.

      DL finds that there are causes for our moral sensations and assumes that by providing partial explanations of the psychology of morality he has explained the rest of it away. I still contend that he’s making that leap only because his metaphysic requires it. What say you of this set of unanswered questions, doctor(logic)?

    • Tom Gilson says:

      I missed this earlier, by the way:

      Moral realism says that moral truth isn’t just a matter of consensus opinion.

      That wasn’t the question you asked or that I was answering. I didn’t say truth was a matter of opinion, as if opinion causes truth. I said that the consensus of billions was evidence for truth. Usually, my friend DL, consensus on that scale actually is taken to be evidence. You said there was none. You discount an awful lot of witnesses.

    • SteveK says:

      DL,

      You’re barking up the wrong tree. Subjective judgments have objective causes.

      Answering the causation question doesn’t answer the grounding question. You answered the grounding question for me already when you said,

      A person is the result of their history and of the history of our ancestors, and of the history of our species. That’s what grounds the changes.

      Why do people change their moral tastes? They change because of changes in their chemistry or because of changes in their environment.

      The grounds are all those objective things you listed. So my barking up the wrong tree is wrong only because you are asking me to do that.

      Perhaps an analogy or some examples from real life will help clear the air. I will do that next. (EDIT: I changed my mind. Don’t want to muddy the waters.)

    • SteveK says:

      DL,

      So, the fact that your values have objective causes doesn’t mean that values of things in themselves are objective.

      You can’t point to objective reasons for why certain subjective experiences exist and then say those experiences lack any objective grounds.

      If the reason for your experience of pain is the hammer strike, then the experience isn’t entirely subjective.

      If the reason for you experiencing desire is the person standing in front of you, then the experience isn’t entirely subjective.

      Conversely, if the person standing in front of you has NOTHING to do with you experiencing desire, then that is an ENTIRELY subjective experience. The person standing in front of you could be anything or nothing and you would still have the same experience because objective reality plays no role. Subjective reality explains it all.

    • Steve,

      Congratulations! I agree with you! By your definition, even I don’t believe there’s anything subjective!

      Music, food, women, friends, colors… none of it is subjective! Our values are completely caused by objective stuff.

      But no one is using your definition of subjective, least of all, moral realists. If we went by your definition, there would be no distinction to make.

    • SteveK says:

      DL

      But no one is using your definition of subjective.

      I’m using the definition of objective that you already agreed with. Seems clear to me that subjective is that which is not objective.

      Objective to me means that the reality in question is grounded in such a way as to be outside of my being (the subject). What makes something objective are the facts of the matter that have nothing to do with my being – which includes my opinions, my beliefs, my experiences, etc.

    • SteveK says:

      DL,

      If we went by your definition, there would be no distinction to make.

      Not true because my definition includes clear lines of distinction. Read it again.

      It says that any subjective experience that can be explained by a reality independent of my being is an experience grounded in objective reality. Example: My experience of having the desire to act is grounded in the reality of the thing before me.

      If my subjective moral experiences can only be explained in terms of other subjective experiences then it’s entirely grounded in subjective reality. Example: My experience of having the desire to act is grounded in the reality that I don’t want to experience sadness. My experience of sadness is grounded in some other subjective reality within my being.

      This seems fairly straight forward and easy to understand, so I don’t understand why you object.

    • Steve,

      You imagine that subjective thoughts are totally random and disconnected from reality. No one thinks that. Suppose I value country music, and my valuing it is subjective by your definition. By your definition, my valuing country music is random, uncaused by anything in the material world, either now or in the past. It’s not caused by my ever having heard music before, nor by the country music I am now hearing.

      This is not how I (or anyone else) defines subjective.

      I define objective as meaning that a property isn’t only apparent in my interaction with a system, but in the system itself.

      Here’s an example. Suppose I tap on a cymbal with a drumstick. This creates the familiar “hissing” vibration on the cymbal. Does that mean that my drumstick is filled with hiss-creating energies?

      Now I tap on a timpani. It creates a booming vibration. Is my drumstick filled with deep boom creating energies?

      No, what we recognize is that my drumstick has something in itself that is neither hiss-creating nor boom-creating. My drumstick has hardness, mass, momentum and energy. These physical things are all the objective facts that are to be had. If the drumstick were objectively boom-creating that should be true independent of the other physical factors. The sound created when I tap my drumstick depends on the thing I’m tapping on – on the interaction between the drumstick and the instrument. The sound isn’t objectively in the drumstick alone. The sound is objectively in the drumstick-instrument combination. It’s subjectively in the instrument.

      We can objectively say that a drumstick-timpani combination creates a booming sound, but not that the booming sound is objectively in the drumstick. This is because the drumstick makes a different sound against different surfaces or instruments.

      In this analogy, we are the instruments, and the drumstick is a moral situation. Humans are very similar instruments, and they respond in similar ways to drumsticks. We can objectively say how any given human will react to a moral event, and objectively say that most humans will react in a certain way. But to say that morality is objective is to say that the sounds produced by drumsticks on different instruments are in the drumsticks themselves. It’s like saying that cymbals are incorrect because they don’t accurately respond to the drumstick’s booming energy by producing a boom.

      Tom’s argument is that because the overwhelming majority of us agree on the morality of certain extreme situations, therefore, the morality of extreme situations is objective. But we’re all human, the same species, sharing a common heritage. We’re all the same instrument. In a Bayesian view, it doesn’t shift our priors because we would expect this anyway.

    • SteveK says:

      DL,
      You lead me to bark up a tree by agreeing with my definition of objective and then you fault me for attacking the wrong tree. Just so you know, that is very frustrating. If you didn’t like my definition, why did you say “sure”?

      I define objective as meaning that a property isn’t only apparent in my interaction with a system, but in the system itself.

      Not sure how to interpret this, but let’s go with it for now.

      The sound isn’t objectively in the drumstick alone. The sound is objectively in the drumstick-instrument combination. It’s subjectively in the instrument.

      This is another way of saying the sound isn’t grounded in the drumstick, nor in the instrument. I agree with that.

      We can objectively say that a drumstick-timpani combination creates a booming sound, but not that the booming sound is objectively in the drumstick

      A little clarification here so we are both being careful with the language.

      The way I’m reading this so far is this: The sound is grounded in something independent of the two devices (per the above comment), such that this grounding source enables the sound to come into existence when the two devices interact.

      This is because the drumstick makes a different sound against different surfaces or instruments.

      Again, the grounding cannot be left out of this statement. The nature of the grounding source is what enables the sound to be produced when the instruments interact. For the naturalist, it is the nature of the universe that grounds. In your definition, you referred to it as “the system itself”.

      But to say that morality is objective is to say that the sounds produced by drumsticks on different instruments are in the drumsticks themselves.

      Here is where you are going wrong. I’m not saying what you think I am. I’m saying something very similar to what your analogy is saying – or at least how I’ve understood you saying it.

      Specifically, I’m saying that the morality is not in either ‘instrument’. It is grounded elsewhere, in a nature that enables the moral experience to exist when humans interact. It’s in the nature of “the system itself”.

    • SteveK says:

      DL,

      The sound is objectively in the drumstick-instrument combination. It’s subjectively in the instrument.

      Transferring this line of thinking to the human moral experience, what exactly do you mean when you say morality is subjective?

      Are you saying it is (a) subjectively experienced in the human, but objectively part of “the system” somehow, or do you mean it is (b) subjectively experienced in the human, and that is as far as it goes?

      If (b), then I don’t know what to make of your statement “This is not how I (or anyone else) defines subjective.” because it sure sounds the same. If (a), then we agree apparently.

      If you have a (c), then go ahead and explain.

    • Tom Gilson says:

      dl,

      But to say that morality is objective is to say that the sounds produced by drumsticks on different instruments are in the drumsticks themselves.

      You cannot seem to bring yourself out of viewing morality as nothing but psychology. The sounds in your analogy correspond to persons’ moral sensations, feelings, etc—their psychological aspects. You seem to think that this is sufficient to describe the situation by comparison.

      To say that morality is objective, however, is to say that we’re not talking about those sounds (the psychological experience). We’re talking about something else. I don’t know how to fit that something else into your analogy; it doesn’t fit. It doesn’t have to, since it’s only an analogy.

      The psychological experience of morality is subjective. You don’t need to argue me into that. That’s not what the discussion is about, and as long as you keep proving it over and over again, you continue to keep missing the point. The argument is over whether the propositions I form in my subjective psychological experience correspond to another (real) reality.

      (This is not the first time you’ve misunderstood objectivity and the questions surrounding it.)
      I’m going to ask you a direct question in light of that. Do you or do you not see that this question is not about psychological states?

    • Tom,

      I would believe that morality was objective if it was fundamental. If we could detect good and evil without knowing any material details of a situation, then I would believe that morality was objective. Although this sort of moral realism exists in folklore, I don’t think it’s the kind of realism you are talking about. Moreover, I don’t think that even this creates the kind of moral reality you seek. Knowing that good and evil were fundamental doesn’t seem to have any objectively normative consequences. The universe can tell the difference between good an evil, but this wouldn’t tell us whether we ought to be good or evil.

      I don’t think you’re talking about the kind of moral realism (above) in which there’s a good/evil field that we are detecting. I think your kind of moral realism is the kind in which God has designed us to psychologically mirror an otherwise invisible moral reality. A huge problem with this is that the only thing we have to go on are our psychological states, which makes your moral reality look exactly like moral subjectivism.

      But my rejection of your kind of moral realism goes far deeper. There’s no possible experience we can have that can justify a moral belief.

      When we study morality, we find that the following don’t determine right and wrong:
      * Punishment (some are punished for doing nothing wrong, some who are rewarded are evil)
      * Material outcomes (evil people get rich)
      * Happiness outcomes (some evil people are happy)
      * Psychological states can be known (self-knowledge), but moral reality is not identified with psychological state (only correlated sometimes)
      * “Performing as designed” is not an objective good because one could be designed to be evil.
      etc.

      Given that psychological and material outcomes are widely agreed to have no bearing on the moral goodness of an action, there is no possible way for us to get objective justification for our moral beliefs. Any attempt to make moral reality knowable degenerates into happiness utilitarianism, material utilitarianism, authoritarianism, or some other failed realism.

      Adding God to the picture doesn’t help. I know you reject the Euthyphro dilemma, but neither horn of the dilemma gives us a determinate moral reality. In other words, our accepted inability to use outcomes to detect good or evil means that (1) God isn’t good just because he has the power to punish, and (2) there’s no way for God to know morality either, even if morality exists independently of God.

      Your answer to Euthyphro is to say that God is bound up with the good such that neither horn of the dilemma applies. I don’t think this makes any sense, and it seems to me like a device for escaping Euthyphro, and nothing more. But even accepting that God escapes Euthyphro, you simply move the goalposts, replacing the undetectable moral reality with the undetectable goodness of God.

      If God is one with evil instead of good, but God wants us to have the free will to choose evil, then the world might look very much the same as it does. And, our inability to detect the evil of God mirrors our inability to detect the goodness of God.

      It seems to me that in order to justify moral realism, you’ll have to settle on a definition of morality that’s consequentialist. For example, by saying that God guarantees that people who act according to his rules go to heaven, and people who act contrary go to hell, this creates a kind of moral reality, no matter what God’s rules actually consist of. I just don’t think you’ll get any takers with that kind of utilitarian approach.

    • Steve,

      The way I’m reading this so far is this: The sound is grounded in something independent of the two devices (per the above comment), such that this grounding source enables the sound to come into existence when the two devices interact.

      I’ll go along with this, but the analogy to this grounding is that people can perceive the actions of others, have empathy, and feel emotions relative to their actions and the actions of people around them.

      In the instrument analogy, right and wrong are about which frequency of sound is produced when the instrument is hit by the drumstick. While physics grounds the production of sound, and even ground which kinds of sound are produced by which instrument, physics is silent about whether one sound is absolutely better than another. Physics only describes how the sounds are produced, and describes the ways that one sound is different from another.

      Here is where you are going wrong. I’m not saying that. I’m saying something very similar to what your analogy is saying – or at least how I’ve understood you saying it.

      Specifically, that the morality is not in either ‘instrument’. It is grounded elsewhere, in a nature that enables the moral experience to exist when humans interact.

      That sure makes it sound like we agree.

      Are you saying it is (a) subjectively experienced in the human, but objectively part of “the system” somehow, or do you mean it is (b) subjectively experienced in the human, and that is as far as it goes?

      (a) in the same sense as above. The physics of human perception and emotion ground our moral feelings, and our powers of rationalization attempt to create an “explanation” for those feelings in the form of moral reality. When I say that morality is subjective I don’t mean that the physical grounding of the entire system is subjective. I mean that we can objectively describe how we feel moral feelings, and how we rationalize that there is moral reality. The thing that is subjective are the specific rightness and wrongness of any particular action. We can say objectively that you think murder is wrong, but there are no objective grounds to say that murder is wrong independent of the subject.

      Just as sound produced by a drumstick is instrument-dependent, the moral feelings produced (and moral reality rationalized) by a person are person-dependent.

    • SteveK says:

      DL,
      A quick note and I’ll be back later with more. You appear to reject the idea that morality is grounded in psychology and you accept that it is grounded in some objective reality we have been calling “the system” (referring to your term).

      What you are struggling with most is trying to figure it all out. That is all well and good, but I encourage you to not do that at the expense of giving up the objective grounding. That’s already been established. It’s there, you just want to know more about it.

    • Tom Gilson says:

      doctor(logic), I’m at a loss to understand what this means. I hope you can clarify:

      If we could detect good and evil without knowing any material details of a situation,

      Do you mean something like detecting it in the air, sans any morally relevant events, beliefs, opinions, etc.? Does your belief in electricity depend on your detecting it without any current, voltage, fields, or conductors?

      Knowing that good and evil were fundamental doesn’t seem to have any objectively normative consequences. The universe can tell the difference between good an evil, but this wouldn’t tell us whether we ought to be good or evil.

      Now we’re into the ontology/epistemology issue. If there is a difference between good and evil in the universe, that fact alone might not tell us what we ought to do about it. I agree with you to that extent.

      I think your kind of moral realism is the kind in which God has designed us to psychologically mirror an otherwise invisible moral reality.

      It’s more than psychology, doctor(logic), as I keep telling you. The moral realism of which I speak is that in which there is good at the very heart of reality, and where evil exists as the real privation of good. It would exist whether God created us or not. Our psychology has to do with our knowledge of and response to that reality, which are secondary to the reality itself.

      A huge problem with this is that the only thing we have to go on are our psychological states, which makes your moral reality look exactly like moral subjectivism.

      You discount billions of persons’ psychological states in the very act of saying that. We discussed that a few comments ago. Most everyone in the history of the world would say that they know there are such things as real right and wrong. That only looks subjective to you because you won’t accept the evidence for what it is, and because your metaphysics prevent you from considering it as such. Your metaphysics also prevent you from seeing for yourself that some things are really right and really wrong; and from seeing that we have more besides that to go on: we have God’s revelation to us. That’s betrayed in this:

      There’s no possible experience we can have that can justify a moral belief.

      Is an experience of God strictly impossible? Only if you know there’s no possible way that God exists. I say that an experience of God’s revelation regarding moral beliefs justifies moral beliefs.

      How seriously did you want us to take that statement, by the way? Are you saying that if we want to live with only justified beliefs, we should have no moral opinions whatever?

      Given that psychological and material outcomes are widely agreed to have no bearing on the moral goodness of an action,

      Widely agree? By whom?

      The Euthyphro dilemma is a false one. There are not just two options. You are aware of the third. It does escape Euthyphro, but it is “not just a device” for that. It’s not ad hoc, and it wasn’t invented just because Plato raised a problem. It’s at the heart of what we know of God from the very beginning.

      replacing the undetectable moral reality with the undetectable goodness of God.

      I can see and experience God’s goodness in history and in my own experience. It’s only undetectable if one searches in the wrong place with wrongly-tuned instrumentation.

      If God is one with evil instead of good…

      He isn’t.

      …but God wants us to have the free will to choose evil, then the world might look very much the same as it does.

      A statement like that requires more than an assertion. Could you elaborate? I think it’s ridiculous, but then I haven’t heard it expounded upon.

      It seems to me that in order to justify moral realism, you’ll have to settle on a definition of morality that’s consequentialist. For example, by saying that God guarantees that people who act according to his rules go to heaven, and people who act contrary go to hell, this creates a kind of moral reality, no matter what God’s rules actually consist of.

      No. Moral realism does not require that people even exist. Moral realism requires that goodness inheres at the heart of reality.

      This leads me to wonder whether you’ve really understood what moral realism is. You doggedly and almost forever persist in making it about psychology–though this last assertion of yours is sort of an exception to that. Still it makes it dependent on people and rules, when that’s not what it is. Hopefully now with this latest stage in the discussion you’re closer to understanding what it is you are disputing.

    • SteveK says:

      DL,
      You MUST stop with the term ‘moral subjectivism’. Although I disagree with your grounding source of ‘physics’, you’ve already admitted that it is not subjective.

      ME: Are you saying it is (a) subjectively experienced in the human, but objectively part of “the system” somehow, or do you mean it is (b) subjectively experienced in the human, and that is as far as it goes?

      YOU: (a) in the same sense as above. The physics of human perception and emotion ground our moral feelings.

      Subjectively experienced, yes. But we already know that and aren’t arguing over that. You wouldn’t use the term ‘rational subjectivism’ or ‘scientific subjectivism’ just because we experience them subjectively, would you?

      The term ‘morality’ is just fine without the modifier in the same way that the term ‘rationality’ is just fine.

    • SteveK says:

      DL,

      I’ll go along with this, but the analogy to this grounding is that people can perceive the actions of others, have empathy, and feel emotions relative to their actions and the actions of people around them.

      The perception is relative, but the grounding is not. I will continue to remind you of this point that you’ve already accepted as truth.

      In your analogy, the perceived sound is relative to the instruments used, but the concept of sound is grounded in the objectivity of “the system”. That grounding remains even if there are no instruments around to produce sound or experience sound.

      Now, analogies are analogies so don’t expect the reality of morality to align perfectly with your analogy. At some point they must differ in a meaninful way – and they do.

      While physics grounds the production of sound, and even ground which kinds of sound are produced by which instrument, physics is silent about whether one sound is absolutely better than another.

      Physics is not a thing. It is a conceptual idea that points to, or describes a real thing. The concept of physics is grounded in that real thing.

      What you mean to say is the nature of the universe – it’s essence – grounds the production of the sound and the subjective experience of it by those who have the capability of experiencing it.

      The fact that physics is silent on morality should be your first clue that physics isn’t the grounding source. Do you worry that physics is silent on rationality? Is physics the grounding source for rationality? No.

      The nature of the universe (I’m speaking in naturalistic terms) is the grounding source, and the concept of physics describes a very real part of that nature.

      I am hopeful that you are beginning to see the picture more clearly. You accept the truth that morality is objectively grounded in “the system”, and you have correctly perceived that physics can’t account for it.

      This much we know about the nature of the grounding source:
      1) it explains the concept of physics as we subjectively experience it.
      2) it explains the concept of morality as we subjectively experience it.
      3) it explains the concept of rationality as we subjectively experience it.

    • SteveK says:

      Hi DL,
      We’ve established that morality, like rationality, is subjectively experienced and objectively grounded. Do you want to continue discussing this?

    • Steve,

      We’ve established that morality, like rationality, is subjectively experienced and objectively grounded. Do you want to continue discussing this?

      No, we haven’t established that at all.

      What we have established (or what I would agree to) is that our subjective experience of morality is objectively grounded. But if you think that this gets you closer to your objective, you’re crazy.

      What moral realists want is not an objective account of why we feel that murder is evil. This is already available to both naturalists and Christians. What moral realists want is objective normativity. Moral realism isn’t a theory about how things are or how things will be, but about how they ought to be. And you can’t ground that. At best you can ground how we think things ought to be, and how we think things ought to be is a subset of the way things are.

      And it’s because moral realism is about how things ought to be (and not how they are) that it isn’t predictive. You can predict how things ought to be, but just because things don’t work out that way doesn’t imply it ought not have been that way.

    • Tom Gilson says:

      I sure would love to see you be more careful about the distinction between “grounded” and “caused.” As your last statement stands, doctor(logic), it’s pretty muddled. On your view, morality is caused. Grounding has to do with being rationally supportable, and causation is nothing at all like rational supportability.

    • Tom,

      Do you mean something like detecting it in the air, sans any morally relevant events, beliefs, opinions, etc.?

      Precisely.

      Does your belief in electricity depend on your detecting it without any current, voltage, fields, or conductors?

      No, but I can create a barrier that is permeable only to electric or magnetic fields. I don’t know the shape or configuration or composition of what is on the other side of the barrier, but I know it is electrically charged and/or magnetic.

      If morality were similar, you could put me in an opaque bubble, and I could still detect the presence of evil without knowing any other details. The fact that this cannot be done is significant evidence that morality is just how we feel about other objective facts.

      Now we’re into the ontology/epistemology issue. If there is a difference between good and evil in the universe, that fact alone might not tell us what we ought to do about it. I agree with you to that extent.

      Good.

      You discount billions of persons’ psychological states in the very act of saying that. We discussed that a few comments ago. Most everyone in the history of the world would say that they know there are such things as real right and wrong.

      None of those billions of people has any verification of their beliefs, nor can they ever have. If no individual can verify this belief, and no individual can support his belief on the evidence, then why is each person’s belief suddenly more reliable if lots of people share it? A billion times zero is still zero.

      All kids think there are monsters under the bed. Is this good evidence that there are monsters under the bed, even if no monster can be seen when we check for such monsters? A billion times zero is still zero.

      I can see and experience God’s goodness in history and in my own experience. It’s only undetectable if one searches in the wrong place with wrongly-tuned instrumentation.

      You’re talking about your subjective opinion. That’s your instrument.

      Do you see any badness?

      No. Moral realism does not require that people even exist. Moral realism requires that goodness inheres at the heart of reality.

      What does this last bit of poetry mean?

      There’s a recurrent problem with definitions.

      (1) There’s subjective good, the good I care about.
      (2) There’s objective good, the good that the universe cares about.

      (1) and (2) are not the same, but you insist that (2) cannot be significantly different from (1). Any attempt I make to talk about universes in which our (1) strongly differs from (2) you completely ignore as impossible.

      Look at it this way. The reason why realists are concerned about realism is that they want to have something to hold up to people who have differing subjective goods. You want to be able to walk up to someone like Hitler or Ted Bundy and tell them moral reality is contrary to their subjective beliefs. But when I try to place you (hypothetically) in the same psychological position as Hitler by asking you to consider a world in which your subjective good is an objective evil, you simply declare my hypothetical situation out of bounds.

      Put another way, you have as much chance of deductively convincing Hitler to adopt your moral position as he does in deductively convincing you. And since morality isn’t verifiable (because it’s not predictive), there’s no way to settle the dispute.

    • Tom,

      I sure would love to see you be more careful about the distinction between “grounded” and “caused.” As your last statement stands, doctor(logic), it’s pretty muddled. On your view, morality is caused. Grounding has to do with being rationally supportable, and causation is nothing at all like rational supportability.

      Criticism accepted.

      Got that, Steve? I’m saying morality is objectively caused.

    • SteveK says:

      DL,

      What we have established (or what I would agree to) is that our subjective experience of morality is objectively grounded.

      I’m okay with this.

      Moral realism isn’t a theory about how things are or how things will be, but about how they ought to be. And you can’t ground that.

      Moral realism certainly is a theory about how things are. According to moral realism, how things are is inseperable from how they ought to be.

      You said above that the subjective experience is objectively grounded, and now here you say you can’t ground the experience. You need to explain this apparant contradiction.

      At best you can ground how we think things ought to be, and how we think things ought to be is a subset of the way things are.
      —–
      I’m saying morality is objectively caused.

      In addition to your contradiction above, there’s a big problem here. I alluded to this earlier when I commented on your idea that physics is the grounding source. The problem in this situation is that causes are not a groundable reality. Causes can point to a groundable reality, but a cause is NOT the grounding source for this. I can make this vividly clear by citing an example – loving my child.

      If the subjective experience of loving my child is grounded in a cause then WHO my child is is superfluous to the subjective experience. It’s all explained by the causes within my being or causes independent of who my child really is since my child doesn’t cause my subjective experience in a mechanistic way. Does that make any sense to you? I hope it does not.

      What makes sense is to say that the subjective experience is grounded in a reality that can explain the totality of the experience.

      As a naturalist, your only available grounding source is the nature of the universe. What is the nature of the universe, DL, such that it explains, or grounds, our moral experience?

    • SteveK says:

      DL,

      The fact that this cannot be done is significant evidence that morality is just how we feel about other objective facts.

      You continue to contradict what you’ve said previously. If the experience is grounded in a reality outside of our being, then “how we feel” cannot completely explain the experience and the objective facts under consideration MUST play some role because of what those objective facts actually ARE. Who my child IS helps to explain my feelings of love.

      On the other hand, if “how we feel” completely explains the experience then the objective facts under consideration (what they ARE) have nothing to do with our experience. Our feelings explain the experience because the reality is that my child has no quality about him that can explain the love I feel.

      You’ve already confirmed that the former is the correct view, which means the moral experience is not “just how we feel”.

      Does ‘nature’ have a quality about it such that it can explain our moral experiences? If no, then the experience is grounded entirely within us. If yes, then nature is not what naturalists typically think it is.

    • Steve,

      * facepalm *

      Sorry, but Tom gets it, and you don’t. Maybe Tom can explain it to you.

      NOTHING I have said indicates that your love for your child has nothing to do with your child. What I am saying is that your evolutionary history and your personal history have made you a person who reacts with love to the child of your wife/girlfriend, and reacts with love to something in which you have a great investment. Your child is both of these things, and you are certainly reacting to the reality of your child.

      But had your history been different, or your evolutionary history been different, then you might not love the child. There are people who do not love their children. That’s real and objective and predictable, too. But this has nothing to do with morality.

      Moral realism says things like “you ought to treat the child with love, no matter what” or “you ought to treat the child with hate, no matter what”. But neither of these propositions is objective or verifiable.

      How you actually will act and feel is objective and verifiable and predictable. How you ought to act is not.

      If I say “you ought to treat your child with love,” my proposition is not contradicted if you fail to love your child, nor is it verified if you do love your child. Similarly, “you ought not murder people” is not verified when people do not murder, and is not refuted when people do commit murder.

      I’m sorry that you can’t see the argument at this level of sophistication.

    • SteveK says:

      I was just pointing out your contradicting statements, DL (it’s just how we feel), while reminding you that you have already taken a position (it’s not just how we feel).

      So we agree that there really is something about my child that explains my emotional experience of love.

      We also agree that there really is something about the situation before us that explains my moral experience of “ought to be”.

      You’ve tried to explain this “ought to be” experience in naturalistic terms and I’ve been explaining why everything you’ve said so far falls short of actually explaining.

      What is it about the situation before us that explains the moral experience? Is it the mass, the chemistry, the velocity, the randomness, the energy – or perhaps all of these? What, DL?

    • Tom Gilson says:

      doctor(logic),

      You said at 9:55 am that moral realism depends on its being the kind of thing that is detectable “in the air, sans any morally relevant events, beliefs, opinions, etc.” This is odd. No, it’s more than that. I happened to be sitting in a session at the Evangelical Philosophical Society conference when I saw this on my mobile. We were waiting for a talk to start. I was so stunned I turned around and said to the person behind me, “you’re not going to believe this…” and explained what you had said. I said, “Is there any way to characterize this as anything but stupid?” I won’t say who it was, since it would be holding him responsible for something he did not ask to be held responsible for, but he agreed.

      Simply stated, nobody believes moral realism is that kind of thing. You’ve asserted with no argument that it must be. Later in your comment you make some epistemological claims, but this is not just an epistemological claim, it is a claim about the kind of thing that moral reality must be if it exists. It must be the kind of thing that could be detectable without the presence of any morally relevant events, beliefs, or opinions. It must be detected as moral reality without the involvement of any moral opinions. It must be detected as such without any beliefs relevant to that which is detected.

      Surely you misspoke yourself. Please say that’s not what you intended. It’s crazy.

      If morality were similar, you could put me in an opaque bubble, and I could still detect the presence of evil without knowing any other details.

      That’s an epistemological claim, as I have already noted.

      And by the way, it’s not just that, it’s also (ahem) highly idiosyncratic. Does anybody else think this? Does any moral realist think this? Does any moral anti-realist have any argument to suggest that moral realists ought to think this? If you think you have such an argument, would you care to present it?

      None of those billions of people has any verification of their beliefs, nor can they ever have.

      That’s only true, doctor(logic), if you define verification according to your positivistic rules.

      You’re talking about your subjective opinion. That’s your instrument.

      And that, my friend, is your subjective opinion, based on your positivistic instrument.

      What does this last bit of poetry mean?

      It means what it says. It means that the universe is fundamentally moral, and that all of reality is fundamentally moral.

      There’s a recurrent problem with definitions.

      (1) There’s subjective good, the good I care about.
      (2) There’s objective good, the good that the universe cares about.

      (1) and (2) are not the same, but you insist that (2) cannot be significantly different from (1). Any attempt I make to talk about universes in which our (1) strongly differs from (2) you completely ignore as impossible.

      How about we cut a deal, doctor(logic). How about you quit ignoring what I’ve put to you at least four times in this thread:

      What evidence do I bring for my position? We all know it’s possible to become better or worse individuals. Only your metaphysical insistence on moral subjectivism could have convinced you otherwise.

      On what basis is not torturing babies for fun better than torturing them for fun? That’s the question: an actual ethical decision, not an ethical system. It’s not just subjective opinion. Your metaphysic requires you to think it is, but that’s a forced conclusion from a contingent position.

      DL finds that there are causes for our moral sensations and assumes that by providing partial explanations of the psychology of morality he has explained the rest of it away. I still contend that he’s making that leap only because his metaphysic requires it.

      You discount billions of persons’ psychological states in the very act of saying that. We discussed that a few comments ago. Most everyone in the history of the world would say that they know there are such things as real right and wrong. That only looks subjective to you because you won’t accept the evidence for what it is, and because your metaphysics prevent you from considering it as such. Your metaphysics also prevent you from seeing for yourself that some things are really right and really wrong

      How about you also acknowledge that the question is about ontology and not just epistemology?

      If you’ll do that, I’ll be glad to talk again about universes that differ strongly from ours. No, wait a moment, I don’t need to offer you that. You say I’ve “ignored it as impossible.” I haven’t done that. I can’t even find any place where you’ve made the argument you claim I’ve ignored; not in this thread, at any rate. To double-check myself I did a page search for “universe” and “differ”. Did I miss it somewhere? Or are you bluffing?

      I’m not bluffing. You have a question or two to answer. It’s your turn, not mine.

    • Tom Gilson says:

      Going on, first to SteveK,

      Moral realism certainly is a theory about how things are. According to moral realism, how things are is inseperable from how they ought to be.

      You said above that the subjective experience is objectively grounded, and now here you say you can’t ground the experience. You need to explain this apparant contradiction.

      I think he has now acknowledged (comment 168) he was wrong to use the word “grounding” in that context. He has no contradiction now to explain there, since he has retracted the statement.

      And then to doctor(logic):

      Moral realism isn’t a theory about how things are or how things will be, but about how they ought to be. And you can’t ground that. At best you can ground how we think things ought to be, and how we think things ought to be is a subset of the way things are.

      dl, are you saying that “how things ought to be” could not be grounded in any possible world, including one in which the very structure of reality is moral? If so, then why didn’t you say so earlier? You could have made it easier by simply explaining it this way:

      Whatever argument you present, Tom and Steve, is wrong.

      I think that’s really your position and the summation of your argument besides. Everything else you’ve presented here is just the phenomenology of our error. There’s no argument in phenomenology, of course. The argument is subsumed in “You’re wrong.” The rest of it is only, “this is how you got to the mistaken opinion that you’re right.”

      But your explanation of how we got to said mistaken opinion is interesting only if you would actually mount an argument to support your contention that “you can’t ground that.”

    • SteveK says:

      DL,

      Sorry, but Tom gets it, and you don’t. Maybe Tom can explain it to you.

      Everything I am reading from Tom aligns with what I am saying so apparently I get it to the degree that Tom gets it. It’s the ontology.

      The objective ontological reality explains (grounds) the subjective experience of it because we are a product of that objective ontological reality.

      Compare the ontology of God to the ontology of the universe and explain to me why the universe does a better job of explaining the moral “ought to be” experience when a naturalistic universe, by definition, lacks the ontology.

    • Tom,

      No serious philosopher and no formal apologist I have ever heard of thinks that moral reality means having the ability to create barriers that are permeable only to good and evil. And most reject this idea because they know it’s plainly false that evil can be detected this way (well, like I said, I think there’s.

      However, I was responding to your question about the kinds of evidence I would accept for moral realism, or at least “moral dualism”. There’s no need to worry, no such evidence exists, and no one in the debate expects it to emerge.

      It means what it says. It means that the universe is fundamentally moral, and that all of reality is fundamentally moral.

      Is this the same thing as saying that there is cosmic justice? Or does this still hold even if universalism is true or if no one is rewarded or punished for their actions?

      In other words, when we say that physicalism is true, we’re saying that physical conservation laws are always respected (as far as we can tell). You are proposing a kind of dualism in which physical laws are lower than moral laws. For example, the evil-doer always gets his comeuppance even if it violates physical laws. Presumably, cosmic justice in the afterlife satisfies this condition.

      How about we cut a deal, doctor(logic). How about you quit ignoring what I’ve put to you at least four times in this thread:

      Way to miss my point completely. The case I’m talking about is to consider the possibility that murder and rape are objective goods, and your avoidance or prevention of them is evil. This is a standard technique in bias cancellation. We consider cases in which our emotions are biased oppositely, and then see if the argument is still compelling.

      I’ll repeat the paragraph that followed that made my point clear:

      Look at it this way. The reason why realists are concerned about realism is that they want to have something to hold up to people who have differing subjective goods. You want to be able to walk up to someone like Hitler or Ted Bundy and tell them moral reality is contrary to their subjective beliefs. But when I try to place you (hypothetically) in the same psychological position as Hitler by asking you to consider a world in which your subjective good is an objective evil, you simply declare my hypothetical situation out of bounds.

      This situation is a mirror of the moral reality you believe in. I asked you once if there was any aspect of moral reality that you found morally repugnant. While you admitted that you don’t live up to your moral ideals (no one does), you could not point me to any aspect moral reality that you thought was morally repugnant. In other words, moral reality appears to line up perfectly with your moral ideals (shocker).

      What happens when moral reality doesn’t line up with moral ideals?

      I’ll ask this question yet again. Why be good? If moral realism were found to require the practice of torturing babies (something that certainly violates our moral ideals), do you want to be really good? Or is this question arbitrarily out of bounds?

      What evidence do I bring for my position? We all know it’s possible to become better or worse individuals.

      Equivocation. We don’t know it’s possible to become absolutely better individuals, and it’s disingenuous to pretend otherwise.

      On what basis is not torturing babies for fun better than torturing them for fun? That’s the question: an actual ethical decision, not an ethical system. It’s not just subjective opinion.

      Yes, I know that this is your opinion. You don’t need to give me your opinion again. Just give me reasons to accept your opinion, please.

      DL finds that there are causes for our moral sensations and assumes that by providing partial explanations of the psychology of morality he has explained the rest of it away. I still contend that he’s making that leap only because his metaphysic requires it.

      Again, I know my opinion, and yours. Let’s stick to reasons that support them.

      How about you also acknowledge that the question is about ontology and not just epistemology?

      So we are free to make up whatever ontology we want to? Is it just a matter of aesthetics? If so, knock yourself out.

    • Charlie says:

      Ah, DL’s argument from morality against materialism returns. I like this one.
      DL has admitted that the perception of evil has physiological effects. Indeed, he says it is a scientific fact.
      But he also says there are no “evil waves”, no “morality particles”. Neither evil nor morality has any objective existence.
      And yet, evil causes physical effects on brains and bodies.
      Et voila, materialism is defeated.

    • Charlie,

      Go and sit at the back of the class with Steve.

    • Charlie says:

      You sure are rude, doctor(logic). Where’s Tony to police these threads when we need him?

      Anyway, here in the back seats I have a good enough view of the entire board to see how your case (whose one requirement, at the expense of any other consistency, is ‘avoid God, avoid God’) cannibalizes itself. Maybe you should step back once in awhile, too, and try to take the whole thing in. It’s not pretty, that’s for sure.

    • Tom Gilson says:

      Okay, out of the seminars, off the plane and back at home, and I have time to say one thing: doctor(logic), that sure was rude. To both Steve and Charlie.

      You wrote, quoting me first and then responding,

      How about we cut a deal, doctor(logic). How about you quit ignoring what I’ve put to you at least four times in this thread:

      Way to miss my point completely

      Way to miss mine. You have a lot of unanswered questions hanging for you to address. Those questions preceded the one you re-stated most recently. I didn’t miss your point: I responded to it by telling you that I was waiting for you to catch up on old topics. That ought to have been apparent from any corner of the classroom, wherever you may happen to be sitting.

      You have some questions waiting for you to answer. I don’t think it’s incumbent on me to answer yours while you’ve not been answering mine. Once we’ve discussed the questions you’ve not been engaging in, you can feel free to ask your more recent questions once again.

    • Tom Gilson says:

      I want to amend that last statement I made.

      It’s not about who missed whose point. That’s a controlling kind of statement. It’s about having the kind of dialogue that’s really a dialogue. When one person makes a point or asks a question, and then re-asks it, and then again, while the other person completely fails to acknowledge much less engage it, that’s a sham. It’s not dialogue.

      So if you want to have a dialogue, by all means participate in it. It’s your choice, At this point, I don’t have that option. I can’t dialogue with you while you are only pretending to dialogue with me.

    • Charlie says:

      re physicalism and the brain.
      When I said:

      As well, here’s a thought on physicalism and emotion:
      My girlfriend is talking on the phone and starts to cry. What physical event caused her emotion? Not talking on the phone itself or receiving soundwaves, obviously, as she experiences those all day without crying. It can only be the reception of non-material information which caused the emotion. That information could have been transferred any number of ways and it would have had the same effect (it need not even correlate to a real physical happening, as the information could be false or fantastic). At the same time, it can also be transferred to me but have no effect. Therefore, there is nothing physical which causes the emotion. Therefore, the immaterial has affected the material. Her brain received nothing but physical/chemical/electrical signals – as it does at all times – but it was the content of the message, not the medium, which caused the reaction. The physical elements are as they always are while what has changed is the non-physical part – the information.

      DL would have none of it, as his theory of the mind has to support his atheism:

      DL:

      The inbound information is purely physical.

      Me: No it isn’t. It is carried in a physical medium, but it is non-physical.
      DL:

      Maybe the phone message was “Vote for Fred,” but a technical glitch in the phone makes it sound like “Luke is dead.” In that case, the person is not responding to non-physical information. The person is (mis)interpreting physical sensation.

      Me:
      It is not the physical sensation which is misinterpreted but the information content. I stepped on a dime which conducted heat away from my body in such a fashion that I misinterpreted it as water on the floor. Misinterpreting physical sensations does not make us cry.

      https://www.thinkingchristian.net/C228303755/E20070615122655/index.html

      And then
      https://www.thinkingchristian.net/C936247104/E20071130155153/index.html

      You made a big deal, when discussing materialistic accounts of the mind, of the fact that physical changes could account for changes in the mind (claiming, therefore, that the mind was entirely the material brain). You ignored the fact that non-physical changes also could (placebo effect, for instance) which shows that the mind is likewise immaterial and non-physical. You disputed my example where I said that my girlfriend could have a physical change of brain state, initiated by non-material information being relayed to her.
      http://www.haloscan.com/comments…5122655/ #217644

      You denied this and claimed the information was material (?!).
      http://www.haloscan.com/comments…5122655/ #217738

      But now you refute this spurious claim yourself by allowing that beliefs (not objective, material reality) cause the physical states of the brain that result in moral preferences.

      Now, of course, you will suddenly be compelled to answer the question, try to call the beliefs themselves “physical”, and try to account for this, but the ship has sailed. Nothing “moral” has been received into the brain (as per your denial of realism), and yet the brain goes through all of the belief stages necessary to “feel” the moral implication. The subject even “feels distress”, with accompanying physical brain changes caused by belief alone, when nothing has happened other than its imagining an activity halfway around the world.

      Your theory of morality has defeated your materialism – the very thing it is invented to shore up.

      Likewise, you just admitted that morality is contingent upon choice. But choice is not choice without free will. So your theory of morality has also defeated another of your great pillars, the denial of free will.
      (Of course you will now slip back into compatibilism and say that you can have a determinsitic universe and free will).

      Not to mention that your theory of morality has long since defeated itself when you claimed such things as “no crime could warrant a given punishment” and that “justice can never be served by a third party paying a moral debt”
      https://www.thinkingchristian.net…0050/ index.html
      and when you made moral value independent of your own feelings (the burn victim case), etc.

      You have also admitted what Paul was adamant was not the case; that preference for ice cream flavours is the equivalent of morality to the relativist and that the individual, not the group, determines the moral value of an action.

      Thanks for the chat.
      Charlie | 12.03.07 – 12:04 pm | #

      Three years and the more things change … the uglier the view from the back of the classroom.

    • SteveK says:

      DL,
      I’d like to ask you a very direct question that I hope you will take the time to answer. This question is based on common ground that you and I have agreed to already.

      Q: If something outside of the human being is the reason why the subjective moral experience exists, what possible naturalistic explanation can fully account for this that doesn’t do away with the objective reality that you said has something to do with it?

      The last part of that question might need some explaining. We agree that the apple on the table has something to do with my subjective experience of it. If I attempt to explain that in naturalistic terms by saying the chemicals in my brain fully explain my perception of the apple on the table, then I have done away with the apple on the table as having something to do with my subjective experience.

    • SteveK says:

      Charlie,
      This attempt to blame the subjective experience on a mistake made in the mind conflicts heavily with DL’s admission that objective reality has something to do with the experience.

      If the torture I witnessed has something to do with my moral experience then all the mental biases, misinterpretations, mistakes or rationalizations can’t change that. All of this talk about mind tricks, bias, irrationality, etc is moot.

    • SteveK says:

      DL,
      A reminder in case you have forgotten about my question and if you would still like to reply.

    • Steve,

      I’ve explained this over and over again, but I’ll give it one more shot.

      I’ll bring back my peanut allergy analogy.

      A peanut allergy is caused by the allergic person’s immune system reacting to a protein in the peanut. The protein is objective, the person’s immune system is objective, and the person’s reaction to the peanut is an objective fact. However, the peanut allergy is NOT objectively in the peanut itself!

      It is the protein that is objectively in the peanut itself, not the allergy. The allergy is objectively in the reaction between the protein and the allergic person.

      When I eat a peanut, I do not have an allergic reaction. It is not because I am faulty for not being able to detect that the peanut is allergenic in itself. It is because the property of being allergenic is not objectively in the peanut, but rather is objectively in the reaction between the peanut and the allergic person.

      Do you understand this? We can come up with an objective picture of everything that happens, but the peanut allergy is not objectively in the peanut.

      I’m saying the same situation is the case for morality. Morality is how we objectively react when exposed to the objective facts about a moral act. In the case of a murder, the physical facts of the murder case (the murderer, the victim, the weapon, etc) are objective. My reaction to the murder is also objective, and my reaction is at least partially caused by my being exposed to the objective facts of the case (and partially caused by my objective history). But just because my perception of murder as evil is objectively-caused does not mean that murder in itself is evil or immoral. Evil is the name for my adverse reaction to murder. It is about the reaction between myself an murder, not about murder itself.

      Going back to the analogy, you might say that most of us have an allergy to murder. But there’s no objective basis for saying that someone who does not see murder as evil is incorrect. He might be statistically abnormal, but we can’t say he’s absolutely malfunctioning.

      We can of course subjectively say he is malfunctioning. We can say that the person who doesn’t have an allergy to murder is abhorrent to us, but he is not abhorrent in himself, and neither is murder itself.

      To sum this up, you keep thinking that a subjective thing cannot have an objective basis. This is wrong.

      When a subject observes an object, the subject and object are interacting. Indeed, they objectively interact. The objective properties of the object meet the objective properties of the subject, and an objective reaction results. However, initially, all we have to go on are the reactions, not the properties. We have to infer properties from reactions in order to understand what properties are fundamental, what properties are in the subject and object themselves.

      The objective allergic reaction to the peanut is a sign that there is something objective in the peanut reacting with something objective in the subject. However, “allergicness” is not a property of the peanut. Peanuts don’t have allergicness. They have a protein that reacts with the immune system of the subject. The allergy is subjective. It is in the interaction of the peanut and the subject.

      In the case of a murder, the objective facts are the physical facts. A murderer, a victim, a weapon, and the cause of death. The question we are debating is whether our reaction to murder (i.e., a reaction of intense dislike, disgust, etc.) is caused by more than the objective physical facts of the murder. You say it is, I say it isn’t.

      You won’t crack this debate by talking about the objective causes of the reactions, because the debate isn’t about that. We all agree on objective causes, but objective causation isn’t about subjectivity. Subjectivity is about which properties go where.

    • Tom Gilson says:

      doctor(logic),

      I basically agree with your answer to the point SteveK is pressing (sorry, Steve). But I still think the implications of your position are absurd and counter-intuitive. Most importantly, I am certain you never could have come to take this ethical stance were it not forced upon you by your metaphysics. Viewed from an ethical perspective innocent of your atheistic presuppositions, your conclusions are just obviously wrong. It’s wrong to say that “there’s no objective basis for saying that someone who does not see murder as evil is incorrect,” or (paraphrased) “there’s no reason to think someone is actually wrong if they think murder is okay.”

      Murder is wrong, actually. I think you know that on some level. But you won’t let yourself admit it until you let go of that which is blinding you to the obvious.

    • SteveK says:

      I can only blame myself for being a lousy communicator if both Tom and DL think DL’s response is an answer to the question I am asking or the point I am trying to make. *sigh*

      Perhaps I will try again.

    • SteveK says:

      DL,

      However, the peanut allergy is NOT objectively in the peanut itself!
      …..
      Do you understand this? We can come up with an objective picture of everything that happens, but the peanut allergy is not objectively in the peanut.

      I understand it. I understood it long, long ago. I understand it now and I will understand it next week. I am NOT saying morality or evil or goodness is IN the murder, nor is it in you or me. The reaction/perception is in you and I, but not the morality itself. Can I be any more clear than that? Write it down.

      To sum this up, you keep thinking that a subjective thing cannot have an objective basis. This is wrong.

      I must be living in the Bizaro World because I do not think this at all. In fact, I’ve gone out of my way several times to say the following:

      ME: The subjective experience is grounded in objective reality

      Please interpret that as me saying “the subjective thing has an objective basis”. I thought it was clear.

      The question we are debating is whether our reaction to murder (i.e., a reaction of intense dislike, disgust, etc.) is caused by more than the objective physical facts of the murder. You say it is, I say it isn’t.

      I don’t say it is “caused”. That is your term. I say it is “grounded”, or “explained by” or “the reason for”.

      You say the reaction is explained by – or grounded in – the objective physical facts of the murder. Take out the word “physical” and we agree at least a little bit, although I would not ground it there. This next series of questions are similar to those I asked before in previous comments. They get to the point of my question in comment 183.

      1) What is it about the nature of objective reality that explains the existence of moral reactions? It’s the reason why moral reactions even exist.
      2) If this nature explains moral reactions, then doesn’t it follow that morality is grounded in the nature of objective reality? I think, yes.
      3) What is the nature of reality?

      I think naturalism has a very difficult time answering these questions so that it makes any sense out of morality. Dare I say, they are impossible to answer in naturalistic terms.

      Lastly, a better analogy that fits my argument is words on a paper. The meaning isn’t in the paper, or the ink, nor in your mind. The meaning is grounded in the nature of the objective reality that explains why you have any reaction at all. Your reaction to the words on the paper (or lack of one) doesn’t change that.

    • SteveK says:

      DL,

      The question we are debating is whether our reaction to murder (i.e., a reaction of intense dislike, disgust, etc.) is caused by more than the objective physical facts of the murder. You say it is, I say it isn’t.

      My question is designed (designed poorly, apparently) to have you think through your answer in naturalistic terms. We both agree the morality – the meaning – isn’t IN the murder and it isn’t IN us. The reaction to, or perception of, is definitely in us – but what are we reacting TO, or perceiving? You say the ‘what’ goes no further than the objective physical facts.

      But that is like saying our reaction to the ink on the paper – the meaning – goes no further than the objective physical facts. That makes no sense. There is no meaning in ink or paper, nor is there meaning in the physical action of humans killing other humans. Hopefully we can all agree to that. And yet we perceive a meaning in the act of killing innocent humans. Why?

      All of your attempts to explain why we perceive a meaning in the physical facts – a repeatable perception I will add – have failed because you insist that the explanation MUST be found in the physical facts of the ink or the paper or the killing of innocents. It’s time to look somewhere else. Where else can a naturalist look?

    • Steve,

      Let’s go from the paper and ink analogy. Suppose I have a piece of paper with a banana pudding recipe on it. It’s possible to imagine an alternative universe in which the words on the paper are actually instructions for installing a kitchen sink, i.e., in which our language is different, but almost everything else is the same.

      What differentiates the two worlds? What makes the words mean different things? What differentiates them is the history and context of the words. Someone somewhere had to make an arbitrary choice for the word for water. In a parallel universe, a different choice might have been made. Indeed, in different cultures different choices WERE made. In each case, there is a line of causation that explains the choice, and which fixes the references on the paper.

      The debate here is not about whether the references are objectively fixed. I think we both agree that they are fixed. The issue here is whether the word “water” is the one and only correct word for water. We would both agree that the word is arbitrary and culturally and historically dependent.

      In the case of morality, we can both agree (I think) that our moral feelings are caused by our history, culture, biology and by the physical facts of the moral case we’re considering. The question is whether our caused feelings about the facts are absolutely correct ones. I’m not seeing any compelling arguments that they are.

    • Tom,

      I see it as neither absurd nor counter-intuitive, though I admit others may find it counter-intuitive. I don’t think it is absurd because it doesn’t lead to a contradiction.

      Your previous answers to this seem to concede that in the absence of God, you agree that there’s no way to fix morality absolutely. Of course, I don’t think God would fix the problem even if he did exist, so your argument that my atheism drives me to moral subjectivism doesn’t hold up. Morality isn’t absolute under theism either, as far as I can see.

      I would use the same analogy I just used with Steve. Suppose God says that the technically correct word for water is the German word “wasser”.

      What possible basis does God have for picking out “wasser” as the correct word for referencing water? Why isn’t “water” the correct word for referencing water if you are a native English speaker?

      You could say that if there were an absolutely correct word to use to refer to water, God would know it, because God presumably would have a formula/basis for choosing the absolutely correct word, and God would have all the information needed to apply that formula.

      But I cannot make any sense of this. First, it’s not at all obvious that there could be an absolutely correct word to reference a thing by. Second, if you assume that such correctness is possible, there seems to be no formula anyone (including God) could use to make such a selection. Applying this analogy to morality yields another problem for me: if we suppose that criteria exist but we are too dumb or ignorant to understand the formula, why should we care about correctness if it fails to cash out in terms of feelings? Who cares about being good if it doesn’t feel good?

    • Crude says:

      Suppose I have a piece of paper with a banana pudding recipe on it. It’s possible to imagine an alternative universe in which the words on the paper are actually instructions for installing a kitchen sink, i.e., in which our language is different, but almost everything else is the same.

      What differentiates the two worlds? What makes the words mean different things? What differentiates them is the history and context of the words.

      Something doesn’t add up here.

      Your example has you asking what makes the collection of atoms and quanta add up to \ink in the shape of words on paper, and the words mean a banana pudding recipe\. You appeal to \history and context\ – but that’s like appealing to \these other collections of atoms and quanta and they have words on them which assert that those words are, in fact, a banana pudding recipe\.

      What gives the ‘history and context’ the meaning that you say it has? Yet more history and context? Is there some never-ending chain of history and context going on unto eternity? Do we simply, in time, arrive at ‘brute’ meaning? Either option seems far more friendly to theism than naturalism as typically construed.

      First, it’s not at all obvious that there could be an absolutely correct word to reference a thing by. Second, if you assume that such correctness is possible, there seems to be no formula anyone (including God) could use to make such a selection. Applying this analogy to morality yields another problem for me: if we suppose that criteria exist but we are too dumb or ignorant to understand the formula, why should we care about correctness if it fails to cash out in terms of feelings? Who cares about being good if it doesn’t feel good?

      Standing alone in this thread, I’d like to try a different approach. Just for fun.

      What if there were a definite, singular state of maximal pleasure X? And this state, in order to achieve it, required the abandonment of certain acts A, B and C that – while capable of providing some kind of pleasure in and of themselves – were necessarily in conflict with this absolute state of pleasure, such that to engage in A B or C is to remove the possibility of achieving state X.

      If you were to grant – for the sake of argument – that there were some maximal state of \feeling good\ X, would you agree that all rational persons should pursue state X?

    • SteveK says:

      DL,

      What makes the words mean different things? What differentiates them is the history and context of the words.

      You’re not going back far enough to the root – the grounding. The history and context are grounded in the nature of the reality that explains them. That objective nature is the root differentiator that explains why things are the way they are, and it is our grounding source. In both our analogies that grounding source is not the ink, paper, geometry, method of writing, etc. It goes beyond that.

      The nature of the reality that grounds everything is what makes it possible for something to experience meaning through those things (physical facts, history, etc.). The history and context (and other variables) can make those experiences different to the point of eliminating them altogether, but they can’t create the meaning itself.

      So, what kind of objective reality are we talking about? My argument says it’s not a reality that is encompassed by the physical nature of the singularity and the physical process that followed from it any more than meaning of any kind can be explained by the physical nature of the factory that makes the ink, paper, and ultimately, the book. Meaning is not found in the nature of the physical, yet that is all the naturalist has to choose from. Am I wrong about that, DL?

      In the case of morality, we can both agree (I think) that our moral feelings are caused by our history, culture, biology and by the physical facts of the moral case we’re considering.

      Again, you’re not going back far enough. None of the things you mention can adequately explain why moral meaning is perceived in the situation before us because the existence of moral meaning is not adequately explained by things like ink, paper, geometry, method of writing – or anything else that is physical.

      Your entire argument is truncated. It skips over the reason why there is an objective basis for perceived morality in the first place, rather than no perceived meaning. You need to account for that in terms that make sense.

    • Tom Gilson says:

      You’ve got an antecedent-consequent fallacy operating here, dl:

      Your previous answers to this seem to concede that in the absence of God, you agree that there’s no way to fix morality absolutely. Of course, I don’t think God would fix the problem even if he did exist, so your argument that my atheism drives me to moral subjectivism doesn’t hold up. Morality isn’t absolute under theism either, as far as I can see.

      If one concludes there is no God, one must conclude morality is not objective or absolute. If one concludes there is a God, and if you are right in your argument here (which I would dispute if it mattered at this stage; Crude has done it anyway) then one could conclude either that morality is objective or not objective.

      I think that you have concluded that morality must be non-objective as a result of your metaphysical commitment to atheism.

      And this is positively maddening:

      In the case of morality, we can both agree (I think) that our moral feelings are caused by our history, culture, biology and by the physical facts of the moral case we’re considering.

      It’s not all about moral feelings!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      Did I state that strongly enough?

      I have said it a hundred times: if you make it all about moral feelings, you beg the question. Am I a little tired of repeating myself? No, I’m very weary of it.

      This is no help, so don’t resort to it:

      The question is whether our caused feelings about the facts are absolutely correct ones. I’m not seeing any compelling arguments that they are.

      No, the question is whether moral beliefs, opinions, attitudes, propositions, and also feelings have the potential to be correct or incorrect. It’s not whether we have the right feelings; it’s whether there is any such thing as right feelings and beliefs, opinions, attitudes, etc. to be had.

      You keep arguing on the basis that your premises are the only ones to be considered, and you keep arguing that you must be right since your premises lead to your conclusion. Your conclusion also leads to your premises, doctor(whatever).

    • Crude,

      I’m not going to be pulled into a debate about dualism and intentionality. Rest assured that I have a position in that debate, but I don’t think it’s directly relevant to our discussion. If your position on moral realism vitally depends on dualist stance on intentionality, then, by all mean, let me know.

      What if there were a definite, singular state of maximal pleasure X? And this state, in order to achieve it, required the abandonment of certain acts A, B and C that – while capable of providing some kind of pleasure in and of themselves – were necessarily in conflict with this absolute state of pleasure, such that to engage in A B or C is to remove the possibility of achieving state X.

      I think this is a good example for us all.

      Let’s remove the word absolute for now, and consider that there might be local maxima. Pleasure is like a mountain range, and you’re asking whether it is rational for every agent to seek out the peak of the highest mountain in the range. While the agent could maximize pleasure locally by going to the top of the mountain he is currently standing on, he would be rational to descend into the darkness of the valleys and make his way to the foot of the tallest mountain and begin his ascent again.

      There are a couple of things I like about this puzzle. First, it would appear to be valid, even if there is no god. So, there could be a form of moral realism, even if God doesn’t exist. So much for Tom’s psychoanalysis.

      Second, it raises an important question. We do not strive only for pleasure, but for the avoidance of pain. If going into the valleys is painful, we might be rational to stay on the mountain we currently occupy. Suppose I am certain that I have to murder all people of a certain race in order to improve the world, and thereby get to the tallest mountain. Is it rational for me to proceed with genocide? It’s not obviously rational to me.

      Moreover, every man’s mountain range looks different. Your Mt. Everest could be my Mt. McKinley, and vice versa. We’re different. Now, is it rational for me to try to become you so that we both can strive to reach the top of your Everest?

      Is it obvious to you that two rational agents will necessarily have the same tastes, pleasures, pains, etc?

    • Steve,

      In my picture of the world, meaning to an individual is tied up with that individual’s ability to recognize a thing. For example, I don’t know the meaning of the word rabbit independent of my ability to recognize a rabbit, and my ability to recognize a rabbit derives from my experience of rabbits seen in the past. I can now meaningfully speak about rabbits I have not seen by referring to my existing capacity to recognize rabbits – for me a rabbit is what my internal rabbit-recognizer would recognize.

      Whatever. As I wrote to Crude, I don’t see the direct relevance of this line of thinking.

    • Tom,

      I don’t understand why you’re getting so upset. I know that you think there’s more to morality than feelings. And you know that I know. I’m just saying that you agree that we have feelings, and that feelings are caused by the factors I listed.

      No, the question is whether moral beliefs, opinions, attitudes, propositions, and also feelings have the potential to be correct or incorrect. It’s not whether we have the right feelings; it’s whether there is any such thing as right feelings and beliefs, opinions, attitudes, etc. to be had.

      Um, yeah, that’s what I meant. I was just assuming that for our purposes, our dislike for, say, murder was an allegedly “correct” feeling.

    • Tom Gilson says:

      You know that I think there’s more to morality than feelings, but you continue to argue as if that is all there is to morality. With this post you nod your head in the direction of my opinion but you do nothing to correct your question-begging ways.

    • Crude says:

      If your position on moral realism vitally depends on dualist stance on intentionality, then, by all mean, let me know.

      Hey, just replying to what you wrote. It didn’t make sense. No need to defend it – I doubt it’s possible. Your response to Steve basically adds up to “meaning is tied up with meaning” – go figure.

      (“Response” to question.)

      Wow. That was… one hell of a non-answer. You pontificated and declared without argument various conclusions you think you could draw from the question without justification, you rephrased it, but you didn’t actually answer it. And it wasn’t exactly complicated. You didn’t even ask for clarification – you just belted out one long bluff.

      I can tell when a conversation will be a waste of time. I think I’ll use my other time-wasting options first.

    • Crude,

      Wow. That was… one hell of a non-answer.

      Gosh, sorry if I wasn’t clear. My answer was “NO. Pleasure isn’t all there is to morality, rational agents aren’t concerned exclusively with pleasure, and even if they were, pleasure is different per person.”

    • Crude says:

      Gosh, sorry if I wasn’t clear. My answer was “NO. Pleasure isn’t all there is to morality, rational agents aren’t concerned exclusively with pleasure, and even if they were, pleasure is different per person.”

      That’s nice.

      * I didn’t say “pleasure is all there is to morality”. In fact, I didn’t even mention morality in my question.
      * I didn’t say rational agents only care about pleasure.
      * I didn’t say pleasure doesn’t vary per person.

      So, thanks for answering a variety of questions I didn’t even ask. I guess.

    • SteveK says:

      DL,
      I don’t really follow your last comment to me. Here’s my final word on this for now.

      We have moral experiences that are not rooted in pleasure or desire or feelings because that would make them grounded 100% in subjective reality, and you have already said this is not the case. You said the subjective experience has an objective basis.

      So, we know these experiences are not made up out of whole cloth by our minds. That means the reason that explains why we have them, preceeds us or is outside of us even though we play a role in that experience.

      You say that the reason is found in what I call ‘the process along the way’, and you gave examples of that: history, biology, culture, etc. But that process isn’t carried out in isolation all by itself. History, biology, culture, etc. cannot create what wasn’t possible from the very beginning. So the very beginning explains why any of this is even possible. The very beginning is the reason, the grounding reason.

      I don’t know what your complete view of naturalism is, but all the explanations I have heard say something similar to what you said. That the explanation can be found in the randomness, mutations, molecules in motion, biological changes, etc, etc –- in other words, it can be found in the process along the way. That makes no sense at all for the reasons I’ve already given.

      I think naturalism cannot account for this on it’s own terms. It cannot account for the possibility of moral experiences, right from the very beginning. Christianity explains it well, and when you combine this fact with the evidence for the resurrection, the case for Christianity is very strong when compared to naturalism.

      Thanks for the conversation, DL.

    • Roger Williams says:

      Tom Gilson seems like a man who totally lacks any shred of personal integrity. And he thinks anyone should CARE about his writings? The ultimate ego!! Poor Ton Gilson is a sad human being if he cares so little for others in such a way as saying
      “So no, I would not know of any reason to practice justice if God’s non-existence were proved…I think I would make my decisions based on what felt good to me and what I could get away with.”

      What a loser.

    • Tom Gilson says:

      Roger,

      A little context, please. First, you seem likely to have read only one of my blog posts, so your character conclusions here are based on very little knowledge and are thus premature, to say the least.

      Second, you have misread the post you have commented on here. You have picked out one key line that you find objectionable without attention to what precedes it. This is not a blog for people who will reflexively jump to conclusions based on some excisable Least Mockable Unit. It is for people who will follow an argument, try to understand what’s being said, and respond to it with some thought.

      Those who will not take time or practice the humanity to do so are the ones who lose.

    • James Gray says:

      Philosophers call your position that there are moral facts and perhaps a moral reality “moral realism.” Lots of atheists are moral realists. Many moral philosophers are moral realists, but almost none of them agree with you that moral realism requires God. We know lots of things about morality despite the fact that God might not exist.

      I know that other people’s pain and pleasure count for something. I have a reason to give a drifter an aspirin to help relieve a headache because reducing pain tends to be the right thing to do. I don’t see why God is needed to make the drifter’s pain matter. It matters because the pain is real and the drifter is part of the world.

    • Tom Gilson says:

      James, thank you for disagreeing with me on the substance of the blog post, rather than taking the shortcut that Roger took. I appreciate your comment. Yes, l know lots of philosophers believe in moral realism without thinking it requires the existence of God. I disagree with them; I think moral realism does require God. Note that our point of disagreement is not over whether we should be good people (or whether I have a shred of integrity, if I may make one final allusion to Mr. Williams). Our disagreement is over the basis for that moral reality.

      This blog post was the answer to a question I had been asked earlier, as you’ll see right from the start of it. It’s picking up in the middle of another conversation. I did not present it as being the argument for my theistic position on moral realism. I’m not going to take the time right now to lay out that argument. I’ve covered it more than once before, even (loosely) in the blog post from which the question was asked that I answered here (also here, among others). I’m also just beginning to work through Sam Harris’s Moral Landscape, and I expect that I’ll have a chance to cover that ground in the context of blogging on his book.

    • Tom Gilson says:

      See further this search list of previous discussions on this topic, or if you want just one, then “The Basis for Moral Realism.”

    • James Gray says:

      Tom,

      Do you have a specific argument that excludes the possibility of secular moral realism? The post you listed does not provide such an argument.

    • James Gray says:

      Tom,

      My own answers to your questions are here:

      http://ethicalrealism.wordpress.com/2011/01/18/questions-for-secular-moral-realism-answered/

      I don’t want to pretend that my answers are infallible, but I think they are fairly plausible. Of course, even theists won’t all agree to the same answers to the questions.

    • Tom Gilson says:

      James, my own best argument is in the form of an article I’m submitting to a journal. I’ll be taking a look at your answers to my questions–and thank you for responding, by the way– but I’m still pacing myself following shoulder surgery a week and a half ago, so it may be a while before I can provide a more complete response.

    • Crude says:

      This seems as timely as ever to re-link this one:

      Are There Secular Reasons? by Stanley Fish.

      The moment we start talking about “intrinsic values”, we’re also talking about “final causes” and teleology – and that’s the case whether or not we call the ultimate ground of this “God”, or whether we just assert it as a basic fact that some things are ‘good’ as a fundamental property.

      Whatever that is, it ain’t secular. Not unless secular just means “Anything that isn’t Christianity specifically”.

      (By the way, get well soon Tom. Sorry to hear about the surgery.)

    • James Gray says:

      Crude,

      Do you really think that what you are saying is the smoking gun against all the living moral realist atheistic philosophers? You really think atheistic moral realism is impossible? That sounds quite ambitious considering that we know so little about meta-ethics and most philosophers have to admit that their own opinion is not the only rational option.

      Stanly Fish and Steven Smith are not philosophers. They are not an experts and their arguments fail to appreciate the depth of philosophy. The objections to philosophy in favor of religion are meaningless because to favor “religion” over “philosophy” is to favor unjustified beliefs over justified ones. “Religious philosophy” might be acceptable, but that doesn’t solve the problem.

      The argument can be summed up as the following:

      1. Atheists can’t get an ought from an is.
      2. Atheists can start with “is” but will never get oughts.
      3. Therefore, religion will save us!

      That’s quite a leap there.

      How do we justify the fact that you can’t get an ought from an is? It’s basically an argument from ignorance fallacy. “There’s no way it can be done because I don’t know how!” I think there are “moral facts,” so an ought can be an is. That’s what moral realism is all about. Religion isn’t going to give us a non-fact from a fact either.

      You said:

      The moment we start talking about “intrinsic values”, we’re also talking about “final causes” and teleology – and that’s the case whether or not we call the ultimate ground of this “God”, or whether we just assert it as a basic fact that some things are ‘good’ as a fundamental property.

      One, I disagree that intrinsic values have much to do with anything stated here, and I see no argument here. You provide no argument, so I need to give no argument.

      To repeat from earlier: “I know that other people’s pain and pleasure count for something. I have a reason to give a drifter an aspirin to help relieve a headache because reducing pain tends to be the right thing to do. I don’t see why God is needed to make the drifter’s pain matter. It matters because the pain is real and the drifter is part of the world.”

      Two, even if it were true that morality is basic (whatever you think that means), so what? Is that impossible if there is no God?

      You then say,

      Whatever that is, it ain’t secular. Not unless secular just means “Anything that isn’t Christianity specifically”.

      Teleology and final ends — if that is what you were thinking of — is Aristotelian. Aristotle didn’t say God had anything to do with morality. I think what Aristotle said about morality makes a great deal of sense based on the assumption of atheism. Happiness (eudamonia) is what we take to be the “most final end.” Even if his biology and teleology is rejected, we can still agree that it’s rational to want to be happy. We experience that happiness has intrinsic value.

      Fish/Smith argue that we can’t get morality from empiricism/experience. That isn’t obvious at all. In fact, there are many naturalist moral realist philosophers. To dismiss their arguments and theories like they don’t count at all is silly.

      Let’s say that empiricism can’t get us morality. In the worst case scenario Plato is right and something like the forms might be required. That’s not God, and many philosophers think something they call “abstract entities” might exist. That doesn’t require the existence of God and it’s not even obvious that “abstract entities” are supernatural.

    • Holopupenko says:

      Wow, James… it’s pretty clear you could use a few good doses of maturity (itself with a large helping of humility), nuance, and fact-checking.

      Let’s get off topic just for a moment to speak of your “what is philosophy” e-book (i.e., not “really” published, which means not “really” peer-reviewed except perhaps by certain members of your choir): it’s a utilitarian vision of philosophy—not in the JSM sense but in the sense of using philosophy to achieve a certain goal: “philosophers hope that they can understand the universe and use that knowledge to live a good life.” Wrong answer. If you seek to philosophize other than for the good it is in itself, then you and your two degrees haven’t gotten out of Plato’s Cave: you put proximate ends ahead of the ultimate end… which, by the way, is really what atheism is all about, isn’t it? Ultimately it’s about control over the universe, yourself (except for those nasty, uncomfortable things known as virtues)… and eventually others. Been there, done that kind of atheism…

      So, to address your “impossible” problem: why, yes indeed, objective realist morality is impossible without God. I’m not going to argue over the things you present in your “books.” Rather, the whole jumping-off point for your approach is: God does NOT exist, and I WILL form a realist morality that suits me just fine, thank you very much. Kind of puts the kibosh even on your own personal definition of philosophy “understand the universe,” doesn’t it? Maybe you don’t like the evidence or you reject as evidence that which challenges and corrects your jumping-off point… but that’s too bad.

      Faith as “unjustified beliefs”? Really? Per YOUR understanding of what counts as “justified”… again, just because it doesn’t serve YOUR personal purposes. That is truly the mark of a NON-philosopher, in fact. I’m not even sure Socrates could knock some sense (read: wisdom) into you MA degree-level knowledge of reality.

      “Stanly Fish and Steven Smith are not philosophers. They are not an experts and their arguments fail to appreciate the depth of philosophy.” On the first statement: so what? You, as a self-proclaimed philosopher employing the genetic fallacy. Well, well, well… as participants at this blog have seen over the years, the genetic fallacy is part of the standard arsenal of atheists. On the second: really? Let me play your game: as a philosopher, while I reject some of the things Fish and Smith assert on their own merits, you’re manipulating their views to promote your point. I have no interest in addressing what’s animating this little rhetorical ploy of yours.

      Your syllogism is a facile straw man: have a ball—shoot away. We’ll just relax and watch.

      And this is beautiful: “How do we justify the fact that you can’t get an ought from an is? It’s basically an argument from ignorance fallacy. “There’s no way it can be done because I don’t know how!” I think there are “moral facts,” so an ought can be an is.” Did anyone else notice the switcharoo? “ought from is” becomes “is from an ought”. Second, just how do you move from an observation in the physical world to a moral obligation ought? We have remote sensing technologies that can detect weapons of mass destruction. Which science or technology do you propose tells us how to move from that “is” to at least a philosophical “ought”. Sheesh—talk about “taking a leap”!

      Your knowledge of Aristotle is sophomoric when you suggest “Aristotle didn’t say God had anything to do with morality.” Perhaps, but that inconvenient little truth about Aristotle’s demonstration of the First Unmoved Mover and the immateriality of the human soul was left unmentioned by you, wasn’t it? Also, Aristotle DID accept the existence of a Deity—not the Christian one, granted. I’ll grant you haven’t come clean on what pedigree of that deadly worldview called atheism you adhere to, so it’s unclear what you might be implying by a “worst case scenario” of Platonic forms. (Boy, I’d love to see how an atheist deals with material/physical participation in immaterial forms!) Nonetheless, you pick a narrow aspect of Aristotle out of context and use it as a weapon against an extremely important point Crude raises. Whether you like it or not, you’ve got to account not just for the whole of reality but for order in reality as well. THAT’S the level critical thinkers are really stretching their brains—not in little skirmishes to score rhetorical points in support of a pre-supposed (atheistic) disordered view of reality.

      Finally, (because it would be a waste of time to pursue the remaining personal opinions) you’re a coward: Crude didn’t provide an argument (re: teleology) because, if I read him correctly, what he did provide was a “for your consideration” response to you. That you then high-tail it out of the point with the childish “You provide no argument, so I need to give no argument.” Excellent non-philosophical style, that.

      My advise: let St. Thomas do the philosophizing for you… so you don’t hurt yourself. Oh, wait, he’s automatically, out-of-hand dismissed because it’s better to comfort oneself in a warm bath of historicism and genetic fallacies that permit one’s own proximate personal opinions to be rammed down people’s throats as truth.

    • Tom Gilson says:

      Well spoken, Holopupenko.

      James, here’s my impression. Crude was not being un-philosophical in making the statement he made; philosophers do that kind of thing all the time. Your own response smacks more of dogmatism than his, for example,

      The objections to philosophy in favor of religion are meaningless because to favor “religion” over “philosophy” is to favor unjustified beliefs over justified ones.

      Really? To borrow from a line I heard somewhere, Do you really think that what you are saying is the smoking gun against all the living theistic philosophers? And do you think that constitutes an argument?

      Your three-part representation of the theistic syllogism is badly distorted. It’s a straw man. And you represent yourself as an expert?

      The theistic moral argument is not an argument from ignorance, by the way; it’s an argument from what is known about the nature of reality.

      This would not get you an MA in philosophy:

      I think there are “moral facts,” so an ought can be an is.

      That you think there are moral facts leads to no conclusion whatever, except for something descriptive about yourself. You have to show some reason why you think it, and why that thought implies the proferred conclusion. You knew that, right?

      You provide no argument, so I need to give no argument.

      That’s an exercise in the painfully obvious. Detouring from philosophy to psychology for a moment, it also seems a little strange, maybe defensive. Nobody thinks you need to counter a non-argument, so it really didn’t need to be said.

      That’s not God, and many philosophers think something they call “abstract entities” might exist. That doesn’t require the existence of God and it’s not even obvious that “abstract entities” are supernatural.

      The relation of abstract entities like numbers to the empirical world makes sense without too much work. Can you tell us how abstract ethical entities would relate to the world we live in?

    • Tom Gilson says:

      I am continually on the watch for a debate opponent who will take up a civil and well-reasoned opposition stance at http://www.discussiongrounds.org. James, my first impression when you answered substantively here was hopeful. Your more recent response was pretty disappointing.

    • James Gray says:

      Holopupenko,

      Wow, James… it’s pretty clear you could use a few good doses of maturity (itself with a large helping of humility), nuance, and fact-checking.

      Please explain.

      Let’s get off topic just for a moment to speak of your “what is philosophy” e-book (i.e., not “really” published, which means not “really” peer-reviewed except perhaps by certain members of your choir): it’s a utilitarian vision of philosophy—not in the JSM sense but in the sense of using philosophy to achieve a certain goal: “philosophers hope that they can understand the universe and use that knowledge to live a good life.” Wrong answer.

      What’s that have to do with utilitarianism?

      You say it’s a wrong answer, but again, I see no argument.

      If you seek to philosophize other than for the good it is in itself, then you and your two degrees haven’t gotten out of Plato’s Cave: you put proximate ends ahead of the ultimate end… which, by the way, is really what atheism is all about, isn’t it?

      I don’t know what you are talking about.

      Ultimately it’s about control over the universe, yourself (except for those nasty, uncomfortable things known as virtues)… and eventually others. Been there, done that kind of atheism…

      I think virtues are very important.

      So, to address your “impossible” problem: why, yes indeed, objective realist morality is impossible without God. I’m not going to argue over the things you present in your “books.” Rather, the whole jumping-off point for your approach is: God does NOT exist, and I WILL form a realist morality that suits me just fine, thank you very much.

      No, I seriously consider the facts. I can’t imagine moral realism being false, and I can’t imagine God’s non-existence making pain lose it’s badness and so on.

      Kind of puts the kibosh even on your own personal definition of philosophy “understand the universe,” doesn’t it? Maybe you don’t like the evidence or you reject as evidence that which challenges and corrects your jumping-off point… but that’s too bad.

      Is there an argument here?

      Faith as “unjustified beliefs”? Really? Per YOUR understanding of what counts as “justified”… again, just because it doesn’t serve YOUR personal purposes. That is truly the mark of a NON-philosopher, in fact. I’m not even sure Socrates could knock some sense (read: wisdom) into you MA degree-level knowledge of reality.

      That is one definition of faith. Religion can have religious philosophy. I already admitted that.

      “Stanly Fish and Steven Smith are not philosophers. They are not an experts and their arguments fail to appreciate the depth of philosophy.” On the first statement: so what? You, as a self-proclaimed philosopher employing the genetic fallacy. Well, well, well… as participants at this blog have seen over the years, the genetic fallacy is part of the standard arsenal of atheists. On the second: really? Let me play your game: as a philosopher, while I reject some of the things Fish and Smith assert on their own merits, you’re manipulating their views to promote your point. I have no interest in addressing what’s animating this little rhetorical ploy of yours.

      I wasn’t impressed with their argument and I’m not convinced that they fully understand the atheist position. Are they trying to understand opposing views or just argue against opposing views to protect their own beliefs? If they are trying to understand opposing views, then they didn’t seem to do a good job at it for the reasons I stated.

      Your syllogism is a facile straw man: have a ball—shoot away. We’ll just relax and watch.

      What syllogism? I didn’t say they were wrong because they aren’t philosophers. I said why they were wrong. You are putting words in my mouth.

      And this is beautiful: “How do we justify the fact that you can’t get an ought from an is? It’s basically an argument from ignorance fallacy. “There’s no way it can be done because I don’t know how!” I think there are “moral facts,” so an ought can be an is.” Did anyone else notice the switcharoo? “ought from is” becomes “is from an ought”.

      Yes, it’s a switcheroo based on what I believe. So what?

      Second, just how do you move from an observation in the physical world to a moral obligation ought? We have remote sensing technologies that can detect weapons of mass destruction. Which science or technology do you propose tells us how to move from that “is” to at least a philosophical “ought”. Sheesh—talk about “taking a leap”!

      We experience pleasure, pain, our own existence. I already made that point. We can experience that some of these things have value. I discuss this in more detail here: http://ethicalrealism.wordpress.com/2009/10/19/objection-to-moral-realism-part-1-the-isought-gap/

      and here: http://ethicalrealism.wordpress.com/2010/11/25/can-morality-be-known-through-science/

      and here: http://ethicalrealism.wordpress.com/2010/07/14/moral-realism-by-torbjorn-tannsjo/

      I don’t want to say that atheistic moral realism has to work one way because the debate is continuing right now. I don’t even say that anti-realism is impossible. I personally can’t imagine anti-realism being true, but I respect anti-realist philosophers and realize that they struggle with these questions. I must admit that various meta-ethical beliefs can be rational/justified.

      I also don’t want to say that theistic moral realism is impossible. I can’t imagine it being right, and I’m not convinced that it is rational; but if God exists — he could indeed have something to do with moral reality. (He could have created all of reality.)

      Your knowledge of Aristotle is sophomoric when you suggest “Aristotle didn’t say God had anything to do with morality.” Perhaps, but that inconvenient little truth about Aristotle’s demonstration of the First Unmoved Mover and the immateriality of the human soul was left unmentioned by you, wasn’t it? Also, Aristotle DID accept the existence of a Deity—not the Christian one, granted.

      First, it’s not clear how the unmoved mover relates to morality. If there is no unmoved mover, I think Aristotle’s ethics would still make a lot of sense.

      Second, there might be “some” relation between the “unmoved mover” and Aristotle’s ethics, but it’s not an essential connection that would invalidate ethics.

      I’ll grant you haven’t come clean on what pedigree of that deadly worldview called atheism you adhere to, so it’s unclear what you might be implying by a “worst case scenario” of Platonic forms. (Boy, I’d love to see how an atheist deals with material/physical participation in immaterial forms!) Nonetheless, you pick a narrow aspect of Aristotle out of context and use it as a weapon against an extremely important point Crude raises. Whether you like it or not, you’ve got to account not just for the whole of reality but for order in reality as well.

      I’m implying that atheism isn’t a worldview. Atheism is many different opinions and belief systems. Platonism could be an atheistic worldview, but it might not be exactly what Plato thought.

      Finally, (because it would be a waste of time to pursue the remaining personal opinions) you’re a coward: Crude didn’t provide an argument (re: teleology) because, if I read him correctly, what he did provide was a “for your consideration” response to you. That you then high-tail it out of the point with the childish “You provide no argument, so I need to give no argument.” Excellent non-philosophical style, that.

      And I responded with a “for your consideration” as well. I continued to actually provide some analysis and argumentation if you didn’t notice. What’s the problem?

      My advise: let St. Thomas do the philosophizing for you… so you don’t hurt yourself. Oh, wait, he’s automatically, out-of-hand dismissed because it’s better to comfort oneself in a warm bath of historicism and genetic fallacies that permit one’s own proximate personal opinions to be rammed down people’s throats as truth.

      I don’t think theistic philosophy should be totally ignored by everyone and I think they often have something to contribute. You missed my point entirely.

      The impression that I gave people is that I am very rude, and maybe I am, but I am interested in the truth and I provided some arguments for my beliefs. The online debate format is limited and much is left unsaid. There is obviously more to the “can’t get an ought from an is” argument then I should say in a comment.

    • Tom Gilson says:

      James

      “Please explain,” you say. He did.

      What does your book have to do with utilitarianism? He didn’t say “ism.” He said “a utilitarian vision.” Surely you know what it is about the term “utilitarian” that caused Bentham and Mill to take it into their “ism”?

      You say it’s a wrong answer, but again, I see no argument.

      Funny. You went on to quote the argument that you didn’t see.

      That is one definition of faith

      You postured it as the definition.

      If they are trying to understand opposing views, then they didn’t seem to do a good job at it for the reasons I stated.

      As far as I can see, the reason (singular) you stated was this:

      The objections to philosophy in favor of religion are meaningless because to favor “religion” over “philosophy” is to favor unjustified beliefs over justified ones.

      Which includes that tendentious, unargued-for definition of religion. Is there an argument here?

      Yes, it’s a switcheroo based on what I believe. So what?

      Is there an argument here? Or just a statement of self-description?

    • James Gray says:

      Tom,

      Really? To borrow from a line I heard somewhere, Do you really think that what you are saying is the smoking gun against all the living theistic philosophers? And do you think that constitutes an argument?

      I clarified what I said by mentioning theistic philosophy. Yes, theistic philosophers count too. That’s what I tried to say — although I was not as clear as I should have been. The mere fact that there are theistic philosophers doesn’t solve the ought from is debate — but they also think you can get an ought from is. That’s why they are moral realists.

      Your three-part representation of the theistic syllogism is badly distorted. It’s a straw man. And you represent yourself as an expert?

      I am only an expert compared to some, but certainly not as much as I would like. If it’s a straw man, then what’s the argument? It’s never explained how religion solves the problem nor is it explained why it’s impossible for atheists to solve it.

      The theistic moral argument is not an argument from ignorance, by the way; it’s an argument from what is known about the nature of reality.

      The “can’t get ought from is” argument is the argument from ignorance that I am talking about. It’s possible that some moral arguments for God do not commit the argument from ignorance fallacies — but that certainly doesn’t mean none of them do. I respectfully respond to many of these arguments elsewhere in a way that satisfies me, but it might not be satisfying to everyone.

      This would not get you an MA in philosophy:

      I think there are “moral facts,” so an ought can be an is.

      This is my opinion. I discuss the justification in more detail elsewhere. It’s not an argument, so you are not committing the straw man.

      That you think there are moral facts leads to no conclusion whatever, except for something descriptive about yourself. You have to show some reason why you think it, and why that thought implies the proferred conclusion. You knew that, right?

      Exactly, so why did you misread what I said?

      You provide no argument, so I need to give no argument.

      Yes, I did. I can experience that pain is bad, and other people do as well. This can certainly be expanded into a greater argument and you know it has been elsewhere. Torbjörn Tännsjö and I have both our own arguments for this position, but I think that many other philosophers also have this belief considering how popular naturalism is right now. My argument is here: http://ethicalrealism.wordpress.com/2009/10/07/an-argument-for-moral-realism/

      My argument is my serious attempt to argue for moral realism based on why I am really a moral realist. It’s not a sophistic attempt to prove moral realism just to be an atheistic moral realist. If I was a theist, I would still find the argument plausible — and the argument has little to do with God. I’m not a moral realist because God has giving me reason to be one (as far as I can tell).

      The relation of abstract entities like numbers to the empirical world makes sense without too much work. Can you tell us how abstract ethical entities would relate to the world we live in?

      I suspect that Robert Audi has that belief. He thinks that moral facts are self-evident and that the intrinsic disvalue of pain involves the “concept of pain.” It would be impossible for pain not to be intrinsically bad and suggesting such a thing would be a misapplication of the concept.

      However, it should be noted that many philosophers talk about “abstract entities” in a Platonic sense. Such philosophers tend to reject epistemic naturalism (empiricism). Atheists don’t have to be empiricists and claiming such is a straw man of atheism.

      Telling atheists that they aren’t allowed to believe in intrinsic value is certainly a straw man idea of atheism. I suspect that almost everyone believes in intrinsic values and certainly their behavior implies such.

    • James Gray says:

      What does your book have to do with utilitarianism? He didn’t say “ism.” He said “a utilitarian vision.” Surely you know what it is about the term “utilitarian” that caused Bentham and Mill to take it into their ism?

      Many people use the word “utilitarian” to relate to egoistic/self serving utility. I would like to make the world better. Why is that so horrible?

      Funny. You went on to quote the argument that you didn’t see.

      Then I still need it explained because I don’t understand the argument. Premise form might be necessary in this case. What’s are the premises and what’s the conclusion?

      That is one definition of faith
      You postured it as the definition.

      Where? I don’t remember ever saying that’s the only possible definition. There is obviously ambiguity to the word, so such a claim would be false.

      As far as I can see, the reason (singular) you stated was this:

      The objections to philosophy in favor of religion are meaningless because to favor “religion” over “philosophy” is to favor unjustified beliefs over justified ones.

      Exactly, to put religion against philosophy is a false dichotomy. Religion and philosophy can be compatible. It seemed to me that there was an implication that philosophers can’t get an ought from an is. That’s why we need unreasonable faith rather than philosophy. I don’t remember anyone in the article saying that religious philosophy could somehow solve the problem. If that is the claim, then it’s more plausible.

      Which includes that tendentious, unargued-for definition of religion. Is there an argument here?

      This was my impression of the article. It seemed to put religion vs philosophy — not atheistic philosophy vs theistic philosophy. I saw no mention of religious philosophy.

      Is there an argument here? Or just a statement of self-description?

      Yes, there is an argument and I’ve said it many times. That in and of itself isn’t the argument.

    • Crude says:

      Do you really think that what you are saying is the smoking gun against all the living moral realist atheistic philosophers? You really think atheistic moral realism is impossible? That sounds quite ambitious considering that we know so little about meta-ethics and most philosophers have to admit that their own opinion is not the only rational option.

      That’s nice. Too bad I didn’t say anything like this. Where did I say ‘atheistic moral realism is impossible’?

      I said that talk of ‘intrinsic value’ is not secular. You seem to be under the impression that, so long as someone is an atheist (or better yet, just says they are an atheist or secular) that this automatically makes everything they do, say, think or believe ‘secular’ by default.

      It ain’t the case.

      Stanly Fish and Steven Smith are not philosophers.

      Neither are you, as far as I’m concerned. (Note: I don’t really care what classes you took or degree you have.) And guess what? It doesn’t matter. Observations and arguments don’t suddenly become invalid just because a person is in the wrong field.

      The argument can be summed up as the following:

      1. Atheists can’t get an ought from an is.
      2. Atheists can start with “is” but will never get oughts.
      3. Therefore, religion will save us!

      Fish doesn’t say this, nor did Smith in that article, and I certainly did not either. Again, they pointed out something very basic: Once you start talking about final causes, purposes, intrinsic values, etc.. you are no longer in the secular realm. Even if you stamp your feet and huff and say ‘But I’m an atheist!’

      Atheism is not the same as secularism. It’s not even the same as naturalism.

      I suggest you pause, take a few deep breaths, and reread two things here: First, my very limited, quick comment. And then, your rant that went after utter strawmen, things neither I said nor Fish and company.

      I didn’t raise an argument against the possibility of ‘atheist morality’. It’s enough at this juncture to point out that final causes, intrinsic value, and more are not ‘secular’. Not when Aquinas or Natural Law philosophers raise them, not when atheist philosophers raise them.

    • Tom Gilson says:

      I think what we have here is a failure to communicate (at least that). Let me illustrate.

      You said in #214,

      The objections to philosophy in favor of religion are meaningless because to favor “religion” over “philosophy” is to favor unjustified beliefs over justified ones.

      To which I answered in #216

      Really? To borrow from a line I heard somewhere, Do you really think that what you are saying is the smoking gun against all the living theistic philosophers? And do you think that constitutes an argument?

      To which you answered in #220

      I clarified what I said by mentioning theistic philosophy. Yes, theistic philosophers count too.

      Now, if that answer, that clarification means anything relevant, it must mean something relevant to what you originally said and what I responded to. The only reference to theistic philosophers you made was this:

      I don’t think theistic philosophy should be totally ignored by everyone and I think they often have something to contribute. You missed my point entirely.

      But this came in comment #219, three comments later than my response, and five comments later than what I was responding to. It was completely irrelevant to what I said, and I could hardly have taken it into account, since you hadn’t said it yet.

      Furthermore, even if you had said it already, it would have still been irrelevant. To say that “theistic philosophers” count is by no means an answer to the question I asked in #216. What I was asking was whether you thought your statement in #214 (already quoted above) constituted a strong argument against theism. To answer, “theistic philosophers count too” is a complete non sequitur.

      There is also a failure to communicate in that you apparently think your having written an argument on your blog somewhere serves as your having presented it here. For example:

      Yes, I did. I can experience that pain is bad, and other people do as well. This can certainly be expanded into a greater argument and you know it has been elsewhere. Torbjörn Tännsjö and I have both our own arguments for this position, but I think that many other philosophers also have this belief considering how popular naturalism is right now. My argument is here: http://ethicalrealism.wordpress.com/2009/10/07/an-argument-for-moral-realism/

      Note that you are the one who has been specifically asking, “Is there an argument here?” If I ask, is there an argument here, and you say yes, there is an argument here, and it’s on my blog or somewhere else, then the argument is not here, it’s somewhere else.

      And then I think we also have a failure to reason. Seriously. It happens here, for one:

      The objections to philosophy in favor of religion are meaningless because to favor “religion” over “philosophy” is to favor unjustified beliefs over justified ones.

      Exactly, to put religion against philosophy is a false dichotomy. Religion and philosophy can be compatible.

      You had pitted religion against philosophy, saying that to favor religion over philosophy is to favor unjustified beliefs over justified ones. Clearly the implication is that religion < -> unjustified beliefs, whereas philosophy < -> justified beliefs. That is certainly creating a dichotomy. Now you say that it’s a false dichotomy. I would agree it’s a false dichotomy; I just don’t understand why you presented it as a dichotomy and then said it should not be presented as one.

      Now, it could be that I’m missing something. It could be that you are referencing some unspecified article somewhere else where this dichotomy has been presented. If so, then please do us the favor of communicating. As it is, it only looks like a muddled mess. Because it is.

    • James Gray says:

      Crude,

      That’s nice. Too bad I didn’t say anything like this. Where did I say ‘atheistic moral realism is impossible’?

      That was my impression when you said intrinsic value is non-secular.

      I said that talk of ‘intrinsic value’ is not secular. You seem to be under the impression that, so long as someone is an atheist (or better yet, just says they are an atheist or secular) that this automatically makes everything they do, say, think or believe ‘secular’ by default.

      That was my impression, but I think intrinsic values can be believed by people just almost any religion — but I now see your point. (More later.)

      Neither are you, as far as I’m concerned. (Note: I don’t really care what classes you took or degree you have.)

      And rightfully so. A philosopher is not just someone who takes classes and so on.

      And guess what? It doesn’t matter. Observations and arguments don’t suddenly become invalid just because a person is in the wrong field.

      Yes, I agree. However, my impression of the article was that it is written by sophists using poor arguments, and I explained why I saw it as such. I might have been wrong.

      Fish doesn’t say this, nor did Smith in that article, and I certainly did not either. Again, they pointed out something very basic: Once you start talking about final causes, purposes, intrinsic values, etc.. you are no longer in the secular realm. Even if you stamp your feet and huff and say ‘But I’m an atheist!’

      What exactly did they argue? What are the premises and what is the conclusion?

      I am sorry that I misread the article, but I’m still not sure what exactly it’s about.

      I suggest you pause, take a few deep breaths, and reread two things here: First, my very limited, quick comment. And then, your rant that went after utter strawmen, things neither I said nor Fish and company.

      I didn’t raise an argument against the possibility of ‘atheist morality’. It’s enough at this juncture to point out that final causes, intrinsic value, and more are not ‘secular’. Not when Aquinas or Natural Law philosophers raise them, not when atheist philosophers raise them.

      I think I see your point now. The article said, “policy decisions should be made on the basis of secular reasons, reasons that, because they do not reflect the commitments or agendas of any religion, morality or ideology, can be accepted as reasons by all citizens no matter what their individual beliefs and affiliations.”

      Given that definition of secular, I agree that intrinsic values aren’t secular because they are moral ideas. That is true by definition and the ought from is argument is then irrelevant. Moral realism isn’t secular either then.

      However, the argument of the article seems to be that we can’t talk about morality without pre-existing moral beliefs. That might not be true. If you can get an ought from is, then they seem to admit that the argument fails. I think that is possible and their argument still seem fallacious to me. If we can get to moral conclusions starting without moral assumptions, then we can have “secular” discourse of a sense (or so the article implies).

      Tom,

      Yes I think there is some problem going on with communication and I realize that some things I said were unclear.

      Furthermore, even if you had said it already, it would have still been irrelevant. To say that “theistic philosophers” count is by no means an answer to the question I asked in #216. What I was asking was whether you thought your statement in #214 (already quoted above) constituted a strong argument against theism. To answer, “theistic philosophers count too” is a complete non sequitur.

      I didn’t give a strong argument against theism here. I don’t know why you would think that.

      There is also a failure to communicate in that you apparently think your having written an argument on your blog somewhere serves as your having presented it here. For example:

      Yes, I did. I can experience that pain is bad, and other people do as well.

      I didn’t say that it counts that the argument was found elsewhere. From comment 214: Happiness (eudamonia) is what we take to be the “most final end.” Even if his biology and teleology is rejected, we can still agree that it’s rational to want to be happy. We experience that happiness has intrinsic value.

      Perhaps this is not a detailed argument, but no one ever challenged it and I think it’s obviously true. More evidence for this position could be the example I gave of giving a drifter an aspirin.

      You had pitted religion against philosophy, saying that to favor religion over philosophy is to favor unjustified beliefs over justified ones.

      Read what I said again. If someone favors philosophy over religion, that person has put religion against philosophy. That doesn’t mean that everyone puts religion above philosophy. Religious philosophers, for example. I was discussing the article — what the article seems to imply. It seems to imply that we have to put religion against philosophy. That is my impression and I explained why. They never mention religious philosophy.

      Clearly the implication is that religion unjustified beliefs, whereas philosophy justified beliefs. That is certainly creating a dichotomy.

      I mentioned the false dichotomy without endorsing it — to show that the assumption is silly. I didn’t say “Therefore, we should reject religion!” That is what people are reading me as saying. It is a mis-reading.

    • Crude says:

      Given that definition of secular, I agree that intrinsic values aren’t secular because they are moral ideas. That is true by definition and the ought from is argument is then irrelevant. Moral realism isn’t secular either then.

      Wonderful. Then talk of a “secular morality” is a contradiction in terms. What you are advancing here and on your blog is just yet another non-secular morality.

      However, the argument of the article seems to be that we can’t talk about morality without pre-existing moral beliefs. That might not be true. If you can get an ought from is, then they seem to admit that the argument fails. I think that is possible and their argument still seem fallacious to me. If we can get to moral conclusions starting without moral assumptions, then we can have “secular” discourse of a sense (or so the article implies).

      Where does Fish say ‘we can’t talk about morality without pre-existing moral beliefs’? The closest he comes is when he writes: If public reason has “deprived” the natural world of “its normative dimension” by conceiving of it as free-standing and tethered to nothing higher than or prior to itself, how, Smith asks, “could one squeeze moral values or judgments about justice . . . out of brute empirical facts?” No way that is not a sleight of hand. This is the cul de sac Enlightenment philosophy traps itself in when it renounces metaphysical foundations in favor of the “pure” investigation of “observable facts.” It must somehow bootstrap or engineer itself back up to meaning and the possibility of justified judgment, but it has deliberately jettisoned the resources that would enable it do so.

      Note: Fish is not arguing that you can’t mount a philosophical, or even theological argument in favor of this or that moral belief or conclusion. He’s pointing out that philosophical or theological arguments for morality… are philosophical and theological arguments for morality. They are tied to a prioris, to intuitions, to metaphysical beliefs, and so on. In other words, it’s not that you can’t “get an ought from an is”, but the sort of reasoning that allows even for the possibility of this is not available to purely ‘secular’ reasoning.

      As for whether one can get an “ought from an is” otherwise, I’m open to that idea. Even sympathetic to it. Of course, so are Aristotilean-Thomist philosophers, natural law theologians in general, and very many theistic, Christian, and religious philosophers. It’s self-described naturalists, atheists, and materialists who have trouble there (And the ones who don’t generally reduce ‘naturalism’ and ‘materialism’ to near-meaningless ideas, and have views which sit at tension with atheism as well.)

    • James Gray says:

      Crude,

      Wonderful. Then talk of a “secular morality” is a contradiction in terms. What you are advancing here and on your blog is just yet another non-secular morality.

      Where does Fish say ‘we can’t talk about morality without pre-existing moral beliefs’?

      The closest he comes is when he writes: If public reason has “deprived” the natural world of “its normative dimension” by conceiving of it as free-standing and tethered to nothing higher than or prior to itself, how, Smith asks, “could one squeeze moral values or judgments about justice . . . out of brute empirical facts?” No way that is not a sleight of hand. This is the cul de sac Enlightenment philosophy traps itself in when it renounces metaphysical foundations in favor of the “pure” investigation of “observable facts.” It must somehow bootstrap or engineer itself back up to meaning and the possibility of justified judgment, but it has deliberately jettisoned the resources that would enable it do so.

      Note: Fish is not arguing that you can’t mount a philosophical, or even theological argument in favor of this or that moral belief or conclusion. He’s pointing out that philosophical or theological arguments for morality… are philosophical and theological arguments for morality. They are tied to a prioris, to intuitions, to metaphysical beliefs, and so on. In other words, it’s not that you can’t “get an ought from an is”, but the sort of reasoning that allows even for the possibility of this is not available to purely ‘secular’ reasoning.

      First, why would he talk about getting ought from is and the impossibility of doing so for empiricists unless it is somehow relevant? Given your interpretation, it’s not relevant — and no one reading this will understand why he is doing it.

      Second, what people call “secular” is obviously different than his definition considering that there are “secular ethics” and the historical motivation of being secular is precisely that an argument can apply to a person without requiring unwarranted assumptions.

      Third, if we could get an ought from an is that is relevant because then we could have a secular discussion and reach moral conclusions, which is exactly what people have been trying to do with politics.

      Your interpretation of the text is charitable, but I don’t see how the interpretation connects to real life issues that we face in everyday life. The interpretation seems to give the impression that the article is written with no practical application.

      Fish says the requirement to make public discourse secular is a ” neat division, to be sure, which has the effect (not, I think, intended by Locke) of honoring religion by kicking it upstairs and out of sight.”

      However, he also admits that religious reasons are permitted “to be voiced in contexts of public decision-making so long as they have a secular counterpart: thus, citing the prohibition against stealing in the Ten Commandments is all right because there is a secular version of the prohibition rooted in the law of property rights rather than in a biblical command.” Note that he himself is talking about “secular” as opposed to “religion” and he claims that “secular” is “not moral” but this is a false dichotomy if there is nonreligous ethics. Is nonreligious ethics secular or not?

      He adds that, “This picture is routinely challenged by those who contend that secular reasons and secular discourse in general don’t tell the whole story; they leave out too much of what we know to be important to human life.”

      In other words “secular” discourse is lacking moral facts. But then he is assuming that nonreligious morality is impossible. He admits that, “No they don’t, is the reply; everything said to be left out can be accounted for by the vocabularies of science, empiricism and naturalism; secular reasons can do the whole job,” but he wants to argue against this. You can’t account for morality from science, empiricism, or naturalism.

      He mentions Smith’s book that attempts to prove that “secular reason can’t do the job (of identifying ultimate meanings and values) we need religion to do; it’s worse; secular reason can’t do its own self-assigned job — of describing the world in ways that allow us to move forward in our projects — without importing, but not acknowledging, the very perspectives it pushes away in disdain.”

      In other words religion is necessary for morality, and secular ethics is impossible. It’s impossible for atheists to get an ought from an is, but somehow religious people can do it.

      It’s self-described naturalists, atheists, and materialists who have trouble there (And the ones who don’t generally reduce ‘naturalism’ and ‘materialism’ to near-meaningless ideas, and have views which sit at tension with atheism as well.)

      I already discussed why I don’t think they “have trouble” with such a position.

    • James Gray says:

      I think I wrote part of my reply poorly and want to correct it. I said,

      However, he also admits that religious reasons are permitted “to be voiced in contexts of public decision-making so long as they have a secular counterpart: thus, citing the prohibition against stealing in the Ten Commandments is all right because there is a secular version of the prohibition rooted in the law of property rights rather than in a biblical command.” Note that he himself is talking about “secular” as opposed to “religion” and he claims that “secular” is “not moral” but this is a false dichotomy if there is nonreligous ethics. Is nonreligious ethics secular or not?

      My point is (a) he has a dichotomy between “secular” and “religious;” (b) if there is no secular ethics, there could still be nonreligious ethics; (c) he actually says that “secular” is non-moral by definition; and (d) the possibility of nonreligious ethics seems to fall under what he calls “secular” — or it’s entirely ignored ad it’s merely assumed that morality must be “religious.”

    • Tom Gilson says:

      James, after this post I’m giving up. There is such a complete communication failure here that it’s not worth trying. I’ll illustrate one more time and then back out.

      You wrote,

      I mentioned the false dichotomy without endorsing it — to show that the assumption is silly. I didn’t say “Therefore, we should reject religion!” That is what people are reading me as saying. It is a mis-reading.

      This is what I supposedly misread:

      Stanly Fish and Steven Smith are not philosophers. They are not an experts and their arguments fail to appreciate the depth of philosophy. The objections to philosophy in favor of religion are meaningless because to favor “religion” over “philosophy” is to favor unjustified beliefs over justified ones. “Religious philosophy” might be acceptable, but that doesn’t solve the problem.

      You didn’t just mention a dichotomy, you expressed it. You stated it. You didn’t attribute it to Fish or Smith. Maybe you think you did, but you didn’t. Maybe when you wrote “The objections to philosophy…,” you were thinking “Smith’s and Fish’s objections to philosophy….” Or maybe your “because” clause there was one that Smith and Fish originated, which you disagree with, but you did not say so. You did not frame it as someone else’s thought you were mentioning, you simply said it. Now, how am I supposed to know when you’re endorsing what you say and when you aren’t, unless you actually communicate the difference?

      So feel free to carry on your conversation with Crude, but for my part I do not want to have to take the time to sort out what you’re really saying.

    • Crude says:

      First, why would he talk about getting ought from is and the impossibility of doing so for empiricists unless it is somehow relevant? Given your interpretation, it’s not relevant — and no one reading this will understand why he is doing it.

      I pointed out how it’s relevant, and even provided the quote where Fish frames its relevance: Because the tools one is limited to under the heading “secular” are inadequate. It’s not that someone can’t mount the appropriate arguments in other contexts, with other tools.

      Second, what people call “secular” is obviously different than his definition considering that there are “secular ethics” and the historical motivation of being secular is precisely that an argument can apply to a person without requiring unwarranted assumptions.

      But what assumptions are ‘unwarranted’ spins off into endless argument anyway, and ethics are not morals. Further, I have a very different understanding of “the historical motivation of being secular”. Communism required numerous unwarranted assumptions, but it is still regarded as a secular project. (If you want to play the Dennett line and argue no, actually it was religious, go for it. I think plenty of atheists are religious in the relevant sense of the term.)

      Third, if we could get an ought from an is that is relevant because then we could have a secular discussion and reach moral conclusions, which is exactly what people have been trying to do with politics.

      Funny, I think politics and politicians is typically hardly concerned with reaching strong and warranted moral conclusions. You have a very idyllic, and I think unrealistic view of politics if you take that line.

      Thomists, religious people, Aristotileans, and more think they can get an ought from an is. They also would argue their views are warranted. Are they secular now?

      Your interpretation of the text is charitable, but I don’t see how the interpretation connects to real life issues that we face in everyday life. The interpretation seems to give the impression that the article is written with no practical application.

      And you said he wasn’t a philosopher.

      Note that he himself is talking about “secular” as opposed to “religion” and he claims that “secular” is “not moral” but this is a false dichotomy if there is nonreligous ethics. Is nonreligious ethics secular or not?

      If to be not-secular is to be religious, then apparently Fish is claiming that much of what we take to be “secular” is, as a matter of fact, religious after all. He’s certainly claiming that much of what gets branded as “secular”, isn’t.

      In other words religion is necessary for morality, and secular ethics is impossible. It’s impossible for atheists to get an ought from an is, but somehow religious people can do it.

      And here you go again – you seem to think that religious or non-secular beliefs are “things theists have, but not atheists”. And Fish is helping to illustrate that that ain’t true. If you want to call Thomist thought ‘secular’, be my guest. The Thomists will love that green light into politics. So will I.

      Try to accept this: You can be religious, you can have non-secular views, and still be an atheist. And Fish is pointing out that once you start dabbling in “intrinsic value”, teleology, final causes, purposes, etc, you have – *even if you are an atheist* – left the secular behind. You’re in the territory of the non-secular now.

    • James Gray says:

      Tom,

      I admitted that I wasn’t clear in what I said already. The context of that paragraph was what those two seem to think to me.

      I said the following:

      Stanly Fish and Steven Smith are not philosophers. They are not an experts and their arguments fail to appreciate the depth of philosophy. The objections to philosophy in favor of religion are meaningless because to favor “religion” over “philosophy” is to favor unjustified beliefs over justified ones.

      i.e. To argue that we must reject philosophy in favor of nonphilosophical religion is silly.

      Crude,

      I pointed out how it’s relevant, and even provided the quote where Fish frames its relevance: Because the tools one is limited to under the heading “secular” are inadequate. It’s not that someone can’t mount the appropriate arguments in other contexts, with other tools.

      What are the “tools” one is limited to in secular context? Philosophy? Empirical data? Either way, moral facts could be made known.

      But what assumptions are ‘unwarranted’ spins off into endless argument anyway, and ethics are not morals.

      Perhaps. I never said that all religious thought should be silenced. Reasonableness is merely a motivation for being secular because there are many irrational nonphilosophical arguments given by religious people and people tend not to want to hear them in the public arena. Religious philosophy could be considered to be secular insofar as whatever they argue for could be accepted by nonreligious people.

      Further, I have a very different understanding of “the historical motivation of being secular”. Communism required numerous unwarranted assumptions, but it is still regarded as a secular project.

      Right, “Secular” doesn’t mean “reasonable.” Being secular could be necessary but not sufficient for rationality. Being secular might merely “help” one be rational from time to time without even been sufficient for it.

      Thomists, religious people, Aristotileans, and more think they can get an ought from an is. They also would argue their views are warranted. Are they secular now?

      I don’t equate “reasonable” with “secular.”

      And you said he wasn’t a philosopher.

      What about it?

      If to be not-secular is to be religious, then apparently Fish is claiming that much of what we take to be “secular” is, as a matter of fact, religious after all. He’s certainly claiming that much of what gets branded as “secular”, isn’t.

      Is that just a semantic point? What exactly is religion supposed to be in the first place? It’s not defined and he isn’t warranted to tell us that “all morality is religious” based on the information given here.

      And here you go again – you seem to think that religious or non-secular beliefs are “things theists have, but not atheists”. And Fish is helping to illustrate that that ain’t true. If you want to call Thomist thought ‘secular’, be my guest. The Thomists will love that green light into politics. So will I.

      Exactly, I don’t think all atheists have a religion. I don’t personally affiliate with any religion. Of course, that depends on what you mean by “religion.” If it just means that I have beliefs about the world and such, then I am religious — but that isn’t what anyone tends to mean by the word “religion.”

      Try to accept this: You can be religious, you can have non-secular views, and still be an atheist.

      Yes, like Buddhists, etc. Not all atheists affiliate with a religion, though.

      And Fish is pointing out that once you start dabbling in “intrinsic value”, teleology, final causes, purposes, etc, you have – *even if you are an atheist* – left the secular behind. You’re in the territory of the non-secular now.

      Again, I disagree — insofar as I don’t agree to whatever mysterious definition of “religion” is being used here.

      If this is what Fish is arguing, then what are his premises to reach that conclusion?

    • Crude says:

      What are the “tools” one is limited to in secular context? Philosophy? Empirical data? Either way, moral facts could be made known.

      Sure they can. Just ask the thomists, the natural law theologians, etc. But to their credit, those guys tend not to regard their conclusions as secular – even while arguing that said conclusions can hold whether or not one accepts (say) Catholicism.

      Reasonableness is merely a motivation for being secular because there are many irrational nonphilosophical arguments given by religious people and people tend not to want to hear them in the public arena.

      I think your understanding of the ‘secular’ divide is woefully inadequate. Plenty of religious arguments are regarded as ‘rational’ and ‘philosophical’, including ones meant to persuade others to be ‘religious’. That you or others you agree with may call them otherwise concerns me (and makes those things ‘non-secular’) as much as my regarding emergent materialism as useless and light on rationality no doubt concerns you.

      Not to mention that what is ‘reasonable’ is open to another debate. The secular is in a bad state for more reasons than Fish gets into in that article, but what he draws attention to there is important.

      Religious philosophy could be considered to be secular insofar as whatever they argue for could be accepted by nonreligious people.

      Who cares what ‘nonreligious people’ accept or not, especially when what’s at issue is the claim that many ‘nonreligious’ are anything but? You keep failing to appreciate that atheists can be religious, make religious claims, etc. Or rather, you appreciate they can, but you just don’t want to call them that for reasons which apparently amount to a desire for inconsistency.

      Exactly, I don’t think all atheists have a religion. I don’t personally affiliate with any religion. Of course, that depends on what you mean by “religion.” If it just means that I have beliefs about the world and such, then I am religious — but that isn’t what anyone tends to mean by the word “religion.”

      It sure is in the context Fish is speaking, precisely because he’s noting the connection between talk of final causes, metaphysics, etc, and the non-secular. And plenty of people do equate having metaphysical beliefs, certainly beliefs about morality and purpose, as ‘religion’. Again, it’s not enough for someone to personally say “I am not religious”, anymore than it is for someone who wants to pass law X to say “I want law X passed for reasons that have nothing to do with religion”.

      Yes, like Buddhists, etc. Not all atheists affiliate with a religion, though.

      Buddhists aren’t necessarily atheists, and some kind of formal “affiliation” isn’t required. You can be unaffiliated and still have religious beliefs and views. Surprise: You can also insist you’re not religious and still actually be so.

      Again, I disagree — insofar as I don’t agree to whatever mysterious definition of “religion” is being used here.

      What’s so mysterious about noting that talk of final causes, intrinsic value, purpose, metaphysics and so on goes beyond the secular? Dennett didn’t seem to think it was very ‘mysterious’ when he equated communism under Mao, Stalin, Lenin, etc as religious/proto-religious.

      But hey, by all means – if you think intrinsic value, final causes, metaphysics, purpose, etc are secular, as I’ve said previously, go for it. It’s a great way to utterly deflate the secular, and likely turn everything from the Iranian regime to the Dali Lama’s old one ‘secular’ in the process.

    • James Gray says:

      Crude,

      I think your understanding of the ‘secular’ divide is woefully inadequate. Plenty of religious arguments are regarded as ‘rational’ and ‘philosophical’, including ones meant to persuade others to be ‘religious’.

      You are putting words in my mouth. I never denied it.

      It sure is in the context Fish is speaking, precisely because he’s noting the connection between talk of final causes, metaphysics, etc, and the non-secular. And plenty of people do equate having metaphysical beliefs, certainly beliefs about morality and purpose, as ‘religion’. Again, it’s not enough for someone to personally say “I am not religious”, anymore than it is for someone who wants to pass law X to say “I want law X passed for reasons that have nothing to do with religion”.

      Do you have an argument in there? Sounds like we have nothing but a semantics debate.

      What’s so mysterious about noting that talk of final causes, intrinsic value, purpose, metaphysics and so on goes beyond the secular?

      What’s mysterious about it is that it’s inconsistent with how people use the word and our tradition of non-religious organizations. There’s a tradition of nonreligious philosophy e.g. Stoicism and Epicureanism) that has beliefs about reality

      Dennett didn’t seem to think it was very ‘mysterious’ when he equated communism under Mao, Stalin, Lenin, etc as religious/proto-religious.

      What about it? I never said I agreed with him. I would have to study the rituals and dogma associated with communism in Russia and so on to know for sure if he is right.

      But hey, by all means – if you think intrinsic value, final causes, metaphysics, purpose, etc are secular, as I’ve said previously, go for it. It’s a great way to utterly deflate the secular, and likely turn everything from the Iranian regime to the Dali Lama’s old one ‘secular’ in the process.

      So, you’re point is that no argument is needed. His article is meant to prove that moral realist atheists are religious by definition. The article was never clear on that point to me. I see no premises or conclusion. But for some reason I am not allowed different interpretation of the article than you.

      Part of the article was meant to show that empirical evidence couldn’t lead to moral conclusions. I disagree with that point and it comes out of nowhere. If such a contentious point is merely used as an “example” of something (which was never clear from the article), then it is a horrible example.

      I personally don’t see the dichotomy between secular and religious reasons to be a helpful one. If Thomists want to join the political debate, feel free. Any reasonable political views should be welcome over what we’ve been getting.

      Smith’s article is incredibly vague and it is easy for me to imagine that it implies something that you could disagree with. You could say that I am misrepresenting his view, but it’s mysterious if anything is really being said there. It’s unclear what the premises and conclusion is supposed to be. For some help to understand Smith’s argument, information about Smith’s book might be of some help. The Amazon blurb says the following:

      Thus, Rawlsian “public reason” filters appeals to religion or other “comprehensive doctrines” out of public deliberation. But these restrictions have the effect of excluding our deepest normative commitments, virtually assuring that the discourse will be shallow. Furthermore, because we cannot defend our normative positions without resorting to convictions that secular discourse deems inadmissible, we are frequently forced to smuggle in those convictions under the guise of benign notions such as freedom or equality.

      Based on this blurb, some comments should be made. First, Rawls’s idea is not to require comprehensive doctrines and doesn’t single out religion. It is smith who smuggles the words “religion” into the issue by equating it with “comprehensive doctrine” (and equating “secular” with “noncomprehensive doctrine.”

      Second, Smith’s position that “we cannot defend our normative positions without resorting to convictions that secular discourse deems inadmissible” is contentious and vague. I would have to read the book to know if he can make more sense than the blurb on amazon, and Fish’s review doesn’t help.

      I can’t remember much about Rawl’s Political Liberalism, but I must admit that a ban on “comprehensive doctrine” from public discourse sounds like a good way to ban all philosophical thought from public discourse. Rawls thinks that moral theories are questionable and each person is entitled to disagree about the best moral theory. It could be preferable for a political argument to lack ties to morality (or a moral theory) if possible; but it seems a bit extreme to ban it.

      A fairly decent review of Smith’s book can be found here: http://jcs.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2010/12/20/jcs.csq131.full

      It’s hard to know how well he argued for his position, but it is clear that his main mission is to get “religious discourse” into the public arena — “Smith’s prescription is simply to open up the cage, which might lead to more meaningful and educational conversations, notwithstanding our disagreements. Or it might not. But the old adage, we will never know until we try, still rings true.”

      In other words, Smith doesn’t actually defend the possibility of meaningful religious political discourse, he merely attacks “secular” discourse — including philosophy itself.

      It is also made clear that Smith agrees that there is secular morality and he attempts to prove philosophers are wrong to defend such things.

      If the review is accurate, it isn’t clear that Smith thinks philosophy has anything to offer morality at all. His book seems to imply fairly “anti-intellectual” conclusions just like Fish’s article seemed to imply to me.

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