Love or Cruelty: If Evolution Is True, What’s the Moral Difference?

Love or Cruelty: If Evolution Is True, What’s the Moral Difference?

Why does love exist? Why is there suffering?

Why is anything the way it is in the natural world? Because of evolution. That, at any rate, is the answer provided by those who believe in naturalistic evolution. Naturalistic evolution (NE) is the theory that every feature of life, including physical structures, physical functions, and also behaviors, has come about by the process of natural selection (NS) acting upon random variation (RV). Along with NS and RV there may be some other forces operating such as genetic drift or punctuated equilibrium, but actually “force” is a misnomer for such things; they are statistical effects, the result of chance survivals and deaths, so I’ll use the shorthand CSD for the lot of them. NS and RV are the big players in the game.

And there is only one game. To the question, why is anything the way it is in nature, there is exactly one answer: evolution. On the proper and appropriate level of analysis, there is no other answer; evolution has been the cause of everything. What caused feature x? Evolution. What caused behavior y? Evolution. It’s comprehensive. It explains all.

I don’t mean to over-simplify the study of how evolution does all that. There have been thousands of papers published on that question. They do seem to come down, however, to just three things: RV, NS, and CSD. Note that two of those are essentially matters of chance, however, so we could simplify our answer to why is anything the way it is in nature? to, (1) it just happened to be that way, and (2) natural selection. Those two mechanisms, the first of which I’ll shorten to Chance, explain everything.

This, I take it, is in accord with standard naturalistic evolutionary thinking. Proponents of NE ought not to find much in it to disagree with. It has the virtue of simplicity. For all the grand and complicated questions of life, there is one all-sufficient and comprehensive answer: Chance and NS.

And that’s all. It’s all the explanation NE requires, and it’s all that it allows for.

So we have answered a complicated question with a simple answer (conceptually simple, that is; I’m still not trying to downplay the details). Now let’s ask another seemingly complicated question. We’ll find out that it, too, has a simple answer. That question is, how does evolution make anything happen in nature?

It’s an important question, for if NE is responsible for everything that exists in the biological world, then how does it do that job? We already know that it’s by Chance and NS. We can set aside Chance as being little more than a statistical term for whatever happens with no systematic cause. What’s really of interest is, how does NS make anything happen in nature?

As it turns out—and again, I’m quite sure I’m fully in line with standard NE theory with this—NS can do one thing. It has exactly one competency. This, too, is quite satisfyingly simple. NS can take the raw materials handed to it by Chance (which in this case includes RV along with environmental factors), and it can cause that which is more reproductively successful to survive and to propagate.

That’s all NS knows; it is all that it can do. It can cause reproductively successful populations to endure, and less successful ones to fall away. NS has exactly one skill, in other words: seeing to it that reproductive success gets conserved to future generations.

Now, that gives us an interesting term to substitute back into the answer to the question we started with. Why is anything the way it is in the natural world? Our answer: Because of chance, and because it has served the purpose of some population(s)’ reproductive success.

This, too, is perfectly in line with standard NE, as I understand it.

At this point, though, I have to wonder how carefully NE’s proponents have thought through the implications of this simple answer. It is comprehensive. It is, one might say, totalitarian. Yes, that’s an emotionally freighted term, and yet I introduce it into the discussion to provoke the reader to ask, is there room for any other answer whatsoever, if NE is true? I don’t think there is. Everything that exists in the world of biological nature exists because of chance, and on account of successful reproduction. Period. Nothing else added.

Causation in biology is closed. There is chance, there is NS, the conservation of reproductive success, and there is nothing else.

If that is true, and I think it is, then we now have the capacity to answer a whole lot of questions that seem otherwise very difficult. We have to be careful with how we do this, of course. The chief stumbling block to this approach is that every question can be answered on multiple differing levels of analysis. For example, on naturalism the answer to every “why” question in the world of observable physical objects, including living things, could be found on the level of elementary particles’ interactions according to natural law and quantum indeterminacy, with room for adjustment of that answer based on any future scientific discovery. That’s one level of analysis. On the opposite extreme is the level of proximate explanation. Why did I treat my daughter with care and compassion this afternoon while telling her no to a certain request? Because I love her.

But where a higher-order explanation such as “because I love her” comes in to play, it comes from somewhere. Now, love is a feature of human function and behavior; and all human functions and behaviors come by way of Chance and NS. Therefore to the extent that anything other than Chance is at play, the love I have for my daughter is strictly a result of NS (the conservation of reproductive success) operating through natural history. Again, everything in human physiology and behavior comes from either Chance or NS. But that means that everything in human physiology and behavior has been produced either for nothing (Chance) or because it has stood in service of successful reproduction within and among populations—and for no other reason whatsoever.

The causal closure of NE has some very clarifying, simplifying implications for any number of hard questions. For example:

The reason there is love is either for nothing (Chance), or else because it has stood in service of successful human reproduction–and nothing else whatsoever. Causation is closed with respect to those two principles, and there is no room for any other to operate.

The reason behind human moral experience is either for nothing (Chance), or else because it has stood in service of successful human reproduction–and nothing else whatsoever. This is the conclusion I find reading Richard Joyce’s Evolutionary Morality, for example, one of the better treatments of the subject from an evolutionary perspective.

That much I have seen discussed often enough, and you probably have, too. But how about this one: The reason we experience suffering (including the suffering we inflict on one another) is either for nothing (Chance), or else because it has stood in service of successful human reproduction–and nothing else whatsoever.

That hasn’t been batted around near as much as the one concerning love. Maybe it’s because we thought suffering was inevitable in a competitive biological world, but I don’t see why it should have been. Plants don’t suffer, as far as we know. What that means is that the experience of suffering has served exactly the same function in natural history as love and moral experience have served.

And that brings me at last to the question I have been leading toward with all this. If love and suffering have served the same function in natural history, does that mean that they are morally equal to one another? If there is something that has made love morally different from suffering, where did it come from? Based on the causal closure of NE, it could only have come from the very same source: Chance or its contribution to reproductive success. In other words, if there’s some factor f that makes love morally different from suffering (including the suffering that we inflict upon each other) that factor f became f just because it helped us to make babies that made babies. And no other reason whatever.

I leave that with you as a question. I’ll restate it for clarity. (Bear in mind that this has to do with a certain defined level of explanation, but that this level of explanation seems to be appropriate, since NE implies that this level of explanation is the level of real interest with respect to the origin of biological structures, features, and behavior.)

1. Love exists as a human experience either for no reason (Chance) or because it has served the function of successful reproduction, and for no other reason whatever.

2. Suffering (including the suffering we inflict upon one another) exists as a human experience either for no reason (Chance) or because it has served the function of successful reproduction, and for no other reason whatever.

3. On the face of it, it would appear that since they serve the same function, there might be no moral or ethical difference between the two. If however some factor f exists to cause some moral differentiation between the two, then f exists either for no reason (Chance) or because it has served the same function of successful reproduction.

4. But then we really ought to inquire into what it is about f that raises it morally above the inflicting of suffering. Is there some factor g that differentiates f from the inflicting of suffering? Then where did g come from? Chance and baby-making are the only two possible answers. And then we have to ask the same question about g, then h … The question repeats itself forever.

5. Is this a fair conclusion to draw from NE, and if not, why not?

163 thoughts on “Love or Cruelty: If Evolution Is True, What’s the Moral Difference?

  1. Say theism is true. Does that automatically make love a more worthwhile, desirable pursuit? You’ll have to explain that to me, if you think so.

    And if naturalism is true, can you point to any person and say, truly, that their life would be better and more fulfilled if they made it a goal to avoid love (and seek out needless suffering)? Again, I really don’t think so.

    To the extent that a person really is aware of what they are missing by avoiding love (and/or in seeking needless suffering), they would always value love over suffering. Whether naturalism or theism is true, it really makes no difference.

    So… under both theism and naturalism, more powerful reasons exist to seek love, than to seek needless suffering. I really don’t see why reasons to seek love would mysteriously come into being on theism, and disappear under naturalism. Those reasons exist now, today, irrespective of which turns out to be true.

    The generation/discovery of such reasons is the primary pursuit of morality, in my opinion. So that’s how, roughly and quickly, I would say there is a moral difference between the two (love and suffering).

  2. “Automatically”? What does that mean?

    And if naturalism is true, can you point to any person and say, truly, that their life would be better and more fulfilled if they made it a goal to avoid love (and seek out needless suffering)? Again, I really don’t think so.

    Aha! Good going! You’ve identified f, to say it using the terminology I used in my original post. Now, what g is there that makes f morally more valuable than cruelty, and where did g come from?

  3. d writes:

    Whether naturalism or theism is true, it really makes no difference.

    Oh? Is this how a naturalist would encourage or console someone who found themselves in the midst of suffering?

    The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”[a] made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

    7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you… 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. 15 All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

    16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
    (2 Corinthians 4)

    The naturalist cannot talk about eternal life if this is the only world that there is. There is no hope beyond this life. The differences between atheistic naturalism and Christian theism couldn’t be starker.

  4. Could I possibly ask a couple of clarifications?
    Firstly, when talking about morals and ethics, are you talking about objective or subjective ones? For if you take subjective morals, I would hope that you would agree that “On the face of it, it would appear that since they serve the same function, there might be no moral or ethical difference between the two.” is trivially wrong to at least the vast majority of people.

    I’m not familiar with any strict definition of NE (apologies) – could you clarify whether its
    1)evolution with respect to biological species
    2)”evolution” with respect to all physical phenomena?
    [quick googling&browsing seems to imply the former whereas the way you speak about it seems to imply the latter]

    Do you mean to talk about the human experience of love and suffering, or the actions/events which cause love and suffering? As I think in some ways these are best considered distinctly.

    I presume this is one of the obvious points which you don’t explicitly state, but I think it is important in considering that the products of NE also depend on environmental conditions (say ECs).
    If 1) the ECs are also dramatically constantly changing, affecting the products of NE.
    If 2), then the ECs are part of the product of NE, but the original/starting ECs (i.e. the underlying physics of the universe, and initial conditions) are then an important factor in the product of NE.

    Now, if you were a strict naturalist and believed nothing else existed beyond the natural universe, so the ECs are completely “natural”/came out of nothing etc, it is absolutely clear the logical conclusion is that there is no objective morality differentiating actions that cause love and actions that cause suffering.

    However a deist who believed in NE I think could quite reasonably argue that there is objective morality to actions of love and suffering, as the initial ECs were set up by God such that NE would result in manifestations of human experience of love and suffering.

    And in considering other cases, I think there is a lot of middle ground in that there could exist objective morals differentiating love and suffering (for simplicity lets say they exist beyond the natural universe, although I think the existence of “natural” objective morals could still be argued). If you consider NE as defined in 1), and considered some dualistic form of mind, such that sufficiently complex brains form some symbiotic relationship with something “supernatural” that endows genuine morality, this would indeed be a change in the ECs which would effect NE.
    A few points:
    a) I realise this example is highly speculative, I’m just trying to demonstrate the conceivable plausibility.
    b) Evolution only directly explains the reason for the existence of heritable characteristics (i.e. genetics of a person) – environment also significantly influences the formation of an individual/mind. Similarly to that example, one could then have NE forming genetics, but the existence of appropriate supernatural identities/experience in the world could still leave objective morality accesible.
    c) I realise this perhaps goes against what you mean by naturalistic evolution – but I am currently reading it in that naturalistic evolution would mean that no supernatural influence would have a direct effect on the formation of heritable traits.

  5. Thanks JAD.

    I need to add to what I wrote last time.

    Under NE’s causal closure, the only reason persons value “that their life would be better and more fulfilled” is because NS has produced that behavior in us. NS’s only competency is to support reproductive success, remember. Therefore the only reason we value anything at all is because it supports making more babies who make more babies.

    By the way, if Dawkins is right about the selfish gene, then the only we reason we value anything at all is because that behavior has historically caused someone’s particular sequence of A, G, T, and C to succeed in reproducing itself.

    The only reason.

  6. If I am not mistaken, it looks like your questioning really veers pretty close to Euthyphro territory. So I think to answer it, we have to consider Euthyphro-like dilemmas.

    Of course, the dilemmas can be formulated against any moral theory, naturalist or theist. Choosing one horn gets us nowhere, since the dilemma resurfaces, in an infinite regress. There’s simply no thing which you can posit as the moral ultimate, to which you cannot pose the further question, “Well, what makes THAT moral?” – thereby rendering it non-ultimate.

    Taking the other horn can halt the regress, but the arbitrariness problem arises. What is good, only is good by virtue of how we choose to define our terms. We find a stopping point that seems like a plausible, sensible one. Once you’ve settled upon some plausible, sensible way to define your terms, it simply becomes meaningless to continue to ask questions.

    So what is this g which makes love valuable and needless suffering something to be avoided? Nothing – it makes no sense to ask. That’s just how it is, due to facts about our nature and facts about the universe.

    Now if theism is true, one might add facts about God into the mix – but it doesn’t really escape the same arbitrariness problem.

  7. Good questions, Alex.

    I’m trying to present all of this within the framework of NE. If you’re not familiar with NE, I’m not sure how to summarize it quickly except to say what I said above. I’ll try again. It is the process whereby random variation genetic variation in combination with environmental circumstances (I did mention that in the post, by the way) produces opportunities for differential survival of organisms and populations. This differential survival is directly related to organisms’ physical structures and functions as expressed in the physical world, including their behaviors. It is not related to anything but that except indirectly. For example, reproductively successful genes are defined as those that produce reproductively successful physical effects. Reproductively successful thoughts and values are defined as those that produce reproductively successful physical effects, including of course behaviors. And so on. NS is the One Great Cause, but it can only see—and therefore it can only affect—physical/physiological traits and behaviors.

    Now, since I’m trying to work within the NE framework, I’m talking about subjective moral experience, which I take (on NE) to be a behavior thrown up by evolution just because it supported the successful reproduction of populations. Now, to that you respond,

    “On the face of it, it would appear that since they serve the same function, there might be no moral or ethical difference between the two” is trivially wrong to at least the vast majority of people.

    I agree that they might regard or experience as trivially wrong. What I have attempted to do, however, has been to show that their regarding it as such can also be explained in the same way. It is a behavior thrown up by evolution just because it has supported the successful reproduction of populations. It’s not wrong because it’s wrong. They don’t regard it as wrong because it’s wrong. They regard it as wrong because the behavior, regarding it as wrong has served the process of successfully making babies that make babies.

    Though they would use the term “wrong,” the fact is that its actual wrongness (if there is such a thing) has absolutely nothing to do with causing them to think that. NE is causally closed. There is no room for something like rightness or wrongness to be the cause of some person’s opinion. All behaviors, like all physical and physiological features of organisms, is caused by one force (so to speak) which has no competency to accomplish anything but to support successful reproduction.

    Now, if that seems wrong or absurd to you, then you might regard your response as good data to include in a reductio ad absurdum for naturalistic evolution. As you have correctly pointed out, this does not apply to deism, nor does it apply to theistic evolution or any other case where something transcendent exists beyond the natural universe.

  8. d,

    I don’t know how this could have anything to do with Euthyphro, since I haven’t mentioned God or gods.

    So what is this g which makes love valuable and needless suffering something to be avoided? Nothing – it makes no sense to ask. That’s just how it is, due to facts about our nature and facts about the universe.

    Thank you for your admission that on NE, there is no reason whatever for us to regard love as more to be valued than cruelty. That’s the point I was trying to make.

    (Be careful, by the way, with thinking you can resort to “facts about our nature” as providing some sort of explanation. Those “facts” are in the realm of f or g…. or in other words, they are part of what you have admitted to be no explanation at all.)

  9. Well, Tom – if I can get you to admit that theism is in the same boat (it is) I think we’ll be making some good progress.

  10. The question you posed in the OP has to do with Euthyphro because its essentially asking the same question.

    Remove “God” from the dilemma and substitute anything of your choosing.

    Is (eudaimonia/God/love/reproduction/etc) good because it has certain properties, or are those properties good because (eudaimonia/God/love/reproduction/etc) possess them?

  11. Your purpose then is to cause us to come to agreement that there is no basis for any values whatsoever, except perhaps NS’s purpose (I’m anthropomorphizing badly!) of creating more babies that create more babies.

    Is that correct?

  12. @d:

    No, d, we are not on the same boat (and Tom Gilson surely did not admit that). Naturalistic atheism is powerless to found any objective morality and in fact, many philosophers in their ranks have already taken the task to deny that there is such a thing.

    There are basic two ways to found (in the sense of foundations) morality: deontological or teleological. Very roughly, the first corresponds to versions of divine command theory (and on the secular side, Kantian ethics) and the second to Thomistic natural law propped by some crucial metaphysical ideas (that things have natures, that what is good is dictated by their nature, evil as privation, etc.).

    There is nothing arbitrary in natural law and Eutyphro’s dilemma is completely powerless against it. I am less conversant with divine command theories, but it is my impression that they too have the resources to escape the dilemma.

  13. And no, the OP has nothing to do with Euthyphro still. Not unless you want the Euthyphro to read,

    “Did mindless, purposeless, non-intentional nature make a purposeful and intentional decision to call the good good because the good was good, or is the good good because mindless, purposeless, non-intentional nature made a purposeful and intentional decision to make it so?”

    That is to say, if the Euthyphro has any purchase anywhere, it is only on some transcendent being that could conceivably have the ability to choose or declare what is good.

    Oh, and by the way: Christian theism does not fall to the Euthypro objection. But I’ve argued that so many times that it’s going to take some real persuading for you to convince me to change the subject once again.

    The question I’ve raised has to do with naturalistic evolution. The answer I’m looking for is whether NE makes sense in view of what it proposes and what that entails. Does it? Or doesn’t it? That’s the question. This business about the Euthyphro is just ducking it.

  14. Well, I think ultimately I hope to clarify the conversations about morality – which are quite a mess!

    If theism is true, I do think God would be a plausible and sensible point to halt the regress, upon which to rest our moral terms.

    Ultimately though, there has to be some congruent relation between OUR values and God’s values for that to be a sensible halting point. If theism were true, I think there probably would be congruence there. But.. If by obeying God, we maximized everything contrary to our own values, there literally would be no reason for anybody to obey God or consider the features of His nature to be a sensible model for what we ought to do.

    So in short – some fundamental value must come first. Morality arises second. It makes no sense to ask if said value is good – its outside the domain or morality. Furthermore, the value must be held by the moral actors in question – not just one being, however supreme He may be.

    Values can exist on both theism and naturalism. The only question for the naturalist would be to ask if there is any universally shared, fundamental value upon which to build a universal moral system. Whether there is or not (I think there is), it COULD be the case that there is.

  15. d,

    You say you want to clarify, but you keep ducking the one clear question I have been asking you to answer.

    The topic is values and naturalism. You say, “values can exist on both theism and naturalism.” I think we have agreed, however, that on naturalism (and assuming evolution) values serve no purpose of any kind whatsoever except to support making babies that will make babies; and that there is no moral or value distinction that can coherently be made between one value that serves that purpose and any other value that serves that purpose. If cruelty and love both serve that purpose in their various contexts, then there is no moral distinction between cruelty and love.

    I thought we were agreed on that earlier. Now you say it COULD be the case that there is some universal, fundamental value on naturalism. I think you’re quite wrong about that, and I think I’ve already shown the reason why. Values are features of organisms’ behavior (on naturalism), and such features have only one cause, NE, which divides into either purposeless chance or else NS. NS is about making babies that make babies, and nothing else. Period. Therefore it COULDN’T be the case that naturalism provides us some universal moral value, and therefore you are wrong.

  16. G. Rodrigues wrote:

    Naturalistic atheism is powerless to found any objective morality and in fact, many philosophers in their ranks have already taken the task to deny that there is such a thing.

    According to Michael Ruse, “morality is an illusion put in place by your genes to make you a social cooperator, what’s to stop you behaving like an ancient Roman? Well, nothing in an objective sense. But you are still a human with your gene-based psychology working flat out to make you think you should be moral. It has been said that the truth will set you free. Don’t believe it. David Hume knew the score. It doesn’t matter how much philosophical reflection can show that your beliefs and behaviour have no rational foundation, your psychology will make sure you go on living in a normal, happy manner.

    God is dead. The new atheists think that that is a significant finding. In this, as in just about everything else, they are completely mistaken. God is dead. Morality has no foundation. Long live morality. Thank goodness!”http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2010/mar/15/morality-evolution-philosophy

    Note that according Ruse, Hume showed “that your beliefs and behaviour have no rational foundation.” So therefore, “Morality has no foundation.” If that’s true then there is no objective basis for for anything like universal human rights.

    Those are the implications that Ruse, a Darwinian evolutionist, draws from naturalistic evolution.

    This means that d’s belief that, “Values can exist on both theism and naturalism. The only question for the naturalist would be to ask if there is any universally shared, fundamental value upon which to build a universal moral system. Whether there is or not (I think there is), it COULD be the case that there is,” is groundless.

  17. Ok, we agree that values exist on both naturalism and theism.

    But consider the implication of my other claim – that a value is a prerequisite for morality (ie, the most fundamental reasons for a decision).

    If that’s true – then no matter what that fundamental value is, no matter how it came to be, no matter who holds it, deity or not – one cannot speak of it using moral terms – it exists for amoral reasons.

    So sure, our value for love may have been hewn by amoral mechanistic processes. Sure, its arbitrary in a manner of speaking, but so what?

    If theism is true, from where are the values of God hewn? Do they just exist? The only answer one can really give is, “Yep.. they just exist”. Well, that’s no less arbitrary – God’s values exist also for amoral reasons (if it can be said they exist for any reason at all).

  18. “So what? you ask? “arbitrary in a manner of speaking,” you say?

    You blithely stumble past that in your rush to get your question out to me, but what on earth do you mean by that? And have you yet grappled with the implications of my claim that there is nothing (if naturalism is true) that puts love on a higher plane than cruelty?

    Your final paragraph is completely, tragically uninformed concerning theism, I’m afraid, but I’m not going there yet. You ought to at least be somewhat informed about your own system of belief, and you ought to have thought it through, more than you’ve demonstrated here. It’s too early to change the subject. I’m still waiting for something like a genuine answer to my questions.

  19. Notice that the same questions that Tom is asking about morality can be asked about justified true belief (JTB) and truth in general.

    If evolution is a fact, what’s the difference between one JTB and another as it applies to true perceptions of reality? The process of evolution doesn’t seem to require true perceptions or rational abilities. There is no “g”. If you can make babies then that’s all that is needed.

    Are humans able to perceive reality accurately? Evolution has made you think they can.

  20. @d:

    If theism is true, from where are the values of God hewn? Do they just exist? The only answer one can really give is, “Yep.. they just exist”. Well, that’s no less arbitrary – God’s values exist also for amoral reasons (if it can be said they exist for any reason at all).

    If you are going to spout nonsense about theism, you might as well stick to the Easter Bunny and the Flying Spaghetti Monster canards; at least they have some entertainment value.

  21. My last paragraph isn’t uninformed – I know theists will object to what it claims, I am familiar with many of their claims, and I know they will have many words to spill in reply to my own.. but they have never been convincing to me, and have not persuaded me that they have some special power to overcome these moral issues any better than naturalism. I disagree with them.

    As for higher planes, well… to be cruel, one must necessarily deprive themselves of love. So are the natures of sentient beings so malleable as to be able to enjoy the same level of contentment and fulfillment from cruelty, as they are love? I doubt it.

    I consider such hypothesizing on par with similar questions about God – if God valued cruelty, would it not be morally obligatory to be cruel?

    Even the least empathetic among us, psychopaths, are able to be cruel without guilt, they don’t really achieve what one might call happiness, or fulfillment from their actions – and they are necessarily deprived of the fullness of love. Even lacking empathetic responses, it would be rational for them to *want* to be other than they are.

  22. SteveK:

    The same line of reasoning can undermine theism too. Even if you believe our cognitive faculties can reliably hold JTB’s, in some instances – one still is left with the task of explaining why false belief is so prevalent, given a God who values truth. This invokes a sub-problem of evil, with respect to knowledge.

    Constructing a theodicy (eg, God has good reasons for permitting false beliefs), or going the skeptical route poses serious epistemelogical issues for all of theism.

  23. There are may problems with this line of thinking concerning the evolution of human behavior, and morals and ethics. It primarily misses the boat for the most basic understanding of science.

    First in this post I would like to address a long standing misunderstanding of many traditional theists concerning the concept of ‘chance.’ The following reflects the problem.

    [quote=Thinking Christian]That much I have seen discussed often enough, and you probably have, too. But how about this one: The reason we experience suffering (including the suffering we inflict on one another) is either for nothing (Chance), or else because it has stood in service of successful human reproduction–and nothing else whatsoever.

    That hasn’t been batted around near as much as the one concerning love. Maybe it’s because we thought suffering was inevitable in a competitive biological world, but I don’t see why it should have been. Plants don’t suffer, as far as we know. What that means is that the experience of suffering has served exactly the same function in natural history as love and moral experience have served.

    And that brings me at last to the question I have been leading toward with all this. If love and suffering have served the same function in natural history, does that mean that they are morally equal to one another? If there is something that has made love morally different from suffering, where did it come from? Based on the causal closure of NE, it could only have come from the very same source: Chance or its contribution to reproductive success.[/quote]

    In the processes of evolution as well nature as a whole ‘chance’ plays no causative role, and it should dropped, because this view represents a layman’s poor understanding of what is random in terms of the natural course of events in any physical process. The only observed causes for events, as occur in evolution, are the physical environment, and Natural Law. Statistics may be used to estimate the probability of any given event, but there remains no causal relationship here.

    The only situation random acausal events have been observed is in the Quantum World. All events in the macro world have been observed to follow a fractal pattern that follows the Chaos theory of the pattern of events.

    Next post I will deal with other issues. of the role of evolution in behavior, and morals and ethics.

    The simple answer to your question above is yes, love and suffering are a product of NS, because they are necessary for the survival of the human species as social animals, as observed in a simpler form in other higher social animals. They are not necessarily equal nor unequal, they are simply necessary for survival. More to follow.

  24. Tom, thanks for the fuller explanation. I am pretty familiar with evolution I just hadn’t heard of the explicit term NE before. I would query the bit about “reproductively successful” thoughts and values, which would quite possibly exist in a seperate sphere to biological hereditary by something like memetics (I appreciate this is effectively the same for all intents and purposes however). Just to ask a couple more things so I can hopefully bring my thoughts together more pertinenly for a full reply:

    When you speak of an NE framework is that one of strict naturalism in general (beyond just with regards to evolution)?

    Apologies if I’m missing the obvious, but are you seeking a stronger paraphrased conclusion along the lines of “If one has a belief in NE it’s irrational to hold any moral system whatsoever due to infinite regress bar ‘chance and NS’ “? Or even to follow that “then since we have a moral system belief in NE is absurd”?

  25. d,

    No, you are uninformed in spite of your protestations. Your questions for theism are based on non-theistic premises. No one who knows theism would do that. It is as ignorant and inane as if I were to ask, “Who put all the scientific laws in place if naturalism is true?” You say you disagree with theist’s answers, but you show no evidence of understanding the theistic questions.

    So are the natures of sentient beings so malleable as to be able to enjoy the same level of contentment and fulfillment from cruelty, as they are love? I doubt it.

    Is contentment the missing f factor? (You’re repeating yourself.) Or is it perhaps happiness, or fulfillment? Where then is g? What makes f rational, if there is no g? And if there is a g, then what about h? Your rational answer comes down to what’s been most successful for humans in making babies that make babies, and nothing else.

    Try as you might to change the subject, you are still stuck with that, and with no rational basis whatever for your position. None. That’s zero, with the rim kicked off.

    Why don’t you try living with that for a moment before you try to re-direct us back onto something else of which you falsely claim to know enough to discuss?

  26. Frank,

    Thank you for that thoughtful response.

    I understand that chance plays no causative role. It is best understood as the intersection of two statistically and/or physically unrelated causal streams. Quantum indeterminacy, if it exists (which is hotly debated among some regulars on this blog) would be the exception to that.

    I chose not to go into detail on that because the fuller explanation yields the same result as the shorter one: there is nothing of interest to be found in considering Chance as a cause of anything.

  27. d,

    The same line of reasoning can undermine theism too.

    If you accept Christian theism on it’s own terms, you are wrong. Tom is accepting evolution on its own terms and, so far, he has not been shown to be incorrect. He’s correct because this, according to the experts, is what evolution fully entails.

    It seems you are arguing for a theistic reality that is logically possible but without any reason to think that we actually exist in that reality. You imagined it. Kind of like imagining an evil god.

  28. Tom,

    Please indulge me a little further, by answering a couple questions:

    Is value (either held by sentient creatures or by a deity) a prerequisite for a moral framework?

    If so, can that value be called “moral” in any meaningful way, or does it exist outside the scope of the word “moral”?

    If no, what reasons does an agent have to act, if in so doing, nothing of value is realized? If these reasons are “moral reasons”, how and why are they so?

  29. @SteveK

    It seems you are arguing for a theistic reality that is logically possible but without any reason to think that we actually exist in that reality.

    That pretty much sums up my view of apologetics, given how often guys like Craig, Plantinga, et al. retreat to mere logical possibility.

  30. @Frank Coonan:

    The only situation random acausal events have been observed is in the Quantum World.

    False. Quantum events are not acausal, or without cause. As far as random, it depends on what you mean by the word.

    All events in the macro world have been observed to follow a fractal pattern that follows the Chaos theory of the pattern of events.

    Technically false. There are classical systems that exhibit no chaotic behaviour (are stable, etc.).

    But these are minor quibbles, as if even you were correct, Tom Gilson’s point would still stand.

  31. d asked,

    Is value (either held by sentient creatures or by a deity) a prerequisite for a moral framework?

    If so, can that value be called “moral” in any meaningful way, or does it exist outside the scope of the word “moral”?

    If no, what reasons does an agent have to act, if in so doing, nothing of value is realized? If these reasons are “moral reasons”, how and why are they so?

    Just a question about your questions: Why are you using the word value rather than obligation or duty? I’m sure you know that ‘value’ can be used in a non-moral way. For example, I can say that I value music, art or chocolate but such values are not moral values. Values like that are based on subjective liking vs. disliking something. Moral obligations and duties, on the other hand, are not a matter of our liking or disliking, and though we do have a choice of obeying or not obeying, we are wrong if we choose not to obey. Do you believe there are real moral obligations and duties? What are some examples of such obligations and duties?

  32. d,

    That pretty much sums up my view of apologetics, given how often guys like Craig, Plantinga, et al. retreat to mere logical possibility.

    Then you don’t undersand. We do have reason to think certain theistic realities played out in actual history (and are playing out today). The arguments for Christianity go way beyond logical possibility fueled by imagination.

  33. Supposing that were where they retreated to, that is. They are committed to rationality consistent with evidence. I’m not seeing you demonstrate that commitment here.

  34. Tom,

    I’m not seeing you [d] demonstrate that commitment here.

    In order to do that, d would have to construct an argument that bridges the is-ought divide. The entire evolutionary thesis doesn’t give you the tools to do that. Which proves your statement below is accurate.

    Mere logical possibility beats impossibility any day of the week!

    Naturalism. You can’t get here from there. 😉

  35. Sorry I missed your inclusion of environmental conditions(ECs) Tom, but I would recognise ECs as importantly as RVs – as they influence how NS plays out, rather than being part and parcel of NS or anything else. This is why I’m asking whether NE strictly implies naturalism in general – if not you can have supernatural phenomena (an EC) which endow knowledge of objective morality but which do not directly affect evolution, leaving NE intact.

    Causation in biology is closed. There is chance, there is NS, the conservation of reproductive success, and there is nothing else.
    I would argue that in some ways this is an oversimplication. Similar to evolution, ECs affect the development of an individual physically and mentally (this is in some ways paraphrasing “person = nature + nurture”).

    I think this is particularly pertinent with respect to mental phenomena such as morals/behaviour. Something along the lines of memetics expresses how ideas can proliferate (at least somewhat) independently of the reproductive success of the people that carry them.

    I am no adherent to naturalism, and so I have not expended much serious thought on this, but from a naturalist frame I would tentatively speculate the possibility of the existence of objective morality arising as a property of the entirety of the logical system, which if one were a strict naturalist would also be a part of the natural world. I appreciate how “desperate” this might sound, but remember I have no ties with naturalism; I simply have no conceptual construct that makes naturalism and objective morality mutually exclusive. This in tandem with the above point about ideas not being tied to biological hereditary could perhaps then explain the emergence of objective morality in a naturalistic frame.

    There is no moral difference between love/suffering
    Even if you dismiss my means by which one might experience objective morality with NE, let us consider a naturalistic frame (which again I don’t hold) with no objective morality for the remainder of this comment, and consider the validity/consistency of subjective morality.

    From a purely rational perspective, answering “why are actions of love morally good, actions that cause suffering morally evil” does indeed boil down to C&NS. However, humans are not merely rational (and arguably normally not rational). I would argue that morality emerges from emotional/moral feeling (which then define the tenets of one’s subjective morality), and is then refined with rational thought (ie evaluating what morals are “axiomatic” and which are the product of others, and rationally deciding what principles/actions best fulfil one’s “moral axioms”). Even if C&NS is the means by which moral feeling comes about, it does not deny us our experience of moral feeling. Subjective morality is then either constructed personally as a result of that, or on a societal level by agreement of common moral feelings.

    To recognise that there is no objective reason (bar C&NS) for morality does not lead one to stop experiencing moral feeling. To think there is no objective reason why murder is wrong would not stop someone witnessing a murder to feel (just as strongly) that it is wrong.

    Using Ruse’s quote given by JAD:
    It doesn’t matter how much philosophical reflection can show that your beliefs and behaviour have no rational foundation, your psychology will make sure you go on living in a normal, happy manner.
    To paraphrase – given that humans aren’t inherently rational the lack of an objective rational basis would have little/no bearing on how we would actually act/feel.

    If one were to reflect rationally on it, considering Tom’s “factors” f,g etc, I would argue that in pragmatic terms, the chain stops at the k such that k is one’s base moral feeling, because this is the only factor of importance to oneself [again base moral feeling being one at the simplest/axiomatic level]. Yes you can break down “why do I have this moral feeling” into N&CD, but as elaborated, this would be irrelevant for all practical purposes.

    Note – I recognise I’m assuming that “base/axiomatic” moral feelings are (at least approximately) hard-wired into our brain, but I would anecdotally and perhaps inductively think this is very likely to be true.

  36. To clarify subjective morality from a naturalistic frame (and staying within this frame for the following):
    To anticipate but why then is one’s moral feeling important to oneself – this objection misses the point. Again, the technical answer boils down to N&CD. However, again one feels that one’s moral feeling is important to oneself. Hopefully you would all agree that this is true to whatever “order” of feeling one takes it to, and so in some senses one’s moral feeling important to oneself is an “experiential truth”. Given that we ultimately act as a result of experience rather than reason, such “pragmatic” reasoning is valid/suitable to be used. I’m struggling to find a clear way to express this, so I hope you can all see what I’m getting at.

    Oh and for lack of clear conclusion – I was arguing for the soundness of subjective morality in general, and so then in particular love would not be morally equivalent to suffering because of one’s “experiential truths” – one such experential truth might be “the moral feeling that others ought to be happy”.

  37. Sorry for a comment stream, but perhaps I can phrase it differently. There may be nice terminology for what I’m describing (which I’m not aware of) so apologies if this is overly wooly.

    Consider a claim X made by person A, “X is morally true to me”.
    Then there are distinct questions:
    1) “why is X morally true” from A’s perspective, which then would then boil down to the experiential truth, k.
    2) “why is X morally true to A” objectively, which would then boil down to C&NS.
    The fact that 2) is true has no bearing on 1) – which is exactly why it is subjective morality.

    Then to A, if we take the example in #41, love is not morally equivalent to suffering. By 2), love is not objectively equivalent to suffering, but the claim is merely subjective nonequivalence.

    You can’t boil down “why is X morally true” from A’s perspective to C&NS, because to A the experential truth k is not morally true because of C&NS.

    To ask “why is k morally true” from A’s perspective is meaningless, because k is morally true to A essentially by definition (as k = A’s experiential moral feeling that some Y is true =equivalent= Y is morally true from A’s perspective).

    C&NS explains the naturalistic how, but not the moral why. The experiential truth k is not an objective truth, but it need not be to be the premise/basis of a subjective morality.

    And woops in #41 by N&CD I meant C&NS(Chance & Natural Selection) as before.

  38. Ran out of edit time sorry, typo in the 3rd para of #42, remove “not” before “objectively” to read:
    By 2), love is objectively morally equivalent to suffering, [as objectively nothing can be said] but the claim is merely subjective nonequivalence.

    Oh, and again #42 is written from a naturalistic frame.

    Apologies – I’m clarifying my position to myself as I write, I would slightly (but significiantly) change the first sentence of para 6 of #40 to:
    From a purely rational perspective, answering “why do actions of love seem morally good, actions that cause suffering seem morally evil” does indeed boil down to C&NS.

    I would similarly retract any statement that implied a moral action was moral because of C&NS – C&NS is no basis for morality, it merely explains the means by which moral feelings come about (in a naturalistic frame).

  39. I have a funny feeling I’ve just rambled about something obviously trivially true with #41/42 as a result of misinterpreting your position as having some qualms with subjective morality, when in fact you don’t (apologies if this is the case).

    I sort of feel a little confused to what your point is though maybe? In some ways all you seem to say is:
    (Naturalism + NE + existence from nothing) means there’s no objective morality, only subjective morality, and subjective morality only arises from amoral physics/NE, and so has no objective basis.
    To paraphrase your point on love/suffering
    There’s no objective moral difference between love and suffering, and the only reason there’s a difference in subjective morality is because of amoral NE
    Which I don’t know maybe I’m missing something but it just seems obvious and maybe a little tautological. If you’ve only been accustomed to objective morality this is of course a “shock” but as expressed at the end of #40 this doesn’t significantly affect your experience of reality, so even if it were true it wouldn’t be something “terrible”. I can only speak for myself but I grappled with this “issue” when I was young and quite happily resolved it (to clarify I don’t subscribe to naturalism, I am open to the possibility of its truth, and if it were true, I wouldn’t have any problem with it).

  40. The question you posed in the OP has to do with Euthyphro because its essentially asking the same question.

    Remove “God” from the dilemma and substitute anything of your choosing.

    Is (eudaimonia/God/love/reproduction/etc) good because it has certain properties, or are those properties good because (eudaimonia/God/love/reproduction/etc) possess them?

    d, I believe you have created a dilemma that is different from Euthyphro. Yours starts “Is [God] good because… ?”, whereas Euthyphro starts with “Is a thing good because…?” Your dilemma may be worth examining, but it’s not exactly Euthyphro.

    I like the way Peter Kreeft phrases Euthyphro: “Is God’s will the cause of the good, or is the good the cause of God’s will?”. This is logically equivalent to asking “Is a thing good because God commands it, or does God command it because it is good?”, but it has the advantage of phrasing it in terms of causality. The Christian solution to the dilemma then follows easily: “God’s will neither causes, nor is caused by, the good; both are caused by God’s nature. God’s nature is the cause of God’s will, and God’s nature is the cause of all goodness (a thing is only good to the extent that it conforms to God’s nature).” I know what you will say next, though (substitute “God’s nature” for “value”, in your following quote).

    But consider the implication of my other claim – that a value is a prerequisite for morality (ie, the most fundamental reasons for a decision).

    If that’s true – then no matter what that fundamental value is, no matter how it came to be, no matter who holds it, deity or not – one cannot speak of it using moral terms – it exists for amoral reasons.

    So sure, our value for love may have been hewn by amoral mechanistic processes. Sure, its arbitrary in a manner of speaking, but so what?

    If theism is true, from where are the values of God hewn? Do they just exist? The only answer one can really give is, “Yep.. they just exist”. Well, that’s no less arbitrary – God’s values exist also for amoral reasons (if it can be said they exist for any reason at all).

    d, you are sort of approaching a truth when you talk about something more fundamental lying behind morality. Yes, Christians believe that God’s nature lies behind morality (even though God’s nature is not exactly a value), but there is no way to conclude that God’s nature is just as arbitrary as the “amoral mechanistic process” that supposedly gave us our value for love.

    If you disagree, then I would ask you to consider your definition of “arbitrary”. Usually, the word is defined something like “Based on randomness or personal whim, rather than any reason or system”. Arbitrariness bears a certain resemblance to entropy, in that something is arbitrary if it is only one among many equivalent options. Certainly evolution could have turned out differently (favoring different values) than it did, but could God’s nature be different than it is? God’s nature is not the result of a process; it is timeless and unchanging. God’s nature is not a particular thing belonging to a larger class of other, similar things; it is Being itself, the category as well as the instantiation. God’s nature encompasses Reason itself; could Reason ever be different than it is? Could the laws of logic ever change? Even if you answer “I don’t know; maybe they could”, wouldn’t you have to admit that it would be much easier for evolution to turn out differently than for the laws of logic to be different than they are?

    I think the symmetry you are seeking between theism and naturalism, with respect to the ground of morality, fails because the two grounds are not at all equally arbitrary.

  41. Alex, thank you for a good continuing discussion.

    Environmental conditions (ECs) are certainly crucial to the progress of evolution, but I’m not sure how integrating them more deeply into the analysis would change the outcome. Unless there is some design or purpose entering into them, they have nothing relevant to contribute to explaining why anything in biology is the way it is. Sure, you could say, “if conditions had been different, then things would have come out different.” But you could not proceed from that to the statement, “this helps us explain what morality (or any other structure, function, or behavior) is for.”

    Now you do bring in the possibility of design in ECs. That’s an entirely different story, and different from the one I have in mind when I speak of NE. I did not define it carefully enough, I’m afraid, and for that I apologize. I take NE to be evolution by means of RV and NS in the context of ECs, with the possibility of some essentially statistical effects along with these factors (like genetic drift); and with no guidance or direction of any kind whatsoever in any part of the system. This is the kind of evolution proposed by Dawkins, Coyne, Myers, and other prominent atheistic scientists; and it is the kind that Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and other philosophers take up and try to draw inferences from.

    It is in that context that I disagree with you on something like this:

    I would argue that in some ways this is an oversimplication. Similar to evolution, ECs affect the development of an individual physically and mentally (this is in some ways paraphrasing “person = nature + nurture”).

    I think this is particularly pertinent with respect to mental phenomena such as morals/behaviour. Something along the lines of memetics expresses how ideas can proliferate (at least somewhat) independently of the reproductive success of the people that carry them.

    Memetics cannot break the causal closure of NE. It’s a behavior. All behaviors have their sole root (according to NE) in NS. There’s no room for some new cause to enter the stream. (When I speak of NS, you must understand that I am thinking also of ECs, for NS is completely integrated with environmental conditions.)

    I would tentatively speculate the possibility of the existence of objective morality arising as a property of the entirety of the logical system, which if one were a strict naturalist would also be a part of the natural world. I appreciate how “desperate” this might sound, but remember I have no ties with naturalism.

    That depends on what you mean by objective. Richard Joyce (The Evolution of Morality) analyzes this masterfully. He would say that there is objective morality in the sense that there is some species-wide agreement concerning right and wrong. But even his analysis fails to show that “right” and “wrong” serve as anything other than labeling behaviors that serve to propagate genes. That’s his position, actually: that’s where “right” and “wrong” came from, on his view, and that’s still what they serve to do in human communication. They are terms used to communicate, “that’s a bad (or good) thing to do, and you ought to agree with me it’s a bad (or good) thing to do;” but what makes the thing good or bad to do is exactly this: its effect on the population’s reproductive success.

    I would argue that morality emerges from emotional/moral feeling (which then define the tenets of one’s subjective morality), and is then refined with rational thought (ie evaluating what morals are “axiomatic” and which are the product of others, and rationally deciding what principles/actions best fulfil one’s “moral axioms”). Even if C&NS is the means by which moral feeling comes about, it does not deny us our experience of moral feeling.

    Are you proposing another entrant into the causal stream? From where does it come, and how does it have the power to push aside NE?

    To recognise that there is no objective reason (bar C&NS) for morality does not lead one to stop experiencing moral feeling.

    I’m not disputing the experience of moral feeling. I’m trying to analyze what it represents.

    If one were to reflect rationally on it, considering Tom’s “factors” f,g etc, I would argue that in pragmatic terms, the chain stops at the k such that k is one’s base moral feeling, because this is the only factor of importance to oneself [again base moral feeling being one at the simplest/axiomatic level]. Yes you can break down “why do I have this moral feeling” into N&CD, but as elaborated, this would be irrelevant for all practical purposes.

    You’re answering a different question than what I asked, so while I don’t disagree with you on one level (practical purposes) I do disagree with you on the level of the question, what is morality if NE is true? I’m saying that the answer is, morality is a labeling behavior that serves to support reproductive success. I’m also saying that behaviors like love and cruelty are behaviors that NS apparently conserved in our species, and if so, then they also must serve to support reproductive success. If love, morality, and cruelty, are all behaviors that serve exactly the same long-term purpose, why do we consider one of them more important, valid, valuable, or good than another? You can answer that there is something about the human experience that makes love better than cruelty. I will answer that this something also came out of the one causal stream, and therefore this something (f, g, …) needs to be queried the same way as love, morality, and cruelty: what is it that makes us consider one of the following—love, cruelty, morality, f, or g—more valid or valuable or good than any other? I don’t think you have a way to rise above that question.

    For example:

    However, again one feels that one’s moral feeling is important to oneself. Hopefully you would all agree that this is true to whatever “order” of feeling one takes it to, and so in some senses one’s moral feeling important to oneself is an “experiential truth”.

    This feeling arose in the human species from some cause. But causation for structures, functions, and behaviors is closed on NE. This feeling arose because it serves to support reproduction. In that sense it is on exactly the same level as any other human behavior that NE has produced in us. It’s no more ultimate. As an explanation, it is not above what it seeks to explain, it is alongside it. It’s no explanation at all.

    And then,

    If you’ve only been accustomed to objective morality this is of course a “shock” but as expressed at the end of #40 this doesn’t significantly affect your experience of reality, so even if it were true it wouldn’t be something “terrible”.

    No? If you find out that love is no better than cruelty, except that you feel that it is, but that your feelings have no basis in fact, it seems to me this would have quite a significant impact.

  42. I found a really good blog series that is shaping up to a be a very articulate summation of some of the points I have been encircling (or trying too). Many of the contemporary naturalist moral theories all share some these basic themes, and you might say are of a similar species.

    While I haven’t full on endorsed any particular one, my views are heavily borrowed from them (such as Richard Carrier’s goal theory of moral value, or Alonzo Fyfe’s desire utilitarianism). The blog series in question has helped clarify my thoughts, so hopefully with that assistance, my views can become clearer for the rest of you too. (note: I use desire and value interchangeably)

    Here’s the link for the first in the series, for those interested (its a worthy read): http://www.greatplay.net/essays/the-meaning-of-morality

    SteveK mentioned the is-ought gap.

    The is-ought gap does not apply to hypothetical imperatives, in the form: If you desire X, you ought to Y.

    The moral theories I mentioned, tend to categorize moral imperatives as a sub-set of hypothetical imperatives. So here, Is-ought does not apply. Of course, not all hypothetical imperatives are moral imperatives. A moral imperative would be a hypothetical imperative rising from the most fundamental desire of the agent; what the agent desires above all else.

    The obvious retort is going to be, that this is a subjective moral view. After all, every agent has different desires. But that’s not necessarily true. An objective (or universal, if you prefer) morality can exist, if:

    (1) Every single person has at least one desire in common
    (2) One of these desires that everyone shares is that person’s highest desire; what they actually want most of all
    (3) There are certain actions that if everyone did or if everyone refrained from, they would satisfy their highest desire.

    (www.greatplay.net/essays/the-meaning-of-ought-part-iii)

    Now such universal desires may exist, or they may not – but the mere possibility is enough to defeat the rejoinders of the surly theist who declares that naturalistic universal morals are logically six-feet-under. Work certainly needs to be done to the fully establish plausibility of those premises, but on the surface I don’t see anything especially implausible about them.

    In fact, one might take it a step further and say that such a fundamental desire might be a necessary property of a sentient, value-holding, desiring mind. Reality, so it seems, is not infinitely malleable – minds are good for making babies sure and so would be selected for by NS, but that doesn’t mean any mind/desire combination can be instantiated. Only certain combinations may be possible.

    Now, what might this fundamental desire be? Well, one idea is to say it’s a desire for one’s own well-being. How could we say love is better than cruelty on such a view? Well, one could say that love requires that one take joy in the well-being of others – and so a higher level of personal well-being can be achieved with it. To the extent that one fosters his ability to love, he is fashioning a more fulfilling life than is possible with cruelty, since in so doing, he not only has his own joy, but takes part in the joy of others. (Hey Tom, some of this may even support your argument against the logical impossibility of evil-God – Ha!). Therefore, love is objectively better – for all minds – than cruelty.

    And if all or any of the above holds, its hard to see why it matters for any moral theory HOW a mind came to be – whether it was hewn by NS, or built by a god – its irrelevant to the moral project.

  43. Tom, thanks for the explicit clarification – [NE has] no guidance or direction of any kind whatsoever in any part of the system. – that was (more or less) what I was looking for.

    Memetics cannot break the causal closure of NE. It’s a behavior. All behaviors have their sole root (according to NE) in NS.
    Basically, I wasn’t trying to break the causal closure of NE, and I don’t think my point does break it.
    I think here is an important point to distinguish between experiences and actions of love/suffering (ie moral feelings & behaviour). To consider them seperately:
    1) Base moral feelings (e.g. love is good) are arguably a direct result of biology hereditary, as it is universally shared, instinctive not learnt, and so both emerges from and is successful because of C&NS.
    2) Human ideas/behaviour – although the most simplistic forms are instinctive, most behaviour is learnt. Such learnt behaviour would have originally emerged as a result of C&NS, but is successful (at least somewhat) for reasons distinct to success of heritable traits and RVs of those traits.
    That final point was the one I was really trying to make. I don’t think this really this goes against your conception of NE, as the memetic system (which exists somewhat independently of biological hereditary) can be seen merely as an EC (that just happens to emerge from C&NS).

    I’m no philosopher, and I fear hugely overstepping what I can reasonably say, but in terms of speculating on the existence of objective morality in a naturalistic frame, what precludes the possibility of it arising from metaphysical logical considerations? I don’t think I can meaningfully say much more without saying something probably hugely incorrect (if I haven’t already) – this isn’t a moot point for me, so I’ll happily accept its unlikely enough to ignore for sake of argument [edit – perhaps d’s post #47 is a more formal description of what I’m speculating?], but I think its pertinent that (unless you care to demonstrate otherwise) that its not certainly impossible.

    I’m also saying that behaviors like love and cruelty are behaviors that NS apparently conserved in our species, and if so, then they also must serve to support reproductive success. If love, morality, and cruelty, are all behaviors that serve exactly the same long-term purpose
    I can’t be sure, but it seems perhaps that a little of your dismay is that the implication is that cruelty is a means to the end of protracted reproductive success (Apologies if I’m misinterpreting). However, this just doesn’t logically follow. As you say, NE has a number of causal factors (such as RVs, ECs, NS), and so anything that results from NE is not necessarily the cause of any particular one of the factors. It would be a misnomer to think that NS has any particular direction it “wants” or has a tendency to go in. We can only evaluate what has caused what to manifest so far. As above, I would argue that moral feeling is caused directly by NS, but I would speculate that human acts of cruelty are more likely to have emerged through RV and propogated by memetic constructs rather than propogating through reproductive success of genetically cruel individuals. Perhaps this is debatable at some times in the past, but at the very least presently I think NS would act to make cruelty-inducing genes less prevalent (I’ll expand on this if you want).

    what is it that makes us consider one of the following—love, cruelty, morality, f, or g—more valid or valuable or good than any other?
    I don’t mean to repeat myself, but using my previous terminology, simply our experiential truth of morality. I say that as you write makes us consider, which I would then read as a subjective question. If it were an objective question then of course none would be more valid. This is what I don’t understand – you seem to be seeking an objective moral answer in a frame which implicitly has no objectivity. And sure, your point is there isn’t an answer, but again, that is obvious and implicit from where I see things.
    Perhaps you do have some issue with subjective morality? I don’t know. It seems that perhaps you’re conflating existential cause with moral cause. I (think) I most clearly express this in #42, so perhaps read that and contest the logic in there if you think I’m missing something?

    If you find out that love is no better than cruelty, except that you feel that it is, but that your feelings have no basis in fact, it seems to me this would have quite a significant impact.
    Perhaps I’m more content with such a possibility given that I’m agnostic and I don’t feel I have any meaningful certainty on much fact anywho. But sure, if you’ve always believed in objective truth, it is a paradigm shift which will be a difficult transition because of all the cognitive dissonance it entails (which I’d speculate is why it feels so bad when you consider it) – but once you’ve accepted that position there’s nothing to feel bad about, and as I elaborated before I would argue that you would function and feel essentially the same.

    Perhaps to put it another way – it only seems bad in some ways when comparing it to objective morality. But in many ways it is meaningless to compare the two, because there either is or there isn’t objective morality, there is no meaningful way they can sit side by side or in which you could in fact traverse between them. What is, is.

    Even if one were to genuinely feel worse about no objective morality (which again I would argue is not necessary) it bears no relevance to its plausibility.

  44. d,

    The is-ought gap does not apply to hypothetical imperatives, in the form: If you desire X, you ought to Y.

    The moral theories I mentioned, tend to categorize moral imperatives as a sub-set of hypothetical imperatives. So here, Is-ought does not apply. Of course, not all hypothetical imperatives are moral imperatives. A moral imperative would be a hypothetical imperative rising from the most fundamental desire of the agent; what the agent desires above all else.

    You do realise how very similar this is to Aquinas’ natural law theory that also avoids the is-ought gap. All you need to do is to replace “fundamental desire” with natural end.

    One problem is that while generally our desires will reflect our natural ends, in all of us our desires are subject to various imperfections and can sometimes even become severely deformed as evidenced by the variety of harmful behaviours exhibited by people. The problem for the atheist is that they don’t have recourse to draw on objective natures and purposes to support their moral theories and so they are left with desires, which, for the reasons just stated, don’t have the same ability to support objective morality.

    Now, what might this fundamental desire be? Well, one idea is to say it’s a desire for one’s own well-being. How could we say love is better than cruelty on such a view? Well, one could say that love requires that one take joy in the well-being of others – and so a higher level of personal well-being can be achieved with it. To the extent that one fosters his ability to love, he is fashioning a more fulfilling life than is possible with cruelty, since in so doing, he not only has his own joy, but takes part in the joy of others.

    The problem with this is what does well-being mean? Aquinas would agree with you and would define well-being as fulfilling our natural ends. For you though the statement becomes fairly meaningless. What is our fundamental desire? We desire our own well-being. What does well-being mean? The fulfilment of our most fundamental desire.

  45. Melissa:

    If the hypothetical imperative is the only way to cross the is-ought divide, then no matter if theism or atheism is true – if that fundamental desire is sufficiently mangled, the purchase from whence one can cross is-ought is destroyed too.

    Even on theism, you cannot tell somebody they ought to desire something else, and be right about it, unless you are appealing to some other desire they currently hold.

  46. @d:

    Huh? I cannot make heads or tails of your answer to Melissa.

    Natural law does not appeal to desires; instead it appeals to the nature, or essence of things and its ends or finalities, and thus what is good for the Thing (whether rocks, plants or human beings) is a matter of objective fact given that the Thing has the nature it has.

  47. Melissa writes:

    “The problem for the atheist is that they don’t have recourse to draw on objective natures and purposes to support their moral theories and so they are left with desires, which, for the reasons just stated, don’t have the same ability to support objective morality.”

    Since moral issues are ultimately practical issues, I like to work with practical examples so we know what we are really talking about.

    I want to know (from those who believe it is) how it’s possible to derive an ought from our “desires”.

    Here is an example from my personal life:

    I remember when I was in 7th grade walking home from school one day when I saw a toddler on a tricycle tip over. As I passed him by I could see that he was trapped under his tricycle, but I kept walking… Then I heard something that still haunts me to this day. The toddler called out to me. He said, “Help me boy! Help me boy!” But I didn’t turn back.

    Why didn’t I help him? I don’t remember exactly, but obviously at that moment, for some reason, I didn’t have the desire. Should I have helped him even if I didn’t have the desire? I think so. So, explain to me how one derives an ought from one’s desires. If you feel like it you ought to? But if you don’t, you don’t? Is that what we mean by ought? It seems to me we’re talking about two different things here.

  48. Alex, you write,

    2) Human ideas/behaviour – although the most simplistic forms are instinctive, most behaviour is learnt. Such learnt behaviour would have originally emerged as a result of C&NS, but is successful (at least somewhat) for reasons distinct to success of heritable traits and RVs of those traits.

    What does “successful” mean? Please define it in terms independent of the one cause and the sole motive force known in all biological functioning, including behavior. Or else admit that it even what you have written here is subsumed under NE’s function of making babies that make babies. I think you admitted in the next line that this is not possible, but I’ll leave the challenge here for the benefit of other readers.

    in terms of speculating on the existence of objective morality in a naturalistic frame, what precludes the possibility of it arising from metaphysical logical considerations?

    The metaphysical definition of naturalism precludes it.

    As above, I would argue that moral feeling is caused directly by NS, but I would speculate that human acts of cruelty are more likely to have emerged through RV and propogated by memetic constructs rather than propogating through reproductive success of genetically cruel individuals.

    That’s speculation, as you acknowledge. I don’t think you can support it, but you’re certainly welcome to try.

    I say that as you write makes us consider, which I would then read as a subjective question. If it were an objective question then of course none would be more valid. This is what I don’t understand – you seem to be seeking an objective moral answer in a frame which implicitly has no objectivity.

    That’s exactly my point, except for this: if NE is true, then we live under the illusion of objectivity. We believe that love is actually morally preferable to cruelty, when it fact that’s a false impression. Love is only subjectively preferable to cruelty. That subjective impression is one formed in us by NE. There is no other cause (for the causal closure of NE prohibits it) for that impression. So our preference for love is caused by a natural process that has no preferences.

    Do not forget that NE has only one competence: to produce structures and behaviors that enhance reproductive success. Behaviors are physical things (or emergent from physical things, which is hardly different), by the way, on naturalism. So our subjective moral sense is caused by something that has no morality. It is a neurophysiological response and nothing more; and our neurophysiological responses exist only insofar as they have served to help ancestor populations make babies. They exist only for the purpose (anthropomorphically speaking) of making babies.

    Perhaps you do have some issue with subjective morality? I don’t know. It seems that perhaps you’re conflating existential cause with moral cause.

    I’m not conflating them. I’m trying to clarify the differences, and show that what we think is a moral or existential cause must be subsumed under the one grand cause that knows of no competition, if NE is true: Chance+NS. If NE is causally closed, then every other cause is either NE in a false guise or else it is illusory. Period.

    But sure, if you’ve always believed in objective truth, it is a paradigm shift which will be a difficult transition because of all the cognitive dissonance it entails (which I’d speculate is why it feels so bad when you consider it) – but once you’ve accepted that position there’s nothing to feel bad about, and as I elaborated before I would argue that you would function and feel essentially the same.

    If you have always believed that love is morally preferable to cruelty, then you are now facing that very paradigm shift. Either that or you must give up NE.

  49. d,

    You’re not getting it. You write,

    Now, what might this fundamental desire be? Well, one idea is to say it’s a desire for one’s own well-being. How could we say love is better than cruelty on such a view? Well, one could say that love requires that one take joy in the well-being of others – and so a higher level of personal well-being can be achieved with it. To the extent that one fosters his ability to love, he is fashioning a more fulfilling life than is possible with cruelty, since in so doing, he not only has his own joy, but takes part in the joy of others.

    What makes that desire “fundamental”? Biology. What makes biology? Biology. What makes this feature of biology stand out above other possible features of biology, say, some “fundamental” desire to live at the North Pole? Only one thing. Only one thing: baby-making. If baby-making had been served by ten times more cruelty, there would have been ten times more cruelty; and if baby-making had been served by the belief that cruelty was ten times better than love, then we would believe that cruelty was ten times better than love. Baby-making rules all.

  50. d,

    If the hypothetical imperative is the only way to cross the is-ought divide, then no matter if theism or atheism is true – if that fundamental desire is sufficiently mangled, the purchase from whence one can cross is-ought is destroyed too.

    Even on theism, you cannot tell somebody they ought to desire something else, and be right about it, unless you are appealing to some other desire they currently hold.

    The hypothetical imperative does not overcome the is-ought divide on it’s own you need a statement with categorical force which will then give you a categorical imperative. Edward Feser in Aquinas offers the following argument:

    1. If I want what is good for me then I ought to pursue what realises my natural ends and avoid what frustrates them.
    2. I do want what is good for me.
    3. I ought to pursue what realises my natural ends and avoids what frustrates them.

    In this way you can move from the hypothetical in 1 to the categorical in three via the categorical statement in 2. Now 2 is obviously self-evident because it is clear that whenever we act, we pursue something that we take to be good (something we desire) or avoid something we take to be bad.

    Given the above we can say someone ought not have a particular desire because it is not consistent with their nature or end. For a Christian moral growth comes as we conform our desires to what is good.

    You want to argue that someone ought not have a particular desire because of some other desire that is somehow more fundamental, but what privileges that desire above any other? That’s one very big question that remains unanswered.

  51. @Melissa:

    The instant somebody says (correctly) that they do not desire to fulfill their natural ends, that categorical imperative is no more – and that makes it fail at its task of being a categorical imperative.

    This is so, because desires are the only reason for a rational agent to act. The argument above is predicated on the desire to achieve natural ends, which is predicated on the desire to be good. Remove those desires, and the argument has no force at all – the agent would have no more rational reason to seek those things.

  52. Tom:

    What makes that desire “fundamental”? Biology. What makes biology? Biology. What makes this feature of biology stand out above other possible features of biology, say, some “fundamental” desire to live at the North Pole? Only one thing. Only one thing: baby-making. If baby-making had been served by ten times more cruelty, there would have been ten times more cruelty; and if baby-making had been served by the belief that cruelty was ten times better than love, then we would believe that cruelty was ten times better than love. Baby-making rules all.

    First, why such a low opinion of baby-making and biology?

    Second, if there is some possible world where cruelty served baby-making 10 times over what love can do, I don’t really care. We aren’t in that world. If my moral system can only apply to every person in this world… well.. I call that a success.

    But given the self-defeating nature of needless cruelty (because of its propensity to lead one towards a state of dissatisfaction), I truly doubt any of them could be more successful than love, in any possible world.

    If baby-making or some other end was what the inhabitants of cruel-world desired above all else, and cruelty served that goal better than anything else in that world (which, again, seems absurd, given the nature of cruelty) then the negative effects of cruelty might be worth the trade-off to them, and the negative effects of love (no baby-making) might be worse, who knows? Who cares?

  53. @d:

    This is so, because desires are the only reason for a rational agent to act. The argument above is predicated on the desire to achieve natural ends, which is predicated on the desire to be good. Remove those desires, and the argument has no force at all – the agent would have no more rational reason to seek those things.

    Melissa will surely respond to you, I will just point out a couple of things.

    1. You are using “desires” in an equivocal sense.

    2. You keep missing a crucial ingredient that the nature or essence of a thing fixes its identity; that its ends or finalities determine what is good for the thing as a matter of objective fact.

    3. Your last sentence makes no sense: you are literally saying that “strip all the rational reasons and motives for a person’s actions and we have no more reason to label those actions as rational.” This is true, but what exactly is your aim by pointing this triviality is beyond me.

  54. @d:

    First, why such a low opinion of baby-making and biology?

    Do not be silly.

    Second, if there is some possible world where cruelty served baby-making 10 times over what love can do, I don’t really care. We aren’t in that world. If my moral system can only apply to every person in this world… well.. I call that a success.

    You missed Tom Gilson’s point. Cruelty is a *fact* of the actual world. If it is a trait of the human species it is because it has *some* survival value. Given causal closure accepted by naturalists, what is the criterion to distinguish acts of love from acts of cruelty?

    If we accept eliminative materialism, and chuck out the window all meaning and purpose as pure “illusions” (and you are a self-avowed naturalist, determinist and consequentialist), it is not at *all* clear what separates one from the other.

    But given the self-defeating nature of needless cruelty (because of its propensity to lead one towards a state of dissatisfaction), I truly doubt any of them could be more successful than love, in any possible world.

    This is one place where a naturalist may have some wiggle room for maneuvering. Alas, you have chosen the bad move. State of dissatisfaction? Is that a statistical observation or just a projection of the inner workings of your psyche on other people? Note that I do not doubt that cruelty has a propensity to lead to “self-dissatisfaction”, but why exactly is that a bad thing? Maybe we should all learn, like good pavlovian dogs, to learn satisfaction about cruelty. It is neither unheard of nor entirely uncommon. In fact, given the popularity of violent video games and sadistic horror movies, I would say we are well on our way to that state, if not of satisfaction, at least of indifference.

    If baby-making or some other end was what the inhabitants of cruel-world desired above all else, and cruelty served that goal better than anything else in that world (which, again, seems absurd, given the nature of cruelty) then the negative effects of cruelty might be worth the trade-off to them, and the negative effects of love (no baby-making) might be worse, who knows? Who cares?

    Yeah, who cares about rationality, consistency or coherence?

    All this talk of baby-making coming from you is highly ironical. If memory does not fail me (and my apologies if indeed I am misremembering), your first appearance on this blog was defending… abortion. But abortion is not really cruel, is it? And thus is the trade-off justified in the actual world.

  55. 1. You are using “desires” in an equivocal sense.

    How so?

    2. You keep missing a crucial ingredient that the nature or essence of a thing fixes its identity; that its ends or finalities determine what is good for the thing as a matter of objective fact.

    If by “ends an finalities”, you mean something like the thing’s ultimate goals and desires, then I agree, and we arent really saying anything differently. And of course, what an agent ought to do would be a matter of objective fact.

    If by “ends and finalities” you mean something like, the purpose for which some other agent (God, teapots, FSM) created it, then I disagree. There’s no rational reason for an agent to act upon the purposes of another, unless in so doing, he is fulfilling a desire he or she possesses. The reason to fulfill that purpose would not exist in the agent. If by working towards its natural end, a being is fulfilling his own desires – its the desires which are providing the moral imperative.

    The nature of a thing is its set of properties, in all worlds in which it exists, agreed? The nature of persons includes desires, right? So in all possible worlds where persons exist, persons have desires.

    Well, refer back to the three points I pasted earlier. It may also be in the nature of a person to desire satisfaction, happiness, and fulfillment of existence. So persons in all possible worlds in which they exist, desire
    satisfaction, happiness and fulfillment. Other common facts about human nature will likely also necessitate that the way to acheive those goals will be through similar means. So we have a universal (if not objective) morality.

    So depending on what “natural end” is supposed to be, it seems we may agree more than not – but if “natural ends” refers to the purposes of someone other than the agent in question, one needs to give a solid reason why that agent is duty bound to fulfill those ends. I don’t see how one can, convincingly.

    3. Your last sentence makes no sense: you are literally saying that “strip all the rational reasons and motives for a person’s actions and we have no more reason to label those actions as rational.” This is true, but what exactly is your aim by pointing this triviality is beyond me.

    Its to point out that desires are the ONLY reasons to act. Its no good to say that there’s some mystical categorical imperative that a person must obey, if they desire something else.

  56. @d:

    1. You are using “desires” in an equivocal sense.

    How so?

    Maybe I am incorrect in my perception, but desire in the sense that Melissa is using is in the sense of that that the Will wills. What the will wills is always in some aspect of the good as the intellect presents it (and Aquinas, contrary to say, Scotus or voluntarists of several stripes, holds that the intellect is prior to the will), even if is a lesser good. The way you seem to be using the word “desire” is as a catch-all word encompassing so much that is nearly useless.

    2. You keep missing a crucial ingredient that the nature or essence of a thing fixes its identity; that its ends or finalities determine what is good for the thing as a matter of objective fact.

    If by “ends an finalities”, you mean something like the thing’s ultimate goals and desires, then I agree, and we arent really saying anything differently. And of course, what an agent ought to do would be a matter of objective fact.

    If I understand you right, yes, that is the sense in which I am using the words. And no, we are saying different things — or at least, you are not aware of the implications. If you buy into Aquinas metaphysical stance that things have immanent final causes, or a telos that points beyond themselves, then you immediately fall prey to the Fifth Way.

    If by “ends and finalities” you mean something like, the purpose for which some other agent (God, teapots, FSM) created it, then I disagree. There’s no rational reason for an agent to act upon the purposes of another, unless in so doing, he is fulfilling a desire he or she possesses. The reason to fulfill that purpose would not exist in the agent. If by working towards its natural end, a being is fulfilling his own desires – its the desires which are providing the moral imperative.

    Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that given that our natures were created by God, ultimately what is good for us is also His purpose for us. In particular, God being the summum bonum, and humans being rational animals, knowing and loving Him is the ultimate and supremum good for us. No, because at least in many cases, what is good for us can be discovered by the light of natural reason quite independently of whether we acknowledge God exists or not — as St. Paul famously affirms by the way.

    The nature of a thing is its set of properties, in all worlds in which it exists, agreed? The nature of persons includes desires, right? So in all possible worlds where persons exist, persons have desires.

    No to the first question. But this is a deeper issue. If you want to learn more about natures, essences and why possible worlds presents some problems I suggest the first chapter of David Oderberg’s Real Essentialism.

    Note: not that talk about possible world is useless. Aquinas does it; just not in the same sense it has taken in modern philosophy. Unfortunately, all I can give you is the Reader’s Digest version of his system, so do not expect much from me.

    Well, refer back to the three points I pasted earlier. It may also be in the nature of a person to desire satisfaction, happiness, and fulfillment of existence. So persons in all possible worlds in which they exist, desire satisfaction, happiness and fulfillment. Other common facts about human nature will likely also necessitate that the way to acheive those goals will be through similar means. So we have a universal (if not objective) morality.”

    You have not explained why we should desire satisfaction, happiness or fulfillment in the first place. In fact, I still have not understood your response to Tom Gilson’s point, that given that cruelty is a trait of human nature, under naturalistic causal closure (and eliminative materialism as you seem to be) what distinguishes cruelty from love, say. Given your determinism, there is really no choice in the matter. Given your consequentialism, cruelty is either justifiable in some scenarios or it is not even cruelty in others. These are precisely the gaps that, to slightly alter a phrase by Melissa, Natural Law bridges. Appealing to natures in the Aristotelian-Thomistic sense, gets you in a bind as I have pointed out above.

    And I do not understand what you mean by universal as opposed to objective.

    Its no good to say that there’s some mystical categorical imperative that a person must obey, if they desire something else.

    You must be confusing Thomists with Kantians.

  57. Tom, I feel that maybe you haven’t been understanding my points as I’ve meant to present them. I apologise if this has been down to me not expressing them clearly enough. Oh well let’s see how it goes! 🙂

    “What does “successful” mean?”
    In simple terms I was using success (of behaviours etc) as being currently present in a significant number of people (rather than emerging just the once/for a short period/only present in very few people). It is subsumed under NE as a whole (as this includes naturalism) but not “NE’s function of making babies that make babies” – which is the point I’ve been trying to make.

    “The metaphysical definition of naturalism precludes [objective morality]”
    I apologise if this is out of ignorance of some fundamental idea, but as far as I see it the definition of naturalism could only preclude objective morality where you define objective to be independent of nature, which is evidentially meaningless in the context of naturalism, and a much stronger statement than is usually taken for objective. As far as I understand, objective is usually taken to mean mind-independent – and I do not see in the slightest how your claim follows by that definition – so please correct me/elaborate on why your claim is true.

    “That’s speculation, as you acknowledge. I don’t think you can support it, but you’re certainly welcome to try.”
    Okay sure, but I think its worth noting that you can’t reasonably be more than agnostic on whether cruelty has emerged as a result of reproductive success of cruel individuals without positive support for the claim. I acknowledged this is less certain in the past, but now at least, I would argue that anyone significantly cruel is less likely to form or stay in any meaningful relationship, more likely to be ostracised by many groups, less likely to have a desire to have children, and these and other reasons leave such an individual less likely to have children.

    [getting back into a no-objectivity frame]
    “That’s exactly my point, except for this: if NE is true, then we live under the illusion of objectivity.”
    Any reasonable person who rejects objectivity is under absolutely no illusion of objectivity.
    “We believe that love is actually morally preferable to cruelty, when it fact that’s a false impression.”
    If by actual you mean objective, such a person wouldn’t believe that. They would merely feel that love is morally preferable to cruelty, and act accordingly.
    “So our preference for love is caused by a natural process that has no preferences.”
    Yes, (within this frame) we’ve agreed on this throughout.
    “So our subjective moral sense is caused by something that has no objective[my interjection] morality.”
    Again, self-evident in the circumstances.

    I apologise if I’m missing something, but within the discussion in a frame without objectivity, it really seems that you are primarily speaking tautologically and so if you are speaking to someone with a half-decent grasp on logic you are not really saying anything. If someone rejected objectivity, but believed their subjective morality had some objective basis… well do I really need to say how painfully obviously contradictory that is? You seem to be falsely assuming that most people don’t grasp that basic fact.

    If you have always believed that love is morally preferable to cruelty, then you are now facing that very paradigm shift. Either that or you must give up NE.
    I wouldn’t say I’ve ever felt I “knew” non-objectivity was true, due to my agnostic view of knowledge, but at times in the past I’ve seen it as likely enough to be taken as true (while I now don’t) – so I have faced up to that paradigm shift. And admittedly the change is very difficult, but so is any significant change of ideas. I can only strictly speak from personal experience, but for me at least, once you have resolved the cognitive dissonance and accepted the position, you do feel absolutely fine and as before, and have moral feeling to the same extent, and I see no reason for it to be different for anyone else.

    I would also see your presented dilemma as a false one. I would read believe that love is morally preferable to cruelty as a subjective statement (replace “believe” with “feel” for clarity if you wish), which would not sit at odds with NE+non-objectivity. If you replace “believe” with “know” or “believe it possibly objectively true” then of course it stands, but again no half-rational person who held such a position would assert that.

  58. d,

    Remember where we started this with your claim that the theist is in no better position than the atheist. My argument above shows why that is not true. The objections you’ve raised fail to negate that.

    Its to point out that desires are the ONLY reasons to act. Its no good to say that there’s some mystical categorical imperative that a person must obey, if they desire something else.

    Since I’ve presented an argument for the categorical imperative it is no longer mystical. In order to reject the conclusion you need to argue against one of the premises. Also I think you should be more careful with your use of the word reason. Desires are the cause of our actions but our desires can be rational (supported by reason) or irrational. Of course a person can choose to ignore the categorical imperative but that just means their desires are defective.

    The argument above is predicated on the desire to achieve natural ends, which is predicated on the desire to be good

    The argument is predicated on the desire for what is good for us.

    Well, refer back to the three points I pasted earlier. It may also be in the nature of a person to desire satisfaction, happiness, and fulfillment of existence. So persons in all possible worlds in which they exist, desire
    satisfaction, happiness and fulfillment. Other common facts about human nature will likely also necessitate that the way to acheive those goals will be through similar means. So we have a universal (if not objective) morality.

    One problem with this is that given naturalism the definition of happiness, satisfaction and fulfillment differently is entirely an individual thing, therefore you can’t even get to a universal morality.

  59. @Melissa

    Remember where we started this with your claim that the theist is in no better position than the atheist. My argument above shows why that is not true. The objections you’ve raised fail to negate that.

    Since I’ve presented an argument for the categorical imperative it is no longer mystical. In order to reject the conclusion you need to argue against one of the premises. Also I think you should be more careful with your use of the word reason. Desires are the cause of our actions but our desires can be rational (supported by reason) or irrational. Of course a person can choose to ignore the categorical imperative but that just means their desires are defective

    My main point, is that all morality, even theist morality, must ultimately rest upon the desires (or the ultimate desire) of the moral agents – otherwise the agents have no rational reason to act morally. My further point in response to Tom, is that how this desire came to be (NS, God) really makes no difference.

    I don’t see how the argment offered transcends that. It also squarly rests upon an ultimate desire – the desire to be good (whatever that means in its context). If that’s so, its essentially confirming what I’m trying to argue.

    I’ll grant that, in response to your argument, to pose the quesiton, “Well, why ought an agent want what is good for him” is probably analytically non-sensical. But the same is true of the question, “Why ought an agent want what satisfies him” is similarly analytically non-sensical on my view.

    One problem with this is that given naturalism the definition of happiness, satisfaction and fulfillment differently is entirely an individual thing, therefore you can’t even get to a universal morality.

    No, not necessarily. There’s no logical reason why under naturalism, there can’t be universal facts about the desires of persons and what ultimately satisfies them – or if there is, no one has yet to offer a logical reason why there couldn’t be.

    So I think the actual disagreement is not necessarily HOW morality is established – both approaches are fundamentally the same – but whether, given naturalism, its likely that universal facts about the desires of persons actually exist. And that’s a question that can, in theory, be answered empirically. In any case, there’s no strictly logical problem for naturalist morality, though there might be an empirical one.

  60. I’ve been doing a little light reading around the topic, so perhaps I can rephrase some of thoughts with better terminology.

    Please correct me if I’m wrong Tom, but can your argument be very briefly written as:
    “NE strictly implies moral nihilism/meta-ethical relativism” ?

    I know in one string of the discussion I’m contemplating the possibility of objective morality in a NE frame which can’t be reduced to non-moral features. Perhaps I’m using too strong a definition for “reduce” in my mind; and perhaps with a weaker one the morality would reduce (I’m not certain of this in my current understanding however).

    However, even if we put that aside, I would argue that NE merely implies (or rather restricts possibility to, among other things) ethical naturalism, which claims that:
    1) Ethical sentences express propositions.
    2) Some such propositions are true.
    3) Those propositions are made true by objective features of the world, independent of human opinion.
    4) These moral features of the world can be reduced to some set of non-moral features.
    And I would propose that by 3) and taking objective to mean mind-independent, an objective morality can exist under NE.

    Incidentally, I probably most strongly associate my personal view on morality with ethical non-naturalism, perhaps ethical intuitionism (although as expressed I am by no means certain on these things).

    Thank you once again for hosting such a wonderful stage for these discussions, I’ve found this pursuit most fascinating – I’m reaching a point where if it wasn’t (relatively) so vocationally useless I would have wished I’d studied philosophy instead!

  61. d,

    My main point, is that all morality, even theist morality, must ultimately rest upon the desires (or the ultimate desire) of the moral agents

    Must?? Think that through for a moment, d. You are saying that what ought to exist (these are the moral prescriptives – or morality) ultimately rests upon the desire that it ought to exist. In other words, from desire comes necessity.

    As the saying goes, you can’t get there from here. You can’t get from desire to necessity. You must start with necessity. You can get desire from desire, but then morality disappears.

    And you’re wrong about Theist morality because Christianity actually get that part right. God is necessary. God is eternal. God always is.

  62. d,
    You said “the desires of moral agents”, which requires that the agent BE moral, even if it does nothing but exist. Whether you know it or not, you are saying that the nature of the agent is moral and it has desires. Can “nature” be moral? Long before the universe existed, was “nature” moral?

  63. SteveK:

    I’m not really sure what you mean.

    Morality, in the most broad sense, is what one ought to do, not what “ought to exist”.

    And the only reason why one ought to do anything at all, in my view, is to fulfill some desire. Its the desire that provides the imperative. And what separates moral imperatives from the rest, is that moral imperatives comes from what one desires above all else.

    If there are some desires which are universal to all persons, then there can be a universal imperatives about what persons ought to do (aka, universal morality). Now, of course, there may be no such universal desires – in which case, my view would be a failure.

  64. SteveK:

    I’d probably attribute the weirdness there to sloppy wording on my part. “Rational agents” would probably be better.

  65. “And the only reason why one ought to do anything at all, in my view, is to fulfill some desire.”

    There’s a step missing here and, therefore, neither ought nor morality is accounted for. Why ought one fulfill his desires? Having a desire is no argument for the morality of fulfilling it.

  66. @d:

    My main point, is that all morality, even theist morality, must ultimately rest upon the desires (or the ultimate desire) of the moral agents – otherwise the agents have no rational reason to act morally. My further point in response to Tom, is that how this desire came to be (NS, God) really makes no difference.

    There must be some communication failure, as you persist in missing the point. We all agree that human beings have all sorts of desires; these are presented by the intellect to the will in the form of goods. Which desires should we foster and which should we stifle? This is where Natural Law enters by appealing to the intrinsic nature or essence of things and its ends or finalities. The point is not that we have all these desires, including the desire to be good, the point rather is that there *ìs* a good to be desired in the first place, a good which is dictated by our essential natures and telos and that can be, at least in part, discovered by natural reason. Whether a man desires some lesser good and pursues it is a different question altogether, falling under the purview of practical ethics.

    From this it follows that you have not responded to Tom Gilson at *all*. Why should we foster the desires implanted on us by natural selection at all? Given that they range from rearing the young to clubbing to death that ugly, smelly bearded grunt eyeing my woman in a suspicious way, which should we favor? How do we even tell them apart?

    I don’t see how the argment offered transcends that. It also squarly rests upon an ultimate desire – the desire to be good (whatever that means in its context). If that’s so, its essentially confirming what I’m trying to argue.

    Already responded above. I will just note that unwittingly, you raise another extremely thorny point. There is no meaning that we can attach to the words “good” and “evil” under naturalism (more on this below). But with some heavy, prior metaphysical lifting, there is an *objective* sense under which we can understand the good, since per Thomism, good is convertible with being and evil is just privation or lack of being. I am just giving a very rough outline; the point to stress is that these words reference an objective reality, they are not the product of subjective emotions, and thus we can have a *public*, open discussion. When “good” and “evil” have some pre-theoretical, emotive subjective sense, only confusion and staleness ensues.

    No, not necessarily. There’s no logical reason why under naturalism, there can’t be universal facts about the desires of persons and what ultimately satisfies them – or if there is, no one has yet to offer a logical reason why there couldn’t be.

    This is rich; there has been in fact a lot of evidence that people have offered. *You* on the other hand, have not presented a single argument besides a vague appeal to wishful thinking. In fact, just in the previous paragraph you write:

    I’ll grant that, in response to your argument, to pose the quesiton, “Well, why ought an agent want what is good for him” is probably analytically non-sensical. But the same is true of the question, “Why ought an agent want what satisfies him” is similarly analytically non-sensical on my view.

    This is not analytical non-sense, it is actually a quite legitimate question. Just the terms on which you pose the question are highly problematic in and of themselves: “Why ought a sadist *not* want and pursue that which satisfies him”? What is a naturalist going to appeal to to define what is good and infuse it with binding force? Under naturalism, we are just organized clumps of atoms, with no intrinsic purpose or telos, other than what the brain, another organized clump of atoms, construes. There is nothing to appeal to; there are no fixed natures or essences under naturalism. Finalities, purpose and meaning have all been chucked out the window. You cannot even get off the ground and offer us a non-subjective account of what good and evil refer to.

    So I think the actual disagreement is not necessarily HOW morality is established – both approaches are fundamentally the same – but whether, given naturalism, its likely that universal facts about the desires of persons actually exist. And that’s a question that can, in theory, be answered empirically. In any case, there’s no strictly logical problem for naturalist morality, though there might be an empirical one.

    The so-called universal facts will not help you in any way at all. They are just descriptions of how things effectively *are*; but what we need is a standard of how things *ought* to be. You have not showed how to bridge the is-ought gap. So yes, there is a huge logical problem because there is nothing a naturalist can appeal to to justify his moral preferences. They end up being a matter of convention, a contract established to guarantee some ends that we as society, decree by fiat as good. Nothing more. Your concession that there might be “an empirical problem” is telling, but the problem is really a metaphysical and ontological one, not a problem of our epistemological limitations (although such a problem might exist also).

  67. Thank you, G. Rodrigues, SteveK, Melissa, and Charlie for holding down the fort here so ably.

    d, I do wish (as G. Rodrigues has also said several more than once) that you would respond to my OP. Other than that I will leave your part of the discussion in others’ capable hands.

    Now, I could say something about the inanity of “how this desire came to be (NS, God) really makes no difference.” I will just point toward it instead, and leave it at that. Well, not quite (I can’t help myself, sorry). I’ll also invite you to think about:

    1. God as described by those who believe in God, and
    2. NE/NS as described by those who believe in NE/NS.

    Suppose one of those groups’ belief-set is right and the other group’s belief-set is wrong. Now switch it and go vice-versa. Does that really make no difference?!

    Alex, thank you again for this good discussion. I’ll be right back.

  68. d,

    I don’t see how the argment offered transcends that. It also squarly rests upon an ultimate desire – the desire to be good (whatever that means in its context). If that’s so, its essentially confirming what I’m trying to argue.

    You might try reading what is actually written not what you think is written. The argument does not rest on the desire to be good, it rests on the desire to want what is good for us. The fact we all do want what is good for us is just obvious. If as you maintain we decide for ourselves what is good for us there is neither universal or objective morality. On the other hand theism claims there is a good for us that is independent of whatever we might think about the matter. Moral goodness is just a subset of general goodness.

  69. Charlie,

    It depends what you mean by “ought”. To borrow Richard Carrier’s definition of “ought” – it means: That which we would do if we were reasoning logically and knew and understood all the relevant facts of our situation.

    So with that in mind, the hypothetical imperative can be understood as:

    If I desire X, Y is what I would do if I were reasoning logically and knew and understood all the relevant facts of my situation.

    By definition, a desire is a state of dissatisfaction. So we can further unpack the imperative, like so:

    If I am in a state of dissatisfaction because of ~X, Y is what I would do if I were reasoning logically and knew and understood all the relevant facts about my situation, in order to alleviate that state of dissatisfaction brought about by ~X.

    Now, one is free not to care about alleviating that state of dissatisfaction – but its fundamentally irrational and generally what is considered to be insane. It entails the contradiction: I am satisfied with that which dissatisfies me.

  70. d, this definition of “ought”

    To borrow Richard Carrier’s definition of “ought” – it means: That which we would do if we were reasoning logically and knew and understood all the relevant facts of our situation.

    has no visible connection to oughtness. Reasoning logically about what? In light of what standards? To what ends? For what purpose? And which facts are relevant, and which are not?

  71. “those who believe in naturalistic evolution.”

    Since when did basic scientific facts become beliefs? Biologists don’t “believe” in evolution. They accept the massive evidence for it.

    Your “those who believe in naturalistic evolution” is as stupid as saying “those who believe the earth is not flat”.

    Also, since when did evolution require any adjectives? Biologists call evolution “evolution”. Of course it’s a natural process. Your “naturalistic evolution” is as stupid as saying “naturalistic gravity”.

    It’s interesting that virtually all Christians are science deniers. It makes sense. Their most important fantasy, the resurrection of the dead Jeebus into a zombie, is the most anti-science bull**** ever invented.

  72. @Everyone – not a not of time to respond to more today, but I’d like to, so please be patient.

    @Melissa:

    Its not at all obvious that we “want what is good for us”, depending on what you mean by “good”. Maybe you can expand upon that.

  73. d,

    Morality, in the most broad sense, is what one ought to do, not what “ought to exist”.

    Others have commented on this indirectly already, but what I wanted to say here is that “doing” requires actuality, which is existence. Specifically: you, acting is you existing in action.

    Ought is a term of necessity, an imperative. You necessarily acting. Put them together and you have the necessary existence of you acting.

    Explain to us all how necessity comes from desire. According to what natural law *must* desire be acted upon necessarily?

  74. @Tom:

    What do you take “oughtness” to mean? There’s no widespread consensus over the meaning of this term. Every moral theory defines its terms in its own ways.

  75. Human Ape,

    Your comment deserves going straight to the trash, but it’s instructive, so I’ve approved it for public view.

    First, you have no conception of what the term “believe” means. It does not mean “to adopt a position that something is true whether there is good reason to adopt that position or not.” It means to adopt a position that something is true. Biologists (large numbers of them) adopt the position that evolution is true.

    Second, you have displayed some serious ignorance concerning the term “naturalistic.”

    Third, you have conflated “evolution” with science, such that those who deny evolution deny science. Science is bigger than Darwin and his successors, my friend.

    Fourth, you have shown further serious ignorance of the meaning of science, history, philosophy, and theology by declaring Jesus’ resurrection to be “anti-science.” I won’t bother to spell it out for you here, but you can look up another article of mine for a quick explanation.

    Fifth, you can’t spell. Amazing, considering that “Jesus” is such a short word, and such a common one.

    Do not expect any future comments from you to pass through moderation. This one was instructive, but there’s no need for another such lesson on ignorant incivility as you provided for us this time.

    And here’s the real point of the lesson. It’s not that you have misunderstood words and concepts and spelling. It is that you have looked down your nose upon theists, regarding us ignorant, while displaying your own epistemological inadequacy in abundance. Following upon that, I wonder how important your sense of intellectual superiority is to your disbelief in God.

    If that self-perception of yours is foundational to your disbelief, then you have no foundation at all. You might want to seriously re-examine what it is that you’re standing on. It’s thinner than ice on the water at Pompano Beach.

  76. @Tom:

    As I said, time is running short today, but I can take a moment to clarify the confusion:

    Reasoning logically about what? In light of what standards? To what ends? For what purpose? And which facts are relevant, and which are not?

    Reasoning logically would mean that one’s reasoning process is logically valid – and knowing all the relevant facts would be mean your reasoning is sound (based on true facts).

    So the unpacked hypothetical imperative (HI) could be reworded like so (and this is actually a little simpler and cleaner, so thanks):

    If I am in a state of dissatisfaction because of ~X, Y is what I would do, if my reasoning were logically valid and sound, in order to alleviate that state of dissatisfaction brought about by ~X.

    And to repeat what I said earlier, to not care about one’s own state of dissatisfaction is to entail the contradiction: I am satisfied with that which dissatisfies me.

    Your turn!

  77. d,

    @Melissa:

    Its not at all obvious that we “want what is good for us”, depending on what you mean by “good”. Maybe you can expand upon that.

    Gee, you’d almost think that was the first time I’ve brought up this point. As I wrote previously: 2 is obviously self-evident because it is clear that whenever we act, we pursue something that we take to be good (something we desire) or avoid something we take to be bad.

    You don’t need a full blown definition of what is actually good for the argument to work.

    A naturalist could possibly take this argument and apply it individually (the best course of action is determined by the person’s biological makeup) but because they reject universal natures they cannot come to a universal, objective morality.

  78. Alex,

    Thank you for clarifying what you mean by successful. It’s a quantitative term, as you put it in your comment yesterday. Now, we’re in danger of losing the context (or at least I see myself in that danger), so I’ll quote the relevant original location. You wrote,

    1) Base moral feelings (e.g. love is good) are arguably a direct result of biology hereditary, as it is universally shared, instinctive not learnt, and so both emerges from and is successful because of C&NS.
    2) Human ideas/behaviour – although the most simplistic forms are instinctive, most behaviour is learnt. Such learnt behaviour would have originally emerged as a result of C&NS, but is successful (at least somewhat) for reasons distinct to success of heritable traits and RVs of those traits.

    There may be (actually there is) a way to conceptually distinguish learning from RV and NS. But learning cannot be “distinct to success of …” those factors. Biological functions and behaviors are causally closed with respect to Chance and NS. Closed. Therefore learning is a product of, not distinct from, Chance and NS. It’s an inescapable strait jacket wrapped around everything organisms are and everything they do.

    Now I want to clarify something myself. You wrote, ostensibly quoting me,

    “The metaphysical definition of naturalism precludes [objective morality]“

    I didn’t actually say that. I said the metaphysical definition of naturalism precludes the possibility of objective morality arising from metaphysical logical considerations. It’s almost the same thing, but not quite.

    What I’m saying is that naturalism, defined as the principle that nothing exists but matter, energy, and their chance and lawlike interactions, has within it no causal principle that could create objective morality. Morality is a relation between some sentient being and some other sentient or non-sentient object, but it’s not a physical relation, it’s a relation of obligation, duty, responsibility or some such. Chance and law relations do not have it in their power to create obligatory or duty-related interactions. (It’s not even clear that naturalism could be the source of any logical considerations at all, but that’s another discussion.)

    You take it that “objective” means “mind-independent,” and I agree, except I would put it as “human mind-independent.” God could be (and is) the source of objective morality.

    You say that I

    can’t reasonably be more than agnostic on whether cruelty has emerged as a result of reproductive success of cruel individuals without positive support for the claim.

    I didn’t assert it in quite that way. It’s more like this: I can be completely certain that if NE is true, then cruelty has emerged because it has supported the reproductive success of humans’ ancestor populations. Causal closure again. Inescapable.

    I’m having trouble believing this, though:

    Any reasonable person who rejects objectivity is under absolutely no illusion of objectivity.

    I could accept that if I was sure you would never under any circumstances say, “That’s wrong!” or “That’s right!” (morally, that is) and think that you were saying something true. If you can do that, then you are a rare individual. You can let me know about that. You say that someone who rejects objectivity

    would merely feel that love is morally preferable to cruelty.

    But the true subjectivist would merely feel that love feels morally preferable to cruelty. It’s a fine distinction, but it matters. The language of “is” is excluded from the subjectivist’s vocabulary. There is no “is.” There is only “feels.” I acknowledge there’s a sense in which what you wrote could be thought semantically equivalent to what I am saying, and I hope you’ll forgive me for pressing on such a fine point, but it’s a point that needs making regardless. A thoroughly consistent subjectivist would always excuse himself/herself and say, “oops, I didn’t mean that” when caught using the word “is” for any moral category.

    You say I am speaking tautologically with respect to those who reject objectivity. I do not deny the claim. All I’ve been saying in this post has been to the effect that naturalism leads inescapably to subjectivism. I think a logical case against subjectivism could be made, but what I’ve been trying to do here instead has been to press this point: “Given NE, why would anyone think love is morally preferable to cruelty?” If you think love and cruelty are morally equivalent, or if you don’t care to make a case that they’re on different moral levels, then my question was for someone else and not for you.

    And yet, if you believe that love and cruelty cannot be morally differentiated from each other, I doubt you are fully human. No, check that; that was wrong. I remain quite convinced of your essential, deep, worthy, and valuable humanness. Instead I doubt your willingness to accept what your humanness means in yourself.

  79. One more short response..

    @Melissa:

    A naturalist could possibly take this argument and apply it individually (the best course of action is determined by the person’s biological makeup) but because they reject universal natures they cannot come to a universal, objective morality.

    I’ll quote some points I made earlier, it seems you aren’t considering them:

    There’s no logical reason why under naturalism, there can’t be universal facts about the desires of persons and what ultimately satisfies them – or if there is, no one has yet to offer a logical reason why there couldn’t be.

    And…

    If there are some desires which are universal to all persons, then there can be a universal imperatives about what persons ought to do (aka, universal morality). Now, of course, there may be no such universal desires – in which case, my view would be a failure.

    Its been a pretty fundamental point of mine throughout this whole conversation that this theory can work if there are universal facts about the desires of persons and what can satisfy them (call that a universal “nature”, if you will). I find it plausible that there can be.

  80. This is just nuts. Sorry. It’s late in the week, and I’m not being terribly patient about it, but you can’t repeat “morality=fulfillment of desire” often enough for it to be believable, d.

    I give you credit for trying. You’ve used the word “desire” here at least 58 times (counted with the aid of some admin-accessible resources). You’re persistent. But you haven’t begun to make sense.

    I don’t think much of Alonzo Fyfe’s desire utilitarianism, but I think even less of it when it’s asserted with so little reasoning behind it to suggest we ought to take it seriously.

  81. Further: if there is a universal “nature” by your understanding of the term, from whence did it come? That’s the question of the OP.

    From whence did it come? That’s the question of the OP.

    From whence did it come? That’s the question of the OP.

    From whence did it come? That’s the question of the OP.

    G. Rodrigues has asked you repeatedly to address the question of the OP. I’ve asked you repeatedly to address it. I’ve gotten used to having to repeat the question, since you have repeatedly failed to address it. This time I thought I’d go ahead and repeat it in advance.

    Now to address what you wrote to me,

    If I am in a state of dissatisfaction because of ~X, Y is what I would do, if my reasoning were logically valid and sound, in order to alleviate that state of dissatisfaction brought about by ~X.

    From whence did that state of dissatisfaction come? That’s the question of the OP.

    It’s still your turn.

  82. d,

    Its been a pretty fundamental point of mine throughout this whole conversation that this theory can work if there are universal facts about the desires of persons and what can satisfy them (call that a universal “nature”, if you will). I find it plausible that there can be.

    It has been pointed out in multiple ways by multiple people why this is not plausible. If you think it’s plausible it can only be because you are ignoring the obvious evidence: there are no universal desires that could flesh out the naturalists definition of good, well-being, flourishing or whatever happens to be you favoured benchmark. If there was we wouldn’t have disagreements about what is good.

  83. d,

    All this leads nicely back into Tom’s OP. Given theism there is an independent ideal or measuring stick that people can be measured against and that includes their desires. In Thomism specifically that ideal is represented by their nature or essence.

    In naturalism there is no measuring stick. We know there is natural variation in any population and that it is a requirement for evolution. The fact that one person desires to inflict cruelty and another desires to love is just one instance of natural variation neither good nor bad except as labelled by individuals, and who (on naturalism) are we to tell them otherwise.

  84. In Thomism specifically that ideal is represented by their nature or essence.

    I agree, and it’s why I always ask the naturalist if nature – the one reality that exists – had a moral nature from its very inception. The answer is no, and I would agree with them on the naturalist view of things. If it didn’t then it cannot exist morally at any point in time.

    An amoral reality cannot come to exist as a moral reality without a cause to explain this change. But nature is all encompassing – it’s the only reality that exists – so there is nothing else that can explain it.

    Hence, within the context of naturalism, morality cannot exist.

  85. Here is an explanation of Fyfe’s desire utilitarianism:

    {2.01}desirism claims that desires themselves are the primary objects of moral evaluation. A good desire is one that tends to fulfill other desires. A bad desire is one tends to thwart other desires. Thus, a right act is one that a person with good desires would perform, and a bad act is one that a person with good desires would not perform. A good law is one that a person with good desires would enact, and a bad law is one he would not enact. And so on.

    Thus, morality is the practice of shaping malleable desires: promoting desires that tend to fulfill other desires, and discouraging desires that tend to thwart other desires. Another way to think about this is to say that morality is about achieving a harmony of desires. (But not because desire fulfillment or a harmony of desires have intrinsic value. Intrinsic value does not exist.)
    http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=2982

    Notice that on Luke’s interpretation desires themselves do not guide morality. There is a transcendent standard of good and bad by which we evaluate our desires. In my view the proper subject of metaethics is how we form those kind of moral judgements. Furthermore, controlling our desires is only one facet of morality. For example, there is the whole issue of social justice and human rights… I would argue that like Plato does in The Republic we can have an indepth discussion about justice without even referring to our desires.

    On the other hand, at least Luke’s explanation of “desirism” makes some sense. However, personally I don’t think it’s comprehensive enough to be a useful moral system.

  86. @Tom

    From whence did it come? That’s the question of the OP.

    I addressed the question in the OP quite a while back. I’ll repeat my answer here:

    From whence did it come? It does not matter from whence it came.

    Whether God exists – or only the natural universe – my moral view can hold. It does not depend on any particular view in that respect. Neither possibility has any bearing on my moral view – so with that in mind the OP question is just less than irrelevant.

    My view depends upon there being some universally held, ultimate desire among persons – that’s it. And that could exist under naturalism or theism.

    How bout you play ball and answer questions I’ve posed to you?

  87. What then do I take “oughtness” to mean? To borrow from the naturalistic evolutionary theory presented by Richard Joyce (working from memory since the book is at my office) it must mean at least:

    1. Having interpersonal force. It’s not just my opinion, it’s shared among the community.
    2. Being a discussion-stopper: that is it carries enough weight that when it is brought to one’s attention, it has the effect of bringing about general agreement without further discussion necessary.
    3. Meaning something beyond social convention. Etiquette is clearly distinguishable from morality, even among grade-schoolers.
    4. Worthy (at least potentially so) of punishment or reward by the community, depending on whether the act is positive or negative.

    There’s more but I don’t have access to it here. I won’t try to present his whole line of reasoning either, because it is a closely-argued, densely packed book. Maybe when I get back to it I can provide some kind of summary.

    I’ve presented (what I can remember of) Joyce’s view because this post is presented on the basis, if NE is true.

    I agree with those descriptions, and I would add this as well: oughtness implies an obligation owed to someone or something. It is a duty with a direction.

    I don’t find oughtness in desire. I find desire in desire. Desire is famously easy to screw up; and determining how to unscrew it in its screwiest cases is never simply a matter of rationally computing how action b might have fulfilled more or better desires than action a. That calculus has failed since the days of Bentham and Mill. I have little good to say about any utilitarianism at all.

  88. “Whether God exists – or only the natural universe – my moral view can hold. It does not depend on any particular view in that respect.”

    Your moral view is anything but a moral view. You don’t hold a moral view you hold a view based, as you said, on desires. That’s fine for you but those desires mean nothing to me or to anyone else. You can call them “universally held” but they’re not. They’re simply your desires and have no validity for anyone.

    As you said, “My view depends upon there being some universally held, ultimate desire among persons– that’s it. And that could exist under naturalism or theism.” It could exist but it doesn’t. There is no such universal desire. It’s simply your personal fiction.

  89. Tom,

    I find desire in desire. Desire is famously easy to screw up; and determining how to unscrew it in its screwiest cases is never simply a matter of rationally computing how action b might have fulfilled more or better desires than action a. That calculus has failed since the days of Bentham and Mill. I have little good to say about any utilitarianism at all.

    I think there’s an additional problem here: desires can change. We can change our desires, and we can change the desires of others (particularly if we allow for brutal changes – brainwashing, etc.) But no desires (on NE) are intrinsically better than others – intrinsic value doesn’t exist. Nor does intrinsic value suddenly appear upon our stipulating anything about desires, whether universally held or not.

    I think what tends to happen in these conversations is that atheists have it pointed out to them that, given NE, there is no morality, there are no oughts, there is no intrinsic value, etc. And a common response is to say “That’s not true. Look, I came up with a system that determines what you should and shouldn’t do, as long as you accept one or a few fundamental rules!” But coming up with a system isn’t the challenge – that’s almost trivially easy.

  90. BillT

    It could exist but it doesn’t. There is no such universal desire. It’s simply your personal fiction

    Then no matter if theism or naturalism is true, objective morality is a fiction.

  91. d,

    Then no matter if theism or naturalism is true, objective morality is a fiction.

    Only if you define morality in terms of “desires that all people have”. And even then, “desires that all people have, which are capable of being satisfied given naturalism”. If one universal desire is oneness with God, you’re in trouble with your own theory, on its own terms. (And the claim “it doesn’t matter if theism or naturalism is true” goes down the tubes as well.)

  92. I think there’s an additional problem here: desires can change. We can change our desires, and we can change the desires of others (particularly if we allow for brutal changes – brainwashing, etc.)

    That desires can change is fundamentally one reason why we need a moral theory in the first place – to help us discover how we should change our desires.

    ..and a common response is to say “That’s not true. Look, I came up with a system that determines what you should and shouldn’t do, as long as you accept one or a few fundamental rules!” But coming up with a system isn’t the challenge – that’s almost trivially easy.

    Well, now you’ve caught on to the big secret of meta-ethics – it all starts with the definitions for your moral terms. Every moral theory, from the most atheist to the most theist of theories, have to have carefully defined moral terms that analytically align with one another. And if you’re aim is to postulate a true moral theory, your moral terms better go beyond being merely analytically true with respect to one another, and refer to something real (also, you want them to give some semblance of meaning to our moral statements (like, “Murder is wrong”). And almost every moral theory out there, has its own set of definitions for moral terms.

    So if you haven’t figured it out by now, there’s no strong consensus about what moral terms actually mean, or to what they refer.

    So nobody’s moral definitions, theist or non-theist, are in any place of privilege.

  93. d,

    That desires can change is fundamentally one reason why we need a moral theory in the first place – to help us discover how we should change our desires.

    First, we’re not limited to changing our desires – we can change other’s desires too, even brutally. There’s no automatic sense in which thought about desire entails planning by a collective ‘us’.

    Second, why should we change our desires? And why is that a ‘moral’ question, as opposed to a pragmatic question?

    Third, if all desires can change, then talk of a ‘universal desire’ is problematic from the get-go. The universal desire can be made non-universal, by act of nature or act of man.

    And if you haven’t figured it out by now, there’s no strong consensus about what moral terms actually mean, or to what they refer.

    So nobody’s moral definitions, theist or non-theist, are in any place of privilege.

    Consensus does not confer truth – and neither does lack of consensus. What you’re saying here sounds awfully close to “morality is compatible with naturalism, because morality is just a word that I can give any meaning I wish to”. At which point you may as well just say “my moral system is entirely compatible with nihilism”.

    I think the quote JAD supplied gave away the game with pointing out that intrinsic value does not exist given naturalism.

  94. Crude:

    At which point you may as well just say “my moral system is entirely compatible with nihilism”.

    The term “Moral nihilism” presupposes some agreed upon definition of morality – If the only plausible meaning of “moral obligation” is something like, “the commands of a divine God” – then sure, nothing but theism can get you moral realism, and everything else entails moral nihilism. But if “moral obligation” means something else entirely, then not at all clear that naturalism entails moral nihilism.

  95. d, you say,

    That desires can change is fundamentally one reason why we need a moral theory in the first place – to help us discover how we should change our desires.

    I don’t think I ought to have to point out the circularity there. It’s rounder than a wagon wheel.

  96. And again:

    The term “Moral nihilism” presupposes some agreed upon definition of morality

    Ummm… no, it doesn’t.

    I’m watching a great USC-Oregon football game, so I won’t take time to say more. It really shouldn’t be necessary anyway.

  97. d,

    The term “Moral nihilism” presupposes some agreed upon definition of morality

    It presupposes some definition of nihilism. Nihilists won’t disagree with the claim that one can come up with all manner of rules and systems – and typically they’d agree that there are no intrinsic values. I doubt they’d disagree with ‘ought’ in the sense of “if I desire X, I ought do Y”.

    Really, if you’re going to play the card that suggests that morality is whatever we define it to be (because there’s a supposed lack of consensus and therefore it’s open season on defining what is or isn’t morality by definition), then there’s no need to get into the deeper subject of desire utilitarianism. ‘Morality is determined by my getting whatever I want at any time. That which keeps me from what I want is morally mad. That which helps me get what I want is morally good. And actually getting what I want is the most moral thing of all.’

  98. When it comes to morality I think intentions are more important than desires. For example, if I were to kill someone accidently that’s a tragedy; if I were to kill someone intentionally (heaven forbid) it’s murder. Philosophers even have hypothetical examples which mix the two togeather. For example, a man plans to kill his uncle, but as he is driving over to uncles house to carry out his plans he accidently hits and kills a pedestrian who turns out to be his uncle, which means that even though he intended to kill his uncle, because it was an accident, he is not guilty of murdering his uncle.

    The intentionality of moral agents raises some problems from a naturalistic evolutionary perspective. Desires are something we share with animals, but where do our moral intentions come from?

  99. d,

    So if you haven’t figured it out by now, there’s no strong consensus about what moral terms actually mean, or to what they refer.

    So nobody’s moral definitions, theist or non-theist, are in any place of privilege.

    Most of the confusion is propagated by those who have decided that value is a property that arises solely in the human mind but are unwilling to give up their moralising.

  100. d,

    So nobody’s moral definitions, theist or non-theist, are in any place of privilege.

    What do you mean by privilege? Theists believe there is a place of moral privilege, but it’s neither ours nor yours. We’re all completely subject to it, we all fall short, but because this moral place of privilege is thoroughly good, it includes provision for us to recover from our failure.

    I am speaking of God’s place.

    The way you stated this, that no one has a place of privilege, is very suggestive. It sounds to me as if you think there is some kind of logical, philosophical, or even military competition (don’t doubt for a moment the impact that has on this debate!) over what’s moral; that the winner will be the one that makes its case most successfully; and that theism is in the fray with the rest of them.

    No. If theism is true, then our position is not in the same fray. Christianity says (for these purposes) forget the fray, for the fray doesn’t determine morality. Human positions on morality, including theistic positions, are irrelevant in light of the reality that reality itself, the personal-ultimate reality who is God, has a position that determines morality for all.

  101. The way you stated this, that no one has a place of privilege, is very suggestive. It sounds to me as if you think there is some kind of logical, philosophical, or even military competition (don’t doubt for a moment the impact that has on this debate!) over what’s moral; that the winner will be the one that makes its case most successfully; and that theism is in the fray with the rest of them.

    No. If theism is true, then our position is not in the same fray.

    Well yes, there is a logical, philosophical (dunno about military!) debate (and lack of concensus) about metaethics! This is a fact.

    If theism is true – yes, I’m afraid you still are in the fray – because its in no way a given that current theories of theistic metaethics are true! Christians disagree even among themselves on metaethics.

    And as I have been suggesting in this thread – I believe something like my moral view can hold even under theism.

  102. d,

    And as I have been suggesting in this thread – I believe something like my moral view can hold even under theism.

    The only way you can continue to hold that is if you ignore that:

    1. All theists agree that there is an external measure of whether a desire is good or bad.

    2. That you have failed to propose a way to escape the circularity of your own position that measures the goodness of our desires against our desires.

  103. Good points, Melissa.

    Also, d, you misunderstand what I mean about the fray. That might be because you only read the portion that you quoted here. Out of context is out of context.

    Yes, there is a debate about morality. But if our position is true, then it is not our position after all. Whether we stand in a privileged position is irrelevant, for if we are right, it is not our position that’s right. It is in that case a matter if aligning with a reality much greater than any group’s position. That’s what I wanted to emphasize. And if you don’t understand what difference it makes, then you don’t understand it at all.

  104. (1) Besides the point. Every theist can be *wrong*, just as you and others might say that all naturalist moral realists are all *wrong* (some form of non-theist moral realism is the majority view among moral philosophers, according to the last survey I saw, btw). Whether your average theist would respond positively to my moral view, doesn’t mean its incompatible with theism. Theism just needs *some* form of moral realism – and even that might be putting too fine a point on it. It really needs ways to make phrases like “God is all-good” something intelligible and meaningful – which my theory can do.

    (2) The circularity only seems to exist, because you’re just outright ignoring, or being unfairly dismissive of certain parts of the argument, or just jumping to conclusions without working to understand it fully.

    Other desires are to be calibrated according to that which one desires *most of all*. And what is desired most of all, is the same for all persons. This is not circular, in a logical sense. One desire is ultimate, other desires are calibrated with respect to it.

    Furthermore, if my argument is circular, so is yours, since it also squarely depends on one ultimate desire, which you have even admitted. Do you not see how this fundamentally grants the logic of the argument I’m offering? We might disagree about the empirical facts (whether there is a shared ultimate desire given naturalism, or whether “natural ends” exist, etc) – but that’s about it.

    I’d like to add too, that empiricism is, if not on my side, is at least not against me, for the time being. There’s a budding area of science that studies happiness. We’ve discovered *empirically* that people who work to be loving and empathetic are *measurably* happier than those who are cruel and unloving – and that those who do not have that measure of happiness, actually tend to desire it (though are often mistaken about how to get it).

  105. Tom:

    To put it succinctly, I’m trying to get across that its nonsensical to criticize a meta-ethical theory on the grounds that “that’s not what morality is” or that they’re just conjuring up definitions that have nothing to do with morality. Such a criticism presumes the truth of some other meta-ethical view – the very thing being challenged in such a conversation of meta-ethics! This is what I mean by “privilege”.

    Obviously all metaethical theories have the hope of being the one that is true – but the jury is still out on:

    a) which theory that is.
    b) if a true one has been invented at all..

  106. d,

    This has gone from the difficult to the inane. Reflect on it well. You are claiming to have some authority of logic and knowledge, and your claim is false. You are fooling nobody but yourself. Your self-deception will not hurt me, Melissa, or anyone else here, but it will hurt you.

    Here is why I am concerned for you (not for the first time).

    You wrote>/a>,

    From whence did it come? It does not matter from whence it came.

    Whether God exists – or only the natural universe – my moral view can hold. It does not depend on any particular view in that respect. Neither possibility has any bearing on my moral view – so with that in mind the OP question is just less than irrelevant.

    My view depends upon there being some universally held, ultimate desire among persons – that’s it. And that could exist under naturalism or theism.

    Melissa answered (in part),

    The only way you can continue to hold that is if you ignore that:

    1. All theists agree that there is an external measure of whether a desire is good or bad.

    You responded,

    (1) Besides the point. Every theist can be *wrong*, just as you and others might say that all naturalist moral realists are all *wrong* (some form of non-theist moral realism is the majority view among moral philosophers, according to the last survey I saw, btw). Whether your average theist would respond positively to my moral view, doesn’t mean its incompatible with theism. Theism just needs *some* form of moral realism – and even that might be putting too fine a point on it. It really needs ways to make phrases like “God is all-good” something intelligible and meaningful – which my theory can do.

    Melissa’s response was not beside the point. Your moral system takes it that human desire is at the very center. You said that this could be an accurate view under theism. Melissa said no, because (I’m paraphrasing with the logically equivalent concept), there are no theists who believe that.

    Now you say that’s beside the point because theists could be wrong. Do you see the problem with that? You say that theism includes a certain feature, Melissa says that every theist disagrees with you about theism including this feature, and you say that’s beside the point because they could be wrong. The only way that answer could make sense would be if every theist in the world was ignorant as to what theism is, and if you knew what theism says better than all of us.

    Here’s another way of stating it. You said that your system and theism are both consistent with E. Melissa said that no theist agrees with E. You say that’s beside the point, implying that even though no theist agrees with E, nevertheless E is consistent with theism.

    That’s incompetent. It’s irrational. You did it again in your comment #112, by the way.

    If you think that rational competence is your stronghold as an atheist, you need to know that you’re wrong.

    Your response to 2, on circularity, is ironic. You say

    (2) The circularity only seems to exist, because you’re just outright ignoring, or being unfairly dismissive of certain parts of the argument, or just jumping to conclusions without working to understand it fully.

    Do you remember what I said about this?

    That desires can change is fundamentally one reason why we need a moral theory in the first place – to help us discover how we should change our desires.

    Do you not see the circularity there? Do you not see that your desirist moral theory depends on the authority and information from desire to show us which desires we should give place to? So the way we know which desires are best is by consulting our desires. Circular.

    Or maybe it isn’t; maybe there’s something that we don’t understand about your theory. If so, it’s because you haven’t stated it. You haven’t begun to give us any reason to think that there are desires that can correct desires, or what it would mean for desire d to have authority to tell desire c that c is wrong. Is it because c frustrates some larger set of other desires? You’ve said something like that; but you never responded to what I said to you about the utilitarian calculus, so that leaves you in a position of resting your case on a statement that stands under challenge, a challenge you have not answered.

    But you scold us for not understanding whatever it is you haven’t told us yet. That’s incompetence and it’s moralistic judgmentalism.

    Furthermore [you say], if my argument is circular, so is yours, since it also squarely depends on one ultimate desire, which you have even admitted.

    That’s wrong, and it’s utterly incompetent. For one thing, it’s illogical. An ultimate desire, if it exists, has the authority (by being ultimate) to rule other desires. But it’s not just illogical, it’s misinformed. It’s judgmentally and incompetently misinformed, I should add. I mean, it’s one thing to misunderstand our position; it’s another thing to stand there and tell us that you understand it better than we do, when in fact you are thousands of miles from the mark.

    You should recall that Melissa wrote here:

    You do realise how very similar this is to Aquinas’ natural law theory that also avoids the is-ought gap. All you need to do is to replace “fundamental desire” with natural end.

    You tried to fend that off later:

    This is so, because desires are the only reason for a rational agent to act. The argument above is predicated on the desire to achieve natural ends, which is predicated on the desire to be good.

    This is a Procrustean argument (look it up). You’re force-fitting theism into your system. Desires are not the only reason for a rational agent to act. Desires are motivations, not reasons; and there is a difference.

    Empiricism is not on your side, at least not in the sense you probably think it is. The evidence you cite in your favor works equally well in favor of theism, if not better. Your failure to recognize this is further evidence of your incompetence.

    I don’t mind it, d, when people don’t understand my position. I don’t even mind that you misunderstand it; at least, not in the sense that I’m hurt by it. What I want to emphasize one more time is that you are deceiving yourself. You think you understand theism, and you think you have a rationally competent approach to these issues, and you’re wrong. You’re hurting yourself. Stop it, please: it’s painful to say you doing that to yourself.

  107. By way of explanation for my approach to d, this is what it takes for me to decide to respond as strongly as I have just done:

    1. If the person to whom I’m responding makes categorical statements, and if
    2. Those categorical statements are clearly and demonstrably wrong, and if
    3. The person implies that his categorical statements are reasons to deny theism or some portion thereof, and if
    4. The person implies that he’s got it all figured out,

    then that person needs a wake-up call, for their own sake.

  108. d,

    To put it succinctly, I’m trying to get across that its nonsensical to criticize a meta-ethical theory on the grounds that “that’s not what morality is” or that they’re just conjuring up definitions that have nothing to do with morality

    If we had done that without providing appropriate support it would deserve criticism. If you think we have done it without attempting to provide that support you are wrong. If you think our support is inadequate, then your criticism here is misdirected; you should be criticizing the support we tried to provide. Either way you are wrong.

  109. You’ll have to explain then – but on second thought, no thanks. Those comments either were addressed specifically to Crude, or quoted crude until you added your own comments.

    Crude raised the issue of definitions.

    I find these meta-arguments that tend to appear after long discussions pointless and rather tiring – I won’t be commenting further on this. Read the posts in the context they were meant for, and hopefully it should be clear to who and for what I made those posts.

  110. d,

    You, not Crude, raised the question of definitions in #75. We batted it around a while. Melissa mentioned it in #84 and #89. You mentioned “place of privilege” in your response to Crude in #99. You made an inane comment about moral nihilism presupposing some moral definition, which both Crude and I responded to. Melissa and I were the most recent (#106 and #107) to mention definitions with you. You addressed me on the topic of definitions in #112.

    When you “put it succinctly” there in #112, you put terms in quotes that were not a quotation. You provided no visible or rational connection to what Crude had written.

    Does that suffice as the explanation you say I had to provide?

    You say you won’t be commenting further on this. That’s fine. Look at yourself. See if you still think you have rational competence that justifies your “rationally” rejecting theism.

  111. d,

    I think in another thread you wrote something like naturalism is a more reasonable description of reality than theism. From your comments in various threads it is obvious that your “theism” is not our theism, I would reject your “theism” too. That could be understandable, you may have never come across some of the fuller treatments of theism, but to persist in your views after the errors have been shown to you is just wilful ignorance. You might look there to find the reason why you find these “long discussions pointless and rather tiring”.

  112. Melissa’s response was not beside the point. Your moral system takes it that human desire is at the very center. You said that this could be an accurate view under theism. Melissa said no, because (I’m paraphrasing with the logically equivalent concept), there are no theists who believe that.

    Look, I think its pretty apparent how Melissa’s argument actually reduces to the one I am offering (remember, she joined the conversation noting how similar the argument I was offering is to the one she offered).

    Her argument begins with the words “If I want…”. Those words are equivelent to “If I desire…”. The dependancy on desire in her argument is the same as mine, and is explicit and obvious. Unless you guys have some esoteric meaning of “want” that I don’t know about, its reliance on desire cannot be avoided. A desire is a want, a want is a desire. The desire acts as the reason why one seeks what is good (which concedes the premise – a desire is a reason to act).

    If wants are desires, than Melissa’s argument *really* is about calibrating one’s desires based upon some other desire – just like mine. Either her argument is just as circular, or neither are (I say the latter is true).

    You really would have to offer some other definition of “want”, that is analytically or empirically different from your definition of “desire” for these charges of circularity to apply only to me, and not to her. But that would be pretty darn strange. What could the difference be between a want and a desire? How do we identify these differences?

    If wants are desires, the supposed categorical imperative in her argument vanishes as well – its a hypothetical imperative of the exact same form that I offered. If you’re attached to the term “categorical imperative”, then you might say my argument also offers its own — we’re just using different words to talk about essentially the same thing. But I think the term is misleading.

    There’s nothing offered, in her argument or mine, to explain why we ought to want what is good for us (in my case, what we want most of all) – its just taken as a given. To ask why we ought want what is good for us (or we want most of all) is a nonsensical category error – in both cases.

    She claimed there’s no hard definition of good necessary for her argument to work – but if one did offer a definition, it would probably analytically flow from that definition, that good is that which one ultimately wants, simply for its own sake. Well, the same is true for happiness, or satisfaction – its what is sought for its own sake. And in that sense, I’d say we are once again, using different words to talk about the same thing. Only I think my formulation is more specific and refined.

    Now were we might differ is that she believes its empirically true, that, that which we want for its own sake, can be attained by the process of reaching for one’s natural ends. Since I don’t think theism is true, I don’t think those natural ends exist – but if theism were true, I have no problem accepting that those natural ends are likely to be what helps us achieve that which we seek for its own sake.

    After all, a theist God would probably design us that way. But it follows, if God had arranged the world differently, or designed us so that that which we seek for its own sake was different for every person, that natural ends would be different for every person as well – and there could not be any universal morality that applies to everyone, the same.

    What is objectively good for one person, might be objectively bad for another. The take away here, is that how we go about realizing (our natural ends) that which we seek for its own sake, is *actually* contingent upon facts about us – facts that must universally be true for all of us – or one objective morality dissolves. And it should be obvious, that this is entirely dependent not simply upon some entirely external thing – its dependent upon us, how we are made, how we are configured. Even on theism. One can resist that all they like, but I don’t see how that conclusion can be escaped.

    So that is why I say not even theism can escape this reliance on desire – and its why I say that my theory can also hold under theism. It’s just more clearly pinpointing the hows and whys, and not using misleading terms like “categorical imperative”.

    So think about it – if we all want the same thing (and want it for its own sake) – and we all share the same basic configuration (either contingently, or through some necessary fact about personhood) – and naturalism is true, universal morality can exist.

  113. And to brings this back around to the OP… It was noted that cruelty exists.

    If you think of evolution as an optimization process, there’s a good chance that cruelty was an one optimization that served some organisms relatively well, in some instances. But, it in no way follows, that just because that strategy worked enough to stick around, that its a better strategy that love, and altruism.

    It could be that cruelty is worse than love, empathy, etc with respect to reproductive fitness, in the long haul. I think its pretty obvious that it is. The long haul is a road we’re still traveling down – so cruelty still persists – but there’s every reason to think it will diminish, if we continue along the path. With the advent of the mind, we even have the unprecedented ability to shape our environment, to speed that process along.

  114. d,

    NO! No, no, and NO!

    If wants are desires, than Melissa’s argument *really* is about calibrating one’s desires based upon some other desire – just like mine. Either her argument is just as circular, or neither are (I say the latter is true).

    Melissa’s argument is about calibrating one’s desires based upon ultimately the character of God.

    Get it. Don’t miss it again.

    Please.

    I said please before. I’m saying it again.

    It’s painful to see you being so obtuse about this.

    So please, don’t miss it again.

    But, it in no way follows, that just because that strategy worked enough to stick around, that its a better strategy that love, and altruism.

    I didn’t say it followed. I wasn’t even talking about strategies, except as part of an argument to the effect that on NE, it’s hard to see where love and cruelty stand on different moral planes.

    You have most obtusely and persistently missed the point again. If you are basing your atheism/skepticism on some sense of superior rationality or knowledge, then you’re basing it on something that doesn’t exist. Get off your pride wagon. Learn something for a change. It might just save your life!

  115. Re: Melissa: the character of God was not mentioned at that exact point in the discussion; but it’s in the background. Desires are to be calibrated to our natures, but if you knew what she was talking about, you would know the consistency between these two points (the character of God and the nature of being human, for ethical purposes). If you don’t know what she’s talking about (and you don’t) you would appear a lot more intelligent if you would ask rather than by drawing false conclusions such as you have done.

  116. I’m in a rush to pick up my daughter from school… so I have to leave all that about half unsaid. I’ll be back and finish unless someone fills in for me first.

  117. Tom:

    The premise is: “If I want what is good for me, I ought to pursue my natural ends”

    “If I want…”

    If “If I want…” is not an appeal to some desire, then its meaning is entirely mysterious to me, and for no deficit of my reasoning abilities or theological knowledge that I can plausibly see (indeed, it would appear designed to obfuscate), so somebody will have to explain it, and clearly.

  118. @d:

    Look, I think its pretty apparent how Melissa’s argument actually reduces to the one I am offering (remember, she joined the conversation noting how similar the argument I was offering is to the one she offered).

    It is “pretty apparent” that you do not understand natural law.

    Her argument begins with the words “If I want…”. Those words are equivelent to “If I desire…”. The dependancy on desire in her argument is the same as mine, and is explicit and obvious. Unless you guys have some esoteric meaning of “want” that I don’t know about, its reliance on desire cannot be avoided. A desire is a want, a want is a desire. The desire acts as the reason why one seeks what is good (which concedes the premise – a desire is a reason to act).

    From post #56, Melissa argument is:

    1. If I want what is good for me then I ought to pursue what realises my natural ends and avoid what frustrates them.

    2. I do want what is good for me.

    3. I ought to pursue what realises my natural ends and avoids what frustrates them.

    You misunderstand the argument. In 2. Melissa is simply pointing out the obvious fact that we act on what the intellect perceives as good in *some* form; or in other words, every action the will wills has as its intended goal and end some good. The word “good” is here used in the thinnest possible sense, so much so, that no one rationally doubts 2.

    1. is the crucial premise of natural law. Given that natures exist, that they dictate what our ends or goals are, what is *in fact* good for us is to act in accordance with the ends or goals that nature has set up for us. So, if we are rational, we will pursue those goods that the intellect has found are the real good for us.

    Given 1. and 2. as explained above, the ought in 3. follows as objective fact.

    This has been explained to you numerous times, and yet you persist on repeating the same mistake over and over again. I will dispense with qualifying your attitude or psycholoziging it, and just say, for the last time: the dependency on desire in natural law’s foundation for an objective morality *IS NOT THE SAME AS IN YOUR ARGUMENT*.

    The rest of your post is a mixed series of half-truths and misunderstandings that frankly, at this point, I do not have the patience to dispel.

    As far as your “argument”, I went to the trouble to read all your posts in this thread and you have not responded to a single objection that was put forward (other than terming them irrelevant); not one.

  119. @d:

    It could be that cruelty is worse than love, empathy, etc with respect to reproductive fitness, in the long haul. I think its pretty obvious that it is. The long haul is a road we’re still traveling down – so cruelty still persists – but there’s every reason to think it will diminish, if we continue along the path. With the advent of the mind, we even have the unprecedented ability to shape our environment, to speed that process along.

    Your optimism is endearing but flatly denied by the facts of human nature and its history.

    I turn to Freud, who nurtured contempt and hatred for Christianity. Here he is in Civilization and its discontents:

    The tension between the strict super-ego and the subordinate ego we call the sense of guilt; it manifests itself as the need for punishment. Civilization therefore obtains the mastery over the dangerous love of aggression in individuals by enfeebling and disarming it and setting up an institution within their minds to keep watch over it, like a garrison over a city.

    The wisdom of civilization, “the mastery over the dangerous love of aggression in individuals”, is the internalization of authority by the super-ego, which Freud describes elsewhere as a sadistic tyrant (sounds familiar?). Cultural guilt is our perpetual condition. Freud would then urge us to accept mortality and finally, reject all fictions (except Freud’s own). At the end of the book, Freud’s somber tone softens:

    And now it may be expected that the other of the two ‘heavenly forces’, eternal Eros, will put forth his strength so as to maintain himself alongside of his equally immortal adversary.

    The immortal adversary, Thanatos, cannot be dispelled; at best he can only be tamed. Freud is wrong in many things, but he is also very suggestive and for what matters here, he serves as a useful antidote against these optimistic moral views that are based on a hand full of nothing.

    Note: the Viennese satirist Karl Kraus remarked that “Psychoanalysis is that mental illness for which it regards itself as therapy.”

  120. Please. This is getting immer mehr painful.

    If “If I want…” is not an appeal to some desire, then its meaning is entirely mysterious to me, and for no deficit of my reasoning abilities or theological knowledge that I can plausibly see, so somebody will have to explain it, and clearly.

    Was that really a request for clarification? If so, I think that’s possible to provide. If it was a protestation in defense of your reasoning abilities or theological knowledge, on the other hand, it fails abjectly.

    Melissa spoke of desire, yes. But whereas you have spoken of calibrating desires with desires, Melissa has done something completely different. G. Rodrigues has done something completely different. And yet you say “Melissa’s argument actually reduces to the one I am offering.”

    Do you want to know why that’s not true? Really? If we give you an answer that explains the Christian theistic position, would you accept that it is the Christian theistic position? If we were able to explain to you how it did not reduce to a position identical with yours, would you be willing at least to listen and hear what we are saying?

    And by the way, how did it not occur to you to recognize how ridiculous it is to think that the morality in Christian theism—a system of thought that’s thousands of years old, with libraries full of philosophical and theological disputation, reasoning, and discussion—reduces to the one you happen to believe in? How did it not occur to you that you might have less than encyclopedic understanding of Christianity? How did it not occur to you that the similarities you see between Christianity and desirism might be the result of your own limited understanding of one or both of them? How did it not occur to you that it might be more intellectually respectable just to ask a question about theism than to claim you have no plausible deficit in your theological knowledge?

    You are arrogant, d. You say, “I can’t plausibly see any deficits in my knowledge here.” Let me ask if your eyes are capable of something else instead: can you see how ugly that attitude looks on a person?

    Do you like that about yourself? You need not continue in it. There is a way out.

  121. d,

    It seems to me that part of the problem here is that you don’t understand how arguments actually work. We start with premises which when followed through lead inescapably to the conclusion. So in my argument above the first premise is the hypothetical imperative. The second premise is a categorical statement. So, if we follow that through we get a categorical Imperative.

    The thing about your argument is that it is close to the truth. We do all have the same ultimate desire, the desire for goodness itself, but you can’t get to that conclusion given your worldview, because there is no good apart from what is determined by our contingent desires. To postulate happiness as the ultimate desire just increases the circularity because what is happiness if not for the state where my desires are satisfied.

    Just to reiterate, in theism what is good is not determined by our desires. If our desires are not defective we will desire what is really good not just what we think is good.

  122. Actually, its not desire utilitarianism that I draw most from, though I do partially – its Carriers Goal theory or moral value, though often some desirism terminology is useful. Grok that – Goal theory

    I identify with it because for a long time, I’ve believed that morality is closely related to, or an expression of, shared values and how we actualize those shared values – and Carrier et al. have certainly gone at it more rigorously than I ever have.

    1. is the crucial premise of natural law. Given that natures exist, that they dictate what our ends or goals are, what is *in fact* good for us is to act in accordance with the ends or goals that nature has set up for us. So, if we are rational, we will pursue those goods that the intellect has found are the real good for us.

    Then what does it mean, “to have a goal”. Again, unless there is some other meaning of terms of which I am unaware, a goal is just another way of expressing a desire for some other state of affairs, and a dissatisfaction with the present state of affairs!

    In accordance with natural law, as you say, we have goals that this natural law has “set up for us”. So again, it looks like you are using different words to say the same thing. If we are rational, we pursue our goals/desires/wants. What are ultimate goals/desires/wants are, are determined by facts about our nature and the universe (and if you are a theist, by God).

    If the goals “nature has set up for us” have absolutely no connection at all to our own actual goals/wants/desires, then we’ve disconnected any reason we have for realizing them.

  123. While I can appreciate the frustrations all of you are expressing – It does look to me that much of the criticism is motivated by more than just rational considerations…

    If I may partake in some of Tom’s psychologizing… Think about why one might be so resistant to the idea that naturalism could account for objective morality – it certainly doesn’t disprove theism (though maybe it removes a highly valued selling point), so why’s it so scary?

  124. What are ultimate goals/desires/wants are, are determined by facts about our nature and the universe (and if you are a theist, by God).

    What, on NE, are these facts about our nature and the universe? What does it mean, on NE, that nature has set up goals?

    That’s a semi-trick question, of course, and I’m sure you’ll catch it. You didn’t say that nature has set up goals, rather you quoted G. Rodrigues who said it.

    But hold on. Right after that, you said this: “it looks like you are using different words to say the same thing.” If you and he are saying the same thing, then you agree with him that nature has set up goals for us, which means that there was intentionality in nature all along, and that there is something inherently good and right in the goals that nature has set up for us. It means therefore you agree ultimately that nature is itself, at bottom, right and good, and that nature is possessed of the very personal attribute of intentionality. You agree that nature has the ability to accomplish its intent of establishing right and good goals. So therefore you believe that somewhere in nature there is some very personal, intentional, powerful, right, and good entity operating.

    Since you and G. Rodrigues are saying the same thing in different words, then apparently that’s what you affirm.

    Did I get that right?

  125. d,

    I have repeatedly affirmed that I am not scared for myself. I am concerned for you. There is no evidence of fear in anything I have written, except that I fear for what your arrogance is doing to you.

    Have I psychologized you? I have identified some very obvious points of intellectual arrogance. I have asked you whether you like that about yourself. If that’s psychologizing, it is at least well supported by the evidence.

    You are intellectually arrogant. You claim to know far more than you do, and you say it is implausible that you are lacking in relevant theological knowledge.

    You asked just now,

    Think about why one might be so resistant to the idea that naturalism could account for objective morality – it certainly doesn’t disprove theism (though maybe it removes a highly valued selling point), so why’s it so scary?

    There are I think two ways this question could be interpreted. The first way fails miserably. If naturalism actually accounts for objective morality, then naturalism is true; for if naturalism were not true, it could hardly account for anything at all. Now, if naturalism is true, then by definition there is no God; for naturalism is (among other things) the doctrine that there is no spiritual reality of any kind.

    So if naturalism could account for objective morality, that would disprove theism. Your statement on this is clearly wrong, if that was how you intended it.

    But maybe you meant something more like this instead:

    Think about why one might be so resistant to the idea that there could be least one way in which naturalism could be true and objective morality could exist. That such a way could hypothetically exist does not mean it actually does exist, so its hypothetical existence doesn’t disprove theism. So why’s it so scary?.

    The answer is simple: I resist the idea that naturalism could be true and objective morality could exist, because I don’t think it makes rational sense. I don’t think it could hypothetically exist. I have independent reasons to think that naturalism is false, too. My resistance is not because it’s “scary,” I assure you.

    (Now if you had gotten me started on the question of the kinds of moralities naturalism could lead to, I would have had a different answer. That does get scary. But that wasn’t what you were talking about, was it?)

  126. Further on d’s psychologizing. He raises the question, why are we so resistant to the idea that naturalism could account for objective morality? But as I think back through the discussion we’ve been having with d, very little of it has been about naturalism. Most of it has been on theism:

    1. He has attacked theism (comments 1, 6, 9, 10, 14, 18, 23, 30, 31).
    2. He has tried to co-opt theistic morality under his own version of morality (comments 18, 22, 50, 61, 65, 86, 93, 97, 108, 111, 122, 132; some of these are simply expressions of theism misunderstood, but that misunderstanding has been integral to his attempts at co-opting).

    Now here’s what’s most interesting of all. There are a number of comments in which he has tried to establish something like an objective morality under naturalism, but if you read the narrative of the discussion, that’s not what we’ve been resisting, for the most part. Sure, there are elements of that. But far, far more than that, we’ve been resisting:

    a. His complete misrepresentation of what theism is, and
    b. His attempts to co-opt theism into his moral system.

    So I have a question for you, d. Why did you even bother to ask what you did about resisting naturalism and objective morality? We’ve hardly even paid it any attention! You’ve made that concern up almost out of whole cloth.

  127. Finally, (and then I’ll get off the subject of your last post), you wrote, d, that “It does look to me that much of the criticism is motivated by more than just rational considerations.”

    I’m wondering why you would say that. There are more than just rational considerations involved in every human interaction. Of course you went on to attribute it to fear, which is partly accurate, as I have already explained. I am afraid for you.

    But I’m still wondering why you would direct our attention toward “more than just rational considerations,” when you haven’t done a good job of addressing the rational considerations that are still indeed part of the mix. Melissa’s most recent comment to you, for example, is rationally constructed regardless of its motivation, of which nothing inappropriately emotional is even close to being in view. If there’s anything being communicated there besides rational content, it is gentleness toward you (especially compared to my approach!).

    We have all criticized your attempts to subsume theism under your moral theory, and we have done so with rationally constructed argumentation—which remains true regardless of our motivations.

    We all have rational and non-rational things going on inside of us all the time. I caution you against using this “more than rational considerations” line as a way to deflect the rational work that’s being done here regardless.

  128. d,

    In accordance with natural law, as you say, we have goals that this natural law has “set up for us”. So again, it looks like you are using different words to say the same thing. If we are rational, we pursue our goals/desires/wants. What are ultimate goals/desires/wants are, are determined by facts about our nature and the universe (and if you are a theist, by God).

    Not quite right. Our goals are not necessarily the same as our natural ends. We can desire and pursue the wrong goals. That’s what it means to act immorally. You desire the wrong thing.

    If the goals “nature has set up for us” have absolutely no connection at all to our own actual goals/wants/desires, then we’ve disconnected any reason we have for realizing them.

    The connection is established by my original argument.

  129. Melissa:

    The thing about your argument is that it is close to the truth. We do all have the same ultimate desire, the desire for goodness itself, but you can’t get to that conclusion given your worldview, because there is no good apart from what is determined by our contingent desires. To postulate happiness as the ultimate desire just increases the circularity because what is happiness if not for the state where my desires are satisfied.

    Just to reiterate, in theism what is good is not determined by our desires. If our desires are not defective we will desire what is really good not just what we think is good.

    Here is where we are going awry – so far, you have let “good” remain ambiguous, and is essentially just taken to be nothing more specific than the thing that we seek, for its own sake (mostly to be as simple and general as possible). But this is where the dragons actually lie.

    I’m of the opinion, that the only thing a rational agent seeks for its own sake, is the movement from states of dissatisfaction, to states of satisfaction (aka, its goals, desires, wants). I submit that the ultimate goal/desire/want IS the only thing which enjoys that property of being that which is sought for its own sake. There’s nothing else a person can seek, for its own sake, and be rational, in so doing.

    If you mean something else by “good” you need to explain, in order for us to resolve the disagreement – and so that we can examine if I am mistaken, and if rational agents really do seek this “good”, for its own sake (and do so rationally)

    One more thing…

    Given that we are living in the same world, with the same set of facts to deal with and explain – I find it curious that one would say that its a fact of the world that “we all share a desire”, but then claim that its not a fact of the world, given naturalism.

    Maybe pure reason got you to the conclusion that we all share the same ultimate goal. But if it were a true fact of the world, it should be at least somewhat evidenced by our empirical observations.

    If there really is no good empirical evidence in that regard, then that might be good reason to doubt the premises which led you to that conclusion, and may even conceivably defeat your reasoning all together.

    And if you recognize that there is actually empirical evidence – well, its no good to deny the facts of the matter as a response and you’ve given the naturalist some ammo with which to support his view.

  130. d,

    Here is where we are going awry – so far, you have let “good” remain ambiguous, and is essentially just taken to be nothing more specific than the thing that we seek, for its own sake (mostly to be as simple and general as possible). But this is where the dragons actually lie.

    How is the claim that it is good to pursue our natural ends ambiguous? How is the claim that our ultimate goal is to pursue goodness itself which is identical to being itself … aka God? You are not understanding because you are trying to understand theistic claims by forcing them into a naturalistic worldview which just has one more entity – God. It won’t work, the metaphysics is completely different.

    Given that we are living in the same world, with the same set of facts to deal with and explain – I find it curious that one would say that its a fact of the world that “we all share a desire”, but then claim that its not a fact of the world, given naturalism.

    I find it curious that you would think that was what I was claiming.

    Enough mucking around though, what makes a desire good given naturalism?

  131. @d:

    Here is where we are going awry – so far, you have let “good” remain ambiguous, and is essentially just taken to be nothing more specific than the thing that we seek, for its own sake (mostly to be as simple and general as possible). But this is where the dragons actually lie.

    Another rich comment coming from you. See my post #72, my response to the second quote where I point precisely that all you have to show for is a pre-theoretical, subjective emotive account of good, and that precisely one of the goals of natural law theory, with some heavy prior metaphysical lifting, is to give an *objective* account of what good means as far as human actions.

    I’m of the opinion, that the only thing a rational agent seeks for its own sake, is the movement from states of dissatisfaction, to states of satisfaction (aka, its goals, desires, wants). I submit that the ultimate goal/desire/want IS the only thing which enjoys that property of being that which is sought for its own sake. There’s nothing else a person can seek, for its own sake, and be rational, in so doing.

    As I said, a purely subjective, emotive account of good: “that which is sought for its own sake” or the “movement from states of dissatisfaction, to states of satisfaction”. It is indeed merely opinion amd completely useless in basing an objective morality. But this has already been pointed out many times in many different ways.

    If you mean something else by “good” you need to explain, in order for us to resolve the disagreement – and so that we can examine if I am mistaken, and if rational agents really do seek this “good”, for its own sake (and do so rationally)

    If you are actually interested in learning, there are plenty of books and online references. Want some?

    One more thing…

    Another series of misreadings and misunderstandings.

  132. d,

    And if you recognize that there is actually empirical evidence – well, its no good to deny the facts of the matter as a response and you’ve given the naturalist some ammo with which to support his view.

    I would love you to recognise that there is empirical evidence of natural ends. Once you have accepted that, as Tom pointed out above, you cannot rationally deny theism.

  133. @Tom:

    What, on NE, are these facts about our nature and the universe? What does it mean, on NE that nature has set up goals?

    That’s a semi-trick question, of course, and I’m sure you’ll catch it. You didn’t say that nature has set up goals, rather you quoted G. Rodrigues who said it.

    But hold on. Right after that, you said this: “it looks like you are using different words to say the same thing.” If you and he are saying the same thing, then you agree with him that nature has set up goals for us, which means that there was intentionality in nature all along, and that there is something inherently good and right in the goals that nature has set up for us….

    For this audience, I generally assume most of you will consider the context and the speaker, decide how to interpret that sort of anthropomorphic phrasing appropriately.

    NE (what happens when the forces of nature run their course) is one possible way for persons (rational beings with goals/desires) to come to exist.

    In the bit I quoted though, G. Rodrigues was referring to natures, in general, and human natures in particular – not nature, as in all encompassing forces which run the world. If I am not mistaken that is.

  134. G. Rodrigues:

    No it is not a purely subjective view.

    I’ve already quoted those three premises which explain the jump from individual subjectivity, to universality (true for everybody) twice! I don’t think I need to explain it again.

    Review the material, and review the blog series that I linked too earlier in the thread back for a refresher.

  135. d,

    In the bit I quoted though, G. Rodrigues was referring to natures, in general, and human natures in particular – not nature, as in all encompassing forces which run the world. If I am not mistaken that is.

    The natures G. Rodrigues was referring to don’t exist if naturalism is true.

  136. Melissa:

    C’mon… If naturalism is true, categories can still exist. Facts about things can be necessary, or universally true, etc. That is all that is required for claims about the properties that all persons may share.

  137. d,

    C’mon… If naturalism is true, categories can still exist. Facts about things can be necessary, or universally true, etc. That is all that is required for claims about the properties that all persons may share.

    Go and do some reading because you’re wasting everyone’s time here with your refusal to understand the terms. Nature in this sense refers to a things essence.

  138. d,

    The advice to go do some reading is good. The term “nature,” as it is being used by others than yourself here, excludes your naturalistic understanding of “nature” by definition. That is to say, whether this theistic understanding of “nature” is right or wrong, and whether your understanding of “nature” is right or wrong, either way, it is impossible for the two to mean the same thing. In particular, it is impossible for the two to serve identical functions in any meta-ethical theory. If you think otherwise it is because you do not understand the term as it is being used by others here.

    It would do you well to understand that before you try to push the subject any further. It would do you well to understand a lot of things about what you think you are disputing.

  139. @d:

    In the bit I quoted though, G. Rodrigues was referring to natures, in general, and human natures in particular – not nature, as in all encompassing forces which run the world. If I am not mistaken that is.

    Incorrect, nature is a specific technical term that in Thomism denotes the essence of the thing. As pointed out, under naturalism things do not have essences, not in the AT sense at least which is what is needed to base an objective morality.

    I’ve already quoted those three premises which explain the jump from individual subjectivity, to universality (true for everybody) twice! I don’t think I need to explain it again.

    And several people have already pointed out several times that your explanation explains exactly nothing. The arguments are all over this thread. As I said in #128: “As far as your “argument”, I went to the trouble to read all your posts in this thread and you have not responded to a single objection that was put forward (other than terming them irrelevant); not one.”

    C’mon… If naturalism is true, categories can still exist. Facts about things can be necessary, or universally true, etc. That is all that is required for claims about the properties that all persons may share.

    Post #62, I will quote myself:

    The nature of a thing is its set of properties, in all worlds in which it exists, agreed? The nature of persons includes desires, right? So in all possible worlds where persons exist, persons have desires.

    No to the first question. But this is a deeper issue. If you want to learn more about natures, essences and why possible worlds presents some problems I suggest the first chapter of David Oderberg’s Real Essentialism.

    You are going in circles, you are not paying attention, you do not know the terminology, etc. and etc.

  140. Say, for the sake of argument, that d’s “that which we want most of all/for its own sake” is the same as the Christian concept of “natural ends”. Let’s call both concepts the summum bonum, for convenience. Even under this assumption (which is obviously still being hotly debated), naturalism still does not support a universal morality, while Christianity does.

    Under naturalism, is there any guarantee that this summum bonum (whatever it may be) is actually attainable? What if evolution has shaped us (forgive the anthropomorphizing) so that our summum bonum is forever just out of reach, like the proverbial carrot hanging by a string before the mule? An unsatisfiable desire — one that causes an organism to be always reaching, never resting — would seem to be a highly effective tool for motivating that organism to constantly seek more and more (babies, resources, etc.): It would also explain why there are so many people whose lives seem to be going well (including successful people at the top of their field), who nonetheless report dissatisfaction with their lives.

    Under naturalism, love may get us a little closer to the summum bonum than cruelty, but what if the carrot is still forever out of reach? If I, as a rational agent, recognize that the summum bonum might be unattainable, but that the object of some lesser desire (say, to inflict pain on my fellow creatures) is easily attainable, why shouldn’t I settle for the latter? Why shouldn’t I choose to pursue, as my personal summum bonum, the best thing that I can actually get, rather than the best possible thing, which is probably unreachable? And if I have no reason not to choose a different summum bonum, then in what sense am I part of a naturalistic universal morality anymore?

    If Christianity is true, however, then the summum bonum is God. For theism in general, there is no reason to expect that God is any more attainable than a naturalistic summum bonum. In fact, Christianity recognizes that it is impossible for humans to reach God on their own, through any religion. Christianity, however, is not a story about man finding God, but about God coming down and finding man. God, through the life and death of Jesus, guarantees that if we seek Him at the expense of everything else, we will find Him (thus attaining the summum bonum) — perhaps partially in this life, but completely in eternity.

    Thus, even if a naturalistic summum bonum exists, then there is at least one crucial difference between naturalistic and Christian universal morality: the Christian, because of who God is and what He did on the Cross, can be certain of obtaining the summum bonum, whereas the naturalist has no such assurance. I’m not citing this difference as evidence that Christianity is true, of course. It just illustrates that the naturalist may have good reason to opt out of any naturalistic “universal” morality (making it not truly universal anymore), whereas the Christian who actually trusts God has no reason to settle for anything (or anyOne) less.

  141. Here is an interesting paper by Greg Koukl that I think relates to our present discussion.

    I thinkDarwinists opt for an evolutionary explanation for morality without sufficient justification. In order to make their naturalistic explanation work, “morality” must reside in the genes. “Good” — that is, beneficial — tendencies can then be chosen by natural selection. Nature, through the mechanics of genetic chemistry, cultivates behaviors we call morality.

    This creates two problems. First, evolution doesn’t explain what it’s meant to explain. It can only account for preprogrammed behavior, which doesn’t qualify as morality. Moral choices, by their nature, are made by free agents — not dictated by internal mechanics.

    Second, the Darwinist explanation reduces morality to mere descriptions of behavior. But the morality that evolution needs to account for entails much more than conduct. Minimally, it involves motive and intent as well. Both are nonphysical elements that can’t, even in principle, evolve in a Darwinian sense.
    http://www.equip.org/articles/evolution-and-ethics

    In other words, stating it concisely, according to Koukl an “evolutionary explanation for morality” can only be descriptive rather than prescriptive.

  142. Tom, Sorry for the late reply; I’ve been rather busy lately with the end of term approaching. For reference I’m replying to #85.

    I tentatively want to say that we agree on the learning point. As I said I agree that learnt behaviour emerges from C&NS. My only further statement was that the quantitative success of learnt behaviour would be somewhat independent of heritable/random traits of individuals. The success would be dependent upon the interaction of thoughts and ideas between people (or even oneself) – this doesn’t break your causal closure as such interaction only emanates from natural causes – I tentatively suppose you can bundle it under “chance” (I don’t think this is a good word to describe it, as elaborated by Frank in #24 – but the important point is that is doesn’t break your closure so I don’t think we hold any conflict of views).

    Tom: “What I’m saying is that naturalism, defined as the principle that nothing exists but matter, energy, and their chance and lawlike interactions, has within it no causal principle that could create objective morality.”
    “Morality is … not a physical relation”
    “Chance and law relations do not have it in their power to create obligatory or duty-related interactions.”
    I apologise if I’m ignorantly unaware of some framework to support this, but to me this doesn’t seem much more than mere assertion. You’ll have to elaborate for me to give it some credence – or for me to actually have something to be able to reply to (I’m sure you do have thorough reasons but its probably not efficient for me to guess them).

    “You take it that “objective” means “mind-independent,” and I agree, except I would put it as “human mind-independent.” God could be (and is) the source of objective morality.”
    I agree with your point as you mean it, although I would be tempted not to change the definition (if only for consideration of other animal/other conceivable minds) ; naively from what I’ve followed in the rest of the discussion the source of morality as you put it is God’s nature rather than His “mind”?

    “I can be completely certain that if NE is true, then cruelty has emerged because it has supported the reproductive success of humans’ ancestor populations.”
    I think you might have missed my point; As I said in #48, “NE has a number of causal factors (such as RVs, ECs, NS), and so anything that results from NE is not necessarily the cause of any particular one of the factors.”, and so without positive support the claim, you cannot cite one of them (such as reproductive success) and definitively say that is the cause of anything in NE (such as cruelty).

    “I could accept that if I was sure you would never under any circumstances say, “That’s wrong!” or “That’s right!” (morally, that is) and think that you were saying something true.” [about subjective morality of an individual in a frame without objective morality]
    I appreciate your point, but I think it is a matter of semantics. I would think it likely that most such people would mean subjective statements (i.e. “That’s wrong to me!”)

    “But the true subjectivist would merely feel that love feels morally preferable to cruelty.”
    Thanks, that was a very good point to pick up on for clarification, but yes as you rightly picked up that was my intented meaning.

    All I’ve been saying in this post has been to the effect that naturalism leads inescapably to subjectivism. I think a logical case against subjectivism could be made…
    I apologise if I’m misunderstanding, but this seems a little contradictory (does naturalism entail subjectivism or not?). Bar further justification (which I think you’ve hinted you do have), all you have presented so far is akin to “I don’t see an objective morality here”, and so any strict (rather than probabilistic) conclusion would require an argument from personal incredulity.

    “Instead I doubt your willingness to accept what your humanness means in yourself.” [about one who doesn’t accept objective reality – (I think!)]
    Again, to clarify, I don’t reject objective morality. Just out of interest though, are there any means other than God by which you would/could persuade such a person [not believing in objective morality] to accept their “human-ness”? And perhaps expand a little on what you mean by “human-ness”?

  143. 5. Is this a fair conclusion to draw from NE, and if not, why not?

    No. Because under NE, humans (and many, many other animals) have been adapted to seek love and avoid suffering. Thus love is a good for them, and suffering is a bad for them. Just like food and shelter are good, hunger and exposure are bad, etc. etc. This is true both physically (in terms of what happens if a mutant creature were to arise that sought the opposite: its genes would be doomed) and in terms of their innate emotional structure (in the brain etc.).

    This is incredibly elementary stuff in naturalistic moral reasoning, it is shocking that you couldn’t figure it out / read it on your own. And yet you accuse others of arrogance, ignorance, etc., and imply that they face dire consequences (it might even be “you are going to hell!” that you are implying — if so, chill out dude) if they don’t shape up before it’s too late. Standard cheap Xian guilt trip tactic. It’s a poor substitute for elementary research & thinking.

  144. I’m afraid you’ve entirely missed the point tz. By the looks of what you’ve written you seem to agree with the conclusion. You seem to view that “good” and “bad” are equivalent to supporting/inhibiting genetic success (which I would say is at least somewhat dubious), but I don’t see how supporting/inhibiting genetic success can be a moral property. If its not a moral property, it could not be the basis of morality in any meaningful sense. And so it would follow from your view that there is no meaningful difference between love and suffering.

    I also struggle to see how under your definitions one could even formulate a subjective morality. Why should one do what supports the success of their genes? Perhaps you would claim that what’s good for one’s genes is good for one’s experiential self (is “good for them”) [but again I don’t think this is obviously true]. But then what makes an experience good? If its because the experience supports genetic success, your argument is getting circular. If its something else, then this is what your morality really revolves around (rather than genetic success), and you haven’t yet actually defined what “good” is.

  145. You seem to view that “good” and “bad” are equivalent to supporting/inhibiting genetic success (which I would say is at least somewhat dubious), but I don’t see how supporting/inhibiting genetic success can be a moral property.

    You’re misunderstanding, I’m afraid. I’m pointing out that it is absurd to think that selection for reproductive success would lead to creatures that would seek suffering and avoid love. In reality any mutations in this direction would be self-destructive and thus be removed from the population.

    So, instead, we get creatures that are adapted to seek love and seek to avoid suffering. See: any mammal species and how it cares for its young. Their brains are “programmed” with this behavior & desire. They can’t change their programming, and even if they could, they wouldn’t, because they wouldn’t want to, because their wants are “programmed” into their brain — “hard-coded” if you will.

    All of this works just fine without the creatures having any knowledge at all of evolution or natural selection or optimizing reproductive success — after all, this lack of knowledge was the case for all of animal history and the vast majority of human history. Yet people and animals had the programming nonetheless, and thus instinctively cared for their children (for example) rather than made them suffer. Selection is not the moral justification of those actions, just the recently-discovered scientific explanation of how instincts like “seek love, avoid suffering” came to be.

  146. tz:

    You’re misunderstanding, I’m afraid. I’m pointing out that it is absurd to think that selection for reproductive success would lead to creatures that would seek suffering and avoid love. In reality any mutations in this direction would be self-destructive and thus be removed from the population.

    You’re misunderstanding. It is absurd to think that if NE is true, humans’ penchant for causing suffering came from any source other than its contribution to reproductive success. It came from the same source as humans’ penchant to cause joy. The penchant for cruelty and the penchant for love have the same roots. Thus they are the same tree, and the tree exists only to bear one fruit. That fruit is not fulfillment, not happiness, not meaning, not purpose, not art or creativity, not understanding, not anything except more babies to make more babies.

  147. TG – re-read the bit I wrote at the end:

    “Selection is not the moral justification of those actions, just the recently-discovered scientific explanation of how instincts like “seek love, avoid suffering” came to be.”

    The source of such instincts doesn’t matter morally speaking, we have them wherever they came from and we can’t get rid of them.

    Your argument has other problems:

    1. Light reception in the eyes, and neural firing in the brain, is ultimately the product of biochemical reactions, but that doesn’t mean that “I see one object” and “I see two objects” suddenly both become the same thing. “Common cause” does not automatically logically imply anything in particular about the products, when the cause can produce products of different types given different inputs.

    2. I don’t think there is a human instinct for cruelty, anyway. (“Instinct” is a much better word than “penchant”, by the way — instincts are plausibly adaptations, hard-coded into the brain, which everyone has. Things like cruelty are “behaviors that some humans do sometimes” — such things can be the by-products of a complex combination of causes, only a small portion of which involve instincts. There may well be an instinct for selfishness. Cruelty? Not so much.

    The idea that every tendency, rare behavior, etc., observed in humans is an “adaptation” which must have been produced by “natural selection” is something called “naive adaptationism” which has been roundly condemned by scientists for decades.

  148. tz,

    Point taken on “naive adaptationism.” If you read what I wrote in the OP, you’ll find that I covered that ground more carefully. So it’s possible that cruelty did not arise in human behavior for adaptive reasons. It might be a spandrel, it might be the result of statistical effects like genetic drift. If it’s not the product of NS, then one way or the other it’s the result of some chance event. Now, if that’s true, is it not also true that the same could be true of love?

    Your answer may be that love has a clearly identifiable place in NS. Therefore given causal closure, we know that love came from one source and one source only: it supports the making of babies who make babies. Cruelty may have come from the same source, or else from chance; but note that NS has not sent it packing. If cruelty was not the direct result of NS, its continuation in the population all these millennia indicates that NS has no particular beef against it. NS is fine with human intraspecies cruelty, apparently. And NS is the only non-chance causal game in town. I think that still puts cruelty and love on a very similar plane, even if not necessarily an identical one.

    Now, backing up a bit, you wrote,

    The source of such instincts doesn’t matter morally speaking, we have them wherever they came from and we can’t get rid of them.

    It’s ironic the way you fail to see how you’re making my point. Would you like to figure it out for yourself, or should I explain?

    1. Light reception in the eyes, and neural firing in the brain, is ultimately the product of biochemical reactions, but that doesn’t mean that “I see one object” and “I see two objects” suddenly both become the same thing. “Common cause” does not automatically logically imply anything in particular about the products, when the cause can produce products of different types given different inputs.

    Right, it doesn’t automatically imply anything in particular about the products. I didn’t say that it did. I explained why it is true in this case that common cause does imply something about the products.

    2. I don’t think there is a human instinct for cruelty, anyway. (“Instinct” is a much better word than “penchant”, by the way — instincts are plausibly adaptations, hard-coded into the brain, which everyone has. Things like cruelty are “behaviors that some humans do sometimes” — such things can be the by-products of a complex combination of causes, only a small portion of which involve instincts. There may well be an instinct for selfishness. Cruelty? Not so much.

    Thank you for contributing your unsupported opinion. Bare assertions are worth what bare assertions are worth.

    By the way, I chose the word “penchant” because if I had used “instinct” my point would have been made instantly, though in a question-begging manner. I try to be more careful about terminology than that.

    No. Because under NE, humans (and many, many other animals) have been adapted to seek love and avoid suffering. Thus love is a good for them, and suffering is a bad for them. Just like food and shelter are good, hunger and exposure are bad, etc. etc. This is true both physically (in terms of what happens if a mutant creature were to arise that sought the opposite: its genes would be doomed) and in terms of their innate emotional structure (in the brain etc.).

    This is incredibly elementary stuff in naturalistic moral reasoning, it is shocking that you couldn’t figure it out / read it on your own. And yet you accuse others of arrogance, ignorance, etc., and imply that they face dire consequences (it might even be “you are going to hell!” that you are implying — if so, chill out dude) if they don’t shape up before it’s too late. Standard cheap Xian guilt trip tactic. It’s a poor substitute for elementary research & thinking.

    In the midst of your arrogant lecturing about elementary moral reasoning, you have failed to notice your own elementary logical fallacy. You equivocated on good. You wrote

    1. Under NE, humans … have been adapted to seek love and avoid suffering.
    2. Thus love is a good.

    The topic under discussion is moral goods, as you yourself have affirmed. You are in effect trying to persuade us that

    2b. It follows from 1 that love is a moral good.

    But 2b only follows from 1 if

    1.5 The “good” of following our adaptive path of seeking love and avoiding suffering is equivalent to the “good” of morality.

    1.5 is false, in my view, and in the view of the large majority of those who have given it any thought. If you disagree, you owe it to the rest of us to show why we are wrong and you are right.

    And now I’m going to indulge in some severe reverse lecturing on you. I’m in one of those moods today. First, you need not be shocked that I was unable to figure out on my own that I ought to accept your rationally fallacious position. I figured out on my own that I should not accept it. I’m shocked that you would find good reasoning shocking.

    Second, I have read in this field. I will name only those who argue from a naturalistic evolutionary standpoint. It will be a partial list. Most recently, Richard Joyce’s Evolutionary Morality. Also Midgley’s Ethical Primate. Also Harris’s Moral Landscape; and the writings of the other two chief “New Atheists.” Also Michael Ruse. Also Tom Clark. Also Melvin Konner. Also Alonzo Fyfe. Also John Loftus and contributors to The Christian Delusion. Also tons of tons of naturalistic atheists with whom I’ve interacted on this blog. Going on to some more classical ethicists (not necessarily believers in naturalism or evolution), also Simone de Beauvoir, Sartre, Camus, Mill, Kant, Plato, and Aristotle, to name a few (there are others, but enough is enough). Also some of the more thoughtful novelists and poets.

    How many theistic moral philosophers have you read? Some elementary research would do you good.

    So chill out, dude. You’re pulling a standard atheistic rational-superiority-trip tactic, but it’s not working. It’s a poor substitute for elementary research and logic.

  149. Alex Dawson, you raised this question, first quoting me:

    Tom: “What I’m saying is that naturalism, defined as the principle that nothing exists but matter, energy, and their chance and lawlike interactions, has within it no causal principle that could create objective morality.”
    “Morality is … not a physical relation”
    “Chance and law relations do not have it in their power to create obligatory or duty-related interactions.”

    I apologise if I’m ignorantly unaware of some framework to support this, but to me this doesn’t seem much more than mere assertion. You’ll have to elaborate for me to give it some credence – or for me to actually have something to be able to reply to (I’m sure you do have thorough reasons but its probably not efficient for me to guess them).

    Thank you for asking. It’s a good question. Part of the answer is in what you skipped in that quote.

    Morality is a relation between some sentient being and some other sentient or non-sentient object, but it’s not a physical relation, it’s a relation of obligation, duty, responsibility or some such.

    There is more, of course. The idea is that on naturalism, nothing exists but matter, energy, and their interactions through law (or lawlike interactions) and chance. If that’s the case, then there are no relationships between entities anywhere in the universe except for those that are of a kind that can be comprehensively explained in physical terms: interactions according to physical law or chance. Physical law is the sort of thing that makes particles (and their assemblages into bodies) do what they must do, with emphasis on must, for that is what “law” is about. Chance is the sort of thing that has no meaning whatsoever. Neither of them explains why an action could be other than it was, or why it has meaning that it was carried about in a certain way or not. Morality, on the other hand, has to do with the meanings of actions, which is just the kind of thing law-and-chance interactions cannot supply. It also has to do with non-physical (non-law-and-chance) relations of duty and obligation between entities; but on naturalism, the only relations between objects is that of law and chance.

    “You take it that “objective” means “mind-independent,” and I agree, except I would put it as “human mind-independent.” God could be (and is) the source of objective morality.”

    I agree with your point as you mean it, although I would be tempted not to change the definition (if only for consideration of other animal/other conceivable minds) ; naively from what I’ve followed in the rest of the discussion the source of morality as you put it is God’s nature rather than His “mind”?

    I don’t know how changing my definition of “objective” affects other kinds of minds, but that’s no big deal. I don’t see any necessary distinction between God’s nature and his mind, for purposes of this discussion. God is a unity, so his nature and his mind are in full mutual agreement.

    All I’ve been saying in this post has been to the effect that naturalism leads inescapably to subjectivism. I think a logical case against subjectivism could be made…

    I apologise if I’m misunderstanding, but this seems a little contradictory (does naturalism entail subjectivism or not?). Bar further justification (which I think you’ve hinted you do have), all you have presented so far is akin to “I don’t see an objective morality here”, and so any strict (rather than probabilistic) conclusion would require an argument from personal incredulity.

    You’re not misunderstanding if you see a contradiction; only if you think I accept the terms that lead to that contradiction. My point here is that (in effect) a logical case against subjectivism would function inescapably as a logical case against naturalism.

    I’m afraid I don’t see what you’re saying with the last sentence there. I’d be grateful if you would explain further.

    Again, to clarify, I don’t reject objective morality. Just out of interest though, are there any means other than God by which you would/could persuade such a person [not believing in objective morality] to accept their “human-ness”? And perhaps expand a little on what you mean by “human-ness”?

    I have no stake in persuading people to accept their humanness. That’s probably going to seem surprising to you in this context, but here’s what I mean. We all know that we are human. Our humanness (in this context) consists in our knowing that we are real rational creatures with real moral worth, who can perform acts of real moral significance. We know that we are conscious subjects with the ability to make decisions and act upon them; we are not automata. We know that love, meaning, and purpose are not illusions, and neither are suffering, angst, and pain.

    The only people who have trouble accepting that are those who think that they must accept a view of reality that has no room for it. Naturalism is one such view. It has no place for real morality, real worth, real consciousness, real free will, real meaning and purpose. So those who would reject their humanness are splitting themselves. They know that the next thing they do today is their decision, even while they claim there is no free will. They know that torturing babies for fun is really wrong, even while claiming a moral system that says otherwise. If, however, they agree that torturing babies for fun is really, objectively wrong, then they are splitting themselves on another dimension; for if they were to be consistent in following their naturalism they could not hold that it is really, objectively wrong.

    Does that help make sense of what I’m trying to say?

  150. Bill R.,

    Do you mind if I repost your argument in #152 as a main post, attributed to you, of course? I really like it.

    Tom

    Thanks! I would be honored.

    I’m still in the middle of packing/moving, so I may not be much help in responding to comments on the thread, but I have no objection to you posting it.

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