The Worldview Clash in the Marriage Debate

Continuing my series on Biblical and Secular Reasons for Man-Woman Marriage, I want to put it in context of the underlying worldview clash in the marriage debate. It is a background issue, rarely brought to the surface, hardly ever discussed, yet with intensely practical applications.

Marriage Is

This debate runs deep. It goes straight to the core of worldview. I’ll illustrate that with an example. The position most advocates for man-woman marriage take is that there is something that marriage is, and that something is stable and enduring. In more technical language, marriage is what marriage is by its very nature or essence. To propose same-sex “marriage” (SSM) is to propose that we call something “marriage” that just isn’t marriage at all — because that’s not what marriage is.

So for most SSM opponents, there is an is-ness, or essence or nature, that defines marriage.

That is-ness is defined or understood in one or both of two ways. The first that comes to most Christians’ minds is that God created marriage at the very beginning, he made it to be for man and woman, and he hasn’t changed it since then. Its nature was and continues to be defined by the God who made it what it is.

But it’s not necessary to believe in the Bible to come to the conclusion that marriage has an enduring man-woman essence. Human nature itself tells us that men and women were made for each other, and yet not only for each other but also for the production, nurturing, care, and instruction of the next generation.

… vs. Marriage Is Becoming

For many if not most SSM advocates, all this is nonsense. And it’s nonsense at a deeper level than most of us recognize.

It’s not just that we have the essence of marriage wrong, it’s that it’s wrong to suppose marriage essentially is anything at all. And just as our reasons are grounded in the very basis of our thinking, so do their reasons go all the way into the foundation of theirs.

It goes all the way back to where they believe we came from. The story of evolution is not one of is-ness but of perpetual becoming. No species is fixed, except for such a time as its environment encourages it to remain as it is. We live in a snapshot. Earlier snapshots would exhibit different species. Later snapshots will, too. Nothing is what it is for long, except as circumstances permit its staying that way.

Of course that rules out any reference to God’s view of marriage right from the start. It also undermines any stable, is-ness view of marriage based in human nature. What is human nature, after all? What, you’re giving yesterday’s answer? What relevance does that have to human nature today? Why think human nature is stuck where it was before? We’re all perpetually becoming something else!

Further: at this snapshot moment in a world of perpetual becoming, humans rule themselves and their institutions completely, with no transcendent reality to answer to. That makes our institutions almost infinitely malleable: and since the world is about perpetual becoming, there’s no reason not to let marriage become something new.

The Worldview Clash in the Marriage Debate

Do you see the worldview clash here? One reason we can’t agree on what marriage is, is because deep in our hearts we don’t agree on whether that’s the right question to start with.

Few people would verbalize it that way. I think few of us realize the strength with which these worldview currents carry us along toward our conclusions.

This helps explain why one side can view the other not just as wrong but as “bizarre.” It’s really, really hard to get into the opposing side’s mindset. It’s not just about the other persons’ view of marriage, it’s about their entire view of reality.

We hardly ever talk about it on this level. Until we do, not only will we fail to agree, we’ll fail to understand. We’ll even fail to understand why we fail to understand.

The Pastor/Teacher Perspective

Usually in these Tuesday Pastor/Teacher posts my goal is to give you something that’s really practical for you to use in your teaching ministry. This may not seem to be that way; it’s more  in the nature of behind-the-scenes philosophical thinking. But it’s actually very practical. One immediate application is in helping the people we teach be more able to understand what’s going on where others disagree. Rather than labeling it bizarre, we can get a sense of how it really does make sense from their perspective. (This is where it’s really helpful to listen before jumping in with our answers.)

Following this, we can try to get to the heart of the question rather than deal with it on the surface. For those of us who believe in God, we can see the marriage debate as just one more outworking of the great question of the ages: is there a God, and if so, what does he have to do with me? 

And even though it may look like this makes our side in the marriage debate purely “religious,” and therefore off-limits for public discussion (as some view it), it can actually open up new opportunities to discuss our position in public. I’ll come back to that next time.

Comments 176
  1. bigbird

    A clash of worldviews describes the situation well. I’ll be interested to see where you take it from here.

  2. Ordinaryseeker

    Tom, what do you think accounts for differences in worldview?

  3. CLB

    Thanks for taking us back up to the ten thousand foot level, Tom! Well-timed post.

  4. julius stone

    This is not just a ‘religious’ or ‘worldview’ issue: I always wonder why our scientists have been so silent on the fact that same-sex “marriage” simply doesn’t work, period?

  5. Tom Gilson

    Nothing is ever just religious or worldview-related; but worldview determines what we mean by whether marriage works, doesn’t it? A certain worldview supposes that for a marriage to “work,” what’s required is for the spouses to enjoy life together. Another worldview supposes that for a marriage to “work,” there’s more to it than the spouses’ mutual satisfaction.

    I agree with you that SSM doesn’t work, Julius, so I’m totally sympathetic with what you say here. We agree on what “works” means. But there’s always a worldview question lurking underneath.

  6. BillT

    “It’s not just that we have the essence of marriage wrong, it’s that it’s wrong to suppose marriage essentially is anything at all.”

    In fact, I think this is really where this whole thing is going and where the SSM proponents really want it to go. They want marriage to go away completely. They want marriage, as we know it, to cease to exist. That’s the ultimate goal. To extend their nihilism to all parts of society.

  7. Stephen

    In fact, I think this is really where this whole thing is going and where the SSM proponents really want it to go. They want marriage to go away completely.

    I think this is obviously wrong, why are gays and lesbians fighting so hard to be able to be married?

    As for myself, I have had the thought that it would be best to give the word “marriage” to Christians, let that be what happens in a Church and what carries all of the meaning that they want it to carry. But a legal union would be something like a civil union. Let the civil union carry all of the non-spiritual, e.g., social, government, taxation, rights to visit in hospitals, inheritance, whatever, and let the thing that happens in a church carry all of the symbolic value that some want to drop on top of that. Let them have a “true” marriage while everybody gets what makes a difference. But it seems that even with the pro-ssm, the symbolic value of “marriage” still carries a ton of weight.

  8. Stephen

    Now that this underlying issue is the topic instead of the presuppositions at work on the topic, the debate can turn to the benefits of one orientation over the other. But, even there, practical “benefits” may not weigh heavily on the transcendental folks. It isn’t practical matters that matter, it is what is “true” and that may be very impractical and painful. Still, if we are going to try to persuade, what else can we do but try.
    The critical issue in this choice, to me, has to do with living together. When the topical debates turn on what is “true” (whether it be religion or political ideology (Hitler, Stalin, etc), we get into that incommensurable arguing (because there is no way to convince another of what is “true” – philosophers and theologians have been trying unsuccessfully for 2500 year or more). In the transcendental view, trying to bring people together on social issues has the very same lack of movement that we see in the world of religion, even among the same general religion – Islam or Christianity, we see the infighting and the lack of genuine working through issues. People get entrenched in their position because how can you compromise on what you “know” to be “true”? We see how this mindset, as it has crept into our government in recent years and has brought the government to a screeching halt. We have centuries of experience that is being sidelined, experience that for some centuries moved us away from the incommensurability of a transcendental view (western lockian/jeffersonian liberal democracy), but now we seem bent on returning to it and the all of the trouble it wrought on society until Europe got sick of the religious wars. Does America and Islam both require decades of civil wars before they too are sick enough of religion and metaphysics to move on?
    What is the opposing argument – what is the benefit of the transcendental view? Just being “true” just doesn’t seem adequate, even if we could show that.

  9. Melissa

    Yes, let’s not worry about what is right, what is good, what is true, it’s all too hard, let’s just do what is easy and what feels good.

  10. Stephen

    Yes, let’s not worry about what is right, what is good, what is true, it’s all too hard, let’s just do what is easy and what feels good.

    “easy and what feels good” is a cheap move and makes me wonder if you can follow the point. Are you out of “good” arguments?
    Well, lets not worry about these things in a metaphysical sense if it is as futile and incommensurable a project as it has been forever.. It’s not that we aren’t concerned with what is “right”, “good” or “true”, its how we think of them, as you surely can make out in my post.

    Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again hoping for a different result. (or something like that).

  11. Tom Gilson

    If the government gives up on marriage, Stephen, then it gives up its interest in future generations. Is that what we want to say as a society?

  12. Tom Gilson

    Stephen, where did you get this dichotomy from?

    But, even there, practical “benefits” may not weigh heavily on the transcendental folks. It isn’t practical matters that matter, it is what is “true” and that may be very impractical and painful.

    From my perspective, if it’s true it’s good, because I am convinced that’s the way the world was made to be.

    Marriage is a distinct human good that needs preserving. SSM will undermine it. While it may be pleasant in the short run for a few, in the long run it will be painful for many, many more, just because it’s not a true expression of what makes for true human flourishing.

    Note, by the way, that I do not use scare quotes around true. I do not think if it’s “true” it’s good; I think if it’s true it’s good.

  13. Tom Gilson

    The critical issue in this choice, to me, has to do with living together. When the topical debates turn on what is “true” (whether it be religion or political ideology (Hitler, Stalin, etc), we get into that incommensurable arguing (because there is no way to convince another of what is “true” – philosophers and theologians have been trying unsuccessfully for 2500 year or more).

    Fine. Then let’s live together. How shall we do it: your way or mine?

    That’s a tough one. How would we decide? I can only think of two options. Either we work together to try to find the truth that’s bigger than either of us, or find out whether I’m bigger than you or you’re bigger than me, and we go with whatever the bigger person says.

    Either right makes right or might makes right.

    And don’t fool yourself into thinking that the democratic process relieves any of that. If it’s not the common pursuit of what’s right, then it’s the adversarial pursuit of victory, to be claimed by whoever uses their power more effectively.

  14. Brap Gronk

    “at this snapshot moment in a world of perpetual becoming, humans rule themselves and their institutions completely, with no transcendent reality to answer to. That makes our institutions almost infinitely malleable”

    Even in a theocracy, wouldn’t our institutions be quite malleable by human interpretations of God’s word?

  15. BillT

    d,

    You can facepalm all you like but the reality is that SSM is a tearing down of marriage. It’s not a redefining of marriage it is an un-defining of marriage. It turns marriage into something that’s not just different but something that’s less. And once that un-defining has begun there is nothing, not legally, not ethically, not intellectually to stop it.

    And if you are objecting to my opinion that this is nothing but growing nihilism, of course, that is what I would expect. However, it is the logical manifestation of your own belief. For to deny the existence of God is to embrace a worldview that denies our humanity, our value and our hope. If that doesn’t sound like nihilism to you, you’d be the only one.

  16. JAD

    Notice the bait and switch that the proponents of SSM must employ here. First to have same sex marriage accepted as equivalent to traditional marriage, they must convince everyone that same sex marriage is a human right; but from their worldview there is nothing transcendent to which to ground human rights. How am I morally obligated to respect SSM if it is not really a human right, and it’s just something somebody else just recently made up? Does simply claiming something is a right make it one?

  17. Stephen

    but from their worldview there is nothing transcendent to which to ground human rights. How am I morally obligated to respect SSM if it is not really a human right, and it’s just something somebody else just recently made up? Does simply claiming something is a right make it one?

    The need for metaphysical comfort is running high here. The challenge is to imagine that this need to “ground” your position or for others to, is just something deeply ingrained in our culture. Something not only unnecessary, but possibly causing a lot of trouble. What if there really isn’t some non-human, ahistorical footing for our beliefs? What if there really is just us humans on a tiny planet buried in a vast cosmos, doing our best to cope with our environment and find a little solidarity? What benefit would that shift in perspective bring you? Right now, perhaps a vastly improved attitude toward others that are different to you.

  18. Tom Gilson

    What benefit would that shift bring us?

    See #15. When truth is ousted, only might makes right. There is no real morality, only victory of the powerful. It’s a chilling, horrifying, and thankfully false vision of reality.

    And deep incoherence besides. For example, based on your closing sentence, why don’t you improve your attitude towards JAD? Why don’t you agree that his position is correct?

  19. Stephen

    See #15. When truth is ousted, only might makes right.

    How so?

    See #15. When truth is ousted, only might makes right. There is no real morality, only victory of the powerful. It’s a chilling, horrifying, and thankfully false vision of reality.

    The energy, motivation, and commitment to fight is escalated by the confidence that comes from our truth orientations. When we think we are in touch with final, absolute truths, and that in violating those truths, the consequence relate to things like sanctity, rightousness, redemption, our fate in the after life, etc, the stakes are very high, we get into our greatest conflicts.

    Your vision of the way human beings would behave without a God/Truth derives from your belief that the bible and Christian belief is the cause of good behavior, that without it, we resort to behaving like cruel brutes. But that is circular and self supporting. Secular liberalism (to name one alternative) has much to do with our sense of compassion for our fellow human being and our abhorrence of cruelty, just as the good that has come from Christian teachings such as charity. You probably just think that any “good” said to come from some other space REALLY comes from Christianity and so your beliefs are untouchable.

    See #15. When truth is ousted, only might makes right. There is no real morality

    Actually when obedience to an authority is what we are called to do, there is no real morality. How are we moral by simply obeying commands? Morality requires moral agency – were WE are the arbiters of what is right.

  20. Tom Gilson

    How so? Because if there’s no truth, then there’s nothing left but might to make “right.”

    My vision of the way humans would behave without a God/Truth is based on that very real fact, not on circularity. Your beliefs about my vision are based on false conjecture, not on what I’ve written.

    That’s called stereotyping, by the way.

    Morality does require moral agency, of course. It does not require that we be the arbiters of what is right, only that some sufficient entity be that arbiter.

    To reduce moral behavior to “simply obeying commands,” however, is to misunderstand the place of God in the world. He is no mere command-giver. He is the creator of all that there is; the fundamental good; the exemplar of all that is right; the good God who designed us to experience good by living in accord with all that is good.

    Now as I write this I hear a false objection echoing in my head from all the other times it’s been said: “How do you know this about God? That’s just your assumption/circular reasoning/convenient belief/etc.”

    I could answer that in multiple ways, but here’s the important one to start with. You made your own assumption about theistic morality: that it’s “simply obeying commands.” I’m explaining to you that no thinking theist thinks views morality in that way, so when you object to that view of morality, fine, so do I.

    I hope that makes sense. If you’re going to respond to theistic morality, either positively or negatively, it serves you well to respond to a version of it that theists actually hold.

  21. BillT

    “What if there really is just us humans on a tiny planet buried in a vast cosmos, doing our best to cope with our environment and find a little solidarity?”

    The basic question for you Stephen, given the above worldview, is what is “best” and why should we bother to do it?

  22. Melissa

    Stephen,

    . It’s not that we aren’t concerned with what is “right”, “good” or “true”, its how we think of them, as you surely can make out in my post.

    Yes, I realise that within your worldview “right”, “good” and “true” are devoid of content and reduced to weapons employed in rhetoric to impose your preferences on others.

  23. Stephen

    How so? Because if there’s no truth, then there’s nothing left but might to make “right.”

    You call that an argument?

  24. Stephen

    My vision of the way humans would behave without a God/Truth is based on that very real fact, not on circularity. Your beliefs about my vision are based on false conjecture, not on what I’ve written.

    That’s called stereotyping, by the way.

    I based it on what I’ve been reading on your blog. I didn’t see you even disagree with my statement. It is circular to say that people will behave poorly if not for the bible – I got that from the bible (then you cherry pick to rationize it and then say it is based on fact). We’d have to talk a lot about “fact” for you to make that a fact.

  25. Stephen

    @bill

    The basic question for you Stephen, given the above worldview, is what is “best” and why should we bother to do it?

    What is best will be what is deemed best by most, born of trial and error in the public discussion, what survives the test of time. However, we will often figure out something better, of course, and move on. (like we did in the enlightenment). There won’t be universal agreement on that, but we’ll just keep slogging through.

  26. Stephen

    Yes, I realise that within your worldview “right”, “good” and “true” are devoid of content and reduced to weapons employed in rhetoric to impose your preferences on others.

    A metaphysician might think that something void of metaphysics is therefore void of “content”. What I’m trying to point out is that the effort to conjure a final proof or even a knock down argument for anything that can be said to be true or right in an absolute sense of these terms, something that sits outside of history and human purposes, just has never been accomplished. You can hope that that day will come, or you can move on to meanings that don’t need the extra complement of being “true” or “right” in some absolute sense, and that don’t really make those ideas do better work for us, other than to give us a sort of comfort in not having to do any more work. But iwthout such a knockdown argument, all we have are people insisting on the truth of it.

  27. Tom Gilson

    Stephen, I’d be very interested to see you find the specific wording where you “based on what [you’ve] been reading on [my] blog.”

  28. Tom Gilson

    A metaphysician might think that something void of metaphysics is therefore void of “content”.

    In the unforgettable words of Fezzik, “I do not think that word means what you think it means.” What do you think metaphysics means, Stephen? Because a metaphysician would never think of anything as “void of metaphysics.”

  29. Stephen

    @tom, which part of this do you disagree with or don’t feel is at work in your blog

    Your vision of the way human beings would behave without a God/Truth derives from your belief that the bible and Christian belief is the cause of good behavior

  30. Tom Gilson

    All of it.

    The Bible and Christian belief are guides and motivators to good behavior. They are not the fount of morality, however. God is that source.

    Even the Bible says that the Bible is not essential to moral thinking (Romans 2:13-15).

    God gave us a moral sense when he created us, and that sense is active in all persons whether they recognize him as the source or not.

  31. Stephen

    Because a metaphysician would never think of anything as “void of metaphysics.”

    You misunderstand, read it again:

    A metaphysician might think that something void of metaphysics is therefore void of “content”.

    I won’t be clearing these things, I’ll be ignoring them.

  32. Tom Gilson

    So when I read you as referring to a metaphysician who might think of something void of metaphysics, that wasn’t what you meant when you spoke of a metaphysician who might think of something void of metaphysics?

    I’m confused.

  33. Tom Gilson

    Additional to what I wrote in #34:

    I have no vision at all of the way human beings would behave without a God (the God, actually).

    I have a good idea what it means for human beings to behave without belief in God, but that’s not the same as being without God completely. Either there is God, and we all behave with the reality of God, or there is no God, and we all behave without the reality of God. In the first case we all behave with God, and in the second case we all behave without a God.

    I have a vision for the former (with God) and no vision for the latter. I hope that answers your question more completely yet.

  34. Stephen

    @tom

    God gave us a moral sense when he created us, and that sense is active in all persons whether they recognize him as the source or not.

    I have a good idea what it means for human beings to behave without belief in God, but that’s not the same as being without God completely. Either there is God, and we all behave with the reality of God, or there is no God, and we all behave without the reality of God. In the first case we all behave with God, and in the second case we all behave without a God.

    Is there such a thing as good human behavior without the “the reality of God”? And how does evil happen if even without belief in God we still “behave with the reality of God”?

  35. Melissa

    Stephen,

    A metaphysician might think that something void of metaphysics is therefore void of “content”.

    As I said before I’m not a metaphysician unless by using that term you mean one who makes a metaphysical statement. If that is the case then you too are one, although I think it is misleading to apply it to people who have no qualifications in the subject. I suggest you have a look at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy at the entry on metaphysics.

    I will expand on my statement to make the meaning clearer:

    Yes, I realise that within your worldview “right”, “good” and “true” are devoid of the content normally associated with the words (for instance that true refers to a proposition that corresponds to reality) and reduced to weapons employed in rhetoric to impose your preferences on others.

  36. Tom Gilson

    Stephen, you ask,

    Is there such a thing as good human behavior without the “the reality of God”? And how does evil happen if even without belief in God we still “behave with the reality of God”?

    You asked for my view, and I asked you not to stereotype: not to assume that you knew it without asking first. So here it is. There is no human behavior at all without the reality of God. There is no universe without the reality of God. God is being itself; there is no being without the reality of God.

    How does evil happen? That’s a very long discussion, but it starts with humans freely choosing not to do what is right.

  37. BillT

    “What is best will be what is deemed best by most…”

    Why should I care about “what is deemed best by most”? What moral authority do “most” have over me? I follow my own moral authority concerning what is “best”. Can you explain to me why I shouldn’t?

  38. Stephen

    Bill, I believe your original comment was “what is ‘best’ regarding this comment by me:

    doing our best to cope with our environment and find a little solidarity?

    and I replied:

    “What is best will be what is deemed best by most…”

    And then you:

    Why should I care about “what is deemed best by most”? What moral authority do “most” have over me? I follow my own moral authority concerning what is “best”. Can you explain to me why I shouldn’t?

    Of course when it comes to our personal lives, where society doesn’t have laws, you are right. But that almost goes without saying. The tough part is when it comes to finding agreement over how we live together in a society. One argument being presented here is the transcental view that we discover with “right” thing to do and this is established outside of humanity. My comment applies to the OTHER side of the argument, were we don’t have something of non-human origin to discover. So “best” is a substitute for “right” but I could use “right” and just define it with no metaphysics, no absolutes, just what a society does to establish laws as western democracies have been doing.

  39. Melissa

    Stephen,

    “right” and just define it with no metaphysics, no absolutes, just what a society does to establish laws as western democracies have been doing.

    I think it would help us all if you would define what you mean by best when you use it.

  40. BillT

    Stephen,

    Now you’re conflating laws with morality. They are not the same thing. Laws change with the regime that passes them. Auschwitz was legal. When you say “best” you infer a morality. On what basis you infer it? As Melissa asked: “I think it would help us all if you would define what you mean by best when you use it.”

  41. Stephen

    @bill

    Now you’re conflating laws with morality. They are not the same thing. Laws change with the regime that passes them. Auschwitz was legal. When you say “best” you infer a morality.

    When we sit down and define just what we want to be law, we bring our personal moral code to the table. The stuff that everybody agrees should not be permissible in our society is the easy stuff that becomes law.

    Laws change with the regime that passes them.

    So does our morality. But here we see the world view gap. You are making an appeal to something that stands outside history, outside of human purposes, something that doesn’t change. That is metaphysics. That is the urge to have your morality grounded in timelessness. It’s comforting.

  42. Tom Gilson

    So if Saudi-style Islam conquers the entire world and all women must remain indoors, are forbidden to drive, and so on, and if everybody agrees on it, that would be an acceptable moral code?

    Oh, and would you please look up “metaphysics” in the dictionary? Your disagreement with the transcendent appeal is also rooted in metaphysics.

    Oh, and one last thing: is it comforting, I wonder, to patronize others’ views as “comforting”?

  43. Stephen

    So when I read you as referring to a metaphysician who might think of something void of metaphysics, that wasn’t what you meant when you spoke of a metaphysician who might think of something void of metaphysics?

    I’m confused.

    Read what I was responding to: what Melissa said.

  44. Stephen

    So if Saudi-style Islam conquers the entire world and all women must remain indoors, are forbidden to drive, and so on, and if everybody agrees on it, that would be an acceptable moral code?

    You and I might not like it or agree with it, but that would be the moral code of the day. And I would try to change them on those issues just like I’m trying to change you on the SSM issue.

  45. Tom Gilson

    You could phrase that a bit less imperiously, you know.

    I’ve read what she wrote. You still don’t get the critique I was making. No one who studies, knows, or researches metaphysics has ever conceived of anything being “void of metaphysics.” What you’re demonstrating again is that you don’t know what the word means.

  46. Tom Gilson

    Thank you for #48: your admission that there is nothing for you to resort to from your worldview position but to try to change other people. You have no reasoned basis for it, you only have an exercise of rhetorical power. Morality belongs to the winners. Might makes right.

    There was a time when that conclusion brought chills up reasonable persons’ spines. Do you realize that’s what you’re promoting, or do you not realize it?

  47. Stephen

    Was it moral for the Hebrews to kill all of Canaanites? Is it timeless morality? Just as right a thing to do today as then (of course under the same conditions: God has command it)?
    Was it moral then but not now? What if someone in the Hebrew crowd refused to participate, just walked away, would that person be showing moral fortitude?
    (Deut. 7.1-2; 20.16-18).

  48. Stephen

    Oh, and would you please look up “metaphysics” in the dictionary? Your disagreement with the transcendent appeal is also rooted in metaphysics.

    Show me. Like I said in the other forum

    It has become a sort of therapy for me to try to spot metaphysics at work befuddling me. I’m not beyond it for sure, but I’m working on it.

  49. bigbird

    That is the urge to have your morality grounded in timelessness. It’s comforting.

    You are right that it is comforting. Anything else is scary.

  50. Melissa

    Stephen,

    It has become a sort of therapy for me to try to spot metaphysics at work befuddling me. I’m not beyond it for sure, but I’m working on it.

    Then the sensible thing to do would be to and educate yourself rather rather than engaging in behaviour that is the equivalent of sticking for fingers in your ears and singing “la la la.”

  51. BillT

    So Stephen, essentially what you are saying is that there is no morality. No right or wrong, no good or evil. It’s just whoever gets to write the laws. And if that’s so why “would try to change them on those issues just like I’m trying to change you on the SSM issue.” On what basis would you decide those laws need changing.

    And where did your “doing our best” go? Just give up on it? Too hard a question? If not, why don’t you answer it. What is “doing our best”?

  52. Stephen

    I think you can find a dictionary without my showing you, Stephen.

    TOm, please tell me how I can help communiticate with you. In what way, specifically, does my use of “metaphysical” not matching your interpretation of the dictionary definition you are looking at? What word do you think would work better? I can say that if you substitute “transcendental” you be fine. That is my attempt to bridge the paradigm gap on topic.

  53. Stephen

    And where did your “doing our best” go? Just give up on it? Too hard a question? If not, why don’t you answer it. What is “doing our best”?

    Where did I fail to respond to you. In what what has what I said above not a sufficient response?

    So Stephen, essentially what you are saying is that there is no morality. No right or wrong, no good or evil.

    My point, in keeping with the blog topic, is NOT there is NO “morality”, no “right” or “wrong”. It is that, it works better if we don’t think of there being an absolute final foundation when we use these terms. That the ideas we apply these terms to are not “out there” for us to discover the “true nature” of.

    And if that’s so why “would try to change them on those issues just like I’m trying to change you on the SSM issue.”

    The idea is to drop the notion that we discover and replace it with humans in conversation doing their “best” to reach agreement and doing their “best” to be tolerant of our differences (“best” would hopefully include non-violence).

    On what basis would you decide those laws need changing.

    On the basis of everything I have read, experienced and talked about with others, the arguments that have been made and the contemplating I have done over those things.

  54. Tom Gilson

    A-ha! Your morality is “to reach agreement and to be tolerant of our differences, non-violently.”

    So what makes that “best”? This is what you haven’t answered.

    Why should agreement be important? You make think that’s too obvious to bother addressing, but it isn’t. What about non-violent disagreement? What about mutually respectful disagreement? What’s wrong with that?

    And tolerance needs defining. Do you mean, we should not count our own sense of “truth” as better or higher than others’? That’s a fairly common usage of tolerance today. Or something else? There are many other definitions out there. Some are better than others. So I’m wondering what you have in mind.

  55. BillT

    Ok Stephen, now you’ve addressed the question I asked. So, “doing their best” to you is to “reach agreement ” and to “be tolerant” and would include “non-violence” My question to you is: “Sez who?”

    To me doing “(my) best” is to get what I want whether anyone agrees with me or not, to tolerate no one that doesn’t get me what I want and to get what I want in any way I can, violence included.

    Is your “best” any better than my “best”? Mine has the advantage of being what many successful people have used to gain what they want. It’s certainly well tested as a methodology for getting what I want. Is there anything you can say to me that would convince me that my method and idea of what is best is wrong or yours preferable in any way.

  56. Stephen

    A-ha! Your morality is “to reach agreement and to be tolerant of our differences, non-violently.”

    Well, did get the idea that I don’t believe in the idea of morality? You seem to be expressing a Gotcha. I just don’t agree that we can find transcendental grounding for our morality. I just think it is better than reaching no agreement at all, becoming intolerant to the point of violence. And I see these as important to our being able to live together a build a durable society together.

    So what makes that “best”? This is what you haven’t answered.

    I have made attempts to give an answer to this question many times above. I think what is actually going on is that my interlocutors are hoping to pin me down to a fixed transcendental truth and think they have me there on that one. The problem is that my answer falls out on the other side of the “clash” where it is not an answer at all to someone on the transcendental side of the clash. I will do my best to avoid the metaphysical habit and try to NOT give you an answer that will satisfy the metaphysical/transcendental expectations of a person on the transcendental side of the “clash”. Note that when I have said “best” I have said “doing our best” where “best” is just what we commonly mean when we want to solve a problem. It refers to the action we take without reference to metaphysical essence known as “best”.

  57. Stephen

    @bill

    Ok Stephen, now you’ve addressed the question I asked. So, “doing their best” to you is to “reach agreement ” and to “be tolerant” and would include “non-violence” My question to you is: “Sez who?”

    Well, you are confusing the example where “best” was used with what I mean by “best” or “doing our best” GENERALLY. See previous note on the content of that quote.

    To me doing “(my) best” is to get what I want whether anyone agrees with me or not, to tolerate no one that doesn’t get me what I want and to get what I want in any way I can, violence included.

    And you probably won’t get invited to next year’s conference on how to live together peacefully. Or you’ll get arrested, hopefully, for the violence. What do you hope to accomplish by this thought experiment, that I will be shaken by the prospect of disagreement? Is it your expectation that unless we are on track for universal agreement then we have no track? But that is just expressing the built-in assumptions of the transcendentalist, that once everybody SEEs the “truth” we will have universal agreement.

    Is there anything you can say to me that would convince me that my method and idea of what is best is wrong or yours preferable in any way.

    If you mean is there something I could say to you that would be grounded in a way that anybody would be forced to agree by the power of its universal appeal – something that will cut across everybody’s values and desires and ring absolutely true? No.

  58. SteveK

    Regarding “the best action we can take”, it sounds like you are describing a process that you, Stephen, could point to and say “that’s it”. How is this not your attempt to state an objective fact about the actions of people?

  59. Melissa

    Stephen,

    I have made attempts to give an answer to this question many times above. I think what is actually going on is that my interlocutors are hoping to pin me down to a fixed transcendental truth and think they have me there on that one. The problem is that my answer falls out on the other side of the “clash” where it is not an answer at all to someone on the transcendental side of the clash.

    You are right that we are sitting on opposite sides of a chasm but wrong about the difference that is causing the problems of communication. You see our assumption is that the primary purpose of discussion and debate is to seek together to correctly align our beliefs and actions with reality (and no I’m not talking about some “ultimate” reality, just the ordinary garden variety kind). You on the other hand seem to assume (from what you’ve written) that the primary purpose of discussion and debate is to achieve agreement. Whether that agreement results in beliefs and actions that are aligned with any reality that exists outside our heads is largely irrelevant.

  60. Mr. X

    “And you probably won’t get invited to next year’s conference on how to live together peacefully. Or you’ll get arrested, hopefully, for the violence.”

    Is it just me, or does the moral relativist’s answer to moral disagreements always seem to boil down to “do this, or we’ll make you sorry”? What was that Tom was saying above about how abandoning the concept of transcendental truth inevitably leads to a might-makes-right system of morality?

    Anyway, Stephen, getting back to what you said above in re: trying to persuade people to accept gay marriage, what reasons can you give for accepting your arguments over somebody else’s? If there’s no such thing as a transcendental truth, why should anybody care about replacing one arbitrary societal norm with another, equally arbitrary, one?

  61. Stephen

    @SteveK

    Regarding “the best action we can take”, it sounds like you are describing a process that you, Stephen, could point to and say “that’s it”

    This just sounds to me like your metaphysical orientation at work. It sounds to me like you want “best” to REALLY be “right”. I would certainly have my favored outcome, but I would not be trying to convince everyone else on the basis that I had the “right” outcome in the transcendental sense: that I was in touch with the truly right path to take.

  62. Stephen

    Is it just me, or does the moral relativist’s answer to moral disagreements

    It’s not relativistic. I don’t think all societies (including their moral framework) are just as good a way to live as any other and I’m fine with criticizing them, etc. I want to tell them why I think changes would be beneficial. I prefer to live in a liberal, secular democracy, and I’m willing to criticize others, because I think it is better than many other systems. I’m just not going to tell you I can “prove” it or produce a foundational knock-down argument that shuts everyone else up.

    always seem to boil down to “do this, or we’ll make you sorry”?

    Huh?

    What was that Tom was saying above about how abandoning the concept of transcendental truth inevitably leads to a might-makes-right system of morality?

    I think this is a silly either-or and complete fiction, see my other response to this #22, and related #9. And you may want to consider this:

  63. JAD

    Is Stephen’s world view representative of others who support same sex marriage? If it is, his honesty about his moral beliefs has completely undermined their argument. For example @#20 (in response to my post @ #19) he wrote:

    The need for metaphysical comfort is running high here. The challenge is to imagine that this need to “ground” your position or for others to, is just something deeply ingrained in our culture.

    Stephen missed the point completely here. My personal metaphysical thinking (comfort) is really quite secondary. The truly pertinent point is that without kind of meta ethical grounding for their beliefs, advocates of SSM have no right to obligate me or anyone else to support SSM. It is their burden of proof to demonstrate that SSM is human right that needs to be accepted universally. I am no more obligated to accept SSM than I am obligated to prefer chocolate over vanilla ice cream because someone else prefers chocolate.

    block Something not only unnecessary, but possibly causing a lot of trouble.

    Actually that’s what Stephen’s world view does. It reduces morality and human rights to the level of personal preferences. That’s not only a view that could cause a lot of trouble, it’s one that’s actually quite dangerous.

  64. SteveK

    Stephen,

    I would certainly have my favored outcome, but I would not be trying to convince everyone else on the basis that I had the “right” outcome in the transcendental sense: that I was in touch with the truly right path to take.

    Well then please stop talking about “right” in a way that comes across as you trying to convince everyone else that it actually is the right way. If you don’t think you are doing that, you are. I mean, seriously, who argues with another person and then says “I’m not arguing”?

  65. Stephen

    It reduces morality and human rights to the level of personal preferences

    This is not what I have said. I have been clear that morality gets worked out publicly. We watch this happening. And I’m saying it would best to not think that our morality is grounded in eternity for reasons stated in #9 and #22.

    It reduces morality and human rights to the level of personal preferences. That’s not only a view that could cause a lot of trouble, it’s one that’s actually quite dangerous.

    I’ll let this be my response:

  66. SteveK

    Stephen,

    I don’t think all societies (including their moral framework) are just as good a way to live as any other and I’m fine with criticizing them, etc.

    And stop using the term “think” in this context. You can’t reason your way to the conclusion “just as good” if it isn’t the result of rational thought. On the other hand, if it is the result of rational thought then you are wrong about some of your other statements. Take your pick as to which one it is, but don’t continue using sloppy and misleading language where it looks like you are trying to take both sides.

  67. Stephen

    And stop using the term “think” in this context.

    Uh oh, the word Nazis!

  68. Stephen

    sloppy and misleading language where it looks like you are trying to take both sides.

    Perfect demonstration of the “clash”
    Or maybe you, SteveK, just need to work a little harder.

  69. Tom Gilson

    I don’t know about anyone else, but I don’t watch 21 minute videos, transcribe them, and respond to their points in the course of a discussion like this one. It’s impossible to respond to what someone says on a video without writing it down, you must know, and I don’t have time for that. So Stephen, if you have a response in place of the videos, please give it. Otherwise, functionally you aren’t responding at all.

  70. Tom Gilson

    I’d like you to think about what you actually have said, too, Stephen. You have no transcendent backing for your ethical opinions; they are rooted only in human belief. Others have different beliefs, but you would try to change their beliefs, and you imply that you believe you’re justified in doing so.

    What is this but ethnocentric cultural imperialism? If it is not “the white man’s burden” that you are expressing, then it is the “secular liberal democrat’s burden.” You would try to impose your culturally contingent beliefs on others by sheer force of political power, just because you think your way is better than theirs, even though you have no standard by which anyone could compare one way to another — no standard except for your culturally contingent preferences.

    I think it stinks.

  71. Alex

    Stephen:

    I’ve watched the video – and while I’d have to think more deeply to clarify what I do/don’t agree with (for those with time I would say its worth listening to) – my first impression is that the explanation given seems plausible but not rigorously demonstrated, and somewhat vague and hand-wavy.

    I guess I would initially question:

    1) How do you know that the rational arguments that trigger norm cascades are good arguments? Especially given that the reason “the people” ultimately accept the norm is not the argument, but that “they get bored, get used to it, and favor the status quo”

    2) Given that the trigger of a norm cascade is (paraphrasing) “elites, influenced by rational arguments, defy popular opinion, push through norm” – surely this is exactly might-makes-right – where the elites are the ones who have that might?

  72. BillT

    I think this is pretty much done. Stephen’s “best” is what he prefers and he really doesn’t offer any reason why what he prefers is better than what anyone else prefers. We all pretty much knew that. To wit:

    “…I have said “doing our best” where “best” is just what we commonly mean when we want to solve a problem.”

    But on what basis we “should solve the problem” The common good, my political party’s good, my personal good, my dog’s personal good? It’s all the same to Stephen. Oh, he’ll say it isn’t and that he believes “…morality gets worked out publicly.” But we’ve all seen the morality gets worked out publicly. The Gulags, Auschwitz, the Cultural Revolution, The Killing Fields. Good stuff.

  73. BillT

    Stephen.

    Maybe I’m not being fair here. I haven’t offered up any competing vision to contrast with yours. Where I believe our two views differ is in one critical aspect. You want what is “good”. You want what is “best”. However, you can’t establish why we should do that because you can’t establish the basic worth of humanity. If all we are is the end result of some fortuitous evolutionary chain then we are no more valuable than the ant you unknowingly squashed on your last walk outside.

    Only if we are created beings, created in the image of a creator God do we have intrinsic value. Any true worth. Without it, “good” becomes a meaningless relativistic descriptor. Without it “best” becomes whatever I want it to be. Grounded in nothing but my own self interest. Everything you want, everything you have described is based on humanity having a transcendent worth that you have no ability to explain.

  74. Mr. X

    Stephen:

    “It’s not relativistic.”

    If that’s the case, it’s only because you’re not applying your professed beliefs consistently.

    “Huh?”

    Just an observation that, when asked “What if somebody happens to disagree with your arbitrary societal preferences?”, the answer inevitably ends up being “Arrest them”. Which isn’t surprising, since you’ve left yourself no rational way of convincing people that liberal democracy is actually the best type of society.

  75. JAD

    Where have the “usual suspects” all gone? I’m wondering what Keith, d, sault and Ingles all think. Do they agree or disagree with Stephen?

  76. SteveK

    If, as Pinker suggests in the video that Stephen linked to, there are rational arguments for moral duties, then the premises used in those arguments must be indisputable facts – whether we agree or not. How can a logical argument progress from a series of indisputable facts to moral duty? The only way I know that it can is if the moral duty is one of the indisputable facts used in the argument itself.

    If humans created the concept of moral duty, and if that moral duty is an indisputable fact, then how is it possible for humans (however you want to group them) to be wrong about the concept of moral duty? Logically speaking, they cannot. But humans HAVE been wrong about the concept of moral duty, and it’s logically possible for the entire population to be wrong about some moral duty in the future.

    So there’s a logical contradiction at work here

  77. Stephen

    If it is not “the white man’s burden” that you are expressing, then it is the “secular liberal democrat’s burden.” You would try to impose your culturally contingent beliefs on others by sheer force of political power

    Hyperbole and exaggeration. I may start ignoring your comments, there are some thoughtful responses to tend to.

    It is ethnocentric, yes, but only in the trivial sense of thinking one way of life is better than another. But I have been extremely clear to say that persuasion is the means to change.

  78. Stephen

    If, as Pinker suggests in the video that Stephen linked to, there are rational arguments for moral duties, then the premises used in those arguments must be indisputable facts.

    That is the transcendentalist’s assumption. What about those on the other side of the fence for whom “indisputable fact” is a fiction?

  79. SteveK

    That is the transcendentalist’s assumption. What about those on the other side of the fence for whom “indisputable fact” is a fiction?

    Then there are no moral duties! Thank you for clearing that up, Stephen.

  80. Stephen

    “What if somebody happens to disagree with your arbitrary societal preferences?”, the answer inevitably ends up being “Arrest them”.

    More hyperpole and exaggeration. You guys are really doing your best to deflect the strong charge of intolerance through religious dogma. Such a charge belongs to inflexible ideologists, a charge that religious fundamentalist have to contend with. I have been clear that persuasion is the means to create change.

  81. SteveK

    I have been clear that persuasion is the means to create change.

    The only tools you have is various emotional persuasions since indisputable fact is a fiction. Nice.

  82. Stephen

    @Alex

    1) How do you know that the rational arguments that trigger norm cascades are good arguments? Especially given that the reason “the people” ultimately accept the norm is not the argument, but that “they get bored, get used to it, and favor the status quo”

    Good questions. One thing I would say in response to this is that this is observation, they are describing what seems to be going on, e.g. they way a society changes beliefs. They aren’t saying that anything is based on knock down arguments or indisputable facts, and good arguments could (or will) come along and change it, just as it was these arguments that changed something before it. Apparently, this is how it has gone for as long as humans have been able to use symbols, and how it will go indefinitely into the future.

  83. Stephen

    surely this is exactly might-makes-right – where the elites are the ones who have that might?

    I think you are changing the literal meaning of “might” that Tom originally used, to a metaphorical use of might as in persuation. It is change through persuation, NOT force that is important and the critical distinction that others here haven’t been able to grasp.

  84. Stephen

    @bill

    Where I believe our two views differ is in one critical aspect. You want what is “good”. You want what is “best”. However, you can’t establish why we should do that because you can’t establish the basic worth of humanity.

    This is a product of our metaphysical habit. We are conditioned to think that our beliefs need to be anchored to something outside culture and history, something that is true in all contexts.

    I would change your characterizations of what I want to: I want what I think is good. I want what I think is best (hopefully the word Nazis will miss this). This elliminates the reification of these terms, it makes them subjective, rather than objective and that is the key to steering me away from the charge of use of physical force: it is when we think our truths are objectively grounded that we are stirred up with confidence to justify the kinds of dastardly and “dangerous” acts suggested above with regard to my position.

  85. Alex

    Stephen:
    ” It is change through persuation, NOT force that is important and the critical distinction that others here haven’t been able to grasp.”

    I think it is important to note the distinction between change in the elites’ views, and change in the public’s views (according to the model at least).

    While the change in the elite’s views may be down to genuinely good reasoning among the elites, it is still changed among the public by force (in some sense – socially rather than say through direct intimidation). Perhaps there is a better word to describe the change, but the change of view of the public (according to the model) is certainly not due to persuasion.

    The worrying corollary of this is that the public will adopt the view of whatever is imposed on them, so if the elites decide to “push through” some other norm there seems to be no reason the public will not pick it up.

    As such it does seem to reduce to the “might”, or preferences, of the elites. While they might happen to prefer choosing norms to impose by rational argument, if they decided otherwise (say by an elite cabal preferring to impose norms that only suited their interests), it seems the public would similarly adopt what the elites want them to.

    All the above assuming the model is in fact correct of course.

  86. BillT

    So I said “You want what is “good”. You want what is “best”.

    You “changed” it to “I want what I think is good. I want what I think is best.”

    Which, of course, bolsters the very point I made which is that your “good” and “best” are nothing but your untethered subjective opinion. Then you quite brazenly claim that it’s not this but objectivity that leads to the “dangerous” acts suggested above”. But this is a lie.

    The Gulags, Auschwitz, the Cultural Revolution, The Killing Fields all were the result of atheistic regimes who’s subjective valuation of life allowed them the freedom to murder those that opposed them. For you to claim the opposite should get you credit for sheer chutzpah if little else.

  87. Tom Gilson

    Stephen, you wrote,

    Hyperbole and exaggeration. I may start ignoring your comments, there are some thoughtful responses to tend to.

    It is ethnocentric, yes, but only in the trivial sense of thinking one way of life is better than another. But I have been extremely clear to say that persuasion is the means to change.

    What’s trivial about thinking your way of life is better than another and using persuasion to try to cause them to change? (

    Oh, and by the way, when I said “political power,” that was no hyperbole, no exaggeration, for political power and persuasion are virtually the same thing, in context of your position.

    Here’s why. Based on your position, there is no such thing as persuading another culture that your way is better than theirs. Your way isn’t better than theirs. It couldn’t be. The only way ethical system x could be better than ethical system y would be for x to be closer to some standard that stands above both x and y. But you deny that such a thing exists.

    So on what basis would you try to persuade the adherents of y that they should switch to your x? You can’t say x is better than y. You won’t get anywhere persuasively by saying, “We who adhere to x think x is better than y,” because the obvious answer would be, “we who adhere to y think y is better than x.”

    You have no reason to support x over y; you only have your cultural preference, while they have theirs.

    So in that case, what does persuasion mean? It doesn’t mean offering reasons for them to think x is better than y. Reasons are excluded; there is no rational basis for preferring either.

    And yet you would try to persuade anyway. You have no rational means of persuasion available to you. That leaves you with either non-rational rhetorical means (typical of politics, which is why I used that term), or else even more blatant uses of power.

    Now, if you think there’s nothing thoughtful in this, then you aren’t thinking well. You aren’t facing up to the full implications of your position; you’re not thinking it through all the way.

    It is no harm to me if you ignore that. It doesn’t do you much good, though, if you fail to think through your own beliefs.

  88. Tom Gilson

    Let me juxtapose several of your statements, Stephen.

    When we sit down and define just what we want to be law, we bring our personal moral code to the table. The stuff that everybody agrees should not be permissible in our society is the easy stuff that becomes law….

    You and I might not like it or agree with it, but that would be the moral code of the day. And I would try to change them on those issues just like I’m trying to change you on the SSM issue….

    Note that when I have said “best” I have said “doing our best” where “best” is just what we commonly mean when we want to solve a problem….

    And you probably won’t get invited to next year’s conference on how to live together peacefully. Or you’ll get arrested, hopefully, for the violence….

    If you mean is there something I could say to you that would be grounded in a way that anybody would be forced to agree by the power of its universal appeal – something that will cut across everybody’s values and desires and ring absolutely true? No….

    I would certainly have my favored outcome, but I would not be trying to convince everyone else on the basis that I had the “right” outcome in the transcendental sense: that I was in touch with the truly right path to take….

    I want what I think is good….

    I have been clear that persuasion is the means to create change….

    But I have been extremely clear to say that persuasion is the means to change….

    It is change through persuation, NOT force that is important and the critical distinction that others here haven’t been able to grasp….

    I think this is a fair selection, not quote-mining. You believe in the use of persuasion to change others’ minds, for example on SSM. You refer to the idea of what is “best, where ‘best’ is just what we commonly mean when we want to solve a problem.” But which problem? SSM advocates think there is a problem in gays not being able to marry, but I don’t. You can’t even get started down the path toward solving a problem together, without agreement on whether there is a problem, and agreement on what that problem might be.

    And yet you want to persuade me. Persuasion is the “means to change.” It’s persuasion, not force. You think we have not been able to grasp that. But what you have not been able to grasp so far is that ethical persuasion is either (a) an appeal to something that is greater than both the persuader and the persuadee, something they agree on fundamentally in the nature of things that transcends them both; or (b) the application of rhetorical power to cause the persuadee to change his or her mind for no rational reason.

    For example, you say, “I want what I think is good.” You must assume that we also want what we think is good. Shall we be persuaded by what you think is good? Not for any rational reason. You say you wouldn’t be trying to convince us to adopt your position because it was right, after all; and that you have nothing to offer that others would be [rationally] forced to accept on universal grounds.

    But suppose you succeeded in persuading us to drop what we think is good, for no rational reason (as I’ve already shown), and to want what you think is good. Why would we do that except by the force of your rhetorical skill — which is a form of power — non-violent power, to be sure, but power nonetheless. For example, as has already been noted, consider the power to exclude/shun/make outcasts of people who disagree (“you won’t be invited to next year’s conference”): it is rightly regarded as the wielding of power.

    Note for a further example your repeated use of the term “word Nazis.” There is nothing there but rhetoric. You are not crafting any kind of reasoned argument with it. You are not demonstrating thereby that anyone has misused terminology. You are simply loading up a term with rhetorical power and lobbing it in with the hopes that it will scare people off. That’s power in action, not reason.

    Again, I caution you not to confuse power with physical coercion or violence. Power can be applied non-violently. It happens all the time.

    This is what you have not been able to grasp. This is what you really need to think through carefully.

  89. Tom Gilson

    Some other instances of your attempted use of rhetorical power rather than any appeal to what is really right or really true:

    The need for metaphysical comfort is running high here…. That is the urge to have your morality grounded in timelessness. It’s comforting….

    This is patronizing.

    You call that an argument?

    This is mockery, not argument.

    I won’t be clearing these things, I’ll be ignoring them…. I may start ignoring your comments, there are some thoughtful responses to tend to.

    This is patronizing and mockery.

    Uh oh, the word Nazis!… (hopefully the word Nazis will miss this).

    This is the rhetoric of loaded language.

    Or maybe you, SteveK, just need to work a little harder.

    This is patronizing again.

    You guys are really doing your best to deflect the strong charge of intolerance through religious dogma. Such a charge belongs to inflexible ideologists, a charge that religious fundamentalist have to contend with.

    This has no relation to the preceding argument: for the position we’ve been putting forward here has not been “religious.” Most of what we’ve been doing has been simply trying to get you to think through the full non-religious implications of your non-religious position. So this was just a series of loaded terms, a two-sentence barrage from a rhetorical Gatling gun.

    This is how you have employed power in this debate without reference either to what is known to be true or what employs logical reasoning.

    I’m not against the use of rhetorical power in the service of something bigger than us. It’s when someone tries to use power on me to bring me around to his opinion, which is no “bigger” in that sense than my opinion, that I’m inclined to call him on it.

  90. Stephen

    This is patronizing.

    You call that an argument?

    It wasn’t intended as an argument. Keep in mind the paradox of “arguing accross the “clash”. There is a paradigm difference that makes it difficult to impossible because there are really two languages or two logics. I think metaphysical assumptions run under the radar for most of use and just pointing it out could be the best thing I can do.

  91. Stephen

    What’s trivial about thinking your way of life is better than another and using persuasion to try to cause them to change? (

    It’s trivial compared to the notion you were setting forth. I think it is quite common for people to prefer a way of life. What’s wrong with that? And what’s wrong with public dialog based on the intent to persuade?

  92. Stephen

    @Alex

    While the change in the elite’s views may be down to genuinely good reasoning among the elites, it is still changed among the public by force (in some sense – socially rather than say through direct intimidation).

    You seem to be trying really hard to make this a bad thing. No arms are being twisted any more than people watching fox news today. Ideas are traded in the public domain and People are free to choose among the arguments being put forth in their community.

  93. Stephen

    @Alex

    The worrying corollary of this is that the public will adopt the view of whatever is imposed on them, so if the elites decide to “push through” some other norm there seems to be no reason the public will not pick it up.

    The problem really is a matter of ideas being freely traded and ideas have a fair shot at getting some exposure in the public. Today, the public is over-exposed by our media and that is NOT the stuff of the “elite” (educated).

  94. Stephen

    @bill

    Which, of course, bolsters the very point I made which is that your “good” and “best” are nothing but your untethered subjective opinion.

    It is a fundamental point of difference in this topic, the “clash” that transcendalists believe that a truth that is objective, unadulterated by human subjectivity is “out there” to be discovered. My side of clash tends to have discarded that in recognition of all the science of the mind that says we cannot escape our subjectivity. I’m just acknowledging that.

  95. Tom Gilson

    Stephen, there is indeed science that says we are bound to our subjectivity, but there is no science that says we are so bound to it that we are completely unable in any way to determine any objective truth whatsoever.

    If there were, that science would be self-refuting.

  96. Tom Gilson

    Today, the public is over-exposed by our media and that is NOT the stuff of the “elite” (educated).

    It is the stuff, however, of those who hold the power over the media: the media elite.

  97. Tom Gilson

    You say,

    You seem to be trying really hard to make this a bad thing. No arms are being twisted any more than people watching fox news today. Ideas are traded in the public domain and People are free to choose among the arguments being put forth in their community.

    And yet you have never addressed my point that (on your view) the arguments that prevail are the arguments that win for some reason other than their truth. There is no truth, in the ethical domain, on your view, so they couldn’t. Thus they win strictly because of their rhetorical power.

    And if SSM advocates win this debate, it will be because they were more successful in their employment of political power. It won’t be because they’re more nearly right than anyone else. They couldn’t be: there’s no such thing, on your view.

    So let me ask you: have you ever entertained the idea that SSM is better than the denial of SSM? If you have, have you ever articulated it? If you have, have you ever corrected your own thinking, in view of your conviction that no view is more nearly right than any other?

    Or are you content with not correcting yourself, on the view that it’s no more nearly right to be honest than to be dishonest about it?

    I’m not accusing, I’m just asking.

  98. Stephen

    The Gulags, Auschwitz, the Cultural Revolution, The Killing Fields all were the result of atheistic regimes who’s subjective valuation of life allowed them the freedom to murder those that opposed them. For you to claim the opposite should get you credit for sheer chutzpah if little else.

    I’d like to see the links to where this has been established. My understanding and experience tells me that recognizing the subjectivity in our beliefs, especially when combined with a mature sense of our fallibility, has the psychological effect of making us more tentative in our views. That effects how we respoond to challenge. When we think that we have a truth that has been ratified by a God or “how the world REALLY is” (more like how those political leaders were motived), the psychological disposition is more certain and prone to a more emotionally charged response to challenge. All of those you mentioned were characteristically over confident in their belief in their ideology, or should I say the deeds that were done betray their over confidence, which may not have come by way of ratification of a God, but it came from a sense that their way was the ultimate “true” and “right” way.

  99. Stephen

    Question: Do transcendentalists believe that imperfect humans can obtain purely objective truth, That is truth that is unadulterated by our being human?

  100. Tom Gilson

    Stephen,

    The Gulags, the Cultural Revolution, and the Killing Fields were all the product of avowedly atheistic regimes. You don’t need anyone to show you links establishing that.

    They were also the result of regimes whose valuation of life allowed them the freedom to murder their opponents. You don’t need anyone to show you links establishing that.

    I left “subjective” out of that. Is that the word you want to quibble over? Then please go ahead and tell us whether you think it’s wrong. Do you think there’s some possibility that these regimes felt the freedom to do this on the basis of their objective valuations of life?

    Finally, what makes you think you have any basis for disagreeing with their valuation of life?

  101. Alex

    Stephen:

    Pinker himself calls the “elites” the “politicians, the academics, the pundits”, so as Tom says this does include the media. Again, Pinker puts forward that in norm cascades there is intense (unresolved) controversy, and in the example given the majority oppose the reform when it is “pushed through”, and again, that people eventually support the reform/accept the new norms because they get bored/”grow up with it” and favor the status quo, so in the model presented in the video, public acceptance of the new norm (implicitly) is not a result of free exchange of ideas in the public domain.

    If you want to argue for something different then what is put forth by the video, then please do, I’m simply critiquing what you presented as evidence for your own argument!

  102. Tom Gilson

    Of course we believe we can obtain objective truth!

    “Purely” objective truth? That’s a matter of defining boundaries. There are some things that I think are really, truly, objectively true. I am quite sure the sun shines at noon at the equator. That’s unadulterated truth.

    And I am quite objectively sure that your claim, “humans can never obtain purely objective truth,” is a truly self-refuting claim; for it claims to be a purely objective truth about humans, attained by humans.

    Of course I do not believe humans can attain complete truth about anything. But knowledge can be true knowledge without being comprehensive knowledge.

  103. Tom Gilson

    Stephen, I’d like to know where this has been shown to be universally true:

    it is when we think our truths are objectively grounded that we are stirred up with confidence to justify the kinds of dastardly and “dangerous” acts suggested above with regard to my position.

    and

    When we think that we have a truth that has been ratified by a God or “how the world REALLY is” (more like how those political leaders were motived), the psychological disposition is more certain and prone to a more emotionally charged response to challenge.

    I think you’ve missed something very important.

    It is when we think our truths are objectively grounded, and when we think such truths support dastardly and dangerous actions toward other persons, that we may feel justified in carrying out such acts.

    If in the other hand we have a truth ratified by God or about how the world really is, and if that truth is one that includes “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you;” and when that truth includes an example like Jesus Christ’s at its very center, then that truth is not at all likely to promote violence or hatred.

    That’s not to deny that people claiming to follow that truth have been hateful or violent; but where they were hateful or violent without just cause, they were not in fact following that truth. They were following some other impulse.

  104. Tom Gilson

    Relevant to my last comment, and in answer to your question in #51, there’s a long answer to whether the Israelites’ actions in Canaan were moral and whether that’s normative for today. You may read my view on it here if you’re interested.

  105. Stephen

    It is when we think our truths are objectively grounded, and when we think such truths support dastardly and dangerous actions toward other persons, that we may feel justified in carrying out such acts. If we have a truth ratified by God or about how the world really is, and if that truth is one that includes “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you;” and when that truth includes an example like Jesus Christ’s at its very center, then that truth is not at all likely to promote violence or hatred.

    Are you asking me to believe that out of all the possible convictions made available to Christians in the Bible that those will always prevail. Because I reject the idea that the Bible is a coherent and consistent set of beliefs, I cannot have confidence that the faithful will act in any predictive way. We actually know that those beliefs haven’t always prevailed, e.g. the Crusades and the retaking of the “holy land” following WWI. Sometimes the belief that our sanctity is at stake, beliefs about what is right in God’s eyes, our prospects for qualifying for entrance to heaven, seems to have overshadowed these.

  106. Tom Gilson

    Stephen,

    Have you noticed how selectively you’re responding?

    What about #93 and #94? What about all the other comments I left prior to #110? What about Alex’s comment?

    What’s going on in your thinking about these things? Are you processing those comments? Are you allowing yourself to address those arguments?

  107. Tom Gilson

    Now with respect to #112,

    Whether you have confidence that the faithful will respond in any predictable way or not, and whether you think biblical Christianity is a coherent set of beliefs, may be immaterial.

    If there is some group of people who:
    1. Believe that there is a God,
    2. Believe that this God provides objective truth about reality.
    3. Believe that we can have confidence in this objective truth.
    4. Believe that this objective truth includes the command to love our enemies and do good to those who harm them

    … then your thesis that confident belief in objective truth provides a basis for dastardly and dangerous deeds cannot be true in all cases. Do you acknowledge this?

  108. Stephen

    Stephen, I’d like to know where this has been shown to be universally true:

    it is when we think our truths are objectively grounded that we are stirred up with confidence to justify the kinds of dastardly and “dangerous” acts suggested above with regard to my position.

    YOu are right to call me on this. I misspoke. Let me rephrase it:

    it is when we think our truths are objectively grounded that we are more prone to be stirred up with confidence to justify the kinds of dastardly and “dangerous” acts suggested above with regard to my position. That wording removes the opportunity that the reader may find a absolute/universal claim being made (something I deny). Can I show how a subjective orientation toward morals creates a more tentative, less volatile reaction to challenge, than an absolute/objective orientation toward morals? I haven’t seen a study but it would seem possible to determine this. For now I can’t provide support for the claim anymore than a Christian can support the belief that Jesus died for our sins (can you show me where the same standard for criteria and support, as are expected on these topics, are similarly levied by Christians on that belief?). It just seems to fit my experience. For example, when two guys get into a fist fight in a bar over which baseball team is “the best”. It seems to me that the energy derives from a psychology of seeing it as the way the world REALLY is, what’s true, not simply the way they have just come to view it. I can’t imagine a fist fight breaking out between two guys with that later mindset.

  109. Stephen

    In the video I posted, of Steven Pinker, he looks at a trend over long periods of time, of less and less violence in western civilization. One of the possible explanations for this is that we have become more moral over the centuries. But he discounts this by noting that most crime logged by police are crimes of moral indignation. The “he/she deserved it” motivation – moral indignation. The interesting thing is that he argues that we have become better neighbors through attention to good argument despite our tendency for moralizing events and for moral outrage.

  110. SteveK

    I can’t imagine a fist fight breaking out between two guys with that later mindset.

    I can’t imagine a lengthy discussion breaking out between people, when one of those people believes that indisputable facts are a fiction, that it’s just the way they have come to view the world around them. But here we are.

  111. JAD

    Notice how the arguments put forth by the proponents of SSM, gay “rights”, abortion “rights” and animal “rights” etc. rely on the slippery use of rhethoric, the manipulation of language and definitions along with an exaggerated appeal to the emotions, rather than reason. For example, I along with several others are still waiting for reasoned explanation as to why we should accept same sex marriage as a right. Why in the last 3-4 decades did it suddenly gain this status? Come on, if you claim your world view is based on reason, surely you can give us neanderthals a reason.

    If that approach fails then the turn is towards mild, then not so mild, forms of coercion. For example, opponents are accused being intolerant, bigoted or homophobic… While you might be able to avoid some violence by passing laws, when opposed by large minorities such laws become another form of coercion

    This reminds me of “newspeak” and “double think” that George Orwell had a chilling vision of in his novel, 1984.

    For example, according to Orwell’s main character Winston Smith:

    “To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again: and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself. That was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word ‘doublethink’ involved the use of doublethink.”

    Is this the road we’re headed on?

  112. Alex

    Stephen:

    You posted the video in #67 and #70 as a counter to the claim that a lack of transcendental truth leaves morality to simply be a matter of preferences/”might-makes-right”.

    I’ve elaborated why the video actually agrees with the claim.

    Rational argument requires premises – and argument with regards to morality is usually about complex decisions based on moral principles we already hold (whether transcendental or not). The point is that without transcendental moral truth the most fundamental moral principles (e.g. in your case those that underpin liberal secular democracy) are simply a matter of preference.

    The problem is that not everyone holds the same preferences as you. Some people lack compassion and see no problem with cruelty. Or what is more obviously prevalent, many people are happy to put their own desires above compassion and abhorrence of cruelty.

    I have simply been arguing against your denial of the above. None of this makes your position on transcendental truth untenable, I just think it would just be more constructive to be candid about it.

  113. Stephen

    For example, I along with several others are still waiting for reasoned explanation as to why we should accept same sex marriage as a right.

    Do we think of marriage between heterosexuals as a “right”? What we have a right to is be left alone on personal matters like who we marry.

  114. Stephen

    @alex

    You posted the video in #67 and #70 as a counter to the claim that a lack of transcendental truth leaves morality to simply be a matter of preferences/”might-makes-right”.

    I posted that link because of the charge that a non-absolutist version of morality leads to violence. See post #116

  115. Stephen

    @Alex

    The point is that without transcendental moral truth the most fundamental moral principles (e.g. in your case those that underpin liberal secular democracy) are simply a matter of preference.

    The way I prefer to say this is that morality is man made. We make it, we don’t discover it. To call it “preference” misses the fact that it is something made by a society where individuals, acting as moral agents, not obedient subjects of an authority, contribute their point of view. Of course there will be disagreement, and that is the way it will go for the foreseeable future. The Pinker video lays out just how that has occured using specific cases in recent history, such as when Europe stopped burning heretics at the stake, etc.

  116. Tom Gilson

    Stephen, you ask,

    Do we think of marriage between heterosexuals as a “right”? What we have a right to is be left alone on personal matters like who we marry.

    Same question: what made that into a right, or why should we accept it as one?

  117. Tom Gilson

    BTW: are you taking some extended time to think through what I’ve been writing, or are you actually applying your stated intention to ignore what I am saying?

  118. Alex

    Stephen:

    “I posted that link because of the charge that a non-absolutist version of morality leads to violence.”

    I would agree, you just didn’t describe it as such previously, but fair enough.

    The problem is that although it doesn’t necessarily lead to violence, it leaves the door wide open to it. Again, if someone values their own desires more than their compassion to others/abhorrence to cruelty, it then may well be rational (moral?) for that person to be violent in certain circumstances (as aptly demonstrated by the examples of moral-fueled violence in the video).

  119. Alex

    I guess what I wonder is:

    Implicit in the activity of argument is the idea that your opponent can be persuaded. In moral argument, to be persuaded to take some position would then imply that the conclusion is subsumed by some more fundamental moral position/principle.

    What then is the set of fundamental moral principles?

    If they are merely preference, how could one persuade another to adopt it? Seemingly not by argument – if so it would be subsumed by a more fundamental moral principle.

    If they are transcendental, how do we know of them? (and their fundamentality?) And is the normativity imbued in them intrinsic?

  120. Alex

    Stephen: (@ #122):

    Perhaps it also might be useful to differentiate between societal morality (pronouncements of code of conduct – which are simply descriptive) and individual morality – the internal “oughts” experienced by a person.

    While I think its fair to describe societal morality as man-made, I fail to see it true for individual morality.

    Societal morality can exert pressure on people to act according to that code of conduct – social expectations, say by peer pressure, or more directly through law and the threat of imprisonment etc – but can not ultimately impose that “ought” into their minds.

    Public discourse can be used to persuade people to adopt societal morality as individual morality, but again I fail to see how this can be done without recourse to fundamental moral principles – again simply appealing to their preferences.

    Again, this still seems to leave the problem of those with different preferences intact. At best it seems all you can do is alter the societal environment (say through law) to reduce the frequency of how often immoral (to you) behaviour is rational to differently-preferenced people.

  121. bigbird

    Notice how the arguments put forth by the proponents of SSM, gay “rights”, abortion “rights” and animal “rights” etc. rely on the slippery use of rhethoric, the manipulation of language and definitions along with an exaggerated appeal to the emotions, rather than reason. For example, I along with several others are still waiting for reasoned explanation as to why we should accept same sex marriage as a right.

    Unfortunately, the cry for “marriage equality” is a powerful emotional argument. It makes the average person think, well, why not? And if you throw in a comparison to interracial marriage, the resulting emotional appeal is too much for most to resist, no matter what reasoned explanations might exist. In fact reasoned argument just sounds like trying to justify the indefensible.

  122. Stephen

    @tom

    Stephen, you ask,

    Do we think of marriage between heterosexuals as a “right”? What we have a right to is be left alone on personal matters like who we marry.

    Same question: what made that into a right, or why should we accept it as one?

    We made it into a right and we don’t have to accept it. But most of use like the idea and made it part of our way of life. And so it goes.

  123. Alex

    JAD:

    “Notice how the arguments put forth by the proponents of SSM, gay “rights”, abortion “rights” and animal “rights” etc. rely on the slippery use of rhethoric, the manipulation of language and definitions along with an exaggerated appeal to the emotions, rather than reason.”

    I’m not sure whether it was intentional on your part or not, but failing to qualify “some” and implying these types of argument are universal to SSM supporters seems misguided and counterproductive.

    If particular people do it, then of course you should definitely call them out on it!

    But then if you do only mean some supporters, its a fairly trivial statement – there are some proponents of almost all causes who argue as such. We are but human.

    Even if all five or so of the opposing views you interact with on this blog act as such, that’s hardly sufficient evidence to generalise to all advocates and think the matter forever solved.

    I wonder whether you assume too much about SSM proponents’ worldviews – #19 is telling – again, with no qualifications for “some” you attach moral nihilism to SSM advocacy. Last time I checked that was a small but very real minority of Christians supporting SSM. And there’s plenty of non-Christian moral realists. (And even moral nihilism doesn’t shut the door to conversation – if you work out your shared fundamental moral principles you can argue the rational position to take as a result of them).

    Edit: I guess the context of the article makes your position clearer and more relevant. Perhaps there’s good reason to push people in the direction of worldview change, but that’s not going to happen overnight. So for a live issue where there is a worldview clash, I guess what I’d see as most productive would be to work from the bottom up (rather than top down) – see what moral principles you can agree on and argue about their consequences – or simply identify the differences that entail different views.

    Maybe its important to realise that where you actually agree on moral principles it doesn’t matter whether you view them as transcendentally grounded or not when it comes to making a rational decision on something like the legality of SSM. While you can play devil’s advocate as someone nasty to a moral nihilist who can’t be convinced, if their arguments are based on principles you share it would be intellectually dishonest to disregard them simply because they’re coming from a moral nihilist.

  124. Tom Gilson

    Stephen @#129,

    We made what into a right? Who are we in that sentence?

    If you mean freedom from government interference regarding whom we marry, then I think that genuinely is a right.

    If you mean re-definition of marriage then we have not made that into a right, unless we means “the winners of this rhetorical power struggle,” and only if SSM advocates ultimately do win the struggle.

    Further: I don’t know what country you live in. The historic view of rights differs from country to country. In the French tradition, broadly speaking, rights are understood to issue from the government on behalf of the people. In the American tradition, rights were originally understood to originate from God, and they were generally intended to reduce government’s role.

    I believe the original American understanding is correct. I know that you disagree, but I wanted to highlight the form of the disagreement. I think you’ll have to agree that at this point, in this venue, you cannot merely assume that rights can be “made” by people or governments. That’s only true if the American understanding of God as creator of humans and endower of rights is false, which cuts very close to the heart of what’s being debated. To assume it would be to beg the question.

    And what about #93 through #95? I’m waiting to hear from you on that. Selective listening and response are not the sign of a fully involved intellect.

  125. Mr. X

    Stephen @ 120:

    “What we have a right to is be left alone on personal matters like who we marry.”

    If it were just a case of two men or women living together and promising to be faithful to each other, I’d be inclined to agree. As it is, though, marriage carries with it a set of social and financial benefits, and, since those are conferred by society as a whole, it most certainly is within the legitimate interests of society to determine whether these benefits should be given to gay couples as well.

    Also, I’m not sure where you live, but here in the UK, at least two people have already lost their jobs for expressing disagreement with gay marriage. So at least where I’m living, claiming that gay marriage is about “the right to be left alone” is utterly false and misleading: the SSM lobby is trying to force its views on everybody else, and woe betide anybody who disagrees with them.

  126. Alex

    Mr. X:

    “claiming that gay marriage is about “the right to be left alone” is utterly false and misleading: the SSM lobby is trying to force its views on everybody else”

    Who comprises this “SSM lobby”? Have you got any good evidence that a majority, or even any significant number of those that support SSM act as such?

    You can distinguish between arguments for SSM, and behaviour of particular groups/individuals.

    I’m sure many people support SSM but oppose imposition of accepting it on others. There are very rare cases where people have been wrongly treated because of their views such as being demoted, but in the cases I’m aware of they’ve been correctly rectified by the courts.

  127. Stephen

    @tom

    We made what into a right? Who are we in that sentence?

    If you mean freedom from government interference regarding whom we marry, then I think that genuinely is a right.

    Yes, that is what I meant and what I must have have meant to be on topic with the comments I was responding to.

  128. Tom Gilson

    So now you have confirmed that you believe what you believe. Thank you. But it doesn’t answer any of my questions in #129, and it doesn’t advance the argument.

    (Nor does it address #93-95.)

  129. Stephen

    @alex

    If they are merely preference, how could one persuade another to adopt it? Seemingly not by argument – if so it would be subsumed by a more fundamental moral principle.

    I think this question springs forth from our metaphysical intuitions. You are assuming that there must be a timeless, non-human anchor to ground our arguments in and nothing else is worthy of changing our minds. I’m continually say “not so”, as one on the other side of the “clash”

  130. Stephen

    @alex

    While I think its fair to describe societal morality as man-made, I fail to see it true for individual morality.

    Societal morality can exert pressure on people to act according to that code of conduct – social expectations, say by peer pressure, or more directly through law and the threat of imprisonment etc – but can not ultimately impose that “ought” into their minds.

    I like this question. It is worth considering the line between the individual and society in how we develop. But I think we differ on our sense of just how powerful society acts on us. No man is an island, we can’t disentangle the two. Where else would you get your moral intuitions? From the holy spirit? Some other non-human channel?

  131. Stephen

    @Alex

    fundamental moral principles

    Can you give me an example of what you mean? Whatever it is, isn’t it too something that we come to through our interactions with others? So persuasion matters?

  132. Stephen

    And what about #93 through #95? I’m waiting to hear from you on that. Selective listening and response are not the sign of a fully involved intellect.

    Tom, I’m getting a lot of response and I have be selective just because I don’t live on this site.

  133. Stephen

    @Alex

    At best it seems all you can do is alter the societal environment (say through law) to reduce the frequency of how often immoral (to you) behaviour is rational to differently-preferenced people.

    I agree. But I think we all shape the social sense what is moral even beyond what becomes codified in the law.

  134. Tom Gilson

    I don’t buy it,Stephen.

    The topic that was under discussion at that time was right at the center of the argument there.

    You said,

    Hyperbole and exaggeration. I may start ignoring your comments, there are some thoughtful responses to tend to.

    I wrote almost 1500 words in response, in which I showed that your understanding of moral persuasion was not at all what you claimed it was.

    Should I really believe you ignored that just because you “don’t live on this site”? Or because you don’t dare face the implications of what I wrote there in those comments? Or because you have decided to be discourteous? I think the second explanation there is more likely than either the first or the third.

    Regardless, this is where that portion of the argument stands: I have made a strong case that your application of morality is ethnocentric, power-based, and “might-makes-right.” You have let my case stand unchallenged. I appreciate your yielding the point in that manner, if that’s what you intend to do. I hope you’ll take its implications to heart.

    If that wasn’t what you intended to do, then the door is open for you to explain what you really intended.

  135. Stephen

    @tom #93

    Here’s why. Based on your position, there is no such thing as persuading another culture that your way is better than theirs. Your way isn’t better than theirs. It couldn’t be. The only way ethical system x could be better than ethical system y would be for x to be closer to some standard that stands above both x and y. But you deny that such a thing exists.

    This is just an good demonstration what it is like to not be able to get out from under the metaphysical stance. You are just assuming what is being argued, that there MUST be an objective standard But we are getting along quite well, including influencing each other, cross-culturally as well, without an appeal to such a standard. Other cultures have be changed by western democracies simply by appeal to reason (just like Pinker describes) and by seeing that it works

  136. Tom Gilson

    Stephen,

    You’re not conceding the argument, then. You’re demonstrating you don’t understand it.

    In these three comments I did not assume my position. I showed the logical consequences of yours.

    You missed what followed the excerpt you quoted:

    So on what basis would you try to persuade the adherents of y that they should switch to your x? You can’t say x is better than y. You won’t get anywhere persuasively by saying, “We who adhere to x think x is better than y,” because the obvious answer would be, “we who adhere to y think y is better than x.”

    You have no reason to support x over y; you only have your cultural preference, while they have theirs.

    This explains why I said what I said in the portion you quoted, and it does not assume that my position is right.

    You are consistently not getting it.

    BTW: you think we’re getting along quite well, influencing one another cross-culturally? Sure. The Muslims have “influenced” the Danes not to criticize Islam. The Egyptians sure picked up Western democracy during the Arab Spring, didn’t they? And so did Russia, after the fall of the Soviet Union.

    Selective attention will get you nowhere.

  137. JAD

    Alex @ #130

    I wonder whether you assume too much about SSM proponents’ worldviews – #19 is telling – again, with no qualifications for “some” you attach moral nihilism to SSM advocacy. Last time I checked that was a small but very real minority of Christians supporting SSM. And there’s plenty of non-Christian moral realists.

    Where did the “right” for same sex marriage come from? It appears to me that it is something that was just made up by a certain group of “progressive” type of people, for no good reason at all, in the last 40 or so years. How can such a right be defended on the basis of moral realism?

    I have yet to hear a convincing argument as to why I need to recognize something as a right just because someone else makes it up and then claims that it is a right. For example do chickens have rights? Apparently, PETA thinks so. I don’t, even though I like chickens– well, I mean I like chicken.

  138. SteveK

    But we are getting along quite well, including influencing each other, cross-culturally as well, without an appeal to such a standard. Other cultures have be changed by western democracies simply by appeal to reason (just like Pinker describes) and by seeing that it works

    Without an objective standard, we have no idea what “quite well” or “it works” actually means. Germany and Poland got along quite well during WWII, and Germany’s influence on Poland during that time obviously worked.

  139. Stephen

    Without an objective standard, we have no idea what “quite well” or “it works” actually means.

    Ok, I should have said “works better”. And the proof of that is that people want to come to western democracies more than they want to leave them. That is our objective standard, but its not a non-human and ahistorical standard.

  140. Stephen

    @tom

    “Purely” objective truth? That’s a matter of defining boundaries. There are some things that I think are really, truly, objectively true. I am quite sure the sun shines at noon at the equator. That’s unadulterated truth.

    And I am quite objectively sure that your claim, “humans can never obtain purely objective truth,” is a truly self-refuting claim; for it claims to be a purely objective truth about humans, attained by humans.

    I should have qualified that as “objective transcendental/metaphysical” truth . The sort that would serve to finally ground your moral system.

  141. Stephen

    @JAD

    Where did the “right” for same sex marriage come from? It appears to me that it is something that was just made up by a certain group of “progressive” type of people, for no good reason at all, in the last 40 or so years. How can such a right be defended on the basis of moral realism?

    I have yet to hear a convincing argument as to why I need to recognize something as a right just because someone else makes it up and then claims that it is a right.

    I didn’t see you comment on the discussion that ensued above over the idea that Gays are asking for the right to marry. They may be asking for the right to be treated equally, or the right to be left alone with their private lives, but nobody GETS the right to marry.

  142. Stephen

    @TOm

    Regardless, this is where that portion of the argument stands: I have made a strong case that your application of morality is ethnocentric, power-based, and “might-makes-right.”

    I responded to all of these above, denied it all. I won’t go over it again.

  143. Stephen

    @tom #94

    But what you have not been able to grasp so far is that ethical persuasion is either (a) an appeal to something that is greater than both the persuader and the persuadee, something they agree on fundamentally in the nature of things that transcends them both; or (b) the application of rhetorical power to cause the persuadee to change his or her mind for no rational reason.

    If these are the only choices available, this sounds to me like you belief that if there is no non-human, ahistorical foundation, there is no such thing as having a reason?

  144. Tom Gilson

    Stephen @149: Funny you should say that right in the middle of a discussion on what you did not respond to–and where you admitted that you hadn’t. It’s hard to “deny” and to ignore at the same time.

    Meanwhile, have you read the discussion policy? I direct you especially to items 4, 8, and (particularly) 9.

  145. Tom Gilson

    @150: If there is no adequate grounding for ethics, then there is no adequate grounding.

    That’s not the same thing as having no reason. There can be inadequately grounded reasons. There are other possibilities but they all pretty much come down to that in the end.

  146. Stephen

    @Mr X #132

    If it were just a case of two men or women living together and promising to be faithful to each other, I’d be inclined to agree. As it is, though, marriage carries with it a set of social and financial benefits, and, since those are conferred by society as a whole, it most certainly is within the legitimate interests of society to determine whether these benefits should be given to gay couples as well.

    Besides the right to be left alone in our private lives we have the right to equal treatment. It would be the first time our constitution stipulated an exception, such as the right to be treated equally, – “except if you are gay”.

  147. Stephen

    @tom #35

    So now you have confirmed that you believe what you believe. Thank you. But it doesn’t answer any of my questions in #129, and it doesn’t advance the argument.

    Beyhond answering your question, there isn’t much in this post I’m interested in going after, I don’t want to argue the tanget question of this countries Christian foundation. As it is, I wish this forum was more on the “worldview clash” in general, rather than on the SSM subject. Notice, that I take my opportunities to go after that.

  148. Tom Gilson

    It would not by any means be the first time our Constitution stipulated an equality exception! Good grief, the ignorance you display with that comment!

    There are exceptions with respect to who can be president, who can be a senator, who can vote, who may be incarcerated, who can be a judge, who can and cannot be required to testify, who can regulate commerce, who may declare war, who may authorize expenses, who may ratify a treaty, …

    And there is law upon law, case law upon case law, limiting who may marry.

    The principle of “marriage equality” is a crock, anyway. It’s a rhetorical flourish attached to the idea of extending the definition of marriage to a group it has never before pertained to, and continuing to deny it to others. No one believes in marriage equality, except up to their own arbitrary dividing line: except that some have a principle-based dividing line. You do not.

  149. JAD

    SCOTUS has ruled that marriage is a basic civil right. Proponents of SSM argue that it should be recognized as a right.

    Loving v. Virginia (1967) was a case decided by a unanimous Supreme Court that invalidated all laws that prohibited inter-racial marriages. ..

    The Loving Court also opined that marriage is one of the “basic civil rights of man,” and that the “freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.” This would seem to put marriage squarely in the category of fundamental rights, requiring application of strict scrutiny for purposes of equal protection analysis. In Shapiro v. Thompson (1969), the Court held that any burdening of a fundamental right must promote a “compelling governmental interest.” The denial of the fundamental right of marriage to same-sex couples doesn’t even pass the highly deferential rational basis level of scrutiny.
    http://jonathanturley.org/2013/04/06/loving-v-virginia/

  150. JAD

    I agree with this comment made by Arthur Randolph Erb on Turley’s blog:

    One has to remember that when the Loving decision was written, it applied ONLY to one man/one woman marriage and it used the term marriage with that in mind. To change the definition of marriage to gay marriage is a leap that I think that Warren and virtually all of that court would have found absurd. In fact, that same court upheld statutes that made certain sexual acts criminal, so to say that they then would give legal sanction to gay marriage is irrational. Thus an accurate and rational reading of Loving should now insert the term, the one man/one woman legal contracts called marriage, in the reading of that decision to be fair. Thus the argument would fall on its face.

    My point was to Stephen that SSM proponents are promoting it as a right and try to use the Loving case as a legal precedent. Of course I disagree with their reasoning.

  151. Stephen

    @tom Said

    But what you have not been able to grasp so far is that ethical persuasion is either (a) an appeal to something that is greater than both the persuader and the persuadee, something they agree on fundamentally in the nature of things that transcends them both; or (b) the application of rhetorical power to cause the persuadee to change his or her mind for no rational reason.

    Stephen Said

    If these are the only choices available, this sounds to me like you belief that if there is no non-human, ahistorical foundation, there is no such thing as having a reason?

    Tom:

    @150: If there is no adequate grounding for ethics, then there is no adequate grounding.

    That’s not the same thing as having no reason. There can be inadequately grounded reasons. There are other possibilities but they all pretty much come down to that in the end.

    Then it isn’t that I don’t grasp (a) and (b), it’s that I don’t accept the idea that there can be final grounding to our reasoning (which in your way of thinking makes it “inadquate”). I don’t think that makes it “inadaquate”. It’s just as good as anyone has been able to get.

    But that is the debate here, restated, isn’t it? Reason hasn’t been thought to have final grounding since Kant. You think we can achieve final grounding for our reasoning

  152. Stephen

    I agree with this comment made by Arthur Randolph Erb on Turley’s blog:

    Thanks JAD, I wasn’t aware that it had come to this. Too bad it had to as well with the Loving case. My bet is that the SSM will go the way of the Loving case and 10 years from it will be challenged no more the interracial case is today. What can we expect next, the need to fight for a right to have children? To bad it has to be special cased, it doesn’t need to be any thing more than the right to equal treatment and the right to not have big government (of the worse sort) in our private lives.

    As in inter-racial marriage, the need to fight for the right, is driven by the opposition to different people being able to do what the mainstream does. The Gays are the minority, they are the ones fighting against a majority that is trying to stop them from living there lives as wish. Otherwise, gays would just be walking in to churches and court houses and getting married and nothing would be said. So I object to the idea that THEY are forcing something here.

  153. Tom Gilson

    Now I’m starting to connect with you at last, Stephen. I hear what you’re saying about Kant, and “as good as anyone has been able to get.”

    We are at the meeting point of epistemology and ethics, where there is despair: we can’t know what we must know. The world cries out for a person or an idea that will make things right — for we are deathly aware that it is not right as things are — and we don’t know what to do. We don’t know how to make it right. We don’t even know what right is.

    Kant pulled the rug out from under us. He had help: Descartes and Hume before him, and many others following. To make things worse, we in the West came into deep contact with the rest of the world, beginning with the last century’s revolutions in communications and travel. If the philosophers left us with even the slightest confidence that we knew any ultimate truth — or even any final ethical truth — our encounter with new cultures ripped that assurance away for sure.

    All we know now is that we can’t know what we must know.

    And that leaves us exactly where I said: with no firm grasp on the knowledge of what is right, and with no objective right to appeal to. All we have is subjective opinion. Persuasion is not about turning people toward what is objectively right or good or even best, it is only a matter of bending people to our opinion.

    But wait: we know better. Despite Descarte, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Wittgenstein, Foucault, and all the rest, we still know that some things are better than others. We know that sacrificial love is better than torture and murder. We are sure that this is true.

    How do we know that when the philosophers have told us so convincingly we cannot know? How could it be true, in a world with no ethical truth?

  154. JAD

    Stephen @ #162:

    The Gays are the minority, they are the ones fighting against a majority that is trying to stop them from living there lives as [they]wish.

    I am all in favor of gays having the freedom to make personal moral choices, even if I don’t agree with their choices. That’s called tolerance. But, what gives them the right to demand the everyone in society approves their moral choices? The proponents of SSM certainly don’t approve of my moral beliefs and choices.

    Otherwise, gays would just be walking in to churches and court houses and getting married and nothing would be said. So I object to the idea that THEY are forcing something here.

    You’re are going to force churches to marry any and every same sex couple who demands it? Who again is forcing whom?

  155. Stephen

    @tom#163

    How do we know that when the philosophers have told us so convincingly we cannot know? How could it be true, in a world with no ethical truth?

    This is question asked by someone who believes in foundations to our thinking that stand outside of humanity and history.

    We know that sacrificial love is better than torture and murder. We are sure that this is true.

    But we can’t prove it is so. It just stands as something that is not likely to be disputed. This sort of thing does stand a chance at connecting up with something other than the our world of beliefs, it is clear that empathy is in nature, not only in humans. I think the conversation and the arguments change when we can make a valid connection to biology.

  156. Stephen

    Meanwhile, have you read the discussion policy? I direct you especially to items 4, 8, and (particularly) 9.

    I will try to respond in some way to each comment directed to me. When they get long, that takes a lot of time…

  157. Stephen

    @JAD#164

    But, what gives them the right to demand the everyone in society approves their moral choices?

    Not everyone “approves” of every law or moral code. We live with these differences constantly. But when a woman has an abortion, is she, in doing so, demanding your approval?
    Your about about a church HAVING to marry a gay couple is a good one. Are you sure it would come to this? Isn’t it always the case that you can “refuse service to anyone”? For SSM to not be illegal isn’t the same as everyone that has the authority to marry couples MUST marry any couple that comes to them.

  158. Stephen

    @tom#114<blockthen your thesis that confident belief in objective truth provides a basis for dastardly and dangerous deeds cannot be true in all cases. Do you acknowledge this?

    Of course I don’t think there is a necessary connection and I think I corrected some language to qualify that, like “more prone to”. I do believe that Christianity has some built in protections against the abuse I’ve stated, but I also see those things getting sidelined, such as the political/policy shift that happen when the Christians moved from being largely democratic (e.g. the southern states.) and the corresponding pull away from a focus on the poor. That shows a fluidity that is I don’t object to but it makes for unpredictability. I do believe that shift in power makes all bets off.

  159. Stephen

    @tom#109

    Of course we believe we can obtain objective truth!

    “Purely” objective truth?

    Maybe we need to pause and discuss the word “objective”. When you refer to “transcendent reality”, that is what I’m after here when I say “objective truth”. I think you would agree that “transcendent reality” is something that stands outside of human subjectivity, right? These are “true beliefs” in an objective sense, not in a subjective sense, right? And so, my question is, do you believe that humans can get into their head this sort of true belief even though we are deemed imperfect and subject to subjectivity?

  160. Alex

    Stephen:

    If they are merely preference, how could one persuade another to adopt it? Seemingly not by argument – if so it would be subsumed by a more fundamental moral principle.

    I think this question springs forth from our metaphysical intuitions. You are assuming that there must be a timeless, non-human anchor to ground our arguments in and nothing else is worthy of changing our minds. I’m continually say “not so”, as one on the other side of the “clash”

    fundamental moral principles

    Can you give me an example of what you mean? Whatever it is, isn’t it too something that we come to through our interactions with others? So persuasion matters?

    Sorry for delay and if my original formulation was unclear.

    I’m not really assuming anything about transcendental morals – I’m simply pointing out that you have to assume something – even if its not transcendental.

    To have an argument for a moral claim, you need premises. At least one of the premises must be moral, else you will simply be left with a factual claim. Then consider the moral premise – its either assumed or argued for. If its argued for then requires a further moral premise. To avoid infinite regress you need a moral assumption somewhere to make your argument coherent. I then called these moral assumptions “fundamental moral principles” above.

    I would then reraise my question at the top of this comment – how could you persuade someone to change their position on such a fundamental assumption? (as you can’t reduce it to something simpler with which to argue it)

    The origins of moral intuitions/assumptions/principles is certainly interesting, perhaps partly social, but certainly not merely social in origin. Perhaps there’s interesting debate to be had about whether you can disentangle the social from it, but I’m not too concerned with this point right now (unless you wish to claim they are purely social).

  161. Stephen

    On the question of argument: I don’t think we only change our minds by argument. Experience, stories, reports can change our minds too. But I think we will always try to give reasons for what and why we take the stand we do.

    To have an argument for a moral claim, you need premises. At least one of the premises must be moral, else you will simply be left with a factual claim. Then consider the moral premise – its either assumed or argued for. If its argued for then requires a further moral premise. To avoid infinite regress you need a moral assumption somewhere to make your argument coherent.

    The problem of infinite regress or circularity is exactly why people like Rorty have abandoned these questions, including the demand they place on “coherence”. They can’t be solved, as we think, without introducing magic into the picture, something holy, something timeless. But this is no foundation at all (to us).

    To avoid infinite regress you need a moral assumption somewhere to make your argument coherent.

    Note that an “assumption” cannot be the bottom to the regress. It is assumptions, once exposed that keep us in the infinite regress. The “bottom” is where there is no assumption being made.

    You feel you must stay on the track you are on in order to remain “coherent”, but that is circular. Your definition of coherence is itself part of what is being questioned – it emerges from the metaphysical mindset.

  162. Tom Gilson

    Stephen, I’ve noticed you keep bringing the matter back to the worldview clash. And you’re right: it all hangs on that. For example, you wrote,

    And so, my question is, do you believe that humans can get into their head this sort of true belief even though we are deemed imperfect and subject to subjectivity?

    Moral truths do not exist in some ethereal vacuum. I don’t know how other systems explain the fact of moral truths’ existence, but in Christian theism, their existence is explained in that they are human-world expressions of God’s moral character. God created us in his image (Genesis 1:26-27), which includes genuine awareness of moral truths.

    So in other words, even though we are imperfect and prone to subjectivity, moral knowledge is not entirely up to us: God himself imparted it to us in our very natures. Everyone except possibly psychopaths has at least some true knowledge of what is right and wrong.

    Still, because of the distance we’ve created between ourselves and God through our indifference and rebellion, we don’t always get it right. In fact we get it wrong quite often. Here again, though, it’s not up to us to find our way back to reliable moral truth. God, the author of communication and the creator of humans, is more than capable of communicating moral truth so that we can understand it. He has done so primarily through the Bible.

    So human imperfection and subjectivity are not the whole story. God’s eternal truth, character, and communication are the foundation for our knowledge of moral truth.

    This is why Rorty’s answer to regress and circularity is neither the only one nor the best one. We reach an end to regress in God.

    That’s all based on a Christian theistic worldview. Apart from that, I think you’re stuck hopelessly in subjectivity, which in the end amounts to the complete lack of any moral truths, which means it can never be true that any act is morally preferable to any other act — which means there is no such thing as morally significant thinking or doing.

    And what I’ve just presented here is the moral argument for theism, in a different form than before. It’s one of the very major reasons for my belief in God

  163. Stephen

    Thanks for your response Tom.

    With this divinely instilled moral sense that came to us as part of being made in God’s image, would the Hebrews have felt the truth in it when God commanded them to annihilate the Canaanites? Or put it this way, would those who were most deeply in touch with this inner sense have known to annihilate the Canaanites even without God’s command to do so? And do Christians today who are deeply in touch with this inner truth, sense the truth of it today? Or should that God instilled inner sense make us feel appalled upon reading the story? Or is the later an example of our imperfection getting in the way of God’s pure truth?

  164. Tom Gilson

    Stephen, that’s an easy question to ask, and a long one to answer.

    I’ll be glad to address it if you’ll read the series I wrote beginning here, which provides necessary background. Deal?

  165. Stephen

    I went over the readings. I know you said this would be background but I suspect I haven’t made my point clear. The question I’m raising is how does it work, this God instilled inner sense? The story of the Canaanites was only a vehicle to express the problem.
    My point is that if the God instilled inner sense dose NOT bust through human subjectivity (rendering it momentarily mute) and make clear to ALL humans a “right” answer, I don’t see that it does the work it suggests that it should do, if we are going to posit this theory. (And when I say this I’m thinking the problem pertains even to Christians when they are sincere and intent on abiding by God’s perfect truth – that is, doing their very best.) If it did do that sort of work, then there would be a compelling reason to believe that there was a source outside of humans that is responsible for it. But without that, as you have described it, then we have no reason to search for more of an explanation for our moral intuitions than to say that they are the product of biology and socialization/civilization. In that sense, morality is NOT individual and purely “subjective” as I pointed out above.

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