Religion—Either Amoral or Immoral

In my opinion, one of the most popular arguments that religion has in modern, secular America is the perception (factual or not) that religion is a basis (perhaps THE basis) for morality. As time goes on and modern scientific research continues to pry intrusively at nature’s great secrets, religions that are unwilling to repudiate reason in the manner of Young Earth Creationists have found great comfort in Gould’s “non-overlapping magesteria”; the idea that religion holds sway into the meaning of existence, and as a basis of morality. But where does religion comment on morality that philosophy does not?

Since its beginnings in time, philosophy has sought through reason, argument, and appeal to offer systems for humans to morally interact with humans and other creatures. Religion has done the same, but with one essential difference; it has claimed the mandate of Heaven, becoming “fossilized philosophies” in the words of Simon Blackburn that would brook no argument regarding its central tenets. Would a Christian theologian dare say that Jesus was flat-out wrong when he instructed his followers “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Of course not! He may debate as to the details of Jesus’ meaning, but he could not say “I’m afraid Jesus was off his rocker in this instance.” By claiming the mandate of Heaven, the underlying moral philosophy is stultified, without prospects for improvement.

If, and only if, one is to grant that the source of the philosophy is divinely inspired, then this may be seen as a reasonable trade-off (although I am wont to agree with Lessing that “the true value of a man is not determined by his posession, supposed or real, of Truth, but rather by his sincere exertion to get to the Truth.”) However, this grant of divine revelation cannot be stipulated when applied to a subject as important as how a person should treat another. A person outside of the revelation does not only have the right, but the duty to demand justification from the believer of the authenticity of the revelation, bound as humans are in our ancient and continually updated social contract. Of course, such justification is impossible; the core of revealed religion is the revelation, and that cannot be shared or evidenced, only “witnessed”.

So the skepticism of the outsider is justified; what of the belief of the theist? The theist has the dubious benefit of the revelation; experiential evidence that is of little worth to an outsider, but of enormous visceral worth to the theist himself. While quite a number of people resist the draw of experiential evidence of the supernatural, many others heed it as valid evidence and deny all argument to the contrary. However, the concern of society is not the belief of its members, but rather their actions. As such, do believers owe justification to society for the basis of their morality?

It depends, and this contingency is the heart of the matter. Does the believer’s religion force them to perform an action which society would consider immoral? If not, then the believer owes society no explanation; it really is not anyone else’s business what goes on in the heart of a man (or woman). However, if the religion demands an action that society considers immoral, then the theist is required to evidentially justify his behavior to society. For example, if an Aztec lives in an Aztec society, then no justification is required for the practice of human sacrifice; his society does not find the practice immoral (even though I do). However, were this Aztec transported to modern Switzerland, he would be expected to justify his religious morality without appealing to the authority of his religion, which he would be hard pressed to do. To apply this principle to modern pluralistic American society, I would encourage a Christian seeking to compel a moral action to argue outside of his religion; just as no amount of appeal to Huitzilopochtli would justify human sacrifice outside of Aztec society, no amount of appeal to Christ will justify an action in secular, pluralistic America that is currently considered evidentially immoral.

However, this line of reasoning prompts a question, which I find foundational and utterly intriguing. I have argued why religion cannot justify an action considered immoral by society. Now we approach the question of the role of the believer in evaluating religious moral teachings. Is it moral for a person to commit an evil act at God’s command? The Old Testament is filled with instances in which believers commited incredibly evil acts at God’s command. Much of the Old Testament is written like a loving ode to genocide; Abraham would have killed his son as a sacrifice; an old man offers up two young women (including his own daughter) for a mob to rape to death. Is it morally right for a believer to commit what his inherent morality states is an evil act (genocide, murder, etc.) because his God told him to? While “just following orders” may in some very limited cases be a legal defense, is it a moral one? In a totalitarian system, is only the head despot morally responsible? Of course not; a person is responsible for his or her actions. Religion is certainly the ideal totalitarian system with God as the despot. Why should a theist not be morally responsible for all outrageous acts against his morality, whether commanded by God or not?

The theist may take refuge in self-preservation; knowingly defying God’s will leads directly to hellfire and damnation. A theist can legitimately claim that he must follow God’s will for his own preservation. But is this a moral act? No; the moral act is self-sacrifice to preserve the lives and well-being of others. Medals are not given to those who run from a live grenade; they are given for knowingly sacrificing one’s own well-being for the well-being of his comrades. Self-preservation is an amoral act, neither to be condemned nor praised. If the theist takes refuge behind the vindictiveness of God, he resigns himself to an amoral life, following the will of God solely for ultimate self-preservation. And the addition of Heavenly profit for the immoral act only makes it more tawdry and reprehensible, although strictly amoral.

On the other hand, the theist may take pleasure and pride in following God’s commands, believing that to be the highest form of morality. However, atheists, secularists, and many intellectually honest theists admit that humans have an inborn morality that is independent of religious belief, whether they think this morality is from God, evolution, or another source. I, for one, also think humans have this inherent morality that can usually only be overcome with some difficulty. If one agrees that humans have an inherent morality, then one agrees that it is conceivable that God could command them to do an act against their inherent morality. I would hope that every theist here would agree that genocide is immoral, rape is immoral, and human sacrifice is immoral; and yet God ordered all three from his human subjects. I ask again: is it moral to follow an immoral command, regardless of the source of the command? No, of course not; at best, despotic religion turns any action, moral or immoral, into an amoral act of self-preservation. At worst, the follower takes pleasure in violating his own morals, relishing an immoral act.

Now there is, of a necessity, two kinds of religions: those in which God admittedly commands immoral actions of His followers, and those in which He does not. In cases where God commands immoral actions of His followers, I have argued (I hope convincingly) that the resulting actions are immoral or amoral, and therefore the religion itself is not a suitable basis for moral action. In cases where God never commands an action that outrages human morality, then religion suddenly becomes unnecessary; it never commands us to perform an action other than that which our morality would allow without religion. Perhaps it can be said that religion encourages us to perform actions that we already consider moral, but the primary way in which it does this is by carrot and stick, which again turns moral actions into amoral self-promotion and preservation.

Religion offers fossilized moral systems that debase human moral action with tawdry rewards and outrageous threats. Philosophy allows for self-analyzing systems of morality that encourages moral action without inducements outside of the pleasure of doing right, and the natural rewards of morality (ordered society, approval of peers, etc.) Religion is at best amoral, and at worst encourages moral outrages for the glory of the ultimate totalitarian regime. If I cannot appeal to reason against the theists’ personal experiences, then can I not appeal to your human dignity? Do not debase yourself by requiring a heavenly secret police to induce your moral actions; do not defile yourself by allowing the usage of your human faculties to outrage your basic human decency in the name of the ultimate despot. Take your morality from your love of yourself and your fellow man, which I as an atheist share.

63 comments:

WoundedEgo said...

This is possibly irrelevant, though I think that one or more of these observations may relate somehow.

From: http://deeandrews.net/2007/09/20/bible-interpretation-by-kids/
Note: This Comes from a Catholic Elementary School Test Where Kids Were Asked Questions About the Old and New Testaments.

The Following Statements about the Bible Were Written by Children. They Have Not Been Retouched or Corrected. Incorrect Spelling Has Been Left In.

1. In the First Book of the Bible, Guinessis. God Got Tired of Creating the
World So He Took the Sabbath Off.

2. Adam and Eve Were Created from an Apple Tree. Noah's Wife Was Joan of Ark. Noah Built and Ark and the Animals Came on in Pears.

3. Lots Wife Was a Pillar of Salt During the Day, but a Ball of Fire During
The Night.

4. The Jews Were a Proud People and Throughout History They Had Trouble with Unsympathetic Genitals.

5. Sampson Was a Strongman Who Let Himself Be Led Astray by a Jezebel like Delilah.

6. Samson Slayed the Philistines with the Axe of the Apostles.

7. Moses Led the Jews to the Red Sea Where They Made Unleavened Bread Which Is Bread Without Any Ingredients .

8. The Egyptians Were All Drowned in the Dessert. Afterwards, Moses Went up To Mount Cyanide to Get the Ten Commandments.

9 the First Commandments Was When Eve Told Adam to Eat the Apple.

10. The Seventh Commandment Is Thou Shalt Not Admit Adultery.

11. Moses Died Before He Ever Reached Canada. Then Joshua Led the Hebrews in The Battle of Geritol.

12. The Greatest Miricle in the Bible Is When Joshua Told His Son to Stand
Still and He Obeyed Him.

13. David Was a Hebrew King Who Was Skilled at Playing the Liar. He Fought The Finkelsteins, a Race of People Who Lived in Biblical Times.

14. Solomon, One of Davids Sons, Had 300 Wives and 700 Porcupines.

15. When Mary Heard She Was the Mother of Jesus, She Sang the Magna Carta.

16. When the Three Wise Guys from the East Side Arrived They Found Jesus in The Manager.

17. Jesus Was Born Because Mary Had an Immaculate Contraption.

18. St. John the Blacksmith Dumped Water on His Head.

19. Jesus Enunciated the Golden Rule, Which Says to Do unto Others Before
They Do One to You. He Also Explained a Man Doth Not Live by Sweat Alone.

20. It Was a Miricle When Jesus Rose from the Dead and Managed to Get the Tombstone off the Entrance.

21. The People Who Followed the Lord Were Called the 12 Decibels.
22. The Epistels Were the Wives of the Apostles.

23. One of the Oppossums Was St. Matthew Who Was Also a Taximan.

24. St. Paul Cavorted to Christianity, He Preached Holy Acrimony Which Is
Another Name for Marraige.

25. Christians Have Only One Spouse. This Is Called Monotony.

!

Bill Ross
http://bibleshockers.blogspot.com

WoundedEgo said...

Dang, I think this is probably not the place to post this... but what a nice song and video!:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qrGfA6y9fNI

Bill Ross
http://bibleshockers.blogspot.com

Solon said...

>>Philosophy allows for self-analyzing systems of morality that encourages moral action

All of these statements about moral acts or one system being moral or not are completely worthless without a statement about what constitutes morality.

Philosophy has never proven any moral system but merely put various ones forth with no more validity than when done by the founders of religions and cultures.

You also seem to be confusing morality with kindness.

zilch said...

Good post, shygetz. I love the phrase "fossilized philosophies". Of course, this is the price religions pay for claiming divine inspiration: it's hard to imagine a sacred text saying "God commands you to do the best you can, following your inborn sociality and rational consideration of your situation; if you don't, you'll go to Hell".

Solon: proof is not forthcoming for moral systems. Building society is always a balancing act between desire and order. But just because religions wave carrots and sticks around their laws, doesn't mean they are better than secular philosophies.

John W. Loftus said...

For example, if an Aztec lives in an Aztec society, then no justification is required for the practice of human sacrifice; his society does not find the practice immoral (even though I do).

For an absolutely amazing movie showing the Aztec's in action I heartily recommend people rent Mel Gibson's Apocalypto.

While I was at first hesitant, because it was Gibson's movie, and because is was subtitled and not in English, it will show you what it was like to live in that day. There are very few subtitles anyway because of the action of the movie itself, and during a greater portiton of it no subtitles are even needed. GET THAT MOVIE!

I find it interesting, though, that Gibson doesn't see how his ending doesn't help anything, because the Spanish Conquistadors brought an end to millions of lives through bloodshed and the spread of European diseases, along the adoption of Catholicism by gun point.

Jason said...

I agree with Solon. Philosophy doesn't get you from "is" to "ought".

-Jason

James F. McGrath said...

I would like to dispute the suggestion that a Christian cannot disagree with something Jesus said. Jesus predicted that the end of the world would come during the lifetime of his hearers. It didn't. No one thinks Jesus was right about this. Some know that Jesus was mistaken. Others pretend that he wasn't or somehow manage to avoid addressing the issue directly. But no Christians today follow what Jesus actually said about this.

Keith Ward is an excellent example of someone working within the Christian tradition who acknowledges this point and makes it fundamental to the way he approaches the Bible.

In the Gospel of Matthew, the author doesn't say that Jesus was wrong about turning the other cheek, but he does interpret what it means in a very different way than the author of Luke did (who most likely preserves the earliest form). Matthew turns it into a form of non-violent protest, and it was this form that inspired Gandhi, among others.

Christians have been disagreeing with things Jesus said from the beginning. Sometimes they have admitted it, other times not; sometimes they have been the better for doing so, other times not. But to be persuaded that someone offers key insights into how we should live does not necessarily mean following their teaching uncritically, regardless whether it is Jesus, Socrates or someone else that one is referring to.

zilch said...

jason says:

I agree with Solon. Philosophy doesn't get you from "is" to "ought".

True. But religion only gets you from "is" to "ought" by making up a policeman in the sky. We all choose our own "oughts", whether based on religion, tradition, or reason.

WoundedEgo said...

>>>I agree with Solon. Philosophy doesn't get you from "is" to "ought".

Socrates believed that it was impossible for someone to choose to do other than what they understood to be the highest good. The job of the philosopher, then, was to discover the highest good. It is in this context that he posits that "the unexamined life is not worth living."

This sentiment is echoes in the OT, where wisdom is said to create good behavior. For example:

Proverbs 1:
1 ¶ My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee;
2 So that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding;
3 Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding;
4 If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures;
5 Then shalt thou understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God.
6 For the LORD giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding.
7 He layeth up sound wisdom for the righteous: he is a buckler to them that walk uprightly.
8 He keepeth the paths of judgment, and preserveth the way of his saints.
9 Then shalt thou understand righteousness, and judgment, and equity; yea, every good path.
10 ¶ When wisdom entereth into thine heart, and knowledge is pleasant unto thy soul;
11 Discretion shall preserve thee, understanding shall keep thee:
12 To deliver thee from the way of the evil man, from the man that speaketh froward things;
13 Who leave the paths of uprightness, to walk in the ways of darkness;
14 Who rejoice to do evil, and delight in the frowardness of the wicked;
15 Whose ways are crooked, and they froward in their paths:
16 To deliver thee from the strange woman, even from the stranger which flattereth with her words;
17 Which forsaketh the guide of her youth, and forgetteth the covenant of her God.
18 For her house inclineth unto death, and her paths unto the dead.
19 None that go unto her return again, neither take they hold of the paths of life.
20 That thou mayest walk in the way of good men, and keep the paths of the righteous.
21 For the upright shall dwell in the land, and the perfect shall remain in it.
22 But the wicked shall be cut off from the earth, and the transgressors shall be rooted out of it.
1 ¶ My son, forget not my law; but let thine heart keep my commandments:
2 For length of days, and long life, and peace, shall they add to thee.
3 Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart:
4 So shalt thou find favour and good understanding in the sight of God and man.
5 Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.
6 In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.
7 ¶ Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil.
8 It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones.
9 Honour the LORD with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase:
10 So shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine.
11 My son, despise not the chastening of the LORD; neither be weary of his correction:
12 For whom the LORD loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth.
13 ¶ Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding.
14 For the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold.
15 She is more precious than rubies: and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her.
16 Length of days is in her right hand; and in her left hand riches and honour.
17 Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.
18 She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her: and happy is every one that retaineth her.
19 The LORD by wisdom hath founded the earth; by understanding hath he established the heavens.
20 By his knowledge the depths are broken up, and the clouds drop down the dew.
21 ¶ My son, let not them depart from thine eyes: keep sound wisdom and discretion:
22 So shall they be life unto thy soul, and grace to thy neck.
23 Then shalt thou walk in thy way safely, and thy foot shall not stumble.
24 When thou liest down, thou shalt not be afraid: yea, thou shalt lie down, and thy sleep shall be sweet.

The psalm says that by delighting in the law, good behavior follows:

Psalm 1:
1 ¶ Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.
3 And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.
4 ¶ The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.
5 Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
6 For the LORD knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.

Paul, on the other hand, seems to want to say that this is not true. He specifically says that you can delight in the law of God with your mind, yet sin, that lives in your muscles, will act in OPPOSITION to your delights:

Romans 7:
7 ¶ What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.
8 But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead.
9 For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.
10 And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death.
11 For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me.
12 Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.
13 Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.
14 ¶ For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.
15 For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.
16 If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good.
17 Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.
19 For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.
20 Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
21 I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.
22 ***For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:
23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.***
24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.

So Paul opposes both what the philosophers and the Jews believed. I think the Matthew Jesus tended to side more with the philosophers:

Mt 13:33 Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.

Who was right?

Bill Ross
http://bibleshockers.blogspot.com

Shygetz said...

solon said: All of these statements about moral acts or one system being moral or not are completely worthless without a statement about what constitutes morality.

and jason said: I agree with Solon. Philosophy doesn't get you from "is" to "ought".

Both of you have just discounted one of the major branches of philosophy without so much as a whiff of an argument. Ethics is solely about "ought"; metaphysics is about "is". They are both legitimate domains of philosophy with traditions in the Western world dating back to ancient Greece. There are numerous moral systems, both in philosophy and religion, and each has their own statement about "what is morality". My personal favorite is humanism; however, where philosophy is superior is that it depends upon the strength of its argument, rather than the appeal to authority that defines religious morality.

Philosophy has never proven any moral system but merely put various ones forth with no more validity than when done by the founders of religions and cultures.

As I said before, there is more validity in that philosophy must rely upon the strength of its arguments and the results of its application. Religion relies centrally upon its appeal to divine authority; even if the moral system leads demonstrably to genocide, rape, and infaticide, it claims to retain its full authority due centrally to a supposed divine source.

You also seem to be confusing
morality with kindness.


Not at all (although I would argue that some amount of kindness is a central facet of all good moral systems). I use abhorent acts as examples solely for clarity; if you do not find genocide and rape abhorrent, than frankly I would rather not converse with you. However, you could define morality as eating ham sandwiches only on Sunday and the question would still stand. God could still order you to commit an action that you would consider immoral.

james said: I would like to dispute the suggestion that a Christian cannot disagree with something Jesus said.

If Jesus' words are not infallible, then his moral teachings are not truly religious, as they do not invoke the infallible will of God. If you follow Christ as a mortal humanist philosopher, then that's great; you have the esteemed company of Thomas Jefferson. However, if you claim that Jesus' words are direct from an infallible God, then how can you justify criticizing His moral teachings?

Jesus predicted that the end of the world would come during the lifetime of his hearers. It didn't. No one thinks Jesus was right about this.

Au contraire, my friend. People have gone to outrageous lengths to avoid just these kinds of contradictions. The most popular "interpretation" is that Matt 16:28 refers to the transfiguration.

But to be persuaded that someone offers key insights into how we should live does not necessarily mean following their teaching uncritically, regardless whether it is Jesus, Socrates or someone else that one is referring to.

Again, if you believe Jesus was a mortal humanist philosopher, great. If you believe he is the divine omnipotent and omniscient God (a central tenet of Christianity, last I checked), then how can you question his teachings in the slightest? This is the stultifying effect I refer to; by claiming the mantle of Godhood, the criticism that is essential for improvement of any philosophical system is cut off completely (at least, so far as the believers are concerned).

Solon said...

>>there is more validity in that philosophy must rely upon the strength of its arguments

There is not an ounce more validity behind philosophy's "thall shalt not kill" than there is behind Christianty's. Both are commands put forth by creators, whether religious or philosophical.

If you try to hide the above command behind some reasoned notion of "dignity," well, that then notion in turn is merely commanded. Whatever notion comes last was commanded. Why dignity, Mr. Kant? -Human intellect. Why is human intellect worthy? -Well, it just is. (Actually because it was divine, but let's not go into that too much because it quickly gets embarrassing.)

There is no reasoned basis at all behind ultimate claims, even if the path to them is reasoned. Where could our human worldly reason possibly get a footing to support a foundation except in "another" world?

>>Both of you have just discounted one of the major branches of philosophy without so much as a whiff of an argument. Ethics is solely about "ought"

Appeal to authority. Ethics is not morality, and you can't appeal to tradition to defend your moralism. You're making the claim that philosophy provides a rational basis to morality in contrast to religion. You have provided no such argument, nor has any philosopher ever. That doesn't mean there is not reason within systems, but the basis is certainly not founded upon reason.

What philosophers have done for many centuries in the West is take Christian precepts and dress them in rational clothes and kept the beginnings murky. Then partisan zealots attack anyone who dares question those beginnings with argumentum ad populum/hominem statements like "frankly I would rather not converse with you".

>>I use abhorent acts as examples solely for clarity

No, you use them because of tradition and your human animality. There is nothing reasoned in those starting points. Slaughter of humans is only appalling to us (not irrational) because we are human animals in a cultural time that abhors violence upon "innocents." In another time it would have been otherwise. Slaughtering other animals for our benefit is largely seen otherwise.

>>I would argue that ... is a central facet of all good moral systems

You just entered an infinite regression :-(

zilch said...

solon says:

There is no reasoned basis at all behind ultimate claims, even if the path to them is reasoned. Where could our human worldly reason possibly get a footing to support a foundation except in "another" world?

Where? In our evolved nature as social animals: that must be the starting point (but of course not the only criterion) of any moral system. "Ultimate" claims about morality, whether philosophical or religious, are misguided: morality does not exist in a vacuum, but only in beings that live socially. Morality is an evolved entity just as much as we humans are evolved entities.

Before we had knowledge of evolution, it was natural to look for an "ultimate" justification for the morality that made culture (which evolved because it conferred fitness and was attractive) possible. One of the reasons gods were invented (or evolved unconsciously) was to provide an "ultimate" source of morality, along with the carrots and sticks to enforce it.

But morality has always been a balancing act between our social animal nature, and the needs of societies. A certain amount of conflict is built in, and the differences between societies are largely in the ways conflict is dealt with. But while there are demonstrably better and worse ways to run a society, there is no "best" way- it's a moving target.

We always make choices informed from within and without: the animal within, and the reason without, whether we call it "philosophy" or "religion".

Solon said...

>>Where? In our evolved nature as social animals: that must be the starting point (but of course not the only criterion) of any moral system.

You've echoed my point exactly and agreed that there is no rational basis for morality as I said. Hence philosophical systems of morality are no more rationally justified than religious ones, contrary to what the poster wrote.

I don't know why the emphasis on "evolved," btw, unless you mean "progress." If you do, you have to explain progress towards what - i.e, what is absolutely moral. Otherwise you mean there is no standard beyond the vagaries of what various societies take to be moral at various times.

>>One of the reasons gods were invented (or evolved unconsciously) was to provide an "ultimate" source of morality, along with the carrots and sticks to enforce it.

So you mean for exactly the same reason philosophers invented moral rules then :-)

zilch said...

I said:

Where? In our evolved nature as social animals: that must be the starting point (but of course not the only criterion) of any moral system.

solon replied:

You've echoed my point exactly and agreed that there is no rational basis for morality as I said. Hence philosophical systems of morality are no more rationally justified than religious ones, contrary to what the poster wrote.

No, solon, that's not what I said. I said that our animal nature must be the starting point for morality. Rationality is necessary too, and that's where philosophy and religion come in. But I agree with shygetz: all other things being equal, philosophy is to be preferred over religion, because it does not rely on an appeal to divine authority, but rather on the strength of its arguments. Of course there's an element of rational justification of arguments in religions too- the various parables in the Bible are good examples of an appeal to reason. But in the end, it's God saying "My Way, or the highway".

solon:

I don't know why the emphasis on "evolved," btw, unless you mean "progress." If you do, you have to explain progress towards what - i.e, what is absolutely moral.

I said "evolved" because that's where we, along with our needs and desires, come from: evolution. No explanation of human nature makes sense unless it starts from evolution. I don't mean "progress", and as I said, I don't recognize any "absolute" morals.

solon:

Otherwise you mean there is no standard beyond the vagaries of what various societies take to be moral at various times.

No, as I said, the "standard" we must start from is our evolved social animal nature; and while that too has changed through time, it changes slowly enough that we can, as history has shown, construct workable societies with many common ideals: for instance, the Golden Rule. And what you dismiss as the "vagaries of what various societies take to be moral at various times" can be described otherwise: moral progress. A good example is the abolition of slavery.

This is of course not to say that morals, and thus societies, cannot degenerate as well. But their are no sure answers and we are always faced with hard choices, no matter what morals we assume. As I've said ad nauseum, building culture is a balancing act.

zilch:

One of the reasons gods were invented (or evolved unconsciously) was to provide an "ultimate" source of morality, along with the carrots and sticks to enforce it.

solon:

So you mean for exactly the same reason philosophers invented moral rules then :-)

If philosophers are arrogant enough to believe that they are the ultimate source of morality, then yes. Otherwise, no.

Shygetz said...

Solon, your whole set of posts is one large attempt at the tu quoque fallacy. You have not made a single attempt to defend religion, rather you merely try to attack philosophy. And yet, even if one were to grant all of your criticisms, they are all also true of religion plus the criticisms unique to religion (an appeal to divine authority, the rendering of moral actions amoral and the promotion of immoral actions through divine carrot/stick measures, etc.) Even if you succeed, all you would have done is knocked philosophy and religion both down a few pegs; philosophy would still remain equally relatively superior to religion as when you began.

There is not an ounce more validity behind philosophy's "thall shalt not kill" than there is behind Christianty's. Both are commands put forth by creators, whether religious or philosophical.

What? Philosophers do not claim to be creators (at least, not in the sense of metaphysical creators), and they do not rely upon their authority (which is piddling). Indeed, they can only become authorities by the appeal of their arguments; religion claims authority by fiat. Philosophers make various rational arguments to support their assertions, stemming from things like game theory, natural law, consequences, etc. Religion uses "because God said so, and damn the consequences."

Appeal to authority. Ethics is not morality, and you can't appeal to tradition to defend your moralism.

Are you confused? First of all, in philosophy, morality is the practice of systems of ethics. The field of ethics in philosophy is definitely the study of moral systems; you sound as if you have absolutely no knowledge of the field of ethics.

Second, what tradition am I appealing to? I am stating that the system of rational argument leads to a superior system of ethics, due to our ability to incorporate criticism, including criticism based upon the evidences of consequences of application of a moral system. Are you claiming that I am appealing to the tradition of rational thought?

If you try to hide the above command behind some reasoned notion of "dignity," well, that then notion in turn is merely commanded.

Not commanded, argued--have you been so cowed by religion that you now take every argument as a command? Do you wish to deny that you have human dignity? Then present your argument. This is the superiority of philosophy--you are allowed to present your argument without threat of hellfire and damnation, and I cannot defend by appealing to authority.

What philosophers have done for many centuries in the West is take Christian precepts and dress them in rational clothes and kept the beginnings murky.

Sophisitcated ethics predate Christianity, which may well have borrowed its ethics from other systems. The biggest post-Greece revolution in ethics occurred around the Enlightenment, independent of Christian theology. Ethics has moved well outside of Christian doctrine (e.g. humanism) and is now often largely unconcerned with Christian dogma.

No, you use them because of tradition and your human animality. There is nothing reasoned in those starting points.

Certainly there is. The rational arguments behind humanism as a system of ethics are available for anyone to see, and have an ancient history. As I said before, you can take the instance of ham sandwich eating for all I care, and the point still stands. You are trying to obscure to cover up for the weakness of religious moral systems.

You just entered an infinite regression :-( (by stating that I would argue that kindness is a central facet of good moral systems)

Bald assertion. Justify you assertion, or leave it in the bag.

So you mean for exactly the same reason philosophers invented moral rules then :-)

No one here is saying that systems of morality have no purpose; we are rather saying that religion tries to opt out of the rational process by exempting its systems of morality from reasoned criticism, taking refuge in the ultimate appeal to authority. Additionally, if you wish to cede that religions were invented, then you need to justify why they should retain their appeal to divine authority, without which they would cease being religions altogether.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

A great discussion between Solon and Shygetz. Let me toss a few pennies into the pot.

Of course, I agree with Shygetz in his basic statements. Let me try and add my 'nuances and details' -- warning, guys, he's getting long-winded again!

Once again Solon is trying to 'force a card.' There is one position that the Christians never confront, that morality does not need an appeal to an 'ultimate authority.' That morality works 'on its own.'

This goes so totally against the Christian idea of man's 'inherent depravity' and the myth that 'if we weren't scared of hell we'd be totally immoral' that they insist on finding an 'absolute source of morality.

I argue the opposite, that morality has been evolved as part of our evolving consciousness because IT WORKS! It is in fact a 'survival tool,' and an important one, which is why it has continually evolved.

At some point in our existence we developed the ability to communicate abstract ideas, and to cooperate with each other on long-range tasks and projects. This in itself is a major survival ability, which is why it became nearly universal.

But that ability to cooperate brings with it a morality, one based on four principles that make such a cooperation possible and trustworthy.

The first is respect for -- at first -- the people in your own tribe, treating them as 'valuable parts of the team.' This is obviously a survival attitude, since without the basic trust involved, the infighting and paranoia inhibit cooperation.

(This was the last to come along, in fact, and is still, too often, ungeneralized into a realization that all humans are equally, inherently, worthy of respect, not just fellow tribesmen.' It is possible to conceive of a society without it, depending strictly on a command structure to enforce rules -- totalitarianisms and despotisms are frequent throughout society. However, this past century -- which started with divine-right monarchy as a predominant form of government and which experimented with various forms of totalitarianism -- has shown that democracy -- that is, a structure based on the mutual respect I have mentioned -- has a definite edge on the other forms and is more likely -- other things being equal -- to survive a conflict.)

The second is honesty and freedom of communication. These too are survival skills, so much so that we sometimes fail to realize how much of society rests on an assumption of trust. Everytime you open a can of food, you are trusting that the contents are what is on the label and that it has not been poisoned. I can't imagine a society existing where honesty is not considered the norm and lying an aberration.

Freedom of communication is something we are beginning to develop more fully. As with 'respect' it is possible to imagine societies that do not accept 'freedom of communication,' which is nothing more than the right of everyone to comment on the cooperative effort.

But a society that values the contribution of everyone is more efficient than a heirarchical one, if only because different perspectives show problems and solutions that are not always visible from the height of a 'top-down' society.

(I should state that, in stressing the co-operative nature of society, I'm not ruling out a 'benevolent selfishness,' an 'egotism.' A person can and freequently does have a 'selfish' motive as part of his motivation -- I'd argue that all motives are mixed and complex. A person can work to develop a cure for cancer 'simply' because he wants the glory and money it will bring. That motivation doesn't lessen the benefits he will give society if he succeeds.

(In fact, my whole point is that honesty and cooperation is, generally, more 'selfish' than dishonesty and unethical behaviour.)

The third principle -- I'll sum them up at the end -- is that 'persuasion is more ethical than force.' This is true -- though it doesn't rule out the necessity of force, because not everyone will or -- as Lee argues -- can realize the benefits of living as part of a society.

It is not merely 'more ethical' but 'more efficient.' A person who does something because he is convinced it is the right thing to do, or who refrains from doing something because he is convinced it is wrong will police himself and require less use of society's resources policing him. (This is only true if the person has not been taught two incorrect things, that he is 'inherently depraved' and thereby will, as a part of his nature, make the 'wrong' choices, or that 'the Evil One' is really the 'smart one,' and that we are being 'dumb' or 'weak' by acting ethically.)

The final principle is that of 'responsiblity,' both in the sense of 'acting responsibly' -- that is, attempting to foresee the results of your actions -- and in 'being responsible' -- admitting and accepting the consequences that actually occurred.

Again, these are 'ethical principles' but they are also obvious consequences of being part of society. Again, the less resources a society needs to devote to policing, the better. The less disasters that occur through lack of foresight, the better for society. And how much of society's resources are used to divert the consequences of people's refusal to take responsibility for what they've done. So the more people who act 'ethically' -- by this definition -- the better it is for society.

--at last, he's winding down --

To sum up, there are four bases for an ethical system that i would argue do not require any 'appeal to the ultimate' or 'appeal to society.' They are ethical because they are inherent in the idea of society, of cooperation and are justified by that basis alone.

They are
a) respect for the individual
b) honesty and freedom of communication
c) persuasion over force
d) acting responsibly and taking responsibility for one's actions and the consequences of them.

Shygetz said...

prup made a good utilitarian argument that I would largely agree with. On a related note, I find it interesting to examine the apparent progression of altruism in the human species. We started with kin relationships; altruism was based on genetic kinship and little else, just as we still see in nature. We then moved to a social altruism, where altruism was based on both shared genes and shared cultural memes (which is strongly on display in the OT). We have moved into humanism, where altruism is based on the shared human experience, both genetic and sociological (which is somewhat on display in the NT, Paul's misogyny and approving references to slavery notwithstanding). Now we are starting to see the nascent push into what I guess one could call cognitivism, where altruism is based on the capability of abstract thought and not based at all on genetic similarity (i.e. any creature similarly capable of abstract thought as a human should be granted similar rights and dignities as a human). This is most apparent in the philosophical criticisms of humanism as being speciesist, an idea that would have been laughable in the Enlightenment. It seems that our pattern of altruism is making a directional evolution from the selfish gene to the selfish meme, where the capability to assimilate a thought is given primary importance.

Solon said...

I'll try and answer the 3 replies here in turn:

--------------------

>>philosophy is to be preferred over religion, because it does not rely on an appeal to divine authority, but rather on the strength of its arguments.

I've just shown you how it does appeal to authoritative declarations and you have not shown otherwise. Again, within a system it follows rules, but its non-rational declarations are probably no easier to change than those found within religious works (which also get challenged and interpreted over time).

>>But in the end, it's God saying "My Way, or the highway".

And so it is with the divine "human rights" philosophy invented (hiding behind Christian notions).

>>the "standard" we must start from is our evolved social animal nature...
>>we can, as history has shown, construct workable societies with many common ideals

But that has nothing to do with right and wrong, it has only to do with preference or utility.

>>I don't mean "progress", and as I said, I don't recognize any "absolute" morals.
>>And what you dismiss as the "vagaries of what various societies take to be moral at various times" can be described otherwise: moral progress. A good example is the abolition of slavery.
>>not to say that morals, and thus societies, cannot degenerate

You just said you don't believe in progress then give an example and make statements regarding progress! So you've invented some absolute standard (I assume "human dignity") upon which to judge slavery and societies throughout time. But again, it has no more rational basis than an overtly religious appeal.

>>If philosophers are arrogant enough to believe that they are the ultimate source of morality, then yes. Otherwise, no.

Otherwise what? I don't see any difference between Kant simply declaring there is something called "human dignity" that you must honor and Jesus doing it.

Solon said...

>>You have not made a single attempt to defend religion

Why would I defend religion or have to? (Though I would in some contexts.) I'm an atheist. Don't assume those who oppose you are your enemies. This is philosophy, not football. Your best critic is your best friend :-)

>>philosophy would still remain equally relatively superior to religion as when you began.

I've argued philosophy is on no better footing for the rational validity of it moral propositions. At all.

>>Philosophers do not claim to be creators
>>religion claims authority by fiat
>>Philosophers make various rational arguments to support their assertions

Generally they don't claim to, but that doesn't mean they aren't doing it. They declare values just as much as religious "artists" do. And I've given some examples of how they do legislate by fiat with no supporting arguments whatsoever.

>>in philosophy, morality is the practice of systems of ethics.

Ethics, my polite friend, is about finding a way of life, the good life. Morality concerns what you owe to persons. Ethics is much broader.

>>Second, what tradition am I appealing to?

You're appealing to the standard claims of philosophy, particularly Anglo-Saxon tradition.

>>Not commanded, argued

There is no more argument for it in Kant than in the Bible. The Bible probably makes a better argument: the soul is divine and a part of the divine order. In Kant it is the same essentially, but the divine is unknowable, an obvious point at which Kant should have sat down and gone over things again.

>>This is the superiority of philosophy--you are allowed to present your argument without threat of hellfire and damnation, and I cannot defend by appealing to authority.

Religions don't appeal to god either, they appeal to those who interpret the word of god. There are arguments about these things within religion as well. Philosophy also condemns and appeals to tradition, alongside argument. Maybe not condemns to hell, but nonetheless.

>>Sophisitcated ethics predate Christianity

I'm somewhat aware of the history of philosophy, thanks. I said "for many centuries", not millenia.

>>moved well outside of Christian doctrine (e.g. humanism) and is now often largely unconcerned with Christian dogma.

So, on what basis does philosophy defend the notions of human dignity, equality, and right? These do not predate Christianity. All philosophical defenses start getting fidgety when they get down around the hidden Christian notion of divine souls as the defense for these notions, as I pointed out above. So, not only on such points is philosophy no more "valid" than religion, but in fact it often hides behind religious declarations like a coward.

>>The rational arguments behind humanism as a system of ethics are available for anyone to see

I've never heard a single one that was rational at base and have shown examples here of how they are not ultimately rational.

>>you can take the instance of ham sandwich eating for all I care, and the point still stands.

Sure, that philosophical declarations of value are no more valid that religious ones. After that, the rest of the system is just playing with a abacus.

>>You just entered an infinite regression :-( (by stating that I would argue that kindness is a central facet of good moral systems)

Clearly I deleted "kindness" because irrelevant to the point. It is a regression because you have no basis upon which to judge good a system that declares what is good without first having the system in place.

>>we are rather saying that religion tries to opt out of the rational process by exempting its systems of morality from reasoned criticism, taking refuge in the ultimate appeal to authority.

And I am not only saying but arguing that moral systems grown out of the philosophical sphere have always done exactly the same thing. The scales upon which we weigh the world are not rational, even if they give us figures that tally up nicely afterwards.

Solon said...

>>morality has been evolved as part of our evolving consciousness because IT WORKS! It is in fact a 'survival tool,' and an important one, which is why it has continually evolved.

Then alligators have a better system of "morality" than we do because they have survived with theirs for even longer.

>>they are inherent in the idea of society
>>a) respect for the individual
...

Clearly the Greeks, Romans, and most other societies throughout history have disagreed and found that slavery and all manner of nastiness worked well or was justified based on their notions of the unequal worth of individuals.

Respectfully, what you have described in your post is a system for punishment and control, utility and preference, not morality at all. Just because the methods we employ in recent history seem good to you doesn't mean they are moral.

Shygetz said...

I've just shown you how it does appeal to authoritative declarations and you have not shown otherwise. Again, within a system it follows rules, but its non-rational declarations are probably no easier to change than those found within religious works (which also get challenged and interpreted over time).

So you're saying that Kantian philosophy was successful because Kant was a recognized authority? That's silly; Kant is a recognized authority because his arguments were persuasive.

And it's no easier to challenge a philosophical argument than a religious one? Again, that's silly. Philosophy is argued, heavily revised, and sometimes fully thrown out. As I said in the post, there can be some futzing around the edges of philosophy, but tell me this: can a Chrisitan say that the philosophy of loving your enemy is evil? If so, then you have eliminated the idea that your morality comes from an infallible divine source and essentially removed the religious authority. If not, then you must admit that your morality is stultified in a manner that philosophy is not.

And so it is with the divine "human rights" philosophy invented (hiding behind Christian notions).

What are you talking about? If it is a divine philosophy, then it is a religion and subject to the same criticism. If it is not, then it is not even claimed to be divine. Are you just making stuff up now?

But that has nothing to do with right and wrong, it has only to do with preference or utility.

No, his argument is that right and wrong is based on utility; morals which result in successful coherent societies are preferable to morals which do not. He then lists reasons why they are better. You can accept his argument, or argue against it, and he has no authority to rely upon. He must convince you solely by weight of his argument.

You just said you don't believe in progress then give an example and make statements regarding progress! So you've invented some absolute standard (I assume "human dignity") upon which to judge slavery and societies throughout time. But again, it has no more rational basis than an overtly religious appeal.

Certainly it has more rational basis. We have evidence of the successes and failures of societies based on slavery, and the successes and failures of societies based on slavery. We can base our arguments on these evidences.

Otherwise what? I don't see any difference between Kant simply declaring there is something called "human dignity" that you must honor and Jesus doing it.

Because you can fully believe that Kant exists as everything Kant said he is, and still tell Kant he is wrong. You cannot believe Jesus is what he said he is and still say Jesus was wrong. Jesus relies upon divine authority; Kant relies upon the quality of his argument.

Why would I defend religion or have to? (Though I would in some contexts.) I'm an atheist.

You have to defend religion because in attempting to refute my position that philosophy is superior to religion, you list a bunch of stuff that philosophy and religion have in common, ignoring the weaknesses unique to religion. So again, even assuming that every critique you say is true, philosophy still comes out superior. You must defend the unique weaknesses of religion in order to carry your point.

I've argued philosophy is on no better footing for the rational validity of it moral propositions. At all.

Bull. Again, religion depends fully on divine authority. Philosophy has no authority and must rely upon the strength of its argument. The arguments include evidence, logic, and mathematical theory. All of these render philosophy more rational than an appeal to divine authority.

Generally they don't claim to, but that doesn't mean they aren't doing it. They declare values just as much as religious "artists" do.

Again, a bald assertion. The entire field of descriptive ethics is based on defining ethics based on what people actually do. The ethical system of utilitarianism depends wholly upon utility. There are various moral systems, many of which do not operate on fiat. Those that do can be argued against; a luxury not allowed against religious doctrine.

You're appealing to the standard claims of philosophy, particularly Anglo-Saxon tradition.

How can you claim that my argument is irrational because it appeals to rationality? That is a ridiculous argument. I insist that arguments be, at the least, arguable.

Ethics, my polite friend, is about finding a way of life, the good life. Morality concerns what you owe to persons. Ethics is much broader.

Ethics is broader, just as any theoretical system is broader than any one instance of applicaiton. However, I stand by my general definition: ethics is a theoretical system for moral actions.

There is no more argument for it in Kant than in the Bible.

Kant relied upon the shared human experience in his definition of human dignity, similar to what we rely upon when we say something is "green". You can accept this or challenge it without threat of damnation.

Religions don't appeal to god either, they appeal to those who interpret the word of god.

Are you kidding! They appeal directly to God through His revelation, in whatever form the theist thinks that revelation occurred. Like I said, can a Christian argue that it is evil to love your enemies and remain a theistic Christian? Can a Christian say God is an evil actor?

I'm somewhat aware of the history of philosophy, thanks. I said "for many centuries", not millenia.

Then what is your point...that during the Middle Ages the Church dominated philosophy? So what; they dominated medicine and astronomy as well. What is your point?

So, on what basis does philosophy defend the notions of human dignity, equality, and right?

Utilitarianism, game theory, shared human experience, consideration of alternatives. All of which are evidentiary arguments.

Now your turn; tell me to what authority do they appeal? Was Kant a powerful philosopher-king? Was Hume a deadly assassin who killed his detractors? No? Then, to what authority did they originally appeal? Or is it possible that they are now considered an authority because their arguments were found to have merit?

Sure, that philosophical declarations of value are no more valid that religious ones. After that, the rest of the system is just playing with a abacus.

Bull. I listed many objections in the original post that you have not touched. The only one you have even attempted to touch is a bogus claim that philosophy is an appeal to Western tradition, which I have addressed previously. Until you address my objections to religious thought or bring up objections that are specific to non-religious philosophy, then religion still comes out the worse.

And I am not only saying but arguing that moral systems grown out of the philosophical sphere have always done exactly the same thing. The scales upon which we weigh the world are not rational, even if they give us figures that tally up nicely afterwards.

Then you find science irrational, as it works by the same precepts. We make measurements of the world, build models based on those measurements, then test the models. Rational ethics examine the consequences of moral systems, make models of successful moral systems, and then test these models as well as they can. Where is your objection?

It is a regression because you have no basis upon which to judge good a system that declares what is good without first having the system in place.

I do have a basis; rationality towards the goal of human happiness. I could also appeal to shared human experience of kindness; I could appeal to utilitarianism of functional social systems. The entire field of descriptive ethics approaches the field from the other direction; measuring what people do and trying to develop theories based on the empirical results. There are various approaches, all of which are vulnerable to contra-argument.

Then alligators have a better system of "morality" than we do because they have survived with theirs for even longer.

Now you have stepped firmly into my crosshairs. Socialization is a relatively recent evolutionary product; alligators are solitary animals, and have no discernable social structure. Humans are much more successful than alligators, as can be seen by reproductive rates, total population, breadth of evolutionary niche, and domination of their niche. Your argument is false in its premise.

Clearly the Greeks, Romans, and most other societies throughout history have disagreed and found that slavery and all manner of nastiness worked well or was justified based on their notions of the unequal worth of individuals.

Yes, and the arrival of further argument altered the ideas of these societies due to the appeal of the argument. Religious ideas (which certainly were not central to Christianity, merely regulated and supported by it) served to defend the idea of slavery. The abolitionist movement started in one of the largest churches that did not have creeds and actually rejected the Bible as the Word of God, minimizing the stultifying effects of religion by depending upon an evolving revelation. This fact supports my idea that it is the stultifying effect of religion's divine authority that causes the damage; even in cases where society was wholly dominated by Christianity, social change originated with the sect that most denied divine authority and dealt with personal revelation.

Respectfully, what you have described in your post is a system for punishment and control, utility and preference, not morality at all.

I'm afraid you lost me. If you mean from the philosophical side, I offered no methods for enforcement, so the assertion that I am endorsing punishment and control is misplaced, seeing how I did not mention punishment or control. I merely suggested rational argument to settle upon a shared notion of morality, again based solely on strength of argument.

If you mean I am describing religious punishment and control, then that is part of my argument. Religions can turn even appealing humanist morality into amoral actions through imposition of punishment and control. They say this is right and that is wrong because God commands it, but even so it says that if you defy God you will be punished and if you obey God you will be rewarded, thus turning any possible morality into mere self-preservation and self-promotion.

Solon said...

>>So you're saying that Kantian philosophy was successful because Kant was a recognized authority?
>>Kant is a recognized authority because his arguments were persuasive.

I didn't say that at all. But Kantian philosophy was accepted for a time because it dressed up accepted Christian precepts (via Rousseau) in rational dress.

>>If it is a divine philosophy, then it is a religion and subject to the same criticism.

Too literal. The point is, it is simply declared and brought into existence and thus the equivalent of the divine. Hence the same status as religious pronouncements.

>>it has only to do with preference or utility.
>>his argument is that right and wrong is based on utility

Which is what I just said. And even utilitarians don't take seriously the idea that utility equates to right and wrong because...

>>morals which result in successful coherent societies

...slavery, inequality, slaughter, and so forth are then "moral" - as in the very "successful" Greek and Roman societies -, and utlitarians then try to wiggle out of those implications in favor of finding utlity only in what they actually consider good. Do we need to raise the utlity of killing Jews again to see how bad an argument it is? Or how some magical extra worth is attributed to all individuals so the handicapped aren't "morally" bumped off?

>>Certainly it has more rational basis.

You haven't shown an ounce more. Even if you start with some generic utilitarian notion about it being good for the human animal to live, there is no rational basis for that statement at all; it is a bald instinctual preference for our species, nothing more (I'm sure other animals would disagree if given a vote), combined with some bastardized Christian invention of equal worth. You then build your utilitarian house of cards on it.

>>Jesus relies upon divine authority; Kant relies upon the quality of his argument.

That doesn't follow the facts. Kant and Jesus made the same declaration of value. Both depend on some "other" mystery origin for the value, though Jesus is more honest about his. And you most certainly can argue with the statements of Jesus; it is done all the time within the church. You're setting up an implacable strawman god that religious people must deal with when they actually deal with, and debate with, humans, just as we do in philosophy.

>>So again, even assuming that every critique you say is true, philosophy still comes out superior.

That makes no sense. You've said that a phil basis for morality is more valid. I've shown how they are on exactly the same ground with their moral claims. The point doesn't go further and I don't have to defend religion here at all.

>>religion depends fully on divine authority. Philosophy has no authority and must rely upon the strength of its argument.

You've said that 20 times and keep ignoring the examples I've given because they refute the point you're making. There is no rational ground for human rights/equality/dignity. Once you declare them of value then you can build your system, just as religions do theirs. It doesn't matter whether you declare them within religion or philosophy.

>>The entire field of descriptive ethics is based on defining ethics based on what people actually do. The ethical system of utilitarianism depends wholly upon utility.

And the declaration that utility is of value is a creation. And the declaration that equal utility amongst individuals is of value is a creation. And the declaration that it is utility amongst human animals that is of value is a creation. You want so badly to have faith that you refuse to examine it's basis. First one clings to religion as a defense of what one wants, now philosophy. What you really want are certain things to be true; you should ask yourself why and from whence. Perhaps even whither.

>>How can you claim that my argument is irrational because it appeals to rationality?

I said no such thing. I said that you appealed in certain places above to tradition within philosophy (rather than make an argument) while you meanwhile condemn religion for appealling to religious tradition.

>>Kant relied upon the shared human experience in his definition of human dignity

First of all, "shared" is a generalization, not a fact. I doubt the severely retarded, those with Alzheimers, or early man, experience the world as you and I do. Secondly, if you read more closely, you'll see quite clearly that Kant (and Rousseau) were starting with, and trying to build a system around, Christian assumptions of worth, not operating in a vacuum.

>>They appeal directly to God through His revelation

Never has such a thing occurred. Debate in a church involves appeal to a priest, a pope, an imam, religious scholars/conferences, members of the church, etc. Our dedication to truth today owes much to the religious valuation of, and search for, truth.

>>can a Christian argue that it is evil to love your enemies and remain a theistic Christian?

Those debates have probably occured within Christianity. I'm not saying the tradition of debate is as overt as in philosophy, but it is fundamentally present. Anyway, a secondary matter to your claim.

>>What is your point?

I've made it numerous times: that philosophy has taken Christian assumptions of moral value and dressed them up in rational guise. The basis for such moral claims are thus no more valid, which is what you claimed in your post.

>>So, on what basis does philosophy defend the notions of human dignity, equality, and right?
>>Utilitarianism, game theory, shared human experience, consideration of alternatives.

Generally it doesn't use those arguments because they are very weak as merely means to an end (and thus greatly endanger the moral goals). In any case, the ends themselves are then simply assumed to be of value, as I said in my first post. You can't keep peeling layers off the onion and pretend you are at the rational core. The basis for the claims themselves are no more rationally valid in phil than in religion contrary to your post's assertions.

>>Kant
>>Hume
>>to what authority did they originally appeal?

You're missing the point. Philosophers have starting points too, just as religious founders do. They also declare new values which may or may not be taken up.

>>We make measurements of the world, build models based on those measurements, then test the models.

We start with a world our human selves can know and we and our bodies declare values. There is nothing rational or moral about that basis.

>>Rational ethics examine the consequences of moral systems, make models of successful moral systems, and then test these models as well as they can. Where is your objection?

So the Jews declared certain values paramount in contrast to the Romans and tested them for "success". Certainly they were successful in overcoming them. We've grown up with these declarations for 2000 years. We can do the same in philosophy. It doesn't make them rational, it makes them a useful weapon of a certain type.

>>It is a regression because you have no basis upon which to judge good a system that declares what is good without first having the system in place.
>>I do have a basis; rationality towards the goal of human happiness.

You miss the point entirely. You cannot declare good without a definition of good beforehand. Who declared human "happiness" to be good, and not something else? When the Khmer empire - using slavery - built the entire Ankor complex over centuries was the goal happiness?

>>Then alligators have a better system of "morality" than we do because they have survived with theirs for even longer.
>>Humans are much more successful than alligators, as can be seen by reproductive rates, total population, breadth of evolutionary niche, and domination of their niche. Your argument is false in its premise.

That post wasn't actually a reply to yours but you are far too literal. It was previously declared that the consequence of survival was the criterion of morality by the other poster, hence the reply. Now you are declaring other things to be the criteria. You can't hop around like that. If population is now your criterion for what "works", then many insects are more successful. The point is, I doubt you are prepared to apply the notion of morality to more "successful" animals. Hence, don't argue that is morality.

>>the arrival of further argument altered the ideas of these societies due to the appeal of the argument.

Or a different type exerted power towards different ends and the arguments were merely dressing with no ultimate basis.

>>the appeal of the argument

Strength of appeal is not an argument for morality.

>>minimizing the stultifying effects of religion by depending upon an evolving revelation. This fact supports my idea that it is the stultifying effect of religion's divine authority that causes the damage

Actually it would make the opposite point. It makes my point above that there is debate within religion as I described. In any case, the movement to free slaves depended upon Christian notions of equality. They argued that is was unchristian. (The same purifying, universalizing reform movement can be seen in the Christian sect within Judeaism.)

>>I'm afraid you lost me. If you mean from the philosophical side, I offered no methods for enforcement,

That post wasn't actually a reply to yours.

Hope it helps clarify.

Until we meet again in the body of Socrates.

zilch said...

solon- first of all, a methodological comment. How about referring to us here by name, and not just as "that poster" or "the other poster". This would increase claritas, brevitas, and possibly levitas, and we would all be happier and better informed. And since (I presume) none of us is making money from posting here, that's sort of the point, isn't it?

Second- I'll just add a few points to shygetz' reply to you:

You said:

You just said you don't believe in progress then give an example and make statements regarding progress! So you've invented some absolute standard (I assume "human dignity") upon which to judge slavery and societies throughout time. But again, it has no more rational basis than an overtly religious appeal.

Reading comprehension: I did not say that I do not believe in progress. First off, you said:

I don't know why the emphasis on "evolved," btw, unless you mean "progress." If you do, you have to explain progress towards what - i.e, what is absolutely moral. Otherwise you mean there is no standard beyond the vagaries of what various societies take to be moral at various times.

I replied:

I said "evolved" because that's where we, along with our needs and desires, come from: evolution. No explanation of human nature makes sense unless it starts from evolution. I don't mean "progress", and as I said, I don't recognize any "absolute" morals.

I did not say that I do not believe in progress. I simply said that your conflation of evolution with progress is not what I meant.

You said:

Then alligators have a better system of "morality" than we do because they have survived with theirs for even longer.

In addition to what shygetz said, I'll say this: in case it has escaped your attention, we are not alligators. Although I do have a lot of the same genes as alligators (I'm guessing about 85%), and sometimes enjoy floating around impersonating a log, I'm not an alligator. So why should I model my morals on alligator morals, instead of, say, something like prup proposed: workable, timetested ways of building the societies and cultures that make people happy, and are sustainable? Not that this is an easy or obvious task: but we've come amazingly far, and I don't see why we can't continue to improve.

Solon said...

>>your conflation of evolution with progress

I'm not even talking about evolution. The matter was a moral standard by which to judge.

>>can be described otherwise: moral progress. A good example is the abolition of slavery.
>>I don't mean "progress", and as I said, I don't recognize any "absolute" morals.

These statements you made cannot go together. You either have a standard by which to judge (and a measure of moral progress) or you accept that no position is more moral than any other. You can't have it both ways. By the comments you followed up with describing moral progress/degeneracy, you have a standard. (Otherwise you couldn't qualify the end of slavery as progress - unless you're only making some off-topic economic argument.) It has no more rational basis than those declared by religion (and clearly it originates with Christian valuations), but you have one.

>>we are not alligators

You are being far too literal. See my explanation above on this exact point. It's a simple point being made in response to the claim about survival as the test for what is moral.

Hope it helps clarify.

Solon said...

I missed the end there, sorry:

>> workable, timetested ways of building the societies and cultures that make people happy,

Yet again, who declared "happiness" the goal (presumably happiness from raping and pillaging is not meant, but some generic, utilitarian, probably equally divided, "happiness") and not duty, devotion, domination, whatever???

>>I don't see why we can't continue to improve.

Again with the moral progress. You hear less talk of morality amongst Christians. The moral standard you have declared is clear but the one simple point I'm making is that there is no rational ground for it, no more than for those proposed by religions.

I don't understand the animosity towards religious valuations when philosophy does the same or draws upon them. Unpack "happiness" and keep asking yourself "Why?" Eventually you'll have to say: my body desires.

zilch said...

solon: please reread what I said, carefully. Nowhere did I say that I did not believe in progress: I said that I did not mean "progress" when I said "evolution". And nowhere did I say that I had no moral standards. I simply said I had no absolute standards. And I said that my standards started from our evolved social animal nature, and that rationality is necessary too.

Perhaps you believe that one cannot have morals without having absolute moral standards. I would say, that not only do I have morals without having absolute standards, but that so does the fundiest fundamentalist: look at how the Bible has been differently interpreted and translated into behavior over the centuries, and how even in one individual decisions about how to behave vary from day to day. Absolute morals are a chimera.

I said:

We are not alligators.

To which you replied:

You are being far too literal. See my explanation above on this exact point. It's a simple point being made in response to the claim about survival as the test for what is moral.

I notice that you have said at least three times that we are being too literal. Sorry, I'm a literal kind of guy. And I mean it literally: because we are not alligators, we need not defend survival as the test for what is moral. No one here has made this claim as far as I recall.

Now, I did say that culture (which necessarily includes morals) evolved because it conferred fitness. And prup said that morality evolved because it is a survival tool. This is how morals got their start.

But survival is not all there is to human life or to human morals, and I don't know anyone who would claim that survival is the test for what is moral. This is why it's important to keep in mind that we're not alligators.

I think that part of our comprehension problem can be seen here. Earlier on, I said:

the "standard" we must start from is our evolved social animal nature...
...we can, as history has shown, construct workable societies with many common ideals


You replied:

But that has nothing to do with right and wrong, it has only to do with preference or utility.

I do not recognize a difference between "right and wrong" and "preference or utility", when talking about morals. I prefer to be happy than to be unhappy. I find utile those kinds of behavior that increase my happiness. What makes me happy has a lot to do with my evolved nature as a social animal, and a lot to do with my rational understanding of the world, which of course is also evolved, genetically and culturally.

If you are an atheist, as you say you are, please define "right" and "wrong" for me, as applies to morals. I'd be very surprised if you can do so without referring to things peculiar to being a social animal.

Shygetz said...

solon, you seem to be conflating rational with objective. They are not the same; inferences from experiences of evidence are rational even though they are subjective, and Bayesian statistics are purely based on measuring the rationality of a subjective belief. No one here (I think) is arguing that morality is strictly objective (even theists rely on subjective experiences of an objective divine will, whether they admit it or not); indeed, nothing in our experience is truly objective, as Socrates noted early on. However, subjective does not mean irrational.

You object to the subjective definition of "good" without conceding that ALL abstract notions (including the definition of ANY word) can only be acheived by subjective consensus. Why should you demand "good" be different?

You object that the shared human experience is a generalization, and you are correct, but then you claim that this prevents it from being a fact. This is false (again, I'll refer you to Socrates), and following it leads solely to the idea that nothing can be known for certain, which is strictly true but unuseful. Science itself depends wholly upon the shared human experience, in its necessary precept of reproducibility. While it is true that some people will not have the same experience, a general consensus may be reached, which is necessary for the capability of abstract thought that is largely responsible for human success.

You argue that philosophy has only succeeded by dressing up currently accepted notions, largely stolen from religion. First of all, this is immaterial, as the philosophers removed the compulsary nature of divine authority that I objected to. No one has asserted that philisophical truths of value can be distilled from religion; only that they are not moral within the context of religion, and work as well if not better outside of a religious framework. Religious people could (and did) object to Kant, suggesting that his appeal to religious authority was much less than you implicated. If you continue insist that philosophers rely upon traditional authority for their arguments, how then do you explain the success of Marx? Of Spinoza? Of the huge number of non-traditionalist philosophers? They did not have authority to rely upon, but rather relied upon the appeal of their arguments, which still impact the world today when some of their traditions are long passed.

We have subjective standards of which to judge, which are largely shared due to the commonality of the human experience. These standards are NOT arbitrary; morality based on values that are not largely shared will be unsuccessful unless they rely upon an authority, as religion and various state-enforced philosophies do. Removal of that authority is essential to generalizing the subjective nature of morality as broadly as possible.

Even granting that philosophy shares an equal appeal to authority as religion (which I strenuously do NOT grant, but just for argument...), you still MUST address the arguments I make that religious carrot-and-stick enforcement results rendering even moral actions amoral. You still MUST address the arguments that religious authority cause people to perform actions that hideously violate their own morality. Until you do this, you still have not even equated religion and philosophy.

You claim that religion appeals to tradition and deny that it appeals to divine authority. This is nonsense. People regularly do things that would outrage their inherent morality based on the commands of God (e.g. genital mutilation, religious genocide, human sacrifice). While it is true that some people strip away the religious authority (e.g. Quakers), then at this point the morals cease to be religious in nature, as they no longer are decided by God, but rather by man. Theists are capable of philosophy; no one denies that.

You are flat-out wrong (still) about alligators and insects. Human dominion over their ecological niche, and their expansionistic ability, far outstrips any insect species. It could be said with great justification that both alligators and insects live at our whim, and we could exterminate (or severely cripple) them if we wished to (although this would severely harm our well-being, which explains why we do not wish to). The converse is not true. By any valid socio-biological criteria, human socialization has been more successful, which is why alone among the metazoans currently dominate our ecosphere.

To sum up, you seem to insist that, unless philosophy can refer to an objective standard, it cannot be superior to religion and must rely upon appeals to tradition. This flies in the face of history, where philosophers were often appreciated after their own time and outside of their tradition, and where philosophers often had great impact in spite of tradition. Philosophy appeals to rational (not objective) argument to build moral consensus. Religion appeals to divine authority and divine reward and punishment as a defining characteristic, enabling the performace of immoral actions and rendering moral actions amoral self-preservation. Not to say that religion IGNORES rational argument, but rather that rational argument can be added onto divine authority. Ergo, philosophy is better suited as a basis for moral teachings,

Solon said...

Thanks for the replies.

>>Nowhere did I say that I did not believe in progress

I know you believe in progress, that's what I was drawing out. I'm saying you are invoking a standard, and not some wishy-washy "evolving" one.

>>I had no absolute standards

Then you fully agree that slavery, slaughter, genocide, rape, pillaging, can be moral actions - depending the situation.

>>look at how the Bible has been differently interpreted

That's not an argument obviously. People will interpret as they want.

>>Absolute morals are a chimera.

I agree. What I'm saying is so are your maybe/maybe-not morals. We don't truly owe anyone anything. Every moral "foundation" (temporary, shifting, "evolving," whatever you want to call it) is not moral at all, hence neither are the actions. It is the body/instinct/power relations, and that we mostly prefer to not attack our own is perhaps profitable, but not "moral." The reason I raise other animals is because their bodies desire as well. We are no different, only we cloak our desires in something we call "morality":

"When you step on a worm it curls up. That is very clever. In doing so it reduces the chance of being stepped on again. In the language of morality, 'humility'."

>>we need not defend survival as the test for what is moral

Well, then don't put is forth again as a test :-) Consequence is not the test of right and wrong. It could be morally right for our whole species to commit suicide.

>>I do not recognize a difference between "right and wrong" and "preference or utility", when talking about morals.

Then you're a good English economist, not a moralist. And you must agree we should kill off the sick, homeless, and that a great deal of slaughter, killing, and genocide is moral. Why not a little gang rape on occasion to increase utility?

You won't pretend that only good liberal "Christian" actions have utility, will you? As I said, utilitarians always weasel out of the implications of their superficially pleasing stance by slipping qualitative judgments in the back door ("the rape victim's suffering is worth more than the entire gang's enjoyment"). If you are serious about this discussion, answer that question. I've posed it a few times with no reply.

>>I prefer to be happy than to be unhappy. I find utile those kinds of behavior that increase my happiness.

Right, but you don't represent the various desires of our species, and your desires are simply that, desires. They have nothing to do with right or wrong. Cockroaches also prefer to eat well and not be tortured; it doesn't follow that their group actions to that end are moral. Look, our species and others wants to live and grow; actions to that end are not right or wrong in any moral sense. Detailing how to profitably get along with others is not morality.

>>If you are an atheist, as you say you are, please define "right" and "wrong" for me, as applies to morals.

There is no such thing. There are actions we call right and wrong because of given standards, but the standards themselves are never moral, hence neither are the actions. For example, you can't say it is morally wrong (not merely disadvantageous) to kill an innocent if you don't accept that he has equal intrinsic worth. Why do you think the early Christians were such outcasts and such a threat? Upon investigation, you find the value of equal intrinsic worth was simply declared, originally by a lower class that sought equal power with superiors. And then Kant and others came along and dressed it up but certainly never founded it otherwise.

----------------
----------------

>>ALL abstract notions (including the definition of ANY word) can only be acheived by subjective consensus

So, then right and wrong - and truth - are such merely by consensus? That's one view but obviously means the majority is always right.

>>you claim that this prevents it from being a fact. This is false

It's not a fact, it's an interpretation.

>>You argue that philosophy has only succeeded by dressing up currently accepted notions, largely stolen from religion.

Not at all. I merely said phil has often dressed up religiously derived moral imperatives in rational guise but the basis for them is not an ounce more valid - the whole point of your article.

>>Of the huge number of non-traditionalist philosophers?

That has nothing to do with the point I have made.

>>religious carrot-and-stick enforcement results rendering even moral actions amoral

Then you certainly can NOT advocate utilitarianism if you are now arguing that selfless (Kantian) duty is the the standard, and not profit.

>>You still MUST address the arguments that religious authority cause people to perform actions that hideously violate their own morality.

That makes no sense at all. If the actions violate "morality" then they are not moral. If they are, then they don't.

>>you still have not even equated religion and philosophy.

Again with the strawmen. I didn't say religion is tout court equal to phil. I've simply given examples of how phil grounds morals no more "morally" than religion. You have not shown otherwise.

>>would outrage their inherent morality based on the commands of God (e.g. genital mutilation, religious genocide, human sacrifice)

This "real" vs fake morality again makes no sense. See the above point.

>>they no longer are decided by God, but rather by man

Again, never has a god decided anything. God doesn't speak, churches/texts do, just as philosophers/texts do.

>>alligators and insects

You guys are bizarrely fixated on the literal and on pretending the human animal is cardinally different from other animals.

>>which is why (we) alone among the metazoans currently dominate our ecosphere

Has nothing to do with the simple point I made, but congratulations to us :-)

>>you seem to insist that, unless philosophy can refer to an objective standard, it cannot be superior to religion and must rely upon appeals to tradition

Another strawman: your article claims more validity for morality within philosophy. I've shown they are on equal footing as to validity. You have not shown a more valid footing.

>>Philosophy appeals to rational (not objective) argument to build moral consensus.

Moral consensus does not equate to moral. Phil ASSERTS certain values (just as religions do, they are no more rationally derived), then derives systems from them that are generally more rational than those within religions but no more valid AT ALL in the "morality" of their teachings.

Hope it helps.

zilch said...

solon: I said that I had no absolute standards. You replied:

Then you fully agree that slavery, slaughter, genocide, rape, pillaging, can be moral actions - depending the situation.

Ah, the good old "slippery slope" argument beloved of fundamentalists, even if they're atheist fundamentalists. Now, it takes some stretching of the imagination, but although I do not normally condone all these nasty things, perhaps there are some bizarre circumstances under which I would.

Slavery: suppose an innocent child is condemned to death, and the only way I can save it is by buying it as a slave. Then I would do so. Of course, I would free the child as soon as possible.

Slaughter: if, by "slaughter", you simply mean "killing someone", that's easy. Someone goes amok and is shooting people from a tower, and I can only stop him by killing him. Wouldn't you slaughter him too?

Genocide: that's pretty hard to imagine. I guess, if the guy going amok is the last member of some ethnic or racial group, then killing him could be considered "genocide".

Rape: even harder to imagine circumstances where rape would be justified. Perhaps if one were commanded by an armed madman to rape, or be killed along with X number of innocents. Pretty farfetched though- this is in the category of actions that might well never have circumstances in which they are moral.

Pillaging: depending on what "pillaging" means, not so hard to imagine. You have been dispossed, and are now starving behind enemy lines. What do you do?

Of course, even though I don't hold absolute morals, I don't do much raping and pillaging in my daily life. I suspect you don't either. I somehow manage, even standing on the "slippery slope" of subjective morals, to climb the mountain of human cooperative society. So do most of us.

I said:

Absolute morals are a chimera.

You said:

I agree. What I'm saying is so are your maybe/maybe-not morals. We don't truly owe anyone anything. Every moral "foundation" (temporary, shifting, "evolving," whatever you want to call it) is not moral at all, hence neither are the actions.

Shygetz and I have already answered this: subjective morals are real, and because we humans have a great deal in common, we are demonstrably able to build societies that work. Not perfectly, but well enough to create wonders such as, for instance, an internet forum where we can chew the fat.

What do you mean when you say "We don't truly owe anyone anything"? If I choose to say that I owe it to the world to further life, love, and learning for all, as far as I can, how is that not "truly" chosen? What other arbiter of what I "owe" could there be? Are you sure that there isn't some sort of god or absolute platonic ideal lurking in your conception here? That's fine if there is, but I don't believe in such stuff, nor do I need it.

I said:

we need not defend survival as the test for what is moral

You replied:

Well, then don't put is forth again as a test :-)

I hope you are being facetious. If not, there's little point in discussing anything further, because we have a serious reading comprehension problem here. I said nothing of the sort.

I said:

I do not recognize a difference between "right and wrong" and "preference or utility", when talking about morals.

You replied:

Then you're a good English economist, not a moralist. And you must agree we should kill off the sick, homeless, and that a great deal of slaughter, killing, and genocide is moral. Why not a little gang rape on occasion to increase utility?

Why "must" I agree to these things? If I decide, as I do, that I prefer to live in a world where life is valued, then I prefer not to engage in a great deal of slaughter, killing, and genocide. I don't have to dress up my preferences with absolutes to make them real or binding, and neither does anyone else. As I said earlier: absolute morals are a chimera, and even those who claim to follow absolute moral codes do not do so. And as I said, absolute moral codes are not even possible, because everyone interprets any given code differently. How can "Thou shalt not kill" be considered "absolute" when it's impossible to say exactly what it means?

I said:

I prefer to be happy than to be unhappy. I find utile those kinds of behavior that increase my happiness.

You replied:

Right, but you don't represent the various desires of our species, and your desires are simply that, desires. They have nothing to do with right or wrong.

First off- may I remind you that you also said "There is no such thing" (as right and wrong). So what do you mean?

Second- of course my desires are not identical with the desires of anyone else- it would be a pretty boring world if everyone's desires were exactly the same. But as I have already pointed out, there is enough overlap in desires to make morals, and thus societies, possible: happiness, for most people, depends on their not being hungry, thirsty, too hot or too cold, or in pain. Most people are made happy when they can satisfy their curiosity about the world. And most people are made happy when they see that other people are also happy. Of course, there's a great deal more, and a great deal of complications, but luckily, you and I, and most everyone else, do represent the desires of the species well enough to make cooperation in the building of societies possible.

Shygetz said...

So, then right and wrong - and truth - are such merely by consensus? That's one view but obviously means the majority is always right.

If you do not recognize that all abstract notions are built by consensus, then you obviously haven't thought about it. How do you know that "square" refers to a quadralateral where all sides and angles are equal? Consensus. There may be the occasional person who disagrees; that person is wrong, not due to some God-given objective definition, but due to the fact that consunsus within the English-speaking world has decided that "square" refers to such an object.

The same is true of all abstract constructs. Is fear (no matter what language you say it in) the warm, fuzzy feeling you get when your spouse is near? No. Why--because of some God-given objective standard? No; because of the consensus of shared human experience. Is there the occasional person who thinks otherwise? Sure, but that doesn't change the definition of fear.

It's not a fact, it's an interpretation.

You are redefining words at your leisure, and violating the consensus of what the words mean. "Rational" does not mean objective; "fact" does not mean objective, as all facts outside of formal systems rely upon subjective observation. Social consensus IS a fact, whether it supports your view or not.

I merely said phil has often dressed up religiously derived moral imperatives in rational guise but the basis for them is not an ounce more valid

Now you finally use rational in its proper sense, although you mistakenly use the word "guise". And yet you still claim it is no more valid; why? Because it is not objective? I've already addressed that numerous times. Nothing in human experience in objective; are you therefore a nihilist?

That has nothing to do with the point I have made.

It has EVERYTHING to do with it. I claim, in part, that religion makes false claims to authority. You claim that philosophy also makes a false claim to authority. I provide counter-examples, and you deny you ever said that! This is becoming a pattern with you, and it is not flattering.

Then you certainly can NOT advocate utilitarianism if you are now arguing that selfless (Kantian) duty is the the standard, and not profit.

You fiercely misrepresent utilitarianism yet again, either through ignorance or malice. Utilitarianism does not just refer to self-interest, and hasn't since Jeremy Bentham originated the field; it refers to maximizing utility among a population. Look it up.

That makes no sense at all. If the actions violate "morality" then they are not moral. If they are, then they don't.

I will refer you to Jon, a commenter on one of the recent posts here who endorses slavery because the Bible endorses slavery. When asked what would happen if the Bible did not endorse slavery, he readily admitted that he would change his views (after some time to get over their "intertia"). Shall I bring up Islamic suicide bombers and render my point clearly self-evident? For you to pretend that no religious person would ever suborn their own moral views due to supposed divine authority is factually wrong and unworthy of you.

Again with the strawmen. I didn't say religion is tout court equal to phil. I've simply given examples of how phil grounds morals no more "morally" than religion.

No strawmen, although you seem to change your argument with the prevailing winds. You have not given grounds that indicate that the shared human experience and human consensus is not real; you have only shown that morals are not objective. I have shown how NOTHING in human experience is subjective, and if we can call anything "fact" then we must accept shared subjective experiences as fact. You have said nothing to refute this.

That makes no sense at all. If the actions violate "morality" then they are not moral. If they are, then they don't.

And again I say: people will, have, and do suborn their own rational morality due to the supposed divine authority of religious moral systems, which is irrational and renders all actions amoral or immoral, depending on the motivation.

Again, never has a god decided anything. God doesn't speak, churches/texts do, just as philosophers/texts do.

But believers "think" that God does speak, through churches, texts, and direct revelation (don't forget that). The supposed divine authority of these revelations are what lend the moral declarations weight, not any rational analysis, which is why people suborn their own rational morality to follow irrational religious moral commands. As I pointed out and emphasized by listing influential non-tradiational ethicists, philosophers rely upon the quality of their argument. They cannot convince people to change their morality based upon their supposed ability to reward or punish; they have none, and are thought to have none. They can only influence through the quality of their argument, and only by convincing people to reconsider their morals, not by fiat or intimidation.

You guys are bizarrely fixated on the literal and on pretending the human animal is cardinally different from other animals.

We are fixated on pressing your argument by insisting that you supply evidence, which so far you cannot. You said that success of an organism is not a valid measure of moral social system, as alligators and insects are more successful than man. We pointed out how humans are more successful from a biological standpoint than either insects or alligators, thus invalidating your point. You can only make weak protestations about "literalism" and try to move the goalposts, now claiming that you were only arguing that humans are not "cardinally different" from animals--a very interestingly vague wording. I'm sure that, whatever differences we may point out, you will then object that they are not sufficiently cardinal. Since you have moved your supposed point to outside the realm of this conversation, then I have no interest in pursuing this moving goalpost.

Another strawman: your article claims more validity for morality within philosophy. I've shown they are on equal footing as to validity. You have not shown a more valid footing.

Yes I have--philosophy is based on rationality; religion is based on authority of divine revelation. You have argued that philosophy is not rational, but can only do so by falsely conflating "rational" with "objective". Until you can actually show that philosophy is not rational, then you have no argument.

Moral consensus does not equate to moral. Phil ASSERTS certain values (just as religions do, they are no more rationally derived), then derives systems from them...

The Ten Commandments assert values; philosophy argues values. Without the argument, the assertions would be ignored.

that are generally more rational than those within religions but no more valid AT ALL in the "morality" of their teachings.

Now you are the same person that said:

"You're making the claim that philosophy provides a rational basis to morality in contrast to religion. You have provided no such argument, nor has any philosopher ever. "

Now you are conceding that philosophy is more rational, but not more valid. Sorry, no dice. Rationality is the basis for valid human reasoning. Why is morality any different? Human consensus is the only basis for the definition of all abstracts; why should morality be any different? Does this mean morality is subjective? Of course; no one has argued otherwise. Does this mean morality will change as consensus changes? Of course; this change is historically self-evident, so if the model didn't jibe with the facts, we should have to throw out the model.

You seem to fluidly change your position in order to win points (e.g. is philosophy rational or not? Do right and wrong exist or not?), which is intellectually dishonest. If you have honestly changed your position, then announce it and detail your new position. Otherwise, defend your position honestly. We are looking for debate in search of truth; if you're just looking to argue, that's down the hall.

Solon said...

Zilch, you're not even serious in your examples, demonstrating that you are unwilling to examine the views you espouse. I gave you good examples which you ignore (why not gang rape to increase utility sometimes?). The Greeks and Romans destroyed cities and populations to their great benefit. Ignore the consequences of your ideas if you will, but then your not being serious.

>>Shygetz and I have already answered this: subjective morals are real

You've merely said that, but you haven't shown anything other than an economic program to fulfill certain desires.

>>What do you mean when you say "We don't truly owe anyone anything"? If I choose to say that I owe...

You just answered yourself, you chose, you don't owe.

>>because we have a serious reading comprehension problem here. I said nothing of the sort.

Never said you did to begin with. The other poster said it.

>>Why "must" I agree to these things?

Respectfully, it's not difficult to understand why: because they sometimes create a surplus of happiness which you say is moral.

>>I prefer to live in a world where life is valued

Then (as I said to begin) you're not a utilitarian. You have to make up your mind.

>>absolute moral codes are not even possible, because everyone interprets any given code differently

That doesn't make sense. If I interpret 1+1 to equal 3, it doesn't invalidate math.

>>there is enough overlap

So? A few Western liberals agree for a few years of our species history. It is not moral. Even if we all agree on survival, it is not a rational foundation for morality. It's no different from the inherent desire of insects to survive, and the subsequent actions they take to "get along." Nowhere do you leap into right and wrong.

>>may I remind you that you also said "There is no such thing" (as right and wrong). So what do you mean?

I mean of course, stop saying right and wrong exist unless you are willing to put forth an argument that determines them, not merely declares them.

-------------

>>If you do not recognize that all abstract notions are built by consensus

Did I disagree with you???

>>How do you know that "square" refers to a quadralateral where all sides and angles are equal? Consensus.

Not know but how do you get people to go along with a system.

>>"Rational" does not mean objective; "fact" does not mean objective

I actually never said either thing, you did.

>>Social consensus IS a fact, whether it supports your view or not.

No, sorry, it is not. It is an interpretation.

>>Now you finally use rational in its proper sense, although you mistakenly use the word "guise".

I used both as I wanted to, and "guise" is exactly what I wanted to say. Thanks anyway.

>>And yet you still claim it is no more valid; why?

For the 70th time: because it is not derived in a cardinally different manner.

>>This is becoming a pattern with you, and it is not flattering.

You're making things up and going far off course. You said phil. provides a more valid basis for morality. I showed it doesn't. I made no argument about every phil'r or phil in general, so stop setting up strawmen to knock down.

>>You fiercely misrepresent utilitarianism yet again
>>it refers to maximizing utility among a population.

Exactly as I said, thanks for the lesson anyway, and my point still stands. I think you need to re-read it and your own words. You said consequence invalidates religious moral actions, Obviously then even to a junior phil student, so does utilitarianism.

>>I will refer you to Jon

Who cares what "Jon" thinks? Anyway, it has nothing to do with the point you even refer to.

>>no religious person would ever suborn their own moral views due to supposed divine authority

Well, again, who cares? There are people who follow utilitarianism and reluctantly join in gang rapes probably. Has nothing to do with the argument at hand. Such points don't invalidate Christian or Greek or Kantian morals or anything.

>>You have not given grounds that indicate that the shared human experience and human consensus is not real

I don't actually have to if you would follow the debate. We can share everything - phil gets no closer to a moral foundation than religion does

>>people will, have, and do suborn their own rational morality due to the supposed divine authority of religious moral systems, which is irrational and renders all actions amoral or immoral, depending on the motivation.

Their own rational morality? That makes zero sense. I said twice above, they are acting morally or not, it clearly doesn't matter that two systems offer different advice. And blindingly obviously you are assuming you are right to show you are right. People can do the exact same with "religious morals" in contrast to "philosophical morals," rendering all "philosophical morals" amoral or immoral following your logic.

Sorry, I don't want to waste time on the rest of your comments because they make little sense at all, continually misrepresent what others say, and veer off-topic.

>>The Ten Commandments assert values; philosophy argues values.
>>philosophy is based on rationality

How any times does one have to ask you to show how in "this world" philosophy determines that fundamental values are worthy and give rise to right and wrong in any way whatsoever more rationally than Christian declarations? Until then, you're merely self-righteous towards religion - "I'm more moral than the moralists!" - while refusing to question your (Christian) premises and the implications of your superficial utilitarianism. You haven't taken 5 steps towards atheism. Atheism isn't pretty. It isn't good Anglo-Saxon society, I'm afraid. Nonetheless...

zilch said...

One point, then I'm throwing in the towel.

I said:

we need not defend survival as the test for what is moral

solon said:

Well, then don't put is forth again as a test :-)

I replied:

[...] I said nothing of the sort.

To which you now say:

Never said you did to begin with. The other poster said it.

So solon: you object to my saying something ("don't put it forth as a test" are your exact words). I point out that I didn't say that. Now you say that you didn't say that I said that. Not much point in further discussion if you can't keep your story straight.

Shygetz said...

solon said: Did I disagree with you???

After saying: "So, then right and wrong - and truth - are such merely by consensus? That's one view but obviously means the majority is always right."

Certainly sounds like you aren't agreeing with me.

Not know but how do you get people to go along with a system.

This is the heart of your argument; we can't KNOW anything abstract, but only get people to go along with a system? If you want to debate the semantics of epistemiology, find someone else to do it with. We don't KNOW math, we only go along with the system. We don't KNOW any facts (as they are all based on subjective observation), we only go along with a system. In your semantics, the verb "know" is meaningless, so I reject your semantics and use "know" in its common usage.

I actually never said either thing, you did.

No, but you improperly used them interchangably:

"I've argued philosophy is on no better footing for the rational validity of it moral propositions. At all."

And said: "There is no reasoned basis at all behind ultimate claims, even if the path to them is reasoned. Where could our human worldly reason possibly get a footing to support a foundation except in "another" world?"

So philosophy uses reasoned paths to morality, but doesn't have a reasoned basis (whatever that means). So what do you think makes a basis "reasoned"? We cannot have a reasoned footing unless it is in "another world"? How can you justify that statement without eliminating reason itself (or some other subjective criteria) as a footing? There are numerous other references where you used "rational" where "objective" was your argument, and the interested reader can easily find them for himself.

I used both as I wanted to, and "guise" is exactly what I wanted to say. Thanks anyway.

I shall take your word for it that you meant to be wrong.

No, sorry, it is not. It is an interpretation.

And interpretation of what? The numbers of people who agree? This, of course, coming from a person who thinks we cannot KNOW numbers, so I guess that isn't surprising. Your semantics would render the word "fact" meaningless, so I reject them and maintain the common usage.

For the 70th time: because it is not derived in a cardinally different manner.

Religion is derived through divine fiat enforced by divine retribution and reward, while philosophy is derived through rational argument and empirical evidence (for the 71st time). They are different in type (reason vs. appeal to authority) and in quantity (amount of rational argument to support moral teachings). Despite to your protestations, you have "shown" absolutely NOTHING to the contrary; rather, you have tried to muddy the water with shifting positions and non-standard semantics.

Exactly as I said, thanks for the lesson anyway, and my point still stands. I think you need to re-read it and your own words. You said consequence invalidates religious moral actions, Obviously then even to a junior phil student, so does utilitarianism.

First of all, you did use "utilitarianism" to solely refer to PERSONAL gain, for example when protesting to my characterization of religion as using carrot-and-stick methods to enforce actions of believers.

"Then you certainly can NOT advocate utilitarianism if you are now arguing that selfless (Kantian) duty is the the standard, and not profit."

Of course, you also used it to refer to group gain when you found that convenient; you are consistent in your inconsistency.

I said personal gain or personal preservation invalidates religious moral actions. Shall I quote myself?

"...but the primary way in which it does this is by carrot and stick, which again turns moral actions into amoral self-promotion and preservation."

See the word "self"? Read it more slowly, if you must. Utilitarianism doesn't invalidate my point about placing personal utility above group utility. And your protestations that utilitarians add in ad hoc judgements are incorrect and reflect little more than a passing familiarity with utilitarianism; the effect of violations of personal utility on the happiness and security of the whole must be weighed, as well, which is why gang rape is wrong--it makes members of society less secure in their safety from gang rape. One of the (valid, I think) criticisms against utilitarianism is that it is impossible to accurately measure societal utility, but I am not arguing for utilitarianism or any other particular philosophy, per se; I am arguing for rational argument as a method for persuasion over imposition of divine authority.

Who cares what "Jon" thinks? Anyway, it has nothing to do with the point you even refer to.

It has everything to do with it. You claim:

"Again, never has a god decided anything. God doesn't speak, churches/texts do, just as philosophers/texts do."

I point out that the danger comes when people THINK that God spoken, and how that causes them to suborn their rational morality to perform what they THINK God wants them to do. I used Jon as an excellent example of this; his rational morality tells him that slavery is immoral, but because he THINKS God said slavery is OK, he suborns his rational morality to conform to supposed divine authority. This would not be possible with a philosopher, who CANNOT rely upon his authority, as he has none. He must rely upon the appeal of his argument, which is his only tool. The philosopher must persuade the rational thinker to change his morality without coercion, as the philosopher has no tools, real or imagined, with which to coerce.

I said twice above, they are acting morally or not, it clearly doesn't matter that two systems offer different advice.

And this misconception is why I brought up Jon. His rational morality says one thing; his God says something else. He ignores his rational morality to follow the dictates of God, and in doing so takes a moral position that (by his own admission) he would find immoral if not for the supposed commands of his divine authority. Had he decided through reasoned argument that slavery was morally superior, then this particular argument would not be directed at him. Instead, he relies upon supposed divine authority to support an action that his rational morality would, by his own admission, condemn. This is the danger of basing morality upon divine command; there is no rational limit on the actions that can be commanded.

The argument is really simple, and you seem to be the only one having a hard time following it.

Sorry, I don't want to waste time on the rest of your comments because they make little sense at all, continually misrepresent what others say, and veer off-topic.

Saith the kettle to the fluffy white cloud. You conveneintly like to skip comments in which you are clearly beaten, pretending that they don't exist; don't think I haven't noticed. You dance around, changing your tack until you are caught, then pretend the point never existed. Your rhetorical tactics probably work much better in an oral format, where people cannot refer to your previous comments in writing. You have troubles here, where I can easily recall and quote what you said before.

How any times does one have to ask you to show how in "this world" philosophy determines that fundamental values are worthy and give rise to right and wrong in any way whatsoever more rationally than Christian declarations?

Through rational argument without the use of supposed divine authority. Empirical evidence has shown rationality and empiricism (when possible) to be superior to revealed knowledge in all cases where superiority can be measured. There is nothing inherent to morality to suggest that it would be different from other areas of abstracts, from rigorous abstracts such as math to less rigorous abstracts such as pain and suffering and happiness and beauty. We can predict better than revelation what a person will find beautiful by rational modeling; we can predict how best to manage pain by rational intervention; mathematics is the most successful abstract system divised by man, and is considered the universal language. I've said it, by your count, over 70 times now. And yet you still haven't addressed this argument. You deny in the face of evidence that believers subscribe to divine authority. You deny in the face of evidence that philosophers assert no authority outside of their arguments and rely upon rational argument and evidence to persuade rather than coerce. Why?

Until then, you're merely self-righteous towards religion - "I'm more moral than the moralists!" - while refusing to question your (Christian) premises and the implications of your superficial utilitarianism.

What Chrisitan premises? I do not rely upon the divinity of Jesus to make my arguments, and belief in the divinity of Christ is the sole basis for Christianity. If you can name where I did, I will gladly retract them.

Self-righteous? I have made no significant contributions to philosophy of which to brag. I am more moral than those who act identically expecting rewards that I am not expecting. I am less moral than those who act better than me, expecting no reward. Do you deny either of these statements?

YOUR characterization of utilitarianism is indeed superficial; it is also hideously ignorant. Just because you are incapable of understanding (or unwilling, but I will be charitable and not assume bad intentions) rational ethical argument does not indicate that it doesn't exist.

Indeed, the shared human experience that you loathe so strongly indicates that you are wrong; the number of nihilists have always been small and without influence, and the vast majority of humans across many cultures, both Abrahamaic and otherwise, share many of the same core values--oddly enough, the same values that are often settled upon by rational argument. You don't see a lot of rational argument for stoning people to death for carrying sticks on the Sabbath (Judaism), or for helping your enemy to harm you (Christianity), and yet they are just as strongly a part of religious tradition as anything else you refer to as plagiarized by philosophers. Did it never occur to you that Christianity may have plagiarized some of its more enduring morals from its predecessors? Like I said, I never claimed that no morals could be distilled from religious teachings, just that so long as they are done by fiat for self-preservation or self-promotion by a supposed divine dictator, they are not moral. I happen to agree that "Thou shalt not murder" is a pretty good idea, although I deny (and have very good circumstantial evidence to support my denial) that it was original to religion.

You haven't taken 5 steps towards atheism.

What? What is that supposed to mean? This is an argument against Dennett's "belief in belief", not against the existence of God itself (it would be a fallacious argument from consequences if it were). We cover that thoroughly in many, many other posts.

Atheism isn't pretty. It isn't good Anglo-Saxon society, I'm afraid.

Again, atheism does not equate with nihilism, and you don't have a single drop of evidence to state otherwise. If you require God to prevent you from being an asshole, then that says a lot about you and nothing about God. Ivan Karamazov's cry "If there is no God, everything is permitted." was only partially true; if there is no God, everything is permitted by God. Yet humans do not permit everything of their fellow humans, nor of themselves, whether they believe in God or not. There are good utilitarian reasons for this (yes, I know you hate the idea--insert "selective advantages" if you prefer). If this were not true, it would be impossible for religiously pluralistic or non-religious socieities to thrive outside of totalitarian regimes due to a driving incompatibility of morals. And yet we do; America is strongly pluralistic, with people with multiple religions or no religion and from multiple cultures forming a great society without the need for a totalitarian dictator to keep us in line. The only thing we have in common is the shared human experience, which has been sufficient to prevent large scale sectarian violence. The same is true in Western Europe, which is largely post-religious. Indeed, the largest threat for sectarian violence comes from the rise of totalitarian Islam, where people believe divine authority dictates that they police peoples' thoughts and actions in ways that cannot be justified rationally without invoking a divine authority which must be placated.

Despite your protestations to having no rational basis for morality, I bet that as a non-believer, you have morals that are not couched in your deference to an authority. While you may be unaware of the bases of your morals, I bet they exist. Where did you get your morality? Tradition? If that is the case, morality cannot change from the dictates of tradition, and you and I both know it does. Authority? What authority? Philosophers have no power to enforce or coerce, only to persuade, and you live in a democracy that does not enforce your thoughts. Do you feel empathy for pain? Could empathy not be a basis (at least a partial one) for morality? It certainly is in other social mammals--where is the influence of religion there?

Have you watched "Jesus Camp", the documentary about the evangelical kids' indoctrination camp? If not, watch it. Now, note the deeply totalitarian streak in the teachings. They do not support their arguments with reason; they dictate it as the words of God, and emphasize the punishments and rewards that await. Does it matter from a moral standpoint if these rewards and punishments are real? No, it matters if the actor THINKS they are real; that is what motivates and influences the action, and that is where religion fails. It does not motivate through reasoned argument; it motivates through a direct appeal to divine punishment and reward, and requires actions that do not need to be rationally justified. Philosophical ethics CANNOT do that, as they have no carrot and no stick. Philosophers must convince, and only convince. The only tools they have to do that with are their argument (have I reached 80 repetitions yet?).

Stargazer said...

For some reason I did not even see this posting until today--can't figure out why I missed it, but very glad I found it.

Bravo to the participants, kudos to shygetz, zilch amd prup, and thanks to all for a good workout for my brain (getting my mind back in training!)

Looks like the discussion may have come to an end, but it did my heart good to read the arguments back and forth.

Thanks to all for your time...

zilch said...

stargazer- working out my brain is why I keep coming here. And thinking about ethics is certainly a mind-bender.

Solon said...

>>So solon: you object to my saying something ("don't put it forth as a test" are your exact words). I point out that I didn't say that. Now you say that you didn't say that I said that. Not much point in further discussion if you can't keep your story straight.

Zilch, for someone interested in philosophy, you're extremely ungenerous. Don't call black "white" and then attack people. You didn't make the original comment but YOU then raised the point, which is why I said don't raise it then. It's not complicated, so stop making it so to avoid the real debate.

-----------------

>>So philosophy uses reasoned paths to morality, but doesn't have a reasoned basis (whatever that means). So what do you think makes a basis "reasoned"? We cannot have a reasoned footing unless it is in "another world"?

Seemingly this is why you can't understand that you have no better footing than with a religious declaration of value. Reason operates between points. It cannot invent the starting points. That is why I spoke to begin of artistry in philosophy when inventing such points and you misunderstood that also. Just keep asking yourself "Why?" Where do you stop? When you say, "because that's just the way it is." And that's what both philosophy and religion say about their starting points. It is irrelevant that phil accepts more debate about those points, it merely means phil qua reason more easily becomes a destructive and nihilistic force in the world. It can destroy foundations, not create them. A starting point in another world does lend a reasoned footing to our world, but of course then the "other world" starting point is not, it is merely assumed, and the problem is pushed off one step (as well as all "true" value). As I said, it's an onion skin and you will never arrive at any core via reason.

>>I shall take your word for it that you meant to be wrong.

You've been rude (and inaccurate) from the start and it is not a good stance in phil. Perhaps you've been a blog warrior for too long, I don't know.

>>while philosophy is derived through...

Etc., etc., etc... You're still avoiding answering the question I've posed repeatedly for you. Until you answer...

>>through rational argument and empirical evidence

So, for the 72nd time: tell us how exactly the value of universal human dignity, for example, is derived from "rational argument" or "empirical evidence"? The VALUE of it. And not from desire, not from instinct, not from general socio-economic efficiency, etc. Can you? No. And neither can religion.

Do you get it yet??? You're juggling balls in the air while standing on quicksand.

>>First of all, you did use "utilitarianism"

Please try to be a bit more generous and stop making things up. Utilitarianism invokes consequence; so does your carrot and stick complaint. It applies to one person or many persons. A simple point anyone can grasp if he knows what utilitarianism is.

>>I am more moral than those who act identically expecting rewards that I am not expecting.

I'll leave the "says who?" for below. That's exactly as I said you think in this case: Kantian duty vs. consequence. And the utilitarianism you espouse in other paragraphs fully relies on consequence, not duty, hence by your standard is immoral. But here you now advocate a universal standard (or must agree your point is pointless): morality you claim involves duty to right and wrong and is invalidated by any concern for consequence.

>>the danger comes when people THINK that God spoken, and how that causes them to suborn their rational morality to perform what they THINK God wants them to do

Answered already: then an equal danger is people doing what they THINK their "rationality" has told them to do perhaps against their "religious morality." So then philosophy is the big bad wolf? Have some perspective on yourself!

And why are you still trying this "real" vs. "fake" morality slight-of-hand?

>>there is no rational limit on the actions that can be commanded.

And there is no religious limit on the actions commanded by your so-called "rational" morality? So again philosophy is terrible??

>>Through rational argument without the use of supposed divine authority...

Off-topic masturbation over the joys of reason. When will you demonstrate this moral miracle for us then? The question was posed yet again just above. Give us the miracle or stop declaring it by fiat.

>>What Chrisitan premises?

You all seem to be working quite hard to dress up in rational guise - yes, exactly as I want to describe it - values derived from Christian mythology about the equal and infinite value of souls, from which are derived notions of equal human rights and such. "I just like to live in a world that respects life," etc. You have never once derived them rationally, merely assumed or asserted them, which is why I drew out that the utilitarianism proffered here is entirely superficial and contrary to the values you actually espouse.

>>Self-righteous? I have made no significant contributions to philosophy

Yet another mis-categorization by you to avoid serious enquiry and veer off on tangents. What I said was "self-righteous towards religion - 'I'm more moral than the moralists!'" And that is exactly what you are claiming.

>>I am more moral than those who act identically expecting rewards that I am not expecting. I am less moral than those who act better than me, expecting no reward. Do you deny either of these statements?

You haven't demonstrated that religion does this any more than say utilitarianism (your greater point about rel vs phil on this matter) but anyone can deny both quite easily because you haven't 1) demonstrated either of you are in fact acting morally, and 2) demonstrated that acting only on hair-shirt duty is "more moral" than acting on consequence, you've merely asserted it. You can certainly agree with Kant that should anyone ever enjoy doing "good" it is no longer good he is doing, but someone else - say a utilitarian - can easily prefer consequental profit instead. You apparently go both ways :-) Heck, the 2nd way sounds perfect for you: you get to do what you claim is moral AND profit from it. A perfect outcome given your contradictory premises.

The rest of the book you wrote again veers far from the simple question at hand and shows you still refuse to examine the basis for your morality. For example, beyond avoiding the question above about your derivation of "human dignity," I see you also still refuse to answer the questions I posed as to the consequences of your superficial utilitarianism.

Will you answer those two simple questions or not?

It seems to me that most American blogger "atheists" crave certainty as much or more than their religious brethren and are terribly afraid to acknowledge that there are no fundamental answers about the meaning, value, and direction of our lives to be found hidden under ancient rocks by reason and philosophy, and that we must make choices in this world and create our path beyond morality and truth if we are indeed atheists.

We are the product of 2000 years of Christian breeding; we can't merely say we no longer believe in the Christian god and think we are done with it and are suddenly "atheists." You haven't even begun to examine how it has infected philosophy, let alone our bodies, yet you try to retrofit "rationality" behind their moral values in order to retain them. You haven't even asked about the value of these values and what ends they are in service to.

Solon said...

>>This is the stultifying effect I refer to;

By the way, Shygetz, I thought you might find it interesting to see Loftus stating today exactly what I have been saying here about interpretation/debate occurring within Christianity, as opposed to the "stultifying" vision you've been claiming:

>>The only version of Christianity we see in today’s world is one reflecting various degrees of this enlightenment. As a result the only Christians we see are “cherry-picking” from the Bible based upon their modern experiences and understandings. They do not take the Bible literally. They do not think it honors God to stone adulterers, kill witches, or keep women in submissive silence at home.

Shygetz said...

solon:

I'll make this quick and then let you have the final word, as this "conversation" has become tedious. You ignore my previous example of the shared human experience, which is observable, quantifiable, and amenable to modeling, as the foundation of rational morality. You deny the fact of a shared human experience, which is based in empiricism and serves as a rational starting point for morality, by declaring that it is not a fact by fiat and without argument. You could say my starting point is empiricism, which I will put up against revealed knowledge any day. A substantial section of modern rational ethics is the measurement of this shared human experience, using rational models to determine moral systems that fit this experience. Until you can defend your denial of this fact (the fact that humans share an experienced reality and social systems which have arisen due to our shared biological and social histories), then you cannot validly state that rational philosophy based on the shared human experience is no more rational than an acceptance of divine revelation. If you wish to argue that empiricism is not a superior way of knowing than revealed knowledge, then I will let that declaration pass without comment.

You state that the fact that philosophy is more open to debate on morality is irrelevant. How can this be when one of the major points of my critique is that religion stulitfies morality? It is VERY relevant.

As far as rudeness and accuracy, I will leave the judgement to the reader. I am not ashamed of my accuracy on this thread and stand by my statements, and believe I only gave as good as I got on the "rudeness" front. I will say that I found your comments to be increasingly condescending and increasingly intellectually dishonest, and I find it interesting that you brought this up after I quoted you to point out your inconsistency and error. I have not been at the so-called blog wars long at all, but I do have considerable experience dealing with people who are used to (and enjoy) being the smartest person in the room. I am not cowed, and it seems to bother you. Too bad; I disagree, and I have not been convinced by your arguments to change my mind. I'm certain you will attribute it to a character flaw of mine, but I can live with your ill opinion of me.

Universal human dignity could be arrived at rationally from a basis of shared human experience by various arguments, including utilitarianism. Rule utilitarianism often embraces universal human dignity as a rule that increases human happiness.

I deny that the idea of universal and infinite human value began with Christianity. The Jains had this principle long before Jesus arrived on the scene, just to name one. And again I state, there often are morals that can be distilled from religion through rational examination, but they must be anchored in the shared human experience, and not in divine fiat.

As for the personal attack, I do think I am more moral than those who do the same acts out of pure self-interest. I think I am less moral than those who do better acts without self-interest. I don't see how this is a controversial statement, yet you deny it indicating motive holds no moral value to you. I would suggest that you are in the sizable minority of the shared human experience, but I can be proven wrong (then again, I could claim God told me I was right, in which case all debate and progress would cease).

I assume that, by your so-called argument against my "superficial" utilitarianism (which you again demonstrate that you are not familiar with, seeing as how you continue to falsely insist that utilitarianism can apply to individuals when the moral system has always only applied to societies) was the gang-rape situation. It is simple, even if I limit the consequences to the parties directly involved (which they are not in any utilitarian system). The momentary and relatively small happiness experienced by the perpatrators does not outweigh the long-term and vastly greater damage done to the victim. And this is not counting the damage to society, including the decrease in the security of others in the safety of their persons. Come on, this is first-year philosophy.

Homo sapiens wandered the planet for over 100,000 years before Christianity came on the scene. If we were waiting for Christianity (or any kind of religion) to tell us what was moral, we never would have made it out of the treetops. And yet, here we are. Studies of animals indicate beyond denial that there is a non-religious basis for shared morality that does not depend on high-fidelity communication or abtract thought.

When pontificating on the pervasiveness of Christian influence on modern thought, does it not seem odd to you that philosophers only keep some of the tenets expressed by Christianity? And furthermore, that these conserved tenets are the less controversial, more widespread ones? For example, no rational ethical system that I know of teaches to aid you enemies in harming you, yet Jesus does. No rational ethical system requires genital mutilation as Judaism and Islam does. The misogyny of Christianity is going by the wayside in the face of rational philosophy. Does it ever occur to you that Christianity, like all successful religions, are based partially on the shared human experience? And that this partial basis would be preserved in a transition to rational ethics? You claim to be familiar with the history of philosophy, but you do not seem to acknowledge the debt Christianity owes to other moral systems, insisting that Western philosophy MUST be grounded in Chritianity rather than admitting that perhaps Christianity is grounded (partially) on the same empirical basis that Western philosophy strives to investigate.

As far as John's comment, I never said Christianity forced morality wholly into stasis. I said "stultify" and I meant it. You admitted that philosophy uses a rational system whereas religion does not, differing with me on the basis of philosophy. You said that I was persisting in a real versus fake morality issue. You'll note that I said rational versus divine dictates, and I persist in this for good reason, and I provided an example that proves that religion causes people to go against their rational preferences in moral matters, and therefore is not benign. Jon's morality on the issue of slavery is stuck in the 1st century, not because his rationality is stuck in the 1st century but because of the stultifying effect of his religious basis of morality.

goprairie said...

might i summarize with:
humans are moral because it serves them to live in a society. christianity contains some morality because humans created it.
all religions contain some morality because humans create them.
religions do not cause morality. human morality got written into religions because humans were moral.

zilch said...

shygetz- I admire your persistence.

solon- talking with you reminds me of an experience I had years ago. I needed to contact a friend, and I knew that he was likely to be in the study room of the Department of Linguistics at UC Berkeley. So I called, and someone answered:

Guy: "Hello?"

Me: "Hi, I'm Scott Wallace, and I'd like to speak to John Davis, please."

Guy: "So?"

Me: "Could you please see if John Davis can come to the phone?"

Guy: "Yes, I could."

Me: (finally catching on: this is a linguistics department!)

"Please do so, then. Now."

Finally, I got some action. But in this case, it's not worth it. You win.

Solon said...

>>You ignore my previous example of the shared human experience, which is observable, quantifiable, and amenable to modeling, as the foundation of rational morality.

You really just can't grasp it, can you?

I obviously haven't ignored you, I've said repeatedly that you are wrong. Your point has nothing whatsoever to do with the derivation of moral right and wrong. It's like a deaf man trying to derive a musical note.

Yet again, you're talking about economics and how to arrange things so we get what we want, not morality. (And of course wrongly; we don't all share the same experience even in our time, let alone through history.) Just because a group of us desire something it doesn't suddenly catpult you into the moral sphere. Let's even say that everyone everywhere throughout the history of our species has wanted to survive. How exactly does that make your killing someone MORALLY wrong and not simply a bad result for the other guy???

Or if you mean observing people being nice to each other, how does that suddenly allow you to derive some moral rule rather than simply say a bunch of people were nice to each other? It doesn't.

I can't believe you are unable to grasp this!

>>Universal human dignity could be arrived at rationally from a basis of shared human experience by various arguments, including utilitarianism. Rule utilitarianism often embraces universal human dignity as a rule that increases human happiness.

If it "could" be why haven't you (or anyone) ever done it? You again have NOT demonstrated it because you can't. Utilitarianism can declare "human dignity" a starting point - even though it doesn't unless it is no longer about utility! - but not derive it.

So again, you've failed to give even one single example of what you keep claiming for philosophy.

>>I deny that the idea of universal and infinite human value began with Christianity. The Jains had this principle long before Jesus arrived on the scene, just to name one.

Again tangential. I'm not so familiar with Jainism though I can see that given what I know of it. In any case, we're speaking of values/advocates that formed the West.

>>As for the personal attack

Huh???

>>I don't see how this is a controversial statement, yet you deny it indicating motive holds no moral value to you.

You refuse to read properly or are unable to. I didn't say any such thing. I said anyone can deny what you've said on that point because you have merely assumed certain matters that one can easily disagree with.

>>can apply to individuals when the moral system has always only applied to societies

You really don't know what you speak of I'm afraid and have completely missed yet again the point I was making there as well.

>>The momentary and relatively small happiness experienced by the perpatrators does not outweigh the long-term and vastly greater damage done to the victim.

Ha, ha! Caught you again trying to weasel out of utilitarianism and sneak absolutes in the back door. You even used the exact example I raised above myself! Utility does not differentiate in quality. Period! If so convinced that her 1 unit of future displeasure outweighs 5 units of future pleasure from the rapists, just kill her off and be done with it. A net gain for society according to your moral system. But of course you are afraid to admit you advocate an actual standard beyond gross utility and argue seriously for it.

>>the damage to society

Who are you trying to kid? This is some miserable street dreg, just bump her off, it cleans up the neighborhood for everyone. Kill off the handicapped too! Net utility gained according to your system.

>>Studies of animals indicate beyond denial that there is a non-religious basis for shared morality

Hilarious. Studies of animals indicate we are just animals too and we all make room for others as we always have, and it has nothing whatsoever to with RIGHT and WRONG, but the bodies fear, desire, power, etc. Morality is an extremely recent human interpretation and weapon.

>>The misogyny of Christianity is going by the wayside in the face of rational philosophy.

This is turning into a comedy routine. Firstly, you routinely confuse the underlying motivating values of Christianity with the church and practitioners.

Secondly, you give another great example of how you are ignorant of the basis of our Western values. The drive towards equality in the West is not founded in rationality - ovbiously we are not at all equal in this world, nor required to be treated as such, and the same notions in early Greek/Roman society would be laughed at. Equality in the West is founded upon Christian assumptions of equal and infinitely valued souls in another "true" world. That the church itself doesn't draw the implications is irrelevant. Philosophy and power politics have taken up of these Christian values unscathed and advocated them, as I've been saying. The avant-garde edge of this power-as-Christian-morality is seen today in feminism and gay rights - even as they fight against the church itself.

Finally, what's truly funny about this is that you are working hard to undermine the very source of the moral values you advocate!

>>Does it ever occur to you that Christianity, like all successful religions, are based partially on the shared human experience?

Yet again and again and again, this does not get you even an inch closer to deriving RIGHT and WRONG.

>>I never said Christianity forced morality wholly into stasis.

You've said repeatedly that Christians are up against God's divine orders and that's it. Now you begrudgingly half admit that Christianity involves debate between PEOPLE, and new interpretations of fundamental ideas, just like in phil, just like I said.

>>You said that I was persisting in a real versus fake morality issue.
>>religion causes people to go against their rational preferences in moral matters

You obviously don't understand yet why you are wrong on those points either. I don't know what to say. Maybe go read Aristotle for 10 years then come back?

Solon said...

>>humans are moral because it serves them to live in a society.

Well, shygetz just said doing things because it is profitable for you means your acts are immoral/amoral, so he disagrees with your summary.

I'd point out that at one time owning slaves helped people live together in a society. So did human sacrifice. Based on your standard ("because it serves them to live in a society") you must agree that those actions and actors are moral, correct?

Or do you have another standard for morality?

Zilch, you remind me of talking to a guy who says it is raining outside, but when you put on your raincoat he says it is sunny. When you ask why he first said it was raining then, he says he never said that :-)

John W. Loftus said...

Solon, have you read through our FAQ sheet yet? It seems obvious you haven't. Try it. Especially read our answers to questions 30-34.

goprairie said...

I hestitate to even get into this, what with the nasty tone it has taken, for i have no degrees in religion or philosophy, but just some opinions and ideas. From my thinking, human behaviors are driven by instinct to a much greater degree than we think. all the animal instincts we ever had in our evolutionary history are still with us, such as to flee from predators and to find food and shelter. The big difference between other animals and people is our ability to perceive time, to reflect on the past and plan for the future. (That is why we invented religion - to explain where we came from before we had science and to explain those feelings of alert oneness with nature before we had barin science and to give us some hope for life beyond death because life was hard and crappy mostly.) These instincts evolved because in the natural range of ways of behaving, those that raised young to the point of reproductive age were the ones to pass on their instincts. so 'social' instincts evolved because it is better for a human to be in a group of people than to try to make it alone and multi-task. BUT we operate on conflicting instincts. The instinct to hide from predators conflicts with the instinct to seek opportunity for food and other resources. (I first studied this in the application of aesthetics to landscape design - why we prefer living spaces of a certain size and degree of openness - why we prefer the edge between the woods and the prairie - because that place offers the most opportunity yet the ability to duck into the shelter of the woods if predators arrive) The instinct to protect your own young might conflict with the groups goals in ocme cases. Moral behavior is that that leads to the best survival of the person and the family within the society. In varying order from time to time and situation to situation. There is no absolute morality, only what we define in a given time and place. It is considered by some to be moral to kill a person who is trying to enter your house if you beleive their intent is to harm you or your family. Others might demand proof first, not belief of intent. Others might demand you do all you can to stop them without killiing them. That is why it is so hard to write good laws, because moral and immoral are not black and white. Slavery was considered moral in other times as a way to provide for your own group. It was not general done only for one individual, but for the good of their group. It was 'moral' even tho it cost another group. It was even moral to sell a child into slavery if the owner could give them as good a life as you could and the money would benefit the rest of the family. Today, we see it differently. Because the instinct to care for society can be expressed over a small group or over a larger group of 'all people'. This is why we can spend so much time arguing about the morality of war, because it is NOT absolute. (If GOD defined it, would it not BE more absolute?) Some cases of morality and immorality are just how big you define the society to be or a conflict of the instinct of self-preservation, family preservation, local society preservation, or larger society preservation. Some issues of morality involve whether instincts of safety from predator or opportunity for resources are more important. The whole spotted owl thing went to whether we should utilize the resource or save the resource for other things. Which answer was moral? Meeting immediate needs or long term needs? Humans have to take the menu of instincts and choose. Other behavior considered immoral is instincts that are right in one situation being applied in an inappropriate situation. Instinct confusion, if you will. Crimes like child abuse can be explained by the confusion of the instinct to care for children getting mixed up with the mating instinct. Instincts evolved for the benefit of humans to raise offspring to reproductive age, something best done within a society if we are going to be free to plan for the future, and morality is what we currently define to best lead to that - and we chose often using our instincts in unconscious ways.

Shygetz said...

Well, shygetz just said doing things because it is profitable for you means your acts are immoral/amoral, so he disagrees with your summary.

Zilch was speaking of a societal benefit that yielded evolutionary fitness for moral systems versus no moral systems. I was talking about individual motivation based on self-profit and self-preservation. An example would be self-sacrifice to protect the tribe; the personal cost is terrible and the benefit negligible if not non-existent, but the societal advantage is huge. There is no conflict.

Solon said...

Thanks for the response.

>>John W. Loftus said...
Solon, have you read through our FAQ sheet yet? It seems obvious you haven't. Try it. Especially read our answers to questions 30-34.

Yes I have, but the problem is you have done the same as Shygetz, you have confused economics with morality. A system for meeting our desires does not equate to moral right and wrong. Bees have a system for getting along; in no way do we need to invent bee laws about "RIGHT" and "WRONG". Why so for the human animal? Well, to praise and condemn. But just because it pains you to see certain things occur doesn't mean they are WRONG. Things simply are not how you would like them to be, that's all.

As I asked above, just because we all like to live, how does that make killing someone WRONG and not merely a bad deal for the victim??? Where does this additional magical secretion of WRONG come from that you want so badly to place upon the act? What exactly made it WRONG? Well, maybe some law stating that human beings are sacred. Well, where did that come from???

-Or maybe, just maybe, you just prefer it not occur and thus use morality as a weapon with which to condemn, just like the religions you attack???

Hence morality is a weapon used to institute and maintain a certain form of life? Hence, highly "immoral"?

It seems quite clear you are all mistaking morality for "that's what we do around here" and are in deep fear that we cannot live together without mystical treats/compulsions. I'm not sure we can, but I'm fairly sure philosophy eventually takes the same step to their invention that religion does.

Pedantry:

In your faq you've also merely assumed "what we do around here" (i.e., what is "good") based on our species recent years in order to empower that form of life. In fact you go so far as to define people as "rational" only if they agree with your preferences, and irrational if they don't:

>>I think there is solid evidence that rational human beings want...They are obvious.
>>People whom I consider non-rational are, roughly speaking, people who do not want these things.

That clearly isn't an argument for the good, it is a definition that precludes an argument.

In any case, the various goods you list are highly contradictory and in no way give rise to any laws of right and wrong:

>>power, love, friendship, riches, health, freedom, significance, importance, self-esteem, affirmation, approval, knowledge, understanding, long life, safety, good looks, sex, and so forth

Also, your faq disagrees with shygetz's article when he says if we act at all for our own benefit then we are acting immorally/amorally. As your faq says:

>>What I’m arguing for is different. It’s a rational self-interest that seeks the long lasting benefits of happiness.

According to shygetz one can only act from duty to right and wrong. I've merely been trying to point out to him that it is very easy to disagree with his point; there's nothing given about it.

I hope it helps clarify the few basic points I've been trying to make and why I've been declaring tangential any digressions. If anyone can put forth an answer to my question above about why exactly killing is WRONG, I'd very much like to hear it.

John W. Loftus said...

Solon, did you read where I argued that we're all in the same boat when it comes to morality? Show me wrong.

Solon said...

>>John W. Loftus said...
Solon, did you read where I argued that we're all in the same boat when it comes to morality? Show me wrong.

Do you mean this:

>>The fact is that Christian religious moralists are largely in the same boat as atheists.

I fully agree they are, though the explanation you quote for why is not very good. You quote of the religious moralist:

>>‘Why should you care? What difference does it make anyway whether people are of infinite precious worth?’ Faced with such questioning, you will finally be pushed into a corner, where you say that ‘It is important to me that people be regarded as being infinite worth because I just happen to care about people.

No, he should say because it is right and that's all there is to it. That's the end point. He only need care about doing right; he can very well be a misanthrope.

He's actually in the same boat as shygetz simply because he has no access to such laws from the "other" world. They were created by (religious) men, not god.

Anyway, I don't quite understand why you want me to show you wrong. I've been saying exactly the same thing here repeatedly and everyone keeps saying without evidence that I'm wrong and that phil has some special method to access laws of good/evil. It doesn't. Neither do.

So you agree with my description of morality in the previous post then and that there remains a need to question how and why a moral interpretation of events was even created?

goprairie said...

"how does that make killing someone WRONG and not merely a bad deal for the victim???"
we have no absolute morality that killing is wrong. we have soft lines that define when it is and when it isn't. okay to kill for food. okay to kill for sport trophy? okay to kill if threatened. more okay to kill an animal that threatens home but not okay to kill a person for merely threatening home. think about various situations and slide the conditions around to see where YOU would and would not kill and where the thing you are willing to kill resides withiin the human species and as other species. and the soft lines are not significantly different between atheists and christians.
the existance of the idea that killing is wrong comes from evolution of the instinct to beleive that. where the lines of tolerance and willingness for a particular person slide is adjusted by thier society and its written or unwritten rules and their own experiences. exposure to violence, for example, can slide a person's tolerance for killing way toward the side of allowing it in more situations.
as confirmation that the opigin of the instinct not to kill is niether religion nor specifically human, one has only to look at gorillas and chimpanzees and tigers and lions and racoons and on to other species. they all have the hierarchy of being willing to kill for self-preservation, preservation of family, preservation of local social group, preservation of species. and they do not kill just to kill but only for food, in compettition for mates, and over territory. in the latter two, there is a preference for scaring the other off, rather than killing.
that instinctive reluctance to kill favors individuals of the same species but also spreads to any non-food species. why? because those instincts evolved that way because of the benifits that other species have on each other within the environmant.

Solon said...

goprairie, you're merely describing what some people do or don't do some of the time depending what they feel like doing. You haven't asked why something is morally right or wrong, or where that extra interpretation of events comes from. Your example of animals in fact highlights that morality amongst human animals is something added on top of events. How so? By whom? For what end?

So, after all this talk, no one has shown that philosophy is in any way better positioned to discover any laws of right and wrong. -And I would strongly suggest that a better use of philosophy (at least by atheists) is for the tough love and exercise of discovering where moral laws actually come from and what they are used for, rather than the further indulgence and comforting of a body grown flabby on a pampered Christian diet.

zilch said...

And I would strongly suggest that a better use of philosophy (at least by atheists) is for the tough love and exercise of discovering where moral laws actually come from and what they are used for, rather than the further indulgence and comforting of a body grown flabby on a pampered Christian diet.

Okay, you've kept us in the dark long enough, solon. Where do moral laws actually come from?

Solon said...

>>Okay, you've kept us in the dark long enough, solon. Where do moral laws actually come from?

I haven't tried to keep my view a secret :-) I've said a few things like:

>>Both are commands put forth by creators, whether religious or philosophical.

These laws are invented by humans. I'm saying the interesting question is how that is done and to what end. One can then question the morality of morality to begin: if it is another expression of power, then it is not privileged. Who or what seeks power though it?

One might uncover a condemnation of life hiding within it as in Christianity. When we declare a good and true world (and a denatured notion of man) diametrically opposed to the actual world, this world is devalued. That is the great condemnation to be made of Christianity, not it's mendacity. Lies can be very useful. Even though we cannot properly weigh the value of life, the ultimate nihilistic judgment is that life is not worth living.

So, we have to look at the health of the body that gives birth to a morality, and ask what is being bred by that morality. We can ask: how does this morality relate to life? is it perhaps an expression of nihilism?

Socrates was the originator of the formula reason = virtue = happiness. Nietzsche wrote:

"The dying Socrates.— [...] I wish he had remained taciturn also at the last moment of his life,—in that case he might belong to a still higher order of spirits. Whether it was death or the poison or piety or malice—something loosened his tongue at that moment and he said: "Oh Crito, I owe Asclepius a rooster." This ridiculous and terrible "last word" means for those who have ears: "Oh Crito, life is a disease." Is it possible! A man like him, who had lived cheerfully and like a soldier in the sight of everyone,—should have been a pessimist! He had merely kept a cheerful mien while concealing all his life long his ultimate judgment, his inmost feeling! Socrates, Socrates suffered life! And then he still revenged himself—with this veiled, gruesome, pious, and blasphemous saying! Did a Socrates need such revenge? Did his overrich virtue lack an ounce of magnanimity?— Alas, my friends, we must overcome even the Greeks!"

Nietzsche placed this right before his section about the eternal recurrence, which is not thought true but rather the body's possible affirmation of and faith in the permanence ("truth") of becoming, i.e., of life, as opposed to the unattainable "true" world of being sought via reason by Socrates for repose from life, until his search ended in the condemnation of life.

If interested in Nietzsche/Socrates and no books on hand, I found this:
http://praxeology.net/twilight.htm
http://www.geocities.com/thenietzschechannel/diefrohl7e.htm

zilch said...

solon- what you seem to be saying is that morals must be questioned. So I'll ask a narrower question: where do your morals come from?

As far as Socrates and Nietzsche go, I've only read the Republic and Also Sprach Zarathustra. I found Plato's Socrates entertaining, but too confident in the power of logic alone to deduce truths about the world; and although Nietzsche was undoubtedly brilliant, I found his pompous huffing and puffing about superiority to be tiresome. But that's just me.

Shygetz said...

But solon, was your testament not just your view of what is good? By your argument, is it no more valid than Hitler's (or Socrates', for that matter)? Therefore, should not your own condemnation equally apply to your view expressed here; that you are making your own unfounded claims about virtue? In claiming good to be wholly unfounded, are you not yourself promoting nihilism? You use the measure "what is being bred by morality"...is that not the same utilitarianism that you so roundly condemn? I just don't see how, given your previous objections to morality unfounded on an external objective standard which cannot be shown to exist, you can avoid the nihilism that you apparently reject.

I strongly disagree with you that all moral laws are formed by humans. While it is true that all moral laws are formalized by humans, many exist without formalization. They exist in social animals incapable of abstract thought. Are such "natural laws" not immune to your test of power-seeking, having preceded the ability to formalize and communicate them? You previously said that one could not appeal to instinct for morality, but I didn't see where you said why.

If zilch is right, and you were merely saying that morals must be questioned, then how do we differ? The major point of my post was that it is much easier to question philosophical morals, as there is no presumption of infallible divine enforcement against heresy. The entire field of ethics centers around questioning and formalizing morals.

I think Nietzsche went to far in calling Socrates a pessimist. In The Phaedo, Socrates claims that philosophers who have gained wisdom in life will dwell with the gods in the afterlife. For him, this world was an illness because he had gained wisdom and was moving on to something better. I think to call him a pessimist is going too far; Socrates clearly thought that life well-lived was of real value and worth, just not that it was the ultimate state of happiness. And Socrates was CERTAINLY not a nihilist, even by Nietzsche's definition:

"A nihilist is a man who judges of the world as it is that it ought not to be, and of the world as it ought to be that it does not exist. According to this view, our existence (action, suffering, willing, feeling) has no meaning: the pathos of 'in vain' is the nihilists' pathos — at the same time, as pathos, an inconsistency on the part of the nihilists."--The Will to Power

Socrates insisted that the only way to worth was through wisdom gained in life, which leads to virtue and purification for the later afterlife. Indeed, Socrates thought this was so important that man was forced to cycle through lives on Earth until he got it right. To write that he thought existence had no meaning is to libel the man; he thought material existence was a necessary preparation for the afterlife.

And please stop claiming here and elsewhere that I think I am "more moral than the moralists". I never said nor implied any such thing. I said that sytems of morality that are amenable to inspection and change are more valid than those that depend upon divine authority, and that I subscribe to morals that stem from the former. There are moralists on both sides, and I never claimed moral superiority to all of them. I would not insult you thus simply because you think you are more moral than, say, eugenics moralists who espouse racism, genocide, and forced sterilization, so please return the courtesy.

Solon said...

Before replying, I'll say I hope my comments haven't come across as indicating I know all the answers. I think I know some of the questions, but not too much more.

>>I'll ask a narrower question: where do your morals come from?

I'd have to say from Western civilization, much as yours, with many years of self-discipline and slow, likely shallow, incorporation of my thoughts.

>>As far as Socrates and Nietzsche go, I've only read the Republic and Also Sprach Zarathustra.

I'd say the Republic is far more Plato than Socrates but obviously a difficult issue to decipher. As for Z, it has to be understood as written in parody of the Biblical style. People should read it last. I'd strongly recommend the Gay Science as the place to begin. A truly great book on many levels. The writing is beautiful even in translation. You might want to poke around book (chapter) 4 and 5 first:

http://www.geocities.com/thenietzschechannel/diefrohl7f.htm
http://www.geocities.com/thenietzschechannel/diefrohl7e.htm

>>Shygetz said...
>>was your testament not just your view of what is good?

I don't understand the question exactly, sorry. I didn't testify to what is morally good; I did indicate that an affirmation of (this-worldly) life can be considered healthy.

>>By your argument, is it no more valid than Hitler's (or Socrates', for that matter)?

In any case, you are right. One morality is no more founded in truth than any other. If you say I can't prove that, well, that is a point in my favor! :-)

>>In claiming good to be wholly unfounded, are you not yourself promoting nihilism?

If you mean by undermining views held by others, yes. It is equivalent to taking drugs away from an addict. Whether afterward he gets healthier or sickens remains to be seen. I'm also not saying "good" is unfounded in any way at all, but rather that it is not founded in truth. Only if you think it must be is it devalued, no?

>>[can you] avoid the nihilism that you apparently reject.

I'm not sure nihilism is really something to affirm or reject here. The world of becoming (i.e., a constant process of birth and death) inherently involves suffering. As a moral phenomenon existence and the world are eternally unjustified. So why value the world by that standard?

But these are excellent questions. N calls it "an inexorable, fundamental, and deepest suspicion about ourselves that is more and more gaining worse and worse control of us Europeans and that could easily confront coming generations with the terrifying Either/Or: 'Either abolish your reverences or—yourselves!' The latter would be nihilism; but would not the former also be—nihilism?— This is our question mark."

>>You use the measure "what is being bred by morality"...is that not the same utilitarianism that you so roundly condemn?

Well, I don't think asking about the outcome equates to measuring by pleasure, but I haven't condemned utilitarianism per se anyway. I've merely pointed out that it is not grounded in reason as claimed and that its outcomes are inconsistent with the values utilitarians generally espouse when pressed.

>While it is true that all moral laws are formalized by humans, many exist without formalization. They exist in social animals incapable of abstract thought. Are such "natural laws" not immune to your test of power-seeking

I think we've discussed this. Morality is founded in truth, not animal instinct. Instinct is the expression of a life form to live and grow, generally. I don't see how it can be considered moral even if sometimes consistent with certain moral laws. You wouldn't describe a small animal's not attacking a bigger one as a moral act, I don't think. It is an expression of power, here self-maintenance, just as attacking a smaller animal is. Plants and other forms of life are the same. We can analyze our own actions this way once we strip them of a moral interpretation.

>>If zilch is right, and you were merely saying that morals must be questioned, then how do we differ?

Firstly because I think you are unwittingly promoting Christian/nihilistic values. I'm not opposed, for example, to pagan gods, which generally promote a healthy virility and apetite for life that transfigures suffering and gives it value. Belief in god is not the issue for me.

Secondly, I'm also saying that morality itself (not merely various morals) can be questioned. What does it grow out of? What exactly is it? And why should it ever be the goal and standard of judgement? If life inherently involves suffering and is not moral, then the end goal of a healthy animal would not be morality. The goal would perhaps be the highest expression of life, whatever that means, and morality would serve it. Maybe, logically, certain notions would follow from the goal. But not lead and judge.

>>I think Nietzsche went to far in calling Socrates a pessimist.
>>Socrates insisted that the only way to worth was through wisdom gained in life
>>Socrates clearly thought that life well-lived was of real value

Actually, N describes Socrates as an optimist, much like Christians who think the New Jerusalem can be built on earth: "Socrates is the prototype of the theoretical optimist who, with his faith that the nature of things can be fathomed, ascribes to knowledge and insight the power of a panacea, while understanding error as the evil par excellence."

Socrates only creates the myth of truth as good, but is otherwise destructive, i.e., his optimism in his rationality-at-all-costs daimonion (demon) leads him to destroy the creations of this world as false. Finally he ends by condemning the world. Optimism, "concealed in the essence of logic, suffers shipwreck." I don't want to go into Socrates much, but his description of Eros is key. In the Symposium the father of Eros is Expedient (Poros) whose name means "path." He represents the mind and can lead to divinity as he has a touch of the divine in him (recall Kant). The mother of Eros is Poverty, or Need, (Penia) and represents the body and becoming. Feminine "need" is the driving force. When Eros' "expedients" succeed in "enriching" Eros by attaining true being, Eros dies! One desires, even philosophizes, only out of need; true being is static. Creativity, even philosophy, is absent from the gods, as there is nothing they could desire to change. Falling into our world is a form of degeneration, equivalent to the Semitic myth of the Fall. Once here, the goal is simply to escape back into the repose of true being. Socrates is the demon who leads us out of becoming and dies into being - out of need, weakness. (Contrast the Niezschean "demon" who leads us to the thought of the eternal recurrence: "how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal".)

>>"the pathos of 'in vain' is the nihilists' pathos"

That is ultimately Socrates. Real life and value are elsewhere. This life is not training for the other world, but an unfortunate "path" we "need" to traverse back to it. Hence nihilism. Hence this world is finally judged by Socrates to be a disease.

>>I think I am "more moral than the moralists"

I didn't mean that as an insult but as a summary of the claim that religious people are not acting morally due to promised benefits, whereas their godless equivalents are. It appears to be a constant refrain here that religion leads people to do immoral acts and atheism is the solution. I don't see any side as being on a better footing morally, that's all.

>>because you think you are more moral than, say, eugenics moralists who espouse racism, genocide, and forced sterilization

I don't think I think that. I might think they are unintelligent given their means vs. goal, or inconsistent with their other goals, I'm not really sure, but I wouldn't think I was "morally" superior if I sought a different goal. I could see two people espousing the same act and one I think displays a vengeful ugliness I don't like, while the other does it out of clarity and a creative joy and love of life that I admire.

Thought provoking questions, thank you. I hope I answered them with some intelligence.

zilch said...

solon- thanks for the recommendations. I see that Projekt Gutenberg has Die Fröhliche Wissenschaft- I'd rather read it in German- but I probably won't get around to it any time soon. Not that it doesn't sound interesting; but I don't have all that much time to read, philosophy has to take a back seat to biology, and I'm already struggling through the Dialektik der Aufklärung, which I foolishly promised a friend to read and since regret. Adorno and Horkheimer have an amazingly convoluted and impenetrable way of saying stuff which is mostly either banal or meaningless, as far as I can tell. Maybe they were the inspiration for Derrida...

But back to the topic. You say:

Morality is founded in truth, not animal instinct. Instinct is the expression of a life form to live and grow, generally. I don't see how it can be considered moral even if sometimes consistent with certain moral laws.

I disagree. If morality is not founded in animal instinct, what "truth" could it be founded in? Do rocks have morals? Morals are not some kind of "truth", but rather an evolved system, grounded in our evolved desires as social animals, and augmented by our more or less rational attempts to design rules, which have also evolved, that help build society. Ascribing "truth" to systems of morals ex post facto is what religions do.

Moral laws don't exist in a vacuum: they are ways of coordinating the desires of individuals with the needs of societies. And the desires of individuals are based in their biology.

Of course, when I say "grounded" and "based", I mean just that: that our particular evolved biology is the starting point for all morality, not the be-all and end-all. But without our animal selves as a starting point, without pain and hunger and sex, there's no way to derive morals that's not just playing with words.

Solon said...

I made a nice reply for you last night and it showed it as saved.

What happened to it?

zilch said...

solon- your reply is probably languishing in some forgotten corner of cyberspace. Better email John, or try again. Looking forward to it.

John W. Loftus said...

Solon, I never got an email with your reply so something must've happened to it. I certainly didn't delete it and I don't think anyone else did. Before I publish a comment I copy it to my clipboard and check it to make sure it got published, since sometimes I've lost comments into the twilight zone.

Cheers.

Solon said...

Well, another version then:

As someone said above, you cannot derive ought from is. You are looking at what we do and then saying we ought to do it. There is no ought.

>>If morality is not founded in animal instinct, what "truth" could it be founded in?
>>rational attempts to design rules, which have also evolved, that help build society.

2 big problems:

1) we also instinctively go around killing, stealing, dominating. It doesn't mean we ought to do those things. You are clearly cherry-picking the instincts you prefer and simply applying the imprimatur of moral right upon them. (Even when they might have the same underlying "immoral" basis as the actions you condemn, but that's another matter.)

2) If you are merely arguing that we ought to employ certain means (what you are calling moral acts) in order to achieve certain goals (have a prosperous society, whatever), then that is not at all morality as it is understood. Again, I described this above as economics. You can have no argument whatsoever against those who point out problems with your means, or who simply disagree with your goals (and thus your means). They can not be said to be acting immorally. Even those who agree with your means and goals but don't follow them can only really be said to be acting unwisely, not immorally. Calling them immoral is really just "playing with words." It's like calling a carpenter immoral because he used the wrong tool for the job.

In fact, you are putting forth the same understanding of morality that I have above but without the overt acknowledgment that it is not "moral" at all but a tool for a certain form of life to maintain and grow it's power. In other words, a radically different conception of what morality actually is.

zilch said...

solon says:

As someone said above, you cannot derive ought from is. You are looking at what we do and then saying we ought to do it. There is no ought.

There is no "ought" imposed upon us from the outside, but if we want to build societies, we have to decide upon what we "ought" to do. You can call it something else if you prefer, but we cannot get around making laws to govern our societies. Or do you believe that anarchy will work in the modern world?

we also instinctively go around killing, stealing, dominating. It doesn't mean we ought to do those things. You are clearly cherry-picking the instincts you prefer and simply applying the imprimatur of moral right upon them.

That's right: that's exactly what I'm doing. Don't you? Even you say, a heartbeat after declaring that "there is no ought", that instinct doesn't mean we "ought" to do those things. And my question to you is still unanswered: If morality is not founded in animal instinct, what "truth" could it be founded in?

If you are merely arguing that we ought to employ certain means (what you are calling moral acts) in order to achieve certain goals (have a prosperous society, whatever), then that is not at all morality as it is understood. Again, I described this above as economics.

Then, do tell, what exactly is morality as it is understood? If you choose to call "economics" what I call "morality", that's fine, and I'll say that under your definition, there is no morality.

You can have no argument whatsoever against those who point out problems with your means, or who simply disagree with your goals (and thus your means).

Sure I can argue against those who disagree with me. But I cannot do so based on "first principles", or "what God says"- all I can do is admit that there is no set of means and no set of goals that is unproblematic, but that we humans have enough overlap in our evolved desires that, with a little love and a little luck, we can work together to build societies.

That's how all societies work anyway, whether people recognize it or not: there is no God, and there is no set of fundamental truths, telling us exactly how to behave, but we manage to muddle through well enough to shoot the breeze on the internet, listen to Bach, and send robots to Mars. At least the luckier of us can rejoice in these things. The biggest task we have is extending the fruits of society to everyone.

Even those who agree with your means and goals but don't follow them can only really be said to be acting unwisely, not immorally.

That's fine by me. I don't really care what you call it, but I do wish you would define "moral" for me, if it's different than "wise".

In fact, you are putting forth the same understanding of morality that I have above but without the overt acknowledgment that it is not "moral" at all but a tool for a certain form of life to maintain and grow it's power. In other words, a radically different conception of what morality actually is.

That's okay with me too, although I find that words such as "tool", "power", and one you used earlier, "privileged", are fraught with negative post-modern connotations. Have you been reading Derrida? :) But there's not much I can say until I know what you mean by "moral" as opposed to "wise".

Solon said...

>>we cannot get around making laws to govern our societies. Or do you believe that anarchy will work in the modern world?

That's not the point. The point is there is no moral ought there.

>>cherry-picking the instincts you prefer
>>that's exactly what I'm doing. >>If morality is not founded in animal instinct, what "truth" could it be founded in?

It's not true in any way whatsoever that we morally ought to do anything. Our actions are founded in the same way rotting flesh gives rise to nausea (instinct), or yellow is the hot new fashion of the season (a new creation). It has nothing to do with what we ought to do. Bees kindly pollinate flowers; it doesn't mean they ought to.

>>Then, do tell, what exactly is morality as it is understood?

That we ought to act in certain ways, NOT simply as a means but as an end, and thus it is wrong to act otherwise. Full stop. For example, we shouldn't kill Jews even if it suits us because human life is sacred.

>>as opposed to "wise"

That I (conditionally) ought to be nice to Jews because I want a society where people get along without fear. Of course, if we find that knocking off the few Jews works better, then we ought to do that instead. Or if I don't care for building a nice liberal society because I hate it's weak-kneed values and instead desire a warrior society based on kinship, then it's wise to get rid of them too.

>>but we manage to muddle through well enough to shoot the breeze on the internet, listen to Bach, and send robots to Mars.

Again, you're confusing animals getting along with what we morally ought to do.

>>"tool", "power", and one you used earlier, "privileged"

"Tool" simply implies a means only. "Power" a non-rational relationship. "Privileged" was not used in any special manner.

>>Have you been reading Derrida?

I can't stand Derrida and other writers that seemingly strive for obscurity. The only annoying one I will read is Heidegger because he is so often brilliant. "Plato's doctrine of truth" and "The word of Nietzsche, God is dead" are must reads, and clearly written.

I think we're repeating things too often. Unless there is some new point to discuss?

zilch said...

solon- you're right, there's nothing more to discuss. Ta ta.