Atheism entails amorality

March 3, 2007 at 12:55 pm (ethics)

One matter I have been debating is the question of morality in a non-theistic context. Simply put: ?Can atheists act morally??
Perhaps better said: ?Is atheism compatible with ethics??

I have tried to study various cases in my experience, and am as yet unsure. I certainly know atheists who act in a way that I would consider moral; indeed I would say I know atheist who are more moral than me (and a great many other people). So there is no self-righteousness in this query. But what I do wonder, however, is whether or not there is philosophical substance to ethics in an atheistic context. Are atheists inconsistent when they act on moral principals? I don?t know, but I mean to explore it.

In order to find out, I will play a specific role in this thread (which can already be glimpsed by the provocative title). I will be arguing that it is impossible for the atheist to philosophically support and distinction between right and wrong, morally speaking, in a consistent way. Thus I am asking all those who disagree with this position to please challenge me in this task. State your case as best you can, and we shall see if it holds.

For a working definition, atheism is the positive assertion that either (1) there is no God, or (2) the existence of God is unknowable and irrelevant to human affairs, and also atheism is the denial of the value of faith, especially as a means of attaining knowledge.

As for a definition of morality or ethics, I leave that to my interlocutors to provide, since it is their burden to show that ethical behavior is compatible with atheism.

Advertisements

182 Comments

  1. james spence said,

    I think it is perfectly possible to have a code of ethics and not believe in a God, and be consistent at the same time. In fact I’d say the only way it would be inconsistent to do so would be if your code of ethics included the knowledge that moral authority must come from outside the self.
    Oh and I’m aware of some of Singer’s more controversial ethical ideas, so I’d just lke to point out that just because the man thinks an adult ape is of greater moral importance than a human baby doesn’t inavlidate his experiment

  2. andrew sanders said,

    Daniel Dennett speaks in an interview on “being good without god”.

    Watch and learn.

  3. reformed nihilist said,

    You admit that you have met moral athiests, so it is obvious that atheism does not preclude morality. What would “philosophical substance to ethics in an atheistic context” entail? I would suggest that because the athiest context is so far removed from your own paradigm, it is unlikely that you will be able to accept anything presented as being of philosophical substance. With this in mind, I will still attempt to present my take on morality as an atheist.

    To me it is quite simple, and quite complex. Humans create rules. We do so in order to have a means to make descisions that will lead to desirable outcomes in a more efficient manner than having to figure it all out on our own every time. The terms morality and ethics refer to both personal descision making rules and public (shared or normative) rules of behaviour. The development of personal descision making rules of behaviour can be approached in the same way epistemology can be approached. Trial and error, consultation to authority, deductive reason, social validation, and categorization are how we arrive at conclusions about what descisions should be made. The development of social norms is a function of statistics. The general consencus regarding behaviours (but not always the simple general consencus, social bodies don’t behave simply) is what is publicly moral or ethical. Negotiations between people and groups within the greater society allow public morality to change over time. Publicly, society has embraced a differentiation between morality and religious prescription. The word ‘good’ isn’t synonymous with the term ‘God’s will’. Being good publicly is behaving is a way that corresponds with the public meaning of the term.

  4. 180proof said,

    following w.k. clifford’s admonition that “it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence”, it would seem that an indispensibly moral act would be to assume the disposition (or adopt the perspective) of atheism, as it is highly probable — on the basis of the available, demonstrable evidence (which is completely lacking!) — that theism, particularly of the abrahamic variety, is false. belief on the basis of ‘faith’ is cognitively immoral, for one who believes in that which ‘transcends’ nature (e.g. the supernatural, miraculous, immaterial, etc) commits to acting with respect to that for which one cannot give account even in principle to neither his fellows nor those who one may be “called” to act against nor even to himself in a non-question begging sense. the assumption here is that being moral is tantamount to being, not merely responsible, but also accountable (even if only in principle) “to our neighbors as ourselves”.

    sufficient evidence, as the basis of moral beliefs, would consist in both conceptual coherence and a preponderant state of affairs (i.e. facts) that best explains the matter at hand at the time; only by applying moral beliefs to circumstantial dilemmas as moral judgements can we proceed to act morally, that is, in a fashion whereby we can give account of ourselves in such a way that even those who do not share our parochial pieties can nonetheless understand us as having thought through our actions guided by reason & moral imagination. without divine sanction of the distinction of right from wrong, social tradition has always sufficed and will always suffice in secular, jurisprudential societies, requiring men to collectively as well as individually think for themselves, not merely in order to dutifully obey but also to deliberatively & creatively apply moral rules to novel dilemmas & conflicts.

    btw, as far as i can tell the predominant schools of moral philosophy — eudaimonism, deontologism, consequentialism, pragmatism & emotivism — expound on moral practices which are not inconsistent with atheism as atheism does not commit to positive claims which are at odds with those moral principles, or with morality as such. that atheism is not consistent with religious based moralities, however, is hardly surprising or controversial as atheism is a rejection of theism for moral reasons (among others).

  5. soniarott said,

    Here is my thinking. I have met atheists whose actions I consider moral because they, to a fair extent, conform to my understanding of what constitutes moral behavior. However, my understanding of what constitutes moral behavior depends on God. And here I am arguing that moral behavior only makes sense, ultimately, if it is based on God. So, I wonder if those atheists I meet who are moral are simply holding on to latent Christian values (that they learned in their youth) without the philosophical justification. For example, say someone was taught to give alms to the poor when he was young. Now, as an adult, he still gives to the poor, although if one were to really ask why he does this, the fellow could no longer give an answer, beyond perhaps ?I believe its good?, or ?I just know it?s the right thing to do? ? why is it the ?right? thing to do?
    I would suggest that because the athiest context is so far removed from your own paradigm, it is unlikely that you will be able to accept anything presented as being of philosophical substance.
    Fair enough, but I ensure you I will use reason to analyze such arguments, in an attempt to abjure from the limitations of my paradigm (and I enough of a humanist to think this can be done).
    Humans create rules. We do so in order to have a means to make descisions that will lead to desirable outcomes in a more efficient manner than having to figure it all out on our own every time.
    Are these individual rules, or social rules? If they are social rules, why shouldn?t the individual abuse the rules to his own advantage as much as possible. If they are individual rules, then how do individuals with contradictory rules interact without using one another?
    Negotiations between people and groups within the greater society allow public morality to change over time.
    On what criteria do we assess these changes? Some societies have, due to the actions of subgroups, changed into anti-Semitic societies, or societies that practice human sacrifice, and the like. Is that amorality, or just another kind of morality no better or worse than any other. And, if the former, on what basis would one convince the society to repent?
    Publicly, society has embraced a differentiation between morality and religious prescription. The word ‘good’ isn’t synonymous with the term ‘God’s will’. Being good publicly is behaving is a way that corresponds with the public meaning of the term.
    So how do we judge the morality of other societies? On what basis can one society legitimately tell another society that it is wrong? And, what is to prevent one society from enslaving or obliterating another?

    Drew S
    Drew S wrote:
    Daniel Dennett speaks in an interview on “being good without god”. Watch and learn.
    Perhaps you could summarize his arguments here, and present them as your own case to which you are arguing, that way a discussion can ensue. I cannot debate with a phantom, and it wouldn?t be fair to that position anyway.

    CJ
    CJ wrote:
    I think it is perfectly possible to have a code of ethics and not believe in a God, and be consistent at the same time.
    Could you manifest an example of this for us to examine?
    In fact I’d say the only way it would be inconsistent to do so would be if your code of ethics included the knowledge that moral authority must come from outside the self.
    Howso?

    180
    180 wrote:
    “it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence”,
    Why? On what basis should one assent to this claim? And, what makes this a moral claim (rather than, perhaps, ?it?s a bad idea to believe something without sufficient evidence”)?
    the assumption here is that being moral is tantamount to being, not merely responsible, but also accountable (even if only in principle) “to our neighbors as ourselves”.
    Again, what reason is there to care about accountability to neighbor? Sounds like a hole over from the Abrahamic faith of Clifford?s youth.
    sufficient evidence, as the basis of moral beliefs, would consist in both conceptual coherence and a preponderant state of affairs (i.e. facts) that best explains the matter at hand at the time; only by applying moral beliefs to circumstantial dilemmas as moral judgements can we proceed to act morally, that is, in a fashion whereby we can give account of ourselves in such a way that even those who do not share our parochial pieties can nonetheless understand us as having thought through our actions guided by reason & moral imagination.
    As sympathetic as I am to this argumentation, I don?t see the basis for morality. It sound like one has to want to live in a moral world, as an act of the will (i.e. a belief, indeed perhaps a faith). What exactly does ?moral? mean, and why should anyone care?
    without divine sanction of the distinction of right from wrong, social tradition has always sufficed and will always suffice in secular, jurisprudential societies, requiring men to collectively as well as individually think for themselves, not merely in order to dutifully obey but also to deliberatively & creatively apply moral rules to novel dilemmas & conflicts.
    But, of course, different societies have contradictory moral codes, and individuals can come to contradictory concussions even if they think things through logically (because they have different assumptions), and besides, one need not even agree to acknowledge the universality of reason (I have had my share of debates against those who deny universal claims, even about reason itself). So I don?t see how this is a real basis for morality.
    btw, as far as i can tell the predominant schools of moral philosophy — eudaimonism, deontologism, consequentialism, pragmatism & emotivism — expound on moral practices which are not inconsistent with atheism.
    What I mean to argue here is that they are, if they actually work as moral systems. The number of books written on ethics in the last few decades is absurd ? the piles of dusty paper backs reach to the ceiling. And yet in practice I don?t see any of them working. I only see individuals who are either theists and moral, or atheists but who still retain theistic principles, and here I mean to argue is that they have not rejected these, which would be the logically consistent thing to do, because they have not sufficiently reflected upon their beliefs. And when I look at unabashed atheism, I see rampant amorality, i.e. Nietzscheans who are busy willing themselves to power, objectivists, communists, &c.

  6. reformed nihilist said,

    Well, if we are speaking from the perspective of the community, it is obviously because it is in the communities interest for individuals to follow the rules. Individuals will determine individually what rules they believe they should follow. This is why I point out the difference. Goodness doesn’t mean just one thing. It describes both what is good to an individual or what is good to a community. Mixing the meanings together is bound to lead to confusion.
    If they are individual rules, then how do individuals with contradictory rules interact without using one another?

    Well, the notion of ‘using’ one and other is a little loose, but to answer the question as I think you have offered it, through negotiation via reason, persuasion, creation of communities with shared values and sometimes force.
    On what criteria do we assess these changes?

    That depends on what one is trying to determine. That is much like asking “On what criteria does one assess changes in atomic states?”. It really depends on what your trying to figure out.
    Some societies have, due to the actions of subgroups, changed into anti-Semitic societies, or societies that practice human sacrifice, and the like. Is that amorality, or just another kind of morality no better or worse than any other. And, if the former, on what basis would one convince the society to repent?

    Saying a morality is good is tautologous. Morality means ‘that which is good’, no? So as judged by the norms of the community, their behaviour is good. As judged by our norms, they are not. It seems as though you approach this question with the assumption that morality must be universal and absolute in order to exist. I reject this notion.
    So how do we judge the morality of other societies?

    Which we? Members of our society? Mainly by the norms of our society. On a personal level, we judge them by our own moral beliefs. No different than the way we judge anything non-moral. We take the sum of knowledge we have aquired and apply it in the form of rules that will have varying levels of complexity according to the amount of investigation and the ineffectiveness of previous rules.
    On what basis can one society legitimately tell another society that it is wrong? And, what is to prevent one society from enslaving or obliterating another?

    Obviously there is nothing that prevents one society from enslaving and obliterating another. This sort of thing occurs from time to time. People are starting to realise that this is not a desirable phenomena (the sum benifits are outweighed by the sum disadvantages), and so it is common to hold a moral position that “war is bad, genocide is bad, slavery is bad” in the modern world. Keep in mind that I am not telling people what they should do, I am telling you what morality is to an athiest (a particular one, namely me). You seem to be taking my post as a prescritive, but it is instead a descriptive. Prescriptives that I would (and do) individually negotiate for would include “use reason”, “don’t forget the value of community”, “err on the side of social inclusiveness” and “avoid over-generalization”.

  7. lodestone said,

    1. Surely all that is required here would be, for example, for one to stick to their deontological guns (or to another morality of choice)? If I were to write a post detailing my convincedness that morality requires responsibility; responsibility, freedom; and freedom, the exercise of the non-self-undermining rational will, what would you say?

    2. I fear you may have defined the parameters of your argument so that it is impossible for one to adopt another position. Observe your response to 180:
    Why? On what basis should one assent to this claim? And, what makes this a moral claim?

    Clearly, one could provide this reply to any basis one offers for morality?as any proffered basis will require an assumption as to what morality is. Indeed, one could provide this reply to “morality entails following the laws of God”. Why? On what basis should one assent to this claim? And, what makes this a moral claim?

    In other words you seem to be question-begging: you have taken as an assumption of your position that “following the laws of God” is the only true basis of morality in order to show that “following the laws of God” is the only true basis of morality, when “you must follow the laws of God” has no relevant intrinsic properties distinct from “it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence” as a rule.

    3. If you require a statement about the basis of morality to have correspondic truth?to refer to an intrinsic property of the world?then clearly you must derive your God-given morality from some set of first principles. But then, this is exactly what Kant did in deriving morality from the principles of reason?taking it as read that there is synethic a priori truth. What superiority has God-given morality here?

    However, a correspondic view of truth is fraught with danger. What if I were to commit myself to coherentist truth??all that would be required, then, as a source for morality, would be a set of ethical principles which are internally coherent with each other and with pragmatically chosen foundation axioms of “knowledge”. Again, your God-given morality would appear to have no intrinsic superiority here. Moreover, to any moral claim the question “On what basis should one assent to this claim?” would simply merit the answer that it coheres with all other claims and is useful to hold.

    4. Leading on from 2, I would like to see your answer to the question, “In virtue of what is it true that morality comes from God?”

  8. reformed nihilist said,

    I want to add that in essence what you have asked is “How can someone hold essentially the same moral rules as I and perhaps act on those rules more consistenly than I when I have developed those rules in adherence to Judeo-Christian principles and he/she rejects Judeo-Christianity as a basis for a developing moral rules?” You have also said “As for a definition of morality or ethics, I leave that to my interlocutors to provide, since it is their burden to show that ethical behavior is compatible with atheism.”. I (and others) have both offered an explaination to how athiests can hold moral rules that are similar to those you hold, and have defined morality.

    What you now seem to be asking is for explanations about how specific moral rules like “One should be nice to people” or “one should not murder” are arrived at by an athiest. It really boils down to the fact that, as a rule, following rules works better than not, and that as a rule, being nice to people and not murdering people leads to desirable outcomes. Could I concieve of a situation where it might be in my best interest to murder someone? Sure, that’s how moral dilemma’s occur. I would point out that any textured anaysis of a situation would limit that theoretical occurance to the most extreme, complex and usually unlikely situation (the type of situation that Judeo-Christian ethics have problems with as well). One of the advantages of basing a moral system on reason rather than solely on external authorities is that it allows for development and adjustment as new situations are encountered and new information is learned.

  9. darkcrow said,

    Sonia, if I understand the concepts in the argument you have written- If an Atheist (as you have described) accepts the morality written in a book in which the author is someone they do not believe exists, (outside of concept) it follows that there is some conflict. You mean to tell me you do not believe that an Atheist can- out of personal desire and self-interest, come to accept the same morality as Christians profess.

    This seems to be a case of focusing on form at the expense of the content.

  10. james spence said,

    sonia –

    I’m not sure my post did get through in the PM judging from your response. On my screen there is still a large empty gap between my intro (the bit you responded to) and my closing comment. Did you get the whole thing about the pragmatic ethics and the ethical experiment in Singer’s book? If so then I think I’ve already provided an example. I can’t write it all out again, so I’ll summarize:

    It was discovered in an ethical experiment in Peter Singer’s book “How are we to Live?” that the most effective survival strategy for individuals living in a co-existence based group is “tit for tat.” This strategy can effectively be summed up as:

    1) Always give everyone the benefit of the doubt.

    2) If someone betrays/harms you, betray/harm them in return the next time you deal with them. Then resume giving them the benefit of the doubt. And so on.

    If everyone follows this strategy the entire group prospers, therefore the individual prospers. People who betray or harm others for no reason are repeatedly punished until they fall into line or are destroyed. This is the only really necessary ethical rule for the functioning of a society.

    Behaving ethically (where ethically is defined as “whatever creates the greatest chance of survival for myself and my social group”) needs no justification. To live in harmony in a society provides individual humans with a greater chance of survival and procreation than if they were facing the world alone, and humans who do not do this (i.e. behave unethically) and alienate/threaten other humans in their area will eventually be destroyed. Thus behaving ethically is good, and we don’t need to make up stories to get us to do it. Anyone who doesn’t do it will eventually be removed from the gene pool. That’s good enough for me.

    Hopefully my cryptic comment about Singer makes sense to everyone now

  11. dclemens said,

    Sonia,after reading your post it looks like you are really trying to argue that only Christians are able to truly follow Christian morality. If this is what you are trying to debate, I will not argue. However it naive to believe that Christian morality is the only morality and everyone that is not a Christian and does not follow its system of morality is immoral. If you accept that other beliefs of what is moral may be equal to what Christians believe is moral, or that it is possible that all beliefs in what is moral is both partly correct and partly wrong, then would realize that just because an atheist believes something different than a Christian it doesn’t make him an immoral person.

    I think that if you took an unbiased look at other systems of beliefs than your own you would realize that people that do not share the same system of belief that you have are all ‘evil’. In fact most systems of morality themselves include beliefs that by labeling people as ‘evil’ due to their religious, ethnic background, or because they are different than you in some way is an immoral act itself.

    Trying to understand and accept other belief than one’s one isn’t always easy, but it isn’t feasible to make everybody conform to only one system of belief.

  12. soniarott said,

    Reformed Nihilist
    I want to add that in essence what you have asked is “How can someone hold essentially the same moral rules as I and perhaps act on those rules more consistenly than I when I have developed those rules in adherence to Judeo-Christian principles and he/she rejects Judeo-Christianity as a basis for a developing moral rules?”

    To an extent, yes; furthermore, I wonder if the rules, without the Christian structure:
    • Make sense
    • Are compelling
    • Are binding
    • Are justified in being acted upon

    I could explain that in more detail, but I think what I mean will emerge in my responses below. If not, I will return to them in a later post. As an aside, I think it perhaps worth noting that the position I am defending here is one I am unsure about. I mean to defend it in an attempt to see how true it is.

    [On a personal note] I personally find the difficulty with atheism and morality as follows: (1) atheists suffer from a lack of strength in adhering to a moral code because they lack access to grace, which means they will fall to temptation to do wrong even if they know it is wrong, and (2) atheists do not always know what is right or wrong (either in certain specific situations, or in general concerning the code itself) because they lack access to revelation. However, Christians (and anyone else) can lack grace, and ignore or misunderstand / misapply revelation as well, so its not a black / white issue. This position, however, is not the one that I wish to defend here, simply because I want to see if the more rudimentary argument that I hear others make is worthwhile.

    What you now seem to be asking is for explanations about how specific moral rules like “One should be nice to people” or “one should not murder” are arrived at by an athiest. It really boils down to the fact that, as a rule, following rules works better than not, and that as a rule, being nice to people and not murdering people leads to desirable outcomes.
    My objections are as follows: (1) this rule does not necessarily work better. It depends on what ?better? means. Is it better for me, my personal pleasure, my family, my nation, the world, and so on. I would like to argue that ?what is good for you? and ?what is good for all? is, in fact, the same thing ? but this can only be done if there is a heaven, judgment, and a ?kingdom of heaven? being built up. (2) the consequences of an act are unforeseeable in their totality. Executing a convict (or just a life sentence) might actually have a negative consequence, for suppose if released he would father a child whose grandson would cure cancer. The point is, the tangle and scope of consequences makes such insufficient for moral decisions.
    One of the advantages of basing a moral system on reason rather than solely on external authorities is that it allows for development and adjustment as new situations are encountered and new information is learned.
    I agree, and I admire you for basing morality on reason. (Whether or not one can accept reason without God is another matter I would like to discuss later) However, authority and reason are not incompatible, indeed the Christian profession is that Theos is Logos. And because there is a Church (and because God is the Living God), consulting the authority when new dilemmas arise is no difficulty. The question, I think, is: ?is the authority necessary for morality??.
    it is obviously because it is in the communities interest for individuals to follow the rules.
    But not that the rules should apply equally to individuals. Indeed, from a societal perspective, things like slavery, human sacrifice, forced labor, ritual prostitution, female genital mutilation, and so forth might be advantageous (and I can cite actual societies where all those things were indeed utilized). Notice, this doesn?t infringe upon all individuals (so there is not necessary instability present in a threat of revolution), indeed many of these societies functioned for long durations and benefited certain individuals greatly.
    Individuals will determine individually what rules they believe they should follow. This is why I point out the difference. Goodness doesn’t mean just one thing. It describes both what is good to an individual or what is good to a community. Mixing the meanings together is bound to lead to confusion.
    This is where Christianity assets itself, saying that the two are inseparable.

    That individuals determine individually what rules to follow is obviously problematic. That they do, i.e. that this is a fair description, does not mean that they should, i.e. that this is a moral ideal worthy of acceptance. Besides, on what basis should an individual decide what rules to follow, what rules to act like he is following but actually break, what rules to ignore, what rules to abuse, and so on.
    Saying a morality is good is tautologous. Morality means ‘that which is good’, no?
    Perhaps there is room for a distinction. Acting morally is doing the good. A moral code is a code which attempts to set parameters in which actions are good. A code is actually moral if it does guide one to good action, it is immoral (though masquerades as moral) if it does not. Thus, a ?moral? code needs to be judged if it is actually moral or immoral (and to what degree, of course).
    So as judged by the norms of the community, their behaviour is good. As judged by our norms, they are not. It seems as though you approach this question with the assumption that morality must be universal and absolute in order to exist. I reject this notion.
    Yes, and I will try and give a little argument as to why. Let me first say, however, that ?absolute? and ?universal? as little philosophical words with mountains of baggage, that, once uttered, entails a mighty debate that I would rather not fall into immediately. I would rather employ a ?little? argument and work from that.

    If an act is wrong in one society, and the exact same act is right in another, then a particular act could be both right and wrong, which is absurd. Now, one could restrict the meaning of morality to purely this or that society. That is to say, what is moral makes sense only in the context of this society, and has no meaning independent of that context. Once could, however, just as well say that morality makes sense only in the context of this individual, and has no meaning independent of that context. If morality is not independent of the context of the individual, then it is useless. Now, all one has done in the former argument is push the absolutism of the individual to the society, i.e. this individual society is radically atomistic in relation to that individual society. This view of morality is useful concerning individuals of one atomistic society. However, it is useless concerning societies that encounter one another. Thus, if societies are to be able to relate to one another morally, then there must be a greater context for morality: mankind. This is the morality professed by monotheistic faiths, specifically Christianity. (and enlightenment rationalism which I hear you hinting at, but then you start sounding like a cultural relativist, so I?m a bit confused).

    Now, as I see it, a purely atomistic view of the individual is the result of an abstraction, and not a proper rendering of reality. There is something to it, of course, and I will assert the objective existence of individuality (and the rights of the individual person) boldly, but it is not the complete picture. Individuals are distinct, but not wholly independent of society. Similarly, separating out societies (or cultures) is likewise an abstraction, done for good reasons but ultimately insufficient in describing reality. Societies do not exist in a vacuum any more that individuals do, cutting out one group as a ?society? or a ?culture? is always somewhat an abstraction. Indeed, ?society? can only be understood in the context of mankind. Thus, if morality is to actually apply to reality, it must speak to mankind.

    That?s my little argument.

    (the other posts will be addressed when I get a moment)

  13. cortes said,

    The problem is that “reason” is not a viable basis for morality. There is no greater post religious fraud than the claim that morality can be based upon reason. God may be dead but reason-based morality was stillborn.

    Does anyone really believe in it anymore?

  14. reformed nihilist said,

    Posted May 15, 2006 – 03:01 PM:
    Soniarott wrote:
    [On a personal note] I personally find the difficulty with atheism and morality as follows: (1) atheists suffer from a lack of strength in adhering to a moral code because they lack access to grace, which means they will fall to temptation to do wrong even if they know it is wrong, and (2) atheists do not always know what is right or wrong (either in certain specific situations, or in general concerning the code itself) because they lack access to revelation. However, Christians (and anyone else) can lack grace, and ignore or misunderstand / misapply revelation as well, so its not a black / white issue. This position, however, is not the one that I wish to defend here, simply because I want to see if the more rudimentary argument that I hear others make is worthwhile.

    It seems to me that both systems lie in an equally grey area. Neither has perfect access grace or revelation, it is just that grace and revelation mean different things to each system.
    My objections are as follows: (1) this rule does not necessarily work better. It depends on what “better” means. Is it better for me, my personal pleasure, my family, my nation, the world, and so on. I would like to argue that “what is good for you” and “what is good for all” is, in fact, the same thing ? but this can only be done if there is a heaven, judgment, and a “kingdom of heaven” being built up.

    I would argue that as a rule, the above is incorrect. What is your argument for, so that I may respond to it? I believe in no heaven, yet I believe that as a rule what is good for me is good for all.
    (2) the consequences of an act are unforeseeable in their totality. Executing a convict (or just a life sentence) might actually have a negative consequence, for suppose if released he would father a child whose grandson would cure cancer. The point is, the tangle and scope of consequences makes such insufficient for moral decisions.

    This could be said of any human knowledge gathering endevor, and really has no bearing on the issue. It is no different that a theist gathering knowledge about God and his will (revelation may be false or falsely interpreted, just as our knowledge of facts and use of reason may be insufficient to predict outcomes) or determining if an individual situation would be judged in accordance with his will. This uncertainty doesn’t however dissuade us from attempting to form rules about the most likely outcomes in science, why should it in morality? If I put a loaded gun to your temple and pull the trigger, I can feel that there is a very high probability that this act will kill you. If a theist or an atheist, I must apply the moral rule that I have about killing people to the act of pulling the trigger in the situation described. How does this bear on athiesm any more than theism?

    I agree, and I admire you for basing morality on reason. (Whether or not one can accept reason without God is another matter I would like to discuss later) However, authority and reason are not incompatible, indeed the Christian profession is that Theos is Logos. And because there is a Church (and because God is the Living God), consulting the authority when new dilemmas arise is no difficulty. The question, I think, is: “is the authority necessary for morality?”.

    Well, I don’t hold that there is a single authority (being an athiest), but authority is certainly a means to aquire knowledge, and knowledge is necessary in order to make good descisions (be they moral or otherwise).
    But not that the rules should apply equally to individuals. Indeed, from a societal perspective, things like slavery, human sacrifice, forced labor, ritual prostitution, female genital mutilation, and so forth might be advantageous (and I can cite actual societies where all those things were indeed utilized). Notice, this doesn’t infringe upon all individuals (so there is not necessary instability present in a threat of revolution), indeed many of these societies functioned for long durations and benefited certain individuals greatly.

    Yes. This is true, or at least these things might seem advantageous. A proponent of a moral system could argue for why they were in fact advantageous, and I would respond with the reasons that I believe they are not. I don’t understand what your point is though. We agree that these things are wrong, because we share similar moral beliefs (partially likely because we are part of the same society). Someone who is a willing participant in a different culture will hold different view, and that is what your question was aimed at.
    This is where Christianity assets itself, saying that the two are inseparable.

    That individuals determine individually what rules to follow is obviously problematic. That they do, i.e. that this is a fair description, does not mean that they should, i.e. that this is a moral ideal worthy of acceptance. Besides, on what basis should an individual decide what rules to follow, what rules to act like he is following but actually break, what rules to ignore, what rules to abuse, and so on.

    Syntactically? I think you are missing my point, which is true for theists and athiests alike. A theist (christian or otherwise) can hold that a particular rule is a good moral rule. This may be held in common with all other christians, all other thiests, all humans, or may not be held in common with anyone. Either way, we are talking about the belief of one person, which is a discussion of referrence. If we are to discuss the beliefs of a group, whether is be catholicism, protestentaism, judeo-christianism, athiesm, or western society, we are discussing the average or mean belief of the sum of the members of that group. We are discussing a statistic, not a referrent belief. Do you understand the distinction I am making?
    Perhaps there is room for a distinction. Acting morally is doing the good. A moral code is a code which attempts to set parameters in which actions are good. A code is actually moral if it does guide one to good action, it is immoral (though masquerades as moral) if it does not. Thus, a “moral” code needs to be judged if it is actually moral or immoral (and to what degree, of course).

    This is impossible. If a moral code is a code describing what is moral, then all moral codes are moral according to their own precepts, and can only be judged immoral to any degree by a different moral code. You have not made a distinction here.
    If an act is wrong in one society, and the exact same act is right in another, then a particular act could be both right and wrong, which is absurd.

    Only when one decontextualizes it and looks at the proposition as a universal. It is no more absurd than saying that something is both light and dark, yet my office is both light and dark. It is light during the day and dark at night when I have gone home. With the context, it is intirely reasonable, but without it it is absurd. This is why universalizing leads to absurd conclusions sometimes.
    Now, one could restrict the meaning of morality to purely this or that society. That is to say, what is moral makes sense only in the context of this society, and has no meaning independent of that context. Once could, however, just as well say that morality makes sense only in the context of this individual, and has no meaning independent of that context.

    Both of these uses are legitimate in the english language. Both of them correspond with what is meant when people use the term.
    If morality is not independent of the context of the individual, then it is useless.

    This is an absurd claim.
    Now, all one has done in the former argument is push the absolutism of the individual to the society, i.e. this individual society is radically atomistic in relation to that individual society. This view of morality is useful concerning individuals of one atomistic society. However, it is useless concerning societies that encounter one another. Thus, if societies are to be able to relate to one another morally, then there must be a greater context for morality: mankind. This is the morality professed by monotheistic faiths, specifically Christianity. (and enlightenment rationalism which I hear you hinting at, but then you start sounding like a cultural relativist, so I’m a bit confused).

    A social grouping can be deliniated however you like, including “all of mankind”. We can quite easily show the statistical normative moral beliefs of “all of mankind”.
    Now, as I see it, a purely atomistic view of the individual is the result of an abstraction, and not a proper rendering of reality. There is something to it, of course, and I will assert the objective existence of individuality (and the rights of the individual person) boldly, but it is not the complete picture. Individuals are distinct, but not wholly independent of society. Similarly, separating out societies (or cultures) is likewise an abstraction, done for good reasons but ultimately insufficient in describing reality. Societies do not exist in a vacuum any more that individuals do, cutting out one group as a “society” or a “culture” is always somewhat an abstraction. Indeed, “society” can only be understood in the context of mankind. Thus, if morality is to actually apply to reality, it must speak to mankind.

    I would hold that it must speak to the particular question that is being asked, and whom it is beings asked to. This may include a single individual or all of mankind.

  15. danielle said,

    cortes wrote:
    Does anyone really believe in [reason-based morality] anymore?

    Yes.

  16. soniarott said,

    Lodestone,
    If I were to write a post detailing my convincedness that morality requires responsibility; responsibility, freedom; and freedom, the exercise of the non-self-undermining rational will, what would you say?
    I?d ask you to explain what exactly you mean because I don?t understand.
    I fear you may have defined the parameters of your argument so that it is impossible for one to adopt another position. Observe your response:

    ?Why? On what basis should one assent to this claim? And, what makes this a moral claim??

    Clearly, one could provide this reply to any basis one offers for morality?as any proffered basis will require an assumption as to what morality is. Indeed, one could provide this reply to “morality entails following the laws of God”. Why? On what basis should one assent to this claim? And, what makes this a moral claim?

    If morality entails following the laws of God, then there are answers to the questions. Why? Following God = happiness, not following God = misery. On what basis should one assent to this claim? Because its true, and because everyone wants to be happy. What makes this a moral claim? Because it pertains to a code that directs conduct to the good.

    The claim I was responding to was: ?it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.? Believing on evidence doesn?t sound like a moral claim because it is not about conduct (depending on how one defines ?believing?, I suppose).
    “you must follow the laws of God” has no relevant intrinsic properties distinct from “it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence” as a rule.
    First, sometimes one is forced to make a moral decision on limited evidence ? not acting is not an option. Clearly, though, some actions are better than others (even if viewed with the hindsight of more evidence). Secondly, someone could believe something based on insufficient evidence, but still be right in his belief. I could think the sky is blue because it was the last color spun on a twister board (maybe I?ve never looked up).
    If you require a statement about the basis of morality to have correspondic truth?to refer to an intrinsic property of the world?then clearly you must derive your God-given morality from some set of first principles. But then, this is exactly what Kant did in deriving morality from the principles of reason?taking it as read that there is synethic a priori truth. What superiority has God-given morality here?
    I am not completely following this.
    However, a correspondic view of truth is fraught with danger. What if I were to commit myself to coherentist truth??all that would be required, then, as a source for morality, would be a set of ethical principles which are internally coherent with each other and with pragmatically chosen foundation axioms of “knowledge”. Again, your God-given morality would appear to have no intrinsic superiority here.
    I don?t follow this either.
    Leading on from 2, I would like to see your answer to the question, “In virtue of what is it true that morality comes from God?”
    Was there a typo in the question?

    Sorry, Lodestone, you’ll have to clarify those last statements a bit for me to respond.

  17. soniarott said,

    Darkcrow,
    Philosophy, if I understand the concepts in the argument you have written- If an Atheist (as you have described) accepts the morality written in a book in which the author is someone they do not believe exists, (outside of concept) it follows that there is some conflict.
    Huh? If an atheist uses a moral code that only makes sense in the context of an afterlife and divine judgment, but they extract the afterlife and divine judgment part, then they are acting irrationally.
    You mean to tell me you do not believe that an Atheist can- out of personal desire and self-interest, come to accept the same morality as Christians profess.
    Then he would be a Christian, no? He can accept a strange version of that morality (the kind modified to not entail belief in God, judgment, afterlife, &c), but this system will be inconsistent, and, more notably, not sufficiently compelling to actually regulate action.

  18. soniarott said,

    It was discovered in an ethical experiment in Peter Singer’s book “How are we to Live?” that the most effective survival strategy for individuals living in a co-existence based group is “tit for tat.” This strategy can effectively be summed up as:
    • Always give everyone the benefit of the doubt.
    • If someone betrays/harms you, betray/harm them in return the next time you deal with them. Then resume giving them the benefit of the doubt. And so on.

    If everyone follows this strategy the entire group prospers, therefore the individual prospers. People who betray or harm others for no reason are repeatedly punished until they fall into line or are destroyed. This is the only really necessary ethical rule for the functioning of a society.

    The second point only works if the betrayer can be identified and apprehended. The individual who harms others by means of theft, for example, would enjoy greater prosperity so long as he was covert ? indeed, if he could frame those whom he was in competition with (say a rival bachelor or whatever) then he would prosper even more.
    Behaving ethically (where ethically is defined as “whatever creates the greatest chance of survival for myself and my social group”) needs no justification.
    Not until what?s best for you conflicts with what?s best with your social group, or until different definition of ?social group? are in play, or until you become interested in something pertaining to another social group that divides your loyalties, and so on.
    To live in harmony in a society provides individual humans with a greater chance of survival and procreation than if they were facing the world alone
    So does enslaving some humans, stealing from some and giving to your band of thugs who protect you, raping defenseless women, and so on.
    Thus behaving ethically is good, and we don’t need to make up stories to get us to do it. Anyone who doesn’t do it will eventually be removed from the gene pool. That’s good enough for me.
    Again, you?re assuming that those who don?t act ethically will be caught. Now, if there is a God watching and judging, then you?re right, but if not ? well, then some people will get away with murder.

  19. soniarott said,

    Cortes-
    The problem is that “reason” is not a viable basis for morality.

    Because once people stop believing in God, reason is not far off ? hence your next line: ?There is no greater post religious fraud than the claim that morality can be based upon reason?.

  20. soniarott said,

    Dclements
    If you accept that other beliefs of what is moral may be equal to what Christians believe is moral, or that it is possible that all beliefs in what is moral is both partly correct and partly wrong, then would realize that just because an atheist believes something different than a Christian it doesn’t make him an immoral person.
    I think there is only one morality, some follow that more closely than others. Here I am arguing that atheists, by denouncing God?s existence, no long have solid reasons to be following this morality. They might do so anyway, but no reason can be given that is consistent or compelling. At least, that?s the position I am exploring by taking it up and arguing it.
    I think that if you took an unbiased look at other systems of beliefs than your own you would realize that people that do not share the same system of belief that you have are all ‘evil’.
    I don?t have to assert that in order to be consistent in my argumentation. Other belief systems are partially right (some more than others) in the degree to which they adhere to Christian morality ? and other systems do not necessarily fall into the trap that (as I content here) atheists fall into. For example, Islam (not surprisingly) is quite close.
    In fact most systems of morality themselves include beliefs that by labeling people as ‘evil’ due to their religious, ethnic background, or because they are different than you in some way is an immoral act itself.
    Actually, universal morality prevents ethnic or racist labeling. Its morality based on cultural contexts that tend to fall back upon ethnic foundations ? those part of this tribe (descended from this mythical ancestor) are good, everyone else is less human.
    Trying to understand and accept other belief than one’s one isn’t always easy, but it isn’t feasible to make everybody conform to only one system of belief.
    Is it feasible to make everyone believe in the moon and a round earth? Maybe not, but if one wants to be reasonable then they have to. And all those who believe in the One God conform to one set of morals. Historically, this is the case (its what made a collection of peoples on an insignificant peninsula into Europe and Europeans).

  21. cortes said,

    We discussed this a little in the thread Inevitable Moral Hypocrisy.

    Let me summarize the possibilities and see where everyone falls:

    1) God based morality (Philosophy).

    2) Pure reason based morality (Reformed Nihilist and Lodestone).

    3) Irrational morality (Cortes).

    Historically, it seems as if pure reason was supposed to be the successor to religious morality. Every enlightenment philosopher had his own theory. But none of them have withstood the test of time. Morality based on pure reason is a house built on sand.

    By “irrational morality” I do not mean morality totally devoid of reason but, rather, morality that is ultimately grounded in emotion and desire instead of reason. One can reason from emotion and desire to consequences but one cannot reason to emotion and desire. Instead, they are a product of evolution and environment, particularly culture.

  22. james spence said,

    SONIA

    I think you are overstepping the bounds of the question if you are going to start judging moralities based on the behaviour of those who do not abide by them. Yes,the thief would prosper if he is not caught. That does not invalidate the rule that he shouldn’t steal, which is based on the assumption that he will be caught as people will actively attempt to apprehend law breakers. It seems strangely pessimistic (not to mention fatalistic) to say “well, he might get away with it anyway, we may as well not even have a law.” This is a discussion about morality not law enforcement.

    If we follow the rule of tit for tat what’s best for us can’t conflict with what’s best for our roup, the two things are one and the same. And if we attack others outside our social group with no provocation we are breaking the universal pragmatic law and can expect them (and their group) to attack us in return. If we refrain from causing harm unless it is done to us first then we are being ethical.

  23. cortes said,

    cleverjim wrote:
    And if we attack others outside our social group with no provocation we are breaking the universal pragmatic law and can expect them (and their group) to attack us in return.

    This is exactly the sort of naivete that make philosophers look like savant idiots. You should do a little reading on human history.

  24. james spence said,

    cortes wrote:

    This is exactly the sort of naivete that make philosophers look like savant idiots. You should do a little reading on human history.

    What do you mean? All I’m saying is that if everyone followed the rule (which is logically consistent) then everything would work fine. Just because no society ever has followed the rule doesn’t make me naive, it only means that humans in the past have behaved in a stupid way, and are likely to do so again. They are too stupid in fact to see what is actually in their best interest. Your (rather caustic) attack is just the same as philosophy’s objection, “oh that won’t work because what if people don’t follow it?” Whether or not people follow it has nothing to do with the consistency or rationality of the rule, or the level of ingenuousness of those who advocate it.

    And there was no need to be patronising, which incidentally is percieved as being another common failing of intellectuals.

  25. cortes said,

    cleverjim wrote:
    All I’m saying is that if everyone followed the rule (which is logically consistent) then everything would work fine.

    The rule is neither logically consistent nor followed nor really meaningful in the full context of human experience.
    Just because no society ever has followed the rule doesn’t make me naive, it only means that humans in the past have behaved in a stupid way, and are likely to do so again.

    If this were so then one would expect natural selection to favor the society that followed the rule. The theory that people are stupid doesn’t hold water.
    They are too stupid in fact to see what is actually in their best interest.

    No, they are smart enough to understand why your rule doesn’t work.

    That is not to say that the opposite is true, that there is some it is in one’s best interest to attack anyone and everyone you come into contact with. Life is more interesting than that.

    I meant no insult to you personally, the argument you put forward is a common fantasy.

  26. james spence said,

    cortes wrote:

    The rule is neither logically consistent nor followed nor really meaningful in the full context of human experience.
    I haven’t read the book the experiment was in for a while, but when I get home from work I’ll check it out. I’m pretty sure it is logically consistent though, and it is definitely followed by the vast majority of individuals (though not states) in everyday life, which I’d say is a pretty strong argument for it’s pragmatism. If it wasn’t being daily followed I would expect to be robbed whenever I step outside and ripped off in every shop I patronize (hang on a minute… )

    As to the “meaningful” bit, well that’s a matter of opinion really isn’t it?
    cortes wrote:
    If this were so then one would expect natural selection to favor the society that followed the rule.
    Maybe it will. Or has. It certainly favours individuals who do so.

    cortes wrote:
    I meant no insult to you personally, the argument you put forward is a common fantasy.
    That’s cool. Sorry I got offended so quickly, I think I’m going to ease off on the philosophy for a few days. Too many assignments at once makes me cranky!

    Still, I don’t like having my ideas referred to as “fantasies.” I have not done the same to you. It is an off-hand implication that I am wrong from the beginning, and if you are going to do that could you please provide a clear explanation as to why the extrapolation of an rule that has been backed up by experiment is fantastical?

  27. jjf said,

    cortes wrote:
    By “irrational morality” I do not mean morality totally devoid of reason but, rather, morality that is ultimately grounded in emotion and desire instead of reason. One can reason from emotion and desire to consequences but one cannot reason to emotion and desire. Instead, they are a product of evolution and environment, particularly culture.

    Can you describe this a little more fully, cortes? Perhaps give an example. What would it look like to reason from emotion or desire to a moral consequence?

    And if an individual’s emotion and desire is the starting principle, then does the term “morality” still have any meaning? Does it not then become “whatever this person felt like doing?” But if that is the case, then no behavior is ever immoral. And if all behavior is moral behavior, then the term “moral” has lost any meaning since it cannot define itself against an opposite.

    It seems like redefining “wealthy” to mean “in possession of however much money one has.” In which case you and I are no more or less wealthy than Bill Gates, and we’ve just robbed a word of meaning and usefulness.

  28. cortes said,

    Ok, here is a simple example: I empathize with rabbits but not rats. I have no qualms whatsoever about killing rats but when it comes to bunnies tearing up my back yard I seek a more peaceful solution. I can reason from these respective desires to specific choices (e.g. rat traps that kill and rabbit traps that only cage). But to rationalize this preference is to abuse reason.

    A pure rationalist would seek some rational explanation for the above chioce (or else proclaim it irrational and therefore bad). But I can make such moral choices, and reason to implementation, without concern for any rationalization of them. This is a common preference and no doubt it has cultural and perhaps even genetic roots like the fear of snakes and spiders or the love of flowers.

    For a more general discussion of human desires see the thread The Pursuit of Desire and Happiness.
    And if an individual’s emotion and desire is the starting principle, then does the term “morality” still have any meaning? Does it not then become “whatever this person felt like doing?” But if that is the case, then no behavior is ever immoral. And if all behavior is moral behavior, then the term “moral” has lost any meaning since it cannot define itself against an opposite. It seems like redefining “wealthy” to mean “in possession of however much money one has.” In which case you and I are no more or less wealthy than Bill Gates, and we’ve just robbed a word of meaning and usefulness.

    Certainly I don’t mean to play such semantic word games but we do need to treat seriously the question as to whether morality is meaningful in the post-modern context.

    Your concern is a legitimate one. But we arrive at it by default, not choice. If God is dead and pure reason cannot sustain morality then what is left? Irrational morality has the advantage of fitting with observable facts: we can see with our own eyes that what people regard as moral varies from one society to another and from one person to another.

    As it happend, though, it is not the case that “whatever this person felt like doing” is moral. In fact, morality is a force that shapes behavior in many ways often against other desires. Morality is still a useful concept but of course a more complex one. Things were much simpler in the good ol’ days.

  29. cortes said,

    History shows a gradual ebb and flow of trust over time. Building trust is a key element of social cohesion. But to be unilaterally trusting is to endanger one’s place in the genetic pool. The process of building trust is not something that can be solved with a simple bromide. Often it is outright belligerance that lays the foundation for general peace as for example pax romanum.
    Sorry I got offended so quickly, I think I’m going to ease off on the philosophy for a few days. Too many assignments at once makes me cranky! cleverjim wrote:
    I haven’t read the book the experiment was in for a while, but when I get home from work I’ll check it out.

    I have a suspicion what you’re referring to. In general, you can find a lot of this in game theory. But you need to read more about it than just one experiment. Depending on how you setup a game you can either see cooperation or ruthless cuthrought competition. Game theory is great for experimenting with parameters to see what is possible but eventually you have to return to the real world and test your theory there.

    Let me give you an example that violates the rule:

    An aircraft carrier typically projects a defensive zone around itself and the group of ships in a carrier task force will challenge and, if necessary, attack anything that violates that zone. The reason is that a carrier is a very expensive and vulnerable ship and if they wait until they are fired on it will be too late.

    In general, there are three things that muck up the rule: 1) the fruits of belligerance, 2) the lack of information about the others, and 3) the advantages of striking first.
    As to the “meaningful” bit, well that’s a matter of opinion really isn’t it?

    Ok, here are some of the problems with the meaning: what is “provocation”? It should come as no surprise that two different people might have very different views on that. What is “outside”? A coup is a classic violation of expectations of inside/outside.

    cortes wrote:
    If this were so then one would expect natural selection to favor the society that followed the rule.

    Maybe it will. Or has. It certainly favours individuals who do so.

    I want to provoke some original thought!

  30. reformed nihilist said,

    Cortes,

    What makes you think that I hold that all moral descisions are arrived at though pure reason? I do hold that reason is the most effective tool we have in making descriptive rules (moral or not) and predicting future outcomes, and discussions of morality are concerned with a particular brand of rule making and outcome prediction. You seem to ignore my use of the term desire. What is desirable is not a function of reason, it is a function of a combination of biology, sociology, psychology and probably a half a dozen other ologies.

  31. cortes said,

    Reformed Nihilist wrote:
    What makes you think that I hold that all moral descisions are arrived at though pure reason?

    My apologies. I was merely pushing the discussion forward with some guesses.
    I do hold that reason is the most effective tool we have in making descriptive rules (moral or not) and predicting future outcomes, and discussions of morality are concerned with a particular brand of rule making and outcome prediction. You seem to ignore my use of the term desire. What is desirable is not a function of reason, it is a function of a combination of biology, sociology, psychology and probably a half a dozen other ologies.

    Then we are on exactly the same page!

  32. floyd said,

    Sonia, do not panic, but I agree with you.

    I say this as a moral nihilist and an atheist. As I understand the philosophical concept of morality, I see it presupposing a “god” or ‘metaphysical authority’. What is a “god” if not a ‘metaphysical authority and/or supreme governor of the entire universe which, via universal context, gives metaphysical value (i.e. good and bad) to physical things, events, and people? Thus, I don’t see how moral absolutism (where metaphysical context causes secular actions/people to have a secularly objective value) can be seperated from theism (where the secular world has a metaphysical context, aka “supreme governor/government”).

    Moral relativism can offer a solution for the seeming contradiction in the practical/social existence of morality and atheism, by offering a completely non-objective secular explanation of “morality”. However, in the strict sense of the concept ‘morality’, I believe moral relativism (which seems to be what RN is proposing) isn’t a morality at all. Insofar as morality can be relativist and descriptive (rather then absolutist and prescriptive), it can be separated from theism. However, such relativist and descriptive accounts of morality aren’t what I believe “morality” to be in the strict sense.

    I believe that, strictly speaking, the word (absolutist) morality implies a metaphysical government. Thus, the belief in (secularly objective) morality cannot be separated from theism. (Granted, in everyday life, I often call actions “F*cked up” or “the right thing to do”, but such is due to convenience rather then philosophical accuracy.)

  33. reformed nihilist said,

    What is philosophical accuracy Floyd? What do you mean when you claim that something isn’t the right thing to do?

    You are simply defining morality as something absolute, but that doesn’t accurately describe how the term is often used. Surely you agree that there is no inherently correct use of a term, but rather a negotiation between laguage users. As society is becoming more secular, the necessary implication of absoluteness that would be unquestioned from a theist’s paradigm is no longer a foregone conclusion. Morality means something different to an athiest (excluding positions of your type which still embrace vestigal implications of theism while rejecting the position) than to a theist.

  34. james spence said,

    cortes wrote:
    I want to provoke some original thought!

    Thank you for those explanations, they were very helpful.

    My earlier comment was referring to the fact that I’ve just finished writing two philosophy papers and a linguistics paper on three very different subjects, and I think I need to clear my head. I’ll just read and not speak for a while

  35. floyd said,

    Reformed Nihilist wrote:
    What is philosophical accuracy Floyd? What do you mean when you claim that something isn’t the right thing to do?

    When referring to my personal judgments, in everyday language, with people of the same society as me (who thus hold a similar “moral relativist” ideology as me) can use moral terms (e.g. good/bad right/wrong) despite the moral nihilist position I hold. This is because, when speaking with people who hold the same secular ideology (i.e. based on social norms, common-ground opinions) the practical difference between secular ideology and metaphysically spiritual beliefs is moot. Shared subjective opinions are practically similar to objective facts.

    So, for the sake of simplicity, when speaking with people who share my social opinions, I use moral terms as a sort-of malapropism (IMO), but I actually think that morality refers to a secularly objective value of an action (which is decided by a metaphysical government).
    Reformed Nihilist wrote:
    You are simply defining morality as something absolute, but that doesn’t accurately describe how the term is often used. Surely you agree that there is no inherently correct use of a term, but rather a negotiation between laguage users. As society is becoming more secular, the necessary implication of absoluteness that would be unquestioned from a theist’s paradigm is no longer a foregone conclusion. Morality means something different to an athiest (excluding positions of your type which still embrace vestigal implications of theism while rejecting the position) than to a theist.
    You are correct that I am defining the term in an absolutist sense. You should grant me, though, that I did show the impracticality of my definition by explaining that I often use the word differently than I’d define it. However, since I only do that because of the practical mootness between absolutist (or “moral” IMO) values and relative values when the relation is invariable.

    For example, think about the difference between facts and opinions. However, won’t you speak about opinions as if they were facts if you are speaking with people who share your opinions.

    I do understand what you mean about the (changing and varying) definition of the word morality itself. I also understand, and agree with, your point that the meaning of words is determined by our usage. However, I hope you understand why I still think my usage of the moral terms to refer to relative secular values is a malapropism. More importantly, I only think moral absolutism implies theism. Insofar as morality can be and is relativist, it is a false dichotomy to say atheism is amoral.

    It would seem such disagreement is merely terminological. My moral nihilism is probably equivalent to your moral relativism (assuming that is a correct label for your position).

    The reason I only believe in using the term morality to refer only to absolutist morality is because of the (lack of) answers for this following question(s): why use the term morality to refer to a secular value? If the value relation is completely explainable by physicalism, what warrants the use of the term morality? Is it not the fact that a moral value is valued by a non-secular valuing system (e.g. god = the metaphysical judge) that makes it a moral value as opposed to a non-moral value? Isn’t a moral value just a secular opinion presented as an objective fact (on the basis of metaphysical context)?

    While you may think my consideration of the concept “morality” as the theists’ definition is vestigial, I may think your use of the concept morality (to refer to secular values) at all is vestigial.

  36. lodestone said,

    Sonia,

    My apologies–that post was obscure in points.

    ————–

    1. This should be addressed to cotres too. Kantian deontological morality is by no means dead. In my department, for example, it has an extremely strong following?my lecturer believes it’s undergoing a renaissance. So what I was suggesting here is that in order to ground morality without God all one need to is stick to one’s guns on a Kantian–or any other–morality.

    Deontology grounds morality in pure reason, because only in the exercise of our reason, our autonomous will, are we in any sense free, and only if we can be in some sense free can we be held morally responsible for any act. In deonontology, then, the immoral act is any act which runs counter to reason–which is self-contradictory–which undermines its own justification. If the maxim under which one is acting could not be universal, that maxim is irrational and acting on it immoral. And, in Kantian metaphysics, because the synthetic a priori exists, the processes of reason are universal and everyone can agree on what is immoral.

    I didn’t want to get into the specifics of deontological morality, because that’s not what the debate is about?but that there already exists a well-established and widely-follows morality which takes its grounding not in God but in reason would seem to challenge the assumptions of your argument. You need to actually attack this morality and show that it is invalid, rather than use vague statements about its discreditation (especially when it hasn’t been widely discredited!)

    ————–

    2. This was about the issue of your question-begging. You asked three questions of any moral principle, and I suggested that because you were assuming that morality came from God you weren’t seeking answers to these questions yourself. However, you’ve provided some answers, so let’s deal with them, comparing them to a Kantian morality, with the principle “morality entails following the dictates of pure reason”. I’ll provide the answers for Kant.
    Why? Following God = happiness, not following God = misery.

    Exercising the autonomous will = freedom and self-actualisation; not exercising the autonomous will = acting as a machine.
    On what basis should one assent to this claim? Because its true, and because everyone wants to be happy.

    Because it is derived from pure reason, which is universal and synthetic a priori, and because everyone wants to be free.
    What makes this a moral claim? Because it pertains to a code that directs conduct to the good.

    Because it pertains to a code that directs conduct to the good.

    In short, I see no difference here . . .

    ————–

    3. This was about applying conceptions of truth to the question. Correspondism is the view that a true propositions says something true about an intrinsic property of the world. Coherentism is the view that we cannot speak about the world in itself, and that propositions refer only to other propositions, and so that a true proposition is one which cohered with all other true propositions. Coherentism usually grounds itself in pragmatism?we pick a coherent system insofar as it is pragmatic, insofar as it is useful.

    I think you’ve assumed that truth is correspondic; I think that is an untenable position. I don’t see how any proposition can refer to anything other than another proposition. I see “the world” divided into the world in itself, independent of experience; the world of experience, which is the representation of the world in itself in phenomenal consciousness; and the world of description, which is the representation of the world in itself in concepts, with conceptual relations communicated through propositions. Anyway . . .

    If you understand what I mean by coherentism, imagine for the time being that coherentism is true. If it is, then a moral system need seek no grounding in anything other than pragmatism. All that is required about moral propositions is that, within any given system, they all cohere?and this is certainly possible without God. Additionally, we may want to make using a coherent moral system pragmatic?if we take as the aim maximum happiness, or maximum freedom, or anything other than grace, then this too is certainly possible without God.

    In short, if moral propositions do not refer to intrinsic properties of the world, if ethics need only be a coherent system, then God is just one pragmatic basis among many in which one could choose to ground morality.

    ————–

    4. If, on the other hand, you believe in correspondic truth, then of every true statement on must ask “in virtue of what is this statement true”?what makes it true. You were effectively asking this question of RN with his suggestion. If I were to ask it of your morality, you would answer “the existence of God and of grace”. If you were to ask it of my morality, I would answer “the existence of the synthetic a priori”.

    ————–

    Conclusions. I’ve offered you two independent ways of defending atheistic morality. The more complex is to adopt a coherentist view of truth, in which case atheistic morality becomes very simple. The more simple is to argue for a particular morality which has very strong grounding?in my case I believe deontology provides this?, in which case atheistic morality becomes very complex. In order to attack atheistic morality, in my view, you must show that both deontology and coherentism are false.

    Unless you have some sort of meta-analysis . . .

  37. miswod said,

    soniarott wrote:
    One matter I have been debating is the question of morality in a non-theistic context. Simply put: ?Can atheists act morally??
    Perhaps better said: ?Is atheism compatible with ethics??

    I have tried to study various cases in my experience, and am as yet unsure. I certainly know atheists who act in a way that I would consider moral; indeed I would say I know atheist who are more moral than me (and a great many other people). So there is no self-righteousness in this query. But what I do wonder, however, is whether or not there is philosophical substance to ethics in an atheistic context. Are atheists inconsistent when they act on moral principals? I don?t know, but I mean to explore it.

    As an agnostic I presume my defence would be of as much interest as an atheist?s, as you can apply the same test of morality to me.

    Your question assumes the delivery of an absolute moral code from a god; and begs the question, if not from a god, from where?

    Let me first challenge the principle of a universal set of moral ?truths?. There is no accepted set of moral codes even within a particular set of religious beliefs. You may find it very difficult to even find two well educated theologians who share the same view on this subject; if there where such ?truths? it seems to me they would be more self-evident.

    So where do moral codes come from. I would argue that they are simply required rules for the survival of any society. How could humans live together and hope to further the properties of what we are pleased to call civilisation without such moral codes. Of course they differ from society to society, change over time and are invented to meet new moral issues; and for certain, not everyone, even within a particular society let alone a religion, shares the same moral values. These anomalies seem to me to confirm the human-like qualities of their inventors.

    As you have already acknowledged even those who believe that god does not exist can act morally. So the question should be not whether they can act so, but were do they get their moral guidance from? I believe that if you examine any moral stance, such as stealing and killing or even many of the new moral issues, you will find the resolution is based on practicality, and as such should be reasoned decisions, although thanks to human frailties are often not.

  38. reformed nihilist said,

    Floyd wrote:
    Shared subjective opinions are practically similar to objective facts.

    I agree. That is why when something appears to be true me, I call it a fact. When it appears true to us we call it a fact, and when it appears true to everyone, everyone calls it a fact. The only problem with the above statement is that the word ‘opinion’ implies a large level of uncertainty of relative lack of concensus. I see morality as being the same.
    So, for the sake of simplicity, when speaking with people who share my social opinions, I use moral terms as a sort-of malapropism (IMO), but I actually think that morality refers to a secularly objective value of an action (which is decided by a metaphysical government).

    But there is no secularly objective value of an action, because there is no metaphysical governer. Why use the word outside of the convention of your beliefs, when people use it within that convention quite effectively (unless you wish to be provacative)?
    For example, think about the difference between facts and opinions. However, won’t you speak about opinions as if they were facts if you are speaking with people who share your opinions.

    In general, the term opinion refers to a belief that is held with a smaller sense of cetainty than a fact.
    It would seem such disagreement is merely terminological. My moral nihilism is probably equivalent to your moral relativism (assuming that is a correct label for your position).

    I agree that it is terminological, but I am confused at why you choose to employ terms in the way you do, which seems unpragmatic to me.
    The reason I only believe in using the term morality to refer only to absolutist morality is because of the (lack of) answers for this following question(s):

    Then let me try to answer them.
    why use the term morality to refer to a secular value?

    Because that is how the word is very (I might go so far as to say most) often used. Convention is one of the largest determinators of language.
    If the value relation is completely explainable by physicalism, what warrants the use of the term morality?

    Value relations may be explainable by physicalism in theory, but we are far from the point where they are in practice.So in order to communicate, we need shorthand. Expedient means to use words in an approxamite but effective manner. Morality does this in many cases.
    Is it not the fact that a moral value is valued by a non-secular valuing system (e.g. god = the metaphysical judge) that makes it a moral value as opposed to a non-moral value?

    I don’t follow the question here.
    Isn’t a moral value just a secular opinion presented as an objective fact (on the basis of metaphysical context)?

    Sometimes, but the same happens with fact and truth. That doesn’t mean we stop using the words. You might as well jump on the wagon and become a full fledged Nihilist at that point (you would be hard pressed to convince me of the value of that!).
    While you may think my consideration of the concept “morality” as the theists’ definition is vestigial, I may think your use of the concept morality (to refer to secular values) at all is vestigial.

    But you do use the ‘concept’, as embodied in the word, moral. You used it to say that no such thing existed (more or less). I don’t choose to say I use the concept of morality. Concepts don’t get used, words and behaviour do.

  39. miswod said,

    cortes wrote:

    Ok, here is a simple example: I empathize with rabbits but not rats. I have no qualms whatsoever about killing rats but when it comes to bunnies tearing up my back yard I seek a more peaceful solution. I can reason from these respective desires to specific choices (e.g. rat traps that kill and rabbit traps that only cage). But to rationalize this preference is to abuse reason.

    A pure rationalist would seek some rational explanation for the above chioce (or else proclaim it irrational and therefore bad). But I can make such moral choices, and reason to implementation, without concern for any rationalization of them. This is a common preference and no doubt it has cultural and perhaps even genetic roots like the fear of snakes and spiders or the love of flowers.

    Perhaps you were bitten by a rat in your youth. Either way it is not necessary to rationalise everything. It is indeed perfectly rational to have an emotional preference for rabbits over rats or visa versa. This confirms that there are no absolute values.

    However, if you were to argue that we should all accept that rabbits are better animals than rats you would not be able to form a suitable thread; because that would be irrational; but your own preference is not irrational; just as someone keeping rats as pets is not irrational.

    This is precisely why is not reasonable to argue that everyone believes their own moral choices to be absolute; some of us recognise these subtle differences.

    By the way Cortes if you found your back-yard plagued by hundreds of rabbits you may well need to rationalise your view to the point of buying a machine gun.

  40. litkey said,

    This is a complex issue. In one way we humans make rules, we legislate how best to act within a shared community, but from the scientific/biological perspective we are defined ourselves by rules; one only has to look at cases where people have been brain injured.

    People with ventromedial damage can sometimes lack fear- and trust all people (and get into positions that are harmful to themselves!- so where is fear located?) what about damage to the frontal lobe? anyone recall Fineas Gage? His “personality” was completely altered- what was his “morality” founded upon?

    The history of our culture(s) seems to be the spreading of what may be called morality- the peace and truce of the church (11th century warring Frankia) was instituted to end the constant violence in France, the United Nations was thought up (first by Kant apparently) to end european wars- there there are the many religions- islam, christianity, hinduism etc., the morality might have it’s source in our organism- the brain.

    We function constructively and positively when we go good things, when we think good thoughts, when we love other people- and the roots for this thinking is the brain. One only has to look at a knarled face that thiks evil thoughts: he has no friends and is considered the “wicked” one in the community.

    But, is it God we must base this on? I am with 180 on this- if we do not have proof of god then we cannot say “i know there is a god.” the proposition asks for some justification, and if none can be given then why ought i to believe you?

    It seems we work better when we stick to our functioning brains: however this isn’t to say “pure reason” is at work- many more, perhaps unknown reasons, are at work for why we do the things we do. On the athesim front, i have always thought atheism close to theism because both want to say “God is true” or “God isn’t true” and neither have the lucky coin to prove it.

  41. cortes said,

    One only has to look at a knarled face that thiks evil thoughts

    On many subjects we can find opposite sides staking out very clear moral positions. For example, people who support abortion are at least as self righteous as those opposed. It is not the case that one side knows they are evil and the other side good.

    But I do appreciate your other points.

    Let me propose a unifying theory here.

    Evolution toward socialization has created in humankind a desire for morality in various forms. While moral rules may vary from one society to another the existence of morality is quite common.

    Thus we can see that the mechanisms of morality are hard wired into us while the actual moral positions vary greatly (genes vs. memes).

    A more meaningful theistic position would be that one of these many competing moral systems is “correct” or “God approved” or even “God given”. But while we can objectively study the spread of Christianity and it’s impact on humankind, we cannot ultimately test the proposition that Christianity is the correct moral system.

    Thus it is incorrect to say that atheism entails amorality. But it is reasonable to claim that atheism leads to the wrong morality. It’s just that the second claim cannot be tested empirically.

  42. dclemens said,

    philosophy wrote:

    I think there is only one morality, some follow that more closely than others. Here I am arguing that atheists, by denouncing God?s existence, no long have solid reasons to be following this morality. They might do so anyway, but no reason can be given that is consistent or compelling. At least, that?s the position I am exploring by taking it up and arguing it.

    What it sounds like you are saying is that Christian morality is objective morality. If it is true that you believe that Christian morality is objective morality do you have any way to prove that it is or is it only your opinion?
    philosophy wrote:

    Is it feasible to make everyone believe in the moon and a round earth? Maybe not, but if one wants to be reasonable then they have to. And all those who believe in the One God conform to one set of morals. Historically, this is the case (its what made a collection of peoples on an insignificant peninsula into Europe and Europeans).

    It seems to me that you are trying to imply that people that do not believe in God are just as irrational as those who do not think that that world is round and instead believe it to be flat. Do you know that many of the scientists that found out that world is round and goes around the sun where killed by the church because such ideas threatened their position of power?

    Have you ever thought that it might be possible that you are just as irrational as those who believe the earth is flat because you believe that God exist and that Christian morality is the only true morality? Is it possible that the facts do not support your beliefs, but because you have overlooked them you do not realize that your beliefs are wrong?

    If you found out that your views are wrong and irrational, do you think you would be able to change and not believe them?

  43. dclemens said,

    cortes wrote:

    The problem is that “reason” is not a viable basis for morality. There is no greater post religious fraud than the claim that morality can be based upon reason. God may be dead but reason-based morality was stillborn.

    Does anyone really believe in it anymore?

    I agree with Reformed Nihilist and Lodestone and I disagree with your arguements. If morality can not be based on reason than it is merely one’s opinion, and if it only ones opinion that it is subjective and not morality.

    If you have any system of morality that you can not explain to others why you believe than you can not expect them to change their beliefs and follow yours because it is objective morality. If there is an objective morality is has to be at least based on reason, otherwise there is no way to understand it.

  44. cortes said,

    dclements wrote:
    I agree with Reformed Nihilist and Lodestone and I disagree with your arguements.

    Note that while Lodestone did seem to endorse reason as a basis for morality, Reformed Nihilist seemed to share my view here.
    If morality can not be based on reason than it is merely one’s opinion, and if it only ones opinion that it is subjective and not morality.

    It is innacurate to describe anything that is not based on reason to be mere opinion. And this goes to the heart of the probelm with your argument.
    If you have any system of morality that you can not explain to others why you believe than you can not expect them to change their beliefs and follow yours because it is objective morality.

    It does not follow that because one cannot construct a logical proof or provide scientific evidence of a moral claim that one cannot influence another with the claim.

    A persasive moral argument typically takes the form of reason based on shared premises. The shared premises need not be defended, they are shared. The reasoning can then proceed on the basis of the shared premises. For example, an argument against abortion might appeal to the right to life but founders if the listener does not believe that a fetus is a human life.

    But moral influence is far more commonly expressed in forms other than argument. The most common form of moral influence is approval/disapproval. In our desire to be accepted we tend to bend our moral views toward that which earns approval and away from that which earns disapproval. This is particularly the case with children and young adults.

    Another form of moral influence is story telling. Even when the story is fictional, we tend to draw lessons about morality.

    Finally, there is appeal to authority.
    If there is an objective morality is has to be at least based on reason, otherwise there is no way to understand it.

    This much is true. But I am not claiming that morality is objective only that people treat it as such.

  45. soniarott said,

    Cleverjim.
    I think you are overstepping the bounds of the question if you are going to start judging moralities based on the behaviour of those who do not abide by them.
    I am judging moralities on three criteria: (1) how much sense they make, (2) how successful they are, and (3) how compelling they are. And I think these are all related. I cannot see a reason why any individual would accept your morality in his interaction with another individual (or why any individual society would accept your morality in its interaction with another society).
    The thief would prosper if he is not caught. That does not invalidate the rule that he shouldn’t steal, which is based on the assumption that he will be caught as people will actively attempt to apprehend law breakers.
    But why apprehend law breakers? Why not apprehend law breakers except for those who bribe you well, or are your friends, or are dangerous and might kill you during their arrest, and so on.
    If we follow the rule of tit for tat what’s best for us can’t conflict with what’s best for our group, the two things are one and the same.
    Your reason for following this rule was ?if everyone follows this rule, then the group prospers, which means the individual prospers?. There are various problems. Why does the individual prosper by everyone following this rule? It seems the individual would prosper more if everyone but he followed the rule (or his friends, his family, whatever). Thus it?s not ?one and the same?. Its conflict (Hobbsian conflict, in fact).
    And if we attack others outside our social group with no provocation we are breaking the universal pragmatic law and can expect them (and their group) to attack us in return.
    Not if we attack them hard enough. We could expect them to die, become out slaves, our wives, our chattel, our food, and so on.
    All I’m saying is that if everyone followed the rule (which is logically consistent) then everything would work fine.
    And if everyone followed the rule but me (or but my social group), then it would work better (in respect to me, or my group).
    Whether or not people follow it has nothing to do with the consistency or rationality of the rule, or the level of ingenuousness of those who advocate it.
    If the system takes ?human flourishing? (i.e. happiness) as the goal, understood in both the individual and universal sense (me, my people, mankind), then in order to be consistent it must, by merit of its own assumptions, indeed grant happiness to both the individual and the collective. However, this system cannot give the individual the level of flourishing that such an individual could get if he broke with this system, ergo it doesn?t work.

    Floyd
    Philo, do not panic, but I agree with you.
    Great, because I could use some more muscle in arguing my position.
    As I understand the philosophical concept of morality, I see it presupposing a “god” or ‘metaphysical authority’. What is a “god” if not a ‘metaphysical authority and/or supreme governor of the entire universe which, via universal context, gives metaphysical value (i.e. good and bad) to physical things, events, and people?
    Right. What the relativist will do, of course, is to redefine morality (which I made an opening for by allowing my interlocutor to define morality, so that this very point could be discussed). What has to be shown now is that no moral system will work unless it can make a universal appeal (at least concerning some things). We have to show that it is inconsistent, doesn?t make sense, or isn?t compelling (i.e. it doesn?t work).
    Moral relativism can offer a solution for the seeming contradiction in the practical/social existence of morality and atheism, by offering a completely non-objective secular explanation of “morality”.
    And then the question remains: ?will this morality (code of behavior) actually work in directing man (this man, or these men, or mankind) to the good?

    Notice how I have tossed in ?the good?, and the goal of ?happiness? (human flourishing), and am trying to content that the ultimate morality achieves ?good? and ?happiness? for both the individual and the collective. The second dimension that I must also contend is that only theism can uphold the similitude between ?good for me? and ?good for neighbor?, thus non-theistic ?morality? becomes one in which an individual (man or society) exploits others, or when the collective actually obliterates individuality, and this necessarily inhibits human flourishing. Now, one can say ?but who cares, as long as those whom it makes me happy to see flourishing are actually flourishing? ? this, I argue, is no morality at all, and (I want to hold) its all the atheist really has, rationally. [As to whether I can actually articulate a solid argument for this is yet to be seen. I?m being given a run for my money.]

  46. rabeldin said,

    Morality is a philosopher’s attempt to legitimatize coercive rhetoric.

    I agree with several here who have equated “objective morality” with the existence of a moral authority (God or Allah or Yaweh or whatever). If there is a moral authority, it wouldn’t advocate relativism.

    We, as rational humans, however are free to agree to a consensus about our behavior. That may be a rational substitute for objective morality and as the consensus widens, it would gain universality if not objectivity.

    I really don’t care about the metaphysical mumbo jumbo, I just want to live in peace with my neighbors in this world.

  47. soniarott said,

    Lodestone
    1) ?in order to ground morality without God all one need to is stick to one’s guns on a Kantian–or any other–morality.

    Ah, but will that morality work? That?s my question. Morality is suppose to give us a code to live by that will enable me and my fellowman to flourish, i.e. we will be happy.
    Deontology grounds morality in pure reason, because only in the exercise of our reason, our autonomous will, are we in any sense free, and only if we can be in some sense free can we be held morally responsible for any act.
    I think its asking too much of man?s reason to expect him to be able to articulate a logical system of conduct, based on his limited experiences, that will apply anywhere and everywhere (including the great unknown of the future), especially considering that man and his world is a changing state of affairs. I do agree on the wonderful value of reason and its necessity to moral conduct, indeed you and I are rather close on this, but I think we need the agency of God.
    I didn’t want to get into the specifics of deontological morality, because that’s not what the debate is about?but that there already exists a well-established and widely-follows morality which takes its grounding not in God but in reason would seem to challenge the assumptions of your argument.
    Well, first of all I sort of wonder just how widely established it is. One of the virtues of Christian morality is that it does not take a scholar (or philosopher) to follow. It takes devotion, prayer, and a shepherd?s guidance ? a much more reasonable system, I think.

    Second, I have hinted that it is not possible to actually separate reason from theism (Theos from Logos) without entailing various problems. I know I?m being vague here (I can only take on one monumentally provocative argument at a time).

    Third, I would have to ask how certain human longings, i.e. ?reasons of the heart?, play into this ethics of pure reason. If it cannot account for that, then there is a difficulty.

    2) You asked three questions of any moral principle, and I suggested that because you were assuming that morality came from God you weren’t seeking answers to these questions yourself. However, you’ve provided some answers, so let’s deal with them, comparing them to a Kantian morality, with the principle “morality entails following the dictates of pure reason”.

    Fair enough. Let me just apologize a bit here first. I am arguing a position, but my argument is a work in progress. So I have been expanding my points and, specifically, my ?questions? that I ask of moralities. With that proviso?

    Why?
    Exercising the autonomous will = freedom and self-actualisation; not exercising the autonomous will = acting as a machine.
    A fair assertion, though I observe my question earlier about reconciling the autonomous will and ?pure reason? with the ?reasons of the heart?.
    On what basis should one assent to this claim?
    Because it is derived from pure reason, which is universal and synthetic a priori, and because everyone wants to be free.

    Sounds good to me. Here is another question: Can everyone be free if, ultimately, the sum total of their will?s actions all leads to the same result (death)?
    What makes this a moral claim?
    Because it pertains to a code that directs conduct to the good

    I agree here.

    Sounds like those questions are well answered by a Kantian system (I do wonder about the added comments, thought). My new questions / criteria are: how much sense does it make, how compelling is it, how successful is it, how consistent is it – in other words, does it work? Sorry if it seems as though I am ?changing the rules?, but, like I said, it?s a work in progress.

    3) I think you’ve assumed that truth is correspondic; I think that is an untenable position.
    Well, let me try and express my position. An idea is true if it corresponds with reality (you pegged me on this one). Ideas have to agree with reality to be true; if they don?t then they?re false. It?s a rather commonsensical view. Now, by ?correspond? and ?agree? I don?t mean ?copy?. Rather I mean that the idea keeps up with experience, so to speak, through its potential to be assimilated, validated, corroborated, and verified. True ideas do what they say they will do: they work (in reality).
    I see “the world” divided into the world in itself, independent of experience; the world of experience, which is the representation of the world in itself in phenomenal consciousness; and the world of description, which is the representation of the world in itself in concepts, with conceptual relations communicated through propositions.
    Well, I don?t understand what ?the world independent of experience? is, if that world is in principle independent of experience (that is, if it cannot potentially be experienced whatsoever by any person ever). The ?world of experience? sounds like the world I live in. The ?world of description? is trying to agree with the ?world of experience?, and the extent to which it does it is true. If it doesn?t, then it?s wrong (or a lie). Paris is the capital of France: true; Napoleon was King of England: false.
    If you understand what I mean by coherentism, imagine for the time being that coherentism is true. If it is, then a moral system need seek no grounding in anything other than pragmatism.
    I might need a little more explanation of coherentism. But the question I am asking here is, practically speaking, can a Godless morality (specifically cultural relativism) work.
    Additionally, we may want to make using a coherent moral system pragmatic?if we take as the aim maximum happiness, or maximum freedom, or anything other than grace, then this too is certainly possible without God.
    That?s where I get off the bandwagon.. You?ll have to show me how maximum happiness (or freedom) for me and my neighbor is possible without God. Maybe you have and I missed it (I?m not an expert at this, obviously, so I appreciate the patience).
    In short, if moral propositions do not refer to intrinsic properties of the world, if ethics need only be a coherent system, then God is just one pragmatic basis among many in which one could choose to ground morality.
    But I content that moral proposition do refer to intrinsic objective properties of experience.

    4) If, on the other hand, you believe in correspondic truth, then of every true statement on must ask “in virtue of what is this statement true”?what makes it true. If I were to ask it of your morality, you would answer “the existence of God and of grace”.
    I think I explained what makes it true. It is or will be verified by experience. What makes Christian morality true is that, by following it, one will have peace, he will experience God?s grace making him more Christlike, and, ultimately, he will enter heaven as a saint and experience the blessedness of being in God?s presence (i.e., he will be maximally happy). Furthermore, I content that he will glimpse this maximal happiness this side of the after life, through the eyes of faith, even though he will be persecuted and will have to carry his cross.
    In order to attack atheistic morality, in my view, you must show that both deontology and coherentism are false.
    Well, I gave it a whirl

  48. soniarott said,

    Miswod
    Let me first challenge the principle of a universal set of moral ?truths?. There is no accepted set of moral codes even within a particular set of religious beliefs. You may find it very difficult to even find two well educated theologians who share the same view on this subject; if there where such ?truths? it seems to me they would be more self-evident.

    That?s easily accounted for by the magisterium of the Church. This is the living authority of the Church (and therefore of God) which proclaims truths in every age. You don?t have to believe that, of course, but it?s a solution to your theoretical difficulty. In other words, if it?s true, it solves your objection.
    As you have already acknowledged even those who believe that god does not exist can act morally. So the question should be not whether they can act so, but were do they get their moral guidance from?
    Well, where they get it from is not exactly the question, because I am asking if their moral behavior is consistent with their lack of belief in God (wherever their moral code comes from). But, to answer your question, I am contending that they get their guidance from: (1) latent Christian values, (2) inherent conscience, which is only compelling in a monotheistic context, (3) social pressures (which can be thrown off if inconvenient), (4) reason and practice (which, I content, are insufficient to constitute a morality without God), and (5) luck.

  49. soniarott said,

    Dclements
    What it sounds like you are saying is that Christian morality is objective morality. If it is true that you believe that Christian morality is objective morality do you have any way to prove that it is or is it only your opinion?

    Here I am arguing the following: only objective morality works, and objective morality only works if God exists (or, perhaps ?if Jesus Christ is God? ? but I?ve been keeping it to just theism in general, or at least monotheism). By ?works? I am implying ?makes sense, is compelling, is successful? and the like ? in the context of both the individual and the collective (me, my people, mankind). So, if one is an atheist, then the logically consistent thing to do would be to admit that he is amoral, i.e. that he has no code of conduct that can direct men and mankind to the good (to human flourishing). If the atheist asserts that he does have a morality, then he is inconsistent, because this morality cannot actually work without God.

    Sorry if that it rough, but, as I said a while ago, I?m working out the position as I go. Also, sorry if its provocative. I tried to blunt the harshness of this assertion earlier. But I want to argue this position because I have heard it argued before and I want to see if its true.
    It seems to me that you are trying to imply that people that do not believe in God are just as irrational as those who do not think that that world is round and instead believe it to be flat. Do you know that many of the scientists that found out that world is round and goes around the sun where killed by the church because such ideas threatened their position of power?
    No, perhaps you could list them. And, more prudently, you?ll then have to tell me on what ground such killings are judged morally wrong, without appealing to God, of course.
    Have you ever thought that it might be possible that you are just as irrational as those who believe the earth is flat because you believe that God exist and that Christian morality is the only true morality? Is it possible that the facts do not support your beliefs, but because you have overlooked them you do not realize that your beliefs are wrong?
    First I would like to note my subtle assertion that the position I am here arguing is not necessarily my own personally (I don?t think I can say that it is or isn?t because I am in the process of accessing its validity in the post, after all). But to answer your question: yes, I am aware of that possibility, but my hope of being right is stronger than my fear of being wrong; furthermore, I have reasons for my beliefs, and am not aware of any reasons against belief sufficient enough to warrant a rational fear of being wrong (i.e. skepticism).
    If you found out that your views are wrong and irrational, do you think you would be able to change and not believe them?
    Indeed I would ? I?m a truth oriented kind of guy (the mark of a Christian, I would say).

  50. dclemens said,

    cortes wrote:

    It is innacurate to describe anything that is not based on reason to be mere opinion. And this goes to the heart of the probelm with your argument.

    Then what do you call something that you believe that not based on facts or reason if you don’t want to call it opinion? If you believe something is correct and something else is wrong and someone else believes otherwise, how do you go about proving your case if what you believe is not based on any form of reason? To be honest I really do not think that you can.
    cortes wrote:

    It does not follow that because one cannot construct a logical proof or provide scientific evidence of a moral claim that one cannot influence another with the claim.

    Logical proofs and scientific evidence are not the only methods that one can prove their views through reason. If you can make anyone else understand your arguements and they believe you instead of believing something else it is because your arguements are more rational.

    It is possible for someone to rational and still have flawed beliefs or viewpoints, and it is also possible to make others believe the same thing. However over time flawed ideas and views are pushed aside as we understand the world better and when we realize the mistakes we made in believing flawed views.

    cortes wrote:
    dclements wrote:

    If there is an objective morality is has to be at least based on reason, otherwise there is no way to understand it.

    This much is true. But I am not claiming that morality is objective only that people treat it as such.

    If you agree that with me that in order for morality to be objective it has to be based on reason, why do you not agree that if morality is not based on reason and not objective that it is than merely subjective and only one’s opinion.

  51. 180proof said,

    soniarott wrote:
    An idea is true if it corresponds with reality … Ideas have to agree
    with reality to be true; if they don’t then they’re false. It’s a rather commonsensical view. Now, by “correspond” and “agree” I don’t mean “copy”. Rather I mean that the idea keeps up with experience, so to speak, through its potential to be assimilated, validated, corroborated, and verified. True ideas do what they say they will do: they work (in reality).

    i’ll take your word for it, sonia. btw, theism as a belief that (some) ‘idea of god’ is true is, on your own terms, false, since the ‘idea of god’ does not agree “with experience, so to speak, through its potential to be assimilated, validated, corroborated, and verified”, as demonstrated by perennial and countless inter- & intracultural, irresolvable disagreements over what the pious themselves say they experience when they experience god. no ‘idea of god’ works in reality, except as a placebo or self-hypnotic fetish.

    at the very least, Reason has the advantage of providing you with a criterion of truth (e.g. correspondance) by which to test “theism” without begging the question; otherwise, you’re left with the inane prattle like ‘faith-based claims are true because of … the truth of faith’, much as many fervent but thoughtless proselytes offer “the word of god” as evidence of “god’s existence & glory”.

    even in scripture god submits to Reason as when abraham haggles with yhwh over how many innocent lives to spare from the cataclysm yhwh plans to unleash on sodom & gomorrah; yhwh yields to the logic of justice and submits to his own moral premises and the limits which they entail; in other words, as plato’s euthyphro also argues in a wholly foreign but quite comparable circumstance, the hebrew tale of a cranky yhwh putting up with a kvetching abraham illustrates that a god worthy of being worshipped is one that perfectly submits to that which is even higher than itself, not merely some anthropomorphic ‘will’, but principle aka Reason (pace spinoza).

    many cultures and individuals have lived throughout millenia without god but none have thrived without reason; and it is by reasoning that we learn and recognize that “theism” & the faith-based claims of which it consists are inadequate bases for moral judgement because such ‘ideas’ are not true according to any intelligible or testable criteria (e.g. correspondance, coherence, constructivist, consensus, pragmatic, deflationist, semantic, etc.) and, of course, the advantage of morals based on Reason (note: not pure or a priori reason) over morals based on faith is that Reason requires that morals be revised via experience & new knowledge learned whereas faith is fixed, certain, absolute, or in the xtian tradition, doctrinal — in other words, to think for oneself is to flirt with heresy or worse … (pace saul of tarsus, pace augustine, pace tertullian, pace gregory the great, pace martin luther et al).
    I think I explained what makes it true. It is or will be verified by experience. What makes Christian morality true is that, by following it, one will have peace, he will experience God’s grace making him more Christlike, and, ultimately, he will enter heaven as a saint and experience the blessedness of being in God’s presence (i.e., he will be maximally happy).

    even an atheist can recognize this as rather bad theology.

    without getting into a biblical quotations pissing contest, any fair reading of the notion of “god’s grace” implies that it is a gift (i.e. arbitrary; to be hoped for but not expected, as in, taken for granted, predicted, demanded, etc) and not either an entailment or an entitlement. for “grace” to be otherwise one would have to know “the mind of god”, as far as i recollect, to which only yeshua himself was allegedly privy. and in line with paul’s teaching that men can not earn “grace” (i.e. know with any certainty who in the end god will save or damn), and that if one is to receive “grace” it will not be due to the merits of one’s works but as fulfillment of the receptive humility of one’s faith, there can be no theologically prescribed guarantee or causal relation between so-called xtian morality and “salvation” (i.e. grace) that can be verified empirically (i.e if abc causes + xyz conditions, then 123 effects).

    (note: where is MARINER when i need him?!)

    philo, you seem to assume that morality requires theism in general and religious commitment in particular (i.e. xtianity) in order to be justified as well as operative & effective. the problem is there is no decisive historical evidence to warrant this assumption; just the doctrinal fiat of your particular sectarian enthusiasm that morals without god is akin to a fish out of water. i don’t think you’ve made your argument; in fact, your attempt to use a theory of truth, which inadvertantly presupposes the priority of reason, to show that atheism entails amorality (or worse) suggests that morality needs god like a fish needs a bicycle.

  52. cortes said,

    dclements wrote:
    If you agree that with me that in order for morality to be objective it has to be based on reason, why do you not agree that if morality is not based on reason and not objective that it is than merely subjective and only one’s opinion.

    Because morality is not merely “opinion” as the word is generally used. Calling it opinion risks missing out on important aspects of it.
    Then what do you call something that you believe that not based on facts or reason if you don’t want to call it opinion? If you believe something is correct and something else is wrong and someone else believes otherwise, how do you go about proving your case if what you believe is not based on any form of reason? To be honest I really do not think that you can.

    But you’re presupposing that proof is important. When people hold a moral position they might try to rationalize it but they don’t hold it less if they fail to do so.

    More importantly, there are real social consequences of holding a moral position.
    Logical proofs and scientific evidence are not the only methods that one can prove their views through reason. If you can make anyone else understand your arguements and they believe you instead of believing something else it is because your arguements are more rational.

    But I cited several real world examples of moral influence that are not what we would generally regard as a reasoned grounding for morality.

  53. reformed nihilist said,

    Floyd wrote:
    ”Perhaps, I am still a reforming nihilist.”

    I like it on this side and highly recommend it.
    “Often (especially in philosophical discussions), I do wish to be provocative”.

    I suspected as much. I do at times as well.
    “I understand what you mean about factuality. However, I think you are ignoring the practical implications of the theoretical difference between facts and opinions and between subjectivity and (actual) objectivity”.

    What is the practical distinction between what I (or you or anyone) can show to be real and (actual) objective reality? I understand that there could be a theoretical distinction, but is it practical?
    “For example, we might all agree that the sun is big; yet we may realize that bigness is just an opinion”.

    Big is relative, not a matter of opinion. Compared to an orange, the sun is an fact big, regardless of your opinion.
    “So, you could speak about the bigness of the sun as a factual reality with other people of a similar disposition as you, but yet still recognize that it is really just an opinion. I believe morality works similarly, you may speak about values as if they are moral (factual), when in fact they are actually observably subjective and relative”.

    I agree that it works similarly, in that people often forget to contextualize moral statements and try to make universal statements that end up being incoherent. This leads to people either claiming that morality must be handed down by God (and is thus a lie, or there is a God and all athiest must be immoral to be coherent).

  54. dclemens said,

    Soniarott wrote:
    Dclements
    ”Here I am arguing the following: only objective morality works, and objective morality only works if God exists (or, perhaps ?if Jesus Christ is God? ? but I?ve been keeping it to just theism in general, or at least monotheism). By ?works? I am implying ?makes sense, is compelling, is successful? and the like ? in the context of both the individual and the collective (me, my people, mankind). So, if one is an atheist, then the logically consistent thing to do would be to admit that he is amoral, i.e. that he has no code of conduct that can direct men and mankind to the good (to human flourishing). If the atheist asserts that he does have a morality, then he is inconsistent, because this morality cannot actually work without God”.

    I’ve heard this arguement many times before, and I still don’t buy it. This is why..

    The whole ‘morality can only exist if God exist, and we follow his will’ thing is based on the concept that God created everything, including us, and therefore he owns everything. Being the property of God means to some that we have to follow his will. Also thrown in is the concept that if we do not obey him we are cut off from the source and we will die no matter what we do . To some it may seem rational that this means that we have to obey God if this is true. However even if it is true this does not make it objective morality nor is it rational that we have obey God for this reason alone. If you have the power of life or death over a person or thing or if your care of this person or thing is the difference between it living or dying, it’s ability to obey you or stay within your care is not the only thing that makes it or them moral or immoral.

    Once a person gets over the concept that we have to obey God since he is the source of all things, they realize the only reason we should obey God’s will is because it is rational. However once you believe this it not long matters whether it comes from God or a bum on the street. The source of our morality no doesn’t matter, it only matters how rational it is.

  55. kwalish kid said,

    soniarott wrote:
    ”Ah, but will that morality work? That?s my question. Morality is suppose to give us a code to live by that will enable me and my fellowman to flourish, i.e. we will be happy”.

    Again, the subtle misogyny of philosophy will not allow us to consider that women should flourish as well. But I digress.

    This point above is a general claim about morality. Yet it has little effect on meta-ethics. The ethical response to a situation may demand that not everyone flourish. No Christian can honestly think that whatever morality God follows is one that enables everyone to flourish, even if they are male.
    “Well, first of all I sort of wonder just how widely established it is. One of the virtues of Christian morality is that it does not take a scholar (or philosopher) to follow. It takes devotion, prayer, and a shepherd?s guidance ? a much more reasonable system, I think”.

    This is certainly an advantage if one wants to control a large group of people, but it is not evidence in favour of a system of morality.
    “Second, I have hinted that it is not possible to actually separate reason from theism (Theos from Logos) without entailing various problems. I know I?m being vague here (I can only take on one monumentally provocative argument at a time)”.

    This is a nice position, but obviously there is no good argument for it without equivocating on the meaning of the Greek wordws involved.
    “Third, I would have to ask how certain human longings, i.e. ?reasons of the heart?, play into this ethics of pure reason. If it cannot account for that, then there is a difficulty”.

    You might actually want to read Kant. Or anyone talking about Kant. Kant clearly recognizes that people have wants and desires. He clearly want peple to fulfil their wants and desires… as long as it’s within the boundaries set by ethics.

    Though perhaps you simply mean that your, particular, Christian view is one of your “reasons of the heart” and you want to steamroll the wants and desires of everyone else in your pursuit of this view?
    “I might need a little more explanation of coherentism. But the question I am asking here is, practically speaking, can a Godless morality (specifically cultural relativism) work”.

    Well, now we get to the real position. It’s two-fold: 1) anything not Christian is relativist, 2) anything relativist is bogus. As seen by the thread started by “philosophy”, “philosophy” doesn’t really get relativism.

    There are a number of different kinds of relatiists. Some are radical, but not all. One can be relativist and merely recognize that people have different perspectives on the world that exists independent of them. A person who holds such a belief can adjust certain behaviours or standards in order to accomodate the different perceptions that people have and still have standards that guide these behaviours and adjustable standards.

    A Kantian, Utilitarian, or most other meta-ethical theorists can adopt a relativist stance to the application of their theories in specific situations. Even a Christian could do so.
    “That?s where I get off the bandwagon.. You?ll have to show me how maximum happiness (or freedom) for me and my neighbor is possible without God. Maybe you have and I missed it (I?m not an expert at this, obviously, so I appreciate the patience)”.

    This gets back to an early post in this thread about how “philosophy” is just not capable of understanding these arguments. Seriously, this quoted passage above is significant evidence in favour of this claim.
    “I think I explained what makes it true. It is or will be verified by experience. What makes Christian morality true is that, by following it, one will have peace, he will experience God?s grace making him more Christlike, and, ultimately, he will enter heaven as a saint and experience the blessedness of being in God?s presence (i.e., he will be maximally happy). Furthermore, I content that he will glimpse this maximal happiness this side of the after life, through the eyes of faith, even though he will be persecuted and will have to carry his cross”.

    And here is the payoff. So-called “philosophy” is not interested in taking the experiences of people in this life seriously. Rather, “philosophy” is simply interested in ignoring the world where ethics matters in favour of the afterlife.

    Only such willful ignorance could miss the fact that many Christians have a really, really easy life. They are hardly persecuted and I can’t understand how comparing their lives to the walk of the cross is not deeply offensive to practicing Christians.

  56. dclemens said,

    cortes wrote:

    ”Because morality is not merely “opinion” as the word is generally used. Calling it opinion risks missing out on important aspects of it”.
    ..
    But you’re presupposing that proof is important. When people hold a moral position they might try to rationalize it but they don’t hold it less if they fail to do so.
    ..
    More importantly, there are real social consequences of holding a moral position.
    ..
    But I cited several real world examples of moral influence that are not what we would generally regard as a reasoned grounding for morality”.

    You may not realize this but you are now arguing against subjective morality and trying to show that THERE IS some form of (objective) morality, while in your last post you denied there is objective morality.

    So which is it cortes? Is morality subjective and no moral beliefs are better than any other because there is no God, we will all just return to dust no matter what do and all our work will be destroyed and forgotten.

    .or..

    There is a point to all(or at least some) of our actions, and certain choice of actions are better, and therefore certain moral beliefs are better than others. If this is true than there is objective morality.

    Or are you just one of those philosophers that wants to sit on the middle of the fence of the issue so you can support the pros of each position and attack the cons when someone else does take a side.

  57. lodestone said,

    soniarott wrote:
    Lodestone
    Ah, but will [deontology] morality work? That?s my question.

    Well, your original question was whether atheism could be compatible with morality. I think I’ve shown you from a broad theoretical standpoint that there could very well be justifications for it—discussion now would involve comparing moralities and their implications. I’m happy to do that with deontology if you like.
    “I think I explained what makes it true. It is or will be verified by experience. What makes Christian morality true is that, by following it, one will have peace, he will experience God?s grace making him more Christlike, and, ultimately, he will enter heaven as a saint and experience the blessedness of being in God?s presence (i.e., he will be maximally happy). Furthermore, I content that he will glimpse this maximal happiness this side of the after life, through the eyes of faith, even though he will be persecuted and will have to carry his cross”.

    The problem here is that, from the theistic perspective, of course atheism is incompatible with morality, because your moral code is true because it comes from God. Goodness is following God’s laws, you think. This makes it very difficult to engage with you. That’s why I mention coherentism to you—because the way to engage is to show you that other moralities are coherent.

    Deontology

    Before answering your various questions of deontology, it is worth noting that the reason we find little disagreement about the practice of ethics is that Kant was a committed Christian. He, however, believed that morality could not come from following God’s law, for reasons I’ll outline in the next section, and sought to find a justification for the intuitive moralities that law outlined. So there is much correlation.
    “I think its asking too much of man?s reason to expect him to be able to articulate a logical system of conduct, based on his limited experiences, that will apply anywhere and everywhere (including the great unknown of the future), especially considering that man and his world is a changing state of affairs”.

    The beauty of deontology is that it is utterly simple. The categorical imperative is simply: “act always in accordance with a maxim that you can will universal law”. That applies to everything, everywhere. It is not to hard to examine one’s maxims to see if they universally self-undermine.
    “Well, first of all I sort of wonder just how widely established it is. One of the virtues of Christian morality is that it does not take a scholar (or philosopher) to follow”

    One of the virtues of Kantian morality is that is simply the justification from pure reason of what we all intuitively believe. The first two books of Kant’s Groundwork describe how the categorical imperative can be derived from common intuitions. Kant intended his ethics to be followable by anyone—he was no elitist. All you need in order to follow the imperative is a little dedication to thoughtful action.
    “I would have to ask how certain human longings, i.e. ?reasons of the heart?, play into this ethics of pure reason”.

    They don’t. They are considered to be completely irrelevant. We can be moral only insofar as we are responsible; we can be responsible only insofar as we are free; and we can be free only insofar as we reason. Emotions and physical pressures are enslaved to physical causal closure—to input-output relations. Only our rational faculties are in any sense liberated.

    However, that does not mean that human longings are not important. They are just not the stuff of ethics. Their analysis is a different study. And we can be ethical and happy simply by aligning our desires with what is moral. Aside from that, it is certainly easier to be moral if one is self-actualised and one’s longings are satsified—so long as there is no tension between those longings and what is right, then there is no problem. It’s worth noting, though, that because the categorical imperative is intuitive, it is in fact aligned with our human longings, and so, as long as we’re being thoughtful and not bowing to the immediacy of desire-fulfilment, tensions do not arise.

    Ethics is the study of what is right; consequentialist desire-fulfilment the study of what is good. Conflating the two is a category error and results in conflicts about appropriate action.
    “Can everyone be free if, ultimately, the sum total of their will?s actions all leads to the same result (death)?”

    I’m afraid I really don’t understand the implications of eventual death on autonomy.
    “how much sense does it make”

    To me, total sense, because it is based on pure reason.
    “how compelling is it”

    To me, totally compelling, because I see freedom as an end in itself. However, because it does not satisfy immediate desire—only long-term wants—it is not compelling to someone who does not see that end. That is the first problem with deontology: it has to take the want for freedom as axiomatic.
    “how successful is it”

    If you put the categorical imperative into practice, I think you will find it works beautifully at outlawing much of what you as a Christian want outlawed. Kant, a committed Christian, was satisfied, at least.
    “how consistent is it?”

    I’ve thrown you one bone of contention (want for freedom must be axiomatic), and now I’ll let you have another. I struggle with one issue in Kantian morality, which is the problem of appropriate description. That is, how do I know what maxim it is I am following for a given action? If I kill a genocidal maniac, is the maxim “kill a human” or “prevent genocide”? Consistency is threatened here.

    However, this is an issue for any ruke-based ethical system, including God-given law; the problem was one of the reasons for the renaissance of virtue ethics.

    I don’t currently have a solution, though I have some intuitions. However, I’ve been assured that there is one. I just haven’t got there yet. You may like to do some work, since it has implications for your ethics too.

    Attacking God-given Morality
    “It takes devotion, prayer, and a shepherd?s guidance ? a much more reasonable system, I think”.

    What makes Christian morality true is that, by following it, one will have peace, he will experience God?s grace making him more Christlike, and, ultimately, he will enter heaven as a saint and experience the blessedness of being in God?s presence (i.e., he will be maximally happy).

    I believe that both the source and justification for God-given morality given here are suspect.

    Looking to authority to help one be moral is to relinquish one’s autonomy. If we are doing something because someone tells us to do it, then we are not being rational: we are subjecting ourselves to the emotional pressure of ultimate authoirty. This means that we are not acting freely, and is we are not in control of our actions then we are not responsible for them. There can be no ethics from authority.

    If the aim of being moral is to be happy, then one is not in fact behaving morally. Consequences are irrelevant to morality, because in aiming for a desired consequence we are again not acting freely. There can be no justification for behaviour in consequences, because consequences are not rationally determined—justifications can only come from pure reason.

    Coherentism
    “I might need a little more explanation of coherentism. But the question I am asking here is, practically speaking, can a Godless morality (specifically cultural relativism) work”.

    Dear me–I’ve spent an hour on this post already. I think it’s probably not a good idea for me to continue just now, seeing as I have exams to study for, and it also may not be that productive for the purpose of this thread to go into the metaphysics of coherentism. However, referring back to the Overview, you should now be able to recognise coherentism as a school of thought from which one could justify a Godless morality. From your correspondic view now Godless morality can ever be justified, but we can at least answer your question “Can a Godless morality work?”, which is similar to mine posited here: “Is deontology coherent?” As I said, I think that’s where you and I can engage.

  58. monroe said,

    Sonia,

    How would you respond to the age old question, does God will what he does because it is good, or are things good because they are willed by God? If you are respond with the former, then you essentially admit defeat in this debate. If the good is prior to and not dependent on God’s will, then it is perfectly possible to be a moral atheist. This moral atheist would merely believe that the good is there and rationally knowable, but God either just happens to not exist or is unknowable. His existence would certainly be irrelevant to being moral, since morality is independent of God.

    The problem with assenting to the latter is that it seems less pious. You would be claiming that God’s will is arbitrary. So either way, the theist is out of luck.

  59. dclemens said,

    Does anyone know what this philosophical arguement is called? I remeber reading about it but can not recall enough to be able to look it up.

    Basically it is about that no thesist should worship God because it is not rational to worship and obey God just because he is all power, and we do not have to worship God just even if his will is good because it is not rational to worship anyone just because what they say or believe is good.

  60. sharan said,

    the argument is at the heart of plato’s dialogue “euthyphro”.

  61. soniarott said,

    180
    “theism as a belief that (some) ‘idea of god’ is true is, on your own terms, false, since the ‘idea of god’ does not agree “with experience, so to speak, through its potential to be assimilated, validated, corroborated, and verified”, as demonstrated by perennial and countlessly inter- & intracultural, irresolvable disagreements over what the pious themselves say they experience when they experience god. no ‘idea of god’ works in reality, except as a placebo or self-hypnotic fetish”.
    We agree, then, on the method for discerning truth, and what it means to say that an idea is true. We disagree in that I content that there is ample support for Christianity. Miracles happen, prophecy is fulfilled, prayers are answers, history speaks of a God amongst us, and so on. Not to derail the thread, but I just thought it worth pointing out the agreement we have. I?m not one of these theists who?s going to say we have to abandon reason to have faith ? and I?m not one of these rationalists who?s going to say we have to abandon faith be to reasonable.

    I find it interesting that we come to different conclusions. From a ?reason alone attains knowledge? position, there is but one possibility. Either you, or I, or us both are not reasoning properly. Thus, logically, you must accuse me of being irrational. From my position, however, a much different answer is possible. Your hardness of heard blinds you, i.e. you can?t see the evidence clearly because you don?t want the eyes of faith. This, of course, assumes that faith is a means of attaining knowledge distinct from reasoning (but not in contradiction to it ? parallel, not perpendicular).
    “in other words, as plato’s euthyphro also argues in a wholly foreign but quite comparable circumstance, the hebrew tale of a cranky yhwh putting up with a kvetching abraham illustrates that a god worthy of being worshipped is one that perfectly submits to that which is even higher than itself, not merely some anthropomorphic ‘will’, but principle aka Reason (pace spinoza)”.
    I content that separating Reason from God is an abstract process that, in this purely abstract bivalence, fails to adhere with reality. And I think Spinoza?s metaphysics (well, he called it ?ethics?) is the best example of what happens when one starts with false axioms based on pure abstraction. It?s a worthwhile distinction, of course, but not a radical separation.
    “the advantage of morals based on reason (note: not pure or a priori reason) over morals based on faith is that reason requires that morals be revised via experience & new knowledge learned whereas faith is fixed, certain, absolute, or in the xtian tradition, doctrinal”
    I would agree, that morals should be based on reason (not pure or a priori reason) ? creative reason, but understanding creative reason requires faith (and reason, of course), because God is creative reason. Now, one can have faith in God without using reason and still be right (if that person is lucky enough to blindly pick the right God), and one can use reason without faith in God (so long as he believes in the universal efficacy of reason), but good luck trying to give me a reason to believe in the universal efficacy of reason without begging the question just as much as those tautological ?blind? faith theists.
    “– in other words, to think for oneself is to flirt with heresy or worse … (pace saul of tarsus, pace augustine, pace tertullian, pace gregory the great, pace martin luther et al)”.
    Because no one has freely thought for himself and decided to convert to dogmatic faith, I suppose ? is that you?re contention?
    “sonia, you seem to assume that morality requires theism in general and religious commitment in particular (i.e. xtianity) in order to be justified as well as operative & effective”.
    Yes, well, at least that?s the position I am arguing here. Actually, I don?t know if morality requires such or not. I want to find out. I figured the best way to find out was to just argue that it does and see if such an argument is tenable. This is one way I am testing the truth of that hypothesis: by seeing if in practice it can hold up to scrutiny.
    “the problem is there is no decisive historical evidence to warrant this assumption; just the doctrinal fiat of your particular sectarian enthusiasm that morals without god is akin to a fish out of water. i don’t think you’ve made your argument; in fact, your attempt to use a theory of truth, which inadvertantly presupposes the priority of reason, to show that atheism entails amorality”
    I?m not trying to be covert in my assertion that reason is a priority. Remember, I don?t think separating God from Reason, in the radical sense, is appropriate (though a distinction can be made, ultimately God is creative reason). As for my argument, I agree with you ? I don?t think I?ve made it yet. I?m still working on it. It?s developing, and I don?t know if it will develop into a workable argument or not. For example, I haven?t responded to Reformed Nihilist yet because I need more reflection to counter some of his points adequately. But I appreciate all of the input from everyone, and I think that I am coming to a better understanding of the ramifications of such a (admittedly bold) argument.

  62. soniarott said,

    Posted May 17, 2006 – 10:19 AM:
    DC
    “Once a person gets over the concept that we have to obey God since he is the source of all things, they realize the only reason we should obey God’s will is because it is rational. However once you believe this it not long matters whether it comes from God or a bum on the street. The source of our morality no doesn’t matter, it only matters how rational it is”.

    Part of what makes morality actually work is the authority whence it came. That?s part of me argument. It goes to whether the morality can actually in principle fulfill its aims, and whether the morality is compelling, binding, and the like.

    KW
    “This point above is a general claim about morality. Yet it has little effect on meta-ethics. The ethical response to a situation may demand that not everyone flourish. No Christian can honestly think that whatever morality God follows is one that enables everyone to flourish”
    If the goal of a moral code is not human flourishing then please furnish something else, and we will see if that works or not.
    “You might actually want to read Kant. Or anyone talking about Kant. Kant clearly recognizes that people have wants and desires. He clearly want peple to fulfil their wants and desires… as long as it’s within the boundaries set by ethics”.
    I am attempting to talk to people about Kant in this very thread ? it helps when my interlocutor actually explains things.

    “Well, now we get to the real position. It’s two-fold: 1) anything not Christian is relativist, 2) anything relativist is bogus”.
    Not exactly. I am arguing the Christian perspective in an attempt to be open and fair, because I am a Christian and I see no real point in hiding that as I argue here. But I do acknowledge that a great many positions not Christian are nonetheless not relativist (from Islam to Rationalism). I could just as well be arguing any theistic position; like I said, when pressed I argue Christianity out of a desire to be open. My point here is to take up the argument that non-theism is insufficient to construct a morality. The best objection so far has been for non-theistic rationalism. As for relativism, I particularly mean to argue against this position, because relativism is obviously antagonistic to monotheistic (and, from what I can tell, rationalist) ethics ? and I think to some extent it is antagonistic to other forms of theism, though I would be quite open to an interlocutor who knows nonmonotheistic faiths better than I to take up a theistic relativism.
    “A Kantian, Utilitarian, or most other meta-ethical theorists can adopt a relativist stance to the application of their theories in specific situations. Even a Christian could do so”.
    Sure, that?s not a counter position to my argument (obviously). By relativism I mean one who argues that ethical behavior, specifically the identity of good / evil conduct, is defined only (or most significantly) in the context of the particular culture or time period (independent of a greater context, such as mankind, human nature, &c).
    “This gets back to an early post in this thread about how sonia is just not capable of understanding these arguments”.

    Much as I enjoy opening my argument up to criticism so that I can learn, this sort of ad hominem assertion is utterly unconstructive. On what grounds can you assert, philosophically, that I am incapable of understanding the counterarguments?
    “And here is the payoff. So-called “philosophy” is not interested in taking the experiences of people in this life seriously. Rather, “philosophy” is simply interested in ignoring the world where ethics matters in favour of the afterlife”.
    Part of my point, which perhaps you are incapable of understanding (*wink), is that ethical systems fail if they only apply to this life. The afterlife, particularly omniscient benevolent judgment, is a requirement if ethics are to work ? i.e. if they are to deliver on their goal of human flourishing. It?s a rather anti-utopian position, actually.

    Btw, where did that business about misogyny come from?

  63. jjf said,

    Thanks for the response, cortes.
    cortes wrote:

    ”Ok, here is a simple example: I empathize with rabbits but not rats. I have no qualms whatsoever about killing rats but when it comes to bunnies tearing up my back yard I seek a more peaceful solution. I can reason from these respective desires to specific choices (e.g. rat traps that kill and rabbit traps that only cage). But to rationalize this preference is to abuse reason.

    A pure rationalist would seek some rational explanation for the above chioce (or else proclaim it irrational and therefore bad). But I can make such moral choices, and reason to implementation, without concern for any rationalization of them. This is a common preference and no doubt it has cultural and perhaps even genetic roots like the fear of snakes and spiders or the love of flowers”.

    First, I don’t see why a rationalist must think that anything irrational (as in, without a sound rationale) is bad. I like carrots and I dislike brussel sprouts. I have no moral or rational justification for this (perhaps, on some cellular level, one exists — but the same might be said of anything). But I don’t think that my tastes are bad because they are irrational.

    So I don’t think your scenario is any real problem for the rationalist. The rationalist would say that morally she is justified in killing animals that disturb her property. However, she prefers not to kill bunnies. That’s not inconsistent, and it presents no problem in her moral framework.
    “Certainly I don’t mean to play such semantic word games but we do need to treat seriously the question as to whether morality is meaningful in the post-modern context.

    Your concern is a legitimate one. But we arrive at it by default, not choice. If God is dead and pure reason cannot sustain morality then what is left?”

    Aye, there’s the rub. And I think this is the point of philosophy’s post. He seems to agree that pure reason cannot sustain morality. So if God is dead, then what is left? Only “irrational morality.” But what is “irrational morality?”
    “As it happend, though, it is not the case that “whatever this person felt like doing” is moral. In fact, morality is a force that shapes behavior in many ways often against other desires. Morality is still a useful concept but of course a more complex one. Things were much simpler in the good ol’ days”.

    So it’s something more than “whatever this person felt like doing.” But what more? Let’s go back to your rabbits and rats example. You dislike rats and like rabbits. Well, let’s say I like both rabbits and rats, but I dislike children. So I set out bear traps to catch any that trample my flowerbeds. Is that immoral?

  64. soniarott said,

    Lodestone
    “Well, your original question was whether atheism could be compatible with morality. I think I’ve shown you from a broad theoretical standpoint that there could very well be justifications for it?discussion now would involve comparing moralities and their implications. I’m happy to do that with deontology if you like”.
    I will begin this by saying that I am rather comfortable with the position you have argued thus far, in that I think a genuinely fair case has been made for justifying, from a broadly theoretical (and purely abstract) standpoint, an ethical system that is non-theistic in scope, specifically ?deontology?. Now I have certain addenda to this, but I will just make this observation here.

    The addenda are as follows: (1) as per my ?theory of truth?, abstractly separating justification from practical efficacy is insufficient, the theory must remain consistent in practice (that doesn?t mean that everyone must adhere to it, it just means that it must consistently account for those that don?t and still reach its goal). (2) This deontology, as I understand it, is a system based on the universality of reason, and I contend that one implication of all such systems must appeal to theism in order to work. More on point (2) later.
    “The problem here is that, from the theistic perspective, of course atheism is incompatible with morality, because your moral code is true because it comes from God. Goodness is following God’s laws, you think. This makes it very difficult to engage with you”.
    Allow me to observe a certain latent feature of my argument that I am beginning to discern better. Hopefully I will not strawman myself in doing so. It appears my argument is: only virtue ethics is true (c.f. my description of a true idea), virtue ethics only works if it incorporates theistic tenants (afterlife, judgment, &c), thus if any ethical system is to be true (and consistent) it must by theistic virtue ethics.

    I admit, that does make it difficult to engage with me. However, it also makes some points where dialogue can begin. First, is virtue ethics the only one that is true (and the only one the works)? If not, are there other ethical systems that work? If so, are they necessarily theistic?

    To identify my reason for committing so much to virtue ethics is that I accept the assumption that all men want to be happy, and that ethics is a code of behavior that directs mankind (individually and collectively) toward happiness ? and by happiness I mean a state of being, human flourishing, rather than a state of mind (though this state of being includes the state of mind). That also makes it difficult to engage me, but, again, points out a source of dialogue. Is this claim universally true?

    Also, let me point out that I am not being very fair to you. I am asserting, and not arguing, that adhering to the universality of reason entails monotheistic belief. I have not made such an argument because I lack the capacity to, which is again quite unfair. Let me suggest that such an entailment can be suspended. If an alternate system of ethics is proposed that is founded on the universality of reason, then I will accept it as point taken.
    “We can be moral only insofar as we are responsible; we can be responsible only insofar as we are free; and we can be free only insofar as we reason. Emotions and physical pressures are enslaved to physical causal closure?to input-output relations. Only our rational faculties are in any sense liberated”.
    I don?t fully understand the separation. Isn?t the point of being free that it makes us happy (not in a base physical way, but in a kind of intellectual pleasure). Why do we want to reason? It seems that freedom entails the desire to reach certain goals and to make choices in accord with those, the ultimate being the achievement of happiness. If being free doesn?t entail being happy, then will it be a compelling foundation for ethics?
    “Ethics is the study of what is right; consequentialist desire-fulfilment the study of what is good. Conflating the two is a category error and results in conflicts about appropriate action”.
    You?ll have to explain the difference between the two in practice in order to convince me that conflation is an error.
    I’m afraid I really don’t understand the implications of eventual death on autonomy.
    I think this objection stemmed from my ?goal? (i.e. virtue) oriented ethics. What is the purpose of deontological ethics ? and can freedom be a proper end. I know that?s vague, but I?m leaving room for exploration, and trying not to mischaracterize your position.
    “I believe that both the source and justification for God-given morality given here are suspect”.
    Let me try and clarify my position. I am not arguing for a merely divine command ethical system, divorced from reason. The position, rather, is that divine command and reason are not radically separable. Rather, they are interdependent.
    “Looking to authority to help one be moral is to relinquish one’s autonomy. If we are doing something because someone tells us to do it, then we are not being rational: we are subjecting ourselves to the emotional pressure of ultimate authority”.
    Unless what someone tells us to do is rational. And we don?t always have the tools to discern the rational course of action on our own (we have limited data, experience, knowledge of consequences, have limited time to decided, and so on). Asserting that God is rational (indeed, is creative reason) solves the difficulty: following God?s commands is as acting rationally. The advantage, of course, is that revelation is an infinitely useful source of knowledge, and one can then appeal to guidance from the spirit of truth. That?s not to say that mistakes cannot be made by individuals or communities. Our reasoning isn?t perfect ? and, like you said, many of the difficulties of one system are present in the other ? but I think there is a significant case to be made here for the inclusion of authority, necessarily, and what better authority than God?

    Besides, in reality people appeal to authority all the time. In a sense you are doing so with Kant. You have shown a kind of faith that deontology works. Obviously, you use reason and experience to test and evaluate his principles, but that does not mean that you have a complete evaluation before you act. Thus you could write: ?I’ve been assured that there is one [a solution]. I just haven’t got there yet.? That sounds a bit like faith. I am sure that Christianity works, obviously I cannot check Christianity against every possible situation, but I have confidence that, as they come, it will work. Sometimes certain ethical actions are difficult, but I trust that God has more knowledge than I, and that, in short, his reasoning is best. I?ll try and use my reasoning to work out the kinks, from my side of things, in the time I have available and with the experiences I know. I am also comfortable appealing to the authority of others, who have gone before me, and have reasoned things based on their experiences, so long as it is in keeping with why I know through reason and faith (the latter is the ?trust? part). I don?t know if this little argument made sense, but let me know what you think.
    “If the aim of being moral is to be happy, then one is not in fact behaving morally. Consequences are irrelevant to morality, because in aiming for a desired consequence we are again not acting freely. There can be no justification for behaviour in consequences, because consequences are not rationally determined?justifications can only come from pure reason”.
    My understanding of freedom is that it is the choice of the will to do one thing (rather than another) for a reason. Now, are you arguing that consequences are not entailed in the ?for a reason? part?

    Monroe
    “How would you respond to the age old question, does God will what he does because it is good, or are things good because they are willed by God”?
    I would respond that separating ?the Good? from ?God? is the result of a particular abstract process done in reflection of certain parts of experience, and that such a bivalent description of God and the Good is only maintainable in the abstract. In reality, the two are not separated, and that is why trying to evaluate reality in accord with any theory which separates the two results in dilemmas (like this one).

  65. cortes said,

    Posted May 17, 2006 – 01:06 PM:
    jjf wrote:
    ”First, I don’t see why a rationalist must think that anything irrational (as in, without a sound rationale) is bad”.

    Then you share my position but the pure rationalist position is that one ought to be able to prove a moral proposition to be true and you can’t very well do that if, at the root, it is just a preference. My favorite example of a pure rationalist is Rand. She reasons from man’s nature to objective moralism and against the view of morality as based on subjective preference.
    “Aye, there’s the rub. And I think this is the point of philosophy’s post. He seems to agree that pure reason cannot sustain morality. So if God is dead, then what is left? Only “irrational morality.” But what is “irrational morality?””

    Morality based on preference which, by it’s nature, will vary from person to person, society to society, culture to culture.
    “So it’s something more than “whatever this person felt like doing.” But what more? Let’s go back to your rabbits and rats example. You dislike rats and like rabbits. Well, let’s say I like both rabbits and rats, but I dislike children. So I set out bear traps to catch any that trample my flowerbeds. Is that immoral?”

    Good question. Or, to put it another way, what is the procedure for answering that question?

    I’ve decieded to explore a new approach to this question in Language as a Metaphor for Morality.

  66. darkcrow said,

    Sonia, I suppose you suppose my previous post was “chopped liver” so here is another.

    Kant argued in depth that desire (Higher-level desire that is fashioned by reason, as opposed to the lower level animalistic desire of pure pleasure.) and therefore reasoned moral action endows us with our humanity. Kant here (Critique of Practical Reason) concludes the relationship he conceives between morality and aesthetics Which takes me back to the supposition that, personal desire and self-interest (I believe self-interest is inextricably linked with the interests of others because we are social beings and cannot develop fully in isolation.) is sufficient for a basis of morality.

  67. darkcrow said,

    Cortes,
    Take for instance the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident”. A self-evident truth is one that is such that if you understand it, you are justified in believing it. That everything is identical with itself is in logic, a self-evident truth. Just as the truth that, unnecessary suffering is wrong, is self-evident in ethics, to anyone who understands what suffering and wrong are. Two more self-evident truths- That equals should be treated equally and the unnecessary destruction of value is wrong. Now it seems to me that these self-evident truths are objective.

  68. soniarott said,

    Reformed Nihilist
    (warning, no time to check typos, read at your own risk)
    “I believe in no heaven, yet I believe that as a rule what is good for me is good for all”.
    And what is good for you-all, ultimately? If we take happiness, in the sense of human flourishing, then only an afterlife will allow this to be a legitimate goal of ethical behavior. Otherwise, happiness loses its vertical dimension. If there is no afterlife, then all that remains to ensure ultimate happiness is pure material stuff. Thus the horizontal orientation of this happiness driven human nature will lead to competition over goods. Thus it becomes impossible for everyone to flourish, rather only some can flourish (at least maximally). Thus, the individual (whether it be an individual person or individual society) will seek personal pleasure against that of the other. A system of cultural relativism merely indoctrinates this view, granting no higher appeal (such as common humanity, universal human nature, God, &c), and forfeits a standard by which X individual can achieve happiness without placing his interesting against the other.

    Perhaps one individual gets cheap cloths because some fellows whom he will never meet work in a sweatshop. One group of warriors might have more physical pleasure and children because they take as sexual slaves a group of maidens from a conquered people. Unless one shifts the focus ? store up treasure in heaven, do not fear those who can kill the body but those who can kill body and soul in Hell ? then this sort of competition is all we have. It?s a Hobbsian world after all. Why should the individual care if others suffer (especially if the other is one whose experience of suffering has no relevance to the individual, such as the sweatshop example). Furthermore, isn?t this kind of view the sort we tend to see often in the world, the kind that really cannot be broken without some universal appeal?
    “the consequences of an act are unforeseeable in their totality.
    This could be said of any human knowledge gathering endevor, and really has no bearing on the issue”.
    My point is that it is simply asking to much of human reason to expect it to calculate the consequences of an act, and so the sum total of consequences cannot serve as a foundation for ethics alone. To really know what the best action for me, my people, and mankind was in a given situation, we would have to have a tremendously retrospective gaze (unless, of course, there were certain maxims derived from an authority with such a gaze). Other human endeavors of knowledge are far more limited in scope. If I want to know if this airplane will fly, its enough to see that other airplanes like it fly so long as they are full of gas and well maintained. I?m not trying to discern if the flying of this plane is the right thing to do for the betterment of mankind ? only if it will launch this once. The open-ended scope of ethics is a difficulty.
    “It is no different that a theist gathering knowledge about God and his will (revelation may be false or falsely interpreted, just as our knowledge of facts and use of reason may be insufficient to predict outcomes) or determining if an individual situation would be judged in accordance with his will”.
    The difference is that revelation entails the agency of God, so it?s not entirely up to human discernment anymore. We don?t have to rely on purely human capacities to gain knowledge. Knowledge can be imparted to us through faith. For example, in the interpretation of revelation, God?s agency (specifically, the Spirit of Truth) is at work in the Church guiding such interpretation authoritatively (and, at times, infallibly). And, furthermore, the position of theism is that the ultimate end of happiness is achieved through divine activity, thus our choice is to cooperate with that activity or not (and suffer the real personal and interpersonal consequences), but no human action can curtail the ultimate end of mankind.
    “This uncertainty doesn’t however dissuade us from attempting to form rules about the most likely outcomes in science, why should it in morality?”
    Well for one science is dealing with a more consistent set of material than morality (which must apply to the will). Also, scientific knowledge need not be judged by the sum total of its consequences, only the relatively immediate consequences of ?incremental? knowledge. The fact that my great-grandson could be so bad for the world that it was better if he (and his parents) was not born is utterly unforeseeable, but still directly relevant to the ethical nature of my action (so long as ethics is defined by the sum consequences of an act). Science, on the other hand, need not fear such table-turning unforeseeablities. Ptolemy?s system predicted eclipses pretty well for a long time. That is was ?wrong?, ultimately, is not the same as saying a particular act was morally wrong, ultimately. In the later, it means that such an act should not have been done because of the severity of its consequences (again, if ethics means just the sum total of consequences).
    “If a theist or an atheist, I must apply the moral rule that I have about killing people to the act of pulling the trigger in the situation described. How does this bear on athiesm any more than theism?”
    On what criteria you use to judge whether or not pulling the trigger is wrong. If the criterion is (only) that the vast total of consequences of that act will be worse than if it were not done, then clearly such a thing is impossible to discern. Even more limited of a scope would be rather impossible to discern. Can we really know, through reason, the consequences of anything beyond the present moment?
    “We agree that these things are wrong, because we share similar moral beliefs (partially likely because we are part of the same society). Someone who is a willing participant in a different culture will hold different view, and that is what your question was aimed at”.
    But we are all participants in humanity, and so the question seems to be to be what is right in this context. Whether or not what is right for the individual, or the individual society is compatible with this universal context strike me as the real crucible for ethical systems. The best ethics, I contend, is the one in which the right action is equally compelling and applicable to all three (not one over the other, note especially not the universal over the individual either). Anything less than this strikes me as ultimately something amoral. That individual-social-universal ethics allows us to make real moral distinctions between societies (not merely how my individual society judges that individual society) and between individuals (not merely what I think about that other individual). Otherwise there is no goal other than material (horizontal) individual gain.

    One dimension of this is that I consider culture to be a rather trivial factor concerning morality. First, what constitutes this culture vs. that culture seems rather arbitrary to me. There are cultures, and sub-cultures, and the like, and these cultures are not atomistic but instead conjoined (sometimes indistinguishably), and whatever the case they are not static but in a flux. So any ethics trying to assert itself in a cultural context is bound to a degree of arbitrariness that betrays its real bindings: the choice of the individual. In other words, a morality understood in the context of the culture / society is really just a masquerading morality understood in the individual context. Lastly, I think this individual dimension cannot be ignored without relinquishing individual responsibility.

    Let me toss out a couple things. First, I see the function of ethics as a guiding force, one empowered to correct. This an ethics must be able to correct an individual against some greater standard, a culture against some greater standard, and even mankind against a greater standard (i.e. God). Without that, then it seems impossible to discern between right and wrong. So, if we cannot check individuals against a greater standard, then individuals cannot be right or wrong (and thus no morality). If we stop with culture as the highest standard, then we?ve just moved this back a step. Let me also say partially what my problem is with a predominantly cultural analysis of morality. My experience has been that individuals are not oppressingly bound by their culture. It?s an influence, but not significant enough to obliterate individuality. If it were then it seems even free will would be an illusion. If free will is an illusion, then there can be no ethics (nothing to govern choice).
    “We agree that these things are wrong, because we share similar moral beliefs (partially likely because we are part of the same society). Someone who is a willing participant in a different culture will hold different view, and that is what your question was aimed at”.
    But is there a greater standard by which that view can be called wrong, this allowing ethics to come into play on the inter-societal level, or does ethics merely apply to the individuals who live in a given society (because societies set the rule)?
    “A theist (christian or otherwise) can hold that a particular rule is a good moral rule. This may be held in common with all other christians, all other thiests, all humans, or may not be held in common with anyone. Either way, we are talking about the belief of one person, which is a discussion of reference”.
    So, in reference to this person, it is a good moral rule. What does it mean to say it is ?good? in reference to that person?
    “If we are to discuss the beliefs of a group, whether is be catholicism, protestentaism, judeo-christianism, athiesm, or western society, we are discussing the average or mean belief of the sum of the members of that group. We are discussing a statistic, not a referrent belief. Do you understand the distinction I am making?”
    I?m not sure, I?ll see if I follow. It?s not a referent because it has no direct reference point, its identity is a mean calculation ? its not referring to the group itself but to the average belief of all the members of that group.
    “Acting morally is doing the good. A moral code is a code which attempts to set parameters in which actions are good. A code is actually moral if it does guide one to good action, it is immoral (though masquerades as moral) if it does not. Thus, a “moral” code needs to be judged if it is actually moral or immoral (and to what degree, of course)
    This is impossible. If a moral code is a code describing what is moral, then all moral codes are moral according to their own precepts, and can only be judged immoral to any degree by a different moral code. You have not made a distinction here.”

    A code is attempting to describe (and proscribe) what behavior is moral (directs one toward / is in accord with the good), and can be judged by how well it works, that is by how well it indeed does direct one to the good. That?s the distinction.

    [
    “If an act is wrong in one society, and the exact same act is right in another, then a particular act could be both right and wrong, which is absurd
    Only when one decontextualizes it and looks at the proposition as a universal”
    Or when one incorporates the universal context, such that the cultural context is put in accord with it. That?s what I mean to propose, that the cultural context cannot exist against the universal context if it is to be ethical (in reference to the culture, the ethics could still make sense in reference to individuals within a culture).
    “It is no more absurd than saying that something is both light and dark, yet my office is both light and dark. It is light during the day and dark at night when I have gone home. With the context, it is intirely reasonable, but without it it is absurd. This is why universalizing leads to absurd conclusions sometimes”.
    Only if you ignore the particular contexts ? but what the words ?light? and ?dark? mean are understood beyond the bounds of that particular room. If the degree of illumination were understandable only in reference to that particular room, then we couldn?t say that one room was more illuminated than any other.
    “If morality is not independent of the context of the individual, then it is useless.
    This is an absurd claim”.

    What would a morality be if it only applied to one individual, and could mean its exact opposite when applied to a different individual?
    “A social grouping can be deliniated however you like, including “all of mankind”. We can quite easily show the statistical normative moral beliefs of “all of mankind”.”
    But can they be judged morally, or just described?

  69. cortes said,

    darkcrow wrote:
    cortes wrote:

    ”Morality based on preference which, by it’s nature, will vary from person to person, society to society, culture to culture.

    Take for instance the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident”. A self-evident truth is one that is such that if you understand it, you are justified in believing it. That everything is identical with itself is in logic, a self-evident truth”.

    With all due respect to Thomas Jefferson, it’s self-evident that people use the term “self-evident” when they believe something very strongly but don’t know how to prove it. (If they didn’t believe it they wouldn’t claim it, if they knew how to prove it they would do so.) This exactly fits the pattern I described in Inevitable Moral Hypocrisy.
    “Just as the truth that, unnecessary suffering is wrong, is self-evident in ethics, to anyone who understands what suffering and wrong are”.

    But you are glossing over what makes morality and ethics so interesting: what is necessary to me may not be necessary to you. I might find it necessary to kill you to take your stuff, for example, which would probably entail some suffering on your part. I’m guessing you would object.
    “Two more self-evident truths- That equals should be treated equally and the unnecessary destruction of value is wrong. Now it seems to me that these self-evident truths are objective”.

    But if you say “it seems to me” haven’t you just hedged your bet on the objective, self-evident nature of the claim?

  70. dclemens said,

    Soniarott wrote:
    DC

    Part of what makes morality actually work is the authority whence it came. That?s part of me argument. It goes to whether the morality can actually in principle fulfill its aims, and whether the morality is compelling, binding, and the like.

    Do you realize that it is biased and non-rational to believe that it makes a difference where information comes from as to whether it is true or not true. One could argue that we are unlikely to listen to a source that is unreliable, but if we do listen we have to be just as fair in evaluating the information from a source we do not trust or like, even if the information is something we do not wish to be true.

    To believe that we can just ignore arguments from people we do not like or avoid facts we do not wish to believe is itself immoral. That is if there is any morality that does exist.

  71. reformed nihilist said,

    Posted May 17, 2006 – 10:31 PM:
    soniarott wrote:
    ”And what is good for you-all, ultimately?”

    There is no ultimate good for me-all. There is just a ongoing series of choices that can be made well or poorly.
    “If we take happiness, in the sense of human flourishing, then only an afterlife will allow this to be a legitimate goal of ethical behaviour”.

    Why the afterlife? Why not the current life?
    “Otherwise, happiness loses its vertical dimension”.

    Vertical dimansion? Sorry, but I would ask you to speak a little less metaphorically. I don’t understand what a phrase like that is supposed to mean.
    “If there is no afterlife, then all that remains to ensure ultimate happiness is pure material stuff”.

    What? Why would you say that? I get most of my happiness from interaction with loved ones, not material stuff. This is a short sighted and base view.
    “Thus the horizontal orientation of this happiness driven human natue will lead to competition over goods. Thus it becomes impossible for everyone to flourish, rather only some can flourish (at least maximally). Thus, the individual (whether it be an individual person or individual society) will seek personal pleasure against that of the other”.

    Again, the talk of horizontality is throwing me for a loop. Competition is only relevent when survival goods are scarce. We haven’t been in that situation as a race for quite some time. Cooperation is for more efficatious.
    “A system of cultural relativism merely indoctrinates this view, granting no higher appeal (such as common humanity, universal human nature, God, &c), and forfeits a standard by which X individual can achieve happiness without placing his interesting against the other”.

    But if we are speaking of morality as it is relative to all humans (the culture being the human culture), it does not place interests against each other. It embraces what is good for all. I embrace inclusiveness, and that is why my morality is similar to yours.
    “Perhaps one individual gets cheap cloths because some fellows whom he will never meet work in a sweatshop. One group of warriors might have more physical pleasure and children because they take as sexual slaves a group of maidens from a conquered people. Unless one shifts the focus ? store up treasure in heaven, do not fear those who can kill the body but those who can kill body and soul in Hell ? then this sort of competition is all we have”.

    This sort of act is short sighted. It uses rules that are likely to eventually lead to undesirable outcomes unless mating or survival resouces are scarce, which is far from the case in the current world.
    “It’s a Hobbsian world after all. Why should the individual care if others suffer (especially if the other is one whose experience of suffering has no relevance to the individual, such as the sweatshop example). Furthermore, isn’t this kind of view the sort we tend to see often in the world, the kind that really cannot be broken without some universal appeal?”

    No it is not. It is best to live according to rules, as a rule. If one’s rules include allowing others to suffer in order to have a small comfort, then those rules have a high probability to lead to undesirable outcomes. It’s not rocket science. It seems that you believe that if there was no God, that it would be best to be a nasty person. That is an irrational and poorly thought out belief.
    “My point is that it is simply asking to much of human reason to expect it to calculate the consequences of an act, and so the sum total of consequences cannot serve as a foundation for ethics alone. To really know what the best action for me, my people, and mankind was in a given situation, we would have to have a tremendously retrospective gaze (unless, of course, there were certain maxims derived from an authority with such a gaze). Other human endeavors of knowledge are far more limited in scope. If I want to know if this airplane will fly, its enough to see that other airplanes like it fly so long as they are full of gas and well maintained. I’m not trying to discern if the flying of this plane is the right thing to do for the betterment of mankind ? only if it will launch this once. The open-ended scope of ethics is a difficulty. “

    Yes it is difficult, but it is the only thing we have, and it is by no means impossible to make reasonable and often accurate predictions. I have personally done the ‘right’ things (had the best intentions but made the wrong predictions) and have ended up hurting someone’s feelings. This is unfortuanate, but the same could happen to a christian. The difference is, I don’t say to myself “Well, I acted according to God’s will, so if their feelings got hurt, too bad”. I say “This is not the desirable outcome. What can I learn in order to avoid this outcome in the future?”.
    “The difference is that revelation entails the agency of God, so it’s not entirely up to human discernment anymore”.

    Sure it is. It is up to a human to discern if what they experienced was an actual revelation or a false sign presented by the devil. Even if it could be determined certainly that it was a true revelation, then it is up to a human to interpret this revelation, which they could do inaccurately. Surely you don’t think all the protestants of the world knowingly follow the wrong beliefs about God? They just have interpreted the information differently than you have. Athiest too. All we have is the ability to discern. A revelation is just another enviornmental factor, just another piece of information that gets added into the mix when making a discenment.
    “We don’t have to rely on purely human capacities to gain knowledge”.

    Of course we do.
    “Knowledge can be imparted to us through faith”.

    This is an epistemological choice, but not one I embrace. I see no reason to believe that faith is a better means to knowledge than reason. I do have reason to believe otherwise (all my experience has shown me that it is the case).
    “For example, in the interpretation of revelation, God’s agency (specifically, the Spirit of Truth) is at work in the Church guiding such interpretation authoritatively (and, at times, infallibly)”.

    But how do we know when the spirit of truth (if I were to accept such a thing) is at work, and when it is not? Faith offers no method to discriminate a fraudulent or mistaken claim from a legitimate one.
    “And, furthermore, the position of theism is that the ultimate end of happiness is achieved through divine activity, thus our choice is to cooperate with that activity or not (and suffer the real personal and interpersonal consequences), but no human action can curtail the ultimate end of mankind”.

    What is the difference between ulitmate happiness and regular happiness? I suspect you will say something that refers to heaven. Is it a different feeling than normal happiness, or is it just special because it is eternal? If it is a different feeling, how do we know it will be desirable to feel it? We already have perfectly good happy feelings that we can fufill. Of course there is also the problem that as an athiest I don’t believe in heavan. Remeber that the proposed purpose of this thread was to explore the possibility of athiest having rational morals while remmaining athiests? I have shown you that this is the case I believe.
    “Well for one science is dealing with a more consistent set of material than morality (which must apply to the will)”.

    We could as easily say it belongs to human behaviour rather than ascibing it to the easily equivocable will. Psychology deals with these issues all the time. Psychosis is a psychological problem, not a problem of evil (as such).
    “Also, scientific knowledge need not be judged by the sum total of its consequences, only the relatively immediate consequences of “incremental” knowledge”.

    I don’t know what you mean by “incremental”, but science is judged by the total of its consequences. As soon as a scientific theory leads to false predictions (consequences), it is discarded (unless no alternate theory is available at the time).
    “The fact that my great-grandson could be so bad for the world that it was better if he (and his parents) was not born is utterly unforeseeable, but still directly relevant to the ethical nature of my action (so long as ethics is defined by the sum consequences of an act).”

    They are defined by the sum consequesnces of the rules that guide actions, not by actions. Morality is a set of rules, not a sum of actions. Living one’s life is a sum of actions.
    “Science, on the other hand, need not fear such table-turning unforeseeablities. Ptolemy’s system predicted eclipses pretty well for a long time. That is was “wrong”, ultimately, is not the same as saying a particular act was morally wrong, ultimately. In the later, it means that such an act should not have been done because of the severity of its consequences (again, if ethics means just the sum total of consequences)”.

    I don’t deny that morality is different than normal predicitve knowledge. Morality deals with descision making that is (usually)social, (usually) something that we woud like others to adopt and always important. Science deals with things that may be important of may be trivial.
    “On what criteria you use to judge whether or not pulling the trigger is wrong. If the criterion is (only) that the vast total of consequences of that act will be worse than if it were not done, then clearly such a thing is impossible to discern. Even more limited of a scope would be rather impossible to discern. Can we really know, through reason, the consequences of anything beyond the present moment?”

    Is it not though reason that I can determine that you will most likely die if I pull the trigger? To believe otherwise would be to abandon reason (and to practically abandon morality). God never says “Thou shalt not put a gun to someone’s head and pull the trigger”, he just said “thou shalt not kill”. We still rely upon reason to make the predictions about the outcomes of our actions. If you think about it, this is not a very strong objection. This sort of line of reasoning implies a closet Nihilism. Just because we cannot predict the outcomes of our descisions with perfect certainty does not at all imply that we cannot judge what behaviours are most likely to lead to certain results.
    “But we are all participants in humanity, and so the question seems to be to be what is right in this context”.

    I absolutely agree, but we needn’t appeal to a higher authority to do so.
    “Whether or not what is right for the individual, or the individual society is compatible with this universal context strike me as the real crucible for ethical systems. The best ethics, I contend, is the one in which the right action is equally compelling and applicable to all three (not one over the other, note especially not the universal over the individual either)”.

    I agree with this as well. Still no need for God.
    “Anything less than this strikes me as ultimately something amoral”.

    So we’re using your notion of morality now? I know it strikes you as amoral, but any ethical belief system that is not based on catholicism strikes you as ultimately immoral or amoral. This isn’t what was in question.
    “That individual-social-universal ethics allows us to make real moral distinctions between societies (not merely how my individual society judges that individual society) and between individuals (not merely what I think about that other individual). Otherwise there is no goal other than material (horizontal) individual gain”.

    That is an oversimplification, but I agree that it is most moral to find win-win situations for everyone involved and that the best rules to choose are the ones that profit everybody and harm none. No need for God to hold this belief.
    “One dimension of this is that I consider culture to be a rather trivial factor concerning morality. First, what constitutes this culture vs. that culture seems rather arbitrary to me. There are cultures, and sub-cultures, and the like, and these cultures are not atomistic but instead conjoined (sometimes indistinguishably), and whatever the case they are not static but in a flux. So any ethics trying to assert itself in a cultural context is bound to a degree of arbitrariness that betrays its real bindings: the choice of the individual. In other words, a morality understood in the context of the culture / society is really just a masquerading morality understood in the individual context. Lastly, I think this individual dimension cannot be ignored without relinquishing individual responsibility”.

    Yes, cultures and subcultures are poorly deliniated. When they are clearly deliniated thay are nations and states. Their morality, when it is clearly distinct is not morality but law. Countries have laws which hold individuals clearly responsible. Cultures have morals that hold individuals responsible in a less clear and distinct way.
    “Let me toss out a couple things. First, I see the function of ethics as a guiding force, one empowered to correct”.

    Empowered? It is only empowed if people behave according to those ethical values. A set of rules has no power if it is not followed.
    “This an ethics must be able to correct an individual against some greater standard, a culture against some greater standard, and even mankind against a greater standard (i.e. God). Without that, then it seems impossible to discern between right and wrong”.

    But it is not. It just requires a little more thinking.
    “So, if we cannot check individuals against a greater standard, then individuals cannot be right or wrong (and thus no morality)”.

    Why can’t we? There are many standards by which a person can be right or wrong, including, but not limited to, judeo-chritian ethics. You are once again demanding morality be absolute in order to exist, which I reject.
    “If we stop with culture as the highest standard, then we’ve just moved this back a step”.

    Who said we stop anywhere? What do you mean stop? We just examine a question according to it’s context, and many of the question you have asked me refer to cultural norms.
    “Let me also say partially what my problem is with a predominantly cultural analysis of morality. My experience has been that individuals are not oppressingly bound by their culture. It’s an influence, but not significant enough to obliterate individuality. If it were then it seems even free will would be an illusion. If free will is an illusion, then there can be no ethics (nothing to govern choice)”.

    Cultural analysese are descriptive and statistical. They don’t rule the descisions of an individual, they describe the sum behaviours of populations. I don’t suggest we limit this discussion to talks of culture, you just keep bringing up things that lead to those answers. I would be glad to discuss my personal ethical descision making rules it you would like.
    “But is there a greater standard by which that view can be called wrong, this allowing ethics to come into play on the inter-societal level, or does ethics merely apply to the individuals who live in a given society (because societies set the rule)?”

    Ethics describes descision making of a certain kind, and can be examined from any scope you want. I am not suggesting that people should follow the rules that are generally held by their society, I am suggesting that it is a statistical fact that most people will follow the norms of their society. This is simple math, not complex moral theory.
    “So, in reference to this person, it is a good moral rule. What does it mean to say it is “good” in reference to that person?”

    It means that as a rule, following it will most likely lead to desirable outcomes (wheter that be enternace to heaven or other desirable outcomes). I should add that I am using ‘desirable’ to include the avoidance of what is undesirable.
    “I’m not sure, I’ll see if I follow. It’s not a referent because it has no direct reference point, its identity is a mean calculation ? its not referring to the group itself but to the average belief of all the members of that group”.

    Yes. it is a statistical entity. It is a norm.
    “A code is attempting to describe (and proscribe) what behavior is moral (directs one toward / is in accord with the good), and can be judged by how well it works, that is by how well it indeed does direct one to the good. That’s the distinction”.

    But you use ‘moral’ and ‘good’ synonymously, so there is no distinction. I contend that it is the rules that lead to desirable outcomes (as a rule) that are good.
    “Or when one incorporates the universal context, such that the cultural context is put in accord with it. That’s what I mean to propose, that the cultural context cannot exist against the universal context if it is to be ethical (in reference to the culture, the ethics could still make sense in reference to individuals within a culture)”.

    Universal context is an oxymoron. Contexts are specific by nature, universality is general by nature. If you mean ‘all of humanity’ when you say ‘universal’, then you have applied a context to which normative values can be applied to determine answers to a particular question.
    “Only if you ignore the particular contexts ? but what the words “light” and “dark” mean are understood beyond the bounds of that particular room. If the degree of illumination were understandable only in reference to that particular room, then we couldn’t say that one room was more illuminated than any other”.

    What does this have to do with anything? My point (that you seem to be agreeing with) is that decontextulizing (universalizing) can lead to absurd conclusions when applied to specific situations. Generally, generalizations are false.
    “What would a morality be if it only applied to one individual, and could mean its exact opposite when applied to a different individual?”

    I don’t understaned your question. Morality means something according to the english language, If it meant the opposite to someone else, they would not be using english. Please remeber that I am describing morality, not ascribing it.
    “But can they be judged morally, or just described?”

    Of course they can be. You do it, and so do I. What are you really asking here (and are you sure it isn’t circular)? Are you asking if there is a certain and definitve correct judgement of what is right? Of course not. We have no such thing in any other area of life, including religion, why should we think we could have it in ethics?

  72. lodestone said,

    Sonia,

    Freedom: Desire vs Reason

    Forgive me if I’m mistaken, but, judging by the rest of the post, I think this tenet can be abstracted as “any ethical theory must work”, in that it must produce some desired consequence. I have a great deal of trouble with this position, as I’ll outline in replies to your points.
    “ethics is a code of behavior that directs mankind (individually and collectively) toward happiness”

    This is what I fundamentally deny. That, to me, does not seem to be the proper subject of ethics. It is a worthwhile study in itself, because it is the study of what is good (that is, desirable, striven for, &c.), but it is not the study of morality. The fundamental reason for that is that in order to be moral we must be responsible, and in order to be responsible we must be free, and we are not free if we are fulfilling desires. I’ll try and explain this freedom:
    “I don?t fully understand the separation [between emotion and rationality]. Isn?t the point of being free that it makes us happy (not in a base physical way, but in a kind of intellectual pleasure)”.

    No. There is and can be no point to freedom; it must be an end in itself. Desire-fulfilment is not free because our desires are independent of any will: they are simply part of the chain of physical cause and effect. That is, we have no control over our desires—unless we are being rational about them! Rationality is fully under our control, and that it is why it is the only thing which is in any sense free. (I say in any sense, because of course, ultimately, even rationality is bound up in causal closure. But our intuition that there is morality and out intuition that there is freedom both stem from our innate capacity to reason; our conception of freedom entails reasoning. All this argument does is put that intuition into propositional form.)
    “My understanding of freedom is that it is the choice of the will to do one thing (rather than another) for a reason. Now, are you arguing that consequences are not entailed in the ?for a reason? part?”

    That’s right. The reasons cannot involve consequences: they must be provided from pure reason, the synthetic a priori only.
    “It seems that freedom entails the desire to reach certain goals and to make choices in accord with those, the ultimate being the achievement of happiness”.

    No—freedom is just choice-making part, independent of consequences.
    “If being free doesn?t entail being happy, then will it be a compelling foundation for ethics?”

    It’s not whether it’s a compelling foundation for ethics: it is the foundation for ethics. This is because in order to have ethics we must have responsibility—and how can you have responsibility if you have no control?
    “Why do we want to reason?”

    Now, herein lies the fial subtlety. Reason is the source of right behaviour. But because it is independent of consequences, it has nothing to do with good behaviour—that is, behaviour which produces final consequences. But we have the power to align our desires with our will—we can desire to behave rightly. Indeed, in order to ensure that we do behave rightly, it is a very idea to make that rightness a good in our eyes. The desire-fulfilment process is independent of rightness and freedom, but if we make freedom and rightness desired ends, then in behaving rightly we will also be fulfilling our desires!

    Thus it is not that we should reason because we want to—nor could it be, because “should” and “want” are incompatible—but that we should want to reason!

    It is also worth nothing at this point the fortuitousness of deontology, in that it so happens that the moral tenets it gives us are the kind which promote happiness anyway: “Do not lie”, “Do not steal”, “Give to charity”, and so forth. So in this sense deontological ethics also does work, as you might put it. However, to reiterate fianlly, it is not that we should follow it because it works, because if we do it for the consequences then we are not behaving freely. We should follow it because that is what “shouldness” is: ethical beahviour is the same thing as reasoned behaviour. There is, then, no compulsion within ethics to be ethical, because compulsions are not ethical. But ethical behaviour does happen to produce desirable consequences, and our desires can be aligned with those consequences.

    Autonomy and Authority
    “The position is that divine command and reason are not radically separable. Rather, they are interdependent”.

    If God existed, I would have no doubt that God was a purely rational being—God would be perfect, after all. God would know what is rational in every case, so I can certainly see where you’re coming from—God would be able to help us perform the behaviour which is rational. However . . .
    “Unless what someone tells us to do is rational.”

    The problem is that this is consequentialism: following authority because it produces desirable behaviour. The imagined person who is following God’s authority because God can tell us what behaviour would be rational has made the important step of desiring to be rational—the step necessary to ensure that we reason. However, that person is not being free in eir behaviour, because ey is bowing to the pressure of authority. Ey is producing behaviour which happens to be rational, but ey is not rationally producing that behaviour.

    To put all this another way: ey would appeal to God’s authority because of the consequences of doing so, and acting for consequences is not free behaviour.
    “Besides, in reality people appeal to authority all the time”.

    They do, because we are not perfect beings. We may strive for perfection, but we’re not going to get there. So sometimes we are weak and take the shortcut of appealing to authotity. But that is simply not moral behaviour. It may be good behaviour, at least, though . . .

    And certainly, yes, I appeal to the authority of philosophers in the mean time, and I am showing a kind of faith.
    “In a sense you are doing so with Kant. You have shown a kind of faith that deontology works. Obviously, you use reason and experience to test and evaluate his principles, but that does not mean that you have a complete evaluation before you act. Thus you could write: “I’ve been assured that there is one [a solution]. I just haven’t got there yet.””

    However, in this case, because I hadn’t explained deontology fully, you’ve unwittingly pointed out something valuable. I have faith that deontology works, as you say, in that I have a non-reasoned belief that it can be used to produce desirable consequences. However, this is only faith in the ability of deontology to be aligned with desire-fulfilment. This faith is, in fact, optimism. Because in following deontology I am acting purely rationally, as I rationally understand the argument that ethics is rationality. It is merely the implications of that which I haven’t fully worked out yet.

    It would be ironic indeed if I had to appeal to an authority to show that ethics is rationality!

    Reiterated Conclusions

    – In order to be moral we must be responsible; in order to be responsible we must be free; we are free only when we are willing rational behaviour.
    – The study of ethics (determining what is rational) and the study of desire-fulfilment are separate studies.
    – In order to ensure that we behave ethically we must align our desires with ethicality
    – But we must will behaviour because it is rational and not because we desire it

  73. lodestone said,

    Can I just say what a pleasure it is to take part in this thread, and say a thanks to all participants, many of whom are dealing with more than one strand of argument at once!
    Thanks, sonia.

  74. darkcrow said,

    Posted May 18, 2006 – 07:46 AM:
    cortes wrote:

    ”But if you say “it seems to me” haven’t you just hedged your bet on the objective, self-evident nature of the claim? “

    My dear fellow, of course I speak with a degree of hesitancy- provisionally; unconditional absolutes belong to the domain of Gods chosen people, not science. Science realizes that some fine chap like yourself, may come along one day and give an example that is contrary to an axiom or theory. Perhaps even now, you have an example of a case where some object is not identical with itself, or where unnecessary destruction of value is right; or where unnecessary suffering is right- perhaps where equals should be not treated equally.

  75. miswod said,

    Lodestone said:
    ”- In order to be moral we must be responsible; in order to be responsible we must be free; we are free only when we are willing rational behaviour.
    – The study of ethics (determining what is rational) and the study of desire-fulfilment are separate studies.
    – In order to ensure that we behave ethically we must align our desires with ethicality
    – But we must will behaviour because it is rational and not because we desire it”

    Unfortunately, morality, responsibility and freedom are concepts and as such subjective; therefore, a weak platform on which to build any theory, particularly deontology, which seems to rely on a universal agreement on what one?s duties are, and the rights of others. Rational agreement may be achieved on these matters possibly be a minority, but never by all.

    I believe that morals are a rational result of man?s practical needs when building civilisations; unfortunately, they are too often infiltrated by religious fervour, bigotry and general stupidity.

    People are only rational occasionally are you suggesting they should be guided by rational thoughts at all times? Surely, we shall be worn out!

  76. lodestone said,

    miswod wrote:
    ”morality, responsibility and freedom are concepts and as such subjective; therefore, a weak platform on which to build any theory”

    What do you mean by “subjective”, and what about subjectivity weakens theories?

    Concepts are subjective in that they reside in the mind, but that does not mean they are not relative and universal. Kant argued that the moral faculty was innate to all humans. Concepts of morality derive from concepts of responsbility, which derive from concepts of freedom.
    “deontology … seems to rely on a universal agreement on what one?s duties are, and the rights of others”

    If it seems to, you’ve drastically misunderstood deontology. Deontology relies on the existence of the synthetic a priori—on pure reason only. There is nothing to deontology but the rule “always act in accordance with a maxim you can will universal law”—that has no reliance of relative conceptions of duties and rights.
    “People are only rational occasionally are you suggesting they should be guided by rational thoughts at all times? Surely, we shall be worn out!”

    I’m suggesting that ethical behaviour entails rational behaviour. When we are being ethical we must be rational; we must be rational insofar as we want to be ethical.

  77. cortes said,

    darkcrow wrote:
    ”My dear fellow, of course I speak with a degree of hesitancy- provisionally; unconditional absolutes belong to the domain of Gods chosen people, not science. Science realizes that some fine chap like yourself, may come along one day and give an example that is contrary to an axiom or theory”.

    But contrary to self-evidence? I think you’re still not taking your own claim seroiusly. I would not hesitate to say that 1+1=2 or that x=x. Science hesitates becaus it makes claims about observations in the real world of which we have only a very finite glimpse at any given time.

    I don’ t mean to quibble with triffles but to point out that there are some things that we believe strongly to be true but don’t know how to prove. That might be because:

    1) The only evidence to support the claim is its “self-evidence”, or
    2) The claim is subjective.

    In the case of morality, we are drawn to particular issues precisely because one party is trying to correct the misbehavior of another. It’s one thing to appeal to self-evidence where there is no disagreement (though I still would question this), another to appeal to it to resolve a dispute. What is “self-evident” to you may not be “self-evident” to me.

  78. litkey said,

    Isn’t morality what we want to do? And what we want to do entails desires. I can reason and reason with myself until i am blue in the face, but if my desire does not want to do it then i am not going to do it; ultimately what i do is what i really want to do; however, this does not mean that i am not acting rational; my desire is an aspect of my rationality- i desire food,sex,and security- i am going to do those things which protect me.

    Rules sure- however most rules are innate i.e. we could say morality was innate. Why do we have religions, the united nations, the peace corps? They all point to the same thing.

    Cortes:

    I am confused by your position. You say that there is no moral law, but then you say morality is objective, or can be formulated into objectivity? What do you mean?

  79. darkcrow said,

    cortes wrote:

    ”In the case of morality, we are drawn to particular issues precisely because one party is trying to correct the misbehavior of another. It’s one thing to appeal to self-evidence where there is no disagreement (though I still would question this), another to appeal to it to resolve a dispute. What is “self-evident” to you may not be “self-evident” to me”.

    “Now there never would have been any Cartesians in the world if it had been understood that this philosophic doubt must be genuine doubt, and if students [of Descartes] had had any proper self-knowledge. It is plainly impossible to have an unaffected doubt that fire burns,–and one which will resist a few experiments,–unless one is incapable of reasoning.” MS 166, “Chapter 2,” Winter 1969-70, CW II.356.

    I doubt X only because I have reason to believe that X might not be so. Not in a slapdash fashion- and certainly not just because the content of a possible doubt can be formulated and verbally posed.

    The ethical theory you are supporting [Subjectivism]
    implies that we never act immorally, and that is good reason to believe that it’s mistaken.

  80. cortes said,

    litkey wrote:
    ”I am confused by your position. You say that there is no moral law, but then you say morality is objective, or can be formulated into objectivity? What do you mean?”

    I have argued that religious morality and rationalist morality have each failed to prove their case for different reasons and that the default is what I’ve called irrational morality. So I’m not saying there is no moral law but that there are many moral laws and no objective basis upon which to choose one over another other than the obvious (self-evident?) fact that we each have our own.

    See Inevitable Moral Hypocrisy, Language as a Metaphor for Morality, and The Pursuit of Desire and Happiness where I have outlined these arguments in more detail.

    Now I did suggest earlier that the religious view is consistent with the irrationalist view, that God’s moral law is the correct moral code among many others. But I find it unpersuasive that any moral law that is not God’s is not a real moral law. And that’s before we’ve even tried to figure out what God’s moral law is precisely.
    Isn’t morality what we want to do?

    It would be more accurate to say that morality is what we want others to do. It obviously affects what we choose to do as well but that is secondary.
    Rules sure- however most rules are innate i.e. we could say morality was innate. Why do we have religions, the united nations, the peace corps? They all point to the same thing.

    It depends on what you mean by “innate”. The tendency to view human behavior in terms of right and wrong is probably genetic. The belief that a particular behavior is right or wrong is probably memetic, a function of culture. But by the time we are adults we are pretty set in our ways about what is right and wrong and in that sense it is innate.

  81. cortes said,

    darkcrow wrote:
    ”The ethical theory you are supporting [Subjectivism]
    implies that we never act immorally, and that is good reason to believe that it’s mistaken”.

    Subjectivism does not imply that we never act immorally. If you follow your subjective morality I will quite possibly find you to be acting immorally (according to my own subjective morality) and might even call you on it. Or I might find myself personally conflicted between my own subjective morality and my actual choices.

  82. miswod said,

    Posted May 19, 2006 – 03:14 AM:
    Lodestone wrote:

    ”What do you mean by “subjective”, and what about subjectivity weakens theories?

    Concepts are subjective in that they reside in the mind, but that does not mean they are not relative and universal. Kant argued that the moral faculty was innate to all humans. Concepts of morality derive from concepts of responsbility, which derive from concepts of freedom.

    If it seems to, you’ve drastically misunderstood deontology. Deontology relies on the existence of the synthetic a priori?on pure reason only. There is nothing to deontology but the rule “always act in accordance with a maxim you can will universal law”?that has no reliance of relative conceptions of duties and rights.

    I’m suggesting that ethical behaviour entails rational behaviour. When we are being ethical we must be rational; we must be rational insofar as we want to be ethical.”

    By subjective I mean that these concepts exist only in people?s minds and therefore each person will have a unique version of the meaning of any moral rule, even when in apparent agreement with others. This may not appear so at first glance, but may become obvious as a particular moral principle is tested. For example we may all agree it is wrong to kill but there are endless scenarios where this may be tested; and each individual would respond in various ways to these trials.

    Communication is a barrier between people far more than a help a lot of the time, look around this site for example; this will further confuse the issue.

    Do you have an example of a universal law and if so can you tell me where it originates from?

    Yes, the only important moral values I accept are those that I believe to be rational; they are rational if they are practical; practical if they enable the development of societies of whatever scale. Because I believe human beings incapable of achieving a ?pure? rational state, and even if so, certainly unlikely to be able to communicate their thoughts in a ?pure? fashion; I find it difficult to believe this process capable of producing ?absolute? values.

  83. darkcrow said,

    miswod wrote:

    ”Do you have an example of a universal law and if so can you tell me where it originates from? “

    I am of course not speaking for Lodestone, only the way it seems to me.

    An example of one Universal law, that unnecessary suffering is wrong, and therefore the unnecessary suffering caused by the Holocaust is wrong.

    A Natural Right is inscribed, or comes from a Natural Law of Nature (Evolution). A Right that ought to be, and is self-evident.

  84. cortes said,

    Posted May 19, 2006 – 06:05 PM:
    darkcrow wrote:
    ”An example of one Universal law, that unnecessary suffering is wrong, and therefore the unnecessary suffering caused by the Holocaust is wrong. A Natural Right is inscribed, or comes from a Natural Law of Nature (Evolution). A Right that ought to be, and is self-evident”.

    What is interesting, and telling, is that the mere fact that the right must be asserted demonstrates it’s nonuniversality. Now one might offer a theory as to why a natural right might lay dormant for most of human history only to be discovered recently. But if we could point to the point of discovery we might have our objective basis for morality. When we talk about scientific discoveries we can point to particular observations or experiments that gave rise to new theories. There is no corresponding progress of knowledge acquisition and accumulation in the field of morality. We’re still debating the same questions that the Greeks did.

  85. soniarott said,

    I would like to thank everyone very much for this extraordinary involvement in this thread. I consider I have startled you enough to continue debating without my intervention. Thank you again,
    Sonia

  86. lodestone said,

    miswod,
    miswod wrote:
    ”By subjective I mean that these concepts exist only in people?s minds and therefore each person will have a unique version of the meaning of any moral rule, even when in apparent agreement with others. This may not appear so at first glance, but may become obvious as a particular moral principle is tested. For example we may all agree it is wrong to kill but there are endless scenarios where this may be tested; and each individual would respond in various ways to these trials”.

    What you’re talking about are what Kant calls hypothetical imperatives, and you’re absolutely right?they cannot be an overarching theory. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t an overarching theory. Kant argues that our moral faculty, which is the same as our rational faculty, is innate to us and universal in its qualities.
    “Do you have an example of a universal law and if so can you tell me where it originates from?”

    Yes. “Act always in accordance with that maxim which at the same time you could will universal law.” It originates from the understanding that we are free (and thus morally responsible) only insofar as we are being rational, and thus that moral behaviour is behaviour in accordance with universal reason.

  87. cortes said,

    Lodestone wrote:
    ”Kant argues that our moral faculty, which is the same as our rational faculty, is innate to us aniversal in its qualities”.

    This is something that seems to have some scientific backing as I’ve argued elsewhere. However, one must be careful to understand precisely what is innate and what is not.
    “Yes. “Act always in accordance with that maxim which at the same time you could will universal law.” It originates from the understanding that we are free (and thus morally responsible) only insofar as we are being rational, and thus that moral behaviour is behaviour in accordance with universal reason”.

    I would be curious to see how you derive the one from the other. Needless to say I am very skeptical of the claim. Previously you equated ethical behavior with free reasoning, which is interesting even if a bit arbitrary.

  88. lodestone said,

    cortes wrote:
    ”This is something that seems to have some scientific backing as I’ve argued elsewhere”.

    I’d be very interested in any sourcing you could find here.

    “I would be curious to see how you derive the one from the other. Needless to say I am very skeptical of the claim”.

    Let us work from the premise “in order to behave ethically we must behave in accordance with reason”. To behave in accordance with reason we must be obeying a command of reason—we must be willing action through a maxim of reason. In order for that maxim to be rational, it must not contradict itself. That means we must be able to imagine everyone following that maxim. So, for example, “break promises” is an irrational maxim because following it would prevent there being any promises to break.
    “Previously you equated ethical behavior with free reasoning, which is interesting even if a bit arbitrary”.

    I’m saying the same thing, in different ways. Ethical behaviour is equated with free behaviour, because in order to be responsible we must be in some sense free. And then free behaviour is equated with rational behaviour, because the only sense in which we can be said to be free is in the sense that a cognitive choice-making process exists.

  89. cortes said,

    I’ve seen references here and there in various books but here are three sources that focus on the matter:

    The Moral Animal : Why We Are, the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology

    What Makes Us Moral? : Crossing the Boundaries of Biology

    The Science of Good and Evil : Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care, Share, and Follow the Golden Rule
    “Let us work from the premise “in order to behave ethically we must behave in accordance with reason””.

    What is it that attracts you to this premise?

  90. darkcrow said,

    cortes wrote:

    ”What is interesting, and telling, is that the mere fact that the right must be asserted demonstrates it’s nonuniversality. Now one might offer a theory as to why a natural right might lay dormant for most of human history only to be discovered recently. But if we could point to the point of discovery we might have our objective basis for morality. When we talk about scientific discoveries we can point to particular observations or experiments that gave rise to new theories. There is no corresponding progress of knowledge acquisition and accumulation in the field of morality. We’re still debating the same questions that the Greeks did.
    What is interesting, and telling, is that the mere fact that the right must be asserted demonstrates it’s nonuniversality”.

    Those facts presuppose that the effects of evolution acts in an orderly, even and encompassing fashion.
    “Now one might offer a theory as to why a natural right might lay dormant for most of human history only to be discovered recently”.

    The evidence provided through archeology indicates societies flourished before a written language existed. Many artifacts discovered were created many years prior to written language.
    That a natural right, discovered in a Natural law of evolution, and articulated in a language would necessarily be a recent phenomenon.
    “But if we could point to the point of discovery we might have our objective basis for morality”.

    I will bow to Kant on that, the thing in itself is still in a state of discovery and there are yet many things to be discovered. However, is it necessary that a point of origin be discovered in order that the premise, that unnecessary suffering is wrong, be found to be objective?
    “When we talk about scientific discoveries we can point to particular observations or experiments that gave rise to new theories”.

    I pointed to a particular observation when I noted that the Holocaust caused unnecessary suffering and therefore was wrong.
    “There is no corresponding progress of knowledge acquisition and accumulation in the field of morality”.

    Of course there are those who deny knowledge acquisition and accumulation itself.
    “We’re still debating the same questions that the Greeks did”.

    Which bears out the premise that rationality alone is not sufficient.

  91. cortes said,

    darkcrow wrote:
    ”Which bears out the premise that rationality alone is not sufficient”.

    On this much we are in agreement.
    “Those facts presuppose that the effects of evolution acts in an orderly, even and encompassing fashion…That a natural right, discovered in a Natural law of evolution, and articulated in a language would necessarily be a recent phenomenon”.

    You seem to be equating Natural Law with the genetic evolution of morality which is an interesting approach but amounts to saying “you ought to do this if your genes compel you to.”
    “However, is it necessary that a point of origin be discovered in order that the premise, that unnecessary suffering is wrong, be found to be objective?”

    Not necessary so much as explanatory. It would erase suspicions that the right was invented for some political convenience or merely to rationalize a subjective preference.
    “I pointed to a particular observation when I noted that the Holocaust caused unnecessary suffering and therefore was wrong”.

    But did the Nazis regard the suffering of the Jews as unnecessary? (And for that matter, did the Allies regard the suffering of the Nazis as unnecessary?)

    Let me put it another way: Imagine I gave you an opportunity to travel back in time to the 1930s and to deliver a message to the Jews of Europe. Would you tell them, “don’t worry, it is self-evident that inflicing unnecessary suffering is wrong.” I would argue that the very historical fact of the holocaust demonstrates that the belief that unnecessary suffering is wrong is far from self-evident or universal. And the holocaust was far from unique, history is full of such.

  92. darkcrow said,

    cortes wrote:

    On this much we are in agreement.

    You seem to be equating Natural Law with the genetic evolution of morality which is an interesting approach but amounts to saying “you ought to do this if your genes compel you to.”

    Not necessary so much as explanatory. It would erase suspicions that the right was invented for some political convenience or merely to rationalize a subjective preference.

    But did the Nazis regard the suffering of the Jews as unnecessary? (And for that matter, did the Allies regard the suffering of the Nazis as unnecessary?)

    Let me put it another way: Imagine I gave you an opportunity to travel back in time to the 1930s and to deliver a message to the Jews of Europe. Would you tell them, “don’t worry, it is self-evident that inflicing unnecessary suffering is wrong.” I would argue that the very historical fact of the holocaust demonstrates that the belief that unnecessary suffering is wrong is far from self-evident or universal. And the holocaust was far from unique, history is full of such.

    Genetics is one small part of evolution and I never intended to imply that genetics was alone responsible. Although we agree that rationality is not alone sufficient, I contend rationality can figure out that certain things are right and others wrong.
    Let us go to what appears to be the heart of the matter that concerns you. You seem to be arguing there are no rational grounds for deciding whether a natural law is true or false; however, it is my position that natural laws are as open to being tested as any other kind of judgment. Consider the following two claims: “Osama Bin Laden is a virtuous person” and “A virtuous person would never participate in unnecessary destruction.” These two claims, taken together, entail an empirical statement, namely, “Osama Bin Laden did not participate in 9/11.” This is a statement that is open to a functional test; the clearest falsification would be one’s own eyewitness observation of Bin Laden participating in 9/11, but excluding that, we can still have convincing evidence that Bin Laden did indeed participate in 9/11. Moreover, once the empirical conclusion has been falsified in this way, we can infer that at least one of our premises must be wrong.

  93. darkcrow said,

    Lodestone wrote:
    miswod,

    ”What you’re talking about are what Kant calls hypothetical imperatives, and you’re absolutely right?they cannot be an overarching theory. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t an overarching theory. Kant argues that our moral faculty, which is the same as our rational faculty, is innate to us and universal in its qualities.

    Yes. “Act always in accordance with that maxim which at the same time you could will universal law.” It originates from the understanding that we are free (and thus morally responsible) only insofar as we are being rational, and thus that moral behaviour is behaviour in accordance with universal reason”.

    I must confess, unlike most other contributors, I have not read a large volume of philosophical woks but tended to follow my own line of reasoning in forming views on different subjects. So my response would be; yes, Kant may argue that but where is the evidence for it?

    The ?do unto others? line is a rational basis for a moral code but where is it?s universality?

    Tell me a single moral rule that you yourself would wish to be universal, then we can examine a particular example to test the theory.

    I am not saying there are no universal rights and wrongs; simply that if they exists we have yet to discover them; which suggest to me that there are none.

  94. darkcrow said,

    miswod wrote:

    We run straight into problems though with words such as ?unnecessary? and ?suffering?, let alone their use in combination. These words will have different meanings to different people at different times; consequently they cannot be considered universal. As I have said previously our wonderful invention of language is both a help and a hindrance when considered as a means of communication.

    Presumably at the time of he Holocaust many German and other nationals did not view the plight of the Jews in these terms.

    There may be natural ?rights? that emanate from the laws of the universe/nature, but what are they and how do we discover them?

    Have you been reading Descartes; must we first rule out all possibility of error?
    Of course these words will have different meanings to different people at different times, as most words without context. To have an explicit meaning requires that they entail an empirical statement.

  95. cortes said,

    Posted May 20, 2006 – 02:30 PM:
    darkcrow wrote:
    ”Genetics is one small part of evolution and I never intended to imply that genetics was alone responsible. Although we agree that rationality is not alone sufficient, I contend rationality can figure out that certain things are right and others wrong”.

    I’m not even sure what that means though. Certainly we can reason to right and wrong but from what? Earlier you had advocated for self-evident truths but I was unconvinced. You have also argued from empiracle observation of evolution but at best this is is-ought fallacy.

    I see book shelves creaking under the weight of philosophical ethical theories that start with questionable assumptions that appear to be nothing more than a formalization of subjective conscience. Claims of self-evident truths fall exactly into this pattern. The irony is that the desire for morality is often driven by the realization that the world is indeed full of very nasty people and sometimes the scum rises to the top.
    “it is my position that natural laws are as open to being tested as any other kind of judgment. Consider the following two claims: “Osama Bin Laden is a virtuous person” and “A virtuous person would never participate in unnecessary destruction.” These two claims, taken together, entail an empirical statement, namely, “Osama Bin Laden did not participate in 9/11.” This is a statement that is open to a functional test; the clearest falsification would be one’s own eyewitness observation of Bin Laden participating in 9/11, but excluding that, we can still have convincing evidence that Bin Laden did indeed participate in 9/11. Moreover, once the empirical conclusion has been falsified in this way, we can infer that at least one of our premises must be wrong”.

    But can we empircally test the claim that Bin Laden is a virtous person without some untestable assumption such as “a virtuous person would never participate in unnecessary destruction”?

    Regarding your natural law theory, let me offer my own take and see how close we are:

    While I am very skeptical that anyone can demonstrate objective morality it is quite clear that morality impacts human history and evolution. It’s not difficult to see that certain moral choices have consequences to the moral actor such that it may affect who holds that moral position at a future time. The two broad categories of transmission of moral codes are genetic (slow) and memetic (relatively fast) of which culture and religion is the general form. One might treat morality as the rational pusuit of a place on the winning team in the great clash of civilizations but that’s not the traditional definition of morality.

  96. lodestone said,

    cortes wrote:

    ”Let us work from the premise “in order to behave ethically we must behave in accordance with reason”.

    What is it that attracts you to this premise?”

    The justification I’ve provided many times in this thread. Natural determinism rules out free will in any sense other than the compatibilist sense: we have freedom when we are making choices. Freedom exists in the choice-making process, even if the outcome of that process is predetermined. Specifically, the freedom must lie in the choice-making process independent of teleology—of means-end analysis—because insofar as we work towards consequences we are not free. So freedom can only lie in pure choice-making: in pure reason.

    Moral responsibility requires freedom, so moral behaviour is rational behaviour. This is in fact where out intuitions of morality come from: they are innate to us, just as out rationaq faculty is innate to us, because our moral faculty id our rational faculty.

    Miswod,
    “I must confess, unlike most other contributors, I have not read a large volume of philosophical woks but tended to follow my own line of reasoning in forming views on different subjects. So my response would be; yes, Kant may argue that but where is the evidence for it?”

    It lies in the arguments I’ve presented in this thread, which I suggest you go over.
    “Tell me a single moral rule that you yourself would wish to be universal, then we can examine a particular example to test the theory”.

    It’s not about wishing moral rules universal: the categorical imperative that we should obey only maxims which can be universalised without self-contradiction. “Break promises”, as an example, cannot be universalised because promises would not exist if it were.

  97. miswod said,

    darkcrow wrote:

    ”Have you been reading Descartes; must we first rule out all possibility of error?
    Of course these words will have different meanings to different people at different times, as most words without context. To have an explicit meaning requires that they entail an empirical statement”.

    Surely, for something to be a universal absolute truth there ought to be little room for doubt?

    Sorry Darkcrow, but I thought you might have a deeper body of evidence to support your previous statement – “A Natural Right is inscribed, or comes from a Natural Law of Nature (Evolution). A Right that ought to be, and is self-evident.”

    Is this your own thinking or perhaps something you read? Can you support it with a rational arguement?

  98. cortes said,

    Lodestone wrote:
    ”Let us work from the premise “in order to behave ethically we must behave in accordance with reason”.

    What is it that attracts you to this premise?

    The justification I’ve provided many times in this thread. Natural determinism rules out free will in any sense other than the compatibilist sense: we have freedom when we are making choices. Freedom exists in the choice-making process, even if the outcome of that process is predetermined. Specifically, the freedom must lie in the choice-making process independent of teleology?of means-end analysis?because insofar as we work towards consequences we are not free. So freedom can only lie in pure choice-making: in pure reason. Moral responsibility requires freedom, so moral behaviour is rational behaviour. This is in fact where out intuitions of morality come from: they are innate to us, just as out rationaq faculty is innate to us, because our moral faculty id our rational faculty”.

    I guess I hadn’t been paying close enough attention to the entirety of your posts to see this. But let’s focus on this as I’ve always wanted to understand the moral rationalist argument. I have several problems with your argument.

    First of all, we must be clear on what we mean to act in accordance with reason. It may well be that we’re not actually disagreeing on this but on how you use that term. So let me clarify that. The essential question is this: is right and wrong dependent on, or independent of, subjective conscience. I contend the former, an objectivist must contend the latter. Since you used the term “pure reason” I will proceed on the assumption that you meant the latter.

    I hope we’re not going to get into a debate about determinism and choice. To head that off, I think it’s probably safe to say that you and I are probably not in wild disagreement on that. I would say, however, that we have free will insofar as we have chioce. Thus, for example, I am not morally obliged to save Rome from Caesar because it is not possible for me to do so. It is in this sense that I contend that irrationalism and morality are compatible. The human condition provides us with circumstances and among the circumstances is irrational, subjective conscience which frames our choices. To attempt to make a moral choice without reference to subjective conscience would be like trying to make a moral choice without reference to the laws of physics.

    However, and perhaps I misunderstood your earlier Kantian reference, our moral intuition is not equivalent to our reasoning except in the loose sense that they both reside in the brain. Moral intuition is more like emotion, a product of evolution not a logical deduction. People go to great lengths to rationalize their moral intuitions but ultimately it’s like rationalizing emotions of hate and envy, an abuse of reason. We can use reason as an observer to understand and predict them but they are irrational subjects of observation. (I am assuming here that you would not consider hate to be reasoning which is a bit of a semantic question but also a question of real meaning). Theory of evolution provides a wonderful grounding for understanding the role of reason, it’s strengths and weaknesses.

    Finally, as a reducio ad absurdum argument, I like to offer the argument that if freedom of choice requires that I not do anything that might have any reasonable justification for to have a reasonable justification is to constrain the choice and thus to make it unfree and amoral. After all, if one uses pure reason to reach a conclusion then the conclusion is in some sense determined by the circumstances and not by free choice. Thus reason and morality are mutually exclusive. Only wild irrational behavior can escape the determinism of reason and thus be a moral choice.

  99. lodestone said,

    Cortes,

    Reason
    cortes wrote:
    ”First of all, we must be clear on what we mean to act in accordance with reason. It may well be that we’re not actually disagreeing on this but on how you use that term. So let me clarify that. The essential question is this: is right and wrong dependent on, or independent of, subjective conscience. I contend the former, an objectivist must contend the latter. Since you used the term “pure reason” I will proceed on the assumption that you meant the latter”.

    Kant referred to his metaphysics as a Copernican revolution in philosophy, in that he attempted to flip the usual terms of reference (in that case empricism vs idealism) on their heads. So you often find that Kantians do something unexpected and find a third way in an apparent dichotomy. In this case, my position is that right and wrong is dependent on subjective conscience, becaus reason is subjective?it is part of the mind’s experience of the world, and not necessarily the world in itself. However, because the faculty of pure reason is innate to us, it is subjective but not relative.

    Freedom
    “I hope we’re not going to get into a debate about determinism and choice. To head that off, I think it’s probably safe to say that you and I are probably not in wild disagreement on that. I would say, however, that we have free will insofar as we have choice”.

    I would say we are free insofar as there we are exercising our choice-making faculty?that being our reason. So I think we probably agree (though there are concerns later, which I’ll quote and deal with now).
    Finally, as a reducio ad absurdum argument, I like to offer the argument that if freedom of choice requires that I not do anything that might have any reasonable justification for to have a reasonable justification is to constrain the choice and thus to make it unfree and amoral. After all, if one uses pure reason to reach a conclusion then the conclusion is in some sense determined by the circumstances and not by free choice. Thus reason and morality are mutually exclusive. Only wild irrational behavior can escape the determinism of reason and thus be a moral choice.

    This conflates two different understandings of the word “free”. I deal with them both in my thread “Whence Freedom?” in the general section, if you’d like a look. Quickly, there is freedom to make choices, and there is liberty, which is freedom from laws?we intuit that we have both of them. However, because liberty involved enslaving oneself to physical cause-and-effect chains, with no control (because the only control we have is through reason), it is not a freedom on which we can base moral responsibility. It may yet be something we desire, though . . .

    Conscience
    “However, and perhaps I misunderstood your earlier Kantian reference, our moral intuition is not equivalent to our reasoning except in the loose sense that they both reside in the brain. Moral intuition is more like emotion, a product of evolution not a logical deduction. People go to great lengths to rationalize their moral intuitions but ultimately it’s like rationalizing emotions of hate and envy, an abuse of reason. We can use reason as an observer to understand and predict them but they are irrational subjects of observation. (I am assuming here that you would not consider hate to be reasoning which is a bit of a semantic question but also a question of real meaning)”.

    The position you hold here is called emotivism, which is the view that moral judgements are expressions of emotional reactions to events. It is a view with which I have a good deal of sympathy. However, I believe it confuses our intution of what is good and our intuition of what is right (we confuse these feelings ourselves sometimes)?indeed, it does not even recognise that we have an intuition of rightness. You would, I should think, argue that we say something is wrong because it conflicts with a particular kind of desire. However, I would say that that is just our feeling of badness, and that we do have a notion of wrongness separate from that. This is because we have this notion of moral responsibility, which requires a notion of freedom. And, if we have that notion of freedom, then it arises from the existence of our rational faculty. Thus rationality and conscience are equated.

  100. lodestone said,

    miswod wrote:
    ”If it became the new moral norm to break promises this might simply give a different meaning to the word ?promise?. In fact the existence of the word itself is purely as a conceptual label for a course of action required of a pre-existing moral code. That is; I suspect that the idea of a promise predates the existence of any written symbolic reference to it”.

    Naturally, if the concepts we have change, then the maxims we follow will change. The categorical imperative, by which we test maxims, however, does not.

    But by our current concept of promise, the categorical imperative rules that it is immoral to will to break promises.
    “As you are reluctant or unable to give a positive example of one of these maxims”

    I just did!—”Don’t break promises”. A maxim which is not self-contradictory is “Give to charity”. A maxim which is self-contradictory is “steal”. A maxim which is not self-contradictory is “tie your shoelaces”.

    These maxims are not the important thing. The important thing is the argument for pure reason as the source of morality, which culminates in the categorical imperative.
    “I am all for rational but let?s don?t exclude practical; I believe the break promises rule fails on the latter count anyway. If you propose we operate on rationale alone, what about this maxim ? all Christians should be banned from government posts; I can give you a rational argument for it”.

    Morality can have nothing to do with “practicality”—with the actual consequences of our actions—because they are not under our control, they are not free. Only the will is free, and thus responsibility-apt. That is why we also have teleology, which is the study of means to ends. We can do good things, and cause good consequences. They’re just not the stuff of ethics.

  101. miswod said,

    It lies in the arguments I’ve presented in this thread, which I suggest you go over.

    It’s not about wishing moral rules universal: the categorical imperative that we should obey only maxims which can be universalised without self-contradiction. “Break promises”, as an example, cannot be universalised because promises would not exist if it were.
    [/quote]

    Yes, I have already read some of your earlier efforts Lodestone and the example given is interesting, at first glance; on close examination though, it proves unreliable.

    If it became the new moral norm to break promises this might simply give a different meaning to the word ?promise?. In fact the existence of the word itself is purely as a conceptual label for a course of action required of a pre-existing moral code. That is; I suspect that the idea of a promise predates the existence of any written symbolic reference to it.

    As you are reluctant or unable to give a positive example of one of these maxims I will try and move the conversation forward. I am all for rational but let?s don?t exclude practical; I believe the break promises rule fails on the latter count anyway. If you propose we operate on rationale alone, what about this maxim ? all Christians should be banned from government posts; I can give you a rational argument for it.

  102. cortes said,

    Lodestone wrote:
    ”The position you hold here is called emotivism, which is the view that moral judgements are expressions of emotional reactions to events”.

    Perhaps I should classify myself as a “soft emotivist”. I do not equate morality with emotion but use emotion as a metaphor to distinguish it from logic (which is what most people mean by “pure reason”). Rather, moral reasoning is in some ways like emotion and in some ways like logic. (What, then, do you mean by “pure reason”? What cognitive function is not pure reason in this looser sense?)

    I should have realized that you were a Kantian by your various references, I’ll rethink my arguments in light of this as our disagrements are different than what I had originally assumed. My issue with Kantians in general is that they are too subjective (I tend toward the pragmatic school) not to mention the fact that I find the concept of the Kantian maxim of universality to be completely unconvincing. (My universal maxim is “Do what makes Hernan Cortes happiest which I believe everyone should follow, even me.)
    “However, because the faculty of pure reason is innate to us, it is subjective but not relative”.

    What does this mean?

  103. cortes said,

    Posted May 21, 2006 – 09:10 AM:
    darkcrow wrote:
    ”It appears to me you are using the term, “Objective” in a technical sense, Heidegger warned that we should be careful about doing so. If we were to replace the phrase, ” The two broad categories of transmission of moral codes with, ” The two broad categories of transmission of knowledge would you hold to that?”

    Well, if you can call subjective conscience shaped by evolution “knowledge” I suppose so. The problem with the term “knowledge” is that it implies objective truth.

    Let me illustrate my disagreement with you in another way: Consider these two sentences:

    1) “We hold these truths to be self evident…”

    2) “These truths are self evident…”

    In the first case, we have an expression of subjective belief (true belief, not the fake kind) which is consistent with my interpretation of “self evident”. In the second case we have a claim of objective fact which, I argue, is not objective fact. It is not the case, for example, that Nazis believe that it is self evident that Jews have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Thus we cannot say, as an objective fact, that it is self evident (as in every thinking person must know this).

    A theory of morality must account for the observed variations. One way to account for them (not the method I prefer) is to declare all who think differently to be evil. Another way is to acknowledge variation in moral codes (or moral “knowledge”). If moral “knowledge” is captured in genes and memes then variations can be accounted for by the variation in genes and memes.

  104. lodestone said,

    Cortes
    “I should have realized that you were a Kantian”

    Don’t say it like it’s a dirty word now . . .
    cortes wrote:
    ”I find the concept of the Kantian maxim of universality to be completely unconvincing. (My universal maxim is “Do what makes Hernan Cortes happiest” which I believe everyone should follow, even me.)”

    That’s the maxim of self-love, and it’s certainly a powerful one, and it does often motivate our actions. However, because it pursues a consequence, it would seem to me to have nothing to do with morality (for the reasons I’ve presented). And I would think that you []do[/i] have a moral sense separate from self-love, demonstrable whenever you condemn an action in no way connected to yourself—which I assume you do.
    “However, because the faculty of pure reason is innate to us, it is subjective but not relative”.

    If something is subjective then it resides in the mind rather than the world. If something is relative then it varies from individual to individual. The principles of pure reason are not necessarily part of the world in itself; they are a category of understanding through which we experience the world—so they are subjective. But because they are a faculty innate to humans, and to all humans, they do not vary from person to person, which is why morality then encompasses all rational beings.

  105. cortes said,

    lodestone, you said:
    cortes wrote:
    ”I find the concept of the Kantian maxim of universality to be completely unconvincing. (My universal maxim is “Do what makes Hernan Cortes happiest” which I believe everyone should follow, even me.)
    That’s the maxim of self-love, and it’s certainly a powerful one, and it does often motivate our actions”.

    You misread me. I meant that literally: Everyone ought to do that which makes Hernan Cortes happiest…you should so what makes Hernan Cortes happiest just as I and everyone else. Obviously my point is to mock Kant’s universalism.
    “However, because it pursues a consequence, it would seem to me to have nothing to do with morality (for the reasons I’ve presented). And I would think that you do have a moral sense separate from self-love, demonstrable whenever you condemn an action in no way connected to yourself?which I assume you do”.

    Sure, but I doubt that it is Kantian.
    “If something is subjective then it resides in the mind rather than the world. If something is relative then it varies from individual to individual. The principles of pure reason are not necessarily part of the world in itself; they are a category of understanding through which we experience the world?so they are subjective. But because they are a faculty innate to humans, and to all humans, they do not vary from person to person, which is why morality then encompasses all rational beings”.

    Then we still have an interesting disagreement since, while I recognize there is much that is consistent across individuals, there is also much that varies from one person to another, one culture to another, one society to another.

  106. darkcrow said,

    miswod wrote:

    Surely, for something to be a universal absolute truth there ought to be little room for doubt?

    Sorry Darkcrow, but I thought you might have a deeper body of evidence to support your previous statement – “A Natural Right is inscribed, or comes from a Natural Law of Nature (Evolution). A Right that ought to be, and is self-evident.”

    Is this your own thinking or perhaps something you read? Can you support it with a rational arguement?

    Those are your words, not mine. [universal absolute truth] Why the modifiers, truth seems adequate to me.

    I think the other posts I have made in this thread at least made up part of an argument. You too are invited, as was cortes, to give an example of a case where some object is not identical with itself, or where unnecessary destruction of value is right; or where unnecessary suffering is right- or perhaps where equals should be not treated equally.

  107. darkcrow said,

    cortes wrote:

    Well, if you can call subjective conscience shaped by evolution “knowledge” I suppose so. The problem with the term “knowledge” is that it implies objective truth.

    Let me illustrate my disagreement with you in another way: Consider these two sentences:

    1) “We hold these truths to be self evident…”

    2) “These truths are self evident…”

    In the first case, we have an expression of subjective belief (true belief, not the fake kind) which is consistent with my interpretation of “self evident”. In the second case we have a claim of objective fact which, I argue, is not objective fact. It is not the case, for example, that Nazis believe that it is self evident that Jews have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Thus we cannot say, as an objective fact, that it is self evident (as in every thinking person must know this).

    A theory of morality must account for the observed variations. One way to account for them (not the method I prefer) is to declare all who think differently to be evil. Another way is to acknowledge variation in moral codes (or moral “knowledge”). If moral “knowledge” is captured in genes and memes then variations can be accounted for by the variation in genes and memes.

    I have made no claims regarding, “? right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and think it a mistake to claim to count them as being self evident.

    Let me rewrite what you say with one of my examples. “?, that Nazis believe that it is self evident that “Equals should be treated equally.

    I believe there actions reflected they did believe equals ought to be treated equally.

    It appears to me that the claims I have made account for observed variations, that is, evolution does not move all individuals or societies in the same way, or at the same time. Therefore; variation in nature, including knowledge is not consistent scattered across individuals or societies.

    I have not claimed genes transmit knowledge, in fact I do not believe the premise can be supported.

  108. lodestone said,

    cortes wrote:
    Sure, but I doubt that it is Kantian.

    Out of interest, then, what do you believe our moral sense is? And how does it weather natural determinism?
    Then we still have an interesting disagreement since, while I recognize there is much that is consistent across individuals, there is also much that varies from one person to another, one culture to another, one society to another.

    I would say that conceptions of the good vary hugely between individuals, but not conceptions of the right.

  109. miswod said,

    Lodestone wrote:
    Miswod

    I just did!?”Don’t break promises”. A maxim which is not self-contradictory is “Give to charity”. A maxim which is self-contradictory is “steal”. A maxim which is not self-contradictory is “tie your shoelaces”.

    These maxims are not the important thing. The important thing is the argument for pure reason as the source of morality, which culminates in the categorical imperative.

    Morality can have nothing to do with “practicality”?with the actual consequences of our actions?because they are not under our control, they are not free. Only the will is free, and thus responsibility-apt. That is why we also have teleology, which is the study of means to ends. We can do good things, and cause good consequences. They’re just not the stuff of ethics.

    The categorical imperative refers to maxims that ?you? would will; most might will that all men be treated equal, but many would not; some might will that we have only one wife/husband, many would not. It doesn?t sound like a recipe for a universal moral order.

    I am trying to understand if you genuinely believe that moral ideas are absolute as apposed to relative. Your line of reasoning suggests that you accept the latter as true based on the principle of the categorical imperative. This idea, along with teleology, seems to have assumed that man is special; and having accepted this premise means, like religious thinkers, followers are stuck with the idea that morality exists somehow, somewhere and can be quantified in some universal form, so that man can follow accordingly. However, I suspect, like the religious, not many who accept these principles would actually be in agreement on specific moral questions.

    That is why I insist on testing such a hypothesis in specific terms, because it is only by examining cases that such principles can be unravelled.

    Let us assume that the maxim ?don?t steal? is inarguable; are there any qualifications to this, is it always immoral to steal? Doesn?t stealing involve action, or is it just thinking about it that would be immoral?

  110. miswod said,

    darkcrow wrote:

    Those are your words, not mine. [universal absolute truth] Why the modifiers, truth seems adequate to me.

    I think the other posts I have made in this thread at least made up part of an argument. You too are invited, as was cortes, to give an example of a case where some object is not identical with itself, or where unnecessary destruction of value is right; or where unnecessary suffering is right- or perhaps where equals should be not treated equally.

    The modifiers are because truth is simply a relative concept understood by humans, but being relative, its value is not universal. Being a keen gardener I think the weather today is very good, but as it is raining my partner thinks it bad; what is the truth?

    I understood you where referring to a more rigid concept of a universal undeniable truth that all could recognise and understand in the same way; this would be implicit in the idea of ?Natural Rights?. You have answered my question on this theory of yours with another question. Can you not give me an example of such self evident ?Natural Right??

  111. cortes said,

    Lodestone wrote:
    Out of interest, then, what do you believe our moral sense is? And how does it weather natural determinism?

    Those are two very seperate questions. I think you get two very different perspectives depending on whether you are observing or introspecting not only because of the vantage point but because of the choices you have available. We seek deterministic answers when we observe others but we seek choices when we examine ourselves. Pragmatically, we should not be surprised to see two different theories about the same phenomenon that vary according to perspective.

    Regarding natural determinism generally vs. the free will, the best book I’ve ever seen on the subject was Freedom Evolves by Daniel C. Dennett which I would guess is some sort of compatibalist theory. In general, I don’t see the need to go out of my way to avoid determinism, that just doesn’t make sense to me. But to a certain extent it seems like an exercise in squaring a circle, I’m not convinced it’s even necessary.

    Regarding “our” moral sense, I need to read those three books I refered you to. But based on what I’ve read already and my own experience I would describe moral sense as a cognitive process with similarities to both emotion and logic but different from each. Clearly it is a mental faculty that is possessed by some higher primates but oversized in humans, one that evolved to solve the social problems mankind faced. And to some extent there are primitive axioms that we perceive as “good” and “right”. However, because our logical faculties are also involved in moral reasoning it seems as if I hesitate to rely entirely on introspection to answer the question. See also the thread The Pursuit of Desire and Happiness.

    For example, Marxism is a highly developed moral system that relies largely upon logic but which, at its root, is built upon certain primitive moral claims such as a belief in equality of condition as a social good (a vestiage of our hunter-gatherer ancestors). Capitalism, on the other hand, is similarly logically developed but also relies on primitive morals like the exchange ethic that developed when humans settled down and began agriculture.
    I would say that conceptions of the good vary hugely between individuals, but not conceptions of the right.

    I’m not convinced it makes sense to distinguish the two and I’m curious how you define them. For an example of a nongeneral conception of good and right, see Manera de el Conquistador which reflects the values and ethics of a very specific type of person. I would offer that as a counter example to your claim that conceptions of right do not vary from one person to another. (See also the discussion with darkcrow about Nazi self-evident truths.)

  112. darkcrow said,

    miswod wrote:

    I understood you where referring to a more rigid concept of a universal undeniable truth that all could recognise and understand in the same way; this would be implicit in the idea of ?Natural Rights?. You have answered my question on this theory of yours with another question. Can you not give me an example of such self evident ?Natural Right??

    Where does that definition come from- perhaps oppressors? For it certainly did not arrive from the oppressed. It appears to me that natural rights are derived from universal law, which is distinct from conventional law. The definition you espouse does not take into consideration robbers, tyrants or self-loving legislators.

  113. lodestone said,

    miswod wrote:
    The categorical imperative refers to maxims that ?you? would will; most might will that all men be treated equal, but many would not; some might will that we have only one wife/husband, many would not. It doesn?t sound like a recipe for a universal moral order.

    You misunderstand what is meant by willing a maxim universal. It’s not about wanting it to be universal: it’s about whether it can be universalised without self-contradiction.
    I am trying to understand if you genuinely believe that moral ideas are absolute as apposed to relative. Your line of reasoning suggests that you accept the latter as true based on the principle of the categorical imperative. This idea, along with teleology, seems to have assumed that man is special; and having accepted this premise means, like religious thinkers, followers are stuck with the idea that morality exists somehow, somewhere and can be quantified in some universal form, so that man can follow accordingly.

    Moral ideas can be absolute without being objective, if they are universally innate.
    Let us assume that the maxim ?don?t steal? is inarguable; are there any qualifications to this, is it always immoral to steal? Doesn?t stealing involve action, or is it just thinking about it that would be immoral?

    It is not the action of stealing which is immoral, but following the maxim “steal”. If what you are willing is to steal, then you are behaving immorally. If, though, the maxim you are following is something entirely other, with the stealing entirely incidental, then you’re not necessarily behaving immorally.

    Imagine a genocidal maniac with his finger on a nation-destroying red button. I know beyond all doubt that he is about to press it if I do not shoot him. If shooting him did not entail preventing genocide, I would not do it, but if preventing genocide did not entail shooting him, I would still prevent genocide. Therefore the maxim I am following him is not “shoot” but “prevent genocide”.

  114. lodestone said,

    Cortes,

    It is interesting that we both believe in an innate moral sense, but that we’ve been riven by a very traditional divide in approach: empiricist versus rationalist. Your method is perhaps the less liable to error, but, I think, also the less able to produce truths 😀
    cortes wrote:
    I’m not convinced it makes sense to distinguish [the good and the right] and I’m curious how you define them.

    That which is good is that which fulfils desires, while that which is right is that which is deontologically ethical—as described by the theory I’ve outlined.

  115. cortes said,

    Lodestone wrote:
    It is interesting that we both believe in an innate moral sense, but that we’ve been riven by a very traditional divide in approach: empiricist versus rationalist. Your method is perhaps the less liable to error, but, I think, also the less able to produce truths

    Ah, yes, empiricism. I am a fan of that. I’ll have to add that to my list of -isms. I have yet to find a single -ism that satisfies me but have found something to like in several. This one should have been on my list, now it is. Rationalism is not on my list.
    That which is good is that which fulfils desires, while that which is right is that which is deontologically ethical?as described by the theory I’ve outlined.

    Interesting. I have argued elsewhere (e.g. in the desire thread I mentioned previously) that idealism is one of our desires (stronger in some than others) and, as such, is expressed as feeling good to the extent that one influences the world toward an ideal (e.g. marxism or capitalism). Similarly, there is the desire for honor, doing what is right, which is probably closer to your deontological ethics given it’s abhorance to ends. In other words, it’s not clear to me that your definition of right needs to be treated as a special, seperate case.

  116. lodestone said,

    cortes wrote:
    Rationalism is not on my list.

    Why is that?
    Similarly, there is the desire for honor, doing what is right, which is probably closer to your deontological ethics given it’s abhorance to ends. In other words, it’s not clear to me that your definition of right needs to be treated as a special, seperate case.

    It’s a tricky issue, and one that requires some decent psychology—whether rightness is something which motivates action separate from goodness. I tend to think so. We could talk about the whys and wherefores, if you like. You start 😀

  117. cortes said,

    Lodestone wrote:
    cortes wrote:

    Rationalism is not on my list.

    Why is that?

    Rationalists strike me as people who prop up their feet on their desk, lean back in their chair, and try to deduce the nature of the world. I am, however, not an empiricst: I do not believe that we know only that which we receive through our senses. But between these two extremes, I am more inclined toward empiricism than rationalism because:

    1) I suspect the innate “knowledge” that is produced by evolution even as I indulge in it. I treat my innate belief that sex is good as a fact even though I know perfectly well the genetic purpose it serves.

    2) I find that I learn so much more when I explore the world than when I simply introspect and reflect. The latter is good for analyzing, digesting, and organizing but not for discovering.

    In other words, I work with innate “knowledge” (intuition) but treat it with suspicion.

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/rationalism-emp

    It’s a tricky issue, and one that requires some decent psychology?whether rightness is something which motivates action separate from goodness. I tend to think so. We could talk about the whys and wherefores, if you like. You start 😀

    I guess I’ll just reiterate explicitly what I implied in my previous post: That which we observe (both of others and introspectively) as ethical and moral (right to use your term) can be accounted for by the desire for idealism and honor (which would be goods in your terms). I am thus unclear why we should want to invent something more. My position on this is reinforced by the observation that there is variance among people about what is right and wrong.
    Moral ideas can be absolute without being objective, if they are universally innate.

    What did you mean here by “universally innate”? Did you mean without exception or some percentage baseline?

  118. lodestone said,

    cortes wrote:

    Rationalists strike me as people who prop up their feet on their desk, lean back in their chair, and try to deduce the nature of the world.

    Sir, I am stung.
    2) I find that I learn so much more when I explore the world than when I simply introspect and reflect. The latter is good for analyzing, digesting, and organizing but not for discovering.

    The thing is, those things it’s good at lie, for me, at the crux of everything. Anything with meta- plonked in front of it seems to me to require a purely rationalist perspective. In the current conversation, for example, we’re talking about meta-ethics—Kant starts with a meta-ethical discussion about where morals come from—and I think that simple observation hasn’t got a hope here. Like I said, it’s less liable to make mistakes, but less truth-apt—it’s much harder to muddle through the various obfustications and limitations of language you must encounter when doing complex empricial psychology than it is to rationally dive straight to the heart of concepts.
    I guess I’ll just reiterate explicitly what I implied in my previous post: That which we observe (both of others and introspectively) as ethical and moral (right to use your term) can be accounted for by the desire for idealism and honor (which would be goods in your terms). I am thus unclear why we should want to invent something more. My position on this is reinforced by the observation that there is variance among people about what is right and wrong.

    My first question, then, is where you think a notion of moral responsibility comes from, and how it persists in the face of natural determinism.
    What did you mean here by “universally innate”? Did you mean without exception or some percentage baseline?

    Pretty much without exception, though the innateness of the principles of reason is more complicated than Kant thought.

  119. miswod said,

    darkcrow wrote:

    Where does that definition come from- perhaps oppressors? For it certainly did not arrive from the oppressed. It appears to me that natural rights are derived from universal law, which is distinct from conventional law. The definition you espouse does not take into consideration robbers, tyrants or self-loving legislators.

    Sorry Dackcrow, but I assume this response was not meant for me?

  120. cortes said,

    Lodestone wrote:
    My first question, then, is where you think a notion of moral responsibility comes from, and how it persists in the face of natural determinism.

    Before we dive into that I think we have to (against my previous preference) consider natural determinism. My impression is that you’ve built your definition of (meta)ethics around the avoidance of it. My impression is that you fear natural determinism. I don’t.

    First of all, consider that one cannot prove natural determinism. There is no scientific experiment or logical proof that will tell you that “yes, the world is deterministic” or “no, it’s bloody nondeterministic.” Natural determinism, in other words, is a religion.

    The argument for natural determinism is that it is useful. But if it were really true in the sense that people often use it, it would not, in fact, be useful. If, for example, you have no choice whether or not you believe in the theory of evolution (it being determined for you by, among other things, evolution) then of what use is natural determinism as a model of the world?

    For natural determinism to be a useful concept it must apply to everything except you. Everything else is naturally determined which allows you to make choices and influence the world without having to pray to the gods for good fortune. Armed with this concept of natural determinism you can explore the world and recreate it as you see fit.

    More interestingly, when we think about other people we play similar games with natural determinism. If people were determined (the hard way) then we would not hold them responsible for their actions (“he had a bad childhood, your honor”). On the other hand, we do rely on determinism for morality to work else we would not bother incarcerating or even threatening punishment. In the common parlance, we think of influencing other people and holding them accountable for their choices. We scold people in order to influence them.

    So right off the bat, I see no need to define meta(ethics) to avoid natural determinism as, for mere pragmatic reasons, we’ve already set it aside.

    One of Dennett’s main observations is that people (rationalists in particular) have a tendency to think of themselves as an infentesimal spec somewhere inside the human brain (the theatre of the mind). This seems to be your view as you chart an ethical path independent of natural determinism.

    I have to wonder if you’ve simply defined your (meta)ethics to defy natural determinism. The analogy that comes to mind (though it is entirely unfair) is of a child defying its parents.

    cortes wrote:
    What did you mean here by “universally innate”? Did you mean without exception or some percentage baseline?

    Pretty much without exception, though the innateness of the principles of reason is more complicated than Kant thought.

    I would be concerned with allowing ethics and morality to be held hostage by those we term “evil”. Your approach tends toward a least common demoninator whereas the most intereting ethical and moral systems are those with a high standard.
    The thing is, those things [introspection and reflection are] good at lie, for me, at the crux of everything. Anything with meta- plonked in front of it seems to me to require a purely rationalist perspective. In the current conversation, for example, we’re talking about meta-ethics?Kant starts with a meta-ethical discussion about where morals come from?and I think that simple observation hasn’t got a hope here. Like I said, it’s less liable to make mistakes, but less truth-apt?it’s much harder to muddle through the various obfustications and limitations of language you must encounter when doing complex empricial psychology than it is to rationally dive straight to the heart of concepts.

    I tend to think about three levels of existence: thinking, observing, and acting. Mathematics is dominated by thinking. Science adds observing. But engineering and business, for example, center on acting (but still require thinking and observing). Truth, for an actor, is the ability to achieve and create and requires success at all three levels.

    cortes wrote:
    Rationalists strike me as people who prop up their feet on their desk, lean back in their chair, and try to deduce the nature of the world.

    Sir, I am stung.

    What? Did I catch you with your feet up on your desk?

  121. miswod said,

    Lodestone wrote:

    You misunderstand what is meant by willing a maxim universal. It’s not about wanting it to be universal: it’s about whether it can be universalised without self-contradiction.

    Moral ideas can be absolute without being objective, if they are universally innate.

    It is not the action of stealing which is immoral, but following the maxim “steal”. If what you are willing is to steal, then you are behaving immorally. If, though, the maxim you are following is something entirely other, with the stealing entirely incidental, then you’re not necessarily behaving immorally.

    Imagine a genocidal maniac with his finger on a nation-destroying red button. I know beyond all doubt that he is about to press it if I do not shoot him. If shooting him did not entail preventing genocide, I would not do it, but if preventing genocide did not entail shooting him, I would still prevent genocide. Therefore the maxim I am following him is not “shoot” but “prevent genocide”.

    It is interesting indeed that such a simple premise, as the CI, can lead to such misunderstandings. However, I am not sure that you are not re-inventing it to suit your own ends. If it means ?can? why not say ?can?; to will something is to choose, want or desire it, a totally different meaning to the one you have adopted. I suppose, as in all art forms, someone will always tell you what the artist is ?trying? to say.

    Whatever Kant meant he has run aground on the same rocks we all face, language; it is language that prevents the expression of any absolute, objective or universal one size fits all simple answer to such matters. It?s just as difficult to convey an idea in words as it ever was through pictures.

    Humans can communicate very well by dealing in concepts, but these are naturally relative ideas subjectively flavoured. I accept the universe as vague, ruled by probability. However, to live our lives together in organised societies (improving our survival chances) we need to adopt a pragmatic set of rules and in general that is what we do. We recognise that to accept the principle of stealing such societies could not operate, so it becomes obvious that stealing wont work ? hence we have a concept of it being wrong.

    A moral standard such as ?do not steal? is only a principle; there are numerous scenarios where rational people may steal without going against the spirit of this principle. This outcome is the same as you outline by following the CI; our difference is that I do not believe all would, by following ?pure reason?, end up with the same answer; either because ?pure reason? is beyond human endeavour and/or subjective selections would prevail. Take for example the expression ?not necessarily behaving immorally? you have used to qualify the possible acceptability of stealing ? who is to decide?

    Your scenario is interesting and any practical person would see the sense in your action. But what would be your proposal should the story be that you can see a known murderer about to shoot a known rapist. What maxim would apply and how do you avoid a subjective decision as to what that maxim should be?

  122. dclemens said,

    It looks like this thread is no longer about whether atheist can be moral and had now become a debate whether any morality exists. Since it seems that nobody is left to try to defend the position that theist can be moral while atheist can’t be, maybe it would be a good idea to start a new thread.

    BTW. I willing to debate the subject of whether morality is subjective or objective if anyone is willing to defend the position that morality is subjective.

  123. darkcrow said,

    I agree; also, there appears to be a few epistemological assumptions being made that should be looked at.

  124. litkey said,

    I’m not of the religious stripe, but allow me to defend religion or the position so that there can uncover whether true atheists can act/be moral. Ok, let me get into character.

    All atheists are immoral. They must be- what would they base morality on…rules? Social rules? surely that cannot work. The predominant social rules that we live with today are a direct result of theological thinking of the past (argument to the past) e.g., man is made in the image of God, and thou shalt not kill, and thou shalt not steal etc., these thoughts, handed down to us from Moses and his burning bush have caused us (today) to set up social rules . Why do you think we act kindly today? it is because Jesus came to us. Before Jesus the social rules were terrible- christians were fed to Lions- how would an Atheist like to be fed to a Lion? He wouldn’t, he would say it was “immoral” thus morality has derived it’s source from some place- Jesus.(indeed, this is why the church ought to be tied to the law/government).

    Theism is the only route to morality. If there were disparate social rules, or social rules that people did not like (like feeding people to Lions for entertainment) people would question morality- they would feel angry, sad, and depressed (who likes such a social rule as being fed to Lions?) but with theism we have a basis for rules, a basis for why something is good and for why something is bad- God. If i can get away with killing or stealing (God won’t punish me) what is to stop me from killing? Social rules!? No. There is a natural instinct innate to man which God implanted in man’s immortal soul which makes him dread killing. Indeed, it was Moses who said “thou shalt not kill” and who would not believe moses?

    ok, that seems to be a fair and just representation of the religious argument for morality.

    =)

  125. lodestone said,

    Miswod,
    I am not sure that you are not re-inventing it to suit your own ends. If it means ?can? why not say ?can?

    I did!—and so did Kant:

    Me (in my most recent relevant response): “Act always in accordance with that maxim which at the same time you could will universal law.”
    Kant: “Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it would become a universal law.”
    miswod wrote:
    It is interesting indeed that such a simple premise, as the CI, can lead to such misunderstandings.

    This is because we are not perfect rational beings, though we are capable of pure rationality. We are apt to make mistakes. That we make mistakes, however, does not make rationality relative, as you seem to imply when you say “do not believe all would, by following ?pure reason?, end up with the same answer”. As for “who is to decide?”—there can be no ultimate arbitrator in the matter. As with all knowledge, we must relinquish certainty as a prerequisite, as there is always room for some doubt—in this case we can imagine that at some point we made a mistake.
    Whatever Kant meant he has run aground on the same rocks we all face, language; it is language that prevents the expression of any absolute, objective or universal one size fits all simple answer to such matters. It?s just as difficult to convey an idea in words as it ever was through pictures.

    Humans can communicate very well by dealing in concepts, but these are naturally relative ideas subjectively flavoured. I accept the universe as vague, ruled by probability. However, to live our lives together in organised societies (improving our survival chances) we need to adopt a pragmatic set of rules and in general that is what we do. We recognise that to accept the principle of stealing such societies could not operate, so it becomes obvious that stealing wont work ? hence we have a concept of it being wrong.

    You seem to contradict yourself here. You first claim that all language is relative, and thus that we can never reach agreements about how to use it, and then move on to claim that we manage to reach an agreement in following a pragmatic set of rules. Which is it to be?
    Your scenario is interesting and any practical person would see the sense in your action. But what would be your proposal should the story be that you can see a known murderer about to shoot a known rapist. What maxim would apply and how do you avoid a subjective decision as to what that maxim should be?

    One can choose whatever maxim one likes to act by. Some of these maxims may be immoral. “Murder” is such a maxim. “Prevent murder” is not, and nor is “prevent rape”.

  126. lodestone said,

    How do people feel about how this thread should go? There are many different threads within the thread, all of which have now led off the original topic, which I think will require the return of philosophy in order to return to get back to it. It would take a patient moderator to separate the threads; should we just let it ramble? I think, though, cortes, that we should continue the natural determinism discussion at least in another thread, which I shall begin when I reply.

  127. miswod said,

    Lodestone wrote:
    Miswod,
    I did!?and so did Kant:

    Me (in my most recent relevant response): “Act always in accordance with that maxim which at the same time you could will universal law.”
    Kant: “Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it would become a universal law.”

    This is because we are not perfect rational beings, though we are capable of pure rationality. We are apt to make mistakes. That we make mistakes, however, does not make rationality relative, as you seem to imply when you say “do not believe all would, by following ?pure reason?, end up with the same answer”. As for “who is to decide?”?there can be no ultimate arbitrator in the matter. As with all knowledge, we must relinquish certainty as a prerequisite, as there is always room for some doubt?in this case we can imagine that at some point we made a mistake.

    You seem to contradict yourself here. You first claim that all language is relative, and thus that we can never reach agreements about how to use it, and then move on to claim that we manage to reach an agreement in following a pragmatic set of rules. Which is it to be?

    One can choose whatever maxim one likes to act by. Some of these maxims may be immoral. “Murder” is such a maxim. “Prevent murder” is not, and nor is “prevent rape”.

    Your previous response suggested that the word ?will? in the CI actually meant ?can?; so clearly this response is irrelevant. (?You misunderstand what is meant by willing a maxim universal. It’s not about wanting it to be universal: it’s about whether it can be universalised without self-contradiction.?)

    Rationality is not relative but our necessary use of language makes ?pure rationality? unlikely. We have to accept a certain amount of vagueness in the meaning of each and every word we use. We may rationally agree that it is raining but will have different thoughts on how much it is raining, how long it will last, what its effects will be; (you may think its pouring when I say think it?s drizzling). Pragmatism requires that we accept this vagueness else there is no point communicating.

    We can agree not to steal as a general principle (rational pragmatism) but should appreciate that this code may need to be ignored in a variety of circumstances (relative pragmatism). This is no different to you saying, arbitrarily, that one CI maxim should override another in certain circumstances (relative pragmatism). The difference is that the CI is being promoted as rule which if followed would lead everyone to the same conclusion (pure rationale); not so.

    So whilst I am happy with the sprit of the CI, I am suitably suspicious of it?s true worth as an absolute operating principle. This is because we will all naturally use our own version of its meaning relative to our own understanding of each and every word used to define it (see this thread).

    It?s yet another attempt to supply a simple one size fits all answer to a complex question.

  128. litkey said,

    If we have an Atheist, and he is a Fair and Moral person, then Atheism indeed does not entail Amorality.
    How a person acts determines whether a person is moral or immoral.
    And in the very same person – religious or irreligious- morality and immorality exists.

  129. lodestone said,

    miswod wrote:

    Your previous response suggested that the word ?will? in the CI actually meant ?can?; so clearly this response is irrelevant. (?You misunderstand what is meant by willing a maxim universal. It’s not about wanting it to be universal: it’s about whether it can be universalised without self-contradiction.?)

    Be charitable, sir! It should have been clear from my formulation of the categorical imperative that there was a “can” implicit in that sentence: yes, it should have read: “You misunderstand what is meant by being able to will a maxim universal. It’s not about wanting it to be universal: it’s about whether it can be universalised without self-contradiction.”
    Rationality is not relative but our necessary use of language makes ?pure rationality? unlikely. We have to accept a certain amount of vagueness in the meaning of each and every word we use. We may rationally agree that it is raining but will have different thoughts on how much it is raining, how long it will last, what its effects will be; (you may think its pouring when I say think it?s drizzling). Pragmatism requires that we accept this vagueness else there is no point communicating.

    We can agree not to steal as a general principle (rational pragmatism) but should appreciate that this code may need to be ignored in a variety of circumstances (relative pragmatism).

    Your argument sumply does not follow: that languages are to some degree relative does not lead to ethics being relative. cortes’s thread on language as a metaphor for morality provides an excellent guide here: there is a certain vagueness in language, but the reason language works is that it is shared, and there is certainly room for common ground, and specifically room for formulating moral law from reason. In other words, we share sufficient common linguistic ground for you to understand every step in my argument that stealing is wrong from first principles. Where does moral relativism fit in here?

    The beauty of the categorical imperative, though, is that it is meta-ethical, and so works for all languages, regardless of linguistic relativity. As I’ve mentioned in this thread before, as the meanings of words change, so to does what maxims are self-contradictory and what are not.
    This is no different to you saying, arbitrarily, that one CI maxim should override another in certain circumstances (relative pragmatism).

    When did I say anything like that? Maxims don’t override: it is merely the case that when we are acting in accordance with a maxim there is one maxim which is motivating our experience, and it is a matter of counterfactual analysis to determine which maxim that is.
    The difference is that the CI is being promoted as rule which if followed would lead everyone to the same conclusion (pure rationale); not so.

    The only way it would not lead people to the same conclusions is if they had wildly different languages—but they do not and can not, because language only works—exists!—as it is common.

  130. rabeldin said,

    soniarott wrote:

    You mean to tell me you do not believe that an Atheist can- out of personal desire and self-interest, come to accept the same morality as Christians profess.

    Then he would be a Christian, no? He can accept a strange version of that morality (the kind modified to not entail belief in God, judgment, afterlife, &c), but this system will be inconsistent, and, more notably, not sufficiently compelling to actually regulate action.

    Belief and action can be separated. The atheist does this. He can act morally without the belief in Christian dogmas.

    So do Christians, but they more often act immorally in spite of their beliefs.

    Many Christian traditions insist on “acceptance of Jesus as Lord and Savior”, a pure belief and discount the immoral behavior of nominal Christians.

  131. miswod said,

    Lodestone wrote:

    Be charitable, sir! It should have been clear from my formulation of the categorical imperative that there was a “can” implicit in that sentence: yes, it should have read: “You misunderstand what is meant by being able to will a maxim universal. It’s not about wanting it to be universal: it’s about whether it can be universalised without self-contradiction.”

    Be clear sir! I can?t see an obvious difference, plus I am bemused that not only is there a CI as defined by Kant; but you now have your own version. The will I refer to is in the original Kantian version ? ?Act as if the maxim of thy action were to become by thy will a universal law of nature?. You have converted this to a ?can?.
    Lodestone wrote:

    there is a certain vagueness in language, but the reason language works is that it is shared, and there is certainly room for common ground, and specifically room for formulating moral law from reason. In other words, we share sufficient common linguistic ground for you to understand every step in my argument that stealing is wrong from first principles. Where does moral relativism fit in here?

    I agree with everything you say here. The point is that our agreement that stealing is wrong does not mean we will agree on every circumstance where this is tested. When it is necessary to ?override? this principle in one of the numerous possible scenarios it is unlikely that you and I, let alone anyone else, will always agree that this principle should be discarded for another and in what order. Therefore the apparent agreed rationale will not suffice in all possible detail; vagueness. The same vagueness that we have agreed to be in language will undermine our rational consensus on the matter of stealing.

    Lodestone wrote:

    When did I say anything like that? Maxims don’t override: it is merely the case that when we are acting in accordance with a maxim there is one maxim which is motivating our experience, and it is a matter of counterfactual analysis to determine which maxim that is.

    You have given examples of were you would use one maxim in preference to another, thus one is given priority (overriding). When such action is necessary would we all come to the same conclusion? This prioritising is implied in your statement above.
    Lodestone wrote:

    The only way it would not lead people to the same conclusions is if they had wildly different languages?but they do not and can not, because language only works?exists!?as it is common.

    Language is common, universally? How so or more importantly how do you know?

  132. lodestone said,

    miswod wrote:
    Be clear sir! I can?t see an obvious difference, plus I am bemused that not only is there a CI as defined by Kant; but you now have your own version. The will I refer to is in the original Kantian version ? ?Act as if the maxim of thy action were to become by thy will a universal law of nature?. You have converted this to a ?can?.

    Harrumph. The problem may be that you have been looking at a different translation, for mine, as I said, gives: “Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it would become a universal law.” I can, though, assure you that my interpretation of the categorical imperative is academically standard.
    I agree with everything you say here. The point is that our agreement that stealing is wrong does not mean we will agree on every circumstance where this is tested. When it is necessary to ?override? this principle in one of the numerous possible scenarios it is unlikely that you and I, let alone anyone else, will always agree that this principle should be discarded for another and in what order. Therefore the apparent agreed rationale will not suffice in all possible detail; vagueness. The same vagueness that we have agreed to be in language will undermine our rational consensus on the matter of stealing.

    I should not have said that stealing is wrong. Rather, I should have said that being motivated by the maxim “steal” is wrong. This, so long as we share an understanding of the relevant language, will always be agreed upon. The vagueness only applies when our understandings of the concepts differ—and then an interesting synthesis occurs, which is a study in itself. But the important thing is that when the concepts are shared the same conclusions will be reached about the morality of acting on any given maxim.
    You have given examples of were you would use one maxim in preference to another, thus one is given priority (overriding). When such action is necessary would we all come to the same conclusion? This prioritising is implied in your statement above.

    No, what I’ve done is given examples of maxims which are ethical and maxims which are unethical. All who share the concepts and are following the CI will agree on what is ethical and wha is not. The person who wishes to be ethical will motivate their actions by ethical maxims. The relativity is merely that not everyone always wishes to be ethical̬when we are thinking of conseqences we may well decide to follow a different maxim. But so long as people share concepts and wish to be ethical they will motviate their actions by the same maxims.
    Language is common, universally? How so or more importantly how do you know?

    Not universally—but we know that language has some commonality because we can communicate.

  133. miswod said,

    Lodestone wrote:

    Harrumph. The problem may be that you have been looking at a different translation, for mine, as I said, gives: “Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it would become a universal law.” I can, though, assure you that my interpretation of the categorical imperative is academically standard.

    I see I test your patience Lodestone. Bear with me. I am happy to accept your account and indeed interpretation of the academically accepted version of the CI, although, I have found at least four other versions on the Internet that claim to quote Kant, and his ?meaning?. Let us assume they all amount to the same thing.

    However, herein lies the problem; even within the English language we have various versions, which converts this exercise into an intellectual version of Chinese Whispers. I now have to be guided by ?academically accepted? interpretations of this premise; rather like the Pope telling me what God meant to say. Not for me, I?m afraid.

    I have enjoyed this exchange because it has required me to examine in finer detail my own thinking on ethical questions. I am certain that maxims consistent with the CI can be formulated that are not consistent with its objectives. I suspect Kant believed mankind special and this is an attempt to replace obviously flawed absolute religious morality with an absolute rational version; but it will not lead everyone to the same moral conclusion in all cases because of the vagueness of language itself.

    Lodestone wrote:

    I should not have said that stealing is wrong. Rather, I should have said that being motivated by the maxim “steal” is wrong. This, so long as we share an understanding of the relevant language, will always be agreed upon. The vagueness only applies when our understandings of the concepts differ?and then an interesting synthesis occurs, which is a study in itself. But the important thing is that when the concepts are shared the same conclusions will be reached about the morality of acting on any given maxim.

    So ?do not steal? ? is or is not a suitable maxim? I believe you would say yes. If I take (steal) a murderer?s gun I am following the maxim ?save lives? ? I believe you would concur? So has the maxim ?do not steal? been replaced/ignored/overridden/destroyed by the maxim ?save lives?? What has happened to it; does it still exist. I think you would say it still exists but I am not using it in this case. I would say; but if it still exists you must have overridden it. You have decided that saving lives has priority over not stealing; because you are saving a life your motive is not stealing you may say; this I can accept, however, you are stealing but it’s just not your motive. This decision making process comes with some subjective baggage and may not be universally agreed upon in all circumstances.

    Why is saving lives more important than not stealing; is stealing worse than lying? Would it be OK to take a gun to stop someone shooting rabbits, or spiders, or plants, or themselves? How can we know that the maxim ?do not steal? can be ignored/overridden/abandoned/whatever for a particular situation? Is the maxim ?kill yourself when you feel like it? acceptable? If so would you follow the maxim ?save lives? or ?let people kill them selves if they wish? when deciding that it is OK to take (steal) a gun?

    Lodestone wrote:

    Not universally?but we know that language has some commonality because we can communicate.

    Yes, this is true, but have you noticed how difficult ‘pure’ communication is to achieve?

  134. soniarott said,

    In my view this thread has opened itself into a diverse range of topics which ought to be allowed to go their own way. I also feel as though my original proposition was too brash for fostering subtle debate. I undertook this method out of a desire to spark interest, and I though I was clear in detaching somewhat my personal view from the more tentative position I took up in this thread. But whatever the case, I think a more subdued discussion would be prosperous, and so I will allow this thread to perish. Instead, I believe that select topics should be taken up in new threads, or in private messages.

  135. visitor said,

    dontknowwho wrote:
    ?All atheists are immoral?

    EMPIRICAL ARGUMENT:

    Lets say that thesis “All atheists are immoral.” is true.

    1. What means “moral” vs “immoral”?
    Put it this way: if it means anything important, then “being moral” has some effects on human behavior. For example “moral” person would have less tendency to steal, than “immoral”.

    2. So thesis basically states that there is some difference in behavior, between theist and atheist, and specially in that behavior, that we usually
    consider morally relevant (such us stealing, murdering).

    3. So if given thesis is true, then if we would have big enough sample of atheist (or mostly atheist) comunity and sample of theist comunity, then there should be difference in behavior (f.e. more stealing in atheist comunity)
    given that all atheists are immoral.

    ____

    Now lets look at empirical evidence:

    We have country like Czech Republic (10 mil people):
    60% atheist, 33% theist, 7% n/a

    Another country like Slovak Republic (5 mil people)
    13%, atheist, 84% theist, 3% n/a

    (both based on official 2001 counting)

    Consider also, that these two countries are in many aspects very similar. They were 1914-1992 same state – Czechoslovakia, they have very close culture, close laguages (understand each other) etc. etc.

    So given massive, almost 50% difference, between amount of atheist in these two countries, considering similarity in other cultural aspects, and considering thesis “All atheists are immoral” true, and considering that being “moral” or “immoral” has effects on human behavior in morally relevant areas like stealing or murdering, we would imply that there would be massive difference
    in these morally relevant behaviors in these two countries.

    Murders per 100.000 people per year:
    Czech Republic 1,8
    Slovakia 2,5
    Poland 2,0
    Germany 1,2
    Hungary 2,5

    (also included other bordering countries, sharing similar cultural-historical background, specially very catholic Poland, for comparison)

    (Source: Criminality in 2001, Institute of Criminology and Social Prevention, Prague 2002, Czech Republic)

    Also in other areas of criminality, and similar moral relevant areas, there is no significant difference between Czech and Slovak Republic, or Poland etc.. There is also no difference between number or policemen etc. (so its not that similar criminality is caused by having substantially more policemen).

    So empirically, there is no evidence for difference in moral behavior between theists and atheist. Empirical evidence supports exactly opposite, that there is no substantial difference between moral behavior of theist and atheists.

    So finally i conclude that either being “moral” or “immoral” has no substantial effect on human behavior in moral area (what sounds like utter nonsense for me), or thesis “All atheists are immoral” is simply not true.

    Concerning original questions:
    philosophy wrote:
    Simply put: ?Can atheists act morally??Perhaps better said: ?Is atheism compatible with ethics??

    I think its clear now, that from epirical point of view atheist can, and do act morally; and atheism is compatible with ethics.

    (sorry for my bad english

  136. lodestone said,

    miswod wrote:
    but [the CI] will not lead everyone to the same moral conclusion in all cases because of the vagueness of language itself.

    Aside from the empirical argument that those who undersstand the terms do reach the same conclusions, there is another argument here. Your sentence above implies that all languages are in some way valid, which is a position which ignores truth-theory. If there is some standard by which individual langauges can be measured, then there are better and worse understandings of the world, and so some moral conclusions may be valid and some invalid𔃋hence disagreement.

    So ?do not steal? ? is or is not a suitable maxim?

    Prohibitives are not maxims which will our action. A maxim is the phrase which describes what it is I am currently trying to do.
    You have decided that saving lives has priority over not stealing;

    Remember that it is not actions whose ethicality deontology rates, but the maxims we act by. If I were to act by the maxim “steal” I would be unethical; if I were to act by the maxim “save lives” I would be ethical. So it is not that saving lives takes priority over stealing in deontology (though it may do so in teleology).

  137. miswod said,

    Lodestone wrote:

    Aside from the empirical argument that those who undersstand the terms do reach the same conclusions, there is another argument here. Your sentence above implies that all languages are in some way valid, which is a position which ignores truth-theory. If there is some standard by which individual langauges can be measured, then there are better and worse understandings of the world, and so some moral conclusions may be valid and some invalid𔃋hence disagreement.

    Prohibitives are not maxims which will our action. A maxim is the phrase which describes what it is I am currently trying to do.

    Remember that it is not actions whose ethicality deontology rates, but the maxims we act by. If I were to act by the maxim “steal” I would be unethical; if I were to act by the maxim “save lives” I would be ethical. So it is not that saving lives takes priority over stealing in deontology (though it may do so in teleology).

    So we would all agree on the ethical qualities of a maxim we, or others, may act by, if only we all ?understand? the terms involved; if only we could all understand the meaning of these terms instead of having to rely on just ?those? few who alone know their true meaning. To support your principle you now have to assert that one individual language may be more reliable in reaching ?valid? conclusions than others; although you acknowledge that there is no way to quantify this; bit vague isn?t it?
    ?Those?, not doubt, include the academics that have sifted through the various versions/translations of Kant?s original premise and declared its real meaning. I?m afraid that such elitist pontificating will be of little use to us ordinary folk, without whom by the way; any ?universal? moral code cannot usefully operate. If this is the genuine route to an ?absolute? ethical world it?s a pity the road is not a little straighter to make it easier for the herd to find their way.

    I have noticed when trying to pin down this theory with yourself and others on this forum the way sample maxims, when questioned, are quickly altered or discarded to support the next line of argument. Having earlier given me a prohibitive maxim (?I just did!?”Don’t break promises?) you now decry them. Others have given alternative views but presumably they are not of ?those?, so can be ignored.

    You will inevitably find that when your theory is tested in anything other than the most simple of moral dilemmas, that linguistic vagueness will undermine your best efforts for a uniform result. Language is, after all, simply a set of labels for the contents of boxes. When we say table we assume certain parameters; but no two people can imagine the same table; even when faced with a particular table we will see a different table (light source, eyesight, angle etc.); indeed no two tables can be the same even when they appear so (scale). Consider the problem then when dealing with the box marked ?fair; for there is nothing in it, just an idea. How could two people share the same exact copy of a concept when material things cause such vagueness?

    Language works to a point, obviously, but its use is limited by its inherent vagueness; it is precisely this quality that makes communication the most difficult of ?sciences?.

  138. soule said,

    soniarott wrote:
    One matter I have been debating is the question of morality in a non-theistic context. Simply put: “Can atheists act morally?”
    Perhaps better said: “Is atheism compatible with ethics?”

    I have tried to study various cases in my experience, and am as yet unsure. I certainly know atheists who act in a way that I would consider moral; indeed I would say I know atheist who are more moral than me (and a great many other people). So there is no self-righteousness in this query. But what I do wonder, however, is whether or not there is philosophical substance to ethics in an atheistic context. Are atheists inconsistent when they act on moral principals? I don’t know, but I mean to explore it.

    In order to find out, I will play a specific role in this thread (which can already be glimpsed by the provocative title). I will be arguing that it is impossible for the atheist to philosophically support and distinction between right and wrong, morally speaking, in a consistent way. Thus I am asking all those who disagree with this position to please challenge me in this task. State your case as best you can, and we shall see if it holds.

    For a working definition, atheism is the positive assertion that either (1) there is no God, or (2) the existence of God is unknowable and irrelevant to human affairs, and also atheism is the denial of the value of faith, especially as a means of attaining knowledge.

    As for a definition of morality or ethics, I leave that to my interlocutors to provide, since it is their burden to show that ethical behavior is compatible with atheism.

    i would love to get into this conversation but you know i just dont have time to read all the posts. so i’ll put in my two cents on the origional question, hoping that the string has stayed on topic

    as a catholic, sonia, you would probably argue that right and wrong/morality is defined by god, and thus is universal. thats fine. however if you look at it from a non relgious perspective, morals themselves are defined by society istnead of god, thus they are not universal. so not only is this question a question of wether or not a person has faith in god, but i would have to say that the question itself is wrong because there is no conclusive answer that one can come to without proof of the existance or non-existance of god as well as proof that he set universal right and wrong which i am almost positive that nobody has.

    so it comes down to a battle of personal perspective of what morality is and wether or not its definition is universal or dependant upon the experiances and perspectives of the individual.

    so let us simpifly the question

    “do you believe in the christian god?”

  139. lodestone said,

    miswod wrote:
    So we would all agree on the ethical qualities of a maxim we, or others, may act by, if only we all ?understand? the terms involved; if only we could all understand the meaning of these terms instead of having to rely on just ?those? few who alone know their true meaning.

    ?Those?, not doubt, include the academics that have sifted through the various versions/translations of Kant?s original premise and declared its real meaning. I?m afraid that such elitist pontificating will be of little use to us ordinary folk, without whom by the way; any ?universal? moral code cannot usefully operate.

    Now, let’s have non of that reverse-snobbery. I haven’t implied it, and nor did Kant. His theory was intended to be accessible (with patience) and to chime with common understanding. And by “those who understand the terms” I meant any given set of people who share understanding. Such as you or I. Using the CI, you and I will come to exactly the same conclusions about maxims like “steal” and “murder”.
    To support your principle you now have to assert that one individual language may be more reliable in reaching ?valid? conclusions than others; although you acknowledge that there is no way to quantify this; bit vague isn?t it?

    Certainly, quantification is impossible and the measurement is vague, but there are ways opf assessing these matters. As we are not perfect beings, we can expect such vaguenesses and vagaries in practice.
    I have noticed when trying to pin down this theory with yourself and others on this forum the way sample maxims, when questioned, are quickly altered or discarded to support the next line of argument. Having earlier given me a prohibitive maxim (?I just did!?”Don’t break promises?) you now decry them.

    You’re entirely right—I made an error, for which apologies.
    You will inevitably find that when your theory is tested in anything other than the most simple of moral dilemmas, that linguistic vagueness will undermine your best efforts for a uniform result.

    I’d like to take up your challenge here. Give me a list of possible maxims, and I’ll see if they self-contradict or not, and if we can agree about my reasoning.
    Language works to a point, obviously, but its use is limited by its inherent vagueness; it is precisely this quality that makes communication the most difficult of ?sciences?.

    The point it works up to is a very impressive one. And the march of the Age of Reason has all been about improving the precision and quality of the concepts which we use to organise the world—we are discovering more truths; our languages are getting more universal and better.

  140. miswod said,

    Lodestone wrote:

    Now, let’s have non of that reverse-snobbery. I haven’t implied it, and nor did Kant. His theory was intended to be accessible (with patience) and to chime with common understanding. And by “those who understand the terms” I meant any given set of people who share understanding. Such as you or I. Using the CI, you and I will come to exactly the same conclusions about maxims like “steal” and “murder”.

    I’d like to take up your challenge here. Give me a list of possible maxims, and I’ll see if they self-contradict or not, and if we can agree about my reasoning.

    The point it works up to is a very impressive one. And the march of the Age of Reason has all been about improving the precision and quality of the concepts which we use to organise the world?we are discovering more truths; our languages are getting more universal and better.

    Now I seem to be lacking patience; nevertheless, I shall press on. Perhaps it?s time to recap. Kant?s says ?Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it would become a universal law?, or something like that. Let us leave aside the question of exactly what he did say; did mean and accept the ?accepted? version as presented by you and others; albeit this smacks already of the vagueness to which I refer.

    Now I believe that this proposition is to be considered an absolute principle in deciding what we should will; what we should want to happen. I say that this is too simplistic; that it will not survive the vagaries of language and human interpretation; that whilst most would happily share an understanding on obvious questions of morality this idea will flounder on the rocks of specific and more complex ethical issues and this is therefore not a recipe for absolute moral guidance.

    I believe the onus is on you to provide maxims. Take for example; a very good friend asks you to assist with their suicide because they have an incurable disease that is causing great physical pain, although it will not kill them. There is no need to allow for religious considerations in this scenario and speaking sincerely as one who would welcome the evidential discovery of absolute morality I ask; what maxim would you operate by?

    I am not so impressed with the ?progress? of man; maybe a few men (and women); but the human race in general seems to lack the desire for rational thinking, a discipline I would encourage, whilst accepting its minor, but important, limitations.

  141. Moving Finger said,

    Atheism entails amorality?

    The corollary of this is ?theism is the source of all morality?.

    What an arrogant claim from the theistic perspective!

    But hardly surprising. In a world where theism is under threat, where people are increasingly turning to other forms of mysticism, alternative non-theistic religions, panpsychism, as well as atheism, it is not hard to understand that supporters of theism must be wondering whether there is a place for theistic beliefs in the modern world. Clutching at the mantric straw of ?theism is the source of all morality!? may be something akin to the desperate dying swan-song of theism.

    Anyone who believes that the proposition ?theism is the source of all morality? is true should be asked to defend that position. In absence of any credible defence, this mantra is pure dogma.

    Is God the Source of Morality?
    For any act X, is act X deemed to be a good act (a) because X is intrinsically good, (and therefore it rationally follows that God simply confirms that X is indeed a good act), or (b) because X has no intrinsic ?goodness?, and X simply acquires its ?goodness? purely and simply from the fact that God arbitrarily says it is good?

    In other words, what comes first, (a) the intrinsic goodness of the act X or (b) God?s arbitrary pronouncement of the goodness of the act X?

    In other words, do acts derive their goodness solely from God?s arbitrary divine pronouncement (His ?whim?), or do acts have intrinsic goodness independently of God?s pronouncement?

    If (b) then it follows that God is the ultimate but arbitrary source of all goodness and morality, and any act is made ?either moral or immoral? simply by virtue of God?s divine but arbitrary judgement. This means there is no intrinsic morality in any act, all acts are deemed either moral or immoral only by God?s arbitrary judgement. If murder is not intrinsically immoral, God could equally well proclaim that murder is moral (what rational reason could He have for not doing so?), and we would then be living in a world where murder is acceptable.

    The naﶥ thesis that ?theism is the source of all morals? assumes (b) is true.

    But I know which argument is the rational one!
    cortes wrote:
    The argument for natural determinism is that it is useful. But if it were really true in the sense that people often use it, it would not, in fact, be useful. If, for example, you have no choice whether or not you believe in the theory of evolution (it being determined for you by, among other things, evolution) then of what use is natural determinism as a model of the world?

    This seems to me to be a description of fatalism, not determinism.
    Fatalism is the thesis that we have no power to avoid our ?fate?.
    Determinism says quite clearly that what we do today determines what happens tomorrow.
    These are two very different things.

    To say that your beliefs are ?determined for you? is to regard ?you? as somehow a completely separate, passive and ineffectual pawn in the entire deterministic process. This would correspond to fatalism, and is not the case in reality. ?You? are part and parcel of the process, not something inert and passive which stands outside the process being pushed around by forces you have no part of.

    Each agent does in fact make a choice about whether or not it believes in the theory of evolution. Yes, on the one hand determinism tells us that this choice is determined, but determinism also tells us that the agent is part of the deterministic chain of cause and effect which determines this choice. The agent is by definition an active part of the process. It?s not easy to understand, I agree, but this makes determinism quite different to fatalism.

    It is easy to understand, however, why many people fall for the ?fatalistic illusion?. We each intuitively think that we are autonomous agents acting within a world. If we are told that the world is deterministic then our naﶥ intuition is to assume that we are still somehow autonomous agents being buffeted and pushed around by those deterministic forces, and that we remain, somehow (nobody knows how), as outside agents. This leads to the concept that somehow (nobody knows how), we are free will agents (but this also ultimately leads to incoherent ideas of dualism and mysticism).

    Try to put aside your naive intuitions that you are an autonomous agent, and look at the issue rationally instead. Understand that you are part and parcel of the deterministic world, that you are not ?pushed around? by forces totally outside your control (a la fatalism), but instead that you are an intrinsic part of those deterministic forces. This is determinism.
    cortes wrote:
    For natural determinism to be a useful concept it must apply to everything except you.

    In other words, the ?you? is supposed to be an autonomous agent with libertarian free will?
    This notion is perhaps intuitively attractive (many laypeople believe it), but the notion is rationally incoherent (as many naﶥ intuitions ultimately are).
    If ?I? am not part of the deterministic process, then how exactly do ?I? make my fundamental choices?
    Are my choices supposed to be random or stochastic, bearing no deterministic relation to any other parts of me (my antecedent states), or of the world?
    If my choices are not random or stochastic (ie they are not ?not determined? by my antecedent states), and they are also supposed to be ?not determined?, then how exactly are they made? Do you have any rational explanation which avoids both determinism and indeterminism (apart from ?then something magical happens?)?
    cortes wrote:

    If people were determined (the hard way) then we would not hold them responsible for their actions (“he had a bad childhood, your honor”).

    This (again an intuitive idea which many laypeople adhere to) is incorrect, and I shall explain why.
    What you are saying here is that you believe moral responsibility entails free will. This is a ?naﶥly intuitive? way of looking at responsibility, but when we examine the issues rationally we can see that this is misleading.
    Think carefully about the reasons why we might want to apportion ?blame? for actions.

    Let?s take an example. Let?s say that John has done something which in the eyes of the secular law is ?wrong? (ie has committed a crime), and for which that law says the normal legal response is a term of imprisonment. What do we think might be the rational ?purpose? or ?objective? of such a secular legal response?

    There are several possibilities :

    1) The imprisonment removes John from society, and since John has already committed a crime this treatment will prevent John from committing further similar crimes during his term of imprisonment, thereby protecting society. This is a purely deterministic explanation and purpose, and does not rest upon any assumption of free will.
    2) During the term of imprisonment, society may also choose to offer counseling and medical and or psychological treatment to John, to try and modify his attitudes or behaviour such that he is less likely to re-offend when released. This is a purely deterministic explanation and purpose, and does not rest upon any assumption of free will
    3) By removing his freedom, the imprisonment serves as a ?punishment? to John, in effect a warning to him to change his ways and to obey the law if he wishes to stay out of prison in future. This is a purely deterministic explanation and purpose, and does not rest upon any assumption of free will
    4) By removing John?s freedom and publicising this fact, the imprisonment also serves as a ?warning? to other would-be offenders that they should remain law-abiding citizens. This is a purely deterministic explanation and purpose, and does not rest upon any assumption of free will
    5) The treatment could be seen as simple retribution, society is somehow getting ?revenge? on John for his evil deeds. Such a purpose is supposed to be an ?end in itself? (it serves no other purpose), has no deterministic explanation, and is irrational. (It?s interesting however that this irrational explanation is at the heart of some quaintly naive theistic ideas of divine retribution and the day of judgment ? and herein I believe lies the naﶥ intuitive idea of human free will).

    Now, which of the above possible ?purposes? for secular law and punishment do you think is rational, and which ones irrational?

    Apart from the above, do you think there are any other possible rational purposes to apportioning ?blame? in the eyes of secular law?
    cortes wrote:
    On the other hand, we do rely on determinism for morality to work else we would not bother incarcerating or even threatening punishment. In the common parlance, we think of influencing other people and holding them accountable for their choices. We scold people in order to influence them.

    This statement is correct and rational. So why throw away this rational explanation and insist that we are in fact not deterministic agents? It seems that you want to adhere to determinism when it suits you (the threat of punishment DOES actually determine one?s future actions), but you also want to reject it when it does not (even though punishment determines one?s future actions, one is still somehow free to act autonomously). This is inconsistent, but you will not be able to see the inconsistency unless you look at the issues deeply and rationally.

    To be able to claim responsibility for one?s actions, one must be able to show that one has acted rationally. This means that one must believe that one?s actions are rationally and causally related to (determined by) one?s prior desires, beliefs, volitions, intentions (amongst others).

    What is the alternative? To claim that I am a completely autonomous agent acting with undetermined free will is to claim that my actions are not rationally and causally determined by any prior desires, beliefs, volitions, intentions. It is to claim that I have acted without any rational basis ? in other words it is like saying that my actions are no more determined than if I were to toss a coin or roll a die to decide what to do – this is the exact opposite of acting responsibly, it is acting irresponsibly.

    In such a case of ?random behaviour?, the law should treat the person not as if they are responsible for the act concerned, but treat them as being responsible for acting irresponsibly. This is exactly what we do in cases where people act in ways which cannot be justified in terms of rationally deterministic behaviour.

    Take a look at the following logical argument (from Norman Swartz, professor emeritus of philosophy at Simon Fraser University):

    Causal Determinism is a Necessary Condition for Moral Responsibility
    Premise 1: Unless there are extenuating circumstances, persons are (to be) held morally responsible for their actions.
    Premise 2: Being unable reasonably to have foreseen the consequences of their actions is one such extenuating circumstance. (Recall that young children who cannot reasonably foresee the consequences of their actions are not to be held morally responsible for the consequences.)
    Premise 3: In order to be able to anticipate or foresee the likely (or even the remotely likely) consequences of one’s actions, the world must not be random, i.e. the world must be fairly regular (or causally determined).

    Thus: Moral responsibility requires that there be causal determinism.
    cortes wrote:
    One of Dennett’s main observations is that people (rationalists in particular) have a tendency to think of themselves as an infentesimal spec somewhere inside the human brain (the theatre of the mind).

    Exactly. This is the naﶥ but irrationally false intuition underlying the notion of autonomy. ?If I make myself really, really small, I can eternalize everything? to paraphrase Dennett. But this is a false intuition. The only way to ?externalize everything? is to make oneself small to the point of extinction. Nothing is left. The truly rational account is to understand that whatever ?you? are, you are finite, you are always a fundamental part and parcel of the deterministic world, it is impossible to externalize everything.

    Lodestone wrote:
    Imagine a genocidal maniac with his finger on a nation-destroying red button. I know beyond all doubt that he is about to press it if I do not shoot him. If shooting him did not entail preventing genocide, I would not do it, but if preventing genocide did not entail shooting him, I would still prevent genocide. Therefore the maxim I am following him is not “shoot” but “prevent genocide”.

    This is correct. The law would view this as justifiable homicide. But I see no reason to think of it in terms of ?maxims I am following?. It is simply a case of rationally evaluating the reasonably foreseeable consequences of acting versus not acting, something that each responsible agent must be able to do if it is to be called responsible.
    miswod wrote:
    I do not believe all would, by following ?pure reason?, end up with the same answer;

    Agreed. Morals ultimately rest on the meanings of words and concepts, and meanings are determined simply by convention and not by any kind of absolute rationality. The idea of some kind of ?absolute moral principle? is a chimera. The morals of a society rest upon a certain set of conventions in that particular society; and may vary in detail from one society to another.
    miswod wrote:
    But what would be your proposal should the story be that you can see a known murderer about to shoot a known rapist. What maxim would apply and how do you avoid a subjective decision as to what that maxim should be?

    The ultimate maxim should be ?rationally evaluate the reasonably foreseeable consequences of acting versus not acting?. That evaluation must make assumptions about the relative merits of (a) acting to kill a known murderer and thereby saving the life of a known rapist versus (b) not acting and thus allowing a known rapist to be murdered.

    There is no ?absolutely correct? answer from a moral standpoint, it depends on one?s moral values (which in turn should be somehow linked to the moral values of the society of which one is a part). My personal moral values assuming (i) that there is no other way to stop the murder and (ii) that there is no legitimately moral reason why the murderer should be allowed to shoot the rapist in the first place would say that (a) is better than (b), because to allow the murderer to kill the rapist would be to allow a murder to occur, and the alternative of acting to prevent a murder (even if it results in the death of the would-be murderer) is better than not acting and instead standing by and allowing the murder to take place.
    dclements wrote:
    I willing to debate the subject of whether morality is subjective or objective if anyone is willing to defend the position that morality is subjective.

    Morals ultimately rest on the meanings of words and concepts, and meanings are determined simply by convention and not by any kind of ?absolute rationality?. The idea of some kind of ?absolute moral principle? is a chimera. The morals of a society rest upon a certain set of conventions and conceptual meanings within that particular society; and may vary in detail from one society to another. Moral judgements in real life also need to take account of the relative merits of conflicting moral principles, and these relative merits may not be universally agreed. If this is what you mean by ?morality is subjective? then yes I will defend that position.
    litkey wrote:
    Indeed, it was Moses who said “thou shalt not kill” and who would not believe moses?

    Under Islam, there are actually commandments to kill.

    Following from the Qur?an (http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/quran/) :

    5:33-? The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His messenger and strive to make mischief in the land is only this, that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides or they should be imprisoned; this shall be as a disgrace for them in this world, and in the hereafter they shall have a grievous chastisement,?

    8:12- ?I am with you, therefore make firm those who believe. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them.?

    9:123: ?O you who believe! fight those of the unbelievers who are near to you and let them find in you hardness; and know that Allah is with those who guard (against evil).?

    9:29- ” Fight those who do not believe in Allah, nor in the latter day, nor do they prohibit what Allah and His Messenger have prohibited, nor follow the religion of truth, out of those who have been given the Book, until they pay the tax in acknowledgment of superiority and they are in a state of subjection..?

    Is the above ?morally right??
    The theist would presumably argue that it MUST be, it?s derived from theistic beliefs!
    miswod wrote:
    Whatever Kant meant he has run aground on the same rocks we all face, language; it is language that prevents the expression of any absolute, objective or universal one size fits all simple answer to such matters. It?s just as difficult to convey an idea in words as it ever was through pictures.

    Exactly correct. Words gain meaning only by convention. There is no absolute in the meaning of the language we use.
    modestone wrote:
    You seem to contradict yourself here. You first claim that all language is relative, and thus that we can never reach agreements about how to use it, and then move on to claim that we manage to reach an agreement in following a pragmatic set of rules. Which is it to be?

    There is no contradiction. What needs to be understood is that the ?agreement? on the pragmatic set of rules does not mean that we will all agree 100% on the precise details of the interpretation of those rules. The ambiguity inherent in language means that there always will be some inherent ambiguity or uncertainty in the detailed interpretations of social rules reached by agreement ? this is precisely why there are so many lawyers!
    Lodestone wrote:
    One can choose whatever maxim one likes to act by. Some of these maxims may be immoral. “Murder” is such a maxim. “Prevent murder” is not, and nor is “prevent rape”.

    This looks only at the easy cases based on simple ?elemental? maxims (which is also the problem of basing one?s morality on the simply naﶥ maxims encoded in the 10 commandments).

    The bible does not say ?though shalt not murder?, it says ?though shalt not kill?. Under secular law, not all ?killing? is viewed as murder. Murder is a form of unjustifiable homicide. Does the bible, does anything coming from theism, tell us which forms of homicide are justifiable and which not? How are we to decide such issues based only upon the propaganda handouts from theistic religions and the simple idea of maxims?

    What happens when we are forced to combine two or more simple but conflicting ?immoral? and ?moral? maxims into a compound proposition, such as ?is it moral to kill in order to prevent rape?? Is the answer to this question contained somewhere in the bible? Can we derive the answer to this question from simple maxims alone? There are an uncountable number of such compound propositions.

    No matter what values we place against each ?simple maxim?, one could always find examples of a combination of conflicting maxims which are so finely balanced that it not easy to find agreement on whether the overall compound act is morally right or wrong.
    miswod wrote:
    We have to accept a certain amount of vagueness in the meaning of each and every word we use. We may rationally agree that it is raining but will have different thoughts on how much it is raining, how long it will last, what its effects will be; (you may think its pouring when I say think it?s drizzling). Pragmatism requires that we accept this vagueness else there is no point communicating.

    Agreed
    Lodestone wrote:
    we share sufficient common linguistic ground for you to understand every step in my argument that stealing is wrong from first principles. Where does moral relativism fit in here?

    Because it is not the case that ?stealing is wrong in all circumstances?. It depends on the circumstances surrounding the stealing. Is it necessarily wrong to steal medicine in order to prevent an innocent person from dying (assuming that there is no other way the medicine could be obtained and the person would indeed die as a direct consequence of not stealing the medicine)?

    It is easy to propose basic ?simple? moral principles such as those encoded in the 10 commandments. But real life is not this simple or straightforward. In reality, we must place relative values against each of the basic moral principles, and weigh them up against each other in complex situations where they may be in conflict. It may be wrong to kill, and it may be wrong to steal, but how do we decide whether it is wrong to steal in order to prevent a killing? Only by evaluating this compound situation based upon the relative values we place on killing and stealing. No matter how ?wrong? we think an isolated act is, we can always find a certain set of conditions under which that act may be morally justified. If this was not the case, we could never have justifiable homicide.

    The problem is that there is no absolute set of moral values. How wrong is ?killing? compared to how wrong is ?stealing?? Is it doubly wrong, triply wrong, or what? The answer is largely a matter of opinion, and is certainly not derivable from simple maxims. This is the main source of moral relativism.
    Lodestone wrote:
    The only way it would not lead people to the same conclusions is if they had wildly different languages?but they do not and can not, because language only works?exists!?as it is common.

    The issue is not so much differences in language as differences in relative moral values, as explained above.
    Lodestone wrote:
    I should not have said that stealing is wrong. Rather, I should have said that being motivated by the maxim “steal” is wrong. This, so long as we share an understanding of the relevant language, will always be agreed upon. The vagueness only applies when our understandings of the concepts differ?and then an interesting synthesis occurs, which is a study in itself. But the important thing is that when the concepts are shared the same conclusions will be reached about the morality of acting on any given maxim.

    This may apply to simple maxims. But real life is more complex. In general, even if we claim to agree on concepts, we will likely not agree on the relative moral values of all of the elemental maxims. Thus when two or more maxims are at conflict within a compound proposition (such as ?is it wrong to steal in order to prevent a killing??) we may not reach the same conclusions. This is precisely why there will be some particular cases of homicide which are viewed as justifiable by some people, and not justifiable by others.
    Lodestone wrote:
    The relativity is merely that not everyone always wishes to be ethical̬when we are thinking of conseqences we may well decide to follow a different maxim. But so long as people share concepts and wish to be ethical they will motviate their actions by the same maxims.

    This seems to be a naively simplistic notion of reality. Under this notion, as long as we ?share concepts? and we are all ?ethical?, we should all agree when homicide is justifiable or not? I don?t think so. Justifiable homicide rests on balancing relative moral values, which is not simplistically linked to either shared concepts or ethics.
    Lodestone wrote:
    we know that language has some commonality because we can communicate.

    It also has an awful lot of ambiguity!
    miswod wrote:
    You will inevitably find that when your theory is tested in anything other than the most simple of moral dilemmas, that linguistic vagueness will undermine your best efforts for a uniform result. Language is, after all, simply a set of labels for the contents of boxes. When we say table we assume certain parameters; but no two people can imagine the same table; even when faced with a particular table we will see a different table (light source, eyesight, angle etc.); indeed no two tables can be the same even when they appear so (scale). Consider the problem then when dealing with the box marked ?fair; for there is nothing in it, just an idea. How could two people share the same exact copy of a concept when material things cause such vagueness?

    Language works to a point, obviously, but its use is limited by its inherent vagueness; it is precisely this quality that makes communication the most difficult of ?sciences?.

    Agreed 100%

    Lodestone wrote:
    I’d like to take up your challenge here. Give me a list of possible maxims, and I’ll see if they self-contradict or not, and if we can agree about my reasoning.

    I support miswod?s position here. How do simple maxims allow us to determine and agree whether homicide is justifiable, and if so under what circumstances?
    Lodestone wrote:
    the march of the Age of Reason has all been about improving the precision and quality of the concepts which we use to organise the world?we are discovering more truths; our languages are getting more universal and better.

    One of the truths we have discovered is that language is inherently ambiguous. This truth remains, no matter how ?good? or ?universal? a language becomes.

    Best Regards

  142. loveofsophia said,

    I have to say something about this one. I am reading Martin Buber and he has helped make the God word more sensible, likable, akin to my own perspective and inclination.

    I, in large part, feel the language barrier is causing problems here, major problems. I am impressed with the scholarly talk and rumination going on in this thread. The clear and well formulated conceptions rolling around, conflicting, and developing through this thread. But defining God from one person’s perspective, from one theistic tradition, from an atheist’s, these different perspectives relate to and may (must?) all result in different conceptions of what God means or could ever mean to a human.

    Lately I have been seriously considering this God concept and find myself moved by the poetry of this conception. Poetry is art. Seeing the connection between the expression of God with poetry, beauty, and art helps me relate it too my perspective, being God is so extrasensory and inherently awash in symbolism and speaking of things intimate yet distant conjoined. Then one must define art, and how it relates to the human, which will have different definitions, experiences and applications from one person to the next. The definition game seems pretty overawing. Those that have developed the idea of God (being there are those that have not), making a person or an entity, a something that is the image of us or that we are the image of, out of that which “created” the unnecessary miracle (our being here is completely mysterious) may not necessarily be so strange.

    It may not be strange in a similar way to one of Plato/Socrates ideas: When we learn something it is actually just remembering what we knew before. Now this seems poetic and profound in that it seems to expand what the human is, expanding our existence outside of experience and context. It is not hard to posit that what we are and what existence entire is, must be more than what we can know personally. In feeling intimate miracle present among us, if one feels or thinks thus, any expressive movement, often occurring in theological/philosophical expressions, is completely reasonable and natural. The similarity between remembering what we didn’t know (the Socrates/Plato idea) with the God concept should be noted, given God is inherently outside our experience and any context. (I believe transcendence is a common mystical expression that may apply here, as in transcending the world as we experience it).

    Related to this discussion is the problem with any wisdom: the uninitiated and the initiated all authoritatively talking about the same thing create a circumstance of similar words and phrases coming from different perspectives. One might even rephrase this as, the sophisticated and the unsophisticated (which only develops by way of contemplation, experience, effort, actions, etc.)

    Morality is complex. One could think morals relate to everything we do, think, and so on. Forgiveness of mistakes (sins) is a major concern of theism (and I believe it is a universal concern). How can such a radical idea of forgiving perpetrators of harm fit well with moral thoughts of right and wrong behavior? What is wrong is wrong, forgiveness of that seems remarkable. It certainly causes some complications for moral dialogue regardless of whether or not there is an explanation. In christian perspective, we are forgiven when we ask God/Jesus to forgive and admit our failings. This could be rephrased however: you are forgiven when you learn from it, or you are never forgiven and this is all bullshit.

    Could be, might be, should be…the problem with the process of being a human and then being later in time causes all sorts of problems, reconciling place with direction and progress and so forth.

    The language barrier, the poetic, malleable and interpretive nature of talking about that which is already admitted as incomprehensible, our existence being here presently is completely unnecessary(which someone must have experienced by way of their own contemplation to even relate to what I am saying) causes all sorts of problems.

    Interestingly, the idea of community, our relationship with history, and the problem of wealth and security were fundamental concerns for the Jewish community. Deep and profound thinkers addressed these concerns in their historical place and time. The idea of community, our relationship with history, and concerns over the distribution of wealth are a concern for all people today, well, in my opinion they should be.

    There are too many similarities between all people to clearly talk about people in these abstract and removed ways (theists and atheists) without context and place, do atheists behave in inconsistent ways when they behave morally since morality makes no sense without God, so says some. This has all sorts of problems, most significant of all is laying down the argument (one that satisfies me anyway). We can leave the world of context too readily and the data that will inform our abstraction may increase or change and so influence the content of the abstraction. There is a reason why good poetry or literature means something different, though is valued each time, given second readings, third readings, and so on.

    I believe it comes down to something like this when it comes to cultural and religious discussions, especially comparatively (theism and atheism, etc.): white people looking at Asian people notice that they are all similar in appearance(as far as they can tell). When whites (that live mostly around whites) look at blacks they see many of them the same. When whites look at whites they see a tremendous variety (me being one) and difference from one to the next. I believe this is significant in that the more familiar we are with something the more we see descriptive and sophisticated differences. (This is important because the Catholic Church has gone so far, or some famous theologian of theirs anyway, as to claim some people that do not believe in Christ are anonymous Christians). Obviously such a view disagrees with the claim that atheists do not have grounds for moral actions. Are we trying to say Atheism entails immorality in that there is no absolute truth?

    The belief that there is absolute truth, reality, and existence does not afford one the right to claim they are more in relation with this absolute. If there is truth then the atheist would be in the truth, reality, and existence just as much as the theist, being that there is little else if it just simply is. It would, the truth, be in contact with anyone looking for it…and they would find it if their eyes just gazed and their mind saught. I believe this is largly the case.

    It is hard for me to talk succinctly, too many interrelating and broad conceptions are in play, but this relates to this moral talk. I believe people have so much in common and they seem to forget this commonality and common ground in their familiarity and development of sophisticated differences, developed off the most significant thing of all, their profound similarity. A moral discussion between theists and atheists should recognize far more in the way of similarity than differences in their common condition and experiences, which are far greater than any difference.

    Back to Buber: When we talk to people as a complete whole (all we experience, can surmise about them, and all we do not experience and is hidden away in that present moment) and live in the present world of encounter instead of the world of experience, then we live in the world of relation with a You instead of removed from it. I seem to agree with this, if anyone knows Buber and can clarify or correct my current understanding of some of his thoughts, feel free. This relation with all things is recognition of a You and the You of other people.

    The I-You relation with the world can bring our mind’s eye to poetically express the communication of the world, from the world, as God speaking not in language but action. Poetically, God is a You that is speaking to us in our interrelation with the world. Send a PM since it does not relate to this discussion. I like the sense I am able to make, if this interests you I wouldn’t mind a more sophisticated (familiar with) perspective. I feel he is already talking to my experience and so very familiar with some of the concepts, just not how he has formulated them.

  143. Boethiusman said,

    This discussion, has broken down as the whole affair, as has been noticed, rests on a definition of morality. However, there is a way around this dilemma.

    For, loosely, intelligence is the navigation of consequences. Ethics we can partially define as representing the superiority of certain consequences over other consequences. We need not go any further to uphold the following statement. In a more rigorous iteration of this argument we would substitute the law of non contradiction for consistency. As in, as long as you do not contradict yourself you are consistent. In which case the question seems trivial: can an atheist be moral without contradiction? All the atheist has to do is decide that morality will be the first principle. And so, whatever the definition, an atheist can be moral without self contradiction, insofar as morality is not self contradictory. A better question is: is it inconsistent for an atheist to be immoral? My argument goes:

    An atheist cannot be convinced that considering consequences that only manifest after their death is necessary, or even intelligible. It cannot be shown that anything that does not affect the person in question should be taken into account.

    We can however assume that since we all agree that morality (whatever it is precisely) defines relations between an individual and the world (what actions are ?good? is surely dependent on what is the consequence of said actions, for we indeed only know what actions are through there predicted consequence), that morality would include consequences after ones death. Post death consequences cannot possibly affect someone who no longer exists.

    I see no flaw in the argument: I will not consider any predicted consequences which will not manifest in my lifetime to form decisions. It would be pure chance if this framework did not lead to immoral behaviour.

    However, there certainly isn?t anything stopping anyone from claiming ?to feel that my life has meaning, even though I?ll stop existing at some point, I must leave a positive consequence (if I can figure out what such is)?. There?s no inconsistency in this argument either, or any similar argument.

    Any action that has no consequence is irrelevant and impossible for any entity in the atheistic world to know much less judge.

    In the framework of atheism morality (at least any definition of morality that describes post non-existence consequences) is an independent axiom.

    In conclusion, at least certain parts of morality (a theory that assigns value to consequences independent of the death of the individual), whatever it is, in the atheistic framework of ceasing to exist at some point, is not inconsistent, it is simply not persuasive. Whereas, in the theistic framework, morality (whatever the definition) is persuasive as presumably all our actions have indefinite consequences.

    First, I?d like to mention that I?ve never actually met an atheist. Certainly, I?ve met a lot of people who at first say their atheist, but in the end it always turns out that they believe in ?something?. However, if you are a true atheist and wish to prove that you actually are, please make a new thread and inform me. My argument will of course be a true atheist wouldn?t prove they are an atheist since non-atheists are easier to manipulate. Better take on the belief system of anyone one happens to encounter, and use it to one?s own advantage.

    As a footnote to the discussion. Determinism is pointless to assume, even if it?s true. Though this seems like a weak argument, ?pointless to assume possible truths? are, for all intents and purposes, are more true than our normal trueness. For, anything that would be assumed untrue under all circumstances, for all practical purposes, is always untrue, whereas all the rest of our truth, no matter how true we think it, is liable to change or be modified.

    As has been noted, determinism can have no possible use, as the premise cannot, by definition, affect ?decisions? (the definition of practicality).

  144. Moving Finger said,

    Boethiusman wrote:
    An atheist cannot be convinced that considering consequences that only manifest after their death is necessary, or even intelligible. It cannot be shown that anything that does not affect the person in question should be taken into account.

    Why should this be the case?
    Why should an atheist not be concerned for the continued welfare/happiness/prosperity etc of his/her children (for example), including their welfare after his/her death? Just because a person does not believe in God, it does not follow that they do not care about the welfare of others!
    Boethiusman wrote:
    I see no flaw in the argument: I will not consider any predicted consequences which will not manifest in my lifetime to form decisions.

    I see a big flaw. This would be a purely “selfish” agent, acting without any care or regard for the welfare of others after that agent’s death. I doubt that there are many rational individuals who think this way, atheist or theist.

    Best Regards

  145. Boethiusman said,

    The wording of my claim is very specific. I claim ?An atheist cannot be convinced …?. I do not claim that an atheist must dismiss all post death consequences. My claim is that if an atheist was so inclined there is nothing to convince him or her otherwise. I do not claim that if an atheist wanted to ?continued welfare/happiness/prosperity etc of his/her children (for example)?, which I highly encourage, would be necessarily inconsistent. My argument was that ethics, at least his part of ethics, in the atheist framework is an independent axiom. As in, accepting the axiom can form a consistent framework, and not-accepting the axiom can also form a consistent framework.

    An atheist who drives an SUV and owns significant portions of coal power plants, and lobbies the government to not impose any environmental laws, as this would make his or her business less profitable, as long as they are under the assumption that the affects of global warming and polution are far off, can answer ?so what, it doesn?t affect me? to any argument brought against them. We both seem to find such behaviour repugnant, but I, at least, find no inconsistency in it.

    Don?t get me wrong though, I wish I could, and I will certainly post such an argument if I find one.

    Being a purely “selfish” agent, however ill we may think of it, is not necessarily inconsistent.

    Consistency, in these arguments, is best checked for under the definition that “actions” tend to some result. Under this definition if an individual acts in a way that tends to some result, and then later acts in a way that tends to another result, then their actions are inconsistent. As long as the teh selfish agent maximally tends to the result that their wealth and fulfillment of desires increases, or whatnot, then their actions are consistent. However, there are a lot of subtleties in this model and I posit it here as food for thought: a method for checking the consistency or meaning of theories that increases relevance and decreases “word play”. My own development of the idea is so far ten pages long and not as of yet complete. As you can imagine it is becomes very complicated to describe a word independent method in words, but I do not as of yet think it impossible.

  146. loveofsophia said,

    What a crazy conversation this is. I hope you all realize that this strict definition of atheist seems rather odd. There are many non-theists that have philosophical or religious beliefs. Do atheists, by definition, have secular, selfish, or even scientific beliefs about the world? I think, technically, that a particular branch of Buddhism is atheistic. Technically, any non-god or gods belief system is being called incapable of caring for their future descendents or other people by a number of posters. Obviously, to be quite frank, this is an inane argument. I don’t even feel like formulating a defense. I feel like letting them do the work, because it is so off base in the first place I doubt it could be an effective discussion. I don?t mean to be rude, but it is offending me.

    Briefly, people care for each other. People can associate the affection, the connection of community, to all people and life, and even existence. Existence is more similar to us than different, as are all things, on such ground morality treads. Humans care for their young, the future descendents. This sense of collective well-being is the ground for moral thinking. This was brief and personally unsatisfying but I think one can gleam an inclining of where I would try and take this discussion of morality.

  147. Boethiusman said,

    I agree with your point that that there is a variety of atheistic theories. However, it is impossible to discuss them all at once. So I tried to prove the independence of the ethics for a certain type of atheist (the type that assumes we humans simply stop existing when we die). A limited case argument often leads to the general theory. I admit, I think I mentioned this, that I have never met an “atheist” that didn’t believe in “something”. However, I have met people who like to respond to challenges with ?we?re just going to die and stop existing anyway?, and so I?ve put a lot of thought into just what exactly does ?pure atheism? mean, what actions can be derived from the principle consistently.

    However I totally disagree with your claim that “people care for each other and their dissendents” is a generally true. I would agree that often people make this claim, especially when it is not inconvenient to do so. However, if people truly cared for each other than why is there so little interest in politics, why do we have all sorts of pollutants in our blood, why are there 24 million Africans with AIDS, many of them with children, or children themselves?

    I totally disagree that our “intuitions” about morality are sufficient to solve today’s problems. I view the idea in general as a copout to thinking. Thinking is hard. However, I do not accuse you Philosophy or anyone else on this forum as such. Why would anyone be on this forum who implicitly or explicitly avoided all challenges to their way of life?

    However, is not this morality of a collective sense of well being derivable explicitly from the principle of “collective well being” as in the continuation of existence?

    Also, I do not think this discussion is inane. I have a friend, an agnostic (in the sense that it never occurred to him to ask the ?what happens in the after life? question) who became extremely troubled by the ethical independence in the atheistic theory. The only way he could explain why he wasn?t a ?selfish? agent was random chance. He could have just as easily been born in the ?selfish? agent camp he figured. In the end he felt he had to abandon his ?things are good because? position. It cause him all sorts of vexations for several months and in the end he abandoned his entire previous system of reasoning. Previously, he wanted a) to satisfy wants like have fifty million dollars, and b) do this by spreading solar technology for the good of the world. Not only could he not explain in his system what was unreasonable about getting fifty million dollars through the drug trade, or through a polluting company (which he was very much against), or through the arms trade, or through inventing bio weapons, he could not show that his two goals were inclusive. Every dollar he made could either go to ?a? or ?b?. At some point he would have to decide ?I am putting money, beyond keeping myself alive in order to satisfy b, into a: the satisfaction of my pleasure?. Since every dollar he could spare would make b more probable, his two principles were competing. He thought about it for several months and eventually became a theist. I was totally surprised mind you. I was arguing because I like to argue and I thought the questions in general were interesting and worth discussing.

  148. Boethiusman said,

    I am a theist, and I believe I wil have to account for my actions at some point.

    However, I’ve thought about it, and if I abandoned theism, I would be thief. Thiefness I think would be really fun and profitable, and I think I’d be good at with my Finnish military training.

    Now, I am not an atheist. However, I’m willing to defend my position that theivery is consistent with atheism, insofar as one’s good at it.

  149. loveofsophia said,

    Boethiusman wrote:
    I am a theist, and I believe I will have to account for my actions at some point.

    I am me, made up of many physical factors, live in a present world where I have many options and one thing after another that I choose and one thing after an other that causally happen irrespective of what I choose. I am responsible for my choices, meaning I made them so they come back to the source, come back to what I did and inform my understanding of what I will choose to do in the future.

    However, I’ve thought about it, and if I abandoned theism, I would be thief. Thiefness I think would be really fun and profitable, and I think I’d be good at with my Finnish military training.

    Theism means recognizing existence is a gift? If we just take the gift without thanks, then we are thieves? I believe one can be thankful for existence without believing they know God. Given that theists themselves admit they can not understand God or conceive what God really is (they only have symbolic language to address God and have faith). Someone could say, yes, everything is a miracle but I don’t think God (whoever that is) alters the miracle (turns water into wine) in my experience.

    Agnostics cause all sorts of problems for the types of theists.

    Does a theist need to believe in an afterlife? Why? What if afterlife is just a poetic imagining that propels us toward making “heaven on earth,” a conception inspiring we make “progress” in this world. Ones best wishes for future generations and for our generation to be moving toward a better future.

    At the root, religion, art, poetry, science, philosophy and other things, all interrelate with the human condition; they creatively explore with poetic/symbolic/model-like imaginings that develop an intricate art (a genera) that access as best they can (informed by historical context, everyone?s view is influenced by social/scientific/religious conceptual models available in their place and time). These symbolic rationalization and imaginings, as best they can, attempt to understand their place in time and making life better on the planet (make progress).

    Now, I am not an atheist. However, I’m willing to defend my position that thievery is consistent with atheism, insofar as one’s good at it.

    Atheism entails thievery??? I would say atheism entails rejecting too much of a historically informed (shaped by place and time) poetic exploration. The rejection by atheists of certain unfortunate dogmas (they reject the whole thing instead of disagreeing with some parts) results from the unfortunate event of the uninitiated taking control of the poetic/symbolic enterprise of others. Deep thinkers, with their historical context informing their conceptions, have attempted to invent a way to talk about incredibly broad conceptual understandings, beliefs, and tools that will assist humankind in realizing its potential “heaven.” I guess you could call me a pluralist or something.

    This is a rather quick introduction to a rather different take on things (most people I know do not think anything resembling this). Agreement/disagreement/comment anyone?

  150. Boethiusman said,

    I am responsible for my choices, meaning I made them so they come back to the source, come back to what I did and inform my understanding of what I will choose to do in the future.?

    I do not understand this statement.

    ?Theism means recognizing existence is a gift? If we just take the gift without thanks, then we are thieves??

    These I don?t understand why they aren?t statements.

    ?I believe one can be thankful for existence without believing they know God. Given that theists themselves admit they can not understand God or conceive what God really is (they only have symbolic language to address God and have faith). Someone could say, yes, everything is a miracle but I don’t think God (whoever that is) alters the miracle (turns water into wine) in my experience.?

    Thankful to whom, if not God? And, as a theist I understand a great deal about God. I know God can?t be inconsistent or act arbitrarily. Or, more precisely, I find it pointless to assume otherwise. I also know that he brought about my own existence, possibly the existence of others, and certainly what I perceive.

    Agnostics cause all sorts of problems for the types of theists.

    ?I don?t actually understand this sentence. I assume it should read ?for types like theists?. As a theist I have never had an agnostic cause problems. If God exists, we should be able to reason out whether God exists or not. However, I believe in God because I have concluded it?s pointless not to.?

    ?Does a theist need to believe in an afterlife? Why? What if afterlife is just a poetic imagining that propels us toward making “heaven on earth,” a conception inspiring we make “progress” in this world. Ones best wishes for future generations and for our generation to be moving toward a better future. ?

    I don?t follow.

    ?At the root, religion, art, poetry, science, philosophy and other things, all interrelate with the human condition; they creatively explore with poetic/symbolic/model-like imaginings that develop an intricate art (a genera) that access as best they can (informed by historical context, everyone?s view is influenced by social/scientific/religious conceptual models available in their place and time). These symbolic rationalization and imaginings, as best they can, attempt to understand their place in time and making life better on the planet (make progress).?

    These seem deterministic. Are you claiming that this is what humans are. If so I totally disagree. The view that people a fundamentally good or ?good like? I completely dismiss. If people were fundamentally good the world would not have so many extensive problems solvable by putting an effort into thinking about what?s going on.

    ?Atheism entails thievery??? I would say atheism entails rejecting too much of a historically informed (shaped by place and time) poetic exploration. The rejection by atheists of certain unfortunate dogmas (they reject the whole thing instead of disagreeing with some parts) results from the unfortunate event of the uninitiated taking control of the poetic/symbolic enterprise of others. Deep thinkers, with their historical context informing their conceptions, have attempted to invent a way to talk about incredibly broad conceptual understandings, beliefs, and tools that will assist humankind in realizing its potential “heaven.” I guess you could call me a pluralist or something. ?

    My claim was not that atheism entails thievery. Entailment is when something necessarily implies something else, L(aɢ), in old notation. My claim was that thievery is consistent with atheism, (a L b). They are two completely different claims.

    ?This is a rather quick introduction to a rather different take on things (most people I know do not think anything resembling this). Agreement/disagreement/comment anyone??

    I don?t really understand. As far as the applications to this topic are, are you claiming atheists do not exist? Perhaps you should start a thread where you outline your theory in more detail.

  151. Moving Finger said,

    Boethiusman wrote:
    I’ve thought about it, and if I abandoned theism, I would be thief. Thiefness I think would be really fun and profitable, and I think I’d be good at with my Finnish military training.

    Thus, it is only your belief in God which is keeping you honest?

    Then with respect you have a very poor system of morals. If you “need belief in God and divine punishment” to prevent you from being a thief then I feel sorry for you. There may have been a time (in the Middle Ages perhaps) when the threat of divine retribution was needed to keep the ignorant peasants under control, to make sure they behaved, but I really think it’s time that humanity grew up and put such naive notions behind them.

    Most atheists do not need that crutch, we quite happily accept that theft is morally wrong without needing a belief in God, or a fear of divine retribution, to support that moral system.

    A question for you:

    Is theft wrong because God says it is wrong, or does God say theft is wrong because theft is intrinsically wrong?

    How would you answer?

    Best Regards

  152. Boethiusman said,

    Why be ethical when it is not profitable to be so? If I simply stop existing, as do all humans, hat do I care if human kind ends shortly after I die at the end of a long and enjoyable life, or a billion years. It?s of no consequence to me.

    “Growing up” is not a basis for ethics. The burden is on you to prove why it would be unreasonable to be unethical under atheism. I see no logical inconsistency in the position. As I said it is an independent axiom, both decisions (ethical or not ethical) can form a consistent system.

    If an atheists wants to be a good person there is nothing in logic that would identify him as hypocritical.

    Likewise, if an atheists says “this whole notion of good and bad are not my inventions and I see no reason to adopt them” there is again nothin in logic to stop him.

  153. Moving Finger said,

    Boethiusman wrote:
    Why be ethical when it is not profitable to be so? If I simply stop existing, as do all humans, hat do I care if human kind ends shortly after I die at the end of a long and enjoyable life, or a billion years. It?s of no consequence to me.

    Read ?The Sefish Gene?. Humans exist as gene-propagation machines. That?s why we have emotional intuitive protective and nurturing feelings towards those who are genetically related to us ? genes have evolved this way because it provides survival advantage. We also care for and respect people who are not related to us as part of a “social contract” – there is group survival advantage in balancing the needs of the individual with the needs of the group. Of course that does not mean that an individual cannot arise who has no care or feeling for anyone else (genetic mutations occur), but evolutionary forces ensure that the majority of humans do care and feel for others.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    “Growing up” is not a basis for ethics.

    We do not hold babies and children morally responsible for their actions, because they often do not understand the consequences of their actions and have no concept of responsibility. Moral responsibility, ownership of one?s actions, is clearly learned and acquired as part of growing up (and unfortunately some people never do learn this). How then can you say that growing up is not a basis for ethics?
    Boethiusman wrote:
    The burden is on you to prove why it would be unreasonable to be unethical under atheism.

    It would be unreasonable only in the sense that it would not be competitively advantageous for society as a whole for all individuals in that society to resort to continued extremely unethical behaviour. Fortunately societies are quite cohesive, and one or two renegade individuals could be tolerated.
    What I have said is that evolution does not favour extreme unethical behaviour. What I am also saying is that a true system of ethics does not rest on a threat of divine retribution to keep people ethical.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    if an atheists says “this whole notion of good and bad are not my inventions and I see no reason to adopt them” there is again nothin in logic to stop him.

    I have never suggested there is a logical necessity for an individual to behave ethically.
    What I am saying is that the notion that we all behave ethically just because we fear divine retribution is naive.
    Ethics and morals have evolved to provide overall competitive advantage in rational agents. But it does not follow that there is a ?logical necessity? for any individual to act morally.

    You didn?t answer my question :
    moving finger wrote:
    Is theft wrong because God says it is wrong, or does God say theft is wrong because theft is intrinsically wrong?

    Best Regards

  154. Boethiusman said,

    I apologize, I either got ahead of myself and missed your question, or posts do not instantaneously appear on the website.

    moving finger wrote:
    Is theft wrong because God says it is wrong, or does God say theft is wrong because theft is intrinsically wrong?

    At no point do I say anything is true simply because God says so (unless we’re discussing what God said). However, I do not hold the position that theft is intrinsically wrong, in the sense that it is simply wrong prima-facie (if by intrinsically you mean “theft is wrong” in an axiomatic sense). Theft, in most situations we are familiar, does not tend to the maximal continuation of society, of which, at least for now, I believe all relevant ethics is derived from. We shall see how the other debate turns out.

    How would God say anything if truth was only established after He said something? Furthermore, even if God could arbitrate truth, I would still assume that God cannot contradict Himself. This limits what God can say very much: either an infinitely intelligent being there may be only one consistent theory possible, or only one consistent theory that includes my own existence being allowed, and so God may not, under this premise, be able to exercise His arbitrary nature, Or, as soon as God says something (however arbitrary that may be) what he can say next is vastly limited, and then after that even more limited, and so on

    How would God say anything if truth was only established after He said something? Furthermore, even if God could arbitrate truth, I would still assume that God cannot contradict Himself. This limits what God can say very much: either an infinitely intelligent being there may be only one consistent theory possible, or only one consistent theory that includes my own existence being allowed, and so God may not, under this premise, be able to exercise His arbitrary nature, Or, as soon as God says something (however arbitrary that may be) what he can say next is vastly limited, and then after that even more limited, and so on.

    The opposition to my argument that atheists need not necessarily act wholly ethically without contradicting themselves surprises me. I am left to wonder, is the opposition to this argument born out of an objective logical analysis, or is it born out of a sense that such behaviour is vulgar. People certainly can act unethically. I do not think this is in dispute. And there are people who do not think they have committed any error in reasoning by doing so. I find when such people are considered, people generally like to classify them as defective humans. Different for whatever reason, with absolutely nothing in common with “us normal people”. However, I view this as a copout to thinking. This may or may not be the case here. For, if not necessarily unreasonable to be unethical one must now account for why one is ethical. There is no a priory barrier between one and the unethical. Which certainly requires a lot of thought.
    It would be unreasonable only in the sense that it would not be competitively advantageous for society as a whole for all individuals in that society to resort to continued extremely unethical behaviour. Fortunately societies are quite cohesive, and one or two renegade individuals could be tolerated.
    What I have said is that evolution does not favour extreme unethical behaviour. What I am also saying is that a true system of ethics does not rest on a threat of divine retribution to keep people ethical.

    This explains why the idea of ethics exists. I agree, if ethics tends to the continuation of sociey, societies must instill a sufficient “ethicalness” if they are to continue existing. However, this does not disprove the unethical atheist position. There is nothing which entails the individual must care for the continued existence of society. I completely agree that ethics makes a lot of sense in evolutionary terms. However, I dissagree that a given individual must care about the evolution of the species.
    What I am also saying is that a true system of ethics does not rest on a threat of divine retribution to keep people ethical.

    To this though, I disagree. My argument that an unethical atheist can exist without internal contradiction is a counter example to your statement. Somehting you have yet to disprove. That it is bad for society as a whole I completely agree with (considering that’s what I base my ethics upon). However, I see nothing that will convince an atheist so inclined of giving a damn about society as a whole. That it seems a totally meaningless existence I would also agree with. However, it is still consistent.

  155. Moving Finger said,

    Boethiusman wrote:
    At no point do I say anything is true simply because God says so ?.

    ??. and so on.

    What this seems to be saying (though I find the explanation very confusing) is that theft does not become wrong simply because God proclaims that it is wrong. Correct?

    Therefore it follows that, if theft is wrong at all, it must be because it is wrong regardless of God?s pronouncement on it. Correct?

    The conclusion from this, therefore, is that if you are a theist and you believe theft is wrong, then this must be because you believe theft is intrinsically wrong ? it has nothing to do with any theistic moral position on theft.

    How does this square with your earlier claim :
    Boethiusman wrote:
    if I abandoned theism, I would be thief

    This seems directly contradictory to the notion that theft is wrong independently of God?s pronouncement on the ?wrongness? of theft?
    Boethiusman wrote:
    This explains why the idea of ethics exists. I agree, if ethics tends to the continuation of sociey, societies must instill a sufficient “ethicalness” if they are to continue existing. However, this does not disprove the unethical atheist position. There is nothing which entails the individual must care for the continued existence of society.

    I have never said that there is a necessity for any individual to be ethical. I have never said the individual ?must? be ethical. You seem to think that we are either ?forced? to behave either ethically or not? I am at a loss to understand why you think this.

    Ethics is NOT about behaving a certain way because we are forced to behave that way.

    If you force a person to behave a certain way simply because they are afraid of you, you cannot claim that person is behaving for ethical reasons.

    If a person is forced to behave a certain way because of some logical or physical law, you cannot claim that person is behaving for ethical reasons.

    Ethics is about behaving a certain way simply because one chooses to behave in a certain way, because one believes that is the best way to behave. If we were all forced to be ethical then what we do would no longer be ethical.

    For any particular behaviour to count as morally motivated behaviour, the behaviour must be voluntary. The individual must voluntarily choose to behave that way. If the individual is forced to behave in a morally appropriate way, this is no longer morally motivated behaviour.

    The reason why most individuals choose to be ethical (atheists as well as theists) is not because virtue is its own reward, its because virtue is a dominating strategy. Behaving ethically is usually a very good bet if one wants to come out ahead materially in the long run. Obviously there are times when nice guys lose, but it is an ancient observation that even a band of robbers must observe certain principles of morality among themselves, or perish. Society has laws to encourage people to behave ethically, and getting ahead in society is often directly related to one?s ethical behaviour.

    Take a look at the following three descriptions of behaviour, and tell me which are indicative of ethically motivated behaviour and which not :

    1) A man refrains from stealing simply because God has said ?thou shalt not steal? and the man is afraid of God?s punishment on judgment day. Is the man?s disinclination to steal a result of his moral values?

    2) A man refrains from stealing because he has been fitted with a neurological device which inflicts a mild electric shock every time the man thinks of stealing. Is the man?s disinclination to steal a result of his moral values?

    3) A man refrains from stealing because he believes that it is wrong to take from others, and he rationalises this belief through the notion that it is in the best long-term interests of both himself and society if he refrains from stealing. Is the man?s disinclination to steal a result of his moral values?
    Boethiusman wrote:
    I completely agree that ethics makes a lot of sense in evolutionary terms. However, I dissagree that a given individual must care about the evolution of the species.

    I have never said that a given individual must care about the evolution of the species. Evolution does not work that way. Our genes have simply evolved such that we are genetically predisposed to moral behaviour. Most of our behaviour, our dispositions, is acquired through learning as we grow up, but we are also genetically predisposed to have certain caring attitudes to our fellow human beings (this is where the intuition of ?suffering is morally wrong? comes from) because a society of caring individuals will have an inherent survival advantage (compared to a society of non-caring self-seeking individuals) when things get tough. Some of human behaviour is hard-wired in the genes, and genes evolve according to evolutionary pressures. We are programmed (by our genes) to naturally and intuitively want to behave in certain ways because those ways provide overall competitive advantage to both ourselves and the rest of society. But we are not forced to behave in these ways ? we can choose to be amoral or unethical if we so desire.
    moving finger wrote:
    For a person to act in a certain way simply out of fear of divine retribution is NOT an indication of moral beliefs. Such a person is acting NOT because they believe in a certain moral code, but simply out of fear of divine retribution. Take away that threat of divine retribution, and the person?s basis for moral behaviour evaporates. As you said yourself, if you were not a theist, you would be a thief. This indicates a total lack of a moral code rather than dependence on a theistic moral code.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    My argument that an unethical atheist can exist without internal contradiction is a counter example to your statement. Somehting you have yet to disprove.

    I have never claimed that an unethical atheist cannot exist without internal contradiction, thus I see no need to ?disprove? your statement. I have no idea what it is you are getting at here.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    That it is bad for society as a whole I completely agree with (considering that’s what I base my ethics upon). However, I see nothing that will convince an atheist so inclined of giving a damn about society as a whole.

    You seem to be confusing ?what an atheist can do? with ?what an atheist chooses to do?.
    Yes, an atheist can be unethical. No problem. But most atheists choose to be ethical.

    Why do most atheists choose to be ethical? Because virtue is generally a dominating strategy. Behaving ethically is usually a very good bet if one wants to come out ahead materially. Atheists are not ?forced? to be ethical. An atheist can choose to be unethical if he so wishes. But in practice most of us are ethical most of the time.

    Ethics is not about what we can do, or about what we are forced to do out of fear of punishment, it is about doing what we choose to do, free of fear and compulsion. If we were all compelled to be ethical, it would no longer be ethics!

    This is the whole reason why the theistic threat of divine retribution has absolutely nothing to do with ethics. You can ?force? a person, out of fear of God, to behave in a certain way, but you cannot ?force? a person to be ethical by threatening them with divine retribution. People must be able to choose to be ethical because they believe it is the best course of action, and NOT because they are afraid of God?s wrath.

    Best Regards

  156. Boethiusman said,

    You fail to see the subtlety of my argument. Theft is not wrong because simply because God says so, cause then how does God know theft is “wrong”. Therefore it must be wrong for some reason.

    I believe it is true that God exists. I believe it is true that God knows all truths. I believe it is true that God did not creat the earth and the universe simply so we could destroy ourselves (being humanity). I believe it is true that God will ask us to account for our reasoning and actions at some point in time. I do not believe that God arbitrarilly decides what truth is. I am motivated out of a love of truth not fear of judgement. To search for truth effectively it is wise to cooperate with God. If God did not exist I would see no reason to maximally continue humanity. Why did God create the the earth, the universe, myself, I don’t know at the moment. I’m not even sure there is a hell in the traditional sense. God might simply let people keep doing what they like to do around people who like to do the same thing. All the people that like being angry are off “somewhere”, all the people who like science are off “somewhere else”. All the people who like the truth are off “somewhere” else with the rest of the beings that may exists who also like the truth. I don’t know. What I do know, is that all the information that I need to make decisions is that there is an afterlife and that acting ethically will allow me to continue searching for truth. If I had to make a claim I would say acting ethically in the face of self interest is all part of the search for truth. That by conemplating ethics and abiding by ethics I will come to understand more truth than any other possibility.

    Thus if I somehow knew that there was no afterlife and no God, then “wrongness” wouldn’t exist to me, just logic, and I see no logical error in the “self interested atheistic position”. I see an error in atheism. I do not equate wrongness to what God says. However, I do not say that my definition of right and wrong is not dependent on the existence of God.

    My statements are “God does not arbitrarily decide right and wrong” and “If God did not exist I would be a thief”. “Right and wrong is dependent on the existence of God” does not contradict these two statements.

    I even go further, without God there is not only no right and wrong, but no difference between any actions. Choices that lead to the exact same situation can only be made arbitrarily. If we cease to exist, all choices lead to non existence, non existence in all its forms is identical, and so all possible choices lead to the same situation, and thus can only be decided arbitrarily.

    Now, it is true this argument only necessitates an “afterlife” (specifically indefinite existence). However, if the consequences of one’s actions were totally random after a certain amount of time, then again we have the same arbitrary position (all actions are equally likely to lead to any given result, and so any action is as good as the next). Simply supposing an after life is not sufficient, something must order this after life indefinitely. Whatever is responsible for this I refer to as God.

    I do admit that I derive right and wrong from “indefinite consequences”, which I believe can only exist on the supposition of God.

    I go on to say that I am motivated out of a love of truth. I believe God knows the truth, and that it is also true that God does not want humanity to destroy itself. Thus, cooperating with God on this matter leads to more truth.

    If you want, you can say I am motivated out of “God’s rewards rather than God’s punishments”, but I would disagree. “God’s rewards” as you call them coincide with my love of truth. I believe God also loves truth and is in fact the ultimate expression of truth.

    I did not explain this previously because this was not the forum to do so. My statement “right and wrong (as in what we call ethics) is not dependent on whatever God says”, almost, but not quite says “right and wrong is independent from God” a completely different statement. I believe there is no point to initiating changing the subject of a forum, as this simply leads to the disorganization of discussion, that’s what new forums are for. However, I will defend my statements. Lest anyone be convinced by inferior reasoning.

    This forum is not about the consistency of my philosophy, but the consistency of the atheistic philosophy. Which is why I made a forum defending my philosophy. The first half of your post belongs there. Even if you did prove me wrong as far as my theism goes, that in no way means my arguments about atheism are false, which you seem to agree with anyway. Since you agree with all my arguments about atheism the only reason you should have for quoting my statements in this forum is to further explain them or voice agreement with. Otherwise, you are no longer discussing atheism but theism (which I only menthioned because to explain what I would do if I was not a theist), and so you should make a new forum, such as “theism is wrong” or “Boethiusman’s version of theism is wrong” or, more simply post your criticism on the two threads I created to defend my position, “Ethics as derived from the maximal continuation of humanity” and “Atheism superior to theism” (so that people wouldn’t have to criticize my philosophy on this thread, which has nothing to do with my philosophy. however, I will explain myself if asked valid questions on any forum , as is the spirit of debate. What is the alternative? is a valid question if I argue a position is wrong, but we might as well debate that alternative on another thread).

  157. Boethiusman said,

    As for your philosophy:
    Ethics is about behaving a certain way simply because one chooses to behave in a certain way, because one believes that is the best way to behave. If we were all forced to be ethical then what we do would no longer be ethical.

    Again, an atheist is making no error in reasoning in concluding the best way to behave is out of personal interests insofar as one ceases to exist. Who is suggesting we are being forced to be ethical. That’s certainly not my position as a theist. Being forced to do something is very different from accounting for what you’ve done. Unless you mean forced in the sense that it is the most reasonable thing to do. However, isn’t the most reasonable thing to do the best thing to do, and so it is only you who is presenting the idea we are being forced, as far as reasoning goes, into being ethical.
    For any particular behaviour to count as morally motivated behaviour, the behaviour must be voluntary. The individual must voluntarily choose to behave that way. If the individual is forced to behave in a morally appropriate way, this is no longer morally motivated behaviour.

    I agree, nowhere do I, or anyone else on the forum (accept for a few pseudo-determinists that don’t know they’re determinists: hint hint nudge nudge), claim that God, or anything, is forcing us to do anything. Again, being forced to do something is completely different from doing something voluntarily and then accounting for it.
    The reason why most individuals choose to be ethical (atheists as well as theists) is not because virtue is its own reward, its because virtue is a dominating strategy. Behaving ethically is usually a very good bet if one wants to come out ahead materially in the long run. Obviously there are times when nice guys lose, but it is an ancient observation that even a band of robbers must observe certain principles of morality among themselves, or perish. Society has laws to encourage people to behave ethically, and getting ahead in society is often directly related to one’s ethical behaviour.

    Then it follows that one should be unethical as soon as it becomes convinient to do so. I would argue most people are not ethical. For isntance, not being concerned with politics is unethical behaviour, since politics very much has to do with the long term continuation of humanity. If people were so ethical why does the world have problems (especially problems it can solve). This idea that people are simply ethical keeps being brought up but no one ever tries to back it up with “the world is such a resonable and stable place because people are so ethical, anyone can see that” which should be a corrolary of the the theory.

    However, someone, had the same idea in the ethics and game theory forum, except they used the words genes instead of dominating strategy (though you also appeal genes). I need but to substitute “social survival genes” with dominating strategy and I generalize the argument.

    The “dominating strategy” that societies/humans have developed, as in whatever is responsible for empathy and conscience and so on, though seem to prevent humanity from intentionally destroying itself for one generation of pleasure, are not strong enough to deal with the complex problems facing humanity today. In the past, a society that developed poor “dominating strategies”, as you say, perishes and does not pass those “dominating strategies” on. However, in today’s world one can give a few dollars to a charity, have those primal social “dominating strategies” satisfied, and yet still drive an SUV around while having not a clue about what is happening in politics (geo or regional), much less vote competently.

    Remember, if your theory is true we would expect humanity to be doing just fine (because everyone has “dominating strategies” that lead to society surviving). I do not think this is the case. I do not think that there people simply have “dominating strategies” built into them, capable of dealing with global warming, or pollution, or the lack of recycling, or complex social institutions like government. These types of things are too complex to be dealt with by simple feeling, be it genetic or nurtured. Their solution will take a very large amount of people thinking very deeply about how they live.

    “I evolved to be ethical” is not a very sophisticated explanation of your greater reasonableness over unethical people (and if you can’t explain why you’re more reasonable than the unethical person, then your position is “I was presented with two possibilities and flipped a coin to decide the matter). It is a copout to thinking. We’ve already covered the pointlessness of determinism. “People are determined to be ethical by natural selection” is not only ridiculous, in terms of experience, but an unsupportable philosophic position.

    You seem to be saying, finger, that successful people in the world, like cigarette company ceo’s, coal power plant engineers, mob bosses, competent thieves, bio weapons engineers, and so on, due to their “dominating strategies” make humanity more likely to survive. Are you suggesting that success and the long term interests of humanity are inclusive?
    but it is an ancient observation that even a band of robbers must observe certain principles of morality among themselves, or perish

    We have already covered this in the game theory forum. An atheist, motivated out of self interest, would abide by a certain degree of ethics. It is not in the atheists best interest that everyone die, or to not cooperate when it is mutually beneficial to do so. This is why I repeatedly define ethics as derived from behaviour that tends to the maximal continuation of humanity.
    I have never claimed that an unethical atheist cannot exist without internal contradiction, thus I see no need to “disprove” your statement.

    I presumed you were arguing that being ethical is more reasonable than being unethical. Why else are you ethical? However you turn out not to be arguing this point, and so we are in agreement. I foolishly thought you were “arguing against my point”. As far as this thread goes, my point is that the unethical atheist is not necessarily inconsistent.
    Yes, an atheist can be unethical. No problem. But most atheists choose to be ethical.

    We have also already covered this point in another forum. An unethical atheist has no interest in defending their position in a debate. It would run against their interests in two ways. First, declaring “I am only motivated out of self interest and will screw anyone over when I think it is convenient to do so” is not something you would say if you wanted to gain people’s trust and screw them over when it is convenient to do so. Second, what if people are convinced? Now there’s just more competition around. No, it is in fact in the best interest of the unethical atheist to support as many ethical arguments as possible (be them theistic or atheistic) to keep people trust worthy and bound to principles they can be manipulated by.

    Most atheists you know of choose to be ethical, there could be many more, including all the atheists and theists you know, that are unethical but do not declare it.
    Ethics is not about what we can do, or about what we are forced to do out of fear of punishment, it is about doing what we choose to do, free of fear and compulsion. If we were all compelled to be ethical, it would no longer be ethics!

    So you have no basis for being ethical, it is simply a fashion to you. You are presented with a choice “ethical or unethical” and you simply flip the coin and go with it? Is “reason” added to fear and compulsion? Furthermore, essentially your whole point up until now is that we have a compulsion to be ethical born from evolution (no pun intended). Your argument seems to be “for you see, for ethics to be reasonable, it more also be reasonable to be unethical” and/or “for ethics to be consistent, it must also be consistent to be unethical”. I do not agree with either of these claims. Yes, I believe the atheistic unethical position is consistent. But atheism is built upon the verifiable claim that nothing will be observed in the after life. There is an experiment that will resolve the matter, you are welcome to carry it out if you truly want to prove to yourself atheism is true. I believe the experiment will not conclude with no experience, and so I believe atheism is inconsistent with experience, nor do I think it true.

    So you have no basis for being ethical, it seems simply a fashion to you. You are presented with a choice “ethical or unethical” and you simply flip the coin and go with it? Is “reason” added to fear and compulsion? Furthermore, essentially your whole point up until now is that we have a compulsion to be ethical born from evolution (no pun intended). Your argument seems to be “for you see, for ethics to be reasonable, it more also be reasonable to be unethical” and/or “for ethics to be consistent, it must also be consistent to be unethical”. I do not agree with either of these claims. Yes, I believe the atheistic unethical position is consistent. But atheism is built upon the verifiable claim that nothing will be observed in the after life. There is an experiment that will resolve the matter, you are welcome to carry it out if you truly want to prove to yourself atheism is true. I believe the experiment will not conclude with no experience, and so I believe atheism is inconsistent with experience, nor do I think it true.

  158. loveofsophia said,

    Define morality first if one wishes to talk about it.

    Mine is: doing what is right and trying to avoid doing what is wrong. It is simple, right is life affirming and life-sustaining and wrong is destructive and life-depleting.

    It is intersubjective and developing, it is a living thing in that it changes and grows, if they are growing morally.

    There is an Us vs. Them mentality in unethical behavior. Thus Us could just be an I or a family, a tribe, a community, a country, all human life, or all life. Morality develops when the conception of the Us expands and the conception of what is an Other restricts.

    Humanity, like all life, wants to survive. It is given that a number of individuals in the future, with the incentive for others to have had long-term considerations of what is paramount for their present life to continue on well and productively, will not themselves take the mistakes of past generations to heart and develop long-term ethical behaviors and common conceptions that will become a part of their civilization. Mistakes will be key motivators for change, one can only hope that the mistake to teach will not be a mistake that ends humanity and life on the planet. This will occur or civilization will cease to exist or will have major unproductive and destructive set backs.

  159. Boethiusman said,

    Define morality first if one wishes to talk about it.

    You fail to see the subtlety of my argument. My argument about atheism and ethics is true for a large class of ethical theories (so large that is it doubtful an intelligible person would consider a theory that was not within it). And so a specific definition is not needed, all that is need that the ethical theory in question call upon people to consider consequences that only manifest after they cease to exist for the argument to work. The argument runs that there is no error in reasoning to simply dismiss all events that are predicted to occur after one?s death, and so as a corollary the component of the ethical theory that covers what should be done about predicted post death events will be ignored. Hence, the atheist that conforms to the axiom of verifiable claim found in science will not be expected to be wholly ethical. A conclusion we can draw without an exact definition.
    Mistakes will be key motivators for change, one can only hope that the mistake to teach will not be a mistake that ends humanity and life on the planet. This will occur or civilization will cease to exist or will have major unproductive and destructive set backs.

    This will occur … as in we don?t have to think about it. This will occur … as in we?re simply passive observers of history. This will occur … as in there is no ethic, as in what one should do. This will occur … as in whatever will be will be.

    Mistakes be a key motivator … as in there is no point in trying to avoid them. As long as you feel good about yourself history will take care of itself?

    I call this type of theory ?laissez-faire ethics? which is not an ethical theory at all. It?s all part of the general copout to thinking movement.

    Furthermore, you can?t just associate a whole bunch of words together and say ?this is what this means to me?. You need to give people some clue as to what you?re talking about if you want people to understand what your talking about.For instance, what would you do in a specific situation, how do you go about ?expanding the US?, and why is it reasonable to do so. Is your theory consistent and complete? Though, as we have discussed, there are many possible consistent and complete theories, and it becomes very strange to talk about how one is better than another (perhaps necessitating appealing to non-axiomatic methods of reasoning that we cannot communicate). However, this doesn?t make checking for consistency and completeness not valuable. Logic does not generate ?sound arguments?, as reformed nihilist would say, but it is still very useful for identifying invalid arguments and incomplete one?s, which allows us at the very least to avoid gross error.

  160. Moving Finger said,

    Boethiusman wrote:
    Theft is not wrong because simply because God says so, cause then how does God know theft is “wrong”. Therefore it must be wrong for some reason.

    Thank you. Since we agree that theft is intrinsically wrong, regardless of God?s judgment of the ?wrongness? of theft, please explain your earlier claim :
    Boethiusman wrote:
    if I abandoned theism, I would be thief

    If you believe theft is intrinsically wrong, why should it follow that you would be a thief simply because you abandon theism?
    Boethiusman wrote:
    My statements are “God does not arbitrarily decide right and wrong” and “If God did not exist I would be a thief”. “Right and wrong is dependent on the existence of God” does not contradict these two statements.

    ?Right and wrong is independent of the existence of God? also does not contradict the statement “God does not arbitrarily decide right and wrong”. Why, therefore, does it necessarily follow (as you seem to claim) that “If God did not exist I would be a thief”?
    Boethiusman wrote:
    I even go further, without God there is not only no right and wrong, but no difference between any actions.

    Why does this follow? This is not a rational argument, it is a statement of arbitrary belief.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    Choices that lead to the exact same situation can only be made arbitrarily.

    Is this statement supposed to make sense?
    Boethiusman wrote:
    If we cease to exist, all choices lead to non existence, non existence in all its forms is identical, and so all possible choices lead to the same situation, and thus can only be decided arbitrarily.

    Is this supposed to make sense? How can we make choices if we cease to exist? This is total nonsense.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    isn’t the most reasonable thing to do the best thing to do

    And why can?t an atheist, just as well as a theist, determine the most reasonable thing to do? Why would one think one necessarily needs to be a theist in order to determine the ?most reasonable thing to do??
    Boethiusman wrote:
    Then it follows that one should be unethical as soon as it becomes convinient to do so.

    This begs a definition of ?convenient?. If a person is starving, it may not be ?convenient? for that person to refrain from stealing food, but it does not follow that the person will necessarily steal food, regardless of whether he/she is a theist or atheist. What matters is not whether that person is a theist or not, but the strength of that person?s moral convictions.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    I would argue most people are not ethical.

    You may be right. But in my experience unethical behaviour is NOT simply associated with atheism Indeed, I know some very unethical theists ? and history shows that more people have been persecuted or even killed in the name of ?God? than for any other single reason. Wars are usually conducted in the name of one god or another, and in most wars each side usually believes that ?God is on my side?.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    in today’s world one can give a few dollars to a charity, have those primal social “dominating strategies” satisfied, and yet still drive an SUV around while having not a clue about what is happening in politics (geo or regional), much less vote competently.

    And, with respect, I suggest that this is precisely what very many Western so-called ?Christians? actually do. One does not need to be an atheist to practice this kind of unethical behaviour.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    if your theory is true we would expect humanity to be doing just fine (because everyone has “dominating strategies” that lead to society surviving).

    No, I have never said that. The premise of this thread (as you keep reminding us) is that ?atheism entails amorality?. My point is that there are both moral and amoral people in this world, and it is NOT a simple case of saying ?all the atheists are amoral?.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    I do not think that there people simply have “dominating strategies” built into them, capable of dealing with global warming, or pollution, or the lack of recycling, or complex social institutions like government. These types of things are too complex to be dealt with by simple feeling, be it genetic or nurtured. Their solution will take a very large amount of people thinking very deeply about how they live.

    I agree 100%. But what does this have to do with atheists being amoral?
    By the way, since you introduce global ?warming? into the debate, the one nation ?in denial? about global climate change right now is the USA, led by a VERY (if we are to believe him) theistic President. Where are Bush?s morals?
    Boethiusman wrote:
    “I evolved to be ethical” is not a very sophisticated explanation of your greater reasonableness over unethical people (and if you can’t explain why you’re more reasonable than the unethical person, then your position is “I was presented with two possibilities and flipped a coin to decide the matter).

    ?I evolved to be ethical? is simply a recognition of the truth of determinism. If you wish to debate determinism vs libertarian free will (the equivalent of your suggested ?toss of a coin?) I am quite happy to do that, and there are plenty of other threads where I am active on this issue if you care to join me.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    It is a copout to thinking.

    Quite the opposite ? it is an understanding and recognition of the way things really are. Your own position, that only theists can be ethical, seems to me to be the ?copout to thinking?.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    We’ve already covered the pointlessness of determinism. “People are determined to be ethical by natural selection” is not only ridiculous, in terms of experience, but an unsupportable philosophic position.

    Absolutely not. The converse, the idea we might have something akin to libertarian free will, is an incoherent and nonsensical notion.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    You seem to be saying, finger, that successful people in the world, like cigarette company ceo’s, coal power plant engineers, mob bosses, competent thieves, bio weapons engineers, and so on, due to their “dominating strategies” make humanity more likely to survive.

    Where have I said that all of these kinds of people are necessarily ethical, and why would one necessarily assume they are unethical? Perhaps you assume that all such people are necessarily atheists (the subject of this thread)?
    Boethiusman wrote:
    Are you suggesting that success and the long term interests of humanity are inclusive?

    No, I have never suggested this. But individual success is often related to the success of society ? do you deny this?
    Boethiusman wrote:
    It is not in the atheists best interest that everyone die, or to not cooperate when it is mutually beneficial to do so. This is why I repeatedly define ethics as derived from behaviour that tends to the maximal continuation of humanity.

    Then why do you claim that atheism entails amorality?
    Boethiusman wrote:
    I presumed you were arguing that being ethical is more reasonable than being unethical. Why else are you ethical?

    Simply because I believe in being ethical. But my belief is not predicated on any theistic beliefs.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    However you turn out not to be arguing this point, and so we are in agreement. I foolishly thought you were “arguing against my point”. As far as this thread goes, my point is that the unethical atheist is not necessarily inconsistent.

    And as I said, ?I have never claimed that an unethical atheist cannot exist without internal contradiction?. An atheist can be ethical, or can be unethical. It all depends on his/her ethical beliefs. It has nothing necessarily to do with the fact that he/she is an atheist.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    Most atheists you know of choose to be ethical, there could be many more, including all the atheists and theists you know, that are unethical but do not declare it.

    Yes, I agree. Especially about the theists.

    The point is that one can be an atheist without being amoral. Which shows that the premise of this thread viz ?Atheism entails amorality?, is thereby false.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    So you have no basis for being ethical, it is simply a fashion to you.

    Ethics is based on belief. If you wish to equate belief with fashion that is up to you, perhaps your theistic feelings are just a fashion to you?.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    You are presented with a choice “ethical or unethical” and you simply flip the coin and go with it?

    Where have I said that beliefs are based on the flip of a coin? Why should one?s beliefs be based on the flip of a coin?
    Boethiusman wrote:
    Is “reason” added to fear and compulsion? Furthermore, essentially your whole point up until now is that we have a compulsion to be ethical born from evolution (no pun intended).

    I have never said that we have a compulsion to be ethical. I have said there are good rational, deterministic and logical reasons to be ethical as opposed to be unethical. But there is no compulsion.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    Your argument seems to be “for you see, for ethics to be reasonable, it more also be reasonable to be unethical” and/or “for ethics to be consistent, it must also be consistent to be unethical”.

    Then you misunderstand my argument completely. You seem to think ethics is all about compulsion, about what we ?must? do. Game theory clearly shows that for most people, most of the time, the most reasonable and rational course of action is to be ethical. But at the end of the day we choose to do what we want to do. We do not act out of compulsion, we act according to our beliefs (or at least most of us do). There is nothing ?inconsistent? with a person acting ethically, and there is nothing ?inconsistent? with a person acting unethically, because choosing to act ethically or unethically is nothing to do with compulsion or consistency. It?s about choosing to act according to one?s beliefs.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    I do not agree with either of these claims. Yes, I believe the atheistic unethical position is consistent. But atheism is built upon the verifiable claim that nothing will be observed in the after life. There is an experiment that will resolve the matter, you are welcome to carry it out if you truly want to prove to yourself atheism is true. I believe the experiment will not conclude with no experience, and so I believe atheism is inconsistent with experience, nor do I think it true.

    This thread is not about whether atheism is ?true? or not, thus I cannot see the relevance of the above comment.

    Best Regards

  161. Boethiusman said,

    My statements are not inconsistent as I explained. Stealing is not wrong simply because god says so. I stand by this claim. If I was not a theist I would be a thief. I stand by this claim.

    These statements are consistent in my system of reasoning because existence itself is dependent upon the existence of God. And so the intrinsic wrongness of thievery is dependent on the existence of God. I believe the Ontological argument, both weak and strong, are true. My belief in God is not contingent. My belief in God is the belief in the necessity that God exists. A truth that can be arrived at by simply contemplating existence. My reasoning is akin to Descartes.

    In my system of reasoning stealing is intrinsically wrong insofar as God intrinsically exists. If I did not believe God intrinsically exists, but that he just happens to exist and it?s possible God does not exist, then I would not believe stealing would not be intrinsically wrong. However, there are situations in which I do not believe stealing is wrong. I go over these situations in the thread ethics as derived from the maximal continuation of humanity.

    In the atheistic framework I am considering, God certainly does not intrinsically exist, and so the wrongness of stealing can not be concluded by simply contemplating existence (though I believe it can). God exists > argument > stealing is wrong in many situations. I appeal to the existence of God and based on the existence of God I conclude that stealing for the sake of stealing is intrinsically wrong (not contingently wrong because God happens to say it?s wrong).

    In the atheistic framework, no such appeal can be made. The question then stands: can an intrinsic reason be found not to be a thief in the atheistic framework? I do not believe it can.

    As for:

    I even go further, without God there is not only no right and wrong, but no difference between any actions. Choices that lead to the exact same situation can only be made arbitrarily. If we cease to exist, all choices lead to non existence, non existence in all its forms is identical, and so all possible choices lead to the same situation, and thus can only be decided arbitrarily.

    If one is presented with two paths that have exactly the same characteristics (length, terrain etc.) that both lead to the same place, and one wished to get to that place, one can only decide which path to take arbitrarily (if indeed they are identical). Another example would be there a two equidistant identical cups and one needs a cup, which cup does one choose? One can only appeal to an arbitrary decision. Since one cup is not superior to the other cup in anyway, one cannot claim one chose the better cup. If questioned, one would say ?yes, I could have just as easily selected the other cup?.

    My meaning does not lead to the questions:
    Is this supposed to make sense? How can we make choices if we cease to exist? This is total nonsense.

    The thought experiment is ?How does one make decisions now (while existing

  162. Moving Finger said,

    Boethiusman wrote:
    My statements are not inconsistent as I explained. Stealing is not wrong simply because god says so. I stand by this claim. If I was not a theist I would be a thief. I stand by this claim.

    Saying ?I stand by this claim? is neither a logical nor a rational argument.
    From what you have said we can conclude :
    1) Stealing is wrong (regardless of God?s verdict)
    2) Thus, stealing is wrong regardless of whether one believes in God or not
    Now, can you please explain why it should follow from this that you would be a thief if you did not believe in God?
    Boethiusman wrote:
    These statements are consistent in my system of reasoning because existence itself is dependent upon the existence of God. And so the intrinsic wrongness of thievery is dependent on the existence of God.

    Why?
    Why is the intrinsic wrongness of theft dependent on the existence of God?
    In other words, what rational argument do you have to support your assertion that the wrongness of theft is predicated on the existence of God?
    Are you saying that if God did not exist then it follows that theft would not be wrong?
    Boethiusman wrote:
    I believe the Ontological argument, both weak and strong, are true. My belief in God is not contingent. My belief in God is the belief in the necessity that God exists. A truth that can be arrived at by simply contemplating existence. My reasoning is akin to Descartes.

    I fail to see the logical or rational argument. I accept that you believe God exists, but ?belief? is not a rational argument. Sorry.
    If you wish to debate the soundness of the ontological argument maybe that should be in another thread (if such a debate would be allowed under forum guidelines)
    Boethiusman wrote:
    In my system of reasoning stealing is intrinsically wrong insofar as God intrinsically exists. If I did not believe God intrinsically exists, but that he just happens to exist and it?s possible God does not exist, then I would not believe stealing would not be intrinsically wrong.

    You ?would not believe stealing would not be intrinsically wrong? if you did not believe God exists?
    Why the double-negative, or is this a typing mistake?
    What you have written here can be reduced (removing the double negative) to :
    ?I would believe stealing would be intrinsically wrong if I did not believe God exists?
    Is this really what you meant to say? Because if it is then we agree!
    Boethiusman wrote:
    The question then stands: can an intrinsic reason be found not to be a thief in the atheistic framework? I do not believe it can.

    Sure it can. I am an atheist. I believe theft is wrong. End of story. No appeal to God. Period.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    However, as I say, all non existence is identical.

    Seems vacuous to me.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    And so, however one comes to not exist, it cannot be argued that one came to a different situation than another possible way to not exist.

    Sorry, this is meaningless to me.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    Whether most atheists choose to be ethical or not is not the topic of this discussion, and I have never argued it one way or another.

    The premise of this thread is :
    Atheism entails amorality.

    In other words, all atheists are amoral.
    In other words, atheists have no choice in the matter, they are amoral. Period.

    Are you now saying that you do NOT agree with this premise?
    Boethiusman wrote:
    Unethical people usually masquerade as ethical people.

    And this applies to theists just as much to atheists. Indeed, unethical theists have a much greater motivation for masquerading as ethical than do unethical atheists.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    If you are an atheist I certainly encourage you to be ethical.

    But if the premise of this thread is to be believed, there is no way that an atheist can be ethical, since this premise says that atheists have no morals.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    I don?t actually know whether I personally would be a thief if I wasn?t a theist

    This is a significant climbdown from your original claim :
    Boethiusman wrote:
    if I abandoned theism, I would be thief

    Boethiusman wrote:
    The question was why do you think being ethical is more reasonable than not being ethical. Is your answer: I have innate beliefs that lead me to be ethical, which are unique to me that I can?t explain. I thought you were a determinist in never before used sense that you believe things have ?rational explanations?.

    This is a very good point. And anyone with small children will understand the frustration of the endless questions ?why??. If I ask you ?why do you think being ethical is more reasonable than not being ethical? you may answer ?because I believe in God?, but then I could ask ?why do you believe in God?, and you could say ?because God exists?, and then I could ask ?why does God exist??.. etc. No matter what answer you give to any of my questions ?why??, I could formulate another question ?why??.

    The point is that the buck has to stop somewhere. With most of us, it stops at ?what we believe?. I believe that stealing is wrong but I do NOT believe that God exists; whereas you seem to believe BOTH that stealing is wrong AND that God exists. Your belief in God does not explain WHY you believe stealing is wrong (because as you have already agreed stealing is intrinsically wrong, regardless of God?s judgment on stealing). Thus your beliefs require more assumptions, more premises, than do my beliefs. From a purely rational and parsimonious perspective I know which philosophy I prefer.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    how do you know that all the atheists you know that are ethical aren?t actually unethical but simply pretending to be ethical to gain your trust.

    There is at least one atheist I know of who is not simply pretending to be ethical, and that is me. Thus the premise of this thread is false.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    However, if you want to prove that there is no God, and all theists are bad, you are welcome to it.

    I have never suggested that I can prove there is no God (indeed I believe the exercise fruitless ? non-existence of anything cannot be proven). This is not the subject of this thread.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    Is your position that your ?beliefs with no basis?, among them that ?Determinism simply says that there are rational explanatory reasons for everything that happens?, a claim that you make in the ethics of cooperation thread, just happen to be better than the ?beliefs with no basis? of the theist.

    I am not saying there is anything wrong with a person having a belief (about what is ethical and what is not). My point is simply that both atehists and theists can have such beliefs, the theist does not have some kind of ?privileged position? whereby he is allowed to have ethical beliefs and the atheist is not.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    Is your ?rational explanation? that due to random events you happened to believe one thing whereas the theist another? How then are your beliefs superior?

    I am not suggesting in this thread that my beliefs are superior. I am arguing that the premise of this thread, that atheism entails amorality, is false.

    If you would like to discuss the rational superiority of atheistic vs theistic beliefs I would be happy to do so on another thread (but I?m not sure that forum guidelines would allow such a debate).
    Boethiusman wrote:
    When the theist appeals to ?belief? I am just as critical. ?I don?t know, I just believe? I view as a copout to thinking. When a theist appeals to ?belief? I say we do not believe in the same God.

    There is a difference between (a) ?I believe in God because I believe that God explains everything else? and (b) ?I believe in honesty because I believe honesty is right?.

    In (b) I am not saying that ?honesty? is an explanation for anything, I am simply admitting that this belief is a subjective belief of mine. However in (a) I am saying not only that I believe in this thing, but also that this thing explains everything else. There is a fundamental difference between the two.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    ?Belief? is the only explanation you can give as to why you are ethical?

    Yes. As I have said before : Anyone with small children will understand the frustration of the endless questions ?why??. If I ask you ?why do you think being ethical is more reasonable than not being ethical? you may answer ?because I believe in God?, but then I could ask ?why do you believe in God?, and you could say ?because God exists?, and then I could ask ?why does God exist??.. etc. No matter what answer you give to any of my questions ?why??, I could formulate another question ?why??.

    The point is that the buck has to stop somewhere. With most of us, it stops at ?what we believe?. I believe that stealing is wrong but I do NOT believe that God exists; whereas you seem to believe BOTH that stealing is wrong AND that God exists. Your belief in God does not explain WHY you believe stealing is wrong (because as you have already agreed stealing is intrinsically wrong, regardless of God?s judgment on stealing). Thus your beliefs require more assumptions, more premises, than do my beliefs. From a purely rational and parsimonious perspective I know which philosophy I prefer.

    I do not need to appeal to God to support my ethical beliefs. I am ethical because I choose to be ethical, and not because I am compelled by God, or by any belief in God, to be ethical. And I know which philosophy involves the stronger ethics.

    What reason can you give for being ethical?
    Boethiusman wrote:
    If you admit that being unethical is just as reasonable as being ethical for the atheists, and you are an atheist I presume, and you don?t present any reasons for being ethical over unethical, then I don?t see any other interpretation than that you randomly decided to be ethical and could have just as easily been unethical. Flipping a coin is a good way to choose between two equally reasonable things.

    Do you ?flip a coin? to decide whether you believe in God or not?
    Presumably not. Then why should I flip a coin to decide whether to be ethical or not?
    Boethiusman wrote:
    your whole point up until now is that we have a compulsion to be ethical born from evolution (no pun intended).

    Certainly not. Evolution does not ?compel? any individual to do anything.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    Under the theory of determinism, if we are all determined to do what we do, then if we do something irrational, we could not have done otherwise: as in, we had a compulsion to do this. I assume you believe all theists are determined to be theists (otherwise you are not a determinist), since you think theism is irrational, then theists have a compulsion to be theists.

    Where have I said that theism is irrational? You are making things up again.
    It also seems you confuse fatalism with determinism, but I find the above too confusing to be able to make any sense of it, sorry.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    If your claim is that ethical behaviour is rational whereas unethical behaviour is irrational, then you will have to prove that unethical atheism is inconsistent.

    I have never claimed that unethical behaviour is irrational. I have no idea why you bring this up. Again, it seems that you are trying to make arguments where there are none.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    If your claim is that ethical atheism is more rational than unethical atheism, you will have a difficult time doing so without appealing to subjective intangible things like ?belief?, in which case I would simply counter ?it is only more reasonable to you, not in general?. However, if you have an argument proving the greater rationality of ethical atheism over unethical rationality, I am all ears.

    And again, I have never claimed that ethical atheism is more rational than unethical atheism. Whether one chooses to be ethical or not depends on one?s beliefs. I can argue that there are good rational reasons to be ethical, which are based on one?s beliefs, but it does not follow from this that all unethical behaviour is necessarily irrational.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    I define ethics as what one should do.

    I agree with the definition. But there is no universal agreement on what one should do. In another thread you have claimed ethics is derived from ?the maximal continuation of humanity?, but I doubt it is this simple, and I?m not even sure what the phrase means.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    That?s what determinism means: we are determined to do whatever we do: we have no choice in the matter

    This confuses determinism with fatalism.

    I suggest you check on the difference here :

    http://www.uwmanitowoc.uwc.edu/staff/awhite/freew
    Boethiusman wrote:
    Most, if not all, the great philosophers thought determinism is ridiculous: first, because it has no use; second, because their contemplations led them to believe they made decisions.

    I have no idea where you get this ridiculous notion from, perhaps you could provide evidence to support your outlandish claims?
    ?Making decisions? is entirely compatible with determinism.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    You are the one, moving finger, who originally asked ?Is theft wrong because God says it is wrong, or does God say theft is wrong because theft is intrinsically wrong??

    I certainly did. The reason I asked this is because you are the one who originally claimed that you would be a thief if you were not a theist :
    Boethiusman wrote:
    if I abandoned theism, I would be thief

    You have since recanted on this, your latest statement is now :
    Boethiusman wrote:
    I don?t actually know whether I personally would be a thief if I wasn?t a theist

    Which shows that you now doubt whether the premise ?atheism entails amorality? is true.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    I find it odd that you now claim anything to do with theism has no relevance, since you brought up the matter to begin with.

    This is a complete misrepresentation of what I have said. I have said that whether atheism is true or not is not the subject of this thread, I have NOT said that ?anything to do with theism has no relevance?. Please try to be more accurate in your accusations.

    Best Regards

  163. Boethiusman said,

    I am quite aware of the difference between determinism and fatalism.
    Wikipedia wrote:
    Determinism is the philosophical conception which claims that every physical event, including human cognition and action, is causally determined by an unbroken chain of prior occurrences. No mysterious miracles or totally random events occur. The principal consequence of deterministic philosophy is that free will (except as defined in strict compatibilism) becomes an illusion.

    In emergentist or generative philosophy of cognitive sciences and href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Determinism#_note-Kenrick” title=””>[1] [2] However an illusion of free will is experienced due to the generation of infinite behaviour from the interaction of finite-deterministic set of rules and parameters. Thus the unpredictability of the emerging behaviour from deterministic processes leads to a perception of free will, even though free will as an ontological entity does not exist.

    I already gave an account of how determinism was born from Newtonian physics (which would be also fatalism, if both words were in use at the time; the cataloguing of philosophical arguments happened much later). Due to the discovery of quantum mechanics Fatalism took over the Newtonian physics meaning, and determinism was attached to the more popular idea of reconciling determinism with quantum physics, which, as I said, is not very difficult to do (substituting probability for certainty). The basic principle is the same however. When someone says something was determined to happen under the theory of determinism it means the laws of physics are the only explanation (there is still multiple possibilities under Quantum physics, but there is no free will). I believe the exact quote was…
    Now, with the advent of quantum physics it makes matters much more complicated, however, by subsisting probabilities for certainty, the same theory can be made. No one has ever found a possible use for determinism.

    Are you accusing me a waffling on the Thief issue.

    My position is this: I don’t know in certainty what I would do if I wasn’t a theist since in my system of reasoning God necessarily exists and so I cannot really conceive of God not existing. It is difficult to imagine what I would do in a situation difficult to imagine. I could lie down in the gutter and die for all I know. As I said, under such conditions I would not know how to make decisions as every decisions leads to the same situation. However, under such conditions, thievery would be just as reasonable as the next thing. And so pragmatically, I would indeed be a thief. If you think this is a “climb down” rather than a further explanation of my position I’m not about to stop you.
    In my system of reasoning stealing is intrinsically wrong insofar as God intrinsically exists. If I did not believe God intrinsically exists, but that he just happens to exist and it’s possible God does not exist, then I would not believe stealing would not be intrinsically wrong.

    This indeed is a typing mistake. It should read “… God does not exist, then I would not believe stealing would be intrinsically wrong.
    Where have I said that theism is irrational?

    And again, I have never claimed that ethical atheism is more rational than unethical atheism.

    I have said there are good rational, deterministic and logical reasons to be ethical as opposed to be unethical.

    If there are good reasons for doing something, it generally means doing the opposite of that thing is not as good. Your position is summed up as follows.
    Where have I said that theism is irrational?

    So, you are supporting every single side in this debate. Unethical atheism is rational. Ethical atheism is rational. Theism is rational.

    You truly think that I was supposed to understand that you weren’t arguing against anything when you made your arguments?

    What is your position then? You seem to be suggesting that you could just as easily be an unethical atheist as an ethical one, or a theist. How else are we supposed to interpret the idea that there all equally rational. As in, for all intents and purposes, you flip a coin in the morning to decide the matter.

    You must either try to prove your ethical atheist position is more reasonable than ,at least on this thread, the unethical atheist one, or agree that you have no basis for your position. Or you can continue to try and pick apart the peripheral statements to my arguments and give me the opportunity to practice writing in a concise and easy to understand way, which is one of the reasons I’m on this forum.
    I am not suggesting in this thread that my beliefs are superior. I am arguing that the premise of this thread, that atheism entails amorality, is false.

    I have stated many times that ethicalness in the atheistic framework is an independent proposition. For instance, I’ve stated:
    If an atheists wants to be a good person there is nothing in logic that would identify him as hypocritical.

    Likewise, if an atheists says “this whole notion of good and bad are not my inventions and I see no reason to adopt them” there is again nothin in logic to stop him.

    My claim was not that atheism entails thievery. Entailment is when something necessarily implies something else, L(a.b), in old notation. My claim was that thievery is consistent with atheism, (a.b). They are two completely different claims.

    An atheist cannot be convinced that considering consequences that only manifest after their death is necessary, or even intelligible. It cannot be shown that anything that does not affect the person in question should be taken into account.

    We can however assume that since we all agree that morality (whatever it is precisely) defines relations between an individual and the world (what actions are “good” is surely dependent on what is the consequence of said actions, for we indeed only know what actions are through there predicted consequence), that morality would include consequences after ones death. Post death consequences cannot possibly affect someone who no longer exists.

    However, there certainly isn’t anything stopping anyone from claiming “to feel that my life has meaning, even though I’ll stop existing at some point, I must leave a positive consequence (if I can figure out what such is)”. There’s no inconsistency in this argument either, or any similar argument.

    The wording of my claim is very specific. I claim “An atheist cannot be convinced …”. I do not claim that an atheist must dismiss all post death consequences. My claim is that if an atheist was so inclined there is nothing to convince him or her otherwise. I do not claim that if an atheist wanted to “continued welfare/happiness/prosperity etc of his/her children (for example)”, which I highly encourage, would be necessarily inconsistent. My argument was that ethics, at least his part of ethics, in the atheist framework is an independent axiom. As in, accepting the axiom can form a consistent framework, and not-accepting the axiom can also form a consistent framework.

    Let me remind you that the opening statement to this thread was
    One matter I have been debating is the question of morality in a non-theistic context. Simply put: “Can atheists act morally?”
    Perhaps better said: “Is atheism compatible with ethics?”

    To this question I argued yes. Then I asked the question, “Is “not ethical “compatible with atheism.” To this I argued yes. Some people got emotional about it, and brought up “morality is driven by fear in theism”.

    However, we seem to be in agreement. So, what are you arguing with me for? I am left to wonder. Are you arguing against my arguments concerning atheism and ethics? Or are you arguing against me the person?

  164. Boethiusman said,

    And again, I have never claimed that ethical atheism is more rational than unethical atheism.

    I have said there are good rational, deterministic and logical reasons to be ethical as opposed to be unethical.

    If there are good reasons for doing something, it generally means doing the opposite of that thing is not as good. Your position is summed up as follows.
    Where have I said that theism is irrational?

    So, you are supporting every single side in this debate. Unethical atheism is rational. Ethical atheism is rational. Theism is rational.

    You truly think that I was supposed to understand that you weren’t arguing against anything when you made your arguments?

    I fail to see the logical or rational argument. I accept that you believe God exists, but ?belief? is not a rational argument. Sorry.
    If you wish to debate the soundness of the ontological argument maybe that should be in another thread (if such a debate would be allowed under forum guidelines)

    At no point did I debate the soundness of the Ontological argument. I provided a definition for those that aren’t familiar. I pointed my reasoning out upon the matter since you asked if my theism is simply a belief like your beliefs that form the basis of ethical atheism, which have yet to explain. You simply state
    Ethics is based on belief. If you wish to equate belief with fashion that is up to you, perhaps your theistic feelings are just a fashion to you?.

    To which, as I explain, my answer is no. My belief in God is based on an argument. I hold it is a rational position, and all other positions are irrational. Hence, my belief in God has a basis. You are welcome to make a thread on the issue in the religious section.

  165. visitor said,

    Boethiusman wrote:
    And so the intrinsic wrongness of thievery is dependent on the existence of God.

    In my system of reasoning stealing is intrinsically wrong insofar as God intrinsically exists.

    Lets imagine person who says: “I believe in the intrinsic wrongness of thievery. I stand by this claim.” What makes his system less logicaly consistent than yours?

  166. Boethiusman said,

    Most statements, by themselves, are not inconsistent. For instance, say I claim, and I stand by the claim, “tree”. Tree, what?

    Consistency is simply the lack of internal contradiction. The simpler a system of statements is the easier it is to rid it of any inconsistency.

    The consistency of the the statement itself, “I believe in the intrinsic wrongness of thievery. I stand by this claim”, is rarely of any importance. It is the argument that concludes with this statement that we must check for consistency. The argument against me was that my views on theivery seemed inconsistent, and my rebuttal was that they were in fact consistent.

    To the person that states “I believe in the intrinsic wrongness of thievery. I stand by this claim” we ask why. The reason I sometimes say “I stand by this or that claim” is to clarify whether I’m retracting it or not. Often times my arguments are defeated, and so I reformulate them, in which case all my previous statements no longer matter. In this case I did not withdraw my argument.

    However, the intrinsic wrongness of theivery is a tricky business. We went over a few scenarios in the “ethics as derived from the maximal continuation of humanity”. For instance, there are various situations that can arise in which the wrongness of stealing is not evident: the “thieve or die, and dying would not benefit humanity”, the “enforcemant of taxation”, which many feel is stealing, “confiscating dangerous material (say I made a chemical weapon out of house hold material)”, and others. And so I am reticent to say theivery is intrinsically wrong (derived from the intrinsic existence of God). It all depends on the definition of stealing.

    If an argument is presented that supports the intrinsic wrongness of stealing/theiving then I will contemplate it and try to conclude whether it is consistent. However, under the atheistic framework such a proof would have to disprove the “unethical athiest” can be consistent argument, which no one has yet. It may be easier to disprove the general unethical atheist argument first, and then prove the intrinsic wrongness of theivery. Or, it may be easier to go the other way around. However, make no mistake: the intrinsic wrongness of theivery would entail the inconsistency of the unethical atheist.

  167. Moving Finger said,

    Boethiusman wrote:
    I am quite aware of the difference between determinism and fatalism.

    Really? I doubt this (see below)
    Boethiusman wrote:
    I already gave an account of how determinism was born from Newtonian physics (which would be also fatalism, if both words were in use at the time; the cataloguing of philosophical arguments happened much later).

    Clearly you still confuse determinism and fatalism.
    (Your ?historical account? is also totally false ? the philosophical arguments underlying fatalism were around at the time of the ancient Greeks, and are older than many theistic religions.)

    You quoted the Wikipedia entry on Determinism, it is a pity you didn?t bother to look up Fatalism, because then you would understand the difference :
    Wikipedia wrote:
    Fatalism is the view that human deliberation and actions are pointless and ineffectual in determining events, because whatever will be will be.

    One ancient argument, called the idle argument, went like this:

    If it is fated for you to recover from your illness, then you will recover whether you call a doctor or not.
    Likewise, if you are fated not to recover, you will not do so even if you call a doctor.
    So, calling a doctor makes no difference.
    Arguments like the above are usually rejected even by causal determinists, who may say that it may be determined that only a doctor can cure you. There are other examples that show clearly that human deliberation makes a big difference – a chess player who deliberates should usually be able to defeat one of equal strength who is only allowed one second per move.

    Determinism should therefore not be mistaken for fatalism. Although determinists would accept that the future is in some sense set, they accept human actions as factors that will cause the future to take the shape that it will – even though those human actions are themselves determined; if they had been different, the future would also be different.

    Boethiusman wrote:
    Due to the discovery of quantum mechanics Fatalism took over the Newtonian physics meaning

    This is total nonsense, where did you get this from?
    Boethiusman wrote:
    No one has ever found a possible use for determinism.

    More nonsense. Just read the extensive literature on determinism. Determinism perhaps does not accord with theistic views, but that doesn?t mean determinism is false.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    My position is this: I don’t know in certainty what I would do if I wasn’t a theist since in my system of reasoning God necessarily exists and so I cannot really conceive of God not existing.

    But you earlier claimed, quite categorically, that you would be a thief if you were not a theist. You did not say ?possibly? or ?probably? or ?maybe?. You said you would be. Period.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    And so pragmatically, I would indeed be a thief.

    You are prevaricating. Above you say that you ?do not know with certainty?, and now you say that you ?would indeed be a thief?. What are we supposed to make of this? Are you saying ?I would be a thief?, I might be a thief? or ?I would not be a thief??
    Boethiusman wrote:
    If I did not believe God intrinsically exists, but that he just happens to exist and it’s possible God does not exist, then I would not believe stealing would not be intrinsically wrong.

    Why not? I do not believe God exists, but I believe stealing is wrong. Why do you think you would not believe stealing is wrong if you thought God did not exist? Can you provide a rational reason?
    Boethiusman wrote:
    So, you are supporting every single side in this debate.

    No. I do NOT support the side which says ?Atheism entails amorality? ? which is what this debate is all about! (You perhaps wish to keep taking the argument ?off-topic?, but that doesn?t change tha fact that this debate is about the premise ?Atheism entails amorality?, which premise I claim is false).
    Boethiusman wrote:
    Unethical atheism is rational. Ethical atheism is rational. Theism is rational.

    Yes. And none of these is predicated on the truth of the premise ?Atheism entails amorality?.

    Boethiusman wrote:
    What is your position then? You seem to be suggesting that you could just as easily be an unethical atheist as an ethical one, or a theist. How else are we supposed to interpret the idea that there all equally rational.

    My position is the same as it has always been, that the premise of this thread, that ?Atheism entails amorality? is false. Am I mistaken in thinking that is what we are debating here?

    Just because I am arguing that ?atheists can have morals?, it does not necessarily follow that an unethical atheist is irrational, or that an ethical theist is irrational.
    Why should the three statements ?atheists with morals is a rational position?, ?atheists without morals is a rational position?, and ?theists with morals is a rational position? not be entirely compatible and self-consistent positions?
    Boethiusman wrote:
    As in, for all intents and purposes, you flip a coin in the morning to decide the matter.

    No more than you flip a coin to decide whether to believe in God.
    I believe stealing is wrong; I do not ?flip a coin? to decide whether to have this belief or not, any more than you flip a coin to decide whether to believe in God or not.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    You must either try to prove your ethical atheist position is more reasonable than ,at least on this thread, the unethical atheist one,

    I need prove no such thing, nor have I ever claimed such a thing.
    The premise of the thread is not ?unethical atheism is more reasonable than ethical atheism?, it is ?atheism entails amorality?.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    If an atheists wants to be a good person there is nothing in logic that would identify him as hypocritical.

    Then you agree with me that the premise of this thread, that ?atheism entails amorality?, is false. Thank you.

    But WHY then do you claim that you would necessarily be a thief if you were not a theist? Such a position is incompatible with the notion that an atheist can be a good person if he wanted to.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    And so the intrinsic wrongness of thievery is dependent on the existence of God.

    This completely contradicts your above position where you claim that an atheist can be a good person without hypocrisy.

    You are saying that the ?wrongness? of theft is dependent on the existence of God; thus it follows that an atheist (who does not believe in God) must think (according to you) that theft is not wrong (and this is why you claim you would be a thief if you were not a theist). But for a person who thinks that theft is not wrong to consider themselves a ?good? person just because they are not e a thief would be hypocritical (since they would not see theft as being wrong).

    You seem to have tied yourself up in knots.

    Can we just settle this once and for all, and both go on to do better things?

    Do you believe atheism entails amorality? (yes or no)

    (If your answer is ?no? then it follows from this that theft can be wrong regardless of the existence of God, and you would not necessarily be a thief if you were not a theist)

    Best Regards

  168. Moving Finger said,

    Boethiusman wrote:
    If an argument is presented that supports the intrinsic wrongness of stealing/theiving then I will contemplate it and try to conclude whether it is consistent. However, under the atheistic framework such a proof would have to disprove the “unethical athiest” can be consistent argument, which no one has yet. It may be easier to disprove the general unethical atheist argument first, and then prove the intrinsic wrongness of theivery. Or, it may be easier to go the other way around.

    I disagree.

    You seem to think that either “ethical atheism” is somehow irrational or inconsistent, or that “unethical atheism” is somehow irrational or inconsistent, that one must prove one position is inconsistent in order to claim the other position is consistent?

    Why?

    I claim that “ethical atheism” and “unethical atheism” are both rational and consistent posistions, and they do not contradict each other.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    the intrinsic wrongness of theivery would entail the inconsistency of the unethical atheist.

    What a strange idea.
    Just because I believe that theft is wrong does not mean that everyone else “must” also believe theft is wrong.

    “person A believes theft is wrong” is perfectly compatible with “person B believes theft is not wrong”, because all they are are statements of personal moral belief. Person A cannot prove theft is wrong any more than person B can prove it is not wrong.

    Ethics is based on beliefs about morals. One cannot prove one’s fundamental moral beliefs, one either simply believes them or not.

    Best Regards

  169. Boethiusman said,

    The word “determinism” came into popular use when Newtonian physics was invented. “Fatalism” had been around before. When the philosophical arguments were catalogued in the twentieth century the “definers that be” decided “fatalism” would denote loosely any theory that is claims “all events are predetermined precisely”, whereas “determinism” would loosely denote theories that claim “all events are completely governed by physical laws, nothing more”. Certainly, you don’t need Newtonian physics to have a fatalistic theory, gods could be the governed of fate, but in recent western philosophy the philosophy of fatalism became popular with the advent of Newtonian physics
    Now, all the philosophic “schools”: rationalism, existentialism, theism, atheism, pragmatism, determinism, analytic philosophy, empiricism, positivism, and so and so forth, are all just loose definitions. If you want to talk about an argument you must tell us precisely what it is. How do you define determinism? If you don’t define it, people will assume you pretty much give or take employ the same arguments as other people they’ve met who have called themselves determinists. In my case, all the determinists that I’ve met deny free will exists (events are totally determined by physical laws; that’s were the word came from: “events are determined”, back in the day it was by Newtonian physics (which would also qualify as fatalism: all events are uniquely determined), today quantum physics).

    I do not dismiss determinism as untrue prima faci. I dismiss determinism as pointless in a philosophic context. Why does it matter what philosophy we happen to believe if we have no free will? If determinism is true, then philosophy is useless. There is no truth in determinism, simply a physical process. There are no choices either. Those that do not choose to study philosophy could not have chose to do otherwise. Those that choose one philosophy over another, could not have chose otherwise. The word ?choose? does not have any meaning.

    Consequently, I came to my theistic views because I found determinism pointless. How could I ?choose? to deny my ability to ?choose? things (as in free will), such as the idea of not being able to choose things. If I was going to assume I had free will, under what conditions does this make sense? I asked myself.

    How does ethics make any sense in a deterministic theory? You must outline your position. The title to this whole forum this thread is posted in is ?ethics?.
    Just because I believe that theft is wrong does not mean that everyone else “must” also believe theft is wrong.

    “person A believes theft is wrong” is perfectly compatible with “person B believes theft is not wrong”, because all they are are statements of personal moral belief. Person A cannot prove theft is wrong any more than person B can prove it is not wrong.

    Ethics is based on beliefs about morals. One cannot prove one’s fundamental moral beliefs, one either simply believes them or not.

    So theft is wrong insofar as you believe it is wrong. If you believe theft is not wrong, then insofar as you believe theft is not wrong, it isn?t wrong. Few great philosopher have ever denied the idea of absolute truth. Even Isaiah Berlin the famous pluralist did not deny the idea of absolute truth. In the introduction to his book ?The Power of Ideas? he explicitly states, if I recall, that pluralists do not deny the existence of absolute truth (his reasoning was because philosophic investigation then becomes impossible: arguments have no purpose is all arguments are equally true). If truth is dependent on what one already believes to be true, then where did this did of truth come from?

    Furthermore, how practical is your theory? Should only the rapists that believe rape is wrong go to jail? Does Hitler qualify as one the most ethical people to live? Clearly, your ethical theory could never be put in to practice in the form of legislation. Nor is ?you should do what you already believe you should do? going to satisfy many people who ask ?what should I do??.

    What is a belief about morals? This statement suggests that the general idea of ?morals? is innate, and that we can either pick and choose what we want to believe about them, or that our beliefs about morals are also innate. And all ethical behaviour that?s liable to result is reasonable.

    Furthermore, where do these ?beliefs? come from? Are they consistent from one person to another? What happens if they change?
    You seem to have tied yourself up in knots.

    Can we just settle this once and for all, and both go on to do better things?

    Do you believe atheism entails amorality? (yes or no)

    (If your answer is ?no? then it follows from this that theft can be wrong regardless of the existence of God, and you would not necessarily be a thief if you were not a theist)

    I have defended about six times already that atheism does not entail amorality. My original argument was: assuming one can establish what morality is, then all the atheist has to do is act according to that definition and the atheist is moral. And so atheism doe not necessarily imply amorality. I then asked the question: does atheism entail morality? To this I argued that the atheist can act consistently and unethically with respect to any definition of ethics that calls upon people to make decisions based on predicted consequences that would only manifest after their death.

    If you are not trying to defend any other position as you say
    Boethiusman wrote:

    You must either try to prove your ethical atheist position is more reasonable than ,at least on this thread, the unethical atheist one,

    M.F. wrote

    I need prove no such thing, nor have I ever claimed such a thing.

    The last half of what Boethiusman?s statement was:

    or agree that you have no basis for your position.

    You have never even tried to prove that your position is more reasonable than the next, nor do you seem interested in doing so; thus: you have no basis for your position. The question on this thread is ?does atheism entail amorality?? if you do not believe it does, nor do you believe atheism entails morality (which would be an answer to the question), and you can?t present any ?rational? to be ethical, then why isn?t your decision to be ethical arbitrary and that you could just as easily be unethical if you happened to not have ?beliefs about morals??
    You agree with my position that atheism does not entail amorality, and yet to are heart set on disputing my position. I don?t really get it. If you refuse to defend your position of ethical atheism and determinism, which you don?t even define what theory of determinism you are employing, (defend as in try to show it?s more reasonable than all the other positions you are aware of, which is why you have such a position), as well as refuse to defend your position of not needing to defend your position, what right do you think you have to attack mine?

  170. Moving Finger said,

    Boethiusman wrote:
    How do you define determinism? If you don’t define it, people will assume you pretty much give or take employ the same arguments as other people they’ve met who have called themselves determinists. In my case, all the determinists that I’ve met deny free will exists (events are totally determined by physical laws; that’s were the word came from: “events are determined”, back in the day it was by Newtonian physics (which would also qualify as fatalism: all events are uniquely determined), today quantum physics).

    Determinism (the definition I am using here) : For any given physical state of the universe at time t0, there is one and only one physically possible state of the universe at time t1.
    Boethiusman, this is off-topic.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    Consequently, I came to my theistic views because I found determinism pointless. How could I ?choose? to deny my ability to ?choose? things (as in free will), such as the idea of not being able to choose things. If I was going to assume I had free will, under what conditions does this make sense? I asked myself.

    You are assuming that ability to choose entails free will. You are mistaken. But again, the best place to debate this is in the thread to which I have above provided a link.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    How does ethics make any sense in a deterministic theory?

    It makes perfect sense to me. Ethics, to me, is based upon belief. We believe that one course of action, or one type of behaviour, has more value or is more desirable, than another course of action or type of behaviour. I believe the origins of these ethical beliefs (ie the reason why we are predisposed to ethically believe in certain ways rather than in others) have a causally deterministic root in evolution and can be explained on the basis of game theoretical models. The emergence of ethical beliefs within a society of intelligent individuals is thus not only consistent with, but also can be explained by, causal determinism.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    So theft is wrong insofar as you believe it is wrong. If you believe theft is not wrong, then insofar as you believe theft is not wrong, it isn?t wrong. Few great philosopher have ever denied the idea of absolute truth. Even Isaiah Berlin the famous pluralist did not deny the idea of absolute truth. In the introduction to his book ?The Power of Ideas? he explicitly states, if I recall, that pluralists do not deny the existence of absolute truth (his reasoning was because philosophic investigation then becomes impossible: arguments have no purpose is all arguments are equally true). If truth is dependent on what one already believes to be true, then where did this did of truth come from?

    I do not deny the existence of absolute truth, but I do deny that we can know that truth with certainty. All we can ever do is to believe that we know the truth, and different people may have different beliefs about what is true and what is not.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    Furthermore, how practical is your theory? Should only the rapists that believe rape is wrong go to jail?

    How does this follow? Secular law is based on a concensus of the beliefs of individuals within a society. If a society says that rape is wrong then it doesn?t make any difference if any individuals in that society believe rape is not wrong ? they must still obey the secular law.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    Does Hitler qualify as one the most ethical people to live?

    Judging whether someone is ethical or not depends on one?s ethical beliefs.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    Clearly, your ethical theory could never be put in to practice in the form of legislation.

    Of course it can, and it is. It is not necessary for everyone in a given society to have perfect agreement in their ethical beliefs in order for that society to agree, enact and enforce secular laws.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    Nor is ?you should do what you already believe you should do? going to satisfy many people who ask ?what should I do??.

    What one should do depends on one?s beliefs. A newborn baby has no idea of what it should do, it has no idea of moral right and wrong. It learns these things by acquiring beliefs as it grows up.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    where do these ?beliefs? come from? Are they consistent from one person to another? What happens if they change?

    We all acquire beliefs as we grow up. Most of our ethical beliefs are taught to us by parents, other adults, siblings, peers. They need not be indentical in all individuals, but in any cohesive society the basic moral/ethical beliefs are generally very similar between the individuals of that society. They can and do change, but not very often and not very easily.

    It is often said that we cannot make a person change, the person must want to change. This is a reflection of the fact that a person?s beliefs are usually more important to that person than is rationality. It is only when a person reflects internally, and agrees for themselves that their beliefs may be mistaken or wrong, that they then effectively empower themselves to change those beliefs. (Example : For anyone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol, the first step in effecting any change in their behaviour is for them to admit to their addiction).

    Changing my belief system is something that only I can do, it happens internally within my mind, under my control, following a recognition by me that some of my beliefs may be incorrect. But such internal reflection and evaluation of one?s beliefs can take place only in the context of other internal beliefs. It is impossible to carry out this evaluation in a ?vacuum?, with no benchmark beliefs against which to judge the examined beliefs. This indicates NOT that we need have any fundamental, absolute or immutable beliefs which underlie everything and give rise to everything else within our belief system, but that our belief system forms a complex, interconnected and mutually supporting, self-consistent ?whole?.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    I have defended about six times already that atheism does not entail amorality.

    Excellent. We agree.

    If atheism does not entail amorality then it follows that an atheist can be ethical, hence it follows that an atheist need not necessarily be a thief. Thus your original claim that you would be a thief if you abandoned theism is incoherent.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    You have never even tried to prove that your position is more reasonable than the next, nor do you seem interested in doing so; thus: you have no basis for your position. The question on this thread is ?does atheism entail amorality?? if you do not believe it does, nor do you believe atheism entails morality (which would be an answer to the question), and you can?t present any ?rational? to be ethical, then why isn?t your decision to be ethical arbitrary and that you could just as easily be unethical if you happened to not have ?beliefs about morals??

    One?s ethical/moral position is based on one?s beliefs, there is no reason why an atheist should necessarily have amoral beliefs, hence the conclusion is that atheism does not entail amoraility. Period. No more needs to be ?proven?.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    You agree with my position that atheism does not entail amorality, and yet to are heart set on disputing my position. I don?t really get it.

    What position of yours do you think I am disputing?

    Take a look at this post, it is almost entirely a series of replies to your questions and accusations ? it is YOU who is doing the disputing here, not me! All I am doing is answering your questions.

    What is it that you don?t get?
    Boethiusman wrote:
    If you refuse to defend your position of ethical atheism and determinism, which you don?t even define what theory of determinism you are employing, (defend as in try to show it?s more reasonable than all the other positions you are aware of, which is why you have such a position), as well as refuse to defend your position of not needing to defend your position, what right do you think you have to attack mine?

    I have defended my position on ethical atheism above. If you think there is anything incorrect or inconsistent or incoherent in this position then please do let me know, and I will gladly defend my position against your critique. On this basis, I have every right to also criticise your own position. I do not ?need to show? that my position is more reasonable than any other particular position, but if you wish to argue that there is a particular position which you think is more reasonable then please do provide the details and we can discuss it.

    Determinism (the definition I am using here) : For any given physical state of the universe at time t0, there is one and only one physically possible state of the universe at time t1.

    Best Regards

  171. Boethiusman said,

    Determinism (the definition I am using here) : For any given physical state of the universe at time t0, there is one and only one physically possible state of the universe at time t1.

    First, your definition of causal determinism would be considered fatalism as far as I?ve seen the word used. Your definition was born from Newtonian physics, in which it is true that to know the position and velocity of all the particles in any system of particles (the universe) means to know the position and velocity of all the particles at any other time. However, your definition of determinism contradicts modern science. In Quantum physics there is the uncertainty principle (named after Heisenberg if I recall). Unless your arguing that the true nature of the universe is the quantum cosmological Psi function never changes and is the true definition of the universe. However, if that is the case, the mega function of what you speak would not evolve over time, the universe would be essentially static, and so to say there is a T0 and a T1 would be meaningless. In short trying to reconcile your definition with modern physics would a) probably require a PhD in Quantum physics and a PhD in classical physics (general relativity), and b) require abandoning the notion of time and therefore: not reconciling your definition. If you are at all going to found your perspective of the world on science (which I hope you do, science is very useful when it comes to doing anything) then I would suggest finding about modern science.

    However, as for your definition: If there is one and only one possible future configuration of the universe how do we make ?choices?. I assume you think we do make choices because you state:
    You are assuming that ability to choose entails free will. You are mistaken.[quote]

    Now, this isn?t actually a commitment to the idea that we can make choices. So clarify your point. If we do make choices, how is this consistent with your deterministic theory, and how does the ability to make choices not entail free will.

    [quote] It makes perfect sense to me. Ethics, to me, is based upon belief. We believe that one course of action, or one type of behaviour, has more value or is more desirable, than another course of action or type of behaviour. I believe the origins of these ethical beliefs (ie the reason why we are predisposed to ethically believe in certain ways rather than in others) have a causally deterministic root in evolution and can be explained on the basis of game theoretical models. The emergence of ethical beliefs within a society of intelligent individuals is thus not only consistent with, but also can be explained by, causal determinism.

    You have stated earlier in a way that actually means something. Saying our actions are based ?based upon belief? doesn?t really mean anything. ?Belief?, to me, is simply a word that denotes a set of assumptions a person is working under that not everyone may share. So, to me, what you have said is ?what people do is based upon their assumptions about what they should do?. You say this more starkly earlier:
    Moving finger wrote

    Ethics is based on beliefs about morals.

    What definitions of ?ethics? and ?morals? are you using. I do not see any difference between them other than flavor. We would use the term ?ethical? in a more formal setting (like a job or something where ther work ?moral?, or ?right and wrong? or ?righteous?, which have more intense connotations would not be PC), whereas we would use the term ?moral? in either a more personal setting or a more intense setting (such as talking about murder or rape). However, both terms as far as I have ever read are defined as ?what one should do?. If you cannot distinguish a difference between ?ethics? and ?morals?, then your statement runs ?What one should do is based on beliefs about what one should do?. This is what we call a logical tautology (a statement that is true, but no other information can be derived from it). Tautologies can often lead oneself into thinking one understands something (as one has a statement with the general names of the something?s in question that is true).

    Later you state:
    I do not deny the existence of absolute truth, but I do deny that we can know that truth with certainty. All we can ever do is to believe that we know the truth, and different people may have different beliefs about what is true and what is not.

    Since you do not deny the existence of absolute truth (which I strongly recommend, since discussion doesn?t hold any meaningful otherwise), then you admit that some beliefs are erroneous, and that we should try to find out whether our beliefs are true (since there is a truth independent of what we believe to be true. I have come across this theory before, and there are two pitfalls. First, if beliefs are not constant (one can change one?s beliefs) then appealing to ones beliefs is not justifiable because one is liable to simply change those beliefs in the following second. Now, if beliefs are some sort of fundamental constant in our minds that we can?t change, how does one determine what one truly believes? Another debate I had along the same lines was with a friend who appealed to ?wants? to justify his actions. The same basic pitfalls arise. If his wants change, then nothing he is doing now based on his presents wants is of any benefit to him (and he doesn?t want, or so he would say), and if his wants somehow cannot change, then how does he know what he truly wants? Have you not ever wanted something, gotten it, and then not want it any more? For if he ever did he would have to doubt idea of appealing to wants. Likewise, if you have ever believed something that you later decided was false, and so began believing something else, should you not doubt this system of appealing to beliefs. What is the alternative you ask? Is not everyone who believes anything susceptible to the same pitfalls?

    No. These criticism only occur if you appeal to yourself to justify a point (as in support the argument with that conclusion). If you do not do this, then your beliefs are always in the context of ?I am currently under the assumption that these notion represent the truth?. The truth of a matter be definition never changes and so the first criticism leads to nothing strange, and ?what truly is the truth?? is the same as ?what is the truth? and so the second criticism isn?t valid.

    Then you go onto to say that your theory is practical. I defined something as being practical if it affects ones decisions. You did not protest this definition, so I assume you agree with it. If you d have another definition of practical, please define it in clear terms. So, based on this definition …

    How can anything be practical if there is one and only one possible state of the universe at any T1 as you call it.

    Moreover, your evolutionary theory only accounts for why people generally have an idea of what is right and wrong, it doesn?t provide any hint as to how we might resolve new ethical problems. You claim that because these moral ideas have evolved to be inherent in the majority of people they, being the majority, place these ideas into law. This is only an account of how are laws have come to be, it does not help us improve our laws in anyway. All your theory can tell us is that whatever people will come to believe is right in a given situation will probably be put into law. You say in response to ?Should only the rapists that believe rape is wrong go to jail??.
    How does this follow? Secular law is based on a concensus of the beliefs of individuals within a society. If a society says that rape is wrong then it doesn?t make any difference if any individuals in that society believe rape is not wrong ? they must still obey the secular law.

    Certainly the majority of the power within a group proportionately affects government policy. However, if the majority of people thought rape was good, it would cease to be bad. You are suggesting no one in such a society should ever wonder ?is all this rape we?re doing truly ethical??. Furthermore, you do not answer the question ?should I rape someone?, for presented with an opportunity to rape, under your theory, I should do it if that?s what I believe. Presumably, as long as I don?t feel bad about raping someone then I need not consider whether my actions are ethical or not. Saying ethics is different for different people isn?t an ethical theory. An ethical theory is a theory that attempts to define what a given person should do in a given situation. If a person does anything different, then that person is unethical. Relativism is an attractive theory as it justifies one?s lifestyle (as all life styles are justified), and so one doesn?t have to actually go about thinking if one?s lifestyle is justified. However, the theory doesn?t answer any questions. If ever you wondered about anything it simply states that different people may answer differently. You go on to underline this idea with:
    Boethiusman wrote:

    Does Hitler qualify as one the most ethical people to live?

    Moving finger wrote:

    Judging whether someone is ethical or not depends on one?s ethical beliefs.

    Score one for PC. Hitler, as far as we know (and Hitler is one of the most studied person we have, so presumably we know a little about him) very much believed in what he was doing. Was what he was doing ethical or not ethical? And why. Saying ?Judging whether someone is ethical or not depends on one?s ethical beliefs? doesn?t say anything.

    Question: Should I be like Hitler?

    Answer: If you judge based on your beliefs about ethics that you should, then yes, go for it. My understanding supports your actions.

    But ?what one should do? doesn?t really matter does it, since whatever one does is predetermined. Which is why I find it humorous that a determinist is in a forum for ethics. I have never before met an ethicist that presumed the future was precisely determined from present conditions. I ask again, how is ethics compatible with determinism (especially your formulation of determinism in which everything is predetermined exactly from initial conditions)? If I do something ?unethical? under your theory it is impossible that I could have done anything else. And so how could there have been anything unethical about it? How could I consider my action to be wrong if I had no choice in the matter? How could I regret any ?immoral? action?

    As I stated before
    Why does it matter what philosophy we happen to believe if we have no free will? If determinism is true, then philosophy is useless. There is no truth in determinism, simply a physical process. There are no choices either. Those that do not choose to study philosophy could not have chose to do otherwise. Those that choose one philosophy over another, could not have chose otherwise. The word ?choose? does not have any meaning.

    I went on to state that your definition of ethics is not a definition of what ?one should do?, it is simply the characteristically traits that have allowed our species to survive until now. It is a passive observation. Using your theory I could talk of the ?ethics of frogs? and speculate as to how the ethics of frogs will have to change for frogs to survive in the modern world. Your theory only accounts for the vague ideas about morals that permeate society. But this isn?t as startling an account as you might think. As you say ethics are the traits that allow a human society to survive. If people were not ethical at all then we would expect society to not exist. And so to observe society existing at all means that people are somewhat ethical. Does this lead to a theory about how to deal with Global warming, the AIDS epidemic, poverty, nuclear war, ?what should I do next?, pollution, and so on and so forth? Can we derive from your theory what are the traits next needed by humans to continue to survive? Or are you saying that these traits need not change?

    Then you tell us a little story that again only gives an account of the vague intuition of right and wrong that?s out there, and does in no way provide any information on what one should do next. Then you say:
    It is often said that we cannot make a person change, the person must want to change. This is a reflection of the fact that a person?s beliefs are usually more important to that person than is rationality.

    First, why should anyone want to change anyone? If it is so the species may survive, why should anyone care if the species survives? And how does anyone know whether their traits are better than the next with respect to the survival of the species? And if what one should do is based on the survival of the species, then is not ethics derived from ?the maximal continuation of humanity?? And one should strive to believe whatever allows humanity to continue maximally, and that there is one and only one answer to this question in any given situation, and so all your pseudo psychological talk is of no use?
    It is only when a person reflects internally, and agrees for themselves that their beliefs may be mistaken or wrong, that they then effectively empower themselves to change those beliefs.

    What exactly does ?agrees for yourself? mean? If I have the power to empower myself, mustn?t I empower that power first? And so what I must do is effectively empower myself to empower myself. But, of course, we all know this takes a lot empowering? Furthermore, what system do you suggest to judge one?s beliefs upon. Is not that the crux of the matter? What beliefs are true and what are not. Certainly, your theory is all warm, fuzzy and inviting when talking to drug addicts (which you tacitly assume has wrong beliefs without explaining why, because you assume being a drug addict is bad and that everyone simply blindly agrees with you without asking why), but it does not resolve any complex matters. It is not a theory of ethics.

    The fundamental question you must answer is how ethics is at all meaningful in your theory of how events transpire:
    Determinism (the definition I am using here) : For any given physical state of the universe at time t0, there is one and only one physically possible state of the universe at time t1.

    Essentially every thread in this greater ethical forum includes some formulation of the idea notion that ethics is only meaningful if we have free will. Ethics is a subordinate discussion to the discussion of free will for those that happen to agree we have free will. The meaningful debate for you is upon free will. All you have to do is prove that ?For any given physical state of the universe at time t0, there is one and only one physically possible state of the universe at time t1? and ethics will cease to exist. I have tried to present what determinism actually means in this forum, since many people that start in philosophy become captivated by the idea and I am always trying to refine my skill at refuting it. Determinism seems to be an alternative to skepticism, nihilism, and religious fanaticism, and provides some sort of intoxicating understanding of the world. Most of the determinists I have run into seem to be under the impression that because they can explain the world and everything that happens, even though they didn?t predict it, they ?understand? that they are somehow superior. I of course don?t understand how anyone can be superior to anybody in a deterministic theory. Though you don?t seem drunk off your own tautological explanatory power, and so I wonder it a new movement has sprung up.

    Regardless, can you truly sit down and contemplate and conclude that you don?t make decisions, that you have no freewill? Furthermore, can you derive any meaning from determinism?

    You claim however that your reasoning is a defense of ethical atheism. I still fail to see how it is anything but an explanation of ?ethical traits? much like we would explain the existence of trees because the tall trait allows plants to compete better against other plants (which of course could be modeled in game theory if you wanted to). You describe how we are influenced by ?parents, other adults, siblings, peers? but do not explain why one should choose to be an ethical atheist rather than an unethical atheist. You agree that the unethical atheist is consistent, and so how to you refute the position. You cannot claim that your position is simply ?good? because your definition of goodness is dependent on your position. If you became an unethical atheist your definition of good would be ?good for me? and so the ethical position would just be quite simply bad.

    Concluding that ?one should do a given thing? without being able to argue one should not do the alternatives, is not a method of reasoning I?m familiar with. How can something be more reasonable than other things, without those things being unreasonable (or less reasonable). What is less reasonable about unethical atheism? If I was to become an atheist what argument would you present me with to be ethical?
    Thus your original claim that you would be a thief if you abandoned theism is incoherent.

    Did I say I would have no other logical alternative than thievery? Maybe you don?t understand what ?entail? means. Entail means necessarily imply. Atheism does not necessarily imply amorality. I have defended this seven time now, maybe more. However, I have also argued that atheism does not necessarily imply morality. Both ethical atheism is a consistent theory and unethical atheism. You have agreed to this more than once.

    Hence, seeing no reason to not be thief, and seeing that thievery solves many fiscal problems, why not be a thief? You have argued yourself that unethical atheism is coherent, so why if I became an atheist, would me being unethical be incoherent?
    What position of yours do you think I am disputing?
    Take a look at this post, it is almost entirely a series of replies to your questions and accusations ? it is YOU who is doing the disputing here, not me! All I am doing is answering your questions.

    I had posted my position before you did, you responded to my criticism. You quoted my position and did not say ?I agree with everything this person says?. My position was
    An atheist cannot be convinced that considering consequences that only manifest after their death is necessary, or even intelligible. It cannot be shown that anything that does not affect the person in question should be taken into account.

    Which you refuted with
    Why should this be the case?
    Why should an atheist not be concerned for the continued welfare/happiness/prosperity etc of his/her children (for example), including their welfare after his/her death? Just because a person does not believe in God, it does not follow that they do not care about the welfare of others!

    I don?t see how I am to interpret this as not attempting to refute my claim. True, it doesn?t actually refute it. ?Cannot be convinced? is not ?why should one not?. Cannot be convinced, in logic anyway, means cannot be shown to be self contradictory. Can you show any contradiction in not considering events that manifest after one?s death? Remember, right after I made my argument about unethical atheism I stated:

    [quote]However, there certainly isn?t anything stopping anyone from claiming ?to feel that my life has meaning, even though I?ll stop existing at some point, I must leave a positive consequence (if I can figure out what such is)?. There?s no inconsistency in this argument either, or any similar argument.

    So clearly, you were aware that I wasn?t arguing against ethical atheism.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    I see no flaw in the argument: I will not consider any predicted consequences which will not manifest in my lifetime to form decisions.

    Moving finger wrote:

    I see a big flaw. This would be a purely “selfish” agent, acting without any care or regard for the welfare of others after that agent’s death. I doubt that there are many rational individuals who think this way, atheist or theist.

    You say you see a big flaw. As far as I know I have not changed my arguments, and you are not refuting my claims. How can you claim there is big flaw in my reasoning without such a claim constituting ?a refute?

    Since you now seem to agree with me and that you are simply answering questions and accusations I posed you. I am left to wonder why I felt I was trying to answer your question/accusation. Keep in mind that I had not responded to any of your statements or asked you any questions. You posted you statement that you saw a big flaw in my reasoning, then I posted a response to Loveofsophia (which should be evident since I quoted only loveofsopia?s statements, then you posted:
    Thus, it is only your belief in God which is keeping you honest?
    Then with respect you have a very poor system of morals. If you “need belief in God and divine punishment” to prevent you from being a thief then I feel sorry for you. There may have been a time (in the Middle Ages perhaps) when the threat of divine retribution was needed to keep the ignorant peasants under control, to make sure they behaved, but I really think it’s time that humanity grew up and put such naive notions behind them.

    Most atheists do not need that crutch, we quite happily accept that theft is morally wrong without needing a belief in God, or a fear of divine retribution, to support that moral system.
    A question for you:

    Is theft wrong because God says it is wrong, or does God say theft is wrong because theft is intrinsically wrong?
    How would you answer?

    Are you saying I foolishly interpreted ?How would you answer?? as a question. I made presented my argument, then I responded to loveofsophia, and then you asked me a bunch of questions and accused me of ?having a very poor system of morals? and that I am motivated purely out of fear of divine punishment, that haven?t grown up from the middle ages, and that my belief is God is a crutch. All of which are statements about my person I think are false, thus fulfilling the definition of ?accused?.

    To which I responded:
    Why be ethical when it is not profitable to be so? If I simply stop existing, as do all humans, hat do I care if human kind ends shortly after I die at the end of a long and enjoyable life, or a billion years. It?s of no consequence to me.

    “Growing up” is not a basis for ethics. The burden is on you to prove why it would be unreasonable to be unethical under atheism. I see no logical inconsistency in the position. As I said it is an independent axiom, both decisions (ethical or not ethical) can form a consistent system.
    If an atheists wants to be a good person there is nothing in logic that would identify him as hypocritical.

    Likewise, if an atheists says “this whole notion of good and bad are not my inventions and I see no reason to adopt them” there is again nothin in logic to stop him.

    All of which are questions you have not answered or responded to. Perhaps we should revisit my original argument that I have been defending against, what I thought where at the time, refutations.
    For, loosely, intelligence is the navigation of consequences. Ethics we can partially define as representing the superiority of certain consequences over other consequences. We need not go any further to uphold the following statement. In a more rigorous iteration of this argument we would substitute the law of non contradiction for consistency. As in, as long as you do not contradict yourself you are consistent. In which case the question seems trivial: can an atheist be moral without contradiction? All the atheist has to do is decide that morality will be the first principle. And so, whatever the definition, an atheist can be moral without self contradiction, insofar as morality is not self contradictory. A better question is: is it inconsistent for an atheist to be immoral? My argument goes:

    An atheist cannot be convinced that considering consequences that only manifest after their death is necessary, or even intelligible. It cannot be shown that anything that does not affect the person in question should be taken into account.

    We can however assume that since we all agree that morality (whatever it is precisely) defines relations between an individual and the world (what actions are ?good? is surely dependent on what is the consequence of said actions, for we indeed only know what actions are through there predicted consequence), that morality would include consequences after ones death. Post death consequences cannot possibly affect someone who no longer exists.

    I see no flaw in the argument: I will not consider any predicted consequences which will not manifest in my lifetime to form decisions. It would be pure chance if this framework did not lead to immoral behaviour.
    However, there certainly isn?t anything stopping anyone from claiming ?to feel that my life has meaning, even though I?ll stop existing at some point, I must leave a positive consequence (if I can figure out what such is)?. There?s no inconsistency in this argument either, or any similar argument.
    Any action that has no consequence is irrelevant and impossible for any entity in the atheistic world to know much less judge.

    In the framework of atheism morality (at least any definition of morality that describes post non-existence consequences) is an independent axiom.

    In conclusion, at least certain parts of morality (a theory that assigns value to consequences independent of the death of the individual), whatever it is, in the atheistic framework of ceasing to exist at some point, is not inconsistent, it is simply not persuasive. Whereas, in the theistic framework, morality (whatever the definition) is persuasive as presumably all our actions have indefinite consequences.

  172. Moving Finger said,

    Hi Boethiusman

    Your post was very long and very repetitive, much of which was off-topic, but I?ll try to answer some of the more relevant and important questions you have here :

    But first, you seem to be very full of questions and criticisms for other people?s beliefs (and I am very happy to answer questions about my beliefs), but when anyone asks you questions about your own beliefs you seem strangely evasive and ambiguous. For example ? the curious notion you seem to have that ethics is simply about the ?maximal continuation of humanity? ? when I ask precisely what you mean by this phrase you try to dodge the issue and avoid giving a straight answer ? I wonder why?
    Boethiusman wrote:
    First, your definition of causal determinism ??.. not entail free will.

    I would love to debate the meanings of determinism and free will with you, but I believe this would take us too far off-topic. I have already suggested alternative threads on this subject, where I am in fact active, if you wish to discuss determinism. Perhaps I?ll see you there.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    ?What one should do is based on beliefs about what one should do?. This is what we call a logical tautology (a statement that is true, but no other information can be derived from it).

    I love the deliberately patronizing attitude in the statement ?this is what we call a logical tautology?, as if you think yourself an intelligent lecturer in a philosophy class
    It?s even more amusing because your definition of tautology is incorrect.
    A tautology is a statement which is not just true, but is necessarily true, or true by definition (check http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Language,_Truth,_and…).
    Do you really believe the statement ?What one should do is based on beliefs about what one should do? is necessarily true? If so, then we indeed agree that ethics is based on belief.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    if beliefs are not constant (one can change one?s beliefs) then appealing to ones beliefs is not justifiable because one is liable to simply change those beliefs in the following second.

    What a very strange notion. Did you make this one up?
    Are absolutely all of your beliefs immutable? (If you say yes then I shan?t believe you).
    Now, how do you know in advance which ones are immutable and which ones not?
    Why is an appeal to your beliefs ?not justifiable? just because you do not know which beliefs are immutable and which not?
    At any moment in time, I believe in my beliefs (otherwise they wouldn?t be my beliefs, would they?). But that does not mean all of my beliefs are immutable. I can appeal to my beliefs, and my appeals are generally justifiable, because I do not know (I cannot know in advance) which of my beliefs are immutable and which are not.
    Simple, isn?t it?

    (Now go ahead and tell me that none of your beliefs ever change)
    Boethiusman wrote:
    I defined something as being practical if it affects ones decisions.

    How can anything be practical if there is one and only one possible state of the universe at any T1 as you call it.

    Another very strange notion you seem to have.
    Why would you think it not practical?
    Again you seem to confuse fatalism with determinism.
    Fatalism says that nothing I do can affect what will happen tomorrow (ie nothing I do, and nothing that happens, will be ?practical?, to use your definition of practical).
    Determinism says not only that what I do affects what will happen tomorrow, but what I do actually determines what will happen tomorrow. Thus everything I do and everything that happens is ?practical? according to your definition.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    your evolutionary theory only accounts for why people generally have an idea of what is right and wrong, it doesn?t provide any hint as to how we might resolve new ethical problems.

    You don?t know how to resolve new ethical problems? It?s easy. We build upon the basic beliefs and information that we already possess, using our rationality and reason, to develop even more complex beliefs. That is how any intelligent agent solves a problem. How would you suggest we resolve new ethical problems, should we perhaps appeal to God for divine inspiration?
    Boethiusman wrote:
    Saying ethics is different for different people isn?t an ethical theory.

    I?m certainly not saying anything so simplistic. Is this what you thought? Mistaken again, aren?t you?
    Boethiusman wrote:
    the theory doesn?t answer any questions.

    The premise of this thread is (shall I remind you once again?) ?atheism entails amorality?. The theory that genetic evolution plus game theory gives rise to the foundations of our ethical beliefs shows that the premise is false.
    Which other questions in particular would you like answered, maybe I can help?
    Boethiusman wrote:
    Hitler, as far as we know (and Hitler is one of the most studied person we have, so presumably we know a little about him) very much believed in what he was doing. Was what he was doing ethical or not ethical?

    Ethical judged from who?s perspective?
    Are you asking my personal opinion, based on my perspective?
    Boethiusman wrote:
    Saying ?Judging whether someone is ethical or not depends on one?s ethical beliefs? doesn?t say anything.

    Don?t be silly.
    It says that whether one judges someone is ethical or not depends on one?s ethical beliefs. That says a lot. It certainly says that the premise ?atheism entails amorality? is false. (Hey, did I tell you yet that this is the premise of this thread?)
    Boethiusman wrote:
    How could I consider my action to be wrong if I had no choice in the matter? How could I regret any ?immoral? action?

    You always had choice. You always choose to do what you do, even under determinism. (If you were forced to do something against your choice, then you are hardly responsible for it are you?). On reflection, you might decide that a particular past choice was not such a good choice after all, hence come to regret it. All perfectly compatible with determinism. Simple, isn?t it?
    Boethiusman wrote:
    Why does it matter what philosophy we happen to believe if we have no free will? If determinism is true, then philosophy is useless.

    You are once again confusing fatalism and determinism. You seem to have real trouble with this. Pity.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    There is no truth in determinism, simply a physical process. There are no choices either.

    If you wish to make any headway in truly understanding the world, you really should try to make an effort to at least understand what you are talking about. Truth and choice are both compatible with determinism.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    Using your theory I could talk of the ?ethics of frogs? and speculate as to how the ethics of frogs will have to change for frogs to survive in the modern world.

    You are full of strange ideas. For an agent to have ethics requires that the agent has beliefs about ethics. If you believe frogs have ethical beliefs then by all means go ahead and develop your theory.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    Can we derive from your theory what are the traits next needed by humans to continue to survive? Or are you saying that these traits need not change?

    We use rationality and reason. What else would you suggest we use, divine inspiration?
    Is ethics just about ?what humans need to continue to survive?, and nothing else? Are you such an anthropocentric person?
    Boethiusman wrote:
    why should anyone want to change anyone?

    Many possible reasons, usually associated with the fact that we care about that person.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    If it is so the species may survive, why should anyone care if the species survives?

    I don?t think most of us are motivated to change other people simply because we want to see the ?species survive?, it is usually much more down-to-earth and immediate than that. Do you perhaps believe that homo sapiens has more right to survival than any other species? Why? Is such an anthropocentric notion being ?ethical? according to your beliefs?
    Boethiusman wrote:
    is not ethics derived from ?the maximal continuation of humanity??

    I still don?t know what you mean by this phrase, can you explain?
    Boethiusman wrote:
    The fundamental question you must answer is how ethics is at all meaningful in your theory of how events transpire:

    With respect, it is not the case that I ?must? answer anything at all, much less answer any question posed by you. But do tell me very clearly what you mean by ?meaning? and we may be able to make progress.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    Essentially every thread in this greater ethical forum includes some formulation of the idea notion that ethics is only meaningful if we have free will.

    That?s a very quaint notion. Do you just assume that, or can you show that this it is the case that ethics is only meaningful if we have free will?
    If you want to show that this is the case, you?ll need to be very clear and precise about what you mean by ?ethics?, ?meaningful? and ?free will?.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    All you have to do is prove that ?For any given physical state of the universe at time t0, there is one and only one physically possible state of the universe at time t1? and ethics will cease to exist.

    Not at all. I believe in ethics and I believe in determinism. No incompatibility. If you think they are incompatible you will need to show it rather than simply say it.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    Most of the determinists I have run into seem to be under the impression that because they can explain the world and everything that happens, even though they didn?t predict it, they ?understand? that they are somehow superior. I of course don?t understand how anyone can be superior to anybody in a deterministic theory.

    Do you think that understanding entails always being able to predict the future? If so, perhaps you need to study the difference between ontology and epistemology.

    You seem to have a very well developed inferiority complex, since you really think that many other people feel superior to you. I personally don?t see what ?superiority? has to do with it, unless one believes that being rational and logical is being superior?
    Boethiusman wrote:
    can you truly sit down and contemplate and conclude that you don?t make decisions, that you have no freewill?

    Why do you think determinism entails that we don?t make decisions? Once again, you seem to have a very strange idea of determinism.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    can you derive any meaning from determinism?

    Tell me what you mean by ?meaning? in this context and we may be able to make progress. Then would you like to tell me how your pet notion of ?meaning? means anything to a young Somali child dying of starvation?
    Boethiusman wrote:
    You describe how we are influenced by ?parents, other adults, siblings, peers? but do not explain why one should choose to be an ethical atheist rather than an unethical atheist.

    I have done it many times. You seem to have trouble reading English. One should act according to one?s beliefs, and there are very good evolutionary, genetic and game theoretical reasons why people tend to have ethical beliefs. It?s all very straightforward. You really haven?t been reading this thread very well have you?
    Boethiusman wrote:
    You cannot claim that your position is simply ?good? because your definition of goodness is dependent on your position.

    Different people have different beliefs about what is good. I am not so arrogant as to say that only I know what is good and everyone else is wrong ? what about you? Do you claim to have access to knowledge of absolute goodness? Perhaps you would like to describe your perfect absolute vision of ethics?
    Boethiusman wrote:
    If you became an unethical atheist your definition of good would be ?good for me? and so the ethical position would just be quite simply bad.

    Bad according to whom? You seem to think that you have a superior and exclusive perspective on what is good and what is bad ? isn?t that a very arrogant position to take?
    Boethiusman wrote:
    Concluding that ?one should do a given thing? without being able to argue one should not do the alternatives, is not a method of reasoning I?m familiar with.

    One should do what one believes is right, and one should not do what one believes is wrong. How many times do I need to say that there are very good evolutionary, genetic and game theoretical reasons why people tend to have ethical beliefs ? do you not understand English?
    Boethiusman wrote:
    How can something be more reasonable than other things, without those things being unreasonable (or less reasonable).

    Whether one thing is more or less reasonable than another depends on one?s beliefs, and there are very good evolutionary, genetic and game theoretical reasons why people tend to have ethical beliefs. (yaaaaawn, I?m getting very tired of this).
    Boethiusman wrote:
    What is less reasonable about unethical atheism? If I was to become an atheist what argument would you present me with to be ethical?

    Whether unethical atheism is reasonable or not depends on one?s beliefs, and there are very good evolutionary, genetic and game theoretical reasons why people tend to have ethical beliefs? are you getting the message?
    Boethiusman wrote:
    you now seem to agree with me and that you are simply answering questions and accusations I posed you.

    We seem to agree that atheism does not entail amorality. On most other things we seem to be in disagreement, but the subject of this thread is atheism entails amorality, so unless you wish to start another thread I honestly cannot understand what you are going on about.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    Why be ethical when it is not profitable to be so?

    Ethics is about having certain beliefs and following those beliefs. It is not simply about ?profit?, or do you perhaps think ethics is just about personal profit? Oh yes, of course you do, because you claim you would be a thief if you were not a theist. I guess you don?t have much in the way of ethical beliefs then.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    If I simply stop existing, as do all humans, hat do I care if human kind ends shortly after I die at the end of a long and enjoyable life, or a billion years. It?s of no consequence to me.

    Is this what you believe? It?s not what I believe. I have already explained there are good evolutionary genetic reasons why we should care about other individuals, especially those related to us.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    “Growing up” is not a basis for ethics.

    Sure it is. It?s how we first learn and acquire our beliefs about the world, and ethics is based on belief. Simple, isn?t it?
    Boethiusman wrote:
    The burden is on you to prove why it would be unreasonable to be unethical under atheism.

    Why? This thread is about ?atheism entails amorality?, it is not about ?unethical atheism is reasonable?, or hadn?t you noticed?
    Boethiusman wrote:
    All of which are questions you have not answered or responded to.

    This is simply untrue, you obviously are far too keen on typing, and do not pay enough attention to reading. Shame on you.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    Ethics we can partially define as representing the superiority of certain consequences over other consequences.

    How do you decide which particular consequences are more superior?
    Boethiusman wrote:
    at least certain parts of morality (a theory that assigns value to consequences independent of the death of the individual), whatever it is, in the atheistic framework of ceasing to exist at some point, is not inconsistent, it is simply not persuasive.

    Which ?certain parts of morality? are you referring to?
    Boethiusman wrote:
    in the theistic framework, morality (whatever the definition) is persuasive as presumably all our actions have indefinite consequences.

    The problem with the theistic idea is that it entails an incoherent concept ? that of free will.

    Best Regards

  173. Boethiusman said,

    Essentially nothing you say answers any of my questions. For example:
    I love the deliberately patronizing attitude in the statement ?this is what we call a logical tautology?, as if you think yourself an Jintelligent lecturer in a philosophy class
    It?s even more amusing because your definition of tautology is incorrect.
    A tautology is a statement which is not just true, but is necessarily true, or true by definition

    When you type in ?tautology? into google, the first entry to come up is wikipedia. Wikipedia says the following about the term ?tautology?:
    Tautology, often regarded as a fault of style, was defined by Fowler as “saying the same thing twice”. In fact, it is not necessary for the entire meaning of a phrase to be repeated; if a part of the meaning is repeated in such a way that it appears as unintentional or clumsy, then it may be described as tautology. On the other hand, a repetition of meaning which improves the style of a piece of speech or writing is not usually described as tautology, although it may be a logical tautology. Below is a discussion of various patterns of semantic repetition and to what extent they are tautologies.

    The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines tautology as “the saying of the same thing twice over in different words”. In the spirit of pedantry, it should be noted that this statement is itself tautological (maybe intentionally, see below); by using the word “same”, it is already implied that the thing has a plural value, so there is no need for the word “twice”. It could also be argued that the word “over” is redundant in this context. The definition could instead read “the saying of something twice in different words” or “the saying of the same thing in different words”.

    According to this definition of tautology I would say: ?ethics is based on a belief about morals? is tautological (unless there is a distinction between ethics and morals I am not aware of.
    Do you really believe the statement ?What one should do is based on beliefs about what one should do? is necessarily true? If so, then we indeed agree that ethics is based on belief.

    What a person thinks a person should would probably be based on what that person think a person should do. I do not agree in anyway that ?what people should do in general is based on what individual people think they should do?. The challenge was to you to explain why the statement ?ethics is based on belief about morals? has any use.

    For instance:
    Whether one thing is more or less reasonable than another depends on one?s beliefs, and there are very good evolutionary, genetic and game theoretical reasons why people tend to have ethical beliefs.

    Whether unethical atheism is reasonable or not depends on one?s beliefs, and there are very good evolutionary, genetic and game theoretical reasons why people tend to have ethical beliefs? are you getting the message?

    If everything is simply based on one?s beliefs, why are you in a discussion? Clearly, you are defending my beliefs about ethics just as much as you are defending yours. If people simply believe things about morals, and that?s that, what?s the point in discussion morals. If you do not think a person can know anything more about morals than the next person, then why bother saying anything in a discussion about morals.

    You cannot simply make bold statements, and then when people ask you to explain yourself hide behind “it’s off topic!”. If if it’s off topic than apologize. Otherwise, agree that discussions sometimes evolve to include questions close to the original questions. I personally, don’t like innitiating a topic change (because it makes discussions disorganized), however if someone brings up a new point then the deed has been done and I follow the discussion as it exists in the present (not the past). When apoint is entered into a discussion it is now part of the discussion. When you stated:
    Why should this be the case?
    Why should an atheist not be concerned for the continued welfare/happiness/prosperity etc of his/her children (for example), including their welfare after his/her death? Just because a person does not believe in God, it does not follow that they do not care about the welfare of others!

    You entered into the discussion ?ethical atheism is a defendable position?, you can?t back down now simply because people have asked you to defend it. If you don?t want to defend your position, don?t state it in the first place, otherwise people are liable to attempt to establish if your position is reasonable or not (even if you?ve long since left the discussion).

    For instance, you keep on saying:
    One should act according to one?s beliefs, and there are very good evolutionary, genetic and game theoretical reasons why people tend to have ethical beliefs. It?s all very straightforward.

    And I keep on asking: How does this theory answer any question of the form ?what should I do??. What use is your theory? All it seems to say is that people tend to act a certain way, it doesn?t state that this is the way people should act, and so if you are acting in a different way you should reconsider your position. What is your definition of ethical beliefs (as in what kind of behaviour does your definition describe? How does your theory in anyway refute my ?beliefs about what people should do??.

    However, you seem to think it is a point against me to attempt to be thorough, so I will restrict myself to a single question. What meaningful thing do you intend to say about ethics based on your general theory of events:
    Determinism (the definition I am using here) : For any given physical state of the universe at time t0, there is one and only one physically possible state of the universe at time t1.

    an incoherent concept ? that of free will.

    If we do not have free will, what purpose is there in discussing ethics? Ethics, and you agreed to this definition, is defined as what one should do. If we do not have free will we cannot do anything other than whatever we do at any moment: there is no choice; the idea that we should have done something else is meaningless (for we could not have done anything else). The corollary of your theory is that “ethics” is a devoid concept, so why do you care about ethics?
    This is the position you are defending. Defend it.

  174. Moving Finger said,

    Boethiusman wrote:
    Essentially nothing you say answers any of my questions.

    This is simply untrue.
    All I can say, with the greatest respect, is that you are not reading my replies.
    I’m not interested in continually repeating myself just becasue you cannot be bothered to read.

    Best Regards

  175. Boethiusman said,

    You respond to my questions, but you do not answer them.

    Most fundamental question (if you cannot answer this question then I don’t see how it is possible to answer any of the other questions): How does ethics (the study of what one should do) make any sense in the deterministic theory you present:
    Determinism (the definition I am using here) : For any given physical state of the universe at time t0, there is one and only one physically possible state of the universe at time t1.

    an incoherent concept ? that of free will.

    If you have already answered this question than it should be a simple matter of quoting yourself.

  176. Moving Finger said,

    Dear Boethiusman
    Boethiusman wrote:
    You respond to my questions, but you do not answer them.

    Your statement is untrue. You perhaps do not like or agree with my answers, but the mere fact that you do not like my answers does not mean that they are not answers. I do answer (perhaps not all but) most of your questions (see the list later in this post)
    Boethiusman wrote:
    Most fundamental question (if you cannot answer this question then I don’t see how it is possible to answer any of the other questions): How does ethics (the study of what one should do) make any sense in the deterministic theory you present:

    If you have already answered this question than it should be a simple matter of quoting yourself.

    I have answered this many times (the latest was in post #182 which it seems you mostly ignored).
    moving finger wrote:
    One should act according to one?s beliefs, and there are very good evolutionary, genetic and game theoretical reasons why people tend to have ethical beliefs. It?s all very straightforward.

    And this explanation is also completely compatible with a deterministic explanation of the universe.

    Now, perhaps you can explain exactly why you think ethics makes no sense in a deterministic universe?

    On the issue of ?answering your questions? :

    Post #182 answered a whole string of your questions, and the same post also in turn posed a number of questions to Boethiusman (listed as an appendix to this post). Boethiusman may not have liked the answers to his/her questions, but if so that is Boethiusman?s problem, not moving finger?s. Boethiusman seems to have ignored the fact that most of his/her on-topic questions have been answered, and in turn he/she ignores almost every one of the questions posed to him/her. Boethiusman seems to think he/she has the right to demand that others must continuously defend their statements and position, but when he/she is asked to defend his/her own statements and position, he/she ignores such requests.

    Moving finger has no interest in spending valuable time in a one-sided exchange. If and when Boethiusman is able to return with a more reasonable and participatory attitude towards debating this and other topics, moving finger might be interested in continuing the discussion.

    Best Regards

    What follows is a series of 11 questions from Boethiusman, and the corresponding answers from moving finger, which appeared in post #182.

    Question & Answer :
    Boethiusman wrote:
    How can anything be practical if there is one and only one possible state of the universe at any T1 as you call it.
    moving finger wrote:
    Why would you think it not practical?
    Again you seem to confuse fatalism with determinism.
    Fatalism says that nothing I do can affect what will happen tomorrow (ie nothing I do, and nothing that happens, will be ?practical?, to use your definition of practical).
    Determinism says not only that what I do affects what will happen tomorrow, but what I do actually determines what will happen tomorrow. Thus everything I do and everything that happens is ?practical? according to your definition.

    Question & Answer :
    Boethiusman wrote:
    Hitler, as far as we know (and Hitler is one of the most studied person we have, so presumably we know a little about him) very much believed in what he was doing. Was what he was doing ethical or not ethical?
    moving finger wrote:
    Ethical judged from who?s perspective?
    Are you asking my personal opinion, based on my perspective?

    Question & Answer :
    Boethiusman wrote:
    How could I consider my action to be wrong if I had no choice in the matter? How could I regret any ?immoral? action?
    moving finger wrote:
    You always had choice. You always choose to do what you do, even under determinism. (If you were forced to do something against your choice, then you are hardly responsible for it are you?). On reflection, you might decide that a particular past choice was not such a good choice after all, hence come to regret it. All perfectly compatible with determinism. Simple, isn?t it?

    Question & Answer :
    Boethiusman wrote:
    Why does it matter what philosophy we happen to believe if we have no free will? If determinism is true, then philosophy is useless.
    moving finger wrote:
    You are once again confusing fatalism and determinism. You seem to have real trouble with this. Pity.

    Question & Answer :
    Boethiusman wrote:
    Can we derive from your theory what are the traits next needed by humans to continue to survive? Or are you saying that these traits need not change?
    moving finger wrote:
    We use rationality and reason. What else would you suggest we use, divine inspiration?

    Question & Answer :
    Boethiusman wrote:
    why should anyone want to change anyone?
    moving finger wrote:
    Many possible reasons, usually associated with the fact that we care about that person.

    Question & Answer :
    Boethiusman wrote:
    If it is so the species may survive, why should anyone care if the species survives?
    moving finger wrote:
    I don?t think most of us are motivated to change other people simply because we want to see the ?species survive?, it is usually much more down-to-earth and immediate than that.

    Question & Answer :
    Boethiusman wrote:
    is not ethics derived from ?the maximal continuation of humanity??
    moving finger wrote:
    I still don?t know what you mean by this phrase, can you explain?

    Question & Answer :
    Boethiusman wrote:
    How can something be more reasonable than other things, without those things being unreasonable (or less reasonable).
    moving finger wrote:
    Whether one thing is more or less reasonable than another depends on one?s beliefs, and there are very good evolutionary, genetic and game theoretical reasons why people tend to have ethical beliefs.

    Question & Answer :
    Boethiusman wrote:
    What is less reasonable about unethical atheism? If I was to become an atheist what argument would you present me with to be ethical?
    moving finger wrote:
    Whether unethical atheism is reasonable or not depends on one?s beliefs, and there are very good evolutionary, genetic and game theoretical reasons why people tend to have ethical beliefs

    Question & Answer :
    Boethiusman wrote:
    Why be ethical when it is not profitable to be so?
    moving finger wrote:
    Ethics is about having certain beliefs and following those beliefs. It is not simply about ?profit?, or do you perhaps think ethics is just about personal profit?

    And now (for the record) follows a selection (but not all) of the questions that moving finger asked of Boethiusman in post #182. Not one of the following 20+ questions has Boethiusman even attempted to provide any answer to :
    moving finger wrote:
    you seem to be very full of questions and criticisms for other people?s beliefs (and I am very happy to answer questions about my beliefs), but when anyone asks you questions about your own beliefs you seem strangely evasive and ambiguous. For example ? the curious notion you seem to have that ethics is simply about the ?maximal continuation of humanity? ? when I ask precisely what you mean by this phrase you try to dodge the issue and avoid giving a straight answer ? I wonder why?

    Are absolutely all of your beliefs immutable? (If you say yes then I shan?t believe you).
    Now, how do you know in advance which ones are immutable and which ones not?
    Why is an appeal to your beliefs ?not justifiable? just because you do not know which beliefs are immutable and which not?

    How would you suggest we resolve new ethical problems, should we perhaps appeal to God for divine inspiration?

    The premise of this thread is (shall I remind you once again?) ?atheism entails amorality?. The theory that genetic evolution plus game theory gives rise to the foundations of our ethical beliefs shows that the premise is false.
    Which other questions in particular would you like answered, maybe I can help?

    Ethical judged from who?s perspective?
    Are you asking my personal opinion, based on my perspective?

    We use rationality and reason. What else would you suggest we use, divine inspiration?
    Is ethics just about ?what humans need to continue to survive?, and nothing else? Are you such an anthropocentric person?

    I don?t think most of us are motivated to change other people simply because we want to see the ?species survive?, it is usually much more down-to-earth and immediate than that. Do you perhaps believe that homo sapiens has more right to survival than any other species? Why? Is such an anthropocentric notion being ?ethical? according to your beliefs?

    Boethiusman wrote:
    is not ethics derived from ?the maximal continuation of humanity??

    moving finger wrote:
    I still don?t know what you mean by this phrase, can you explain?

    That?s a very quaint notion. Do you just assume that, or can you show that this it is the case that ethics is only meaningful if we have free will?
    If you want to show that this is the case, you?ll need to be very clear and precise about what you mean by ?ethics?, ?meaningful? and ?free will?.

    Do you think that understanding entails always being able to predict the future?

    Why do you think determinism entails that we don?t make decisions?

    Tell me what you mean by ?meaning? in this context and we may be able to make progress. Then would you like to tell me how your pet notion of ?meaning? means anything to a young Somali child dying of starvation?

    Different people have different beliefs about what is good. I am not so arrogant as to say that only I know what is good and everyone else is wrong ? what about you? Do you claim to have access to knowledge of absolute goodness? Perhaps you would like to describe your perfect absolute vision of ethics?

    Bad according to whom? You seem to think that you have a superior and exclusive perspective on what is good and what is bad ? isn?t that a very arrogant position to take?

    Ethics is about having certain beliefs and following those beliefs. It is not simply about ?profit?, or do you perhaps think ethics is just about personal profit?

    Boethiusman wrote:
    Ethics we can partially define as representing the superiority of certain consequences over other consequences.

    moving finger wrote:
    How do you decide which particular consequences are more superior?

    Boethiusman wrote:
    at least certain parts of morality (a theory that assigns value to consequences independent of the death of the individual), whatever it is, in the atheistic framework of ceasing to exist at some point, is not inconsistent, it is simply not persuasive.

    moving finger wrote:
    Which ?certain parts of morality? are you referring to?

  177. olivier cocteau said,

    I’m a bit late joining in this one, but I just would like to make one thing clear.

    Historically, there are extensive records that there existed in the religions of Ancient Greece not one ethical ‘commandment’ handed down from the deities of the time, yet still, murder and theft were deemed criminal acts. To suggest that the existence of morallity is pre-dependent on the existence of God is futile because of this.

    So, why would you remain ethical if you rejected your theist beliefs? Well, from a personal level, there is in place an earthly system of pennance through our own defined code of laws, initially created through religions whereby ethical practices were not defined in religious texts. And, of course, the Golden rule, of doing onto others what you would wish done onto yourselves.

  178. Boethiusman said,

    Boethiusman wrote:
    Most fundamental question (if you cannot answer this question then I don’t see how it is possible to answer any of the other questions): How does ethics (the study of what one should do) make any sense in the deterministic theory you present:

    Your theory is:
    Moving finger wrote:
    Determinism (the definition I am using here) : For any given physical state of the universe at time t0, there is one and only one physically possible state of the universe at time t1.

    an incoherent concept ? that of free will.

    One should act according to one’s beliefs, and there are very good evolutionary, genetic and game theoretical reasons why people tend to have ethical beliefs. It’s all very straightforward.

    Is a response not an answer. Remember an answer an a response is not the same thing. An answer satisfies the questioner, whereas a response does not necessarilly. If you ask me how tall I am, and I respond “I will not answer your question”, have I answered your question?

    My question was how does it make sense. You do not explain how “one should act according to one’s beliefs” makes any sense within your thesis. According to your thesis what we do next is and only is one thing, can and only can be one action. The word “should” makes no sense. “One should do this” only makes sense in the context that one could do other things. Under your theory this condition does not exist and so the word “should” does not mean anything. Hence, “one should act according to one’s beliefs is meaningless”, the study of what one should do is also meaningless. If everything we do we could not have done otherwise, how does a study of one should do make any sense? If it turns out one should do other than what one did, how useful is that? Attacking my character, which you’re welcome to do as much as you wish, doesn’t answer this question.

    If you cannot explain how ethics makes sense within your theory, then how can your theory explain anything about ethics? How can it “answer” any other questions about ethics? Is there not one anly one physical possibility for every word I write? Is not everything I write completely in accordance with your theory. Are I not writing the words and only the words I can write. What is there to criticize?

    I don’t really see how “belief” holds any meaning in your theory either, but aren’t I acting in accordance with my “beliefs”, beliefs that you support? If my beliefs are justified, and I happen to believe (if putting it in bold makes a difference) that you don’t make any sense, then isn’t this position justified? How then can you dispute something you agree to be justifiable? If you believe that I should change my belief that you make no sense, then you are contradicting your theory that “I should act in accordance with my beliefs”. You are in fact then in a position of saying I should believe the exact opposite of what I believe. So I assume you are not trying to dissuade me from my “you make no sense” position. However, these next questions still rest on your deterministic theory.

    Once you answer the fundamental question, upon which all the rest of you “answers” rest, then I shall consider the rest of your “answers” (as in responses).

  179. Boethiusman said,

    Historically, there are extensive records that there existed in the religions of Ancient Greece not one ethical ‘commandment’ handed down from the deities of the time, yet still, murder and theft were deemed criminal acts. To suggest that the existence of morallity is pre-dependent on the existence of God is futile because of this.

    Morality and a sense of morality are not the same things. That people can be or have a sense of morality without theism I do not dispute. What I dispute is that there is any basis for doing so. If unethical atheism is a consistant mode of behaviour (assuming we stop existing), which everyone so far has agreed that it is, then what would be the basis for rejecting it if I became an atheist? Specifically, how could I be convinced to abandon my position?

    Ethical actions I have defined as those which lead to the maximal continuation of humanity (though my argument works with any definition that, at least, calls upon people to make decisions based on events that may transpire long after they cease to exist). And so, if these events do not affect me, why then should I take them into account in making decisions?
    So, why would you remain ethical if you rejected your theist beliefs? Well, from a personal level, there is in place an earthly system of pennance through our own defined code of laws, initially created through religions whereby ethical practices were not defined in religious texts. And, of course, the Golden rule, of doing onto others what you would wish done onto yourselves.

    If the human system of pennance is the basis morals, then anything one can get away with is not immoral. To he unethical atheist I would argue the justice system is simply one condition that must be taken into account and turned to one’s interests, like any other condition. As for the golden rule, the unethical atheist I would argue sees no reason to accept.

    I am arguing the unethical atheistic position because the unethical atheist we would assume would not. Declaring “I will take advantage of anyone as soon as it is in my best interests” is not in the best interests of the declarer. And so, we would expect unethical atheists to be mascerading as ethical people, be it theistic, atheistic or anything. For the argument with unethical atheism to exist we would expect that someone must argue for the unethical atheist (even though the unethical atheist does not want this to happen, for it is in the best interest of unethical atheism that people think the position does not exist, thus being more susceptible to manipulation, and that there are as few unethical atheists as possible lest there be more competition to take advantage of the gullible ethical people).

    I see nothing that can convince the unethical atheist to abandon the position under the supposition of atheism, and so I am arguing the position to see if it holds up. Simply because I, personally, would rather people act ethically does not mean I will skew my logic to the result.

  180. Moving Finger said,

    Dear Boethiusman, you seem to have great difficult understanding very simple concepts. I shall try one last time to explain in very simple terms so that you might understand.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    Remember an answer an a response is not the same thing. An answer satisfies the questioner, whereas a response does not necessarilly.

    With respect, Boethiusman, this is absolute rubbish. You are here setting yourself up, as the questioner, as the sole judge and arbiter of whether a particular response is deemed an answer or not? Perhaps you would do better to go and debate with yourself, you are bound to get agreement that way.

    Let me show you why I consider my response an answer :
    Your question was :
    Boethiusman wrote:
    How does ethics (the study of what one should do) make any sense in the deterministic theory you present

    My answer was :
    moving finger wrote:
    One should act according to one?s beliefs, and there are very good evolutionary, genetic and game theoretical reasons why people tend to have ethical beliefs. It?s all very straightforward. And this explanation is also completely compatible with a deterministic explanation of the universe.

    The above is the answer to your question, and it makes perfect sense (your question, remember, was how does ethics make sense under determinism). You may not like the answer, you may not agree with the answer. If you do not agree with this answer, the rational response would be to explain why you do not agree with this answer, not to claim that it is not an answer.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    My question was how does it make sense. You do not explain how “one should act according to one’s beliefs” makes any sense within your thesis.

    I have explained previously in this and other threads the details of how game theoretical models, combined with the principles of genetic evolution and determinism, lead to the emergence of ethical beliefs in intelligent social agents.

    Do you dispute this? Do you dispute that game theory plus evolution explains how and why deterministic intelligent social agents tend to develop social beliefs about behaviour based on cooperation, honesty, respect for others, mutual assistance and protection, and why the agents and social groups which develop these ethical beliefs are the ones which will have a competitive advantage?

    If you think this deterministic explanation does not make sense to you, then the onus is on you to explain why you cannot understand it, and I may then be able to help you understand.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    According to your thesis what we do next is and only is one thing, can and only can be one action. The word “should” makes no sense. “One should do this” only makes sense in the context that one could do other things.

    This is incorrect and shows a naﶥ misunderstanding of the meaning of the word ?should?. You continually confuse fatalism with determinsim. Under determinism, I can have beliefs about what I should do, I can also have beliefs about what I ought to do, and if I so choose I can then also follow those beliefs. There is nothing in this that is incompatible with determinsim.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    Under your theory this condition does not exist and so the word “should” does not mean anything.

    Again you are confused with fatalism. Under determinism it is the case that a deterministic agent ?could? do other things. The fact is that no matter how many other things the deterministic agent ?could? do, it chooses to do one thing (and if it has ethical beliefs then those beliefs may be part of the factor determining its choice).
    Boethiusman wrote:
    Hence, “one should act according to one’s beliefs is meaningless”, the study of what one should do is also meaningless.

    Incorrect. Again you confuse fatalism with determinism. A deterministic agent can have ethical beliefs, it can also decide (choose) whether to follow those beliefs or not. This is under the agent?s control. Deterministic machines make choices all the time.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    If everything we do we could not have done otherwise, how does a study of one should do make any sense?

    Because the belief about what we ?should? do is a part of us, and a deterministic agent (unlike a fatalistic one) helps to determine the future. The beliefs we hold are part of what determines the future. Therefore it makes perfect sense to say that the beliefs we hold are important, because what we do, and what happens next, is linked to the beliefs we hold.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    If it turns out one should do other than what one did, how useful is that? Attacking my character, which you’re welcome to do as much as you wish, doesn’t answer this question.

    You really don?t see it do you? I don?t know how to make it any more simple. A deterministic agent can reflect on what it did, it can say ?what I just did was not a good/sensible/moral./ethical action, I should not have done that?, and it can adjust its future behaviour accordingly. Nobody can change the past, but we can all determine the future.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    If you cannot explain how ethics makes sense within your theory, then how can your theory explain anything about ethics?

    The explanation is right there. I?m sorry if you seem blind to it.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    How can it “answer” any other questions about ethics?

    Which questions do you have in mind?
    Boethiusman wrote:
    Is there not one anly one physical possibility for every word I write? Is not everything I write completely in accordance with your theory. Are I not writing the words and only the words I can write. What is there to criticize?

    It is very simple. Let me explain. Ask yourself ?what is the purpose of criticism, why would I criticise someone who does something that I judge to be wrong??
    How would you answer this question?

    Let me offer an answer : We criticise other people?s actions because we would like those people to act differently in future. We cannot change what they have already done by criticising them, but we CAN help to determine the future by showing them how their action was wrong, and why they should not act in such a way again. We say things like ?you should not do that?, NOT because we think we can somehow erase what was done in the past, but because we would like to influence them not to do it in the future.

    Is it clear now? All this is completely compatible with determinism.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    I don’t really see how “belief” holds any meaning in your theory either, but aren’t I acting in accordance with my “beliefs”, beliefs that you support? If my beliefs are justified, and I happen to believe (if putting it in bold makes a difference) that you don’t make any sense, then isn’t this position justified?

    I don?t see the problem. You may think that your beliefs are justified, but that does not mean that you are correct, and it does not mean that I have to agree with you. Determinism does NOT say that you are right in thinking your beliefs are justified.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    How then can you dispute something you agree to be justifiable?

    I do not agree that I think your beliefs are justified. Your beliefs about determinism seem to be totally confused for a start. But what does this have to do with determinism? Determinism does not say that you are correct in your beliefs.
    Boethiusman wrote:
    If you believe that I should change my belief that you make no sense, then you are contradicting your theory that “I should act in accordance with my beliefs”.

    This makes no sense. Ethics is about having beliefs about how one ought to behave. Whether you think I make sense or not is not necessarily an ethical belief.

    Boethiusman wrote:
    You are in fact then in a position of saying I should believe the exact opposite of what I believe.

    Not at all. Where have I said this?

    Boethiusman, I have had enough of providing you with all the answers (once again, this post has almost entirely been me providing you with answers to your questions), whilst you almost totally ignore my questions to you.

    I am not interested in continuing in such a one-sided debate. When you start acting reasonably, and start debating issues instead of asking the same mindless repetitive questions over and over again, I might return.

    Until then,

    Goodbye

  181. Boethiusman said,

    Boethiusman wrote:
    Most fundamental question (if you cannot answer this question then I don’t see how it is possible to answer any of the other questions): How does ethics (the study of what one should do) make any sense in the deterministic theory you present:

    Your theory is:
    Moving finger wrote:
    Determinism (the definition I am using here) : For any given physical state of the universe at time t0, there is one and only one physically possible state of the universe at time t1.

    an incoherent concept ? that of free will.

    And then you go on to say:
    A deterministic agent can have ethical beliefs, it can also decide (choose) whether to follow those beliefs or not. This is under the agent?s control. Deterministic machines make choices all the time.

    If there is one and only one possible future state of the universe (and we’re in the universe) how could one have done any different? How could one choose or not choose to follow one’s beliefs? Is not what one does at any given moment one and only one thing?

    Saying a deterministic machine made a choice, as far as I have seen the term used, is a metaphore. For instance, if a rock falls off a cliff, I might say the rock suddenly decided to fall. However, this is simply a metaphore, the rock did not actually make a decision.
    I do not agree that I think your beliefs are justified. Your beliefs about determinism seem to be totally confused for a start. But what does this have to do with determinism? Determinism does not say that you are correct in your beliefs.

    How is this statement not contradict your whole ethical theory, namely:
    One should act according to one?s beliefs

    For within your statement you do not say these beliefs should be anything, you just say that you should act according to your beliefs. If I believe you make no sense, is this not what you are saying I should act according to?

    All you say is:
    and there are very good evolutionary, genetic and game theoretical reasons why people tend to have ethical beliefs. It?s all very straightforward. And this explanation is also completely compatible with a deterministic explanation of the universe.

    Do you mean to say that the only “true” beliefs are in accordance with determinism, and that you should only act according to your beleifs if you happen to believe in determinism. Yet did you not say concerning beleifs:
    We all acquire beliefs as we grow up. Most of our ethical beliefs are taught to us by parents, other adults, siblings, peers. They need not be indentical in all individuals

    And so if I “grew up” to believe that your beliefs make no sense, do not these beliefs qualify as beliefs and that you are saying that I should act according to these beleifs?

    I find it strange that you go from being a stought defender of ethical relatavism:
    Boethiusman wrote:
    Does Hitler qualify as one the most ethical people to live?

    Moving finger wrote:
    Judging whether someone is ethical or not depends on one?s ethical beliefs.

    And so concerning Hitler, as long as my ethical beleifs happen to conclude that Hitler was a great guy, then I should act according to those beleifs. But then, when suddenly it is no longer convinient to do so, you say beliefs can be wrong:
    I do not agree that I think your beliefs are justified.

    So, Hitler and and supporters of Hitler should act in accordance with their beliefs, but I shouldn’t act in accordance with my belief that you make no sense on this matter of ethics? Should you act in accordance with your beliefs, or shouldn’t you? And if you shouldn’t act in accordance with one’s beliefs, what should you do?

  182. Moving Finger said,

    Oh, what a surprise. You have ignored most of my previous post, provided not a single response to any of my questions, and simply trotted out another series of your own questions.

    I’m not interested in continuously answering your questions while you ignore my answers and my questions.

    Perhaps you’ll have more fun debating with yourself.

    Bye

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: