Atheism Darwinist rhetorical tactics Ethics Science, worldview issues/foundations and society

DOES IT MATTER WHAT WE BELIEVE ABOUT MORALITY? (A guest-post by HeKS)

Spread the love

A recent post by Barry Arrington started an interesting and lively discussion about morality, whether it is objective and, if so, how it might be grounded. Barry provided the job description for a clinical ethicist and then asked how a materialist could apply for such a job in good faith, given the inability of the materialist to ground his moral and ethical views in anything more solid, objective and enduring than his own subjective opinions and the opinions of his fellow materialists.

In the ensuing discussion, it seemed that many attempts were made to divert attention away from the core issue that materialism can offer no ultimate grounding for objective moral values and duties. Instead, comments were made in which certain persons recast the original question as a claim that atheists are incapable of behaving morally, or that all atheists personally believe that there is no such thing as right and wrong.

Of course, this is not at all what was claimed. It is manifestly false that all atheists personally believe there is no such thing as right and wrong. And nobody with any sense doubts that atheists are perfectly capable of behaving morally and ethically if they so desire. The point, rather, is that the atheist who believes there really is such a thing as right and wrong, good and bad, is incapable of providing a rational basis for his belief, and the atheist who chooses to behave morally is incapable of offering any rational argument for why anybody else should feel compelled to do so if they are not similarly inclined.

After all, if Richard Dawkins is right when he says that we live in a universe that has, at bottom, “nothing but blind pitiless indifference,”[F/N 1] why should we disagree with him when he declares in the same breath that there is also “no evil and no good”? If all of reality is absolutely reducible to mindless matter and energy, why should we expect that it would have any moral aspect at all? There is nothing about a quark, an atom, or any other constituent or conglomeration of matter in any configuration than can account for the real existence of any moral law by which we humans might be bound. Why should reality contain a set of objective moral values and duties that ought to compel the behaviour of humans if they are nothing more than relatively advanced primates living “on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe” [F/N 2] and are the end result of a “meaningless and purposeless process (i.e. naturalistic evolution) that did not have [them] in mind”? [F/N 3] The very notion is absurd.

Why Does it Matter?

A casual observer presented with these facts might well ask why any of this really matters. And, indeed, why does it even matter? Does it make any difference whether morality is objective or merely subjective? And does it matter whether we believe in the objectivity of morality?

Interestingly, the atheist participants in the discussion succeeded in offering some good arguments for why a belief in the objectivity of moral values and duties really does make a difference, even if they may have done so unintentionally.

For example, in comment #34, Acartia_bogart said this:

“Nobody, including theists, can objectively demonstrate that anybody’s morality is superior than anybody else’s.”

When Barry pointed out to him that he had just “effectively demonstrated the point of the [original post]” (#36), Acartia_bogart adjusted his claim in comment #41 to say that instead of referring to “anybody” he should have said “any group”, such that his claim can be understood like this:

‘Nobody, including theists, can objectively demonstrate that any group’s (e.g. atheists or theists) morality is superior to any other group’s morality.’

Of course, on materialism, Acartia_bogart is absolutely right, but the substitution of a group in place of an individual does nothing to lessen his confirmation of Barry’s original point. In reality, not only is it not possible on materialism to objectively demonstrate (or even argue) that the morality of one group is better or worse than another, but it is impossible to objectively demonstrate that the morality of any group or person is either good or bad at all, because there is no objective standard against which their morality can be measured. Furthermore, this observation cannot be limited merely to the general groups of theists and atheists. Acartia_bogart’s comment applies equally well to any group of any size. And so, by what standard do we measure the actions of the Nazis as a group? Or the Soviet Communist Party in their promotion of Marxism-Lenninism and the rampant suffering and death that atheistic ideology caused? Or, for that matter, the hateful actions of the Westboro Baptist Church? On materialism, there is no standard by which any of these groups can be judged, much less condemned. A materialist can say he disagrees with these things, but he can’t offer any coherent reason for why his opinion should be considered normative or why anyone should feel compelled to submit to it.

Acartia_bogart’s comment was not the only telling one, however. Mark Frank also offered some interesting observations. In discussing the role of a clinical ethicist, he matter-of-factly states in comment #142:

“It is not uncommon for jobs to require people to do things they think immoral.”

To commenter StephenB, who would likely agree that he has strong a priori moral principles due to his belief in objective morality, Mark Frank says in #156:

“My inclination would be to say that someone with strong a priori moral principles such as yourself would be very uncomfortable performing a job which involved setting your own moral principles aside.”

Indeed.

In #171, Mark Frank also says this:

“A moral relativist is perfectly capable of supporting the moral purposes of an organisation – indeed he/she is better equipped to do this than a moral objectivist as this involves making moral decisions relative to the moral framework of the organisation. (In practice moral relativists do have their own views and may find their subjective opinion differs from that of the organisation – but they are likely to find it easier than an obectivist to put aside their moral views and work according to the organisation’s).”

Like Acartia_bogart, Mark’s comments are right on the money. And that’s the problem. If a moral relativist finds himself in a work situation that requires him to act in a way that he deems immoral, what of it? If some situation requires that he set aside his own moral principles and act in a way that runs contrary to them, he need not feel very uncomfortable with this. Certainly he will find it much easier to do so than would a moral objectivist. After all, in casting aside his own moral code in order to operate according to the strictures and liberties of one with which he disagrees, it’s not like the relativist believes he has contravened any objective moral truths. And it seems like a paycheque is as good an impetus as any to toss one’s own relative moral opinions to the wind. Why shouldn’t the moral relativist ignore his own moral views if he deems it to be of worthwhile benefit? It seems to me that the relative ease with which a moral relativist can cast off his own moral constraints ought to be considered a bug of relativism, not a feature.

One of the functions of a moral system is to curb the more ignoble aspects of our imperfect human nature, such as a tendency toward greed and overwhelming self-interest. And yet, how much power can a moral code have to curb such tendencies toward unbalanced self-interest if we believe it is nothing more than a useful fiction that we adhere to because we think it will benefit society at large, which is primarily of importance because that will, in turn, benefit us? Can a moral code have much of a chance to prevent us from acting against the best interests of others for our own gratification if the only rational reason we can see for following it is because it generally and ultimately serves our own interests? Who’s to say that, on any given occasion, we might not prefer to have our cake and eat it, too, choosing to temporarily disregard our moral code for our immediate benefit; especially if we have a reasonable expectation that our actions in the present won’t come back to haunt us in the future? Furthermore, if we decide to do such a thing, who, on the assumption of materialism, can say we have done anything wrong?

It should be noted that the types of comments considered here from Acartia_bogart and Mark Frank are not merely the random opinions of some internet commenters. Box, one of the participants in the discussion, offered a lengthy quote from the well-known atheist, Alex Rosenberg, who is a philosophy professor at Duke University. The quote, which expresses views not remotely unique to Rosenberg, merits duplication here in full.

Taken from Box’s comment (#174):

First, nihilism can’t condemn Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, or those who fomented the Armenian genocide or the Rwandan one. If there is no such thing as “morally forbidden,” then what Mohamed Atta did on September 11, 2001, was not morally forbidden. Of course, it was not permitted either. But still, don’t we want to have grounds to condemn these monsters? Nihilism seems to cut that ground out from under us.

Second, if we admit to being nihilists, then people won’t trust us. We won’t be left alone when there is loose change around. We won’t be relied on to be sure small children stay out of trouble.

Third, and worst of all, if nihilism gets any traction, society will be destroyed. We will find ourselves back in Thomas Hobbes’s famous state of nature, where “the life of man is solitary, mean, nasty, brutish and short.” Surely, we don’t want to be nihilists if we can possibly avoid it. (Or at least, we don’t want the other people around us to be nihilists.)

Scientism can’t avoid nihilism. We need to make the best of it. For our own self-respect, we need to show that nihilism doesn’t have the three problems just mentioned—no grounds to condemn Hitler, lots of reasons for other people to distrust us, and even reasons why no one should trust anyone else. We need to be convinced that these unacceptable outcomes are not ones that atheism and scientism are committed to. Such outcomes would be more than merely a public relations nightmare for scientism. They might prevent us from swallowing nihilism ourselves, and that would start unraveling scientism.

To avoid these outcomes, people have been searching for scientifically respectable justification of morality for least a century and a half. The trouble is that over the same 150 years or so, the reasons for nihilism have continued to mount. Both the failure to find an ethics that everyone can agree on and the scientific explanation of the origin and persistence of moral norms have made nihilism more and more plausible while remaining just as unappetizing.

[A.Rosenberg, The Atheist Guide to Reality, ch.5] – emphasis mine

Scientism, which entails materialism, cannot avoid nihilism. Of course, it is not the reliance on science, per se, that necessitates nihilism. Rather, it is the insistence that science must be strictly materialistic in nature. For at least 150 years, people have been trying to find some rational way to affirm materialism without also affirming a nihilistic moral relativism. They have been trying because, unlike the many cavalier atheists who are typically involved in these discussions across the internet, they realize that it really does matter whether humans believe in the objective reality of binding moral values and duties. It matters so much, in fact, that even atheists like Rosenberg recognize that society itself would be utterly destroyed if the logically necessary implications of materialism were widely accepted. In other words, if atheistic materialism were to prosper and the atheists decided to live in a way that was logically consistent with their basic beliefs about reality, society as we know it would ultimately disappear. And so in Rosenberg we witness an interesting internal conflict in which he is determined to affirm scientism, materialism and nihilism, and yet he can’t quite get over the fact that the actions of people like Hitler seem like they must really be wrong.

Rosenberg also makes another interesting observation. He notes that if people were to recognize the necessary nihilistic implications of scientific materialism and subsequently reject the truth of those implications, materialism, and the scientism it supports, would unravel. I completely agree. People typically like to think that their worldview is in some way logically coherent, but if the premises underlying their worldview lead inevitably to conclusions that they strongly believe are false, contrary to the evidence of their experience, and in conflict with other basic beliefs they hold more strongly and believe are more warranted, then the only reasonable course of action is to accept that one or more of the premises underlying their worldview must be false.

Arguments Against Objective Morality

But is the concept of Objective Morality actually true such that it should rightly overturn Materialism? Might it be that in believing there are at least some things that are really morally wrong we are simply mistaken? For example, in spite of our overwhelming sense that it is really morally wrong to torture and murder a child for fun, could it be that such actions are merely socially unacceptable because they happen to contravene an arbitrary set of behavioural guidelines that have been agreed on by a majority of people in a particular society? Can an argument be made against the reality of any objective moral values and duties – the existence of which most people hold to be self-evident – without first assuming the truth of Materialism as a starting point? During the discussion, Acartia_bogart offered such an argument. Here is what he said:

I accept the fact that theists believe that god provided objective morality is real. But I argue that they are nothing more than a set of rules that various societies over the centuries have established because they are beneficial to an individual’s and a society’s ability to survive and thrive. . . . If morals are truly objective and given by god, why do different religions, and even different sects within the same religion, not have the same objective morals?

As anyone remotely familiar with the debate over the objectivity of morality will recognize, this is the most common argument offered against the idea that morals are truly objective. It is also ill-conceived, because it confuses the issues of moral ontology (the basic existence of moral truths) and moral epistemology (our ability to get to know those moral truths if they exist). That humans may fail to naturally grasp all moral truths perfectly does not necessitate the conclusion that the moral truths are not there to be grasped at all. That humans manage to naturally grasp many moral truths but not all is perfectly consistent with the Judeo-Christian doctrine of mankind’s fall. It is also worth noting that, absent some kind of psychological pathology, humans naturally feel a compulsion to do whatever they happen to think is morally right, whether they happen to be correct or not. Furthermore, unless they have scarred their conscience beyond repair through sustained abuse of it, they will often experience negative psychological and physiological effects when they act in a way that they truly believe is wrong.

That there happen to be differences of opinion over what really is “the good” in some cases, even among theists, only highlights why the theist can reasonably expect some form of moral direction from the Creator of material reality and the ground of moral truths if the theist is right in thinking that such a Being exists, for why would he create a material reality that includes a moral dimension and cause to exist intelligent moral agents such as our ourselves who feel the moral prodding of a conscience if he does not care that we live according to the moral values and duties that he grounds. And if he cares, why would he not aid us in understanding his desires? Christians believe that the Creator has instructed humans in regard to his moral desires and, indeed, when it comes to those individuals and organizations that profess to be Christian but have brought about pain and suffering in various forms at different points in history, including the present, the problem almost universally stems from either ignoring or going beyond the moral dictates in the Bible that Christians admit they ought to follow as their guide. [F/N 4]

And what about the fact that non-Christians and even non-theists are capable of behaving morally or developing useful moral systems that are in many ways similar to Judeo-Christian morality? Does this other common argument somehow undermine the idea that morality is objective and grounded in God? Of course not. For one thing, some such moral systems are actually modeled on the Judeo-Christian framework in the first place, even if they have afterwards excised their own foundation. That, however, is a minor point. The more important one is that this state of affairs is expected under theism because it is believed that God implanted in humanity a natural grasp of his moral laws, even if their ability to discern them (a matter of moral epistemology) has been degraded. In fact, the apostle Paul makes this very point in Romans 2: 14, 15, when he says:

For when people of the nations, who do not have law, do by nature the things of the law, these people, although not having law, are a law to themselves. They are the very ones who demonstrate the matter of the law to be written in their hearts, while their conscience is bearing witness with them, and by their own thoughts they are being accused or even excused.

It should not be expected under theism that humans would be incapable of discerning any moral truths at all without the assistance of an external guide. In fact, they should be expected to naturally grasp a good many such moral truths. However, there are points at which our ability to discern right and wrong breaks down, where issues become grey, and we can sometimes fool ourselves about whether some course of action is truly good or merely in line with our own desires. At these times, a Christian believes the Bible can reliably adjust their thinking onto a proper moral course.

So, in short, the most common arguments against the existence of objective morality that do no simply assume Materialism carry no logical force whatsoever. Rather, the strongest ‘argument’ against the existence of objective moral values and duties remains the mere assumption that materialism is true. That is why Materialism, as a philosophical approach to reality, is so destructive to society and even basic human rights when it is believed in earnest. While it is perfectly possible for a theist to ignore his conscience and for a Christian to disregard the moral guidelines he finds in the Bible, it is also possible to say that, in so doing, the theist has acted in a way that is inconsistent with his most basic beliefs about reality and that his actions are objectively wrong. It is also possible for one theist to rationally reason with another that he really ought to live in accord with certain moral standards; that they are indeed binding upon him. Conversely, within the framework of materialism, no moral system will ever be binding on humans. It will never be capable of rationally grounding any oughts. No matter how well constructed it may seem to be, no matter how useful, any man or woman will always have an absolute defeater near at hand in the form of two simple words: I disagree.

In light of all this, and considering the ultimate importance of this issue and the incredibly negative effects that even thoughtful and informed atheists admit would ensue if the necessary implications of Materialism were widely grasped and accepted, why do so many atheist philosophers and scientists cling to Materialism as a true picture of reality? What is the root of the obsession with naturalism in the sciences? And what evidence and arguments are marshalled in support of the truth of Materialism? Well, if I’m invited back as a guest author in the future, I would like to consider some of these questions.

HeKS

______________________________

FOOTNOTES:

1 Richard Dawkins. River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (1995)

2 Carl Sagan. Cosmos (1980)

3 George Gaylord Simpson. The Meaning of Evolution (1967)

4 It perhaps needs to be pointed out pre-emptively that Christians are not subject to the guidelines of the Mosaic Law, which, in addition to making plain to the Jews the need for the redemptive power of the promised messiah, was intended to keep them absolutely separate from the morally vile and idolatrous nations that surrounded them so as to prevent contamination by those people, especially in terms of their worship.

106 Replies to “DOES IT MATTER WHAT WE BELIEVE ABOUT MORALITY? (A guest-post by HeKS)

  1. 1
    kairosfocus says:

    F/N: Let us welcome HeKS to our growing list of guest-posters at UD, here, he has posted on the IS-OUGHT gap and the grounding of morality challenge faced by Evolutionary Materialists. Food for thought. KF

    PS: I note for separate purposes that prep time for the post based on a Word document, was ~ 15 minutes.

    PPS . . . O/T: After a hard-fought and sometimes bitter campaign, we have a new Premier in Montserrat this morning, with a landslide defeat of the incumbent Government Party by the newly formed PDM, led by the now former Leader of the Opposition. Acceptance and concession speeches, at last count our old friend SHV down South has not given an interview. Vote counting was just now completed, after going through the night. It will be a busy time just ahead.

  2. 2
    Andre says:

    I think the issue lies with the fact that the atheist presumes that he can be moral all on his own and that he does not need a redeemer, I say this because as an atheist for 34 years I realised that I could not be moral on my own.

    CS Lewis in his paper Man or Rabbit, probably puts it in the best possible way….

    “It will teach you that in fact you can’t be “good” (not for twenty-four hours) on your own moral efforts. And then it will teach you that even if you were, you still wouldn’t have achieved the purpose for which you were created. Mere morality is not the end of life. You were made for something quite different from that. J. S. Mill and Confucius (Socrates was much nearer the reality) simply didn’t know what life is about. The people who keep on asking if they can’t lead a decent life without Christ, don’t know what life is about; if they did they would know that “a decent life” is mere machinery compared with the thing we men are really made for. Morality is indispensable: but the Divine Life, which gives itself to us and which calls us to be gods, intends for us something in which morality will be swallowed up.”

  3. 3
    Phinehas says:

    HeKs:

    First of all, thanks for the well-written and well-argued post!

    Rosenberg also makes another interesting observation. He notes that if people were to recognize the necessary nihilistic implications of scientific materialism and subsequently reject the truth of those implications, materialism, and the scientism it supports, would unravel. I completely agree. People typically like to think that their worldview is in some way logically coherent, but if the premises underlying their worldview lead inevitably to conclusions that they strongly believe are false, contrary to the evidence of their experience, and in conflict with other basic beliefs they hold more strongly and believe are more warranted, then the only reasonable course of action is to accept that one or more of the premises underlying their worldview must be false.

    For me, this is the crux of the matter. This is because damage-to-society arguments always seem to founder (to the delight and emphasis of the detractor) when one focuses on outcomes. This is, of course, what A_B was referring to when he (effectively) wrote:

    ‘Nobody, including theists, can objectively demonstrate that any group’s (e.g. atheists or theists) morality is superior to any other group’s morality.’

    Sure, we can find in this a rather damning admission that is absolutely germane to the argument. But we shouldn’t gloss over the truth of what he is trying to say in the process: On the whole, those who claim to believe in objective truth don’t end up acting all that different from those who claim to believe otherwise, and this necessarily calls into question the damage-to-society accusation.

    But here, the honest evaluator may make a couple of admissions in regards to the above.

    1. Many materialists, to their credit, live as though objective morality exists. For example, RDFish just knows that torturing puppies is wrong, even though he chalks it up to some nebulously-defined personal intuition that he imagines emerged from evolving complexity, and even though he has no grounding for why others should be compelled to live in concert with his own evolved personal intuitions. It appears that, for him and many others, the belief about torturing puppies and other moral behavior is strong enough to override the resulting cognitive dissonance.

    2. Many theists, to our shame, live as though subjective morality were true. Just like the moral relativists we decry, we make selfish choices based on what is best for us in the particular circumstance instead of based on what is objectively right. Too often, our selfishness is strong enough to override the resulting moral dissonance. Though this highlights our need for a Savior, it undermines our argument for objective morality and its benefit to society.

    These two things bring us into a kind of parity when all is said and done. However, the honest theist should recognize in this admission a need to live more in concert with his own beliefs. And it is hoped that the honest materialist will recognize a need to continue living counter to his beliefs, and that both the theist and the materialist will question some deeply held assumptions about life and how we live it.

  4. 4
    Barry Arrington says:

    Great article. HeKS has been given posting privileges here at UD.

  5. 5
    HeKS says:

    Thanks a lot, Barry. Wasn’t expecting that. Glad you liked the article.

  6. 6
    kairosfocus says:

    Phinehas,

    Plato warned on the long term consequences of such thought as factions emerge and become entrenched — which we have seen again and again over the past 100 years (so the “it makes no difference” argument is either utterly ignorant or outright deceitful), 2350 years ago in The Laws Bk X:

    Ath. . . . [[The avant garde philosophers and poets, c. 360 BC] say that fire and water, and earth and air [[i.e the classical “material” elements of the cosmos], all exist by nature and chance, and none of them by art, and that as to the bodies which come next in order-earth, and sun, and moon, and stars-they have been created by means of these absolutely inanimate existences. The elements are severally moved by chance and some inherent force according to certain affinities among them-of hot with cold, or of dry with moist, or of soft with hard, and according to all the other accidental admixtures of opposites which have been formed by necessity. After this fashion and in this manner the whole heaven has been created, and all that is in the heaven, as well as animals and all plants, and all the seasons come from these elements, not by the action of mind, as they say, or of any God, or from art, but as I was saying, by nature and chance only. [[In short, evolutionary materialism premised on chance plus necessity acting without intelligent guidance on primordial matter is hardly a new or a primarily “scientific” view! Notice also, the trichotomy of causal factors: (a) chance/accident, (b) mechanical necessity of nature, (c) art or intelligent design and direction.] . . . .

    [[Thus, they hold that t]he Gods exist not by nature, but by art, and by the laws of states, which are different in different places, according to the agreement of those who make them; and that the honourable is one thing by nature and another thing by law, and that the principles of justice have no existence at all in nature, but that mankind are always disputing about them and altering them; and that the alterations which are made by art and by law have no basis in nature, but are of authority for the moment and at the time at which they are made.- [[Relativism, too, is not new; complete with its radical amorality rooted in a worldview that has no foundational IS that can ground OUGHT] These, my friends, are the sayings of wise men, poets and prose writers, which find a way into the minds of youth. They are told by them that the highest right is might [[ Evolutionary materialism leads to the promotion of amorality], and in this way the young fall into impieties, under the idea that the Gods are not such as the law bids them imagine; and hence arise factions [[Evolutionary materialism-motivated amorality “naturally” leads to continual contentions and power struggles], these philosophers inviting them to lead a true life according to nature, that is, to live in real dominion over others [[such amoral factions, if they gain power, “naturally” tend towards ruthless tyranny], and not in legal subjection to them.

    Those who refuse to learn from history are doomed to relive it.

    KF

  7. 7
    kairosfocus says:

    HeKS: Congratulations! KF

  8. 8
    HeKS says:

    @kairosfocus

    Thanks a lot.

  9. 9
    Phinehas says:

    KF:

    Charlie Peacock is, admittedly, not Plato. Still, perhaps some truth can be found in his words (which seem to echo the thoughts of the Apostle Paul in Romans 6):

    The disease of self runs through my veins
    It’s a cancer fatal to my soul
    Ev’ry attempt on my behalf has failed
    To bring this sickness under control

    What’s going on inside of me?
    I despise my own behavior
    This only serves to confirm my suspicion
    That I’m still a man in need of a Savior

    The Truth does make a difference, of course. Jesus is the Truth.

    The atheist is always going to see a certain amount of parity between his own behavior and that of theists. This should not be too surprising, after all, since we are all of us sinners. Perhaps becoming deeply acquainted with someone who truly walks in the Spirit each and every day will convince the atheist of a real difference, but until that point, he’ll only reassure himself that Plato’s words don’t line up with his experience, and he’ll have every reason to give more weight to his own empiricism.

    For me, the difference that needs to be emphasized isn’t the difference between the behavior of atheists vs. theists, but the difference between the atheists metaphysical beliefs and their own moral intuitions and actions, as HeKS highlights.

    People typically like to think that their worldview is in some way logically coherent, but if the premises underlying their worldview lead inevitably to conclusions that they strongly believe are false, contrary to the evidence of their experience, and in conflict with other basic beliefs they hold more strongly and believe are more warranted, then the only reasonable course of action is to accept that one or more of the premises underlying their worldview must be false.

  10. 10
    HeKS says:

    @Phineas #3

    Thanks for the response. A few thoughts…

    While I’m sure you are already aware of this and noticed it, I just want to make sure it’s clear that the “damage to society” issue is not specifically a theistic argument. Even atheists like Rosenberg have recognized the ultimate truth of this argument.

    Still, we should be clear on what the actual claim is here, which I tried to do in my article but perhaps didn’t fully succeed at. The claim is not simply that if people believe materialism and moral relativism in passing that society will fall apart. Rather, the claim is that society would fall apart if people believed these things in earnest.

    To say that we don’t need to worry about people believing these things in passing as some kind of vague acknowledgement that they fully disregard in practice, living as though they were not true, is basically to say that we don’t need to worry about people believing these things if they don’t really believe them. Things we give vague mental assent to in passing have little if any effect on our actions. Things we believe deeply, on the other hand, do impact our choices and our actions. A person who claims to be a moral relativist but who thinks and acts like a moral objectivist is a relativist in name only. They are giving lip service to a logically necessary implication of their preferred worldview but then living, and often thinking, like that implication is pure fiction. People like this are often in state of a sort of self-imposed delusion. They give passing mental assent to the necessary implications of the worldview they prefer to hold, which, somewhat conveniently, frees them of any accountability to an ultimate authority (think of the bus ads: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life”), but in practice they disregard these implications and live as though reality is something completely different than what their worldview would dictate.

    What we need to worry about is people really believing the implications of materialism. And the chance of that happening increases as people are indoctrinated with materialist philosophy at younger and younger ages and with the push that some are now advocating to stamp out inherent teleological thinking about nature in children before it has a chance to take hold. The desired result is for society to spit out generations of committed materialists, but little concern is given to the fact they would have absolutely no basis whatsoever for viewing the world in anything other than nihilistic terms. And don’t forget, it doesn’t even take a full society of true nihilists, materialists, relativists, etc. to cause serious damage. It only takes a few in power to devastate an entire society. The 20th century saw this happen time and again.

    All of this should be of concern even to the soft moral relativists, or to the materialists who simply don’t even recognize what their worldview entails. It’s not that they need to worry, “Oh, gee, society might fall apart if I continue to vaguely believe morality is relative but act like it’s objective.” What they should think about is that society would fall apart if people started really believing what they kinda believe in passing. They should be considering that ideas have consequences and they should be asking themselves whether or not they really believe these things that necessarily flow from their worldview and, if not, whether their worldview is sound at all and what the implications might be for them if it is not.

    Now, you mention that sometimes theists live as though subjective morality were true. I agree, as I mentioned in the article. The thing is, because they don’t think it’s true, such a person can often be reasoned with on the basis of a common objective moral standard that is both binding and rationally grounded. There is a rational basis for making the person realize that their actions are really wrong and that they ought to behave differently. The same cannot be said of the committed materialist who chooses to act badly.

    Of course, as a theist, I don’t want to give the impression in saying all this that I think the potential damage to society that would be caused by an earnest belief in materialism is the only problem with moral relativism and earnest materialism. For the theist, there are long-reaching personal implications here related to the way we live our lives. The point, though, is that there are numerous reasons for the non-theist to take the time to reconsider his position, ranging from something as broad as the potential impacts on society to something as personal as intellectual honesty and integrity.

    Finally, I don’t think the things you mention really bring moral objectivism and relativism to a kind of parity at all. Even in the worst cases in history of people being mistreated by individuals and institutions that professed to be Christian, the strictures of Christian morality and the belief that they were objectively true always acted as some kind of restraint on the evil that was being perpetrated. People either had to make strained attempts to twist the words of scripture to make it seem like there was some kind of limited sanction to their bad behavior, or else they had to deal with the outcry and denunciations of others who pointed out that their actions were not in harmony with Christian belief. Many times it was both. In other words, as bad as it got, it always could have gotten much worse. To see how much worse we need only look to the various regimes in the 20th century in which atheism, materialism and scientism reigned supreme and where there was not believed to be any objective basis for criticizing the evil actions and nobody who felt compelled, on the basis of a belief in objective moral values and duties, to offer loud and sustained denunciation of what was going on. Certainly the people perpetrating these evils felt utterly unmoved by any idea of an ultimate authority judging their actions by some objective moral standard higher than their own opinions. Nothing compelled them to act in any way other than what they personally desired. This reminds me of something David Berlinski wrote in The Devil’s Delusion:

    At some time after it had become clear that Nazi Germany would lose the Second World War, and before the war had actually been lost, one of the senior party officers – perhaps it was Himmler – in confronting the very complicated series of treaty obligations that Germany had accepted with respect to its satraps, wondered out loud, “What, after all, compels us to keep our promises?” It is a troubling question, and one that illustrates anew the remarkable genius for moral philosophy that the Nazis enjoyed.

    What does?

  11. 11
    Barry Arrington says:

    “What we need to worry about is people really believing the implications of materialism.”

    Indeed. The materialists made several attempts to answer the questions I posed in Psychopath as Ubermensch, Follow-up on Psychopath as Ubermensch, and Eric Harris was Just Paying Attention. None came close to answering the question: If materialism is true, isn’t it rational for a materialist to act like a psychopath?

  12. 12
    kairosfocus says:

    Phinehas, the problem with the immoral equivalency, no problem (except for, you hypocrites . . . ) argument is that it ignores massively bloody and quite recent lessons of history to the point where those sufficiently intelligent and/or educated to know better are responsible for their destructive manipulation and deceit by speaking in willful disregard for bloodily bought truth. But then, precisely because of the insidious creeping benumbing amorality involved, they already are refusing to accept responsibilities of care, prudence and sound counsel in light of truth they know or should know. The vicious, downwards spiral into nihilism has already begun. KF

  13. 13
    HeKS says:

    It strikes me that in using this wording in my last comment…

    “Even in the worst cases in history of people being mistreated by individuals and institutions that professed to be Christian”

    …it may seem that I’m trying to downplay the severity of the actions carried out by these professed Christians. You could just as easily substitute “mistreated” with “abused, tortured and/or killed”. Of course, I would point out that these people, though they claimed to be Christians, proved by their actions that they weren’t. Christians are to try to be footstep followers of Christ. The principles underlying their approach to life ought to be ‘Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.’ Lip service paid to belief is not sufficient. As it says in James 2:19: “You believe that there is one God, do you? You are doing quite well. And yet the demons believe and shudder.”

  14. 14
    kairosfocus says:

    PS: and then, there’s the so what factor. I believe the individual human being is of a value that by far exceeds the economic worth of a planet, which makes me see the bloodily bought lessons of history as a sacred, hard bought trust that we had better learn from. If your system reduces man to a zero, there is a so what that devalues the price of folly, lies and manipulation, and is in the end only concerned to gain and use power to personal advantage . . . as in, can I get away with it becomes the decision criterion. And we end up precisely where Plato warned against: might and manipulation make ‘right’ and ‘truth.’

  15. 15
    HeKS says:

    @kairosfocus #12

    Phinehas, the problem with the immoral equivalency, no problem (except for, you hypocrites . . . ) argument is that it ignores massively bloody and quite recent lessons of history to the point where those sufficiently intelligent and/or educated to know better are responsible for their destructive manipulation and deceit by speaking in willful disregard for bloodily bought truth.

    Yes, exactly. What we need to remember is that these are not merely hypothetical dangers. These ideas have already led to precisely these outcomes multiple times, to horrifying effect. To pretend that the danger has somehow passed or is some kind of extreme unwarranted extrapolation is to engage in self-delusion.

  16. 16
    kairosfocus says:

    HeKS,

    correct — and this is no “no True Scotsman” fallacy . . . here is the Apostle John:

    1 Jn 1:5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all[b] sin.

    8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us . . .

    Bring forth the fruit meet unto repentance, the axe is laid against the root of the tree . . .

    KF

  17. 17
    HeKS says:

    KF,

    Yes, precisely right on the “No True Scotsman” comment. The claim that some course of action belies a person’s claim to being a Christian is not an arbitrary one invented after the fact. In order to claim to be a Christian, one must meet a least a minimal set of requirements explicitly set out in the Bible that define what Christianity is. If you never adhere to those minimal requirements you are never really a Christian. If at some point you purposefully stop adhering to them then you stop being a Christian. To say that someone is truly a Christian merely because they profess to be one or associate with others who do is like saying that someone truly becomes a Scotsman if he asserts that he likes kilts. Of course, this is not to suggest that we should somehow suspiciously doubt a person’s sincerity in identifying themselves as a Christian by default, but we must recognize that they have the ability to show by a sustained course of action that they are not Christians in their hearts.

  18. 18
    Acartia_bogart says:

    Barry #11:

    None came close to answering the question: If materialism is true, isn’t it rational for a materialist to act like a psychopath?

    Not true. It was answered several times. Just because you disagree with the answer doesn’t mean that it wasn’t answered.

    HeKs, even though I disagree with some of your conclusions, I must commend you on accurately and respectfully presented summary of both sides of the argument. I look forward to reading more of your posts.

  19. 19
    kairosfocus says:

    A_b: The core challenge on the table is the grounding of morality on evolutionary materialist premises. Kindly, address it. KF

  20. 20
    Phinehas says:

    HeKS @10:

    I think we are mostly in violent agreement. Ideas are dangerous and have consequences. Eric Harris was indeed just paying attention.

    As a point of clarity, however, I’d like to address this:

    Finally, I don’t think the things you mention really bring moral objectivism and relativism to a kind of parity at all.

    It was not my intention to imply that there is any parity between moral objectivism and relativism. My intention was to say that there is a kind of parity between people, whether Jew, gentile, theist, or atheist, as highlighted by none other than the Apostle Paul.

    Romans 3:10-18

    As it is written:

    “There is no one righteous, not even one;
    there is no one who understands;
    there is no one who seeks God.
    All have turned away,
    they have together become worthless;
    there is no one who does good,
    not even one.”
    “Their throats are open graves;
    their tongues practice deceit.”
    “The poison of vipers is on their lips.”
    “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”
    “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
    ruin and misery mark their ways,
    and the way of peace they do not know.”
    “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

    The only immoral equivalency I am referencing is that referenced in Scripture.

    You said:

    What we need to worry about is people really believing the implications of materialism.

    I absolutely agree. I was only trying to point out that this is not the only thing we need to worry about. We also need to worry about people really believing the implications of theism. And if we do that with a bit more consistency, our platform for arguing the difference it makes becomes that much stronger.

  21. 21
    Mung says:

    An atheist who hasn’t read Sarte is like a Christian who hasn’t read the Gospels.

  22. 22
    Mung says:

    A_b rarely fails to bring a smile to my lips.

    I must commend you on accurately and respectfully presented summary of both sides of the argument.

    Why? Why should HeKS be commended?

    As if “an accurately and respectfully presented summary of both sides of the argument” OUGHT to be how OP’s are written. And over in another thread A_b whines as if Barry OUGHT NOT write an OP in a certain way.

    Hilarious. Really.

  23. 23
    JGuy says:

    Response to OP:
    Part 1 – on objective morals…. Seems to me if a person simply defines an objective desired condition they want to achieve. Then they can from there describe without opinion (i.e. objectively) what set of rules are that would achieve that condition. Perhaps, this can be their objective morality. But there seems to be no way to claim an absolute morality as a materialist. One other caveat with that morality might be that if it is purely objective, there would likely always be some contradictions to what one really desires and thus refining needing to be done. This all merely a tentative or merely cursory thought on the matter.

    Part 2 – on absolute morals…. Theists can account for it. Materialists can not. Atheists can try to by invoking a Plutonic “form of the good”, but this clearly doesn’t bode well for their worldview. But assume absolute morality is the case, and actually exists. And that it is b/c God is omniscient and God is good (i.e. is in the sense that God is the standard). Then is it possible for atheists or materialists to truly be moral? For example, it seems to me that it would be immoral to disobey a good God’s command to have no gods before Him or to have idols. Why? Because…well.. that would be wrong. And isn’t being moral about doing what is right? … So, the point would be that it might be possible to create one’s on moral standard in (see #1 above). And it might be ok in how we interact with other people or maybe even creatures. But if it’s incomplete (lacking the absolutes), then it seems to me that it wouldn’t a sufficient moral framework. Granted, at the man to man level, such a framework might be constructable, but given God is good… then that man-to-man moral framework can’t be morally complete without including God’s instructions or commands.

  24. 24
    kairosfocus says:

    PS: The linked threads show that the grounding issue was never adequately addressed, and that there was in effect an evasion of the issue of nihilism, not a sober addressing much less a solution. The very problematic remarks by Alex Rosenberg as clipped in the OP document the problem at a much more serious level than the proverbial random Internet Atheist. The persistent absence of a sober and solid response to this should give us all pause, given the ghosts of 100million victims of the problem of nihilism influenced by radically secularised scientism and evolutionary materialism linked cultures across the past 100 years. And not to mention say the ongoing abortion holocaust.

  25. 25
    HeKS says:

    @Mung #22

    Not to get all preachy, but while I fully appreciate your ultimate point, should Acartia_bogart’s politeness really be met with derision? I think your point could be presented with equal power in a slightly more attractive package.

  26. 26
    HeKS says:

    @Acartia_bogart #18

    Thank you. I appreciate your commendation. I’m not sure one’s intellectual opponent could pay him a much higher compliment than to say he has treated the other side’s arguments fairly.

  27. 27
    Phinehas says:

    HeKS, you are more charitable than I in giving the benefit of doubt. I saw A_B’s post as more of a barb directed at Barry, but you are right to have taken it at face value.

  28. 28
    Acartia_bogart says:

    HeKs, I believe in complements when they are justified. Your presentation of my points (and probably Mark’s as well) were presented objectively and with respect. And even though I disagree with the rational you used to counter them, they were also presented with respect. As you know, that is not always the case here.

    I may disagree with you in the future (OK, who am I kidding? We both know that I will disagree with you) but I will try to be just as respectful.

  29. 29
    HeKS says:

    @Acartia_bogart #28

    Fair enough, and that’s appreciated. I won’t deny that I have at times gotten a little frustrated in debates and offered some pretty pointed criticisms of my opponent’s tactics and sometimes their intellect, or at least their intellectual honesty. Still, I think I can pretty honestly say that I’ve tried to avoid that until I’ve charitably extended every benefit of the doubt that I could possibly manage, and often even more than I felt was reasonable. I find that approach helps me stay intellectually honest, because it doesn’t give me any easy outs when faced with opposing arguments. Instead it forces me to spend my time on research and proper reasoning and to directly interact with what my opponent says.

  30. 30
    HeKS says:

    @Phinehas #20

    I think I better understand your point now. I took your comment about parity to be related to your comment about how bad behavior from theists “undermines our argument for objective morality and its benefit to society”, such that there was a kind of parity between moral objectivity and subjectivity in terms of their potential effects on society. Your clarification makes more sense to me now.

  31. 31
    Mung says:

    HeKS,

    I’ll get back to you when Arcatia_bogart addresses the argument rather than handing out a compliment (not to be confused with a complement).

    A_b is somewhat of a magician. Waving with one hand to attract the attention while hiding the absence of substantive response in the other hand and hoping the audience doesn’t notice.

    Good luck

  32. 32
    Acartia_bogart says:

    Mung: “A_b is somewhat of a magician. Waving with one hand to attract the attention while hiding the absence of substantive response in the other hand and hoping the audience doesn’t notice.”

    Damn, I didn’t know that I had these super powers. I compliment HeKs on a very well written OP and people jump all over me. I criticize Barry for posting an OP that doesn’t allow any dissenting opinion, And he jumps all over me. I post a comment about how amazing ciliates are, and I get jumped on.

    HeKs, regardless of what Mung and a handful of others may say, my comments were sincere.

  33. 33
    roding says:

    …It is also ill-conceived, because it confuses the issues of moral ontology (the basic existence of moral truths) and moral epistemology (our ability to get to know those moral truths if they exist).

    I guess I am a bit puzzled by this. What do you mean by “…those moral truths if they exist”? Isn’t the point of objective morality that they must exist? Shouldn’t it be possible to list them?

  34. 34
    kairosfocus says:

    roding,

    Let’s try an historically pivotal “list[ing],” how Locke set out to ground the principles on which modern liberty and self government by a free people were built . . . the basis for the sort of peaceful revolution by ballot box that happened here day before to yesterday. He did so in his famed 2nd treatise on civil gov’t, Ch 2, by thusly quoting “the judicious [Anglican Canon Richard] Hooker” in his 1594+ Ecclesiastical Polity, who in turn was pointing to Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, with echoes of both the Judaeo-Christian Scriptures and Justinian’s Corpus Juris Civilis:

    . . . if I cannot but wish to receive good, even as much at every man’s hands, as any man can wish unto his own soul, how should I look to have any part of my desire herein satisfied, unless myself be careful to satisfy the like desire which is undoubtedly in other men . . . my desire, therefore, to be loved of my equals in Nature, as much as possible may be, imposeth upon me a natural duty of bearing to themward fully the like affection. From which relation of equality between ourselves and them that are as ourselves, what several rules and canons natural reason hath drawn for direction of life no man is ignorant . . . [[Hooker then continues, citing Aristotle in The Nicomachean Ethics, Bk 8:] as namely, That because we would take no harm, we must therefore do none; That since we would not be in any thing extremely dealt with, we must ourselves avoid all extremity in our dealings; That from all violence and wrong we are utterly to abstain, with such-like . . . ] [[Eccl. Polity,preface, Bk I, “ch.” 8, p.80]

    Echoes in the US DOI of 1776 and the US Constitution of 1787, are not coincidental. Ditto, in Blackstone on the Laws of England, etc.

    And of course, there are echoes enough in the OP.

    KF

  35. 35
    HeKS says:

    @Roding #33

    I was trying to accurately describe those different issues within moral philosophy. Moral Ontology is about the basic existence of moral truths, which would include the question of whether they really exist as truths at all. Moral Epistemology is about gaining knowledge about morality, including getting to know what the moral truths are, though such knowledge of moral truths can obviously only be attained if they exist in the first place.

    In other words, I was trying to describe these different issues of moral philosophy without doing so in such a way that necessarily stacked the deck in my favor to imply the entire field of moral philosophy already agrees with my view that morality really is objective.

    But yes, you’re right that if you believe morality is objective, as I do, then you will necessarily believe that moral truths really exist. Nonetheless, no, the fact of their existence would not make it logically necessary that you be able to list all of them, and certainly not just as a result of intuition. That’s why Moral Ontology and Moral Epistemology really are two distinct issues.

  36. 36
    HeKS says:

    @Acartia_bogart #28

    You said:

    HeKs, I believe in complements when they are justified. Your presentation of my points (and probably Mark’s as well) were presented objectively and with respect. And even though I disagree with the rational you used to counter them, they were also presented with respect. As you know, that is not always the case here.

    In relation to that bold statement, I just want to make sure a particular point is clear. In responding in the OP to arguments against the existence of objective morality, including one that came from you, my comments should not be understood as if they were intended to be a positive argument for the existence of objective morality. Rather, the point I was making was that they are not logically compelling defeaters of the existence of objective morality or the theistic / Christian view of morality, since the state of affairs mentioned in those arguments that attempt to defeat the existence of objective theistic morality are actually perfectly logically consistent with the objective theistic morality position and are actually even expected under it, as can be seen by the fact that they are explicitly stated as expectations in the Bible.

    So, having said that, and assuming that was clear to you at the time you read the OP, I guess I’m a little unclear on what rationale you disagree with. Do you mean to say that you are convinced that arguments like the one you mentioned really are logically compelling, in the sense that the state of affairs they cite are somehow logically incompatible with the existence of objective morality even though they are explicitly predicted under the Christian model and even though the argument happens to conflate two different areas of moral philosophy?

    As for the truth of the existence of objective morality, I’m of the opinion that belief in objective morality is properly basic, in the same way that it’s properly basic to believe in the existence of external minds and the reality of the past. Furthermore, I tend to agree with this comment from the atheist Peter Cave:

    “whatever sceptical arguments may be brought against our belief that killing the innocent is morally wrong, we are more certain that the killing is morally wrong than that the argument is sound… Torturing an innocent child for the sheer fun of it is morally wrong. Full stop.”

  37. 37
    kairosfocus says:

    F/N: Here is a summary, by its principal teacher, of the heart of Judaeo-Christian framework for theistic ethics. Notice the emphasis on the principle of neighbour-love and transforming purity in heart, thought, motive, attitude, speech and deed backed up by willingness to peacefully suffer abuse rather than be waspish balanced in turn by self examination and mutual encouragement in the way of the truth and the right. KF

  38. 38
    anthropic says:

    While I agree that materialism and scientism lead to ethical nihilism, with all that entails, it should be noted that some religions do the same.

    For instance, my nephew has embraced Hinduism. His dad, my brother, was perplexed as to what this entailed, so I asked the young man what the moral difference was between Hitler and Mother Teresa. He replied like any good monist, “There is no difference morally.”

    And the whole might equals right idea is endorsed by Islam. God is Power and Will, not Love, Reason, or Justice.

    I’d add that, in my opinion, many of the Health and Wealth prosperity gospel churches verge on the same way of thinking. For them, success (money, house, fancy clothes, expensive car, trophy wife) equates with God’s approval. This makes it very easy to justify doing whatever it takes for success…

  39. 39
    Popperian says:

    HeKS,

    Think of it this way…

    Before one could actually apply any set of objective moral principles, wouldn’t this necessitate a way by which one could actually know what those objective moral principles are?

    As for the truth of the existence of objective morality, I’m of the opinion that belief in objective morality is properly basic, in the same way that it’s properly basic to believe in the existence of external minds and the reality of the past.

    This appears to be a sort of foundationalism. However, one major criticism of foundationalism is that where one chooses to stop, and therefore what one choose to consider not subject to criticism, is arbitrary. So, rather than having basic and non-basic beliefs, a better, simpler explanation is that we adopt ideas that we do not have significant criticism of. And, I’m suggesting that moral ideas are subject to this same process of rational criticism, just like all other ideas.

    IOW, conjecture and criticism, in one form or another, is our best, current explanation for the universal growth of knowledge in brains, books and even genes.

    For example, you wrote…

    Furthermore, I tend to agree with this comment from the atheist Peter Cave:

    “whatever sceptical arguments may be brought against our belief that killing the innocent is morally wrong, we are more certain that the killing is morally wrong than that the argument is sound… Torturing an innocent child for the sheer fun of it is morally wrong. Full stop.”

    As pointed out, we cannot positively justify any moral principle, but we can criticize the idea of torturing an innocent child and discard it.

    To illustrate, according to the Bible, God also supposedly punishes women by causing their womb to miscarriage, drowned children in the flood, threaten to kill all the first born in Egypt if the Israelites are not released, but then hardens the heart of the Pharaoh and makes good on his promise, teaches the use of a “bitter water” as a sort test/punishment to abort a fetus conceived through infidelity and commands the death of children and non-virgin women of peoples that are “enemies” of his chosen people.

    However, given current day knowledge of the impact of those choices on people, would we accept this sort of behavior today from, well, anyone?

    If God needed to start over, he could have made those not chosen to survive simply disappear rather than die a horrible death by drowning. In fact, God will supposedly make people disappear during the rapture. The same could be said of commands to slaughter and kill Midianite, Samaria, Tappuah and Amalek children and pregnant women.

    In the case of the latter, think of the PTSD these men would have due to their actions towards children! How would this impact their behavior towards their own children? The authors of the Bible simply didn’t have this sort of understanding about war, the impact it had on those that wage it, alternatives choices we would now consider, including those available to a “just” God, etc.

    The best explanation for moral progress is that we guess about which responses we could make in a given situation, guess which of those are the most moral, then criticize them. It’s an iterative, error correcting process, not a process of justification.

    In fact, I’d suggest that the idea that we have somehow have obtained one, unchanging set of moral principles is, in of itself, immoral as It doesn’t take into account what we know, or the lack there of, and changing conditions, etc. To deny that we can make progress is bad philosophy.

    Evil is the lack of knowledge because the laws of physics are really not that onerous to what we really want.

    For example, as far as we know, the laws of physics do not prohibit the transfer of an unwanted fetus into a woman who wants a child or even creating an artificial womb. As such the only thing preventing us from doing so is knowing how. This is not to say this wouldn’t lead to new problems to solve, but it would render abortion unnecessary.

    Why doesn’t God, being all knowing, divinely reveal the knowledge of how to do these things, avoiding the problem all together; as opposed to merely divinely revealing not to abort children, which he would have done quite poorly. If God supposedly “programmed” us to already objectively know not to abort children anyway, why repeat the same thing, rather than provide a soluiton?

    Having set out to actually solve this problem and, by the sweat of our own brows, create the knowledge of how to solve it, wouldn’t that make us more moral than God?

  40. 40
    HeKS says:

    @anthropic #38

    Good points. I agree.

  41. 41
    Axel says:

    Andre #2

    Beautiful post and C S Lewis quote, Andre. Morality is fundamental to the life of faith, yet still only a part of its beauty.

  42. 42
    HeKS says:

    @Popperian #39

    I’ll try to get a response to you tomorrow.

  43. 43
    kairosfocus says:

    P: While that you comment is appreciated, it would be helpful if you were to acquaint yourself with the state of play, e.g. cf here at 34 above, where the matter you open up with — what are we talking about — is directly addressed in answer to roding’s remarks — by way of an historically influential case in point. One, with roots 2300 years ago and which has been foundational to the rise of modern liberty and democracy for over 300 years, indeed it is strongly alluded to in the US DOI of 1776 in Para 2 so “of this no man is ignorant.” KF

    PS: On the critique of “foundationalism,” I would say that stopping from using a terminology does not make the matter go away, we are still finite, fallible, boundedly rational creatures and do have to stop somewhere. The issue of vicious circularity and question-begging is addressed through open-ended, reasonable discussion on comparative difficulties across live options, in respect of factual adequacy, coherence and explanatory power and balance . . . elegant and powerful, neither simplistic nor an ad hoc patchwork forever patching up leaks. As an example, a belief spider-web rests on anchor lines anchored to a base, and Neurath’s raft rests on the ocean and the associated laws of floatation so even if always under repair there is a necessary issue of foundational adequacy or else it goes down blub, blub, blub. (And if you are of the school of Kantian Naturalist, that was long since pointed out to that worthy here at UD.) On the grounding of morality the IS_OUGHT gap challenge is pivotal, and post Hume it can only be answered at the root or foundational level of the ordered system of reality. Laying out in skeletal form:

    P1: Either we are not bound by OUGHT or else there is a world-foundational IS that properly grounds OUGHT

    P2: We are inescapably bound by OUGHT, we are morally governed creatures

    P3: In particular, we find ourselves to have basic rights that are linked to our status, value and worth as human beings

    P4: Where, such rights are inherently morally loaded expectations and demands that we be respected in light of such core status, value and worth
    ____________________________

    C5: There is an IS at the foundation of the world that grounds OUGHT

    C6: Where, on centuries of discussion, the only serious candidate is the inherently good, creator God who is a maximally great and necessary being, who has given us ability to perceive and respond to moral constraints.

    We may ignore and dismiss this, but only at the price of undermining moral foundations. In the case of evolutionary materialism, as the OP so powerfully points out, that is so.

    PPS: For now, I am going to be exceptionally busy supporting the transition into office of the newly elected premier of Montserrat.

  44. 44
    kairosfocus says:

    F/N: I think it would help keep us on focus and on track to re-read the OP, which is excellent. Also, we need to highlight the IS-OUGHT gap, the grounding challenge to relativist views and particularly evolutionary materialist scientism. Which also requires exposing the fatal fallacy at the heart of scientism. And, let us note (in light of the history over the past 100 years of the impacts of scientism-influenced nihilisms) the serious issues underscored by Rosenberg. KF

  45. 45
    kairosfocus says:

    F/N 2: By the award of posting privilege, HeKS has obviously been invited to further post in the strongest possible way. KF

  46. 46

    Popperian said:

    Before one could actually apply any set of objective moral principles, wouldn’t this necessitate a way by which one could actually know what those objective moral principles are?

    To start, recognizing self-evident moral truths.

    This appears to be a sort of foundationalism. However, one major criticism of foundationalism is that where one chooses to stop, and therefore what one choose to consider not subject to criticism, is arbitrary.

    No, the “stopping point” of foundationalism isn’t “arbitrary”; it’s where any other premise leads to self-refutation or nonsensical conclusions. For example, starting at the principle of identity, in logic, is not an “arbitrary” premise; it is a necessary premise, without which nothing else can be argued or made sense of.

    Similarly, if “torturing children for fun” is not held as necessarily immoral, then anything goes, and there is no use to speak of morality at all, much less debate it. It is self-evidently true that it is immoral to torture children for fun.

    As pointed out, we cannot positively justify any moral principle, but we can criticize the idea of torturing an innocent child and discard it.

    You don’t positively justify a self-evidently true/necessarily true premise; you use it to justify other statements or conclusions. Without a foundation of some sort, by what non-arbitrary means would you “criticize” any moral statement? Why should anyone accept criticism that has no presumed objective basis whatsoever?

    However, given current day knowledge of the impact of those choices on people, would we accept this sort of behavior today from, well, anyone?

    You say this as if “impact of choices on people” is necessarily a component of morality, and as if others should recognize some kinds of “impacts” as “less moral” than others, as if there was some sort of standard you expect us to evaluate from.

    As I have said before, moral subjectivists cannot help but imply an objective moral standard even when they argue against it. If you were a real moral subjectivist, why do you bother even arguing about it? Who cares? What difference does it make?

  47. 47
    Popperian says:

    @KF

    Perhaps I should backtrack a bit..

    The complaint is regarding a grounding or foundation for morality without theism. But this makes the assumption that this is a reasonable or even desirable demand. I’m suggesting it’s not reasonable given progress we’ve made in epistemology.

    Furthermore, I’m explaining the same observations with a unified theory of conjecture and criticism.

    From this article on unknowability.

    This logic of fallibility, discovered and rediscovered from time to time, has had profound salutary effects in the history of ideas. Whenever anything demands blind obedience, its ideology contains a claim of infallibility somewhere; but wherever someone believes seriously enough in that infallibility, they rediscover the need for reason to identify and correctly interpret the infallible source. Thus the sages of ancient Judaism were led, by the assumption of the Bible’s infallibility, to develop their tradition of critical discussion. And in an apparently remote application of the same logic, the British constitutional doctrine of “parliamentary sovereignty” was used by 20th-century judges such as Lord Denning to develop an institution of judicial review similar to that which, in the United States, had grown out of the opposite doctrine of “separation of powers.”

    Fallibilism has practical consequences for the methodology and administration of science, and in government, law, education, and every aspect of public life. The philosopher Karl Popper elaborated on many of these. He wrote:5

    The question about the sources of our knowledge . . . has always been asked in the spirit of: ‘What are the best sources of our knowledge—the most reliable ones, those which will not lead us into error, and those to which we can and must turn, in case of doubt, as the last court of appeal?’ I propose to assume, instead, that no such ideal sources exist—no more than ideal rulers—and that all ‘sources’ are liable to lead us into error at times. And I propose to replace, therefore, the question of the sources of our knowledge by the entirely different question: ‘How can we hope to detect and eliminate error?’

    It’s all about error. We used to think that there was a way to organize ourselves that would minimize errors. This is an infallibilist chimera that has been part of every tyranny since time immemorial, from the “divine right of kings” to centralized economic planning. And it is implemented by many patterns of thought that protect misconceptions in individual minds, making someone blind to evidence that he isn’t Napoleon, or making the scientific crank reinterpret peer review as a conspiracy to keep falsehoods in place.

    Popper’s answer is: We can hope to detect and eliminate error if we set up traditions of criticism—substantive criticism, directed at the content of ideas, not their sources, and directed at whether they solve the problems that they purport to solve. Here is another apparent paradox, for a tradition is a set of ideas that stay the same, while criticism is an attempt to change ideas. But there is no contradiction. Our systems of checks and balances are steeped in traditions—such as freedom of speech and of the press, elections, and parliamentary procedures, the values behind concepts of contract and of tort—that survive not because they are deferred to but precisely because they are not: They themselves are continually criticized, and either survive criticism (which allows them to be adopted without deference) or are improved (for example, when the franchise is extended, or slavery abolished). Democracy, in this conception, is not a system for enforcing obedience to the authority of the majority. In the bigger picture, it is a mechanism for promoting the creation of consent, by creating objectively better ideas, by eliminating errors from existing ones.

    I think there is an objective morality, just as there is objective knowledge in other spheres. But we do not have infallible access to it. However, I do not think we share the same definition of “objective morality”.

    Note: this follows the same thought experiment Popper made in his book Objective Knowledge.

    Experiment (1). All our machines and tools are destroyed, and all our subjective learning, including our subjective knowledge of machines and tools, and how to use them. But libraries and our capacity to learn from them survive. Clearly, after much suffering, our world may get going again.

    Experiment (2). As before, machines and tools are destroyed, and our subjective learning, including our subjective knowledge of machines and tools, and how to use them. But this time, all libraries are destroyed also, so that our capacity to learn from books becomes useless.

    If you think about these two experiments, the reality, significance, and degree of autonomy of the third world (as well as its effects on the second and first worlds) may perhaps become a little clearer to you. For in the second case, there will be no re-emergence of our civilization for many millennia.”
    Karl Popper, ‘Objective Knowledge – An Evolutionary Approach’.

    Now replace knowledge of machines and tools with moral knowledge. Are you suggesting we wouldn’t see the same sort of results? This is why I pointed out historical progress we made in moral spheres, which includes criticism of moral duties in the old testament timeframe.

  48. 48
    kairosfocus says:

    P: I have a government transition dealing with, so not a lot of time. Pardon short, sharp:

    From Alcibiades and co, to Robespierre, the rape of Belgium, Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, Castro and co, NIHILISM is an issue. So also is the grounding of core rights, starting with life [from conception and implantation to natural death], liberty, innocent repute, liberty to pursue one’s purpose and calling, property and more . . .

    It is history and the moans of over 100 million ghosts of victims of evolutionary materialism shaped scientism turned into ruthless state policy (not counting hundreds of millions of victims of abortion on demand . . . ) that put the grounding of morality at the centre of focus.

    Sorry, the attempt to ignore the sheer weight of that horrific history is not good enough by a long shot.

    In fact, I put it to you that that attempt itself reflects the creeping influence of the radical relativisation and nihilism that Plato put on the table 2350 years ago in The Laws, Bk X. Which have been cited any number of times by way of if we refuse to learn from history we are doomed to repeat it’s worst aspects, and just as repeatedly willfully ignored or distracted from.

    This is a deadly serious matter, far too serious for clever rhetorical games.

    There is an IS-OUGHT gap, and there is but one level where it can be resolved: a world-foundational IS capable of bearing the awesome weight of a genuine OUGHT. With, after centuries, just one serious candidate on the table . . . the inherently good, creator God, a maximally Great and Necessary being, the root and sustainer of reality.

    100 million ghosts are telling us that we had better solidly answer to NIHILISM.

    To head off definitionitis:

    ni·hil·ism (n-lzm, n-)
    n.
    1. Philosophy
    a. An extreme form of skepticism that denies all existence.
    b. A doctrine holding that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated.
    2. Rejection of all distinctions in moral or religious value and a willingness to repudiate all previous theories of morality or religious belief.
    3. The belief that destruction of existing political or social institutions is necessary for future improvement.
    4. also Nihilism A diffuse, revolutionary movement of mid 19th-century Russia that scorned authority and tradition and believed in reason, materialism, and radical change in society and government through terrorism and assassination.
    5. Psychiatry A delusion, experienced in some mental disorders, that the world or one’s mind, body, or self does not exist.
    [Latin nihil, nothing; see ne in Indo-European roots + -ism.]
    nihil·ist n.
    nihil·istic adj.
    nihil·isti·cal·ly adv.

    The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

    Got to get some rest to prep for the policy war already in progress — the entrenched power classes have already signalled no we will not allow a honeymoon period, early on the morrow. And with implications of the Scottish independence vote on the 18th looming.

    Oh, the ever present march of folly!

    KF

  49. 49
    kairosfocus says:

    PS: Please do not import distractive debates about Popper here, and do not set up strawman targets about knowledge, knowability and degrees of warrant or certainty; the matters linked to nihilism from the OP on are far too soberingly challenging for that.

    I suggest to you that first reality is distinct from knowability and that exists across a spectrum of degree of warrant balanced with responsibility; where the long since known real world relevant weak-form sense of knowledge has been:

    KNOWLEDGE — warranted, credibly true belief.

    In key cases the degree of warrant and the circumstances are such that one would be irresponsible to dismiss or act as though the point of such “weak form” knowledge is false. (I here allude to the opening chapters of Greenleaf on Evidence, a refreshing antidote to ever so many common errors of our time.)

    This is termed moral certainty for several good reasons, and it brings out that morality is connected to knowledge. Where also that which is true says of what is that it is and of what is not, that it is not. (Onlookers, kindly cf here (and here on) for discussions on relevant points.)

  50. 50
    kairosfocus says:

    F/N: For reference, Greenleaf:

    >> Evidence, in legal acceptation, includes all the means by which any alleged matter of fact, the truth of which is submitted to investigation, is established or disproved . . . None but mathematical truth is susceptible of that high degree of evidence, called demonstration, which excludes all possibility of error [–> Greenleaf wrote almost 100 years before Godel], and which, therefore, may reasonably be required in support of every mathematical deduction.

    Matters of fact are proved by moral evidence alone; by which is meant, not only that kind of evidence which is employed on subjects connected with moral conduct, but all the evidence which is not obtained either from intuition, or from demonstration. In the ordinary affairs of life, we do not require demonstrative evidence, because it is not consistent with the nature of the subject, and to insist upon it would be unreasonable and absurd.

    The most that can be affirmed of such things, is, that there is no reasonable doubt concerning them.

    The true question, therefore, in trials of fact, is not whether it is possible that the testimony may be false, but, whether there is sufficient probability of its truth; that is, whether the facts are shown by competent and satisfactory evidence. Things established by competent and satisfactory evidence are said to be proved.

    By competent evidence, is meant that which the very-nature of the thing to be proved requires, as the fit and appropriate proof in the particular case, such as the production of a writing, where its contents are the subject of inquiry. By satisfactory evidence, which is sometimes called sufficient evidence, is intended that amount of proof, which ordinarily satisfies an unprejudiced mind, beyond reasonable doubt.

    The circumstances which will amount to this degree of proof can never be previously defined; the only legal test of which they are susceptible, is their sufficiency to satisfy the mind and conscience of a common man; and so to convince him, that he would venture to act upon that conviction, in matters of the highest concern and importance to his own interest. [A Treatise on Evidence, Vol I, 11th edn. (Boston: Little, Brown, 1888) ch 1., sections 1 and 2. Shorter paragraphs added. (NB: Greenleaf was a founder of the modern Harvard Law School and is regarded as a founding father of the modern Anglophone school of thought on evidence, in large part on the strength of this classic work.)] >>

  51. 51
    Mark Frank says:

    Heks
    I just noticed this. I don’t want to get drawn into the whole objective/subjective discussion yet again. But there are two points worth making.
    * When I wrote that

    In practice moral relativists do have their own views and may find their subjective opinion differs from that of the organisation – but they are likely to find it easier than an objectivist to put aside their moral views and work according to the organisation’s

    I didn’t mean that a subjectivist would have no reason to pursue their own views on what is right and wrong. As I repeatedly assert and no one ever attempts to refute “Subjective” does not mean trivial (or irrational). It is just that a subjectivist might find it easier to see another point of view.
     
    * I agree that the fact that objectivists disagree is not evidence for or against the correctness of objective morality (this is not a question to be solved by observation – it is not an empirical enquiry it is a philosophical one). However the fact is extremely relevant to your main question – Does it matter? Is there any practical difference between an objective fact of which we cannot be sure of the truth, or a subjective opinion on which most of us agree?  I suggest that the final result is much the same. A core of common agreement with lots of differences around the margin and in some cases.
    The old argument round Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, etc re-emerges. But all these tyrants got away with it because they were able to convince a lot of people they were objectively right and therefore it did not matter about the victims because they were objectively wrong. These people did not preach nihilism. They preached a cause. (Whether they themselves believed that cause I am not sure – and may vary from one to  another). If all the people who implemented their tyranny had been a bit more open to seeing things from another point of view then they would not have succeeded.

  52. 52
    HeKS says:

    @Popperian #39

    Please see my response here:

    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....l-meaning/

  53. 53
    HeKS says:

    @Mark Frank #51

    I’ll try to get back to you on this tomorrow.

  54. 54
    kairosfocus says:

    P: Since you wish to indict the Judaeo-Christian framework of morality foundational to our culture, in fairness, I present below the most important summary of that framework as presented by its chief teacher:

    _______________

    >> Matthew 5-7New English Translation (NET Bible)
    The Beatitudes

    5 When he saw the crowds, he went up the mountain. After he sat down his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to teach them by saying:

    3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.
    4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
    5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
    6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
    7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
    8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
    9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.
    10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.
    11 “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil things about you falsely on account of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad because your reward is great in heaven, for they persecuted the prophets before you in the same way.
    Salt and Light

    13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its flavor, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled on by people. 14 You are the light of the world. A city located on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 People do not light a lamp and put it under a basket but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven.
    Fulfillment of the Law and Prophets

    17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish these things but to fulfill them. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth pass away not the smallest letter or stroke of a letter will pass from the law until everything takes place. 19 So anyone who breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever obeys them and teaches others to do so will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness goes beyond that of the experts in the law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
    Anger and Murder

    21 “You have heard that it was said to an older generation, ‘Do not murder,’ and ‘whoever murders will be subjected to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that anyone who is angry with a brother will be subjected to judgment. And whoever insults a brother will be brought before the council, and whoever says ‘Fool’ will be sent to fiery hell. 23 So then, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother and then come and present your gift. 25 Reach agreement quickly with your accuser while on the way to court, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the warden, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 I tell you the truth, you will never get out of there until you have paid the last penny!
    Adultery

    27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away! It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into hell. 30 If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away! It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into hell.
    Divorce

    31 “It was said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a legal document.’ 32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
    Oaths

    33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to an older generation, ‘Do not break an oath, but fulfill your vows to the Lord.’ 34 But I say to you, do not take oaths at all—not by heaven, because it is the throne of God, 35 not by earth, because it is his footstool, and not by Jerusalem, because it is the city of the great King. 36 Do not take an oath by your head, because you are not able to make one hair white or black. 37 Let your word be ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no.’ More than this is from the evil one.
    Retaliation

    38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, do not resist the evildoer. But whoever strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other to him as well. 40 And if someone wants to sue you and to take your tunic, give him your coat also. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not reject the one who wants to borrow from you.
    Love for Enemies

    43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and ‘hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be like your Father in heaven, since he causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Even the tax collectors do the same, don’t they? 47 And if you only greet your brothers, what more do you do? Even the Gentiles do the same, don’t they? 48 So then, be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
    Pure-hearted Giving

    6 “Be careful not to display your righteousness merely to be seen by people. Otherwise you have no reward with your Father in heaven. 2 Thus whenever you do charitable giving, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in synagogues and on streets so that people will praise them. I tell you the truth, they have their reward. 3 But when you do your giving, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your gift may be in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.
    Private Prayer

    5 “Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray while standing in synagogues and on street corners so that people can see them. Truly I say to you, they have their reward. 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you. 7 When you pray, do not babble repetitiously like the Gentiles, because they think that by their many words they will be heard. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9 So pray this way:

    Our Father in heaven, may your name be honored,
    10 may your kingdom come,
    may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
    11 Give us today our daily bread,
    12 and forgive us our debts, as we ourselves have forgiven our debtors.
    13 And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

    14 “For if you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive you your sins.
    Proper Fasting

    16 “When you fast, do not look sullen like the hypocrites, for they make their faces unattractive so that people will see them fasting. I tell you the truth, they have their reward. 17 When you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others when you are fasting, but only to your Father who is in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.
    Lasting Treasure

    19 “Do not accumulate for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But accumulate for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

    22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If then your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eye is diseased, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

    24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
    Do Not Worry

    25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t there more to life than food and more to the body than clothing? 26 Look at the birds in the sky: They do not sow, or reap, or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you more valuable than they are? 27 And which of you by worrying can add even one hour to his life? 28 Why do you worry about clothing? Think about how the flowers of the field grow; they do not work or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed like one of these! 30 And if this is how God clothes the wild grass, which is here today and tomorrow is tossed into the fire to heat the oven, won’t he clothe you even more, you people of little faith? 31 So then, don’t worry saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For the unconverted pursue these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But above all pursue his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 So then, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own.
    Do Not Judge

    7 “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. 2 For by the standard you judge you will be judged, and the measure you use will be the measure you receive. 3 Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye, but fail to see the beam of wood in your own? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye,’ while there is a beam in your own? 5 You hypocrite! First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. 6 Do not give what is holy to dogs or throw your pearls before pigs; otherwise they will trample them under their feet and turn around and tear you to pieces.
    Ask, Seek, Knock

    7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. 9 Is there anyone among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you then, although you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12 In everything, treat others as you would want them to treat you, for this fulfills the law and the prophets.
    The Narrow Gate

    13 “Enter through the narrow gate, because the gate is wide and the way is spacious that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. 14 How narrow is the gate and difficult the way that leads to life, and there are few who find it!
    A Tree and Its Fruit

    15 “Watch out for false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are voracious wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruit. Grapes are not gathered from thorns or figs from thistles, are they? 17 In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree is not able to bear bad fruit, nor a bad tree to bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 So then, you will recognize them by their fruit.
    Judgment of Pretenders

    21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven—only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons and do many powerful deeds?’ 23 Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Go away from me, you lawbreakers!’
    Hearing and Doing

    24 “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them is like a wise man who built his house on rock. 25 The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, but it did not collapse because it had been founded on rock. 26 Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, and it collapsed; it was utterly destroyed!”

    28 When Jesus finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed by his teaching, 29 because he taught them like one who had authority, not like their experts in the law. >>
    __________________

    This is the guiding framework that those who advert to this view have in mind, and it controls how any and all references to ANE tribal feud to the death warfare and the like are to be viewed. If that balance is not struck, the presentation of that framework amounts to a poisonous strawman caricature.

    KF

  55. 55
    Dionisio says:

    KF
    Congratulations with the recent democratic elections in Montserrat, the concession and victory speeches that you provided links to, and the smooth transition you’re working on now.
    A much larger population on a much bigger island on the west end of the very same sea could learn a few important lessons from y’all in Montserrat.

  56. 56
    Phinehas says:

    MF:

    I didn’t mean that a subjectivist would have no reason to pursue their own views on what is right and wrong.

    What does it mean for a subjectivist to “pursue” their views? Is this like imposing their preference for chocolate on others? How is it not?

    Why should the subjectivist’s view on what is right and wrong be more compelling or of any more significance than the subjectivist’s view on ice cream flavors? Why shouldn’t the client feel completely free to respond to the input exactly as they might respond in the case of other tastes? Oh, you like chocolate? Isn’t that interesting? I prefer vanilla myself.

    The subjectivist’s view on what is right and wrong seems superfluous whether they are “pursuing” it or not.

  57. 57
    Phinehas says:

    MF:

    If all the people who implemented their tyranny had been a bit more open to seeing things from another point of view then they would not have succeeded.

    On the contrary. If all the people who implemented their tyranny had been closed to seeing things from another point of view (the tyrannical one) in favor of objective truth (cf. KF @54), the tyranny would have been stopped dead in its tracks.

    Not all views on objective truth are created equal. If that is your point, then it stands without dispute. But at least if it is an objective view, then there are grounds for disputing its truth.

  58. 58
    Mark Frank says:

    Phinehas

    I have been through this so many times I wrote up the argument in the link I provided.

  59. 59
    Mark Frank says:

    #57 Phinehas

    Just realised there is a bit more to respond to in your comment.

    If all the people who implemented their tyranny had been closed to seeing things from another point of view (the tyrannical one) in favor of objective truth (cf. KF @54), the tyranny would have been stopped dead in its tracks.

    That depends what the objective truth is. None of us are perfect so those (including you and KF) who think they know what the objective truth is might have got it wrong. Maybe Hitler got it right?

  60. 60
    kairosfocus says:

    MF:

    It is manifestly clear that Hitler did not get it right, as the ghosts of 13 million victims of the direct holocaust, 5 million poles, 25 million Russians and is it 50 – 60 millions overall testify. Your suggestive question, then, bearing in mind track record, boils down to the attempt to de-moralise our thought per the amoral import of a priori evolutionary materialism dressed up in the lab coat.

    In answer I again — cf 34 to roding — bring to bear the studiously ignored historically pivotal case in point, where Locke sought to ground just government in his 2nd treatise on civil gov’t. Notice, in Ch 2 thereof, he cites “the judicious [Anglican Canon Richard] Hooker” thusly:

    . . . if I cannot but wish to receive good, even as much at every man’s hands, as any man can wish unto his own soul, how should I look to have any part of my desire herein satisfied, unless myself be careful to satisfy the like desire which is undoubtedly in other men . . . my desire, therefore, to be loved of my equals in Nature, as much as possible may be, imposeth upon me a natural duty of bearing to themward fully the like affection. From which relation of equality between ourselves and them that are as ourselves, what several rules and canons natural reason hath drawn for direction of life no man is ignorant . . . [[Hooker then continues, citing Aristotle in The Nicomachean Ethics, Bk 8:] as namely, That because we would take no harm, we must therefore do none; That since we would not be in any thing extremely dealt with, we must ourselves avoid all extremity in our dealings; That from all violence and wrong we are utterly to abstain, with such-like . . . ] [[Eccl. Polity,preface, Bk I, “ch.” 8, p.80]

    Hooker’s pivot on imago dei conferring fundamental equality, and on the premise of moral reciprocity of valuable equals, patently derives from the context that we are made so equally by the inherently goog Creator God, the maximally great, necessary being who is the root and sustainer of reality. I repeat, after centuries of the grounding challenge in light of the IS-OUGHT issue, this remains the only serious candidate capable of being a world foundational IS who grounds OUGHT.

    The continued pattern of studious ignoring in favour of setting up strawman arguments, speaks sad volumes.

    KF

  61. 61
    kairosfocus says:

    D: Haiti, Jamaica and Cuba could all learn a few lessons indeed. KF

  62. 62
    DillyGill says:

    Popperian @ 47
    How well your quote works on so many levels to provide us with plenty of reasons to throw away the whole idea of molecules to man evolution.
    ‘How can we hope to detect and eliminate error?’
    ‘It’s all about error’
    ‘or making the scientific crank reinterpret peer review as a conspiracy to keep falsehoods in place.’
    I am a simple/common man, and in some ways sympathetic to your views as I have not always been a Christian. I mention that I am a simple/common man mainly because, like KF notes, in a court of law it is the likes of me that you would need to convince.
    So by your own reckoning we should accept the most simple and basic interpretation of the evidence (in order to avoided your dreaded error) lets say of the fossil record and that would be that the best evidence (the fossils themselves) says the fossil record is young (blood found in the fossils). Are you prepared to say that the best evidence says the fossil record is younger than previously claimed? Or will you claim the infallibility of your own cause? As I see it if there is no admission here then you are willingly engaging in error and unreasonably foisting your morally bankrupt world view on my children.

    ‘Whenever anything demands blind obedience, its ideology contains a claim of infallibility somewhere; but wherever someone believes seriously enough in that infallibility, they rediscover the need for reason to identify and correctly interpret the infallible source’

    Having followed many debates on here the one belief system that demands blind obedience despite the evidence is that of scientism and materialism as propagated by the evolutionary dept.

    Also of note though is that I have found shocking some of the actions of God as described in the Bible. One would have to be certain that this really is the will of God before carrying out such actions. The only way the Bible will ever make any sense at all is when you are convinced by the argument that there is sufficient evidence for a designer of life. Taken from that view then I have found, given the utter falseness of the things (molecules to man creation myth) taught to me at school, there is good reason to take the lessons taught in the Bible (a book of patterns and types) very seriously indeed.

  63. 63
    DillyGill says:

    Correction @62, on reflection what I wanted to say was this

    ‘As I see it if there is no admission here then you are willingly engaging in error and unreasonably foisting your morally bankrupt world view on my children as though it were infallible, which is the very thing you seem to object to in others.’

  64. 64
    Phinehas says:

    MF:

    That depends what the objective truth is. None of us are perfect so those (including you and KF) who think they know what the objective truth is might have got it wrong. Maybe Hitler got it right?

    But we all know that Hitler didn’t get it right. If your reasoning arrives at maybe Hitler got it right, then in light of the above, you should realize that your reasoning is suspect.

    Besides, you seem to have forgotten what you just said: That depends what the objective truth is.

    If the objective truth is a God who is able to reliably communicate objective truth to even imperfect people like you, me, and KF, such that we can know Hitler didn’t get it right, there’s a way out of the epistemological morass.

  65. 65
    Mark Frank says:

    #64 Phineas

    But we all know that Hitler didn’t get it right. If your reasoning arrives at maybe Hitler got it right, then in light of the above, you should realize that your reasoning is suspect.

    I am trying to point out a problem with your reasoning or rather assumptions. Let us assume that moral statements are statements about some objective state of affairs and see where it gets us. 

    “Mass murder is evil” is an objective statement. A
    couple of things about objective statements:

    1 ) They are true or false depending some external state of affairs independent of anyone’s feelings or opinions about the subject.   2 ) Because of this anyone is capable of having a false belief about an objective statement. (Compare this to subjective statements such as “I am in pain” which are incorrigible)

    Therefore “mass murder is evil” is true or false independent of of anyone’s feelings or opinions about the subject and anyone can be wrong about it.

    Hitler and his subordinates believed mass murder was not evil.  You and I believe that mass murder is evil.

    So

    a ) How do we know we are right and he is wrong? 

    b) If it turns out we all made a mistake and actually mass murder is not evil then our feelings about it are irrelevant – we have to accept the facts.

    Now I agree that is a reductio at absurdum. In fact we would all reject the statement “mass murder is not evil”, however good the case that someone made for it, because emotionally we find it totally unacceptable. You accuse subjectivists of reducing morality to a mere matter of human preferences. You reduce it to a matter of who can make the most accurate observation and calculation.

    Besides, you seem to have forgotten what you just said: That depends what the objective truth is.

    If the objective truth is a God who is able to reliably communicate objective truth to even imperfect people like you, me, and KF, such that we can know Hitler didn’t get it right, there’s a way out of the epistemological morass.

    That is true. But that is two assumptions. (1) there is an objective moral code. (2) God communicated it to some people but not others (and on some issues such as abortion he communicated the truth to you but not to me). This requires some evidence other than your conviction you are right!

  66. 66
    HeKS says:

    @Mark Frank #65

    I am trying to point out a problem with your reasoning or rather assumptions. Let us assume that moral statements are statements about some objective state of affairs and see where it gets us.

    “Mass murder is evil” is an objective statement. A
    couple of things about objective statements:

    1 ) They are true or false depending some external state of affairs independent of anyone’s feelings or opinions about the subject. 2 ) Because of this anyone is capable of having a false belief about an objective statement. (Compare this to subjective statements such as “I am in pain” which are incorrigible)

    Therefore “mass murder is evil” is true or false independent of of anyone’s feelings or opinions about the subject and anyone can be wrong about it.

    Hitler and his subordinates believed mass murder was not evil. You and I believe that mass murder is evil.

    Hi Mark,

    It seems to me there’s a bit of an issue here.

    The point you are trying to make is based on the assumption of “everything else being equal”. In other words, it assumes that what we have here is a mere difference of opinion on what the objective moral truth happens to be, while all the underlying philosophies on both sides of the equation are essentially the same (or close enough that it makes no material difference).

    But why should we think that’s the case? Why should we think that Hitler truly believed in objective moral values that are binding on humans? Why should we think that he didn’t disregard or suppress the prodding of his conscience for one reason or another? And why should we even think that Hitler viewed what he was doing as “murder”. Hitler’s ethic was, by his own admission, scientific and evolutionary, not religious. His rationale was utilitarian. His moral philosophy was consequentialist in nature rather than deontological. So everything else was not equal.

    If a moral objectivist both thinks and feels that mass murder is really long, and a moral relativist feels that mass murder is really wrong, and another moral relativist /consequentialist commits mass murder that he may or may not think of as “murder”, what can we conclude? I’m not sure we can conclude very much, except that moral relativists/consequentialists often seem to have a much easier time disregarding the usual proddings of conscience in truly spectacular fashion.

  67. 67
    HeKS says:

    Umm, obviously the bit that says, “that mass murder is really long”, was supposed to be, “mass murder is really wrong”.

    Not sure what happened there.

  68. 68
    Mark Frank says:

    Hi Heks

    The point you are trying to make is based on the assumption of “everything else being equal”. In other words, it assumes that what we have here is a mere difference of opinion on what the objective moral truth happens to be, while all the underlying philosophies on both sides of the equation are essentially the same (or close enough that it makes no material difference).
    But why should we think that’s the case? Why should we think that Hitler truly believed in objective moral values that are binding on humans? Why should we think that he didn’t disregard or suppress the prodding of his conscience for one reason or another? And why should we even think that Hitler viewed what he was doing as “murder”. Hitler’s ethic was, by his own admission, scientific and evolutionary, not religious. His rationale was utilitarian. His moral philosophy was consequentialist in nature rather than deontological. So everything else was not equal.

    I have no insight into Hitler’s thought processes but there are plenty of people you strongly disagree with who certainly do believe in an objective moral order – the 9/11 perpetrators for example. As long as there is genuinely held disagreement on serious moral issues then you have to deal with the fact that you may be wrong about an objective fact (just as many people were wrong about plate tectonics for years). If it is an objective fact that mass murder is either right or wrong then we have to accept that one day we might discover it is actually right after all. That is the nature of objective facts. They exist independently of us and we can be wrong for a very long time.

    If a moral objectivist both thinks and feels that mass murder is really long, and a moral relativist feels that mass murder is really wrong, and another moral relativist /consequentialist commits mass murder that he may or may not think of as “murder”, what can we conclude?

    I absolutely agree there is very little practical difference between an objective fact that most people agree on but not all and a strongly held opinion that most people hold but not all. Which is why my answer to your OP question is – not much.

    I’m not sure we can conclude very much, except that moral relativists/consequentialists often seem to have a much easier time disregarding the usual proddings of conscience in truly spectacular fashion.

    I am not at all sure of that. This requires proof that those who have done serious evil were relativists/consequentialists. Incidentally I am not sure why you attach significance to being a consequentialist. They are for the most part objectivists. They believe that certain consequences are objectively right or wrong.

  69. 69
    HeKS says:

    Hey Mark,

    I have no insight into Hitler’s thought processes

    Well, I suppose you could take my word for it, or you could take some time to research it if it interests you and see what you think. But it’s no big secret that Hitler and the Nazi program was highly motivated by Darwinian ideas, Human Evolution and Eugenics.

    there are plenty of people you strongly disagree with who certainly do believe in an objective moral order – the 9/11 perpetrators for example. As long as there is genuinely held disagreement on serious moral issues then you have to deal with the fact that you may be wrong about an objective fact (just as many people were wrong about plate tectonics for years).

    Sure. I’ve never disagreed with that. But that is a matter that falls under Moral Epistemology. It highlights that how we try to determine what the moral truths really are is also important. My point, though, is that this disagreement does not somehow mean that moral truths don’t really exist at all, which is a question of Moral Ontology.

    I also think its worth pointing out, however, that even when it comes to the 9/11 perpetrators, the primary disagreement we would have with them is whether their actions constitute “murder”, not whether they think murder is objectively wrong. We (you and I) both think what they did was mass murder, and therefore wrong. I think it’s objectively wrong, you think its subjectively “wrong”, presumably according to some kind of philosophical rationale (though, perhaps more importantly, you seem to feel that it’s actually objectively wrong). If they agreed that it actually constituted “mass murder”, they would almost certainly agree that it was objectively wrong. The problem, in this case, is not with their sense that murder is objectively wrong, but with the methods they have in place to justify their actions as being something other than murder.

    If a moral objectivist both thinks and feels that mass murder is really long, and a moral relativist feels that mass murder is really wrong, and another moral relativist /consequentialist commits mass murder that he may or may not think of as “murder”, what can we conclude?

    I absolutely agree there is very little practical difference between an objective fact that most people agree on but not all and a strongly held opinion that most people hold but not all. Which is why my answer to your OP question is – not much.

    Well, you’re not agreeing with me there, because that’s not what I was saying. I wasn’t saying that we can’t conclude much about whether what we believe about morality is important. I meant we can’t really use these scenarios to conclude that Objective Morality doesn’t exist.

    I addressed in an earlier comment (#10) why I don’t agree with the reasoning you just used to claim the matter isn’t important.

    I’m not sure we can conclude very much, except that moral relativists/consequentialists often seem to have a much easier time disregarding the usual proddings of conscience in truly spectacular fashion.

    I am not at all sure of that. This requires proof that those who have done serious evil were relativists/consequentialists.

    Well, actually, it only requires evidence that a majority of the people who have brought about serious, large scale evil (cause large scale stuff seems to be what we’re talking about here, if we’re talking about stuff like mass murder) were relativists and/or consequentialists. Or, more relevant to the point of my OP, that a large majority of the suffering and death resulting from evil carried out on a massive scale was perpetrated by moral relativists or consequentialists. For that I submit to you the record of the 20th century.

    But I hasten to point out that my argument for why it matters has as much to do with the potential for massive scale evil and the things that act as a constraint on it as it does with historical evil (see comment #15).

    Incidentally I am not sure why you attach significance to being a consequentialist. They are for the most part objectivists. They believe that certain consequences are objectively right or wrong.

    I think you’re confusing “right” or “desirable” in a utilitarian and relativist sense with “right” or “good” in a moral objectivist sense. A consequentialist does not necessarily think that a consequence is “good” in the sense that it is in harmony with some objective moral truth, value or duty. In Consequentialism, actions do not have any intrinsic moral value. There are only ends that are desirable and the means that are necessary to achieve them. If the end is desirable, the means are “good”, whatever they happen to be, because they contribute to achieving the end.

    Within a deontological system, on the other hand, actions do have intrinsic moral value, apart from any consideration of the ends they might help to achieve. Someone who adheres to a deontological moral system may, at times, employ a form of consequentialist reasoning to decide, for example, whether the moral good of some end is sufficient to outweigh some comparably minor moral bad that must be perpetrated to achieve it. Nonetheless, it is entirely possible that such a person will decide that the means necessary to bring about the desired goal involve actions with such a high degree of intrinsic evil that they cannot be justified no matter how great the good that is intended by their ultimate goal. Within Consequentialism, that conclusion would basically be incoherent.

  70. 70
    bornagain77 says:

    As to Hitler’s thought processes, this is a true account of Hitler’s final days.

    Downfall (2004) – English subtitles – entire movie
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/.....fall_2004/
    Traudl Junge, the final secretary for Adolf Hitler, tells of the Nazi dictator’s final days in his Berlin bunker at the end of WWII.

  71. 71
    Popperian says:

    @WJM:

    To start, recognizing self-evident moral truths.

    I’m suggesting they only seem self evident. We adopt them because they have withstood significant criticism.

    No, the “stopping point” of foundationalism isn’t “arbitrary”; it’s where any other premise leads to self-refutation or nonsensical conclusions. For example, starting at the principle of identity, in logic, is not an “arbitrary” premise; it is a necessary premise, without which nothing else can be argued or made sense of.

    To say something is needed in a great majority of our explanations is not the same as foundationalism, which says there are basic and non-basic beliefs and that the latter are not subject to criticism.

    For example, the idea that we actually have actual memories is necessary for us to perform experiments, and therefore a key part of explaining progress in science. But rather than being “self evident”, I’m suggesting we adopt this idea because we currently lack good criticism of it. However, if aliens showed up in orbit and, while sharing technology with us, revealed the details of how memories work, how to implant very realistic yet false experiences, etc., we would have a good criticism of this idea. While we cannot rule out aliens hidden in orbit doing just this, we do not know if this is actually possible, which aliens would be the culprit, what there motivation would be and why they would give us these memories, rather than some other memories.

    IOW, currently we have good criticisms of the idea of alien memory manipulation and discard it. But this would change in the future should good criticism appear. So, we adopt ideas that we lack significant criticism.

    I’d also point out that God, supposedly being omnipotent and omniscient, could give us memories about things that could have happened and contain truths we did not know before, but were false in the sense that we didn’t actually experience them. However, I discard the idea of God having done so for the same reasons. Which God? What would be his motivation for doing so? Why those memories, rather than some other memories?, etc.

    While you might have different reasons, I’m guessing you think God wouldn’t do this, despite supposedly having the ability to do so. If so, you to lack a criticism of the idea that we actually have memories as well.

    Similarly, if “torturing children for fun” is not held as necessarily immoral, then anything goes, and there is no use to speak of morality at all, much less debate it. It is self-evidently true that it is immoral to torture children for fun.

    You seem to be suggesting that, if we don’t know everything, we know nothing. If there is no court of last appeal, then there is no knowledge at all. This is par for the course.

    To say there is such a thing as error implies there is such a thing as truth. Objective truth, which we can get closer to.

    From the same article..

    Fallibilism, correctly understood, implies the possibility, not the impossibility, of knowledge, because the very concept of error, if taken seriously, implies that truth exists and can be found. The inherent limitation on human reason, that it can never find solid foundations for ideas, does not constitute any sort of limit on the creation of objective knowledge nor, therefore, on progress. The absence of foundation, whether infallible or probable, is no loss to anyone except tyrants and charlatans, because what the rest of us want from ideas is their content, not their provenance: If your disease has been cured by medical science, and you then become aware that science never proves anything but only disproves theories (and then only tentatively), you do not respond “oh dear, I’ll just have to die, then.”

    The theory of knowledge is a tightrope that is the only path from A to B, with a long, hard drop for anyone who steps off on one side into “knowledge is impossible, progress is an illusion” or on the other side into “I must be right, or at least probably right.” Indeed, infallibilism and nihilism are twins. Both fail to understand that mistakes are not only inevitable, they are correctable (fallibly). Which is why they both abhor institutions of substantive criticism and error correction, and denigrate rational thought as useless or fraudulent. They both justify the same tyrannies. They both justify each other.

    So, we are in agreement that torturing children is morally wrong, and that is undefended of anyone’s beliefs. However, what that means and how we know this is where we disagree.

  72. 72
    Popperian says:

    @KF

    Rearding nihilism, see the last quoted paragraph, which addresses this in particular.

    The assumption that the only other option is to be a disappointed justificationist is simply a false dilemma. In doing so, this perpetuates the very thing you’re supposedly against.

  73. 73
    Popperian says:

    Correction: So, we are in agreement that torturing children is morally wrong, and that is independent of anyone’s beliefs. However, exactly what that means and how we know this is where we disagree.

  74. 74
    Mark Frank says:

    Hi Heks
    I am not going to try and pursue every branch of our discussion. It gets out of control. I will stick to one thing.

    Sure. I’ve never disagreed with that. But that is a matter that falls under Moral Epistemology. It highlights that how we try to determine what the moral truths really are is also important. My point, though, is that this disagreement does not somehow mean that moral truths don’t really exist at all, which is a question of Moral Ontology.

    It doesn’t mean that moral truths don’t exist. But it is a real challenge for you and you can’t avoid it by saying it is epistemology not ontology – the ontological status has epistemological implications.  You have to accept that it is possible that your most vehemently held moral beliefs might be wrong and your emotional involvement, and indeed everyone else’s emotional involvement, is utterly irrelevant. It is just a matter of logic and observation and both of these are fallible. So I ask you – are you willing to accept that you might be wrong all along and the killing of large numbers of people because they are of a different race (note I omitted the word “murder”) is actually morally acceptable?  It is an objective fact and we all might just have made a mistake in our assessment. As a subjectivist I don’t have that problem because when I assert something is evil I am not describing, I am condemning. There is no fact I am reporting so it can’t be wrong.
    By removing the subjective element from morality you have made it sterile and heartless.

  75. 75
    HeKS says:

    @dr466 #16 . . . deleted on request as cross-threaded, KF

  76. 76
    HeKS says:

    Shoot. I totally posted that in the wrong thread.

  77. 77
    HeKS says:

    kairosfocus, any chance you could delete my post #75. I’ve already re-posted it in the appropriate thread. Done, KF

  78. 78
    kairosfocus says:

    P:

    I have already cited standard dictionary usage on nihilism, which makes plain what is at stake.

    The notorious fact is, might and manipulation make ‘right’ and ‘truth’ is a characteristic nihilistic principle of thought.

    The consequences are written in blood across the past 100 years, with over 100 million victims. And the further fact is, that evolutionary materialist scientism had much to do with the frames of thought behind the regimes that carried out what we are talking of.

    Popperianism, your hobby horse, has little to contribute, save that it seems unable to face the grieving father and surviving (now adult) brothers and friends of the victim of kidnapping, torture, perverted rape and murder that I have used as yardstick case no 1.

    That which sounds nice in abstract discussions in a College seminar room, soon turns absurd in the face of reality. Which is the point on what a self-evident truth is.

    We find ourselves undeniably morally bound, and this is easily knowable beyond reasonable doubt. Even, those who come here to argue to the contrary reveal an implicit understanding that we have duties of care to the truth and the right. Or else, they stand exposed as willfully cynical manipulators and obfuscators.

    Which latter case itself highlights the significance of moral obligation — and the ways nihilism can seep in under the door.

    Back to a transition in progress . . .

    KF

    PS: FTR, I have long used “Error exists” (following Royce’s point as transmitted by Trueblood long ago now) as yardstick case no 1 on the knowable, self evident reality of self evident truth.

  79. 79
    kairosfocus says:

    PPS: P, how do you “know” (or imply same) that when you say there is not a description of a moral state of affairs (i) it is not accurate to reality, and/or (ii) it cannot be warranted as so? Is this not also by direct implication, a claim to knowledge about a moral state of affairs, raising issues of self referential incoherence? Had you said that YOU do not know, that would not imply a bind on us all, but in 74 you stated “There is no fact I am reporting,” which is a fact — knowable, known truth — claim. And if YOU do not know that the horrific incident I described in outline is wrong, that speaks rather to sobering moral blindness than to what a morally normally functioning person would instantly recognise and act on. As in, were you there at the UWI Aqueduct and caught a glimpse would you find yourself bound to try to save the child, or not? If not, why not? If so, does that not become a case of conscience speaking louder than words?

  80. 80
    HeKS says:

    Hi Mark,

    I am not going to try and pursue every branch of our discussion. It gets out of control. I will stick to one thing.

    Fair enough. We can stick to this issue.

    It doesn’t mean that moral truths don’t exist. But it is a real challenge for you and you can’t avoid it by saying it is epistemology not ontology – the ontological status has epistemological implications. You have to accept that it is possible that your most vehemently held moral beliefs might be wrong and your emotional involvement, and indeed everyone else’s emotional involvement, is utterly irrelevant. It is just a matter of logic and observation and both of these are fallible. So I ask you – are you willing to accept that you might be wrong all along and the killing of large numbers of people because they are of a different race (note I omitted the word “murder”) is actually morally acceptable? It is an objective fact and we all might just have made a mistake in our assessment. As a subjectivist I don’t have that problem because when I assert something is evil I am not describing, I am condemning. There is no fact I am reporting so it can’t be wrong.

    I see better now where you’re trying to go with this, but I still think your argument is highly misguided.

    Is it a mere logical possibility, without reference to any other background factors, that the belief of a moral objectivist about the moral status of any given act is mistaken? Sure it is. It’s also logically possible that moral objectivists are wrong about the existence of any objective morality. It’s also logically possible that I’m a brain in a vat, that no minds external to my own exist, than you’re merely a figment of my imagination, or that I (and everyone else, if they exist) just winked into existence with memories of a past that never happened.

    We don’t typically consider the fact that some proposition or state of affairs is merely logically possible to necessarily mean that it is remotely plausible, or reasonable to believe, or, especially, something that ought to guide our actions in important aspects of life.

    For example, it is logically possible that the extremely consistent ways in which we’ve observed physical reality behave throughout history are not the result of a set physical laws that constrain its behavior but are merely the result of an astronomically improbable string of chance outcomes, such that it is entirely possible that the next time you drop a hammer it will hit the ceiling instead of the floor. Does the knowledge that this is logically possible make you feel emboldened to jump off a tall building this afternoon?

    If you are not seriously considering taking a swan dive off the nearest skyscraper right now then you should realize that the mere acknowledgement of the logical possibility that one might be wrong on some highly important issue is not likely to impact their actions unless they think they have good reasons to think they’re wrong. If they think all of the available evidence most reasonably indicates that they’re right then they are going to continue to act in accord with their existing belief.

    As I said earlier, I consider a belief in Objective Morality to be properly basic, and I addressed in more detail what I mean by that in my second article here responding to Popperian (linked in comment #52). So I can acknowledge the mere logical possibility that I or anyone else could be mistaken in my view of the moral status of any given action, but I also recognize that I have no rational reason to believe I am mistaken in the absence of any powerful reason to think I am.

    And, of course, once we stop dealing with this issue in isolation and add to the picture the Christian’s belief in God and belief that the Bible includes, among other things, God’s moral guidance for humans, then the Christian would view that as an independent corroboration of many moral intuitions, and perhaps a corrective on others.

    Now, what I find kind of odd in your comment is that you attempt to turn an aspect of your position that is widely recognized to be a weakness, even by people on your own side, into a strength. You said:

    As a subjectivist I don’t have that problem because when I assert something is evil I am not describing, I am condemning. There is no fact I am reporting so it can’t be wrong.

    While it is physically possible for you to condemn something as evil, there is no rational basis for you to do so. I return to the comments of Alex Rosenberg:

    [N]ihilism can’t condemn Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, or those who fomented the Armenian genocide or the Rwandan one. If there is no such thing as “morally forbidden,” then what Mohamed Atta did on September 11, 2001, was not morally forbidden. . . .

    Scientism can’t avoid nihilism.

    Moral relativism is a feature of nihilism, a logically necessary outcome of scientism and materialism. You can shake your fist at Hitler if you like, but your condemnation is utterly flacid. You’d have to accept Hitler’s disagreement with you as perfectly justified, and you would have no rational grounds for insisting Hitler shouldn’t keep killing millions of people. Your condemnation would amount to shouting, “Boo to genocide! That’s not how I would have handled things!”

    And while it is true on materialism that there would be no fact you are reporting on when you call something like the mass murder of Jews and other groups “evil”, and so you couldn’t be wrong, it is equally true that you couldn’t possibly be right! If, when you call something “evil”, you couldn’t possibly be wrong and you couldn’t possibly be right, why should anyone care what you think about moral issues? Given the opportunity, on what grounds could you tell Hitler that he should feel compelled to disregard his own goals and desires and immediately stop the evil he is perpetrating? Would you lead off with a statement about how your feelings about mass murder don’t reflect any deeper reality than your own opinions, or would that be your big finish?

    By removing the subjective element from morality you have made it sterile and heartless.

    But this just isn’t true. The subjective element remains in our own personal moral proddings and feelings. Our subjective experience of moral reality makes it powerful and moving for us, but the acknowledgement that it reflects a deeper reality is what makes us individually feel compelled to act morally even when we might have selfish reasons to act otherwise.

  81. 81
    StephenB says:

    By removing the subjective element from morality you have made it sterile and heartless.

    There is always an objective and a subjective component to morality. The reason we should listen to our subjectivist promptings is not to formulate a subjective moral code, which is always changing, but to apply the unchanging, objective moral code to our ever changing circumstances.

    It is an easy intellectual task to create our own preferred list of “oughts.” Under the circumstances, none of our behavior patters will ever be scrutinized or challenged. Why should they be? The code was built around them

    On the other hand, it requires real intellectual exertion and legitimate moral courage to figure out what we really ought to do. Some good behaviors are better than others and the best behavior is often difficult to discern. In some cases, we might actually have to undergo the discomfort of change or endure the humiliation of correction in order to conform to the moral law.

    Morality always has a price tag attached to it. The subjectivist seeks to avoid paying that price. Accordingly, the objective moral code, precisely because it gives us a moral target, will always lead us in the right direction. A subjective moral code, precisely because it disdains moral targets, will always lead us nowhere.

  82. 82
    HeKS says:

    Very well put, StephenB.

  83. 83
    Mark Frank says:

    #80 Heks

    I accidentally put my response to you in the wrong thread.

  84. 84
    Mark Frank says:

    #82 HeKS

    Stephenb’s comment is not well put. It is deeply arrogant and insulting. Read it from the point of view of a subjectivist.

  85. 85
    HeKS says:

    @Mark Frank #83

    I’ll respond to it here when I get a chance. Hopefully later today or tonight. I’ve been trying to work on taxes for the past week and a bit, but I’ve gotten virtually nothing done since I started posting here 🙂

  86. 86
    StephenB says:

    By the way, HeKS. I forgot to congratulate you for a very thoughtful post. I am pleased that you have been given posting priviliges.

  87. 87
    Mung says:

    kairosfocus:

    I have long used “Error exists” (following Royce’s point as transmitted by Trueblood long ago now) as yardstick case no 1 on the knowable, self evident reality of self evident truth.

    kf: Error exists.

    Mung: Error does not exist.

    kf: Do you say I am in error?

    Mung: Define “error.”

    kf: defines error…

    Mung: Define “exists.”

    kf: defines exists…

    Mung: Well, yeah, when you put it that way. But you are just assuming your conclusion.

    kf: Do you say I am in error in assuming my conclusion?

    Mung: Define “assume.”

    I can see how this sort of dance could be attractive to some people.

  88. 88
    Mung says:

    Popperian,

    You got off on the wrong foot when you denied induction.

    Care to start over?

  89. 89
    kairosfocus says:

    Mung: I have wider implications of a public on air political suicide to deal with, as well as other things. For error exists all we need is the point that we can define a set that collects errors and show that it is necessarily non-empty. The best case in point being the pair E: error exists, and ~ E, the denial. Do the conjunction E AND ~ E. This must necessarily be an error and so propositions that fail to refer accurately to reality must necessarily exist. The very attempt to deny is a proof once some simple implications are drawn out. But then, there are two types of ignorance, primary due to lack of acquaintance with the matter in hand, and secondary, due to adhering to a blinding ideology that can even amount to clinging to absurdities because of the commitment to an agenda that demands acceptance of the absurdity. And one absurdity is the denial of the reasonableness of a major approach to knowledge, induction. Where we reason on support not demonstration and hold that in many cases good enough support can be taken to the bank. Literally or figuratively. As in, when de march of folly is afoot, many rush in where angels fear to tread. KF

    PS: My thoughts on the Scotland referendum, here. Sadly, not irrelevant. I remain dedicated to the proposition that sound policy is seldom sweet politics. And, modifying a J’can folk proverb, what sweet nanny goat ears poison she mind . . . !

  90. 90
    kairosfocus says:

    F/N: A first step towards understanding Herr Schiclegruber’s thought processes, is here. KF

  91. 91
    HeKS says:

    @Mark Frank (response to your comment accidentally posted in the other thread)

    I am going to be away for a couple of weeks starting tomorrow so this is probably my last comment on the subject.

    Ok. Hopefully I’ll be able to get some work done on taxes. 🙂

    For example, it is logically possible that the extremely consistent ways in which we’ve observed physical reality behave throughout history are not the result of a set physical laws that constrain its behavior but are merely the result of an astronomically improbable string of chance outcomes, such that it is entirely possible that the next time you drop a hammer it will hit the ceiling instead of the floor. Does the knowledge that this is logically possible make you feel emboldened to jump off a tall building this afternoon?

    There are two key differences between your belief in gravity and your belief that killing people is wrong.
    1 ) At different times and different places people have had radically different views. The crusaders thought it was quite OK to massacre the inhabitants of Jerusalem. You could say that at one time people thought the earth was round and now we know better. But it is not comparable. There was no discovery or proof that killing other races was wrong. Attitudes just changed. Even now your beliefs on some very significant moral issues such as abortion and euthanasia probably differ from large numbers of other sincere educated adults from a similar culture.
    2) Someone who does not believe in gravity will soon come up against the realities of the world in very concrete way. There is no equivalent for your moral beliefs.
    In the end the ultimate guide you have as to what is wrong is your personal conscience. How do you know it is working correctly?

    Regarding 2), you seem to be missing my point. If you drop a hammer and it hits the ground, the only logically necessary conclusion you can draw from that is that it hit the ground. No matter how many times you drop a hammer and it hits the ground, the fact of it hitting the ground remains the only logically necessary conclusion you can draw from the result. The conclusion that there exists a law of gravity is ultimately inductive rather than deductive. No matter how well the existence of this law is supported by an inductive survey of the evidence, including its precise mathematical describability, it remains a logical possibility that we are simply observing an astronomically improbable series of chance outcomes, like rolling the number three on a fair die billions upon billions upon billions of times. And yet, we do not feel compelled to accept this logical possibility as being remotely plausible simply because it is logically possible. Pointing out that something appears to be logically possible only gets us so far.

    Coming back to morality, though, my guess is that if you were to ask most people whether they believed that torturing and killing little children for fun was really wrong as strongly as they believed that someone jumping off a building would fall to their death, they would probably say yes. I know that I think that. I know many other people do as well. That’s rather amazing if you think about it.

    Regarding 1), yes, people have had radically different views on certain things, but it’s pretty difficult to do historical psychoanalysis. You mention the crusaders and that they thought it was OK to massacre those in Jerusalem, but you’re again employing this “everything else being equal” reasoning. Are you saying they had no inherent sense that, for example, torturing and killing little children for fun was really wrong? How would you know that? People who believe something sometimes act in a way that is inconsistent with their belief for one reason or another, often because they allow their selfish personal desires to outweigh their moral sense. For example, during the 4th Crusade, the crusaders stopped short of their goal and sacked the Christian city of Byzantium. Pretty weird, huh? Are we to conclude that these crusaders were inspired to take this action by a deeply held moral belief that the objectively right thing to do was to kill a bunch of their fellow Christians? Of course not. The Crusades had very little to do with religion or a compulsion to follow the prodding of conscience over what was the objectively right course of action. Certainly some of the crusaders were inspired by good motives, like those who joined the 1st Crusade simply out of a desire to help bring relief to the Christians who were being mistreated and killed by the Turks, but that does not appear to have been the norm. Participation in (and even initiation of) the crusades was largely motivated by the possibility of wealth, power, renown and, particularly, the chance at land ownership, not by a pressing need to do the objectively right thing. Simply observing a set of actions, like those carried out during the crusades, can do little to tell us if a person was acting in accord with their most basic moral beliefs or whether they allowed those beliefs to be overpowered by other factors. Certainly you don’t think that there has never been a murder committed by a person who really believed that murder was objectively wrong, right?

    As I said earlier, I consider a belief in Objective Morality to be properly basic, and I addressed in more detail what I mean by that in my second article here responding to Popperian (linked in comment #52). So I can acknowledge the mere logical possibility that I or anyone else could be mistaken in my view of the moral status of any given action, but I also recognize that I have no rational reason to believe I am mistaken in the absence of any powerful reason to think I am.

    That is about your belief that that morality is objective not about your specific moral beliefs such as killing other races is wrong. But this is all a beside the main point. I am interested in the hypothetical (but by your own admission logically possible) event that you come to realise that mass murder is actually morally acceptable. At that point you would presumably find your emotional reaction to mass murder differs greatly from the objective truth about its morality. Which wins?

    But it’s not beside the main point from my perspective. When I say that I consider my belief in Objective Morality to be properly basic, I don’t mean that I just have this properly basic idea that some bizarre abstract concept called “Objective Morality” exists out there somewhere. What I mean is that I naturally have certain beliefs about the moral domain, along with the powerful sense that they represent a deeper reality beyond my own opinion and that I am compelled to act in accord with them. I consider these beliefs, in and of themselves, to be properly basic, though they jointly make belief in the existence of a related abstraction, Objective Morality, properly basic in its own right. So what I’m saying is that I have no rational cause to believe I’m mistaken about these beliefs unless I am given some powerful reason to think I’m mistaken. The mere logical possibility that I could be mistaken does not constitute a powerful reason.

    Regarding your hypothetical scenario, as a theist, it doesn’t really seem coherent to me. If I’m correct in what I consider to be my properly basic belief that, for example, it is really and truly wrong to do things like torturing and killing people for fun and would be even if everybody thought it was right, then Objective Morality would exist. But objective morality, if it exists, can only rationally be grounded in the nature of God (certainly nobody has found any compelling alternative), a maximally great being, and must reflect his nature. But what reason would I have for thinking that God’s moral standards would make it acceptable to torture and kill for fun? If God has imparted to us any moral guidelines, as I believe he has, then it certainly doesn’t offer any warrant for the idea that torturing and killing for fun is acceptable. It is just the opposite, really. And if God hasn’t imparted moral guidelines to us, how would I come to know that torturing and killing for fun was acceptable when my God-given moral compass says otherwise? And if God wanted us to believe and act as though it were acceptable, why would we be instilled with an overwhelming sense not only that it isn’t, but that because it isn’t we shouldn’t do it? Taking the theist’s perspective, would a Being capable of creating and fine-tuning the universe as well as bringing about life and the human mind with all its amazing abilities be so incompetent as to make our moral compass direct us in the exact opposite direction he wanted us to feel compelled to go? Any hypothetical scenario that attempted to make sense of any of these inconsistent (and even incoherent) propositions and dilemmas would be highly unparsimonious and improbable explanations for the reality we observe and so they would not offer any remotely powerful reason to doubt our properly basic moral beliefs.

    Furthermore, if torturing and killing for fun were acceptable, then anything and everything must be acceptable, which means objective morality simply doesn’t really exist after all, and so I would either choose to act in accord with my illusory sense that certain things are right and others are wrong, or I wouldn’t, and there would be no objective moral difference between whatever I chose. But I see no reason to view this possibility as being plausible, since I’ve seen no powerful reason to deny what I consider to be my properly basic belief that objective morality really does exist.

    While it is physically possible for you to condemn something as evil, there is no rational basis for you to do so. I return to the comments of Alex Rosenberg:

    Rosenberg is wrong.

    I’m afraid he isn’t.

    It is perfectly possible to provide a rational basis for a subjective opinion. We all do it all the time about all sorts of subjective issues – whether things are funny, awesome, disappointing, attractive etc. and morally good or evil is no exception. I cannot understand why people deny something so obviously true.

    Nobody does deny something so obviously true. Of course it is possible to provide a rational basis for a subjective opinion. In other words, someone is perfectly capable of offering reasons why they like something or why they don’t. The reasons might even make good sense. For example, you might be able offer some good reasons for why you didn’t like a movie, which could include something beyond the vague claim that it doesn’t appeal to you, like perhaps you thought the cinematography or sound editing was poorly done, or maybe the dialogue was wooden, or maybe the story was boring or its execution in the script was weak. These could all be valid and rational reasons for why you didn’t like a movie or don’t think people should waste their money on it. But that doesn’t mean it’s objectively wrong for someone else to like it, right? Maybe they disagree with your assessment of the script, the sound editing, or whatever else. Or perhaps they simply disagree with you on the importance of those issues at all because to them, watching a movie is about sitting back and turning off your brain after a long day. There’s no ultimately right or wrong answers here. Opposite opinions can be equally valid and both can be rationally justified because the matter is subjective and the conclusions are being argued from different premises.

    The exact same dynamic can play out in less trivial circumstances, like disputes over whether personal rights should be trampled for the sake of making society safer, or whether the killing of tens of millions of undesirables and people of “inferior races” is warranted if the expected result is the evolutionary betterment of the human race, or whether 90% of humanity should be wiped off the planet for the sake of the environment. It’s not like the people who would opt on the side of trampling personal rights, killing millions to improve the human race, or exterminating most of humanity to save the trees don’t think there are plenty of rational arguments to back up their position.

    The question is, in these “non-trivial” cases, are there any ultimately right or wrong answers? If objective morality doesn’t exist, the answer is no, there are no ultimately right or wrong answers about these issues. There are only non-trivial differences of opinion, each of which are likely to come along with some kind of rational argumentation in favor of the position, and there is no ultimate measure by which the competing options can or must be weighed, because they may simply reflect different priorities.

    Furthermore, the “non-trivial” nature of the scenario that happens to be in view only increases the relative, subjective importance with which the issue is imbued by the participants in the scenario. If a particular subjectivist believes that human life has no inherent value because they are just meat robots without free will and the product of mindless evolution, and that there is therefore nothing inherently wrong with killing large numbers of them to attain some desirable goal, what is another subjectivist to say to this person other than that he or she disagrees? The latter subjectivist can say that they really don’t like the decision of the former, but they cannot say it is absolutely and utterly and unquestionably wrong in any ultimate sense, nor is there any ultimate and authoritative common ground to which they can appeal in the hopes of convincing the other person that they truly ought to change their course because there is some objective moral law that is binding upon them. Nor could they even insist that the other person accept that the issue itself is important rather than trivial.

    Ultimately, on relativism and subjectivism, some issue is only non-trivial to the extent that the parties involved in discussing or disputing the issue subjectively consider it to be non-trivial. Apart from the subjective opinions of the parties involved, there is no issue that is inherently or objectively non-trivial.

    So, again, nobody is suggesting it isn’t possible to provide proximate justification for subjective opinions. That would be obviously silly and false. Rather, what we’re saying it isn’t possible to provide ultimate justification for subjective opinions, and so there is no reason why someone ought to feel compelled to submit to them.

    This is old territory for me. Subjective issues can be of great importance, others can care deeply about your opinion, and there can be good reasons for holding them. Did you read the small document I linked to on the subject?

    I did read it, and as you can probably tell from my comments above, I think it is incredibly misguided. I’m sure it is unintentional but it is quite obviously addressing a strawman version of the objectivist perspective.

    But this just isn’t true. The subjective element remains in our own personal moral proddings and feelings. Our subjective experience of moral reality makes it powerful and moving for us, but the acknowledgement that it reflects a deeper reality is what makes us individually feel compelled to act morally even when we might have selfish reasons to act otherwise.

    But what makes it matter for you that it is good or evil? Why would you try to do the good thing as opposed to the bad unless it is your emotional reaction (or fear of punishment)? You have made the emotion a contingent add-on to morality while I would put emotion (specifically compassion) at the heart of morality. And personally I think the former is more dangerous than the latter. The crusaders, Stalin, and Robespierre all put aside compassion for the sake of a principle.

    But why should compassion be thought of as morally good?

    As I suspected, you seem to be advocating Emotivism, which is also known as the Boo/Hoorah theory of morality. This is what I was referring to in comment 80 when I said:

    Your condemnation would amount to shouting, “Boo to genocide! That’s not how I would have handled things!”

    Emotivism is, as you’ve basically indicated, expressive rather than descriptive. But this view of morality suffers from all the issues I (and others) have been describing. When you say, “Mass murder is wrong”, what you’re saying is “Boo to mass murder”. You’re not making a claim that there’s anything actually wrong with mass murder, only informing people that you don’t happen to feel positively about it. But if someone else does happen to feel positively about mass murder and accurately expresses that feeling (“Hoorah for mass murder”), this is the equivalent of saying “Mass murder is right”, and their statement would be just as true as yours. You say it’s wrong and that’s a true statement. They say it’s right and that’s also an equally true statement. There is no basis for disagreement on moral issues because statements about right and wrong are only statements about how this person or that person feels about one thing or another; they are never statements about what the world is like.

    Now, you asked:

    But what makes it matter for you that it is good or evil? Why would you try to do the good thing as opposed to the bad unless it is your emotional reaction (or fear of punishment)?

    You’ve missed an option. Apart from any emotionalism, fear of punishment, or desire for a reward, I have a deep sense that it is a moral duty for humans to obey God’s moral direction to the best of their ability, recognizing that it is only because of His grounding of moral values that we can say with absolute certainty that it is wrong to do something like torturing and murdering children for fun, and so He is worthy of our obedience and we should be willing to follow both the moral instruction He has implanted in us as well as the moral instruction He has imparted in the Bible. A strong sense of duty and gratitude to God will often motivate someone to persist in the course of goodness even more than fear of punishment, and even after emotionalism has fallen by the wayside or actually directed us to more selfish ends.

  92. 92
    Andre says:

    I would like to comment on this……

    I propose a thought experiment on objectivity versus subjectivity…..

    As human beings we are very set in our ways; about how the world is, should be and ought to function (natural laws); somebody sent me a clip (funny scare clip compilation) and it made me think about why everybody reacts in such a way. Sure you can put the usual evolutionary spin on the deal, you can invoke all the physiological stuff too if you wish but here is the take home;

    There are things that can be shown to be objective outside our subjective opinions about it.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qLSA0gQ9z28

    So when Mark Frank fuddles the lines on objective Vs. subjective, let me give him an example of something absolutely objective.

  93. 93
    Mung says:

    Keks:

    @Mung #22

    Not to get all preachy, but while I fully appreciate your ultimate point, should Acartia_bogart’s politeness really be met with derision? I think your point could be presented with equal power in a slightly more attractive package.

    Mung:

    HeKS,

    I’ll get back to you when Arcatia_bogart addresses the argument rather than handing out a compliment (not to be confused with a complement).

    A_b is somewhat of a magician. Waving with one hand to attract the attention while hiding the absence of substantive response in the other hand and hoping the audience doesn’t notice.

    Good luck

    Got to hand to Arcatia_bogart! One wave of the hand and he’s GONE! DISAPPEARED! The ultimate in magical tricks.

    Arcatia_bogart:

    Damn, I didn’t know that I had these super powers.

    You’re entirely too modest.

    Any chance you’ll actually address yourself to the arguments in the OP? No? None?

  94. 94
    Acartia_bogart says:

    Mung, what gave you the impression that myself, or anyone, OUGHT to address every argument in every OP? Some of us have full time jobs.

  95. 95
    Mung says:

    A_b, By your own admission, the OP addressed your comments. Or have you forgotten already that you wrote that?

  96. 96
    Acartia_bogart says:

    Mung, I still fail to see your point. I made arguments in a previous OP. HeKs presented them objectively in this OP with a well thought out rebuttal. I complimented him on how well he did this. But for some reason, the fact that I would praise someone that I disagree with has got your knickers in a knot. Is the possibility that someone can disagree with someone else, but respect how they present the argument, such a foreign concept to you? But, given the way that I have seen you argue your points, this shouldn’t surprise me.

    Or is it that you are envious of HeKs’ ability to present his/her views in such a logical and well structured fashion? Don’t worry. It is nothing to be ashamed of. I am envious as well. I wish I could write as well as HeKs.

  97. 97
    HeKS says:

    Hey Mung,

    [H]eks:

    @Mung #22

    Not to get all preachy, but while I fully appreciate your ultimate point, should Acartia_bogart’s politeness really be met with derision? I think your point could be presented with equal power in a slightly more attractive package.

    Mung:

    HeKS,

    I’ll get back to you when Arcatia_bogart addresses the argument rather than handing out a compliment (not to be confused with a complement).

    A_b is somewhat of a magician. Waving with one hand to attract the attention while hiding the absence of substantive response in the other hand and hoping the audience doesn’t notice.

    Good luck

    Got to hand to Arcatia_bogart! One wave of the hand and he’s GONE! DISAPPEARED! The ultimate in magical tricks.

    I know this comment I made to you has come up again a few times, but my point was simply that if Acartia_bogart said something polite, the best response might not be to jump down his throat for it. If he says that his polite words were sincere, I don’t see much value in uncharitably assuming that it’s simply a diversionary tactic. If he ultimately decides not to address any of the responses I made in the OP to his points, his polite acknowledgement that I treated his position fairly doesn’t need to be viewed as inextricably linked to his choice not to respond, such that the former must be viewed as a bad-faith diversionary tactic for the latter.

    I’m guessing that A_b is well aware that someone following the discussion will see that he (she?) didn’t offer any response other than “I disagree”. I know it hasn’t escaped me. You’ll notice my comment #36 is addressed to A_b.

    If you want to keep asking A_b for a response and pointing out when none is offered, you’re welcome to it. I’m just of the opinion that valid points carry more weight and credibility when delivered politely. But it seems there’s some background reason here why you’re frustrated with A_b (I’m pretty new here), so you’re the one in the best position to decide what tone you want to convey in your posts.

  98. 98
    HeKS says:

    @A_b

    For the record, I’m a ‘he’. And you?

    Also for the record, I think the envy comment was uncalled for. I’m sure that has absolutely nothing to do with anything. And it’s actually kind of awkward for me to even have to address it.

  99. 99
    william spearshake says:

    HeKs, I have been a wallflower here but I can affirm that Mung has been much more venomous than A_B ever has. Not that it matters any more. BA has decided to ban him. Although I am curious as to why.

  100. 100
    Popperian says:

    KF: I have already cited standard dictionary usage on nihilism, which makes plain what is at stake.

    The notorious fact is, might and manipulation make ‘right’ and ‘truth’ is a characteristic nihilistic principle of thought.

    And, again, I’m pointing out the very idea you are promoting, a form of justificationist morality, justifies it’s mirror twin, nihilism.

    From the above quote….

    Indeed, infallibilism and nihilism are twins. Both fail to understand that mistakes are not only inevitable, they are correctable (fallibly). Which is why they both abhor institutions of substantive criticism and error correction, and denigrate rational thought as useless or fraudulent. They both justify the same tyrannies. They both justify each other.

    That’s a false dichotomy.

    KF: The consequences are written in blood across the past 100 years, with over 100 million victims. And the further fact is, that evolutionary materialist scientism had much to do with the frames of thought behind the regimes that carried out what we are talking of.

    Which is a perfect illustration. If not justification, then you must have nihilism. It’s “obvious” a lack of justification is the problem, not progress in moral knowledge.

    KF: Popperianism, your hobby horse, has little to contribute, save that it seems unable to face the grieving father and surviving (now adult) brothers and friends of the victim of kidnapping, torture, perverted rape and murder that I have used as yardstick case no 1.

    The fact that people can and will be mistaken about what they want and that mistakes are inevitable, but that they are correctable (fallibly) can help us understand these events and give us hope about the future. We’ve already seen significant progress, even when we’re unaware about how moral knowledge grows.

    The question is, as the explanation becomes explicit via criticism, what will our response be?

    Progress is impossible or to even deny that we’ve made any in the first place? But this just justifies the very thing you argue against.

  101. 101
    kairosfocus says:

    P:

    I could be sharp and short — rubbish, you are trying an equivalency argument where there is no legitimate equivalency revealing the bankruptcy of evolutionary materialist scientism.

    Instead, I will point out what you have consistently evaded, the grounding issue for morality and a glimpse of why there is just one serious candidate to be the IS who grounds OUGHT. And, why oughtness in that context is reasonable not a manifestation of might makes right.

    We start with that sad real-life case: it is self-evidently wrong to kidnap, torture, rape and murder a child for sick so-called pleasure. This is because that child — despite having no might to resist the murderous monster who did that to him, a monster who was obviously deaf to tears or pleas and gagged the poor child with his school socks to prevent crying out for help — yes, despite having no might or eloquence or succor, had right to life, liberty, person and more. This, you and others who will argue like you do, dare not deny, you drag attention away from instead.

    So, it is time to stress it: the humblest, weakest, least able to argue among us nevertheless have rights tracing to their intrinsic worth, dignity and status as a human being. (Rights that in this case were violated horrifically by a Nero like demonic monster.)

    But, what is a right?

    On pain of absurdity, it is a legitimately binding moral expectation that we be respected as valuable equals and ends in ourselves, not mere toys, tool or chattels to the ends of another.

    That is, ought is real.

    In the words of “the judicious [Anglican Canon Richard] Hooker” cited by Locke in grounding modern liberty and democracy . . . a cite of material historic impact you and others have repeatedly studiously ignored — triggering loud warning-bells:

    . . . if I cannot but wish to receive good, even as much at every man’s hands, as any man can wish unto his own soul, how should I look to have any part of my desire herein satisfied, unless myself be careful to satisfy the like desire which is undoubtedly in other men . . . my desire, therefore, to be loved of my equals in Nature, as much as possible may be, imposeth upon me a natural duty of bearing to themward fully the like affection. From which relation of equality between ourselves and them that are as ourselves, what several rules and canons natural reason hath drawn for direction of life no man is ignorant . . . [[Hooker then continues, citing Aristotle in The Nicomachean Ethics, Bk 8:] as namely, That because we would take no harm, we must therefore do none; That since we would not be in any thing extremely dealt with, we must ourselves avoid all extremity in our dealings; That from all violence and wrong we are utterly to abstain, with such-like . . . ] [[Eccl. Polity,preface, Bk I, “ch.” 8, p.80

    This leads to a direct point that the IS-OUGHT gap is bridged. This cannot be so, save at the foundation of the world, that is, there is a world-foundational IS that grounds OUGHT. For which, after thousands of years of debate, there is but one serious candidate: the inherently good, Creator God who is a maximally great and necessary being, the root of reality.

    Where, plainly, that which is good will show itself in the promotion of thriving of the valuable, as opposed to its privation, frustration and ruinously destructive perversion. That is, we see here a definition of good vs evil, a grounding of OUGHT in a foundational IS, and a reason to look with respect to the root of our being and to the creatures who are our valuable equals in nature.

    Such is the very opposite of the perverted well-poisoning equivalency rhetoric that was cited.

    For shame!

    The blood of that poor child cries up from the ground against all such tainted rhetoric.

    History teaches, in lessons paid for in that most costly and precious of commodities, blood.

    Those who refuse its hard-bought lessons would lead us to re-live its worst chapters.

    Enough is enough.

    For the sake of the blood crying up from the ground, STOP!

    GEM of TKI

  102. 102
    kairosfocus says:

    PS: In reply to the subtext of well-poisoning regarding the Judaeo-Christian tradition on morality that peeks out between the lines, I again cite in full the central summary of that teaching by its principal teacher, as a witness:

    ______________

    >> Matthew 5-7English Standard Version (ESV)
    The Sermon on the Mount

    5 Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.
    The Beatitudes

    2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

    3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

    4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

    5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

    6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

    7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

    8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

    9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons[a] of God.

    10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

    11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
    Salt and Light

    13 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

    14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that[b] they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
    Christ Came to Fulfill the Law

    17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
    Anger

    21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother[c] will be liable to judgment; whoever insults[d] his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell[e] of fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.[f]
    Lust

    27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.
    Divorce

    31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
    Oaths

    33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.[g]
    Retaliation

    38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic,[h] let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
    Love Your Enemies

    43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers,[i] what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
    Giving to the Needy

    6 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

    2 “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
    The Lord’s Prayer

    5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

    7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9 Pray then like this:

    “Our Father in heaven,
    hallowed be your name.[j]
    10 Your kingdom come,
    your will be done,[k]
    on earth as it is in heaven.
    11 Give us this day our daily bread,[l]
    12 and forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
    13 And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from evil.[m]

    14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
    Fasting

    16 “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
    Lay Up Treasures in Heaven

    19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust[n] destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

    22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

    24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.[o]
    Do Not Be Anxious

    25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?[p] 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

    34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
    Judging Others

    7 “Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

    6 “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.
    Ask, and It Will Be Given

    7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 9 Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
    The Golden Rule

    12 “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

    13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy[q] that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
    A Tree and Its Fruit

    15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
    I Never Knew You

    21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
    Build Your House on the Rock

    24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
    The Authority of Jesus

    28 And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, 29 for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes. >>
    _______________

    All I will add to this, is that if someone is unwilling to acknowledge this and its utter centrality — indeed it lies directly behind Canon Hooker’s words — then that speaks utterly revealing volumes.

    KF

  103. 103
    william spearshake says:

    K:“it is a legitimately binding moral expectation that we be respected as valuable equals and ends in ourselves, not mere toys, tool or chattels to the ends of another.”

    I don’t think that anybody is arguing with this. What is up for discussion is whether this “binding moral obligation” is the result of a supernatural mandate, or the result of rules established over centuries by intelligent, and sometimes rational, beings who live in a society. I simply do not see any evidence that the latter is not the cause.

  104. 104
    kairosfocus says:

    WS: If we have rights, then oughtness is real not a mere power game — what those social rules over centuries boil down to (cultural relativism and who wins the power struggle; note, many of my ancestors were slaves under established widely accepted law based on rules established for centuries . . . ). If by contrast to the power- game- disguised- as- rules talking point, ought is real, then there is a foundational IS that properly grounds it. Where, there is but one serious candidate. I am now quite sick of shell games to dodge and divert this issue. The question on the table in the name of that boy whose blood cries up from the ground, is, do we have rights. KF

  105. 105
    kairosfocus says:

    PS: Plato’s grim warning c 360 BC in The Laws, Bk X:

    Ath. . . . [[The avant garde philosophers and poets, c. 360 BC] say that . . . The elements are severally moved by chance and some inherent force according to certain affinities among them-of hot with cold, or of dry with moist, or of soft with hard, and according to all the other accidental admixtures of opposites which have been formed by necessity. After this fashion and in this manner the whole heaven has been created, and all that is in the heaven, as well as animals and all plants, and all the seasons come from these elements, not by the action of mind, as they say, or of any God, or from art, but as I was saying, by nature and chance only. [[In short, evolutionary materialism premised on chance plus necessity acting without intelligent guidance on primordial matter is hardly a new or a primarily “scientific” view! Notice also, the trichotomy of causal factors: (a) chance/accident, (b) mechanical necessity of nature, (c) art or intelligent design and direction.] . . . .

    [[Thus, they hold that t]he Gods exist not by nature, but by art, and by the laws of states, which are different in different places, according to the agreement of those who make them; and that the honourable is one thing by nature and another thing by law, and that the principles of justice have no existence at all in nature, but that mankind are always disputing about them and altering them; and that the alterations which are made by art and by law have no basis in nature, but are of authority for the moment and at the time at which they are made.– [[Relativism, too, is not new; complete with its radical amorality rooted in a worldview that has no foundational IS that can ground OUGHT.] These, my friends, are the sayings of wise men, poets and prose writers, which find a way into the minds of youth. They are told by them that the highest right is might [[ Evolutionary materialism leads to the promotion of amorality], and in this way the young fall into impieties, under the idea that the Gods are not such as the law bids them imagine; and hence arise factions [[Evolutionary materialism-motivated amorality “naturally” leads to continual contentions and power struggles], these philosophers inviting them to lead a true life according to nature, that is, to live in real dominion over others [[such amoral factions, if they gain power, “naturally” tend towards ruthless tyranny], and not in legal subjection to them.

    We are carelessly playing with fire here, and need to wake up, real fast.

  106. 106
    kairosfocus says:

    F/N: Kreeft on relativism, here, will repay a careful reading, as will Koukl on the hidden — indoctrination — agendas of so-called values clarification “neutral view” approaches to moral education here. Koukl’s look at an exchange on CNN’s Larry King Live, here, should give us sobering pause. Where, the very fact that such critiques will typically sound unfamiliar [or else are typically twisted into strawman caricatures, which are boxed about then tossed aside . . . ], should set off warning bells on what is happening with our civilisation. KF

Leave a Reply