agit-prop, opinion manipulation and well-poisoning games Atheism Defending our Civilization Epistemology (the study of knowledge and its conditions) Ethics Evolutionary materialism's amorality evolutionary materialism's self-falsification Governance & control vs anarchy Logic and First Principles of right reason Moving civilization forward

L&FP 48e: Plato’s anticipation of and exposure of radical relativism (and linked evolutionary materialism) c 360 BC in The Laws, Bk X

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Now that the six blind men and the elephant paradigm is broken, we may look at Plato with fresh eyes. Here, 92 in LF&P 48a:

>>Plato . . . is highly relevant to our own mutiny on the good ship civilisation. For, the lessons of sound history were bought with blood and tears; those who neglect, forget, dismiss or disdain those lessons doom themselves to pay in the same coin over and over again.

Let’s therefore listen to Plato, as he lays out how ancient evolutionary materialism on the part of the sophists and others of the avant garde of c 430 BC led to radical relativism, amorality, nihilistic factionalism and chaos — and we will also trace the like pattern in our era:

Ath[enian Stranger, in The Laws, Bk X 2,360 ya]. . . .[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 — the natural order], all exist by nature and chance, and none of them by art . . . [such that] 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 [ –> that is, evolutionary materialism is ancient and would trace all things to blind chance and mechanical necessity; observe, too, the trichotomy: “nature” (here, mechanical, blind necessity), “chance” (similar to a tossed fair die), ART (the action of a mind, i.e. intelligently directed configuration)] . . . .

[Thus, they hold] 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, leading to an effectively arbitrary foundation only for morality, ethics, so too justice, law and government: accident of personal preference, the ebbs and flows of power politics, accidents of history and and the shifting sands of manipulated community opinion driven by “winds and waves of doctrine and the cunning craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming . . . ” cf a video on Plato’s parable of the cave; from the perspective of pondering who set up the manipulative shadow-shows, why.]

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 — having no IS that can properly ground OUGHT — leads to the promotion of amorality on which the only basis for “OUGHT” is seen to be might (and manipulation: might in “spin”), opening the door to cynicism, hyperskepticism and nihilism . . . ]

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 influenced by that amorality at the hands of ruthless power hungry nihilistic agendas], these philosophers inviting them to lead a true life according to nature, that is,to live in real dominion over others [ –> such amoral and/or nihilistic factions, if they gain power, “naturally” tend towards ruthless abuse and arbitrariness . . . they have not learned the habits nor accepted the principles of mutual respect, justice, fairness and keeping the civil peace of justice, so they will want to deceive, manipulate and crush — as the consistent history of radical revolutions over the past 250 years so plainly shows again and again], and not in legal subjection to them [–> nihilistic will to power not the spirit of justice and lawfulness].

Echoes in our time are not coincidental, and are tied directly to the suppression of otherwise readily accessible, well warranted, objective moral knowledge. For example, in introducing his 2014 In Search of Moral Knowledge, R Scott Smith notes:

we seem to have lost a common body of moral
truths that we all could know. [–> thus, the summary proposition in the OP]

One key way of characterizing our present moral climate is that, generally
speaking, westernized people tend not to view moral claims as giving us
[–> as in, generally accessible, well warranted, reliable truth]. This is connected to the received “fact-value split”—a mindset
we have inherited from at least the time of Hume and/or Kant. According
to that view, the natural sciences are the set of disciplines that uniquely give
us knowledge, whereas disciplines such as ethics, religion and the human-
ities in general give us just our constructs, whether personal opinions, pref-
erences or mere tastes
. This view has become known as strong scientism. A
weaker version of scientism maintains that ethics, religion and the human-
ities give us knowledge, but it is of an inferior sort to that of the natural
sciences. [–> and must bow to it] In light of such a mindset, it is only fitting that we have a vast plurality of moral opinions. [–> the diversity appeal, which does not warrant the no knowledge claim]

For those immersed in such cultures, it is easy to see how people (especially
emerging adults) would take for granted this plurality and bifurcation of facts
from values as simply the way things are, morally speaking. [–> indoctrination] Western cultures,
such as the United States, deeply reinforce the notion that morality is in the
eye of the beholder, something Allan Bloom noted decades ago. 2 Indeed, de-
scriptively, we are very pluralistic morally However, morality involves more
than just whatever is the case; at its core, it is a normative enterprise
But, should morality be seen as being “up to us” and therefore deeply
pluralistic? Is it true that morality is basically a human construct? If so,
to what extent, and in what way(s)? Alternatively, could it be that some
older ethical views that maintained that morals are not human constructs
are perhaps true after all, even though such views have been marginalized
or “discredited”?

We thus see the emergence of evolutionary materialistic scientism, duly dressed in the lab coat as a key context for the narrative that there is just moral debate and opinion, not well warranted knowledge. Or, as Plato summarised the Sophists etc:

[Thus, they hold] 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.

That is, as Plato then aptly drew out, “They are told by them that the highest right is might, ” leading to, “and hence arise factions, these philosophers inviting them to lead a true life according to nature, that is, to live in real dominion over others . . . ”

What we see going on about us is, for the historically literate, unsurprising.

But am I making a fallacious emotive appeal to consequences — a favourite dismissive retort by one of the objectors (who refuses to acknowledge that he is here appealing to duty to right reason) — here?

No, I am laying out historically warranted dynamics and patterns, which open the door to lawless oligarchy.

We need to value and learn from history and see how to avoid repeating its many costly blunders.

Here, following Smith, Scientism is key.

The notion that evolutionary materialism-dominated Science dominates or even monopolises knowledge is a gross fallacy. First, pace Sagan and Lewontin et al, the attempt to imply that Science is the only begetter of truth or knowledge is not a scientific but instead an epistemological, i.e. philosophical claim dressed up in a lab coat. It is self-referentially incoherent and absurdly false.

Next, the pattern of responsible warrant leading to reliable, knowable truth is not monopolised by science.

So, yes we are error prone but as the OP summarised:

Relativists typically emphasise diversity of opinions among individuals and cultures etc, but that has never been a matter of controversy. Nor, do presumably well informed relativists merely intend [to confess their inexplicable] ignorance of such accurately described states of affairs regarding duty, right conduct etc, they imply longstanding want of warrant and no reasonable prospect or even possibility of such warrant . . . .

Going on, manifestly, we are an error-prone race, and across time, space etc have many, many areas of profound disagreement. The normal procedure in such areas, is to identify sound first principles for the area, starting with first principles of right reason, logic. Then, if self evident first truths can be listed, a framework for the field can be identified and developed into a body of well warranted so reliable and objective knowable truth independent of the error proneness of our individual or collective opinion-forming. From which, we then have a body of knowledge and best practice to work with.

There is not the slightest reason why we cannot apply such a procedure to develop — or rather, restore confidence in — a body of moral knowledge, thus first duties of responsible reason and onward frameworks for sound ethics, law, governance, civilisation.

Such was outlined in comment 60 above.

Which in reality echoes what was already done in our civilisation across thousands of years but which has latterly been ill-advisedly disregarded.

As for the evolutionary materialism itself that now comes to us dressed in a lab coat, it is first noteworthy that it failed 2400 years ago in Athens, failed in key part because it undermined responsible rationality.

In the modern guise, let it be sufficient to note that it cannot reasonably account for the coded, linguistic information content in the living cell much less our responsible rational freedom that allows us to credibly think for ourselves.

In Haldane’s classic — but as usual too often sidelined (yes, we know the standard rhetorical tactics only too well) — words:

“It seems to me immensely unlikely that mind is a mere by-product of matter. For if my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain [–> taking in DNA, epigenetics and matters of computer organisation, programming and dynamic-stochastic processes] I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true. They may be sound chemically, but that does not make them sound logically. And hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms. In order to escape from this necessity of sawing away the branch on which I am sitting, so to speak, I am compelled to believe that mind is not wholly conditioned by matter.” [“When I am dead,” in Possible Worlds: And Other Essays [1927], Chatto and Windus: London, 1932, reprint, p.209. Cf. here on (and esp here) on the self-refutation by self-falsifying self referential incoherence and on linked amorality.]

So, now, let us again refuse the patently fallacious stunt, oh, we sidestepped it already, why pay any attention now, and ponder the algebraic reductio in the OP:

Let a proposition [= an assertion that affirms or denies that something is the case, e.g. Socrates is a man] be represented by x [–> symbolisation]
M = x is a proposition asserting that some state of affairs regarding right conduct, duty/ought, virtue/honour, good/evil etc (i.e. the subject is morality) is the case [–> subject of relevance]
O = x is objective and knowable, being adequately warranted as credibly true [–> criterion of objectivity]

[–> patently meaningful; u/d Jan 8: x is a proposition and is to be tested with regard to having properties O and M, M also being a subject-domain regarding duty to right conduct etc, i.e. morality]

It is claimed, Cultural Relativism Thesis: S= ~[O*M] = 1 [–> the there are no objective, warranted, knowable moral truths claim, again meaningful; it is abundantly vindicated that this is a correct summary of a commonly held view by relativists, whether asserted, assumed or implied. To get to subjectivism, simply reduce the scope of the group in question to a party of one.]

{U/D, Jan 12:} [ NB: Plato, The Laws, Bk X, c 360 BC, in the voice of Athenian Stranger: “[Thus, the Sophists and other opinion leaders etc c 430 BC on hold] 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.” This IMPLIES the Cultural Relativism Thesis, by highlighting disputes (among an error-prone and quarrelsome race!), changing/varied opinions, suggesting that dominance of a view in a place/time is a matter of balance of factions/rulings, and denying that there is an intelligible, warranted natural law. He continues, “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 . . . “]

However, the subject of S is M, [–> by simple inspection]
it therefore claims to be objectively true, O and is about M [–> pointing out the implicit thesis that relativists claim to know the accuracy of their claim or implication, on warrant]
where it forbids O-status to any claim of type M [–> patent]
so, ~[O*M] cannot be true per self referential incoherence [–> reductio]

~[O*M] = 0 [as self referential and incoherent cf above]
~[~[O*M]] = 1 [the negation is therefore true]
O*M = 1 [condensing not of not]
where, M [moral truth claim]
So too, O [if an AND is true, each sub proposition is separately true]

That is, there are objective moral truths; and a first, self evident one is that ~[O*M] is false.

The set is non empty, it is not vacuous and we cannot play empty set square of opposition games with it. That’s important. [–> square of opposition issues]

We have a start point for restoring moral knowledge, let us proceed.>>

Where, it is worth the pause to note just what the objectors have sought to overthrow for so many months now:


Recall, the core, branch on which we sit first duties, following Cicero:

1: to truth,
2: to right reason,
3: to warrant and wider prudence,
4: to sound conscience,
5: to neighbour,
6: so too to fairness, and
7: to justice,
. . . ,
x: etc.>> END