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L&FP, 48: [Former?] New Atheist Stefan Molyneaux and his “Universally Preferable Behavior” (2007) illustrate inescapably binding, intelligible and identifiable first duties of reason


I ran across this work, and find an interesting discussion, starting with a fairly roundabout way to show what a first, undeniable principle or truth — branch on which we all must sit stuff — is like::

Given that every human action – including making philosophical statements – is chosen in preference to every other possible action, arguing that preferences do not exist requires a preference for arguing that preferences do not exist, which is a self-contradictory statement. [p. 33]

So, next, we have another roundabout way of summarising duties/oughts as universally prefer-ABLE behaviour:

The proposition before us is thus: can some preferences be objective, i.e. universal?

When I say that some preferences may be objective, I do not mean that all people follow these preferences at all times. If I were to argue that breathing is an objective preference, I could be easily countered by the example of those who commit suicide by hanging themselves. If I were to argue that eating is an objective preference, my argument could be countered with examples of hunger strikes and anorexia.

Thus when I talk about universal preferences, I am talking about what people should prefer, not what they always do prefer. [p. 33]

The is-ought gap emerges, and we see that a property of the objective is its universal force.

Given a known issue or two likely to come up as a premise of objections, let’s note from the next page:

Since human beings cannot communicate psychically, all debates necessarily involve the evidence of the senses. Writing presupposes sight; talking requires hearing; Braille requires touch. Thus any proposition that depends upon the invalidity of the senses automatically self-destructs. [p. 34, thus, self-referential incoherence and grand delusion exhibit absurdities and found argument by reducing a key alternative to absurdity. Those who wish to deny that our senses can and often do credibly access a world independent of our individual perceptions, opinions etc, should take due note.]

Next, the duty to truth appears:

If you correct me on an error that I have made, you are implicitly accepting the fact that it would be better for me to correct my error. Your preference for me to correct my error is not subjective, but objective, and universal. You don’t say to me: “You should change your opinion to mine because I would prefer it,” but rather: “You should correct your opinion because it is objectively incorrect.” My error does not arise from merely disagreeing with you, but as a result of my deviance from an objective standard of truth. Your argument that I should correct my false opinion rests on the objective value of truth – i.e. that truth is universally preferable to error, and that truth is universally objective. [p. 35]

Going on, we come to:

Simply put, morals are a set of rules claiming to accurately and consistently identify universally preferable human behaviours, just as physics is a set of rules claiming to accurately and consistently identify the universal behaviour of matter . . . .

if I argue against the proposition that universally preferable behaviour is valid, I have already shown my preference for truth over falsehood – as well as a preference for correcting those who speak falsely. Saying that there is no such thing as universally preferable behaviour is like shouting in someone’s ear that sound does not exist – it is innately self-contradictory. In other words, if there is no such thing as universally preferable behaviour, then one should oppose anyone who claims that there is such a thing as universally preferable behaviour. However, if one “should” do something, then one has just created universally preferable behaviour. Thus universally preferable behaviour – or moral rules – must be valid.

Syllogistically, this is:

1] The proposition [being challenged] is: the concept “universally preferable behaviour” must be valid.

2] Arguing against the validity of universally preferable behaviour [however, inadvertently] demonstrates [so, acknowledges] universally preferable behaviour.
[____________________________________________________ ]

3] Therefore no argument against the validity of universally preferable behaviour can be valid.

We see here how first duties are baked into arguments, and so are inescapable, intelligible and identifiable. Even, the would be objector appeals to such.

However, this is not a demonstration of why as a matter of logic of being, we are morally governed. It simply shows that we cannot escape such and so we see the chain, inescapable as part of reason, so inescapably true, so too first principles.

We cannot but be absurd if we are found sawing off the branch on which we must all sit just to argue. From duties to truth we readily find a duty to right reason as the means to truth and a recognition that our rational, cognitive faculties have a naturally evident baked in end, to move toward truth, accurate description of reality. This leads to the duty to warrant claims of known truth, i.e. to see to it that they are well founded as reliable and credibly true as we need to rely on them. Here, this is clearly part of wider duty to prudence. Then, we recognise conscience and duty to sound conscience rightly guided as described. onward, we observe neighbours who are as we are and so the mutual duties of fairness, justice etc. All of which can be drawn out in detail. In short, we may list, Ciceronian first duties,

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.

Ciceronian? Yes, try De Legibus:

—Marcus [in de Legibus, introductory remarks,. C1 BC, being Cicero himself]: . . . we shall have to explain the true nature of moral justice, which is congenial and correspondent [36]with the true nature of man [–> we are seeing the root vision of natural law, coeval with our humanity] . . . . With respect to the true principle of justice, many learned men have maintained that it springs from Law. I hardly know if their opinion be not correct, at least, according to their own definition; for . “Law (say they) is the highest reason, implanted in nature, which prescribes those things which ought to be done, and forbids the contrary” . . . . They therefore conceive that the voice of conscience is a law, that moral prudence is a law [–> a key remark] , whose operation is to urge us to good actions, and restrain us from evil ones . . . . According to the Greeks, therefore, the name of law implies an equitable distribution of goods: according to the Romans [–> esp. Cicero, speaking as a leading statesman], an equitable discrimination between good and evil. The true definition of law should, however, include both these characteristics. And this being granted as an almost self–evident proposition, the origin of justice is to be sought in the divine law of eternal and immutable morality. This indeed is the true energy of nature, the very soul and essence of wisdom, the test of virtue and vice.

[–> this points to the wellsprings of reality, the only place where is and ought can be bridged; bridged, through the inherently good utterly wise, maximally great necessary being, the creator God, which adequately answers the Euthyphro dilemma and Hume’s guillotine argument surprise on seeing reasoning is-is then suddenly a leap to ought-ought. IS and OUGHT are fused from the root]

This indeed is the true energy of nature, the very soul and essence of wisdom, the test of virtue and vice

Where do the roots of such moral government come from?

The answer is, the root of reality, the only level where is and ought can be bridged without gaps. Reality’s root must be a necessary being of finite remove with causal capability to be a well-spring of worlds, including worlds with morally governed creatures. So too, to adequately found such government (given the longstanding gap and the Euthyphro debates), inherently good and utterly wise, i.e. maximally great person emerges.

Altogether, a familiar figure, the God of ethical theism. (Cf. No. 47.) But if one objects, one needs to provide a comparatively powerful candidate root without opening up gaps or absurdities: _________ . Harder to do than may be at first imagined.

Now, too, these explorations were sparked by noticing News’ clip from a recent Salon Article denouncing the New Atheists who have gone all libertarian or the like:

New Atheism appeared to offer moral clarity, it emphasized intellectual honesty and it embraced scientific truths about the nature and workings of reality. It gave me immense hope to know that in a world overflowing with irrationality, there were clear-thinking individuals with sizable public platforms willing to stand up for what’s right and true — to stand up for sanity in the face of stupidity.

Fast-forward to the present: What a grift that was! Many of the most prominent New Atheists turned out to be nothing more than self-aggrandizing, dogmatic, irascible, censorious, morally compromised people who, at every opportunity, have propped up the powerful over the powerless, the privileged over the marginalized. This may sound hyperbolic, but it’s not when, well, you look at the evidence. So I thought it might be illuminating to take a look at where some of the heavy hitters in the atheist and “skeptic” communities are today. What do their legacies look like? In what direction have they taken their cultural quest to secularize the world?

Phil Torres, “Godless grifters: How the New Atheists merged with the far right” at Salon (June 5, 2021)

See the import of the bolded points, illustrating the first duties in action on the part of one who, presumably, has no way to bridge IS-OUGHT within his apparent evolutionary materialistic scientism?

So, the issue of inescapable, self evidently true first duties of reason is not as easily brushed aside as some may imagine. END