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Darwin’s “Sacred” Cause: How Opposing Slavery Could Still Enslave


darwin-as-ape3Those who follow the Darwin industry are very familiar with Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist by Adrian Desmond and James Moore. In that biography they were one of the few biographers to highlight young Charles’ Edinburgh years (October 1825 to April 1827) and show the powerful influences that experience had on the teenager. Here too in Desmond and Moore’s new Darwin’s Sacred Cause, Edinburgh becomes the substantive starting point. This is as it should be since the freethinkers he would be exposed to in the radical Plinian Society (a largely student-based group Darwin seemed to relish given his attendance at all but one of its 19 meetings during his stay there) would have a profund influence on his thinking for the rest of his life. Desmond and Moore correctly acknowledge this, observing that this period “helped condition his life’s work on the deepest social — and scientific — issues” (17). Indeed the Plinians would steep Charles in a radical materialism that the present biographers admit was “mirrored” in his work a decade later (35).

All well and good so far. But not quite.  This is a book with its own cause. From the outset the authors explain frankly that , “We show the humanitarian roots that nourished Darwin’s most controversial and contested work on human ancestry” (xviii). And those “humanitarian roots,” we are told again and  again throughout its 376 narrative pages was Darwin’s passionate and unwavering hatred of slavery.  “No one has appreciated the source of that moral fire that fuelled his strange, out-of-character obsession with human origins. Understand that,” they insist, “and Darwin can be radically reassessed” (xix).  And what is that reassessment?  The reader is not left waiting:  “Ours is a book about a caring, compassionate man who was affected for life by the scream of a tortured slave” (xx).

At issue, of course, isn’t the horrific abomination of slavery nor Darwin’s abhorrence of it (this has long been known and acknowledged by historians) but rather the purported impact that Desmond and Moore claim his abolitionism had on his theory’s development and purpose.  In short, the question is, does the anti-slavery Darwin necessarily make for a “kinder, gentler” Darwin? An affirmative answer must rest upon two supports, one conceptual and the other factual. The remainder of this essay will examine both to answer this question.

One of the more interesting trajectories of this book is it anchoring in Darwin’s early Edinburgh years, a comparatively short period but one fraught with significance for Darwin.  In this starting point I fully concur with Desmond and Moore.  While many look to his voyage on the Beagle (December 1831 to October 1836) as introducing the young naturalist to the fullness of nature’s laboratory that would culminate in his theory of natural selection and a wholly naturalistic evolutionary theory, these authors point to the earlier Edinburgh experiences as establishing the seminal backdrop for all else that would follow.  They point out that Edinburgh was rife with discussions of race, cranial size, and phrenology.  Some attempted to demonstrate the validity of scientifc racism, others the opposite. All — or nearly all — were cast in materialistic terms. Desmond and Moore’s summary is quite accurate:

So this wasn’t the barren period Darwin in his biography would have us believe.  Issues of environmental versus anatomical determinism, and a self-animated versus a Creatively animated nature, were being thrashed out all around him, issues which would have repurcussions for generations, inside and outside Darwin’s own work.  Arguments about brain sizes, innate dispositions and racial categories were still raging, putting a consensus some way off.  Groups were competing to sway the students and Darwin was at the center of it. But the young innocent probably wasn’t so much embroiled as wide-eyed.  Still, many of these themes would later resurface in his own work on human racial descent (43).

During Darwin’s stay at Cambridge, he too was exposed to many ideas, not the least of which was a vocal but conflicted anti-slavery impluse.  Through it all, insist Desmond and Moore, Darwin “held fast with radically pliant ‘brotherbood’ science and shackle-breaking ideology in true Whig tradition” (57).  Indeed Darwin would, according to the authors, reject the measuring, weighting, calculating racial anthropologists (those self-important, confident phrenologists and physiognomists)  he had found in Edinburgh.  “No skull collecting would mark his science,” they insist.” He would find a very different way of approaching black and white, slave and free” (110).

It is important to keep this claim in mind since it is crucial to Desmond and Moore’s thesis that while he became a “secret materialist — happy to have brains secrete even religious notions as physiological byproducts” (132), he would eschew the scientific racism implicit (and more often than not explicit) in this radical materialism in favor of a wholly naturalistic theory confirming a common descent and botherhood of all mankind. They refer to it as generations of “brotherly common descents” (141).

How he accomplishes this forms a considerable part of Darwin’s Sacred Cause. Basically, by establishing common descent as a viable scientific paradigm, Darwin was able to settle the old monogenist/polygenist debate once and for all.  The monogenists viewed human development on earth as emanating from a common pair — this was, for some, most eloquently described in the opening chapters of Genesis.  But there were non-biblical monogenists as well.  Polygenists, however, believed in multiple origins for humanity.  As America headed towards Civil War, the polygenists held the upper hand.  The biblical monogenism of James Cowles Prichard (1786-1848) looked antiquated against the “scientific” racism of Josiah Clark Nott (1804-1873), George R. Gliddon (1809-1857), and others. Desmond and Moore describe in detail how Darwin sought to establish a viable counter to the polygenists with an explanation of human origins that was at once naturalistic and based upon a common descent.  In effect, a science of human oneness and brotherhood.  They describe how the publication of Darwin’s Origin in 1859 tipped the scales permanently in his favor, citing the example of Charles Loring Brace (1826-1890), an abolitionist firebrand who claimed to have read the book thirteen times.

All this is true.  Darwin was adamantly opposed to slavery, Darwin did end — eventually — the polgenists’ claim to scientific respectability.  But this alone would hardly warrant a book.  As mentioned before, historians have long known of Darwin’s consistent antipathy towards slavery.  As for his role in settling the monogenist/polygenist dispute, that too has long been known (n. 1). The essential problem with Desmond and Moore’s effort is their naive assumption that anti-slavery means egalitarian and humanitarian.  This is a conceptual problem that haunts the book throughout. There really is no reason to assume an immediate and direct relationship between the one and the other, and the example of Charles Loring Brace given above goes not only to this point but to demonstrate the selective treatment they give to this whole subject.  Charles Loring Brace was indeed a vocal opponent of slavery and also and ardent Darwinist. What Desmond and Moore do not say is that Brace viewed blacks as inherently inferior and was himself a vocal opponent of miscegenation.  In the words of historian George M. Fredrickson, Brace made “the Darwinian case for differentiation of the races by natural selection . . . [and] ended up with a view of racial differences which was far from egalitarian in its implications” (n. 2). Brace held out little hope for “the mullato” and finished up by declaring, “there is nothing in the gradual diminution and destruction of a savage or inferior race in contact with a more civilized and powerful which is ‘mysterious’ . . . . The first gifts of civilization are naturally fatal to a barbarous people . . . . (n. 3). Fredrickson quite accurately points out that “Brace’s pioneering effort to devolop a Darwinist ethnology in opposition to the American School, although animated to some degree by antislavery humanitarianism, had demonstrated that most of the hierarchical assumptions of the polygenists could be justified just as well, if not better, in Darwinian terms” (n. 4).

The example of Josiah Clark Nott underscores this point.  Desmond and Moore spend considerable time showing how the Alabamian’s rabid polygenism formed the basis for an extreme racism and justification for slavery; they fail to point out that in the end Nott was able to reconcile with Darwinism.  Nott recognized at once that he had been outdone by Darwin’s irreligious formulations.  Writing to Ephraim Squire in the summer of 1860, Nott quipped, “the man [Darwin] is clearly crazy, but it is a capital dig into the parson — it stirs up Creation and much good comes out of such thorough discuassions” (n. 5).  In the end, Nott came to accept Darwin’s theory of man’s common descent.  Indeed he claimed nothing of what he wrote on the race question was negated but simply refined, and who was not to say that even in Darwin’s world races might not be “permanent varieties” (n. 6).  The point, of course, isn’t whether or not any of this is true — it is obvious nonsense and most of Nott’s contemporaries recognized it as such — but whether Darwin’s defeat of polygenist theory and its replacement with his common descent really had any difference in the end toward establishing a science of brotherhood is doubtful.  Brace, Nott, and many others could enbrace common descent precisely because it suggested nothing close to racial brotherhood.

This poor conceptualization of anti-slavery and ipso facto humanitarianism is compounded by a misunderstanding of Darwin himself.  Desmond and Moore correctly point out the crucial impact that the Edinburgh freethinkers had upon him and his theory, but they are simply wrong in contending that he distanced himself from their emerging racial craniology.  Their denials notwithstanding, there were skulls in Darwin’s science.  In his Descent of Man (1871) Paul Boca’s crantiometry is referenced approvingly.  While Darwin was careful to avoid the implication that “the intellect of any two animals or of any two men can be accurately gauged by the cubic contents of their skulls,” he seemed to give accumulated aggregate craniometric data some evidentiary weight.  “The belief that there exists in man some close relation between the size of the brain and the development of the intellectual faculties is supported by the comparison of skulls of savage and civilized races, of ancient and modern people, and by the analogy of the whole vertebrate series” (n. 7).  Citing the work of physician/craniologist Joseph Barnard Davis (1801-1881), Darwin noted that Europeans had a cranial capacity of 92.3, Americans 87.5, Asiatics 87.1, and Australians 81.9 cubic inches.  Clearly, if Darwin did in fact believe in a brotherhood of man it was a very unequal brotherhood.

Darwin’s “bullbog defender” Thomas Henry Huxley provides yet another example.  A devoted Darwinian, Huxley did not translate common descent into common equality.  Like Brace, Huxley was relieved to witness the end of America’s “peculiar institution.”  Writing at the end of the war that had raged for four years across the Atlantic, Huxley said, “But whatever the position of stable equilibrium into which the laws of social gravitation may bring the negro, all responsibility for the result will henceforward lie between nature and him. The white man may wash his hands of it, and the Caucasian conscience be void of reproach for evermore.  And this, if we look to the bottom of the matter, is the real justification for the abolition policy” (n. 8). Even Desmond and Moore must admit that Huxley “shared none of Darwin’s ‘man and brother’ sympathy” (275).

But how keen really was that “man and brother” sympathy for Darwin himself?  After well over 300 pages of explication designed to show how Darwin’s anti-slavery passion led to his “brotherly common descent” we find the crux of the matter:  “It was a humanitarianism that Darwin took pride in. His anti-slavery and anti-cruelty ethic was inviolate. Yet the incongruity of his class holding this ethic sacrosanct while disparaging the ‘lower’ classes (even as colonists displaced or exterminated them) [emphasis added] is impossible to comprehend by twenty-first century standards” (370).  Darwin was indeed a product of his class as any reading of his Descent will prove; in fact, it formed the very basis of his conception of man as a social animal (n. 9).  But it will take more than Desmond and Moore’s eight pages of dismissive discussion of Descent to see that.  Instead the quotation above would imply they’re trying get Darwin off the hook by pleading he was just a “man of his times” and failure to appreciate this dichotomy is mere presentism.  Frankly, it would have been incomprehensible for some in the nineteenth century as well — Thaddeus Stevens (1792-1868), Theodore Weld (1803-1895), William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879), Wendell Phillips (1811-1884), John Marshall Harlan (1833-1911), and George Frisbie Hoar (1826-1904) found this kind of hypocracy repugnant.  Darwin’s work was supposed to be prescient, path-breaking, revolutionary.  But by book’s end Darwin looks pretty conventional, even compliantly if somewhat minimally racist himself.  Writing to former slave-holder Charles Kingsley, Darwin admits, “It is very true what you say about the higher races of men, when high enough, will have spread & exterminated whole nations.”  Desmond and Moore admit, “racial genocide was now normalized by natural selection and rationalized as nature’s way of producing ‘superior’ races. Darwin ended up calibrating human ‘rank’ no differently from the rest of his society.  After shunning talk of ‘high’ and ‘low’ in his youthful evolution books, he had ceased to be unique or interesting on the subject” (318).

So in the end we find Darwin’s “sacred” cause was, well, not all that sacred. His cause was less about slavery and more about common descent, which in the final analysis had nothing whatsoever to do with equality.  In fact, it could easily be argued Darwin cleared out the polygenists to give way to a new generation of racial discriminators and engineers.  Based upon Darwinian principles, Darwin’s fascination with breeder and domestic stocks, opened the door to manipulating human “stock,” of managing and even culling the “unfit.” Not that Darwin himself would have condoned that, but surely, Francis Galton (1822-1911), took the evolutionary ball handed him by his cousin and ran with it.  In the end, Darwin’s cause was hardly humanitarian and by no means sacred.  As the lampooning cartoon that opens this essay suggests, if Darwin proved that man is a mere animal related (however distantly) to his ape ancestors then, like the domestic pigeons he was so fond of studying and analogizing from, mankind was capable of being bred, manipulated, and “improved.”  That sort of biological historicism unleashed by Darwinian theory has exacted an enormous price.

Of course, this suggests a connection between Darwin and the more unseemly Social Darwism.  I have likely imposed upon the reader’s time long enough, but for those who would like to explore this in greater detail, Mike Hawkin’s Social Darwinism in European and American Thought, 1860-1945 (Cambridge UP, 1997) is highly recommended.  For now, I will simply say that Darwin’s Sacred Cause has proved not what its authors intended, but instead that passionate opposition to slavery could — indeed did — enslave this Victorian elitist who was shackled (if not by racism) by a theory that was crafted to support his own class and prejudice.  History is full of irony!


1. See Herbert H. Odum, “Generalizations on Race in Nineteenth-Century Physical Anthropology,” Isis 58.1 (Spring 1967): 4-18.

2. George M. Fredrickson, The Black Image in the White Mind: The Debate on Afro-American Character and Destiny, 1817-1914 (New York: Harper Torchbook, 1971), p. 234.

3. Quoted in Ibid., p. 235.

4. Ibid.

5. John S. Haller Jr., Outcasts from Evolution: Scientific Attitudes of Racial Inferiority, 1859-1900, 2nd ed. (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1995), p. 80.

6. Ibid.

7. Charles Darwin, Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871; reprinted, New York: Barnes & Noble, 2004), p. 42.

8. Thomas Henry Huxley, “Emancipation — Black and White” (1865),  http://aleph0.clarku.edu/huxley/CE3/B&W.html accessed 2/15/09.

9.  Like his fellow Victorian imperialists, Darwin could view the extinction of indigenous peoples with an unsettling indifference. There is considerable evidence to support the view that Darwin saw struggle as product of culture and class more than race:  “When civilized nations come into contact with barbarians the sturggle is short, except where a deadly climate gives its aid to the native race. Of the causes which lead to the victory of civilized nations, some are plain and simple, others complex and obscure. We can see that the cultivation of the land will be fatal in many ways to savages, for they cannot, or will not, change their habits. . . . The grade of their civilization seems to be a most important element in the success of competing nations.” Descent, op. cit., p. 156.

Darwin always viewed indigenous peoples with the Eurocentric eyes of power and class, and he had thought this long before writing Descent. In The Voyage of the Beagle he wrote the following of the natives he encountered on Tierra del Fuego:

The perfect equality among the individuals composing the Fuegian tribes must for a long time retard their civilization. As we see those animals, whose instinct compels them to live in society and obey a chief, are most capable of improvement, so it is with the races of mankind. Whether we look at it as a cause or consequence, the more civilized always have the more artificial governments. For instance, the inhabitants of Otaheite, who, when first discovered, were governed by hereditary kings, had arrived at a far higher grade than another branch of the same people, the New Zealanders, — who, although benefited by being compelled to turn their attention to agriculture, were republicans in the most absolute sense. In Tierra del Fuego, until some chief shall arise with power sufficient to secure any acquired advantage, such as the domestication of animals, it seems scarcely possible that the political state of the country can be improved. At present, even a piece of cloth given to one is torn into shreds and distributed; and no one individual becomes richer than another. On the other hand, it is difficult to understand how a chief can arise till there is property of some sort by which he might manifest his superiority and increase his power.

I believe, in this extreme part of South America, man exists in a lower state of improvement than in any other part of the world. — Charles Darwin, The Voyage of the Beagle, 2nd ed. (1845; reprinted, New York: Tess Press, n.d.), pp. 214-215.

Basing Darwin’s humanitarianism on his abhorrence of slavery and a purported “brotherhood of man” largely misses the point. Historians have long known that Darwin’s racial classifications were based more upon levels of cultural attainment than ethnic groups. See, for example, Goria McConnaughey, “Darwin and Social Darwinism,” Osiris 9 (1950): 397-412.

PS: Onlookers observe the excerpt is in 207. I took time to explain in 208 - 210. kairosfocus
MF: I may have indeed been obscure on the point as expressed; though I amplify following. I expand, dissecting; but noting that this is a phrase in a context and that serious phil discussions often make a point in 50 pps, not 5 points per p: ____________ 1] we accept that there is self-evident truth --> in other words self evident truth [SET] exists and is warranted as follows 2] that so soon as we spiral in on understanding --> SETs are understood, and on understanding their components and how they fit together they are seen to be so, and that they must be so 3] how we experience that aspect of the world as rational, moral animals, --> We are rational animals and are inescapably moral as well; consider how and why we quarrel or even seek top persuade of the correctness of our views --> we acquire ever-deepening insight through a spiral of learning experiences --> Circles do not progress but spirals do; even while revisiting much the same ground --> this is now a fairly common model in education, especially for those of moderate constructivist bent [as I am; note the linked things on that above in this thread . . . cf Richard Skemp et al for much more] --> Here is my own favourite version of a learning experience spiral architecture for curricula and even web sites. 4] we see HAVE to be so --> That is, on inspection we see that we are dealing with truths that have to be true, on pain of reduction to self-referential usually absurdity. --> My fav case is of course Josiah Royce's "Error exists." (Most of us instantly agree, but the interesting thing comes in trying to deny it -- due to clever self-reference, it forces an affirmation.) --> And the implications that follow are interesting: truth exists as what we can be in error [or sometimes not in error about -- this is an undeniable truth] --> Warranted credible truth that we can believe to be so warranted also exists, as it exemplifies. So knowledge exists, though we can be mistaken about it. --> And since we find ourselves drawn to excel on the virtue of knowing the truth, it hints [note my shift away from "warrant"] strongly that virtue exists and so opens the door to pursuit of virtue, i.e. moral excellence. --> Thus it sets up the onward set of issues that address a lot of worldview and life agenda themes. --> For instance if truth, even knowable truth exists, but truth is not a physical substance,t hen that strongly points to the need for a broader view of the world than is embraced by physicalism, and suggests that the mind that grasps truth is more than merely neurons and synapses firing away electro-chemically. _________________ So, yes a lot lurked in a little, but in a spiralling context that I think would have helped to build a deeper base of insight. Trust that helps. GEM of TKI ps: I guess though that I am too used to "read three times to figure out" material. kairosfocus
Am I the only one that has this problem?
No. I think KF may be making good points, but it is impossible to tell. :) Arthur Smith
#212 KF - my problem with: “we accept that there is self-evident truth that so soon as we spiral in on understanding how we experience that aspect of the world as rational, moral animals, we see HAVE to be so” was not that I disagreed with it. It was that I couldn't understand it. It seems like complete gobbleydook to me. Am I the only one that has this problem? Mark Frank
To Mark Frank, not surprisingly, I'm disappointed that you seem to be stepping back without choosing to take a stand on my yes or no question. The crucial points seem to go untouched. As matters stand, so far you have not shown that the core of your position is distinguished from the following. Similarly conditioned people will react similarly. [ericB's best understanding so far of the foundation of Mark Frank's subjective approach to moral reactions and why people talk as they do about morality] Taking conditioning in the most inclusive sense of all formative influences, I immediately grant that this is "watertight." But it is also empty of value or significance. As I pointed out previously, this claim can be made simultaneously and equally for everyone's positions, for the less common ones just as much as the more common ones. Choose from any of the positions you find unacceptable, and nevertheless those people can make the same claim. By your own position, you would also react similarly as they do if you had been similarly conditioned. Consequently, this reality makes no distinction between positions. Nothing can be legitimately inferred from it, beyond a restatement that the reaction owes to one's conditioning. If you think that I am mistaken in this regard, I would still welcome you showing how your position escapes this fate. Yet, when I have mentioned this before, you didn't avail yourself of the opportunity. I am left to infer that your position does not escape this fate. I posed my original question to materialists because Allen_MacNeill (as one example) tried to make significance of the fact that Darwin was only predicting what will happen on the basis of his theory, not affirming that outcome. Yet, as matters stand, the Darwinian materialists so far have not shown they have any basis upon which to say that the conditioning that prompts some to affirm and fulfill what Darwin predicts is in fact wrong. Some react negatively (and so may call that outcome bad) while others react positively (and so may call that outcome good). The latter have the advantage of pointing out the objective observation, independent of all subjective reactions, that they are doing what species have always been doing. Where then does a Darwinian materialist introduce and insert a means of invalidating positive moral reactions to consistency with this course of events? There does not seem to be a legitimate means to invalidate any actual reaction. Darwinian materialism apparently provides nothing more than competing conditioning and circumstances, leading to competing preferences. Mark Frank, I've sincerely tried to see if your position could offer a way out of this for the Darwinian materialist. So far, it hasn't improved the position at all. According to your position, those that fulfill what are (merely) Darwin's predictions have at least as much claim, if not more, on behalf of their positive reactions as do any who react against that outcome, even if the latter includes Darwin himself. In any case, I remain open and interested in hearing more from you, whenever you wish to contribute. It has been a joy to dialogue with someone who is sincere and courteous. I've tried to focus on understanding your view primarily, more so than to advocate my own. But at some time I would welcome having you expose my own views to similar scrutiny. Best blessings to you and yours! ericB
Jerry Thanks. But this thread at length has brought out some very important consequences of MF's evoltuionary materialism. Even his last little Parthian shot is itself inadvertently revealing, as I just noted. (For, rational animality [we have not got to the moralising part yet . . . ] has implications, one of which is that there are indeed self evident truths starting with undeniable ones like "error exists." To attempt to deny that one is only to instantiate its truth, one way or another.) GEM of TKI kairosfocus
kairosfocus, I gave up on this thread a long time ago and have no desire to read it to try understand the nature of the debate that is going on. But in searching for a past comment three years ago I came across another set of discussions between Mark Frank and Barry Arrington and others. Here are the two threads on UD from May of 2006. The first thread is titled "A Reply to Mark Frank" and was generated as a result of comments Mark made in the other thread. https://uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/a-reply-to-rgds/ https://uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/gods-best-gift-to-intelligent-design/ jerry
MF In short you do not believe that truths can be self-evident. Try this one for size:
Error exists. [From Josiah Royce]
Try to deny it, having understood what it says as a rational animal, and see where that lands you. GEM of TKI kairosfocus
KF I did start to read your comment but I rapidly came across this sentence: "we accept that there is self-evident truth that so soon as we spiral in on understanding how we experience that aspect of the world as rational, moral animals, we see HAVE to be so" At the point I gave up .... Mark Frank
k --> Thus emerges the learning spiral approach to ever deeper understanding, that shows how we escape the apparent circularity. l --> We start where we are with ideas, experiences and so on in our background. We undergo a loop of learining experiences [whether hands on or minds on through dialogue or whatever], that show us, e.g. how wholes and parts interact and inter-relate. m --> That allows us to correct misunderstandings, and to deepen our understanding in an empirically linked frame. Especially, through careful dialogue constrained by good judgement of what makes sense, we understand that something is not just true but that it must be so, in light of our experience of the world as rational-moral creatures. n --> In particular, that includes the reality of the reasoning, truth-grasping [though also error making], knowing mind. This we see from Josiah Royce's point: "error exists" is undeniably and self-evidently true. o --> For if we try to deny it [as an act of dialogue in a learning experience], that would only succeed in instantiating what we instantly recognise as an error. Thus, truth exists as what we are possibly mistaken about. p --> And, since we just warranted a truth claim we in fact all believe, we see that knowledge exists as a possibility. (But, we must equally beware the double-edged nature of tis known truth: we can be mistaken about what we think we know is so.) q --> Equally, we see the same of morality, good and evil. Indeed, we see that not only are we familiar with such from our life-experiences as morally obligated persons [think about how and why we quarrel], but that to reject such realities is to ever so soon end up in a morass of destructive absurdities. r --> Now of course, I long since pointed out (111) that Koukl's argument points form such self-evidently true existence of evil to the reality of morality, good and evil. thence the suggestion that the evolutionary materialist picture of the world is simplistic to the point of factual inadequacy, i.e. error. (That it makes such heavy going of not only morality but event he minds required to think even as a scientific materialist, should have long since told us something is wrong.) Okay, a few bleats from the peanut gallery. GEM of TKI kairosfocus
f --> By now we can see that the analytic/ synthetic dichotomy may well conceal more than it seems to reveal, especially on the analytic side, where in fact there is a lot that goes into these "conceptual" identities that are seemingly so tautological that they are often derided as useless; simply saying that "A is A." g --> But actually, that is sometimes crucially important to say: recognition of an identity and accepting the stability of that identity based on essential nature is often a hard won, easily lost recognition in a world of selective hyperskepticism that so easily declares that YOU gotta prove that to me on my terms, which are -- infinite regress or nothing, regardless of inconsistency on my part when I am more inclined to accept a claim. (Indeed, above this question lurks under the issues of what is good and what is evil and whether moral obligation is more than merely a feeling rooted in our conditioning.) h --> That is where the question of the little error at the beginning of rejecting the common-sense view that there are self-evidently true truths that can be recognied as such based on our experience of the world as rational-moral, common sense using, understanding creatures [cf excerpt from Adler and discussion at 175] surfaces. i --> Namely,
In addition to merely verbal statements which, as tautologies, are uninstructive and need no support beyond the rules of language, and in addition to instructive statements which need support and certification, either from experience or by reasoning, there is a third class of statements which are non-tautological or instructive, on the one hand, and are also indemonstrable or self-evidently true, on the other. These are the statements that Euclid called “common notions,” that Aristotle called “axioms” or “first principles,” and that mediaeval thinkers called “propositions per se nota.” One example will suffice to make this clear — the axiom or selfevident truth that a finite whole is greater than any of its parts. This proposition states our understanding of the relation between a finite whole and its parts. It is not a statement about the word “whole” or the word “part” but rather about our understanding of wholes and parts and their relation.
j --> You will see that he is zeroing in on tautologoies vs empirically supported truth claims vs self evident truths that are rooted in our experience and understanding of the world. Of such, he exemplifies: "a finite whole is greater than any of its parts . . . It is not a statement about the word “whole” or the word “part” but rather about our understanding of wholes and parts and their relation . . . We cannot express our understanding of a whole without reference to our understanding of its parts and our understanding that it is greater than any of its parts. We cannot express our understanding of parts without reference to our understanding of wholes and our understanding that a part is less than the whole of which it is a part." [ . . . ] kairosfocus
Onlookers: A few follow-up remarks on the synthetic a priori truth issue. Pardon a few more bleats from the peanut gallery. (Let's hope this poor sheep knows his Master's voice . . . ) a --> The analytic/synthetic distinction its felt by its adherents to be exhaustive of propositions, almost by definition. Thus, Kant, giving the example of an alaytic truth that "all bodies are extended," and "All bodies are heavy" as exemplifying the synthetic:
In all judgments in which the relation of a subject to the predicate is thought . . . this relation is possible in two different ways. Either the predicate B belongs to the subject A as something that is (covertly) contained in this concept A; or B lies entirely outside the concept A, though to be sure it stands in connection with it. In the first case, I call the judgment analytic, in the second synthetic. (A:6-7)
: b --> Thus, we see that:
(i) analytic truth claims are so by virtue of expanding the meaning/ concept of the subject and comparing with the predicate and seeing that they are in effect restating [some of] the substance of the subject in the predicate in whatever guise, definition, direct implication etc -- effectively without having to immediately confirm from the world of experiences. By contrast (ii) Synthetic ones are the ones that differ from that, and by extension where we have to advert to the outside world specifically, not merely our common fund of "stored" background knowledge or the baldly asserted conventions of the subject in view.
c --> So already, once we look at the issue by highlighting background experience and knowledge, we see that there lurks a clue that something is wrong, as Quine et al have highlighted: analytic truths seem to be often more tied to experience and derived knowledge of the world than adherents like to accept. (And so, to our informal and/or formal education and the dynamics of the concept formation -- knowledge construction process in light of experiences, recognised patterns and ideas, thus links and relationships.) d --> As Wiki summarises:
Quine's chief objection to analyticity is with the notion of synonymy (sameness of meaning), a sentence being analytic just in case it is synonymous with "All black things are black" (or any other logical truth). The objection to synonymy hinges upon the problem of collateral information. We intuitively feel that there is a distinction between "All unmarried men are bachelors" and "There have been black dogs", but a competent English speaker will assent to both sentences under all conditions since such speakers also have access to collateral information bearing on the historical existence of black dogs. Quine maintains that there is no distinction between universally known collateral information and conceptual or analytic truths.
e --> In short, so soon as we look at this challenge, we see that we are already back at our experience of the world as rational-moral, verbalising, common-sense using animals. For convenience, Wiki again:
Common sense (or, when used attributively as an adjective, commonsense, common-sense, or commonsensical), based on a strict construction of the term, consists of what people in common would agree on: that which they "sense" (in common) as their common natural understanding. Some people (such as the authors of Merriam-Webster Online) use the phrase to refer to beliefs or propositions [and, I add, reasoning] that — in their opinion — most people would consider prudent and of sound judgment, without reliance on esoteric knowledge or study or research, but based upon what they see as knowledge held by people "in common". Thus "common sense" (in this view) equates to the knowledge and experience which most people allegedly have, or which the person using the term believes that they do or should have.
{. . . } kairosfocus
Mark: Peanut gallery here. Ask yourself: am I confusing the fact of subjectivity as a rational, moral animal, with the claim that there is therefore no objectivity of content on morals? Stephen is right, that either [1] we accept that there is self-evident truth that so soon as we spiral in on understanding how we experience that aspect of the world as rational, moral animals, we see HAVE to be so; or else [2] we end up in the horror of C20: might makes right. It is highly significant that in our civilisation, theism takes view no 1, and evolutionary materialism evidently takes view no 2. Onlookers -- fellow members of our cvilisation -- consider the historically predictable consequences, not forgetting to listen to the voices of over 100 million ghosts of the victims of regimes that chose option 2 over the past 100 years. (And that does not include the numbers of the victims of abortion in recent decades, which the Alan Guttmacher institute tots up to a number in the ballpark of a billion.) We have been warned. GEM of TKI kairosfocus
EricB We are now over 200 comments and I seem to be making no more progress. I am going to stop this debate and go away and write the book. It has been interesting and worthwhile. Thanks Mark Frank
MF: "The fact that people may in practice still disagree is not really the point." If you are alluding to my question, knowing whether or not a majority of people who *fulfilled* your conditional qualification (however it should be stated -- that is still not quite clear) could still disagree with your position is critical to the question of whether you are merely expressing a truism or else something that is not empty. You mentioned to StephenB the point of how you are focusing on the meaning of words and that you find your case to be watertight. However, both of those conditions are typically the case concerning truisms. They are true in a watertight way often exactly because they are juggling words in ways that can never be false, e.g. "I react the way I react," or "People who react like me react like me." So I'm hoping you can persuade me that this is not what your position comes down to. I'm still thinking about your last response, but I'm not sure I have a clear answer to my question. I don't want to put words in your mouth. Are you then saying that, Yes, even when people satisfy my intended condition of sharing the same _______ as you, nevertheless a majority of them may still disagree with you? In such a case, my belief or expectation of their concurrence would turn out to be false. Or, is that outcome effectively excluded by your condition? Would you say, No, if a majority of some group didn't agree with me, that probably indicates they have access to _______ I don't have, or I have _______ they don't have to a degree such that my qualifying condition is not met.
My point is that they often do agree (pretty much everyone agrees that murder is bad) and we behave, talk as though they would agree if only they understood - even if in practice they sometimes don’t and there is no way of, as it were, clinching the deal. That’s what I mean by an objective approach to a subjective issue.
That can also be explained at least as well, if not better, as a subjective approach to an objective issue. We talk and behave as we do because our historical understanding of right and wrong is that they have objective truth. Someone else's view is not just there way of thinking. We have historically thought some views were more correct, more accurate, and others not as correct, not as accurate. Please consider: it is meaningless to talk of being closer to or farther away from X, if X has no real position. Closer necessarily implies that there exists something which has a true position we may or may not be closer to. Do you agree? If there is no Narnia, it is nonsense to argue over which of us is nearer to it. But to argue about which is nearer to New York or London could be meaningful because they do exist. (And it would be meaningful as concepts even if we didn't have a practical way to measure and clinch the deal.) I don't know if you have ever read C.S. Lewis's The Abolition of Man, but it includes a discussion of the historical view that we need to train our sentiments so that they accord accurately with the actual and true values that things have, so that we value the valuable and despise the despicable, and so on. Whether you take that view as true, it is beyond reasonable question that this is the perspective that has historically shaped and influenced the way we behave and talk about this. "we behave, talk as though they would agree if only they understood" -- precisely because we have thought of these matters as claims that may be true or false. Even the majority can be wrong at times, precisely because these matters are not defined by the majority but have an objective truth value independent of majority opinion. Again, I am not saying this is proof -- only that this is without question the historical basis upon which our ways of talking about this have formed. This way of behaving and talking carries on with us through our culture, even if many have begun to doubt whether the original basis is true. There is cultural momentum. ericB
---Mark: "I cannot think of a counter argument that would work because my argument seems to watertight to me. It is bit like asking a mathematician what argument would cause you to change your mind about 1+1=2. Maybe there is one - but how could one possibly know what it is without also accepting it?" It is more like asking someone who believes that 2+2=5 to please honor the laws of mathematics only to have him tell you that he doesn't believe in those laws and nothing will convince him otherwise. Your standards for morality remain totally arbitrary, totally unique, and totally personal. It would be impossible to build a well-ordered society around such a concept. As I stated earlier, and has been recognized for over two thousand years, there are only two choices [A] The natural moral law or [B] Might makes right. To deny the former is to affirm the latter. The moral relativism you promote is simply a transitional fad that encourages vulgarity, compromises freedom, and always gives way to tyranny. There never has been and never will be a society based on feelings. StephenB
---Mark: "What facts or arguments would turn you into a moral relativist? (I don’t expect an answer. I just want to illustrate the oddness of your request)" There was nothing odd about my request. If someone could show me that there are no minds, only brains, then I would become a moral relativist because I would realize that there can be no morality without immaterial minds and wills. Of course, the whole materialist enterprise is self refuting, because if it was true, I COULD not convert to any position other than the one I hold because I would have no free will with which to convert. StephenB
While I am at it: MF, good and evil are connected by self evident truths tied to our experience of the world as conscious, deciding, morally bound creatures. They Are NOT equivalent to the tautology that an unmarried male is a bachelor, per definition. AND, they are not synthetic statements, including a prioris. This, I excerpted, linked on and discussed at 175 above, but you "didn't have time" to look; never mind that Stephen pointed you there. Now, you are stumbling into the implication of Kant's "little error at the beginning" on this one. GEM of TKI kairosfocus
OOPS: Cross threaded, sorry. kairosfocus
JT: Here is how the UD glossary defines intelligence acceptably for ID purposes:
Intelligence – Wikipedia aptly and succinctly defines: “capacities to reason, to plan [which plainly implies foresight and is directly connected to the task of designing], to solve problems [again foresighted and goal directed], to think abstractly, to comprehend ideas, to use language, and to learn.”
In short, we are not using any unusual or idiosyncratic definition. Indeed, we used the Wiki definition for the excellent reason that it is an admission against interest by an entity known to be strongly opposed to ID, to the point of willful, insistent distortion and slander. That's about the strongest form of evidence you can get: what intelligence is, is so well and so widely understood, that they could not come up with an "acceptable" definition that would cut off ID at the knees. GEM of TKI PS: JT, to save yourself further embarrassment, kindly take some time out and read the ID glossary and weak argument correctives. kairosfocus
# 192 StephenB I understand your point about the growth of moral relativism. I am not surprised about the European figures - a bit surprised by the US figures. You are answering a question that I did not ask. The question is this: What fact or facts would cause you to stop denying objective morality or the natural moral law? I submit that no fact (or argument, for that matter) could ever cause you to change your mind. It was not clear that was your question. The answer is no facts - because my argument is one about the meaning of the words "right" and "wrong". It is not an empirical one. So facts are not going to prove anything - any more than an additional facts would show that some bachelors are married. I cannot think of a counter argument that would work because my argument seems to watertight to me. It is bit like asking a mathematician what argument would cause you to change your mind about 1+1=2. Maybe there is one - but how could one possibly know what it is without also accepting it? What facts or arguments would turn you into a moral relativist? (I don't expect an answer. I just want to illustrate the oddness of your request) Mark Frank
----kairosfocus: "a –> Now, immediately, Steve, I must adjust: following Anscombe, Holmes et al [cf 130 above], we cannot derive the ought from the is, unless the ought is already implicitly in the premises." KF, with respect, I well aware of this limitation and condition for the "is, "ought" syndrome. I addressed it @91and several times after that. My comments here are about the MF irony. StephenB
PPPS: Another useful critical analysis. kairosfocus
PPS: Values Clarification. Did a Wikipedia search -- no such article and the values education article has no mention of the term [a major movement in values education] -- telling, as Wiki is known to be materialism- leaning and relativism- leaning. Google search turns up two key articles, and a nice little how-to prompter for UNESCO. The last shows the implicitly relativistic context and the underlying "situation ethics" pedagogic strategy of casting important values into contest and apparent contradiction, so that it appears that values cannot be absolute. But in fact since there is a longstanding acknowledged hierarchy of values and a general circumstance where one may be forced to choose the lesser of evils, that is illegitimate manipulation. (E.g.: if you cannot BOTH have your cake and eat it, you need to have a higher value that allows you to decide betwixt the two, accepting that the price of the one is the foregoing of the other. Not to mention, often, eating a little cake now and saving a lot of it so you can have cake later, is also possible.) 1] A Global Change Seminar reader that neatly side-steps the issue of objectivity and of the deductive argument as the tool of clarification by reductio ad absurdum of incoherent start-points. 2] A critical analysis of Values clarification on moral education, by Lipe; as a Christian apologetics exercise. 3] UNESCO lesson slide e.g. "Should the parkland close to the centre of the city be re-developed to house landless people from nearby rural areas?" [To which: are we locked up to just those two competing options? Is there a both-and solution? and, if we must choose, then the short-term priority has to be on saving people not the pleasures of parkland. but longer term we need both so we must find a way forward.] _____________________ Telling on what is going on, isn't it. GEM of TKI kairosfocus
PS: Steve on linking 1 --> first copy the URL -- web address -- of the linked to page from the little window at the top of the browser page 2 --> On the left hand side of the text that you want to link to, write: [Less than sign -- shift-comma]A href = ""[greater than sign -- shift full stop], no spaces after the LessThan,a nd noe before the GrtThan. Of course do not use square brackets etc, just the signs. [The greater than sign is the head of the arrow on this point's little arrow.] 3 --> To the right of the same text, write [LessThan sign]/a[GrtThan sign] no spaces between 4 --> Paste the URL in between the two double-quote marks. [It is important that they not be curly quotes, as most word processors will automatically insert; you may want to do this after you have gone back to the comment box and pasted in your text. Alternatively type a sample "" in the comment window and copy it to the top of your word processor text.] 5 --> In short, use standard HTML markup code. 6 --> For italics use i, for bold use b, for block quotes use blockquote. (It seems that now UD allows 3-level nested blocks.) 7 --> In the past, there was a four link upper limit for any one comment. Not sure what it is now. 8 --> Akismet anti spam software is probably still capable of doing strange things to comments, so watch for mysterious things. GEM of TKI PS: moderators, maybe a how to comment FAQ? kairosfocus
q --> The real issue is in that old Law-expert's challenge to Jesus: WHO is my "neighbour"? (To which, Our Lord's story of the Good Samaritan is the standing excellent answer and rebuke to those who would artificially constrict the circle of equality and mutual respect. [Including, in the name of natural selection and preservation of "favoured races" or other population groups.]) r --> So we can solve the riddle: evolutionary materialists hold to a worldview that inescapably pushes moral truth out of the circle of possible objective truths, so they are forced to resort to attempting an objective approach to a subjective issue. s --> In that we are all subjects, that superficially allows them to say that morality is subjective; but in fact the resulting reasoning process itself tells the man of good sense that hey are trying to reconcile the patent objectivity of morality with the denial of that objectivity that is implied by their worldview that they mistake for scientifically established knowledge. t --> In short, reductio ad absurdum, to be resolved by recognising the obvious: evolutionary materialism is neither intellectually nor morally coherent, and the scientific evidence does not by any means force us to accept it as truth. As Lewontin so blatantly admitted in 1997:
Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. [N Y review of Books, 1997. Since made "official" by the US NAS etc. acting as de facto C21 Magisterium]
3] EricB, 189: I assume we would agree that the current moral opinion of the simple majority does not define for you (or me) what is “wrong.” I believe we would agree that the majority could be mistaken in our view. Pre-zactly. So, MF et al, HOW do we correct moral error, but by appealing to discovery of truth using fact and logic, in light of our intuitively recognised dignity and equality, thus duty to one another? And, where does such inherent dignity point, whatever evolutionary materialism may have to say? 4] MF, 190: In the case of genocide the facts are all too obvious. People die. People suffer. You can’t derive the fact that genocide is bad from these facts - but pretty much everyone agrees they are reasons for condemning genocide. Now, let's see: genocide, per Am h Dict is "The systematic and planned extermination of an entire national, racial, political, or ethnic group." That is, mass murder of a target group. We have inter-subjective consensus -- save for those we view as moral monsters who argue -- on claimed evolutionary superiority and survival of the fittest grounds BTW -- about foxes having no respect for geese and cats having no mercy for mice. [Mein Kampf, BkI Ch XI.] Genocide is an evil. And that is recognised by subjects (save for the monsters . . . ) Evil is objectionable, and plainly abhorrent; so much so that many atheists often passionately use its reality to argue against the existence of God; the core premise of theism that makes morality a case where is-es do entail oughts. (Of course post Plantinga [cf. link at 139 above point 12], that is not a sound case, but that is another story.) Oops, we are back at the implication that right and wrong are objective even though immaterial, and all that Greg Koukl deduced from that common-sense, intuitively recognised natural law view [Cf 111]. ____________ Muy interesante. But then, this is just he peanut gallery tossing a few distractive nuts on the stage. (nothing to see there folks, just move along . . . ) GEM of TKI kairosfocus
Onlookers: A few further footnotes: 1] SB, 188: two out of every three individuals in the free world no longer believe that there is any such thing as “good” and “bad.” (Those who are persecuted know better) Once, almost everyone believed that the distinction between right and wrong is real. So, the real question is this: How did the numbers get from 80-90% to 33%. Answer: The decline was caused by academia’s anti-intellectual assault on reason. (I First side-note that at 190, MF has now found some time to look at SB . . . but seems to have missed a key part on even this point.) Now for the first step on the main focus: there are many surveys that show the decline in stated belief in absolute or objective truth, especially on matters of morality. And, via the capture of key institutions starting with the academy, the seminaries and the major media houses and educational policy boards, there has indeed been a systematic undermining of the now quaint-sounding idea that there is such a thing as "moral truth." (Need I say more than "values clarification" -- the theme of radical moral relativist syllabi for education going back decades -- to make my point?) 2] An interesting comparison:
MF, 187: When I say that my moral beliefs are grounded in the belief that others would agree if they would see my point of view – I mean that I believe they mostly accept the same reasons for things being good or bad. So if I present them with all the facts that I know (and maybe explain why I think they are relevant) then there is a really good chance that they will agree. If I didn’t believe that most people would accept the same reasons for things being good or bad, then my arguments would indeed be no more than personal preferences. SB, 188: What “facts” could this commentator be talking about. I thought we had all agreed that we cannot derive an “ought to” from an “is.”
a --> Now, immediately, Steve, I must adjust: following Anscombe, Holmes et al [cf 130 above], we cannot derive the ought from the is, unless the ought is already implicitly in the premises. Which, strictly, b --> is only a moral-truth application of the classic irony of the deductive argument or especially the syllogism . . . c --> if its conclusions are entailed strictly by its premises if it is to be at all valid, it can only make explicit what was already implicit in the start-point. d --> That is, a deductive argument is about clarification and individual or collective "psychological" discovery by finite and fallible creatures such as ourselves, including also possibly exposure of implicit absurdity or confusion; not about arriving at true novelty. e --> But, such clarifications and eliminations of confusions, want of clarity and/or absurdities in our base assumptions are often very, very important. f --> Now, too, a key point of clarity from Aristotle: truth says of what is, that it is; and of what is not, that it is not. [Metaphysics 1011b, paraphrased.] g --> So too, absolute truth is that which is has the degree of being" the truth, the whole [relevant] truth, and nothing bu the truth; where also h --> objective truth is that truth about a situation, subject, object or matter that we discover rather than invent or imagine. i --> For, since we are subjects, there is always a subjective dimension to how we think or perceive. The issue -- post Plato's Cave -- is whether the individual or collective subjective view corresponds to reality. j --> Against that backdrop, MF says: I believe they mostly accept the same reasons for things being good or bad. So if I present them with all the facts that I know (and maybe explain why I think they are relevant) then there is a really good chance that they will agree . . . that is he seeks inter-subjective consensus or agreement on moral issues. k --> But -- unless he means that he sets out to deceive and manipulate using the Plato's cave-ish arts of rhetoric and debate (which he evidently does not) -- that is another way of saying: he seeks objective truth through dialogue that clarifies and corrects (though there does seem to be a need for mutuality, for he too could be in error . . . ). l --> thus we come to the irony in MF, 191: My point is that they often do agree (pretty much everyone agrees that murder is bad) and we behave, talk as though they would agree if only they understood - even if in practice they sometimes don’t and there is no way of, as it were, clinching the deal. That’s what I mean by an objective approach to a subjective issue. m --> What lurks here is the gap injected by the evolutionary materialist view: since its premises, notoriously, are "is-es" that entail no oughts, its adherents -- assuming that evo mat = "science" = practical truth about our roots of existence and circumstances, etc -- think that there can be no credible ises that lead to oughts. n --> Thus, for those who so view our world, facts are facts, and values are inherently only subjective -- matters ONLY of preference and persuasion, not establishment/ warrant as discovered and trustworthy truth. o --> But then, they run up against a world in which they do see substantial inter-subjective agreement, and they do see that there are many many core issues on which that agreement is as near universal as makes no difference: a common characteristic of TRULY objective truth, e.g. no-one seriously doubts that 2 + 3 = 5. p --> Likewise, no sane person doubts that we have no right to do harm to our neighbour such as by murder or slander or betrayal of solemn oath or theft, etc. (Cf Rom 13:8 - 10 and Locke's citation of "the judicious Hooker" in Ch 2 Section 5 of his second essay on civil govt. [Cf 55 above]) [ . . . ] kairosfocus
----Mark: “You are right. What’s your evidence for this?” I don’t have linking capabilities, but I can provide several sources. Here is one among many: According to the Barna Research Group, 60% of all those over sixty and 75% of those between 18-25 are moral relativists. These are the numbers for American citizens. The numbers for European citizens are higher still. The statement that they were asked to respond to is this: "There are no absolute standards for morals and ethics," 71 percent said that they agreed with that statement. Even higher numbers purportedly think that morality and ethics are a matter of personal opinion and that there are no universal standards by which one can determine the rightness or wrongness of a human act. This is just one of many studies. The proportions have been this way for at least 20 years. The reason I know is because I have been following it all this time. As I stated earlier, almost everyone believed in moral absolutes fifty years ago. That the numbers have changed so drastically is no coincidence. The academy has been working very hard to destroy morality in both the United States and Europe. ----Mark: “In the case of genocide the facts are all too obvious. People die. People suffer. You can’t derive the fact that genocide is bad from these facts - but pretty much everyone agrees they are reasons for condemning genocide.” You are answering a question that I did not ask. The question is this: What fact or facts would cause you to stop denying objective morality or the natural moral law? I submit that no fact (or argument, for that matter) could ever cause you to change your mind. StephenB
Re #189 Ah I think I see where I need to take more care. It is a bit more than knowing all the same facts but not to the extent that they must effectively be me. For example, an argument for embryo research is the fact that an embryo up to 14 days may split into two and result in two individuals. But stated baldly it is not so convincing. You need to also point out that it is hard to give the early embryo the status of an individual if in fact it is not clear how many individuals it may be. You might even need to follow that up with - and if it is not an individual then it is not wrong to treat it simply as bunch of cells. Opponents can always argue that even a bunch of cells needs to be treated with respect or whatever. You will never make a logically watertight case. But it is more than just giving the facts. StephenB - please don't get into the rights and wrongs of embyro research. It is just an example. The fact that people may in practice still disagree is not really the point. My point is that they often do agree (pretty much everyone agrees that murder is bad) and we behave, talk as though they would agree if only they understood - even if in practice they sometimes don't and there is no way of, as it were, clinching the deal. That's what I mean by an objective approach to a subjective issue. Mark Frank
Re #188 Obviously this commentator is unaware of the fact that two out of every three individuals in the free world no longer believe that there is any such thing as “good” and “bad.” You are right. What's your evidence for this? What “facts” could this commentator be talking about. In the case of genocide the facts are all too obvious. People die. People suffer. You can't derive the fact that genocide is bad from these facts - but pretty much everyone agrees they are reasons for condemning genocide. Mark Frank
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