Intelligent Design

I Call on Materialists Everywhere to Stop Equivocating

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Again, I extend my hearty thanks to Seversky for breaking the dike here. Now other materialists are following his brave lead and admitting the obvious (but nevertheless frequently resisted) implications of materialism:

Graham2

There doesn’t seem to be anything remarkable in what Sev has said. Its little more than what us heathens have been repeating.

Indeed Graham2. Why don’t you tell RDFish, who is still resisting with all his might?

Mark Frank:

As a materialist and subjectivist I agree with Seversky:

A ) Personal preferences can be reduced to the impulses caused by the electro-chemical processes of each person’s brain.

B) There is no such thing as objective good and evil.

C) Statements about good and evil are expressions of personal preferences.

Thank you Mark.

Now for the next step: Having admitted the obvious implications of materialism, stop speaking like theists when it comes to good and evil. The point of all of my recent posts has been to get materialists to admit that they don’t get to use words like “morally wrong,” “evil,” “bad,” “immoral,” or “wicked,” in any sense other than “that which I personally do not prefer, which personal preference can be reduced to the impulses caused by the electro-chemical processes of my brain.”

If on materialist premises terms like “morally wrong,” “evil,” “bad,” “immoral,” or “wicked” are exactly synonymous with “that which I do not prefer,’ what is the sense of using those terms at all? Indeed, using those terms creates confusion and obscures what the materialist is actually saying, because to the vast majority of English speakers those terms are almost always understood to mean “that which transgresses an inter-subjectively binding moral norm.” But when materialists use those words that is precisely NOT what they mean for the simple reason that they reject the existence of any such code.

Why do materialist use those terms in one sense with the full understanding the almost everyone understands them in a completely different sense? In other words, why does it seem like materialists are addicted to equivocation? There are three reasons:

1. Materialists have a PR problem

As Alex Rosenberg notes in chapter 5 of his The Atheist’s Guide to Reality:

But we should also worry about the public relations nightmare for scientism [i.e., materialism’s intellectual handmaiden] produced by the answer theists try to foist on scientism. The militant exponents of the higher superstitions say that scientism has no room for morality and can’t even condemn the wrongdoing of a monster like Hitler.

Rosenberg is, of course, correct about this as Richard Dawkins famously demonstrated when he said, “What’s to prevent us from saying Hitler wasn’t right? I mean, that is a genuinely difficult question.”

Materialists believe they are right about ontology, and they want to convince other people they are right. But that is very difficult when people find out the nihilistic implications of materialism. To deal with this PR problem materialists cheat and continue to use morality words as if those words have meaning. Materialists have a simple PR interest in obscuring their meaning from others.

2. No one cares what you prefer.

No one cares about your idiosyncratic preferences (or mine). Yet we find ourselves trying to influence others all the time. The problem for materialists is that in such debates it would be absurd to say “Do X because that is what I personally prefer.” Debaters always appeal to what they hope will be (or at least perceived to be) inter-subjectively binding norms.

Consider the following two statements:
(a) “Discrimination against homosexuals is desperately wicked!”
(b) “Discrimination against homosexuals is something which I personally do not prefer, which personal preference can be reduced to the impulses caused by the electro-chemical processes of my brain.”

On materialist premises statement (a) is exactly equivalent to statement (b). Obviously, statement (b) is far less compelling in a debate.

3. Russell’s Problem

Finally, not only do materialists have an interest in obscuring their meaning from others, but also they have an interest in obscuring their meaning from themselves. Bertrand Russell pointed this out many years ago: “I cannot see how to refute the arguments for the subjectivity of ethical values, but I find myself incapable of believing that all that is wrong with wanton cruelty is that I don’t like it.” Russell on Ethics 165/Papers 11: 310–11. For most people materialism requires self deception.

Russell hated the ineluctable conclusions of his own premises. But if his premises were true, then it really is the case that all that is wrong with wanton cruelty is that he does not like it. Going further, this means that in Russell’s moral system “wrong” and “I don’t like it” are equivalent terms. It follows that Russell does not get to condemn what he calls “wanton cruelty” using terms like “morally wrong,” “evil,” “bad,” “immoral,” or “wicked” in any sense other than “that which I do not prefer.”

On a more contemporary note, Richard Dawkins engages in self-deception all the time. He does not really believe condemning Hitler is difficult. Indeed, if one reads Dawkins, he is constantly going on about moral issues as if the word “moral” means something other than his own personal preferences.

Here WJM’s dictum comes into play: “No sane person lives as if materialism is true.” The truth underlying WJM’s dictum creates extreme dissonance problems for materialists. They say one thing is true (and perhaps they even believe it); yet all sane materialists act as if what they say is false. Consider, for example, Mark Frank’s statements above: “Statements about good and evil are expressions of personal preferences.” “Personal preferences can be reduced to the impulses caused by the electro-chemical processes of each person’s brain.” Mark Frank seems like a descent fellow. I am all but sure that he is not a psychopath. And this means that he does not live his life as if what he just said is true. Like the rest of us, he goes about making moral judgments as if those judgments are something other than expressions of his idiosyncratic preferences. Indeed, on these very pages he has recently expressed moral outrage at the tone of my posts, and he clearly meant something other than merely, “I do not personally prefer the tone of Barry’s posts.”

So what is a non-psychopath materialist to do when embracing the nihilism at the bottom of materialist premises is all but impossible for most people? The answer, of course, is that they do exactly what we seem them do on these pages all of the time: To deal with their dissonance, they obscure the conclusions impelled by their premises even from themselves. They follow WJM’s dictum slavishly and speak in moral terms as if those terms mean something other than “that which I prefer.”

In conclusion, I say to materialists: We know that you equivocate on moral terms all the time. We even know why you equivocate on moral terms. Nevertheless, such equivocation is not licit. If you are going to have your materialist roast, you must accept the nihilistic sauce that inevitably comes with it.

Stop using words like “evil,” “wicked,” and “immoral” as if those words are expressions of anything other than your personal preferences. To do otherwise is an act of deception.

92 Replies to “I Call on Materialists Everywhere to Stop Equivocating

  1. 1
    Neil Rickert says:

    If on materialist premises terms like “morally wrong,” “evil,” “bad,” “immoral,” or “wicked” are exactly synonymous with “that which I do not prefer,’ what is the sense of using those terms at all?

    As far as I know, a materialist can prefer vanilla ice cream and not prefer chocolate ice cream, without considering chocolate ice cream to be evil.

    You might me missing some subtleties of meaning.

    As Alex Rosenberg notes …

    I’m pretty sure that there are many materialists who disagree with a lot of what Alex Rosenberg writes.

  2. 2
    Barry Arrington says:

    Neil:

    As far as I know, a materialist can prefer vanilla ice cream and not prefer chocolate ice cream, without considering chocolate ice cream to be evil. You might me missing some subtleties of meaning.

    And you are equivocating already. On materialist terms “Chocolate ice cream is not preferable to me” and “child torture is evil” are exactly equivalent, because the word “evil” is equivalent to “is not preferable to me.”

    Saying I am missing a subtlety is a meaningless assertion if you fail (as you have) to demonstrate how any such subtlety would alter the conclusion.

    Similarly, saying some people disagree with Rosenberg is all but meaningless unless you say (as you have not) why they disagree and how that would change the conclusion.

    Neil, your comment is absolutely fascinating though. Thank you. In the very first comment to a post condemning materialist equivocations, a materialist equivocates.

  3. 3
    Barry Arrington says:

    I commend to our readers the exchange between Mark Frank and WJM on the “Seversky is My New Hero” thread, which I hope they will continue here.

  4. 4
    Mark Frank says:

    Barry – I will respond to this if you confirm you will refrain from the list I gave earlier:

    * Declaring you are obviously right.
    * Telling your opponents they are dishonest or fooling themselves.
    * Telling your opponents what they really mean.
    * Telling your opponents why they hold the beliefs they do.

    I might add it would nice to think you are not going to call anyone an idiot or dishonest – but maybe that is too much to ask.

  5. 5
    ebenezer says:

    goodusername @ 108:

    I would say it’s more than merely not nice to kill someone. Most people feel quite strongly about not wanting to be murdered – and would be horrified to see others get murdered, and thus as a society most are willing to give up the right to murder to help prevent murders (i.e., a “social contract”).

    This isn’t helping the case, if the case is to be any refutation of the previous OP’s argument. The question is not “Do you feel strongly about murder?” The question is “On what basis can you condemn murder?”

    The difference is not that the non-materialist recognizes a Sense of Morality (or “conscience”, even, as it’s been called here) and the materialist doesn’t.

    Materialists deny the existence of the conscience? I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone do that before.

    You seem to have missed a key word there. 🙂 With added emphasis, this is what I said:

    The difference is not that the non-materialist recognizes a Sense of Morality (or “conscience”, even, as it’s been called here) and the materialist doesn’t.

    No one’s saying that materialists must necessarily deny the existence of a conscience (my original statement was that this was not a difference between us). As can be seen here, we can agree on whether humans have conscience and be no closer to any refutation of Mr. Arrington’s argument.

    I believe the basis for morality is, essentially, feelings (many seem to think that that marginalizes morality, but I don’t think so. Love, after all, is a feeling.)
    Strong feelings on morality can lead to laws. I feel very strongly about not being murdered and robbed, and many others do as well, and thus, by the process of a social contract, those things are against the law.
    In a world where no one cares if they are killed or not, they probably don’t view murder as wrong, and probably don’t have laws against it.

    This is three paragraphs confirming the truth of what my comment said. For proof, let’s add in the bit of my statement that was not quoted in 108, and show the whole thing:

    The difference is not that the non-materialist recognizes a Sense of Morality (or “conscience”, even, as it’s been called here) and the materialist doesn’t. The difference is that where a non-materialist can say “I was given a conscience by God,” the materialist must say “I was given a conscience—not quite sure where that came from, but we’ll figure it out. And it really doesn’t matter, anyway, so long as we acknowledge that it’s there, all right.”

  6. 6
    harry says:

    It is not without consequence that those hostile to theism have no intellectual basis for morality. Modern history demonstrates that every regime comprised of such people ends up killing innocent human beings by the millions — to meet the needs/demands of the state’s privileged members, of course. And why not, if humanity exists for the state, instead of the state existing to protect the God-given rights of humanity?

  7. 7
    RDFish says:

    Hi Barry,
    After calling me names, titling two threads to insult me, accusing me of dodging your arguments, and generally responding with nothing but asshat comments to my good faith arguments, you now are too cowardly to respond to my post in which I systematically dismantle your naïve attempt at philosophical argument. Feel good about yourself, do you?
    Cheers,
    RDFish/AIGuy

    UDEditors: RDFish, your argument amounts to “I’ve read some books and the authors of those books disagree with Barry.” If you think that is a systematically dismantling my arguments, you are beyond help and not worth responding to.

  8. 8
    RDFish says:

    Barry, Repeated for your convenience:

    That’s it? That’s your argument? Pathetic.

    Calling an argument “pathetic” does not consitute a counter-argument.

    Some unnamed philosophers for unknown reasons have said you are right and I am wrong?

    Jeremy Bentham, Immanuel Kant, David Hume, Ayn Rand, and so on and so on… all of these people wrote ethics that are objectivist and materialist. If you’d like to know their reasons, I can suggest books for you to read, or you could look them up yourself.

    I am stunned that you believe that assertion somehow refutes my argument.

    I point out that materialist philosophy is not incompatible with the concepts of good and evil, and yes, this refutes your “argument” (I use scare quotes because you don’t actually provide an argument, but rather only questions). The fact that you remain unconvinced by these moral systems, or are unaware of their existence, does not support your assertion that materialism implies subjectivism. It doesn’t.

    You say the moral sense is not based on a preference. OK. What is it based on? That is the question posed by the OP.

    You didn’t exactly ask what our moral sense was based upon. Rather, you’ve asked if materialism entails that:
    1) morals are mere personal preferences
    2) all personal preferences are reducible to electro-chemical processes
    3) there is no such thing as “good” and there is no such thing as “evil.”

    The answer is: None of these statements is unequivocally true. Briefly:

    1) “Mere personal preferences” mischaracterizes subjectivism, just as “big man in the sky” might mischaracterize theism. But as I’ve indicated, I don’t consider this to be an issue of central importance.
    2) This statement is false for two reasons. First, materialism does not entail reductionism. Second, what is “material” is not limited to electro-chemical reactions.
    3) This statement is neither true nor false, but is merely a statement about how one chooses to define these two terms. This is where your fundamental confusion occurs.

    Saying that there is no such thing as “good” under materialism is like someone saying “there is no such thing as a sculpture made out of clay”. When presented with a sculpture made of clay, they say “That is not a sculpture! Sculptures must be carved from stone!”. Materialists present definitions of “good” that are compatible with materialism; the fact that you don’t like those definitions don’t mean they don’t exist.

    Now I’ll respond to the rest of what you’ve said to help you understand my position:

    Materialism is a form of philosophical monism which holds that matter is the fundamental substance in nature, and that all phenomena, including mental phenomena and consciousness, are the result of material interactions.

    This is a simplified account, but true enough for our purposes.

    It follows that under materialism mental phenomena are result of the material interactions in the brain.

    Yes, that is correct.

    This is ABC philosophy. It surprises me that you, who claim to be an expert on philosophical matters and especially matters dealing with consciousness, need to be educated on this topic.

    I’ve never claimed to be an expert on philosophical matters, and don’t consider myself to be. I just appear to be knowledgable in this context because so many other people here seem to have never studied it at all.

    It should be obvious that I have used the phrase “electro-chemical processes in the brain” as a synonym for the material interactions that give rise to mental phenomena (on materialist terms).

    Here is one place you go wrong. Nobody knows how brains support thought and consciousness. This includes materialists: They do not claim to know how brains work, they only claim that there is nothing besides material interaction going on. Where you are mistaken is to imagine that “electro-chemical processes” are synonymous with “material interaction”.

    Many people believe that there may be other sorts of interactions going on. One well-known example is Sir Roger Penrose, who believes that quantum gravity is implicated. In other words, materialism is not a theory of consciousness or mental function, and if we ever do manage to come up with a scientific theory of consciousness, it may well require physics that we have no conception of today (just as atomic phenomena required new and unimagined physical entities to explain them).

    If you’re tempted to accuse me of “promissory materialism”, understand that I’m doing no such thing. In point of fact, I am not a materialist at all, and my arguments here never rest on the claim that materialism is true. I simply point out the obvious: Nobody has any idea how the brain is associated with consciousness, nor do we understand how the brain supports mental function. But this doesn’t interfere with our ability to do moral philosophy.

    Now, if all phenomena, including mental phenomena such as our perception of what we call “good” and “evil” result, as the materialist says, from material interactions, it follows that material interactions have everything to do with the topic, your glib and uninformed dismissal to the contrary notwithstanding.

    No, you’re still completely wrong. In order to make your point, you must show why the particular interactions that occur inside of brains are relevant to moral theory. What if brains operated according to hydraulic principles instead of electro-chemical ones? How would that affect what is to be considered good or evil? What if brains operated according to quantum phenomena such as quantum gravity? And finally, how would dualism somehow give meaning to “good” and “evil”?

    Cheers,
    RDFish/AIGuy

  9. 9
    Box says:

    RDFish #8,
    If Bentham, Kant and so forth indeed ground morality on particles in motion – if they are indeed describing a morality that is based on matter – than provide a broad outline of their method. Hint: they do no such thing.

    RDFish: I point out that materialist philosophy is not incompatible with the concepts of good and evil,

    You have to be a little more specific.

    StephenB #86: Tell us how you get from [a] electro-chemical processes in the brain to [b] the existence of good and evil–and define your terms–if you dare. Show us some sign of intellectual exertion.

    RDFish: “Mere personal preferences” mischaracterizes subjectivism

    No, it does not.

    RDFish: materialism does not entail reductionism.

    Yes, it does.

    RDFish: what is “material” is not limited to electro-chemical reactions.

    Great. What is your point?

    RDFish: Materialists present definitions of “good” that are compatible with materialism.

    Provide some examples already.

    RDFish: Where you are mistaken is to imagine that “electro-chemical processes” are synonymous with “material interaction”.
    Many people believe that there may be other sorts of interactions going on. One well-known example is Sir Roger Penrose, who believes that quantum gravity is implicated.
    What if brains operated according to quantum phenomena such as quantum gravity?

    Utterly irrelevant to the argument presented in this OP.
    A small adjustment will show you why:

    Materialist premises lead ineluctably to the following conclusions. There is no such thing as “good.” There is no such thing as “evil.” There is only my personal preferences competing with everyone else’s personal preferences, and all of those personal preferences can be reduced to the impulses caused by [quantum] and electro-chemical processes of each person’s brain.

    Obviously, the meaning of the statement remains unchanged.

  10. 10
    ebenezer says:

    RDFish @ 8:

    1) “Mere personal preferences” mischaracterizes subjectivism, just as “big man in the sky” might mischaracterize theism.

    When can we hear the non-mischaracterized explanation of subjectivism? I daresay it’s not going to help matters much in the ongoing-but-never-quite-completed endeavor to refute Mr. Arrington’s argument (which might explain why it is that we never quite hear it).

    2) This statement is false for two reasons. First, materialism does not entail reductionism. Second, what is “material” is not limited to electro-chemical reactions.

    The argument is that materialism, if we use basic logic, knows no right or wrong. “[Materialism] does not entail reductionism”—OK, so let’s hear how it justifies morality, then, without reductionism. (“It’s magic”?) There’s more than electro-chemical reactions to “what is material”—good, and now what is it that grounds any materialistic idea of “right” or “wrong”? Why should I or you or anyone on the planet accept that idea of “right” or “wrong”?

    3) This statement is neither true nor false, but is merely a statement about how one chooses to define these two terms. This is where your fundamental confusion occurs.

    Saying that there is no such thing as “good” under materialism is like someone saying “there is no such thing as a sculpture made out of clay”. When presented with a sculpture made of clay, they say “That is not a sculpture! Sculptures must be carved from stone!”. Materialists present definitions of “good” that are compatible with materialism; the fact that you don’t like those definitions don’t mean they don’t exist.

    A sculpture is inherently physical. We can agree that a sculpture exists, just as we can agree that a conscience exists. The burden of proof is rather on the materialist, who says “There’s no such thing as a maker of sculptures!”

    The repeated “materialists have definitions of ‘good’, you just don’t like them” argument is a plain missing of the point, whether intentional or no. It defies simple logic! “Yes, yes, materialists have definitions of ‘blue’! That guy says it’s the color of an oak leaf, and I say it’s the color of a sunflower, and the other guy says it’s the color of a walrus! The fact that you don’t like those definitions don’t mean they don’t exist!”

    Materialism has nothing on which to base its concept of “good” and “evil”. It has no standard, no law to which it can point and say “See? You have to agree that this is wrong, because of that.” All it has is feelings and thoughts and beliefs and culural conditioning and education, for all of which it must give credit to natural and undirected processes possessing no more authority over mankind than does a coffee cup possess over the CEO of Peet’s.

    It should be obvious that I have used the phrase “electro-chemical processes in the brain” as a synonym for the material interactions that give rise to mental phenomena (on materialist terms).

    Here is one place you go wrong. Nobody knows how brains support thought and consciousness. This includes materialists: They do not claim to know how brains work, they only claim that there is nothing besides material interaction going on. Where you are mistaken is to imagine that “electro-chemical processes” are synonymous with “material interaction”.

    Many people believe that there may be other sorts of interactions going on. One well-known example is Sir Roger Penrose, who believes that quantum gravity is implicated. In other words, materialism is not a theory of consciousness or mental function, and if we ever do manage to come up with a scientific theory of consciousness, it may well require physics that we have no conception of today (just as atomic phenomena required new and unimagined physical entities to explain them).

    If you’re tempted to accuse me of “promissory materialism”, understand that I’m doing no such thing. In point of fact, I am not a materialist at all, and my arguments here never rest on the claim that materialism is true. I simply point out the obvious: Nobody has any idea how the brain is associated with consciousness, nor do we understand how the brain supports mental function. But this doesn’t interfere with our ability to do moral philosophy.

    It interferes with its ability to make any moral judgment whatsoever. Sure, we can “do moral philosophy” all day (or life) long. We can argue and debate and speculate and theorize about what “society determines” or “most people agree” to be moral or not. What we cannot do, if we hold to materialism, is give a simple explanation (nay, any explanation) of why anyone’s argument or statement or speculation or theory carries any more weight than a purely hypothetical feather.

    So far in all of this, there’s been no attempt to give such an explanation. So why this comment could accuse Mr. Arrington of not “actually [providing] an argument” is beyond the explanatory power of anything potentially non-malicious other than deliberate irony…

    Now, if all phenomena, including mental phenomena such as our perception of what we call “good” and “evil” result, as the materialist says, from material interactions, it follows that material interactions have everything to do with the topic, your glib and uninformed dismissal to the contrary notwithstanding.

    No, you’re still completely wrong. In order to make your point, you must show why the particular interactions that occur inside of brains are relevant to moral theory. What if brains operated according to hydraulic principles instead of electro-chemical ones? How would that affect what is to be considered good or evil? What if brains operated according to quantum phenomena such as quantum gravity? And finally, how would dualism somehow give meaning to “good” and “evil”?

    “It’s not electro-chemical processes! It’s hydraulic processes! Never mind that neither carries more moral authority than a sandwich—it’s something other than the precise material construct you specified!

    As I said before, at the point where one wants “right” to necessarily mean the same thing to individuals other than himself, one has to turn to religion. (If one is very clever, one might devise his own religion, and attempt to remove it from the “religion” category—though at the point where he succeeds in removing it from the category he will also have succeeded in abandoning logic.)

    Asking about dualism is disregarding the last post’s basic “hint” for the purposes of arguing (“Responding to an argument that is not made does not refute the argument that is made”), but let’s set that aside. If a mind was involved in creating us, that mind’s owner gets to say what is “right” and what is “wrong” for us. It shouldn’t be (is not) necessary to point this out when such non-theistic leaders as Prof. Richard Lewontin can explain for us the following:

    “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.”

  11. 11
    kairosfocus says:

    Folks,

    Part of the problem with all this is, once we let loose general delusion (as opposed to particular errors or the possibility thereof) loose, there are no firewalls.

    Accordingly, let us now notice J B S Haldane in a key observation picked up by C S Lewis, Vic Reppert, Al Plantinga and many others such as Pearcey:

    “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 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.]

    Amorality AND irrationality in short, it’s not just the hard problem of consciousness so-called.

    So, while the courage to admit the above is important and is respected, the import of what is acknowledged needs to be faced. I/l/o the issue of factual adequacy, coherence and balanced explanatory power.

    KF

    PS: The Chemistry involved is electrochemistry.

  12. 12
    Silver Asiatic says:

    RDFish

    I am not a materialist at all,

    The OP is an argument against materialism. You disagree with these arguments, but you reject materialism for other reasons. I’m not sure why you’d take an antagonistic position without giving your reasons why materialism is wrong.

    I simply point out the obvious: Nobody has any idea how the brain is associated with consciousness, nor do we understand how the brain supports mental function.

    That may be one of your arguments because materialists do claim to have, at least, some idea of how the brain is associated with consciousness. For the materialist, in whatever way it happens, it’s an entirely material process.

    So, you might clarify why you accept/reject materialist ideas on morality while at the same time you reject materialism. If your argument is that “nobody has any idea how the brain is associated with consciousness” and since moral norms are a function of brain/consciousness, then nobody can know what good and/or evil are — then that’s another argument against materialism.

    Good and evil would be meaningless, irrelevant terms because (from your argument, if I’m correct), nobody can know how the brain is associated with consciousness (and morality is associated with brain/consciousness).

    So, nobody has any idea.
    Therefore, the terms good and evil are irrelevant, unnecessary, meaningless and have been hijacked from theology (where they do have meaning) for no rational reason.

  13. 13
    bFast says:

    BA, “Stop using words like “evil,” “wicked,” and “immoral” as if those words are expressions of anything other than your personal preferences. To do otherwise is an act of deception.”

    I still contend that your view of the scope of materialistic reasoning is WAY too limited — even if you can find some materialists that agree with you.

    Surely terms like “evil”, “wicked” and “immoral” are not part of the materialist’s core vocabulary. These terms are used by the well thought materialist only as tools for communication to the less well though materialist and the non-materialist.

    That said, “anything other than your personal preferences” is far more limited than the tools available to the materialist. Terms that are part of the materialist’s core vocabulary include “functional” and “dysfunctional”. “Effective” and “ineffective”. “Constructive” and “destructive”. “reasonable” (as in, can be reasoned) and “unreasonable”. These terms, though not identical to your list, have clear similes in the moralist’s vocabulary.

    Is there truth in your statement that “evil,” “wicked,” and “immoral” are inappropriate materialist’s grammar? Well, they never precisely express what the well-though materialist is saying. Is the expression, “anything other than your personal preferences” valid? No! It is too limited.

    Is your statement, therefore, correct? It is not.

  14. 14
    ebenezer says:

    bFast @ 13:

    I still contend that your view of the scope of materialistic reasoning is WAY too limited — even if you can find some materialists that agree with you.

    In the materialistic worldview, whatever the “source” of feelings or beliefs for or against any given action, it is only by preference that one can decree for or against the action. We could spend the rest of the day discussing what specific material process gave us “ideas” about what we “feel strongly” for or against, and in the end it would mean nothing, because once we accept that all such feelings or beliefs or any other thoughts or motives of ours are the result of material processes and material substances, we’ve eliminated any source of authority entirely.

    If a materialist wants to accept what chemicals or hydraulic processes or quantum phenomena tell him to think of as “good” or “bad”, “right” or “wrong”, that is his choice. It is his preference.

    That said, “anything other than your personal preferences” is far more limited than the tools available to the materialist. Terms that are part of the materialist’s core vocabulary include “functional” and “dysfunctional”. “Effective” and “ineffective”. “Constructive” and “destructive”. “reasonable” (as in, can be reasoned) and “unreasonable”. These terms, though not identical to your list, have clear similes in the moralist’s vocabulary.

    Now we’re back to debating the merits of actions based on their physical or emotional or whatever other ramifications. This has nothing to do with the argument, which says that materialism cannot say why any action is either right or wrong. None of these terms are relevant to the last OP’s argument.

    Is there truth in your statement that “evil,” “wicked,” and “immoral” are inappropriate materialist’s grammar? Well, they never precisely express what the well-though materialist is saying. Is the expression, “anything other than your personal preferences” valid? No! It is too limited.

    Is your statement, therefore, correct? It is not.

    The “well-[thought] materialist” can’t logically say that anything is necessarily “evil”, “wicked”, or “immoral”. He may object to something on the basis of his own personal feelings or on the basis of what seems to be a popular feeling. That gives him no morality.

    The expression is valid. The statement is correct. By the materialist’s own philosophy, he cannot ascribe authority to a source of “moral values”, so if he chooses to obey any moral values, they become his preferences. He knows that his feelings and beliefs and ideas are completely warrantless, and if he so preferred, he could follow others. Nothing in his own worldview can tell him otherwise.

  15. 15
    tjguy says:

    If on materialist premises terms like “morally wrong,” “evil,” “bad,” “immoral,” or “wicked” are exactly synonymous with “that which I do not prefer,’ what is the sense of using those terms at all?

    Indeed, using those terms creates confusion and obscures what the materialist is actually saying, because in to the vast majority of English speakers those terms are almost always understood to mean “that which transgresses an inter-subjectively binding moral norm.”

    But when materialists use those words that is precisely NOT what they mean for the simple reason that they reject the existence of any such code.


    Now THAT is an EXCELLENT point!!!

    Kind of exposes the true, yet hidden, heart belief doesn’t it?!

    It’s so easy to say there is no objective right and wrong and it sounds so 21st centuryish, but, in reality, it seems to be impossible for Materialists to live and talk in a consistent way with their beliefs.

  16. 16
    StephenB says:

    RDFish

    Jeremy Bentham, Immanuel Kant, David Hume, Ayn Rand, and so on and so on… all of these people wrote ethics that are objectivist and materialist. If you’d like to know their reasons, I can suggest books for you to read, or you could look them up yourself.

    Literature bluff. You cannot use these authors to contradict Barry’s thesis. David Hume thinks morality derives from sentiment. In case you didn’t know, sentiment is another word for feelings. Ayn Rand specifically rejects determinism and advocates free will. In case you didn’t know, materialism is no friend of free will. Immanuel Kant is not a materialist. In case you didn’t know, Barry is arguing against materialism. Jeremy Bentham was likely a materialist, but he defines good and evil in terms of pain and pleasure. In case you didn’t know, pain and pleasure are feelings.

    Now do you understand why I ask you to define your terms? You must go through these intellectual exercises in order to make rational arguments that are relevant to the OP. Here we go again: Define “morality.” Define “good.” Define “evil.” Also, reread the above authors if, indeed, you have read them at all. I have my doubts. More importantly, try to remember that you are arguing against the proposition that electro-chemical processes in the brain cannot generate a morality that transcends feelings and personal preferences.

  17. 17
    bFast says:

    ebenezer, “He may object to something on the basis of his own personal feelings or on the basis of what seems to be a popular feeling.”
    Incorrect, sir. The materialist has resources that extend beyond “feelings”. The most obvious of these resources is scientific study. If, for instance, scientific study shows that exercise produces longevity, a materialist who dislikes exercise may quell his feelings of laziness, and do the exercise. Now, he will have to make the value judgement that longevity is something to be sought, but he still demonstrates the ability to make choices beyond the scope of “feelings”.

    This ability extends far and wide. The materialist can find many sensible metrics with which to analyze the myriad cause and effect relationships that bombard him. He then makes choices. These choices can then be described with materialistic vocabulary such as: “functional” and “dysfunctional”. “Effective” and “ineffective”. “Constructive” and “destructive”. They cannot be properly defined as “evil”, “wicked”, or “immoral”, but they are also not properly defined as “his own personal feelings or on the basis of what seems to be a popular feeling.”

  18. 18
    ebenezer says:

    bFast @ 17:

    The materialist has resources that extend beyond “feelings”. The most obvious of these resources is scientific study. If, for instance, scientific study shows that exercise produces longevity, a materialist who dislikes exercise may quell his feelings of laziness, and do the exercise. Now, he will have to make the value judgement that longevity is something to be sought, but he still demonstrates the ability to make choices beyond the scope of “feelings”.

    Irrelevant, sir. Exercise and lifespan are neither moral nor immoral. For that matter, materialism cannot say why it is wrong to murder someone, either—just that one may experience challenges to survival if one does it. But once again (as I noted in 14), we are back to arguing about what “does us good” or “is beneficial” or “is shown to increase” longevity or health or happiness or survival value or anything at all, but we are studiously ignoring the force of the argument, which says that a materialist cannot logically say that or why anything is morally right or wrong.

    This ability extends far and wide. The materialist can find many sensible metrics with which to analyze the myriad cause and effect relationships that bombard him. He then makes choices. These choices can then be described with materialistic vocabulary such as: “functional” and “dysfunctional”. “Effective” and “ineffective”. “Constructive” and “destructive”. They cannot be properly defined as “evil”, “wicked”, or “immoral”, but

    Stop right there. They’re irrelevant!

    The argument says that materialism can have no right or wrong. “Effective”, “ineffective”, “functional” or “destructive” have nothing to do with the argument.

    This is like saying “You’re wrong to say that materialists have no basis for morality! Why, they can recognize all kinds of colors!”

    they are also not properly defined as “his own personal feelings or on the basis of what seems to be a popular feeling.”

    What a materialist considers “right” or “wrong” very much indeed is defined as “his own personal feelings or… what seems to be a popular feeling.” To refute the last OP’s argument, one would have to show how that is not the case—and anything which doesn’t have to do with a decision on what’s right or wrong is completely off-topic.

  19. 19
    mike1962 says:

    RDFish: I point out that materialist philosophy is not incompatible with the concepts of good and evil

    Materialist atheists have highjacked the terms “good” and “evil” from theists and have refined them with a meaning that is different in essence. That is dishonest. That is fraud.

    Make up your own terms. Don’t highjack the terms of others.

    Thank you

  20. 20
    bFast says:

    ebenezer, “Irrelevant, sir. Exercise and lifespan are neither moral nor immoral.”

    You are correct that exercise and lifespan are neither moral nor immoral. However, they extend beyond “feelings”.

    Getting back to BA’s original logic diagram:
    Premise 1 – Morality is outside the scope of materialism.
    Implied Premise 2 – All that remains, therefore, is “feelings”.
    Conclusion: Materialists are left only with feelings.

    I Agree with premise 1. I disagree with premise 2. Beyond feelings remain: logic, science, strategy, long term goals.

  21. 21
    ebenezer says:

    bFast @ 20:

    You are correct that exercise and lifespan are neither moral nor immoral. However, they extend beyond “feelings”.

    They also have nothing to do with morality. Again, as I said in 18:

    This is like saying “You’re wrong to say that materialists have no basis for morality! Why, they can recognize all kinds of colors!”

    Look at what you were responding to—this is what I said in 14:

    The “well-[thought] materialist” can’t logically say that anything is necessarily “evil”, “wicked”, or “immoral”. He may object to something on the basis of his own personal feelings or on the basis of what seems to be a popular feeling. That gives him no morality.

    Once again: the argument is about morality. And for morality, the materialist can logically point to nothing other than feelings as an ultimate judge.

    Beyond feelings remain: logic, science, strategy, long term goals.

    None of those acts as moral arbiter for the materialistic worldview. Someone could logically use science to find that if he strategized so as to rob me, it would further his long-term goal of possessing a lot of money (he’d be using faulty science if he thought that this would be the only step necessary to reach his goal, but that’s beside the point 🙂 ).

    If we stick to the topic and the argument, we have yet to hear what it is beyond feelings that can give any kind of morality to the materialistic view.

  22. 22
    Mark Frank says:

    #16 SB
     

    Literature bluff. You cannot use these authors to contradict Barry’s thesis. David Hume thinks morality derives from sentiment. In case you didn’t know, sentiment is another word for feelings. Ayn Rand specifically rejects determinism and advocates free will. In case you didn’t know, materialism is no friend of free will. Immanuel Kant is not a materialist. In case you didn’t know, Barry is arguing against materialism. Jeremy Bentham was likely a materialist, but he defines good and evil in terms of pain and pleasure. In case you didn’t know, pain and pleasure are feelings.

    RDFish was wrong to include Hume. He was a subjectivist. I don’t know too much about Ayn Rand. The other two are good examples.  Kant was not a materialist but his theory of ethics is compatible with materialism (indeed one of the drivers was to come to a theory based on logic alone independently of theism or such like) and is clearly objective. Bentham was likely a materialist and it is objective to assess the level of pain and happiness.  Subjectivism is about expressing your own opinions/preferences – not about assessing other people’s pain and pleasure.  We may have trouble measuring the sum of pain and pleasure but we are all talking about the same objective facts in the world. Are you really claiming utilitarianism is subjective? That would be very controversial.

  23. 23
    Barry Arrington says:

    MF @ 22:

    (indeed one of the drivers was to come to a theory based on logic alone independently of theism or such like)

    If you think Kant himself believed he succeeded in this effort, then you do not understand the first thing about Kant. He did not.

  24. 24
    Barry Arrington says:

    MF @ 22:

    Are you really claiming utilitarianism is subjective?

    Are you really claiming there is an objective scientific measure of pain and pleasure that does not call for the exercise of judgment?

    If so, that would be very controversial.

    Are you claiming there is even universal agreement on what counts as harm?

    If so, that would be very controversial.

    Here’s an example: Many people have said the habitual viewing of pornography is harmless. Many others have said quite apart from the moral implications, that such viewing leads to harm because it causes men to objectify women and in some extreme instances may lead to acting out against them.

    The point is not who is right or wrong about the pornography issue. The point is that there is not universal agreement among even secular scientists that it is harmless.

  25. 25
    Barry Arrington says:

    MF @ 22:

    . . . we are all talking about the same objective facts in the world.

    Even this is not true. Counter to the actual facts of the matter, assume for the moment that we have some reasonably accurate measure of pain and pleasure. Assume further that we measure the pain inflicted by the sadist on a non-consenting victim and arrive at quantity A. Then we measure the pleasure the sadist receives from inflicting the pain and arrive at quantify B.

    Are you really saying that so long as B is greater than A, then the sadist’s inflicting pain on an unwilling victim is an objectively moral thing to do?

    If so, that would be very controversial.

  26. 26
    Silver Asiatic says:

    One could question if the rules of logic are compatible with materialism. They’re not encoded in anything physical. They can’t be observed empirically. There’s no evidence of their evolutionary origin.

    One might say that theistic belief is compatible with materialism. Theism is an emergent property of matter. It has some evolutionary benefit. It is relevant and meaningful within materialism. So, a materialist would be ok with the belief that God exists. The idea is a subjective notion that emerged from chemical properties. It’s useful from an evolutionary perspective.

    The truth or falsehood of theism is the same as anything else that emerges from chemical properties – like good and evil.

    Some people think that loving one’s neighbor is a good thing. Therefore it is good. Some people think God exists, therefore God does exist.

  27. 27
    RDFish says:

    Hi ebenezer:

    “[Materialism] does not entail reductionism”—OK, so let’s hear how it justifies morality, then, without reductionism.

    I was pointing out that Barry was incorrect in what he said, viz that materialism is necessarily reductionist. Different materialist theories justify morality in different ways, just as different objectivist theories do.

    There’s more than electro-chemical reactions to “what is material”—good, and now what is it that grounds any materialistic idea of “right” or “wrong”? Why should I or you or anyone on the planet accept that idea of “right” or “wrong”?

    The point that people here are loathe to accept is that none of us here – not you nor Barry nor me nor anyone else – can answer this question for any moral theory.

    A sculpture is inherently physical. We can agree that a sculpture exists, just as we can agree that a conscience exists. The burden of proof is rather on the materialist, who says “There’s no such thing as a maker of sculptures!”

    You misunderstood the point, which was that saying nobody can talk about “good” or “evil” under materialism is simply trying to use loaded definitions for these terms, rather than providing an actual argument about why all materialist conceptions of “good” are somehow faulty or incoherent.

    Materialism has nothing on which to base its concept of “good” and “evil”.

    Subjectivist theories have no less of a basis than moral objectivism. If you deny that materialism can be grounded, then you must likewise admit that all moral theories are baseless.

    “It’s not electro-chemical processes! It’s hydraulic processes! Never mind that neither carries more moral authority than a sandwich—it’s something other than the precise material construct you specified!”

    The point you ignored here is that how brains work is unrelated to moral theory, including the dualist hypothesis.

    Hi Silver Asiatic,

    The OP is an argument against materialism. You disagree with these arguments, but you reject materialism for other reasons. I’m not sure why you’d take an antagonistic position without giving your reasons why materialism is wrong.

    My position is that Barry’s argument is silly and deserves to be unmasked as a naive and unfounded attack on the morals of anyone who doesn’t share his religious faith.

    That may be one of your arguments because materialists do claim to have, at least, some idea of how the brain is associated with consciousness.

    Not true. Materialism is not a theory of consciousness.

    For the materialist, in whatever way it happens, it’s an entirely material process.

    Nobody here bothers to say what that means, which is a big part of the problem. If you mean “matter in motion”, no educated person has believed that for a hundred years. This is actually important, though nobody here seems to understand why.

    So, you might clarify why you accept/reject materialist ideas on morality while at the same time you reject materialism.

    Materialism is not a moral theory! I reject materialism, not “materialist ideas on morality”! I reject materialism because it is poorly defined, given what we’ve learned about physics.

    Good and evil would be meaningless, irrelevant terms because (from your argument, if I’m correct), nobody can know how the brain is associated with consciousness (and morality is associated with brain/consciousness).

    Our defintions of “good”/”evil” have nothing to do with our brains work. Dualist metaphysics is no more helpful in grounding morality than materialism. A materialist might say that “good” means “the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people”. That is a perfectly coherent definition of “good” that has nothing to do with materialism, dualism, etc.

    Therefore, the terms good and evil are irrelevant, unnecessary, meaningless and have been hijacked from theology (where they do have meaning) for no rational reason.

    This is pernicious nonsense. Religion has no more success in providing coherent meanings for these terms, or trying to put morality on an objective basis, than any other system of belief of course.

    Hi StephenB,

    You cannot use these authors to contradict Barry’s thesis.

    I’ve refuted Barry’s “thesis” in a multitude of ways.

    David Hume thinks morality derives from sentiment.

    This is true, though his conception of moral sentiment is cast as a perception of objective qualities.

    Ayn Rand specifically rejects determinism and advocates free will.

    So? She was a staunch atheist (hated religion), and based her ethics on what she referred to as objectivism!

    Immanuel Kant is not a materialist.

    Stephen you’re not doing well here. Kant’s ethics were objective and completely divorced from any notion of dualism or theism.

    In case you didn’t know, Barry is arguing against materialism.

    HAHAHAHAHA!!!! No he is not!!!! He is arging that materialism has particular impications for moral theory! Hahahahahaha

    Jeremy Bentham was likely a materialist, but he defines good and evil in terms of pain and pleasure.

    He defined the good in terms of the sum of happiness (utility) for all human beings, and developed a calculus to make objective assessments of that sum – as thoroughly objective a philosophy as can be created. If you can provide a more objective philosphy, why don’t you explain how (hint: you can’t, which is really the point of this whole conversation).

    Hi Mark – thanks for the correction re: Hume. Yes you are correct he was a sentimentalist, though I was remembering his analogies to our sense of heat, cold, and colors.

    Hi Barry – I can understand why you are reticent to try and debate me (you’ve lost), but can you at least stop titling your threads by insulting me?

    Cheers,
    RDFish/AIGuy

  28. 28
    Barry Arrington says:

    RDFish, I don’t debate you because you don’t debate me.

    When I read your posts, which are nearly pristine in their lack of substance, I am reminded of Truman Capote’s comment about Jack Kerouac’s work: “That’s not writing, that’s typing.”

  29. 29
    ebenezer says:

    RDFish @ 27:

    I was pointing out that Barry was incorrect in what he said, viz that materialism is necessarily reductionist. Different materialist theories justify morality in different ways, just as different objectivist theories do.

    And none of them, logically, is correct in justifying morality. By definition, morality says what is right and what is wrong—not “what I can get away with”, “what you feel like”, and “what is good or bad for him but not for me”.

    The point that people here are loathe to accept is that none of us here – not you nor Barry nor me nor anyone else – can answer this question for any moral theory.

    So you’re saying to the OP: “I concede your point. Off-topic, but your worldview has a problem, too”?

    A sculpture is inherently physical. We can agree that a sculpture exists, just as we can agree that a conscience exists. The burden of proof is rather on the materialist, who says “There’s no such thing as a maker of sculptures!”

    You misunderstood the point, which was that saying nobody can talk about “good” or “evil” under materialism is simply trying to use loaded definitions for these terms, rather than providing an actual argument about why all materialist conceptions of “good” are somehow faulty or incoherent.

    I think I rather made a point which is inconvenient to materialism: we both, materialist and non-materialist, agree that we have a conscience, but only the non-materialist can explain why.

    The very fact that there are “materialist conceptions” of “good” and “evil”, and that materialism can accept those and just say “That’s fine—to each his own”, is in favor of the last OP’s argument. What’s “wrong” by your definition is not necessarily “wrong” by mine, I consider “wrong” what you consider “right”, third parties reject any of our definitions and consider it “right” to eat the both of us, and so on. As long as the materialist is content to say “We have all kinds of conceptions!” and never explain why a single one of them is logically valid as a conception, he is only lending support to the last OP’s argument.

    Materialism has nothing on which to base its concept of “good” and “evil”.

    Subjectivist theories have no less of a basis than moral objectivism. If you deny that materialism can be grounded, then you must likewise admit that all moral theories are baseless.

    First: this is resorting to the “distract from the argument with an entirely separate argument” tactic.

    Second: Absolutely not; if my theory says that I was created by an intelligent cause, then I can ascribe authority to that cause, and I can be given a sense of morality by that cause. Conversely, “subjectivist” theories, as you are representing them, have nothing. “This chemical process causes me to feel that way; that quantum gravitational effect gives me this reaction to my being robbed”—so? On materialist premises, I’m an accident, nobody owes me anything, and I certainly don’t owe obedience to chance combinations of matter.

    “It’s not electro-chemical processes! It’s hydraulic processes! Never mind that neither carries more moral authority than a sandwich—it’s something other than the precise material construct you specified!”

    The point you ignored here is that how brains work is unrelated to moral theory,

    Methinks I’m not the one ignoring a point here—note that I didn’t even bring up brains at all!

    What moral theory can materialism offer which does not rely on material causes as its authority? What authority does matter have? If our brains were entirely left out of the picture (and maybe a materialist would say that they are), how is the materialist case for morality helped? Is there something in a materialistic worldview which can act as an actual arbiter or judge of right and wrong? What could that even be?

    including the dualist hypothesis.

    …and the validity of “the dualist hypothesis” is utterly irrelevant to the last OP’s argument, which is just looking more obviously sound and correct with every new response to this thread…

  30. 30
    Barry Arrington says:

    RDFish @ 27:

    My position is that Barry’s argument is silly and deserves to be unmasked as a naive and unfounded attack on the morals of anyone who doesn’t share his religious faith.

    And yet Seversky, Graham2 and Mark Frank — atheists one and all — agree with my three propositions and disagree with you that they are false.

    Your arrogance seems to be boundless. You say things and expect us to believe them merely because you’ve said them, even though your statement is patently false.

    You are right though. I should not call you an idiot. That is an insult to idiots.

  31. 31
    ebenezer says:

    B. Arrington @ 30:

    RDFish seems to have conceded your point. See 27:

    The point that people here are loathe to accept is that none of us here – not you nor Barry nor me nor anyone else – can answer this question for any moral theory.

    Which, though combined with a distraction from the main argument, agrees that, yes, materialism has no right or wrong.

  32. 32
    Barry Arrington says:

    e @ 31.

    Isn’t it so very odd that RDFish gets red in the face, huffs and puffs and stamps his foot like a petulant child about a point that he concedes?

    He is a strange bird, or fish, if you like.

  33. 33
    Box says:

    RDFish,

    StephenB: In case you didn’t know, Barry is arguing against materialism.

    RDFish: HAHAHAHAHA!!!! No he is not!!!! He is arging that materialism has particular impications for moral theory! Hahahahahaha

    Devastating implications, as you may have noticed, so in fact Barry presents an argument against materialism. Absolutely astounding that you did not get that. Please stop embarrassing yourself any further.

  34. 34
    RDFish says:

    Barry, I’ve addressed each and every thing you’ve tried to argue and shown why you are wrong, and you have countered precisely none of my arguments. You won’t debate me because you’re not bright enough to win, because you’re afraid of being humiliated, and because you’re a coward, and you try to cover it up with bluster. I leave it to the fair reader to see how you haven’t even attempted to engage what I’ve said, much less refute it.
    Cheers!
    RDFish/AIGuy

  35. 35
    Barry Arrington says:

    RDFish @ 34:

    I leave it to the fair reader to see how you haven’t even attempted to engage what I’ve said, much less refute it.

    Finally, something about which we agree.

  36. 36
    ebenezer says:

    RDFish @ 34:

    Please don’t accuse Mr. Arrington of unwillingness to debate without evidence (hint: there’s none, since there’s been very much debate up to this point)… or imply that there’s anything wrong with unwillingness to debate before you’ve responded to the many other folks awaiting your replies (as, for example, myself).

    Thanks!

  37. 37
    Hangonasec says:

    ebenezer @29

    I think I rather made a point which is inconvenient to materialism: we both, materialist and non-materialist, agree that we have a conscience, but only the non-materialist can explain why.

    Not really. Your non-materialist explanation is on precisely the same footing as a ‘materialist’ one. It is a surmise, not an explanation. You invoke a designer who incorporates ‘conscience’ into his creations for reasons of his own, as if that settles the matter, as if materialism, lacking that explanation, lacks any explanation.

    Suppose I invoke a genetic predisposition to conscience having survival value in a monogamous, parental-intensive social species. Neither is really an ‘explanation’, as no actual evidence is offered, merely a possible account of the thing-to-be-explained. And neither compels one to act in a particular way outside of the dictates of the commonly acknowledged conscience – those dread ‘feelings’. Because even if I was created, why should I do what my creator wants? (Will he beat me to a pulp if I don’t? Some free choice!) And how do I determine with any clarity what that is? Probe with my ‘feelings’? Get someone to tell me?

  38. 38
    Barry Arrington says:

    hangonasec, do you agree with Mark Frank and Seversky:

    As a materialist and subjectivist I agree with Seversky?

    A ) Personal preferences can be reduced to the impulses caused by the electro-chemical processes of each person’s brain.

    B) There is no such thing as objective good and evil.

    C) Statements about good and evil are expressions of personal preferences.

  39. 39
    StephenB says:

    RDFish

    If you can provide a more objective philosphy, why don’t you explain how (hint: you can’t, which is really the point of this whole conversation).

    Objectivity doesn’t come in gradations or degrees. One thing cannot be “more” objective than another. Aspects of reality are either objective or they not.

  40. 40
    ebenezer says:

    Hangonasec @ 37:

    Not really. Your non-materialist explanation is on precisely the same footing as a ‘materialist’ one. It is a surmise, not an explanation. You invoke a designer who incorporates ‘conscience’ into his creations for reasons of his own, as if that settles the matter,

    …how does it not?

    All of this is in repeated evasion of the actual argument as stated by Mr. Arrington. (You see I fell for it, and began to give my own take on the subject. But sometimes in order to illustrate the sublime lack of meaning inherent in one philosophy it is useful to contrast it with another which can give any meaning.)

    Also, which is it? “Your non-materialist explanation”, or “a surmise, not an explanation”? I say it’s an “explanation,” because it gives an account (explanation) of how the conscience came to be. I don’t quite see how this could be made clearer…

    as if materialism, lacking that explanation, lacks any explanation.

    My explanation is entirely irrelevant to whether materialism has an explanation. And if we’re to judge from this and the other pro-materialism comments this far, it would not appear that it does…

    Suppose I invoke a genetic predisposition to conscience having survival value in a monogamous, parental-intensive social species. Neither is really an ‘explanation’, as no actual evidence is offered, merely a possible account of the thing-to-be-explained. And neither compels one to act in a particular way outside of the dictates of the commonly acknowledged conscience – those dread ‘feelings’.

    It is an explanation, actually. What it’s not is a justification of any morality. That we have “those dread ‘feelings’” is not in question; that, on materialist premises, we should pay any attention to or require obedience to those feelings is very much in question.

    And again this with “survival value”! Remember when we started this sub-debate, and my first comment?

    In the last post’s thread there was a deal of “materialism can provide morality” arguing which was backed up with appeals to “this behavior enhances survival or reproductive value”, followed by a deal of “how can anyone say that materialism has only survival or reproductive value with which to determine morality?”

    Therefore, a note before we proceed: for the purposes of this exercise (refuting the OP’s argument), the most efficient practice would be to not confuse “what ensures that I have more offspring” and “what harms my species” with “what is absolutely right” and “what is unquestionably wrong”.

    We’re right back where we began.

    Survival value has nothing to do with the argument. The conscience does; the argument states that materialism can have no “right” or “wrong”, and materialism may want to claim the conscience as the determiner of morality, but on materialistic premises, the conscience is no more to be trusted than one’s local landfill to decide right or wrong.

    Because even if I was created, why should I do what my creator wants? (Will he beat me to a pulp if I don’t? Some free choice!) And how do I determine with any clarity what that is? Probe with my ‘feelings’? Get someone to tell me?

    Actually, if you are created, your Creator isn’t obligated to provide you with free choice. (How that can be an argument against the existence of a creator boggles the mind.) It turns out that He has, though, and He’s even given you a comprehensive manual the better to let you determine what He wants done. He gave you a conscience, too; you’re appealing to its nudging every time you say “Well, most people find it more than ‘not nice’ to kill someone.”

    All of this is beside the point and irrelevant to the argument. A refutation of the original argument by Mr. Arrington has yet to make any appearance; so far I only see evasion of the argument and attempts to distract with entirely separate arguments. I hope, however, that this helps.

  41. 41
    Graham2 says:

    Jeeeez, how long must this go on. How many threads. The elephant in the room is this: The god botherers believe in objective morality, the heathens don’t. That’s it.

  42. 42
    goodusername says:

    Barry,

    If on materialist premises terms like “morally wrong,” “evil,” “bad,” “immoral,” or “wicked” are exactly synonymous with “that which I do not prefer,’ what is the sense of using those terms at all? Indeed, using those terms creates confusion and obscures what the materialist is actually saying, because to the vast majority of English speakers those terms are almost always understood to mean “that which transgresses an inter-subjectively binding moral norm.” But when materialists use those words that is precisely NOT what they mean for the simple reason that they reject the existence of any such code.

    Wait, did you mean to type “objectively” instead of “inter-subjectivity”?

    Because when (most) materialists use the terms “morally wrong” or “evil” that’s precisely what they mean –  “that which transgresses an inter-subjectively binding moral norm.”  Theists, OTOH, often mean that which transgresses some objective (whatever that means in this context – it’s never been clear to me) moral code.

    I can use such language (e.g “morally wrong”) because I’m assuming I’m speaking to a fellow sentient being with similar desires (i.e the desire to not be murdered, robbed, etc) and with empathy (i.e it would pain him to see such actions occur to others) – and thus there’s an understood “inter-subjectively binding moral norm.”
    The only time the use of such language might be problematic is if speaking with a psychopath.

    2. No one cares what you prefer.
    No one cares about your idiosyncratic preferences (or mine). Yet we find ourselves trying to influence others all the time. The problem for materialists is that in such debates it would be absurd to say “Do X because that is what I personally prefer.” Debaters always appeal to what they hope will be (or at least perceived to be) inter-subjectively binding norms.

    I don’t think most materialists would disagree with this.  Something idiosyncratic is unlikely to appeal to our empathy, and so there’s also unlikely to be an inter-subjective agreement that that something is moral or immoral.

  43. 43
    ENich says:

    Fair reader here. I have no axe to grind with either side. That being said, the materialist side has not only confused me as a reader, but it has brought me to a conclusion that some sort of madness is at play. The posts have been off topic, detracting, strange, and somewhat eerie. Saying you have dealt with the OP and claiming victory doesn’t make it so. I can almost smell KeithS. These antics are certainly swaying me away from this worldview at an alarming rate. Nobody has ran away from your (the materialist) points, the problem is, they don’t make much sense, at least in this specific realm. You have been met with threads worth of response and have offered very little substantive rebuttal. Take that with whatever grain of salt you need to, but that is my comprehension on the matter.

  44. 44
    Barry Arrington says:

    goodusername, you don’t know what “inter-subjectively binding moral norm” means. Find out, and you will understand how you are wrong.

  45. 45
    bFast says:

    ebenezer (21) “Once again: the argument is about morality.”

    The statement under discussion is: “they don’t get to use words like “morally wrong,” “evil,” “bad,” “immoral,” or “wicked,” in any sense other than “that which I personally do not prefer …”

    I contend simply that the materialist has more tools at his disposal than “personal preference” These tools, by the way, lead reasonably to supporting the golden rule, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

    When a child gets hit by the neighbor kid, he won’t like it. Now, the fact that the neighbor kid only “hit back” has not yet dawned on the child of materialist parents. The materialist parents explain to the child that if the child doesn’t want to be hit, he needs to consider not hitting first. This leads the amoral materialistic parents to help their child come to the recognition that the golden rule is the logical extension of wanting to live in a world where the neighbor doesn’t hit him.

    We often see the golden rule as the foundation of morality. This rule applies to the materialist as well as to the theist.

  46. 46
    RDFish says:

    Hi ebenezer,

    Please don’t accuse Mr. Arrington of unwillingness to debate without evidence

    The evidence is on this very page of course.

    RDF: I was pointing out that Barry was incorrect in what he said, viz that materialism is necessarily reductionist. Different materialist theories justify morality in different ways, just as different objectivist theories do.
    EB: And none of them, logically, is correct in justifying morality. By definition, morality says what is right and what is wrong—not “what I can get away with”, “what you feel like”, and “what is good or bad for him but not for me”.

    Each moral theory defines “right” and “wrong” differently – that is what makes them different. Divine Command Theory defines “right” to mean “as commanded by God”, Ethical Egoism defines “right” to mean “that which results in the best consequences for everyone but yourself”, Utilitarianism defines “right” to mean “that which results in the greatest happiness for the greatest number”, Kantian ethics defines “right” to mean “that which accords to a maxim that can be can be willed to be a universal law”, and so on.

    So you’re saying to the OP: “I concede your point. Off-topic, but your worldview has a problem, too”?

    I’m saying it’s stupid and disengenuous to pretend that some (so-called “materialist”) moral systems rely on subjective choices while refusing to admit that all moral systems do.

    I think I rather made a point which is inconvenient to materialism: we both, materialist and non-materialist, agree that we have a conscience, but only the non-materialist can explain why.

    Anyone can make up stories about why humans exist, have consciences, and so on. Materialists do, and so do theists. So what?

    Absolutely not; if my theory says that I was created by an intelligent cause, then I can ascribe authority to that cause, and I can be given a sense of morality by that cause.

    It is purely your own personal, subjective choice to believe in some “intelligent cause” and to believe that you are morally obligated to accept them as a moral authority.

    Conversely, “subjectivist” theories, as you are representing them, have nothing. “This chemical process causes me to feel that way…
    Methinks I’m not the one ignoring a point here—note that I didn’t even bring up brains at all!

    You talk about the electro-chemical processes involved in thought (presumably inside our brains, then I point out how brains work is irrelevant, and then you say you didn’t bring up brains? Good grief.

    Cheers,
    RDFish/AIGuy

  47. 47
    RDFish says:

    Hi ENich,

    Nobody has ran away from your (the materialist) points, the problem is, they don’t make much sense, at least in this specific realm. You have been met with threads worth of response and have offered very little substantive rebuttal. Take that with whatever grain of salt you need to, but that is my comprehension on the matter.

    Let me try to make it more clear. Barry claims that materialism entails a subjectivist ethics, that subjectivist ethics must be based on nothing but personal preference or choice, that materialist choices can be reduced to electro-chemical interactions, and that all this means that a materialist has no business talking about right or wrong. Each and every one of these claims is false.

    1) Materialism does not entail subjectivism
    2) Subjectivism does not necessarily rely on personal choice
    3) Materialism does not entail that thought reduces to electro-chemical interactions
    4) It is ridiculous to say materialist philosophers must not define “right” and “wrong” according to their own moral theory, since every moral theory provides different definitions for these terms.

    And the most egregious error that Barry has made here is to pretend that his moral theory somehow provides an objectively true foundation for ethics that is superior to materialistic theories. He knows this is false, but refuses to even discuss it.

    Hope that helps,
    RDFish/AIGuy

  48. 48
    ebenezer says:

    RDFish @ 47:

    I fear it’s not a good sign if you have to redefine (and, conspicuously, not quote) Mr. Arrington’s argument before you attempt to rebut it.

    Ebenezer

  49. 49
    REC says:

    “goodusername, you don’t know what “inter-subjectively binding moral norm” means. Find out, and you will understand how you are wrong.”

    Well, I’m puzzled. Intersubjective verifiability is the key tenet of empirical science. It is also the materialist path from personal preference (those neurons firing) to group preferences that can amount to enforced societal rules. I and others have been arguing this going back several threads.

    Intersubjectivity as a basis for morality feels like the opposite of a transcendent moral code. Intersubjective belief is contrasted with faith/belief based by most authors. (Each person is a subject–verifying their understanding with others, forming the basis of truth–including ethical truths).

    So, Barry, what does it mean to you?

  50. 50
    RDFish says:

    Hi ebenezer,

    If you think I’ve misrepresented Barry’s argument somehow, it behooves you to say how. If you could respond to the points I made in rebuttal to you, then you would. Since you’ve done neither of these things, it seems clear that have no rebuttal to anything I’ve said, and that it does indeed rebut what Barry has said here.

    Cheers,
    RDFish/AIGuy

  51. 51
    goodusername says:

    Barry,

    goodusername, you don’t know what “inter-subjectively binding moral norm” means. Find out, and you will understand how you are wrong.

    I’ve seen all the terms before, although not together like this. So I did my best to break it down.
    We inter-subjectively have similar desires in how we want to be treated (we generally don’t want to be murdered, robbed, etc) and have empathy; this empathy and shared desires result in moral norms. Moral norms are often formalized into laws via the social contract.
    Perhaps you intended some nuance in the phrase that I missed. Googling “inter-subjectively binding moral norm” results in literally zero hits.
    (I just tried bing – it has one hit – this thread 🙂
    Feel free to explain what is meant, or not.

  52. 52
    ebenezer says:

    RDFish @ 46:

    [Edit: I saw your 50. No, actually, as I explain below, I simply wasn’t aware that there was anything for me to respond to, other than what you had said in 47.

    “If you could respond to the points I made in rebuttal to you, then you would. Since you’ve done neither of these things, it seems clear that have no rebuttal to anything I’ve said, and that it does indeed rebut what Barry has said here.” Well, here I am responding to your points; clearly I have rebuttals for what you’ve said, and it absolutely does not rebut what Mr. Arrington has said here.

    I maintain that, rather than asking me to accept your rewordings as clearly faithful to the OP’s argument and aiming the “can’t refute” charge at me if I fail to do so, you might well, in any attempt at refuting the OP’s argument, show that you’re not afraid of responding to the actual argument as expressed in the OP.]

    (Sorry. I had missed your 46 and saw 47, so responded to that first, thinking—mistakenly—that there was nothing else to respond to.)

    Please don’t accuse Mr. Arrington of unwillingness to debate without evidence

    The evidence is on this very page of course.

    I go back over the last couple of threads to find this. I see a lot of

    * rewordings, by pro-materialists, of Mr. Arrington’s argument

    * responses by Mr. Arrington to the rewordings

    * accusations against Mr. Arrington of “refusing” to debate

    Certainly there’s evidence—just not of the kind one would need to justifiably accuse Mr. Arrington of being unwilling to debate.

    Each moral theory defines “right” and “wrong” differently – that is what makes them different. Divine Command Theory defines “right” to mean “as commanded by God”, Ethical Egoism defines “right” to mean “that which results in the best consequences for everyone but yourself”, Utilitarianism defines “right” to mean “that which results in the greatest happiness for the greatest number”, Kantian ethics defines “right” to mean “that which accords to a maxim that can be can be willed to be a universal law”, and so on.

    I don’t know about this “Divine Command Theory” of which you speak. However, if we are willing to put all of these “theories” on the same footing and give to all of them equal weight—and we must be willing to do this, if we are to accept materialistic premises; you seem to be doing it here yourself—we giving to all of them no weight at all. It’s like agreeing to disagree on what is the current color of the sky. That may work very well when we have different takes on the precise shade of color we name, and yet if we’re to have right and wrong, it will not work at all. And materialism cannot logically do anything else.

    So you’re saying to the OP: “I concede your point. Off-topic, but your worldview has a problem, too”?

    I’m saying it’s stupid and disengenuous to pretend that some (so-called “materialist”) moral systems rely on subjective choices while refusing to admit that all moral systems do.

    First off, that’s simply wrong: not all “moral systems” rely on subjective choices. If God commanded something, I can’t subjectively choose that, no, he actually didn’t command that—as far as I’m concerned. That’s nonsense.

    Second (and this is a minor point), no one so far has provided a better term than “materialist” for referring to… justifications of morality which take as an axiom that matter is all that is. I’m not sure what purpose the quotes and “so-called” serve here; they don’t themselves undermine Mr. Arrington’s argument or my position, and both sides are “so calling” these ideas “materialist”.

    I think I rather made a point which is inconvenient to materialism: we both, materialist and non-materialist, agree that we have a conscience, but only the non-materialist can explain why.

    Anyone can make up stories about why humans exist, have consciences, and so on. Materialists do, and so do theists. So what?

    Perhaps I chose my words poorly—forgive me.

    You’re right that “[anyone] can make up stories” about these things, and in fact we both accept “stories” which account for “why humans exist, have consciences, and so on”. The inconvenient point is—and I know this from repeated experience of my having stated it and then suddenly ceased to receive replies—that we both can agree that we have a conscience (we’ve been defining that as the set of internal “rules”—in the lightest sense of the term—which we feel we should follow; e.g. we don’t consider it “right” to rob someone), but only the non-materialist can explain why we should pay any attention to it. If God gave it to me (one non-materialist explanation), I’d better listen to it, if only because refusal to do so could in theory have dire consequences. If it’s the product of undirected natural processes, then seriously: What on earth prohibits me from completely ignoring it? (And appeals to the “oh, but there’s been increased survival value historically attached to obeying it” are completely invalid; if my not hitting someone, e.g., proved beneficial for my own survival purposes, then all we could logically say if I did hit someone was that I was acting unwisely—not that I was doing anything wrong.)

    Absolutely not; if my theory says that I was created by an intelligent cause, then I can ascribe authority to that cause, and I can be given a sense of morality by that cause.

    It is purely your own personal, subjective choice to believe in some “intelligent cause” and to believe that you are morally obligated to accept them as a moral authority.

    (Side note: Sorry, but do you not see the humor in your putting the words intelligent cause in disdainful scare quotes as you, an intelligent cause I do not doubt, set down your own argument?)

    Let’s deal with this logically. If my theory is correct, and there is an intelligent cause which created me (all of this is completely beside the point of the OP, by the way, and irrelevant to its argument), then with the most emphatic no possible, it is not my “personal subjective choice” which confers authority on that cause or morally obligates me to accept it. My belief does not create the cause—this is extremely basic.

    Say you go and bake a batch of cookies at your home—exclusively for your own specific purposes, which have nothing to do with your visiting hypothetical nephews—and leave them alone in your kitchen. Your hypothetical 10-year-old nephew explains to your hypothetical six-year-old nephew that “It is purely your own personal, subjective choice to believe in some ‘intelligent uncle’ and to believe that you are morally obligated to accept them as a moral authority.” You return and discover that they’ve eaten the whole of the cookie batch. Was that right of them?

    Conversely, “subjectivist” theories, as you are representing them, have nothing. “This chemical process causes me to feel that way…
    Methinks I’m not the one ignoring a point here—note that I didn’t even bring up brains at all!

    You talk about the electro-chemical processes involved in thought (presumably inside our brains, then I point out how brains work is irrelevant, and then you say you didn’t bring up brains? Good grief.

    My apologies. Yes, those processes can “presumably” be “inside our brains”. It matters how?

    Let’s look at the words in my response which evaded quotation:

    What moral theory can materialism offer which does not rely on material causes as its authority? What authority does matter have? If our brains were entirely left out of the picture (and maybe a materialist would say that they are), how is the materialist case for morality helped? Is there something in a materialistic worldview which can act as an actual arbiter or judge of right and wrong? What could that even be?

    To that, you so far have steadfastly offered only the following response:

  53. 53
    ebenezer says:

    bFast @ 45:

    Sorry that I am late to this.

    The statement under discussion is: “they don’t get to use words like “morally wrong,” “evil,” “bad,” “immoral,” or “wicked,” in any sense other than “that which I personally do not prefer …”

    I contend simply that the materialist has more tools at his disposal than “personal preference” These tools, by the way, lead reasonably to supporting the golden rule, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

    When a child gets hit by the neighbor kid, he won’t like it. Now, the fact that the neighbor kid only “hit back” has not yet dawned on the child of materialist parents. The materialist parents explain to the child that if the child doesn’t want to be hit, he needs to consider not hitting first. This leads the amoral materialistic parents to help their child come to the recognition that the golden rule is the logical extension of wanting to live in a world where the neighbor doesn’t hit him.

    We often see the golden rule as the foundation of morality. This rule applies to the materialist as well as to the theist.

    Certainly it does. Again, though: morality. The most which the materialist can say is “Well certainly, if you’d not like to be hit it does appear best that you not hit in the first place.” This is wise; it is practical, but it has, in itself, no moral authority.

    To a certain flavor of theist, on the other hand, the “Golden Rule”, as being given by a Creator, does bring with it authority: the Creator gets to set the rules for His creation. Matter which had no say in its own spontaneous development into conscious beings certainly does not have any say in what rules those resulting beings must follow.

    I keep saying “it’s about morality” because this is not about what rules the materialist may well discover give him long life and/or happiness if they are followed, or even about what actions cause him or others pain: on materialist premises, why should he care about pain when it is not being directly applied to himself? There may be very many logical reasons for why he “should” (i.e. it would be best for him to) do certain things or not do certain others, but that gives him only good advice and tried-and-true wisdom. These are well and good to have; you will not use them to decide right or wrong in even a human court.

  54. 54
    RDFish says:

    Hi ebenezer,

    I don’t know about this “Divine Command Theory” of which you speak.

    If you have an internet connection, you can look it up 🙂

    However, if we are willing to put all of these “theories” on the same footing and give to all of them equal weight—and we must be willing to do this, if we are to accept materialistic premises;

    I can’t imagine why you say that “materialistic premises” require that we give all moral theories equal weight.

    …you seem to be doing it here yourself—we giving to all of them no weight at all. It’s like agreeing to disagree on what is the current color of the sky. That may work very well when we have different takes on the precise shade of color we name, and yet if we’re to have right and wrong, it will not work at all. And materialism cannot logically do anything else.

    I really don’t follow this at all. First, materialists don’t all even agree on what “materialism” means of course (look it up, contrast it with “physicalism”, etc). Second, materialists definitely do not all agree on moral theory. What are you talking about?

    First off, that’s simply wrong: not all “moral systems” rely on subjective choices.

    Yes, they do.

    If God commanded something, I can’t subjectively choose that, no, he actually didn’t command that—as far as I’m concerned.

    It is your subjective choice to believe in some particular deity, your subjective choice to believe this deity tells you what is right and wrong, your subjective choice to believe you are obligated to follow this deity’s commands, and so on.

    I’m not sure what purpose the quotes and “so-called” serve here; they don’t themselves undermine Mr. Arrington’s argument or my position, and both sides are “so calling” these ideas “materialist”.

    Again, “materialism” does not mean the same thing to everybody, hence the scare quotes. And again, this is a minor point and my arguments do not rest upon this.

    You’re right that “[anyone] can make up stories” about these things, and in fact we both accept “stories” which account for “why humans exist, have consciences, and so on”.

    No, we do not: My position is that nobody knows why humans exist or have consciences.

    The inconvenient point is—and I know this from repeated experience of my having stated it and then suddenly ceased to receive replies—that we both can agree that we have a conscience (we’ve been defining that as the set of internal “rules”—in the lightest sense of the term—which we feel we should follow; e.g. we don’t consider it “right” to rob someone),…

    Yes, you, me, and almost everyone else has a conscience (except psychopaths).

    …but only the non-materialist can explain why we should pay any attention to it.

    This is rubbish. There are all sorts of explanations from all sorts of theories! Don’t you realize this? I don’t accept your explanation any more than you accept the explanation of a utilitarian or a utilitarian accepts the explanation of a Kantian or…

    If God gave it to me (one non-materialist explanation), I’d better listen to it, if only because refusal to do so could in theory have dire consequences. If it’s the product of undirected natural processes, then seriously: What on earth prohibits me from completely ignoring it?

    What on Earth prohibits me from completely ignoring your theistic morality? I have no doubt that there is no such god who will punish me, and I don’t find theistic morality to be very well articulated in the first place (I’m not about to stone people to death for adultery).

    (Side note: Sorry, but do you not see the humor in your putting the words intelligent cause in disdainful scare quotes as you, an intelligent cause I do not doubt, set down your own argument?)

    The only “intelligent causes” I know of are living things on this planet. If that’s what you mean by “intelligent cause”, then say so. If not, then tell me what exactly defines an “intelligent cause”. Until you do, I’ll keep the scare quotes.

    Let’s deal with this logically…

    AGAIN: It is your subjective choice to believe in some particular deity, your subjective choice to believe this deity tells you what is right and wrong, your subjective choice to believe you are obligated to follow this deity’s commands, and so on.

    What moral theory can materialism offer which does not rely on material causes as its authority?

    No moral theory I know of relies on “material causes” – they rely on moral arguments that do not reference ontology at all.

    What authority does matter have?

    What are you talking about?

    If our brains were entirely left out of the picture (and maybe a materialist would say that they are), how is the materialist case for morality helped?

    This is so confused! My position is that the mind/body problem is entirely orthogonal to moral theory! You (and others here) keep bringing up material this and electro-chemical that as if it has something to do with morality, but it doesn’t!

    Is there something in a materialistic worldview which can act as an actual arbiter or judge of right and wrong? What could that even be?

    We each follow our own moral perceptions, because that is all we have to go on. AGAIN: It is your subjective choice to believe in some particular deity, your subjective choice to believe this deity tells you what is right and wrong, your subjective choice to believe you are obligated to follow this deity’s commands, and so on.

    By the way, I do appreciate that you are attempting to debate the issues in good faith. You are apparently the only one who is here.

    Cheers,
    RDFish/AIGuy

  55. 55
    ebenezer says:

    RDFish @ 54:

    I don’t know about this “Divine Command Theory” of which you speak.

    If you have an internet connection, you can look it up 🙂

    I do! You have educated me. 🙂

    However, if we are willing to put all of these “theories” on the same footing and give to all of them equal weight—and we must be willing to do this, if we are to accept materialistic premises;

    I can’t imagine why you say that “materialistic premises” require that we give all moral theories equal weight.

    Well, we must say that one of them is ultimately right, no?

    If I spilled coffee on my desk and it was left to three non-observers to theorize as to how my desk came to have coffee on it, one could theorize that a third party came in and deliberately dumped coffee on my desk, another could theorize that I had a cracked coffee cup and it had been leaking, and a third could theorize that I simply had spilled coffee on my desk. Only one of those is theories would be correct.

    And yet I suppose I am referring rather to “takes on morality”—i.e., what is actually right or wrong—rather than accounts of (say) the development of the conscience (which we could believe did come to be even if we believed that there was no right or wrong). Here’s why the coffee analogy is relevant: if a moral theory says that humanity is the product of undirected natural processes getting a hold of matter at the wrong (or right) time and that certain traits came to be recognized as aiding survival and reproductive value, then it will judge actions based on that standard. If another agrees with regard to the origin of humanity but says that each society develops standards based on what is best for the society, then it will judge actions based on that standard. If yet another says that God is Creator and has decreed what is right and what is wrong, then it will judge actions based on that standard. The difference between the first two and the third is that both of the first two assume nothing beyond matter as having been involved in our ending up here, whereas the third posits a creating Being. Even just here on Earth, we do not assign moral authority to anything other than humans. If a neighbor destroys your fence, we say he wronged you; if a dog displaces a rock in your yard, we don’t expect it to apologize to the yard. So nothing in the first two theories says why it is actually wrong to do what we consider “wrong”; both may explain how we came to believe or feel that certain things were wrong, but only in the third do we involve a moral authority. The first two are on equal footing: if you accept the first theory and decide that eliminating my society, which accepts the second, is likely to increase your survival value, I can’t logically object on moral grounds. Certainly I feel wronged by and don’t like your eliminating me—but you (in this purely hypothetical scenario) do, and according to your theory, that makes it right. We share the belief that matter is all that is, and thus there is no anchoring point for both of us to look to and to help us realize “no, that’s actually not right, even if one of us wants to do it”.

    [Wow. Maybe I should get a book on how to use paragraphs.]

    …you seem to be doing it here yourself—we giving to all of them no weight at all. It’s like agreeing to disagree on what is the current color of the sky. That may work very well when we have different takes on the precise shade of color we name, and yet if we’re to have right and wrong, it will not work at all. And materialism cannot logically do anything else.

    I really don’t follow this at all. First, materialists don’t all even agree on what “materialism” means of course (look it up, contrast it with “physicalism”, etc). Second, materialists definitely do not all agree on moral theory. What are you talking about?

    Well I did have a typo in there. But I should maybe have prefaced all of this with my super-basic for-the-purposes-of-this-discussion definition of “materialistic”: taking matter as all that is. (From a dictionary: “the doctrine that nothing exists except matter and its movements and modifications.”)

    As I said before: when we take matter to be all that is, we have no logical arbiter of what is ultimately right or wrong. I’ve been seeing a lot of this in these threads, where someone (having argued in favor of “materialism”, by the above definition) will say “Yes, to me, this is wrong. At the time, it was right… for them” or similar remarks. In the end, however, we all like to think that it’s always “morally wrong” for someone to kill us… and all we have are differing opinions and beliefs and feelings and thoughts about what is right or wrong, which we’ve agreed to disagree on, and the shared belief that in the end, it’s all just matter anyway. If that belief turns out to be well-founded, then all we can say is that “for me, this is right—and it’s good that I’m not over there, because over there, for them, it’s wrong.”

    First off, that’s simply wrong: not all “moral systems” rely on subjective choices.

    Yes, they do.

    Getting to this soon.

    If God commanded something, I can’t subjectively choose that, no, he actually didn’t command that—as far as I’m concerned.

    It is your subjective choice to believe in some particular deity, your subjective choice to believe this deity tells you what is right and wrong, your subjective choice to believe you are obligated to follow this deity’s commands, and so on.

    Again, getting to this soon…

    I’m not sure what purpose the quotes and “so-called” serve here; they don’t themselves undermine Mr. Arrington’s argument or my position, and both sides are “so calling” these ideas “materialist”.

    Again, “materialism” does not mean the same thing to everybody, hence the scare quotes. And again, this is a minor point and my arguments do not rest upon this.

    I see. I agree that it’s not a crucial point. For the purposes of this discussion, though, see my above super-simplified definition of “materialism”.

    You’re right that “[anyone] can make up stories” about these things, and in fact we both accept “stories” which account for “why humans exist, have consciences, and so on”.

    No, we do not: My position is that nobody knows why humans exist or have consciences.

    Sorry—I assumed too much. And yet in the end you would agree, surely, that we do exist—that we do have consciences (as you say below), and that this state of affairs did come to be? “Nobody knows” is not an ultimate explanation (of course I don’t think you’re saying that it is, but nevertheless: unless we refuse to accept that we exist, we must accept that there is ultimately an explanation to be had).

    The inconvenient point is—and I know this from repeated experience of my having stated it and then suddenly ceased to receive replies—that we both can agree that we have a conscience (we’ve been defining that as the set of internal “rules”—in the lightest sense of the term—which we feel we should follow; e.g. we don’t consider it “right” to rob someone),…

    Yes, you, me, and almost everyone else has a conscience (except psychopaths).

    …but only the non-materialist can explain why we should pay any attention to it.

    This is rubbish. There are all sorts of explanations from all sorts of theories! Don’t you realize this? I don’t accept your explanation any more than you accept the explanation of a utilitarian or a utilitarian accepts the explanation of a Kantian or…

    I do realize that there are theories. I don’t realize that in the end, my accepting an explanation makes it true, nor that there is no correct explanation. And if there is a correct explanation, and especially if that explanation is in conflict with a host of others (and each may find its own host—this doesn’t by itself necessarily rule for which is correct), there must necessarily be an awful lot of wrong explanations.

    Again, logically, given matter as all that there is, we may theorize till the end of time on how we came to have a conscience, and even on what our conscience finds acceptable or not, but we can never condemn anything as morally wrong even if it goes against that conscience, nor can we ever condone anything as morally right even if it’s acceptable to that conscience.

    What on Earth prohibits me from completely ignoring your theistic morality? I have no doubt that there is no such god who will punish me, and I don’t find theistic morality to be very well articulated in the first place (I’m not about to stone people to death for adultery).

    That’s all very well, but remember the hypothetical uncle example from 52. Your lack of belief in a God has no effect on the existence of a God, and even distaste for a particular God’s rules does not argue against His existence.

    (Side note: Sorry, but do you not see the humor in your putting the words intelligent cause in disdainful scare quotes as you, an intelligent cause I do not doubt, set down your own argument?)

    The only “intelligent causes” I know of are living things on this planet. If that’s what you mean by “intelligent cause”, then say so. If not, then tell me what exactly defines an “intelligent cause”. Until you do, I’ll keep the scare quotes.

    I define an “intelligent cause” as… a cause (“person or thing that gives rise to an action”, etc.) possessing intelligence. 🙂 The dictionary says “intelligence” is “the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills”—that’ll work for now.

    Let’s not confuse “this is the only thing in this class that I know of” with “this is the only thing in this class”, either. A guy who’s never ridden or seen more than a bike for transportation can’t reasonably say that bikes are therefore necessarily the only existing transport mechanisms.

    AGAIN: It is your subjective choice to believe in some particular deity, your subjective choice to believe this deity tells you what is right and wrong, your subjective choice to believe you are obligated to follow this deity’s commands, and so on.

    I must refer again to the uncle example. My theory posits a Creator; if the theory is correct, all the subjective choices in the world for or against belief in that Creator will do nothing at all to His existence. (In fact, even if it were not correct, subjective belief and choice would do nothing to His existence. To say “it is your subjective choice” as a counterargument here is to preemptively assume that there is no Creator and beg the question.)

    What moral theory can materialism offer which does not rely on material causes as its authority?

    No moral theory I know of relies on “material causes” – they rely on moral arguments that do not reference ontology at all.

    I must ask you what arguments those are which do not, in the end, point to anything other than matter (and, I would also allow, “material causes”—we’ll accept that chemicals can react, etc.) as behind the whole of their existence.

    What authority does matter have?

    What are you talking about?

    Does it sound absurd? Maybe that’s because it is!

    What tells us that, since we and the universe and all of existence boils down to nothing that is not material, we are morally obligated to do anything which we feel or think or believe is “right”, or morally obligated to not do anything which we feel or think or believe to be wrong? We obey authorities; if our conscience and what we consider “right” or “wrong” boils down to nothing other than matter, why are we morally obligated to obey our conscience, or to do or not do anything?

    If our brains were entirely left out of the picture (and maybe a materialist would say that they are), how is the materialist case for morality helped?

    This is so confused! My position is that the mind/body problem is entirely orthogonal to moral theory! You (and others here) keep bringing up material this and electro-chemical that as if it has something to do with morality, but it doesn’t!

    Again: if we take matter to be all that is, what does have to do with morality? Something… immaterial? We’ve ruled that out! What is it beyond “material this” to which such a belief can point as making the rules?

    Is there something in a materialistic worldview which can act as an actual arbiter or judge of right and wrong? What could that even be?

    We each follow our own moral perceptions, because that is all we have to go on. AGAIN: It is your subjective choice to believe in some particular deity, your subjective choice to believe this deity tells you what is right and wrong, your subjective choice to believe you are obligated to follow this deity’s commands, and so on.

    This means that there is ultimately (if matter is all that is) no good or evil, as the argument says. I may not sanely fault you for doing what I consider “wrong” if it but goes along with your moral perceptions, even if it goes against mine: mine are all I have to follow, but yours are all you have. Neither one invalidates the other and neither what you consider “right” can logically be declared to be “morally right” nor can what I consider “wrong” be logically declared actually “morally wrong”.

    By the way, I do appreciate that you are attempting to debate the issues in good faith. You are apparently the only one who is here.

    I admit that it is tempting at times to give up actual argument and just yell and throw things—I can’t blame the ones (on either side) who do. But certainly if those of us which are wrong are to be shown what’s right, it will help if we can maintain order and some semblance of calm—even those of us that need to be reminded of how to learn about Divine Command Theory. 🙂

  56. 56
    bFast says:

    ebenezer(53), I agree with you that materialism has no moral foundation.

    The secondary question is, if no moral foundation, then what? In the start of this thread, however, Barry Arrington declared that materialists, therefore, only had “feelings” to guide them. I beg to differ with him on that. Barry Arrington’s position is a straw man, plain and simple. While well-though materialists recognize a total lack of moral code, they do have and use tools which determine a code of socially acceptable conduct. The resultant code has a lot of similarities to the moral code used by the theist.

  57. 57
    groovamos says:

    I am in no sense as qualified as most on this thread to debate philosophy. However as one who embraced materialism TWICE in my youth, separated by a 3 year period of interest in mysticism, I’ll have a go.

    At the end of sophomore year I had converted to the typical campus leftist stance of the day, cultural zeitgeist being the driver, sexual license sealing the deal. Not outwardly religious as a kid, I quickly gave up belief in a supreme being. And just as naturally I gave up any belief in ‘truth’ as something relevant to all human activity, and sure enough out the window was any belief in ‘evil’ as a concept. Soon enough I found that lying was acceptable as long as it was me doing it. Especially since I was self assured as one with a degree in a difficult discipline (hip too, self-styled). And who enjoyed hedonistic pursuits and shallow short term relationships. And lying sort of fit into the whole picture.

    But here is the interesting part looking back on it. Whenever I would read in the news of acts of insane depravity and wickedness, I would go into a mentally confused state and would feel like I had no bearings in order to process what I had just encountered. It was extremely uncomfortable. I’m talking about the acts of Jeffery Dahmer, and others. One of these I remember that particularly caused me disorientation as if I, the atheist, were the one that might risk insanity just thinking about it (in the early ’80’s).

    In this particular case the police arrived at a house where a man had just dismembered and sliced up his mom, her screams having been heard by neighbors. The man did not notice the police had entered and was found masturbating with a section of rectum he had excised. When asked how he had disposed of his mother’s breasts, he said “I think I ate them”.

    Congrats to any atheist on here finding the story ‘unfavorable’. Congrats on your faith that someday ‘science’ will discover every event in the long chain for that experience. ‘Science’, answering all questions, will describe for you every neural, synaptic event, every action potential, every detailed cascade of chemical analogues and concentration gradients in your visual system and brain. And you will know EXACTLY the complete ‘science’ behind your disfavoring the story, so it will fit like a glove over your materialist philosophy, and maybe even reveal why the guy did it. And if you are a little disoriented, like I seriously was, you may be saved from that in future by ‘science’.

  58. 58
    Mark Frank says:

    The OP quotes me but omits a paragraph which I think is important. Here is the complete text:

    As a materialist and subjectivist I agree with Seversky:

    A ) Personal preferences can be reduced to the impulses caused by the electro-chemical processes of each person’s brain.

    B) There is no such thing as objective good and evil.

    C) Statements about good and evil are expressions of personal preferences.

    (I would add the proviso that these are not any old preferences. They are altruistic preferences that are deeply seated in human nature and are supported by evidence and reasoning. They are also widely, but not universally, shared preferences so they are often not competing.)

  59. 59
    StephenB says:

    RDFish to ENich

    Materialism does not entail subjectivism

    You have not made your case at all. Only one of the four philosophers that you mentioned, Hume, was explicitly a materialist, and he was, indeed, a subjectivist. Kant was a subjectivist and was certainly not a materialist. Bentham and Rand are silent on materialism and never had a chance to consider the kinds of questions we are asking.

    On the other hand, I notice that you avoid discussing modern atheist philosophers who explicitly embrace materialism, which I define as physicalism (unlike you, I always define my terms) and who do, indeed, agree that materialism reduces to electro-chemical processes and rules out any semblance of good and evil.

    And even if this was not the case, philosophers make errors all the time, especially atheist philosophers. So name dropping does not help you make your case. You are on your own: Show me how you get to [a] electro-chemical processes of each person’s brain to [b] Objective morality, good, and evil. Did I forget to say, “define your terms?”

    Subjectivism does not necessarily rely on personal choice

    Are we supposed to take your word for that, or were you planning on making your case. As always, don’t forget to avoid defining your terms.

    Materialism does not entail that thought reduces to electro-chemical interactions

    You are simply wrong. Modern materialism (physicalism) includes matter/energy/space and any combination or manifestation of the interactions. It rules out spirit or non-matter by definition. Electro chemical interactions in the brain are what modern materialism reduces to on matters of ethics.

    It is ridiculous to say materialist philosophers must not define “right” and “wrong” according to their own moral theory, since every moral theory provides different definitions for these terms.

    It is ridiculous to think that there should be more than one definition for right and wrong. Just for fun, what is your definition? I know that you will not answer, but what the hell, it doesn’t hurt to ask.

    And the most egregious error that Barry has made here is to pretend that his moral theory somehow provides an objectively true foundation for ethics that is superior to materialistic theories. He knows this is false, but refuses to even discuss it.

    Barry does not know that it is false and does not refuse to discuss it. I know it is true and I will discuss it all day long. There is only one problem. You will not discuss it with me. As is always the case, I will ask you to define your terms and you will abandon the discussion or change the subject.

  60. 60
    Mark Frank says:

    SB

    So name dropping does not help you make your case.

    Name dropping does not make the case but it is a handy way of identifying specific moral theories.  It is irrelevant whether the philosophers themselves were subjectivists or materialists or whatever (although I cannot think what you mean when you say Kant was a subjectivist  – he certainly wasn’t a moral subjectivist). The important point is that both Kant’s theory:

    Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.

    And Bentham’s:

    Act to maximise the greatest happiness of the greatest number

    Are objective and are consistent with materialism. This is not to say they are sound theories.  As a subjectivist I am convinced that all objective theories are flawed including these two.

    … unlike you, I always define my terms)

    Where did you define “right” and “wrong”?  (As you know I went to some length a while back to define them but that got you upset because you didn’t like the definitions.)

  61. 61
    StephenB says:

    Mark….

    I don’t know what you mean when you say that Kant was a subjectivist – he certainly wasn’t a moral subjectivist).

    Kant was a subjectivist. He held that the moral law was “within,” not ” without.” For him, it was not an objective natural law but a subjective man made law. Morality doesn’t bind us from the outside, we bind ourselves from the inside. That is subjectivism. And of course, Kant was not a materialist. He was closer to being an Idealist.

    Bentham’s moral philosophy was based on pain and pleasure, which is based on feeling, not right and wrong, which is based on reason.

    A right act is one that is consistent with, or proper to, our human nature. A wrong act is one that is inconsistent with our nature. That is an abbreviated version of a more extended account I have presented at other times and on this thread. The nature of a human is different from the nature of an animal, for which there is no morality. I believe that debaters should define their terms. RDFish, of course, does not. (I think you do)

  62. 62
    Box says:

    RDFish,

    We are discussing materialism. Here’s a basic definition:

    Wiki: Materialism is a form of philosophical monism which holds that matter is the fundamental substance in nature, and that all phenomena, including mental phenomena and consciousness, are the result of material interactions.

    The question is why you keep insisting that under materialism mental concepts like “good” and “evil” have nothing to do with the brain. If—under materialism—“good” and “evil” are not the result of the brain, are completely unrelated to it and have nothing to do with the brain, then what else is there?
    You keep bringing up your absurd assertion unaccompanied by any attempt of an explanation:

    RDFish: The point you ignored here is that how brains work is unrelated to moral theory, (…)

    RDFish: Our defintions of “good”/”evil” have nothing to do with our brains work.

    Explain yourself. What’s going on here?

  63. 63
    Mark Frank says:

    #61 SB
    SB – I think you are a bit confused about Kant.  But  I won’t pursue it because, as I said, what matters is not the person but the moral code. There is nothing subjective about the categorical imperative.

    Bentham’s moral philosophy was based on pain and pleasure, which is based on feeling, not right and wrong, which is based on reason.

    My claim was that utilitarianism is objective – this is different from whether it is based on feeling or based on reason.  We are into definitions here again, but I have always interpreted an objective predicate as one that is true or false independent of the speaker’s rsponse to the object; while a subjective predicate as one which is determined by speaker’s response to the object. For example, it is subjective whether something is funny because the defining characteristic is that it amuses the speaker – it is not an attribute of the object that the speaker finds funny.  Similarly beautiful, perplexing, inspiring and so on. Objective predicates include round, small etc but also happy – because the object (which happens to be a person) is happy independent of the speaker’s reaction to that happiness. So according to that definition of objective – utilitarianism is an objective moral code.  If you want to define “subjective” differently that is fine – but then we need to rethink the whole debate about subjective moral philosophy.

    A right act is one that is consistent with, or proper to, our human nature. A wrong act is one that is inconsistent with our nature

    I thought your definition of “right” and “wrong” might be something on those lines.  The problem is that you are incorporating your views on right and wrong into the definition so of course your views on morality become true by definition.  It raises an interesting question. We deeply disagree about the nature of morality. But if we have different definitions of right and wrong then this would appear to be just a difference about semantics. Yet I think we both know that our disagreement is more than semantics. For there to be a substantial disagreement between us there must be something about the meaning of the words that we agree on – consciously or subconsciously – or we have no common language to conduct the debate.

    Here is my attempt to describe how people use words like (morally) good and evil in correct English usage. It is a bit long because, as Wittgenstein said, to describe a word’s meaning you have to describe how it is used as a part of a “form of life”. So I have to describe the form of life. Just possibly it provides a core element of moral language that we can agree on. I can’t see any elements that are not easily observed to be true.

    * People have many different “drivers” – that is fundamental needs/motives that drive what they do.  It really doesn’t matter for this debate how they got there or whether they are material or immaterial, evolved, cultural or God given.

    * Some of those drivers are non-selfish in that they do not bring obvious benefits to the individual – e.g. compassion, a desire to see rewards given in proportion to the effort/risk expended, etc

    * Many of those non-selfish drivers are widely shared among humans although their relative strength varies and not everyone shares them. Other non-selfish drivers are confined to specific groups or even people.

    * The promptings of these non-selfish drivers is what we call conscience.

    * The different drivers (both selfish and non-selfish) compete within a single person (so we may find ourselves conflicted between hunger and a desire to relieve suffering)

    * The various drivers result in attitudes and actions relating to specific situation. One of these is condemnation. Condemnation is expressing one’s desire to for something to stop because of unselfish drivers and calling on others to join in for similar reasons. (There is an equivalent positive action but I don’t know of a word which accurately captures it – something like condoning).  We used words like “evil” and “wrong” to condemn. We use words like “good” and “right” to condone.

    In a nutshell that is what I think moral language means. Note that it is not any kind of statement about what is right or wrong – it simply seeks to define the common element between us when we say something is right or wrong

  64. 64
    Silver Asiatic says:

    RDFish

    I reject materialism because it is poorly defined …

    We debate with dozens of people here who confidently call themselves materialists and assert that the concept is well-defined enough for them to embrace it.

    Your position is in opposition to all of them.

    You’ve offered hundreds (a thousand?) posts attacking ID and/or theism. You pour ridicule and scorn on these opponents.

    I have never seen you attacking materialism – a concept you reject.

    That says something.

    Even now, when I asked for your arguments against materialism, all you could say that it is ‘poorly defined”.

    You take the same approach to other matters. Basically, we don’t know anything and we can’t define anything. Since nothing is known, no conclusions can be reached and any conclusions that have been reached are therefore false.

    The universe, origin of life, consciousness, biological origins, materialism, God – all are assessed in the same way. “Nobody knows anything about it”.

    It’s selective hyper-skeptic agnosticism.

    It’s a very easy position to argue from. All matters of life and thought contain some mystery, some unknown aspects. Therefore “we don’t know anything about it”.

  65. 65
    Silver Asiatic says:

    RDFish

    SA: For the materialist, in whatever way it happens, it’s an entirely material process.

    RDFish: Nobody here bothers to say what that means, which is a big part of the problem. If you mean “matter in motion”, no educated person has believed that for a hundred years. This is actually important, though nobody here seems to understand why.

    As my previous comment … interesting how you:

    1. claim to understand materialism better than materialists do.
    2. Attack non-materialists for using understandings, defintions, entailments of materialism taken from materialists themselves.
    3. Never attack materialists directly even though “Nobody bothers to say what materialism means”. And “nobody” seems to understand it – except you (a non-materialist).

    Our defintions of “good”/”evil” have nothing to do with our brains work.

    When you use the phrase “nothing to do with” it’s very easily refuted. You tend to do that a lot. “We know nothing … etc.” It tells me you’re willing to use imprecise exaggerations at the same time you demand absolute precision on definitions and knowledge. Selective-skepticism.

    Dualist metaphysics is no more helpful in grounding morality than materialism.

    Here you shift the topic to attack dualism. Your position is very weak. If you have something to say, then say it. Instead, you’re playing peek-a-boo with little scraps of knowledge to create ambiguity.

    Again, if you have a position to take, make that known. Attacking dualism is a distraction.

    A materialist might say that “good” means “the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people”. That is a perfectly coherent definition of “good” that has nothing to do with materialism, dualism, etc.

    I’m very sure you don’t understand. But instead of attacking something, just explain why that definition is coherent from a materialist perspective. Why is the term “good” necessary from the perspective of physics? What is an “evil” physical process? Why is it? Why is happiness a goal? Where did the goal come from? What is unhappiness? Where does it come from? Why should the smallest number of people have unhappiness? Where, in physics, can we find the answer to that?

  66. 66
    englishmaninistanbul says:

    Fundamentally this is not a question of whether or not morals “exist”, it is a question of who has the moral (!) right to invoke moral principles on the PR battlefield.

    The materialist has nothing better to base his moral code on than the fickle consensus of human society, or the best analyses going of “human nature”, which itself is held to be the end result of millions of years of change.

    True, this is not “Morals are whatever I feel like”, but you have to admit that as far as universal applicability goes it’s no match for the notion that there is a Supreme Being who has established an immutable moral code for all time.

    Each to their own, of course, but then comes the question: How should you feel when you do something “immoral”?

    A materialist who reasons that moral standards are simply human constructs, which may or may not be outdated, would likely find it much easier to salve his conscience than someone who believes that the smallest transgression of the Supreme Being’s universal moral code is an eternal debt that must be repaid.

    Given that, it’s understandable that when a materialist lectures a believer on moral principles it may come across as somewhat hypocritical. “How dare you call me out on my immutable moral principles when you only hold to yours when you can see a practical benefit!”

    On the other hand, if it is true that all human beings have a conscience, then any one human being has the right to challenge another on issues of conscience.

    Now we come to an interesting point. A deist can have one more reason to recognize our collective conscience than a materialist: If he believes our conscience is God-given and we are created in God’s image, then it follows that there should be some limit to the variation in that conscience between individuals. However, if materialism is true then the present state of our collective conscience is just one tiny station on the railway line from apes to who-knows.

    Such a deist, therefore, cannot claim the right to automatically shut down a materialist calling him or anyone else out on moral principles. He does, however, have the right to ask him on what grounds he demands those moral principles be adhered to, and where those moral principles came from in the first place. Dawkins, Russell, Rosenberg and the others candidly admit they have no easy answer. Any on their side who act otherwise are indeed being disingenuous.

  67. 67
    ebenezer says:

    bFast @ 56:

    The secondary question is, if no moral foundation, then what? In the start of this thread, however, Barry Arrington declared that materialists, therefore, only had “feelings” to guide them. I beg to differ with him on that. Barry Arrington’s position is a straw man, plain and simple. While well-though materialists recognize a total lack of moral code, they do have and use tools which determine a code of socially acceptable conduct. The resultant code has a lot of similarities to the moral code used by the theist.

    I wanted to be sure I was arguing about the right thing, so here is the quote from the last post which Mr. Arrington seems to call “the argument”:

    Materialist premises lead ineluctably to the following conclusions. There is no such thing as “good.” There is no such thing as “evil.” There is only my personal preferences competing with everyone else’s personal preferences, and all of those personal preferences can be reduced to the impulses caused by the electro-chemical processes of each person’s brain.

    Unless I’m missing something (perhaps I am), the question is whether a materialist idea of morality can ultimately be based on anything other than personal preference. (I know I’ve brought up “feelings” in this thread, but I don’t see that the OP did, so strictly speaking the argument seems not to have to do with feelings.)

    I don’t disagree that such standards as a non-theist could devise might have many similarities with theistic moral codes. However, they don’t define “good”, and they can’t say what’s “evil”.

    Obviously, even accepting matter as all that is, one could make use of much other than feelings to decide what needs to be decided—as has been pointed out before (maybe by you? I think so), one could employ the results of scientific research in making a decision for exercise when one may not feel like exercising. But whether any “code of socially acceptable conduct” comes down to feelings or logic or reasoning or science or really anything at all, the individual makes his own personal choice of which standards to keep and which to ignore. I think that that places them safely in the category of “preference”.

  68. 68
    ebenezer says:

    Follow-up from 67: technically that would be the conclusions, rather than the argument… however:

    Barry Arrington’s position is a straw man, plain and simple.

    My quote from the last post does state the position. So hopefully we’re OK anyway. 🙂

  69. 69
    RDFish says:

    Hi Ebenezer,

    Materialism is a view about what sorts of things fundamentally exist. Moral theory is concerned with how people ought to act. Most theists base their moral theory on their subjective beliefs about what sorts of gods exist and on their subjective beliefs about what these gods want them to do. Materialists base their moral theory on how people perceive right and wrong, on their intuitions and sentiments, or on rules that can be consistently applied to all agents fairly, or on maximizing some certain thing like happiness or prosperity. None of this has anything to do with electricity or chemistry or neurons.

    Barry’s idea that materialism is the foundation of atheistic moral theory is just stupid. It isn’t the case – it is just his ignorant cartoonish view that anyone who doesn’t believe in god is basing their beliefs on “electro-chemistry”.

    You think that belief in a God provides a “logical arbiter” of morality, but it doesn’t. There have been thousands of different theistic religions throughout history, each with different ideas about what these gods want people to do. At most one of them can be true, but all of them can be (and likely are) false. In any case, if you want to choose one of these religions and follow its moral code that’s fine, but don’t pretend that it is an objective anchor – it isn’t. You are just doing what everyone else does – following their own personal preferences – but you are then claiming that somehow your own personal religious beliefs are the only ones that are objectively true.

    You didn’t look around at different religions, and then chose one of them and decided to follow it. You almost certainly adhere to the religion of your parents, and if you were born to parents of a different religion you’d follow that one. Rarely one is converted to another religion, but even so, we have no way of objectively determining which one might be true. So it simply isn’t the case that religious beliefs can provide an objective grounding for morality.

    You think God has moral authority. Even if I believed in the same god you did, why should I give him moral authority over me? Maybe he’s wrong. If he threatens to punish me, then he’s just being a bully – it doesn’t make him right. I’d rather go with what I perceive as right.

    Cheers,
    RDFish/AIGuy

  70. 70
    RDFish says:

    Hi StephenB,

    And even if this was not the case, philosophers make errors all the time, especially atheist philosophers.

    Theist philosopher make errors all the time. There have been thousands of different theistic religions throughout history, each with different moral commands, and therefore even if there was one that was “right”, almost all of them must be wrong.

    So name dropping does not help you make your case.

    Hahahahaha – name dropping? Barry accused me of NOT providing names, so I did in response! Hahahahaha, just can win with you clowns.

    Barry asked for names of philosophers who have written objectivist ethics compatible with materialism. Kant, Bentham, and Rand all did exactly that. The fact that they didn’t talk about materialism in their moral theories just makes my point: materialism is not what “ineluctably leads to” a particular moral theory! It’s true that Hume’s was a materialist and a sentimentalist, but Rand – a ferocious atheist/materialist – wrote an objectivist ethics (called “objectivism”).

    You are on your own: Show me how you get to [a] electro-chemical processes of each person’s brain to [b] Objective morality, good, and evil. Did I forget to say, “define your terms?”

    For the zillionth time, the operation of brains have nothing to do with moral theory in general. Moral theories can be based on happiness, utility, moral perceptions, a categorial imperative, and so on. How the brain might work is simply irrelevant.

    RDF: Subjectivism does not necessarily rely on personal choice
    SB: Are we supposed to take your word for that, or were you planning on making your case.

    The key point here is “choice”. As I’ve explained to you endlessly, I am not personally capable of choosing to change my moral perceptions, any more than I am capable of choosing to change my color perception. I think the same is true for most people (aside from psychopaths).

    You are simply wrong.

    Nope, I’m quite right.

    Modern materialism (physicalism)…

    Many people (including me) distinguish materialism from physicalism – they are different ideas with different names. Materialism is a holdover from pre-19th century physics and doesn’t make sense any more (because no educated person believes that observable phenomena arise from “matter in motion”, the way Laplace did). Physicalism has its own problems, which are quite irrelevant to the discussion at hand.

    …includes matter/energy/space and any combination or manifestation of the interactions. It rules out spirit or non-matter by definition.

    Let’s just agree that “materialism” rules out “spirit”, and define “spirit” as “conscious beings without physical bodies”. That should do it. A belief in spirits or gods does not help provide an objective grounding for ethics. You just make up your own ethics and then attribute it to some spirit – how does that help? Even if the spirit existed, why should I do what it says I should do?

    Electro chemical interactions in the brain are what modern materialism reduces to on matters of ethics.

    This is ridiculous. Besides, not all materialists are reductionists. All this is really a bucket of red herrings.

    It is ridiculous to think that there should be more than one definition for right and wrong. Just for fun, what is your definition? I know that you will not answer, but what the hell, it doesn’t hurt to ask.

    Here is your ploy: I tell you all about utiliarianism or the categorical imperative or Randian objectivism, and you start arguing that these philosophies have problems, or they aren’t actually objectively grounded, and so on. That’s fine – I agree! Your philosophy also has problems, and your philosophy is also not objectively grounded. What is not fine is that you think that your own particular definitions for “right” and “wrong” are somehow the only ones that should be allowed – that is stupid.

    Instead, just accept that other people have different definitions for these words, and if you’d like to debate moral theory you must understand what other people mean and then debate the relative merits of their ideas vs. yours. For you to simply declare that their definitions are improper while yours is correct is just arrogance and stupidity.

    Just for fun, what is your definition?

    “Right” is what we perceive (not choose, perceive) to be moral. Each of us must rely on our own moral perception. It would be nice if we could derive ought from is, but we can’t.

    Cheers,
    RDFish/AIGuy

  71. 71
    WALTO says:

    RDFish, in a recent post you assert that all moral theories are based on “subjective choice,” and use that term about 50 more times therein. What is a “subjective choice”? Is “subjective” there an expletive or is it supposed to add something? (I mean, what’s an “objective choice”?)

    And what do you mean by “based on” there? I’m thinking here that you’re actually referring to some kind of causal connection rather than an inferential one, but I really don’t know. Of course, we make choices of our axioms, but the choices don’t make the axioms true (if they are).

    Thanks.

    EDIT:

    I see that in a later post you write:

    ““Right” is what we perceive (not choose, perceive) to be moral. Each of us must rely on our own moral perception.”

    I don’t mean by “right” that which I perceive to be moral and I doubt very many people do. We may rely on our “moral perception” as you put it, but it doesn’t follow from that such moral sense can make anything right or wrong. Sure, it’s the case that we take to be right that which seems to us to be right, just as we take to be green that which seems to us to be green, but one must be careful not to mix up what something is with how we come to know it. (ratio essendi with ratio cognoscendi)

    W

  72. 72
    StephenB says:

    Mark

    SB – I think you are a bit confused about Kant. But I won’t pursue it because, as I said, what matters is not the person but the moral code.

    OK, we don’t have to pursue it.

    There is nothing subjective about the categorical imperative.

    So, you want to pursue it after all. OK. There is, indeed, a universal component (not objective) in his formulation, but it is subjectively based. Like the Golden Rule, the Categorical Imperative is based on the preferences of the subject, that is, “what would I want done or not done ‘to me’ or “what maxims would I want to be universalized.” It isn’t defined. The subject can fill in the blanks for himself. Man is his own law. He is autonomous. He binds himself to the law that he gives himself. This is Kant’s Categorical Imperative.

    [On Bentham] My claim was that utilitarianism is objective – this is different from whether it is based on feeling or based on reason. We are into definitions here again, but I have always interpreted an objective predicate as one that is true or false independent of the speaker’s rsponse to the object; while a subjective predicate as one which is determined by speaker’s response to the object.

    As I have stated in the past, I don’t think things like subjective personal tastes can be compared to attempts to subjectivize truths. After giving it a lot of thought, I have come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as objective funniness or tastiness, but I do think there is such a thing as objective truth. So, I don’t think we can make analogies along those lines.

    However, with respect to utilitarianism, I would summarize its subjective nature in the following way: It cannot break free of egoism (subjective) and find its way to altruism. It conflates self interest (subjective) with benevolence and usefulness (subjective) with what is morally right (objective).

  73. 73
    Roy says:

    Consider the following two statements:
    (a) “Discrimination against homosexuals is desperately wicked!”
    (b) “Discrimination against homosexuals is something which I personally do not prefer, which personal preference can be reduced to the impulses caused by the electro-chemical processes of my brain.”

    On materialist premises statement (a) is exactly equivalent to statement (b). Obviously, statement (b) is far less compelling in a debate.

    Anyone who thinks statement (a) is in any way compelling is never going to change anyone’s opinion on anything.

    Roy

  74. 74
    ENich says:

    “Your philosophy also has problems, and your philosophy is also not objectively grounded. What is not fine is that you think that your own particular definitions for “right” and “wrong” are somehow the only ones that should be allowed – that is stupid.”

    You do know this plays right back at you, correct? If you do agree that you are subject to this , it regresses infinitely. Nobody can get a grounded anything.

    So what’s your point? Why should I believe you? Should I believe you? If not, why do you bother? If so, tell me on what grounds do I believe you since : ““Right” is what we perceive (not choose, perceive) to be moral. Each of us must rely on our own moral perception. It would be nice if we could derive ought from is, but we can’t.”

    Am I daft? Missing something?

  75. 75
    niwrad says:

    RDFish #70

    There have been thousands of different theistic religions throughout history, each with different moral commands, and therefore even if there was one that was “right”, almost all of them must be wrong.

    Metaphysics is necessarily unique because the Supreme Being is One, whatever term the different people use to name it.
    As a consequence, the fundamentals of ethics are universal because are based on metaphysics. In short, all that inside us is in dissonance with the ultimate Unity is evil, while whatever helps to know and reach such Unity is good.

    For more see:
    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....om-theism/

  76. 76
    ebenezer says:

    RDFish @ 69:

    The problem with most of this is that I’m not relying on subjective belief. May I have a “subjective belief” in a particular theory? Absolutely! Will that make it actually correct? Absolutely not.

    The whole of what I can consider moral or immoral, along with why I consider anything moral or immoral, is only actually correct if my theory is correct. Subjective belief actually has nothing to do with it; as I suggested last time, to say that “it is only my subjective belief in a particular theory” which gives weight to my take on morality is to say “my subjective belief is ill-founded because that theory is wrong”.

    None of this has anything to do with electricity or chemistry or neurons.

    I only want to say that none of it gets weight (or “authority”, or “say”, or “any ability to determine what is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ for me”) from anything which is not, in the end, matter. (This is assuming my previous super-simplified definition of “materialism”, which would mean that nothing other than matter exists.)

    Barry’s idea that materialism is the foundation of atheistic moral theory is just stupid. It isn’t the case – it is just his ignorant cartoonish view that anyone who doesn’t believe in god is basing their beliefs on “electro-chemistry”.

    Maybe I missed something but I think he rather was arguing about materialism itself (as opposed to atheism, which perhaps logically follows from materialism but which I didn’t see brought up in the OP). “Electro-chemistry” completely aside, no one here has brought up anything of more moral authority than “electro-chemistry” to which a materialistic worldview can point for the purposes of determining good or evil, or right or wrong; since we therefore can’t, in a materialistic worldview, take anything to be the question settler as regards morality, his argument says that materialism has no “good” or “evil”, or “right” or “wrong”.

    You think that belief in a God provides a “logical arbiter” of morality, but it doesn’t. There have been thousands of different theistic religions throughout history, each with different ideas about what these gods want people to do.

    Again: If it were only a case of “let’s all devise our own fictitious accounts of gods and their rules so we can have something nice to think of as behind morality”, sure. That’s not the case: even that every different religion considers itself correct in its account of how we all came to be doesn’t make it so, obviously—as you say:

    At most one of them can be true,

    On

    but all of them can be (and likely are) false.

    , the same can be said for almost any theory of origins or morality—with the provision that we acknowledge that there is a right one. (Note that we don’t even necessarily have to say that we know the right one, or that it’s been proposed yet; we simply must acknowledge that there is a right one at all.) This does not mean that all of them are false, any more than that all known atheistic or materialistic explanations of origins could be false means that all of them are (it doesn’t).

    In any case, if you want to choose one of these religions and follow its moral code that’s fine, but don’t pretend that it is an objective anchor – it isn’t.

    If what the religion gives as an account of morality (and origins, etc.) is true, then it actually does give an objective anchor. If I must sound like a broken record, I must (sorry)… again I refer to the uncle example from 52.

    You are just doing what everyone else does – following their own personal preferences – but you are then claiming that somehow your own personal religious beliefs are the only ones that are objectively true.

    I would indeed claim that they are; more relevant to this discussion, I have been claiming here that any belief is, i.e., that there is a correct account out there. If it were true that “everyone” simply had their “own personal” beliefs and that that in itself invalidated all belief, there’d be no sense in arguing—nothing, whether currently believed by anyone or not, would be correct (and we would not exist, so I suppose we’d find it more difficult to argue anyway).

    You didn’t look around at different religions, and then chose one of them and decided to follow it. You almost certainly adhere to the religion of your parents, and if you were born to parents of a different religion you’d follow that one. Rarely one is converted to another religion, but even so, we have no way of objectively determining which one might be true. So it simply isn’t the case that religious beliefs can provide an objective grounding for morality.

    They can. They also can be wrong, but if as in your hypothetical example I had followed a different one as a result of being born to parents of a different one, that would not make that one right, any more than my present belief in this one makes it right (it definitely doesn’t). The (separate) argument of how we determine “which one” is “true” is of course not tied to the central idea of ID, but interestingly enough follows similar lines of reasoning.

    You think God has moral authority. Even if I believed in the same god you did, why should I give him moral authority over me? Maybe he’s wrong. If he threatens to punish me, then he’s just being a bully – it doesn’t make him right. I’d rather go with what I perceive as right.

    By definition, He couldn’t be wrong—He would have created you. That would have included giving you your sense of morality, which is what you would need to determine whether or not He was “wrong”—and what you would use to decide that He’d be a “bully” to punish you for not doing as He says.

    Early on in the Christian (e.g.) account of origins, the first man decides to “go with what [he] [perceived] as right”, and he does indeed get punished. That doesn’t make God a bully—He set the rules, and we understand at our own level that it’s OK to punish those who break our rules. Was God under obligation to the man, having created him? Until God gave him life and a conscience and a moral sense, he was no more aware of “morality” than is a lump of clay—to borrow the NT (New Testament) metaphor, is a lump of clay owed anything by the potter who makes it into a pot? If the account is true, then God created that man’s sense of morality—what was to tell the man that anything was “wrong”?

    I must also note here that however interesting this discussion is (it is interesting, IMO), it’s not relevant to or able to refute the OP’s argument. Even if my view were wrong, the materialistic case for morality would (purely by benefit of my own view’s wrongness) be no closer to validity.

  77. 77
    Roy says:

    Materialist atheists have highjacked the terms “good” and “evil” from theists and have refined them with a meaning that is different in essence. That is dishonest. That is fraud.

    Ignorant theists like mike1962 have hijacked the term “good” from Norse and Germanic pagans and have refined it with a meaning that is different in essence, and then incorrectly complained that it has been hijacked from them. That is not only dishonest and fraudulent, it is hypocritical.

    Make up your own terms. Don’t highjack the terms of others.

    You make up your own terms.

    If you have any integrity at all, you’ll either retract your post and apologise to all the materialists and atheists here, or cease using the word “good” except w.r.t. North European pagans.

    But you’re a typically arrogant and ignorant theist, so I doubt it’ll happen.

    Roy

  78. 78
    RDFish says:

    Hi WALTO,

    RDFish, in a recent post you assert that all moral theories are based on “subjective choice,” and use that term about 50 more times therein. What is a “subjective choice”? Is “subjective” there an expletive or is it supposed to add something? (I mean, what’s an “objective choice”?)

    And what do you mean by “based on” there? I’m thinking here that you’re actually referring to some kind of causal connection rather than an inferential one, but I really don’t know. Of course, we make choices of our axioms, but the choices don’t make the axioms true (if they are).

    Essentially we’re using “subjective” to mean “based upon internal considerations” (beliefs, desires, emotions, and perceptions) and “objective” to mean “based upon external considerations (things in the outside world). My point is that nothing in the outside world can be morally compelling unless one makes a choice, based on subjective factors, to consider it so.

    RDF: ““Right” is what we perceive (not choose, perceive) to be moral. Each of us must rely on our own moral perception.”
    WALTO:I don’t mean by “right” that which I perceive to be moral and I doubt very many people do.

    StephenB asked me what I meant, so I told him. You think otherwise. Many people agree with you, and many people agree with me.

    We may rely on our “moral perception” as you put it, but it doesn’t follow from that such moral sense can make anything right or wrong.

    You’ll need to provide your definitions of “right” and “wrong” in order for that sentence to make sense.

    Cheers,
    RDFish/AIGuy

  79. 79
    RDFish says:

    Hi ENich,

    RDF: “Your philosophy also has problems, and your philosophy is also not objectively grounded. What is not fine is that you think that your own particular definitions for “right” and “wrong” are somehow the only ones that should be allowed – that is stupid.”
    EN: You do know this plays right back at you, correct?

    Obviously. Each of us acts, when we act morally, according to our subjective perception of what is right. Most of the time we all agree (rape, murder, theft, and so on) and sometimes we disagree (abortion, gay marriage, drug laws, etc). This is true even for people who profess to follow the same moral code, the same religion, etc.

    Cheers,
    RDFish/AIGuy

  80. 80
    RDFish says:

    Hi Ebenezer,

    The whole of what I can consider moral or immoral, along with why I consider anything moral or immoral, is only actually correct if my theory is correct. Subjective belief actually has nothing to do with it; as I suggested last time, to say that “it is only my subjective belief in a particular theory” which gives weight to my take on morality is to say “my subjective belief is ill-founded because that theory is wrong”.

    I don’t follow. Let’s say I told you that I like to imagine a small elf who lives in my ear and answers questions regarding right and wrong. Would that, in your view, make my morality objective? If not, then what do you think does constitute an objective morality?

    I only want to say that none of it gets weight (or “authority”, or “say”, or “any ability to determine what is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ for me”) from anything which is not, in the end, matter. (This is assuming my previous super-simplified definition of “materialism”, which would mean that nothing other than matter exists.)

    This is really just a fallacy of division. Matter can’t play chess, but people can play chess. That doesn’t argue against materialism. Water molecules aren’t wet, but water is wet, and so on. In the same way, matter can’t have a moral sense, but people can have a moral sense, and this is the case whether or not people are made of something else besides matter.

    If it were only a case of “let’s all devise our own fictitious accounts of gods and their rules so we can have something nice to think of as behind morality”, sure. That’s not the case

    Why not?

    RDF: At most one of them can be true, but all of them can be (and likely are) false.
    EB: the same can be said for almost any theory of origins or morality

    Of course.

    —with the provision that we acknowledge that there is a right one.

    When it comes to facts that we can confirm inter-subjectively (i.e. scientifically), then yes. When it comes to morality, how could we ever know that there is one single correct moral code? What could possibly determine this? And if we can’t know this (we can’t), what difference does it make whether or not there is?

    RDF: You think God has moral authority. Even if I believed in the same god you did, why should I give him moral authority over me? Maybe he’s wrong. …
    EB: By definition, He couldn’t be wrong—He would have created you.

    And if there was a god who created us, why does the fact that he created us give him moral authority over us? I don’t think it does.

    Cheers,
    RDFish/AIGuy

  81. 81
    Don Pedro says:

    #77 Roy,

    Ignorant theists like mike1962 have hijacked the term “good” from Norse and Germanic pagans and have refined it with a meaning that is different in essence, and then incorrectly complained that it has been hijacked from them. That is not only dishonest and fraudulent, it is hypocritical.

    They likewise hijacked the word god, changing its gender from neuter to masculine and using it to translate Church Latin Deus (which, truth to tell, had been hijacked as well).

  82. 82
    ebenezer says:

    Roy @ 77:

    Ignorant theists like mike1962 have hijacked the term “good” from Norse and Germanic pagans

    Citation Needed

    and have refined it with a meaning that is different in essence, and then incorrectly complained that it has been hijacked from them. That is not only dishonest and fraudulent, it is hypocritical.

    May we hear the “original” meaning as given by your Norse and Germanic pagan sources?

    By the way, it’s hard to imagine complaints about the meaning of “good” or of “evil” as anything other than attempts to distract from the OP’s argument, unless, to the argument “Jell-O has no solid basis for a vehicle!” the response “You’ve hijacked the term ‘vehicle’ from North American automobile manufacturers and refined it with a meaning that is different in essence” is a valid refutation.

    Make up your own terms. Don’t highjack the terms of others.

    You make up your own terms.

    why?

    The materialist is the one who takes the theist’s “good”, by which the theist can mean “that which is moral”, and refines it to mean “my perception of what is good, given the circumstances and my background… or that society’s idea of what is good, given the power their rulers possess over their members… or anything else at all which somebody else wishes to believe to be good, so long as it does not pose any problems to my own personal self at the moment.”

    If you have any integrity at all, you’ll either retract your post and apologise, or cease using the word “good” except w.r.t. North European pagans.

    That is a lot to ask with absolutely no evidence whatsoever given that “North European pagans” had anything to do with the original definition of “good”. Integrity is going to very much prevent a retraction of the post to which you’re replying—and I wouldn’t accept that mike1962 is the one who needs to apologize before he’s issued such stern condemnation of someone else on the basis of entirely unsubstantiated pleas to “Norse and Germanic pagans”.

    But you’re a typically arrogant and ignorant theist, so I doubt it’ll happen.

    No wait. What is “integrity” when we’ve ruled out the theist’s definition? Let’s hope that it doesn’t happen, then…

  83. 83
    ebenezer says:

    RDFish @ 80:

    Let’s say I told you that I like to imagine a small elf who lives in my ear and answers questions regarding right and wrong. Would that, in your view, make my morality objective? If not, then what do you think does constitute an objective morality?

    If an actual small elf lived in your ear and answered questions regarding right and wrong, sure (for these purposes)! (Although, unless we could exempt the elf from the process of entirely unguided natural processes acting on matter by which we’re supposed to have come into being, not really…)

    This is really just a fallacy of division. Matter can’t play chess, but people can play chess. That doesn’t argue against materialism. Water molecules aren’t wet, but water is wet, and so on. In the same way, matter can’t have a moral sense, but people can have a moral sense, and this is the case whether or not people are made of something else besides matter.

    But as we’ve been over before, the mere possession of a “moral sense” doesn’t obligate us to follow it—the more so since we (we are to believe) know that the process by which we came into being was entirely unaware of its own existence and was simply acting through Chance and Necessity. “[Whether] or not people are made of something else besides matter” is a more important point than I think you necessarily realize: if there’s something beyond a matter of which we can be “made” (of which “we” can consist), then we have a chance at a logical moral authority which can tell us what is right and what is wrong.

    If it were only a case of “let’s all devise our own fictitious accounts of gods and their rules so we can have something nice to think of as behind morality”, sure. That’s not the case

    Why not?

    Because, as I said last time, we surely agree that there is a means by which we came into existence, right? That we exist and that therefore (since we’re surely not eternal beings…) we came into existence in the first place? That means that there is a correct answer to be had here, and we’re not limited to devising fictitious accounts. To say that we are is to say that nothing at all is correct, to strongly suggest that we don’t in fact exist, and to raise the question: Why are we arguing?

    RDF: At most one of them can be true, but all of them can be (and likely are) false.
    EB: the same can be said for almost any theory of origins or morality

    Of course.

    —with the provision that we acknowledge that there is a right one.

    When it comes to facts that we can confirm inter-subjectively (i.e. scientifically), then yes. When it comes to morality, how could we ever know that there is one single correct moral code? What could possibly determine this? And if we can’t know this (we can’t), what difference does it make whether or not there is?

    “What difference does it make?” is very much different from “OK—it doesn’t exist”. On the ceiling of a building along Germany’s Bahnhofstrasse, there may very well be a water stain. It makes absolutely no difference to me if there is or if there is not; does that prove that it doesn’t exist?

    (Forgive the trivial example—the point stands!)

    RDF: You think God has moral authority. Even if I believed in the same god you did, why should I give him moral authority over me? Maybe he’s wrong. …
    EB: By definition, He couldn’t be wrong—He would have created you.

    And if there was a god who created us, why does the fact that he created us give him moral authority over us? I don’t think it does.

    Because He gets to set the rules! Those would, incidentally, be our standard of morality. Saying “I don’t think it does”, in a scenario where He did exist and had indeed given us rules, would neither eliminate Him nor help that He had given us rules. I trust that in very basic instances involving non-moral actions which one would prefer or not prefer to be taken by one’s pet, you would allow that one has authority over that pet to decide what it should or should not do? (You wouldn’t, surely, tell the owner that the pet must be allowed to form its own opinion about these things?) Like (in some perilously much-less-trivial way) that, but with moral actions.

    Again: None of this is bringing us any closer to a refutation of the OP’s argument nor to a logical materialist basis for morality.

  84. 84
    Roy says:

    Re #81,

    Yeah, I know. Also “Lord”, “Easter”, and probably others I’ve forgotten. I don’t object to borrowing words, only to false accusations.

    Roy

  85. 85
    RDFish says:

    Hi Ebenezer,

    RDF: Let’s say I told you that I like to imagine a small elf who lives in my ear and answers questions regarding right and wrong. Would that, in your view, make my morality objective? If not, then what do you think does constitute an objective morality?
    EB:
    If an actual small elf lived in your ear and answered questions regarding right and wrong, sure (for these purposes)!

    I think this sums it up – we simply disagree. If the elf told me to cheat on my science test and blackmail my teacher, I would think his advice was immoral whether or not he was an elf. My position is that I am not obligated to listen to elves or angels or gods or demons or anyone else; I get to decide for myself what is right and wrong.

    if there’s something beyond a matter of which we can be “made” (of which “we” can consist), then we have a chance at a logical moral authority which can tell us what is right and what is wrong.

    We disagree here too: My position is that whether our brains operate according to neural impulses or res cogitans, it makes no difference whatsoever regarding what is right and wrong action. The two things are not connected, any more than whether or not our intestines play a critical role in our decision making (they do).

    Because, as I said last time, we surely agree that there is a means by which we came into existence, right?

    Well, I’m pretty sure I was born 🙂

    As for how humans in general came to exist, nobody knows.

    That means that there is a correct answer to be had here,…

    Huh? You’ve skipped from a theory of origin to a theory of morality without connecting them. What difference does it make how life began? If life began via some organic chemistry reaction, would that make anyone think rape was ok? No. What I perceive as right or wrong does not depend in the least on the latest research findings regarding abiogenesis.

    RDF: And if there was a god who created us, why does the fact that he created us give him moral authority over us? I don’t think it does.
    EB: Because He gets to set the rules!

    No, he doesn’t. We disagree about this. By what objective standard can we decide who is right (hint: there is none). See what I mean? How do you establish that “whoever is the creator gets to set the moral rules” is itself a moral rule? That’s just your personal opinion.

    Saying “I don’t think it does”, in a scenario where He did exist and had indeed given us rules, would neither eliminate Him nor help that He had given us rules.

    I don’t understand this. Maybe there is no god (which I believe), or maybe there is one and he gave us rules. In the latter case, there is no objective moral imperative that everybody must follow His rules – just his say so. If he told me to stone adulterers to death (which apparently some people believe he did) I would be sure that his rules were immoral, and I would tell him I wasn’t following his rules.

    Again: None of this is bringing us any closer to a refutation of the OP’s argument nor to a logical materialist basis for morality.

    I’ve refuted Barry’s dumb “argument” many times over. Materialism isn’t a moral theory. He just doesn’t get it.

    Cheers,
    RDFish/AIGuy

  86. 86
    ebenezer says:

    RDFish @ 85:

    I think this sums it up – we simply disagree. If the elf told me to cheat on my science test and blackmail my teacher, I would think his advice was immoral whether or not he was an elf. My position is that I am not obligated to listen to elves or angels or gods or demons or anyone else; I get to decide for myself what is right and wrong.

    To be fair, I said only that it could be a source of “objective morality” (given some requirements which materialism cannot agree to), and probably I shouldn’t even give it that much credit, since it’s not exactly on the same level as a God who created you…

    We disagree here too: My position is that whether our brains operate according to neural impulses or res cogitans, it makes no difference whatsoever regarding what is right and wrong action. The two things are not connected, any more than whether or not our intestines play a critical role in our decision making (they do).

    But once again, it doesn’t matter whether our brains are involved with this! Intestines and brains and anything else to which a materialist could apply for a standard—all are material.

    As for how humans in general came to exist, nobody knows.

    As I said last time, though: we don’t have to know the correct account for there to be one.

    You’ve skipped from a theory of origin to a theory of morality without connecting them. What difference does it make how life began? If life began via some organic chemistry reaction, would that make anyone think rape was ok?

    If it did, to what standard could you logically appeal in order to determine that it was wrong?

    And it’s not me who’s saying both that it did and that there’s such a standard…

    No. What I perceive as right or wrong does not depend in the least on the latest research findings regarding abiogenesis.

    In the materialist view, if it does not boil down to matter in the end, what is it?

    RDF: And if there was a god who created us, why does the fact that he created us give him moral authority over us? I don’t think it does.
    EB: Because He gets to set the rules!

    No, he doesn’t. We disagree about this. By what objective standard can we decide who is right (hint: there is none). See what I mean? How do you establish that “whoever is the creator gets to set the moral rules” is itself a moral rule? That’s just your personal opinion.

    Not quite, any more than Mr. Arrington’s example of “All men are mortal. Socrates is a man; therefore Socrates is mortal” is just his personal opinion…

    Saying “I don’t think it does”, in a scenario where He did exist and had indeed given us rules, would neither eliminate Him nor help that He had given us rules.

    I don’t understand this.

    It once again means simply: Whether or not you or I believe something has nothing to do with whether it’s true. If there were no God, I could “think” that there were all day long, and there still would not be. If there is, you can not “think” that there is likewise, and there still would be.

    Maybe there is no god (which I believe), or maybe there is one and he gave us rules. In the latter case, there is no objective moral imperative that everybody must follow His rules – just his say so. If he told me to stone adulterers to death (which apparently some people believe he did) I would be sure that his rules were immoral, and I would tell him I wasn’t following his rules.

    That would be supremely ironic, since if there was and He gave you your sense of morality, you’d be using His standard to judge Him wrong.

    I’ve refuted Barry’s dumb “argument” many times over. Materialism isn’t a moral theory. He just doesn’t get it.

    I don’t see where he said that it was. I likewise don’t see where anyone showed that materialism can have any right or wrong—and that would have to be shown in order to refute his argument.

  87. 87
    Roy says:

    ebenezer @ 82: try this.

  88. 88
    ebenezer says:

    Roy @ 87:

    I’m supposed to redefine “sources” as “whatever one can find proof for via Google”? The burden of proof lies on me to show that an opponent’s claim is not backed up? OK—I accept your admission of having no sources.

    To:

    If you have any integrity at all, you’ll either retract your post and apologise, or cease using the word “good” except w.r.t. North European pagans.

    I repeat:

    That is a lot to ask with absolutely no evidence whatsoever given that “North European pagans” had anything to do with the original definition of “good”. Integrity is going to very much prevent a retraction of the post to which you’re replying—and I wouldn’t accept that mike1962 is the one who needs to apologize before he’s issued such stern condemnation of someone else on the basis of entirely unsubstantiated pleas to “Norse and Germanic pagans”.

    (I do appreciate the attempt at using LMGTFY to Bolster The Case. Relevant here from Dr. Jay Richards, however: “A sneer is not an argument.”)

  89. 89
    Zachriel says:

    ebenezer: I’m supposed to redefine “sources” as “whatever one can find proof for via Google”?

    The first link has been reliable.
    http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=good

    Here’s the sources the author used.
    http://www.etymonline.com/sources.php

  90. 90
    ebenezer says:

    Zachriel @ 89:

    Never mind 77’s redirection of the arguing from the OP’s argument—are those indeed the sources 87 would like to refer to? How am I to know? If “it’s the first link, dummy” is an acceptable answer, why could 87 not specify the link in the first place

    …bah. No point in going on about this. (“Look everybody! The Sun really is shining! Can’t you tell by looking at that bedazzling light in the sky?!”

    Thanks for providing something concrete, though. I see reference to Old Norse and Old High German, which I suppose is 77’s evidence that theists have “hijacked the term ‘good’ from Norse and Germanic pagans and have refined it with a meaning that is different in essence”…?

  91. 91
    WALTO says:

    @RDFish

    Hi.

    I wrote: We may rely on our “moral perception” as you put it, but it doesn’t follow from that [that] such moral sense can make anything right or wrong.

    to which you responded, ‘You’ll need to provide your definitions of “right” and “wrong” in order for that sentence to make sense.’

    I don’t think “right” and “ought” are definable, but I can tell that they don’t mean “whatever provides me with this or that emotion of approbation or disapprobation” [respectively], because it seems obvious to me that I may be mistaken when I have one of those emotions. The obviousness of that proposition is what has led many philosophers from egoism (where you still reside) to cultural relativism. The thing is, the same problem arises for cultural relativism, which led one of its champions, Ruth Benedict, to hold both that whatever was considered normal by some culture or other is for that reason good, and to claim that racism is detestable wherever it occurs.

    The moral (no pun intended) here is that Moore’s open question argument is right. The thing is, though, that nothing follows about God or design or any such blath from it. C.S. Lewis farted around with that stuff for years and ended up holding not two (like Benedict) but THREE contradictory views on the matter.

    W

  92. 92
    Popperian says:

    I’m late to the game. But better late than never.

    Now, as for the supposed inevitable conclusion that Barry has reached, let’s start out with one significant problem, which I’ll illustrate with an analogy.

    I need to get places quickly, efficiently and on a non-regular schedule. As such, I use a car to travel from place to place. When cars operate, they are self-propelled. Mine happens to use an internal combustion engine. Others, like Tesla’s Model S, use batteries and electric motors. Other options include hydrogen fuel cells, or even light weigh vehicles with petals. Regardless, I can point to any of these things as an explanation as to how a vehicle is self-propelled.

    However, if one goes to a salvage yard and points to a car without an engine, they can make the argument that the absence of that engine leads to the inevitable conclusion that one cannot drive it anywhere in it’s current state. That is, they can point to where the engine used to be, which is itself based on a number of explanatory ideas about how the world works, and note it’s absence. So, the argument implicitly refers to explanations about how cars propel themselves.

    Now, let’s take Barry’s argument.

    1. On materialism there can be no such thing as “good” and “evil.”

    If by “good” or “evil” Barry has merely defined them as merely being justified by an authoritative source, all he’s done is implicitly defined “good” and “evil” as being “grounded” in an inexplicable ultimate authoritative source, then claim to have made an argument that “materialism” must lead to their absence. However, it’s no more clear how a “non-material source” is any more or less authoritative than a “material” source. In fact, I’d suggest that the very idea that knowledge comes from authoritative sources, including knowledge about moral problems, is a specific epistemological view you hold, and a rather poor one at that. So, his argument is parochial, because it is narrow in scope.

    IOW, Barry has no good explanation as to how non-material entities justify moral values. As such it’s unclear how he can point to any missing explanation in materialism that necessities the absence of objective moral values either. If the lack of an actual explanation is not a problem for non-materialism, then it’s unclear why it’s a problem for materialism either.

    A designer that “just was”, complete with the knowledge of what is objectively morally good or bad, already present, doesn’t serve an explanatory purpose. This is because one could just as efficiently state that human beings “just appeared”, complete with the knowledge of what is objectively morally good or bad, already present.

    All theism does is say the knowledge existed in one place (a designer) and was copied to another place (in human beings). However, this doesn’t address the origin of that knowledge. As such, neither actually solve the problem. Nor am I advocating the latter, either. (see below) I’m pointing out a problem with Barry’s argument.

    As I’ve said elsewhere, theism is a particular case of justificationism, which is a specific epistemological view on knowledge. In the case Barry’s question, the knowledge in question is knowledge of how to solve moral problems. So, this entire “problem” is parochial because it’s unnecessarily narrow in scope. The entire issue is a problem for juistificationists, which they are projecting on others. So, Barry should clarify his argument to explicitly state justificationist materialists, or something to that effect.

    What I want from ideas are their content, not their providence. You might need some ultimate justification, but that’s your problem, not mine.

    Note the contrast here. Barry and company is referring to objective morality for the sake of defining moral rules. However, I’m referring to moral knowledge in context of solving moral problems. To quote Poppper, “All life is problem solving.” Even in the moral sphere.

    To clarify, let me illustrate what I mean by “parochial ” using details of Barry’s original challenge as an example: Barry claimed that all arguments rest on premises. That is to say, all arguments are amplitude and move from more general to more specific and that we must “attack” his argument as if that were the only approach. However, that is merely one form of argument, known as modus ponens. Another form of argument is modus tollens, which is deductive, and moves from more general to more specific. That only modus ponens is the only kind of argument is merely assumed to be the case, without any kind of argument. Not to mention that modus ponens arguments only have three options to actually provide proof.

    01. An infinite regression, which appears because of the necessity to go ever further back, but is not practically feasible and does not, therefore, provide a certain foundation.
    02. A logical circle in the deduction, which is caused by the fact that one, in the need to found, falls back on statements which had already appeared before as requiring a foundation, and which circle does not lead to any certain foundation either.
    03. A break of searching at a certain point, which indeed appears principally feasible, but would mean a random suspension of the principle of sufficient reason.

    Instead, one can discard the search for justificationism and adopt a stance of critical preference, which is deductive in nature. Again, this is none of the above.

    IOW, not only is the criteria Barry setup for his challenge is itself parochial, because it is unnecessarily narrow in scope, but it does not withstand rational criticism. It’s unclear how Barry, or anyone else, can get more out of an argument than they put in. At best, we hear that we need to justify our beliefs or there could be no knowledge. But that’s what it means to be a justificationist. That’s just towing the party line. That’s their problem, which they project on others.

    2. There is only my personal preferences competing with everyone else’s personal preferences.

    I would suggest that moral knowledge genuinely grows via conjecture and criticism and that knowledge is independent of anyone’s belief. IOW, we’re not merely limited to personal preferences, but we arrive at moral conclusions by rational persuasion, criticism and argument, which detects errors in our ideas about what we want.

    Imagine the following hypothetical scenario. Suppose a group of voters of a small civilization firmly believed that stealing was a great virtue, one from which many benefits were derived, and decided to repeal all laws prohibiting it. What would happen?

    Everyone would start stealing. Soon, the best thieves would be the wealthiest. However, most people could not retain their own property, including most thieves. Companies and individuals who produced goods and services would be unable to continue producing anything worth by anyone stealing. Their economy would collapse, food would become scarce, etc. Since their initial conviction that stealing was beneficial was strong, this may lead them to think there simply wasn’t enough stealing going on. So, the voters would actually enact laws to promote it. However, no matter how convinced they were initially, those setbacks would be problems in their lives they would want solve.

    A few voters would begin to suspect that stealing wasn’t such a good solution after all and direct their attention to the problem yet again. Since some explanation would be behind their belief that stealing was beneficial, they would try to explain why it wasn’t actually working, in practice. Eventually, they would settle on a different explanation that seemed better. And, gradually, they would persuade others of it, and so on, until the majority of voters opposed stealing.

    This is not to say it is not we who choose, but our choices are not merely preferences. We can rationally criticize our moral ideas. Knowledge is objective in that it independent of what we believe. This includes moral knowledge about how we think we can obtain what we want. And it’s independent of knowing subjects.

    “Let me repeat one of my standard arguments for the (more or less) independent existence of [knowledge]. I consider two thought experiments:
    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.”

    Karl Popper, Knowledge: Subjective Versus Objective, page 59

    Choosing to search for truth, rater than falsehoods is a moral choice. So is the choice to continually attempt to criticize all ideas.

    Furthermore, Popper indicates the problems with utopian schemes, in that even with the best intentions, they end up with totalitarian results. Instead, he suggests that we should try to reduce suffering via criticism and piecemeal social engineering. This is in contrast to trying to justify any particular rule or law as an ultimate solution outside the context of a moral problem to be solved.

    Again, note that I’m approaching morality from a different perspective: moral problems to solve, which no one here as actually addressed. This is yet anther way Barry’s argument is unnecessarily narrow in scope and by which his conclusion does not necessarily follow from the premises, unless he assume them implicitly as part of his argument, which shields them from criticism.

    3. Finally, I say on materialist premises all of those personal preferences can be reduced to the impulses caused by the electro-chemical processes of each person’s brain.

    Here, Barry assumes all explanations must be reductionist in nature. But this simply isn’t the case. For example, when we make progress in scientific explanations, they are occasionally dissimilar in the way they explain their predictions, even in domains where the predictions are similar or identical. Einstein’s explanation of planetary motion not only corrects Newton’s, but is radically different – sweeping away the very core elements (the reductionist elements) in Newton’s explanation, such as a gravitational force and the uniformity of the passing of time, by which Newton defined motion.

    Each subsequent theory made progress in producing more accurate predictions, despite the fact that the underlying means by which the previous theory explained it was never true. This is possible because sweeping away the elements by which an theory makes an explanation is not the same as sweeping away the entire explanation. Newton’s force of gravity was replaced with Einstein’s warping of space time. Both revealed some truth about reality, yet they could be progressively replaced. How does that reconcile with reductionism?

    IOW, not all explanations are reductionist in nature. This is yet another way Barry’s argument is parochial, because it is narrow in scope.

    As such, it’s unclear how his conclusions are inevitable.

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