Intelligent Design

Lydia McGrew nails it: Does being an atheist interfere with being moral?

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Over at What’s Wrong with the World, Dr. Lydia McGrew has written a short article that nails the reason why atheists are liable to err on moral matters. The article, titled, Does being an atheist interfere with being moral? (September 22, 2015), identifies metaphysical naturalism (which views the world as the sum total of what can be described by the sciences) as the root of the problem. There is of course no logical reason why atheists are bound to accept this materialistic worldview, but the vast majority of contemporary atheists do, and the ethical theory which they tend to opt for, as a best fit for their metaphysical views, is utilitarianism. On a utilitarian view, there are no radical discontinuities in Nature, but only a continuum. Ethically, all that separates us from the chimpanzees is that we are capable of a much greater degree of pleasure, owing to our richer self-awareness, which arises from our having more complex brains. However, the ethical implications of this way of thinking are profoundly anti-human, as there are many humans (e.g. fetuses, newborn babies, the extremely senile and patients in a vegetative state) who don’t experience anything like an adult’s level of pleasure, and who are therefore regarded by utilitarians as inferior beings. In Dr. McGrew’s own words:

There are two atheist “memes” (to use a jargon term) that seem to me to be in prima facie conflict…

…[T]hese are not exact quotes from anyone but approximate statements that reflect things that I, and I suspect you, dear Reader, have heard and read.

Atheist meme #1: It is offensive to imply that being an atheist is in any way detrimental to being a moral person. Atheists can be just as moral as religious people.

Keep your eye on the ball. The question of what is meant by “just as moral” will be crucial.

Atheist meme #2: The idea that man is in any way special is speciesism derived from religious ideas like the image of God. Once we get rid of those religious concepts we can see that man is just another animal, though a highly evolved one. Man’s continuity with the animals means that abortion, euthanasia, killing those in “vegetative states,” and even infanticide are all “on the table” for ethical debate. The decision in specific cases should be made on the basis of utilitarian considerations without any notion that human life per se is valuable.

It should be pretty obvious that the proposals in atheist meme #2 are socially radical. They represent a departure from what a lot of people for a long time in Western society have thought of as moral behavior. Yet atheist meme #2 says that, once you are an atheist, you should consider them to be viable options.

Prima facie, this conflicts with atheist meme #1. It’s pretty obvious that, if atheist meme #2 is true, atheist meme #1 is false: Atheism does make you a less moral person if atheism leads you to consider doing all those things or even advocating them.

Dr. McGrew accuses secular humanists who assert meme #1 and who then proceed to advocate meme #2 are “doing a bait and switch.” The first claim sounds reasonable, especially if we focus on well-known “intellectual” atheists, who look like “nice people.” Once the public is lulled into accepting that these people are just as moral as religious people, a humanist can then argue for the “enlightened,” utilitarian ethics that these figures espouse.

Not all atheists have warped ethical beliefs. There are a few noble atheists who uphold a pro-life position on moral issues, on purely rational grounds – for instance, the atheist Doris Gordon, founder of Libertarians for Life. Dr. McGrew has such people in mind when she writes:

The funny thing is that I actually believe that the true positions on these issues are available by the natural light and hence do not require theism to understand. (Though theism helps. Human beings always find it useful to have more sources of information than strictly necessary.) I examined some of these issues in this essay. In Western society, however, the brand of atheism most commonly held is not some sort of virtuous, Platonic atheism that cleaves to the Good and accesses the natural light but rather some version of naturalism. And that is highly detrimental to moral insight.

Precisely. Metaphysical naturalism is the worldview that poisons the way that most atheists reason ethically, because it views the mind itself as the product of unguided natural processes, instead of taking the existence of mind as a fundamental fact about our cosmos (as a few atheists do). Theists, by contrast, are immune to the poison of metaphysical naturalism, for as long as they continue to believe in God. And that, in a nutshell, is why atheism can interfere with being moral.

48 Replies to “Lydia McGrew nails it: Does being an atheist interfere with being moral?

  1. 1
    Andre says:

    Heck, atheists can even trust the convictions of their monkey minds, if there are any convictions at all.

  2. 2
    sean samis says:

    Being an atheist or a materialist is no greater impediment to “being moral” than is theism; after all, if a theist thinks their god has told them to do some evil thing, how can they refuse?

    If reason can keep the theist safe from error, so can reason keep the materialist safe.

    sean s.

  3. 3
    bFast says:

    “man is just another animal, though a highly evolved one.” From what I have seen the “highly evolved” line is questioned by many atheists. I have encountered people arguing that because there is apparently more biomass of ants than of humans, that ants are “the more successful” so realistcally “the more highly evolved.”

  4. 4
  5. 5
    Seversky says:

    Atheist meme #1: It is offensive to imply that being an atheist is in any way detrimental to being a moral person. Atheists can be just as moral as religious people.

    Exactly so.

    In fact, the implication is especially offensive coming from proponents of a faith whose claim to moral superiority is fatally undermined by the continued inclusion in its primary religious text of accounts of what, by modern standards, are atrocities committed by its God and His proxies and followers. Unless and until those stories are repudiated and purged from the text, neither you nor Dr McGrew have a moral or ethical leg to stand on.

  6. 6
    tjguy says:

    Does being an atheist interfere with being moral?

    Doesn’t it all depend on how you define the word “moral”? Atheists create their own definition to fit their moral views and just like that, they can evaluate themselves as moral people according to their chosen standard.

    But how meaningful is that evaluation if they use their own personally devised standard? For instance, I’m sure most atheists would not say that sex outside of marriage is wrong. God says otherwise.

    Their standard is a far cry from the standard by which the Creator will evaluate them with. The Bible says that all have sinned and are sinners in God’s eyes. That evaluation is made using God’s standards – the moral standards revealed in the Bible.

    Using the biblical standard, we see that every person alive does both moral actions and immoral actions throughout their lives. And we all do both right and wrong things every day. That adds up to a heck of a lot of wrong stuff by the end of our life, but it is not simply a game to see if we can save ourselves by striving to do more right than wrong or good than bad.

    Anyway, if you choose to discard the parts of biblical morality that you don’t like, then you can deceive yourself into thinking you are a good person. And sure, of course you are a good person when you look at it like that.

    In reality, it seems to me that most people do not have the courage to admit the extent of their sin – probably because they have no answer for the problem. We would rather ignore it, deny it, rationalize it away, trivialize it, or simply treat it as normal than confessing it, repenting of it, and seeking forgiveness from God and others.

  7. 7
    Popperian says:

    It should be pretty obvious that the proposals in atheist meme #2 are socially radical. They represent a departure from what a lot of people for a long time in Western society have thought of as moral behavior. Yet atheist meme #2 says that, once you are an atheist, you should consider them to be viable options.

    Prima facie, this conflicts with atheist meme #1. It’s pretty obvious that, if atheist meme #2 is true, atheist meme #1 is false: Atheism does make you a less moral person if atheism leads you to consider doing all those things or even advocating them.

    One key missing option is we have actually been doing #2 all along.

    From another comment…

    The problem for those that try to explain the growth of moral knowledge and moral problem solving through an infallible source of moral standards, values or duties is that it’s unclear how anyone can infallibly identify and interpret an infallible source in such a way that they could apply them in practice. IOW, it’s unclear how they have any other recourse that to conjecture solutions to moral problems, then criticize them. That is, they would use their own reason to determine when to defer to the infallible source, or when not to, which is what someone would have done had they not believed in that infallible source. Human reason and criticism always comes before the infallible source.

    They have always been viable options that we have considered doing. Moral knowledge, like any other knowledge, comes from conjecture and criticism. We don’t start out knowing the exact outcome of our choices or even if they reflect what we had wanted.

    From Open Society and Its Enemies (Volume 2), chapter 24, section iii

    As we have seen before (in chapter 5), and now again in our analysis of the uncritical version of rationalism, arguments cannot determine such a fundamental moral decision. But this does not imply that our choice cannot be helped by any kind of argument whatever. On the contrary, whenever we are faced with a moral decision of a more abstract kind, it is most helpful to analyse carefully the consequences which are likely to result from the alternatives between which we have to choose. For only if we can visualize these consequences in a concrete and practical way, do we really know what our decision is about; otherwise we decide blindly. In order to illustrate this point, I quote a passage from Shaw’s Saint Joan. The speaker is the Chaplain: he has stubbornly demanded Joan’s death; but when he sees her at the stake, he breaks down; ‘I meant no harm. I did not know what it would be like .. I did not know what I was doing .. If I had known, I would have torn her from their hands. You don’t know. You haven’t seen: it is so easy to talk when you don’t know. You madden yourself with words .. But when it is brought home to you; when you see the thing you have done: when it is blinding your eyes, stifling your nostrils, tearing your heart, then –then –O God, take away this sight from me!’ (footnote omitted.) There were, of course, other figures in Shaw’s play who knew exactly what they were doing, and yet decided to do it; and who did not regret it afterwards. Some people dislike seeing their fellow men burning at the stake and others do not. This point (which was neglected by many Victorian optimists) is important, for it shows that a rational analysis of the consequences of a decision does not make the decision rational; the consequences do not determine our decision; it is always we who decide. But an analysis of the concrete consequences, and their clear realization in what we call our ‘imagination’, makes the difference between a blind decision and a decision made with open eyes; and since we use our imagination very little (footnote omitted) we only too often decide blindly. This is especially so if we are intoxicated by an oracular philosophy, one of the most powerful means of maddening ourselves with words — to use Shaw’s expression.

    And then there is the moral connotations of the philosophical idea that we should defer to authoritative sources at all. The majority of the world has discarded the idea of the divine right of kings (with Jesus being the most notable hold out). Most that remain are figureheads. What we’re concerned about is their ideas, not their sources. Bringing those ideas into the light and criticizing them is far better than accepting them uncritically, especially when accepting things uncritically is presented as a sort of bad criticism (we should accept them uncritically)

    A person can pass an exam on a subject they really not understand if the exam presented the material in exactly the same way they memorized the answers. But when that person finds themselves actually facing a real problem, in practice, presented in a way that does not match the way they memorized it, their will be unable to solve the problem at hand. If you do not see why criticisms fail for, for any sort of ideas we adopt, then it’s unclear how you understand them in a way necessary to actually apply them in practice.

  8. 8
    LarTanner says:

    Like McGrew, Torley focuses on “warped ethical beliefs.” The word “belief” is important here, as McGrew and Torley disapprove of and demonize a certain strand of philosophical thinking. For them, the thinking alone and itself is immoral.

    Meanwhile, the theist Kim Davis acts unethically by violating her oath and office, and by obstructing others from exercising lawfully guaranteed rights.

    So we have a theist acting in obvious, irrefutable immorality. And these actions affect real people and their families. And these actions cost taxpayers. And Davis’ theism by her own admission leads her to act as she does.

    On the other hand, we have McGrew and Torley aridly pronouncing on atheism leading to “warped ethical beliefs” in some atheists.

    McGrew and Torley: Is it possible theism actually doesn’t make you more ethical than atheists, either in belief or in deed?

  9. 9
    sean samis says:

    tjguy @6:

    Atheists create their own definition to fit their moral views and just like that, they can evaluate themselves as moral people according to their chosen standard.

    Christians and other theists do this exactly. How does this make “atheist morality” worse per se? It cannot.

    God says otherwise.

    Actually, all anyone knows is that some people claim their god said so; God has never said anything that I can be sure is actually “said by God”.

    That evaluation is made using God’s standards – the moral standards revealed in the Bible.

    As before; I have no reliable information that any deity had a role in the creation of the Bible; I cannot take it as reporting “God’s standards” but only standards that some humans want me to submit too.

    Using the biblical standard, we see that every person alive does both moral actions and immoral actions throughout their lives. And we all do both right and wrong things every day. That adds up to a heck of a lot of wrong stuff by the end of our life, but it is not simply a game to see if we can save ourselves by striving to do more right than wrong or good than bad.

    Even a rational, materialistic standard (I have one.) shows the same things.

    …if you choose to discard the parts of biblical morality that you don’t like, then you can deceive yourself into thinking you are a good person.

    As Christians do all the time.

    …it seems to me that most people do not have the courage to admit the extent of their sin – probably because they have no answer for the problem. We would rather ignore it, deny it, rationalize it away, trivialize it, or simply treat it as normal…

    True enough, even among Christians. But the answer to this problem does not come only from theism.

    sean s.

  10. 10
    sean samis says:

    Popperian @7:

    they would use their own reason to determine when to defer to the infallible source, or when not to, which is what someone would have done had they not believed in that infallible source. Human reason and criticism always comes before the infallible source.

    Correct. Merely claiming some morality comes from a deity does not make that morality actually from a deity. Likewise, claims that some morality are “objective” do not make that morality actually objective.

    With no reliable way to verify such claims, embracing some theistic morality must always be a SUBJECTIVE CHOICE, and the attached morality must always be a SUBJECTIVE MORALITY.

    Only correct reasoning from available facts can create an objective morality, which a belief in God interferes with.

    So in fact, it is THEISM that “INTERFERES WITH BEING MORAL”. It does not prevent it, it just interferes.

    Bringing those ideas into the light and criticizing them is far better than accepting them uncritically, especially when accepting things uncritically is presented as a sort of bad criticism (we should accept them uncritically)

    Agreed. Ideas that cannot be criticized are inherently suspicious.

    sean s.

  11. 11

    LarTanner said:

    Meanwhile, the theist Kim Davis acts unethically by violating her oath and office, and by obstructing others from exercising lawfully guaranteed rights.

    So we have a theist acting in obvious, irrefutable immorality.

    I wonder if any of the atheists here can figure out what’s wrong with this sequence of statements?

    Hint: think historically about oaths of office, lawfully guaranteed rights, and the problem with drawing an equivalence between “obeying the law” and “irrefutable morality”.

    Why would a non-theist hide Jews in their attic and lie to German officers, putting themselves and their family and friends at risk to break the law? Wouldn’t breaking the law be an unethical, irrefutable act of immorality? Why would a German officer violate their sworn oath and aid in the escape or protection of Jews under Hitler’s regime? Wouldn’t such a violation be an unethical, irrefutable act of immorality?

  12. 12

    Popperian said:

    Human reason and criticism always comes before the infallible source.

    Human reason and criticism cannot come first. What comes first must be something to reason from, and something to criticize. Reasoning and criticism are things you do about something else.

  13. 13
    Mung says:

    sean samis:

    Merely claiming some morality comes from a deity does not make that morality actually from a deity. Likewise, claims that some morality are “objective” do not make that morality actually objective.

    So?

  14. 14
    Mung says:

    sean samis seems to find such claims to be morally objectionable. go figure.

  15. 15
    sean samis says:

    William J Murray @12:

    Human reason and criticism cannot come first. What comes first must be something to reason from, and something to criticize. Reasoning and criticism are things you do about something else.

    In the course of any dispute, this is true only chronologically. The assertion comes first and then reason and criticism follow. But I think the point Popperian was making a different point. Reason and Criticism have priority over any other way of considering the assertion in question.

    Reason and criticism must come before the acceptance of assertions, especially from a source claimed to be infallible. What is the point of saying the source is infallible but to forestall criticism?

    For a reasonable person to accept that a source actually is reliable (much less infallible), they must first use reason and criticism to verify for themselves whether the assertions are credible. That has to come first.

    sean s.

  16. 16
    sean samis says:

    Mung @13:

    So?

    So–claiming that some morality came from a deity does not prove that it actually did. That requires verification.

    Claiming some morality is “objective” also needs to be verified.

    Simply saying the morality comes from a deity does not serve to verify the claim of objectivity.

    @14:

    sean samis seems to find such claims to be morally objectionable.

    Objectionable? No. They are unsubstantiated.

    sean s.

  17. 17

    sean samis

    In the course of any dispute, this is true only chronologically.

    No. It’s true necessarily. If there is nothing to apply logic to/from, logic cannot be applied.

    The assertion comes first and then reason and criticism follow. But I think the point Popperian was making a different point. Reason and Criticism have priority over any other way of considering the assertion in question.

    Again, this simply cannot be true. First one must populate the assertion that is to be considered, and then one must propagate a presumedly valid criteria from which reason can arbit/criticize the value of the assertion. Reason and criticisms are tools that serve no function without either the assertion or characteristics presumed to be valid with regard to what the assertion is about.

    For example, we may have the assertion “X is immoral”. Reason and criticism are useless unless there are characteristics of X and immorality from which to reason about the statement. Are we just making up what X is? Are we just making up what is moral or not? If so, then reasoning an criticism are simply expressions of personal preference or rhetoric.

    Reason and criticism cannot come first.

    Reason and criticism must come before the acceptance of assertions, especially from a source claimed to be infallible. What is the point of saying the source is infallible but to forestall criticism?

    I’m not sure what use there is in calling any source “infallible”. What is required is **something** by/from which reason and criticism can be applied to the assertion. In the case of morality, people involved in the debate “Is A immoral” must agree to at least assume some sort of basis from which reasoning about the claim can be drawn.

    Which brings us back to worldview foundations. If one doesn’t hold that there is an actual, fundamentally valid source of moral knowledge from which reasoning and criticism would have merit when applied to a moral assertion, there’s no sound basis for an argument. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re referring to a book or any scripture, but without something serving as your basis for reasonable analysis and criticism, you’re just floating around in the air.

    For a reasonable person to accept that a source actually is reliable (much less infallible), they must first use reason and criticism to verify for themselves whether the assertions are credible. That has to come first.

    Nope. There is no means (not even logic) by which to determine if an assertion is credible unless there is something assumed to be valid which logic can refer to in order to make that determination.

    Let us partake in an exercise. If I claim it is immoral for humans to chop up aborted fetuses and sell off the parts, what logical argument are you going to use to determine the “credibility” of that assertion without referring to anything outside of logic to make your case? It can’t be done. You must refer to something else which you hold as a valid determiner of morality.

    It doesn’t matter if you call it “infallible” or not; what matters is that you cannot critique any moral assertion without referring to some presumed-valid source of moral judgement.

    Then, the question becomes, why that source and not another?

  18. 18
    sean samis says:

    William J Murray @17:

    No. It’s true necessarily. If there is nothing to apply logic to/from, logic cannot be applied.

    and;

    Reason and Criticism have priority over any other way of considering the assertion in question.

    Again, this simply cannot be true. First one must populate the assertion that is to be considered, and then one must propagate a presumedly valid criteria from which reason can arbit/criticize the value of the assertion. Reason and criticisms are tools that serve no function without either the assertion or characteristics presumed to be valid with regard to what the assertion is about.

    OK, you’ve a nit to pick. It [something to reason from] must necessarily come before reason and criticism, but only chronologically.

    Chronologically, the sequence is ASSERTION, CRITERIA, REASON AND CRITICISM, ACCEPTANCE/REJECTION. Reason and criticism must come before ACCEPTANCE.

    If the chronology is what you are interested in, then you have a point. But it is a trivial point. To the extent what you say is true, it is unimportant.

    If one is interested in knowing how to get from ASSERTION to ACCEPTANCE (which is more likely to be the case), then one must realize that the path must always pass through REASON AND CRITICISM.

    Any “presumedly valid criteria” on which to evaluate any assertion IS PART OF THE ASSERTION: usually something like “X is Y because Z” (where Z includes the “presumedly valid criteria”). An assertion which has no “presumedly valid criteria” cannot be evaluated, it is untestable and dubious. If the “presumedly valid criteria” exists, then Reason and Criticism take priority if Resolution is your goal.

    For example, we may have the assertion “X is immoral”. Reason and criticism are useless unless there are characteristics of X and immorality from which to reason about the statement. Are we just making up what X is? Are we just making up what is moral or not? If so, then reasoning an criticism are simply expressions of personal preference or rhetoric. Reason and criticism cannot come first.

    Reason and criticism must come BEFORE acceptance by other means.

    Alternate example: if one makes the assertion “X is snagaliff”, reason and criticism will ask: “what does snagaliff mean?” The assertion cannot be evaluated because it fails to provide “presumedly valid criteria” for its evaluation.

    Presumably the response will be something like “Snagaliff is M”. Reasoned criticism will now be directed toward this assertion, and if it can be accepted, then reasoned criticism can evaluate “X is snagaliff”.

    The assertion “X is immoral” can only be evaluated if there is agreement as to what “immoral” means. And on places like this thread, that IS the dispute, isn’t it? What do we mean by “moral” or “immoral”?

    The catch is: if you reverse the terms and assert that “morality is X”, how do we decide if that’s correct or not?

    {{DRUMROLL…}}

    Reason and Criticism. To be precise: Clearly expressed Reasoning from known Facts.

    I’m not sure what use there is in calling any source “infallible”. …

    Calling something infallible has no use; which was my point.

    … What is required is **something** by/from which reason and criticism can be applied to the assertion. …

    Agreed. But that **something** is part of the assertion, or an established standard independent of the assertion. Ex: “Trees are living things.” This one is a fairly straight-forward assertion to evaluate because the meaning of “living things” is widely agreed to.

    …In the case of morality, people involved in the debate “Is A immoral” must agree to at least assume some sort of basis from which reasoning about the claim can be drawn.

    Agreed. But that agreement about what “moral” means is what’s missing on these threads.

    Which brings us back to worldview foundations. If one doesn’t hold that there is an actual, fundamentally valid source of moral knowledge from which reasoning and criticism would have merit when applied to a moral assertion, there’s no sound basis for an argument. …

    Agreed, EXCEPT it is not proved that such a basis needs to go “back to a worldview foundation”. That is itself an assertion demanding reasoned criticism. I believe it is an unnecessary claim and should be jettisoned.

    …It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re referring to a book or any scripture, but without something serving as your basis for reasonable analysis and criticism, you’re just floating around in the air.

    Agreed. We do need something.

    There is no means (not even logic) by which to determine if an assertion is credible unless there is something assumed to be valid which logic can refer to in order to make that determination.

    Agreed. But that still means that the reliability of a claim or a source needs to be evaluated, that Reasoned Criticism must PRECEDE accepting their reliability.

    Let us partake in an exercise. If I claim it is immoral for humans to chop up aborted fetuses and sell off the parts, what logical argument are you going to use to determine the “credibility” of that assertion without referring to anything outside of logic to make your case? It can’t be done. You must refer to something else which you hold as a valid determiner of morality.

    I think we’ve already established that the standard needs to be set before evaluating assertions based on the standard.

    But that standard needs to be evaluated itself, not simply “given”.

    It doesn’t matter if you call it “infallible” or not; what matters is that you cannot critique any moral assertion without referring to some presumed-valid source of moral judgement. Then, the question becomes, why that source and not another?

    I agree. One standard becomes more acceptable than another if it is itself based on direct human experience of things that are observable. This is why, epistemologically, observation is the Gold Standard of justification. What we can all observe, things we all have experienced and perceived very similarly are the most reliable basis of knowledge. They are as objective as anything can be.

    When people “experience” something that they evaluate in radically different ways from how other people evaluate similar “experiences”, reason says that these evaluations are not reliable, that this is not a reliable “experience”. If people are prone to disputes about it, it cannot be the basis of sound judgements. Something else is going on.

    This is why religious experiences serve as poor standards; as widespread as they are, they exhibit wildly different results. Something else is going on.

    However this matter is evaluated, if Reasoned criticism from known facts does not produce a satisfactory moral standard, then deciding to accept one source over or against another is pure subjective preference, which we seem to agree is a poor resolution.

    sean s.

  19. 19

    sean samis said:

    OK, you’ve a nit to pick.

    It’s not a nit. It’s the whole ball game.

    But that standard needs to be evaluated itself, not simply “given”.

    That’s question begging. By what standard is the standard going to be evaluated? At the bottom of any line of reasoning are necessarily givens that simply must be accepted.

    Reasoning cannot evaluate the principles of reason (LOI, etc.) In order to evaluate “moral standards”, for example, one must have something to evaluate them according to – which would be what, standards all the way down?

    However this matter is evaluated, if reasoned criticism from known facts does not produce a satisfactory moral standard, then deciding to accept one source over or against another is pure subjective preference, which we seem to agree is a poor resolution.

    Which “known facts” are going to serve as the basis of one’s reasoned criticism? Why are those “known facts” presumed relevant to the cause of evaluating moral judgements, and not other “known facts”?

    If we agree that pure subjective preference is a poor basis for moral judgments, then neither “reasoned criticism from known facts” or various preferred moral standards are acceptable, because the former is just a question-begged version of the latter.

    The only route out of this dilemma is if actual morality, like logic and math, is a fundamental aspect of existence that offers discoverable, recognizable self-evidently true moral statements from which other moral assertions can be rationally evaluated (like A=A, or 1+1=2, or “error exists”). Such as: It is always immoral to torture innocent children for personal gratification.

    Without the premise of self-evidently true moral statements that can serve as a recognizable standard for the rational criticism of other moral assertions, it all boils down to personal preference, whether one is preferring one moral code over another, or one is preferring one set of facts over another as the basis of their moral theory.

  20. 20

    You cannot reason an ought from an is. Let’s say you have a pair of facts, such as children go hungry every day and there is plenty of good food that is thrown away every day. These are facts, but no amount of reasoning will get you anywhere as far as what one ought to do unless there is a non-fact – a purpose, a goal, a potential – guiding your reasoning.

    Morality cannot begin with facts or reasoning; it must begin with a behavioral premise within which one can sort facts into categories of relevance and then apply reasoning that connects the pertinent facts towards or in light of the behavioral premise.

    Now, from where do we get our behavioral premises, which define which facts are pertinent and how reasoning should be applied? This is the worldview issue. Are behavioral premises rooted in empathy? Scripture? Social engineering goals? Conscience? Natural law? Personal preference? Survival of the fittest? Might makes right?

    Let’s say we can dismiss both might makes right and personal preference as unacceptable behavioral premises. Why is such a dismissal acceptable? Is it because we both happen to find them personally unacceptable? If so, then we have already admitted that our behavior premises are based on personal preferences – we just happen to have coinciding preferences.

    What basis for behavioral premises does not eventually question-beg back to personal preference? The only such basis would be some sort of fundamental source that produces as innate (natural law) what is good and not good as a necessary function of our existence – sort of like what we find in the statements 1+1=2, error exists, and A=A.

    These statements refer to self-evident aspects of our existence as sentient beings, as does the moral statement “Torturing innocent children for personal pleasure is wrong.” They provide the basis and framework by which we can reason about other things. They themselves cannot be proven because they provide the means by which things can be proven (or argued) at all.
    ———————————————————-

    If you do not assume the law of non-contradiction, you have nothing to argue about. If you do not assume the principles of sound reason, you have nothing to argue with. If logic is not assumed to be a causally independent, authoritative arbiter of true statements, there’s no reason to apply it. If you do not assume libertarian free will, you have no one to argue against. If you do not assume morality to be an objective commodity, you have no reason to argue in the first place. If you do not assume mind is primary, there is no “you” to make any argument at all. -WJM

  21. 21
    sean samis says:

    William J Murray @19:

    By what standard is the standard going to be evaluated? At thebottom of any line of reasoning are necessarily givens that simply must be accepted.

    Agreed, but as I wrote, these things necessarily given are things we observe or experience in predictable ways.

    This is how I finished my response @18:

    One standard becomes more acceptable than another if it is itself based on direct human experience of things that are observable. This is why, epistemologically, observation is the Gold Standard of justification. What we can all observe, things we all have experienced and perceived very similarly are the most reliable basis of knowledge. They are as objective as anything can be.

    When people “experience” something that they evaluate in radically different ways from how other people evaluate similar “experiences”, reason says that these evaluations are not reliable, that this is not a reliable “experience”. If people are prone to disputes about it, it cannot be the basis of sound judgements. Something else is going on.

    This is why religious experiences serve as poor standards; as widespread as they are, they exhibit wildly different results. Something else is going on.

    However this matter is evaluated, if Reasoned criticism from known facts does not produce a satisfactory moral standard, then deciding to accept one source over or against another is pure subjective preference, which we seem to agree is a poor resolution.

    Reasoning cannot evaluate the principles of reason (LOI, etc.) In order to evaluate “moral standards”, for example, one must have something to evaluate them according to – which would be what, standards all the way down?

    As above: reasoning from experience and observation. That is why we think of some things as being “self-evident” facts: we can OBSERVE their truth.

    Which “known facts” are going to serve as the basis of one’s reasoned criticism? Why are those “known facts” presumed relevant to the cause of evaluating moral judgements, and not other “known facts”?

    Answered above, and at the end of #18.

    If we agree that pure subjective preference is a poor basis for moral judgments, then neither “reasoned criticism from known facts” or various preferred moral standards are acceptable, because the former is just a question-begged version of the latter.

    The only route out of this dilemma is if actual morality, like logic and math, is a fundamental aspect of existence that offers discoverable, recognizable self-evidently true moral statements from which other moral assertions can be rationally evaluated (like A=A, or 1+1=2, or “error exists”). Such as: It is always immoral to torture innocent children for personal gratification.

    I’m sorry, but I actually had to laugh when I read this.

    How do we know that things like math and logic are “fundamental aspects of existence that offers discoverable, recognizable self-evidently true statements from which other assertions can be rationally evaluated”? How do we know that’s true?

    By REASONING FROM EXPERIENCE AND OBSERVATION! This is the standard by which math and logic are known to be fundamentally true. The same thing can find the fundamental moral truths we search for.

    Without the premise of self-evidently true moral statements that can serve as a recognizable standard for the rational criticism of other moral assertions, it all boils down to personal preference, whether one is preferring one moral code over another, or one is preferring one set of facts over another as the basis of their moral theory.

    Agreed. As I already wrote.

    @20 you continued:

    You cannot reason an ought from an is. …

    Absolutely, we can. Keep reading…

    … Let’s say you have a pair of facts, such as children go hungry every day and there is plenty of good food that is thrown away every day. These are facts, but no amount of reasoning will get you anywhere as far as what one ought to do unless there is a non-fact – a purpose, a goal, a potential – guiding your reasoning.

    A Fact: All of us want to avoid hunger or starvation; that is a universal human imperative.

    A Fact (which KF frequently inserts into his cite-laden comments): We all know that we cannot expect from others good treatment we deny to others. As is often said: what goes around comes around.

    These facts tell us that we ought to care for others (including hungry children) if we wish others to care for us when we are eventually in need (as we all eventually will be).

    Morality cannot begin with facts or reasoning; it must begin with a behavioral premise within which one can sort facts into categories of relevance and then apply reasoning that connects the pertinent facts towards or in light of the behavioral premise.

    Equity, or reciprocity are the behavioral premises you look for.

    Now, from where do we get our behavioral premises, which define which facts are pertinent and how reasoning should be applied? This is the worldview issue. Are behavioral premises rooted in empathy? Scripture? Social engineering goals? Conscience? Natural law? Personal preference? Survival of the fittest? Might makes right?

    Our behavioral premises are rooted in the facts of human vulnerability and need, and the fact of our social nature.

    Let’s say we can dismiss both might makes right and personal preference as unacceptable behavioral premises. Why is such a dismissal acceptable? Is it because we both happen to find them personally unacceptable? If so, then we have already admitted that our behavior premises are based on personal preferences – we just happen to have coinciding preferences.

    We can dismiss might makes right and personal preference as unacceptable because we all know there will be others more powerful or others with harmful preferences, and we all know that if we don’t care for others, others will not care for us when the time comes. And we all know that time will come.

    What basis for behavioral premises does not eventually question-beg back to personal preference? The only such basis would be some sort of fundamental source that produces as innate (natural law) what is good and not good as a necessary function of our existence – sort of like what we find in the statements 1+1=2, error exists, and A=A.

    This basis: Reciprocity or Equity based on reason from the facts of nature and the human condition.

    These statements refer to self-evident aspects of our existence as sentient beings, as does the moral statement “Torturing innocent children for personal pleasure is wrong.” They provide the basis and framework by which we can reason about other things. They themselves cannot be proven because they provide the means by which things can be proven (or argued) at all.

    Agreed. Reciprocity or Equity based on reason from the facts of nature and the human condition provide the basis we need.

    sean s.

  22. 22

    Sean Samis asks:

    How do we know that’s true?

    I didn’t say we did or even could. My argument is that it is the only premise which doesn’t eventually wind up being a morality based on might makes right or personal preference, both of which are unacceptable.

    However, we know those individual statements are true; the question is, what perspective provides a sound framework for us to know they are true, without reasoning – without reasoning, because those statements themselves provide the fundamental basis for rational (or mathematical, or moral) judgments and the organization and theory-building of facts, inferences and conclusions.

    We may not know the perspective that characterizes those true statements is itself true, but there is no other perspective that can account for their existence (as self-evident truths) or provide a sound framing for how we actually use them as if they are fundamental, universal aspects of our existence.

    As you said – experience and observation is how we establish basic facts; sane people cannot act as if those statements are not true and are not universally applicable and binding. IOW, we may not know they are existentially fundamental, but we (sane people) cannot act, think or structure our arguments otherwise.

    All of us want to avoid hunger or starvation; that is a universal human imperative.

    We all know that we cannot expect from others good treatment we deny to others. As is often said: what goes around comes around.

    These facts tell us that we ought to care for others (including hungry children) if we wish others to care for us when we are eventually in need (as we all eventually will be).

    Equity, or reciprocity are the behavioral premises you look for.

    Our behavioral premises are rooted in the facts of human vulnerability and need, and the fact of our social nature.

    This is where your entire argument fails due question-begging. Let’s begin where we can agree on a fact about human nature:

    1. All of us want to avoid hunger or starvation; that is a universal human imperative.

    However, reciprocity is not a fact at all. It is a stolen religious concept:

    2. We all know that we cannot expect from others good treatment we deny to others. As is often said: what goes around comes around.

    That’s simply not true at all. There is no factual law or principle of “reciprocity” or “what goes around comes around” that has ever been studied – at least not to my knowledge. What you are promoting here as a fact is nothing more than either a stolen religious concept or what some people experience as a hope or common meme – that their good deeds will eventually reap benefit, or that the bad deeds of others will eventually catch up with them.

    There are other common sayings – “No good deed goes unpunished”, “Only the good die young”, “nice guys finish last” which represent another common meme among people: that being good does not by any means mean that good will come back to you as a result – in fact, these memes indicate a belief that being good and nice results in negative “reciprocity”.

    So, you have conveniently and mistakenly chosen to characterize an unsubstantiated meme (the idea that there is some kind of actual “reciprocity” occurring out there in the world) as a fact while ignoring other common memes that indicate exactly the opposite.

    A common human response to our agreed upon fact of aversion to hunger is that humans hoard food and resources. It is also a common aspect of human nature to develop means by which to ensure your access to resources by establishing ownership and protective control of those resources to ensure your survival (and the survival of your family) even if it is at the expense of others who are hungry.

    We can point to another inconvenient fact about human nature: personal survival instinct, which usually trumps vague memes like “equity” or “reciprocity” when push comes to shove. There are many other “basic facts” about human nature – like selfishness, vanity, greed, ego, anger, violence, bullying & intimidation, etc. which you have, for some reason, completely ignored.

    Why should I not reference those facts about human nature when I begin building my moral theory? Why should I not point to other common memes that contradict your particular extrapolative parameters?

    You refer to the behavioral preferences of human vulnerability and need; why should I not employ the behavioral preferences of human aggression and selfish desire?

    You see, which facts about human nature you have chosen, and which common memes and common human behaviors you have selected as a basis for reasoning from those facts betrays your question-begging. Why those facts? Why those memes? Why those particular common human behaviors?

    I’ll tell you why: because those particular facts, those particular memes mis-characterized as facts, and those particular human behaviors get you where you want to wind up in the first place.

    I could as easily use different facts, different common memes, and different behaviors to arrive at an entirely different moral theory – one where the lives of comfort of others mean nothing to me, and my morality entirely centers around my personal success and enjoyment of life. I can use other facts, memes and behaviors to justify making slaves of others, using violence, hoarding resources, psychologically manipulating them, etc.

    And if I do, there is no physical law or principle that can stop me from leading a wonderful, enjoyable life nor bring any necessarily bad consequences for me personally – none, that is, unless morality refers to a fundamental aspect of our existence which necessarily results in inescapable consequences, whether or not we see them manifest in this world.

    So, what we see here is that your selection of certain facts, memes and behaviors are organized with a particular end goal moral theory in mind, because entirely different facts, memes and behaviors could be chosen to reach an entirely different result. You are not reasoning towards a moral conclusion at all; you are attempting to justify your a priori moral conclusion by cherry-picking facts, memes and common human behaviors to justify that particular outcome.

    Your reasoning begins with the moral outcome you wish to reach. You have fooled yourself into thinking that you can begin with facts and reasoning. You have fooled yourself into thinking that you can reason an ought from an is. You cannot. You are only attempting to justify your a priori ought by cherry-picking facts, memes and behaviors to get you to it.

  23. 23
    Barry Arrington says:

    WJM:

    It is a stolen religious concept

    There are two kinds of atheists: Those who realize and freely admit that they are free-loading on a religious moral framework and those who either do not realize it or do not admit it if they do.

  24. 24
    mike1962 says:

    @22

    Yet again WJM knocks the legs out from under another dilettante moralist wannabe.

  25. 25
    LarTanner says:

    WJM, comment 22:

    reciprocity is not a fact at all. It is a stolen religious concept.

    Please elaborate. Which religion specifically introduced human beings to the concept of reciprocity? When did this happen?

    If a religion invented the idea of reciprocity, do you claim that reciprocity is NOT a universal structure of human morality? If so, was there no morality before this religion invented reciprocity?

  26. 26

    LarTanner said:

    Please elaborate. Which religion specifically introduced human beings to the concept of reciprocity? When did this happen?

    What you quote is a shorthand notation for something I expressed in more detail in that post:

    That’s simply not true at all. There is no factual law or principle of “reciprocity” or “what goes around comes around” that has ever been studied – at least not to my knowledge. What you are promoting here as a fact is nothing more than either a stolen religious concept or what some people experience as a hope or common meme – that their good deeds will eventually reap benefit, or that the bad deeds of others will eventually catch up with them.

    There are other common sayings – “No good deed goes unpunished”, “Only the good die young”, “nice guys finish last” which represent another common meme among people: that being good does not by any means mean that good will come back to you as a result – in fact, these memes indicate a belief that being good and nice results in negative “reciprocity”.

    Reciprocity is a religious concept, common meme or hope. No actual principle of “reciprocity” is supposed to actually exist by any non-theist that I’m aware, nor has any study that I’m aware attempted to prove such a state of affairs exists in the real world.

    If a religion invented the idea of reciprocity, do you claim that reciprocity is NOT a universal structure of human morality? If so, was there no morality before this religion invented reciprocity?

    There are religious concepts that promote reciprocity as a general guideline (such as, “do unto others …” to help one behave more morally. Some modern spiritualities believe that you get in return what you put out as spiritual law of attraction; some concepts of karma dictate that what you do wrt others will be returned to you in this or a future life.

    “Reciprocity”, however, is not a universal structure of human morality. For most humans, morality is entirely about fulfilling god’s purpose for us, or something along those lines, whether it makes other people happy or not, whether it appears to help or harm other people.

    Even if most humans considered reciprocity a fundamental basis for morality (most do not, AFAIK), that would not help Sean Samis’ case, because most humans thinking a thing doesn’t make that thing a fact, and he claims moral oughts can be reasoned directly from facts.

    Reciprocity is not a fact, and if we’re going to resort to “what most humans think”, then sean samis would have to reason from a root concept of “doing what god wants us to do”. Which he rejects.

    And so, sean samis cannot be arguing with anything other than a cherry-picked meme or religious concept. Remember what he said:

    A Fact (which KF frequently inserts into his cite-laden comments): We all know that we cannot expect from others good treatment we deny to others. As is often said: what goes around comes around.

    We most certainly do not all know any such thing because it is not a fact, it is a hope, expectation, common meme or religious concept, nothing more. In fact, an atheist could make the case that a large portion of religious beliefs are compensating for the virtually ubiquitous injustice we see in the world, where after this life, or in another, people will get what they deserve – good and bad.

    The idea that it is a fact that there is reciprocity in this world is laughable.

  27. 27
    LarTanner says:

    WJM (26),

    I’m not seeing the logic here of your full post. In particular, when you say “Reciprocity is not a fact,” I am confused because I don’t understand what kind of fact you mean. That some people adopt reciprocity in their ethical thinking would appear to be a fact, right? In what other ways could reciprocity be or not be a fact?

    My main question is still unanswered, I think, so I’ll ask again in slightly different language: If reciprocity is a religious concept, as you claim, what makes it essentially religious such that a non-religious philosophy could only ‘steal’ it?

    Finally, perhaps a tangent: Are you of aware of any animal societies that appear to have ethics? So, if an animal society were observed to display reciprocity, would reciprocity in this context be a religious or non-religious imperative for the members of the society?

  28. 28

    LarTanner said:

    I’m not seeing the logic here of your full post. In particular, when you say “Reciprocity is not a fact,” I am confused because I don’t understand what kind of fact you mean. That some people adopt reciprocity in their ethical thinking would appear to be a fact, right? In what other ways could reciprocity be or not be a fact?

    It could be a demonstrable fact that actual reciprocity occurs – that when you treat other people in a certain manner, they treat you back that way. Or, that when you do X good, you receive X good back. However, this is not the case.

    Sean Samis said that “We all know that we cannot expect from others good treatment we deny to others. As is often said: what goes around comes around.”

    IOW, he is postulating “what goes around comes around” either as an actual fact, or that we know that we will get reciprocal treatment from others, and is using the meme as support for his contention that we all “know” that reciprocity will happen.

    There are other memes that indicate exactly the opposite. We do not know that reciprocity happens. It is not a fact. If he is referring to the “factual” nature of the meme simply as one meme among many, with no supposed correlation to some actual observed physical principle of reciprocity, then once again he is simply choosing a convenient meme to acquire his a priori goal.

    My main question is still unanswered, I think, so I’ll ask again in slightly different language: If reciprocity is a religious concept, as you claim, what makes it essentially religious such that a non-religious philosophy could only ‘steal’ it?

    I already answered this and bolded the pertinent passage for you.

    That’s simply not true at all. There is no factual law or principle of “reciprocity” or “what goes around comes around” that has ever been studied – at least not to my knowledge. What you are promoting here as a fact is nothing more than either a stolen religious concept or what some people experience as a hope or common meme – that their good deeds will eventually reap benefit, or that the bad deeds of others will eventually catch up with them.

    Reciprocity is not necessarily a religious concept. Sean Samis is free to use it however he wants; the problem is that he cannot justify reaching that moral model from his premises (reasoning from facts) without also justifying any moral model reasoned from other facts and other common memes. He did not begin with facts and reasoned from them; he began with a conclusion he wished to reach (reciprocity and equity) and chose particular facts about human nature and memes in order to be able to reach that particular goal.

  29. 29
    sean samis says:

    William J Murray:

    Before I respond to your questions, I do want to comment on something you wrote which LarTanner correctly questioned:

    …reciprocity is not a fact at all. It is a stolen religious concept…

    You are misusing the word “stolen”. To steal something is to make it unavailable to the rightful owner or to deprive the rightful owner of something without their permission. I have not done that; the entire universe can use this principle and no one is deprived of it. It’s in the Public Domain so there’s no one to get permission from because no one holds title or deed to the concept. I’ve not stolen anything.

    The concept of reciprocity exists, it is therefore a fact. It describes observable human behavior. It is as factual as language, laughter or kissing.

    The concept of Reciprocity (better known as the Golden Rule) has been written about quite often, if you are unaware of this, google “Golden Rule” and begin your education. If you google “principle of reciprocity” you’ll get more than 300,000 hits.

    Barry wrote something about “freeloading” on religion, but again that is an error. “Freeload” means to get or ask for things from people without paying for them; to impose upon another’s generosity or hospitality without sharing in the cost or responsibility involved. Since there’s no one who’s giving anything up, no impositions, and no costs to share, borrowing from religious doctrine is not “freeloading”.

    WJM, you asked a number of questions in #22; some of which you repeated in other comments.

    The gist of your questions can be summarized this way: How do you prevent heresy or schism?

    I choose those words deliberately because they point to the fact that the problems you pose are problems that theists have to deal with too. How does any moral system “prevent” people from coming to their own unorthodox conclusions? Conclusions that differ significantly from those others believe are proper? This is not a problem unique to my situation or my proposal. It is a problem that EVERY moral system must address; and I’ll just say that it’s not particularly difficult for my rational system.

    You propose a moral system based on “worldview foundations”.

    If one doesn’t hold that there is an actual, fundamentally valid source of moral knowledge from which reasoning and criticism would have merit when applied to a moral assertion, there’s no sound basis for an argument. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re referring to a book or any scripture, but without something serving as your basis for reasonable analysis and criticism, you’re just floating around in the air.

    I agreed with this, except it is not proved that such a basis needs to go “back to a worldview foundation”. That is an assertion in and of itself; an assertion demanding reasoned criticism which you have yet to provide. More importantly, as the words “heresy” and “schism” remind us, this problem bedevils your own standard. Every religion has it’s passionate disagreements; no religion has found a way to prevent that.

    Saying that morality is based on an “actual, fundamentally valid source of moral knowledge” has not prevented people from deciding that they are going to follow a different set of rules. They invent their own scriptures, or interpret other scriptures in new ways, and manage to rationalize all kinds of conflicting moral claims. Even with a book or scripture, religious morality has ended up “just floating around in the air”.

    After all, unless the validity of the source of moral knowledge is something everyone can experience and observe, you have no basis for saying that one set of rules is correct and the others are wrong. But there is nothing about your religious worldview which can be confirmed by direct experience; it all comes down to belief. Claiming that your moral system is rooted at the foundation of reality is useless; that tells us nothing about the correct moral content of the system.

    You accuse me of question-begging, but question-begging is all a theistic moral system has. There is nothing serving as the basis for reasonable analysis and criticism except one’s private, unsupported, religious belief.

    You asked me how I would respond to someone who decided that their moral system was based on “different facts”;

    … and different behaviors to arrive at an entirely different moral theory – one where the lives of comfort of others mean nothing to me, and my morality entirely centers around my personal success and enjoyment of life. I can use other facts, … and behaviors to justify making slaves of others, using violence, hoarding resources, psychologically manipulating them, etc.

    (Interestingly enough, just about all of these behaviors have been justified in the past by religious and biblical claims.)

    And if I do, there is no physical law or principle that can stop me from leading a wonderful, enjoyable life nor bring any necessarily bad consequences for me personally – none, that is, unless morality refers to a fundamental aspect of our existence which necessarily results in inescapable consequences, whether or not we see them manifest in this world.

    Unfortunately, no morality (not even yours) “necessarily results in inescapable consequences, whether or not we see them manifest in this world.

    So how would I respond to these other moral standards?

    Humans are social animals; that is just who we are. Communities cannot be stable unless they provide at least minimally for all its members; including the weak and the vulnerable. If someone is a complete sociopath, they risk bringing down the wrath of the community on them. Perhaps the sociopath thinks they are a superman, able to resist and defeat the efforts of the entire community. Usually such people are wrong, they come to a bad end. Sometimes they get away with it. But usually not.

    If someone is unwilling to listen to reason, there’s nothing I can do. And nothing you could do either. But at least I can point to facts about humans that the other can see and evaluate. All you can do is tell them your personal religious beliefs which they cannot validate.

    This problem cannot be a defect in my moral standard if it is not a defect in yours. There simply are limits to what either of us can do.

    sean s.

  30. 30

    sean samis said:

    You are misusing the word “stolen”. To steal something is to make it unavailable to the rightful owner or to deprive the rightful owner of something without their permission.

    I didn’t use the word “stolen” by itself. A “stolen concept” fallacy is when one uses a concept while denying the foundation upon which it rests. Reciprocity as a factually existent state of affairs (karma, for instance) is a religious concept that depends upon a whole spiritual infrastructure.

    However, it appears you are not talking about an actual state of affairs, but rather just the concept itself.

    The gist of your questions can be summarized this way: How do you prevent heresy or schism?

    I have absolutely no idea what you are talking about. You go on for a while talking about stuff that I cannot even imagine how it relates to anything I said. I said nothing about heresy or schism. I made no points implying such things. I don’t care about “heresy” or “schism”. My argument was about how your “morality” is not “reasoned from facts”, but rather “reasoned towards an a priori goal”.

    You are apparently responding to an argument or a position that lies almost entirely in your own head.

    You accuse me of question-begging, but question-begging is all a theistic moral system has.

    That’s not true. Theism provides the assumed root and foundation of what morality is. That doesn’t make any particular theism true, or any theism true for that matter; it just means that such systems have a sufficient basis (a presumed objective, universal, fundamental quality) for a morality that should be X and not Y. Yours provides no such presumed foundation. You’ve “reasoned” from one concept among any number with no reason to pick one other than personal preference.

    That people invent their own scriptures and their own gods and rules in the name of theism is irrelevant. Bad science and fraudulent scientists don’t make the principles of science faulty; bad logic and use of rhetoric and insult as if one is making a valid argument doesn’t change the valid nature of logic.

    Theism is the only moral system that can provide an adequate bais for morality as sane humans actually experience it, and is the only moral sytstem that lends itself to rational examination and inferences without eventually leading to “because I feel like it, because I can” or “might makes right”

    After all, unless the validity of the source of moral knowledge is something everyone can experience and observe, you have no basis for saying that one set of rules is correct and the others are wrong.

    Your logic is incredibly bad here. That some people cannot see or recognize the valid moral knowledge is entirely irrelevant to its proposed factually existent nature. Just because blind or deaf people exist doesn’t disqualify me from seeing and hearing things and acquiring knowledge about the tnings I see and hear. Some person’s inability to recognize moral knowledge certainly doesn’t impede my moral sensory capacity one bit.

    Unfortunately, no morality (not even yours) “necessarily results in inescapable consequences, whether or not we see them manifest in this world.”

    This is a baffling statement. Are you making an assertion about the factual state of the world? If you are, I’d like to see you support that claim.

    You also seem to be making a claim about my (and all) moral system – that in my moral system, there are no “inescapable consequences”. I’ve been involved in several spiritualities that make just that very claim – that there is no escaping the ramifications of your actions, period. Some Karmic systems are this way. In my own idiosyncratic belief system, I absolutely believe something similar. I believe there is a moral system in which the consequences of our actions are utterly inescapable.

    I don’t see how the rest of what you wrote is even responsive to the rebuttal I made – it’s as if you are justifying your moral argument simply by insisting that we’re all capable of error. IOW, since we’re capable of error, you get to pick whatever concepts you want to in order to reason to your desired goal and it’s as good as anyone else’s moral system or argument.

    Following that logic, since all scientists are capable of error, it’s reasonable to just pick up whatever theories or hypothesi serve your desired ends and use them to justify your conclusion. That doesn’t make any sense. Do you believe in intellectual anarchism or something?

    You seem to think it’s entirely acceptable to pluck a couple of common concepts from an infinite number, use them to reach your desired moral goal, and then re-frame that process as “reasoning a moral theory from a fact.”

  31. 31

    BTW, I’d like to post this for the record. Sean Samis said:

    We all know that we cannot expect from others good treatment we deny to others. As is often said: what goes around comes around.”

    Then, sean samis said this:

    The concept of reciprocity exists, it is therefore a fact. It describes observable human behavior. It is as factual as language, laughter or kissing.

    Sean, do you really not understand that quite a bit of the time, reciprocity doesn’t actually occur? It’s a concept. Perhaps it does happen much of the time, but “we all” certainly don’t know it’s going to happen. As I pointed out, there’s also a reason why there are other popular memes, like “nice guys finish last” and “no good deed goes unpunished.” So you’re building a moral theory on a couple of concepts and a couple of human behaviors that occur that you’ve plucked out of an infinite assortment.

    Why those concepts? Why those behaviors? What I mean is, actually, why did you pick those concepts and those behaviors? —- the reason is, to get you to the morality you wanted to acquire in the first place. You didn’t reason from those concepts/behaviors; you picked them for a reason.

    There are countless other common human concepts and behaviors – why didn’t you pick any of them? Because they wouldn’t lead to where you wanted to wind up. Reciprocity and Equity get you where you want to go.

    You might think about this, Sean Samis. You’re not reasoning from anything – certainly not any significant facts; you’re doing whatever it takes, and justifying it however you can, to get to where you already wanted to go – to a morality you already know is right.

    Think about it. You’re trying to justify what your conscience tells you is right – what you can plainly see and know is a moral good – by inventing a supposedly fact-based chain of non-religious reasoning back to a couple of conveniently-chosen concepts.

    You already knew what was morally right and wrong to begin with.

  32. 32
    sean samis says:

    William J Murray @30:

    When I objected in #29 about your statement that reciprocity cannot be “stolen” you replied:

    I didn’t use the word “stolen” by itself. A “stolen concept” fallacy is when one uses a concept while denying the foundation upon which it rests. …

    First, you did not use the phrase “stolen concept fallacy”; only “stolen religious concept”; these are not the same things. The idea of “stealing” a religious concept is absurd.

    Even when LarTanner asked you about this (in #25 and #27) you said nothing about any “fallacy”. In fact, until your comment #30, the word “fallacy” is never used in this thread.

    Second, a “stolen concept fallacy” consists of “requiring the truth of the something that you are simultaneously trying to disprove or whose “genetic” roots you deny.” My use of reciprocity does not deny the truth of reciprocity. I am neither trying to disprove reciprocity nor deny its roots; so there’s no “stolen concept fallacy” here.

    Look, let’s at least be honest: you used the word “stolen” (and Barry used the word “freeload”) merely as expressions of disapproval; I freely admit that I borrow from whatever source has some concept I think is useful; I’ve never denied that. In fact, that is one of the virtues of my rational standard, it’s not original to me at all, I’m just bringing different concepts from different sources together and creating something from them that works. You disapprove, which is your right. But I’ve stolen nothing, and committed no “stolen concept fallacy”.

    You continued in #30:

    Reciprocity as a factually existent state of affairs (karma, for instance) is a religious concept that depends upon a whole spiritual infrastructure. … However, it appears you are not talking about an actual state of affairs, but rather just the concept itself.

    Reciprocity is an observable behavior or a quality of behavior. It is

    the practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit, especially privileges granted by one country or organization to another; mutual dependence, action, or influence; a reciprocal state or relation; reciprocation; mutual exchange; the relation or policy in commercial dealings between countries by which corresponding advantages or privileges are granted by each country to the citizens of the other.

    Notice there’s nothing about any “spiritual infrastructure” or religious concept. The concept does appear in religions; The Golden Rule is a prime example. But reciprocity is as much a commercial or legal concept as any. It is found in Babylonian law, the Code of Hammurabi (c. 1750 BCE), and in Roman Law (as the lex talionis). Karma is different; it is less about reciprocity than cause-and-effect; karma is not generally conceived by Hindus as a judgement.

    On to the really interesting stuff.

    I raised the topic of heresy and schism. You replied that

    I said nothing about heresy or schism. I made no points implying such things. I don’t care about “heresy” or “schism”. … You are apparently responding to an argument or a position that lies almost entirely in your own head.

    I realize you didn’t “say anything about heresy or schism”; that’s what makes it so sweet! You didn’t realize you were opening that can of worms! If you don’t understand this, then you’ve forgotten the very questions you asked me in #22. You asked:

    Why should I not reference those [other] facts about human nature when I begin building my moral theory? Why should I not point to other common memes that contradict your particular extrapolative parameters?

    You refer to the behavioral preferences of human vulnerability and need; why should I not employ the behavioral preferences of human aggression and selfish desire?

    You see, which facts about human nature you have chosen, and which common memes and common human behaviors you have selected as a basis for reasoning from those facts betrays your question-begging. Why those facts? Why those memes? Why those particular common human behaviors?

    I could as easily use different facts, different common memes, and different behaviors to arrive at an entirely different moral theory – one where the lives of comfort of others mean nothing to me, and my morality entirely centers around my personal success and enjoyment of life. I can use other facts, memes and behaviors to justify making slaves of others, using violence, hoarding resources, psychologically manipulating them, etc.

    And if I do, there is no physical law or principle that can stop me from leading a wonderful, enjoyable life nor bring any necessarily bad consequences for me personally – none, that is, unless morality refers to a fundamental aspect of our existence which necessarily results in inescapable consequences, whether or not we see them manifest in this world.

    So, what we see here is that your selection of certain facts, memes and behaviors are organized with a particular end goal moral theory in mind, because entirely different facts, memes and behaviors could be chosen to reach an entirely different result. You are not reasoning towards a moral conclusion at all; you are attempting to justify your a priori moral conclusion by cherry-picking facts, memes and common human behaviors to justify that particular outcome.

    Your reasoning begins with the moral outcome you wish to reach. You have fooled yourself into thinking that you can begin with facts and reasoning. You have fooled yourself into thinking that you can reason an ought from an is. You cannot. You are only attempting to justify your a priori ought by cherry-picking facts, memes and behaviors to get you to it.

    Now let me recast this SLIGHTLY and you should see what I am getting at:

    Why should I not reference those [other] RELIGIOUS facts when I begin building my THEISTIC moral theory? Why should I not point to other common RELIGIOUS SAYINGS that contradict your particular extrapolative parameters?

    Which RELIGIOUS facts you have chosen, and which common RELIGIOUS SAYINGS and common human behaviors (or RELIGIOUS TRADITIONS) you have selected as a basis for reasoning from those facts betrays your question-begging. Why those RELIGIOUS facts? Why those RELIGIOUS SAYINGS? Why those particular TRADITIONS?

    One could as easily use different RELIGIOUS facts, different common RELIGIOUS SAYINGS, and different behaviors to arrive at an entirely different RELIGIOUS moral theory – one where the lives of comfort of others mean nothing, and morality entirely centers around personal success and enjoyment of life. THIS SOUNDS LIKE SOME TELEVANGELISTS! One can use other RELIGIOUS facts, SAYINGS and behaviors to justify making slaves of others, using violence, hoarding resources, psychologically manipulating them, etc. AS MANY RELIGIONS HAVE ALREADY DONE.

    And if One does, there is no RELIGIOUS law or principle that can stop them from leading a wonderful, enjoyable life nor bring any necessarily bad consequences for them personally – none, that is, unless morality refers to a fundamental aspect of our existence which necessarily results in inescapable consequences, whether or not we see them manifest in this world. BUT SINCE ONE WILL CLAIM GOD GAVE THEM PERMISSION OR HAS ALREADY FORGIVEN THEM, THERE IS NO CONSEQUENCE AT ALL.

    So, what we see here is that your selection of certain RELIGIOUS facts, SAYINGS and behaviors are organized with a particular end goal moral theory in mind, because entirely different RELIGIOUS facts, SAYINGS and behaviors could be chosen to reach an entirely different result. You are not reasoning towards a moral conclusion at all; you are attempting to justify your a priori RELIGIOUS conclusion by cherry-picking RELIGIOUS facts, SAYINGS and common human behaviors to justify that particular RELIGIOUS outcome.

    Your RELIGIOUS reasoning begins with the moral outcome you wish to reach. You have fooled yourself into thinking that you can begin with RELIGIOUS facts and reasoning. You have fooled yourself into thinking that you can reason an ought from an is. You cannot. You are only attempting to justify your a priori RELIGIOUS RULE by cherry-picking RELIGIOUS facts, SAYINGS memes and behaviors to get you to it.

    What I demonstrate above is not some bare hypothetical; it is the oft-observed process of heresy and schism. The Catholic Church promulgates a doctrine based on particular religious facts, sayings, or traditions; and Protestants proclaim a different doctrine based on different religious facts, sayings, or traditions.

    A charismatic proclaims himself as a Prophet of God and founds a different religion based on different religious facts, sayings, and traditions. Women become property, school girls are doused in acid, and they thank their God for His Blessings on them.

    This is not physics. It is not mathematics. It’s HISTORY. It’s current events.

    You complain in #22 was that my

    “morality” is not “reasoned from facts”, but rather “reasoned towards an a priori goal”.

    Well, I am not reasoning toward a goal (as I shall show) BUT YOU ARE, AND SO IS EVERY THEISTIC MORAL CLAIM. Religious morality does not argue from FACTS but from ASSERTIONS, toward other ASSERTIONS. It is classic circular logic; which is what “question begging” is all about.

    When I accused you of question-begging you replied that

    That’s not true. Theism provides the assumed root and foundation of what morality is. That doesn’t make any particular theism true, or any theism true for that matter; it just means that such systems have a sufficient basis (a presumed objective, universal, fundamental quality) for a morality that should be X and not Y. …

    Assuming a “root and foundation of what morality is” does not change the fact that you are assuming what you try to prove. This is circular logic or question begging. Assuming a basis is sufficient does not make it sufficient; to avoid question begging you need to show that your basis is REAL, not just assumed. Assuming that morality should be X and not Y is reasoning toward a desired conclusion; it is, in your own words, question-begging.

    You also said:

    That people invent their own scriptures and their own gods and rules in the name of theism is irrelevant. …

    But what is relevant is that there is no reasonable basis for saying which scriptures, gods, or rules are right. Your asserted and presumed “root and foundation of what morality is” cannot be used to demonstrate by reason which religious claims are right or wrong, only which ones you prefer or not.

    What makes this particularly bad is something you said in #26 (to LarTanner) about religious beliefs:

    For most humans, morality is entirely about fulfilling god’s purpose for us, or something along those lines, whether it makes other people happy or not, whether it appears to help or harm other people. (Bold added)

    You are disturbingly sanguine about harm done in the name of religion. You go on to write that:

    Theism is the only moral system that can provide an adequate bais [sic] for morality as sane humans actually experience it, and is the only moral sytstem [sic] that lends itself to rational examination and inferences without eventually leading to “because I feel like it, because I can” or “might makes right”

    That is exactly wrong. All theistic examinations and decisions come down to personal preference and belief.

    In #29 I wrote:

    After all, unless the validity of the source of moral knowledge is something everyone can experience and observe, you have no basis for saying that one set of rules is correct and the others are wrong.

    You replied:

    …That some people cannot see or recognize the valid moral knowledge is entirely irrelevant to its proposed factually existent nature. Just because blind or deaf people exist doesn’t disqualify me from seeing and hearing things and acquiring knowledge about the tnings [sic] I see and hear. Some person’s inability to recognize moral knowledge certainly doesn’t impede my moral sensory capacity one bit.

    I had to laugh: “its proposed factually existent nature. Really? Since you’ve proposed it, that makes this faculty real? Please. You can claim to have a “moral sensory capacity” all you like, until it is demonstrated as real AND reliable, it’s just talk.

    I KNOW I don’t have any “moral sensory capacity” and given the horror of human history, I am skeptical that anyone really does.

    -.-.-.-.-.-

    You wrote that

    …Bad science and fraudulent scientists don’t make the principles of science faulty; bad logic and use of rhetoric and insult as if one is making a valid argument doesn’t change the valid nature of logic.

    Exactly right, but this is because science, logic, and rhetoric have RATIONAL BASES; their rules are based on facts and experience; they are based on things that nearly everyone can observe and experience. Theistic claims are ENTIRELY DIFFERENT. As I wrote before: I know I don’t have any “moral sensory capacity” and given the moral uncertainty of human conduct, I am skeptical that anyone really does.

    About my process, you wrote that it

    …provides no such presumed foundation. You’ve “reasoned” from one concept among any number with no reason to pick one other than personal preference.

    Demonstrating how my standard works is the subject of the next post, which is in the works.

    sean s.

  33. 33

    Sean Samis said:

    First, you did not use the phrase “stolen concept fallacy”; only “stolen religious concept”; these are not the same things.

    I didn’t say I used that phrase. I said I didn’t use the term “stolen” in a contextual vacuum. I’m enlightening you as to how I was using the term because it was apparent you had not understood what I meant.

    The idea of “stealing” a religious concept is absurd.

    Well, it may seem absurd to you, but there’s been considerable argument about that very thing here and elsewhere. I started a thread an OP about this very subject here a couple of years ago. Wikipedia says:

    Indirectly self-denying statements or “fallacy of the stolen concept”

    Objectivists define the fallacy of the stolen concept: the act of using a concept while ignoring, contradicting or denying the validity of the concepts on which it logically and genetically depends.

    I’m not sure what you consider absurd about it. If you use a concept which is genetically derived from and necessarily, logically depend on fundamental principles you deny, it’s a vaild point that you have used a stolen concept – one for which your own worldview framework offers no support for. IOW, there’s no reason in your worldview why we should select those particular concepts and habits, because they are just one of many we could equally select.

    Sean Samis continues

    Look, let’s at least be honest: you used the word “stolen” (and Barry used the word “freeload”) merely as expressions of disapproval;

    I’m sure Mr. Arrington will agree with me here: you are completely incorrect. That materialists conceptually freeload (use stolen concepts) on the philosophical grounding of religion has long been a subject of debate here at UD.

    I’m just bringing different concepts from different sources together and creating something from them that works. You disapprove, which is your right. But I’ve stolen nothing, and committed no “stolen concept fallacy”.

    The problem is in how you have defined, and from where you got the concept of “what works”. When a moral system works, what is it supposed to accomplish, Sean? And, why should it attempt to accomplish that particular goal? This is why you are stealing your concepts – you have appropriated from other systems behaviors and memes to accomplish a particular moral goal; you have not said why any of us should care about achieving that particular moral goal, moreso why any of us should feel obligated or responsible for behaving thusly. Your moral guidelines are just hanging in air.

    Reciprocity and equity, in religious and spiritual moral systems, are behavioral guidelines in service of a goal or purpose presumed to be universal and binding. They do not define “what morality is”; they are a means to service moral purpose. In those systems, we only act according to reciprocity or equity as long as it serves the moral purpose. In most religions/spiritualities, that purpose is to serve some divine purpose that is intrinsic to our existence and to all of creation, which provides a foundation for why we are obligated to conduct ourselves in a moral fashion and necessarily responsible for our behavior, whether anyone else notices or not.

    Now let me recast this SLIGHTLY and you should see what I am getting at:

    You are mistaking an argument about the foundations of a moral system for an argument about competing moral behaviors and guidelines. Theist or non-theist can make any specific moral claim they want; none of it means squat without a sound foundation for one’s moral system that (1) supports that moral view and (2) corresponds with how humans actually behave, think, and argue.

    I understand what you are saying. You are not understanding the argument being presented to you. Yes, both theist and non-theist moral systems can make contradictory moral statements X and Y, or have a plethora of varied guidelines and behaviors to choose from. Your argument is that because of this, it doesn’t matter if one is theist or non-theist; all you can do is pick from existing ideas or invent a moral concept or principle and go from there.

    What you are missing is that there is a fundamental conceptual difference between theistic and non-theistic (or objective and subjective) moral systems; in the former, you are searching for a true morality; in the latter, you are inventing a morality that is useful to your subjective purpose. With theistic/objective morality, you want to find out how you should behave; with subjective/non-theistic morality; you are justifying how you prefer to behave (or how you prefer others behave). Those are entirely different and irreconciliable root views of what morality is.

    Now, before you go all off on a tangent, yes, people do use theistic morality to justify what they want to do anyway, but my point is that the premise of a theistic morality is that there is a true morality that you are obligated to discover and obey whether you want to or not. Non-theistic, subjective morality is presumed from the get-go to not be existentially binding nor even carry any necessary repercussions.

    What I’m arguing about here are the logical ramifications of the different kinds of conceptual systems. Sure, people can use theism the same way as others use subjective moralities, and those who create subjective moralities can feel obligated and sincere in their moral views. But it is only under theism that any particular moral view can actually be considered objectively wrong.

    (And that is how all sane humans behave – as if some behaviors are objectively good, and some objectively wrong.)

    Assuming that morality is subjective in nature validates all morality as equally “true”. That is certainly not how sane humans behave, including moral subjectivists.

    Assuming a “root and foundation of what morality is” does not change the fact that you are assuming what you try to prove.

    Again, you’re not understanding what the argument is about, and you are making incorrect assumptions about my moral views and how I came by them. I’m not trying to prove that morality is rooted in the nature of god; I’m making an argument that any moral system that doesn’t begin with that assumption has no chance of being a rational, sound, explanatory system that coincides with how people actually behave, and doesn’t logically boil down to a system of “because I feel like it, because I can”.

    My argument is entirely about the fundamental basis of moral systems and whether or not the premise and assumptions of that moral system can sustain a logically coherent moral system that corresponds to actual human behavior and is even acceptable as a valid kind of morality.

    At the very root, one can only assume that morality is either objective or subjective in nature. You cannot prove it is subjective. As you say, there is no way to prove it, but there’s no way to prove it either way. That is why I keep referring to one’s fundamental moral premise or assumption. One must make assumptions before they even start.

    However, IF morality is subjective in nature, there are necessary logical ramifications. IF it is objective in nature, there are necessary logical ramifications. These ramifications can be (and have been) explored via logic and argument. I partially examined this issue in another OP. I made the case here about the logical problems with the premise of subjective morality.

    Although there are many problems with some forms of theistic/objective morality, non-theistic subjective morality is a complete failure and utterly unacceptable (except to perhaps sociopaths) as a basis for morality. What I mean here is that if one examines such a morality rationally through to the necessary conceptual consequences, it is unacceptable. Most non-theists and subjective moralists don’t examine their moral views this thoroughly. (To be fair, most theists don’t either. Few people examine their premises and assumptions thoroughly because they don’t even know they are making assumptions.)

    Which brings us back to stolen concepts; the only non-theistic, subjective moralities that are remotely palatable are those that begin with personal preferences that reflect many religious/spiritual views, but offer no substantive reason whatsoever why less palatable moralities should not be adopted, or should be attacked and defeated as if they were objectively wrong.

    We all act as if our moral views are objectively binding on all humans, as if we all have moral obligations and responsibilities, as if we have some degree of innate moral knowledge as perceived through our conscience, and as if there are necessary consequences to our moral behaviors. You yourself demonstrate this by picking particular behaviors and memes to justify what you already accept as morally right and the idea of consequences (reciprocity, indeed). To argue that morality is essentially subjective, but then act as if it is objective, demonstrates the intellectual vacuity of the subjectivism premise.

    Whether true or not, it is only Theism that can provide a sound, sufficient basis for a rational, palatable morality that corresponds to how humans actually behave (admitting that many theisms are also not rationally sound).

    Otherwise, there’s no reason to care at all about morality, since it cannot be about finding any “truth”, but rather can only be about justifying behavior – and why bother justifying behavior in the first place? Why bother with morality at all, when there are no necessary ramifications?

    Just do what you prefer doing and stop bothering using any subjective, intermediary concept of “morality” to “justify” it.

    TL;DR: Unless our moral system is fundamentally about something by which we each, as individuals, should change our own behavior to be in line with, and unless it serves as both a responsibility and and obligation to act morally even against our own preferences, situational self-interest, comfort and/or safety, and unless it can justify interventions in the behavior of others for the sake of what is good or right, even putting ourselves and loved ones in great peril, then it’s not a moral system worth caring about nor a moral system that explains actual human behavior.

    Non-theistic, subjective moralities simply cannot pass that test.

  34. 34
    sean samis says:

    In response to William J Murray’s comments 30 and before, I address how to derive an “ought” from an “is”

    —————————————————————–THE OUGHT-IS GAP—————————————————————–

    This problem is simply the question of how the existence of facts in the world (the IS) leads to the conclusion that some things are morally necessary (the OUGHT). How does a fact lead to the creation of an obligation?

    kairosfocus has commented frequently on this and attributes this problem to Hume:

    Hume’s Guillotine:

    “In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, I have always remarked, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary ways of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when all of a sudden I am surprised [orig; surpriz’d] to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is however, of the last consequence. For as this ought, or ought not, expresses some new relation or affirmation, ’tis necessary that it should be observed and explained; and at the same time that a reason should be given, for what seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it. But as authors do not commonly use this precaution, I shall presume to recommend it to the readers; and am persuaded, that this small attention would subvert all the vulgar systems of morality, and let us see, that the distinction of vice and virtue is not founded merely on the relations of objects, nor is perceived by reason.” —Hume, David (1739), A Treatise of Human Nature, London, John Noon. p. 335.

    After citing this, KF has added:

    This is a classic statement of the IS-OUGHT gap, and it is what I had in mind in saying: “The question, in short, is whether we actually are under moral government of ought.”

    On this matter, KF has also cited Arthur Holmes:

    Arthur Holmes in Ethics:

    “However we may define the good, however well we may calculate consequences, to whatever extent we may or may not desire certain consequences, none of this of itself implies any obligation of command. That something is or will be does not imply that we ought to seek it. We can never derive an ‘ought’ from a premised ‘is’ unless the ought is somehow already contained in the premise … .”

    In brief: the so-called “OUGHT-IS” gap occurs when one tries to take the step from what things are to what things we ought to do. How do we justify that step?

    In fact, the ought-is “gap” is no more than a crack in the sidewalk; bridging the OUGHT-IS gap is trivial.

    How?

    KF has posted the idea himself MANY TIMES when KF cited both Locke and Aristotle (via Hooker):

    KF: “…let me draw attention again to the pivotal clip from Hooker cited by Locke in his 2nd treatise on govt ch 2 sec 5:

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

    In plain English, Locke asks a question:

    If I want people to do good to me, how can I expect my desire to be satisfied unless I satisfy that desire in others?

    Locke’s answer is that nature imposes a natural duty of treating others with the same care we want them to treat us. Because we are all equally human, natural reason directs us clearly on this matter.

    Aristotle’s comment is likewise obvious: we must refrain from doing to others that which we don’t want them to do to us. That should sound familiar: it is one of the several variations of the Golden Rule: do unto other that which you would have them do unto you.

    This “ought-is” “gap” is easily bridged by reciprocity. We are obligated to behave morally because we want to be treated morally. We cannot expect others to treat any of us better than we treat others. Moral behavior does not GUARANTEE we will be treated well, but immoral behavior comes very close to guaranteeing we will not be treated well.

    This ain’t rocket science. It’s an idea that travels under different names: reciprocity; fairness, equity, justice. It’s the ancient idea we called “The Golden Rule”.

    Because of how the world IS and how it BEHAVES we are obligated to avoid doing evil because we dearly want to NOT be on the receiving end of Evil. The facts of nature (the IS) compel us to act in certain ways (the OUGHT) if only in our self-interest. The obligation created by our social nature, by duty or by empathy, sympathy, or compassion impose obligations even if not in our self-interest.

    Even more ironic than KF posting the solution to his dilemma many times is that Locke’s answer to Hume’s Guillotine is older by decades. The Golden Rule is older by centuries. The concept of reciprocity and equity is found in Babylonian law, in the Code of Hammurabi (c. 1750 BCE), and in Roman Law (as the lex talionis).

    What does this fact tell us? If a problem is useful, it can be very hard to see the easy solution. This “gap” is very useful to Hume and KF and WJM so none of them are able to see that it is actually a trivial problem solved millennia ago.

    On this thread, WJM wrote (in #30) that my “morality” is not “reasoned from facts”, but rather “reasoned towards an a priori goal”. But clearly, reciprocity/fairness/equity/justice/the Golden Rule have been found by many before me to be well grounded in the facts of the human condition.

    WJM asked me (in #22 et seq.) how I would respond to persons who arrive at moral standards different from what I advocate.

    He asked:

    Why should I not reference those [other] facts about human nature when I begin building my moral theory? Why should I not point to other common memes that contradict your particular extrapolative parameters?

    You refer to the behavioral preferences of human vulnerability and need; why should I not employ the behavioral preferences of human aggression and selfish desire?

    You see, which facts about human nature you have chosen, and which common memes and common human behaviors you have selected as a basis for reasoning from those facts betrays your question-begging. Why those facts? Why those memes? Why those particular common human behaviors?

    I could as easily use different facts, different common memes, and different behaviors to arrive at an entirely different moral theory – one where the lives of comfort of others mean nothing to me, and my morality entirely centers around my personal success and enjoyment of life. I can use other facts, memes and behaviors to justify making slaves of others, using violence, hoarding resources, psychologically manipulating them, etc.

    And if I do, there is no physical law or principle that can stop me from leading a wonderful, enjoyable life nor bring any necessarily bad consequences for me personally – none, that is, unless morality refers to a fundamental aspect of our existence which necessarily results in inescapable consequences, whether or not we see them manifest in this world.

    So, what we see here is that your selection of certain facts, memes and behaviors are organized with a particular end goal moral theory in mind, because entirely different facts, memes and behaviors could be chosen to reach an entirely different result. You are not reasoning towards a moral conclusion at all; you are attempting to justify your a priori moral conclusion by cherry-picking facts, memes and common human behaviors to justify that particular outcome.

    Your reasoning begins with the moral outcome you wish to reach. You have fooled yourself into thinking that you can begin with facts and reasoning. You have fooled yourself into thinking that you can reason an ought from an is. You cannot. You are only attempting to justify your a priori ought by cherry-picking facts, memes and behaviors to get you to it.

    The “other facts” WJM asked about:

    There are other common sayings – “No good deed goes unpunished”, “Only the good die young”, “nice guys finish last” which represent another common meme among people: that being good does not by any means mean that good will come back to you as a result – in fact, these memes indicate a belief that being good and nice results in negative “reciprocity”. …

    A common human response to our agreed upon fact of aversion to hunger is that humans hoard food and resources. It is also a common aspect of human nature to develop means by which to ensure your access to resources by establishing ownership and protective control of those resources to ensure your survival (and the survival of your family) even if it is at the expense of others who are hungry. …

    We can point to another inconvenient fact about human nature: personal survival instinct, which usually trumps vague memes like “equity” or “reciprocity” when push comes to shove. There are many other “basic facts” about human nature – like selfishness, vanity, greed, ego, anger, violence, bullying & intimidation, etc. which you have, for some reason, completely ignored. …

    You refer to the behavioral preferences of human vulnerability and need; why should I not employ the behavioral preferences of human aggression and selfish desire? …

    I could as easily use different facts, different common memes, and different behaviors to arrive at an entirely different moral theory – one where the lives of comfort of others mean nothing to me, and my morality entirely centers around my personal success and enjoyment of life. I can use other facts, memes and behaviors to justify making slaves of others, using violence, hoarding resources, psychologically manipulating them, etc. …

    And if I do, there is no physical law or principle that can stop me from leading a wonderful, enjoyable life nor bring any necessarily bad consequences for me personally – none, that is, unless morality refers to a fundamental aspect of our existence which necessarily results in inescapable consequences, whether or not we see them manifest in this world.

    A couple of matters jump out right away: there’s no vice or moral failure in WJM’s list that does not happen even in theistic societies; so this list of problems is not specific to any particular moral standard or system. They’re not MY problems; they’re OUR problems.

    But the question does remain: given this problem in all moral systems, how would I respond within the moral system I propose?

    The basics are clear:

    It is a fact that humans are social animals. We live in communities, we thrive in communities. Like all generalizations, there are exceptions. There are the occasional hermits, frontiersmen (and –women), the loners. But these are only a tiny fraction of humanity; the vast bulk of us live in communities, and that has always been the case. From the family-unit to the clan/tribe, to the village or city, to the county, to the province, and the nation. One distinguishing feature of history is how our sense of community has grown larger and more inclusive.

    It is a fact that living in communities means that moral systems must reflect the community’s needs. We live in communities for mutual support, for socialization, for economic opportunity, etc.

    Here is where WJM’s list of malevolent ideas is how incompatible they are with life in a community.

    No community can last long that values human aggression and selfishness among and between its members. Aggression and selfishness and freeloading happen, but it is not valued.

    No community can last long that preferences individuals for whom the lives of comfort of others mean nothing; or who live entirely for themselves and their personal success and enjoyment of life; all at the expense of others. As before regarding selfishness and freeloading.

    No community can last long that allows members to make slaves of other members, to use violence against other members, hoarding resources for their own use, psychologically manipulating other members to take advantage of them.

    Communities of people living together must have a shared understanding of how they relate to each other, and what their roles in the community are. Communities can embrace malevolent treatment of outsiders; but within the community this conduct would be seriously destabilizing.

    So there’s the best reason I would give to those advocating these kinds of “morality”; there’s no way they would ever want to be on the receiving end of these things; anyone advocating them is likely to be a person who’s pretty sure they have enough social power to escape the consequences. But most members of any community are not so foolish because they are not so powerful.

    This means that WJM’s list applies only to individuals who have no sense of connection to their community.

    WJM writes that “And if I do [these terrible things], there is no physical law or principle that can stop me from leading a wonderful, enjoyable life nor bring any necessarily bad consequences for me personally – none, that is, unless morality refers to a fundamental aspect of our existence which necessarily results in inescapable consequences, whether or not we see them manifest in this world.

    Well sure there is: your neighbors and fellow citizens will be coming for you. That fact might not constitute a “physical law or principle” but it remains a fact.

    This fact of communal, social, or legal enforcement is a fundamental aspect of human existence to which my moral system refers.

    Any successful, stable community, from a family to a nation, must place value on the individual obligation to do their part, to help each other, obey the rules, and to resist freeloaders.

    There will always be individuals who think they are above the law, unbound by the rules or conventions. That’s as true in theistic communities as any. And if such individuals are fortunate to be exceptionally skilled, or wise, or crafty; they may actually get away with it. Moral systems cannot prevent that, but fortunately such individuals are—by definition—exceptions.

    sean s.

  35. 35

    For the record, Sean, this is how I came about my moral system.

    I began as an amoral atheist materialist who decided to become a theist and a good person. Determining what kind of theism I would adopt, I came across the issue of morality in a theistic system. Note that theisms do not necessarily contain moral systems at all. I examined the logical consequences of kinds of moral systems (and the possibility of no moral system) by asking, “If morality is [subjective, objective, nonexistent] then what logically follows?”

    Following the logic derived from those premises, I quickly realized that a subjective morality wasn’t even worth worrying about, because (1) there were no necessary consequences, and (2) the only thing it could possibly be about, in the end, was justifying how I preferred myself (and others) to behave in the first place. IOW, “Because I feel like it, because I can”. Under the scenarios of no morality and subjective morality, being a “good” person was a nonsensical or empty concept.

    Through a process of rational examination I came to realize that the only way an objective morality could exist worth worrying about (and didn’t boil down to might-makes-right) was if there was a certain set of existent circumstances (free will, god, conscience as a moral sensory capacity, and an unalterable, innate quality of good that god itself could not alter and is infused in the fabric of existence). I also realized that the only way in which “being a good person” meant anything was if there was actually an objective standard by which my behavior would actually be measured, resulting in necessary consequences.

    My argument is not that those circumstances are true, or even that they can be demonstrated or proven – but rather, they are the only set of circumstances that, logically, can provide for a sound morality worth caring about that describes how sane people actually behave wrt moral situations and offers a meaningful means of being a good person.

    I’m not arguing that these conditions are true; my point is that if they are not, morality is really nothing more than justifying what you prefer. What is the value of justifying what you already prefer and then calling yourself a “good” person? If that’s all it is, why bother?

  36. 36

    Sean samis said:

    It is a fact that living in communities means that moral systems must reflect the community’s needs. We live in communities for mutual support, for socialization, for economic opportunity, etc.

    No, sean, that is what it means to you. That is not what it necessarily means logically. History utterly disproves your assertion here. Historically, moral systems have often reflected interpretations of scripture that are often detrimental to the needs of the community, or have reflected the desire of those in power to stay in power and suppress dissent and capacity to defy.

    This means that WJM’s list applies only to individuals who have no sense of connection to their community.

    Nope. You are only accounting for “connections to community” that serve your a priori moral purpose and view. Taking advantage of others is also a connection to community. Owning slaves and treating women and children like property and reserving rights for the powerful and privileged is also a connection to the community. Being a thief and living off of others, or a murderer who advances his goals in the community via murder, are all connections the community that do not serve or are explicable by your convenient moral memes/behaviors.

  37. 37

    Sean Samis said:

    No community can last long that allows members to make slaves of other members, to use violence against other members, hoarding resources for their own use, psychologically manipulating other members to take advantage of them.

    What difference does it make if they “last long”? What does “last long” mean? How long is long – more than a lifespan? More than two? What difference does it make to the individual if the community collapses after they are dead?

    You’re just making stuff up now to support what is an obviously untenable position. So communities come and go – are you claiming that, as a whole, one particular kind of community lasts longer than others? Got any evidence to support that claim?

  38. 38

    Well sure there is: your neighbors and fellow citizens will be coming for you. That fact might not constitute a “physical law or principle” but it remains a fact.

    Well, at least this is consistent with your use of the term “fact” – meaning, it’s not a fact at all. It’s an idealistic concept convenient to your argument. It appears to be some sort of idealistic view of “community” which isn’t reflected in the real world, where bad guys are often glamorized, crime is often unreported and unsolved, and an apathetic “community” just stands by, or even cheers, when some innocent civilian is getting the crap beat out of them for just being in the wrong place or the wrong time.

  39. 39

    sean samis said;

    Because of how the world IS and how it BEHAVES we are obligated to avoid doing evil because we dearly want to NOT be on the receiving end of Evil. The facts of nature (the IS) compel us to act in certain ways (the OUGHT) if only in our self-interest. The obligation created by our social nature, by duty or by empathy, sympathy, or compassion impose obligations even if not in our self-interest.

    The problem, sean, is that without a metaphysical basis that is assumed (whether one realizes it or not) to provide necessary (inescapable) consequences for good or evil behavior, there simply is no logical or evidential reason to behave well other than where it is reasonably called for to prevent likely negative personal/social ramifications.

    IOW, if you can get away with it, there’s no reason not to do whatever you want, because there is no metaphysically necessary penalty attached. People can and do get away with doing “bad” things all the time, and under a subjective moral system, there’s no reason not to do those things when you can get away with it.

    There is no “obligation” at all. We are not “obligated” to do what empathy, or sympathy, or compassion dictates unless there is something that necessarily holds us accoutable for violating those obligations. Without the necessary metaphysics, “obligation” is an empty idea.

    Let me inform you how people actually behave in this world for the most part, Sean. They do not behave under the concept of reciprocity; they behave according to how they are psychologically structured from a very young age to behave, regardless of how you treat them.

    Have you ever heard of the story of the scorpion and the frog? There’s another common meme. Most people behave according to their psychological predilections regardless of how you treat them. I’ve tested that out by treating others badly and treating them kindly. Reciprocity is a foolish, unsupported, unevidenced idealistic notion when it is severed from a proper metaphysical foundation. All it is going to get you by itself in the real world is disappointed, bewildered and frustrated.

  40. 40
    mike1962 says:

    Sean Samin: Because of how the world IS and how it BEHAVES we are obligated

    The “because” is the ground, the “we are obligated” is the consequent here, but you never make a logical connection. Only an emotional one. This is the jumping off point from “is” to “ought” and it is nothing but an arbitrary leap based on your own private feelings. Why must we be obligated? Answer: there is no why other than your private feelings.

    …to avoid doing evil because we dearly want to NOT be on the receiving end of Evil.

    Fact not in evidence. A bald assertion with no foundation. You lose.

    Moreover, as a matter of common practice, people often do evil, instead of “doing good to avoid retribution”, they use their intellectual powers to be sneaky and secretive about the evil they do. Why shouldn’t they act this way if human nature is the measure? Especially since humans who practice evil and deceit often prosper much better than those who don’t.

    “The facts of nature (the IS) compel us to act in certain ways (the OUGHT) if only in our self-interest.”

    Not necessarily. You lose.

    “The obligation created by our social nature,”

    My social nature creates no such obligation. You lose.

    “by duty or by empathy, sympathy, or compassion impose obligations even if not in our self-interest.”

    Emotional poppycock. Nothing compelling about your “argument.” You have failed to rationally and logically bridge the “ought” to the “is.” You lose. You have made no rational, logical argument where all men of reason must be compelled to admit. As WJM has aptly stated, your “argument” merely ends up where it starts: with your own private, subjective feelings.

  41. 41

    Sean Samis grounds his morality by referring to a fact of human nature – that man is a social creature.

    Why that particular fact? There are lots of facts about humans that could be used as a beginning place for morality besides “man is a social creature” that would lead to any number of alternative moral systems, like “man is a mammal” or “man is intelligent” or “man is born into the world helpless and unable to survive on his own” or “man kills living things and eats them to survive” … etc.

    So the question is begged – why should we use that particular fact to ground morality in?

    Next, Sean refers to a pair of behavioral concepts by which our society should be modeled: reciprocity and equity.

    Why those particular behavioral concepts? Sean implies that the purpose of those concepts is to generate a stable and long-lasting community – in fact, Sean justifies desired social commodities because they contribute to the duration of the society:

    No community can last long that values human aggression and selfishness among and between its members. Aggression and selfishness and freeloading happen, but it is not valued.

    No community can last long that preferences individuals for whom the lives of comfort of others mean nothing; or who live entirely for themselves and their personal success and enjoyment of life; all at the expense of others. As before regarding selfishness and freeloading.

    No community can last long that allows members to make slaves of other members, to use violence against other members, hoarding resources for their own use, psychologically manipulating other members to take advantage of them.

    However, Sean has also said that:

    It is a fact that living in communities means that moral systems must reflect the community’s needs. We live in communities for mutual support, for socialization, for economic opportunity, etc.

    Now we have two distinct goals that Sean argues morality “must” serve: (1) the long-term duration of the community, and (2) “mutual support”, “socialization” (whatever that means – helping people conform to the social norm?) and “economic opportunity, etc.”. In other words, Sean makes the claim that after we have accepted that morality should be about community, it “must” be about (1) prolonging the duration of the community, and (2) serving the needs of the members of the community.

    First, even if we ignore the begged question and accept that morality is about community in the first place, there are all sorts of concepts and aspects of “community” that one could claim that morality “should” service, depending on how one initially views the idea of “community” and what what community means in context. IOW, how one conceptualizes a “successful community” may have nothing whatsoever to do with the ultimate longevity of the community, nor with the “equity” of the majority of those in the community.

    Thus, we have your second set of begged questions – why that particular concept of successful community, and not any other?

    However, let us go ahead and make this second set of assumptions about the importance of longevity, equity and reciprocity. The problem we now face is that you have not demonstrated via any facts at all that the way to achieve the greatest community longevity is via policies that reflect the concepts of “reciprocity” and “equity”. Historically, we have examples of some rather long-running communities that did not hold to policies of “reciprocity” and “equity”.

    Sean hasn’t explained which is more important – the longevity of the community, or that the community operate by policies of reciprocity and equity. In fact, you’ve really offered nothing more than a set of idealistic assertions grounded in zero offered evidence that the longevity of a community increases with the advent of such policies.

    What we have here is a set of begged-question, convenient assumptions about what morality should be about in the first place, but even given those assumptions, zero actual evidence is offered to back up Sean’s assertion that the longevity of a community is best served by the policies of reciprocity and equity. He claims that there will be outliers, but what he utterly fails to account for is that any such community exists in a context of other communities.

    It may very well be that because of the policy nature of such a community, the internal outliers or exterior existence of disparate communities might fatally compromise our ideal community because it lacks internally resistant or defensive capacities due to the very nature of its policies. IOW, it could be that such policies contain the seeds of such a communities own eventual destruction. Sean has offered no objective research or analysis on this – just idealistic entreaties.

    Sean’s morality is obviously not built from the ground up, and obviously lies on no actual evidence, but rather just cherry-picked facts, concepts, and assertions and idealistic appeals in order to acquire a morality he wishes to get to in the first place. This is important to realize, because Sean is attempting to justify a moral system he holds valid on an a priori basis by selecting facts and policies that will get him to his goal.

    We can determine this by asking the questions, “If the best way to guarantee the longest lasting community is to torture and kill off all dissent, enforce a strict top-down caste system, and kill off all competing communities, would that be an acceptable moral system?

    I’m confident that Sean’s answer would be a resounding “no”. All Sean is attempting to do here is justify his golden-rule moral concepts by baldly asserting that they will generate the longest-running communities. So, his appeal to “longevity of community” is a red herring – it is really utterly irrelevant to the moral quality of the community. All he is doing here is asserting and hoping that policies he holds as moral on an a priori basis will in fact produce a longer-lasting, stable community.

    Now, Sean argues – “So what? That’s all you have under theistic morality as well. All you can do is subjectively choose which facts you begin with and what associations you wish to draw and then assert them as moral guidelines.”

    Well, the fact is that all choices are subjectively made; that doesn’t mean that what we are choosing is itself considered or assumed to be about an entirely subjective phenomena. There is a world of difference in how we treat things we consider to be essentially subjective, and things we consider to be essentially objective in nature.

    Please note that Sean, in his argument, is already acting as if morality is an objective commodity even though he apparently doesn’t realize it; he’s attempting to justify an a priori moral position as if it is true. IOW, he already knows what is moral (at least to some degree), and is attempting to justify that a priori objective knowledge by piecing together a convenient trail of logic that appears to lead – at least in his mind – to his “conclusion”.

    I’ll more fully examine the fundamental difference between theistic/objective morality and non-theistic/subjective morality in another post. To show ho it is not the same process at all.

  42. 42

    The fundamental difference between objective and subjective moralities is that one is a search for truth regardless of personal predilection while the other is a search for justification of a personal predilection. An objective morality requires the searching individual to change their personal behavior and views if they do not correspond to it; a subjective morality simply attempts to justify one’s personal behavior and views because there is no “actual”, objectively existent arbiter of how anyone “should” behave.

    If we assume an objective moral source exists, and we assume we have some capacity to sense or recognize it (like the conscience), then of course even self-described moral subjectivists would have access to it even if they deny it. They would already sense to some degree what is good and right and what is evil and wrong, but since they deny morality is an objectively existent, experienced/sensed phenomena, they must seek to somehow justify their moral views and behavior some other way.

    This is what leads them to begged-question starting points (“man is a social creature”), which lead to convenient assertions (“morality is about community”), and the cherry-picked concepts (reciprocity & equity) that lead to the a priori position they wanted to get to all along.

    But, that is not how a sound morality assumed to have an objective source operates; IMO, it must begin with empirical information gained via sensory capacity. IOW, objective morality begins with “I experience X as wrong and Y as good.” Objective morality admits what subjective morality attempts to hide: we begin with what we experience as right and wrong.

    That is where Sean and other subjectivists go wrong right off the bat; they hide from themselves that they are attempting to justify their experience of right and wrong; they are not attempting to discover what is right and wrong by searching through facts and associated memes.

    Under objective morality, we also admit that our ability to sense right and wrong is fallible, like any other sensory capacity, and so we must develop a means to develop and critically evaluate our moral sense, because it is possible that we could be in error about what we perceive as moral and immoral. Under subjective morality, there is no such thing as being in error about what is right and wrong, because there is no valid objective means of evaluating what one considers right and wrong.

    Not all theistic/objective moral frameworks are equal; if one accepts that morality refers to an objective commodity, it is essential that they critically examine their process for accepting and evaluating moral information and knowledge to safeguard against potential error and abuse either internally or externally.

  43. 43
    sean samis says:

    William J Murray @33:

    About “stolen concepts”

    Wikipedia says:

    Indirectly self-denying statements or “fallacy of the stolen concept”

    Objectivists define the fallacy of the stolen concept: the act of using a concept while ignoring, contradicting or denying the validity of the concepts on which it logically and genetically depends.

    Since I neither deny, ignore, nor contradict the bases of reciprocity/equity/fairness/justice/Golden Rule, I’m not using any fallacy.

    Since these concepts do not have purely religious bases, doubting religious claims does not challenge the bases of these concepts. There’s no fallacy in this.

    I’m sure Mr. Arrington will agree with me here: you are completely incorrect. That materialists conceptually freeload (use stolen concepts) on the philosophical grounding of religion has long been a subject of debate here at UD.

    Again you are misusing the term “freeload”; you are using to convey contempt, not any actual bad behavior of materialists.

    I’m sure this topic’s been a subject of debate here; that does make it a reasonable complaint. It’s absurd. As long as I can provide a basis for reciprocity/equity/fairness/justice/the Golden Rule, then I am not denying it’s foundations. There’s no contradiction.

    Theist or non-theist can make any specific moral claim they want; none of it means squat without a sound foundation for one’s moral system that (1) supports that moral view and (2) corresponds with how humans actually behave, think, and argue.

    This is absolutely correct, of course. But as you demonstrate yourself, one can dispute and reject even the soundest foundations for a moral system if that suit’s one’s desires. I have satisfied points (1) and (2) but you reject them. I am sure you would say the same of me.

    I understand what you are saying. You are not understanding the argument being presented to you. Yes, both theist and non-theist moral systems can make contradictory moral statements X and Y, or have a plethora of varied guidelines and behaviors to choose from. Your argument is that because of this, it doesn’t matter if one is theist or non-theist; all you can do is pick from existing ideas or invent a moral concept or principle and go from there.

    No, clearly you don’t understand my argument: if you agree that “…both theist and non-theist moral systems can make contradictory moral statements X and Y, or have a plethora of varied guidelines and behaviors to choose from” then that fact does not weigh against either one.

    What you are missing is that there is a fundamental conceptual difference between theistic and non-theistic (or objective and subjective) moral systems; in the former, you are searching for a true morality; in the latter, you are inventing a morality that is useful to your subjective purpose. …

    Ah, no. If this is the “fundamental conceptual difference”, then it is a blunder on your part. I cannot speak for you, but I AM searching for a true morality. I invent nothing.

    … With theistic/objective morality, you want to find out how you should behave; …

    A moral system (such as mine) which is founded on reasoning from the facts of nature is as OBJECTIVE as anything can be. Search my arguments for anything based on preference; you’ll find nothing. The moral system is based on reason (which is objective) and the facts of nature (which is objective). Therefore, if any moral system is OBJECTIVE, it is mine.

    … with subjective/non-theistic morality; you are justifying how you prefer to behave (or how you prefer others behave). Those are entirely different and irreconciliable root views of what morality is.

    Since my system does not seek to justify preferences, this is irrelevant. It appears we agree on what morality is; we disagree on how to discover it.

    …yes, people do use theistic morality to justify what they want to do anyway, but my point is that the premise of a theistic morality is that there is a true morality that you are obligated to discover and obey whether you want to or not. Non-theistic, subjective morality is presumed from the get-go to not be existentially binding nor even carry any necessary repercussions.

    The obligation you assert (to discover and obey) is merely an assertion; it is premised on the SUBJECTIVE PREFERENCE for your particular moral system. There is no fact of reason that creates this obligation beyond self-interest in avoiding repercussions. To that extent, both theistic and non-theistic moralities do acknowledge the same obligations because both assert repercussions if one fails to meet their obligations.

    Sure, people can use theism the same way as others use subjective moralities, and those who create subjective moralities can feel obligated and sincere in their moral views. But it is only under theism that any particular moral view can actually be considered objectively wrong.

    Since the non-theistic morality I advocate is not subjective, and since it is based on objective reasoning and facts, it’s moral claims actually ARE objective.

    Assuming that morality is subjective in nature validates all morality as equally “true”. That is certainly not how sane humans behave, including moral subjectivists.

    Now it is you who is arguing with someone in your head. I reject the notion that morality is subjective in nature. The facts and reasoning that lead to non-theistic morality are OBJECTIVE.

    I’m not trying to prove that morality is rooted in the nature of god; I’m making an argument that any moral system that doesn’t begin with that assumption has no chance of being a rational, sound, explanatory system that coincides with how people actually behave, and doesn’t logically boil down to a system of “because I feel like it, because I can”.

    If the ASSUMPTION isn’t actually true, then the moral system based on the assumption cannot be objectively true. You want to treat this assumption as vital, but WHY THAT ASSUMPTION? You chose that assumption because it helps you get to where you want to get. That should sound familiar.

    Reason and the facts of nature are the pinnacle of OBJECTIVITY. If they are insufficient, then adding a self-serving assumption about being rooted in some god will not help. Does that god actually exist? Is the morality actually rooted in the nature of that god? Without a definite, OBJECTIVELY CERTAIN “yes” to both of those questions, your assumption is “just floating in the air”. Any reasonable doubt, any contradiction, and the assumption is shown to be SUBJECTIVE.

    My argument is entirely about the fundamental basis of moral systems and whether or not the premise and assumptions of that moral system can sustain a logically coherent moral system that corresponds to actual human behavior and is even acceptable as a valid kind of morality.

    That’s a fine argument, but if that’s the case, my moral system is as objective as can be and can sustain a logically coherent moral system because it is based on actual human behavior.

    At the very root, one can only assume that morality is either objective or subjective in nature. You cannot prove it is subjective. As you say, there is no way to prove it, but there’s no way to prove it either way. That is why I keep referring to one’s fundamental moral premise or assumption. One must make assumptions before they even start.

    One must make assumptions, but one must make minimal assumptions; assumptions must be NECESSARY. By that I do not meant “necessary to reach a particular conclusion” but “necessary to reach ANY conclusion, even an awful one”. Your assumption of “rootedness in god” is not necessary.

    IF morality is subjective in nature, there are necessary logical ramifications. IF it is objective in nature, there are necessary logical ramifications. These ramifications can be (and have been) explored via logic and argument.

    Here’s a problem: if morality were ACTUALLY subjective, then there would be no necessary ramifications. If there are necessary ramifications to morality, then that fact alone means morality is NOT ACTUALLY subjective.

    But to be clear, rootedness in some randomly-selected deity is not necessary to discover the metes and bounds of OBJECTIVE morality.

    Although there are many problems with some forms of theistic/objective morality, non-theistic subjective morality is a complete failure and utterly unacceptable (except to perhaps sociopaths) as a basis for morality. What I mean here is that if one examines such a morality rationally through to the necessary conceptual consequences, it is unacceptable. Most non-theists and subjective moralists don’t examine their moral views this thoroughly. (To be fair, most theists don’t either. Few people examine their premises and assumptions thoroughly because they don’t even know they are making assumptions.)

    We appear to agree that most people (theist and non-) don’t adequately examine their moral views. That agreement does not lead to the conclusion that only theistic morality works. Quite the contrary, the only valid conclusion it leads to is that we need to think more carefully about BOTH candidate moralities.

    Which brings us back to stolen concepts; the only non-theistic, subjective moralities that are remotely palatable are those that begin with personal preferences that reflect many religious/spiritual views, …

    The idea of “stolen concepts” is simply wrong. “Borrowed”; yes. “Adopted”; yes. “Stolen”? No.

    Non-theists are entitled to learn from their past and the past of others. If there’s a useful concept, they are free to use it. There’s no fallacy in that. If a concept introduces a contradiction, that is a fallacy in and of itself; the borrowing is not a source of contradiction.

    I’ve already established that the concept of reciprocity is not particularly religious.

    We all act as if our moral views are objectively binding on all humans, as if we all have moral obligations and responsibilities, as if we have some degree of innate moral knowledge as perceived through our conscience, and as if there are necessary consequences to our moral behaviors. You yourself demonstrate this by picking particular behaviors and memes to justify what you already accept as morally right and the idea of consequences (reciprocity, indeed). To argue that morality is essentially subjective, but then act as if it is objective, demonstrates the intellectual vacuity of the subjectivism premise.

    This only demonstrates that you have not actually read what I’ve written. I have not argued that morality is at all subjective. That is your bias misleading you.

    Whether true or not, it is only Theism that can provide a sound, sufficient basis for a rational, palatable morality that corresponds to how humans actually behave (admitting that many theisms are also not rationally sound).

    “Whether true or not”?? An untrue theism cannot provide an objective morality. Truth can never be based on falsehood. The truth of theistic claims are not a side-note, they are ESSENTIAL. Objective truth cannot be predicated on falsehood or error.

    Otherwise, there’s no reason to care at all about morality, since it cannot be about finding any “truth”, …

    Now you’ve changed positions: now truth matters to you. We are in agreement then, at least for the moment.

    If morality is about finding truth (I agree.) then the truth of its bases is the FIRST TRUTH TO SEARCH FOR.

    TL;DR: Unless our moral system is fundamentally about something by which we each, as individuals, should change our own behavior to be in line with, and unless it serves as both a responsibility and and [sic] obligation to act morally even against our own preferences, situational self-interest, comfort and/or safety, and unless it can justify interventions in the behavior of others for the sake of what is good or right, even putting ourselves and loved ones in great peril, then it’s not a moral system worth caring about nor a moral system that explains actual human behavior.

    I agree.

    Non-theistic, subjective moralities simply cannot pass that test.

    Non-theistic OBJECTIVE moralities can easily.

    Most of the comments I would make to WJM’s #35 thru #42 (not counting #40) would just repeat these responses.

    To recap:
    1. The “stolen concept” complaint is just noise. Non-theists are entitled to learn from their past and the past of others. If there’s a useful concept, they are free to use it. There’s no fallacy in that. I neither deny, ignore, nor contradict the bases of reciprocity/equity/fairness/justice/Golden Rule.
    2. I AM searching for a true morality. I invent nothing.
    3. A moral system which is founded on Reasoning from the Facts of Nature is as Objective as anything can be because Reasoning and the Facts of Nature are themselves objective.
    4. I reject the notion that morality is subjective in nature. The facts and reasoning that lead to non-theistic morality are Objective.
    5. Truth can never be based on falsehood. An untrue theism cannot provide an objective morality. The truth of theistic claims are not a side-note, they are ESSENTIAL. An untrue or unreal god cannot be the basis of an objective morality.

    sean s.

  44. 44
    Mung says:

    The “stolen concept” complaint is just noise. Non-theists are entitled to learn from their past and the past of others.

    What did non-theists learn from the communists, socialists and Nazis?

    Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, all good people? Models for your children?

  45. 45

    Sean Samis said:

    Since I neither deny, ignore, nor contradict the bases of reciprocity/equity/fairness/justice/Golden Rule, I’m not using any fallacy.

    As I already said, sean, I thought you were asserting “reciprocity” as an actual lawful principle – something that must occur, like a physical law or divine rule. As I also already said, you’re free to use them as simple concepts without it being a fallacy.

    Again you are misusing the term “freeload”; you are using to convey contempt, not any actual bad behavior of materialists.

    I didn’t use the term, Mr. Arrington did. I was attempting to explain his use of the term. I’ll leave that between the two of you.

    Ah, no. If this is the “fundamental conceptual difference”, then it is a blunder on your part. I cannot speak for you, but I AM searching for a true morality. I invent nothing.

    You’ll have to explain this. Is it your opinion that there is an actual objectively true morality by which we can determined correct and incorrect moral statements?

    The obligation you assert (to discover and obey) is merely an assertion; it is premised on the SUBJECTIVE PREFERENCE for your particular moral system.

    No, it is premised on a rational consideration of different moral systems.I can honestly say I would prefer a moral system where the consequences are not necessary – actually, I’d prefer one where there are no consequences – but those concepts make no sense.

    There is no fact of reason that creates this obligation beyond self-interest in avoiding repercussions.

    Well, besides desiring to actually do good.

    To that extent, both theistic and non-theistic moralities do acknowledge the same obligations because both assert repercussions if one fails to meet their obligations.

    Unless non-theistic morality asserts necessary, inescapable repercussions, then the “obligation” attached to moral behavior is hollow. You may or may not receive just (as in “justice”) repercussions and, IMO based on my experience, most often the repercussions will not be just – not in this lifetime, anyway. You still haven’t provided any backup support for the contention that actual reciprocity occurs with any regularity. I personally don’t believe it does.

    A moral system (such as mine) which is founded on reasoning from the facts of nature is as OBJECTIVE as anything can be. Search my arguments for anything based on preference; you’ll find nothing. The moral system is based on reason (which is objective) and the facts of nature (which is objective). Therefore, if any moral system is OBJECTIVE, it is mine.

    By that measure, all moral systems that begin with any facts of nature and are reasoned out (survival of the fittest, for example)towards valid conclusions are as objectively true as yours, agree?

    IOW, in principle, through your system you can have any number of moral systems based on “facts of human nature” and using any number of behavioral memes that end up with moralities that contradict each other and even authorize activities like eugenics and the holocaust, right?

    Since my system does not seek to justify preferences, this is irrelevant.

    But, that is all you have done. You prefer to begin with certain facts of human nature (and not other), and you prefer to use certain behavioral memes, and not others. Why, if not to arrive where you wanted to go in the first place?

    It appears we agree on what morality is; we disagree on how to discover it.

    I think we agree on much of what constitutes moral behavior. If there is a one true morality, I don’t see how one can be at all confident in your methodology, since there are so many facts of human nature one might begin with, and so many behavioral memes one might employ.

    Does that god actually exist? Is the morality actually rooted in the nature of that god?

    It doesn’t really matter, since both assumptions are necessary for a logically sound morality.

    I have not argued that morality is at all subjective. That is your bias misleading you.

    Unless you can answer why anyone should begin with the particular fact of human nature you begin with (when there are many others to choose from), and why anyone should pick the particular behavioral memes you use, then you are once again begging the question. Other than personal preference, why should I pick that particular fact and those particular memes?

    That they are factully aspect of human nature and behavior/expectation is insufficient as a justification because there are many such facts to choose from, and many alternatively valid lines of reason to follow that could end up in an entirely different moral system.

    Now you’ve changed positions: now truth matters to you. We are in agreement then, at least for the moment.

    What position have I changed? The only morality worth considering is one that has the capacity of being true in an objective sense.

    Non-theistic OBJECTIVE moralities can easily.

    Until you can justify your starting points as being something other than what you personally prefer (a fact of human nature you prefer to begin with), you haven’t made the case that your morality is objective at its root. The root is not the fact you choose to use, but rather why you chose that fact and not some other – why anyone should choose that fact an not some other.

  46. 46
    sean samis says:

    William J Murray @45:

    Is it your opinion that there is an actual objectively true morality by which we can determined correct and incorrect moral statements?

    Yes.

    [Your position on “necessary consequences”] is premised on a rational consideration of different moral systems. I can honestly say I would prefer a moral system where the consequences are not necessary – actually, I’d prefer one where there are no consequences – but those concepts make no sense.

    I agree that there must be at least the risk consequences. They might not be “necessary” (in the sense of “inevitable”) but they are reliable enough that one should treat them as inevitable.

    It’s kind of like the “parachute” rule: parachutes do NOT guarantee survival in a jump, but they do seriously skew the odds in your favor.

    Immoral behavior does NOT guarantee consequences, but it does seriously skew the odds toward that.

    Claiming an unverifiable deity will inflict consequences after you die—consequences no one has ever reliably witnessed—is a threat so ineffective as to be nothing at all. Then we see all manner of evil committed in the name of this same deity, and the credibility of the threat is obliterated.

    Well, besides desiring to actually do good.

    I’ll give you that.

    Unless non-theistic morality asserts necessary, inescapable repercussions, then the “obligation” attached to moral behavior is hollow. You may or may not receive just (as in “justice”) repercussions and, IMO based on my experience, most often the repercussions will not be just – not in this lifetime, anyway. You still haven’t provided any backup support for the contention that actual reciprocity occurs with any regularity. I personally don’t believe it does.

    First: as I mentioned above, even theistic moralities cannot credibly assert “necessary, inescapable repercussions”.

    Second: You haven’t given us a reason to think “actual reciprocity [does not] occur with any regularity”. Reciprocity is a common experience tho’ obviously there are people and occasions where it does not happen. Human behavior is not perfectly fair, but it is generally so.

    By that measure, all moral systems that begin with any facts of nature and are reasoned out (survival of the fittest, for example) towards valid conclusions are as objectively true as yours, agree?

    Conditionally Yes. Notice the criterion of being reasoned out. That is not an optional nor a superficial task. Some cursory reasoning is not “reasoning it out”; that’s merely rationalization, which is a different thing.

    I am confident that coherent non-theistic moralities will generally differ only on marginal questions or in subtle emphasis; as the different Christian sects which teach different morals; maybe not even that much.

    …in principle, through your system you can have any number of moral systems based on “facts of human nature” and using any number of behavioral memes that end up with moralities that contradict each other and even authorize activities like eugenics and the holocaust, right?

    Again, there’s that “reason out” criterion. Contradictory moral claims will only arise when someone’s not really reasoned things out.

    This is why things like eugenics or mass-murder will not survive scrutiny, they really cannot be rationally justified. Rationale’s for them may be constructed, but the premises of those rationale’s will not survive scrutiny. If you think they can be rationally justified, please demonstrate.

    It’s just like math: estimations may vary and come to different conclusions, but an actual, correct calculation should always come to the same answer.

    Likewise, we can’t just “estimate” the moral valence of something, we need to put it in full context and under complete scrutiny.

    You prefer to begin with certain facts of human nature (and not other), and you prefer to use certain behavioral memes, and not others. Why, if not to arrive where you wanted to go in the first place?

    I don’t “prefer” the facts I lean on, they just are what they are, and they lead to a coherent moral system. These other facts you lean on (which for the most part YOU DON’T EVEN AGREE WITH!) do not lead to coherent moral systems. If you think they do, by all means show us how they do.

    I act in like-manner to you. You “prefer” certain religious doctrines and claims over and against others. One could “prefer” these other religious concepts and come to vastly different conclusions.

    At least what I “prefer” is stuff we can look for; they are familiar things. Things premised on logic, observation, and experience are the most objective things we have.

    I think we agree on much of what constitutes moral behavior. If there is a one true morality, I don’t see how one can be at all confident in your methodology, since there are so many facts of human nature one might begin with, and so many behavioral memes one might employ.

    That does seem a problem, but that’s why one should not do arm-chair exercises. This is why we need to fully “reason-out” any moral rule. Study history and law; study how humans across time and culture organized and regulated their behaviors within cultures. Valuing community, cooperative action, duty, fairness, and reciprocity stand out.

    Does that god actually exist? Is the morality actually rooted in the nature of that god?

    It doesn’t really matter, since both assumptions are necessary for a logically sound morality.

    IT MUST MATTER. Unless we know the deity we rely on actually exists, actually has the attributes we rely on, and actually gave the commands we obey, the moral system we create is entirely SUBJECTIVE. It is entirely an exercise in which deity one prefers.

    Truth can never be predicated on untruth. Objectivity cannot be predicated on doubt.

    Unless you can answer why anyone should begin with the particular fact of human nature you begin with (when there are many others to choose from), and why anyone should pick the particular behavioral memes you use, then you are once again begging the question. Other than personal preference, why should I pick that particular fact and those particular memes?

    Right back at you: other than personal preference, why should I pick one set of godly attributes over another? Why should I pick any god over any other god? Why should I pick any god at all? Why not just jettison gods and work from observable things and experience?

    Your problems are the same as mine, except I’m looking at facts in the world, in nature; whereas you rely on your preferred religious beliefs. Again: things premised on logic, observation, and experience are the most objective things we have.

    Others should pick the behavioral norms I use because they make more sense than the alternatives.

    That they are factully [sic] aspect of human nature and behavior/expectation is insufficient as a justification because there are many such facts to choose from, and many alternatively valid lines of reason to follow that could end up in an entirely different moral system.

    …could end up in an entirely different moral system.” Could be, but don’t. If you think there is a valid moral system that reason can establish and defend which is radically different, then tell us about it.

    The only morality worth considering is one that has the capacity of being true in an objective sense.

    Almost. The only morality worth considering is one that is premised on facts we can see and understand. A moral system premised on the arbitrary commands of a deity known only by the self-serving claims of humans is not even CAPABLE of being trustworthy or objective.

    Until you can justify your starting points as being something other than what you personally prefer (a fact of human nature you prefer to begin with), you haven’t made the case that your morality is objective at its root. The root is not the fact you choose to use, but rather why you chose that fact and not some other – why anyone should choose that fact an [sic] not some other.

    Until you can justify your untestable assumption of a deity, and justify which of the infinite range of attributes actually attach to that deity, you cannot create a theistic OBJECTIVE morality.

    Since the premises of my moral system are observable, oft-remarked-upon human behaviors, norms, expectations, etc.; the “roots” of my moral system are OBJECTIVE. Things premised on logic, observation, and experience are the most objective things we have.

    Your claim that “different facts” could lead to a radically different morality is an assertion; you make it frequently but you’ve never demonstrated it. Superficial efforts predicated on things some people would PREFER to think of as facts does not cut it. PREFERENCE PLAYS NO ROLE IN THIS. Facts are what they are. Facts are things that are true whether we like them or not; whether we know about them or not.

    Since I know of no other set of starting points that lead to a valid morality except those I propose, I am justified in starting with them. If you think an alternative morality is achievable beginning with a different set of starting points, then you should show us how.

    It’s like 1+1=2; I can only demonstrate my reliance on that by the fact that no coherent alternative understanding has ever been shown. You think there is one or more? By all means, show us.

    WJM;

    I cannot satisfy your questions because you are asking hypotheticals and seem to demand non-hypothetical answers.

    I seriously doubt that you think “might-makes-right” would ever be an acceptable basis for a moral system, nor many of your other hypos.

    Hypothetical questions merit hypothetical answers. If some materialist were to challenge my premises, and say that their premises were “better” or also acceptable, then my challenge to them would be for them to show how such a “moral system” would work and explain to us how it is a “better system”.

    That’s how rationalism works: proponents of X must demonstrate why X is right, proponents of Y must demonstrate why Y is right, and then everyone critique’s those defenses.

    I believe my moral premises are right because they are not unique to me, they occur throughout history and across cultures. They are so UNoriginal that one of your criticisms is that they are “stolen”. Being “stolen” is nonsense, but they are definitely BORROWED. That is one of their virtues!

    Your response has not to find fault with my premises (other than to object to my use of borrowed ideas) but to hypothesize contrary premises THAT EVEN YOU DISAGREE WITH, and declare my premises must be wrong because I cannot refute these other baleful premises which even you believe are wrong.

    That’s not a logical objection.

    My refutation of these other objectionable premises is that hypothetical persons claiming to base a “moral system” on them cannot rationally defend them, or persuade that their ideas are good ideas. They will inevitably lapse into contradiction or nonsense.

    You argue that to be logical and to achieve an “objective morality” we need to premise morality on the existence and nature of an unidentified deity. You have said that it LITERALLY does not matter if this deity is real or not.

    That is an incomprehensible idea: that it is better to predicate “objective morality” on the subjective attributes of a potentially-fictitious deity. Yikes!

    sean s.

  47. 47

    Sean Samis said: said:

    First: as I mentioned above, even theistic moralities cannot credibly assert “necessary, inescapable repercussions”.

    Not sure what you mean by this. I’m not arguing on behalf of any particular theism (other than perhaps my own), so the problems certain forms of theism have is irrelevant to my argument. My point is that without the premise of necessary consequences, one’s obligation to behave morally is not obligatory but is rather conditional on one’s perspective of whether or not it is likely there will be any negative consequences.

    The premise of a moral system with necessary consequences is not an assertion; it is an assumed premise. Any credibility such a premise has lies entirely in its logical consequences and what it means for a moral system presumed to operate in such a manner, and whether or not it comports with how humans actually behave.

    You haven’t given us a reason to think “actual reciprocity [does not] occur with any regularity”. Reciprocity is a common experience tho’ obviously there are people and occasions where it does not happen. Human behavior is not perfectly fair, but it is generally so.

    I’m not the one that claims their reasoning extends from facts. I agree that “reciprocity” is factually a concept that many humans have, but if you are (1) making a moral case that is asserted to be based on facts (2) claiming it is a fact that reciprocity actually occurs, or that (3) human behavior is generally fair, then those last two are assertions (not assumed premises) that you claim have a basis in fact – but, you have provided zero support of their factual nature.

    I told you that it has not been my experience that life is, generally speaking, fair or just. I didn’t assert that it factually was not. It is up to you to support your supposed assertions of fact with evidence. You have not done so. Therefore, I conclude that you are simply making stuff up that supports your view, claiming factual status, and then shifting the burden to me to prove you wrong.

    I am confident that coherent non-theistic moralities will generally differ only on marginal questions or in subtle emphasis; as the different Christian sects which teach different morals; maybe not even that much.

    Your confidence is irrelevant. What is important is that you provide support for your asserted facts and the rational coherence of your moral system.

    This is why things like eugenics or mass-murder will not survive scrutiny, they really cannot be rationally justified. Rationale’s for them may be constructed, but the premises of those rationale’s will not survive scrutiny. If you think they can be rationally justified, please demonstrate.

    I’m noticing a pattern here. Both in this thread and in the one about RDFish, you defend assertions by insisting that your opponent support or argue the converse. Here, you are asserting that Eugenics-as-moral cannot survive rational scrutiny, but offer no argument or evidence; instead, you insist that I make a case for eugenics so that you can then pick apart the reasoning.

    That’s not how “supporting your assertions” works, Sean. If you are going to assert that choosing other facts and common behavioral memes cannot survive scrutiny, it is up to you to explain why that is so. If you cannot, then your claim can be summarily dismissed as a bald, unsupported assertion.

    I don’t “prefer” the facts I lean on, they just are what they are, and they lead to a coherent moral system.

    You don’t seem to be understanding the point. Why are you picking those particular facts of human nature to begin with in order to reason out your moral system? Why not pick out any other available fact about human nature and begin there?

    That does seem a problem, but that’s why one should not do arm-chair exercises. This is why we need to fully “reason-out” any moral rule. Study history and law; study how humans across time and culture organized and regulated their behaviors within cultures. Valuing community, cooperative action, duty, fairness, and reciprocity stand out.

    Stand out to whom? There are as many different facts about cultures throughout history as there are different facts about human nature. Using historical facts about cultures we can find all sorts of relatively common things, from slavery to human sacrifice to treating women and children like property to morality being decreed by god to might makes right to genocide to caste systems to dictatorships to ..etc.

    Do those things “stand out” to you? If so, then you are simply – once again – appealing to something you personally prefer. You are once again trying justify a morality you already prefer by beginning with certain hand-picked facts about human nature, certain common human memes, and certain historical facts of various cultures.

    I can pick other facts about human nature, other common memes, and other historical/current cultural facts to support an entirely different moral system. You have provided zero argument and/or evidence that your moral system is the only rationally consistent one available from all the potential combinations of human facts, memes and culture.

    I act in like-manner to you. You “prefer” certain religious doctrines and claims over and against others. One could “prefer” these other religious concepts and come to vastly different conclusions.

    I don’t know how you can possibly think you know enough about my moral system to make this claim about me. You, however, have shown your hand by admitting there are countless facts about human nature, and countless available common memes from which to begin, and then you again show your hand when you cherry pick from countless, self-contradictory cultural practices in order to support the same conclusion your hand-picked facts and memes support.

    And then, without any argument or support whatsoever, you assert your “confidence” that any well-reasoned morality that begins with any human facts and common memes will wind up very close to your own views.

    It’s mind boggling that you think you’ve presented a rational, coherent case when all you have done is cherry-pick your elements (without explain why those elements and not others) and then insist(not demonstrate) that any such system would lead to a similar morality, express your confidence in that, and then attempt to shift the burden to me to demonstrate otherwise.

    Good grief! Really???

    A moral system premised on the arbitrary commands of a deity known only by the self-serving claims of humans is not even CAPABLE of being trustworthy or objective.

    I agree. But, I have made no argument for such a system. This is where you assumptions are hampering you.

    IT MUST MATTER. Unless we know the deity we rely on actually exists, actually has the attributes we rely on, and actually gave the commands we obey, the moral system we create is entirely SUBJECTIVE. It is entirely an exercise in which deity one prefers.

    This is a huge error in logic. It is like saying that unless we know what gravity actually is (an attracting force? A curvature in space-time?), then we cannot discern the rules by which we can properly navigate the world wrt gravity. It’s like saying we cannot be sure we will fall and hurt ourselves when we jump off a cliff if we do not know what gravity actually is.

    This is a fundamental thing I’m trying to point out to you: beginning with either a particular god or set of scriptural rules or facts about human nature or memes or historical cultural practices is nothing more than justifying a moral system you already prefer, whether your moral system is theistic or non-theistic in nature.

    You are attempting to justify the moral views you already prefer by cherry-picking certain facts of human nature, common memes and historical practices; others attempt to justfy the moral views they prefer by referring to whatever scriptures, books, and figures of authority they have preferentially picked.

    If morality is nothing more than a preferred system of behavior with cherry-picked justifications that provides only arbitrary/conditional consequences, it’s simply not worth bothering with in the first place.

    I seriously doubt that you think “might-makes-right” would ever be an acceptable basis for a moral system, nor many of your other hypos.

    The question is not whether I think it is acceptable, but rather if your framework for developing a moral system could be used to validate such a system. You haven’t demonstrated that it cannot, which is what you have asserted.

    At the end of the day, Sean, your moral system has no necessary teeth. IOW, if it appears I can get away with doing a thing, there’s literally no reason for me to not do it.

    By the same token, if I’m in Nazi Germany, under your morality there is literally no moral reason whatsoever for me to agree to hide Jews in my basement and put myself, my family and friends at risk. What’s the risk/reward assessment? In fact, if i have obligations, it would be to turn in any Jews I know about in order to do my lawful duty and protect my family and friends from harm.

    Right?

    See, this is where all non-theistic, non-spiritual moralities necessarily fail; they cannot explain why one should risk everything for what is right; they cannot explain why it is better to die trying to do what one knows is right than to give up and go along the flow.

  48. 48
    sean samis says:

    William J Murray:

    When I read your #47; as usual I started drafting comments as I went; I drafted quite a few, but all those other comments will have to be shelved for use another day.

    Because, when I got to the end of your comments I discovered a gaping black-hole.

    After many criticisms by you that my premises were arbitrary (not the word you used, but it’s correct here) and that my premises were all just chosen to get to my preferred result, and that I just didn’t understand your position, I finally got to this:

    This is a fundamental thing I’m trying to point out to you: beginning with either a particular god or set of scriptural rules or facts about human nature or memes or historical cultural practices is nothing more than justifying a moral system you already prefer, whether your moral system is theistic or non-theistic in nature. … If morality is nothing more than a preferred system of behavior with cherry-picked justifications that provides only arbitrary/conditional consequences, it’s simply not worth bothering with in the first place.

    [emphasis in the original]

    Well, OK. This is unexpected. No wonder I didn’t understand your position; you have no position except that everyone else is wrong! Me, theists of every stripe, everyone but you is wrong!

    Even traditional Christian morality (which starts with a specific god and scripture) is “nothing more than a … moral system Christians already prefer”, it is “simply not worth bothering with in the first place.

    OK. Wow.

    There’s a problem: if you begin with no particular set of facts (no particular god, scripture, or facts of nature) then you cannot come to any particular moral conclusion.

    You yourself argued (in #17) that “If there is nothing to apply logic to/from, logic cannot be applied.”.

    Since you are starting with no “particular god or set of scriptural rules or facts about human nature or memes or historical cultural practices”, that means you have nothing to apply logic to or from.

    So what I get from this is that you’ve jettisoned LOGIC. Ok, now a great deal begins to make sense …

    This of course explains why you need me to do all the work and provide all the logic; YOU HAVE NONE. I can’t ask you for any evidence because you have no position to defend!

    YOU ARE A MORAL SOLIPSIST. You reject all gods and all spiritual claims because they are all preferences.

    Yet at the same time you insist that some unspecific deity is NECESSARY, or some ambiguous spiritualism is REQUIRED for morality, and that your path is a path to moral OBJECTIVITY. An objectivity that just hangs in the air!

    And how do you decide what these vaguenesses and ambiguity demand of us? You follow your preferences!

    Whatever the weaknesses of my position, at least I HAVE a position, you have nothing. I start from premises and work toward a conclusion, you reject premises and just declare your conclusion.

    Of course, maybe I still don’t understand your position, but that would be because you’re so well camouflaged. Maybe you do believe something particular; it would be great if you shared it.

    sean s.

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