Intelligent Design

Materialists: [crickets]

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Over three months ago I posted Psychopath as Übermensch or Nietzsche at Columbine, in which I wrote:

Let us assume for the sake of argument that metaphysical naturalism is a true account of reality. What if a person were able to act based on a clear-eyed and unsentimental understanding of the consequences outlined above? If that person had the courage not to be overwhelmed by the utter meaningless of existence, he would be transformed. He would be bold, self-confident, assertive, uninhibited, and unrestrained. He would consider empathy to be nothing but weak-kneed sentimentality. To him others would not be ends; they would be objects to be exploited for his own gratification. He would not mind being called cruel, because he would know that “cruelty” is an empty category, the product of mere sentiment. Is the lion being cruel to the gazelle? No, he is merely doing what lions naturally do to gazelles.

Two weeks later I posted Follow Up on Psychopath as Übermensch in which I wrote:

The metaphysical naturalist must believe that empathy is nothing but a “feeling,” and like other feelings it can be suppressed in the service of other ends.

Here’s a simple example. Joe is a young college student. We can imagine him having this conversation with himself: I have new car fever; I really want that shiny red convertible. Wait a minute. If I spend my money on that car I will have to drop out of school and that will really limit my long term earning potential. But if I suppress my desire for the car now, in the long run I will be able to buy many cars from my increased income. I will suppress this feeling.

Joe understands that the decision whether to suppress his gut feeling in the service of other ends is a cost-benefit analysis. The calculating part of our brain suppresses the feeling part of our brain all the time.

Most of us do not make this calculation when it comes to ethical decisions, including the decision whether to hurt another human for our selfish gain. But for the metaphysical naturalist empathy is just another gut feeling that can be suppressed – or not – based on a “rational” cost-benefit analysis.

Can someone explain to me why that last sentence is not true – even obvious?

In the months that have followed I have been waiting for a serious response to the highlighted question, but our materialist friends seem to have been struck dumb. I suppose they are conceding that the last sentence is true, even obvious.

72 Replies to “Materialists: [crickets]

  1. 1
    phoodoo says:

    Barry,

    I think what you wrote is very similar to my feelings about why we must accept that evil is a part of this world, as a consequence of decisions. If there was no such thing as consequence of actions, then absolutely, the man who is able to ignore his emotions would be the supreme form of a man.

    Instead what we have is a knowledge that some things are evil, and all people share this. The naturalists who try to deny that this irrefutable existence of right and wrong know that they are fooling themselves. As Omagain at TSZ said, why would a God create cancer that children get, that’s evil. And when I asked to explain in his worldview how cancer of a child could be considered evil, he suddenly had to back peddle and stumble over his words, saying, “oh right, its not really evil, that’s what I meant…”

    There can’t be a world of good that doesn’t also include a world that has the potential for bad. They are inseparable. There are consequences for good and bad that go beyond accomplishing your goal of getting your way. Naturalists know this but how can they explain it. They have no justification for explaining why, so they are in a box that is indefensible by any logic.

    That is why you would never get a response. How can they respond without denying their own ideas.

  2. 2
    bornagain77 says:

    For some reason this post reminds me of this quote:

    “A story I heard personally from Malcolm Muggeridge (that stirred me then and still does even yet) was his account of a conversation he had with Svetlana Stalin, the daughter of Josef Stalin. She spent some time with Muggeridge in his home in England while they were working together on their BBC production on the life of her father. According to Svetlana, as Stalin lay dying, plagued with terrifying hallucinations, he suddenly sat halfway up in bed, clenched his fist toward the heavens once more, fell back upon his pillow, and was dead.”
    Ravi Zacharias, Can Man Live Without God, (Word Publ., Dallas: 1994), p. 26.

    Chairman MAO: Genocide Master
    “…Many scholars and commentators have referenced my total of 174,000,000 for the democide (genocide and mass murder) of the last century. I’m now trying to get word out that I’ve had to make a major revision in my total due to two books. I’m now convinced that that Stalin exceeded Hitler in monstrous evil, and Mao beat out Stalin….”
    http://wadias.in/site/arzan/bl.....de-master/

    The Irrational Atheist: Dissecting the Unholy Trinity of Dawkins, Harris, And Hitchens – pg. 240
    Excerpt: “The total body count for the ninety years between 1917 and 2007 is approximately 148 million dead at the bloody hands of fifty-two atheists…..The historical record of collective atheism is thus 182,716 times worse on an annual basis than Christianity’s worst and most infamous misdeed, the Spanish Inquisition.”
    http://books.google.com/books?.....38;f=false

  3. 3
    Mark Frank says:

    Barry

    Why do you suppose that any materialists even read your challenge? (I certainly didn’t until this post caught my eye). 

    As I have now read it, I will explain. You are right that many materialists like me recognise that empathy is at core a “feeling” or motive which competes with other feelings such as the desire to be comfortable, be liked, and have sex.  We frequently have to balance one desire against another – shall I spend my windfall money on a holiday or give it to a charity?  There is a sense in which people in this situation either suppress their desire to have a great holiday or suppress their desire to help charities – but I think the example you give is different. Your example is all about short-term vs long-term satisfaction of a single desire  in this case wealth. It is a matter of suppressing the short term satisfaction of some immediate wealth for greater long-term wealth. Indeed most people have been in similar situations with respect to their desire to be good – e.g. some people believe, possibly rightly, that you should suppress the desire to give money to beggars because it will be bad for them in the long run.  In war it may be necessary to sacrifice a small number of people to save a larger number in the long run. Because we talking about satisfaction of the same desire it is possible to have the element of calculation you refer to.  I can directly compare the wealth I might get in the long term with the wealth I would sacrifice in the short term. I can compare the number of lives I would save in the short term with the number I would save in the long term.  But you can’t compare the desire to give money to charity with the desire to go on holiday in the same way. It is simply a case of which is the stronger desire at that time.

  4. 4

    The question is somewhat of a non sequitur, at least with respect to the genuine Cleckley psychopath.

    Psychopaths don’t make a calculation to ignore their feelings of empathy. They are devoid of empathy, very likely at least in part for neurobiological reasons. They therefore calculate on other bases, typically unalloyed self-interest.

  5. 5
    leodp says:

    Mark,

    Speaking as a materialist or metaphysical naturalist — Why should one want to save lives, particularly those that have little or no positive impact on their personal health, wealth or satisfaction? Put another way, if another person or group of persons are in the way of one’s personal interests, goals, well-being, satisfaction; short term or long term? If one sees no conceivable benefit from the other’s existence, how does the ‘calculation’ work out?

  6. 6
    Barry Arrington says:

    We have heard from two materialists, Mark Frank and Reciprocating Bill, both of whom steadfastly avert their gaze away from the question posed in the OP. Very illuminating. Thank you for your comments gentlemen.

    Is no materialist willing to take up the gauntlet?

  7. 7
    RDFish says:

    Hi leodp,

    Speaking as a materialist or metaphysical naturalist — Why should one want to save lives, particularly those that have little or no positive impact on their personal health, wealth or satisfaction?

    I find the whole concept of God, divine command theory, and “objective morality” to be a confused mess, but I am a very charitable person who has always given time and money to people and animals who find themselves in less fortunate circumstances. I get nothing in return except the fantastic feeling that I have helped.

    Have you never experienced that feeling? If you had, perhaps you wouldn’t ask this question. It appears Barry is singularly unfamiliar with the joy of giving.

    Put another way, if another person or group of persons are in the way of one’s personal interests, goals, well-being, satisfaction; short term or long term? If one sees no conceivable benefit from the other’s existence, how does the ‘calculation’ work out?

    It seems clear to me that people don’t really calculate their ethics. They act the way they act, and then concoct rationales that sometimes sound like cost-benefit analyses. The truth is, good people will be good and bad people will be bad with or without religion.

    In any event, if you insist that metaphysical naturalists have no reason to act altruistically, and your prediction (like Barry’s) is that they should be psychopathic instead, it behooves you to explain why atheists are in fact no more likely to be psychopathic than religious folk.

    Cheers,
    RDFish/AIGuy

  8. 8
    Daniel King says:

    Barry,

    It looks to me like your question was answered in spades, but you either didn’t understand or didn’t like the answers.

  9. 9
    Piotr says:

    Barry, if you feel that you act altruistically only because you believe in God, and that without your belief you would degenerate into a psychopath, you should stick to your belief by all means. But don’t assume that everybody else needs such a mental straitjacket.

  10. 10
    tgpeeler says:

    “In any event, if you insist that metaphysical naturalists have no reason to act altruistically, and your prediction (like Barry’s) is that they should be psychopathic instead, it behooves you to explain why atheists are in fact no more likely to be psychopathic than religious folk.”

    Well, that’s jolly well good for AIGuy but what if lying to, cheating on, conniving against, and brutalizing people makes me feel good. So what? That’s what you have to explain. The fact that “good” acts make one feel good is more an indication that we are created in the image of a good God, not that there is no God.

  11. 11
    Acartia_bogart says:

    I can’t really answer your question because I don’t know what the question is. All I know is that over the last century, the level of religious belief in North America has declined. Yet, crime rates have not skyrocketed (as the religious would predict). In fact, the rates of violent crime have been decreasing since the early 70s. So, apparently, the atheists are able to distinguish good from bad.

    But, by all means, propose an alternate explanation.

  12. 12
    RDFish says:

    Hi tgpeeler,

    Well, that’s jolly well good for AIGuy but what if lying to, cheating on, conniving against, and brutalizing people makes me feel good.

    Then that is what they will do, of course. There are various approaches to modifying the behavior of people like this, and “giving them religion” is surely one of them. But none of them work very well, as is evidenced by recidivism rates.

    So what? That’s what you have to explain.

    Eh? Explain why some people are good and others aren’t? Sorry, there is no simple explanation on offer. What I do think is obvious is that religious folks are no less likely to be bad than non-religious folks, despite Barry’s desperate wish that this be the case.

    The fact that “good” acts make one feel good is more an indication that we are created in the image of a good God, not that there is no God.

    It indicates neither, of course.

    Cheers,
    RDFish/AIGuy

  13. 13

    Barry:

    Most of us do not make this calculation when it comes to ethical decisions, including the decision whether to hurt another human for our selfish gain. But for the metaphysical naturalist empathy is just another gut feeling that can be suppressed – or not – based on a “rational” cost-benefit analysis.

    Can someone explain to me why that last sentence is not true – even obvious?

    In my experience both the capacity for empathy and the capacity to make selfish calculations that contravene empathy are distributed equally among religious and non-religious persons. I assume full humanity, and all that entails, until shown otherwise.

    In the absence of evidence to the contrary, to assume otherwise smacks of bigotry.

  14. 14
    Barry Arrington says:

    RDFish, Daniel King, Piotr, and Acartia_bogart, have joined Mark Frank and Reciprocating Bill in dodging the question. As if that were not enough, Reciprocating Bill adds name calling (I’m a bigot because I ask a question? Really?) to question-dodging.

    Fascinating.

    Let me try to refocus the group onto the question. The issue is not whether metaphysical naturalists are by and large good people. Since it is beside the point, let us stipulate for the sake of argument that but for the whole, you know, atheism thing, all metaphysical naturalists would be canonized as living saints.

    Now that that is off the table, please focus on the question: “for the metaphysical naturalist empathy is just another gut feeling that can be suppressed – or not – based on a “rational” cost-benefit analysis. Can someone explain to me why that last sentence is not true – even obvious?”

  15. 15
    Acartia_bogart says:

    “Now that that is off the table, please focus on the question: “for the metaphysical naturalist empathy is just another gut feeling that can be suppressed – or not – based on a “rational” cost-benefit analysis. Can someone explain to me why that last sentence is not true – even obvious?””

    Of course it is true. As it is true that a Christian believer can do exactly the same. The real question is whether the outcome for your hypothetical metaphysical naturalist would be any different than for the typical spiritual theologian religious creationist? Since crime rates have been decreasing at the same time that secularization and atheism has been increasing, I would say that the evidence does not support your theory. Since violence is more prevalent in states that tend to be more “Christian”, I would say that the evidence does not support your theory.

    But, by all means, don’t allow evidence to get in the way if your beliefs.

  16. 16
    Mung says:

    I am a very charitable person who has always given time and money to people and animals who find themselves in less fortunate circumstances.

    Just wondering. What do the animals do with the money you give them?

    But now that you mention it, I should probably open a savings account for my cat.

  17. 17
    Acartia_bogart says:

    “But now that you mention it, I should probably open a savings account for my cat.”

    Given the amount that I have spent on my cat Bogart, I probably should as well.

  18. 18

    Barry:

    Can someone explain to me why that last sentence is not true – even obvious?”

    The last sentence is otiose, because what it asserts vis “metaphysical naturalists” is equally true of “most of us.”

  19. 19
    RDFish says:

    Hi Barry,

    You are deeply confused. I have answered your question directly.

    You think the observation the religious people are no less likely to act badly than non-religious people is beside the point. But what you are asking is answered by that very fact. The truth of the matter is that for the metaphysical naturalist, empathy is not just another ‘gut feeling’ that can be suppressed – or not – based on ‘rational’ cost-benefit analysis. That is simply your delusionary projection.

    Most atheists, just like most theists, are not able to suppress their moral instincts. Those who can are pathological, and again, they are called psychopaths.

    How can you not know this?

    Cheers,
    RDFish/AIGuy

  20. 20
    Jul3s says:

    “Since crime rates have been decreasing at the same time that secularization and atheism has been increasing, I would say that the evidence does not support your theory. Since violence is more prevalent in states that tend to be more “Christian”, I would say that the evidence does not support your theory.”

    The evidence does not support your theory either. Look here:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L.....,_2012.svg

    The decreases in crime are mainly in the rich developed world.

    Greece and Rome were far harsher to women than many contemporary ‘barbarian’ societies. This obviously didn’t cause Greece and Rome to achieve greatness. Do not confuse correlation and causation.

    Morality for the irreligious is just a Pavlovian response. An atheist in ancient Athens is just as likely to be a child-molesting, woman-hating, racist, cultural bigot slave-owner as anybody else because that was the culture.

    “I find the whole concept of God, divine command theory, and “objective morality” to be a confused mess, but I am a very charitable person who has always given time and money to people and animals who find themselves in less fortunate circumstances. I get nothing in return except the fantastic feeling that I have helped.”

    I’m sure you can feel the warm fuzzies, but that doesn’t make emotion a basis for anything.

    It is completely unimportant whether irreligious people can be as touchy-feely as religious people. An irreligious morality is devoid of reliable consequences. In an irreligious framework, I have no reason to listen to you.

  21. 21
    Jul3s says:

    Of course, none of this means that religious belief is not an illusion. But I find it amusing that so many desire the feel-good buzz even without accountability or reliable consequences.

  22. 22
    Acartia_bogart says:

    Jul3, your link only confirms my claims. The four areas where violence is the lowest (Canada, Europe, Australia and China) are also, arguably, amongst the least religious. And your argument about violence in ancient Greece and Rome is irrelevant because these countries were not secular or atheistic. They weren’t ChrJul3, your link only confirms my claims. The four areas where violence is the lowest (Canada, Europe, Australia and China) are also, arguably, amongst the least religious. And your argument about violence in Ancient Greece and Rome is irrelevant because these countries were not secular or atheistic. They weren’t christian, but they were strongly religious.

  23. 23
    goodusername says:

    I suppose I could try to eliminate empathy in order to achieve other desires, but does anyone think I’d be happier for it? So why on earth is Barry suggesting it would be a good idea??

    Also, why is empathy special as the source of our desires to be eliminated? Why isn’t it instead, “a clear-eyed metaphysical naturalist would put aside all desire for money to further the desires of empathy.”?

    There seems to be unspoken assumptions that I – and apparently the others who have posted here – can’t figure out.

    In the follow-up Barry backtracked a bit, instead of becoming a psychopath he merely suggested that for the “metaphysical naturalist empathy is just another gut feeling that can be suppressed – or not – based on a ‘rational’ cost-benefit analysis.” Well, yeah, but who doesn’t do that? You see a homeless person, and empathize and wish they had a house – so do you give him your house? Probably not. Why? Cause you balance it against other desires – such as the desire to have a house.

  24. 24

    Actually no one has to believe in God to be a moral being–it’s built in as a result of the creation of human beings in the image of God.

    A more interesting question is why atheists keep talking so much about what’s right or wrong. To the extent that atheism is based on naturalism (which seems to be the default position), then human beings are just animals but with bigger forebrains. And to the extent that we can reason better than animals, with no possible payback after death there isn’t a lot of incentive to be altruistic.

    Not to mention the prominent atheists who say that human beings don’t have free will, Sam Harris, Michael Shermer and our old friend Jerry Coyne, to name a few. Without free will morality is a meaningless concept.

  25. 25

    I’ve run into this often. The “naturalists” don’t understand the nature of the argument. They think the argument is about actual behavior, insisting that the argument is moot if there is no actual behavioral difference between the two metaphysical camps.

    But, the argument is not about actual behavior but rather about what behavior is rationally justifiable from the metaphysical proposition. It is rationally justifiable, from the naturalist metaphysical premises, to ignore empathy and conscience, using others to serve one’s own desires. Therefore, using empathy or conscience, as naturalists/atheists often do, as the basis for morality or ethics is demonstrated to be false, because under naturalism, empathy and conscience are not binding concerns; they are nothing but dismissable, subjective personal feelings.

    If one bases morality/ethics on personal feelings, then everything is logically permissible, rendering morality/ethics, under naturalism/atheism, nothing more than rhetoric and manipulation.

  26. 26

    goodusername said:

    I suppose I could try to eliminate empathy in order to achieve other desires, but does anyone think I’d be happier for it? So why on earth is Barry suggesting it would be a good idea??

    He isn’t suggesting it’s a good idea. He’s saying that under metaphysical naturalism, there’s nothing wrong with it.

    Also, why is empathy special as the source of our desires to be eliminated? Why isn’t it instead, “a clear-eyed metaphysical naturalist would put aside all desire for money to further the desires of empathy.”?

    Because naturalists/atheists most often refer to empathy (as a biological phenomenon) as the basis of morality/ethics. However, if it is a personal, subjective feeling, and if there are no necessary consequences to acting in contradiction to such feelings, then the terms “morality” and “ethics” are just expressions of personal subjective feelings.

    Thus, if I feel it is moral to exterminate Jews or burn witches at the stake, then it is – because morality and ethics are nothing more than however I personally feel. If I feel it is ethical to use others for my own personal gain, then it is.

    In the follow-up Barry backtracked a bit, instead of becoming a psychopath he merely suggested that for the “metaphysical naturalist empathy is just another gut feeling that can be suppressed – or not – based on a ‘rational’ cost-benefit analysis.” Well, yeah, but who doesn’t do that? You see a homeless person, and empathize and wish they had a house – so do you give him your house? Probably not. Why? Cause you balance it against other desires – such as the desire to have a house.

    You’re mistaking an argument about the logic for an argument about how people act.

  27. 27

    RDFish said:

    You are deeply confused.

    No, you’re the one that cannot make the distinction between an argument about metaphysical assumptions and the logical conclusions thereof, and an argument about the way people actually behave. Mr. Arrington is making an argument about the logic, not about how people actually behave.

    You think the observation the religious people are no less likely to act badly than non-religious people is beside the point. But what you are asking is answered by that very fact.

    No, its not. The fact that atheists/naturalists do not actually act according to the logical conclusion of their naturalist perspective about what morality is demonstrates the superficiality of their worldview. Unless they act like sociopaths, all self-proclaimed atheistic “naturalists” behave like moral objectivists.

    In fact, many naturalists reject religion out of a moral outrage against the purported acts/commands of god, and employ such examples as “evidence” that the hypothesized god should be considered “evil”, not realizing they are holding god accountable through a concept of morality (objective) only available under theism and contradictory to their naturalist metaphysic.

    The truth of the matter is that for the metaphysical naturalist, empathy is not just another ‘gut feeling’ that can be suppressed – or not – based on ‘rational’ cost-benefit analysis. That is simply your delusionary projection.

    Most atheists, just like most theists, are not able to suppress their moral instincts. Those who can are pathological, and again, they are called psychopaths.

    Whether or not it can be suppressed is besides the point. Your denials notwithstanding, people do suppress their empathy all the time – when you raise children, you have to suppress your empathy quite often and do things that are difficult to serve their long-term best interests.

    Regardless of that, the point is that – logically – IF one could suppress their conscience/empathy and serve other goals/desires, under naturalism there’s nothing wrong with that. Under naturalism, there’s nothing wrong with being a psycopath or a sociopath and harming others for personal gain because (1) those are just personal, subjective feelings anyway, and (2) there are no necessary consequences to doing whatever you feel like doing.

  28. 28

    Atheists/naturalists/materialists often behave in a highly moral and ethical way. It is often their commitment to such concepts that lead them to be antagonistic to certain religious perspectives.

    The problem is that their high moral and ethical standard of behavior is not logically reconcilable with their professed worldview – atheistic naturalism. They act and behave, in the moral and ethical sense, in spite of the logical ramifications of their worldview.

    They may not have really thought it out; they might be poor at logic. Like me when I was an atheistic materialist, they might have just “known” that the god many profess to exist contradicts their own inner knowledge of what is good, moral and just. Abandoning god and religion, I never worked out the logic of my views.

    Later I realized the problem in my own views – if morality and ethics are nothing more than subjective, personal feelings with no objective, absolute basis, then I have no rational means by which to condemn the behavior of any others or that of any hypothesized god. I realized that, under naturalism, all I had was “because I feel like it” and “because I can”, which isn’t morality at all.

    Only under theism can there be a morality that is anything other than “because I feel like it” and “because I can”.

  29. 29
    goodusername says:

    He isn’t suggesting it’s a good idea. He’s saying that under metaphysical naturalism, there’s nothing wrong with it.

    He goes much further than merely saying that there’s “nothing wrong with”:
    “He would consider empathy to be nothing but weak-kneed sentimentality… In short, he would be what we call a psychopath.”

    Because naturalists/atheists most often refer to empathy (as a biological phenomenon) as the basis of morality/ethics.

    Materialists should see empathy as something to be eliminated because they refer to it as the basis of morality? Huh?

    You’re mistaking an argument about the logic for an argument about how people act.

    I’m explaining the logic of why people act the way they do. We empathize with the homeless, but don’t give away our homes, because we all weigh our desires. Although, for some reason, Barry suggests that only methodological naturalists should do that.

    The fact that atheists/naturalists do not actually act according to the logical conclusion of their naturalist perspective about what morality is demonstrates the superficiality of their worldview. Unless they act like sociopaths, all self-proclaimed atheistic “naturalists” behave like moral objectivists.

    No, they’re behaving like they have empathy.

  30. 30

    goodusername,

    If I wanted to and I could desensitize my empathy/conscience so that I could do anything I wanted for my own personal gain, should I?

  31. 31
    Mark Frank says:

    Barry

    RDFish, Daniel King, Piotr, and Acartia_bogart, have joined Mark Frank and Reciprocating Bill in dodging the question.
    …..
    please focus on the question: “for the metaphysical naturalist empathy is just another gut feeling that can be suppressed – or not – based on a “rational” cost-benefit analysis. Can someone explain to me why that last sentence is not true – even obvious?”

    As Daniel King wrote – several of us answered the question but you seem uninterested in understanding the replies (I am assuming you are capable of understanding them).  As always your legal background shows through. You seem more interested in putting opponents on the spot by forcing them into an over-simple answer than exploring a rather complicated and subtle issue. There are different kinds of suppression of feelings.  The answers above illustrate this:

    1) I wrote: We frequently have to balance one desire against another – shall I spend my windfall money on a holiday or give it to a charity?  There is a sense in which people in this situation either suppress their desire to have a great holiday or suppress their desire to help charities … 

    2) I then went on to I went on to discuss your example and the different sense in which that involved suppressing the short term in favour of the long-term. This applies as much to ethical situations as financial gain.

    3) RDFish wrote that most of us are not capable of suppressing our moral feelings (and goodusername raised the very good point that there is no reason why we would want to do that).  That is also true. In the sense what we almost all have moral feelings in the first place and cannot switch them off any more than we can switch off the desire to be wealthy (although they may be outweighed by more selfish impulses).

  32. 32
    RDFish says:

    Hi William J Murray,

    Mr. Arrington is making an argument about the logic, not about how people actually behave.

    I say that Mr. Arrington is indeed making an argument about how people behave; otherwise, why would he (and you) be so emotionally invested in the topic? Are you really that moved by mere points of logic? I hope not.

    The fact that atheists/naturalists do not actually act according to the logical conclusion of their naturalist perspective about what morality is demonstrates the superficiality of their worldview.

    It is only from your persepective that naturalists do not act according to the logical conclusion of their moral theory. From their view, they act in perfect accord with their moral theory. A moral intuitionist is held by their own moral theory to act in accord with their moral intuitions (which despite the derision that concept receives here is nothing like “warm fuzzies”). That is not superficial; it is simply the recognition that the choice of what “objective morality” one chooses to follow is itself subjective.

    Unless they act like sociopaths, all self-proclaimed atheistic “naturalists” behave like moral objectivists.

    Nonsense. I act like a moral intuitionist who doesn’t believe that moral objectivism is coherent.

    In fact, many naturalists reject religion out of a moral outrage against the purported acts/commands of god and employ such examples as “evidence” that the hypothesized god should be considered “evil”, not realizing they are holding god accountable through a concept of morality (objective) only available under theism and contradictory to their naturalist metaphysic.

    Wrong again: Divine atrocities offend my moral intuitions, just as they do yours (unless you are a psychopath). That contradicts nothing in naturalist metaphysics, and rather than relying on divine morality, it completely rejects it.

    Regardless of that, the point is that – logically – IF one could suppress their conscience/empathy and serve other goals/desires, under naturalism there’s nothing wrong with that.

    Why can’t you understand this? Let’s say that somebody suppressed his empathy (or had none to start with) and sold his sister into prostitution. This offends my moral intuition, and so, as a moral intuitionist, I am logically bound to declare that act is wrong. Since the vast majority of people have this same moral intuition, just about everyone would agree that this is wrong. The only one who might disagree is the psychopath who perpetrated the crime.

    Under naturalism, there’s nothing wrong with being a psychopath or a sociopath and harming others for personal gain because (1) those are just personal, subjective feelings anyway, and (2) there are no necessary consequences to doing whatever you feel like doing.

    You make so many mistakes it’s hard to know where to start. Harming others for personal gain is wrong. I know this – and would be unable to deny it – because of my moral intuitions. I believe you have those same moral intuitions. Moral intuitions are not “just subjective feelings”, like preferring vanilla over chocolate – and I think (hope) a moment’s introspection would confirm that to you. And finally, if you believe you should not harm someone for personal gain simply because there would be necessary consequences, then I would say you are not a moral person at all.

    Cheers,
    RDFish/AIGuy

  33. 33
    Jul3s says:

    “Jul3, your link only confirms my claims.”

    No, they do not. Have another look. Notice that Spain, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Algeria are all highly religious countries with low crime rates, lower than the US, Canada, France, the UK, Norway (which is very irreligious) and the Baltic countries. It is difficult to pin down crime to any one factor but poverty seems to play a role. Believing simplistic narratives about why things happen might be comforting, but it is not enlightening.

    “And your argument about violence in Ancient Greece and Rome is irrelevant”

    It is not irrelevant. It is a warning example not to confuse correlation and causation.

  34. 34
    Jul3s says:

    “Harming others for personal gain is wrong. I know this – and would be unable to deny it – because of my moral intuitions.”
    Different people and different cultures have different moral intuitions. Somebody else would “know” with equal certainty that women or other races were inferior because their intuitions (influenced by culture) are different to yours.

    “A moral intuitionist is held by their own moral theory to act in accord with their moral intuitions”
    Why? If someone had no moral intuitions or was able to suppress them, why should they care about any moral theory at all?

    “(unless you are a psychopath).”
    How can your own personal intuition judge somebody else?

    “Moral intuitions are not “just subjective feelings”, like preferring vanilla over chocolate – and I think (hope) a moment’s introspection would confirm that to you.”
    But you reject moral objectivism. You can’t have it both ways.

  35. 35
    Graham2 says:

    Barry,
    We have basic rules of caring behaviour built in. Even primates display the same. If we didnt, we could never have evolved as a social species. I may find it convenient to eat babies, but this will kill off my genes.

  36. 36
    Querius says:

    Sorry to say, but some of the comments here are so deeply permeated with unstated and groundless assumptions that it feels like watching a scrabble game between children who can’t spell.

    I don’t know where to begin. How about this for example…

    Violence is the natural order of things. Violence drives evolution and feeds animals. Violence culls the herd and keeps the genome healthy by eliminating the threat of overpopulation from the very young and the very old. It rewards the strongest, most violent individuals with sex and offspring. Pain and suffering resulting from violence is also good. It strengthens both the individual and the herd/flock/pride etc.

    Thus, violence represents the highest good. Right?

    -Q

  37. 37
    Mark Frank says:

    #36 Querius

    No one here is suggesting that what makes us successful as a species (which is partly violence and partly other things) equates to what is good. What many of us believe that moral feelings such as empathy are attributes of human nature (among many others). The question of how those attributes got there is separate. I believe there are a combination of evolution and cultural forces, but the argument would still apply if they were created by design.

  38. 38
    Graham2 says:

    Barry, Why not reveal the truth to us: Where does our morality come from ?

  39. 39

    [/ignore WJM]

    WJM now:

    But, the argument is not about actual behavior but rather about what behavior is rationally justifiable from the metaphysical proposition. It is rationally justifiable, from the naturalist metaphysical premises, to ignore empathy and conscience, using others to serve one’s own desires. Therefore, using empathy or conscience, as naturalists/atheists often do, as the basis for morality or ethics is demonstrated to be false, because under naturalism, empathy and conscience are not binding concerns; they are nothing but dismissable, subjective personal feelings.

    WJM then:

    Training myself to control my empathy has played a large role in increasing the quality and enjoyment of my life, and has certainly expanded my actionable options – so, I speak from experience. I can also tell you that it is not empathy that keeps me from purposefully harming others for my own gain. Harming someone else doesn’t bother me one bit – unless it’s someone I love. Even then, in most cases, I can turn off my empathy if they need some “tough love”.
    The only thing standing between me and harming others for personal gain is my theistic view on the inescapable consequences of immoral behavior. Empathy (at least the meatphysical naturalist version) is just a temporary feeling I can desensitize myself from; the spiritual consequences of immoral behavior branded into my conscience are serious and inescapable. I ignore them at my own peril, regardless of how empathetic I am towards others.

    A pristine specimen of psychopathic thinking, if ever there were one. And also an exemplar of “religious” calculation that, even in the second paragraph, is all about consequences for #1 and devoid of any consideration of or empathy for anyone else.

    [Ignore WJM]

  40. 40
    Joe says:

    Wow, Reciprocating Bill has reached a new low, even for an atheistic materialist. Methinks RB doesn’t understand what William wrote…

  41. 41
    DavidD says:

    Graham2 – “I may find it convenient to eat babies, but this will kill off my genes.”

    You could always consider practicing another evolutionary strategy for spreading one’s DNA, try rape. But make sure you perform the strategy well outside of your natural habitat like in a foreign country. If caught and arrested, in court you could always cite the scientific literature which actually extends all the way back to the 1990s. Claim you were a under privileged male of low social status and couldn’t help yourself because your selfish genes made you do it. Perhaps you could try this in a more progressive enlightened country like secularist Norway where a mass murder of 84 innocent people got only 21 years for something that really was beyond his control.

  42. 42
    Piotr says:

    Reciprocating Bill:

    By the way, psychopaths who believe in “the inescapable consequences of immoral behaviour” may still find satisfaction in harming others and are somehow able to reconcile this attitude with their religiousness (he fear of consequences notwithstanding). Religion itself doesn’t produce empathy or cure lack of it:

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/seljos_bernhardt/8482859518/in/set-72157632785816375

  43. 43
    Mark Frank says:

    #39 Reciprocating Bill

    What terrifying quotes. Luckily WJM is almost certainly fooling himself and is really as compassionate as you or me.

  44. 44
    Joe says:

    What, exactly, is terrifying about those quotes, Mark? And why are you and RB compassionate seeing that word means nothing to atheistic materialists?

    At least Richard Dawkins realizes what type of world we would live in if this was truly a blind watchmaker’s world.

  45. 45

    RB said:

    A pristine specimen of psychopathic thinking, if ever there were one. And also an exemplar of “religious” calculation that, even in the second paragraph, is all about consequences for #1 and devoid of any consideration of or empathy for anyone else.

    In the first place, RB is engaged in a form of character-assassination rhetoric. By definition, psychopathy has nothing to do with empathy. Merriam-Webster defines psychopathy:

    mental disorder especially when marked by egocentric and antisocial activity

    My behavior and activities are anything but egocentric and/or antisocial. Perhaps RB is thinking of a sociopath:

    someone who behaves in a dangerous or violent way towards other people and does not feel guilty about such behavior

    However, I clearly marked the difference between empathy, which is a subjective, projective, vicarious experiencing of what one imagines or recognizes another person to be experiencing, and conscience. Empathy has nothing to do with feeling guilt. Conscience does.

    Guilt comes from one’s conscience. In RB’s quote of me, I clearly express that what stops me from harming others is not empathy (not because I don’t have it, but because I can turn it off when necessary), but my conscience, which causes guilt when violated.

    So, RB’s characterization of me as a “psychopath” is definitionally incorrect. I cannot be either a psychopath or a sociopath; I am not egocentric or anti-social nor do I lack guilt or empathy; I have desensitized my empathy to a certain degree – as I have said before – because my empathy was extremely sensitive and rendered me incapable of behaving or thinking in a rational manner in many situations.

  46. 46
    Joe says:

    William J Murray- I know it is difficult sometimes but just consider the source. 😉

  47. 47
  48. 48
    Mark Frank says:

    #45 WJM

    You wrote:

    Harming someone else doesn’t bother me one bit – unless it’s someone I love. Even then, in most cases, I can turn off my empathy if they need some “tough love”.

    This clearly implies you don’t have empathy except in the case of someone you love (in which case you can turn it off if needs be). I am sure that’s not true and not what you intended to say but it does explain RB’s reaction.

  49. 49

    RDFish said:

    I say that Mr. Arrington is indeed making an argument about how people behave; otherwise, why would he (and you) be so emotionally invested in the topic? Are you really that moved by mere points of logic? I hope not.

    I’m not emotionally invested in the topic. I am, in fact, interested in logical arguments concerning morality, which is why I participate.

    It is only from your persepective that naturalists do not act according to the logical conclusion of their moral theory. From their view, they act in perfect accord with their moral theory.

    So? I’m not challenging that from their perspective naturalists think that they are behaving in accordance; the challenge is whether or not they are actually behaving in accordance with their metaphysical premises.

    A moral intuitionist is held by their own moral theory to act in accord with their moral intuitions (which despite the derision that concept receives here is nothing like “warm fuzzies”). That is not superficial; it is simply the recognition that the choice of what “objective morality” one chooses to follow is itself subjective.

    IOW, a person can act however they personally intuit they should act, be it giving to charities or rounding up Jews and exterminating them, and by definition (intuition) such acts are in fact moral, correct? Or can one’s moral intuition be wrong?

    Wrong again: Divine atrocities offend my moral intuitions, just as they do yours (unless you are a psychopath). That contradicts nothing in naturalist metaphysics, and rather than relying on divine morality, it completely rejects it.

    The problem is under naturalism, while purported divine acts may offend your subjective sensibilities, your own basis of subjective intuition as morality necessarily would vindicate god’s personal, subjective moral compass as being as valid as your own.

    The same would be true between you and someone who would burn witches or steal from the corporation they worked for. While their morality may differ from yours, and may offend you, under naturalism their behavior is necessarily just as moral as your behavior as long as they are doing what they personally intuit as a moral good.

    But, naturalists do not argue or act as if all claims of “what is moral” are logical equals. If they did, then morality would be like palate; some people prefer to eat certain things, and are disgusted by other things, but do not condemn those that enjoy eating things that personally disgust them, because one would realize that it is entirely a personal, subjective consideration.

    IOW, you cannot (logically) on one hand say that morality issubjective intuition and then point at someone else’s version of morality (their subjective intuitions) and call it “immoral” without invalidating your own foundation.

    Why can’t you understand this? Let’s say that somebody suppressed his empathy (or had none to start with) and sold his sister into prostitution. This offends my moral intuition, and so, as a moral intuitionist, I am logically bound to declare that act is wrong.

    This is where you are in error. Under naturalism and morality as personal, subjective intuition, you can only say the act would be wrong if you did it. You cannot say if it is wrong for the person committing the act, because you do not know their personal moral intuition.

    You are switching categories, reifying a personal, subjective view into an objective one you hold the other person accountable to. That person is not accountable to your personal moral intuition, and you cannot rationally hold them accountable to it if you maintain that morality is a personal, subjective intuition.

    Rationally, it is only if you hold that your intuition is about an objective commodity that you can hold other people accountable to it. Unless, of course, you are saying that because you have a subjective intuition about a subjective state you are authorized to judge others and intervene in their behavior?

    Since the vast majority of people have this same moral intuition, just about everyone would agree that this is wrong. The only one who might disagree is the psychopath who perpetrated the crime.

    What difference does it make whether or not a vast majority of people agree with your intuition, if intuition **is** what morality is? Either consensus determines what is moral or personal intuition determines what is moral. Which is it?

    You make so many mistakes it’s hard to know where to start. Harming others for personal gain is wrong. I know this – and would be unable to deny it – because of my moral intuitions.

    But, if someone else doesn’t share that moral intuition, then for them, harming others for personal gain can be right. Correct?

    I believe you have those same moral intuitions. Moral intuitions are not “just subjective feelings”, like preferring vanilla over chocolate – and I think (hope) a moment’s introspection would confirm that to you.

    Of course they aren’t. The problem is, I have an axiomatic basis that rationally supports the view that morality is not just a subjective feeling. You, apparently, are attempting to have your subjective morality cake and eat it too.

    You can’t have it both ways; morality is either subjective in nature or it is objective in nature. If subjective, then whatever my personal morality embraces is “good” by definition. While it may differ from your personal “good”, you have no capacity to judge the rightness or wrongness of my behavior because my behavior is not accountable to your intuitive sensibilities. Under naturalism, the rightness or wrongness of my behavior can only be judged by my own moral intuition.

    It is only if you act and think as if your moral intuitions are binding on others that gives you the willingness to judge the behavior of others (even a presumed god) according to your own personal intuition, contradicting your stated, subjective basis of morality.

    And finally, if you believe you should not harm someone for personal gain simply because there would be necessary consequences, then I would say you are not a moral person at all.

    This last is a particularly compelling piece of evidence that you are arguing as if you are a moral objectivist, as if I and everyone else is accountable to your personal idea of morality. Here is what an actual moral naturalist would instead say if they were being logically consistent with their premise:

    “And finally, if you believe you should not harm someone for personal gain simply because there would be necessary consequences, then I would say that is your own personal intuition of morality and equally valid to my own.”

  50. 50

    This clearly implies you don’t have empathy except in the case of someone you love (in which case you can turn it off if needs be). I am sure that’s not true and not what you intended to say but it does explain RB’s reaction.

    No, it doesn’t imply that at all. What it demonstrates is that some people are hypersensitive about harming others and erroneously consider that the end-all and be-all of empathy. RB and other naturalists seem to be making a case of emotional pleading, that unless you are a slave to empathy, and unless your empathy is **just like mine**, you are then a psychopath.

    I am empathetically joyful and sorrowful all the time with others, even with TV and movie characters.

    But, empathy is not a wild horse running loose in my emotional field. I have cultivated the capacity to suppress it when I consider it useful or necessary, and have desensitized it to some degree so I can make more rational and sensible decisions in various situations.

    However, if I consider harming others an appropriate act, I can harm others and it not bother me one bit. If it is necessary or appropriate morally, then I will not experience guilt (from conscience, not empathy) and I can suppress my empathy. I don’t have an aversion to harming others per se; I have an aversion to doing others wrong. Sometimes harming another person is the right thing, the morally necessary thing.

  51. 51

    Here’s a couple of questions for naturalists/materialists:

    If I intuit or feel that it is good to enslave others and force them to do my will:

    1) What is the naturalist argument that such behavior is immoral?

    2) Even if it is wrong, so what? Why should I do what is right, and not what is wrong, if that is what I prefer?

  52. 52
    OldArmy94 says:

    Nothing can raise the hackles of a materialist like placing a mirror before his face.

  53. 53
    Mark Frank says:

    #51 WJM

    How many times have you had this debate?  Far too many with me alone.  I would have thought by now you would know the responses.

    If I intuit or feel that it is good to enslave others and force them to do my will:
    1) What is the naturalist argument that such behavior is immoral?

    Very similar to the arguments you would use if an atheist was behaving that way (no good referring an atheist to the natural moral law). They  might include:

    * How would you like to be enslaved? (Kantian categorical imperative)

    * If you enslave people then they become deeply unhappy and you will add to the sum of human misery (utilitarianism)

    * Just read these descriptions of what it is like to be a slave (Humean appeal to compassion)

    etc…

    2) Even if it is wrong, so what? Why should I do what is right, and not what is wrong, if that is what I prefer?

    Do you mean “why should I?” in the sense of why is it right for me to do it? If so, that is tautology, of course it is right to do what is right.  Or do you mean “why should I” in the sense of “what is there in it for me?”. In this case the pay-offs include:

    * The intense satisfaction of having done the right thing.

    * The congratulations of those that will approve of your action

    * The firm example you will set for others to treat you the same way

    * If done repeatedly an excellent basis for persuading others to do what you think it is right for them to do

    etc…

  54. 54
    Barry Arrington says:

    Acartia_bogart: “Of course it is true.”

    There, that was not so hard was it? The rest of the materialists on this thread should sit up and take notice of AB’s honesty.

    Now, the hard question: The materialist metaphysical believes that everything is ultimately meaningless. Why should a materialist not act on that premise and always suppress his empathy to achieve whatever end he finds desirable?

    Again, I am not asking about what materialists actually do, and again for the sake of argument I will stipulate that all materialists are living saints.

  55. 55
    Mark Frank says:

    #54 Barry Why do you continue this farcical line that no one has answered your question when several of us clearly have? I did so in #3 and I repeated it in #31. Like Acartia_bogart I agreed it is true. I added more detail because it actually depends on what you mean by “suppress” but based on the context of your example then it is true and I said so.

    Now, the hard question: The materialist metaphysical believes that everything is ultimately meaningless. Why should a materialist not act on that premise and always suppress his empathy to achieve whatever end he finds desirable?

    As goodusername says in #23. Why would a materialist want to suppress his empathy any more than any of the other desires that drives his or her life.  It is actually deeply satisfying being moral. It worries me slightly that so many you profess to need a threat of eternal damnation to be moral – but I suspect you are fooling yourselves.

  56. 56
    Daniel King says:

    The materialist metaphysical believes that everything is ultimately meaningless.

    If you start with an unwarranted premise, you don’t have an argument.

  57. 57
    Daniel King says:

    Why should a materialist not act on that premise and always suppress his empathy to achieve whatever end he finds desirable?

    Shouldn’t heretics be executed to prevent contamination of the faithful?

  58. 58
    Piotr says:

    Now, the hard question: The materialist metaphysical believes that everything is ultimately meaningless.

    Why should meaning count as meaning only if it’s eternal, defined and sanctioned personally by God himself, and encompasses the entire universe? If meanig is a product of human culture, if it’s local and important only to humans, what bloody difference does it make?

    Why should a materialist not act on that premise and always suppress his empathy to achieve whatever end he finds desirable?

    Because it would be bad in the human sense. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is a sensible maxim (even from the point of view of game-theoretic analyses of stable social strategies). Empathy helps you to imagine what others feel, what they think of your actions, and whether those actions hurt your fellow human beings. I wouldn’t be able to torture someone without, in some sense, sharing the pain. My own sense of self-esteem and my personal inner comfort (a.k.a. a clean conscience) take into account other people’s opinions and feelings. And I’m interested in preserving the state of affairs which make me feel happy and secure, so I wouldn’t sacrifice my respectability and inner comfort for the sake of whatever other “desirable ends” you have in mind.

  59. 59
    vividbleau says:

    WJM

    But, the argument is not about actual behavior but rather about what behavior is rationally justifiable from the metaphysical proposition.

    Maybe ‘logically” justifiable would be a better word rather than “rational”

    Went through this exercise in the ARN days, spent three weeks going back and forth with one poster, had a cool handle cant think of it at the moment. Anyway it always goes to the same place for those who deny objective morality…”Might makes right”

    Thought I would save everyone some time in getting there 🙂

    Vivid

  60. 60
    RDFish says:

    Hi William J Murray,

    I’m not challenging that from their perspective naturalists think that they are behaving in accordance; the challenge is whether or not they are actually behaving in accordance with their metaphysical premises.

    What I told you was that they are acting in complete accord with their own metaphysical premises. They are not acting in accord with your metaphysical premises.

    IOW, a person can act however they personally intuit they should act, be it giving to charities or rounding up Jews and exterminating them, and by definition (intuition) such acts are in fact moral, correct?

    Don’t be ridiculous. These acts are wrong by my moral intuition, and by the moral intuition of the vast majority of human beings.

    Or can one’s moral intuition be wrong?

    Why is this so hard for you to grasp? If my moral intuition contradicts yours, then I will think you are wrong and you will think I am wrong. This is the same situation for supposed “objectivists” such as yourself: When you disagree with some fellow Christian regarding the morality of, say, abortion, you each think the other is wrong.

    The problem is under naturalism, while purported divine acts may offend your subjective sensibilities, your own basis of subjective intuition as morality necessarily would vindicate god’s personal, subjective moral compass as being as valid as your own.

    You still don’t understand. I do not believe that anyone’s moral intuitions are valid when they do not align with mine of course – just as you dispute the validity of any moral position that contradicts yours.

    The same would be true between you and someone who would burn witches or steal from the corporation they worked for. While their morality may differ from yours, and may offend you, under naturalism their behavior is necessarily just as moral as your behavior as long as they are doing what they personally intuit as a moral good.

    Wrong, wrong, wrong. You interpret and apply God’s commandments one way, another Christian does it differently. I apply my moral intuitions one way, and another intuitionist may have different intuitions. The only difference is that you pretend that your intuitive interpretations carry the weight of divinity.

    But, naturalists do not argue or act as if all claims of “what is moral” are logical equals.

    Of course – because they are not.

    If they did, then morality would be like palate; some people prefer to eat certain things, and are disgusted by other things, but do not condemn those that enjoy eating things that personally disgust them, because one would realize that it is entirely a personal, subjective consideration.

    You are not even trying, I’m afraid. Intuitionists have undeniable moral convictions that they acknowledge come from within. I’ve already explained to you that these are not arbitrary personal preferences that apply only to individuals! Why don’t you stop and read that a few times until you get it? You think your moral convictions that you imagine God intends apply to everyone, and I think my moral convictions (and those of the vast majority of humans who agree with most of these convictions of mine) apply to everyone.

    IOW, you cannot (logically) on one hand say that morality issubjective intuition and then point at someone else’s version of morality (their subjective intuitions) and call it “immoral” without invalidating your own foundation.

    If you don’t understand why this statement is wrong, re-read what I just wrote a few more times.

    Under naturalism and morality as personal, subjective intuition, you can only say the act would be wrong if you did it. You cannot say if it is wrong for the person committing the act, because you do not know their personal moral intuition.

    And yet again: I judge people by my own morality, not theirs. Just like you do. The only difference is that you pretend that yours is divine.

    Rationally, it is only if you hold that your intuition is about an objective commodity that you can hold other people accountable to it. Unless, of course, you are saying that because you have a subjective intuition about a subjective state you are authorized to judge others and intervene in their behavior?

    There is no such thing as objective morality. There is only subjective morality. If I choose to believe in the morality of religious scripture X or Y or Z, then that is my subjective choice. If I choose instead to believe in the morality that I inuit, that is also my subjective choice. You and I both have subjective morality that we apply to all other people.

    But, if someone else doesn’t share that moral intuition, then for them, harming others for personal gain can be right. Correct?

    No, incorrect. You just make the same mistakes over and over again.

    Of course they aren’t. The problem is, I have an axiomatic basis that rationally supports the view that morality is not just a subjective feeling.

    No, you don’t. You have only subjective morality that you pretend has been authorized by a god.

    It is only if you act and think as if your moral intuitions are binding on others that gives you the willingness to judge the behavior of others (even a presumed god) according to your own personal intuition,…

    Yes, that is correct. We all do this. It is fortunate that you, I, and the vast majority of human beings on the planet agree about the majority of moral issues. Disagreements form often too, of course, between moral objectivists just as often as between moral subjectivists!!!

    …contradicting your stated, subjective basis of morality.

    There is no contradiction.

    This last is a particularly compelling piece of evidence that you are arguing as if you are a moral objectivist, as if I and everyone else is accountable to your personal idea of morality.

    In my view you and everyone else is accountable to my personal idea of morality. In your view me and everyone else is accountable to your personal idea of morality. Get used to it.

    Cheers,
    RDFish/AIGuy

  61. 61
    jlowder says:

    Please see the replies to your argument / challenge here.

  62. 62
    Barry Arrington says:

    jlowder @61. I followed your link. The writer does not understand my argument, so he did not refute it. How do I know he did not understand my argument? Easy, the very first line of my post says, “let us assume for the sake of argument that metaphysical naturalism is a true account of reality.” Yet your hero assumes that the purpose of my post is to refute metaphysical naturalism.

  63. 63

    Mark Frank said:

    They might include:

    You seem to have missed the premise of the question. The premise is that I intuit that having slaves is a good thing. I do not intuit that considering the feelings of others, or considering how I would feel in their position is a moral guideline whatsoever. Your “argument” is nothing more than an appeal to your own moral intuitions as if they were also mine – once again assuming that such intuitions are objectively consistent from one person to the next.

    You have no argument other than emotional pleading and rhetoric rooted in your own personal moral feelings. Unfortunately, your stated basis of morality – personal moral intuition – gives you no sound argument to make against those who have a different moral intuition than you.

    Your explanation of “why I should” do what is right is – again – nothing more than rhetoric and emotional pleading based on your own subjective moral intuitions. If I gain satisfaction and enjoyment out of owning slaves, there is no compelling reason – under naturalism – to not own them.

  64. 64
    Querius says:

    Mark Frank @ 37 opined

    No one here is suggesting that what makes us successful as a species (which is partly violence and partly other things) equates to what is good. What many of us believe that moral feelings such as empathy are attributes of human nature (among many others). The question of how those attributes got there is separate. I believe there are a combination of evolution and cultural forces, but the argument would still apply if they were created by design.

    I’m suggesting that if you believe in evolution, then violence is the highest good—and not necessarily for any one species. What part of evolution do you not believe in?

    -Q

  65. 65

    RDFish said:

    What I told you was that they are acting in complete accord with their own metaphysical premises. They are not acting in accord with your metaphysical premises.

    No, that’s not what you said. You said “from their view”. That is part of the debate here – whether or not they actually act in accordance with their metaphysical premises. They do not. They cannot, unless they are sociopaths. IOW, they either are not capable of logically parsing the ramifications of their naturalist premises, or they haven’t take the trouble to, or they are simply deceiving themselves.

    Don’t be ridiculous. These acts are wrong by my moral intuition, and by the moral intuition of the vast majority of human beings.

    I’m not being ridiculous. This is where the naturalist logic breaks down. You seem to be arguing that, under the naturalist version of morality, what “the vast majority” of people agree with has some kind of bearing on whether or not any individual act can be judged moral or not by anyone else.

    IF “what is moral” is determined by one’s personal moral intuition, then only that person can determine what is factualy moral for them. Under naturalism, this is the factual nature of morality. You don’t get to determine what is moral for others because your position is that morality is determined by one’s individual, subjective morality.

    Holding others to what you claim is an individual, subjective moral intuition is contradictory to your own premise. You can’t have it both ways.

    If my moral intuition contradicts yours, then I will think you are wrong and you will think I am wrong.

    The problem is that under naturalism, you have no rational justification for thinking my moral view is “wrong”. Your only available conclusion is that my morality is different from yours (even if repulsive), not “wrong”, because there is no assumed objective arbiter by which you could determine my view is “wrong” and yours “right”.

    It would be like personal taste; I like cherry pie, you like apple. I’m disgusted by cherry pie; you are disgusted by apple. But, being as we know such preferences are a matter of subjective, personal taste, you cannot call my preference “wrong”, only “different” and something you would not eat.

    This is the same situation for supposed “objectivists” such as yourself: When you disagree with some fellow Christian regarding the morality of, say, abortion, you each think the other is wrong.

    First, I’m not a christian. Second, it’s not “the same situation”, because moral objectivists agree that an objective, absolute source of moral right and wrong exists by which they can logically argue that someone else’s morality is wrong and meaningfully debate that subject.

    For the naturalist, all they have – admittedly so – is personal, subjective intuition that is not rooted in any objective or presumed objective commodity. Morality is an entirely subjective commodity. Arguing that someone else’s behavior is “wrong” is like claiming that enjoying apple pie is “wrong” or that preferring a certain genre of music or movies is “wrong”.

    Just because “moral intuition”, under naturalism, is a deep, strongly-felt intuition doesn’t change it from the subjective category to the objective. One can feel very, deeply, strongly about art or music or food or personality types, etc., but that doesn’t give one the logical license to judge someone else’s preferences “wrong”.

    Your logic fails. You cannot act like a moral subjectivist, you cannot argue like one or think like one. Not unless you are a sociopath. You know as clearly as I do that some things are wrong regardless of their views or personal moral intuition, and we are both willing to intervene in their behavior as if our moral views are objectively applicable to everyone.

  66. 66
    LarTanner says:

    Querius,

    I was under the impression that you folks believe materialists have no way of determining the “good” — highest, lowest, or in between.

    Is it now your contention that materialists can assess certain values as good, and rank them?

  67. 67
    RDFish says:

    Hi Barry,

    I see that you and all of the other theists here are just dodging the answers to your question.

    While you pretend that you have some special, “objective” basis for whatever you think is right and wrong, in fact you are in exactly the same situation as the rest of us: We each decide for ourselves what is moral and what is not, and there is no escaping that fact.

    You choose, subjectively, to follow some particular interpretation of some particular religion, and then you turn around and declare that your particular choices are objectively true and binding on all people. Other people choose other theological interpretations or other religions entirely, and they likewise declare their subjective choices to be divinely authorized and objectively true.

    The moral subjectivist is no more subjective about morality; the only difference is that she is cognizant of – and honest about – the fact that all of our moral views are subjective.

    Besides being more logical and more honest, the subjectivist is often less dogmatic (and threatening) than the fideist who decides that their view is sanctioned by some all-powerful god.

    Cheers,
    RDFish/AIGuy

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    drc466 says:

    RDFish – I believe WJM’s point is that you, and other MN’s, have no logical foundation for your “moral intuition”. It’s “turtles all the way down”, so to speak.
    For a non-MN, there exists an objective morality that has a foundation of some higher power. Good is what God approves of. Evil is what offends God. Yes, WJM’s moral code (and everyone else’s) is personal and subjective, but it is his personal and subjective attempt to conform to God’s objective morality. His code is logically coherent, because IF there is an objective morality, then logically his responsibility is to conform to it, AND to try to get others to conform as well.
    You, on the other hand, don’t have a logically coherent MN matter/energy-only basis to criticize another person’s moral code, and enforcing your code on them is therefore arbitrary and cruel. You cannot justify your moral code without referencing ideas (“moral intuition”) that have no matter/energy basis. This is inconsistent therefore with the MN belief that matter/energy is all there is.

    Exercise: Try to define something as wrong without making a value judgment. Can’t be done. Value exists, therefore MN is wrong. QED.

    Barry:

    Now, the hard question: The materialist metaphysical believes that everything is ultimately meaningless. Why should a materialist not act on that premise and always suppress his empathy to achieve whatever end he finds desirable?

    To which I believe the materialist’s answer is that they do, except when exercising empathy brings about the desirable outcome. One of the most annoying and popular freshman Psych 101 exercises is to argue the assertion that “Every act is done from personal self-interest”, even “altruism”*. The reason people don’t commit crimes is that they don’t want to suffer the consequences, not because it is “right”. People give to charity because it improves their self-image (“I’m a good person”), not because it’s the “right” thing to do. And so on. Everyone is technically a sociopath, because we’re all just doing what makes us happy (or least unhappy). The only difference between a normal person and what society calls a “sociopath” is the ability to accurately factor in long-term consequences to our happiness. (I believe Evo Psych has a bunch of alternate theories that basically say morality is a false construct, we act illogically, but it’s the result of our evolutionary heritage, blah blah blah).

    *I don’t personally believe this, but there it is.

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    If morality = subjective, personal intuition, then nobody can judge the moral quality of anyone else’s behavior. Only the individual can judge if their behavior is in concert with their own moral intuitions.

  70. 70
    RDFish says:

    Hi William J Murray,

    That is part of the debate here – whether or not they actually act in accordance with their metaphysical premises. They do not. They cannot, unless they are sociopaths. IOW, they either are not capable of logically parsing the ramifications of their naturalist premises, or they haven’t take the trouble to, or they are simply deceiving themselves.

    My metaphysical premise is that there is no supernatural being telling us what is right and wrong, leaving us to our own moral intuitions. When I do in fact act in accord with my moral intuitions, I am therefore logically consistent with my metaphysical premises.

    You seem to be arguing that, under the naturalist version of morality, what “the vast majority” of people agree with has some kind of bearing on whether or not any individual act can be judged moral or not by anyone else.

    No. The relevance of the “vast majority” is sociological, not logical. Again, it is fortunate that virtually everyone – theist or atheist alike – finds the same actions morally acceptable or reprehensible. But if I found myself in a world where the vast majority of people believed torturing puppies for fun was morally correct, then I would still hold to my own moral intuition and deny the validity of everyone else’s intuitions.

    You don’t get to determine what is moral for others because your position is that morality is determined by one’s individual, subjective morality.

    Yes I do get to judge others by my own moral intuitions, and so I do. So do you, of course.

    Holding others to what you claim is an individual, subjective moral intuition is contradictory to your own premise. You can’t have it both ways.

    Why do you keep saying this? I decide that torturing puppies is wrong, based on my own moral intuitions (I’m not sure if there is a god who takes a stand on this particular issue, but if He disagreed, I would judge Him too). Now that I know that torturing puppies is wrong for anyone, I can hold others to that standard with complete logical consistency.

    The problem is that under naturalism, you have no rational justification for thinking my moral view is “wrong”. Your only available conclusion is that my morality is different from yours (even if repulsive), not “wrong”, because there is no assumed objective arbiter by which you could determine my view is “wrong” and yours “right”.

    You have simply incorporated your conclusion into the definition of the words “right” and “wrong”. Under subjectivism, the word “right” means “in accord with my own moral intuition”. In your objectivism, the word “right” means (I suppose) “That which God tells us is right”. Since I do not believe that God tells you anything at all, I think your objectivism is incoherent, and that your morality is based on the same thing mine is – our own human moral intuitions.

    It would be like personal taste; I like cherry pie, you like apple. I’m disgusted by cherry pie; you are disgusted by apple. But, being as we know such preferences are a matter of subjective, personal taste, you cannot call my preference “wrong”, only “different” and something you would not eat.

    The difference is that pies are not moral issues, so you can’t be wrong when you choose apple. You are, however, wrong if you choose to torture puppies. And yes, by “wrong” I mean “against my own subjective moral principles”, which is the only thing that anyone has to judge others against.

    RDF: This is the same situation for supposed “objectivists” such as yourself: When you disagree with some fellow Christian regarding the morality of, say, abortion, you each think the other is wrong.
    WJM: First, I’m not a christian.

    I do apologize for the mistaken assumption. I’m annoyed when people assume things about me incorrectly, and I regret doing that to you.

    Second, it’s not “the same situation”, because moral objectivists agree that an objective, absolute source of moral right and wrong exists by which they can logically argue that someone else’s morality is wrong and meaningfully debate that subject.

    No, they don’t. One moral objectivist thinks that the moral code came from one god, and other thinks it comes from another god, and yet another thinks it can be objectively inferred from natural facts. It is not objectively knowable which “objective” source of morality is correct, and that means that no matter how much you wish otherwise, morality is subjective.

    Your logic fails. You cannot act like a moral subjectivist, you cannot argue like one or think like one. Not unless you are a sociopath.

    Nothing about subjectivism requires consistent adherents to be sociopathic. My intuitions are altruistic and against the suffering of others, and so when I act that way I am acting consistently with my metaphysical assumptions.

    You know as clearly as I do that some things are wrong regardless of their views or personal moral intuition, and we are both willing to intervene in their behavior as if our moral views are objectively applicable to everyone.

    Yes, we agree. If Joan’s moral intuition told her that it was good to torture puppies, I would judge against her, declare that her moral intuition was perverse and horrific, and intervene. That doesn’t mean that my morality is “objective” in the sense that it is God-given. It means that as a subjectivist I am committed to the principle that my moral intuitions are binding on others.

    It would be very nice if life came with a clear handbook that told us what was right and wrong. It doesn’t. People have made up plenty of different handbooks, but nobody can objectively say which is objectively correct. That is why the subjectivist is correct, and the objectivists are fooling themselves.

    Cheers,
    RDFish/AIGuy

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    Phinehas says:

    WJM: Rationally, it is only if you hold that your intuition is about an objective commodity that you can hold other people accountable to it. Unless, of course, you are saying that because you have a subjective intuition about a subjective state you are authorized to judge others and intervene in their behavior?

    RDF: There is no such thing as objective morality. There is only subjective morality. If I choose to believe in the morality of religious scripture X or Y or Z, then that is my subjective choice. If I choose instead to believe in the morality that I inuit, that is also my subjective choice. You and I both have subjective morality that we apply to all other people.

    RDF does indeed seem to be saying that he is authorized to judge others and intervene in their behavior based on a personal subjective intuition about a subjective state. (Please correct me if this is not the case.)

    Everything moral in me screams out that judging others and intervening in their behavior based solely on personal subjective intuition is wrong, wrong, wrong! Everything I believe about liberty, personal freedom, self-expression, and self-actualization tells me that it is morally repugnant to judge another or intervene in their behavior based solely on personal subjective intuition.

    Why do you think that personal subjective intuition give you this authority? Do you have any warrant for holding this position? What is it about personal subjective intuition that could rationally authorize one to judge another to the point of intervening in their behavior?

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    Barry Arrington says:

    This thread is closed. Comments continued here:

    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....attention/

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