In several previous posts, RDFish stumbled into a serious philosophical error that needs to be addressed. Barry Arrington had made the unassailable point that materialism (understood as physicalism) is incompatible with such concepts as good, evil, and objective morality. The reason is clear: Materialism reduces all choices to electro-chemical processes in the brain. With that model, all apparent moral decisions are really nothing more than chemcial-physical operations or functions.
Though RDF failed to refute the argument, confront the argument, or even define his own terms, he sought, nevertheless, to attack it through the back door, claiming that past atheist philosophers embraced both metaphysical materialism and objective morality. His list includes such notables as David Hume, Immanuel Kant, Ayn Rand, and Jeremy Bentham.
Since RDF’s claim should not, in any way, be taken seriously, it doesn’t rate a long post or call for an extended analysis. In fact, none of four philosophers indicated were both materialists and objectivists. It’s as simple as that. An abbreviated account should settle the issue:
Hume, though he was a materialist, did not believe in objective morality at all. For him, moral judgments are nothing more than subjective feelings. To say rape is “evil.” is to say “I hate rape.” This subjective view of morality is identical with the point that Barry was making. Materialist metaphysics leads inexorably to a pseudo-ethical model based solely on feelings and preferences.
Immanuel Kant was not a materialist in any way, shape, or form. Indeed, he is closer to being an Idealist, which is the opposite philosophical extreme. His ethical scheme is primarily subjective. Man is his own law. He is autonomous. He binds himself to the law that he gives himself. By contrast, objective morality binds the subject from the outside.
Ayn Rand embraced objectivist principles, but she was not a materialist.—As she puts it, “Man’s consciousness is not material—but neither is it an element opposed to matter” or again,”Man is an entity of mind and body, an indivisible union of two elements: of consciousness and matter. Matter is that which one perceives, consciousness is that which perceives it”
Jeremy Bentham, though an atheist, was silent on materialism, so there is no way to know for sure if he should be placed in that category. Unlike objective morality, his moral scheme of utilitarianism does not come from an outside source (God or nature). On the contrary, it is conceived by the subject and projected to the outside as a standard for other subjects.
So if RDFish is still hoping to find a metaphysical materialist who also embraces objective morality, I wish him good fortune. He will need it. The search for an impossible dream is overrated. It can be a continuing source of frustration.