This will be my last post on this subject. In the comments to my prior post, groovamos wrote a comment that contains a personal history followed by a gut wrenching story (which is in bold):
I am in no sense as qualified as most on this thread to debate philosophy. However as one who embraced materialism TWICE in my youth, separated by a 3 year period of interest in mysticism, I’ll have a go.
At the end of sophomore year I had converted to the typical campus leftist stance of the day, cultural zeitgeist being the driver, sexual license sealing the deal. Not outwardly religious as a kid, I quickly gave up belief in a supreme being. And just as naturally I gave up any belief in ‘truth’ as something relevant to all human activity, and sure enough out the window was any belief in ‘evil’ as a concept. Soon enough I found that lying was acceptable as long as it was me doing it. Especially since I was self assured as one with a degree in a difficult discipline (hip too, self-styled). And who enjoyed hedonistic pursuits and shallow short term relationships. And lying sort of fit into the whole picture.
But here is the interesting part looking back on it. Whenever I would read in the news of acts of insane depravity and wickedness, I would go into a mentally confused state and would feel like I had no bearings in order to process what I had just encountered. It was extremely uncomfortable. I’m talking about the acts of Jeffery Dahmer, and others. One of these I remember that particularly caused me disorientation as if I, the atheist, were the one that might risk insanity just thinking about it (in the early ’80′s).
In this particular case the police arrived at a house where a man had just dismembered and sliced up his mom, her screams having been heard by neighbors. The man did not notice the police had entered and was found masturbating with a section of rectum he had excised. When asked how he had disposed of his mother’s breasts, he said “I think I ate them”.
Congrats to any atheist on here finding the story ‘unfavorable’. Congrats on your faith that someday ‘science’ will discover every event in the long chain for that experience. ‘Science’, answering all questions, will describe for you every neural, synaptic event, every action potential, every detailed cascade of chemical analogues and concentration gradients in your visual system and brain. And you will know EXACTLY the complete ‘science’ behind your disfavoring the story, so it will fit like a glove over your materialist philosophy, and maybe even reveal why the guy did it. And if you are a little disoriented, like I seriously was, you may be saved from that in future by ‘science’.
In the very next comment Mark Frank writes (Mark added the bold, not I):
The OP quotes me but omits a paragraph which I think is important. Here is the complete text:
As a materialist and subjectivist I agree with Seversky:
A ) Personal preferences can be reduced to the impulses caused by the electro-chemical processes of each person’s brain.
B) There is no such thing as objective good and evil.
C) Statements about good and evil are expressions of personal preferences.
(I would add the proviso that these are not any old preferences. They are altruistic preferences that are deeply seated in human nature and are supported by evidence and reasoning. They are also widely, but not universally, shared preferences so they are often not competing.)
Now, of course, the point of this entire exercise has been to demonstrate a truth, which I will illustrate by the following hypothetical dialogue between Mark and the man in groovamos’s story (let’s call him “John” for convenience):***
Mark: John, dismembering and eating your mother is evil, and by ‘evil’ I mean ‘that which I do not personally prefer as a result of impulses caused by the electro-chemical processes of my brain.”
John: But Mark, I preferred to dismember and eat my mother. Otherwise I would not have done it; no one forced me to after all. Therefore, under your own definition of good and evil it was “good,” which you tell me means ‘that which I personally prefer as a result of impulses caused by the electro-chemical processes of my brain.”
Mark: Not so fast John, I would add a proviso that my preference is not just any old preference. It is an altruistic preference that is deeply seated in human nature and is supported by evidence and reasoning. It is also widely, but not universally, shared. And your preference is none of these things.
John: Are you saying that your preference not to dismember and eat your mother, which preference resulted from the impulses caused by the electro-chemical processes of your brain, is objectively and demonstrably good, and that therefore my preference to dismember and eat my mother, which preference also resulted from the impulses caused by the electro-chemical processes of my brain, is objectively and demonstrably evil?
Mark: Of course not. There is no such thing as objective good and evil.
John: Well at least you are being consistent, because we both know the electro-chemical system in your brain just is. And as Hume demonstrated long ago, “ought” cannot be grounded in “is.” Your preference just is. My preference just is. Neither is objectively superior to the other.
Mark: Certainly that follows from my premises.
John: You can say your preference is “good” but if good is defined as that which you prefer you are saying nothing more than “my preference is my preference.” Your little proviso, Mark, does not make your preference anything other than your preference; certainly it does not demonstrate that it is in any way more good than my preference. So, my question to you is, why do you insist on the proviso?
Mark: _____________ [I will let Mark answer that]
I will give my answer as to why Mark insists on his proviso. He has the same problem Russell did: “I cannot see how to refute the arguments for the subjectivity of ethical values, but I find myself incapable of believing that all that is wrong with wanton cruelty is that I don’t like it.” Russell on Ethics 165/Papers 11: 310–11.
Russell was incapable of believing the conclusions that followed ineluctably from his own premises. Dissonance ensued. For most people materialism requires self deception to deal with the dissonance of saying they believe something that it is not possible for a sane person to believe. Thus WJM’s dictum: “No sane person acts as if materialism is true.”
So why does Mark insist on his proviso that in the end makes absolutely zero difference to the conclusion that must follow from his premises? He is trying to cope with his dissonance.
If my premises required me to engage in acts of self-deception in order to cope with dissonance, I hope I would reexamine them.
***I am not saying Mark has said or would say any of these things. I am saying that the words I put in his mouth follow from his premises. If he does not believe they do, I invite him to demonstrate why they do not