Intelligent Design

Why “Materialist Ethics” is an Oxymoron

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The word “ethics” implies an ethical standard.  Under materialism there can be no standard that is objectively binding as between two people who disagree, because under materialism the only thing “good” can mean is “that which is subjectively preferred.”

I will explore this concept in response to some objections raised by commenter Pro Hac Vice.  In a comment to my prior post I wrote:

The first question that must be answered is whether the concept of “good” means anything other than “what I [or some group of people] happen to prefer at this particular time.” If it does not, then Hitler actually was doing good if he was doing what he preferred.

Post Hac Vice tried to summarize my argument as follows:

You said that if “good” doesn’t have an objective meaning, then Hitler was doing good by his own lights. As I said, all that’s doing is stating a truism:

No PHV.  That is not what I said.  If “good” means “that which I subjectively prefer,” then under that definition of “good” Hitler was NOT doing good “by his own lights.”  He was actually doing good.

Your broader point seems to be that this is unacceptable, because of course Hitler was objectively wrong.

Yes, Hitler was objectively wrong, but that not the point I was making.  My broader point is that any definition of “good” in which what Hitler did can be considered “good” must be a faulty definition.

Please remember that everyone you’re talking to believes that what Hitler did was wrong.

The subjective beliefs of the people reading this thread are utterly irrelevant concerning the question of whether Hitler was actually evil.

You don’t seem to understand the logical conclusions that follow from your own premises.  Under materialism there is no “inter-subjective standard” (by which I mean a standard that is binding as between two people without regard to whether either of them subjectively agrees with the standard).  For example, the law creates an inter-subjective standard for the limited purpose of determining whether the state will intervene with coercive force to enforce compliance.  You and I do not have to agree on whether we prefer the standard created by the law.  But we can agree that each of us is at risk of prosecution if we transgress it.

Under materialism there is no such inter-subjective standard that defines “good.”  Then how is “good” defined?  The ONLY alternative to an inter-subjective standard is a subjective standard.  And that means that the definition of “good” boils down to subjective preferences.  And as with all subjective preferences, what is “good” for you might not be “good” for me and vice versa.  In other words, the determination of what is “good” is no different from the determination of what is “tasty.”  You prefer chocolate.  I prefer “strawberry.”  And there is no inter-subjective standard to determine whether your preference is superior to mine.

Hitler preferred killing Jews, homosexuals and disable peopled.  Under materialism, therefore, he did not merely believe that killing Jews, homosexuals and disabled people is good.  His preference defined good and therefore it was good.  Pro Hac Vice prefers to allow Jews, homosexuals and disabled people to live.  Good for him.  Under materialism his preference is defined as good.

But here’s the rub – and it is endlessly frustrating that materialists constantly deny this glaringly obvious conclusion that follows ineluctably from their premises – under materialism there is no inter-subjective standard to determine whether Hitler’s “good” is superior to Pro Hac Vice’s “good” any more than there is an inter-subjective standard by which we can determine whether Pro Hac Vice’s preference for chocolate is superior to my preference for strawberry.

Which brings me to my conclusion:  Any system of ethics in which killing millions of Jews, homosexuals and disabled people can possibly be defined as good is clearly flawed.  Under materialist ethics in which “good” is defined subjectively as “that which is preferred,” the killing of millions of Jews, homosexuals and disabled people can be defined as good (and in fact was so defined by Hitler).  Therefore, materialist ethics is flawed.

No one on this thread thinks that the fact that he disagreed makes his actions acceptable or right by any relevant standard.

That is simply wrong as a matter of simple logic.  Under subjectivist ethics, the FACT that he disagreed makes his actions right by the relevant standard – his subjective preference.

Materialism and/or subjectivism, insofar as they’re linked, only means that there’s no objective standard by which to judge, not that we can’t agree on a standard with which to judge.

You are correct that materialism and/or subjectivism only means that there’s no objective standard by which to judge any more than we can judge between your preference for chocolate and my preference for strawberry.

That last part is glaringly wrong.  “not that we can’t agree on a standard with which to judge”

If “good” is defined as that which is subjectively preferred, then agreement is irrelevant.  For Hitler killing was good.  For you killing is evil.  It makes no difference if you get people to agree with you and disagree with him.  He preferred it; therefore it is good.  Now obviously it makes a difference whether you get people to agree with you with respect to his ability to carry out his preference.  If you get enough people on your side, you can stop him.  But under materialism that does not make what he did wrong and what you did right.  It only means that under materialism might makes right.  [The objectivist also desires to stop Hitler, because what he was doing was objectively evil.]

Barry:  Whether objective moral truth exists is an ontological issue. Our capacity to understand and apply it is an epistemological issue.

PHV:  You seem to be saying that whether OMT [objective moral truth] exists is a distinct question from whether it’s accessible to us; to go a bit further out on a limb, the former is a question of whether the fundamental truth is real, the latter is a question of whether we’re entitled to assume that it is.

Close.  The ontological issue is a matter of being.  The epistemological issue is a matter of knowing about the being.

I think Sean S. has a good objection to that point, that the ontological question has to precede the epistemological question.

SB’s rejoinder to Sean is apt:  “The ontological question precedes the epistemological question in the order of being; the epistemological question precedes the ontological question in the order of knowing.”

The ontological issue is by far the most important.  The ontological question of God’s being (or non-being) is the most important question we can ever ask.  Literally everything else follows.  If God exists, good (in an objective sense because it is grounded in his being) exists.  If God does not exist (i.e., if materialism is true), then good in an objective sense is meaningless.

My objection is different. I think the accessibility of OMT precludes any resolution of the ontological question. That is, it’s not relevant whether OMT exists if we can never reliably access it.

But you, yourself, insist that you can reliably access OMT.  Is there the faintest doubt in your mind that Hitler’s killing of millions of Jews, homosexuals and disabled people was evil?  Of course there is not.  Is there the faintest doubt in your mind that if you were a minority of one and everyone else disagreed with you, that you would be right and everyone else would be wrong?  Of course not.

Congratulations.  You’ve accessed OMT.  Your statement that we can NEVER reliably access OMT is simply false.

Well-meaning people disagree about abortion, capital punishment, even slavery. Short of assuming that anyone who disagrees with me is just lying or insane, I don’t know how to reconcile those evident disagreements with some universally accessible OMT. (Also, I think it’s hard to square universally-accessible OMT with the fact that people almost without exception come to believe that the OMT happens to be just what they were taught as kids and/or what their peers believe. That seems much more consistent with subjectivism than an OMT.)

Here is your argument in syllogism form:

  1. Unspoken major premise: If there is not complete and total agreement regarding every aspect of OMT, it must mean that OMT does not exist.
  1. Minor premise: There is not complete and total agreement regarding every aspect of OMT.
  1. Conclusion: Therefore, OMT does not exist.

Now let’s play “spot the faulty premise.”  Yes, your unspoken major premises is faulty.  Again, as a matter of simple logic, something can exist even in the face of disagreement about its exact parameters.  Again, the ontological question is distinct from the epistemological question.

As in many other areas, the ability to perceive and apply the truth is not evenly distributed.  Consider mathematics.  A small child can understand that 2+2=4.  A teenager in high school can understand basic Algebra.  A college student can understand calculus.  A post-doc can understand advanced theoretical mathematics.

Does the fact that the child’s understanding of the objective truths of mathematics is less than the post-docs understanding of objective truths of mathematics mean there is no such thing as objective mathematical truth?  Of course not.

Knowledge of OMT also falls on a continuum.  Let us take this sentence of yours and consider it:

“Short of assuming that anyone who disagrees with me is just lying or insane.”

Some propositions of mathematics are self-evident.  Others are not.  Some propositions of objective moral truth are self-evident.  Others are not.

For example,  2+2=4 is self evident.  It really is the case that anyone who disagrees with me is just lying or insane.

Killing millions of Jews, homosexuals and disabled people is evil.  It really is the case that anyone who disagrees with me is just lying or insane.

The further we move from the basic self evident propositions of mathematics, the more room there is for error (and thus disagreement).  Similarly, as we move aware from the basic self evident propositions of OMT, the more room there is for error (and thus disagreement).  The fact that people make errors about mathematics does not mean the true answer does not exist.  The fact that people make errors about OMT does not mean that the true answer does not exist.  [BTW, where the issues you raise fall on the continuum is beyond the scope of this post.]

Finally, Pro Hac Vice asks me why I am so rough on materialists.  It is a fair question and the answer is simple.  They scare the hell out of me.  As I explained above, materialist ethics ALWAYS boils down to “might makes right.”  And of such ethics totalitarian nightmares are made.  “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun,” Mao famously said.  His formulation of legitimate political power was simply applied materialist ethics.

Materialist ethics is not only wrong.  It is extremely dangerous.  The more people who believe materialist ethics the less safe we are.  Therefore, my goal is not only to resist it, but also to make the people who spout it look foolish and stupid (which is usually easy enough) in an effort to stop and perhaps to even reverse the spread of this pernicious and hazardous error.

43 Replies to “Why “Materialist Ethics” is an Oxymoron

  1. 1
    bornagain77 says:

    as to:

    Why “Materialist Ethics” is an Oxymoron:

    here you go:

    6th Shocking Video Catches Planned Parenthood Selling Aborted Babies Without Patient Consent – Steven Ertelt Aug 12, 2015
    http://www.lifenews.com/2015/0.....t-consent/

    “Let me just figure out what others are getting,” the woman tells the actors, according to the Center for Medical Progress, “and if this is in the ballpark, then it’s fine; if it’s still low, then we can bump it up. I want a Lamborghini,”
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/new.....cimen.html

  2. 2
    Learned Hand says:

    No PHV. That is not what I said. If “good” means “that which I subjectively prefer,” then under that definition of “good” Hitler was NOT doing good “by his own lights.” He was actually doing good.

    This is a confusion that I see happen over and over again in these discussions. I think that you have a hard time seeing any perspective other than your own here because you harbor so much contempt for people who disagree with you; it’s very difficult to see another person’s argument objectively if you loathe them as you seem to.

    So assume subjectivity. “Good” means just “what the actor subjectively thinks is good.” When you say, “he was actually doing good,” it means, “he was actually doing what he subjectively thought was good.” And that’s a truism. (If you assume, as I do, that people virtually always approve of their own actions.)

    You seem to abandon the premise of your hypo halfway through. We’re working through it as if morality is subjective, then at the very end, you’re quite upset that “he was actually doing good.” But there’s nothing unusual about “he was actually doing what he thought was good,” that’s something that objectivists and relativists agree on: Hitler probably believed his actions were justified. Therefore it seems to me that you’re getting exercised about the idea that under subjectivism, Hitler’s actions were “good” in some sense other than the subjective one—and that doesn’t make any sense.

    Again, just to level set your opinion of the people you despise so, no one here thinks that Hitler’s actions were good by any standard other than his own. And I think everyone here thinks that his actions were good, or at least justifiable, by his own standards—which we all revile.

    My broader point is that any definition of “good” in which what Hitler did can be considered “good” must be a faulty definition.

    The only standard by which his actions were “good” was his own, or those of his fellow travelers, and I agree that standard is faulty. My harsh judgment of his standards is based on my own standards, which come from my parents, peers, culture, reason, and probably sources I’m not consciously aware of. If there’s an objective standard that’s available to us in the present life, I don’t know how to access it. I know that Hitler was stopped by humans, and the survivors were judged and punished by humans. And those humans disagreed strongly about the standards and processes and punishments used. As humans do, whenever questions of morality arise.

    You don’t seem to understand the logical conclusions that follow from your own premises. Under materialism there is no “inter-subjective standard” (by which I mean a standard that is binding as between two people without regard to whether either of them subjectively agrees with the standard). For example, the law creates an inter-subjective standard for the limited purpose of determining whether the state will intervene with coercive force to enforce compliance. You and I do not have to agree on whether we prefer the standard created by the law. But we can agree that each of us is at risk of prosecution if we transgress it.

    Maybe this is a problem with your definitions rather than your logic, but here you said “there’s no inter-subjective standard” under materialism and then illustrated an inter-subjective standard under materialism. Law is an inter-subjective standard, and as you know, those subject to a jurisdiction needn’t agree with its laws to be held accountable under them.

    Culture is another inter-subjective standard. I once wore cowboy boots with a suit to meet with a client group. The client boss, who’d engaged us, pulled me aside during a break and said that he was offended by my “costume,” and that boots with a suit looked like a swimming suit and tie to him. I think he was wrong, and nuts—but I was held accountable to the local culture, even though I didn’t agree with their judgment. I paid a price in their esteem and our relationship.

    Thus, when you say, Under materialism there is no such inter-subjective standard that defines “good.” , I think that’s wrong. Culture and law and politics all play a role in defining “good.” (The definitions may conflict.) Individuals may disagree with the standard, yet still be held accountable to it.

    The ONLY alternative to an inter-subjective standard is a subjective standard. And that means that the definition of “good” boils down to subjective preferences.

    I agree with this insofar as each person’s definition of “good” is individual. “Subjective preferences” glosses over the fact that we don’t choose our definitions easily or freely; they’re deeply ingrained in us. Thus there’s a material difference between “freedom is good” and “chocolate is tasty.” I can easily choose to eat strawberry icecream; I cannot easily choose to live as if freedom wasn’t good. Even when using the subjective definition of “good.”

    Hitler preferred killing Jews, homosexuals and disable peopled. Under materialism, therefore, he did not merely believe that killing Jews, homosexuals and disabled people is good. His preference defined good and therefore it was good.

    Here you’re back to the deep confusion that animates your anger. Remember please that “good,” subjectively, is the same as “believed it was good.” So your statement is basically, “Hitler did not merely believe that killing Jews … is good. His preference defines [what he believed was good] and therefore it was [what he believed was good].”

    A truism.

    Any system of ethics in which killing millions of Jews, homosexuals and disabled people can possibly be defined as good is clearly flawed.

    I wholeheartedly agree.

    Under materialist ethics in which “good” is defined subjectively as “that which is preferred,” the killing of millions of Jews, homosexuals and disabled people can be defined as good (and in fact was so defined by Hitler). Therefore, materialist ethics is flawed.

    No, Hitler’s ethics are flawed. Materialist ethics include also Mother Theresa’s ethics and the pope’s ethics and Obama’s ethics and Ted Cruz’s ethics. “Materialist ethics” doesn’t mean anything other than “ethics in the absence of an accessible objective standard.” It’s the rubric under which Hitler operated, but also the rubric under which he was stopped. By people arguing about the morality of various actions, without any accessible objective standard to guide them. Was firebombing Dresden wrong? People disagreed, and had no objective way to resolve those disagreements. Yet they were able to operate relativistically, settling those disagreements in the usual ways, to impose an external (yet still subjective) standard on Hitler.

    Note, this isn’t the same thing as “might makes right.” No one changes their mind about what’s right when might is applied to them. Might makes possible, but that’s true under an objective standard as well.

    Under subjectivist ethics, the FACT that he disagreed makes his actions right by the relevant standard – his subjective preference.

    What’s relevant is subjective, of course. I meant that Hitler’s standard isn’t relevant. I don’t care what Hitler thought was good.

    That last part is glaringly wrong. “not that we can’t agree on a standard with which to judge”
    If “good” is defined as that which is subjectively preferred, then agreement is irrelevant. For Hitler killing was good. For you killing is evil. It makes no difference if you get people to agree with you and disagree with him. He preferred it; therefore it is good. Now obviously it makes a difference whether you get people to agree with you with respect to his ability to carry out his preference. If you get enough people on your side, you can stop him. But under materialism that does not make what he did wrong and what you did right. It only means that under materialism might makes right.

    I’m not following you here. “Right” is subjective. If I apply force to enforce my idea of what’s “right,” then might hasn’t made right—I thought it was right before I used force. The subjects of my force don’t suddenly believe I’m right just because I’m using force on them. They still think I’m wrong. So might hasn’t made right from my perspective or theirs. It sounds like you’re assuming an objective standard again, which is again fighting the hypo. No, might doesn’t make right to a subjectivist. Might only makes possible, and that’s true under objectivism as well.

    The objectivist also desires to stop Hitler, because what he was doing was objectively evil.

    I don’t think objectivists who wanted to stop Hitler (and some objectivists didn’t!) did so because they thought, “This is objectively evil.” I suspect they thought, “This is evil.” Which is the same thing relativists would think.

    The ontological issue is by far the most important.

    But if it’s intractable, it’s intractable. Holding the question to moral standards for now, if we can’t access them, they might as well not exist. Euthyphro and all.

    But you, yourself, insist that you can reliably access OMT. Is there the faintest doubt in your mind that Hitler’s killing of millions of Jews, homosexuals and disabled people was evil? Of course there is not. Is there the faintest doubt in your mind that if you were a minority of one and everyone else disagreed with you, that you would be right and everyone else would be wrong? Of course not.

    Your first sentence is wrong, the rest are right. That’s because the first doesn’t flow from the rest. If “not the faintest doubt” is our standard for reliable access to OMT, then I’m terribly afraid that psychotics have us all beat. Plus, how do you know whether someone else has doubt? I don’t have any doubt that it’s wrong to prohibit same-sex marriage. If you tell me that you don’t have any doubt that it’s right to do so, then how do we resolve the disparity? We’re back to subjectivism. Or, if you assume that you’re the sole arbiter, solipsism.

    Here is your argument in syllogism form:
    1. Unspoken major premise: If there is not complete and total agreement regarding every aspect of OMT, it must mean that OMT does not exist.
    2. Minor premise: There is not complete and total agreement regarding every aspect of OMT.
    3. Conclusion: Therefore, OMT does not exist.
    Now let’s play “spot the faulty premise.” Yes, your unspoken major premises is faulty. Again, as a matter of simple logic, something can exist even in the face of disagreement about its exact parameters. Again, the ontological question is distinct from the epistemological question.

    As others have pointed out, when you rephrase someone else’s argument, you do so uncharitably and in an effort to advance your own argument rather than to understand. I do not assume that there must be total agreement for OMT to be true. I assume there must be some significant, unquantifiable level of agreement. Or, preferably, a reliable and accessible arbiter or metric. I don’t see it. I see sharp disagreements among well-meaning people as to the most basic moral questions. Is it wrong to commit abortion? What if the life of the mother is at stake? What if the fetus is non-viable? What if it’s 99% likely to be non-viable? What if it’s 10% likely to be non-viable? It’s trivially easy to show that objectivists hold to different moral standards, and perhaps more importantly that they each think their own standard is objectively true.

    So it’s not just that objectivists can’t reliably extract true beliefs from OMT, it’s that we can never know when they’re calling their subjective beliefs OMT. Error going both ways.

    I think there is general agreement on basic ideas like “life is good,” and “freedom is good.” I think that general agreement is more easily explained by the fact that we’re social beings living in communities than transcendent standards.

    Therefore, my goal is not only to resist it, but also to make the people who spout it look foolish and stupid (which is usually easy enough) in an effort to stop and perhaps to even reverse the spread of this pernicious and hazardous error.

    On the other hand, you aren’t any more civil when the discussion is about anything else. Is it that there’s a good moral reason for being uncivil, or are you looking for a standard that justifies what you want to do, which is to verbally abuse people you don’t like?

    (Edited to add:

    Therefore, my goal is not only to resist it, but also to make the people who spout it look foolish and stupid (which is usually easy enough) in an effort to stop and perhaps to even reverse the spread of this pernicious and hazardous error.

    How likely is it that calling someone a “maggot” will change their mind, or the mind of someone on the fence? And how likely is it that it makes you feel good? I think the first is very unlikely, and the second is very likely.)

  3. 3
    Barry Arrington says:

    LH:

    So assume subjectivity. “Good” means just “what the actor subjectively thinks is good.” When you say, “he was actually doing good,” it means, “he was actually doing what he subjectively thought was good.” And that’s a truism. (If you assume, as I do, that people virtually always approve of their own actions.)

    No, it is you who do not seem to understand the conclusions impelled by your premises.

    LH Premise 1: Good” means just “what the actor subjectively thinks is good

    LH Premise 2: Hitler subjectively thought killing millions was good.

    Conclusion: Under the definition in 1, killing millions was good.

    That is why your philosophy is so pernicious and dangerous; and yes I do loathe it and anyone who tries to propagate it. It is evil, and anyone who propagates evil is themselves evil. I will resist your evil project to my dying breath.

    My harsh judgment of his standards is based on my own standards

    If the only thing your metaphysics allows you to say about the Holocaust is “it was good for him but I disagree” then your metaphysics is evil.

    If there’s an objective standard that’s available to us in the present life, I don’t know how to access it

    This is the most pernicious lie of the materialist. Of course there is an objective standard. And of course you can access it.

    Answer the following question:

    If you were the only person in the world who thought the Holocaust was evil, would you be correct and everyone else wrong?

    If you give the only reasonable answer to that question, then you will have recognized the existence of an objective standard and you will have accessed it.

    Maybe this is a problem with your definitions rather than your logic, but here you said “there’s no inter-subjective standard” under materialism and then illustrated an inter-subjective standard under materialism.

    The readers will recognize that you have no ability to rebut my arguments if you feel you must distort them beyond recognition in your response. I said: “For example, the law creates an inter-subjective standard for the limited purpose of determining whether the state will intervene with coercive force to enforce compliance.”

    The “limited purpose” clause of that sentence was put there for a reason. The reason was to keep you from going for the very dodge you went for when you misquoted me.

    Yes, the law creates an inter-subjective standard for a limited purpose. The issue we are talking about is whether for the more general purpose of defining “good” materialism can provide such an inter-subjective standard. The answer, of course, is “no.”

    Culture is another inter-subjective standard.

    Blithering nonsense. The German culture gave us the Holocaust. Did that make it good?

    And your cowboy boot example is even worse. The people in the room did not like cowboy boots and that is what made cowboy boots wrong. Well. If the people in that room had liked the Holocaust would that make the Holocaust good?

    The bottom line is that appealing to group preferences to define good gets you no further than appealing to individual preferences did for the simple (and again glaringly obvious) reason that groups are simply amalgamations of individuals. If the individuals are wrong the group is wrong. If person A believes the Holocaust was good, he is wrong. He is still wrong is he gets 100, or 1,000 or 7.3 billion people to agree with him.

    Culture and law and politics all play a role in defining “good.”

    Nonsense. I have already dispensed with “culture.” The idea that the “law” defines good is not only stupid; it is pernicious. Jim Crow laws were just that, laws. Were they good LH? Slavery was legal in most states prior to 1860. Was slavery good? The Holocaust broke no internal laws of the German state. If Germany had won the war would the Holocaust have been good? Idiot.

    “Subjective preferences” glosses over the fact that we don’t choose our definitions easily or freely; they’re deeply ingrained in us. Thus there’s a material difference between “freedom is good” and “chocolate is tasty.” I can easily choose to eat strawberry ice cream

    You can easily choose to eat strawberry ice cream. You cannot easily choose (in fact you cannot choose at all) to prefer strawberry ice cream. Moreover, your observation does not even address the fundamental issue: Under your premises there is no inter-subjective standard by which to determine whether your love for freedom is morally superior to a slave owner’s desire to keep slaves in bondage.

    Here you’re back to the deep confusion that animates your anger. Remember please that “good,” subjectively, is the same as “believed it was good.” So your statement is basically, “Hitler did not merely believe that killing Jews … is good. His preference defines [what he believed was good] and therefore it was [what he believed was good].”

    It is a sign of just how deeply confused you are that you write this as if it helps your case instead of making it plain that you are spouting a deeply evil nihilism. And yes, I am angry. Ideas have consequences, and I am angry that evil people like you are succeeding in spreading their evil ideas and getting them accepted in our society. When the tipping point is reached (and God help us we may have already reached it), then look out. The Mao’s and Stalin’s among us (and their useful idiots like LH) are waiting to impose the next totalitarian nightmare. All they need, as Rahm Emanuel reminds us, is a good crisis. Anyone who is not angry at that is either part of the problem (like you LH) or not paying attention.

    Barry: Any system of ethics in which killing millions of Jews, homosexuals and disabled people can possibly be defined as good is clearly flawed.

    LH: I wholeheartedly agree.

    Palm slaps forehead. Good grief man. If you agree then why are you defending such a system.

    Hitler’s ethics are flawed. Materialist ethics include also Mother Theresa’s ethics and the pope’s ethics and Obama’s ethics and Ted Cruz’s ethics. “Materialist ethics” doesn’t mean anything other than “ethics in the absence of an accessible objective standard.” It’s the rubric under which Hitler operated, but also the rubric under which he was stopped.

    It is difficult to imagine a more straightforward explication of “there is no good; there is no evil; might makes right.” You and Mao are on the same page.

    Note, this isn’t the same thing as “might makes right.”

    Of course it is, and that is why you felt the need to put up a feeble disclaimer.

    N

    o one changes their mind about what’s right when might is applied to them.

    You don’t understand the phrase “might makes right.” It does not mean literally that the more powerful is morally correct. It means there is no standard at all and therefore the powerful prevails. That you would feel compelled to say something so stupid should give you pause. I doubt that it will.

    But if it’s intractable, it’s intractable.

    The existence of objective moral truth is not intractable, as I have demonstrated. You in fact have accessed it. You, like most materialists, want to pretend that it is intractable because you prefer not to be bound by its strictures. The fact that you wish to live an immoral life, or at least leave that option open, has no bearing on whether on objective standard of morality exists.

    I see sharp disagreements among well-meaning people as to the most basic moral questions.

    Liar. Please identify the well-meaning people who say that torturuing an infant for pleasure is good. Please identify the well-meaning people who say the Holocaust was good.

    When you have to tell outrageous lies to support your position it should give you pause. I doubt that it will.

  4. 4
    Heartlander says:

    …There is nothing that atheistic societies are incapable of rationalizing and accepting – including the sexual molestation of children.

    No doubt, this assertion will appear preposterous to some atheists, and will spark outrage. Yet the logical and philosophical consequences of atheists’ belief systems are inescapable. When asked by journalist William Crawley if he thought that pedophilia was “just wrong.” Professor Peter Singer of Princeton University – a world-famous philosopher of “ethics” – responded as follows:
    ”I don’t have intrinsic moral taboos. My view is not that anything is just wrong…You’re trying to put words in my mouth.”

    Singer went on to explain that he is a “consequentialist.” For the benefit of the philosophically challenged let me explain “consequentialism” in a nutshell: If you like the consequences it’s ethical, if you don’t like the consequences it’s unethical. Thus, if you enjoy child pornography and having sex with children it’s ethical, if you dislike child pornography and having sex with children it’s unethical. In an article entitled “Heavy Petting,” Singer likewise gave his stamp of approval to bestiality…

    … Joel Marks, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the U. of New Haven, who for 10 years authored the “Moral Moments” column in Philosophy Now, made the following, rather shocking about-face in a 2010 article entitled, “An Amoral Manifesto.”

    ”This philosopher has been laboring under an unexamined assumption, namely that there is such a thing as right and wrong. I now believe there isn’t… The long and short of it is that I became convinced that atheism implies amorality; and since I am an atheist, I must therefore embrace amorality… I experienced my shocking epiphany that religious fundamentalists are correct; without God there is no morality. But they are incorrect, I still believe, about there being a God. Hence, I believe, there is no morality.

    … A wise man once observed that while belief in God after the Holocaust may be difficult, belief in man after the Holocaust is impossible. The choices before us are clear: we will either seek a transcendent moral law to which we will all submit, or we will seek our own personal and societal indulgence.
    – Rabbi Moshe Averick, A Plea to Atheists: Pedophilia Is Next On the Slippery Slope; Let Us Turn Back Before It Is Too Late

  5. 5
    StephenB says:

    Learned Hand

    The only standard by which his [Hitler’s] actions were “good” was his own, or those of his fellow travelers, and I agree that standard is faulty. My harsh judgment of his standards is based on my own standards, which come from my parents, peers, culture, reason, and probably sources I’m not consciously aware of. If there’s an objective standard that’s available to us in the present life, I don’t know how to access it. I know that Hitler was stopped by humans, and the survivors were judged and punished by humans. And those humans disagreed strongly about the standards and processes and punishments used. As humans do, whenever questions of morality arise.

    You are not grasping the point. Under your subjectivist standards, your harsh judgment of Hitler’s morality is of no more import than his own assessment of it. Indeed, you cannot logically criticize his morality at all since you agree with him that everyone should be free to choose his own moral code. Under the circumstances, one instance of subjectively arrived at morality is as legitimate as any other. The reciprocal point is equally obvious. If Hitler’s subjectivism cannot be morally justified, then your subjectivism cannot be morally justified.

    I agree with this insofar as each person’s definition of “good” is individual. “Subjective preferences” glosses over the fact that we don’t choose our definitions easily or freely; they’re deeply ingrained in us. Thus there’s a material difference between “freedom is good” and “chocolate is tasty.” I can easily choose to eat strawberry icecream; I cannot easily choose to live as if freedom wasn’t good. Even when using the subjective definition of “good.”

    It isn’t a question of ease. It’s a question of bad thinking. Anyone who doesn’t understand that materialism necessarily produces tyranny is not thinking clearly.

    No, Hitler’s ethics are flawed.

    Why are Hitler’s ethics flawed? What is your standard for differentiating between good ethics and bad ethics?

    Materialist ethics include also Mother Theresa’s ethics and the pope’s ethics and Obama’s ethics and Ted Cruz’s ethics. “Materialist ethics” doesn’t mean anything other than “ethics in the absence of an accessible objective standard.”

    Absolutely wrong at every level. Mother Theresa’s ethics were not materialistic. More importantly, Materialist ethics doesn’t mean ethics in the absence of an accessible objective standard. Materialist ethics means the absence of any objective standard, period, accessible or not. If Materialism is true, there can be no objective morality, purpose, value, or meaning.

    Note, this isn’t the same thing as “might makes right.” No one changes their mind about what’s right when might is applied to them. Might makes possible, but that’s true under an objective standard as well.

    You don’t understand the principle of “Might makes right.” It has nothing to do with changing opinions. Might makes right is the process of defining ethics according to the whims of those who have power at the expense of those who do not have power.

    I don’t think objectivists who wanted to stop Hitler (and some objectivists didn’t!) did so because they thought, “This is objectively evil.” I suspect they thought, “This is evil.” Which is the same thing relativists would think.

    No, it isn’t. Relativists do not believe in the existence of evil, which, by definition, means objectively evil. They believe that perceived evil is relative to circumstances, opinions, and cultural attitudes. They would never say that Hitler’s behavior was wrong, unless they visit this site and start dissembling in an attempt to have it both ways. That happens a lot.

    But if it’s intractable [ontological issue], it’s intractable. Holding the question to moral standards for now, if we can’t access them, they might as well not exist.

    Everyone rational and sane person can access objective moral standards, even those who say they cannot. You, for example, know without any doubt that Hitler’s behavior was objectively wrong. Notice that you didn’t say that Hitler’s ethics “seem” flawed to you. You said that Hitler’s ethics “are” flawed, period. That is a statement about objective morality. The only problem is that you will not acknowledge what you know to be true, for reasons that only you can disclose.

  6. 6
    Learned Hand says:

    LH Premise 1: Good” means just “what the actor subjectively thinks is good
    LH Premise 2: Hitler subjectively thought killing millions was good.
    Conclusion: Under the definition in 1, killing millions was good.

    Your restatement is flawed, again, because you are conflating objective and subjective standards of “good.” The conclusion should be, “Killing millions was good in Hitler’s opinion.” Which makes the conclusion tautological: premise is that Hitler thought killing was good, conclusion is that Hitler thought killing was good.

    The only way your restatement isn’t a tautology is if you mean something other than “in Hitler’s opinion” when you say “good” in the conclusion. Whether you meant a tautology or meant to shift the definition of “good,” I can’t say. But at the end of the day your restatement doesn’t say anything. Objectivists and subjectivists can agree that Hitler thought what he was doing was justifiable.

    If you mean to do such restatements in the future, try testing how you’re defining “good.” Does the statement mean anything much if you add, “in the opinion of the actor?” This one doesn’t.

    If you were the only person in the world who thought the Holocaust was evil, would you be correct and everyone else wrong?

    I would be correct. I’d reach that conclusion by using my standards, which come from my culture, background, maybe biology, etc. I wouldn’t have any objective standard to point to and say, “Look! That’s objectively true and we can prove it!”

    In other words, let’s take a die-hard Nazi. He’s the only one left in the world who thinks the Holocaust was good, but he believes it. Does that make the Holocaust objectively good?

    When you’re accessing your own feelings, that’s subjectivity. You have no way of telling whether that internal feeling is actually connected to any external transcendence.

    Yes, the law creates an inter-subjective standard for a limited purpose. The issue we are talking about is whether for the more general purpose of defining “good” materialism can provide such an inter-subjective standard. The answer, of course, is “no.”

    Sure it can. You’re ignoring my references to culture and society. (I won’t accuse you of ‘distorting my arguments beyond recognition, growl mutter growl.’) Our collective opinions can form an inter-subjective standard for “good.” Individuals are of course free to disagree with such consensus.

    If you mean whether there’s a transcendental source of such a standard, that isn’t based on human opinions, then no, I don’t think there is. Obviously. But that doesn’t keep us from having ethics.

    The German culture gave us the Holocaust. Did that make it good?

    Does this seem like a good question to you, in retrospect? That is, do you think it reflects an understanding of my beliefs, and the conversation we’ve already had? You should know that the answer is “no,” and why, by now.

    You’re stuck in your own opinion of what other people believe. I think that’s related to your vicious contempt for those other people. You’re having a hard time adapting your opinion of our beliefs to the objective fact (!) that our beliefs don’t conform to that opinion—see your repeated difficulty accurately restating the position with which you began this comment. Perhaps if you despised us less, you’d find it easier to model our opinions in your own head.

    The bottom line is that appealing to group preferences to define goods gets you no further than appealing to individual preferences did for the simple (and again glaringly obvious) reason that groups are simply amalgamations of individuals. If the individuals are wrong the group is wrong. If person A believes the Holocaust was good, he is wrong. He is still wrong is he gets 100, or 1,000 or 7.3 billion people to agree with him.

    I agree! Of course, “wrong” is based on my subjective beliefs, rather than an objective standard, because I can’t confirm that my own feelings conform to an objective, transcendent reality.

    The idea that the “law” defines good is not only stupid; it is pernicious.

    You’re very eager to call me an idiot; I think it led you to rush into assuming I said something I didn’t. Did I say that law “defines” good? I don’t remember saying it, or see it in the comment. Calling me an idiot might feel good, but it doesn’t change what I wrote into what you want me to have written.

    Law plays a role in defining “good.” Is it good to pay taxes? I think so—because it is the law. The fact of the law shapes whether I consider an action “good” or “neutral” or “bad.”

    Under your premises there is no inter-subjective standard by which to determine whether your love for freedom is morally superior to a slave owner’s desire to keep slaves in bondage.

    Not a transcendent one based on anything other than human beings, no. Which means in practice, if I want to prevent the slave owner from owning slaves, I have to (a) convince him, perhaps by appealing to shared values, or (b) compel him. How is it different for objectivists? I don’t see how it is, other than the belief that the slave owner will be punished in the afterlife. (And of course, there’s the baffling question of why slavery wasn’t seen as objectively wrong for such huge swathes of human history, including in the bible. Isn’t it odd how the interpretation and application of objective truths track the contemporary culture?)

    Here you’re back to the deep confusion that animates your anger. Remember please that “good,” subjectively, is the same as “believed it was good.” So your statement is basically, “Hitler did not merely believe that killing Jews … is good. His preference defines [what he believed was good] and therefore it was [what he believed was good].”

    It is a sign of just how deeply confused you are that you write this as if it helps your case instead of making it plain that you are spouting a deeply evil nihilism.

    Again, your eagerness to despise me is leading you beyond what’s written here. It’s deeply evil nihilism to believe that Hitler thought his actions were good? Why? Do you not think that bad actors believe their actions are good?

    Palm slaps forehead. Good grief man. If you agree then why are you defending such a system.

    Because I don’t think “materialism” is a system of ethics.

    You don’t understand the phrase “might makes right.” It does not mean literally that the more powerful is morally correct. It means there is no standard at all and therefore the powerful prevails.

    I am confused about this. You don’t think that the powerful use their power to get their way? Mao used his power to do what he wanted, or at least as much as he could given the power that he had. Whether we’re objectivists or relativists, that’s true. Which is why I said, “might makes possible.” It seems you agree with that, but still want to scorn me. It’s your soapbox.

    The existence of objective moral truth is not intractable, as I have demonstrated. You in fact have accessed it.

    So how do I distinguish between what I feel and what’s objectively true? Are all my feelings objectively true, or only some of them? What about people who disagree with me, and say they feel something different?

    I see sharp disagreements among well-meaning people as to the most basic moral questions.

    Liar. Please identify the well-meaning people who say that torturuing an infant for pleasure is good.

    A third time, your desire to insult me has led you to say something that isn’t defensible on the text. Is it a lie that I see well-meaning people disagreeing about basic moral questions? I see some people saying that abortion is permissible in the case of rape and incest, and others saying it’s not. Which ones aren’t well-meaning?

    You attempt to make me a “liar” by asking where the well-meaning people who want to torture infants for fun are. I’ve never heard of anyone, well-meaning or not, who wants that. And even if someone did, your example isn’t related to what I said. The fact that well-meaning people disagree over moral questions doesn’t mean that there are well-meaning people on all sides of all moral questions.

    You understand logic better than that, so why did you call me a liar? Is it because I lied, or because you feel good when you insult me?

  7. 7
    Heartlander says:

    Hitler was just using established science.

    EUGENICS: the science that deals with the improvement of races and breeds, especially the human race, through the control of hereditary factors.
    From Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary

    Eugenics and Animal Husbandry is a science – it can be measured and verified. As Michael Egnor points out here and here, “…scientific racism was consensus science. It was… a cornerstone of eugenics. Scientific racism was mainstream science in the United States and in several other countries (including Germany).” “By 1928 there were 376 university-level courses on eugenics, and there was widespread support from scientists and other academics at leading universities… and eugenic science gained the imprimatur of leading scientific organizations, including the National Academy of Sciences, the American Medical Association, and the National Research Council.”

    Scientists understood that eugenics was just animal husbandry – objectively tried and true, scientifically testable and falsifiable – it works. Animal breeders choose whichever traits are desirable or undesirable. The ‘science’ of eugenics is sound, and the technology of eugenics was used as intended.

    From an atheist/materialist point of view, what is wrong with eugenics? (Other than the bad PR from Germany) – Why is this practice good science for all animals, just not human animals?

    Dawkins has stated that it is ‘immoral’ not to abort babies with Down’s syndrome – even stating that parents would have an ethical responsibility to “abort and try again”. Dawkins has also stated “If you can breed cattle for milk yield, horses for running speed, and dogs for herding skill, why on Earth should it be impossible to breed humans for mathematical, musical or athletic ability?”… “I wonder whether, some 60 years after Hitler’s death, we might at least venture to ask what the moral difference is between breeding for musical ability and forcing a child to take music lessons.”

    Peter Singer is an advocate for eugenics – E.O. Wilson would like “democratically contrived eugenics” and also believes we were “deceived by our genes” into believing that morality objectively binds us – that there is a real right versus wrong.

  8. 8
    Learned Hand says:

    You are not grasping the point. Under your subjectivist standards, your harsh judgment of Hitler’s morality is of no more import than his own assessment of it.

    I disagree—I think the failure is at least mutual, if not yours. When you say “of no more import,” you apparently mean objectively. But what’s the objective standard, to a subjectivist? The standard is subjective. And to me, my judgment is of much more import than his own.

    If I want to privilege my assessment over his own in the physical world—that is, compel him to conform to my judgment—I have to either persuade him or compel him. I could persuade him by appealing to common values, or compel him by persuading other people to cooperate with me in forcing him to conform to a consensus judgment. And that looks exactly like what happens in the real world.

    Europe didn’t sit down and search their feelings to know what’s true. Everyone brought their own standards and hashed it out, with words and force. It looks like we live in a subjective world, doesn’t it? When two people disagree over a moral principle, what happens that objectivism explains better than subjectivism?

    Indeed, you cannot logically criticize his morality at all since you agree with him that everyone should be free to choose his own moral code.

    I’ve seen you make variations of this argument many times, and I don’t understand what the failure to communicate is. I can only restate, again, that you don’t understand subjectivists very well. You think you do, and perhaps that confidence is preventing you from questioning your understanding.

    I don’t believe that everyone’s moral codes are equal. I’ve never met, or heard of, anyone who believes that. As a subjectivist I acknowledge that Hitler did have his own moral code, but I don’t to need to consider it equal to my own. I judge his moral code according to my own, just like everyone else does.

    In other words, of course I can logically criticize his morality. I judge it according to my own morality. Why wouldn’t or couldn’t I? You’re assuming a false premise: that subjectivists need to consider all moral codes equal.

    (And as we’ve discussed before, “choose his own moral code” is misleading. I don’t think it’s something we choose easily or freely, but rather something that arises from our cultural and personal backgrounds. Maybe biology, too, but I don’t know much about that.)

    Under the circumstances, one instance of subjectively arrived at morality is as legitimate as any other.

    Not to a subjectivist, who applies a subjective standard—his own. (I could look at it from Hitler’s standard I suppose, but why would I? It would always be filtered through my own moral beliefs, which I can’t put down on a whim.)

    So what supports your assumption that subjectivists must put all moral codes on the same level?

    Why are Hitler’s ethics flawed? What is your standard for differentiating between good ethics and bad ethics?

    What do you think my answer to this question would be? I ask because I hope we can communicate better; I don’t think repeating myself will help. So I’m curious what you think I’d say.

    Absolutely wrong at every level. Mother Theresa’s ethics were not materialistic.

    If you mean that she thought her ethics were objective, of course I agree. I didn’t mean that she thought otherwise, or to assume my conclusion and just state that they were subjective at the end of the day. I meant that “materialism” or “subjectivism” is a very broad brush. It covers Hitler’s ethics and Mother Theresa’s and yours and mine, insofar as we all have different opinions (or claim to have different opinions, if you prefer) about what’s right.

    Materialist ethics doesn’t mean ethics in the absence of an accessible objective standard. Materialist ethics means the absence of any objective standard, period, accessible or not.

    OK. I, however, mean ethics in the absence of an accessible objective standard. I don’t know if you want me to use a different word for that.

    Might makes right is the process of defining ethics according to the whims of those who have power at the expense of those who do not have power.

    This is a lot different than Barry’s formulation; yours makes more sense to me. This is something other than just “might makes possible.” But again, isn’t this what actually happens? Mao has the power, Mao enforces a code. Individuals can and do dissent from the code if their own personal beliefs aren’t consistent with it. That much is true whether or not there’s an objective standard.

    So if objectivism isn’t true, that’s where we have to leave it: Mao makes a code. It isn’t transcendent, just human, and individuals can dissent from it (although he might punish them for it).

    If objectivism IS true, then what’s different? Mao makes a code. It isn’t transcendent, just human, and individuals can dissent from it (although he might punish them for it). There’s separately a transcendent code that’s different from Mao’s.

    Is there a perceptible difference in the world between those two scenarios?

    No, it isn’t. Relativists do not believe in the existence of evil, which, by definition, means objectively evil.

    If you define evil as “objectively evil,” then that’s true. Relativists do, however, call things “evil” all the time. You can assert by fiat that they mean objectively evil… but maybe they just define the word differently.

    They would never say that Hitler’s behavior was wrong, unless they visit this site and start dissembling in an attempt to have it both ways. That happens a lot.

    This is bizarre. So relativists actually believe Hitler’s behavior was acceptable? Can you point to any person in the real world who believes that? Your own assertion requires that everyone who disagrees with you is lying. Maybe you’re just not accurately understanding their beliefs?

    Notice that you didn’t say that Hitler’s ethics “seem” flawed to you. You said that Hitler’s ethics “are” flawed, period.

    A distinction without a difference. They are flawed by my standards, which are inescapably subjective. Because my feelings aren’t objective. They’re subjective, in that I feel them. When someone else tells me they feel something else, why should I think they’re lying to me? When I disagree with you, why do you think I’m lying to you?

  9. 9
    Learned Hand says:

    From an atheist/materialist point of view, what is wrong with eugenics?

    That’s a bit like asking, “From a physics perspective, what is wrong with eugenics?” It’s not atheism or materialism that make eugenics wrong, but the moral code of the person asking the question. (To a subjectivist, anyway.)

    In other words, your brush is too broad. I’m not aware of anyone who gets, or claims to get, their moral code from materialism.

  10. 10

    @Barry

    You are yourself guilty of original sin by proposing “good” as “objective”. It is eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

    The nazi’s defined the worth of people as scientific fact. That is obviously what stops their emotions, and stops their conscience, from having any influence on their behaviour. When good and evil are fact than they are simply left with coldhearted calculation. The repressed emotions then ensure that these calculations turn into macabre calculations.

    Good and evil are matters of opinion, which means that the conclusion is reached by choosing it. By expression of emotions with free will. Then there are very sophisticated ways of choosing, like having faith in God, and by that accepting a whole slew of judgements in scripture in one go. Or accepting all the laws of a country as judgements you accept, without having even read what is actually in the laws.

    Subjectivity is a wide ranging domain. How subjectivity works is to choose about what it is that chooses, resulting in an opinion. What is in people’s heart, the heart with which they choose. The conclusion about what is in it can only be reached by choosing the conclusion.

    Saying goodness is “objective”, is just the same as materialists saying “goodness” is a matter of scientific fact. You are not a creationist. Creationism divides reality in 2 domains. The spiritual domain which chooses which way the material domain turns out. Subjectivity, opinion, is relevant to the spiritual domain, and objectivity, fact, is relevant to the material domain.

  11. 11

    There is nothing wrong with eugenics, in the sense of combatting hereditary diseases for example.

    Eugenics is only dangerous in the hands of atheists, materialists, because they don’t accept the existence of the human spirit.

    Which means they don’t accept that subjectivity is valid. So their ideas are not informed by emotions, by tenderness, or any emotion. They have no clue about the worth of love in marriage, because one needs emotions, subjectivity, to appreciate that love. They would just as soon dispense with marriage, if the calculations turned out that one can get more genetically “healthy” human beings without it. Atheists, materialists simply do not acknowledge the validity of subjectivity on an intellectual level. They only make do with what subjectivity they get from common discourse, but intellectually they simply destroy and ridicule belief in God the holy spirit, or the human spirit.

  12. 12
    Heartlander says:

    LH@9 That’s a bit like asking, “From a physics perspective, what is wrong with eugenics?” It’s not atheism or materialism that make eugenics wrong, but the moral code of the person asking the question.

    What a load of crap – atheism and/or materialism are worldviews. Regardless, it was a rhetorical question as shown by Dawkins, et al. – but thanks for playing. Oh, and FYI

  13. 13
    Barry Arrington says:

    Heartlander,

    “What a load of crap . . .”

    Indeed. It is a sign of the weakness of their position that they feel compelled to dissemble and obfuscate. The problem is their evasions are usually fairly easy to see through. The real question is why the bother.

  14. 14
    StephenB says:

    Learned Hand

    …to me, my judgment is of much more import than his own.

    That would be a contradiction. Unless there is an objective standard by which you can differentiate between good, better, best, and you clearly reject such a standard, your moral judgment cannot be better than anyone else’s. Under subjectivism, all moral judgments must be of equal import.

    I don’t believe that everyone’s moral codes are equal.

    If you cannot tell me why you believe all moral codes are not equal, or why one is better than another, then your philosophy is irrational, and you have no basis for making that statement. Either you believe that all subjective morality is legitimate or you do not. You cannot believe that all subjective morality is equally legitimate and not equally legitimate at the same time.

    In other words, of course I can logically criticize his morality. I judge it according to my own morality. Why wouldn’t or couldn’t I?

    You cannot logically criticize Hitler’s morality because your only reason for preferring your morality over his is that it is yours and not his. That is not a rational reason for judging one code to be better than another.

    So what supports your assumption that subjectivists must put all moral codes on the same level?

    Because under subjectivism, each individual’s moral code is as legitimate as any other. It is made legitimate solely on the basis of the fact that it belongs to him, not because it conforms to any reasonable principle. Thus, there is no justification for saying that one subjective code is better than or more legitimate than another

    SB: Why are Hitler’s ethics flawed? What is your standard for differentiating between good ethics and bad ethics?

    What do you think my answer to this question would be? I ask because I hope we can communicate better; I don’t think repeating myself will help. So I’m curious what you think I’d say.

    I don’t think you can answer the question. Based on your stated philosophy, you can only say that Hitler’s ethics “seem” flawed to you. You cannot logically say that Hitler’s ethics “are” flawed, which is a statement about objective morality. So, you contradict yourself when you say that Hitler’s ethics are flawed

    OK. I, however, mean ethics in the absence of an accessible objective standard. I don’t know if you want me to use a different word for that.

    The point of the OP is that materialism cannot be reconciled with meaning and value, or for that matter, ethics. Clearly, that is true. Some of tried to resist that argument, but it is unassailable.
    Might makes right is the process of defining ethics according to the whims of those who have power at the expense of those who do not have power.

    This is a lot different than Barry’s formulation; yours makes more sense to me.

    It’s just another way of saying the same thing. Let’s examine the words: Might (the possession of [my power) makes (determines) right (the ethical code [for everyone else]). The subjectivist in power answers to no higher moral law because he, like all other subjectivists, arrogates the right to define morality any way he pleases. If your morality is different, then that is just too bad for you.

    This is something other than just “might makes possible.” But again, isn’t this what actually happens? Mao has the power, Mao enforces a code. Individuals can and do dissent from the code if their own personal beliefs aren’t consistent with it. That much is true whether or not there’s an objective standard.

    After disregarding the objective moral law, which would hold him accountable, Mao, because he has power (might) establishes his own law over everyone else and calls it “good.” That is a good example of might makes right.

    So if objectivism isn’t true, that’s where we have to leave it: Mao makes a code. It isn’t transcendent, just human, and individuals can dissent from it (although he might punish them for it).

    Correct. And we might add that, without objective morality, his code is neither good nor bad or any better or worse than any other code—it just is.

    If objectivism IS true, then what’s different? Mao makes a code. It isn’t transcendent, just human, and individuals can dissent from it (although he might punish them for it). There’s separately a transcendent code that’s different from Mao’s.

    If objectivism is true, the Mao’s code is evil. His arbitrarily established civil law is violating a higher law. According to the objective moral code, humans are endowed with inherent dignity and deserve respect and freedom on that basis. Mao’s ethics flow from his philosophy of materialistic communism, which cannot be reconciled with freedom and dignity. If objective morality exists, then it is the moral duty of the slave to rise up against the tyrant if he can. If objective morality doesn’t exist, the moral imperative to rise up is lost.

    SB: Relativists do not believe in the existence of evil, which, by definition, means objectively evil.

    If you define evil as “objectively evil,” then that’s true.

    By definition, evil means objectively evil. The subjectivist can only say that this or that act “seems evil to me based on my personal preferences.” to which a more powerful subjectivist can say, “it doesn’t seem evil to me, so to hell with you—–Bend to my will, you weakling!”

    Relativists do, however, call things “evil” all the time.

    Of course, they do. They are irrational and dishonest. They manipulate the language to create a favorable impression when it serves their interests. They really mean, “It seems evil based on my feelings not, “It is evil.” But they don’t always say that because they want to appear rational and honest. Or, in some cases, they are simply woefully ignorant. It is often hard to know the difference between an idiot and a liar.

    You can assert by fiat that they mean objectively evil… but maybe they just define the word differently.

    You bet your life they define the word differently—and incorrectly. Subjectivists go out of their way to use the language in ways the normal person cannot easily penetrate. Their aim is to obfuscate, not to clarify.

    This is bizarre. So relativists actually believe Hitler’s behavior was acceptable? Can you point to any person in the real world who believes that? Your own assertion requires that everyone who disagrees with you is lying. Maybe you’re just not accurately understanding their beliefs?

    As indicated above, It’s not always easy to know when someone is irrational, or if he is lying to himself, or just lying. But yes, relativists and subjectivists lie all the time. When they want to appear rational, they say “Hitler’s behavior was evil.” But when you scrutinize their statements, it becomes clear that they don’t believe any such thing as objective evil exists.

    Notice that you didn’t say that Hitler’s ethics “seem” flawed to you. You said that Hitler’s ethics “are” flawed, period.

    A distinction without a difference.

    That is an incredible thing to say. The difference between perception and reality is not a distinction without a difference.

    They are flawed by my standards, which are inescapably subjective.

    But you must understand that when you say Hitler “is” evil, or when you say his ethics “are” flawed, you are making a statement about reality, not simply about your perceptions of reality. To be consistent, you should say, Hitler’s standards seem flawed or Hitler’s behavior seems evil” to you”. though it may not be evil for everyone. Otherwise, you are misleading your readers. Strictly speaking you do not think that evil behavior or flawed ethics exist.

    Because my feelings aren’t objective. They’re subjective, in that I feel them. When someone else tells me they feel something else, why should I think they’re lying to me? When I disagree with you, why do you think I’m lying to you?

    You would not be lying to me if you said that Hitler’s behavior “seems” flawed to you based on the way that you feel. You would be lying if you said that Hitler’s behavior “is” flawed, which is the same as saying Hitler’s behavior is flawed no matter what you, I, or anyone else thinks or feels. Since you said that Hitler’s ethics are “flawed,” you mislead your readers. You made them think that you were really claiming that Hitler’s ethics are flawed as a matter of objective fact. In fact, you do not hold that position. It is logically impossible for any subjectivist to hold that position.

  15. 15
    Seversky says:

    I agree you can’t have a materialist ethic in the sense that materialism is a claim about what is and you cannot derive ought from is. This doesn’t mean individual materialists cannot devise their own ethical codes, only that they cannot logically ground them in materialist assumptions.

  16. 16
    Learned Hand says:

    Stephen,

    I don’t know what to tell you. If you assume that your opinion is the truth and that those who claim to disagree with you are lying, is there any point to a further conversation? Your solipsism will never let you understand someone else’s perspective; and in fact, you repeat the same misunderstandings over and over and over and over again, without ever coming to terms with what people who aren’t Stephen believe (or claim to believe).

    Whether or not you think I’m telling the truth when I articulate my beliefs, you can’t articulate them yourself. You don’t know what it is I claim to believe, even though I (and others) have explained it to you many times. I think you just aren’t listening, and don’t care. I can’t change that.

    For what it’s worth, there are people other than Stephen in the world. We have our own beliefs. Coming to terms with that probably would not make you happier or more satisfied, so do with it what you will.

  17. 17

    @seversky

    Actually logically it does mean that materialists cannot ground their ethics anywhere, materialists can’t have ethics.

    You are confusing the practical reality of subjectivity being unavoidable for materialists, with intellectual validation of subjectivity.

    You have no intellectual validation of subjectivity.

    If you validated subjectivity intellectually, you would no longer be a materialist.

  18. 18

    @StephenB

    The only way the question what the agency of a decision is can be answered, is by choosing the answer.

    That is how subjectivity works, all subjectivity.

    You don’t understand that procedure, you are same as a materialist requiring objectivity.

    Person 1 the subjectivist, has tenderness, joy, mercy, love in their heart

    Person 2 the objectivist, objectively knows what is good and evil

    Which person is going to be the better judge?

  19. 19
    StephenB says:

    Learned Hand

    I don’t know what to tell you. If you assume that your opinion is the truth and that those who claim to disagree with you are lying, is there any point to a further conversation? Your solipsism will never let you understand someone else’s perspective; and in fact, you repeat the same misunderstandings over and over and over and over again, without ever coming to terms with what people who aren’t Stephen believe (or claim to believe)

    I didn’t assume that my opinion is true. I demonstrated that your opinion cannot possibly be true. There is nothing more to say.

  20. 20
    StephenB says:

    mohammadnursyamsu

    You don’t understand that procedure, you are same as a materialist requiring objectivity.

    Nonsense. Materialists do not require “objectivity.” Quite the contrary. Most of them invent their own subjective morality.

    Person 1 the subjectivist, has tenderness, joy, mercy, love in their heart

    More nonsense. Subjectivism is the fruit of selfishness and pride. It always produces intellectual confusion.

    Person 2 the objectivist, objectively knows what is good and evil

    Which person is going to be the better judge?

    The person who believes in objective truth and morality would be more likely to possesses good judgment than one who does not. That is because he believes in, and can draw sound conclusions from, the principles of logic and facts in evidence. The subjectivist, on the other hand, militates against, truth, logic, and facts. He has only his feelings and preferences to call on, which can easily mislead him.

  21. 21
    Barry Arrington says:

    StephenB,

    It is difficult to know what is more horrifying, a person who is too stupid to understand that his views necessarily imply nihilism (Learned Hand) or someone who understands and nevertheless embraces the nihilism (Seversky). Probably the latter.

    Did you notice LH do his “there are other people than StephenB” shtick? It is a dead giveaway that he knows he can’t beat your logic, but he refuses to fold his hand and admit you are right. It is like a facial tick on a bad poker player giving away his losing hand while he stubbornly presses a hopeless bluff.

  22. 22
    Marfin says:

    Why can`t the average materialist just be honest and admit that in their world there is no objective standard that you can judge good and evil by.The problem with any definition is , who is the final arbiter and judge of the definition they give.Any definition is subject to disagreement so who is the final judge , maybe its judge Dredd.The funny thing is that what they wont` admit is that their materialist beliefs lead to the fact that when conflicted in themselves
    about doing an act whether it be good or evil all that is going on is that one group of chemicals in their heads is arguing with another group of chemicals in their heads about what they should do in regard to another group of chemicals outside of their heads, and thats supposing there really is a their to begin with.The old saying ” if they had two brains they would be twice as stupid comes to mind.

  23. 23

    @StephenB

    I explained how subjectivity works, you don’t get it.

    You are just the same with materialists, as also shown by that you also start talking rubbish just like atheists, when confronted with the logic of how subjectivity actually works. You have no argumentation, you only have an attitude.

    The reason there is no evidence for the human soul choosing, is because the concept of choosing does not function when the agency of a decision is regarded as fact.

    Facts are obtained FORCED by evidence, resulting in a model. The facts about the moon are a model of the moon.

    If we would state the existince of the soul is fact, then we would automatically also impose the logic of facts on the soul, which is a logic of being forced. So then the concept of choosing collapses, because choosing requires freedom, while facts require force.

    That is how subjectivity is logically required for all matters dealing with the agency of decisions, and objectivity cannot apply.

    Just like any materialist you also talk demeaning of subjectivity, and dismissive of faith, which is a form of subjectivity.

  24. 24

    Materialists misuse science to make good and evil into an objective matter of fact. That is fairly simple and straightforward evil of the original sin of eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

    The evil with religionists is a bit more complicated. I guess many religionists are impressed by the authority of God.

    The authority figure of God is looming so large for many religionists that they feel enormous pressure to do good, and this pressure may occasion the temptation to conceive of good and evil as fact. It is orginal sin of eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil just the same as materialists.

    Just the same if somebody has overbearing, demanding, parents, the pressure to do good can result in conceiving of good and evil as fact.

    There are many ways one can come to reach the conclusion good and evil are fact. There is no argumentation however that legitemizes it, it is a logical error, as has been shown many times in scripture.

    The basic structure of religion, of God the holy spirit judging the human soul, the focus on faith, shows that these objectivists are talking nonsense.

    The goodness or evil of a man must be attributed to their soul, and the existence of the soul is a matter of opinion, which makes good and evil also a matter of opinion.

    Otherwise the concept of choosing cannot function. So I predict that objectivists have a problem with understanding and accepting free will is real.

  25. 25
    StephenB says:

    Barry,

    Did you notice LH do his “there are other people than StephenB” shtick?

    Yes, indeed, it is the complementary tactic associated with the “you just don’t understand” gambit. Or, better yet, “we subjectivists are all so misunderstood.”

  26. 26
    JimFit says:

    Humans must love unconditionally each other since this is the reason we exist and our existence is objectively true, the Eternal God created life and asked nothing for return, we either love God and His Creation and obtain eternal peace (Paradise) or love only ourselfs and die together with our guilds (Hell).

  27. 27
    StephenB says:

    mohammadnursyamsu @23,

    I just spent several precious minutes trying to find a rational thought (never mind rational argument) in your latest rant. I did not succeed.

  28. 28
    tarmaras says:

    The fundamental existents for a physicalist/materialist should be such goodies as:

    -mass
    -charge
    -momentum
    -angular momentum
    -spin

    The transition from mass, charge, momentum etc to “justice”, “objective”, “subjective”, “me”, “you”, “I” is
    a big leap of faith, namely the faith that (in the end) these concepts are nothing but mass, charge, spin etc in disguise — epiphenomena if you want.

    So, a materialist discussing about ethics is really, really weird, unless he’s trying to show us the momentum of “justice”, the charge of “good” or the spin of “evil”.

  29. 29
    Barry Arrington says:

    But tarmaras @ 28, as Popperian argues on these pages ad nauseam, it’s all emergent. You see, if you stack up the burned out star stuff this way, nothing. But if you stack it up ever so slightly differently, poof!! out of a cloud of smoke emerges rabbits, doves, silly string, consciousness, and morality.

    Yes, that is the level to which we have descended — the invocation magic.

  30. 30
    eigenstate says:

    @Barry,

    Except that it’s not magic at all, it’s anti-magical. We know how authoritarian you are about the dictionary, Barry. From Webster:

    : a power that allows people (such as witches and wizards) to do impossible things by saying special words or performing special actions

    : tricks that seem to be impossible and that are done by a performer to entertain people

    : special power, influence, or skill

    Note the conspicuous lack of “the invoker” in natural models. On naturalism, there is no witchdoctor or magician, there are no supernatural powers. It may be a model you reject, but it’s the anti-thesis of magic, and so far as I understand you, it’s rejected because it is NOT magic, magic like the kind practiced by YHWH — “let there be light… ” etc.

    With ID, we have magic, YHWH or no. Since natural (non-magical, mechanical) processes are INSUFFICIENT to produce organic life in all its diverse forms, and most exceptionally sentient humans, a wizard must be invoked to do the naturally impossible, providing the special actions of “cosmic design” that give rise, magically, to what is naturally impossible, according to the ID paradigm.

    I understand the urge to disparage, but “magic” isn’t the term you are looking for, here. Materialism might be an incorrect view of the world, but right or wrong it precludes all magic in principle.

  31. 31
    Virgil Cain says:

    So magic is what produces cars and computers? Or is eigenstate a confused troll?

    OK so forget magic when it comes to materialism, although your definition #3 applies. Just call it all sheer dumb luck as that is what materialism turtles down to.

  32. 32
    REC says:

    In these threads, Barry simply reflects the insanity of his beliefs. How can he look back on history and say that slavery is clearly–to any rational being–objectively evil, but that millions of people missed that fact for thousands of years? That all these people, some of whom we praise for their clear thinking, were liars or insane?

    Barry probably thinks free speech is good (except for gay youth in Colorado schools and for pornography–as he gets to define it).

    Miscegenation is o.k., but gay marriage wrong (and what legal standard applies to the latter, but not the former?).

    State sterilization of a woman against her will is bad, but forcing a woman to carry a fetus to term against her will is good.

    Barry’s religion-good, others perhaps not so much.

    So, what else CAN he claim except to be the high priest diviner of “objective moral Truth” that is “self-evident.” How else does a conservative get to gallop over what society has carefully negotiated-so slowly, and often painfully for those involved?

    What else can he do but to accuse everyone with differing views of lying or negotiating in bad faith, as he says: “It really is the case that anyone who disagrees with me is just lying or insane.”? He’s removed himself from any conversation, choosing to shout “maggot” and “idiot garbage” and so on from the sidelines. And for that, I’ll thank Barry.

  33. 33
    asauber says:

    “Materialism might be an incorrect view of the world, but right or wrong it precludes all magic in principle.”

    So what fills materialism’s many gaps between materials, if not magic?

    Andrew

  34. 34
    REC says:

    “So what fills materialism’s many gaps between materials, if not magic?”

    Andrew

    The strong force? I don’t think I get the question-nor really what point is being made about “emergent properties.”

    Barry, @29, seems close to denying that different arrangements of matter will have different properties. If ID wants to fight with chemistry, that is a development I look forward to.

  35. 35
    Heartlander says:

    Cambridge:

    magic noun (IMAGINARY POWER)
    › (esp. in stories for children) the use of special powers to make things happen that would usually be impossible:

    magic noun (SPECIAL QUALITY)
    › a special, exciting quality that makes something or someone different and better than others:

  36. 36
    bb says:

    Seversky @15 “I agree you can’t have a materialist ethic in the sense that materialism is a claim about what is and you cannot derive ought from is.” – That is true of all things in this finite space we call the universe. But God is, and we can derive ought from Him. We have, to the benefit of mankind.

  37. 37
    Barry Arrington says:

    REC @ 32.

    You distort, erect straw men, knock them down, and crow. And you call it an argument I suppose? Pathetic.

    BTW, the Colorado school you allude to was completely exonerated of any wrongdoing. Your “facts” are simply wrong. At least you have an excuse there. The accusations against the school were international headlines. The exoneration? Not so much.

  38. 38
    REC says:

    I expected more of a response from you, Barry.

    Exonerated in what sense?

    As you put it: “The idea that the “law” defines good is not only stupid; it is pernicious.”

  39. 39
    Barry Arrington says:

    For those of you who do not speak liberal-ese, I will translate REC’s comment at 38: “I don’t care whether the school was cleared of wrongdoing; I like the media’s ‘principal is homophobic’ narrative. Facts be damned; I will quibble over the meaning of ‘exonerate.'”

  40. 40
    Seversky says:

    Barry Arrington @ 21

    StephenB,

    It is difficult to know what is more horrifying, a person who is too stupid to understand that his views necessarily imply nihilism (Learned Hand) or someone who understands and nevertheless embraces the nihilism (Seversky). Probably the latter.

    No, I don’t advocate nihilism. I believe the best foundation for morality is what is now being called inter-subjective agreement (ISA). In other words, it’s something we have to work out amongst ourselves by trying to find common cause in our individual subjective moralities. It’s not a perfect solution but we are not perfect beings. We have to do the best we can with what we have.

    One objection, often made here, is that the Nazis agreed amongst themselves that many, if not most, of the alleged evils afflicting German society could be laid at the doors of the Jews, so getting rid of them was a moral imperative. It was, in effect, for them an ISA that the holocaust was a moral solution. Another objection is that the psychopath who rapes and murders could claim that he is morally justified in so doing because it satisfies a need and, without some objective moral standard, who can justifiably claim he is wrong.

    The obvious counter to such objections is to ask just how inclusive is an ISA on morality supposed to be? The Nazis may have agreed that that killing millions of Jews was a good thing but I very much doubt that the Jews an all the other eventual victims would have agreed. Of course, they weren’t asked. The psychopath may think raping and murdering is a good thing but, again, I very much doubt that his victims, their families and friends would agree if they had been consulted in advance.

    The ISA approach to morality doesn’t lead to nihilism because is is founded on the assumption that human beings in society have basic common interests which it is to everyone’s advantage to protect.

  41. 41

    @Seversky

    As before, subjectivity does not work with materialism, subjectivity is an inherently creationist concept.

    It means you are changing the meaning of subjectivity towards something else entirely than the creationist definition of choosing about what it is that chooses, resulting in an opinion.

    Your idea about subjectivity has nothing to do with subjectivity as it is in democratic law, the freedom of opinion. Most likely you conceive of subjectivity in terms of the uniqueness of people. That they are physically different in mental makeup, or their physical position in the universe.

    It is not good enought to just mouth the word “subjectivity”, it has to be based on choosing, or otherwise you are corrupting the meaning of the words in regards to democracy, law, religion and common discourse.

  42. 42
    sean samis says:

    The principle objection kairosfocus, Barry Arrington, and others have to my rational moral system (described elsewhere) is that it is not grounded in “ultimate being” or “to the world-root level”. This complaint is also lodged against any alternative to a theistic “objective moral truth”.

    I will stipulate that my alternative is not grounded like that. And I assert that it need not be.

    My assertion is correct because this “requirement” is an unnecessary extravagance. No moral system (not even the Christian one, not even the “OMT”) can establish that it is so grounded, and no one has established that such grounding is necessary because it is not.

    Claims that theistic morality is grounded in “ultimate being” are just that: claims. Claims that morality needs grounding in “ultimate being” are, likewise, just claims. Ironically, these claims are themselves ungrounded.

    When we look at the idea of grounding morality in “ultimate being”, it becomes pointless.

    If a moral system is grounded in “ultimate being” then everything that exists is subject to the moral system.
    If moral systems create obligations for those subject to them, a moral system grounded in “ultimate being” imposes a moral obligation on everything that exists.

    Question: are inanimate objects (rocks, atoms, subatomic particles, etc.) under moral obligation? The consensus seems to be that this very idea is foolish. Some go so far as to declare this an Actual Stupid Question. Inanimate objects exercise no “agency”, they make no choices so they cannot respond to any “obligation”. These things just react to the forces of nature acting on them. Like Doh!

    But, if the base matter/energy and forces of our universe are not acting under any moral obligation, what is the purpose to claiming that morality must be grounded EVEN MORE DEEPLY THAN THESE? What is the purpose of requiring morality to be grounded in “ultimate being” so as to encompass all that exists, and then excusing all but a trace-part of the universe from any moral obligation?

    There is no practical or rational purpose to this; the purpose is purely RHETORICAL. This faux requirement creates the appearance of a need for a deity who is, by definition, the ultimate being, the world-root. Otherwise, this faux requirement serves no moral or rational purpose; it provides no moral or rational value; it makes no difference. If we jettison the idea, we lose nothing.

    If morality imposes no obligation except on those creatures capable of appreciating and responding to obligations, then morality needs no grounding deeper than the truth of those creatures’ nature and existence. Anything more is rationally and morally pointless.

    A rational, non-theistic morality can be grounded on the truth of human nature and existence. We are fallible, fragile, social creatures. Those facts, along with our possession of volition, knowledge, foresight, and reason make us able to appreciate and respond to moral obligations toward each other and toward other things in our universe.

    Whatever defects there may be in my proposed rational moral system, it is not any lack of sufficient grounding. The facts of our nature ground our moral obligations; that is all the grounding we need. It is sufficient to make a non-theistic “inter-subjective morality” as real and as effective as any moral system can be or has ever been.

    sean s.

  43. 43
    sean samis says:

    Sorry for the malfunctioning link. It takes you to the right thread, but not the correct comment, which is #54.

    sean s.

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