Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Moral Ontology

Ontology is the study of “being,” i.e. what it means for something to “be” or “exist.” I have discussed on other occasions the ontology of time and the ontology of logic and mathematics (among other things, in numerous places). A couple weeks ago for a Christian youth group (Stand to Reason) I was asked to discuss the ontology of moral facts, expanding on questions that remained after last year. A crucial section of my Sense and Goodness without God on all this is III.5 (pp. 119-34), esp. III.5.4-5 (pp. 124-34).

From the questions that I heard this year I can provide a new summary of my view on this subject, which I will support with formal, peer reviewed arguments and references to the leading scholarship in a chapter soon to appear in The End of Christianity, edited by John Loftus (the sequel to The Christian Delusion), which I'll blog about as soon as it is released. Of course much of the informal argument and bibliography already appears in my book Sense and Goodness without God (and I've blogged about this subject colloquially before: see the amusing Darla the She-Goat).

Moral realism is the view that there are moral statements that are meaningful and true, and true independent of your opinion or culture. I am a moral realist. That means I must be able to ontologically ground the existence of moral facts, and in things other than popular opinions or merely cultural facts. When I say they "exist" I have to explain what I mean by that: in what sense, and in what way, do they "exist," particularly as I am a first-order physicalist (I believe everything that exists is solely and entirely caused by physical things and events: see Defining the Supernatural), so I must be able to reduce moral facts to physical facts in some way.


Bear-Scariness Realism

To get from A to B on this I have to drive by several destinations in the middle. Take, for instance, the scariness of an enraged bear: a bear is scary to a person (because of the horrible harm it can do) but not scary to Superman, even though it's the very same bear, and thus none of its intrinsic properties have changed. Thus the bear's scariness is relative, but still real. It is not a product of anyone's opinions, it is not a cultural construct, but a physical fact about bears and people. Thus the scariness of an enraged bear is not a property of the bear alone but a property of the entire bear-person system. And it is a physical property (it reduces entirely to the physical facts about bears and people and what the one can physically do to the other). Thus physical systems can have properties that their parts alone do not, yet that are entirely reducible to those parts and their physical arrangement (see Sense and Goodness without God, III.5.4.3 and III.5.5, pp. 128-34).

This scariness is also not simply subjective. Our emotional experience of fear is subjective, but the ability of the bear to harm us is an objective fact of the world. We can say “the bear does not scare me” if, for example, we don’t feel fear. But our emotion would then be misinforming us about the physical fact that the bear can seriously harm us (and therefore, in that sense, is objectively scary), regardless of what we feel. It would then be right to say “the bear ought to scare me,” and therefore the bear actually is scary and in this case we just don’t recognize this fact (we are, in other words, ignorant of the physical facts) or we recognize it (and thus acknowledge the bear is indeed scary) but do not feel the physiological indicators that usually attend that recognition.

Even if we said the bear was not scary to us because we actually want more than anything to be horribly mauled to death, that is then a different physical system: like the bear-Superman system, in which different physical facts result in the system not having the property of "scariness" any more, a physical system containing a brain actually in that state (of wanting more than anything to be horribly mauled to death, and also of not feeling even an instinctively caused fear) would similarly lack the property of bear-scariness. But all other bear-person systems would have that property.

Complex Ontologies

So we can understand the ontological status of a bear's scariness and how it derives not solely from the bear but from the whole physical system it is in (though still including the bear). What, then, is the ontological status of moral values? 

To ask for something's ontological status is to ask for what actual features of the universe a word or phrase refers to. For example, the ontological status of cows is pretty straightforward: to say that cows exist is to say that there are actual atoms and cells arranged in a particular way somewhere that conforms to the minimal defining properties of a cow. In other words, a cow physically exists, and we can go point to one, kick it, gut it, weigh it, eat it, or launch it over the wall of a castle stuffed with dead monkeys, or what have you.

The ontological status of dragons, however, is more complex. Of course in an obvious sense you would say dragons don't exist. And yet everyone can describe one, pictures of them are everywhere, as are stories about them. Everyone knows their physical properties (scales, wings, tail; usually breathe fire). So dragons clearly do exist in some sense. But in this case they exist only as a fiction: their ontological status is that of physically residing in human brain patterns, and books and films and doodles in high school textbooks. And in that sense we say dragons are not real. So "dragon realism" would be false. But dragons do still in a sense exist.

It gets more complicated when we start asking things like what is the ontological status of democracy. It's not like democracy is sitting in a field in Idaho somewhere and we can go kick it, weigh it, and fill it with dead monkeys. And yet democracy clearly exists. Moreover, when we mean "democracy exists" we don't mean a particular form of it (e.g. "American democracy exists") but that democracy exists in the abstract. What is the ontology of that? It's more like bear scariness: democracy refers to certain generic properties of a physical system.

For example, a monarchy is a physical system that is arranged differently than a democracy, and those physical differences are precisely what democracy consists of. For democracy to exist, there must be a system that is physically arranged in that distinctive way. But any system will do, e.g. it doesn't have to use private voting booths and anonymous ballots, but can employ a public show of hands, or any other thing, as long as it shares the same properties in common with those things (for which we label them democratic). And even if democracy doesn't exist (if it isn't "real" but is only an idea, like dragons, such as one could say was the case in, say, 900 A.D.), it potentially exists, insofar as any physical system exists that can be physically rearranged into a democracy (just as real dragons potentially exist, because we could create real dragons with genetic engineering and other technologies).

The Ontology of Monetary Value

Now to go from complex ontologies to moral ontology we have to stop at another station in between: other kinds of values (other than "moral" values specifically). For example, monetary value. What is the ontological status of monetary value?

For example, what is the ontological difference between a $100,000 diamond ring and a fake? It's not simply that the one is comprised of atoms in the chemical arrangement called a diamond, and the other is not, though that is indeed an actual physical difference between them, in fact a key difference. But like the scariness of an enraged bear, a diamond by itself has no monetary value at all (certainly no more than a fake ring does). A diamond only has value insofar as there are people who will give you things for it. Therefore the ontological status of a diamond ring's monetary value is a property not of the diamond alone but of the whole physical system in which the diamond resides (in which there are people who will give you things for that diamond).


It's important to note the distinction, however, between monetary value and moral value: monetary value is less real, in that it derives solely and entirely from the subjective opinions of people (things like diamonds have monetary value simply because people choose to value them, or have been culturally taught to). Which is why, when people stop valuing money, it's value collapses, causing an economic depression: there is no other fact, apart from people's opinions, on which money can retain any value.

And yet money and diamonds always retain their utility value (you can wipe your butt with money, and cut glass with diamonds), which is obviously just nothing more than their physical properties in relation to human needs. But even to say these properties have a utilitarian value is still to refer to what people want (to wipe their butt, or cut glass) and thus this value is, like bear-scariness, not a property of the objects themselves but of the whole physical system in which they reside. However, this value, unlike monetary value, is not merely an opinion (that diamonds can cut glass does not become false simply because you believe it is false or because your culture teaches that). It derives not from what other people think, but entirely from what you want to achieve--and what, in the present example, diamonds can actually do.

Value Realism

Moral realism is more akin to utility value than monetary value. The feature that moral values and monetary values share is that both derive not just from what's in someone's mind (it's not just "what you like" or "what you think" that determines the value), but from the whole physical system in which they live (regardless of what you like or think, there is a real physical system that will give you $100,000 for your ring). These values are properties of the system, not of the person alone, nor of any object alone. But unlike monetary value, which is a product of mass opinion or cultural construction, moral value is more like utility value: it is a product of what you need and what can achieve that. Which are both objective facts of the world (that you want a particular outcome, and that a certain item or behavior will obtain it).

Of course, that you desire a particular outcome is subjective, in the sense that it resides in your mind and comes from you and not from outside of you. But it is not an opinion. For example, that you want to cut glass is not an opinion about the utility of diamonds, but something you actually want. That diamonds can be used to achieve it is an objective fact of the world. That you desire that end is also an objective fact of the world. We can even locate the physical structure in your brain that that desire consists of, and confirm it exists just as we would a cow (though hopefully not by trying to stuff dead monkeys into it). Thus as long as your desire is real, the utility value of diamonds is real (and like dragons, even when the desire is not realized, the value that would follow if it were realized still potentially exists).


You might say that the same is true of opinions, i.e. they, too, are physically real and can be located in the brain. But that the opinions exist (i.e. they are ontologically real) does not entail that monetary value exists apart from being simply a collage of opinions. Like dragons: dragons are "real" in the sense of existing in people's minds and media, but not real apart from that. Likewise monetary value is "real" in the sense of existing in people's minds and media, but not real apart from that. And so desires are also "real" in the sense of existing only in people's minds, but you can still have an incorrect opinion or belief about what desires you have, without changing your actual desire (they are thus not the same). Likewise you can have an incorrect belief about what dragons look like or how much a diamond is worth, by not knowing the cultural facts of the matter, and yet dragons are not actual in the way your desires are. Dragons don't exist. Your desires do. Thus desires are neither like opinions nor like dragons.

To make this distinction clearer: if everyone suddenly believed diamonds had no monetary value, they would have no value (thus their value was never "real" but solely a product of opinion); but if everyone who wanted to cut glass suddenly believed diamonds couldn't cut glass, diamonds would not lose any of their utility value for cutting glass. We would then simply be mistaken about their utility value. By contrast, if no one monetarily valued diamonds, there wouldn't be any sense in which they are "mistaken" about the monetary value of diamonds. We could be mistaken about what value everyone else places on diamonds, but if we are not mistaken about that, but correct in believing that no one monetarily values diamonds, then diamonds simply have no monetary value.

Of course, the monetary value of diamonds is a product of "wanting" diamonds, and the utility value of diamonds is a product of "wanting" to cut glass, but the difference is crucial: in the one case, the value of a diamond derives solely from wanting diamonds (and not from you wanting them, but other people wanting them--you might have no interest in diamonds yourself apart from the fact that other people want them and you can thus trade them for what you do want), whereas in the other case the value of a diamond derives from your wanting something else (to cut glass), which is not itself a diamond, and the objective fact that diamonds can do that for you (cut glass).

Accordingly, money (and thus the monetary value of diamonds) does have its own utility value: we only really want money for what we can use it for. But it's utility value is derived from its monetary value (the fact that people will trade us for it). Thus as soon as no one believes dollars are worth anything, dollars cease to have utility value--whereas people believing diamonds can't cut glass in no way causes diamonds to stop cutting glass. Their opinion thus has no effect on a diamond's utility value. If you want to cut glass, opinions don't matter. Diamonds will have an objective utility value for you, regardless.

That is the difference between purely subjective values and partly objective values. Ultimately, however, all value reduces to what you want, such that if you no longer want something, it no longer has value for you. Individual desire remains therefore the ontological root of all value: just as real dragons only exist when atoms are arranged in such a way as to produce a living dragon, so values only exist when people's brains are arranged in such a way as to produce desires for certain outcomes.

In Christian theology the same holds: if no one values x, not even God, then x simply has no value. Therefore value always reduces to desire (such as "what God wants"). And if only God values x, there is no sense in which x is of any value to anyone else--unless they can be shown that they already value something else (such as y) that they would be more likely to obtain if they also valued x (and therefore they ought to value x, because they already want y, and valuing x gains y).

This means that to rationally persuade anyone to adopt a particular value system, you can only do so by appealing to some desire that they already have. Even God would be incapable of rationally persuading someone to adopt his values, unless he could appeal to desires they already have (so he had better have programmed them with those desires--for if he did not, it would be irrational of him to expect his people to want what in fact he never programmed them to want). See my analysis of the imaginary case of persuading Nazis in Sense and Goodness without God (V.2.2.6, pp. 336-37). I discuss another example, of actually wanting to go to hell, in Darla the She-Goat.

Thus that all values reduce to desires does not negate value realism. That we have an opinion (that we believe something is valuable) is not the same thing as that we have a desire (to achieve some particular end). A value that derives solely from the one is not "real" in the same way that a value that derives from the other is.

The Ontology of Values

Values exist in two senses. Values "of the first kind" exist as physical arrangements of synapses in your brain which cause you to assign value to something (I'll call these "Type 1 values"). Dragons exist in the same sense. Values "of the second kind" exist as a physical relationship between Type 1 values and the actual arrangement and behavior of the physical world (I'll call these "Type 2 values"), such that Type 1 values can be said to be "incorrect" if they do not align with those external facts.

In the Type 1 sense, a diamond ring’s value is only a physical state of your brain: actual synapses in your brain are arranged in a physical pattern that you then "feel" as a measure of the value you assign to the ring. We've recently located these synapses in the brain and observed their operation during brain scan experiments (they are located in the amygdala, as just reported in the January 5 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience).

But this value is based on your belief that the ring is made of diamond and is not a fake. So there is also a Type 2 sense in which the ring has value: the value it would actually have if you were aware of all the facts (like whether the ring was a fake). The ontological foundation of this "true" value for the ring is markedly different from the ontological foundation of the existence of your own personal value for the ring (which, being Type 1, is simply a physical feature of your brain).

Like the scariness of bears, the ring’s "true" value is a physical fact not about the ring alone but about the entire physical system in which the ring resides (namely, whether the ring is genuine, and whether you reside in a system that will pay $100,000 for a genuine diamond ring). Thus the "ontological status" of the true value of the ring is the physical fact of what other people will actually give you in exchange for that ring. And that is it's Type 2 value, which is what gives the ring its monetary value and what makes such a monetary value useful to you.

Defining Moral Facts

Before proceeding to the punchline I have to pause to say what I'm even talking about. Moral facts consist of imperatives, and imperatives are statements about what we "ought" to do (or who or what sort of person we ought to be). What does "ought" mean? That which we would do if we were reasoning logically and knew and understood all the relevant facts of our situation.

For example, "you ought to change the oil in your car" means "if you knew your car was running low on oil, and you don’t want your car’s engine to seize up, then you would change the oil in your car (as long as you were able to without harm)." If you want your car's engine to seize up, then "you ought to change the oil in your car" is false. But if you don't want that, then "you ought to change the oil in your car" would be objectively true, i.e. it would be true even if you believed it was false. Your opinion of the matter, what you liked or thought, would be irrelevant to its being true. In that case if you said it was false you would simply be mistaken about what you ought to do.

What distinguishes a "moral" imperative from other imperatives? (like changing your car's oil) Moral imperatives are imperatives that supersede all other imperatives. In other words, the moral thing to do is whatever it is that you ought most to do. So by definition the moral thing to do on any occasion is what you ought most to do above all else (on that occasion). Putting these definitions together we get two senses of "moral value" whose ontology I'll now discuss:

Type 1 moral values are the moral values we actually have (which constitute descriptive ethics: that which we believe we ought to do above all else, e.g. Muslim moral values, Christian moral values, Communist moral values, Secular Humanist moral values, etc.), which are just structures in the brains of people sharing a common moral culture or worldview. But Type 2 moral values are the moral values we ought to have (which constitute prescriptive ethics: that which we ought to do above all else, regardless of what we believe that is, i.e. the true moral values). Which are like bear-scariness: they are not just structures in our brains, but structural properties of the whole system in which those brains reside.

Given my definition of "ought," the "true" moral values are those you would actually have if you were reasoning logically and understood all the relevant facts of the world. So if you aren't reasoning logically or are ignorant of key facts, the actual Type 1 values in your brain will differ from the Type 2 values, which are the values you would agree you should have adopted (had you known better). In which case you would agree your Type 1 values were mistaken, and not in the sense that you misapprehended which values were programmed into your brain (you can be entirely correct about what those values are), but in the sense that (a) those values are out of alignment with the external facts of the world, and (b) you will replace them with Type 2 values as soon as you perceive this fact.

The Ontology of Moral Values

The ontological basis of moral values is thus exactly the same as ordinary values, only by definition moral values supersede all other values, so we are then just talking about the sub-category of “supreme” values. This means we have two kinds again. Type 1 moral values exist as physical arrangements of synapses in your brain which cause you to assign a supreme value to something. But Type 2 moral values exist as a physical relationship between those Type 1 values and the actual arrangement and behavior of the physical world.

Therefore, to say that compassion is a moral value is to say that when you are reasoning logically and understand all the relevant facts, then you will assign compassion a supreme value. It will be more valuable to you, for example, than the monetary value of a diamond ring. And there may be other moral values that supersede each other in hierarchies of supremacy, such as perhaps reasonableness over compassion: e.g. in any conflict between reasonable compassion and unreasonable compassion, you might conclude the former would supersede the other (because, on full and sound reflection, when you have to decide between them, you want the one more than you want the other), and this would then be the true order of moral values.

Type 2 moral values are thus the "true" moral values, if your brain pattern (which is assigning supreme value to something) correctly reflects the real nature of things external to your brain--such as the actual, physical consequences of assigning that value. If those actual consequences are the consequences you would want above all other consequences that you can obtain (i.e. if these are the consequences you would want most when you are reasoning logically and understand all the relevant facts), then, by definition, a value for the things that have those consequences will supersede all other values. And such values are by definition moral values.

So just like the imperative to change your car's oil, which is a true fact of the world, ontologically grounded in the physical facts of cars and physics and your desire to have a functioning car (and thus a physical property of the whole car-person system), moral imperatives are true facts of the world, ontologically grounded in the physical facts of the way the world works (including the way people and societies work) and your desire to live in this system efficiently and happily. And thus moral facts are a physical property of the whole world-person system.

Conclusions

There are many facts about morality that are ontologically grounded in the way that social and psychological systems physically work. Game Theory, for example is a physical fact of any system of interacting social agents (it is true of every such system, being entailed by the organization that defines such a system), and moral facts are in part Game Theoretic facts. How we get along within society, and what we can rationally expect of the society we participate in creating, creates objective constraints on what makes sense for us to do or be.

Likewise, the psychology of self-acceptance vs.  self-loathing, of realizing the values you want there to be in the world rather than realizing the values you don't want there to be in the world, of cognitive dissonance, of the possibilities of happiness and joy and profound fulfillment vs. escalating paranoia and disappointment and alienation and loneliness, and more, are all a physical fact of evolved conscious brains. 

For example, the Golden Rule, like fire and language and tools, was universally invented by all cultures because adhering to it is the only way to maintain social and psychological homeostasis: if you become the sort of person you hate, you will perpetually hate yourself, or else subject yourself to self-defeating delusions and behaviors in the effort to deny or avoid that self-loathing, whereas if you become the sort of person you like, then you will be self-contented and clear-minded. Likewise, you will more readily accept and get along with Golden Rule followers, and thus others will more readily accept and get along with you if you are one, too. Which is why all cultures gravitate toward declaring this good advice.

Moral facts are thus facts about the behavior of physical systems, in particular social and neurological systems. Since these and other facts are objective facts of the world (and thus not just opinions), our moral emotions and intuitions can be in error. We can feel guilty for something that wasn't in fact wrong, or feel righteous for doing what is actually vile. Moral facts are thus not opinions. Moral facts are facts about what is and what we want, regardless of what we believe those are. The morality of an act is therefore a property of a physical system: it refers to the physical relations among the components of that system, including (a) the things you want most in the world, which desires are physical structures in your brain, (b) the way the world works generally (such as the way technologies and economies and societies and brains work), and (c) the actual physical circumstances you find yourself in (the "moral context" of a given decision). 

But above all, morality is ultimately about what sort of person you become in any given act. What you ought to do is therefore about what sort of person you want to be. When you think rationally and are informed of the true facts of the world, you will want above all things to be a genuinely fulfilled and happy person, or as close to that as you can come. To confirm this, just compare that state to any other state you can obtain but in which you will be neither fulfilled nor happy, and see which you would rationally prefer. The answer will always be the same, for every conscious agent, in every possible universe.

Except, of course, for the irrational and the ignorant. But irrationality and ignorance are contrary to any interest you might have, and are therefore always what you ought to avoid, i.e. in no possible world is it wise to take the advice of the irrational and the ignorant, and that is as true of giving yourself advice as taking it from anyone else. It follows that the sort of person you rationally and informedly would want to be is by definition what a moral person is. Because that is always what everyone will want most to be. And when we work that out in light of the facts of the world, we end up with conclusions such as that the moral person to be is the one who embodies the Golden Rule.

John Loftus quotes a conversation we had on this point in The Christian Delusion (p. 101). He first quotes Victor Reppert as saying, in effect, that a sixteenth-century man would not deem democracy morally right, and certain Middle Eastern Muslims even today would deem rape morally acceptable in culturally sanctioned circumstances. Why is our cultural perspective (which emphasizes knowledge and rationality) objectively preferable to theirs? This was in the context of discussing the Outsider Test for Faith developed by John Loftus and defended in that book: is there any "outside" point of view from which to judge all cultures? As I explained:
Any rational sixteenth-century man who was given all the information we now have (of the different outcomes of democratic vs. nondemocratic nations over a long period of time) would agree with us that democracy is better. Hence, democracy passes the Outsider Test for Faith. Similarly any rational would-be rapist who acquired full and correct information about how raped women feel, and what sort of person he becomes if he ignores a person’s feelings and welfare, and all of the actual consequences of such behavior to himself and his society, then he would agree that raping such a woman is wrong.
The same could be said of the superiority of rationality and knowledge, since abandoning either is detrimental to anyone's interests, regardless of what culture they find themselves in. A rational conversation might thus proceed something like this:
Why is it wrong to rape a woman?

Because it hurts a woman.

Why is it wrong to hurt a woman?

Because it's uncompassionate.

Why is it wrong to be uncompassionate?

Because by being an uncompassionate person, your life will suck, more than it would suck if you were a compassionate person. And it is irrational to choose what will make your life suck more, than what you could have chosen instead.
That your life will suck more, ceteris paribus, is due to all the consequences and repercussions of all the things that being uncompassionate causes you to feel and to do (quite apart from what the consequences of any single act will be), which consequences consist not only of external repercussions (personal and social), but internal as well: e.g. the absence of the fulfillments and joys that can be had only from feeling compassion, and the presence of all the miserable feelings that result from the absence of love and compassion, including self-loathing, as you become what you hate in others, or occupy yourself with hating or despising others for attributes that even you yourself possess (or even wish you did). I discuss many other consequences to consider, in my book, and here on my blog (such as in my Michigan Talk on Moral Theory).

The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human ValuesMore importantly, though I have here met the challenge of reducing my moral system to its underlying ontology (and that is all I aimed to achieve here), one might still have objections to my moral theory (e.g. whether the moral simply is what we ought most to do, whether that follows from what we most desire when fully rational and informed, etc.). I address all of those (in part by producing formal deductive proofs) in that forthcoming peer reviewed paper I referenced in the beginning, which will appear in The End of Christianity. But granting my theory that moral facts follow from the consequences you will most desire when rational and informed, I have certainly demonstrated the ontological basis of such moral facts, which in part consists of the consequences of being a certain sort of person.

As these consequences are objectively unavoidable, regardless of one's beliefs or culture, moral facts are as objectively true as the fact that you ought to change the oil in your car to prevent your engine seizing up. If you need a working car, the properties of cars entail the conclusion, regardless of what you believe or what your culture tells you. That conclusion is therefore a physical property of the system, just like bear-scariness: a person desiring a working car has to maintain that car by regularly replacing its oil. In just the same way, a person desiring a life that sucks the least of all the lives available to them has to be a certain kind of person. And it is only ignorance and irrationality that prevents people from discovering this.

146 comments:

solon said...

>>Why is it wrong to be uncompassionate?
>>Because by being an uncompassionate person, your life will suck

Wow, that was incredibly bad. As bad as saying it is wrong because God said so.

When will you and Loftus finally stop trying to dress up Christian morality and become atheists? What are you 2 so afraid of?

Could you now outline the "true" moral "facts" of cockroaches and other animals please? Should be good for a laugh too.

Steven Carr said...

'Dress up Christian morality'.

William Lane Craig claims 'Isn’t that like commanding someone to commit murder?

No, it’s not. Rather, since our moral duties are determined by God’s commands, it is commanding someone to do something which, in the absence of a divine command, would have been murder.

The act was morally obligatory for the Israeli soldiers in virtue of God’s command, even though, had they undertaken it on their on initiative, it would have been wrong.'


Christians have no basis for morality, other than what some human beings have written, declaring themselves to be God's spokesmen when doing so.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Comapassion is something that the humanist values, because it is assumed that because we are all humans and have needs, these needs must be met. So, moral demands are necessary by the humanist to get their desired outcome.

Scientists differ as to what is of most value to sustain the world. Which one is of most importance? They can all be proven to be physical facts of the earth?

Politicians differ as to moral values. Some say it is immoral to cut entitlements, while others say that it is irresponsible (immoral) to not have a budget, and continue ot increase spending with no accountability.

I still think that moral demands upon another human being cannot be made in a democracy, if one values a human being more than any other value. Because a human being is an end in himself, if one is consistant with one's own humanist values.

As to what one wants to be like. I value democracy more than tyranny. Tyranny is when those in power abuse it to demand another's compliance with their desires. This is why in a system that hasn't allowed full information from the beginning is unjust. This is what happened in the healthcare debate.

Was it more "moral" because there is human need (those without healthcare) and government was to mandate others to provide for that need, even when some didn't want to have insurance in the first place? Aren't the desires of those that wanted healthcare passed looking at the resources alone and not each individual's personal budget and where, how much and with whom they will do business in buying healthcare?

Angie Van De Merwe said...

As to democracy...I don't know for a fact that someone living within a particular religious system doesn't experience their life as contented. They justify and interpret everything within that paradigm, just as we do in a capitalistic system.

On the other hand, if I believe that democracy is a needed obligation because humans must become civilized by universal standards, then, I have to value the individual, as a person in his/her own right to take responsibility for their life. I must not dictate/oversee their private/personal lives. This is what communism does.

When I believed that "God' controlled my life, I could "understand" my life's problems with certain pacifications. Suffering and trial was what "God" allowed to teach or train me. This is abohorrently abusive for those in power to use such beliefs for outcomes, they desire.

The "Golden Rule" is not useful to those in power, because they must circumvent other interests or priorities to get their desired outcomes.And this is what tyranny is about. Isn't this unethical?

W. A. said...

"Moral realism is the view that there are moral statements that are meaningful and true, and true independent of your opinion or culture."

Unless moral realism and moral relativism are BOTH true. Then moral statements are meaningful and true, AND dependent on one's culture.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

W.A.,
Isn't your proposal of "both/and" a holding to the value of human development, cultural values, and human choice?

One will choose what is defined by their particular "understanding", which are dependent on values. This is reasonable, but might not be according to physical realities ala materiality, via the brain.

Language expresses different values in a particular cultural framework. Cultural definitions as to language and values has to do with how the brain's physical elements are categorized by the mind. The "mind" is a cultural product, isn't it, though the categories themselves might be universal...such categories as justice, love, good, and moral, are culturally defined. But, in the West, we allow liberty of assoication, so that the human can develop individually apart from "cultural values" or concerns.

Richard Carrier said...

W.A. is partly correct, relativism can be a form of moral realism. Because it's logically possible for different moral facts to be objectively true for different people (and I discuss this in Sense and Goodness without God and in my forthcoming chapter for The End of Christianity).

But cultural relativism, as normally meant, would not be such, because a culture's morals would be arbitrary. In other words, one can make true statements about what your culture deems moral, but there would be no sense in which what your culture deems moral is true. That makes morals into cultural fictions, just like dragons. That's why moral realism traditionally does not include cultural relativism. But it does include other kinds of moral relativism.

Gilgamesh said...

Probably worth pointing out that Sean Carrol has made a response to this post.
http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/2011/03/16/moral-realism/

He still seems to be hung-up on the is-ought problem of Hume. That may be worth addressing in a post all on its own.

Richard Carrier said...

Solon said... "Because by being an uncompassionate person, your life will suck." Wow, that was incredibly bad. As bad as saying it is wrong because God said so.

I see no parallel at all. Indeed, your criticism is unintelligible.

When will you and Loftus finally stop trying to dress up Christian morality and become atheists?

Oh, my bad, is gay marriage moral now in Christian morality? Wow. I must have missed a memo.

Of course, the ethnocentric arrogance of your remark is amusing. The Golden Rule long predates Christianity. So really, it's Christians who are dressing up non-Christian morality, not the other way around. And yet they then f' it up by violating their own Golden Rule by denying gays the right to marry, stumping for war, and opposing public welfare for the poor (whatever Jesus said be damned).

Could you now outline the "true" moral "facts" of cockroaches and other animals please? Should be good for a laugh too.

If they were capable of making rational and informed decisions, morality for them would likely be the same as for us (as I discuss, with respect to aliens, in Sense and Goodness without God). As they are not, talking about what moral facts apply to them is akin to debating which college major they should pursue.

Richard Carrier said...

Angie Van De Merwe and others here so far, note that much of what you are discussing here pertains not to the ontology of moral facts, but what the moral facts actually are, which is not what this blog entry is about. On that different question, see my book Sense and Goodness without God.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

You did say that moral facts could be relative to different people, didn't you?

"Moral fact" are those that are assoicated within the framework of certain social groups. These groups define their moral facts as moral realism. But, these facts are relative to group values. And since our country believes that we can freely associate with chosen or preferred groups, then we have a right to dis-assoiate when these values conflict with our chosen values. These values might change over the course of time, due to personal growth/development or personal priorities. The is affirming moral realism within the human person and not abstract ideology.

Therefore, our country allows for diversity regarding moral development, because we allow liberty of conscience. Therefore, moral facts are relative to a specified group, one's personal development and commitment of value and a choice to freely associate to a given group because of its ultimate values/goals.

Edward T. Babinski said...

I think debating the ontology of morality with supernaturalists is about as much fun as watching a debate b/w Kant and Kouldn't. Supernaturalists are authoritarians, and Black/White-ians. Either a law is divine or it holds little value to them. Either an action is eternally meaningful or it is meaningless. They are not willing to consider that things might be meaningful for limited lengths of time. Neither are they willing to consider that just because somebody says something or reads it in a book they happen to adore, doesn't make that saying or teaching automatically more true than something written by someone else in some other book. They are authoritarians and eternalians. And if you take away their ontological security blanket even hypothetically, they will cry that everything's lost, everything's meaningless, and they imagine everyone is left with simply a desire to rape and murder. They won't sit still long enough to discuss the complex social behaviors of large-brained mammals from porpoises to elephants and apes. No actual observations of nature appeal to them, not even their own nature, so they won't even look inside themselves and see how much they would naturally not like to have their lives taken from them simply at some other person's whim, or have other things taken from them at some other person's whim. They don't feel that connected with humanity, they want to only feel connected to a higher authority, especially one that can make eternal promises. Aside from that they repeat Dostoevsky's line about everything being permitted in a godless world. This terrifies them, even after you remind them that everything is permitted even in THIS world. Child molesters in the clergy to earthquakes and asteroids. Homosex-experimenting and drug-experimenting Presidents of the National Society of Evangelicals to Popes like the Borgias and the Inquisition, and Calvin seeking to get heretics executed. It's all permitted. From Job's wife and kids being slaughtered so God can win a bet with Satan, to God's own son being slaughtered so God can finally forgive people their sins. It's all permitted in this world. So quoting Dostoevsky is not an argument, since everything is permitted in this world anyway.

Above, when I mentioned not liking having your life or other things taken away from you at some other person's whim, I was referring to one of the commonsense bases behind the creation of human laws.

How can you hope to snap someone out of the authoritarian mindset? How do you convince them that words on paper are words on paper that have no intrinsic authority, but that the human mind invented culture and language and books and ethical notions and opinions and laws, and therefore the human mind should be studied within the milieu of human cultural history and natural history as well? Moreover, if you are debating an authoritarian ("God said it, it must be true") who does not doubt that it is "God" who "said" such things, and who does not doubt that he knows the meaning of each command, and who does not doubt that page after page of the book that this person adores for its moral perfection also depicts God as a mass murderer, even an eternally wrathful punisher, then that person has taken things to the max. Perhaps challenge them to speak about why others might not want to defend such a book's description of God. The book is their authority, so ask them why they think others might not find it to be so "authoritative." See what they say.

Edward T. Babinski said...

MARY MIDGLEY on MORALITY:

Darwin proposed that creatures like us who, by their nature, are riven by strong emotional conflicts, and who have also the intelligence to be aware of those conflicts, absolutely need to develop a morality because they need a priority system by which to resolve them. The need for morality is a corollary of conflicts plus intellect:

“Man, from the activity of his mental faculties, cannot avoid reflection… Any animal whatever, endowed with well-marked social instincts, would inevitably acquire a moral sense or conscience as soon as its intellectual powers had become as well-developed, or anything like as well-developed as in man.”(Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man)

That, Darwin said, is why we have within us the rudiments of such a priority system and why we have also an intense need to develop those rudiments. We try to shape our moralities in accordance with our deepest wishes so that we can in some degree harmonize our muddled and conflict-ridden emotional constitution, thus finding ourselves a way of life that suits it so far as is possible.

These systems are, therefore, something far deeper than mere social contracts made for convenience. They are not optional. They are a profound attempt--though of course usually an unsuccessful one--to shape our conflict-ridden life in a way that gives priority to the things that we care about most.

If this is right, then we are creatures whose evolved nature absolutely requires that we develop a morality. We need it in order to find our way in the world. The idea that we could live without any distinction between right and wrong is as strange as the idea that we--being creatures subject to gravitation--could live without any idea of up and down. That at least is Darwin’s idea and it seems to me to be one that deserves attention.

Mary Midgley, “Wickedness: An Open Debate,” The Philosopher’s Magazine, No. 14, Spring 2001

Richard Carrier said...

Angie Van De Merwe said... ...since our country believes that we can freely associate with chosen or preferred groups, then we have a right to dis-assoiate when these values conflict with our chosen values. [etc.]

I think you are confusing what we ought to do politically with what we ought to do personally. There is a difference between saying someone is morally wrong, and saying we ought to use force to stop them doing it. It can be morally wrong to do something, and also morally wrong to use force to stop them doing it. You may want to read my section in Sense and Goodness without God on political theory, to see how talk about how to organize laws and government, is not the same thing as talk about how we ought to live. They are interrelated and often overlap, but they are not synonymous.

The fact that we deem it morally appropriate to allow someone to be wrong, does not mean we regard their values to be as true as our own. We can believe, even prove, that their values are false (e.g. that they are self-defeating or based on empirical premises that are demonstrably false or wholly unproven), and still conclude we should let them believe what is false and do what is wrong. Generally, we stop them when their errors start hurting other people. Otherwise we let them do any stupid thing they want. There is a reason why this demarcation works better as a social system that absolutism. But that reason does not make it in any way right or wise to do those stupid things--and we have the right to say so.

Richard Carrier said...

Sean Carrol isn't a very careful reader. I defined "ought" in my blog in such a way that my conclusions are deductively sound and valid. He seems to ignore my definition, and even criticizes me for not giving one (he says I have a "missing premise"), yet there it is, plainly stated in the blog itself. I have posted there calling him out on this and a few other errors he makes.

Richard Carrier said...

Edward T. Babinski: Not all Christians are authoritarians or absolutists. Indeed, in the presentation I gave at one point I asked the students (some forty or so) whether it was morally right to shoot a federal agent in the head, given the right context, and they unanimously said yes. That sounds alarming out of context, but the context in question was taken from a TV show scene that I showed and explained, in which even you would agree it was morally right to shoot that federal agent in the head. So I'm not talking about gun nuttery or anything here, but a real recognition that morality is situational and not absolute. Likewise, the predominant view among them was against divine command theory and in favor of an intrinsic rightness to which even God was subject.

So you shouldn't over-generalize about Christians. The Christians of the coming generation are much less like the Christians you've been fighting all your life, but are more liberal-minded, more thoughtful, and less bible-thumping.

Which IMO is good news. Keep up the ridicule on the hard-minded, thoughtless, bible-thumping Christians, because we want people to see how ridiculous they are and we want to shame them as they ought to be ashamed. But don't spread that ridicule out against those who don't deserve it. To the contrary, we want them to join us in ridiculing the foolish among them, not force them to join the foolish in defending Christianity against over-generalized attacks against it.

(Regarding Darwinian morality, that's well and good, but you need to be cautious against the naturalist fallacy that just because a behavior or disposition evolved therefore it's right: see my remarks against this fallacy in Darla the She-Goat. Nevertheless, there is truth in the notion that social systems will evolve in the direction of correct morality precisely because it is advantageous to do so, which fact I do discuss in Sense and Goodness without God.)

Landon Hedrick said...

Richard,

Your article is peer-reviewed? I remember a while back we had a conversation about this, and I recommended that you publish it in a philosophy journal so it could be peer reviewed and so it would ultimately get some attention by serious philosophers. Did you arrange to have it peer-reviewed anyway, even though you didn't go with the journal publishing route?

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Being a gracious, kind, hospitible person is the moral ideal, but doesn't that presuppose certain political behaviors?
Civility is the behavioral standard to being the kind of person others want to engage. These are social attributes, that don't necessarily necessitate a politial outcome or commitment, but, then, it might. Is this what you are saying?

Richard Carrier said...

Landon Hedrick: Yes, it was formally peer reviewed, by four established professors of philosophy. Per our previous discussion you know I found no journal would accept so long an article. In this venue I had a larger limit (I came in at just under 17,000). I then made sure it got more peer review than even a typical journal article receives.

Moreover, besides the four formal reviewers I also had it informally reviewed by half a dozen other professors of philosophy and none had any objection to it's passing peer review (agreeing with it's conclusions, of course, isn't a standard that peer reviewers require a paper meet even at journals, only that it meet the rigorous standards of argument).

The resulting article is far superior to any I've composed before.

Richard Carrier said...

Angie Van De Merwe said... Being a gracious, kind, hospitable person is the moral ideal, but doesn't that presuppose certain political behaviors?

It can. But I was thinking more along the lines of social power theory (e.g. a certain kind of social order and system of liberties must exist prior to there being the nonviolent debate, dissent, and disagreement in which moral progress is possible, whereas absolutism tends only to empower the last false philosophy to seize power which thus stalls moral progress).

I explain much more in my book. But the main conclusion I reach there is close to what you are getting at: the purpose of government is to regulate the use of power so as not to enforce anyone's morality but to maintain a civil society in which everyone is free to pursue their own morality (and thus argue freely over whose morality that should be).

Civility is the behavioral standard to being the kind of person others want to engage. These are social attributes, that don't necessarily necessitate a politial outcome or commitment, but, then, it might. Is this what you are saying?

Civility is a moral virtue governing political behavior, but it is not something we enforce by law. That's the distinction I am making here. Thus civility is not something we use the government to force people to have. It is just something people need to have if they want to have a functioning, responsive government.

Just because it is wise not to use government force to compel people to be civil (until it endangers others, then it is wise), does not mean civility is not the true moral fact of how we ought to behave. It is the true moral fact of how we all ought to behave (regardless of what we think or believe), but it is also wrong to outlaw all incivility. Thus the fact that we allow non-dangerous incivility (and other immoral behaviors) is not because there is no moral fact of the matter as to whether civility (or whatever else) is morally right, but because the dangers of absolutism outweigh the benefits of forcing people to be moral. The latter is a political judgment, not a moral one (except in that it is the morally right judgment regarding how to govern).

Some of this comes out in my political debate with Tom Clark (comes up about halfway through that blog, and continues in comments after that). But it gets much clearer if you read my book's section on political philosophy.

Landon Hedrick said...

Richard,

Good! Since it was a less-formal peer-review process, you presumably sought out the philosophers yourself. Is there then a chance of letting us know who those philosophers were?

In any case, I'm glad you decided to get some feedback from them, whoever they are.

Ben said...

...

Richard Carrier said...

Formal reviewers: Erik Wielenberg, Matt McCormick, John Shook, and Evan Fales.

Of course we generally don't know who reviews any given journal article, and I suspect if we did, we'd all complain ("it should have been reviewed by so-and-so, and not so-and-so"). But as long as the standards are upheld (ensuring the sound and valid philosophical argument that would pass review at any journal) by established experts in philosophy (as any published holders of Ph.D.'s and professorships in philosophy would be), it shouldn't matter.

But I fully expect this fact will be ignored and people will complain about who the reviewers were, even though that would be hypocritical (given that they would then be compelled to issue the same complaints against almost all journal articles, if they actually knew who reviewed them).

Pat said...

On a somewhat related note, Sense and Goodness Without God came out in 2005, and I am wondering if since then 1) any reviews of it have appeared in philosophy journals, or 2) arguments in the book have been interacted with in any published papers. I've searched for the former, but not diligently.

Hiero5ant said...

"[A] bear is scary to a person (because of the horrible harm it can do) but not scary to Superman..."

Well, this is pretty obviously false.

A bear is dangerous to a person but not superman because of the harm it can do. But a bear is or is not scary to a given subject just in case that subject happens to have a certain psychological makeup that makes it so. A man in a bear suit on TV can scare you, but he is not dangerous to you, and for all we know Superman has some weird neurosis about bears that reduces him to a quivering mess in their presence.

The fact (if it is a fact, which in fact I think it is) that subjects' thought processes are physically instantiated is simply a red herring. 'Subjective' and 'physical' are not antonyms.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Hero5ant,
So, you are saying that what is true in our physical environment/objective reality determines what is really dangerous irregardless of what one may "feel" about it? In this particular instance you are correct. But, what does being scared or not scared have to do with morality?

Unless you correlate the Bear to "God"?

But, thsoe that believe in "God" are dangerous, objectively, irregardless of what we "feel" about it, because they deem whatever they think about "God" to be warrant to do all kinds of things. So irregardless of what we feel about whether they are dangerous or not, they are.

Does this correlate to reality and moral ontology? That means that irregardless of where anyone is in the human development frame, as to morality, it is more important to uphold an objective morality, like our Constitutional government, as to our government's ultimate values.

solon said...

>>When will you and Loftus finally stop trying to dress up Christian morality and become atheists?

>>Oh, my bad, is gay marriage moral now in Christian morality? Wow. I must have missed a memo.

Are you truly that superficial and clueless?

Step away from your incredible verbosity and pedantry and maybe you'll see it just a little bit odd that you and Christians preach brethren moralities you claim are "true" while propping them up on a mythology of human equality and right (however derived, from the eternal soul or "self-evident" worth or a feeble utilitarian shared desire for "happiness", etc., etc.)?

And if Christian morality is an expression of nihilism, what does that say about your morality? Socrates' rational optimism was ultimately nihilistic too. Will you be offering a rooster for Asclepius one day?

Stop preaching for once and think critically. People like you and Loftus are an embarrassment to anyone even half serious about atheism. You hadn't even begun to criticize Christianity superficially before offering your reformation.

Hint: when the wolf eats the lamb, it isn't morally wrong, it's simply a bad deal for the lamb. We're just another animal on this rock.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I don't know whether you can argue that just because the market doesn't value something means that the thing itself is not valuable to someone.

For instnce, a family 'heirloom", though not valuable in the market, might hold much value to a partiulcar family or person in the family. It is the meaning of the object that make sit valueable.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

As to intinsic value, is your argument making claims for the "ought" of human value?

Angie Van De Merwe said...

One cannot "demand" or co-erce moral behavior about the moral "ought", as presciptive unles one wants to undermine the moral value of the person(s) that are being co-erced...as moral demands demean moral choice, and moral choice must be free, if it is of value at all. Otherwise, how can anyone make a moral judgment about an action if it was not done freely?

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Survival is a necessary "right", if one values their own life, as equal to another's. We are equal before law. Therefore Constitution does not require or prescribe behavior. It describes what is allowed. Therefore, those that use what is allowed to undermine anothers choice because of some "moral" high-ground, or moral value that they deem of uptmost importance, have undermined morality itself...

solon said...

Hilarious, now you've taken to censoring atheists and deleting posts that point out that you have only superficially criticized Christianity and are still fundamentally caught up in its morality and mythology.

You really are an embarrassment to serious atheists everywhere.

Tatarize said...

@Hiero5ant, I believe we are assuming rational and logical Superman and ourselves with all the relevant key facts.

Irrational fears of things on TV or bears while invulnerable to bears, does not render the hypothetical false, because these things are irrational by definition.

Tatarize said...

@Solon, how is any of this related to Christian morality? As far as I can tell Christian morality isn't a robust system and doesn't reflect any coherent way to derive moral principles at all, there is only a set list of rather barbaric primitive laws. What Christians often call Christian morality is a shallow reflection of humanistic morality typically taken from the zeitgeist of whatever society they are within.

In fact, since the ultimate stick and carrot of Christian morality are that of hell and heaven, are simply composed in such a way to make one apparently suck and the other apparently not suck, it's a bizarre criticism indeed. If for whatever reason you wanted to go to hell, because you thought it sounded better, then acting in accordance with the Bible would be a poor choice. You are still making the choice based on a belief of what would suck least. And worse, you're doing so in a Faustian bargain to agree to accept things which can be factually established to make society suck more.

To me this suggests that the Bible is an incomplete garble of a worldview that simply provides seemingly moral statements as could be fathomed by such morally primitive people, and does so through false grandiose claims. Hence the permission of slavery and prohibition of homosexuality.

If we are to believe the Bible and accept what it says as true. We would need to accept that the Bible is against gay marriage, not because the prohibition of gay marriage is in the interests of humanity but that by acting against the interests of humanity, by opposing it, we can achieve personal gain superior to the harm it will cause to society. On the sole basis of moral facts, one could not conclude otherwise regardless of the promises of mythological figures.

If one actually goes to say that Christian morality is moral because God says it and rather than based on objective facts about which would be superior, then certainly that is an entirely different morality than Dr. Carrier's moral ontology is founded upon.

To oppose gay marriage is to do harm to society. Either Christianity asserts that this harm is an acceptable means to achieve the good of heaven, or must independently assert that morality derives ipse dixit from the word of God.

It seems that the compared to the morality outlined in this blog, Christian morality can either be inferior or completely different (not to exclude also being inferior). So I cannot fathom how you find it a derivative of Christian morality.

Tatarize said...

@ Richard, do you have any comment about the discussion of ontology that Joss Whedon has in the commentary track of the Firefly episode Objects in Space?

Tatarize said...

@Solon, I had posted a large comment to you. It went away within a minute. It's nothing to do with Richard secretly censoring thing but an oddity about the blog or the setup.

Hiero5ant said...

"I believe we are assuming rational and logical Superman and ourselves with all the relevant key facts."

Irrelevant. You can be as rational or irrational as you like, but it won't change the fact that scariness is necessarily relative to psychological constitution, and hence subjective, while dangerousness is not.

It's a simple equivocation I point out because moral realists tend to play three-card-monte with the referents of normative terms. The first step is to pick an objectively identifiable property strongly correlated with certain subjective evaluations, wave their hands, then claim an identification. Doesn't work for dangerousness, and doesn't work for "flourishing" or whatever.

"Irrational fears of things on TV or bears while invulnerable to bears, does not render the hypothetical false, because these things are irrational by definition."

I'm sorry, I have no idea what it means to "render a hypothetical false." The relevant point is that Mr. Carrier has simply equivocated, offering one property and claiming it is identical to another when clearly it isn't, a move paralleled precisely in the subsequent attempts to identify the referents of moral concepts.

(And none of this even gets into the unbelievably silly business about dragons being real. Is God real too? Is atheism by definition false, since God may not be real, but "God" is "real"? At least one reviewer has published papers on Definite Descriptions, and yet somehow that howler wasn't caught?)

Richard Carrier said...

Pat said... On a somewhat related note, Sense and Goodness Without God came out in 2005, and I am wondering if since then 1) any reviews of it have appeared in philosophy journals, or 2) arguments in the book have been interacted with in any published papers.

As to (1), none to my knowledge. By all means send a copy to any and every philosophy journal and ask for a review. But they tend to ignore books not by academic or mainstream presses. I sent copies to numerous publications and all ignored it (Philosophy Now expressed interest in doing a review, but that never transpired that I know of).

As to (2), my definition of naturalism and the supernatural in SAG gets prominent treatment and citation in Yonatan Fishman, “Can Science Test Supernatural Worldviews?” Science & Education 2007. I'm not aware of any other significant interaction, but would be delighted to know of more or for more to happen. By all means encourage philosophers to write about it (pro or con) any chance you get.

Richard Carrier said...

Hiero5ant said... A bear is dangerous to a person but not superman because of the harm it can do. But a bear is or is not scary to a given subject just in case that subject happens to have a certain psychological makeup that makes it so.

That would be a different definition of "scary" than I was referring to. I was referring to the sense in which "the bear ought to scare me" would be a true statement. By your definition, it wouldn't even be capable of being true. Thus I am using it in a connotation similar but not identical to "dangerous" (wherein "the bear ought to scare me" = "the bear ought to be perceived as dangerous by me," hence I use "scary" to mean "perceived to be dangerous," which is not exactly the same thing as simply "dangerous").

Richard Carrier said...

Angie Van De Merwe said... I don't know whether you can argue that just because the market doesn't value something means that the thing itself is not valuable to someone.

Certainly. That's why I focused on monetary and not sentimental value (there are many other kinds of value one could use as an example, I just chose one).

But it's also worth pointing out that even an object with sentimental value will have a derivative monetary value for the individual who assigns it sentimental value (i.e. there will presumably be some price at which they will destroy or part with it), just not for anyone else (except even more derivatively, e.g. for someone who steals the object to sell it back to the sole person who values it).

That all analyzes the same way, though (i.e. it's just a special case of monetary value). So it doesn't affect my argument. As for sentimental value in itself, that's different from monetary value, and thus not a kind of value I discussed (particularly because there is no sense in which anyone assumes sentimental value is objective, whereas people often assume this of monetary value, thus the latter is a closer analog to moral values than sentimental value is).

Richard Carrier said...

Angie Van De Merwe said... As to intinsic value, is your argument making claims for the "ought" of human value?

I don't understand the question.

Richard Carrier said...

Solon: Your remarks here are completely unintelligible to me. You clearly didn't get the point of any of my jokes, nor do you even understand what I am arguing or why. I think you must be a bit batty.

(...and unfamiliar with Blogger, too--as others have told you already, Blogger mysteriously decides to sequester posts at random as "spam" until I log on and check its spam folder and tell Blogger it's a dumbass. There certainly wasn't any censorship going on (at least not by me).)

Richard Carrier said...

Angie Van De Merwe said... One cannot "demand" or co-erce moral behavior...Otherwise, how can anyone make a moral judgment about an action if it was not done freely?

Since I don't discuss coercion, I don't know what this comment is in reference to.

The only free decision relevant to morality is one that involves rational deliberation and the absence of someone else's will substituted for your own. Whether that eliminates coerced decisions from being moral or not is debatable (is refraining from murder no longer a moral decision because we "coerce" people into not killing each other with police, courts, and jails?).

Richard Carrier said...

Tatarize said... Richard, do you have any comment about the discussion of ontology that Joss Whedon has in the commentary track of the Firefly episode Objects in Space?

I found it quite interesting. And I have no objection to his analysis. I just don't regard existentialism to be a complete worldview. To the extent that it makes sense, I believe it is innate to naturalism (including my naturalism); and to the extent that it isn't innate to naturalism, it doesn't make sense.

Richard Carrier said...

Hiero5ant said... [re:] the unbelievably silly business about dragons being real. Is God real too?

Every god is real in that sense--in the sense of being a fiction. In other words, Zeus is a real fiction, i.e. there really is a fiction about Zeus, as opposed to a fiction about Thrumplfart, a god I just made up, about whom no fiction was real until I made him up. But it was potentially real, i.e. that fiction potentially existed five minutes ago, and now, thanks to me, that fiction actually exists.

Is atheism by definition false, since God may not be real, but "God" is "real"?

Atheism can be false in fiction, e.g. in Clash of the Titans atheism is false. But so long as God only ever exists as a fiction, atheism will only ever be false fictionally. Insofar as atheism is nonbelief in an actual God, not nonbelief in a fictional God (no atheist denies that God exists as a fictional character), the existence of gods in fiction has no bearing on the truth of atheism.

solon said...

@ Richard Carrier
>>There certainly wasn't any censorship going on (at least not by me).

Maybe, but you've been caught red-handed censoring before as when I had to post a screenshot of a censored post that did nothing but criticize your covert Christian moralizing and then you admitted you deleted it.

@Tatarize
>> how is any of this related to Christian morality?

Think critically. Don't get caught up in superficialities like Richard, or his desperate need to save morality as "true". Look at the fundamental mythologies behind the moralities that both Richard and Christians preach. Look critically at how they prop their claims up on assertions of equality, worth, right, etc.

We are just another bug on a rock in space for a brief moment in time. You think it can be uncovered how a bug ought to be?

And then examine where ultimately they place value to find the value of their moralities. Hint: Socrates with the his rational-optimism was a nihilist even before Christianity. Richard is simply far more deluded in that he not only has faith in reason as a tool but, like a Christian fundamentalist, he actually thinks he has found the truth.

@Richard Carrier said...
>>Your remarks here are completely unintelligible to me.

Unsurprising.

>>you didn't get the point of any of my jokes

I think almost everything you write is a joke - at the expense of actual atheists :-)

Richard Carrier said...

Solon said... you've been caught red-handed censoring before as when I had to post a screenshot of a censored post that did nothing but criticize your covert Christian moralizing and then you admitted you deleted it.

Email me that screenshot (rcarrier@infidels.org).

Look critically at how they prop their claims up on assertions of equality, worth, right, etc.

Where are those words anywhere in my blog post?

Indeed, look up "rights" in the index of Sense and Goodness without God and then tell me I'm just making "assertions" (rather than complete justifications).

I have to conclude you are delusional.

Socrates with the his rational-optimism was a nihilist even before Christianity.

That's the weirdest thing I've ever heard said about Socrates. You really are a nut.

solon said...

Richard, read your own blog to see when you censored it if interested. You even replied to it.

>>Look critically at how they prop their claims up on assertions of equality, worth, right, etc.
>>Where are those words anywhere in my blog post?

Exactly. Your post is superficial and assumes what you have no right to.

>>tell me I'm just making "assertions" (rather than complete justifications).

I already did. Repeatedly. Your assertions of value - and everything founded upon it - are no more true than when a Christian declares the soul to be of infinite worth and therefore... Even old Kant couldn't derive the Golden Rule without declaring our human faculties blessed. But you think you have???

I declare the "cockroachness" of cockroaches to be of worth and entail rights because it [insert random justification here]. Et voila. On with the superficialities.

>>Socrates with the his rational-optimism was a nihilist even before Christianity.
>>That's the weirdest thing I've ever heard said about Socrates.

Given the horribly weak Anglo-Saxon phil underpinnings of everything you argue that's not at all surprising.

But have you honestly not even listened to what Socrates said himself? Life is a disease and death is the cure. He was honest enough to see there was no solution down his path.

Get out in the world more, Richard. Think critically. Question this bizarre need to save morality as true. Question the value of morality itself. Become an atheist.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

solon,
I haven't read anything where Richard has said that "morality" was anything other than doing what would bring you the most happiness.

He points out that humans have the capactity to be cruel or good. The problem is with meta-ethics I think and those that think that government must provide the means to assure certain "ends"! (then, we have abuse of power over liberty of conscience as to chosen values). Since in this world we don't have "perfection", then what do we do?

We take care of ourselves without impinging on the rights of others. Rights are granted by our Constitutional government. Morality is obeying what brings us happiness, that is, which are the laws that protect societal standards.

Science has tried to prove that "alturistic concern" is of value to form "happiness", but these have to believe this is a self-chosen goal/purpose of individual people. Otherwise, they impose their values upon another, whose chosen values might not be their specified "alturistic concern". This is considered tyranny in free societies. (Which is of most importance on the scale of alturistic concern? AIDS research, feeding the poor, teaching kids how to read, being foster parents, working at a domestic violence home, teaching divorced kids how to cope....or WHAT?) All goals must be self-chosen ones, unless one believes that others have a right of power over the indvidual. Such would be parents. And even parents must step aside when children become of age to make their own choices.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Isn't "morality" about being a good citizen, a good parent, a good friend, a good spouse, good worker, etc. in whatever your role of choice...

Hiero5ant said...

"That would be a different definition of "scary" than I was referring to. I was referring to the sense in which "the bear ought to scare me" would be a true statement. By your definition, it wouldn't even be capable of being true."

I hardly believe I’ve advanced some sort of private definition of ‘scary’. And as an expressivist I have no problem saying that non-relativized normative claims aren’t capable of being true sensu the descriptivist.

That portion of the essay should be revised, since we have not one concept (scary) in play, but three: dangerousness, scariness, and ought-to-be-scariness. And that last one can even be subdivided into practical ought vs deontic ought. I think once you do you will see the equivocation effected between the objectivity of #1 and #3 and the subjectivity of #2 and #4. Skeptics of normative ontology hardly have a problem with saying that certain actions have certain consequences, or that the processes of being scared or of valuing something are physically instantiated.

solon said...

@angie
>>I haven't read anything where Richard has said that "morality" was anything other than doing what would bring you the most happiness.

And what an absurd and arbitrary assertion that is! How did that work out for Bentham and Mills?

Or "right" for the Kantians based upon the arbitrary declaration of infinite worth because we're "rational"? Or...

I declare that suffering to create awe inspiring artworks is right and moral. Therefore... ?

I declare that sacrificing oneself for the family and species is right and moral. Therefore... ?

Don't you find it the least bit suspicious when someone like Richard conveniently makes a recent Western cultural understanding the basis of the truth of our entire species and history?

>>Morality is obeying what brings us happiness
>>Isn't "morality" about being a good...

No, it is doing what is right. It has nothing to do with happiness, and good has nothing to do with being nice.

You have simply asserted that creating "happiness" - whatever that is after Richard tries to fudge all the qualitative problems - is right. Then gone on to propose often absurd rules, all to get the basics of Christian mythology and morality back on a "rational" footing.

It's like hiding gold behind a tree then going out and saying, "Hey, look what I found!"

And still you haven't even dared asked why you've done this, or what and whom it serves.

If you really want to be an atheist, why not examine who invented Christian mythology and morality and what it served, rather than try to reform it?

Richard Carrier said...

Solon said... Richard, read your own blog to see when you censored it if interested. You even replied to it.

Then send me the URL of that reply.

You're not getting off the hook on this one. Provide the evidence or be proved a liar. A or B. Your call.

Look critically at how they prop their claims up on assertions of equality, worth, right, etc.
>>Where are those words anywhere in my blog post?
Exactly. Your post is superficial and assumes what you have no right to.


Huh? You agree I didn't mention it, therefore my post is superficial for not mentioning what I have no right to mention? That's not even an intelligible complaint. Are you high?

Even old Kant couldn't derive the Golden Rule without declaring our human faculties blessed. But you think you have???

Yes, I have. But this blog post isn't about that. It's about the ontology underlying my theory, not that theory itself. Like I said, that my theory is true is argued elsewhere, in Sense and Goodness without God and (forthcoming) in The End of Christianity. You seem still to be confused about this. And too lazy to do anything about it, apparently.

But have you honestly not even listened to what Socrates said himself? Life is a disease and death is the cure. He was honest enough to see there was no solution down his path.

Where on earth are you reading this? Do please cite me a passage.

Get out in the world more, Richard.

I have. More, I suspect, than you.

Think critically.

I do.

Question this bizarre need to save morality as true.

I did.

Question the value of morality itself.

I have.

Become an atheist.

I am one.

Try interacting with what I have actually argued, instead of just issuing undefended racist denunciations of "Anglo-Saxon philosophy" (which is weird since Socrates was Greek--or are you unaware of what "Anglo-Saxon" means?). Especially since my original background and much of my influence is from Chinese philosophy. But since you clearly have never actually read anything I've published, I'm not surprised you don't know that.

Richard Carrier said...

Angie Van De Merwe said... Isn't "morality" about being a good citizen, a good parent, a good friend, a good spouse, good worker, etc. in whatever your role of choice...

That is what Socrates actually argued, yes. (Our Solon here is a lunatic, so just ignore them)

The trick is in proving what a "good" citizen is, or a "good" parent, etc., and the even harder trick is proving we have any sufficient reason to be that. Maybe we ought to be a bad parent? Or maybe there is no truth of the matter which we should be? Etc.

I think on a full and sound logical analysis, morality is indeed about what sort of person we become when we act, and that the "good" is simply whatever sort of person it is best for us to be in the long run. That might entail being a bad something, since good and bad are ultimately relative terms. For instance, sabotaging your factory may make you a "bad worker" in a value-neutral sense, but if your factory was manufacturing the gas chambers to be shipped to Treblinka, being a bad worker in that context is actually being a good person.

Richard Carrier said...

Hiero5ant said... I hardly believe I’ve advanced some sort of private definition of ‘scary’.

I didn't say you were. I simply said you were using a different connotation than I was--full stop.

When my connotation is used, my argument is coherent--there is no amphibole or equivocation fallacy.

The rule of interpretive charity, then, entails you should read my argument the way I intended it, and not substitute a different meaning for my words than the one I employed.

That's all there is to it.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

There is no question that value judgments must guide our choices of "moral framing", as your example of the factory worker.

So, individual human life is expendable, to fulfill "greater end purposes"?

Humans choose their acts for various reasons, but it is for some sense of self that a choice is made..identity, value, goals, interests, pinciple, concerns, priorities, reputation, etc. Does one particular reason have precedence over another? That is indivdiually determined.

solon said...

@richard
>>Then send me the URL of that reply.

Hint: 2008. Now do your own research on your own blog. Jeez.


>>Even old Kant couldn't derive the Golden Rule without declaring our human faculties blessed. But you think you have???
>>Yes, I have.

Wow. You're more delusional than I thought! You truly are a fundamentalist preacher, not a philosopher.

You honestly think you've solved the riddle for Moses/Aristotle/Bentham/Kant/etc. yet no authority anywhere in the world teaches your moral truths? That's nutty.


>>racist denunciations of "Anglo-Saxon philosophy" (which is weird since Socrates was Greek)

Racist? Good god, do you not have a clue as to the basic philosophical traditions and what "Anglo-Saxon philosophy" means or includes??? Can someone explain to Richard, please.


>>But have you honestly not even listened to what Socrates said himself? Life is a disease and death is the cure.
>>Where on earth are you reading this? Do please cite me a passage.

Again, seriously???

Have you actually studied philosophy, or just history? Your CV doesn't indicate any rigorous philosophy background and your repeated comments indicate, sorry, a dilettante.

This isn't an obscure passage and a trick. You honestly haven't even read - let alone understood - one of the most basic texts in all philosophy and what Socrates ultimately said about life??? And yet you follow his optimistic rationalism to the point you think you've solved morality as an issue for our entire species?

If you truly are ignorant of it, I'm sure any student of philosophy can point you toward it and decipher it for you. You might be more comfortable with wikipedia though ;-)

Ben said...

**notes Solon's running gag of argument from indignation** If only we'd go educate ourselves we'd all come to exactly Solon's conclusions... Sure.

Richard Carrier said...

Solon said... @richard
>>Then send me the URL of that reply.
Hint: 2008. Now do your own research on your own blog. Jeez.


Sorry, Solon. You don't get to try that trick on us here. You said you had a screen shot. But now you can't even see what date or blog post it is? Was this a magic eye screen shot?

I likewise didn't overlook the fact that you failed to answer my request for a passage in which Socrates says what you claimed--you danced and bullshitted at length but never even mentioned a treatise, much less where in it. Believe me, everyone here is seeing this. Don't think you're covering up your failures. I called bullshit. And all you had in reply was more bullshit. That's means you're full of shit. QED.

solon said...

@Ben
Are you sure "indignant" was the word you were looking for? Doesn't make any sense there. "Amazed" by Richard's ignorance and God delusion, maybe?


@Richard
Really? Even when helped out with big hints you not only double down on your ignorance, but throw in common vulgarity to show you don't belong in philosophy. (In phil, if you're going to insult, you have to do it with some panache.)

"QED"? How cute. Half-way down you got busted. God speed, little whiz: http://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=36959219&postID=8278808690463327470

Don't double down again. Only do that when you know the answer.


>>answer my request for a passage in which Socrates says what you claimed
>>Don't think you're covering up your failures.
>>I called bullshit.

I honestly can't think of an example where someone more unwittingly and embarrassingly - and righteously - admitted that he has no serious background in philosophy.

It's like someone claiming to be a Greek historian then demanding proof that Pericles ever praised Athens. "Pelo"-what war?

Richard, seriously, go and ask any phil prof. Or ask any 2nd year phil student. Or study philosophy. Pick one at random.

Or, like I said, wikipedia appears to be more your speed and can help you out on simple questions like this.

Ouch. You managed to shoot yourself in both feet. That's rare. Felicitations.

Ben said...

An argument from "disgust" then?

We had a debate night at a friend's house the other night and my friend was arguing "in character" for a position he didn't hold and he kept saying stuff like, "If you knew anything about philosophy..." as pompously as he could. And we all laughed. Because we know how stupid and vacuous that is and how it never really resolves anything. But lo and behold...people like that really do exist.

Can I have your autograph?

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I am a slow learner, I guess, but I think I am grasping what "moral realism" is.

It is basing assessment on facts of reality and human experience.

Social problems are reality based thinking. And the social sciences address these problems, not theological jargon!

That means human relationships whether on a personal, national or international level can be addressed and answered by different disciplines. It doesn't take "faith" to understand or grasp such realities.

solon said...

@Ben

>>he kept saying stuff like, "If you knew anything about philosophy..." as pompously as he could. And we all laughed. Because we know how stupid and vacuous that is...

Sure, I agree. Except here it is said out of pure amazement along with pointers to how he doesn't actually know what he's talking about. When Richard squeals that one of the most common, basic Socratic notions doesn't exist, which anyone can find in 1 minute on google, it is amazing.

As I said above, it's like someone claiming to be a Greek historian then demanding proof that Pericles ever praised Athens. That is something to laugh about.

Clearly Richard hasn't even studied many basic philosophy texts and is delusional in thinking he has uncovered moral truth not only for the entire history of our species, but apparently even all "rational" creatures in the universe. Only he believes that, and righteously, which again is something to laugh about.

>>An argument from "disgust" then?

A bit. There are a few like Richard and that other guy - Loftus? - adamantly posing as atheists who either have have no rigorous background or no clue what a critical approach to Christianity is, nor can see what they are doing as they naively and superficially reform Christian morality.

You can't do away with the Christian god and maintain the basics of that morality. You're not an atheist if you merely say you don't believe, yet maintain what is propped up on it. Yet Richard and others spit venom like fundamentalist preachers if you point out the pure silliness of their claims to have relocated the Blessed in rationality and "happiness" - as though no one ever tried that before! - and to have saved the golden rule as true.

Between bouts of disgust, you do have to laugh.

Tatarize said...

@Solon Think critically. Don't get caught up in superficialities like Richard, or his desperate need to save morality as "true".

I'm not. If everybody stopped believing in the golden rule, it would not stop being good advice. It wouldn't stop following it from making your life actually better and failing to follow it making your life actually worse. As far as Phillip K. Dick's definition of reality goes, I've never seen anything better than it. In this sense the Golden Rule really is true.



We are just another bug on a rock in space for a brief moment in time. You think it can be uncovered how a bug ought to be?

Yes. I think that one could logically and reasonably come to understand morality as applied to insects and as insects. I think such an understanding would give compelling reasons for why our moral abilities so far exceed that of insects (largely because our intelligence and ability to alter the future is so profoundly different).


like a Christian fundamentalist, he actually thinks he has found the truth.

Much like scientists and Christian fundamentalists think they know the age of the earth? It's not an insult, to claim something, if you're right. It's not an insult even if you're wrong. But to claim that because two groups/individuals claim to have the answer means that the two are equivalent is absurd.

Stuart: "It's a little wrong to say to say a tomato is a vegetable, it's very wrong to say it's a suspension bridge." - The Big Bang Theory: The Hofstadter isotope.

And how else can you judge whether you're right, if not by looking at reality and making the best judgments we can given the evidence?

solon said...

@tatarize
>>@Solon Think critically. Don't get caught up in superficialities like Richard, or his desperate need to save morality as "true".

>>I'm not. If everybody stopped believing in the golden rule, it would not stop being good advice.
>>In this sense the Golden Rule really is true.

But with all respect, what you've just said is very superficial. That sense has absolutely zero to do with morality.

Grasp that morality concerns doing what is Right, not simply that which is right because... (i.e., instrumentally advantageous in some manner).

And the point about comparing us to insects is that it is absurd to claim to know how an insect Ought to live, yet some take another animal and, because it is more clever and fascinates us, claim it Ought to live a certain way. That too is absurd.

>>to claim that because two groups/individuals claim to have the answer means that the two are equivalent is absurd

Sure, but no one said that.

Look, no one in the history of the world has ever derived how we Ought to live and no one ever will. (Dicing and splicing old discredited arguments as Richard does doesn't help.) Doing so involves a cardinal leap beyond our world. You can openly posit a god or naively hide him under your love of "rationality" (or creativity or whatever else you want to revere in man) then be amazed by the value it confers, but in no case are you entitled to the claim.

(Even if you could derive what a species universally strives for, you still haven't made the leap to Ought, merely found a convenient commonality. Wolves eat lambs; doesn't mean they Ought to. We (mostly) all like happiness; doesn't mean we Ought to strive for it, just makes it easier to organize us.)

That is why Richard is not an atheist and is ultimately nihilistic. He has yet to accept our fundamental humanity and this-worldliness.

And that's also why Christians are usually far less deluded than people like Richard claiming to be atheists. When Richard openly posits rationality as Holy and states he simply has faith in it, then he'll be as transparent as they are. Until then...

He still needs to go read Socrates first and see what his faith in rational-optimism leads to though. Then maybe start questioning morality itself ;-)

Richard Carrier said...

Solon: Finally I get you to admit what you are talking about...evidence of you being an ass!

You said I've been caught red-handed censoring before as when I had to post a screenshot of a censored post that did nothing but criticize your covert Christian moralizing and then you admitted you deleted it.

I asked where this happened and you pointed to the abortion comment thread (the actual relevant post is here).

Where this is what happened: I warned you repeatedly to read what I wrote on the subject before criticizing it, you repeatedly failed to do that, so I punished you for being a disruptive ass. Funny, that's exactly what you are doing here, yet again.

As I said there:

All I can tell for sure is you are stubbornly ignoring my repeated request to act responsibly and actually read what I have said on exactly this subject before pronouncing opinions on it. Go read Sense and Goodness without God. I will delete everything you post in this thread from now on until you actually start interacting with what the book says.

I will begin doing the same here if you keep this up. You aren't contributing anything intelligible here, and consistently ignore what I've written. That will get you banned. Period.

Start behaving or take your few remaining marbles and go pout somewhere else.

Ben said...

@Solon:

http://images1.memegenerator.net/ImageMacro/5440256/Cant-tell-if-trolling-or-just-incredibly-stupid.jpg

solon said...

@Richard

Aaah, why so angry?

As anyone can read there, you deleted posts that criticized your specific blog post, as the screenshot demonstrated then. Why try to lie now after you were caught red-handed then, and now again denying it ever happened?

>>You aren't contributing anything intelligible here

As I said, it's clear you have no rigorous background in philosophy and haven't even studied many basic philosophy texts, so it's not surprising it is baffling to you. You're busy conversing with the angels about the divinity of "rationality" and your faith in "happiness", right?

Have you found that basic notion espoused by Socrates yet that everyone in philosophy knows about but you just claimed doesn't exist and is a mean trick on you?

You looked it up; are you too embarrassed to admit you had no idea?

Richard Carrier said...

I honestly have no idea what you just said, Solon. Your comments have truly descended into unintelligible ciphers.

Tatarize said...

@Solon
>>But with all respect, what you've just said is very superficial.

What? What does superficial mean in this context?


>>That sense has absolutely zero to do with morality.

The ontology of moral rules and why they are moral rules has nothing to do with morality?

>>Grasp that morality concerns doing what is Right, not simply that which is right because... (i.e., instrumentally advantageous in some manner).

So doing what is right could have no relationship with doing what is beneficial to myself? So if for some reason prohibiting gay marriage could be shown to be damaging to myself and society it might still be right?

If being moral could be determent to myself and to civil society, then who'd want to be moral? -- Further, since this is manifestly different from the way Dr. Carrier uses morality doesn't that necessarily mean he didn't just steal morality from Christians?

>>yet some take another animal and, because it is more clever and fascinates us, claim it Ought to live a certain way. That too is absurd.

Because to an insect many things are inevitable to them that are not inevitable to me. I can keep track of who does me good, and do good in return. You call a lot of things absurd for seemingly cryptic reasons.

>>Sure, but no one said that.

You insinuated that Richard was wrong because he was confident. How is that reasonable?

>>Look, no one in the history of the world has ever derived how we Ought to live and no one ever will.

We ought to live a particular way if we want more certain things. If we can agree that we want happy healthy loving loves more than we want painful torture and death, then from that point we can concede most of Richard's arguments.


>>Doing so involves a cardinal leap beyond our world.

No. Saying that I'd like to be happy rather than brutally murdered isn't much of a leap. But, if I want the former more than the latter, there are very specific things that I ought to do.

>>You can openly posit a god or naively hide him under your love of "rationality"

One doesn't need mythology to say that if I want X more than Y, I ought to do A and not B.


>>Wolves eat lambs; doesn't mean they Ought to.

It does if the wolf wants to be full more than starving, and live more than die.


>>We (mostly) all like happiness; doesn't mean we Ought to strive for it,

Why not? If I have a choice between something I don't like and something I do like, why should I arbitrary say that the choice is undecidable.


>>That is why Richard is not an atheist and is ultimately nihilistic.

If anything you sound nihilistic. Richard seems to be anything but. You seem to go to a great length to suggest nihilistic arguments in direct conflict with Dr. Carrier's arguments and suggest that they *ARE* his arguments.


>>He has yet to accept our fundamental humanity and this-worldliness.

Fundamental?


>>And that's also why Christians are usually far less deluded than people like Richard claiming to be atheists.

That's not coherent.


>>He still needs to go read Socrates first and see what his faith in rational-optimism leads to though. Then maybe start questioning morality itself ;-)

That's about as idiotic as William Lane Craig needs to read the Bible.

--

I do not believe you are a Poe Solon, but I cannot fathom that you're a reasonable person.

solon said...

@tatarize
>>Saying that I'd like to be happy rather than brutally murdered isn't much of a leap. But, if I want the former there are very specific things that I ought to do.

I'm afraid even Richard could tell you that you're badly confusing instrumental needs with morality. If you want happiness maybe you ought to [fill in blank]; has nothing to do with morality and the claimed value of happiness as an end in itself.


@Richard
>>I honestly have no idea what you just said, Solon.

Nor the most basic ideas of Socrates, as you've just admitted above.

Richard, you're not even an atheist, you think atheism is denying "ghost guy in the sky", while actually you've merely transposed god onto "rationality" and tried desperately to reform Christian morality.

Seriously, what philosophy have you actually ever studied, Richard? Your CV shows very little; your arguments and hubristic claims indicate even less.

Tatarize said...

@solon

>>If you want happiness maybe you ought to [fill in blank]; has nothing to do with morality and the claimed value of happiness as an end in itself.

It seems to me that that's completely wrong. It seems to me that that's the only coherent definition of morality. Morality is the solution to what you should do in a society to achieve ends such as happiness.

I think claiming there's some kind of *other* morality is a claim that needs evidence behind it.

The discussion here is akin to proving volitional freedom and insisting that it's not free will. Well it's certainly not the magical spiritual ability to choose ability of Christian theology, but any free will worth having would be covered effectively by my ability to make relevant choices about my future.

I don't think your position is coherent enough to address. You insist Richard's argument is something that it isn't, then insist that this straw man of his argument is somehow similar to Christianity, and then highlight a rather telling and obvious differences between the two.

If I am to accept that morality is something that has no relationship with human outcomes. That things are moral if they harm society because they are somehow moral, I do not think that we could agree to their ontology. Because if the morality of an action is completely divorced from the consequences or potential or likely consequences of the action, then we could stop believing such an action is moral and it would go away.

solon said...

@Tatarize

With all due respect, I think anyone in philosophy can tell you that what you've extrapolated from other posts is wrong, as is your comfortable notion of what morality is.

>> Morality is the solution to what you should do in a society to achieve ends such as happiness.

ONLY if you can prove that "happiness" (or creativity or whatever you worship) is an end we Ought to pursue! But you can't.

That is exactly why Richard regurgitates discredited arguments, to try to prove it, and why he naively and secretly declares "rationality" Holy and his new god and faith.

Still keen to hear Richard answer though about Socrates and:

>>Seriously, what philosophy have you actually ever studied, Richard? Your CV shows very little; your arguments and hubristic claims indicate even less.

Richard Carrier said...

Tatarize, You can continue if you like, but I recommend no longer responding to Solon. S/he is hopelessly irrational and emotional and effectively just a troll.

Solon, re: Still keen to hear Richard answer though about Socrates, no, we are still keen to hear you cite the passage where Socrates declares being a nihilist. As I have asked twice now. You keep avoiding that request. You can't dodge your own failure by pretending it's mine.

As to my quals, I have published articles on philosophy in peer reviewed academic journals in philosophy. Have you? I have an M.A., M.Phil., and Ph.D. in intellectual history, including an actual declared post-graduate major in philosophy (my formal doctoral oral exam subjects were philosophy, religion, historiography, and the decline of Rome). What do you have? I also have graduate-level translation competence in ancient Greek and have studied Greek philosophers in their original language. You know, Greek philosophers...like Socrates. How about you?

Tatarize said...

@Richard

http://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/duty_calls.png

But somebody is wrong on the internet!

-- I guess it's not worth explaining to him, how I can like icecream more than genocide.

solon said...

@Richard

>>But have you honestly not even listened to what Socrates said himself? Life is a disease and death is the cure.
>>Where on earth are you reading this? Do please cite me a passage.

So, first you get caught lying about censoring people criticizing your false atheism and now you still won't admit you had no idea where this was said by Socrates or what it even means???

But you claim to have read Socrates (you mean Plato) in Greek but still have no clue whatsoever about his last words, when any junior phil student knows???

Not surprising given that...

>>As to my quals

Your CV show some phil study, Greco-Roman phil, but your M. examiners were not even philosophers, they were historians!

And your Ph.D committee, except for one I've never heard of, again appears to be all historians!

And your dissertation was history, not philosophy, too.

No serious philosophy.

>>I have published articles on philosophy

I don't see you've published a single philosophy paper in a philosophy journal concerning any philosopher in history. (E.g., Socrates and rational-optimism, or whatever.)

Where have you demonstrated any facility at all with Hume/Kant/Hegel/Wittgenstein/Kierk/Nietzsche/Heidegger/Foucault/etc. (let alone earlier phils)?

You've studied history and a little phil, though not rigorously under philosophers, and written some history (I can't judge it) and poor disregarded phil, correct?

So, it's not the rigorous phil background you pretend, nor one that would make anyone think you can magically resuscitate discredited Kantian/Bethamite arguments and get them to suddenly speak the truth of our species - as you bizarrely claim.

You even promote yourself as an atheist for denying the ghost in the sky and picking superficial fights with Christians, but meanwhile have declared "rationality" Holy and revere it as your new, renamed, god, along with faith in an incoherent notion of "happiness", and use that to reform Christian morality.

And then, like a fundamentalist, you swear at and censor people who criticize your new religion.

And, to top it all off, you actually list "Simple Minds" amongst your favorite music. Enough said ;-)

Pikemann Urge said...

And it is irrational to choose what will make your life suck more, than what you could have chosen instead.

This is exactly why Tatarize's comment is only rhetorical:

If for whatever reason you wanted to go to hell, because you thought it sounded better, then acting in accordance with the Bible would be a poor choice.

No person, believer or not, actually wants to go to hell. I would like to assume that everyone agrees with me here, but I've heard some rather poor arguments against God, Christian morality etc. It's pretentious to say that one might actually want to go to hell.

Even old Kant couldn't derive the Golden Rule without declaring our human faculties blessed. But you think you have???

There is this assumption that the further back you go in time, the greater the figure. Heaven forbid someone can make an advance in philosophy in the 21st century. Philosophy is more than just musing on ancient personalities.

Life is a disease and death is the cure.

And yet here you are! And further, you then implore Richard to get out more! Please Richard, don't delete his posts, even though you reserve the right to. Which Solon should know.

No, it is doing what is right. It has nothing to do with happiness, and good has nothing to do with being nice.

I think you may have morality confused with absolute truth.

Clearly Richard hasn't even studied many basic philosophy texts

You're sounding a bit like that Christian scholar, Steve Kellerman, who suggested to Richard that he has lots of knowledge but doesn't know how to put it together. That the Church had to spend 1,000 years figuring out the meaning of The Person (so how can we mere mortals pretend we have any idea?). And that the Church had more important things to do than to develop post-it notes*, liquid paper* and disposable cameras* (* my embellishments, I couldn't resist). RICHARD JUST DOESN'T GET IT, DOES HE?

No matter what Richard may actually do, there's always something that he just didn't do that was more important all along. How convenient.

Your CV show some phil study, Greco-Roman phil, but your M. examiners were not even philosophers, they were historians!

I dare say that Solon may be a little bit influenced by J. P. Holding's rhetoric. I'm not saying he's a sock-puppet, I'm just saying he's like the atheist version of J. P.

I don't see you've published a single philosophy paper in a philosophy journal concerning any philosopher in history.

Philosophy is now ancestor worship! Hail the great men of eons past! And death to those who dare utter disagreement with any of them!

It's the opposite with post-modernist architects: they really think that their BS is actually progressive and unshackled creativity, and that anyone who disagrees is living in the past.

solon said...

@Pikemann Urge said
>>It doesn't matter if Richard's arguments are bad, or great philosophers did a vastly better job of trying and failed, as long as it's new to us because we haven't a clue.

At least you are honest ;-)

Who the heck is J. P. Holding??? Why do you moral reformers all run around on the tiniest little field?

>>Morality is doing what is right. It has nothing to do with happiness, and good has nothing to do with being nice.
>>I think you may have morality confused with absolute truth.

Seriously, another one who doesn't even know the meaning of Ought? Maybe we Ought to sacrifice virgins, or put killers to death. Has zero to do with happiness or being nice. That's a lame recent cultural assumption.

Of course, you can't derive that anything Ought to be done in itself rather than instrumentally. Scary, right? One way around that is to wear Richard's magic cape and declare "rationality" your new god, and keep faith in "happiness" and then ignore the total hodge-podge of possible outcomes anyway and claim you've found the path out of this horrible "unjust" world.

Which brings us to... All these comments by sycophants and Richard still can't identify where Socrates made a famous statement condemning life from a rational-optimistic viewpoint? Come on, one of the sycophants must have studied a little phil and can explain it to him, no?

This entire article is a joke; Richard hasn't shown moral opinions to be any different at all from other opinions, let alone bear any relation to truth. So many words to say so little so badly.

Is Richard in hiding now so he doesn't have to answer any of the questions in posts above?

Tatarize said...

@Pikemann Urge,
"No person, believer or not, actually wants to go to hell."

My point there isn't simply rhetoric but to show that the grounds are still the same. If I need to want to be happy more than I want to suffer, and require this to get that initial ought from that initial is, then so be it. Christians, regardless how terrible they make their stick and how wonderful they fathom their carrot to be, they are still choosing what they want over what they don't want.

Christianity is in the same boat. The same easy to deal with boat. My point is philosophically there's nothing magically useful about saying "God did it."

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Tatarize,
I don't understand, I don't think.

"Oughts" don't come from "is" in Constitutional government. "Oughts" suggest responsibiity, what one "should" do and that depends on situational factors.

If I am a parent, then I ought to take care of my children, but the State does not tell me specifically how to do this, unless I abuse my children.

If I am an employee, then I "ought" to work toward the goals of the employers goals. Or if I am a "good neighbor" then I will offer help when I see the need.

If someone breaks in my house and confiscates my property, then I "ought" to hold the culprit responsible.....ETC.

So, there is no way to judge universally what an "ought" should look like. Is this what you are saying? Otherwise, when we do not take care of our responsibilities, then we as well as society suffers.

Pikemann Urge said...

Solon, once again you fail to recognize the difference between two different concepts. Imperatives are not absolute truths. An absolute truth might be 1-1=0 (or, if you prefer abstract examples: quantities necessarily exist). You ought to believe this (an imperative) because if you don't you can't manage your money properly for example.

I suspect you know who J. P. Holding is. And there is circumstantial evidence that you are he. But seeing as J. P. is debating Richard soon I doubt he'd waste his time with childish things (although he's done it before).

Christianity is in the same boat. The same easy to deal with boat. My point is philosophically there's nothing magically useful about saying "God did it."

I think I understand your point: Christians must derive an Ought from an Is, just as non-Christians do. Is that a fair summation?

So, there is no way to judge universally what an "ought" should look like. Is this what you are saying? Otherwise, when we do not take care of our responsibilities, then we as well as society suffers.

This makes sense, too. It's a given, I assume, that to derive an Ought from an Is you need an If.

Tatarize said...

@Angie Van De Merwe

>>"If I am a parent, then I ought to take care of my children,"

Only if you want to have happy healthy children. If it is the case that your children by living beyond the age of reason will be damned forever in hell. It might ought to be the case that, if you wanted them to be happy you should drown them in a bathtub today.


>>If I am an employee, then I "ought" to work toward the goals of the employers goals.

If you want to be paid. Perhaps. If it is the case that you want to be moral and your company is doing something immoral then perhaps you ought to be a whistle-blower.

>>So, there is no way to judge universally what an "ought" should look like.

There is if our wants are considered. If I want to be happy and prosperous, and it is the case that certain moral action will cause that to occur, then I ought to do that. If it is not the case that I want that or if it is not the case the such actions will lead to such results, then I should not do such a thing.

What we ought to do is dependent on what we want, and the means that will objectively achieve those ends. So getting to the conclusion that I should do something, depends on two specific is-clauses. What it IS that I want, and how IS that achieved.

Society is only important to the extent that collectively the game changes. Being moral in a functional society is the best way to achieve one's goal of being happy and prosperous, if that is what one wants. It isn't that society suffers if I fail my duty, but that I suffer.

If you live a moral life, your life will suck less; I want that. I should live a moral life.

While one could harp on the nihilist meaninglessness of a less sucky life. If it IS the case that I want a less sucky life, then I OUGHT to live morally.

IS-wanted + IS-achieved-by = Ought-do.

We don't need universal oughts, we can do quite well with run of the mill oughts derived from fairly typical wants. If you do not want for yourself, what I want for myself, or what most of society wants individually for themselves, then you ought do something other than what we typically do in a moral society, and I ought help stop you.

Tatarize said...

@Pikemann Urge

Yes, generally that's a fair summation of the point there. Theism has the same problem, and in reality solves it the same way.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

So when one wants to live without too many encumberances in his life, he "ought NOT" to be a Christian.

Christians like to make definitions for others, taking away any "right to define" their own lives. They assume and presume a lot about humans. The Christian would say, "IF you are a Christian, then you OUGHT to believe, or you OUGHT to do, or you OUGHT to....whatever"...seems a little like living under a curse to me....

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Don't we define morality by our laws? Laws determine what is right behavior in a certain society, which is Type 1 moral facts. But, you are suggesting some "universalizing principle" within man that liberalizes the "law".

I imagine you are referring to "human rights' above and beyond the 'nation-state'. But, nation-states do not all concur with "human rights", as you've pointed out certain societies believe it is right to rape their wives.

Religious cultures breed "super-human" definitions of "righteous behavior". This is what makes religous cultures as particularities, not universialities.

Human children seek to identify with an "outside" source of authority, whether it is a parent, religous text/model, mentor, cultural frame, etc. But, identification has to be grounded in the "self".

Morality is then, ontologically driven, not defined from the "outside". Different people might act in different ways, depending on their value. Compassion is not the ultimate value of moral behavior, as it can also be driven by a principle of 'moral dignity' for self's values, or justice for "social order" or justice for "social arrogance".

Whether driven by compassion or by "self defined values", behavior that is ontologically driven, is determined by the person themselves. This is a fully formed identification and value system.

Our Constitutional government upholds the individual right to dissent when the "system" oppresses his principled conscience. This is when a value is too important to deny without denying something that would undermine one's very identity, as to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness"...

Behaviorist might like to determine another's behavior through punishing what they deem as "selfishness", but without a sense of "self" there is really no "real self" to give away, is there? And what the behaviorist is really doing is honoring his own standard above another's standard.

In our society, there are many standards that measure up to "moral behavior. Determination of what one "OUGHT to do" is subverting antoher's right to choose their life. It has given them a "choose this, and live or choose that and die"...Christian-ese....

solon said...

@Pikemann Urge said...
>>You ought to believe this (an imperative) because if you don't you can't manage your money properly for example.

Despite examples above, are you truly unaware of the difference between an instrumental (or conditional/hypothetical) imperative and the morality Richard preaches as an end in itself? Richard's definition above is poorly worded, if you are confused by that, as he doesn't emphasize the cardinal difference.

E.g., you ought to kill murderers so others won't murder too (instrumental) vs. you Ought to kill murderers (just because, doesn't matter if of any benefit at all).

Richard's particular preaching relies entirely on the assertion that "rationality" is holy and that it is simply true that we Must promote happiness, for itself and for no other reason.

That's absurd, but he then makes ludicrous cultish claims like saying non-believers will hate themselves and go insane if they don't follow the ways of his pursuit-of-happiness cult! What a nut. Has the historian not heard of any society before, say, 1700? Or Asian cultures? Or even the word "duty"?

Richard's ideas are a bastardized descendant of Christian mythology. The slave class declares itself equal to superiors by way of a bold otherworldly assertion (we possess equal "souls" or equal "rationality" - close your eyes and ignore why we can't ignore gradations, stupid people, children, the mentally ill, don't ask questions, it's a mystical absolute property we all have, just believe), then preaches its preferred type of life as homage to his god and condemns other types of life as immoral, for the insane; in recent times, that means the easiest type of life is holy, the "happy" (Benthamite) life.

But Richard has no right to those assertions. No more than I would if I asserted that instinct is holy because we all have it, or that we all truly Ought to suffer toward the creation of awesome works of art as in the Khmer empire and that anyone who does otherwise will hate himself and go insane.

Above he hasn't even shown moral opinions to be any different at all from other opinions, let alone, anywhere in his typing, bear any relation to truth.

It's just drivel what Richard serves up.

>>I suspect you know who J. P. Holding is. And there is circumstantial evidence that you are he.

What are you on about??? I don't know your internecine world and google says he's a Christian in Florida so you clearly haven't read what I've said going back years of laughing at Richard's Christian preaching here and faux atheism. I remember Loftus claimed I was some other US Christian before too; is that the standard response to atheist critics?

>> It's a given, I assume, that to derive an Ought from an Is you need an If.

Not sure what you are on about but no one can derive an end in itself as Richard has. It's impossible. Read Kant and see how hard he tried. How Ought a cockroach live? A cat? A human? At most you can find commonalities but never that we Ought to pursue anything in itself. We Ought to eat and live and fuck and care for other members of our species? No, but we do, just like other animals do without mythologies and "moral truth".

Supreme values are created like gods and rule until they are dethroned. Richard's grow out of a slave class waging spiritual war against a higher class. Anyone truly dedicated to atheism should be appalled by the preaching here and spend his time investigating the roots of morality and what it serves, not reforming it.

To go forth and affirm that life without guarantees is worth living is noble. -On the other side you have Richard and Christians cowering behind their promissory notes, then cashing them in for another world.

See Richard is still in hiding. Maybe he's off reading Socrates' last words...

Richard Carrier said...

Solon, I realize it's in your interests to rewrite history, but the original exchange was (and I call everyone's attention to the sentence you keep leaving out now):

But have you honestly not even listened to what Socrates said himself? Life is a disease and death is the cure. He was honest enough to see there was no solution down his path.

To which I replied:

Where on earth are you reading this? Do please cite me a passage.

A request you still have not met.

There is a reason I insist you meet it. Because when you do, you're not going to like how it turns out for you.

But then, I expect that's why you keep dodging the request. You don't want to expose yourself as a fraud. Perish the thought.

Your M. examiners were not even philosophers, they were historians!

Of religion and philosophy (among other things).

And your Ph.D committee, except for one I've never heard of, again appears to be all historians!

Funny. Because one of them (Katja Vogt) is a professor of philosophy.

But moreover, Matthew Jones is a historian of science and philosophy. William Harris is also a historian of philosophy (and economics and political history), as is Gareth Williams (he's an expert in Senecan philosophy). Billows is a professor of political history. I also consulted on both my orals and my dissertation with another professor of philosophy, Wolfgang Mann, and of religion, Alan Segal.

And your dissertation was history, not philosophy, too.

History of philosophy ("natural philosopher" is even in the title).

I don't see you've published a single philosophy paper in a philosophy journal concerning any philosopher in history.

It's amusing that you ignore my impressive qualifications in the history of philosophy, and then ignore my published work that is actually in philosophy. So which is it? Am I supposed to have qualifications as a philosopher? My publications affirm it. Am I supposed to have qualifications as a historian of philosophy? My ample graduate degrees affirm it.

All your ranting about modern philosophers is completely moot here. I haven't even brought them up. And it isn't necessary to. Correct conclusions follow from verifiable premises by valid logic. That is all a philosopher needs.

But if you want to see how in fact Kant (and Hume) agrees with me, read Sense and Goodness without God V.2.1.3 and 2.2.5 (pp. 320-22 and 331-35), which points passed formal peer review by several professors of philosophy and will be published in The End of Christianity in a few months.

gatogreensleeves said...

Dr. Carrier, apologist ethicist Randy Everist ('Possible Worlds' at Blogspot) has criticized your post here in his 'review of the Craig vs Harris debate' comments, calling it 'question begging,' etc. We'd love for you to come over and respond.

solon said...

@Richard Carrier said...
>>Socrates... Life is a disease and death is the cure.
>>To which I replied:
Where on earth are you reading this? Do please cite me a passage.

Apparently you can't read very well either. I quoted the exact same thing several times above while laughing at you for not knowing it.

If you could read (and knew basic phil), you would see I:

1) quoted the exact passage while mocking you
2) interpreted it for you
3) told you exactly where Socrates said it
4) kindly directed you to something more your speed in phil, wikipedia, where you can even find it.

And your response is yet again to pretend some of the most famous words by Socrates are made up???

You ain't too bright in philosophy, is ya?


>>Your M. examiners were not even philosophers, they were historians!
>>Of religion and philosophy (among other things).

Exactly as I said, thanks: historians, not philosophers.

>>And your Ph.D committee, except for one I've never heard of, again appears to be all historians!
>>Funny. Because one of them (Katja Vogt) is a professor of philosophy.

Are you truly that poor at reading comprehension??? What an idiot. You just quoted my saying the same!

>>But moreover, Matthew Jones is a historian...

Exactly!

>>William Harris is also a historian...

Exactly!

>>as is Gareth Williams

Exactly! Why are you proving my point?

>>And your dissertation was history, not philosophy, too.
>>History of...

Exactly! History yet again. You're a historian, not a philosopher. Maybe a good historian, no idea, but a terrible philosopher.

Now if you wrote on the philosophy of history, that would be something, but seems you don't understand the difference and have no serious background in philosophy.


>>I don't see you've published a single philosophy paper in a philosophy journal concerning any philosopher in history.
>>It's amusing that you ignore my impressive qualifications

You're a bombastic joke, Richard. You don't even know basic Socrates. You've never published a phil paper in a phil journal. No one in philosophy would do anything but laugh at your faith-healing claims to have reformed and saved Christian morality. Yet you think you've saved the world from the evil immoral ones by pointing the way to heaven.

>>My ample graduate degrees affirm it.

The ones in history? (And what amusing arrogance. You're like a nerdy hall monitor who actually thinks he's the coolest guy in school.)

>>But if you want to see how in fact Kant (and Hume) agrees with me

...while ignoring your ridiculous bloopers and that no one in philosophy takes the original arguments seriously because they were shown false long ago. Kant used God to square the circle. So do you except you aren't even aware of it.

Are you really that ignorant in phil???

You believe in evolution but when it comes to morality you spin a fundamentalist mythology of Holy human "rationality" and require cult-like faith in "happiness" - even stupidly stating that anyone who disagrees with your One True Way will go insane!

Who knew Richard Carrier was a moral creationist?

Pikemann Urge said...

Well, that's one disadvantage of the Internet: anyone can try to bluff their way to the moral high-ground. Most people are aware of this so it isn't a huge deal.

Bluffing is an art and some people are actually very good at it.

Richard Carrier said...

Solon said… I quoted the exact same thing several times above while laughing at you for not knowing it.

No, Solon, you haven't. You have not pointed to any passage in any text, nor presented any actual quotation of Socrates. So I am compelled at this point to call liar.

As to the rest, you are just lying again, and again, and again: I did do a dissertation in the history of philosophy, my committee did include historians of philosophy. And all of them are historians. And I have published several philosophy papers in philosophy journals. Thus proving you a liar several times over.

Richard Carrier said...

Gatogreensleeves said... Dr. Carrier, apologist ethicist Randy Everist ('Possible Worlds' at Blogspot) has criticized your post here in his 'review of the Craig vs Harris debate' comments, calling it 'question begging,' etc. We'd love for you to come over and respond.

If you will post his substantive criticisms here I'll respond to them (as I find time). I otherwise don't have time to slog through laboriously long threads just to try and find anything actually relevant to my argument.

[I would caution you and Everist again that this post is only about the ontology of my moral theory, it is not about my moral theory...his "question begging" argument seems to be confusing the two--i.e. this post, as it explicitly says, assumes my theory is true and then discusses what ontology would then follow if it were true; if he wants to take on my actual theory, i.e. the actual reasons why I think it is true, which are not discussed in this post, then he needs to address Sense and Goodness without God and the formal, peer reviewed argument soon to be available in The End of Christianity.]

Gatogreensleeves said...

I understand you are very busy. I am sympathetic to your position and I believe I have defended it (or something like it) the best I could in general there. The conversation there has died at this point and I am content not to resurrect it. No biggie. Just thought you might want to jump in, as he is, at least, not an angry apologist. Peace.

Ben said...

Gatogreensleeves,

You seem to have done a pretty good job over there on Everist's blog. Commendable.

Ben

Gatogreensleeves said...

Thanks Ben, I tried to use mostly the more clearly argued counter-apologetics on this topic from this post and Richard's book (and other secular moral realists), plus Shelly Kagan's debate w/ Craig was still fresh in my mind (oh, and of course reading philosophy for 20 years ;-) ). I took it as a good sign that I got the last word without a rejoinder.

Ben said...

Yeah, I like what both you and Lee had to contribute. Seeing a Harris/Carrier/Kaganesque talking point combo that is spot on and delivered politely on apologetic blogs is very refreshing.

Gatogreensleeves said...

Yes, I met Lee at the Harris forum and he asked me to go over to the Everist blog.

Richard Carrier said...

Gatogreensleeves, thank you so much for going to bat there and undertaking that labor. You're right, I haven't time to get involved in all these things online, so I very much appreciate others stepping in and taking the load.

This praise and thanks goes for everyone else, too, who does the same (like AIGBusted and Ben, just as recent examples).

Remind me if we ever meet and I'll buy you a drink!

Gatogreensleeves said...

Too kind Richard! Seriously, your academic work is much more important than internet apologists (unless it's the infamous JP Holding ;-)). I'm really looking forward to your next book! Peace>

solon said...

Hilarious, Richard comes back 45 days later to try to slip in a non-reply. Typical blog-warrior tactics again, Richard.

>>No, Solon, you haven't. You have not pointed to any passage in any text, nor presented any actual quotation of Socrates. So I am compelled at this point to call liar.

Back to admit your ignorance again??? Anyone who has read this thread can cite the passage for you. I honestly can't believe how clueless in philosophy you are.

But coming from a egomaniacal HISTORIAN - not a philosopher -, that's not surprising. You're philosophy claims and pretensions are a joke.

Then again, you actually claim anyone who disagrees with your moralizing nonsense is insane, so maybe that's why we find you incoherent.

Richard Carrier said...

This is very entertaining. You still can't find the passage anywhere, can you?

solon said...

Do you need help with capital cities as well, Richard? (Or claim they don't exist?)

April 9th above:

************
@Richard Carrier said...
>>Socrates... Life is a disease and death is the cure.
>To which I replied:
>Where on earth are you reading >this? Do please cite me a passage.

Apparently you can't read very well either. I quoted the exact same thing several times above while laughing at you for not knowing it.

If you could read (and knew basic phil), you would see I:

1) quoted the exact passage while mocking you
2) interpreted it for you
3) told you exactly where Socrates said it
4) kindly directed you to something more your speed in phil, wikipedia, where you can even find it.

And your response is yet again to pretend some of the most famous words by Socrates are made up???

You ain't too bright in philosophy, is ya?
************

Seriously, I knew your claim to be an atheist while dressing up Christian morality was pathetic - We found God and the True Way, only we call him Rationality now and Happiness is Holy! - but I never knew you were a complete idiot and so badly read in even basic philosophy.

solon said...

@Richard said:
>>you are just lying again, and again, and again: I did do a dissertation in the HISTORY of ..., my committee did include HISTORIANS of .... And all of them are HISTORIANS.

You can't even read! I said the EXACT same above.

Thanks for confirming again that you have no serious background in philosophy, only HISTORY!

And I still see no serious phil paper in a serious phil journal by you - i.e., "Understanding Socrate's last words: 'cause I just found out about them and still don't get it", by Richard Carrier.

Now go do some good and write some more history of Christianity, rather than more of your god-awful Christian-reformation morality.

Richard Carrier said...

Solon I "told you exactly where Socrates said it"

No, you didn't. You still have not identified any ancient book in which it appears, much less where in that book.

Thanks for confirming again that you have no serious background in philosophy, only HISTORY!

I confirmed no such thing. I have a Ph.D. in the history of philosophy, which gives me a considerable background in philosophy, and that was committeed by historians of philosophy, one even in the department of philosophy at Columbia University. And I have published several peer reviewed papers in philosophy. Which is all vastly more than you can claim.

You now say you "have not seen" any of my papers in philosophy, which is quite lame, since my CV is online as a matter of public record. So you seem to be deliberately confusing "Solon didn't look for any" with "Solon didn't find any," which just makes you look like a douche.

Most recently my upcoming chapter on moral theory in The End of Christianity was formally peer reviewed by four professors of philosophy. But well before that I had published peer reviewed papers in Philo, Inquiry, and Biology and Philosophy. (I've also published papers on philosophy in Free Inquiry, The History Teacher, and Reports of the National Center for Science; and now I have also taught a course in philosophy accredited by the University at Buffalo)

Oh, BTW, what are your credentials again?

solon said...

>>You still have not identified any ancient book in which it appears, much less where in that book.

You truly are a complete idiot, sorry. You simply haven't a clue about phil or apparently even how to read comments on your own blog before responding to them.

>>you "have not seen" any of my papers in philosophy, which is quite lame, since my CV is online

Again, if you could read, it is exactly as I said above. Apart from a tiny bit about naturalism, no serious phil paper in any serious phil journal. (And the preachy crap in your own book doesn't count, of course.)

You're a joke. Stop preaching your reformed Christian morality and become an atheist.

Ben said...

"You truly are a complete idiot, sorry. You simply haven't a clue about phil or apparently even how to read comments on your own blog before responding to them."

That is possibly the longest book title I have ever seen.

solon said...

Ben, why don't you tell Richard the answer and put him out of his misery?

It is certainly the longest a guy like Richard bizarrely claiming to be a phil genius has embarrassed himself by insisting Socrates last words weren't said, he has no idea what book they appeared in and he doesn't even understand what they mean anyway!

Jeez, it's like a Christian writer demanding to know what book Job appeared in and no idea what it meant. Pathetic.

Richard Carrier said...

Solon, what's pathetic is that you still can't identify the book and passage where the statement occurs.

And I know why. Socrates never said those words. By continuing to maintain your bluff to the contrary, you only embarrass yourself further. This has gone past funny and all the way to just plain sad.

I'll be charitable now and finally do your work for you, since you've clearly panicked to the point of giving up and bluster is all you have left: "life is a disease, and death is the cure" was never spoken by Socrates or any ancient writer whatever: see The Last Word on Socrates' Last Words and An Authentically Socratic Conclusion.

Ben said...

So wait...if Solon can be wrong about that, Sarah Palin can be wrong about Paul Revere...no wai.

solon said...

@richard

Wow. You finally found Socrates last words: "O Crito, I owe Asclepius a rooster." -but you thought the words were literal??? what an idiot.

And then you took weeks to google 2 nobodies who disagree with a very common interpretation of what those words actually mean in relation to the life-long thought of Socrates:

1) a priest! who has a website offering sermons (http://www.theschooloflife.com/) who says it really means "Plato has himself been healed by Socrates death". Uuuh, ok. Great source, Richard!

2) an old lady I've never heard of who stretches things to mean Socrates thanked Asclepius, who is related to health, not for his death at the moment of his death - but for a life of virtue?

(Without thinking how virtue in Socrates is related to becoming, being, life, death, truth, etc? Doesn't anyone read the Symposium seriously? Expedience/Path, Eros' father, is partially divine and the mother, Poverty/Need/becoming, drives Eros along that path. Weakness - Need - drives the escape from becoming whereupon Eros dies into being and immortality. It is a return to rest and truth and the "mind's eye" - your rationality you worship as Holy, Richard - and "health" and is the height of a human "life". Sound familiarly Christian enough for you, Richard?????????????)

Amazing insight into your (lack of) intellectual sources and thought, Richard, thanks.

Richard Carrier said...

Nice try, Solon. But everyone knows you thought the interpretation of Nietzsche (a German radical two thousand years later) was instead the actual wording using by Socrates; you got caught in that bungle, tried to avoid admitting it by refusing to cite where you "found" those words, because when challenged to you couldn't find them; then I told you where the actual words were that Nietzsche was "interpreting" and now you pretend you knew that all along, and then engage in ad hominem as an excuse not to actually address the arguments presented to you, in an attempt to distract us from the fact that your original claim remains completely false: Socrates never said what you claimed he said. Period.

Nor was Socrates a Nihilist. Nietzsche was. You know, the guy you actually quoted, thinking it was Socrates. Yeah, remember that?

Instead, if you want to know the positive value system Socrates defended (thus demonstrating he was certainly in no conceivable way a nihilist), just read Xenophon's Memorabilia and Plato's Republic where Socrates actually argues against the one nihilist in that dialogue (Thrasymachus).

Gatogreensleeves said...

Solon, why are you so insulting of Richard? You obviously have something to contribute to the discussion and so does Richard. Relax. And why use so much argument from authority? That's pretty ironic if you are a true fan of Nietzsche.

As both of you probably already know, Nietzsche was a nihilist, but of a different sort. As Michel Haar argues in his essay, "Nietzsche and Metaphysical Language" (in the New Nietzsche, a collection of more PM readings of N), N proposed differing levels of nihilism, some acceptable, some not (active, passive, transcendent [Dionysian]). He argued in his first book that Plato was of the bad sort of nihilism that was the furthest removed from reality *because* it made up its own reality (and so further entrenched itself). While Haar is coming from a more PM perspective, I've been more recently influenced by the N readings by Brian Leiter (Google "THE CASE FOR NIETZSCHEAN MORAL PSYCHOLOGY" w/ X-phi guy J. Knobe) and Ken Gemes (Google "Postmodernism's Use and Abuse of Nietzsche") who argue that N was not so much the pure PM father figure that people claim. They argue that he was more of a Modernist than PM- that he was principally a philologist after all, that his tearing down of theism as narrative was limited and contextual, that he would not support the way PMs attack science today (he would merely chastise the institutionalizing of its authority, which I agree is still contentious), that he made plenty of positive value judgments (e.g. Judaism was "better" than Christianity), etc.

For me the question of whether or just how morality is reified is what is central. Is it floating out in space as absolutists argue? No. Do relations necessarily refer to components of human physiologically in the context of a more or less predictable environment? Yes. Is all that probably more often than not worked out subconsciously in reality and then reaffirmed and bolstered via ad hoc cognitive and behavioral biases? Probably. But since we have no choice but to try to avoid biases anyway, would science help us to navigate around them as it has been shown to do in other methods of production that require consistency? Probably. Are the meta-ethical challenges to moral realism and/or forms of utilitarianism relevant? Yes, but not insurmountable. N's hatred of utilitarianism was, IMO, special pleading. Arguments comparing the morality of humans and animals (e.g. cockroaches) might even be a category error, considering the physiological differences. Okay, I've rambled on long enough. Bored today.

Gatogreensleeves said...

I've been thinking more on the morality comparison between humans and animals (e.g. cockroaches, bats, etc). It seems to me that the notion that we can't qualify human values because we can't qualify animal values is like saying that we can't qualify the value implications relative to a vehicle's capacity to take us places because a sewing machine also has motor and a pedal that makes it go faster, but can't take us anywhere. Components of moral machinery (e.g. capacity for empathy, self-awareness, etc) appear to be limited to very few species (that we know of), so such comparisons are really an unfair conflation IMO.

Admittedly, we do have to question whether the 'moral machinery' is really a difference in kind and not merely a difference in measure for each component (e.g. do we draw the line of moral responsibility at the existence of the PFC alone?). If sociopaths do not have the capacity for empathy (e.g. insufficient, atrophied, or damaged gray matter in the PFC, tumors on the amygdala, or maybe total insensitivity to oxytocin, etc- IDK exactly...), then like the differences between humans and animals, it might qualify as a difference in kind and not measure. Should we say that a being has the burden of moral responsibility when the parts are there, even if they just aren't functioning properly? No. But then we have to ask, is each individual person physiologically similar/different enough even within our species to thwart any meaningful consideration of across the board moral standards? It seems to me that in addition to the implications of strong determinism, that must be so to some (what?) extent, and both are good reasons why the penal system should be based upon safety and psychological science and not so much revenge. Perhaps that's the best we can do about it pragmatically.

Gatogreensleeves said...

"Perhaps that's the best we can do about it pragmatically."
Which leads me back to Nietzsche and moral realism. Perhaps N would concede that there are better and worse ways (even a 'best' and a 'worst' way) to achieve certain goals at the individual level consequentially (which is personally how I interpret what N means by "beyond good and evil")- that is, between two people, but to me, the weight of his criticism seems to be on an impossibility of a perfect pragmatic application of normative standards institutionally (due to the epistemic limitations they were filtered through [cognitive limitations, biases, corruption/collusion]).

Yes, as Sam Harris wrote, there is an exact number of birds in the air at 3:15pm, even if we can't know how many, but N would say that standardizing a necessarily imperfect guess that would (hypothetically) effect everyone in an egalitarian way does contain an implicit request/requirement of those to whom it would limit (i.e. for them to make a sacrifice for the greater good). Hence N's Machiavellian high dudgeon against utilitarian homogenization and why his voice is an important one in this discussion.

But that's not the end of the discussion either. The question still remains: is N's radical individualism the high ground or is it what we can achieve socially?

Lao Tsu said,
The more prohibitions you have, the less virtuous people will be.
The more weapons you have, the less secure people will be.
The more subsidies you have, the less self-reliant people will be.

This used to seem like common sense to me in my youth, but as I get older, I see the power of community and the area is more gray (Lao Tzu did also say "truly a cart is worth more than the sum of its parts"). And as some have said (e.g. Paul Kurtz), the problems we face now are beyond the abilities of any individual to rectify.

But still, where is the balance? Am I suggesting a false dichotomy?

By one principle, law is continuously refined in order to trim away unfairness in order to restore individuality in a way that still allows for social power. Maybe even someday it will allow for the N's of the world (those who make substantial intellectual and/or aesthetic contributions) to enjoy certain standardized privileges based upon their unique abilities. Right now, the N's of the world are supposedly compensated by the marketplace. But in what ways does the invisible hand line up with our values and reason? This is where I depart from N and Lao Tzu, because we have the tools of science/psychology that they did not that can help to refine our thinking better than what the invisible hand can produce (because science has the best epistemological track record for demonstrating objective consistency). While this may not be able to solve the individual vs. society issues out of hand, it can surely help to refine each in part.

Oh wow, this was quite another windy post. Peace.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Gatogreensleeves,
I like what you say about "beyond good and evil" being between two people, or I would add, parties. This is based on social contraet, isn't it?

Marriage is a social contract between two parties. These parties agree to share their lives.

Business partnerships are also contracts that are agree by the parties involved. These parties agree to share their talents for the business enterprise.

Both kinds of agreements are valid insofar that the parties agree to terms and submit themselves to them freely, or voluntarily.

America does not believe in forced/arranged marriages, or busiess arrangments....

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Society, is only to support, and enfore the terms of the contract.

Infidelity in some states is considered a breach of contract, while other states recognize incompatibility as enough to breach the marital contract.

Business ethics requires certain standards of behavior, too.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

As Nietzche was the one that affirmed an individual's "will to power", would not this be the innate desire to live one's own life, self-governed, and not dependent on religion or the State?

Though we live in a society, and its social structures are the first to impact the child. Adults do come to a point of understanding themselves within the context of society. Society is not foremost in the minds of "free individuals", as they pursue their goals, but pursuit of goals does impact and prosper society!
I haven't read Nietzche in a long time....

Gatogreensleeves said...

@ Angie:
"I like what you say about "beyond good and evil" being between two people, or I would add, parties. This is based on social contraet, isn't it?"
I guess what I meant to emphasize most was the difference between moral considerations between two people and moral considerations between a person and a group (though there is admitted vagueness considering subconscious obligations to groups). In the former, all the unique qualities of each participant can be considered in principle, while in the latter, they get watered down by averages. Unique considerations of the individual can get lost in the mob and this may breed resentment.

There may be something to consider about the individual predilections vs. social averages though. There's a great old Radiolab episode about the Invisible Hand, where they talk about a contest at a fair. People bought tickets to try to guess the weight of an ox to win a prize. What was interesting was that the average guess at the end was closer than any individual guess. Does this mean anything in the context of moral standards? IDK. Could be a category error.

As far as what you asked about them being contracts, yes and no- depends... I've been finding myself leaning towars what Ken Perrott has written about on Open Parachute blog (Google "Philosophical justifications for morality") that the overwhelming majority of our moral behavior is intuitive and has little to do with what the law or philosophers say de facto. So if it's 'contractual,' it seems to be a more intuitive contract for the most part (yet still based upon objective facts about the people involved and the factual context- we just don't understand or are aware of all the fine print that gets processed subconsciously). Unfortunately, intuition is also notoriously bias and often needs further refining to line up with reason.

Gatogreensleeves said...

"As Nietzche was the one that affirmed an individual's "will to power", would not this be the innate desire to live one's own life, self-governed, and not dependent on religion or the State?"- Angie

As Brian Leiter argues, the 'will to power' was a concept that was not really central to his thought (perhaps more just reaction to Schopenhauer), and was overblown by the posthumous publishing of the book of the same name and the appropriation of the concept in more insidious ways by protoNazi nationalists like his sister. The interpretations I've seen of the will are cloudy and across the board. You could probably get 10 interpretations w/ 10 N scholars. I'm trying to remember who listed a collection of all the different interpretation of "the will" in philosophical history. It was really interesting to compare. Perhaps it was in one of those essays I mentioned earlier.

solon said...

@richard the moron
>> you thought the interpretation of Nietzsche was instead the actual wording using by Socrates

I suppose then you think it's a miracle that I quoted the actual words of Socrates in a comment above to mock you months ago on March 20th??? You remember, back when you were still googling to find out what Socrates said?

You truly are such a dilettante when it comes to phil it is unbelievable. Google another random priest as a source, why don't you?

>>Nor was Socrates a Nihilist

OK, sure, and neither are Christians or you who place all value outside our world. Because you say so. And rationality is Holy. (At least Kant admitted he needed God to make that argument.)

>>Nietzsche was.

Given you've never read N nor understand what he meant by that and how it contrasts with someone like Socrates (or you), let's leave that aside before you hurt yourself further.

You're a joke, Richard. Which is fine, except you give actual atheism a bad name as you try to make it safe for little girls.

solon said...

>>as Sam Harris wrote
>>As Michel Haar argues
>>As Brian Leiter argues, the 'will to power' was a concept that was not really central to his thought

C'mon, read N seriously, alone at a table, or read Heidegger on N to get a good start. Or Nonet (e.g., What is Positive Law?) if you want someone at a US school today who is truly serious. The vast majority of N scholarship is a superficial embarrassment. Like Richard, in other ways.

Gatogreensleeves said...

Thanks for the suggestion Solon, I will check out Nonet.

I am just a humble layman myself when it comes to N. I have close friends who have read him (and especially Heidegger) much more intensely over the last 25 years. Yes, I have read some of those H lectures on N many years ago (those massive books are daunting and made my brain smoke), and more recently, the H essay in the New Nietzsche. I have read the Kaufman translations of N's work (which are not great) and several other books and essays on N. I am not committed to any of the readings, but as I said, personally, I do lean toward a more Modernist reading.

Considering the positive law issue, it’s above my pay grade to decipher the balance of nature vs convention, and I don't disagree that there is room for creativity in legislation in some way (what way?), but I find that people often erect a tiresome strawman analogous with what creationist's propose: an air of offense at the idea that law/science/morality isn't perfect, and therefore is completely unreliable.

Perhaps there was quite a bit more "scientism" in days of yore (just emerging in N's day and more entrenched in H's day [and you get a real taste of it in the essay "The Question Concerning Technology"]), but I think the real underlying heuristic today is that, as someone said, "you don't need perfect knowledge to have reliable knowledge." It just seems demonstrable to me that, simply put, there are more or less effective ways to do things- to improve things, even aesthetically. Law as art in some (perhaps slippery slope) extreme sense indulges in agendas of the human psyche that lead to the naturalistic fallacy (I can't help but think of the Joker's "homicidal art"). It seems that the aesthetic ideal is really no more noble, nor less venal, than reason, considering what both are willing to sacrifice (i.e. each other).

Gatogreensleeves said...

SOrry, that's "It seems that the aesthetic ideal is really no more noble, nor less venal, than reason, considering if both were willing to sacrifice each other."

Richard Carrier said...

Regarding the long comments of Gatogreensleeves and Angie Van De Merwe I'll leave them up since they seem at least tangentially relevant, but they concern whether or what moral system is true, not what its ontology would be if if were true. My blog is about what would ontologically be the case if my moral theory is true; it is not about whether my moral theory actually is true. I've said this before in this thread, but it's drifted again, so it needed reiterating. If you want to move on to asking whether my moral theory is true, this isn't the thread for that (or for musings about Nihilism, which I didn't discuss in my blog and care not one whit about, sorry). See my chapter on it in The End of Christianity, which I shall soon blog about.

As to Solon's final remarks, they are just bizarre. I picture frazzled hair and a glazed, stoned look with a hint of drooling lunatic rage, clambering out whatever insults he can hazily think of, wholly forgetting what it was that we were even talking about in the first place. No further comment is required.

solon said...

You don't want to comment further on why you keep making a fool of yourself here?

If you forget, Richard, we were talking about your getting caught out: wasting innumerable words to show moral arguments have no more status than claims about ice-cream flavors, denying you ever censored those slamming your faux-atheism then being proven wrong, not having a clue what Socrates said then desperately googling and using a no-name priest as a ludicrous source, posting tough-guy responses in laughable contradiction to comments just above, etc.

A good example is your last major blooper for which you have "no comment":

********************
@richard the moron
>> you thought the interpretation of Nietzsche was instead the actual wording using by Socrates

I suppose then you think it's a miracle that I quoted the actual words of Socrates in a comment above to mock you months ago on March 20th??? You remember, back when you were still googling to find out what Socrates said?
********************

Your nerd-cock lack of humility toward your ignorance reflects on how poor your own "philsophy" is, and how poorly you yourself are suited to philosophy.

Then again, as was detailed above, you're a trained historian not a philosopher, so we might excuse that.

"No further comment" is required except to say: stop trying to make atheism safe for little girls by sneaking your Holy Moralism in the back door. Rationality is not Holy and the human animal has no Rights beyond what we make up ourselves. We're a bit more clever than cockroaches but will die out before them, no doubt. Make of life what you will.

Gatogreensleeves said...

I know I hijacked the thread into epistemology, but since we usually must go through one to get to the other, it's hard to avoid. Craig made the same complaint against Harris in their debate. Some atheists have written that they have a problem with that for different reasons, the most obvious to me being that the topic "Is Good from God?" did not necessarily exclude epistemological issues by default. It could be constrained to ontology if that was agreed upon, but it wasn't (and Harris was pissed about that too). Craig argued from a "if PTB (Perfect Being Theory), then..." by default. Richard was very clear about the 'if Goal Theory, then...' perspective here as well, and this is his blog, so yes, I'm sorry for the long winded distraction (to add another one).

Gatogreensleeves said...

BTW, the next naturalist who debates Craig in the context of moral realism should argue from PNBT (Perfect Non-Being Theory) by default.

Richard Carrier said...

Solon said... If you forget, Richard, we were talking about your getting caught out.

No, you were caught out.

The evidence in this thread stands. There is no need to keep repeating what's already been demonstrated. We got you. Lie about it all you want. You can't hide the facts, they're here for all to see. And that's the end of it.

Rationality is not Holy and the human animal has no Rights beyond what we make up ourselves.

Now I know you are a weirdo. I have actually argued both points myself (if you had read Sense and Goodness without God you would know this). That you think you are arguing against me just solidifies your lunatic status. It's already lunacy enough that you would equate these conclusions with nihilism.

We're a bit more clever than cockroaches but will die out before them, no doubt.

Unlikely. Cockroaches can't leave the planet.

Richard Carrier said...

Gatogreensleeves:

Very good closing remarks. Thanks!

solon said...

@richard the damaged said:
>>There is no need to keep repeating what's already been demonstrated. We got you. Lie about it all you want. You can't hide the facts, they're here for all to see. And that's the end of it.

You truly are damaged to try to spin your bloopers above like that. Stop blogging and go study philosophy somewhere quietly. (And who's "we"? You speak for yourself. Anyone I know actually in philosophy is laughing his ass off at you.)

>>>>Rationality is not Holy and the human animal has no Rights beyond what we make up ourselves.
>>Now I know you are a weirdo. I have actually argued both points myself (if you had read Sense and Goodness without God you would know this). That you think you are arguing against me just solidifies your lunatic status.

Again with the "weirdo" conclusions? Except you claim there is "correct" morality - people will even go insane if they don't follow your rules you claim! - and human's truly have "dignity" because of their "rationality". Hmm, sounds a little like high-school Kant or...

>>It's already lunacy enough that you would equate these conclusions with nihilism.

Just your Christian reformation morality you preach.

>>The evidence in this thread stands.

Finally you said something intelligent! You are a historian after all, not a philosopher. :-)

Richard Carrier said...

Lame.

Gatogreensleeves said...

Richard, I've been trying to parse out the difference between Goal Theory and something like ("the Atheist Ethicist") Alonzo Fyfe's Desire Utilitarianism (which, unlike other forms of utilitarianism, denies any intrinsic value http://www.archive.org/details/ConversationsFromThePaleBlueDot005-AlonzoFyfe). Are you familiar with it and if so, could you tell me where you differ and why? Thanks

Gatogreensleeves said...

Actually, this might be a better link for people unfamiliar with desire utilitarianism (and there are transcripts on the site): http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=11626

Ben said...

I'm struggling to "parse the difference" as well with an argument map that was created following a debate on Goal Theory vs. Desirism that can be found with Carrier and Mike McKay on youtube here: http://www.youtube.com/user/tkovrtwrld?feature=mhee#g/c/ACEF009FFBD3C98D

Gatogreensleeves said...

Thanks Ben, I can't wait to check that out. That's just what I was looking for... well, almost... I would like to see Alonzo discussing it with Richard, but I'm hopeful that the non-semantic differences will be identified and come through.

Oh, I just found this: http://www.facebook.com/notes/richard-carrier/goal-theory-vs-desire-utilitarianism/129006733841560 Okay, I have some reading to do.

Ben said...

Also you can see their conversation in the comments in this series of posts: http://atheistethicist.blogspot.com/search?q=richard+carrier

Gatogreensleeves said...

Perfect. Just some skimming looked like many of the differences were semantic so far... That's going to take me a while to get through all those thoughtfully. Thanks again.
Peace>

chancecosm said...

I paged over to the Sean Carrol response to this hoping to see him get trounced but it looks like you (Richard Carrier) only commented once, then when he replied you didn't comment again :(

This + Sam Harris' claim that we ought to value the well-being of conscious creatures is a complete knock down win for moral realism imo. I'm glad this is-ought fallacy has made sense of in my lifetime.

I don't understand where Sean is coming from. He says, "I can have all the relevant facts, and reason logically about them to my hearts content; that will never tell me how I ought to behave..."

It's pretty clear to me, tell me if I'm wrong. What you want/value(essentially, given you have all of the relevant facts. this is an *is*) + the actual state of the world, and how you must move within it to reach what you value (another *is*)= what you ought to do.

How is that not telling you how you ought to behave? Lets say what you want/value is 100 (X = 100). Y is the state of the world. Lets say the state of the world is 84. Our ought is now whatever mathematical function we can do to the #84 to reach 100 in the simplest way. Okay, Y + our Ought = 100. 84 + 16 = 100. It's more accurate to not to think of 16 as our "ought" though. Our "ought" is the "add 16" function itself.

Now maybe you could argue that 84 + 17 - 1 is more or less moral, but without thinking much more about it tonight I'll assume they're either equivalent or the simpler form would be better or it doesn't really matter.

Incorporating math has probably made this whole thing more complicated and served no purpose over the oil & car analogy, but it still feels fun to type it out. It doesn't get more deductively sound than this.

Gatogreensleeves said...

Hi chancecosm, ontologically it makes sense, but epistemologically, how can you ever know that 100 is the value that you really want? That's where their challenges are really: establishing objective (inter-subjective) definitions of the target. They would say that using the number #100 to substitute "happiness" is a category error.

But this blog post is about moral ontology, so I don't want to dredge all that epistemic stuff again.

chancecosm said...

Gatogreensleeves, Neither Richard nor I were addressing epistemology in this post, and I wanted to express my "agreeance" with him and say his ontology seems functionally and logically sound without dragging in epistemology. But since you raise it, and it is indeed important, I'll take it on briefly.

This question can be raised of any scientific or intellectual pursuit and raises no serious objections to any of them. We can never be 100 percent certain that chemistry is closer to the truth than alchemy, but as we test and falsify claims we will approach a probability that all but bluntly erects a neon sign saying "Chemistry is true."

So if chemistry is part of "physical law," then oughts (units of moral reality) are part of "moral law." We know beyond all reasonable doubt that certain paths get us closer to alignment with what we value.

To me, knowing what we want is the most logically grounded claim we can make about reality. "I think, therefore I am" is a stab at how we know we exist because we're here thinking about it. Much like the subjective observation of thinking, wants and values are the simplest of all knowledge - they're entirely internal to our subjective experience. We know them better than we know anything (we must be careful, though, because studies show us we think we enjoy things at one point when we measurably enjoyed them less than we thought. This is where being completely informed comes in.)

Now this may seem circular, but keep in mind all science is circular in the same way. Why should E=mc2? Because it does. How do we know that? (this is what differentiates scientific claims from hogwash) Because we can provide evidence and test it logically and empirically.

Why should I value X or 100? Because I do. How do I know that? Because I am completely informed on the subject and can attest to my wants in the same way I can attest to my thinking/therefore existing.

My intuition is telling me I fell off the horse here a bit, but my moral imperative tells me I mustn't spend much more time on the subject so I'll try to phrase it yet again another way and try to re-simplify...

"how can you ever know that 100 is the value that you really want?"

I think I've adequately answered this question now, so I'll move onto "They would say that using the number #100 to substitute 'happiness' is a category error."

Our X or #100 will change depending on how much information we have. Our fulfillment, happiness, well-being, and flourishing are all good guesses at X. Einstein wasn't making a categorical error when he said nothing could travel faster than light just because it might soon be shown to be false. If we think X correctly what we value, and all of the evidence we have supports it, then we are probably correct until further evidence becomes available.

Any claim of "objectivity" faces this problem. When you say "objective" do you mean absolutely perfectly true, or do you mean demonstrably true from all points of view?

Anyway, I'm glad to have the opportunity to defend the epistemology of moral realism, so thanks for the question. I feel like I probably haven't satisfied your inquiry, but I think I've come further along at making sense of it myself. A clearer and simpler answer will continue to subtly nag at me until I produce it, but I know it's in there :D

Gatogreensleeves said...

chancecosm, I don't think you understood the first question. Perhaps it should be rephrased as, "how can you know what will bring about the overall consequences you desire?" because the path to your end goal may entail prescriptions that are analogous to a snake venom cure. They may also clash with your neighbor's idea of what that should be.

You pretty much answered this though when you addressed the 2nd question and I don't disagree with you there. It sux to have to say 'time will tell'- but there it is.

Honestly, after too many earlier discussions about epistemology here in a blog meant for ontology, I don't want to annoy Richard about it, so that's all I'm gonna say.

chancecosm said...

haha I doubt you'll annoy Richard, I'm sure he'd be quite pleased that we're being philosophical (seeing as he endorses philosophy as a path to a better world.) In his blog "Calling all physicists" I kept asking silly questions though and I felt like I was (albeit unintentionally) just being annoying at a certain point so I get where you're coming from. In general though, I'd be rather proud of my blog if it spurred on a nice continuing conversation. I doubt it'd annoy anyone.

That said, coming back to the topic of ontology and epistemology of moral realism- I think we've couched it pretty comfortably. It seems you might have more desire to go through it more thoroughly, though, so if you want we can swap facebooks/e-mails/instant messengers or something like that =]

Gatogreensleeves said...

Thanks chancecosm- I'm a bit swamped working on a paper (that's almost a book at this point) on predisposition. I appreciate the exchange though. See you 'round the blogs> Peace.

Richard Carrier said...

Chancecosm, thank you for your latest posts. Your answers to Gatogreensleeves are spot on.

Just FYI to all, I formally address the matter (briefly but nevertheless broadly) of epistemological uncertainty in moral decision making in endnotes to my chapter on this subject in The End of Christianity. I have a blog planned that will discuss it further.

Sean, if you can find the exact URL to Sean Carrol's response to my comment on his site I'll respond back if I find the time. I don't see it in the thread.

chancecosm said...

Thanks!

Seans comment in response to your post is post #37 linked here:

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/2011/03/16/moral-realism/#comment-156496

It's rather surprising you didn't see it, it's very close to your post.

Richard Carrier said...

Okay. Got it. It doesn't look like further comments are allowed there (my browser isn't showing any button to add new ones). So I will respond here. He wrote:

You define “ought” as “that which we would do if we were reasoning logically and knew and understood all the relevant facts of our situation.” I didn’t refer to your definition, as I didn’t think it was relevant to my point. The “ought” axiom I suggested in the example wasn’t meant to be a definition, simply an example of how the notion of “ought” needs to be included in one’s premises. (And I certainly don’t want to defend that particular axiom.) I’m not trying to debate what moral facts are true, just the very narrow point that they do not reduce to empirical facts.

Even if we accept your definition of “ought,” the need for a separate moral axiom still stands. I can have all the relevant facts, and reason logically about them to my hearts content; that will never tell me how I ought to behave, unless either those facts or the assumed principles of logic include some statement about what ought to be the case.


He is confusing moral propositions with imperative propositions. Most "ought" statements are not statements of morality, and in my definition of "ought" no reference to morality is made whatever. Thus no "separate moral axiom" is involved.

That the word ought means “that which we would do if we were reasoning logically and knew and understood all the relevant facts of our situation” does not reference morality and is not a moral axiom. It's simply a definition of a word, which meaning it retains entirely outside moral contexts.

Are there true propositions describing “that which we would do if we were reasoning logically and knew and understood all the relevant facts of our situation”? Yes. Are those empirically discoverable (and in principle falsifiable) propositions? Yes.

Thus simply remove the word "ought" and replace it with its definition and you get nothing but empirically testable propositions all the way down. No "separate moral axiom" is required. Rather, moral facts then emerge from the conjunction of a set of empirical facts, as the moral is that which we ought to do above all else, which is simply “that which we would do above all else if we were reasoning logically and knew and understood all the relevant facts of our situation.”

The rest follows, as demonstrated in my chapter on this subject in The End of Christianity. The most relevant point made there is that no other definition of "ought" can be morally compelling, because nothing else equals what we would do when rational and informed. Therefore no moral proposition using some other definition of "ought" is capable of being relevantly true.