Sunday, November 27, 2005

Moral Facts, Arrogance, and Tolerance

I believe that there are moral facts.

When I say this, I sometimes run up against the counter-claim that those who believe in moral facts are necessarily arrogant and intolerant. The position some of these people take states something like, "If you believe that something is wrong, then it is wrong, and you cannot tolerate any other view."

I want to offer some criticism of this response to those who accept moral facts while, at the same time, argue for the morality of respect for different opinions. Note: I have posted a more thorough defense of moral facts on my web site in the article, “Defending Moral Realism from ‘Error Theory’

Moral Facts

I would like to explain a little about what I mean by 'moral facts'. Some people who deny the existence of an 'objective morality' do so on the basis that it must refer to some strange sort of entity that cannot be measured by scientific means.

Just as I do not believe in God, I have no tendency to believe in strange moral entities. My statement that there are moral facts comes from recognizing that statements like "Jimmy likes chocolate ice-cream" can represent a fact in the world. It is not a moral statement. However, it still is either a fact, or it is fiction.

Moral statements are statements like this, except they look at what all people like or dislike. A moral statement, like "Harming children is wrong" is a way of saying, "Hey, everybody, we would tend to be a lot better off if nobody liked to harm children." Even a person who likes to harm children can find value in a society where nobody likes to harm children.

I cannot hope to offer a complete defense of the idea of moral facts in a few short paragraphs. I have presented only a rough idea of what I mean by ‘moral facts’ for reference in the argument that follows.

Incoherence

Statements that condemn those who believe in moral facts of intolerance and arrogance are actually incoherent. The person making such a claim is asserting a moral fact. Specifically, such a person asserts that intolerance is bad (immoral) and, since those people who believe in moral facts are intolerant, they are immoral.

However, the claim that intolerance is bad is a moral statement. As such, the person making the statement is asking others to accept his claim that those who accept moral facts are intolerance, and that this is morally bad, as a moral fact. Ultimately, what such a person is saying, “It is a moral fact that those who assert that there is something morally wrong with those who assert the existence of moral facts.”

Tolerance

In fact, it is very easy for a person who believes in moral facts to say that, "We ought to be tolerant of different views" is one of those moral facts.

Saying that there are moral facts -- that there is a right or wrong answer to moral questions -- does not imply that the person making the statement knows what those moral facts are in all circumstances.

There are chemistry facts. Yet, if somebody were to ask me for the chemical formula for polyethylene, I would have to say, "I do not know." I say that there are chemistry facts, but I do not know what all of them are. In some cases -- many, in fact -- I have to consult somebody who is a specialist in that area.

There are some questions that even the specialists in a particular area do not know the answer to, just yet. "How were the first living cells created?" Here, the experts do not know. There may be some theories as to what is involved, and some theories may be more likely true than others, but nobody yet has a clear right answer to question.

Here we have a situation where a group of people admit that there is a fact of the matter. Each may have their own theory. Yet, none of them asserts, "I am right and anybody who disagrees with me should be put to death." Well, some of them might. But, it is quite possible to hold that there is a right answer, while at the same time advocating tolerance for different theories as to what that right answer may be.

In previous blog entries, I have spoken about a moral issue in just this way.

In the post on "Capital Punishment", I said that the evidence seems to suggest that we would have fewer murders if we, as a society, did not cheer or celebrate any killings, including the killing of murderers. However, I said that I could not prove this and suggested that more research be done.

In the post on "Physician Assisted Suicide" I said that allowing this created two dangers. First, it might weaken the psychological barriers against killing and result in more murders. Second, health-insurance companies might find it in their financial best interest to vigorously market death when medical treatment becomes expensive. I do not know if a society can organize its institutions in such a way that those who are suffering can obtain the benefit of physician assisted suicide, while avoiding these dangers. Therefore, I suggested that a "states rights" approach be used so that different options can be tested.

In both of these cases, I spoke in a way that was consistent with the view that there was a moral fact of the matter – better and worse ways for organizing a society. At the same time, I admitted that I did not know what the moral facts were.

Tolerance for different views comes from recognizing that may not yet have all of the information I need to be certain about any particular conclusion. An individual can say, “The evidence seems to suggest that we would be better off if we, as a society, did not celebrate any killings; however, since we do not know this, let different societies try out different systems.”

Moral Fact: Intolerance is Bad

The person who believes in moral facts does not face these difficulties when he claims that tolerance is good and intolerance is bad.

First, only the person who believes in moral facts can coherently assert that it is a moral fact that intolerance is bad. Those who assert that morality is merely a matter of personal opinion has nothing to say against the person who adopts the personal opinion that he will not be tolerant of other views.

Second, the idea that morality concerns facts to be discovered immediately raises the possibility that, “What I think is wrong, might not be wrong in fact.” Those who base morality on personal feelings or opinion support a system that does not even allow for the possibility of error. The person who has a dislike for interracial relationships and sees them as ‘wrong’, cannot be mistaken about the fact that he sees them as ‘wrong’. We cannot say that he is mistaken unless we can say that there is a fact of the matter that he can be mistaken about.

Arrogance

I agree that belief in moral facts combined with a certain amount of arrogance is a dangerous combination. People like this are more willing to force their morality on others and, to the degree that they are mistaken about what is in fact wrong, to that degree they will do real harm.

In fact, arrogant people have a tendency to not listen to others. This makes it harder to correct any mistakes they may have made.

It is their tendency to act in ways that are harmful to others that makes it the case that society would be better off if people tended to be less arrogant. This, in turn, gives society a reason to meet arrogance with condemnation and contempt. This gives society a reason to insist that its members be mindful of the fact of their own infallibility. They exhibit this appreciation of their own fallibility by being tolerant of others.

Conclusion

There is nothing about the belief in moral facts that gives rise to an arrogant intolerance of other positions. In fact, a belief in moral facts provides a foundation for an argument in favor of tolerance. Intolerance requires not only a belief in moral facts but an arrogant assumption as to one’s own infallibility. The moral failing of intolerance rests with this arrogant assumption of infallibility, not with the belief in moral facts.

However, tolerance, like all other moral principles, is not absolute. The more certain it is that an action is wrong (the more certain it is that an aversion to a particular act-type will help people to lead fulfilling lives), the less reason there is to be tolerant. This essay does not suggest tolerance for rapists, murderers, malicious liars, thieves, and others whose actions are clearly wrong.

63 comments:

Don Jr. said...

You say:

Moral statements are statements like this [i.e., "Jimmy likes chocolate ice-cream"], except they look at what all people like or dislike. A moral statement, like "Harming children is wrong" is a way of saying, "Hey, everybody, we would tend to be a lot better off if nobody liked to harm children." Even a person who likes to harm children can find value in a society where nobody likes to harm children.

I'm assuming that this comment (above) represents how you perceive moral statements to be for you because, although I can't speak with absolute certainty, I don't think this is what the majority of moral objectivists hold moral statements to be like. Personally, I hold certain actions, say, child rape, to be really wrong, not just disadvantageous to the advancement of society. Moreover, this tends to take the fundamental aspect of right and wrong away from morality by transforming every objective, absolute moral statement into a contingent one. For example, "Child rape is wrong," would really mean, "If nobody raped children, then the society would be better off." Thus, child rape isn't really objectively wrong; it's just disadvantageous to the advancement of society. And what is dubbed "right" or "wrong," in this case, is contingent on its advancement of society. If it results in an advancement of society, then it is right; if not, then it is wrong. Personally, this view is troublesome to me because it completely disregards our innate notions of what is really right and what is really wrong. (Not to mention the fact that no reason is given for why we ought to care about the advancement of society and why our entire system of morality ought to revolve around that.)

Oz said...

I really have to disagree with the notion that morality is what's good for society. This is really a way of replacing a god with another mystical superbeing (society). A truly independent source of morality is identity - acting according to what something or someone is. For instance, a proper argument in support of the death penalty might be "murderers deserve death," while one against it might go "nobody deserves to die." This is better than your idea because, frankly, we have no idea what effect many actions will have on society or even if society is worth much consideration. One could reasonably argue that racial segregation is right because integration is harmful to society. Indeed, that argument would be correct in a way because integration would in fact be destructive to that person's ideal society. So who wins?

I assert that a human is above all else free, so it is wrong to hurt him or otherwise bind him unless he does it to someone else first. It is wrong to steal from someone because the person whith something to steal has done something to earn it, while the thief has not.
Were I to argue from a social view, one could easily counter that it's perfectly acceptable to steal so long as the thief has good intentions. If I walk by the Salvation Army Santa at the mall without donating, he could justify picking my pocket because he has a better use for my money. If his use for it was important enough, he could justify killing me for my money.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Don Jr:

As I wrote in the essay, I scarcely have space in a few short paragraphs on a blog post to fill in all of the details of this particular view.

Consequently, you will find huge gaps that can only be filled in my looking at the supplementary materials.

For example, if you say that a person ought to do X, this has to imply that he ought to have those desires that would have caused him to do X. If not, then you are telling him to violate the laws of physics (like asking him to teleport a child out of a burning building). No person ought to do anything that is impossible.

If you say that he ought to have had the desires that would have caused him to do X, then you have to accept all of the other actions that the desire would also cause. Desires are persistent entities, so it is impossible for a person to have desires that would cause him to do X at one instant and have a completely different set of desires 10 seconds later.

These physical laws tell us that, in examining what a person ought to do, we ultimately have to be making statements about what a person ought to like. When we make statements about what a person ought to like, we need to accept all of the other actions that having that particular like or dislike will cause.

Our "innate notions" about what is really right or really wrong are simply our learned prejudice. I have met bigots who have a very strong "innate notion" that it is really wrong for the races to interbreed. I have met people who have a strong innate notion that it is "really right" to lock all homosexuals in a walled ghetto and let them starve to death. The 9/11 hijackers felt it was "really right" to hijack airplanes and fly them into buildings. I see no particularly compelling reason to give these "innate notions" any credit. What we need is a system that helps us to sort out these "innate notions" and discover which identify things that are right or wrong in fact, and which are mistaken.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Oz:

This theory does not make mention of any type of "super entity". The term "society" refers to a collection of all individuals with their own individual desires. I say nothing about a "society" that is not objectively true of such a collection.

If you and a bunch of your friends were watching a football game, and you decided to order a pizza, you would then try to answer the question, "What sort of pizza should we get?" The "we" is nothing but a group of people with their own different tastes in pizza. The "best pizza order" would probably involve more than one type of pizza (to appeal to the different tastes). Yet, ultimately, there is an answer to the question, "What type of pizza should we get?" (Or "what movie should we go see?" or "What should we have for supper") that does not require that "we" refer to any type of super entity.

Moral statements are nothing more than "we" for the largest "we" group possible -- all people. Denying that it is sensible to make these types of statements would be denying the obvious -- you make these types of statements all the time.

Don Jr. said...

Alonzo, I think it's a bit ridiculous, no offense, to think that morality is going to require that someone ought to teleport a child out of a burning building (unless of course we have the technology to do that). In any case, your same objection here can also be lodged against claiming that morality is what we ought to like. And I'm sorry but I'm really not understanding how notions of what we ought to like puts restraints on morality unlike notions of what we ought to do. Your examples of people who have had incorrect "innate notions" of morality seem to really say nothing about the possibility of objective morality that is innate within us. I have met people who have had "innate notions" that everybody else is out to get them. So what? Some people don't believe we landed on the moon either. So what? Are you saying that in order for conscience to be reliable that every single person ever born has got to agree on every single aspect of morality? If not, then I really don't see your point.

And Oz makes a good point which I think you are just missing. You claim that a society ought to function in a certain way and disregard any notions that conflict with yours. Who says that I ought to ask my friends what they want on their pizza. Why can't I just get what I want? Even if that causes our small group of friends to conflict why ought I care? You are turning society into your god without giving anybody any reason why they ought to care about society. I don't think you can give any reason why we ought to care without begging the question or simply making assertions (which would beg the question). And if you claim that it ought to be self-evident, then that just supports a theistic outlook (plus that would go against what you said to me previously about "innate notions").

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Don Jr:

Demanding the Impossible Of course it is ridiculous for morality to demand that one teleport a child out of a burning building. That was my point. It is equally ridiculous to demand that a person ought to have done some action without demanding that he had the desires that would have caused him to perform that action. This counts as "demanding the impossible" -- like teleporting a child out of a burning building. To avoid "demanding the impossible," a statement about what a person ought to do has to include an evaluation of the desires that would cause him to do it.

Innate Notions I am saying that for conscience to be reliable it has to have a good track record at yielding right answers. If we look at the people throughout history who have accepted moral wrongs such as the divine right of kings, religious persecution, slavery, conquest, crusades, inquisitions, witch burnings, torture, arrest and imprisonment without benefit of trial, and the like you will find that the numbers are quite different from those who believe we did not go to the moon. These people let their conscience be their guide and, finding no inhibition against torture or slavery or any of these other evils, they embraced these evils instead.

Oz I have assumed that Oz is writing from a political/economic perspective that I used to share -- something close to the Objectivism of Ayn Rand. Anyway, his writings are like those that are from people who speak from this perspective, so I place them in that context in interpreting them. If I am wrong, I hope that Oz would correct me.

Ought In order for me to answer a question from you about what we "ought" to do, I need you to give me a definition of the word "ought". "Ought" is am ambiguous term -- it has a lot of different meanings. The statement, 'If you want to rob a convenience store without being recognized, you ought to wear a mask," is a perfectly legitimate statement. Yet, this "ought" has nothing to do with morality. Nobody would say, "You have a moral obligation (moral-ought) to wear a mask".

Once we are mindful that "ought" has different meanings, we can see that a sentence like, "The fact that you ought to wear a mask if you do not want to be recognized does not imply that you ought (have a moral obligation) to wear a mask."

Your objection here is playing on the ambiguity of the word "ought". You are switching meanings half-way through your objection without recognizing the difference.

Moral "ought", I argue, is concerned with what people in society have reason to praise or condemn, reward or punish. What it means to say that robbing the store is morally wrong is that society in general has strong reason to condemn those who would rob stores. This does not imply that wearing a mask while you rob the store is not a good way to prevent from being recognized. The fact that it has no such implication is not a sound objection. That society has reason to bring the weight of its praise, condemnation, reward, and punishment against robbers is all that I need to mean by a moral 'ought'.

Don Jr. said...

Alonzo, I didn't say that it would be "ridiculous for morality to demand that one teleport a child out of a burning building." Obviously it would be. I said that it is ridiculous, no offense, for you to think that morality would ask this of someone. How you manage to restrain what "that which we ought to desire" might include in a discussion of morality (keeping if from demanding the impossible or desiring to demand the impossible) and not do the same with "that which we ought to do" deeply perplexes me.

I have not equivocated my usage of "ought." Every time I have used it, it has been in a moral sense. Of course there are also purely rational "oughts" (e.g., if one believes that A equals B, and that B equals C, then one ought to believe that A equals C, or if one does not want to be identified when committing a crime, then one ought to wear a mask), but as far as I can see I have not conflated the two. And you have given no examples of my conflation, so I see no reason to believe that I have conflated the two.

No offense, but you are missing the whole point. No one disagrees that you can come up with a great theory of morality based upon what's best for society. That's great. And given that from a theistic worldview if we are moral we will all get along, it isn't odd that doing what is best for society will lead to a great system of morality. But this isn't always the case, and even if it were always the case, you still have given no reason whatsoever, that doesn't simply beg the question, for why we ought to be moral (that is, for why we ought to be good). The exact line of argument you have taken—the exact same line—could be taken up by a child rapist to argue that what we ought to desire is to do what helps him rape more children. (He could even claim that this is good.) He could then say that those who give their children to him to be raped will be praised and rewarded, so we ought to desire to produce more children and give them to him to be raped. There would be absolutely no difference in his line of argument than in yours. His argument would center on something different, namely, doing what is best for him to rape children, whereas yours centers around doing what is best for society, but the actual line of argumentation he takes would be the exact same. Moreover, and more importantly, you have given no ontological basis for your system of morality and, thus, without begging to question, cannot assert that the child rapist's system of morality is less valid than yours. Of course you could claim that his system doesn't help advance society and yours does. Certainly this is true, but so what? His system also doesn't help build more houses. It seems that you are so set on promoting what's best for society (which isn't bad) that you don't see that you have no ontological basis on which to say that we ultimately ought to be concerned with that. You merely beg the question when you assert it. Given your lack of an ontological basis, the child rapist's system of morality (which claims that we ought to be concerned not with the advancement of society but with getting him to rape more children) is just as valid as yours. Someone who claims that "Treemania," a made up, fictional world is full of many trees is just a valid as the man that claims it has one tree. True, both men can claim that the "Treemania" world they are thinking of conforms to what they assert about the trees, but that says nothing more than what they say is what they are thinking, which might be true, but is also not worth saying. The point is that neither man can claim to have a description of "Treemania" that (outside of their own head) is more valid that the other man. Why? Because they neither have no ontological reality in which to base their claims. But the man that claims that Texas has just one tree is simply wrong; whereas the man that claims it has many trees is right, and can claim to be right because he has some ontological reality in which to base his claim. Similarly, the theist has an ontological basis from which she can claim that the rapist is simply wrong. You cannot, without begging the question or making a baseless assertion which, along with begging the question, would be just as arbitrary as the child rapist's assertion.

Thayne said...

Don JR --

I can think of purely practical reasons to base morality upon advancing society, or rather, protecting society.

Actions which harm others are worthy of condemnation because such actions pose a threat to everyone, both to members of society as individuals (you, or anyone else, might become a future victim) and more generally because a functioning society benefits everyone. That seems like sound enough grounds to answer the question "why should one do good?" Because doing bad has real, tangible negative effects that put others, including myself, at risk.

I admit that if I saw the child rapist you mention in action, my thoughts and feelings would not be about the threat posed to society. I would experience real distress for the child. We humans are social beings. I suspect that we've evolved a sense of concern for others because such concerns tend to promote a healthy society.

Regarding desires, I believe, as I think Alonzo does, that it is indeed impossible to take any intentional action that does not attempt to fulfill your strongest desire or set of desires at the time of action. This doesn't mean it is something pleasant, but it is the best choice you can come up with at the time. You said you sometimes do things you don't want to do, but you feel you ought to do. I'd say that you actually never do this. Perhaps the task you feel you ought to do is unpleasant and you wish there were better options, but not doing the task is in some way even more undesirable to you than any other option you can think of at the time.

Since all intentional actions spring from desires, it makes sense to evaluate the moral implications of desires.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

I am agreeing with you on the first point. It is ridiculous to thing that morality would ask this of someone (teleporting a child out of a burning building). In fact, I do not think this. I also hold that it is just as ridiculous for morality to demand that somebody perform an action independent of the desires that would cause him to perform that action.

The reason that I think that you have equivocated on "ought" is because your question seems to be asking, "Why should I, given my desires, not do that action that it is rational for society in general to condemn me for doing?" The personal 'ought' and the societal 'ought' are two different 'oughts', and you are treating them as one. There is no answer to this question (as I explained in "Why be moral?".

A person will be moral because he wants to be, and nothing short of magic can introduce any other type of reason. He may "want to be" because he wants to avoid hell or to obtain the pleasures of heaven. This does not violate the principle that he does the right thing because he wants to -- it just gives him another reason to want to.

The question then is, "Why want to?" The answer to that is that society in general has a reason to mold its members so that they are not a risk to each other. Just as it is prudent for them to establish (for example) a tsunami warning system if they live on the coast of an ocean subject to tsunamis, they have just as much of a reason to estabish a "peaceful neighbor system" -- that system being morality.

The child rapist, you mention, need not like or even appreicate the fact that society is prudent to establish and maintain a peaceful neighbor system (morality) that condemns his actions. Yet, this does not change the fact that it is prudent for society to set up and maintain such a system. His personal feelings do not change that fact.

Don Jr. said...

Thayne says, "I can think of purely practical reasons to base morality upon advancing society, or rather, protecting society." I'm sure you can, and that's great. But the child rapist can too. Your missing the point. What makes him wrong and you right? And saying it's self-evident just supports a theistic position.

Thayne says, "You [meaning, me] said you sometimes do things you don't want to do, but you feel you ought to do. I'd say that you actually never do this." It's pretty much impossible for me to respond to this. I mean, if you know me better than me. (Talk about baseless assertions.)

Don Jr. said...

Alonzo says, "A person will be moral because he wants to be, and nothing short of magic can introduce any other type of reason." That's not the issue at all. I'm afraid that you're just missing the point. Besides, the child rapist could claim that doing what allows him to rape more children is what's moral and you have no response against this that doesn't simply beg the question.

Alonzo says, "The child rapist, you mention, need not like or even appreicate the fact that society is prudent to establish and maintain a peaceful neighbor system (morality) that condemns his actions. Yet, this does not change the fact that it is prudent for society to set up and maintain such a system. His personal feelings do not change that fact." I do not know if you read my last comment directed at you. It anticipated this response and showed why it just misses the point entirely (and begs the question).

You seem to not be able to see that you are simply begging the question or making an irrelevant statement when you say that being good helps society. So what? Giving the rapist your children helps him. All your stating is a fact like drinking what is good for your health. But so what? All that says is if one wants to better, or maintain, their health, then one ought to drink water. You're simply saying that if one wants to help society, then one ought to do good things (and it's far from obvious that this is always the case). The child rapist says if one wants to help him rape children, then one ought to give him their children. Neither of these are moral statements; they're rational oughts (based on facts), not moral oughts. To assert that one of these is the method we ought to pursue as regards morality simply begs the question. Here is basically the line you are taking.

Don: "Why be moral?"
Alonzo: "Because it helps society."
Don: "Why ought we care about helping society?"
Alonzo: "Because that's what a moral person would do."

If you can't see that that simply begs the question, then I'm afraid there can be no progress made here. As I previously showed, the child rapist can say that helping him rape children is really being moral, and then he could use your exact line of reasoning to support his assertion.

Don: "Why be moral?"
Rapist: "Because it helps me rape more children."
Don: "Why ought we care about helping you rape more children?"
Rapist: "Because that's what a moral person would do."

Without begging the question you can't assert that the child rapist is simply wrong or that his version of morality is less valid that yours. You simply lack any ontological basis on which to do so. (See my discussion of "Treemania" a few comments ago if you don't understand this.)

Don Jr. said...

In my last comment I said, "You're simply saying that if one wants to help society, then one ought to do good things." I should have said you're simply saying that if one wants to help society, then one ought to do those things which help society (which, by the way, is not worth saying). And then you're arbitrarily (for no given reason) labeling "those things which help society" as "good things." Similarly, as I've said before, the child rapist could label "those things which help him rape more children" as "good things." And given your worldview, you lack the capability to give any response (which isn't question begging or a baseless assertion) that can invalidate his (the child rapist's) claim.

Thayne said...

Don JR --

I don't understand what your quibble is. Are you denying that inflicting harm on others is a sound basis for declaring such actions "wrong"? The child rapist can say whatever he wants, but his actions harm others, and is therefore wrong.

It seems that you are positing the existence of some extremely selfish person who asks "why can't I do what ever I want, even harm others?" I can't honestly see how we can even discuss morality without "harm done to others" being at the core of the discussion. And, I don't think saying so in any way validates theistic morality. On the contrary, theistic morality is not concerned with harm done to others, but rather, with fulfilling the will of God.

Regarding society, I believe you're misrepresenting Alonzo when you state:

Don: "Why be moral?"
Alonzo: "Because it helps society."
Don: "Why ought we care about helping society?"
Alonzo: "Because that's what a moral person would do"

I don't think Alonzo says that we should be moral for the purpose of helping society. Rather, society demands morality because doing so helps society.

Regarding desires:

Me: "You said you sometimes do things you don't want to do, but you feel you ought to do. I'd say that you actually never do this."

Don Jr.: "It's pretty much impossible for me to respond to this. I mean, if you know me better than me. (Talk about baseless assertions.")

I think you entirely misunderstood what I was saying. I was saying that nobody takes an intentional action that doesn't fulfill (or attempt to fulfill) their desires. Answer me this: if your desire to not fulfill a perceived obligation is stronger than your desire to fulfill it, then why would you act to fulfill the obligation? You wouldn't. You always, always act upon your strongest desire or set of desires.

Don Jr. said...

First of all, one can easily show that all actions deemed wrong (at least intuitively) aren't simply actions that are "inflicting harm on others." For instance, one man, say, Steve, desiring to harm another man, could push this other man but, in doing so, happen to push him out of the way of an oncoming car, thus saving the man's life. A second man, Bob, might try to save a female from an oncoming car but, in doing so, happen to push her into the path of another, different, on coming car, thus killing her. Which man caused harm? Which man's actions were "wrong"? (Hopefully those are rhetorical questions.)

Thayne, no offense, but you seem to not be understanding the whole begging the question thing. Let me ask you a simple question. See if you can answer it without begging the question or making a baseless assertion. You claim that not harming others (or replace that with whatever you want) is doing what is right. The child rapist claims that helping him rape more children is doing what is right. The one, very simple question is this: What makes you right and the child rapist wrong?

Thayne said...

Don JR --

Thanks for your reply.

Of course I do not actually believe that all that causes harm is morally bad while all that does not cause harm is morally good. That's far too simple. Space here is limited. My point was merely to underscore the centrality of harm in discussion of morality. I do in fact start with an assumption: that harm is "bad." Sometimes it may indeed be morally acceptable to inflict a harm to avoid still greater harm. And, unintentional harms are still bad, but they do not (usually) permit us to declare that the one who inflicts it is bad (immoral). And also, intending to cause harm, but failing to actually pull it off, can still be deemed bad (immoral).

So, I do start from an assumption. I assume that "bad" or "immoral" deeds must in some way be connected to harm caused or intended. The more a deed increases the harm that exists in the world, the more immoral it is.

Incidently, if I understand Alonzo correctly, harm means "thwarting desires." It's the best basis for defining harm I've encountered.

Of course, one could challenge my assumption. If you think that'd be an interesting avenue of discussion, then please do so. But, I can see no meaning in a moral claim that "X" is immoral when "X" neither causes, nor intends to cause, some sort of harm.

Regarding your question to me "what makes you right and the child rapist wrong?" The rapist's deeds increases the amount of harm in the world, so they are bad. I am of course starting from the assumption stated above. Given that it is a correct assumption (which one could contest), I see no question begging in this answer.

I don't know to what degree Alonzo would agree with this, but I do believe he would say that, ultimately, it is actually desires that we should morally assess, since they are what give rise to deeds.

Don Jr. said...

Thanks for the reply Thanye, but I still think you're missing the point. In response to "What makes you right and the child rapist wrong?" you say, "The rapist's deeds increases the amount of harm in the world, so they are bad." It should be rather evident that this begs the question. The child rapist could simply assert that your deeds decrease the amount of children he will be able to rape, so they are bad. You even admit that you are starting from an assertion, which you state in your last comment. The problem is that, from an objective standpoint, this assertion is baseless and begs the question. You can provide nothing other than an assertion, which is only legitimate from your subjective standpoint, that can prove the child rapist's view is invalid.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Don Jr.

Actually, my claim is not that we are moral because it helps society. Nor do I say that we ought to care about helping society. Neither of these claims are a part of my argument.

I said specifically that a person does the moral thing that he wants to. The reason that he wants to is because society has caused him to have such a desire through the use of praise, condemnation, reward, and punishment. Society has caused him to have these desires because doing so helps them maintain their security and happiness.

Caring about society may well be one of the things that people are taught to like. However, history has shown that it is more prudent and effective to try to get people to care about truth, a fair trial, freedom of the press, non-aggression, charity, and tolerance. If people are made to care about these things, then the well-being of society will come about in due course.

The child-rapist you speak about can speak all he wants about his actions being moral. However, he cannot make it the case that society has no reason to use the tools of condemnation and punishment against such people. Calling something moral that society has every reason to condemn and punish is simply playing with words. In fact, his actions remain immoral. In fact, his actions remain a type of action that society has reason to condemn and punish. The child-rapist cannot change this fact.

I can't prevent the child rapist from saying that his actions are moral. I can't prevent a person from saying that 2 + 2 = 4. However, if the child rapist cannot prove that society has no reason to condemn and punish people such as him, then the child rapist cannot prove that his actions are moral in fact. The best he can do is claim that something is moral that is, in fact, immoral.

Thayne said...

Don jr. --

You are asking for something that is impossible -- not just for my moral system, or Alonzo's moral system, or non-theistic moral systems, but for any moral system.

You seem to want me to prove that right is right in the same way a mathemetician may prove some therom. You take issue with my making an assumption, but the fact is, it is impossible for any moral theory to not make assumptions. For example, "moral" and "immoral" must be defined, but there is no way to do that without making assumptions.

Do you know of any moral system at all that does not make assumptions? If not, then there is not point to your objection, unless you are prepared to argue that all moral systems are equally invalid, in which case you should not argue against some moral system in particular (such as Alonzo's), but against the very idea that morality has any real meaning.

Don Jr. said...

Alonzo's comments are in bold. Mine are in normal font-style.

If people are made to care about these things, then the well-being of society will come about in due course.

Just being honest here: What's your point? I already agreed with that—numerous times. What's your point? All you're saying here is that if people care about a list of things, then these things will help society. So what? If people care about another list of things, then those things will help the child rapist rape more children? I don't mean to be rude here, but I'd really, honestly like to know your point in continuing to repeat what I've already agreed with (several times) and what is also not worth saying.

The child-rapist you speak about can speak all he wants about his actions being moral. However, he cannot make it the case that society has no reason to use the tools of condemnation and punishment against such people.

Society can speak all it wants about people's actions being moral. However, society cannot make it the case that the child rapist has no reason to use the tools of condemnation and punishment against such people (within society).

Really I don't see at all the point your trying to make here. I've already gone over how what you're saying here is no defense against the child rapist saying the same thing. I have no problem with you continuing to hold your view; just realize that from your nontheistic standpoint the child rapist's view is just as valid as yours. Anything you can say in defense of your moral point of view, the child rapist can also say.

Calling something moral that society has every reason to condemn and punish is simply playing with words. In fact, his actions remain immoral. In fact, his actions remain a type of action that society has reason to condemn and punish. The child-rapist cannot change this fact.

Again, I already agreed that the child rapist couldn't change the fact that his actions hurt society. So what? You can't change the fact that helping society doesn't help the child rapist rape more children. What's your point here? You, in fact, just play with words when you claim that helping society is being moral. That's simply begging the question. I honestly am amazed that you can't see that here. I have a simple question—one simple question—that you have yet to answer: What makes you right and the child rapist wrong? The theist can answer this question. The nontheist cannot. You say that the child rapist is wrong in claiming that his actions are moral. The child rapist says his actions are moral and that yours are immoral. Fine. One simple question that should be easily answered: What makes you right and the child rapist wrong? (Simply shouting that the child rapist is wrong and it should be evident, as it seems you did in the above quote, simply supports a theistic perspective. Note that in my "Treemania" example, neither person could claim that his view was more valid in reality, only that their view was their view, which is not with saying. The person describing Texas could legitimately say that his view was more valid because it corresponded to an actual reality. Does the nontheist have an ontological basis, a moral reality, by which he can claim that the child rapist is simply wrong? Absolutely not. All she can do is continue to shout that the child rapist isn't helping society, which is not proving anything and which is not worth saying. The child rapist isn't helping Chucky Cheese's either. So what?)

However, if the child rapist cannot prove that society has no reason to condemn and punish people such as him, then the child rapist cannot prove that his actions are moral in fact. The best he can do is claim that something is moral that is, in fact, immoral.

The child rapist can "prove" it in the same way you are. You continually say (irrelevantly) that the child rapist's actions hurt society. I've agreed with that over and over and over and over. So what? The child rapist will just counter that any actions focused on helping society hurt his chances to rape more children. The best you can do is claim that something is moral that is, in fact, from the child rapist's viewpoint, immoral. You have no ontological basis on which to claim that the child rapist simply has things wrong when he claims he is being moral. Sure, you can claim that he doesn't help society. So what? He doesn't help me either. I couldn't use that defense. "You don't help me, Mr. child rapist, so you're immoral." If that doesn't work, then why should "You don't help society, Mr. child rapist, so you're immoral." Both statements beg the question. I'm truly amazed that you can't see that. It should have been obvious from the "Treemania" analogy. The one simple question that remains, and which you have yet to answer, is: What makes you right and the child rapist wrong?

(Actually, you also have no defense against the man that claims morality does exist, that there is no right and wrong. It would be more obvious that you are simply begging the question if you were to try to respond to the moral nihilist.)

Don Jr. said...

Thayne, the nontheistic mathematician also lacks an ontological basis for mathematic (as well as logical) truths. Hence the theistic transcendental argument. I argue against the irrationality in the case that any nontheistic moral system attempts to claim validity over another moral system (including the child rapist's). Nontheists, shown in my "Treemania" example, have no ontological reality by which they can claim to have things right. Moral, immoral, right, wrong, good, evil; these are all things for which the theist has an ontological reality by which she can claim they are real, objective things. Forget about claiming to have a valid moral system, the nontheist can't even claim that right and wrong exist, without being completely arbitrary.

You, as well as Alonzo, have yet to answer my very, very simple question: What makes you right and the child rapist wrong? (And it's not impossible for everyone to answer this question. Yes, it is impossible for you, or any nontheist, to answer it, without begging the question. But the theist can easily answer this question.)

Also, in regards to the moral nihilist who claims that morality isn't real, that there is no right and no wrong: What makes you right and the moral nihilist wrong? (Again, you cannot answer this very, very simple question without begging the question. But the theist can. Doesn't it trouble you that you continue to avoid this simple task. Actually, I'm quite sure it doesn't. But it should.)

Thayne said...

Don Jr. --

Nontheistic morality is on much firmer ground than any theistic morality. You can neither prove God's existence, nor prove that we should give a hoot about what he says regarding morality even if we knew he existed.

If Alonzo's moral system is in the same boat as "nontheistic math", whatever that is, then I'd say that's a pretty good boat to be in.

Defining rights and wrongs upon harm is fine by me because, frankly, it works to protect people. You are quite right, I'm not troubled at all if I'm question begging. I think that's a pretty meaningless complaint. I've made some assumptions in defining morality, then proceed from them to conclusions regarding various behaviors. I see nothing wrong with that.

If one wants to take issue what I or Alonzo are saying, then the two logical avenues of complaint are to challenge either the assumptions or their application. But to challenge the very making of any assumption is nonesense. As I said, no morality, whether theistic or nontheistic, would exist if we could not make assumptions.

Indeed, if we always reject all assumptions, human knowledge would be very limited. Science, for example, works by making, then testing, assumptions. You would apparently reject science, yet science works. It is not perfect. It is certainly not free of mistakes and error. But it has, better than any other process, greatly expanded our knowledge of the workings of the universe.

I'd love to hear an argument from you that theistic morality makes no assumptions. There is no valid argument for that proposition.

Don Jr. said...

Thayne, no offense, but I think you do not fully understand the problem that morality raises for nontheistic worldviews. (Paul Copan and Michael Martin have an exchange on this topic. Copan's article is titled "Can Michael Martin Be A Moral Realist?: Sic et Non." Martin responds in his "Copan's Critique of Atheistic Objective Morality." William Lane Craig also discusses the issue in his article, "The Indispensability of Theological Meta-Ethical Foundations for Morality.") At least you understand that defining what is "right" as that which is harmful is question begging. It is unfortunate that you do not see this as a serious problem for nontheistic worldviews, but I sense that it is because you do not fully understand the problem.

Thayne, I think it is fairly disingenuous to characterize what I previously said as there being a "nontheistic math" (which would imply that there is a separate theistic math). That statement arises either because of disingenuousness or ignorance as to what the transcendental argument for God is. The transcendental argument states that nontheistic worldviews can't, among other things, account for the existence of mathematical and logical truths. Not that there are two separate systems of mathematics. You don't have to agree with that argument at all. And I'm not asking you to agree with it nor am I defended it right now because that is not what we are discussing. (I simply cited it briefly because you suggested a correlation between morality and mathematics in a previous post.) So if you don't accept that argument that's fine with me, and I'd rather not discuss it because that would just further complicate the issue. But please try to avoid misconstruing what I have said. I did not say there are a nontheistic math and a theistic math, nor did I suggest such a thing.

Here is the moral problem restated:

(1) There exists an objective standard of morality.
(2) How do we account for this objective standard of morality?
(2a) The theistic account: The nature of God gives an ontological basis for the existence of morality.
(2b) The nontheistic account: We (arbitrarily) define "good" as such and such and then (displaying inconsistency) label this as objective.

The nontheist can either deny that objective morality exists, which is the only option available to the nontheist if she wishes to maintain a coherent, consistent worldview. Or, the nontheist can accept incoherence and inconsistency by, in a worldview with no ontological reality to explain morality, claiming that objective morality exists and arbitrarily (not objectively) labeling right and such and such and wrong as such and such.

Don Jr. said...

Also, Thayne, you again, in your last post, avoided answering my very, very simply question: What makes you right and the child rapist wrong? (And "Because I am" isn't an answer.) I'll add another very simply question: What makes you right and the moral nihilist wrong? These are two very simply questions. I am truly perplexed as to why you continue to avoid answering them. (Well, to be fair, I just recently asked the 2nd question, although you still avoided answering it. But I've asked the 1st question a number of times and you have yet to give an answer.)

Thayne said...

Don Jr. --

Okay, I see that you were merely pointing out that math is nontheistic, and I guess you're then claiming that all things nontheistic inherently lack an ontological basis. Is that it?

Well, if that is it, then that merely goes to show that having no ontological basis is not necessarily a problem. Math works pretty well to help us get by in the world, and to understand it.

I think you reach way too far when you imply that making assumptions is purely arbitrary. Assumptions can be based upon observation, and they can be tested by further observation. Assumptions are not all equal.

My moral system is superior to the rapists because mine protects people from harm, while his increases the harm in the world. You can complain all you want about ontology, but the fact is my system has real world practicality that improves peoples lives. Like math. I don't care about the ontological basis, or lack thereof.

Now, on to another point: you are being hypocritical. You said "the nature of God gives an ontological basis for the existence of morality." Talk about making an assertion! You're assuming God exists, that his nature provides an ontological basis for morality, and that you can know his nature.

I won't even get into whether God exists or whether you can know his nature. For the sake of argument, I'll grant those dubious things. Now please explain how God's proclamations about morality give morality an ontological basis.

Could God tomorrow announce that it is immoral not to torture you're first born to death over the course of two weeks? From now on, every first born child shall be put to slow painful death in this way when they turn 3 months old. If you don't do it, you'll be flaunting God's will, and it will be deemed by him to be immoral.

Would there be a sound ontological basis for such a thing?

Thayne said...

Don Jr. --

If God made such a proclamation, would we in fact be immoral if we ignored it?

Don Jr. said...

Thayne, I mean no offense whatsoever with this, but it is obvious that you are very confused about the theistic position. I don't think you read any literature—like the links I cited earlier—explaining it, but I'll be happy to do that for you and to answer any questions you have. If you aren't just being obstinate and difficult but truly have questions about the theistic position that you really want answered, then I'll gladly answer them for you. However, first, please answer my two very simple questions that, for whatever reason, you continue to avoid: (1) What makes you right and the child rapist wrong? (2) What makes you right and the moral nihilist wrong?

(Also, I never said that math is nontheistic either. If I did, please quote exactly where I said that, because maybe I missed it. If I did not say that, then please keep from misconstruing my comments.)

Thayne said...

Don Jr. --

Let's drop the math discussion. I think it's an unneccessary tangent.

I did in fact answer your question. My system is better than the rapist because it works to protect people from harm, while the rapists does not. I make some assumptions about what is right and wrong, but, despite your claims to the contrary, they are not arbitrary. They are based upon the real world effects of human behavior.

Your objections regarding my lack of an ontological basis are both unimportant and hypocritical.

They are unimportant because the harms people inflict upon one another are real and observable. The child rapist can claim that he is being harmed by outlawing rape. Fine. I suppose to some degree he is. But he does not account for the harm he inflicts. His morality is concerned with no one other than himself. If we allowed people to do whatever they wanted with out regard to anyone else, society and all it's members are at risk. I really don't care in the least if nonthiestic morality rests upon a firm ontological basis. I care that it protects people.

It's hypocritcal because you are yourself making unwarranted assumptions: that God exists, that you can determine his nature, that his view of morality matters (or perhaps you believe he is somehow the source of morality, another assumption). Surely you will admit that all these things require some assumptions. Am I right?

My questions regarding theistic morality are not in the least bit obstinate. They are sincere.

I asked the question regarding torturing first borns for a reason -- not to be snotty. I'd like an answer.

Don Jr. said...

I'm not assuming that God exists anymore than you're assuming that God does not exist. I'm not sure if you're aware if this, but there is a moral argument for the existence of God. It uses the same line of reasoning that I am using here. It doesn't presuppose the existence of God, as you believe; on the contrary, it concludes it. Big difference. The argument isn't God exists, therefore objective morality exists. Rather, it's Objective morality exists, therefore God exists. In short, objective morality can only exist in a theistic world. So, contrary to what you are suggesting, the existence of God isn't presupposed; it's deduced. Roughly, the argument is as such: If objective morality is to exist, then a theistic worldview must be correct or, at least, nontheistic worldviews must be false. I am not at home now, so I will finish responding to your comment later tonight.

Thayne said...

Don Jr. --

I'll wait for your more complete response.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Don Jr.

Somebody can call a toothbrush a "dog" if he wants to, but he cannot make it bark.

The child-rapist can call his actions "moral" if he wants to, but he cannot make it the case that society has reason to condemn and punish people such as himself.

You are confusing the subjectivity of language with the subjectivity of the things spoken about. What we call things is completely arbitrary. No argument can be given that one name is better than another. However, the features of the things we name do not change.

"A rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

In the English Language, morality has to do with what society has reason to condemn.

Morality is Not, by the way, found in what society actually does condemn, but what society has reason to condemn. So, you cannot look at what a society actually condemns to determine what is moral or immoral. Sometimes, societies condemn things they have no reason to condemn, because they hold false beliefs. Or they refuse to condemn something they have reason to condemn, for the same reason. So, you can't look at what a society does or does not condemn to determine what is moral or immoral. There is a fact of the matter -- a fact that everybody in that society may be unaware of.

Thayne said...

Don Jr. --

I also believe that a lot of what were talking about has to do with confusion about words.

Morals are rules of behavior society defines to protect itself and its members. Why that should require a supernatural origin escapes me.

You haven't said, so I making a guess here, but I think many who argue for, but are mystified by, the existence of objective morals would point to the fact that certain moral rules seem to be universal. They can see no explaination for this other than God.

The hazard with this kind of explaination in general is that, as we learn more and more, there's less and less room for a god who supposedly answers these "unanswerable" questions.

But regarding certain universal moral codes specifically, I see no big mystery. Humans are social animals. We need each other. This is not the case with all animals, except in regard to mating. Apart for brief sexual encounters, many animals can do just fine without other members of their species. Not us. We have been, for as far back as can be detected, social. It comes as no surprise then that certain codes of conduct have developed that strengthen and reinforce social groups. "Though shall not kill" clearly reinforces society, not just here in the US, but wherever people live in close contact. It's, as I keep saying, practical. And so it is with the other universal moral codes.

It even makes sense that we should have strong, innate feelings of morality. People who get along with others make good mates, and they help society function, so that trait is readily passed down from generation to generation and easily spreads throughout society, and eventually humanity.

Incidently, other social animals have moral codes too. I learned in one of my biology classes that vampire bats live in small social groups. When a member is too ill to go out and collect food (blood) with the rest of the group, the others regurgitate some of their meal for the sick bat. Those who don't participate are actually punished by the others. Need one invoke the divine to explain this? Of course not, caring for one another is a quality that strengthens the whole group and helps them survive. Other social animals have codes of behavior that they enforce.

I could go on, but it's your turn. Sorry, there's kind of a lot to respond to since your last posting.

Thayne said...

Make that "Thou shall not kill," not "though shall not kill"...

Don Jr. said...

Alonzo, why ought we care about what society has reason to condemn and not what child rapists have reason to condemn? You're still begging the question (and making society out to be some sort of god, as Oz explained earlier).

Don Jr. said...

Thayne says,

Morals are rules of behavior society defines to protect itself and its members.

What? Where did you get that from? Morality is concerned with right and wrong. To claim that what is right is that which protects society and its members is a baseless assertion and in a discussion of morality, as this one is, simply begs the question.

Thayne, theist don't claim God exists to answer moral questions. I've used the phrase "ontological basis" or "ontological reality" several times now. I don't understand how you're still misinterpreting what I've been saying.

In the rest of your last post, all you said was doing T helps X, where T is "things advantageous to society" and X is "society." I've already said, and it should be obvious, that this is true and, more importantly, not worth saying. You're just saying that if we do things to help society, then we'll help society. What's your point? Subsequently labeling "things advantageous to society" as "good things" is (1) arbitrary and question begging and (2) not 100-percent accurate given our innate notion of what is good. Many examples can be given that what helps society is actually not always good, as we would innately think. Of course, one can simply shift their analysis and say this thing that supposedly helps society but doesn't really seem good actually doesn't help society. But then that just makes the position Whatever helps society is good unfalsifiable. And it also makes "whatever helps society" not equal to good, since we have to compare "whatever helps society" to a greater, transcendent good.

Thayne said...

Don Jr. --

I was offering an explanation for why unversal moral codes exist, and why innate feelings of right and wrong exist. I wasn't denying that morals concerns right and wrong, I was offering a natural explanation for their universality and the innate feelings of right and wrong that people experience.

Don Jr.: "In the rest of your last post, all you said was doing T helps X, where T is "things advantageous to society" and X is "society." I've already said, and it should be obvious, that this is true and, more importantly, not worth saying. You're just saying that if we do things to help society, then we'll help society. What's your point?"

No, that is not what I said in the rest of my post. I'm offering a natural explanation as to why moral behavior and rules exist. And, I was explaining that moral behavior doesn't only help society, it helps members of the society as well.

What's my point? That a natural origin of morals makes perfect sense. It is easy to see how they arise, and how they spread throughout humanity because they help the survival of both individuals and society itself. Indeed, it's hard to imagine how a society could exist without them.

People require society, and society requires morals. None of it is mysterious, and none of it even hints at the existence of god.

Morals exist because they work. They are practical. They have real world effects that help people survive, and so are self perpetuating.

Now, you have:

1. Rejected all assumptions, and even implied that all assumptions are on equal (and shaky) footing.

2. Assumed that "objective morality" requires God.

3. Assumed that God can somehow provides an "ontological basis" for morality.

4. Contradicted yourself.

Just how does God provide an ontological basis for morality? I think that's an utterly meaningless idea. I'm looking forward to your defense of it.

Thayne said...

Don Jr. --

One more thing. I've not said that "things that help society are good things." I've said things the tend to decrease harms are good, while things that increase them are bad. Yes, that's an assumption. But so what? The word "wrong" makes no sense unless if refers to some harm (or potential harm).

The society part explains how morals naturally arise and persist.

God, on the other hand, does not explain morality. If you reject what I'm saying because it makes an assumption, then yours must be rejected because it too makes assumptions.

Don Jr. said...

Thayne, please quote me saying or suggesting that I have "rejected all assumptions." Also, quote my statements where I have contradicted myself. You claimed I have done such things. I will continue our conversation once you present evidence of this. If you cannot, then I will have to end our conversation due to your continuation to disingenuously misconstrue and misrepresent what I have said.

Thayne said...

Don Jr. --

Okay, I've re-read our previous posts, and I think I am overstating your position by saying you reject all assumptions. You've merely said that my assumptions are baseless. (I assert that they are not).

Sorry for my misstatement.

The contradiction is more implicit. You reject morality that is has no ontological basis, then make the assumptions that nature cannot provide this basis, and that God can. Perhaps there is some basis for those claims (I don't think there is), but you haven't responded to my natural explanation of morality, and certainly have not attempted to show that God can provide the ontological basis you seek even if he does exist. I don't think God can do this.

What is the ontological basis for theistic morality?

Thayne said...

Don JR. --

I don't see why you assume I'm being disingenuous. Couldn't I merely be misinterpreting you?

Let me re-cap a few things:

I said that "wrong" means increasing the harm that exists in the world. I think any definition of "wrong" that doesn't involve harm is pretty meaningless.

You reject this on the grounds that it is a baseless assumption. That also, I take it, is the reason I can't apply it to the child rapist.

I don't think it's baseless because it is useful. It protects people. I suppose you would say that is an arbitrary goal.

Before delving further, perhaps this would be a good time for you to give a good non-arbitrary definition of "wrong" or "right." Then we can put our two definitions side by side and compare which has a firmer grounding in reality.

Thayne said...

A cautionary note:

I tried to post a longer version of the one just above this one, and I got an error and completely lost my post.

Don Jr. said...

Thank you for being earnest, Thayne. I will have to say though that I don't see a contradiction in my requiring a worldview that has an ontological basis for objective morality and in rejecting views that do not (or, at least, that I claim do not) provide an ontological basis for objective morality.

I just want to clear up your view on good and morality because in a recent post you denied that you are claiming that what is good is that which helps society. So are you disagreeing with Alonzo and thereby suggesting that what helps society should not be the crux of the matter?

Thayne, you are very right to question my assumption that you were being disingenuous. I do not at all believe that you (nor Alonzo) are being disingenuous or purposely misrepresenting my view. That statement arose more out of a frustration on my part due to my not being able to accurately convey my position. I greatly apologize.

I think that it is important, if we are to make any progress here, to accurately portray our positions and for the other to accurately understand that position. Most dialogues that make no progress do so because neither person has an accurate portrayal of the other's viewpoint, thus they're merely talking past one another. It would be a waste of both of our times to critique positions that neither of us holds. So I think it is important that we correctly understand each other.

A decent place to start is your last request: "Before delving further, perhaps this would be a good time for you to give a good non-arbitrary definition of 'wrong' or 'right.'" Actually, it is funny that you should bring this up because there was so much confusion on my stance on this issue in a previous discussion at a certain forum. Everyone, including the theists involved in the thread, where confused about my position on this issue. Subsequently, though, they came to understand where I was coming from, but it perplexed them at first. Basically, I was saying that "good" is indefinable; meaning, one cannot categorize good whereby what is good can easily be delineated from what is wrong in a technical manner such that such and such an act is not good because it doesn't fit such and such conditions. One of the theists on the board contested my stance and then went on to say, "It [i.e., evil] is defined as sin or any lack of conformity to the moral law and will of God." I answered, "But this is no different from the 'definitions' I am giving. This does no actual good in defining what evil is. We'll just ask, 'What is sin?' or 'What constitutes as a lack of conformity to the moral law and will of God?' The definitions are circular, in that they simply appeal to each other for clarification, but their not meaningless. We ask what evil is? It's sin. What's sin? It's any lack of conformity to the moral law and will of God. What constitutes as any lack of conformity to the moral law and will of God? Evil. Well, what's evil? And we're back to where we started. It's all circular. But it's not all meaningless. The fact that there is a standard of morality is as far back as we can go. This is a priori knowledge for which we can give no deductive argument for without first appealing to it in some way. We innately know this. Our reasoning capabilities and innate Natural Law [or moral conscience] allow us to discern good from evil." (Note that good and evil were being used pretty much interchangeably with right and wrong, respectively.) My response was written with a theistic undertone since I was answering a fellow theist. Hopefully you can tolerate the parts about "sin" and "will of God" and understand, even if you disagree with it, what I was saying. If you do not understand, you can ask for further clarification and I will attempt to supply you with that, but my view on this matter is rather difficult for me to articulate properly. (I'm a little upset at myself because I read an article online recently that better articulated my view, but I didn't save it. Oh well.) But if you do think that you understand my view but still disagree with it (which is fine), then please critique it and attempt to show me where it errors and how your view or any alternatives are better. (And that was not meant as a "challenge." Just as an offer to engage in discussion if you differ with my view.)

Thayne said...

Don Jr. --

Sorry to be a source of frustration. I really did misunderstand your meaning, and I've figured out why:

At one point you said: "You even admit that you are starting from an assertion, which you state in your last comment."

When I read that, red flags went up. I've talked with people who took the view that if I couldn't absolutely prove what I was saying, then they were justified in rejecting it completely. I don't think that's an intellectually honest position to take, so, I was a little predispositioned to be weary of that sort of thinking.

Perhaps because of that, I either forgot this next sentence, or it just never registered: "The problem is that, from an objective standpoint, this assertion is baseless and begs the question."

Of course that changes everything. You're simply saying that the particular assertion I made is baseless, not all assertions (assumptions).

And, I've been operating under that mistaken interpretation for several posts, which has influenced where I've been heading with things. Again, I'm sorry, and I'll try to read a little more carefully.

I'm glad to read that you want to take care that we're communicating clearly. Man, my wife and I miscommunicate about what's on the grocery list, so some measure of it is sure to occur when discussing complex and abstract ideas such as these.

Anyway, in this post, I won't critique your position of morality, I'll just see if I can restate it correctly, just to be sure we agree about what you're saying.

So, if I understand you, you are saying that we are born with an innate sense of the difference between right and wrong. This sense is the morality that is "out there" somewhere; that actually exists. That's the "ontological basis" for morality -- it exists as a thing (a sense) within us.

Further, "right" is what corresponds to God's will, while "wrong" is what conflicts with it. So, we have the ability to sense God's will.

Is that your position?

Don Jr. said...

Thayne, I greatly thank you for seriously attempting to understand my view, even though I'm sure we will probably still remain in disagreement. I will do the same in trying to understand yours. In your last paragraph, you say, "'right' is what corresponds to God's will, while 'wrong' is what conflicts with it. So, we have the ability to sense God's will." In a word: Yes, that is correct. But it is important to understand that what God wills is in agreement with His character. Thus, that which is good is rooted within the character of God (from a theistic position), and the character of God is unchanging and immutable. This seemingly trivial but important qualification is needed to avoid thinking that what God wills could be whimsical and subjective to capriciousness. For it is not. It is in accord with His unchanging, perfect nature.

In the paragraph before your last one, you say, "This sense is the morality that is 'out there' somewhere; that actually exists. That's the 'ontological basis' for morality -- it exists as a thing (a sense) within us." This is not entirely accurate. Your part before this, though, about having an innate sense of right and wrong is exactly correct. I believe that. But I believe—as it is the theistic position—that we were/are endowed with this innate conscience, and are subject to an objective standard of morality, a Moral Law if you will, which finds its source in the unchanging nature of God (which I talked about above). So, morality being something that is simply "out there" is a view that I reject. That view gives no credence to the issue of the ontological basis of morality, which is, at least in my opinion, an important issue—"What is the foundation of what is good?" is, I think, an important question. We perceive, epistemically, good and bad, right and wrong, as a sense. And can use reason to guide it. Yes, I believe that. But this is not the "ontological basis" of morality. Morality, or, more precisely, what is good, has its ontological basis in the unchanging, perfect nature of God. He (that is, God) has, from my view, granted us with moral awareness, with a conscience. And through the use of that we can "sense," or become aware of, or know, what is good versus what is bad. This is my view. Hopefully it is a little clearer now. If not, then I will certainly try to provide clarification where it is needed.

As an aside, if you wish, I can give you my email address in my next comment so that we can continue this conversation in email instead of having to come back to the comments section of this particular blog entry. If you want, just let me know and I'll give you my email address in my next comment. It's up to you though. If you prefer to just continue in this manner that is entirely okay with me.

Thayne said...

Don Jr. --

Due to my work schedule (and a Bronco's game I'm attending), I may not be able to post much for the next few days.

So if I understand you, it is God's nature, a real thing that acutally exists, from which moral "rights" and "wrongs" arise. We humans have the ability to sense this nature, and thus tell the difference from right and wrong.

That does indeed raise a lot of questions in me, but I'm not going to fire them at you all at once. I'll stick to just one.

It seems to me that we agree that people have a sense of right and wrong. We differ in our beliefs about why that is. I argued earlier that there are good natural (non-supernatuaral, non-theistic) reasons that explain this. People are social beings. We need each other. Caring for others can be thought of as a trait, like any other. It's a trait that makes families healthier, and society itself healthier. Since it has these effects, it is not surprising that it has become prevalent throughout humanity.
I'll admit I can't prove that's why we have a moral sense, but I do think that's a pretty plausible explanation.

Now my question: How do you get from the observation that we have an innate sense of right and wrong to the theory that this actually is an ability in us to sense some perfect nature in a god? I must say, that just seems like an odd conclusion to draw if one were starting from a completely neutral position.

I've also considered exchanging email addresses. I'm not opposed to it, but anyone who reads this blog could then get our email address, if that matters. Also, I do like the easy to follow linear way our entries show up here. But like I said, I'd go for an email exchange if you prefer.

One other thing: I'm sure you found Alonzo's mention of you raising the question of destroying an alien civilization in today's blog topic ("The Meaning of 'Ought'") to be a bolt from the blue. Actually, I know Alonzo personally. I sent him an email with a scenario about the morality of destroying a friendly, non-threatening civilization of aliens on another planet. He must have thought that you brought up the example in our discussion. I've told him about it.

Thayne said...

Don Jr. --

I realize I haven't answered a direct question you asked a couple of posts ago:

"So are you disagreeing with Alonzo and thereby suggesting that what helps society should not be the crux of the matter?"

I just can't conceive of a definition of "morally wrong" that doesnt' have to do with inflicting harm (or intending to). It just flat out does not make sense to me to say "Behavior X is wrong" if in fact behavior X cannot cause harm.

The society part explains how common ideas about "right" and "wrong" arise (see post above) and become so prevalent, as well as offers justification for society to pass laws.

Don Jr. said...

I agree that the linear display of our comments here is much more appealing, aesthetically, than an email exchange would be. I guess we'll just stick to this.

You say, "We humans have the ability to sense this nature, and thus tell the difference from right and wrong." This is accurate to some degree. Yes we can sense this nature, but only because God (from a theistic point of view) has endowed us with the ability to know it. A rock, though, I doubt has any moral dimension. So it isn't merely just that God's nature is perfectly good, or right, and any deviation from that is evil, or wrong. It's also that He has given us—us humans—the ability to know right from wrong and has created us to do what is right, which would explain why we ought to do good things.

Your question, in short, is: How do I get from an objective standard of morality to the existence of God? Fair question. (Note: I'm assuming that you agree that right and wrong, good and evil, are objective, not subjective or relative, terms. If not, then you'd have to admit that the child rapist's sense of right and wrong is just as valid as anyone else's. And also if you deny that right and wrong are objective then we'd pretty much be talking pass one another, because my worldview arises out of an assumption that morality is objective.) In response to your question, I came to the conclusion that a theistic worldview was correct because nontheistic worldviews, in my opinion, cannot support or account for the existence of objective morality. However, a theistic world can do just that. Consequently, my line of reasoning here is basically a best-explanation proposal: Given the existence of objective morality, theism is probably true and materialism/naturalism (or any nontheistic worldview) is probably false. Thus, we should perhaps move here to evaluating if objective morality is possible within a nontheistic world, in order to see if my conclusion is too hasty.

A good place to start would be to evaluate your account of morality (if it attempts to resolve objective morality and a nontheistic worldview, which I assume that it does, but correct me if I am wrong about that). You say that "good" is that which does not cause harm to others. Is this correct? If not, please explain your view so that I might understand it better.

Thayne said...

Don Jr. --

Sorry about the delay in my response -- busy at work.

You're asking "is objective morality possible in a nontheistic system?"

Yes. It hinges on the idea that harm is bad. That seems so transparently obvious that I feel a little silly typing "harm is bad."

The child rapist might claim that by society restricting his behavior, he is being harmed. He could then demand justification for the restrictions we might impose. But in doing so, he is being hypocritical, for he himself is inflicting harm that he is not justifying. And since the harms he inflicts far outweigh the harms he endures, it's clear that he is in the wrong.

Now, you might say he does have a justification: he simply defines child rape as "good." But, how is he going to sell his case? I can at least point to the real effects harmful behaviors have on the afflicted. The rapist can only point to his own thwarted desire. That's fine, as I said before, the thwarting of desires is a good way of defining harm. But in making this case, the rapist admits that thwarting desires is harmful and "bad." But what about the thwarted desires of those he rapes? Somehow, he'll have to make the case that his desires matter while those of the children he rapes do not.

Now, you might say that "harm is bad" is arbitrary. Why is it bad? I will admit that I cannot do much better than to point to the effects harms have on people. But I think that is a very minor concession, especially given the assumptions that I believe must be made to support a theistic view of morality.

Which brings me to your theistic view of morality. You've said in the past that God's existence is something that can be logically inferred from the existence of objective morality. But you also state "Morality, or, more precisely, what is good, has its ontological basis in the unchanging, perfect nature of God."

I'm not exactly sure how you square those two things. It seems to me that on the one hand, you're saying we know morality is objective because it's rooted in the nature of a perfect God, but on the other hand, you start from the presumpton of an objective morality, and from that "fact" infer that must be a God.

You've said that God gave us a conscience through which we can sense right from wrong. But that's only something you could propose only after first demonstrating the existence of God. Starting from scratch, all you know is that people have a conscience that gives them a sense of right and wrong. I see absolutely no way to conclude that this conscience must be sensing the nature of a god, or the "rights" and "wrongs" that derive from a god's nature.

Even if you cannot concieve of how such a sense could arise naturally (although I explained how I think it not only can, but would be an expected thing) all you would be left with is a mystery. Not noing how a thing could come into being does not justify concluding that there must be a god that created it.

Thayne said...

Can you tell I typed that at 3:23 in the morning? I of course meant "Not knowing how a thing..."

Don Jr. said...

Thayne, you say, "Yes. It [objective morality] hinges on the idea that harm is bad." Let's forget that fact that many "wrong" actions are actions that aren't going to cause harm to anybody (such as lying to your parents) and actually might reduce the amount of harm. Let's forget that for the moment. Let's, instead, ask a simply question and hope for a simple answer: To the serial killer who says harm is not bad, what do you say? Do you just shout, "You're wrong!" What makes you right and him wrong? Simple question. I'll hope for a simple answer (although I doubt I'll get one).

Thayne said...

Don Jr. --

You ask: "To the serial killer who says harm is not bad, what do you say?"

Haven't we been over this? I point to the harm he inflicts, and society locks him up because such behaviors are a threat to everyone.

As I said, if he says that locking him up will harm him, then he is admitting that harms matter. If on the other hand, he rejects the notion that harming others is bad, then how can he complain about being locked up? Afterall, we're "merely" harming him!

Like I said, this is practical and based on the real world we can all see. To me, your armchair complaint that I can't prove that inflicting harms upon others is bad is insignificant.

I think it's interesting that you didn't address the issues I raised about God and objective morality.
After you do that, perhaps you would also tell me what you would say to the serial killer. I don't see how you can possibly convince him of the wrongness of his ways.

Don Jr. said...

I already explained the theistic point of view. I said I arrived at that view because nontheistic worldviews can't account for objective morality, thus I thought it was obvious the next step to take would be to evaluate nontheistic accounts of morality, such as yours, to see if my conclusion was too hasty. I do not want to discuss 20 separate items all at once. Let's try to stay on one topic. I thought you understood theistic morality. If not please stick on that topic and don't try to defend nontheistic accounts of morality as well. State your specific confusion, in regards to theism and objective morality, and I will again try to clarify the issue for you. After all the confusion is cleared up we can move on to discussing nontheistic accounts of objective morality.

(As an aside, I would like to make a comment about careful reading. In your last comment you said, "I don't see how you can possibly convince him [the serial killer] of the wrongness of his ways." If you had read my comments more carefully you would see that this in no way resembles my complaint. I asked what makes you right and the serial killer wrong, not why can't you convince him of something. Please try to read my comments a little more carefully.)

Thayne said...

Don Jr. --

When you asked "To the serial killer who says harm is not bad, what do you say?", I assumed you meant how would I explain to him that his deed is "bad."

I do have many questions about your view, but I'll start with one thing. I don't see how you determine that there is an objective morality.

For me, I simply note that harms are bad. I know you don't like that explanation, but it is my explanation. I'm sure we'll discuss it later.

Given that you seem to reject the notion that harms are inherently bad, I don't see anyway for you to determine that there exists an objective morality.

You've said that objective morality exists, and from that you infer God. But, before you make that inference, how do you assume an objective morality?

You've said we all have a sense of right and wrong, but that doesn't seem like enough to justify the claim "objective morality exists." A natural origin for such a sense is easy to explain naturally.

So how do you find that there is indeed an objecive morality?

Don Jr. said...

Thayne's comments will be in bold. My replies will be in normal font-style.

When you asked "To the serial killer who says harm is not bad, what do you say?", I assumed you meant how would I explain to him that his deed is "bad."

In that exact same post I ask, "What makes you right and him wrong?" Please read the entire post for clarification.

I don't see how you determine that there is an objective morality. . . .
You've said that objective morality exists, and from that you infer God. But, before you make that inference, how do you assume an objective morality? . . .
You've said we all have a sense of right and wrong, but that doesn't seem like enough to justify the claim "objective morality exists." . . .
So how do you find that there is indeed an objective morality?


I thought we were both agreeing on that assumption: that morality is objective. (If you don't think morality is objective then you'd have to agree that the child rapist's account of morality, of what is "good," is just as valid as yours or anybody else's.) If you agree with me that morality is objective then your above concern is misplaced. If we're both in agreement that objective morality exists then it makes no sense to question that premise from which we are both reasoning. Besides being misplaced, it's also mistaken. My argument here isn't based on determining that there is an objective morality. I'm not reasoning to objective morality; I'm reasoning from it. If we're in agreement that objective morality exists, the question isn't how do we determine that there exists an objective morality; rather, it's how do we account for its existence.

If you understand this, then please ask me any other relevant questions you have concerning the theistic account (or at least what I view to be the theistic account) of morality.

Thayne said...

Don Jr. --

I have many questions regarding your theistic morality. But we'll get to them in due time.

I've told you how I concluded that objective morality exists. Indeed, we've spent a fair bit of time discussing that.

I am perfectly aware that you reason from objective morality, and from it you conclude that God exists. That's why I said, in my last post, "You've said that objective morality exists, and from that you infer God."

I do indeed question how you arrive at the conclusion that there is an objective morality. And there is nothing unreasonable about my prying into your reasoning, just as you have asked me for mine.

You seem to reject harm as a basis for morality. Given that, I don't see how you can conclude that objective morality exists.

So I ask again, how do you conclude that there is an objective morality? I don't know why you won't tell me what leads you to that conclusion.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

To augment Thayne's question, this proof of an objective morality must not presuppose God.

Since objective morality is being used to prove the existence of God, any argument for an objective morality that presupposes the existence of God would thereby be circular.

Don Jr. said...

Thayne's comments will be in bold; mine will be in normal font-style.

I've told you how I concluded that objective morality exists. Indeed, we've spent a fair bit of time discussing that.

No you haven't, and no we haven't. You've told me how you account for objective morality—which presupposes that objective morality exists—not how you prove that objective morality exists. (You can't prove that objective morality exists by asserting that harm is bad. That just begs the question.)

I am perfectly aware that you reason from objective morality, and from it you conclude that God exists. That's why I said, in my last post, "You've said that objective morality exists, and from that you infer God."

Very good. Then what's the problem?

I do indeed question how you arrive at the conclusion that there is an objective morality.

Okay. That's fine. But that is a completely separate issue from my theistic account of morality. My "proof" for objective morality has absolutely nothing to do with God or theism. You're confusing things here. If we were discussing the cosmological argument for the existence of God I would explain how God best accounts for the existence of the external world. It, however, is an altogether separate issue, which has absolutely nothing to do with God or theism, of how I prove that the external world exists, which is a premise, that is to say, it is presupposed, in the cosmological argument. Your confusing the two as if we have been talking about both issues this whole time. We have not. Not only have we not, but you cannot. You can't argue from a presupposition that the other person doesn't accept. You accept (as far as I can tell) that objective morality exists. I accept that as well. Thus, I argue from that to the existence of God, not vice versa. Why you feel it necessary to question a premise, namely, the existence of objective morality, that we both accept and that proof of (which you are now requesting) has absolutely nothing to do with the existence of God or theism or, for that matter, nontheism is beyond me.

So I ask again, how do you conclude that there is an objective morality? I don't know why you won't tell me what leads you to that conclusion.

I can tell you (see my next post, directed at Alonzo, for a listing of various "proofs" for the existence of objective morality) but the proof of the existence of objective morality has absolutely nothing to do with God or theism or nontheism. It's a completely separate issue from the one we were previously discussing and it vastly perplexes me why you insist on it. Many nontheists would agree with my argument(s) for objective morality. Why? Because it has absolutely nothing to do with the existence of God or theism; it's an altogether separate issue. How we account for the existence of that objective morality is where we will differ. It's as immensely different as the issues of proving the existence of the external world and accounting for the existence of that external world. Nontheists and theists would both agree on the first issue, that the external (i.e., physical) world exists. They'll differ on the second, on how to account for its existence.

Don Jr. said...

Alonzo's comments will be in bold; mine will be in normal font-style.

To augment Thayne's question, this proof of an objective morality must not presuppose God.

Since objective morality is being used to prove the existence of God, any argument for an objective morality that presupposes the existence of God would thereby be circular.


Of course I agree with this. I don't know what would lead you to think that I would prove the existence of objective morality by presupposing the existence of God. No Christian apologist or philosopher that I am aware of has done so. They all argue from our excuses, our reactions, our innate awareness of right and wrong, moral extremes, the possibility of moral progress, the invalidity of certain moral points of views, the unlikeliness of subjectivity with certain moral statements, and so on. None of these things have anything at all to do with the existence of God or theism. Why ya'll have chosen to detour the argument from a discussion of legitimate accounts of objective morality, which include theistic and nontheistic accounts (and where the existence of objective morality is presupposed), to a discussion of the existence of objective morality, which has absolutely nothing to do with theism or nontheism, is beyond me.

Don Jr. said...

In my comment (2 posts above) to Thayne I said, "You can't prove that objective morality exists by asserting that harm is bad. That just begs the question." I meant bad in a moral sense, that is, as wrong (and objectively wrong at that). To be clearer please read that statement as, "You can't prove that objective morality exists by asserting that harm is wrong. That just begs the question." (Note: This correction is of very little importance insofar as my last two posts are concerned. Please do not focus on it, while disregarding the rest of what I said, as if it is of much importance.)

Thayne said...

Don Jr. --

You stated "Why you feel it necessary to question a premise, namely, the existence of objective morality...is beyond me."

I ask for your reason for assuming an objective morality because, quite frankly, I think there is no case to be made for it if you reject the notion that harm is "bad."

I know you think I'm begging the question. So be it. That doesn't mean it's meaningless. As Alonzo pointed out, "circles are round" is also begging the question, but so what? We can take this issue up again later if you wish. But, you said it's time for me to ask you questions regarding theistic morality, so let's continue in that vein for now.

So, if you reject "harm is bad," then I see no basis for an objective morality.

And, according to your model, without objective morality, you lose the inference of God, and therefore theistic morality altogether.

I don't see anything on the list you provided in your response to Alonzo that will make your case. For example: "our innate awareness of right and wrong" presupposes the existence of right and wrong. One cannot be "aware" of something that doesn't exist. We have feelings about right and wrong, but I see no way to infer that these feelings actually accurately sense rights and wrongs that objectively exist. Further, it is reasonable to expect that such feelings would naturally evolve in social beings, as I previously argued.

So I'll ask yet again. How do you conclude that there exists an objective morality?

Don Jr. said...

Thayne, you say, "I ask for your reason for assuming an objective morality because, quite frankly, I think there is no case to be made for it if you reject the notion that harm is 'bad.'" (Where "bad" is meant, as I clarified, as morally "wrong".) This is basic logic. You can't prove that objective morality exists by asserting that harm is objectively wrong. Besides being just flat out false (If a Christian falls down and hurts herself she has sinned? Or if a man stubs his toe then he should be punished for his wrongdoings?) that just so very obviously begs the question. If you can't see that then I'm afraid there are just deeper issues here that will never be resolved.

No one can prove that objective morality exists by asserting that harm is wrong. That's just a horrific display of reasoning. In addition to that, you claim that asserting that harm is wrong is the only way to prove that objective morality exists. If this were the case then the ethics section of philosophy books would be a page long and absolutely no one would be a moral relativist. I mean, if all you had to do to prove that objective morality exists is to assert that harm is wrong then only complete idiots would be so foolish as to deny this overwhelmingly strong argument (or maybe they just realize that its false and that it blatantly begs the question).

You then, for a short moment, discuss one of my (briefly mentioned) claims, which I did not defend in any sort of detail at all, for the existence of objective morality, namely, that "our innate awareness of right and wrong" provides some evidence of this. As if its some sort of valid objection, you say, "One cannot be 'aware' of something that doesn't exist." Duh. That's the whole point. Amazingly, after saying this, in the very next sentence you say, "We have feelings about right and wrong, but I see no way to infer that these feelings actually accurately sense rights and wrongs that objectively exist." What?! How can you say that we cannot be aware of something that doesn't exist and then turn around and (in the very next sentence!) say that our awareness of right and wrong doesn't mean that right and wrong actually exist? I don't even know what to say to this. You openly contradict yourself in back-to-back sentences.

You end by asking, "How do you [Don Jr.] conclude that there exists an objective morality?" This is a completely different subject matter than we first began speaking on. Not only that but you seem to not be knowledgeable of basic concepts in logic, as seen by asserting that "harm is wrong" is absolute proof that objective morality exists (which is about the most blatant case of begging the question I have ever seen). Due to this I doubt we can make in progress at all in this dialogue. Furthermore, I feel I'm just wasting my time arguing for a premise that we both accept. That's like arguing with someone about the existence of the external world when you both agree that it exists. That's just a waste of time. Since you, unfortunately, continue to press the "proof that objective morality exists" thing (even though I've already showed how that has nothing to do with our discussion up till now and has nothing to do with theism or nontheism or the existence of God and is a proposition that we both accept), I'm forced to resign from our dialogue here. (This was also spurred by the fact that you openly contradicted yourself in back-to-back statements. I don't know how, or even if it's worth my time, to argue with someone who does that.) I enjoyed the discussion thus far, but I'm afraid we're just at an impasse here. Thanks for your time.

Thayne said...

Don Jr. --

I've had to hold my tongue (well, fingers) many times throughout our discussion as you've misrepresented what I or others have said. I'm going to do so more than I'd actually like here. I've restrained myself in the past because I wanted to stay focused on issues, and because, to be honest, you seem pretty sensitive. It's pretty irritating to put up with your insults about logic or reading comprehension when you yourself obviously don't get what I or Alonzo are saying.

Consider, for example, your latest post where you highlight the back-to-back sentences that are allegedly so contradictory that you just can't continue:

Don Jr.:
" 'One cannot be 'aware' of something that doesn't exist.' Duh. That's the whole point. Amazingly, after saying this, in the very next sentence you say, "We have feelings about right and wrong, but I see no way to infer that these feelings actually accurately sense rights and wrongs that objectively exist." What?! How can you say that we cannot be aware of something that doesn't exist and then turn around and (in the very next sentence!) say that our awareness of right and wrong doesn't mean that right and wrong actually exist?"

Are you kidding, Don? Have you been paying any attention to what I've previously said on this topic? Please pay attention now: I did not say that we are aware of right and wrong. I said we have "feelings" of right and wrong. "Feelings" about what is real are not at all the same thing as an awareness of some reality. That was my whole point, which you completely missed. On a cloudless day at noon, I am aware of the sun overhead; I don't just have some gut feeling that the sun is overhead. Indeed, the question I've posed could be rephrased "how do you know these feelings of right and wrong are actually an awareness of right and wrong?"

Don Jr.: "No one can prove that objective morality exists by asserting that harm is wrong. That's just a horrific display of reasoning."

Again, I must ask, have you been paying attention to what I've been saying? I have not ever said that I have proved objective morality. I've clearly said that I ASSUME that harm is bad, and then progress from there. I've said I think that's a reasonable assumption -- much more reasonable than the list of baseless assumptions required in theistic morality, which, unfortunately we didn't get to (I suspect you don't want to). I've said that one could certainly challenge my assumption.

Don Jr.: "If a Christian falls down and hurts herself she has sinned?"

Are you trying to be juvenile?

Recall an earlier post of mine:

"I do in fact start with an assumption: that harm is "bad." Sometimes it may indeed be morally acceptable to inflict a harm to avoid still greater harm. And, unintentional harms are still bad, but they do not (usually) permit us to declare that the one who inflicts it [oops, should have said "them"]is bad (immoral). And also, intending to cause harm, but failing to actually pull it off, can still be deemed bad (immoral)."

Okay, read that carefully and then tell me how you'd bet money on my answer to your silly question about someone falling down. Intent is obviously an element. Incidently, in case you're wondering, I wouldn't call a thorn immoral if someone stepped on it and punctured their foot. Bolts of lightning that strike people down are also not immoral.

It appears to me that you really don't like being challenged. You're willing to clear up any misconceptions I may have about what you're saying, but your not so willing to hear challenges to your beliefs. In response to such challenges, you pompously blow a lot of smoke about the logical ineptitude of your opponents while evading the questions put to you.

And now, when challenged, you're quitting. Fine. But, in future posts, I recommend you stop pontificating, stop trying to make others look silly, and read what they have to say with a charitable heart.

Don Jr. said...

If you want to continue our conversation email me at don (dot) blow (at) student (dot) utdallas (dot) edu. I never insulted you. I never misquoted you. I asked for clarification on your view several times; you chose to focus on mine. In fact, I corrected you several times for misrepresenting my view and even drew close to cutting off out discussion earlier because of that matter specifically. I'm not going to get into some "pride battle" with you here. If you want to continue our discussion (which would be fine with me) then email me at the above address. If it makes you feel better to claim that I'm "quitting" or that I'm "not willing to hear challenges to my belief" (I'm not sure what I've been doing this whole time then?) or "blowing smoke" or "pontificating" then go ahead. If you feel my not willing to continue our discussion here is some sort of victory (as if the last person that speaks is right) then that's up to you. However, if you want to "hear challenges to your belief," then email me at the above address and we can continue our dialogue, which I would be more than happy to do.

Richard said...

can u explain more detail bout societies rules to guide a moral person and importance of the rules of society.....thank you