Reckless Believers and Church-State Separation

by Luke Muehlhauser on December 9, 2010 in Ethics,Guest Post

The ethical theory I currently defend is desirism. But I mostly write about moraltheory, so I rarely discuss the implications of desirism for everyday moral questions about global warming, free speech, politics, and so on. Today’s guest post applies desirism to one such everyday moral question. It is written by desirism’s first defender, Alonzo Fyfe of Atheist Ethicist. (Keep in mind that questions of applied ethics are complicated and I do not necessarily agree with Fyfe’s moral calculations.)

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In my last post, I mentioned that a reasonable mistake-of-fact can be used as an excuse defense against a prima-facie wrong act.

If you shoot and kill somebody who points a toy gun at you, you have a legitimate excuse if it was reasonable for you to assume that the gun was loaded.

If you shoot and kill somebody who points a gun at you on a paintball field during a game, or on location while filming a Western, the excuse of “I thought it was real” becomes much less plausible.

If you walk off with somebody else’s suitcase at the airport, a “mistake of fact” claim is a possible defense. However, travelers are assumed to have an obligation to take steps to prevent such a mistake of fact – to take special care to identify the luggage as theirs before they walk off with it.

We are, in general, held morally responsible for our beliefs.

As well we should.

Our beliefs – as well as how we defend our beliefs – tell us something about the kind of person we are. They indicate the degree to which we are concerned for the welfare of others. They indicate the desires that we have and, in doing so, indicate whether we have desires that people generally have reason to praise, or desires that people generally have reason to condemn.

We have many and strong reasons to condemn those who show such a lack of concern for the interests of others. Negligent acts are acts that demonstrate that lack of concern. A truck driver has an obligation to secure his load so that he does not create a danger for others. If a truck driver fails to do so, we may infer that he lacked the concern for the risks that his actions impose on others. People generally have many and strong reason to promote such a concern through  social tools such as praise and condemnation. Thus, we praise those who are careful, and condemn those who fail to exercise due caution.

There is no reason to treat the securing of a belief any different than securing a load on a truck. In fact, we may have more and stronger reason to condemn the reckless believer than the reckless truck operator. Reckless believers have been responsible for a great deal more death and destruction in the world than reckless truck drivers, and reckless believers are potentially creating huge amounts of future death and destruction.

Yet, for some reason – and this is one area where I hold that our current culture is making a huge mistake – we condemn the negligent truck driver, and ignore the negligent believer.

I want to point out, the question of negligent belief is not a question of whether somebody agrees or disagrees with your own beliefs. If they are supporting their beliefs using arguments that are clearly flawed, then this demonstrates epistemic negligence – a lack of concern over whether they are right or wrong – regardless of what conclusion they draw.

For example, some people argue that:

Capital punishment is wrong because it involves killing people. It is incoherent to take somebody who has committed a crime and murder and kill him, because you are being a hypocrite. You are doing exactly what you condemn the murderer for doing.

Regardless of where you stand on the crime of capital punishment (and I happen to be opposed), this type of argument flags the person who has made it as negligent. This argument is so clearly flawed that no morally responsible person would embrace it.

Why? Consider:

Imprisoning kidnappers is wrong because it involves taking people and confining them against their will. If you imprison kidnappers, you are committing the same crime that the kidnapper committed. You are being a hypocrite.

Or:

Fining a robber is wrong because it involves taking another person’s property by threat of force. If you fine robbers, you are committing the same crime as the robber committed. You are being a hypocrite.

It’s not just that the argument is invalid. It is that the argument is so clearly invalid that, when somebody embraces it, this flags them as somebody who just does not care whether or not his beliefs are well grounded. But he ought to care about whether his beliefs are well grounded. By “ought,” I mean precisely this: people generally have many and strong reasons to use social forces such as praise and condemnation to cause people to care that their beliefs are well grounded.

The same argument applies to the person who claims that there are natural fluctuations in global temperature; therefore, we may dismiss the claims that humans can cause global warming.

This argument is as foolish as arguing that, “Because the waves cause the ocean level to rise and fall, it cannot be the case that the tide is coming in.”

The use of this argument flags the individual as unmoved by the potential harm suffered by hundreds of millions of people and the potential destruction of more than two dozen coastal cities. If he cared about these things, he would say, “I need to make sure my beliefs on this issue are well grounded.’ From there, he would go on to recognize, “It is so absurd to believe that natural changes prove that there can be no man-made change that only a morally irresponsible person would advance such an argument – or accept it.”

This issue also attaches to religious belief when those beliefs motivate an agent to take positions on government policy, for example. When a person’s religious beliefs are private, then others have little or no reason to condemn that person. However, when a person’s religion becomes a basis for his position on policy decisions, then he is making decisions that create a threat to the well-being of others. The morally responsible person would then hold that a proper concern for the welfare of others dictates that one make sure that those beliefs are well grounded. Yet, for most people, their religous beliefs are notoriously poorly grounded, or have no ground at all other than wish of the agent that they be true.

The agent who goes ahead anyway and promotes policies potentially harmful to others is morally negligent. Our attitudes towards him should be the same as our attitudes towards the drunk driver – somebody else who cares so little about others that he is willing to put others at risk.

Society has traditionally lowered the moral bar when it comes to religious beliefs. “Yes, they are poorly founded if they are founded at all. However, we will adopt a principle that these poorly founded religious beliefs shall not be made a matter of public policy. Thus, we give others no reason to condemn those who hold such beliefs as morally reckless. We will call this ‘religious freedom’.”

However, when religious freedom takes the form of policies that put others at risk of harm, it is then sensible to revolk that agreement and to hold religious belief up to a higher standard. “Now that you are using your religious belief to advocate policies harmful to others, you take on the moral obligation of making sure that those beliefs are well grounded. You are no longer morally permitted to ground those beliefs on ‘faith’ or a private wish that they be true.”

We can see the response to 9/11 in this light. A group of morally reckless individuals hijacked some airplanes and flew them into buildings, causing a great deal of destruction. The response – the sensible response – to this type of act is, “If you are going to adopt policies and practices that affect the lives of others, those whose interests you would harm have a right to demand that those beliefs be held to a higher standard than we have previously allowed. All of those who fail to do so may be legitimately condemned as morally negligent.”

Some went too far and condemned all religious beliefs. But, in fact, we only have reason to condemn religious beliefs that can lead to policies and harm. We have no reason to condemn harmless religious beliefs or religious beliefs that motivate agents to kindness and compassion. It is when religious beliefs motivate people to take positions on policies potentially harmful to others that we have reason to condemn them as immoral – as reckless believers.

If we are going to name this principle that holds policy beliefs to a higher standard than private religious belief or helpful religious belief, one potential name for it is “the separation of church and state”.

A great many atheists and secularists who argue for the separation of church and state assert it as an unquestionable truth incapable of its own defense. Perhaps if they took up the task of actually defending the separation of church and state – providing an argument as to why it is a good idea – their condemnation of specific examples would have more weight. However, because they do not go through the effort of defending the separation of church and state, they leave the false impression that there is nothing to say in its defense. It is an empty slogan, not a principled and defensible policy.

Yet, there is a foundation for the separation of church and state, and it is founded on the ethics of belief. Morally responsible people hold beliefs about policies to a standard of proof that religion cannot provide. Thus church-belief and state-belief should remain separate.

-Alonzo Fyfe

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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Zeb December 9, 2010 at 5:49 am

Here is a valid argument:

1. If you do what you condemn, you are a hypocrite.
2. You condemn taking another person’s possessions by threat of force (which you call robbery).
3. You take another person’s possessions by threat of force (which you call fining).
4. You are a hypocrite.

Now HERE is an invalid argument:

Why? Consider:

Imprisoning kidnappers is wrong because it involves taking people and confining them against their will. If you imprison kidnappers, you are committing the same crime that the kidnapper committed. You are being a hypocrite.

Or:

Fining a robber is wrong because it involves taking another person’s property by threat of force. If you fine robbers, you are committing the same crime as the robber committed. You are being a hypocrite.

It’s not just that the argument is invalid. It is that the argument is so clearly invalid that, when somebody embraces it, this flags them as somebody who just does not care whether or not his beliefs are well grounded.

That’s just assertion and appeal to intuition. It’s so clearly invalid that an arrogant and self righteous person would find reason to publicly question or even condemn the motives of the one who wrote it.

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LilRobbie December 9, 2010 at 8:11 am

“… it is then sensible to revolk that agreement” – Sorry for being pedantic, but shouldn’t this be “revoke“?

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Patrick Julius December 9, 2010 at 10:26 am

No, Zeb: Luke is right. Yes, technically, your argument is valid; but it’s not at all morally reasonable. (I think Luke should have used the word “sound” rather than “valid”, but that’s a little pedantic.)

1. If you do what you condemn, you are a hypocrite.
2. You condemn taking another person’s property by threat of force by a private individual without sufficient justification (which you call robbery).
3. You take another person’s property by threat of force as the just sentence issued by a fair and reasonable court of law in a transparent, democratic state (which you call fining).

And… the argument ends there, because there are no logical inferences to be drawn from these three propositions. That’s what Luke is getting at; we all know that there is a difference between private action for personal gain and public action as the result of a just state. Failure to recognize that difference is epistemically and morally negligent.

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Patrick Julius December 9, 2010 at 10:32 am

Here is why I think that church-state separation is not usually supported with reasons: The best reasons I can give for church-state separation hinge upon the fact that religion is irrational and (as you put it) epistemically negligent, and most religious people are unwilling to admit that claim.

If religion were true, church-state separation would be nonsensical—it would be like talking about physics-state separation (no government policy may be based on laws of physics). If religion were even *reasonable,* it would still be profoundly odd, something like string-theory-state separation (no government policy may be based on string theory). The reason we must keep church and state separate fundamentally rests on the fact that churches teach lies and delusions.

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Cyril December 9, 2010 at 10:47 am

Patrick Julius,

Alonzo wrote this article, not Luke.

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Patrick December 9, 2010 at 12:52 pm

Patrick Julius wrote,

“If religion were true, church-state separation would be nonsensical—it would be like talking about physics-state separation (no government policy may be based on laws of physics). If religion were even *reasonable,* it would still be profoundly odd, something like string-theory-state separation (no government policy may be based on string theory). The reason we must keep church and state separate fundamentally rests on the fact that churches teach lies and delusions.”

That isn’t necessarily so. Lets go through, since there’s one claim per sentence.

1. If religion were true, church-state separation would still have value if religion were not provably true.

2. If religion were reasonable, church-state separation would still have value if more than one religion were reasonable, and their claims were incompatible (but reasonable).

3. There are lots of reasons to keep church and state separate even if you do not assume that religion is in any way bad or epistemically unsupported. If religious differences are fundamentally irreconciliable, because they touch on matters of self identity and reject epistemic norms that appeal to common, objective reality, then setting those matters outside the purvey of government can avoid a lot of conflict, and make consensus on remaining matters easier. Or if religious groups are fundamentally violent and untrustworthy when threatened, setting religious matters outside the bounds of government discussion can reduce that sense of threat, allowing a polity to emerge. Or if your culture consists of many religious groups, none of which makes a majority, and all of which would, like vipers, turn on one another if given power, church-state separation can help them live together much like arms control helps nations coexist. All of these can be good reasons even if one religion is substantiated and others are not, because the mere fact that a religious tenant has been conclusively disproved seems to have little bearing on how widely its accepted by believers.

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woodchuck64 December 9, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Zeb,

It’s not just that the argument is invalid. It is that the argument is so clearly invalid that, when somebody embraces it, this flags them as somebody who just does not care whether or not his beliefs are well grounded.

That’s just assertion and appeal to intuition. It’s so clearly invalid that an arrogant and self righteous person would find reason to publicly question or even condemn the motives of the one who wrote it

You sure Alonzo isn’t just using condemnation to cause his readers to desire to avoid clearly invalid arguments?

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Zeb December 9, 2010 at 6:27 pm

Woodchuck64, At first I thought you were joking and I laughed, but in case you weren’t, well, I think Alonzo respects us more than that. That raises an interesting point though, which I look forward to hearing about in the podcast: are moral statements meant to be rational or even true/false, or are they merely verbal tools, like saying “boo” and “yea.” In other words, is there a major different between statements about morality versus moral statements? And is there any sort of obligation to indicate which you are using?

Patrick Julius, your argument might be what Alonzo hears in his head when people say that various forms of criminal punishment are hypocritical, but in reality it depends on the context. Now if a person were charging Alonzo personally with hypocrisy, he could object that their argument is unsound (not invalid, an important distinction that a person who wrote a long article about sophistry should not confuse) because he does not condemn using threat of force to take someone’s property in all situations, but only in certain situations. And then he would have to explain how and why he makes the distinctions he does. But the point is not about who is a hypocrite, it is about what kind of responses to crime are morally right. And if a person condemns an act in generally, or believes that all people should condemn an act generally, or knows that the audience does condemn an act generally, then the argument for condemnation of the act when committed by government agents in the course of criminal justice is obviously not invalid, and not obviously unsound. Anyone who says it is unsound needs to make a case against one of the premises.

This is especially true in the case of the death penalty. Personally, I condemn killing people in all situations. Therefor I condemn killing people by the government as a response to a guilty verdict. That’s clearly valid. Furthermore, I think everyone should condemn killing in all situations, and therefor should condemn capital punishment. Again, valid. And lots of Americans, especially the Christians, do subscribe to general condemnation of killing, and are inconsistent in supporting death penalty. Pointing that out is valid. Finally, someone who wants to condemn muderers and wants to kill murderers has a the burden of justifying why killing is bad in the one situation and good in the other. Prior to hearing that justification, I would be reasonable to note the inconsistency, with alarm. Anyone who charges me with being morally negligent for holding these positions needs to back that charge up with with more than reduction ad absurdum moral equivalence and intuitive moralizing.

You say:

[W]e all know that there is a difference between private action for personal gain and public action as the result of a just state. Failure to recognize that difference is epistemically and morally negligent. Patrick Julius(Quote)

Do you care whether or not your beliefs are well grounded? Because you have not made a valid argument, which by Alonzo’s standard earns you moral condemnation. I don’t know what the significant moral difference is between “private action for moral gain and public action as the result of a just state,” except that the state is “just,” but that’s begging the question. That’s the same error in your reformulation of my valid argument against fines. You reformulate it by including “unjustified” in the case of robbery and “just” in the case of fines. Well, if one is unjustified and the other is just, then sure there is nothing hypocritical about condemning one and advocating the other. But that’s what the argument is about!

As far as I can tell, you, like Alonzo, are making unjustified assertions and appeals to intuition. Neither of you, on this topic, is using valid (let alone sound) arguments, which is what this article was all about.

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Joseph December 10, 2010 at 1:33 am

“The agent who goes ahead anyway and promotes policies potentially harmful to others is morally negligent. Our attitudes towards him should be the same as our attitudes towards the drunk driver – somebody else who cares so little about others that he is willing to put others at risk.”

I think everyone should be forced to memorize this one.

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Student December 10, 2010 at 2:25 am

Society has traditionally lowered the moral bar when it comes to religious beliefs. “Yes, they are poorly founded if they are founded at all. However, we will adopt a principle that these poorly founded religious beliefs shall not be made a matter of public policy. Thus, we give others no reason to condemn those who hold such beliefs as morally reckless. We will call this ‘religious freedom’.”

I’m confused. This looks like an historical claim. Are you claiming that this is actually the sort of thought process policy makers have gone through? Are you able to back this up?

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Student December 10, 2010 at 3:10 am

Capital punishment is wrong because it involves killing people. It is incoherent to take somebody who has committed a crime and murder and kill him, because you are being a hypocrite. You are doing exactly what you condemn the murderer for doing.

This argument is so clearly flawed that no morally responsible person would embrace it.

This seems way too strong to me. The person in question might accept the parallel arguments as well, or they might think that there is no parallel because killing is always wrong whereas the other acts are not. It is also not obvious that your parodies are very good parallels (is imprisoning someone the same thing as kidnapping someone?).

Also, what does clearly flawed mean? Suppose I come up with a mathematical proof and I show it to a Maths professor. She quickly looks over it and realises that the argument is clearly flawed. Should she then conclude that I am morally irresponsible for even committing this argument to paper?

Or perhaps you are using clearly flawed in some technical sense?

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cl December 10, 2010 at 12:10 pm

What of reckless atheists and unfounded, sweeping moral condemnation? Am I the only one who thinks that’s getting old?

Alonzo wrote,

I want to point out, the question of negligent belief is not a question of whether somebody agrees or disagrees with your own beliefs. If they are supporting their beliefs using arguments that are clearly flawed, then this demonstrates epistemic negligence – a lack of concern over whether they are right or wrong – regardless of what conclusion they draw.

…yet, that’s exactly what he did right here in the very same post:

Consider:

Imprisoning kidnappers is wrong because it involves taking people and confining them against their will. If you imprison kidnappers, you are committing the same crime that the kidnapper committed. You are being a hypocrite.

Or:

Fining a robber is wrong because it involves taking another person’s property by threat of force. If you fine robbers, you are committing the same crime as the robber committed. You are being a hypocrite.

It’s not just that the argument is invalid. It is that the argument is so clearly invalid that, when somebody embraces it, this flags them as somebody who just does not care whether or not his beliefs are well grounded.

That’s ridiculous. That somebody uses one of those arguments is not sufficient grounds to “flag” them as negligent. Among other variables, it is possible that a morally non-negligent individual can err, or simply rest on the validity of their argument. That such might occur is not grounds to make the types of sweeping generalizations about people’s moral character that Alonzo obviously feels at liberty to make. Completely contradicting what he wrote in the same post, Alonzo is using an invalid argument to support his claim. Should we flag Alonzo as negligent for using faulty logic to endorse this sort of witch-hunt thinking where we’re going around showering condemnation on whoever we see fit?

Zeb layed out a completely valid argument:

Personally, I condemn killing people in all situations. Therefor I condemn killing people by the government as a response to a guilty verdict. That’s clearly valid. Furthermore, I think everyone should condemn killing in all situations, and therefor should condemn capital punishment. Again, valid.

Yet, Zeb’s position – supported by a valid argument – is analogous to the positions Alonzo just characterized as sufficient to condemn one as negligent. If Alonzo is to be believed, we ought to condemn Zeb as negligent, in fact as morally irresponsible, and yet Zeb is the one with the valid argument supporting his beliefs, while Alonzo uses an invalid argument to argue his. That’s about as backwards as it can get.

Zeb,

Anyone who charges me with being morally negligent for holding these positions needs to back that charge up with with more than reduction ad absurdum moral equivalence and intuitive moralizing.

I agree. In episode 3 of the podcast, Alonzo remarks that the person making the moral claim bears the burden of proof. I don’t think that standard was abided by here and if you ask me, “people generally” have many and strong reasons to promote an aversion to sweeping moral judgments based on insufficient data. That suggests wanton disregard for the burden of proof, as well as the desires of the accused.

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cl December 10, 2010 at 12:12 pm

Patrick Julius,

Yes, technically, your argument is valid; but it’s not at all morally reasonable. … we all know that there is a difference between private action for personal gain and public action as the result of a just state. [to Zeb]

You appear to simply project the intuitions of the majority into some imagined decorum that ought to be respected by all. Where is the empirical evidence for this leap? Luke actually admonishes against the use of intuition in moral evaluations [cf. In Defense of Radical Value Pluralism] so I have a hard time seeing him supporting that aspect of your argument. In episode 3 of the podcast, Alonzo writes that the person making the moral claim bears the burden of proof. Can you?

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woodchuck64 December 10, 2010 at 4:01 pm

Zeb,

Woodchuck64, At first I thought you were joking and I laughed, but in case you weren’t, well, I think Alonzo respects us more than that. That raises an interesting point though, which I look forward to hearing about in the podcast: are moral statements meant to be rational or even true/false, or are they merely verbal tools, like saying “boo” and “yea.” In other words, is there a major different between statements about morality versus moral statements? And is there any sort of obligation to indicate which you are using?

Half joking. I think moral condemnation can be as simple as “If you make an argument like that, I’m going to think you don’t care about whether or not your beliefs are grounded!”; not an argument set up and laid out rationally, but an opinion with strongly implied moral condemnation. I take it that way, but then I am in the habit of reading charitably anyone I tend to agree with.

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cl December 10, 2010 at 4:34 pm

woodchuck64,

Do you really believe that “uses one or more of the aforementioned arguments” -> “negligence” and “moral irresponsibility?” I see that as a clearly flawed, but maybe I’m missing something.

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woodchuck64 December 10, 2010 at 6:32 pm

cl,

Do you really believe that “uses one or more of the aforementioned arguments” -> “negligence” and “moral irresponsibility?” I see that as a clearly flawed, but maybe I’m missing something.

I don’t think that using bad arguments is the same as being immoral because it seems to me there can be extenuating circumstances; for example, an honest mistake. However, my opinion may be irrelevant because I think Alonzo is essentially arguing that bad arguments should be considered immoral behavior (in the context of desirism, not in the context of my moral intuition) because of the serious consequences of belief and so that everyone supports their beliefs carefully and thoroughly. I can see some sense in that (and thus wondering if I need to change my moral intuition), but obviously the tough part is defining, as Zeb pointed out I realize, how errors in argument should map to immorality. Should a typo be like kicking a puppy? Maybe an error of fact like slapping a nun? A logical fallacy could be on par with robbing an orphanage? j/k but there do seem to be some subjective obstacles.

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Kaelik December 12, 2010 at 9:53 am

Personally, I condemn killing people in all situations. Therefor I condemn killing people by the government as a response to a guilty verdict. That’s clearly valid. Furthermore, I think everyone should condemn killing in all situations, and therefor should condemn capital punishment. Again, valid.

Those are valid, but they also have little resemblance to the argument Alonzo was calling negligent.

To whit:

“Capital punishment is wrong because it involves killing people. It is incoherent to take somebody who has committed a crime and murder and kill him, because you are being a hypocrite. You are doing exactly what you condemn the murderer for doing.”

Note the essential claim of hypocrisy. That is the part that exists to persuade Alonzo of the persuader’s belief, and it is the part that fails.

Your argument may persuade you, but it does nothing to persuade anyone else, because while you personally feel that everyone should condemn killing in all situations does nothing to convince anyone else that they should condemn killing in all situations. A moral charge of hypocrisy might, but that would be an invalid argument.

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Zeb December 12, 2010 at 4:23 pm

Kaelik, I guess it is confusing the way Alonzo presents it, whether the argument is meant to demonstrate inconsistency, thus appealing to the desire to be rational, or hypocrisy, thus appealing to the desire to be morally good. Either way, it’s still a valid argument (see my first post, where the argument was about robbery instead of murder) because the arguer assumes that the opponent condemns the murderer because the murderer killed a human. If that is a false assumption, the argument is valid but unsound, and the opponent needs to explain more specifically how he condemns the murderer in a way that does not bring condemnation on the executioner. I wasn’t saying it was a successful argument, but it is sound and I don’t see how it is morally irresponsible. It seems like a fine way to begin a discussion about the morality of the death penalty. Can you explain why your think the argument for hypocrisy is invalid, and if you agree with Alonzo that it flags a person as morally irresponsible, please explain that too.

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Kaelik December 12, 2010 at 4:51 pm

@Zeb

I am greatly confused by your post, you say a lot of things, and I have difficulty telling which argument you are referring to, the argument Alonzo is criticizing, your own argument, Alonzo’s argument, ect.

1) Your argument may be a fine way to start an argument about the Death penalty. But it’s not the way this one started. When Alonzo starts things differently, you don’t just get to declare that because your way is also a good start, therefore his start is wrong. And yet, that’s exactly what you did.

2) The argument from hypocrisy is invalid in the structure that alonzo presented, because it misses premises or wording to cover for the possible distinction between murder for a sanctioned/preferred reason vs murder for unsanctioned/unpreferred reason. Other structures would be unsound, because the premises they make for that would be false.

3) I am a moral anti-realist, so I do not think any argument flags any person as morally irresponsible. Merely incorrect, and often, irresponsible.

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cl December 13, 2010 at 5:25 pm

woodchuck64,

In particular,

For example, some people argue that:

Capital punishment is wrong because it involves killing people. It is incoherent to take somebody who has committed a crime and murder and kill him, because you are being a hypocrite. You are doing exactly what you condemn the murderer for doing.

Regardless of where you stand on the crime of capital punishment (and I happen to be opposed), this type of argument flags the person who has made it as negligent. This argument is so clearly flawed that no morally responsible person would embrace it.

…do you think Alonzo’s response to [what he perceives to be] a flawed argument is actually a flawed argument itself? Why or why not?

Kaelik,

Same question.

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Kaelik December 13, 2010 at 6:59 pm

His last sentence… well, I would have to be given a definition of morally responsible person that I would agree with and find coherent. That is unlikely. So while the statement is false, I’m not sure how to blend it in with anything else, or how it would fit in an argument.

Before that, contemptuously dispensing with anyone who would use the above argument he presented, is perfectly sensible.

If I were putting it in logical form:

1) The argument (A) is false.
2) (1) is apparent on cursory examination.
3) If a person could easily evaluate the truth or falsity of a statement, and doesn’t, they are negligent.
4) Therefore: Anyone using A is negligent.

Which is not a flawed argument. Being both valid and sound.

My only question is whether the argument addresses a common objection, or an uncommon one. What with uncommon objections also being strawman fallacies of the”find the dumbest person who disagrees with me” variety.

On that I have no opinion.

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woodchuck64 December 14, 2010 at 12:25 pm

cl,

This argument is so clearly flawed that no morally responsible person would embrace it.

…do you think Alonzo’s response to [what he perceives to be] a flawed argument is actually a flawed argument itself? Why or why not?

At first I read it as hyperbole, but now I believe it is better read as “This argument is so clearly flawed that it should be considered morally irresponsible to use it. Here’s why.”, etc. Agreement then hinges on whether the reader accepts Alonzo’s definition and use of “moral responsibility” (which I assume is in the context of desirism).

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