Fame

by Luke Muehlhauser on January 8, 2012 in Funny

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{ 216 comments… read them below or add one }

siodine January 8, 2012 at 12:03 pm

And a majority of the people that do know Norman Borlaug think he’s either poisoning us with Frakenfood or only brought the Malthusian catastrophe closer. We humans don’t just fail in reasoning on one level, we fail fractally.

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Carl Shulman January 8, 2012 at 12:41 pm

Borlaug did not save a billion lives. People predicted starvation at that level if then-current trends in agricultural productivity continued without market or government reaction to increasing food prices (reduced meat consumption, changes in food aid, increased agricultural production in rich countries, etc). Borlaug was an important figure at a lab that made key innovations in wheat, and then contributed on rice. However, if he had been hit by a meteorite before he started his work, others would have eventually found comparable productivity-boosting interventions. The Indian government quite vigorously adopted new agricultural techniques when the famine became severe, which is why Borlaug found such a nice reception, and this would also have contributed to lives saved without Borlaug.

Billions of people have been fed by the crop strains developed by Borlaug, but if he had not existed, the expected loss of life would be more like tens of millions than a billion. Similarly, the inventor of a life-saving vaccine can’t take credit for all the lives ever saved by the vaccine: someone else would have invented it eventually, and the inventor can only take credit for it being invented somewhat earlier.

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Carl Shulman January 8, 2012 at 12:45 pm

Of course, he is still an epic hero who has done vastly more good than Bernard.

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anonymous January 8, 2012 at 1:44 pm

Moral indignation is the ultimate in Atheistic hypocrisy. With out engaging in theistic magical thinking what makes you think your moral preferences are any better then the next guys? Here is some help look up moral error theory.

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Ex Hypothesi January 8, 2012 at 1:52 pm

I’m sure a certain aspect of St. Bernard’s life serves as an encouraging example to emulate for those who wish to turn from their anger and violence and instead become gentle and compassionate. As such, his fame serves a much more profound end than mere vain recognition. I’d like to add, too, that the world would be better off if all of us tried to emulate St. Bernard instead of Borlaug. For transforming one’s soul from tyranny to justice is something each of us can and must do, but being lucky enough and talented enough to do what Borlaug did is something 99.9% of us will never do even if we tried.

Apparently your thirst for maximizing your computational skills has made you no less dense, Luke.

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Ex Hypothesi January 8, 2012 at 1:56 pm

Sorry, I meant “… the world would be better off if *the vast majority* of us tried to emulate St. Bernard…”

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cl January 8, 2012 at 4:22 pm

This might be the point where Luke or a fanboy comes along and spouts some variant of, “Duh you guys, this post was meant to be a joke, you all need to lighten up, we really are rational thinkers who don’t really on silly, flawed rhetoric to make our points!”

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RRC January 8, 2012 at 4:31 pm

Now on to the harder stuff. . . top ten lists, posts about what books and albums you’re looking forward to, back-pedaling from defending desirism, and a lame attempt at ridiculing religious belief through sound-bites and slogans to boot. Guess you’re too busy trying to prevent robots from enslaving us, John Connor.

Ex Hypothesi is on the money with this one.

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Howard January 8, 2012 at 4:35 pm

And a majority of the people that do know Norman Borlaug think he’s either poisoning us with Frakenfood or only brought the Malthusian catastrophe closer. We humans don’t just fail in reasoning on one level, we fail fractally.

I have personally improved my overall health dramatically by eliminating the dwarf mutant wheat (and its load of genetically ‘enhanced’ glutens, gliadins, and lectins) from my diet. Wheat, specifically, is very probably the leading cause of heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and several other so-called “diseases of civilization”. See http://guestdietblog.com/2011/09/an-open-letter-to-the-grain-foods-foundation/

The lack of mutant high-yield wheat/corn/rice/etc would *not* have caused a billion additional deaths by starvation. It very probably would have caused a reduction in the number of births of a similar magnitude, resulting in about that many *fewer* premature deaths by starvation. In other words, we are worse off for Borlag’s efforts (and those of his cohorts). Such is the realm of unintended consequence.

So, just by the implied criterion in the post, Bernard would have the moral superiority. I think it’s a bit more complicated than that.

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cl January 8, 2012 at 4:37 pm

Now on to the harder stuff. . . top ten lists, posts about what books and albums you’re looking forward to, back-pedaling from defending desirism, and a lame attempt at ridiculing religious belief through sound-bites and slogans to boot. Guess you’re too busy trying to prevent robots from enslaving us, John Connor.

LOL! Is there an echo in here?

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Zeb January 9, 2012 at 5:33 am

A saint is merely someone believed to have entered Heaven since dying. Is there strong reason to believe that Borlaug is in heavnen? Since the Catholic Church in practice does not declare non-Catholics to be saints and the Lutheran churches do not declare sainthood I’m not surprised that Borlaug has not been canonized. I am surprised by the choice of saint though. I have never heard of Bernard of Corleone though I am about as Catholic as you can be and I spent a year living with the Capuchin Franciscans, of which he was a member. Yet I have heard quite a lot about Borlaug, mainly because I took a lot of classed in agriculture and sustainability in college. Google sure makes it look like Borlaug is many orders of magnitude more famous than O’Corleone.

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anonymous January 9, 2012 at 8:15 am

Is this Luke guy really an atheist or is he a theist being satyrical?

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cl January 9, 2012 at 9:10 am

Of course, the unchallenged assumption is that “lives saved” = some form of absolute or near-absolute moral goodness, but if materialist atheism is true, on what grounds can anyone claim that? Further, why is Luke making and/or implying any moral claims without sufficient grounding? Even on desirist logic one would have great difficulty justifying the assumption that lives saved = moral good. The calculus of affected desires is simply too large, and therein lies the uselessness of desirism: we simply don’t have the capacity to run large-scale evaluations of any given desire against the rest. So instead, Luke and Fyfe shoot from the hip and gives us “feelgood” moral claims, just like any preacher, tyrant or despot.

Now, Fyfe has faded into relative obscurity, but Luke is the non-elected, non-peer-reviewed Executive Director of the Machine Intelligence Research Institute!

Oh boy.

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joseph January 9, 2012 at 11:12 am

“Of course, the unchallenged assumption is that “lives saved” = some form of absolute or near-absolute moral goodness, but if materialist atheism is true, on what grounds can anyone claim that? Further, why is Luke making and/or implying any moral claims without”

This is an interesting point. A similar question is on what grounds would non-materislist theism claim that saving lives is good?

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anonymous January 9, 2012 at 11:35 am

And obviously begs the question “How does an atheist define “good”?

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drj January 9, 2012 at 12:24 pm

Clearly, anybody who continues to ask “on what grounds can an atheist call X,Y, or Z good”, hasn’t bothered to study any non-theist realist moral theories. Those who are so overconfident in theisms ability to provide a coherent moral foundation also clearly havent studied any of the powerful objections to theistic accounts of ethics.

There are plenty solid non-theist moral theories – desirism among them, or Richard Carrier’s goal theory, or a number of others… sure, none are without controversy, but there arent any theistic accounts of ethics without controversy either.

You may or may not be convinced by any of them, but we certainly need not bother with the incessant repetition of the silly meme, that non-theists just can’t have any moral foundation, every time some non-theist makes a moral claim. C’mon..

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Stephen Diamond January 9, 2012 at 1:54 pm

Clearly, anybody who continues to ask “on what grounds can an atheist call X,Y, or Z good”, hasn’t bothered to study any non-theist realist moral theories. Those who are so overconfident in theisms ability to provide a coherent moral foundation also clearly havent studied any of the powerful objections to theistic accounts of ethics.

You miss the point. It isn’t that theism provides a coherent ethics where atheism doesn’t. It is that scientific, naturalistic atheism precludes the very existence of objective “moral foundations” because such foundations require that normativity be immanent in the world. Theism, of course, has no problem positing supernatural entities, whether they be gods or moral imperatives. Achieving a limited internal coherence is no great accomplishment, but disappearing the is/ought divide is a trick unavailable to the rational atheist.

The danger of atheists who want his godlessness and his moral realism, too, is personified in the late Christopher Hitchens. The attachment to moralism, an attachment strong enough to resist the intellectual challenges of science, may produce a politics more vile (from my standpoint) than most theists would conceive. From the standpoint of economic and social progress (not a moral concept: you want it or you don’t, without moral foundations), I think moralism is an enemy more pernicious than theism, at least in Europe and the United States.

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RRC January 9, 2012 at 2:49 pm

drj,

You may or may not be convinced by any of them, but we certainly need not bother with the incessant repetition of the silly meme, that non-theists just can’t have any moral foundation, every time some non-theist makes a moral claim. C’mon..

Yeah, it really stinks when someone straw-man’s your position with the incessant repetition of a silly meme. But of course atheists like Luke are allowed to do it to theists, right?

Will you, drj, join me in condemning Luke for doing this, or do you have a double standard?

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drj January 9, 2012 at 3:55 pm

You miss the point. It isn’t that theism provides a coherent ethics where atheism doesn’t. It is that scientific, naturalistic atheism precludes the very existence of objective “moral foundations” because such foundations require that normativity be immanent in the world. Theism, of course, has no problem positing supernatural entities, whether they be gods or moral imperatives. Achieving a limited internal coherence is no great accomplishment, but disappearing the is/ought divide is a trick unavailable to the rational atheist.

And with that, you’ve tipped your hand. Moral imperatives are supernatural? Well, if that’s what they are, of course naturalism can’t provide them, but that’s only because of this strange, idiosyncratic notion of moral normativity (ie, moral normativity as some sort of supernatural force) under which you appear to be operating.

Is/ought is the problem that isn’t. The two moral theories I mentioned earlier achieve the sort of limited internal coherence you speak of (desirism and goal theory), at least so far, and easily traverse is/ought by reducing all moral claims to hypothetical imperatives.

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Stephen R. Diamond January 9, 2012 at 4:22 pm

Is/ought is the problem that isn’t. The two moral theories I mentioned earlier achieve the sort of limited internal coherence you speak of (desirism and goal theory), at least so far, and easily traverse is/ought by reducing all moral claims to hypothetical imperatives.

“Hypothetical imperatives”? Surely you mean conditional imperatives. You mislabel the construction because of the obvious contradiction between the conditional character of the imperatives naturalism countenances and the unconditional character of supposed moral truths.

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drj January 9, 2012 at 5:10 pm

“Hypothetical imperatives”? Surely you mean conditional imperatives. You mislabel the construction because of the obvious contradiction between the conditional character of the imperatives naturalism countenances and the unconditional character of supposed moral truths.

Those are two words for the same thing – hypothetical – conditional – use which ever you like better!

If moral truths come from something that is, of course they will be conditional – as is everything else based on an is. But the more fundamental and universal the is, the more fundamental and universal the moral truths will be. And many naturalist moral theories rest upon is’s that they purport to be universal enough in scope as to apply to all human beings – or even all sentient creatures. They may be true or false, but that’s an empirical matter, not a logical one.

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PDH January 9, 2012 at 6:16 pm

Why on earth would you think that making morality supernatural evades the is/ought problem? Either the supernatural exists, in which case it’s in the ‘is’ realm, or it doesn’t exist at all and belongs squarely in the ‘is not’ realm.

It’s simply irrelevant whether something is natural or supernatural. What matters is whether it gives us reasons for action. God does not and could not, not even in principle, provide us a basis for morality.

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cl January 9, 2012 at 7:35 pm

God does not and could not, not even in principle, provide us a basis for morality.

Why make false claims to bolster the superiority of atheism?

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joseph January 9, 2012 at 7:57 pm

“God does not and could not, not even in principle, provide us a basis for morality.”

Ok theists, a gauntlet has been thrown. Please demonstrate how God provides us a basis for morality.

If you convert any heathens surely that’s good, if you don’t we get nearer the truth. Win-Win, no?

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Luke Muehlhauser January 9, 2012 at 8:15 pm

> This might be the point where Luke or a fanboy comes along and spouts some variant of, “Duh you guys, this post was meant to be a joke, you all need to lighten up, we really are rational thinkers who don’t really on silly, flawed rhetoric to make our points!”

Actually, yes. Except replace “really” with “rely.” And note that I didn’t make an argument or conclude “Therefore God doesn’t exist” or “Therefore religion is evil” or “Therefore religious people are less epistemically virtuous than atheists.”

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Nonchai January 9, 2012 at 8:23 pm

Hmmmm, the old to be objectively moral you gotta be a theist trope…

Lets see.

Right now, bible believing born agains in three states of africa, heavily encouraged by evangelicals from the USA – are pressing for the death penalty for gays who are caught bummin each other. These people get their “objective morality” from the bible, pray to god, let their interpretation of scriptures be led by the “inner witness of the holy spirit” etc etc.

Meanwhile back in the USA – Mr Evangelical superstar Rick Warren, fully led by the “inner witness of the holy spirit” and taking his objective morality from the bible too, begs these same people in africa NOT to kill gays who have been bumming each other. He thinks the objective moral thing to do is NOT hang gays.

See the funny thing is – when it comes to morality, xtians and theists all agree they SHOULD “do the right thing”. Ie the OUGHT. Trouble is – even though there supposedly is this god thing and his revelation to inform us of all this, somehow these theists seem to get utterly confused as to what exactly the right thing IS….

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nonchai January 9, 2012 at 8:26 pm

In fact it would be very hard for any bible believing theist to argue as to why we shouldn’t – say – torture convicted murdereres prior to execution. There is not a single passage in the bible which forbids torturing.

Yahweh simply don’t care.

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cl January 9, 2012 at 9:35 pm

Luke Muehlhauser,

And note that I didn’t make an argument or conclude “Therefore God doesn’t exist” or “Therefore religion is evil” or “Therefore religious people are less epistemically virtuous than atheists.”

Note that you don’t need to make any of those arguments or conclusions in order for others to point out the flawed logic your “joke” entails. Just because you’re making a joke doesn’t mean you can’t also be revealing legitimate cognitive mishaps without even realizing it.

joseph,

If you convert any heathens surely that’s good, if you don’t we get nearer the truth. Win-Win, no?

No, joseph, because these cocksure little wimps hardly ever admit it when they’re shown wrong. As Creator of all life, the God of the “traditional Abrahamic monotheisms” (defined as omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent) would have perfect access to the set of moral facts. By any standard use of language, that qualifies as a basis for morality.

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phatphace January 10, 2012 at 12:23 am

cl,

It seems to me that you still haven’t provided any foundation for the existence of ‘objective’ morality. You state that the Judeo-Christian God is perfectly moral by definition, yet is the relationship, “It is moral, therefore God declares it,” or is it “God declares it, therefore it is moral,”? It could be perfectly reasonable (although, I am open to any rebuttal) to assume that the ‘objective’ moral law is one merely arbitrated by this being, which would undermine your position.
Furthermore, lets begin with the premise that God has ultimate free will. This entails that God ‘could’ act contrary to moral law (for the sake of argument, lets presuppose its existence) if he so chose. Yet if God is perfectly moral, God would be unable to act contrary to moral law. It would seem to me these two attributes are in conflict, as there are not even any ‘possible’ worlds wherein God ‘could’ act immorally, thus his free will appears, to me, compromised.
I have not studied philosophy nor theology, so I can appreciate that these points may be glaringly flawed. They are just problems that I, personally, have trouble resolving.

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Matti S January 10, 2012 at 2:19 am

Queue the theists magical get-out-of-Euthypro-jail-card trick in 3, 2, 1…

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Hunt January 10, 2012 at 2:39 am

” As Creator of all life, the God of the “traditional Abrahamic monotheisms” (defined as omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent) would have perfect access to the set of moral facts. By any standard use of language, that qualifies as a basis for morality.”

And that’s entirely conditioned on the existence of God, making your objective moral system an article of faith. You’re just asserting an absolute moral standard. I can do that too. My absolute moral standard is based on the whim of Kermit the Frog. It is an absolute system; it has an absolutely fixed reference point. What Kermit thinks is the Law!

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joseph January 10, 2012 at 3:05 am

@CL

Ok, well you know I respect you, so perhaps I’ll find out what you’ve written so far on TWIM, I admit I’ve been put off by the closed for maintenance notice…maybe it’s a smart phone issue.

Briefly I’ll note, for anyone who cares (my mum?), that you seem to have said that morality, though intimately, and perfectly known by the Omnimax Abrahamic Deity, and even embodied (enspirited?) by the same…can be said to be separate from God. I.e. Humans could know it, if only imperfectly, whether God existed or not. Now I am sure you’d say without God we’d mess it up even more, but I think the point would remain that you have not, in your previous post, said “God is necessary for this perfect moral code”.

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joseph January 10, 2012 at 3:35 am

@Hunt
The Church of the Ursus Pilosus knows where you live.

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Larkus January 10, 2012 at 5:53 am

Sorry, I meant “… the world would be better off if *the vast majority* of us tried to emulate St. Bernard…”

Surely you meant “… the world would be better off if *the vast majority* of *those with dangerously severe anger control problems* tried to emulate St. Bernard…”

Oh well, maybe not, after all, St. Bernard didn’t overcome his anger, he just turned his anger on himself:
“Seven times a day he scourged himself to the blood. His sleep was limited to three hours on a narrow board, with a block of wood under his head. He fasted for the most part on bread and water. If anything delicious was placed before him, he would carry the food to his mouth so as to whet his appetite, and then lay it down without having tasted it. In spite of his austere life, he still undertook the most unpleasant and annoying tasks as being his due.”
http://www.roman-catholic-saints.com/st-bernard-of-corleone.html

This man clearly needed help. Unfortunately for him he lived in a time where modern psychology and psychiatry were not around.

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Zeb January 10, 2012 at 6:09 am

Of course, the unchallenged assumption is that “lives saved” = some form of absolute or near-absolute moral goodness

I’d like to add, too, that the world would be better off if all of us tried to emulate St. Bernard instead of Borlaug.

I know Luke doesn’t totally endorse desirism anymore, but I would think a desirist would criticize this gag on those same grounds. On desirism we judge a person by his desires, not by the effects of his actions. As best I can tell from reading Borlaug’s Wikipedia entry, the only morally relevant desire that he would be known for is the desire to use his talents at science to save the most number of lives in the short term. St Bernard, on the other hand, shows a clear desire to reform his life to become as harmless and loving as possible, and to minimize all other desires except also the desire to love and please God. Even an atheist desirist could find reason to praise St Bernard over Borlaug (while noting the “bad” desire to please God) because St Bernard’s overall desire set seems like the one that people generally have the most reason to promote for universal acquisition. And surely a world of St Bernards would lead to more Borlaugs when the few individuals with the talent and placement to make major scientific advances for the benefit of humanity appeared, for they would have overriding desires to be loving while minimizing harm.

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Ex Hypothesi January 10, 2012 at 6:32 am

Larkus:

“Surely you meant “… the world would be better off if *the vast majority* of *those with dangerously severe anger control problems* tried to emulate St. Bernard…”

No, not qua transforming one’s soul from tyranny to justice. But qua anger and violence, I agree.

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Reginald Selkirk January 10, 2012 at 7:09 am

Carl Shuman: Borlaug did not save a billion lives…. However, if he had been hit by a meteorite before he started his work, others would have eventually found comparable productivity-boosting interventions. … and this would also have contributed to lives saved without Borlaug.

Your chain of logic is weak. Just because, in Borlaug’s absence, someone else would have done X, does not mean that Borlaug did not do X.

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PDH January 10, 2012 at 7:33 am

cl wrote,

No, joseph, because these cocksure little wimps hardly ever admit it when they’re shown wrong. As Creator of all life, the God of the “traditional Abrahamic monotheisms” (defined as omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent) would have perfect access to the set of moral facts. By any standard use of language, that qualifies as a basis for morality.

1) If that’s the case then morality is actually based on these moral facts and not God.

2) You have not crossed the is/ought gap. Why should we base our morality on these ‘facts?’

A fact is an is statement, not an ought statement. I could still choose to base my morality on something else. I could choose to do the exact opposite of what these facts imply. Why shouldn’t I? Because God will throw me in Hell if I don’t? Well, then it’s my desire to not go to Hell that makes me choose to obey him, not God. Perhaps I should care about these moral facts because they are some metaphysical thing, like the Platonic Good. But then if I don’t give a damn about the Platonic Good, I have no reason to give a damn about these moral facts, either.

You haven’t answered this, the only important question, you have merely asserted that there are moral facts. So what?

Value is extrinsic, not intrinsic. These moral facts may be valuable to you but that doesn’t give anyone else reasons for action unless they are also valuable to them. Only if the alleged intrinsically valuable thing has extrinsic value as well can it provide us with any moral obligations. Extrinsic value is the only kind of value worth having.

A moral theory, if it is to work, must acknowledge this. Desirism does. Richard Carrier’s theory does, I think I’m right in saying. Theistic morality, so far as I can see, does not.

Just because something is supernatural it does not mean that I should obey it. The Devil is supernatural, too. For it to be morally binding it needs something much more than that.

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ds January 10, 2012 at 9:11 am

The dog would be more famous than either, I’m sure. And the dog is named for the monastery founded by Bernard of Menthon. So really nobody knows who the fuck either of these guys are.

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Zeb January 10, 2012 at 10:30 am

ds FTW!

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RRC January 10, 2012 at 12:11 pm

I think free will is more coherent on theism. God created man in His image to have a unique soul upon which responsibility for moral choices can lie. They have a God given moral sense, which allows them to perceive moral facts and also be compelled by them. As the image of God, each human has a dignity that cannot be compromised for personal gain or desires.

Most atheists are naturalists. Naturalistic accounts of free will are robust enough to ground morality. Compatiblism just offers deterministic shackles that are, on a phenomenological level, invisible. Consider an atheistic moral system like desirism. Luke still says desirism is largely correct, though he thinks that it needs to be translated into neologisms so that the discourse is further obfuscated and protected from legitimate critique. Desirism really come off as an elaborate plan to control and determine the large mass of people to do what is in the interests and desires of a select few powerful people. It is coercive and smacks of fascistic undertones. Desirism combined with technocratic utopianism offers us a very dark picture of the future indeed, one in which mastery over neurobiology and nanotechnology would allow just about any action to be deemed moral. Frighteningly enough, Luke advocates both. So in the future, all you would have to do is change brain-states so that those mailable desires accord with the wishes of whoever happens to be in control of what people desire. As technology progresses, the amount of control we can exert over the brain will make just about any behavior compatible with the maximization of desire fulfillment, fewer and fewer desires remain unchangeable. That means that if desirism were true, technological improvements would render behavior trivial in moral calculations. Just turn the desire knobs on the mob’s desires and suddenly a tyrant can rape a small child in front of throngs of cheering onlookers. Rape no longer “tends to thwart more desires than it promotes” once brain-states can be completely controlled. It becomes an open question of whether you would want rape to promote or thwart more desires, just spin those desire knobs. With utter control, a slave couldn’t even have the desire not to have his or her brain-states controlled, slaves would be made to desire even the control exerted over them, like compliant masochists. So it wouldn’t violate compatiblistic visions of freedom, since everyone would be do and having done to them precisely what they would want. The ideal form of desirism would be utter and complete domination–not freedom. Already the desirist talks about controlling social pressures to make people want to do this or that. But that is just a mediated way of controlling brain states. Going for the whole hog is the logical progression in all of this. But that’s okay for the desirist, since people are not really free souls valued in themselves, they are just place-holders for where desire fulfillment can occur. The dignity of the human is destroyed when the only thing valued is an arbitrary set of certain brain-states.

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Stephen R. Diamond January 10, 2012 at 12:43 pm

Why on earth would you think that making morality supernatural evades the is/ought problem? Either the supernatural exists, in which case it’s in the ‘is’ realm, or it doesn’t exist at all and belongs squarely in the ‘is not’ realm.

It’s simply irrelevant whether something is natural or supernatural. What matters is whether it gives us reasons for action. God does not and could not, not even in principle, provide us a basis for morality.

The question here is whether the is/ought distinction arises from our knowledge of the most fundamental properties of what exists or whether it is *purely* logical. I say the former; that pure logic can’t prove that ought never follows from is. (Show me the logical proof.) If you allow the nature of what exists sufficient latitude, you can’t block normativity. The supernaturalist can say that the moral good is irreducible and contains a normative component. A naturalist will deny that “goodness” is a fundamental property of the property of the world. There is no evidence warranting including “goodness” in the fundamental taxonomy of things in the universe. But a supernaturalist is free to take “good” as a primitive

Why on earth would you think that making morality supernatural evades the is/ought problem? Either the supernatural exists, in which case it’s in the ‘is’ realm, or it doesn’t exist at all and belongs squarely in the ‘is not’ realm.

It’s simply irrelevant whether something is natural or supernatural. What matters is whether it gives us reasons for action. God does not and could not, not even in principle, provide us a basis for morality.

The question here is whether the is/ought distinction arises from our knowledge of the most fundamental property of what exists or whether it is *purely* logical. I say the former; that pure logic can’t prove that ought never follows from is. (Show me the logical proof.) If you allow the nature of what exists sufficient latitude, you leave room for normativity. The supernaturalist can say that the moral good is irreducible and contains a normative component. A naturalist (such as I) will deny that “goodness” is a fundamental property of the world; will argue there’s no evidence warranting including “goodness” in the fundamental taxonomy of things in the universe. But a supernaturalist is free to take “good” as a primitive.

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PDH January 10, 2012 at 1:04 pm

Stephen R. Diamond wrote,

The question here is whether the is/ought distinction arises from our knowledge of the most fundamental property of what exists or whether it is *purely* logical. I say the former; that pure logic can’t prove that ought never follows from is. (Show me the logical proof.) If you allow the nature of what exists sufficient latitude, you leave room for normativity. The supernaturalist can say that the moral good is irreducible and contains a normative component. A naturalist (such as I) willdeny that “goodness” is a fundamental property of the world; will argue there’s no evidence warranting including “goodness” in the fundamental taxonomy of things in the universe. But a supernaturalist is free to take “good” as a primitive.

The supernatualist has no advantage over the naturalist in this respect. Naturalists can claim that ‘good’ is primitive and contains a normative component.

The problem is that, in either case, people are free to just say, ‘why should I care?’ It’s not morally binding and wouldn’t be even if it was actually true. There’s no reason to care about Platonic good, unless for some reason you value it (and it is perfectly possible that you won’t). It’s good in and of itself – intrinsically good – but that doesn’t mean that it’s good to us – extrinsically good – and only this latter can provide obligations of any kind.

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Stephen R. Diamond January 10, 2012 at 1:12 pm

If moral truths come from something that is, of course they will be conditional – as is everything else based on an is. But the more fundamental and universal the is, the more fundamental and universal the moral truths will be. And many naturalist moral theories rest upon is’s that they purport to be universal enough in scope as to apply to all human beings – or even all sentient creatures. They may be true or false, but that’s an empirical matter, not a logical one.

Conditional imperatives (in the relevant sense) aren’t merely hypothetical. Rather, they’re means-ends statements. To achieve a, do b. Nothing in nature dictates that you choose to achieve a. They may have universal validity within that constraint–universality is a separate question.

The question is how you ultimately justify what you desire–or whether you can. Fyfe favors desires that help satisfy other desires. What if I say, “I don’t give a whit about others’ desires; I don’t even think most of my desires have any moral worth. All I care about is (my desire to) pay homage to the greatness of God.” What basis does a desirist have for saying I’m wrong about this (other than reasoning that also condemns utilitarianism.) You can propose a theory that comes closer to satisfying our “moral intuitions.” But how can you argue that your view is *true*?

The point is you must be trying to do something else with your moral theory, something other than affording knowledge of “moral truths.” In itself, that’s OK. But why must you confuse your project, whatever it is, with the impossible pursuit of truth. Such pursuit is possible only with a different–supernaturalist–view of morality.

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PDH January 10, 2012 at 1:30 pm

Stephen R. Diamond wrote,

The question here is whether the is/ought distinction arises from our knowledge of the most fundamental property of what exists or whether it is *purely* logical. I say the former; that pure logic can’t prove that ought never follows from is. (Show me the logical proof.) If you allow the nature of what exists sufficient latitude, you leave room for normativity. The supernaturalist can say that the moral good is irreducible and contains a normative component. A naturalist (such as I) willdeny that “goodness” is a fundamental property of the world; will argue there’s no evidence warranting including “goodness” in the fundamental taxonomy of things in the universe. But a supernaturalist is free to take “good” as a primitive.

I don’t think I did a good job of showing how my point relates to the first part of your post, so I’m revisiting it.

The supernaturalist could say that morality was irreducible (I think the naturalist could as well but that they would both be mistaken), however this alone would not give us a basis for morality! It being irreducible instead of reducible is as irrelevant to the issue as it being supernatural instead of natural. It simply makes no difference either way unless it gives us reasons for action.

‘It’s really special,’ is not a reason. ‘It’s irreducible,’ is not a reason. ‘It’s supernatural,’ is not a reason. ‘It’s commanded by God,’ is not a reason. ‘It’s God’s nature,’ is not a reason. ‘It’s purely logical,’ is not a reason. ‘It’s fundamental,’ is not a reason. ‘It’s intrinsically valuable,’ is not a reason. ‘It’s the Platonic form of Goodness itself,’ is not a reason.

Not unless you care about things that are special, irreducible, supernatural, commanded by God, reflective of God’s nature, purely logical, fundamental, intrinsically valuable or the Platonic form of Goodness itself do you have any reason at all to give a crap about it, whatever it is.

We can always just say, ‘so what?’ You can’t outsource morality.

OTOH, ‘you desire it,’ is a reason. ‘If you want X and Y will help you obtain X, then you should do Y,’ that works. Desirism may or may not be successful but at least I can see how it could work, in principle. I fail to see how declaring something to be supernatural or irreducible or fundamentally (!) normative or whatever helps us even get off the ground. It sounds to me like, ‘you just should, that’s why.’

It’s not just that no such thing exists in most accounts of naturalism (though we can always expand our accounts, which is why I don’t like the term naturalism) it’s that even if they did, they still would not provide us with a basis for morality. The hunt for metaphysical ought statements is not only a chase for a wild goose, it’s a chase for a non-existent animal that would be inedible in any case. It’s a waste of time. Normativity needs to be grounded in hypothetical imperatives. That’s what normativity is and always has been and always has to be. There’s just no other way it could work.

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PDH January 10, 2012 at 1:53 pm

Conditional imperatives (in the relevant sense) aren’t merely hypothetical. Rather, they’re means-ends statements. To achieve a, do b. Nothing in nature dictates that you choose to achieve a. They may have universal validity within that constraint–universality is a separate question.

[...]

The point is you must be trying to do something else with your moral theory, something other than affording knowledge of “moral truths.” In itself, that’s OK. But why must you confuse your project, whatever it is, with the impossible pursuit of truth. Such pursuit is possible only with a different–supernaturalist–view of morality.

This all applies to supernaturalism, too. Why should I care that someone else has a desire to pay homage to the greatness of God? Why should I share that desire?

There is no reason, nor could there be. It’s no different from a utilitarian asserting that we should maximise happiness, except that I can at least see why most people would want to be happy.

It is only valuable if they desire it. Asserting that it is valuable in and of itself, even if this was somehow true and not complete nonsense, wouldn’t solve the problem.

The question is how you ultimately justify what you desire–or whether you can. Fyfe favors desires that help satisfy other desires. What if I say, “I don’t give a whit about others’ desires; I don’t even think most of my desires have any moral worth. All I care about is (my desire to) pay homage to the greatness of God.” What basis does a desirist have for saying I’m wrong about this (other than reasoning that also condemns utilitarianism.) You can propose a theory that comes closer to satisfying our “moral intuitions.” But how can you argue that your view is *true*?

I’m more interested in showing why supernaturalism fails than in showing why desirism succeeds, to be honest. It may or may not work. Some other theory like that of Richard Carrier might be superior. There might be no hope of an adequate moral theory at all. In all cases, supernaturalism will still be unable to help.

But I’ll have a go at defending desirism.

Desirism says that desires exist and are the thing that motivates us to take certain actions rather than others. Specifically, it claims that people always act to fulfil the most and strongest of their desires (at least it claimed this, the last time I checked!) It also says that desires are malleable.

It seems likely then that people will try to influence each other’s desires. They will want to encourage some and discourage others. It says that the desires that they should want to encourage will be the ones that fulfil rather than thwart desires. More accurately,

“The degree that a malleable desire tends to fulfill other desires is the degree to which people generally have a reason to use social forces such as praise, condemnation, reward, and punishment to promote that desire.

The degree that a malleable desire tends to thwart other desires is the degree to which others have reason to use these same social forces to inhibit that desire.”
-Alonso Fyfe

These are all empirical claims – is statements – so one good reason to accept them would be if they were true. It seems at least plausible that they are.

A desirist could say that someone is wrong to want to pay homage to the greatness of God if that is a desire that tends to thwart the desires of others (it doesn’t seem to be but maybe I’m wrong). Do people generally have reasons to not want people doing this? I don’t think I have much reason to want to thwart this desire, other than that I want to promote the truth and I think that paying homage to beings I consider to be non-existent might get in the way of that. This perhaps gives me some reason, maybe? Applied ethics is not my strong suit but that would be the sort of question to ask. Do we have reasons to want to promote this or not?

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drj January 10, 2012 at 3:26 pm

Stephen,

I don’t care whether nature “dictates” whether I choose (a), if by “dictate” you mean something like some sort of cosmic authortarian finger wag and an “or else”. I care whether I have rational reasons to choose (a) over something else. The pursuit of those overriding reasons is really what moral theories are for.

I’m fuzzy on desirism so I’m not going to respond from that perspective. Goal theory posits that there are universal facts about persons. One of the universal facts about the nature of persons is posited to be that each person values something (or some things) more than he or she values anything else. Every person has a “greatest” desire. It also posits that there is at least one common greatest desire, shared by all persons. This greatest desire is “that which is sought for its own sake” – Carrier considers this desire to be Eudimonia (flourishing, happiness, contentment with life,etc).

And a premise in both desirism and Goal Theory would be that: Desires (or values) can be rational reasons for action (or are the ONLY reasons for action). In other words, desires/Values are the fundamental unit within the real world which provide rational agents, with rational reasons to actually do things.

Given that there is an utmost desire shared among all person, and there are other basic facts about our nature and the universe which makes it so that the process of fulfilling that desire will be similar or the same for all of us, there are reasons that apply to everybody to do X vs Y.

Now of course, we all have myriads of competing desires that come and go. We are often mistaken about what it is we actually desire, and also mistaken about how to go about fulfilling those desires. A goal theorist would probably tell you that you are mistaken about your own utmost desire, or are seeking its fulfillment in an irrational way by disregarding the desires or feelings of others.

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Tony Hoffman January 10, 2012 at 6:14 pm

Stephen D: “What basis does a desirist have for saying I’m wrong about this (other than reasoning that also condemns utilitarianism.) You can propose a theory that comes closer to satisfying our “moral intuitions.” But how can you argue that your view is *true*?”

I believe that Fyfe accept that nothing has intrinsic value. So I think he’s ceded the quest for what is “true” if by that you mean something that is universally, absolutely true about morality via desires. Honestly, I don’t think Desirists care about that issue.

What I often find perplexing in these discussions is the regular irritation from moral theorists who rail against Fyfe et al. for limning a moral system that does not do what it seems that Fyfe et al are not asserting it does.

Stephen D: “What if I say, “I don’t give a whit about others’ desires; I don’t even think most of my desires have any moral worth. All I care about is (my desire to) pay homage to the greatness of God.” ”

Then that is the sum of your moral world. The only issues is how to resolve whether or not the only desire you care about is a good desire or not. If it is, with Desirism you would live in a world where your sole desire is encouraged. If not, your desire would be discouraged. This seems uncontroversial to me, at least from a theoretical perspective.

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Stephen R. Diamond January 10, 2012 at 6:53 pm

Stephen D: “What if I say, “I don’t give a whit about others’ desires; I don’t even think most of my desires have any moral worth. All I care about is (my desire to) pay homage to the greatness of God.” ”

Then that is the sum of your moral world. The only issues is how to resolve whether or not the only desire you care about is a good desire or not. If it is, with Desirism you would live in a world where your sole desire is encouraged. If not, your desire would be discouraged. This seems uncontroversial to me, at least from a theoretical perspective.

“If it is, with Desirism you would live in a world where your sole desire is encouraged. If not, your desire would be discouraged. ” This is ambiguously equivocal: and systematic equivocation is my beef with Fyfe’s views. Do you mean that desirists holds that we *should* encourage good desires or that we *will* encourage good desires? The first is a philosophical thesis; the second a psychological thesis. The first requires that encouraging good desires has intrinsic worth; the second is empirically false.

If Fyfe denies he believes things have intrinsic worth, then he would merely be being inconsistent. He thinks he can deploy his “desirism” to generate conclusions about specific substantive public policies, about politics. He can’t get this out of a moral theory without according intrinsic worth.

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joseph January 10, 2012 at 7:32 pm

Ok, CSA won’t let me link to CL’s argument on morals so i’ll attempt to post it:
Objective Morality: Clarifying The Questions

Posted on April 18, 2011 by cl
Today I’d like to examine three different questions that come up in discussions over so-called “objective” morality, and I’d like to argue that two of them are essentially worthless in terms of answering what most people seem to perceive as the core question.
The first question is, “Why are those values objectively good? Why is X objectively good, as opposed to Y?” I was recently asked this after I had offered, “love, patience, kindness, charity, thanksgiving, honesty” as an approximation of good. While the question carries an air of intellectualism about it, it’s actually quite fruitless. As this atheist commenter aptly illustrates, we can ask “why” in response to seemingly any proposition. For example, 2+2=4. Why? Asking “why” in response to a proposition does not constitute a sound objection to that proposition. Nonetheless, the general answer is simple, perhaps even tautological: why are values X-Y objective? Well, because they meet the definition of objective! It doesn’t get any simpler than that.

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joseph January 10, 2012 at 7:34 pm

Continued from previously…
The second question is, “Do objective moral values exist?” This frames the question purely in terms of ontology, and we see an example of a rebuttal to this here. The person who asks this question seems to be asking if moral values can exist without a valuer, perhaps as something like Platonic forms. While I don’t think they can, the question is fruitless to what I think most people are after in discussing so-called objective morality. Nonetheless, I agree that if such entities did exist, they would qualify as “objective moral values” in this purest sense of the word. Also, note that the first pseudo-intellectual question could still apply: we could ask “why” these moral entities exist as opposed to some other moral entities, in the same way we can ask “why” electrons exist and not some other elementary particle.
The third question–the one I think the vast majority of people have implicitly in mind when they discuss so-called objective morality–is something along the lines of whether or not moral realism is true. Or, to phrase it another way, whether or not it can be true to say there is something all people should or should not do. I suspect this is the question at the core of the debate over so-called objective morality. I answer yes. I argue that “objective morality” can only exist within a theistic rubric, and I have yet to see a successful refutation of this position. Euthyphro’s horns can only pierce a God capable of whimsical, arbitrary morality.
Along these lines, drj asks:
The only way you can tell anyone what they “ought” to do is to appeal to some value or desire they hold. God-morality can’t even overcome this. What if I truly value hell, more than anything else? Well, then God-morality has nothing to say about what I ought to do. I ought to do what I can to piss God off, so that he throws me in hell.

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joseph January 10, 2012 at 7:35 pm

Lastly…
Of course, on the surface, this seems true. I agree with drj that we must appeal to some value or desire that an agent holds in order for any “ought” to have sway. However, if hell really is the absence of all that entails joy, and the presence of all that entails suffering, it seems silly to suggest that somebody might value that. Somebody might object, noting that there are people who really want to die. This might be true, but why do they want to die? Is it not because they believe death would provide a respite from the privations of life? I have yet to encounter a person who has a fulfilling life and wants to die. My point here is that rejection of objective morality is not refutation of objective morality. You can seemingly always find somebody who wants to buck the norm. This doesn’t mean there’s no norm.
On my question of whether or not atheism is compatible with objective morality, drj writes:
…it should be easy to see how morals can be built on naturalism. If some value exists on naturalism, that is universal, valued above all else, and held by all sentient creatures, then we can similarly have reasons to do X, not Y.
Of course, one can “build” morals on anything. That’s never been denied. The question is whether the morals one builds have truth value outside the scope of the builders. We can “build” morality on the coattails of evolution or utilitarianism or something like that, but this doesn’t mean my statement that “you should do X” has any truth value. Even if all of humanity could agree on a universal morality, this would not make it true or objective in the sense that God-based morality would be true or objective. If every person on Earth said we should all cook meth, does that mean we really should all cook meth?
Heading in a different direction, J. Simonov writes:
If God’s goodness is necessary, rather than arbitrary, you are taking the horn in which God is held to a standard. Necessity is the author of goodness on this account, rather than God as such.
This is incoherent. Like value, what we call “necessity” cannot exist without an agent with a need. Necessity cannot be the author of anything because necessity has no authoring power.
There are many objections to God-based morality, but few that seem to stick.

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joseph January 10, 2012 at 7:40 pm

I’m sorry if cross posting is naughty, it seemed the only way to fairly air the viewpoint that God is required for morality without being accused of being selective.

If it’s wrong I suggest Luke remove it, with my apologies, but I would politely request that I would be allowed to link to the article in question. If not, I guess we consider carefully why, from a theistic viewpoint, God is required for objective morality.

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Larkus January 11, 2012 at 12:50 am

“If every person on Earth said we should all cook meth, does that mean we really should all cook meth?”

If *God* said we should all cook meth, does that mean we really should all cook meth?

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joseph January 11, 2012 at 5:53 am

Well I think Luke could fairly answer the following challenge:

““lives saved” = some form of absolute or near-absolute moral goodness”

With something similar to:

“I was recently asked this after I had offered, “lives saved” as an approximation of good. While the question carries an air of intellectualism about it, it’s actually quite fruitless. As this atheist commenter aptly illustrates, we can ask “why” in response to seemingly any proposition. For example, 2+2=4. Why? Asking “why” in response to a proposition does not constitute a sound objection to that proposition. Nonetheless, the general answer is simple, perhaps even tautological: why are values X-Y objective? Well, because they meet the definition of objective! It doesn’t get any simpler than that.”

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nonchai January 11, 2012 at 7:20 am

@CL

Please explain to me why your theism provides an “objective morality” – a valid “ought” related to an “IS” – in a world where theists of all persuasions clearly believe that god
provides the “ought” but has given us a world where there is utter confusion about what we “OUGHT” to do ?

We have evangelical theists in africa who according to polls think we ought to be executing gays caught in the act, while at the same time an evangelical theist ( who’s book is extremely popular in africa and elsewhere ) called Rick Warren is pleading with these african theists NOT to execute gays.

Your god of the “Divine Command” seems utterly incapable of clearly communicating exactly what he wants us to do, or not do.

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drj January 11, 2012 at 7:28 am

If cooking meth was what fulfilled every sentient beings utmost values, then why wouldn’t it be moral? I don’t see why it wouldnt be. It only sounds strange to say, because habitual meth use is something that obviously tends to destroy what sentient beings *really* desire. But if it didn’t, one what basis could one say it was so bad?

That’s what moral theories are supposed to do – help us actualize what is valuable. As PDH explained, value is not intrinsic, it requires a valuer. God may be one particular valuer, but there’s no reason to try to align one’s values with His, unless in so doing, one actually fulfilling some value that they already hold (given the premise that “desires/values are the only reason to act”).

The realization that every moral theorist must ultimately come to terms with, is that the foundation of their moral system… is what it is, for no moral reason.

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PDH January 11, 2012 at 7:52 am

Stephen R. Diamond wrote,

“If it is, with Desirism you would live in a world where your sole desire is encouraged. If not, your desire would be discouraged. ” This is ambiguously equivocal: and systematic equivocation is my beef with Fyfe’s views. Do you mean that desirists holds that we *should* encourage good desires or that we *will* encourage good desires? The first is a philosophical thesis; the second a psychological thesis. The first requires that encouraging good desires has intrinsic worth; the second is empirically false.

If Fyfe denies he believes things have intrinsic worth, then he would merely be being inconsistent. He thinks he can deploy his “desirism” to generate conclusions about specific substantive public policies, about politics. He can’t get this out of a moral theory without according intrinsic worth.

Desirism says that either ought statements reduce to is statements or they fail to refer to anything that is (i.e. to anything that exists). If it is the case that people act to fulfil the most and strongest of their desires and it is the case that your doing X will fulfil your desires then you should do X.

There’s no equivocation. He’s being perfectly consistent. He denies both that intrinsic value exists and that it matters. Intrinsic value cannot motivate us. It doesn’t give us reasons for action. It isn’t morally binding. It has no place in discussions of morality.

I have to agree with Tony Hoffman’s criticism. People insist, without warrant, that morality must have…various things that all have nothing to do with morality (intrinsic worth, for example) and then complain when desirists refuse to provide them.

You need to explain why there needs to be intrinsic value for morality to work before we waste any more time on it. However, this can’t be done because even if something did have intrinsic value that wouldn’t give me a reason to care about it! Plus, get serious. It doesn’t exist.

To echo a line of Daniel Dennett’s, I find it baffling that to most people ‘real’ morality is this thing that doesn’t exist and wouldn’t be binding even if it did, whereas things that do exist and are binding are considered to be ‘not real.’ The moment you start to look at what actually happens people say, ‘that’s not morality!’ instead of ‘I was wrong about morality.’ You might just dig your heels in and say ‘well morality doesn’t exist, then,’ which is fine – I agree that morality as naively defined by many people does not exist – but the advantage of basing your moral theory on things that exist is that those things don’t just disappear when people fail to provide a correct account of them. You’ll still have desires, they’ll still be malleable and you – and we – will still have reason to engage in things like condemnation, praise, the development of moral laws, a justice system, prisons etc. Now that sounds like morality to me but if you don’t want to call it that, fine, call it something else.

There may be be many problems with desirism but its most fervent critics don’t do a good job of engaging with it, in my opinion.

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nonchai January 11, 2012 at 8:05 am

@cl

( again )

lets take it as a give – for example that god’s divine command and desire is that humans should not commit murder. And lets also take it as a divine O.T. “given” that murderers should be executed. Death is a divinely ordained sentence level approved by god.

It seems to me that there is nothing in the scriptures to suggest that such an execution should be in any way humane. Stoning certainly isn’t humane, but even if in todays world there ARE ways of executing humanely – i.e. without the sentenced suffering in any way, who is to say that god cares at all about whether the death sentence is to be carried out humanely ?. Perhaps god considers part of the death sentence to be important for deterrent reasons. And maybe god is totally ambivalent as to how we execute and maybe he even approves of us executing the prisoner in a method that is INHUMANE. because in a society that values human life and condemns murder, maybe god finds it perfectly acceptable to let the condemned suffer. Maybe he doesn’t mind if we – say – torture the condemned for a while before killing him.

After all this has been the way the condemned were dispatched throughout the millennia.

Christians and theists should consider that there is not a single scripture either in the OT or NT ( or koran far as i know ) that forbids the use of crucifixion as a form of death sentence.

Torture went hand in hand with execution until very very recently.

And god/yahweh/allah turned a blind yet to this – or maybe even approves of it.

he/she/it certainly didn’t seem to think this was important enough of an issue to tell his son/prophet to say anything about it.

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cl January 11, 2012 at 8:07 am

drj,

Clearly, anybody who continues to ask “on what grounds can an atheist call X,Y, or Z good”, hasn’t bothered to study any non-theist realist moral theories.

Clearly, your logic is flawed, as I asked a variant of said question, and I have studied plenty of non-theist moral realisms. Now, maybe you can step to the plate and answer the question of how Luke can justify this apparent categorical imperative, since Luke has not?

Those who are so overconfident in theisms ability to provide a coherent moral foundation also clearly havent studied any of the powerful objections to theistic accounts of ethics.

Again, your logic is flawed, as I am confident in theism’s ability to provide a coherent moral foundation, and I have studied all the “powerful” objections. Perhaps you can argue these “powerful” objections better than philosophers past?

There are plenty solid non-theist moral theories – desirism among them … The two moral theories I mentioned earlier achieve the sort of limited internal coherence you speak of (desirism and goal theory), at least so far, and easily traverse is/ought by reducing all moral claims to hypothetical imperatives.

Now if I may indulge in some rhetoric like your own: Clearly, anyone who says desirism is a solid theory has not exhaustively studied desirism, and has but a fuzzy grasp of the theory at best. Desirism is NOT a solid moral theory. Fyfe traverses is/ought by simply denying it [cf. his "masked-man" fallacy]. Desirism suffers from the same flaws as any other non-theist moral realism theory. This has been demonstrated time and time again on this blog and elsewhere. Most importantly: it is impossible to run the large-scale calculations necessary to justify the majority of desirist claims. Luke and Fyfe know this. This is why Fyfe just shoots from his hip and pretends that his moral intuitions are supported by the theory [cf. his remarks on spectator sports and reality TV].

…we certainly need not bother with the incessant repetition of the silly meme, that non-theists just can’t have any moral foundation, every time some non-theist makes a moral claim.

As Stephen Diamond said, you’ve misunderstood the criticism. I’m simply asking how Luke can endorse an apparent categorical imperative, especially since desirism eschews categorical imperatives. Do you have an answer? Does anyone?

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cl January 11, 2012 at 8:09 am

Stephen Diamond,

It is that scientific, naturalistic atheism precludes the very existence of objective “moral foundations” because such foundations require that normativity be immanent in the world.

Very well said. I hope it gets through to all these moralist atheists, because they scare me as much as theists who refuse to live and let live. Hell, even more, because they always think science is on their side.

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cl January 11, 2012 at 8:31 am

PDH,

Let’s backup. Regarding a basis for morality, you said:

What matters is whether it gives us reasons for action. God does not and could not, not even in principle, provide us a basis for morality.

Now, please supply clear “yes” or “no” answers to each of the following:

Would an omniscient Creator God know all possible facts about the workings of human desires and/or psychology and/or morality?

Could an omniscient, omnibenevolent, omnipotent Creator God use this knowledge as an empirical reason for action to prescribe moral decrees for humanity?

Since the answers are clearly “yes” and “yes,” it seems that God *CAN* provide a basis for morality, correct? Since the answer is again yes, it seems your only objection is that theistic morality cannot be binding without requisite agent desires. Well, I agree. That holds for ALL moral theories. Tangentially, that no system is morally binding simply suggests the truth of our free will.

Just because something is supernatural it does not mean that I should obey it. The Devil is supernatural, too. For it to be morally binding it needs something much more than that.

I wholeheartedly agree.

Value is extrinsic, not intrinsic. These moral facts may be valuable to you but that doesn’t give anyone else reasons for action unless they are also valuable to them. Only if the alleged intrinsically valuable thing has extrinsic value as well can it provide us with any moral obligations. Extrinsic value is the only kind of value worth having.

Yes, I agree that value is extrinsic. I have always argued that value requires a valuer. We are identical in that regard. You are correct to say that if you don’t give a damn, you need not follow God’s (or any) moral decrees. Similarly, God would be entitled to say that if you don’t give a damn, neither does God, and off to death you go. HOWEVER, that does not mean that your original claim is true, because quite clearly, God CAN provide a basis for morality.

‘It’s really special,’ is not a reason. ‘It’s irreducible,’ is not a reason. ‘It’s supernatural,’ is not a reason. ‘It’s commanded by God,’ is not a reason. ‘It’s God’s nature,’ is not a reason. ‘It’s purely logical,’ is not a reason. ‘It’s fundamental,’ is not a reason. ‘It’s intrinsically valuable,’ is not a reason. ‘It’s the Platonic form of Goodness itself,’ is not a reason.

“God desires it, God created us, God knows what’s good for us, God cannot be wrong, and I desire the world to operate as God intended…” that, my friend, is a strong reason for action. That you can say “so what” doesn’t make this *NOT* a reason.

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Reginald Selkirk January 11, 2012 at 8:34 am

ds: The dog would be more famous than either, I’m sure. And the dog is named for the monastery founded by Bernard of Menthon. So really nobody knows who the fuck either of these guys are.

The solution is clear: someone needs to name a breed of dog after Norman Borlaug.

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joseph January 11, 2012 at 8:42 am

@CL

“Would an omniscient Creator God know all possible facts about the workings of human desires and/or psychology and/or morality?
Could an omniscient, omnibenevolent, omnipotent Creator God use this knowledge as an empirical reason for action to prescribe moral decrees for humanity? ”

Both of these statments seem to indicate that though such a God would be in the best possible position to judge, and prescribe moral actions, morality itself is indepent of God…that’s a gap I’m having trouble crossing CL…

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drj January 11, 2012 at 9:04 am

cl,

Could an omniscient, omnibenevolent, omnipotent Creator God use this knowledge as an empirical reason for action to prescribe moral decrees for humanity?

Since the answers are clearly “yes” and “yes,” it seems that God *CAN* provide a basis for morality, correct? Since the answer is again yes, it seems your only objection is that theistic morality cannot be binding without requisite agent desires. Well, I agree. That holds for ALL moral theories. Tangentially, that no system is morally binding simply suggests the truth of our free will.

God, as the ideal reasoner and ideal knower of human psychology, values, desires, etc could give us commands to do things that align perfectly with our values, better that we would be able to determine on our own. But the imperative force of these commands comes from the fact that he is giving us commands that appeal to real values we already hold (even if, in our limited knowledge, we don’t understand that we hold them, or understand how to actualize them).

But note that this is really just some species of desirism or goal theory, with the addition of an ideal reasoner who can do the moral reasoning for us. God is not the “basis” of morality – we would just be using his commands as shortcuts for when our moral reasoning ability is insufficient (if He existed that is).

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drj January 11, 2012 at 9:06 am

An additional note: So even if theism were true, I think something like desirism or goal theory would be among the best contenders for correct moral theories.

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drj January 11, 2012 at 9:10 am

Moral theories are the tools that help us run large scale calculations. Sure, its impossible to account for all the variables and all the facts, since we simply don’t know them all, but so what? There’s plenty of practical use to be had from something like desirism or goal theory.

On theism, it’s impossible to have perfect access or interpretive faculties with respect to God’s commands too. So what’s the problem supposed to be?

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cl January 11, 2012 at 9:19 am

PDH,

There may be be many problems with desirism but its most fervent critics don’t do a good job of engaging with it, in my opinion.

I strongly disagree, and knowing both your competence and exposure to the arguments makes me suspect you aren’t giving proper weight to the engagements. Here are some quick examples off the top of my head, each that I consider a “good job” of engaging with desirism on one or more levels:

1. Desires cannot thwart or fulfill other desires, only actions can. So why are desires the objects of evaluation in desirism? If I enjoy spectator sports, who is Alonzo Fyfe to tell me my desires are “bad” and should be condemned, and that without so much as a lick of evidence or empirical demonstration (while ironically protesting loudly about the merits of empiricism in anti-creationist tirades elsewhere)?

2. Desirism is an arm-chair exercise that is never conducted empirically. The interplay of any given desire against all other desires is simply not measurable in practice. Not a single empirical demonstration of any desirist claim exists. The only attempts I’m aware of were my own explorations. Other than that, neither Fyfe, Luke or any other supporter has brought even a single numerical equation to the table. Fyfe, particularly, just shoots from the hip then dresses his intuitively-derived normative claims in desirist language [cf. declaring spectator sports worthy of condemnation].

3. Even the so-called “evil” desires can “tend to fulfill other desires” if the “other desires” are predominantly evil to begin with, and this suggests that what we call “morality” might be larger than a simple metric of desires fulfilled / thwarted. Desirism falls prey to the 1000 sadists problem just like other theories. In particular, myself and others (i.e. TaiChi) felt that Cartesian’s Nazi example brought the theory to its knees. I still maintain that Alonzo Fyfe has never successfully addressed that objection, and I say this with full knowledge of current articles on his blog which claim otherwise. How does desirism address the 1000 sadists objection?

Your ability to quickly, concisely and effectively address these issues will convince me that indeed, you are correct.

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nonchai January 11, 2012 at 9:44 am

@cl

You write: “God, as the ideal reasoner and ideal knower of human psychology, values, desires, etc could give us commands to do things that align perfectly with our values, better that we would be able to determine on our own. But the imperative force of these commands comes from the fact that he is giving us commands that appeal to real values we already hold”

If god knows the values of humanity, how come god failed to provide humanity with clear guidelines as to what is an appropriate divinely ordained form of execution or punishment for murderers.

If compassion and humane treatment for condemned murdereres is something god values then how come over the vast centuries mankind has been around god singularly failed to tell us humans to “be nice” ?

Does god consider crucifixion an acceptable form of punishment for murder ?.

Is the manner in which we dispatch murderers off to oblivion something mr “Divine Command” cars about ?

How does your theist moral theory deal with the use of torture ? is it acceptable in in any form at all ?

Does god have an opinion on whether it is acceptable to torture a person if it will save countless lives ?

What part does revelation play in your theistic moral theory ? Please give me your theistic moral calculation for supporting or condemning the use of torture for either saving lives or executing criminals.

Does god just leave it up to us ? Is it utterly arbitrary in your theistic moral calculations as to whether we torture or not ?

How has god communicated his approval or disapproval of the use of torture through the ages ?

I await your answer with baited breath.

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cl January 11, 2012 at 10:02 am

joseph,

Both of these statments seem to indicate that though such a God would be in the best possible position to judge, and prescribe moral actions, morality itself is indepent of God…that’s a gap I’m having trouble crossing CL…

What do you mean by “morality itself is indepent of God?” The minute you say the words “morality itself” you have assumed that something like “morality” can exist by “itself” but that is absurd. I don’t believe there are any sort of “moral waves” or “moral particles” if that’s what you mean. I don’t believe in that sort of “objective” morality. So the gap you’re having trouble crossing most certainly isn’t one I’ve placed in front of you.

drj,

God, as the ideal reasoner and ideal knower of human psychology, values, desires, etc could give us commands to do things that align perfectly with our values, better that we would be able to determine on our own.

Kudos for the admission. Most atheists I encounter won’t admit that (I’m not fully assuming you’re an atheist either, just saying).

But the imperative force of these commands comes from the fact that he is giving us commands that appeal to real values we already hold

So? That doesn’t falsify my claim that the God on offer is the best possible basis for morality. The fact that God’s knowledge appeals to desires we already have goes hand-in-hand with my claim, making such a God that much more worthy of obeying.

But note that this is really just some species of desirism or goal theory, with the addition of an ideal reasoner who can do the moral reasoning for us.

I’ve long pointed out the similarities and that’s one reason I didn’t like being viewed as a “critic” of desirism. Yes, I’ve criticized it, but anyone who’s read the whole story would also see quite a bit of praise.

God is not the “basis” of morality – we would just be using his commands as shortcuts for when our moral reasoning ability is insufficient (if He existed that is).

Wrong, unless we’re just at a semantic standoff. God is the basis of morality, and we use God’s commands to navigate the moral landscape. That we “use God’s knowledge” doesn’t mean God suddenly *ISN’T* the basis of morality. In the scenario I’ve described, God is the basis of morality in the same way Richard Dawkins is the basis of The God Delusion.

If you still disagree, you’ll have to tell me exactly what it means to say that something is the “basis” of something else, because by any standard definition of the words, it seems to me the situation I’ve described entails God as the best possible basis for morality.

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nonchai January 11, 2012 at 11:09 am

@cl

You believe “God is the basis of morality, and we use God’s commands to navigate the moral landscape.“

Please inform us all where we can find any of gods commands that relate to whether or not us humans should use torture. What forms of capital punishment does god approve of.

Please tell us whether humans should appeal to their “compassionate” nature when dealing with a convicted vile murderer, or whether humans should enact ‘judgement” and Punishment as dictated by the scriptures.

Can you please point to a scripture passage to back up you r position.

Please try to remember that although through most of history murder has been condemned universally, humans have punished the guilty in ways that mostly result in pain and suffering. Maybe this is right and proper. After all there are plenty of scriptural examples where the talk is in form of punitive retribution that uses words such as “torment”.

If your god , his son and his inspired writers of scriptures use imagery and words like torment, then it is hardly surprising that through the ages, mankind has considered torment of the guilty to be very appropriate indeed.

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J. Simonov January 11, 2012 at 12:06 pm

@joseph

In the exchange between cl and myself that you posted, you’ll note that cl misunderstands the use of the term “necessity” in the context it was used. I was using it to refer to “a state of affairs that cannot fail to obtain”, rather than “that which is needful for an agent to actualize its goals”.

@cl

What do you mean by “morality itself is indepent of God?” The minute you say the words “morality itself” you have assumed that something like “morality” can exist by “itself” but that is absurd. I don’t believe there are any sort of “moral waves” or “moral particles” if that’s what you mean. I don’t believe in that sort of “objective” morality. So the gap you’re having trouble crossing most certainly isn’t one I’ve placed in front of you.

“Running” isn’t a thing that exists “by itself”, yet no one objects to distinguishing the concept of “running” from the concept of “legs”, on which running is dependent (unlike the relationship between morality and God).

God is the basis of morality, and we use God’s commands to navigate the moral landscape. That we “use God’s knowledge” doesn’t mean God suddenly *ISN’T* the basis of morality. In the scenario I’ve described, God is the basis of morality in the same way Richard Dawkins is the basis of The God Delusion.

Dawkins is the author of The God Delusion, not its “basis”, which is just an odd category error to make. You’re mistaking an ontological relationship, namely Dawkins having written TGD, for a conceptual one. Certain concepts can provide the genetic basis for other concepts because of the hierarchical manner in which knowledge must be organized.

Which is (one) reason that God is not the basis of morality. The concept has no need to be formulated with respect to God; He can play the role of the Ideal Observer, sure, but he doesn’t provide the conceptual grounding.

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PDH January 11, 2012 at 1:52 pm

cl wrote,

1. Desires cannot thwart or fulfill other desires, only actions can. So why are desires the objects of evaluation in desirism? If I enjoy spectator sports, who is Alonzo Fyfe to tell me my desires are “bad” and should be condemned, and that without so much as a lick of evidence or empirical demonstration (while ironically protesting loudly about the merits of empiricism in anti-creationist tirades elsewhere)?

When it comes to actually influencing desires, we obviously have to use actions but desires are what make us act. We can use desires to evaluate other desires.

2. Desirism is an arm-chair exercise that is never conducted empirically. The interplay of any given desire against all other desires is simply not measurable in practice. Not a single empirical demonstration of any desirist claim exists. The only attempts I’m aware of were my own explorations. Other than that, neither Fyfe, Luke or any other supporter has brought even a single numerical equation to the table. Fyfe, particularly, just shoots from the hip then dresses his intuitively-derived normative claims in desirist language [cf. declaring spectator sports worthy of condemnation].

I think everyone – including Fyfe – would like more work with regards to empirically testing these claims to be done but note that this is complaint that could apply to very many other moral theories. Claims about what desires are and how they work can be tested, for example, and Fyfe, for one, considers the possibility that desires might not exist to be one of the biggest challenges to the theory.

But I agree that the theory needs to be tested much more thoroughly.

3. Even the so-called “evil” desires can “tend to fulfill other desires” if the “other desires” are predominantly evil to begin with, and this suggests that what we call “morality” might be larger than a simple metric of desires fulfilled / thwarted. Desirism falls prey to the 1000 sadists problem just like other theories. In particular, myself and others (i.e. TaiChi) felt that Cartesian’s Nazi example brought the theory to its knees. I still maintain that Alonzo Fyfe has never successfully addressed that objection, and I say this with full knowledge of current articles on his blog which claim otherwise. How does desirism address the 1000 sadists objection?

What are your problems with his responses to the 1000 sadist problem (for example here: http://atheistethicist.blogspot.com/2007/05/1000-sadists-problem.html)? I’ll need more detail on that.

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Tony Hoffman January 11, 2012 at 2:49 pm

Me: “If it is, with Desirism you would live in a world where your sole desire is encouraged. If not, your desire would be discouraged. ”
Stephen D: “This is ambiguously equivocal: and systematic equivocation is my beef with Fyfe’s views.”

It seems to me that Desirism is fairly straightforward with what it can and can’t do, but that you are committing a kind of equivocation by insisting that it is trying to do what you instead require of a moral theory. This leads to a number of comments from you where it appears that you are mostly annoyed that the square peg of Desirism does not fit into the round hole you require of a moral theory.

Stephen D: “Do you mean that desirists holds that we *should* encourage good desires or that we *will* encourage good desires?”

Speaking of ambiguity, could you be more precise by what you mean by “should” above? I have a hunch that that is where a lot of the problems in your criticism are coming from.

Stephen D: “The first is a philosophical thesis…”

That depends on your definition of “should,” I think. If by “should” I am to understand that it would make rational sense, given that I have desires, then I don’t think that I am making a philosophical argument as much as an observation.

Stephen D: “… the second a psychological thesis.”

By this I understand you to mean that I am trying to argue that desirism would make sense to me, and that I would then act rationally according to my desires. You go on later to say this is empirically false, but it seems empirically obvious that I do not act upon all of my desires, and that I control this behavior with a moral calculation that’s akin to what Desirism describes. So I do not agree that it is (at least not obviously) empirically false.

Stephen D: “The first requires that encouraging good desires has intrinsic worth…”

This is the kind of criticism that makes me think you understand moral theory but maybe not Desirism as I understand it. Under Desirism, one does encourage good desires because doing so has intrinsic worth, one does so because of the fact that one has desires. It seems to me that this sidesteps the issue of intrinsic worth (partly, I suppose, because that search appears futile). It is true that under Desirism the satisfaction of desires does not have intrinsic value, but intrinsic value is not a requirement for Desirism to get started; having a desire is.

Stephen D: “If Fyfe denies he believes things have intrinsic worth, then he would merely be being inconsistent.”

This still sounds like an (as yet) unsupported assertion to me, as I have tried to explain above.

Stephen D: “He thinks he can deploy his “desirism” to generate conclusions about specific substantive public policies, about politics. He can’t get this out of a moral theory without according intrinsic worth.”

Hmm. But it makes sense to me. And I think that’s because you have hung the requirement that a moral theory like Desirism must assign intrinsic value to something and/or bridge the is/ought divide, whereas to me such a requirement doesn’t seem necessary – but that may be because I only require that a moral theory be both accurately descriptive of reality and potentially viable.

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Tony Hoffman January 11, 2012 at 3:35 pm

In my last comment, I mistyped in the paragraph that beings, “This is the kind…” I mean to write (correction in all caps), “Under Desirism, one does NOT encourage good desires because doing so has intrinsic worth, one does so because of the fact that one has desires.”

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cl January 11, 2012 at 3:46 pm

J. Simonov,

“Running” isn’t a thing that exists “by itself”, yet no one objects to distinguishing the concept of “running” from the concept of “legs”, on which running is dependent

Correct. People don’t really go around asking deep questions about “running, itself” either, now do they? So what’s your point?

Dawkins is the author of The God Delusion, not its “basis”, which is just an odd category error to make.

It is not a category error. The word “basis” refers to “that which something else stands or rests upon.” Well, TGD stands or rests upon the mind of Richard Dawkins. Similarly, by every sense of that word, I have shown how morality can stand or rest upon the mind of God.

So what is your objection here?

PDH,

Let’s finish the first conversation if you don’t mind. Contrary to what you claimed earlier, have I shown that God *CAN* be a basis for morality? If you say no, then can you please explain precisely what you mean when you say that something is the “basis” for something else?

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nonchai January 11, 2012 at 4:03 pm

@cl

“I have shown how morality can stand or rest upon the mind of God.”

What kind of morality is it when this god so spectacularly fails for millennia to pass on this morality to his creation ?

As the writer of the God Delusion makes clear, your divine commander’s sense of morality is – as we say here in the UK – a “moving goalpost” who’s position at any time is determined by what his creation happens to value and consider moral at any one time.

it is almost as if your divine commander says “BE GOOD” but leaves it to us to decide what that good is at any time.

Mr Deity is in all truth the biggest moral relativist of the lot.

“Torture ?” your god says… “whatever…. “

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cl January 11, 2012 at 4:07 pm

joseph,

Well I think Luke could fairly answer the following challenge:

““lives saved” = some form of absolute or near-absolute moral goodness”

With something similar to:

“I was recently asked this after I had offered, “lives saved” as an approximation of good. While the question carries an air of intellectualism about it, it’s actually quite fruitless. As this atheist commenter aptly illustrates, we can ask “why” in response to seemingly any proposition. For example, 2+2=4. Why? Asking “why” in response to a proposition does not constitute a sound objection to that proposition. Nonetheless, the general answer is simple, perhaps even tautological: why are values X-Y objective? Well, because they meet the definition of objective! It doesn’t get any simpler than that.”

Cute, joseph, very cute. Yeah, Luke could say that — if I had simply responded, “Why?” But I didn’t. I ask, specifically, where is the justification for this apparent categorical imperative? Hardly a simple “why,” now isn’t it?

As usual, no answers forthcoming.

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nonchai January 11, 2012 at 4:51 pm

@cl:

you write “As usual, no answers forthcoming.”

Hmm… now there’s a pot calling the kettle black.

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cl January 11, 2012 at 5:04 pm

nonchai,

Oh get real. I’ve been giving answer after answer to almost every person who asks in this thread, just like most every other. I ignore you because our past exchanges were fruitless and because your posts today amount to little more than opinionated, uninformed ramblings. Aside from your observation that different theists interpret theistic morality differently, you’re not even contributing any pertinent points, just venting on and on about your dissatisfaction with morality as practiced and endorsed by most theists.

What do you want me to do? Respond to a bunch of venting?

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PDH January 11, 2012 at 5:43 pm

cl wrote,

Let’s finish the first conversation if you don’t mind. Contrary to what you claimed earlier, have I shown that God *CAN* be a basis for morality? If you say no, then can you please explain precisely what you mean when you say that something is the “basis” for something else?

I’m sorry, I thought drj had pretty much cleared that issue up. My response is really just a repeat of his.

Now, please supply clear “yes” or “no” answers to each of the following:

Would an omniscient Creator God know all possible facts about the workings of human desires and/or psychology and/or morality?

Could an omniscient, omnibenevolent, omnipotent Creator God use this knowledge as an empirical reason for action to prescribe moral decrees for humanity?

Since the answers are clearly “yes” and “yes,” it seems that God *CAN* provide a basis for morality, correct? Since the answer is again yes, it seems your only objection is that theistic morality cannot be binding without requisite agent desires. Well, I agree. That holds for ALL moral theories. Tangentially, that no system is morally binding simply suggests the truth of our free will.

God is not thereby providing a basis. He is merely aware of the basis.

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RRC January 11, 2012 at 5:46 pm

What are your problems with his responses to the 1000 sadist problem (for example here: http://atheistethicist.blogspot.com/2007/05/1000-sadists-problem.html)? I’ll need more detail on that.

Fyfe writes,

Do people generally have more and stronger reasons to turn the dial on a desire up – making the desire stronger through social forces? Or do they instead have more and stronger reasons to turn the dial on a desire down, making it weaker and less common? Which option will lead to more overall desire fulfillment, and less desire thwarting?

What will be the effect, in terms of desire fulfillment, of turning the dial for the desire to rape children up, or down? Down is the only option that reduces the thwarting of somebody’s desires. This tells us that there is more and stronger reason to bring the weapons of social influence to bear on inhibiting such a desire.

I think this is merely a practicality issue. It is currently more practical toput societal pressures to dial down everyone’s desire to rape a child, then to undertake the more difficult task of maximizing desire fulfillment while promoting something like an annual child-rape orgy. But if desirism were a real moral theory we wouldn’t expect that answer to change just because future technologies might make control and malleability of desires as easy as pushing a button or literally turning knobs . Let us imagine that some future technology allows us to completely control brain patterns in people. We have an island of 1000 adults and every year we send them a child. We dial up their desire to rape that child, and dial down the child’s desire not to be raped. Once the orgy is over and the child has been killed, we dial the desire to rape back down, so that they do not suffer deprivation until another sacrificial child is born. We realize that most people do not desire to have their brain-states controlled, but we’ve controlled these adults from their birth. They desire precisely what we want them desire, when we want them to desire it. They even desire our control, and would have their desires thwarted, if we gave them autonomy. I see no reason why a desirist would reject this scenario as immoral. In fact, complete control over desire-fulfillment would better maximize desire fulfillment than merely establishing rigid rules, norms, and laws. I would argue that this complete control reveals the fundamental flaw in desire fulfillment. People are only valued as a means to desire-fulfillment. They have no dignity in themselves and their actions would no longer necessarily correspond to desire fulfillment. Now you might say that this is utter science fiction and that such control will never come about. But then your objection is not moral but practical. A moral theory should be able to survive such thought experiments.

In fact, better than a world were there is complete control over the desires of the humans walking around is a farm of brains that are chemically induced into the exact brain patterns that Fyfe thinks are of moral-value. That way we could really maximize desire-fulfillment brain patterns. No brain-pattern of desire shall be thwarted! Stacks and stacks of desire fulfilled brains. . .If you don’t agree, then it might be because you know deep down that moral-value is far more complex than simply practical rules to maximizing desire fulfillment.

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cl January 11, 2012 at 6:01 pm

PDH,

God is not thereby providing a basis. He is merely aware of the basis.

You didn’t answer “yes” or “no” to either of the questions, and you haven’t explained what it means to say X is the basis of Y. Along those lines, what is the basis for morality? Work with me here. I have no idea where you’re coming from if you don’t.

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joseph January 11, 2012 at 6:17 pm

@CL
I’m glad you liked it, assuming no irony, but it’s more about seeing if you accepted that /uke (or an atheist) could establish as objective moral fact, or an objectively moral desire, in this way than it is about being cute.

By “categorial imperative” I take you to mean “Why ought….”?

Your own answer raises the following points, following your wording for clarity:

1)Somebody might object, noting that there are people who really don’t want to save lives, or want to increase death. This might be true, but why do they want to increase death? Is it not because they believe death would provide a respite from the privations of life? I have yet to encounter a person who has a fulfilling life and wants to die. My point here is that rejection of objective morality is not refutation of objective morality. You can seemingly always find somebody who wants to buck the norm. This doesn’t mean there’s no norm

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nonchai January 11, 2012 at 6:27 pm

@cl

“What do you want me to do? Respond to a bunch of venting?”

Now you’re attempting to duck my questions to you ( and i suppose statements “put out there” ) by discussing and characterising the “tone” of my posts. Nice one. Call it venting if you like, you still haven’t answered anything. What do you want me to do ? cloak the essence of my questions in finely nuanced philosophical language ?.

Yes, I like to make my points polemically but the points are still valid and unanswered.

To reiterate – the core problem with your divine command “moral theory” has very little to do with the fact that theists disagree on it, and a whole lot more to do with the total lack of clarity and detail in any of the supposed revelations from this moral god.

Even if you take the position that gods morality is not to be found in ANY scripture – but instead is something god as “laid on our hearts” – you still have to explain why there is any confusion at all.

Here is the essential core question again: WHAT IS GOD’S POSITION ON TORTURE ?

Are you going to resort to some moral calculation ? sounds like something an atheist would do. Surely a god that is supposed to work by means of revelation ( maybe you don’t believe in that ) should be perfectly understandable on all the important moral issues.

Gods opinion on the use of Torture is clearly absent, so humans have just had to “wing it” through the ages.

As John Loftus puts it – What we have here is a problem of communication!

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cl January 11, 2012 at 6:46 pm

joseph,

it’s more about seeing if you accepted that /uke (or an atheist) could establish as objective moral fact, or an objectively moral desire, in this way

I honestly have no idea what you’re talking about. What do you mean by “objective moral fact?” When you say “in this way,” what does the “this” refer to? In what way?

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cl January 11, 2012 at 6:49 pm

nonchai,

To reiterate – the core problem with your divine command “moral theory” has very little to do with the fact that theists disagree on it, and a whole lot more to do with the total lack of clarity and detail in any of the supposed revelations from this moral god.

You simply assert a “total lack of clarity.” When I read the Bible, I find most things quite clear.

WHAT IS GOD’S POSITION ON TORTURE?

LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.

Are you going to resort to some moral calculation ?

I resorted to a Scripture that is quite clear.

Surely a god that is supposed to work by means of revelation ( maybe you don’t believe in that ) should be perfectly understandable on all the important moral issues.

God is perfectly understandable on this issue. If you can’t understand that “love your neighbor as yourself” precludes torturing them, the problem isn’t God’s. It’s that you’re dense as a doornail. Same goes for anyone else.

As John Loftus puts it – What we have here is a problem of communication!

Not at all. Atheists like yourself and John Loftus have a problem with reading comprehension.

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nonchai January 11, 2012 at 7:12 pm

@cl

“LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”

so if my neighbour rapes and then murders my wife and i’m the judge, should I
torture him for a little while before executing him, in order that other potential rapist murderers are put off murdering my OTHER neighbours – neighbours who maybe I love a little more than the one who murdered my wife ?.

I mean really – you spend all this time attacking desirism’s moral theory and calculations and yet here you are, claiming that this simplistic phrase is enough moral armoury to answer all the pressing moral questions of the day.

Clearly the worlds xtian population has singularly failed to interpret the scripture you mention in any consistent way when it comes to the issue of whether torture is ok to use against condemned murderers.

The same goes for whether or not to execute gays. Correct me if I’m wrong on this, but I believe most devout xtians know these passages. And it clearly has very little effect on whether a person is treated humanely or not. Human rights is not something ever mentioned in the bible.

For what its worth I doubt theres any moral theory that can ever be formulaically used to “calculate” the correct “thing to do”. But your Divine Command thery is even worse. Its a joke. Basically it comes down to how each individual theist feels emotionally on any given issue. Our inbuilt biases are our true guide. Your god of the moral gaps doesn’t get a look-in.

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joseph January 11, 2012 at 7:13 pm

@CL…continued

2) “However, if hell really is the absence of all that entails joy, and the presence of all that entails suffering, it seems silly to suggest that somebody might value that.” If you are suggesting a literal, eternal hell this is where Luke (and most atheists) can’t match you. At most it would seem he could offer a water-down, finite, metaphorical hell in the mind of the moral offender. It hints at the question that perhaps if a Christian, or theist, were acting morally, purely to avoid punishment, is that moral?

Ok so now I have a divergence I can see.

Next.
“What do you mean by “morality itself is indepent of God?” The minute you say the words “morality itself” you have assumed that something like “morality” can exist by “itself” but that is absurd”

No more absurd than saying “logic”, or “mathematics” exists, to my understanding.

Or another way:
“perhaps as something like Platonic forms. While I don’t think they can…”

I don’t see why they can’t…

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joseph January 11, 2012 at 7:21 pm

@CL
Sorry,
An example of an approximation of an Objective Moral Fact:

love, patience, kindness, charity, thanksgiving, honesty are objectively good.

“In what way?”

This way:

“I was recently asked this after I had offered, “lives saved” as an approximation of good. While the question carries an air of intellectualism about it, it’s actually quite fruitless. As this atheist commenter aptly illustrates, we can ask “why” in response to seemingly any proposition. For example, 2+2=4. Why? Asking “why” in response to a proposition does not constitute a sound objection to that proposition. Nonetheless, the general answer is simple, perhaps even tautological: why are values X-Y objective? Well, because they meet the definition of objective! It doesn’t get any simpler than that.”

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nonchai January 11, 2012 at 7:22 pm

I mean, really CL, your divinely incarnated god – the one who supposedly summarised all of yahwehs commands into his pithy little ditty “LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”
seemed to have more issues with divorce than the use of crucifixion to punish criminals.

Divorce, sex, pharisaical hypocrisy, misleading kids, not being mean. Having “faith” – test Mr Jesus spent a great deal of time discussing these things.

But he seems strangely silent on the use of crucifiction, and before that a good bit of scourging – in order to punish criminals. Jesus never condemned any of this.

Christians may have claimed Jesus was being punished for something he was innocent of, but not a word is mentioned by Yahweh or Jeshua as to whether it is good to torture.

And any historian will tell you that torture has routinely been used throughout the millennia as a way at “getting at the truth”. This came partly from the belief – ( one amongst gazillions of erroneous ones ) that inflicting pain would in the end yield the truth.
We all know of course it was used routinely used simply to force a confession.

Why is Jesus or Yahweh utterly silent on this ?

How could billions of humans read your beatitudes etc and still go on and torture ?

Do any epistles tackle this ? Apostle Paul ? Don’t think so.

Clearly god is ignorant of just how precisely he needs to word things just so we don’t do silly things like torture. Parables and pithy sayings wont do.

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nonchai January 11, 2012 at 7:28 pm

I mean – your deity seems only too happy to get into really minuscule detail when it comes to israelites making offerings, what fabrics to wear, and seems to have been able to
tell us not to have sex with others of the same sex, as well as countless other anally retentive commands to do with ritual purity – and yet somehow yahweh and his son strangely can’t spare a few words to ban torture. I mean, surely he could have replaced some of those boring genealogies with this stuff – we’d hardly miss them!

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zeb January 11, 2012 at 7:33 pm

The solution is clear: someone needs to name a breed of dog after Norman Borlaug.

A norman borlaug could only be a Viking demon hound.

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joseph January 11, 2012 at 7:44 pm

@J. Simonov

I see, thankyou for clarify, that seems to mean a different sort of answer is required

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J. Simonov January 11, 2012 at 8:02 pm

@cl

My point was that one can talk about a given concept whether it’s conceptually irreducible or not. You seem to object to talking about “morality, itself” because that’s not allowed on your planet, but this is silly.

It is not a category error. The word “basis” refers to “that which something else stands or rests upon.” Well, TGD stands or rests upon the mind of Richard Dawkins.

I’m curious, what do you think people are referring to when they say that something “rests upon” something else? In my experience of the English language, it refers to a concept that draws upon another, more fundamental concept. Bacterial resistance rests upon evolution. Evolution is the basis of bacterial resistance, conversely. Darwin, however, is not the basis of The Origin of Species, as it seems you would want to say. Not in standard English usage, which I would hope you would stick to using for the sake of clarity.

Similarly, by every sense of that word, I have shown how morality can stand or rest upon the mind of God.

Not even in your own terms. According to you, God just perceives what morality is and tells us about it, as PDH has been trying to explain to you. Dawkins didn’t just find the complete manuscript of TGD and relay it to the public, he actually authored it himself.

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cl January 11, 2012 at 8:15 pm

nonchai,

Oh, alright… I’ll indulge your weak polemic for one more go, but if you don’t raise any legitimate questions or observations, I’m going to return to ignoring your trollish ramblings.

I mean really – you spend all this time attacking desirism’s moral theory and calculations and yet here you are, claiming that this simplistic phrase is enough moral armoury to answer all the pressing moral questions of the day.

Oh please. You spent all this time railing against the Bible claiming God is unclear, demanding that I explain to you what God’s position on torture is, when the answer was right in front of your face. It’s not my fault that you’re either illiterate, lazy, blind or dumb.

Human rights is not something ever mentioned in the bible.

It is most certainly inferred and many of our civil rights leaders took their cues from Scripture.

But your Divine Command thery is even worse. Its a joke.

Well, good for you. Now that you’ve stated your opinion yet again, are you satisfied?

But he seems strangely silent on the use of crucifiction, and before that a good bit of scourging – in order to punish criminals. Jesus never condemned any of this.

There are plenty of things Jesus didn’t explicitly condemn. That doesn’t mean they’re approved of.

…not a word is mentioned by Yahweh or Jeshua as to whether it is good to torture.

Again: If you can’t see how “love your neighbor as yourself” precludes you from torturing your neighbor, the problem is not God’s.

Why is Jesus or Yahweh utterly silent on this ?

Again: Why can’t you READ and THINK about what you read? If you love your neighbor as yourself, doesn’t that preclude you from torturing him or her?

Clearly god is ignorant of just how precisely he needs to word things just so we don’t do silly things like torture.

It doesn’t matter how things are worded. We choose whether or not to follow God’s clear commands. The only one who is ignorant is the one can’t realize that “love your neighbor as yourself” means “don’t torture your neighbor.” Seriously. That’s ignorant.

Now, repeat after me: “If I love my neighbor, I won’t torture him.” It’s that simple, unless of course you’re a contrarian atheist who just wants to rant and rail and make things difficult for no good reason.

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cl January 11, 2012 at 9:16 pm

J. Simonov,

As for the “necessity” thing, it’s not my fault you said “necessity” when you meant “non-contingent.” I was simply evaluating your statement according to the words you provided. Although, I’m curious why you even brought that up here…?

You seem to object to talking about “morality, itself” because that’s not allowed on your planet, but this is silly.

That would be silly. You misunderstood the objection. I objected because it sounded like joseph was talking about this strange “extrinsic morality” that we’ve been discussing. Since I don’t think such a thing exists, I objected to his language — to be sure he wasn’t under the misguided assumption that I thought such a thing existed. Is that okay with you?

In my experience of the English language, it refers to a concept that draws upon another, more fundamental concept.

I define “basis” just like your average dictionary: that on which something else stands or rests. Anything upon which something is based. For example, Jesus Christ is the basis of Christianity. Michael Jackson is the basis of the Jackson estate. Freedom and inalienable rights are the basis of American democracy. Standard usage, all the way. Morality is a concept that draws upon another more fundamental concept: God. It doesn’t get any more fundamental than the Unmoved Mover.

According to you, God just perceives what morality is and tells us about it, as PDH has been trying to explain to you.

False. According to me, God is the author of morality in the same way Dawkins is the author of TGD. There’s no thing called “morality” that exists independent of God, that God could perceive and relay to us.

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cl January 11, 2012 at 9:29 pm

joseph,

No, I do not think that Luke can establish an “objective moral fact.” Does that answer your question?

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cl January 11, 2012 at 10:17 pm

J. Simonov,

Okay so I went back over the thread and I think I see why you brought up the “necessary” thing with joseph…

If God’s goodness is necessary, rather than arbitrary, you are taking the horn in which God is held to a standard.

By whom? If something is a brute fact, it’s not held to a standard. It just is.

Just out of curiosity, what, on your view, would be the consequences were I to agree that God was being “held to a standard,” as you say? Why shouldn’t a theist take that horn?

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joseph January 11, 2012 at 10:39 pm

@CL,
It answers the question on one level, thankyou.
I admit I don’t understand why…

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nonchai January 12, 2012 at 3:50 am

@cl

“Now, repeat after me: “If I love my neighbor, I won’t torture him.”

You have highlighted one supposed value/command in the bible out of many. The bible contains many other possible values and commands. People who DO torture or did so throughout history simply used such other biblical commands, values or priorities to justify their actions. As in life things never are as simplistic as either you or jesus suggests.

Take the obvious case of politics. Whether democratic or not, politics is essentially lawmaking, and the lawmaker makes laws for what are moral as well as practical reasons. Politics and morality is intrinsically linked. Yet bible believing lawmakers feel free to differ on issues that affect their neighbours, even though they supposedly share a book of moral commands. Love your neighbour clearly is not enough. Should we be ruled by a dictatorial king or by democratically elected representatives ?. Jesus said nothing. Yet it is very clear that democracy has been a powerful force for good, and our fellow neighbours are treated far better in todays world than the feudal world of many centuries ago. Jesus and god clearly could have given us better and clear revelations as to HOW to love our neighbour more effectively.

You seem to suggest that the answer to torture etc is “just think stupid”. Yet in reality we
are not dealing with a single neighbour but many. And you only have to look at the old testament to see that “love your neighbour” in israelite terms clearly only applies to your tribal neighbour.

Exactly how much love were the Israelites showing to their canaanite and amakelite neighbours when they slashed away with their swords at their neighbours, including women and children. How much love was yahweh commanding them to exhibit when he instructed them to totally exterminate their neighbouring lands, villages etc – AS A SACRIFICE TO HIM. Please read up on the word HEREM, used throughout the OT. Funny how scholars of hebrew have pointed out that this word is the same one that the word HAREM originates from in the Arabic world.

Many Christians throughout history have interpreted “love your neighbour” to imply total pacifism. Others that it applies to only their own tribes. Clearly in the USA loving your neighbour does not go as far as letting your neighbour decide freely who they choose to have sex with.

What if a person is NOT my neighbour ? what if he comes from a different nation, one where every man is forced to wear beards and wants to kill us ?. What if he is breaking gods commandments and the holy book tells us to brutally kill them by stoning ?.

It simply is not enough for an all knowing deity to let his creation loose on their fellow man with such a vague text. God knew that humans would simply interpret his vaguely worded scriptures to suit whichever position or bias each human or tribe holds and history has shown us that humanity only very very slowly learned how to pragmatically “love your neighbour” in a way that minimises suffering, fear, war and oppression for the majority.

Humanity has had to learn these things for ourselves. It is simply not enough for this deity to tell us to be “kind”. Humanity has been stupid and ignorant through the millennia and its only in the last few centuries that it was become in any way humane.

Revelation played no part in this. In fact it probably hindered things. The model of Kingship as played out by the stories of David, served as a model for Kingly rule in the west for centuries. Dictatorship was the norm. Life was basically rule by a small rich elite served by a poor and powerless peasantry.

“Love your neighbour” did nothing to change this.

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nonchai January 12, 2012 at 4:05 am

And please don’t start to bring up various anti-slavery leaders who used scripture to back their position. Humans were able to happily quote bible passages to support their racist, slave trading ways of life right up to a few centuries ago.

Please explain to me why , out of 2000 year of us having this “holy revelation” it was only in the the last 200 years that slavery was abolished.

Clearly jesus/yahweh knew all the time that his scriptures were utterly insufficient as a guid to prevent these things happening. I repeat. Humanity is so stupid and prone to interpreting biblical passages to suit each individuals own biases and selfishness that jesus DOESNT need to spell things out in black and white.

This is why modern law has to be written up in such precise fashion. Look at how cunningly businesses and the rich are able to dodge around the tax laws. Simply telling humans to follow the “Spirit” of the law – as jesus suggests in the LYN passage, has clearly been utterly ineffective as a method of communicating to humanity how to behave.

Is it ok to torture a prisoner in order to gain information that might save thousands or millions of lives in times of war or terrorism ? jesus don’t say.

The bible time and time again suggest that we treat any lawbreaker harshly – and not “kindly” as you seem to imply LYN commands.

Should we hang gays or just tell them not to bum each other and leave it at that ? How can pentecostal africans and Rick warren disagree on such a major issue as this and BOTH claim to be following their scriptures ?. Its a joke. A massive failure of the deity to communicate. One side is right. Or maybe God just don’t care.

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nonchai January 12, 2012 at 4:07 am

actually i meant to write:

“Humanity is so stupid and prone to interpreting biblical passages to suit each individuals own biases and selfishness that jesus DOES need to spell things out in black and white”

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nonchai January 12, 2012 at 4:37 am

Lets take another area where a divine creator could have helped man be more compassionate in punishing wrongdoers by death – stoning.

It is clear, even without watching videos of men/women in Iran or afganistan being stoned in the last few years, that stoning is anything but a quick or humane method of executing people who violate scriptural laws.

Jeses could have given us a blueprint for a humane killing machine. After all – yahweh seems perfectly able to come up with detailed blueprints for a boat, when he is about to drown humanity ( how kind and loving ) or when he wants us to build a temple to indulge his ego.

Here is a simple humane killing machine:

Build a very tall device that uses pulleys to hoist a heavy boulder or weight that has a pointy end slightly smaller than a human head at the bottom carved on it. Then place the prisoner directly under this weight. Ensure the weight is positioned and lifted so high as to smash the prisoners head to smithereens in an instant.

Not only would this be instant death, but the indignity and dishonour of having oneself buried without any head whatsoever might serve as a deterent.

Hardly sophisticated technology but better than stoning.

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drj January 12, 2012 at 6:34 am

I define “basis” just like your average dictionary: that on which something else stands or rests. Anything upon which something is based. For example, Jesus Christ is the basis of Christianity. Michael Jackson is the basis of the Jackson estate. Freedom and inalienable rights are the basis of American democracy. Standard usage, all the way. Morality is a concept that draws upon another more fundamental concept: God. It doesn’t get any more fundamental than the Unmoved Mover.

If this is what you mean when you use the term “basis”, then you haven’t adequately explained why no “basis” for morality could exist, given naturalism. Usually, in these sorts of discussions, “basis” is meant to be something like “the logically necessary precursor P, for Q”. But your basis just seems to be the set of circumstances which produced Q in this world.

It seems like your saying something like:
God created beings with universal shared values, therefore he is the basis of morality, like Richard Dawkins wrote the God delusion, therefore he is the basis of the God Delusion.

But you haven’t shown why this is logically impossible:
Mindless physical events produced beings with universal shared values, therefore mindless physical events are the basis or morality

So what’s the problem with that? Note that there’s nothing necessary about Richard Dawkins’ role in authoring the God Delusion – it COULD have, logically speaking, been authored by somebody or something else if circumstances had been different.

With the style of morality you seem to be endorsing, it seems as if ANYTHING that produced a set of beings with shared values couldn’t be the “basis”.

For it looks like

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drj January 12, 2012 at 6:36 am

Typo in last sentence – should be:

With the style of morality you seem to be endorsing, it seems as if ANYTHING that produced a set of beings with shared values *could* be the “basis”.

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nonchai January 12, 2012 at 7:44 am

@drj:

“But you haven’t shown why this is logically impossible:
Mindless physical events produced beings with universal shared values, therefore mindless physical events are the basis or morality”

It seems to me that it is is logically possible, but wording arguments or replies into the form
“you haven’t shown why X is logically impossible” seems awfully like the typical philosophical defences we get from theists. Its how they formulate their defences against the P.O.E and the arguments put up against the notion of an “unembodied immaterial person”.

But more to the point, it is by no means a given that humanity shares a common set of values. Yes – sure do not kill, steal, lie are SUPERFICIALLY asserted by all cultures as things to value, but i think once you peel away the layers of the onion in various cultures we find that there are other values which take priority and where necessary take precedence over the stuff i listed. Here are some values that govern what we humans REALLY do:

* Family loyalty
* Tribal loyalty
* Saving Face
* Religious/Racial Loyalty.

These are “drivers” intrinsic to people all over the world, and govern how we feel, argue and justify our actions to ourselves and others.

cl cherry-picks LYN from the NT as – I presume the “Moral basis” of his system of ethics. But we all know that the NT gospels each have a different “take” and agenda on things. Matthew as everyone here knows – portrays jesus as being totally behind the Torah. Not one jot or tittle etc. And Jesus comes down very harshly against women when discussing divorce. Hardly Loving your neighbour if you ask me. Jesus’s commands here have ended up in countless women being forced to remain inside damaging marriages and forbidden from remarrying, thus ending up in penury.

I would suggest to CL if he has not done so already, to go and google for the PDF “Is God A Moral Compromiser” by Thom Stark. A fine and detailed rebuttal of Paul Copans apologetic attempt to whitewash the moral horrors of the O.T. – exactly the kind of old testament “morality” that jesus supposedly endorses in Matthew.

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cl January 12, 2012 at 7:44 am

For those interested in the 1000 Sadists discussion, here is Cartesian’s original Nazi example:

Suppose the Nazis had killed or brainwashed anyone who disagreed with them, and succeeded in conquering the world. They keep a handful of Jewish people around in zoos, just to torture. Suppose the most popular television show in Naziland features ordinary Nazis — selected by lottery from among the Nazi population — torturing these Jewish people just for fun. The billions of Nazis in the television audience absolutely LOVE it. It’s like American Idol to them. They look forward to it all week. It’s what they want most in life: to see those Jewish people tortured. These Jewish people are kept in a pretty sorry mental state (due to nearly constant torture, and perhaps even some drugs), so that each of their desires not to be tortured is weaker than each of the Nazis desires to torture them. You and your friend Jerk live in Naziland. Jerk is a typical Nazi: he really badly wants to win the lottery so he can appear on this television show and torture some Jewish people. You, on the other hand, don’t. You’ve done some thinking lately, and you’ve concluded that torturing people just for fun is awful, and you want no part of it. (Naturally, you keep these opinions to yourself, for fear of being taken in for “re-education.”) Clearly, in this situation, your desire is good and Jerk’s desire is bad. But, in this situation, only Jerk’s desire tends to fulfill more and stronger desires than it thwarts. (His desire, if satisfied, would fulfill the very strong desires of billions of blood-thirsty Nazis, while thwarting the weaker desires of only a few Jewish people.) Your desire, however, actually tends to thwart more and stronger desires than it fulfills. So, according to desirism, *your* desire is bad and *Jerk’s* desire is good. But that gets things exactly backwards. So desirism is false.

This is not a simple 1:1 desire ratio, like the example Alonzo attacks in the post PDH linked to…

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drj January 12, 2012 at 7:51 am

It seems to me that it is is logically possible, but wording arguments or replies into the form
“you haven’t shown why X is logically impossible” seems awfully like the typical philosophical defences we get from theists. Its how they formulate their defences against the P.O.E and the arguments put up against the notion of an “unembodied immaterial person”.

The argument was worded this way because the recurring assertion throughout this thread has been that there is no logical, or logically possible basis for morality, given naturalism. Once we get the theists to confess that this isnt true, plausibility can be examined.

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joseph January 12, 2012 at 8:41 am

@CL,
Errr….so what am I missing?
Why can’t Luke establish “saving lives” as an objective moral good, in the same way you can establish “love…thanksgiving” as moral goods?

I see why he can’t establish a motivation in the same way you can…

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PDH January 12, 2012 at 9:11 am

cl wrote,

You didn’t answer “yes” or “no” to either of the questions, and you haven’t explained what it means to say X is the basis of Y. Along those lines, what is the basis for morality? Work with me here. I have no idea where you’re coming from if you don’t.

Well, this discussion has moved so far away from this now that I’m not sure how useful this will prove to be, but anyway, the questions were:

Would an omniscient Creator God know all possible facts about the workings of human desires and/or psychology and/or morality?

To which I would say yes, provided there is no contra-causal free-will (on at least some conceptions) and…

Could an omniscient, omnibenevolent, omnipotent Creator God use this knowledge as an empirical reason for action to prescribe moral decrees for humanity?

To which I would also answer yes.

However, it is the things of which God has knowledge that provide the basis for morality not the fact that God has knowledge of them.

It could certainly help us a great deal if God related this knowledge to us, as much of humanity has apparently been ignorant of it for most of our history but this is a question of moral epistemology not moral ontology, as Dr. William Lane Craig would say. Also, it doesn’t appear to me that He has related any such thing.

Your discussion with nonchai is largely about epistemology, for example, and I share his position. It certainly seems that God could be doing a much better job of conveying morality to us. That is an important discussion in and of itself but it’s not quite what I’m talking about. It’s like the complaint that desirism would be extraordinarily difficult to calculate. This might be true – it might be correct and yet inaccessible to us – but it is besides the point. T

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nonchai January 12, 2012 at 9:23 am

@joseph,
re “Why can’t Luke establish “saving lives” as an objective moral good, in the same way you can establish “love…thanksgiving” as moral goods?”

As soon as you talk about “establishing” any goal/value as a moral good, I don’t see how one can call this objective. All such “establishments” ultimately become victim to the charge of being arbritary. If there is to be any objective moral good, then it means such “goods” will be discoverable by anyone.

Try persuading a lion that it should not eat the gazelle because it will harm and cause the gazelle to suffer, and the lion won’t give a damn. Persuade a jew or moslem that slaughtering an animal by slitting its throat and letting it bleed to death, ( without any stunning, sedative or anaesthetic ) is going to fall upon deaf ears because their morality rests purely on divine commandments, and that moral obligation negates any concern for the suffering of the sentient being that is undergoing slaughter.

I think Sam Harris similarly fails. He tries to claim that because reducing suffering and increasing “well-being” are things that should be “obvious” to all and sundry – that therefore this stands as an objective morality. But the criteria of reducing suffering, increasing well being are arbritary and subjective. As arbitrary as jesus/god doing a “me too” and claiming that LYN somehow encapsulates all of the hideous commandments and laws that preceded jesus.

As has been pointed out by many philosophers, Divine Command theory is a subjective moral theory. It rests upon arbitrary commandments by a particular person.

We simply have to obey this person or suffer some form of punishment. But what if we don’t care ?.

Ultimately I think everything to do with moral discussions HAS to boil down to some hypothetical imperative. If we value X then if follows that we should do Y.

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nonchai January 12, 2012 at 9:28 am

damn, i wish there was an edit button feature on this blog!

i meant to write:

“…Try persuading a lion that it should not eat the gazelle because it will harm and cause the gazelle to suffer, and the lion won’t give a damn. Persuade a jew or moslem that slaughtering an animal by slitting its throat and letting it bleed to death without any stunning, sedative or anaesthetic , causes the animal to suffer is going to fall upon deaf ears …..”

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PDH January 12, 2012 at 10:12 am

Cartesian via cl wrote,

Suppose the Nazis had killed or brainwashed anyone who disagreed with them, and succeeded in conquering the world. They keep a handful of Jewish people around in zoos, just to torture. Suppose the most popular television show in Naziland features ordinary Nazis — selected by lottery from among the Nazi population — torturing these Jewish people just for fun. The billions of Nazis in the television audience absolutely LOVE it. It’s like American Idol to them. They look forward to it all week. It’s what they want most in life: to see those Jewish people tortured. These Jewish people are kept in a pretty sorry mental state (due to nearly constant torture, and perhaps even some drugs), so that each of their desires not to be tortured is weaker than each of the Nazis desires to torture them. You and your friend Jerk live in Naziland. Jerk is a typical Nazi: he really badly wants to win the lottery so he can appear on this television show and torture some Jewish people. You, on the other hand, don’t. You’ve done some thinking lately, and you’ve concluded that torturing people just for fun is awful, and you want no part of it. (Naturally, you keep these opinions to yourself, for fear of being taken in for “re-education.”) Clearly, in this situation, your desire is good and Jerk’s desire is bad. But, in this situation, only Jerk’s desire tends to fulfill more and stronger desires than it thwarts. (His desire, if satisfied, would fulfill the very strong desires of billions of blood-thirsty Nazis, while thwarting the weaker desires of only a few Jewish people.) Your desire, however, actually tends to thwart more and stronger desires than it fulfills. So, according to desirism, *your* desire is bad and *Jerk’s* desire is good. But that gets things exactly backwards. So desirism is false.

Alonzo, emphasis mine, responds to the 1000 sadists problem in the following way:

My answer is that the theory still condemns the harmful act.

We must distinguish between two theories:

Desire fulfilling act utilitarianism: That act is right that fulfills the most desires.

Desire utilitarianism: Desires (like everything else in the universe) are good or bad according to whether they tend to fulfill or thwart (other) desires. Acts are right or wrong according to whether or not a person with good desires would perform that act.

Desire Fulfilling Act Utilitarianism would say to harm the child in these imaginary circumstances.

Desire Utilitarianism says that we need to look at the desire to see if it tends to fulfill or thwart other desires.

So, take the desire to rape children, for example. In any society, the more prevalent and the stronger this desire becomes, the more other desires are thwarted. As we turn the desire up, making it stronger and more common, either more children (and those who truly care for children) are having their desires thwarted, or those with this desire to rape children are having their desires thwarted.

Either way, ‘up’ in strength and prevalence means more desires being thwarted. ‘Down’ on the other hand means fewer desires being thwarted. If we can dial this desire all the way down to zero, then children would be safe at least from this type of harm, and nobody in society would be suffering the frustration of not acting on such a desire.

So, this desire counts as a bad desire.

Then, an act is right according to whether or not a person with good desires would perform that act. A person with good desires would have no desire to rape a child (and several reasons not to). So, a person with good desires would not perform that action. Which means that the action falls in the category of “morally prohibited” in desire utilitarian terms.

The key difference, again, is the difference between evaluating actions according to whether or not they fulfill the most desires, and evaluating desires according to whether they tend to fulfill or thwart other desires.

IOW, it is the desire itself that we are evaluating not the number of people with fulfilled desires or the strength of the fulfilled desires or even the number of desires fulfilled. There are better desires that the Nazis could have, desires that thwart no other desires at all. The desire to torture thwarts the desires of the Jews, it is therefore inferior to the desire to spare them the torture.

With this in mind, I’m not sure how the Naziland thought experiment challenges desirism. If the Jews had no desires at all (or even positively desired to be tortured) then I think that desirism would probably have no problem with Naziland, though in that case I’m not sure how it would even be possible to torture them. Perhaps, you’re trying to say that this counter-intuitive response acts as some kind of reductio?

If so, this is the classic way to respond to consequentialism, develop a thought experiment that leads people to counter-intuitive conclusions. I don’t think it’s always illegitimate but I am very wary of this tactic. I don’t expect a good moral theory to simply confirm all of my intuitions. In fact, I’d be highly suspicious of one that did. I think there should be cases where I can understand intellectually that something is right or wrong and yet not feel it on a gut level. For example, I am fairly convinced that it’s probably wrong to eat animals and yet I continue to do so because it doesn’t feel wrong. Even though I know many of the cognitive biases (as well as bad arguments and poor reasoning) that conspire to lead me astray. The residents of Naziland presumably feel that they are doing the right thing, just as we feel that they are not. This is why I don’t think it’s a good idea to base our morality on feelings alone. We have to look at our desires in some kind of broader context. Is this what a person with good desires would do?

If this is not the objection, I can only assume that you think the fact that the Nazis’ desires (in this highly artificial example) are stronger than those of the Jews means that desirism condones their behaviour. I don’t think this is the case. The Nazis might be given other desires that are stronger still and the question that desirism would ask is whether or not they should be. Desirism, if I understand it correctly, would condemn their behaviour. It would say that they have bad desires and ought to change them. In addition to praise and condemnation, they apparently have brainwashing technology as well as powerful, desire-altering drugs to help them achieve this. If they can’t achieve it, if it is beyond their means, that would be a problem but it would be a practical problem, not a philosophical one.

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J. Simonov January 12, 2012 at 10:31 am

@cl

As for the “necessity” thing, it’s not my fault you said “necessity” when you meant “non-contingent.” I was simply evaluating your statement according to the words you provided. Although, I’m curious why you even brought that up here…?

I noticed that Joseph posted an old comment of mine, I just wanted to clarify it for him. As for my use of necessity, take it up with the philosophy of modality, I guess? My usage is not controversial or unusual. Plantinga has an entire Modal Ontological Argument that involves it.

That would be silly. You misunderstood the objection. I objected because it sounded like joseph was talking about this strange “extrinsic morality” that we’ve been discussing. Since I don’t think such a thing exists, I objected to his language — to be sure he wasn’t under the misguided assumption that I thought such a thing existed. Is that okay with you?

I understood your objection just fine. If you recall, you kicked it off with the assertion that we can’t talk about morality as a thing unto itself without implicitly reifying it, but as I pointed out with the running analogy, there is no particular reason to think this is the case when talking about abstractions. Other than perhaps that cl says so.

I define “basis” just like your average dictionary: that on which something else stands or rests. Anything upon which something is based.

…yeah, based conceptually, is how it’s normally used in conversation. Jesus isn’t the basis of Christianity in that sense, the set of teachings and actions attributed to him are. I’ve never heard the term “basis” used in the fashion you’re staking out for it, and I still don’t really believe you’d actually say something so bizarre as “Darwin is the basis of TOoS”, for instance. But I suppose you’re welcome to it.

False. According to me, God is the author of morality in the same way Dawkins is the author of TGD.

You just got done telling us that God is the basis for morality because he perceives all the relevant moral facts perfectly, and relays them to humanity. That is not the manner in which Dawkins is the author of TGD.

By whom? If something is a brute fact, it’s not held to a standard. It just is.

The necessary truth isn’t held to a standard, God would be held to the necessary truth, as it were, which would itself therefore be the standard.

Just out of curiosity, what, on your view, would be the consequences were I to agree that God was being “held to a standard,” as you say? Why shouldn’t a theist take that horn?

That’s something I have no particular interest in. It seems to bother Calvinists to no end, something about God’s sovereignty I’d imagine.

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joseph January 12, 2012 at 5:43 pm

@nonchai

Ok, so from what I understand, CL seems to say “love is good, it is an objective good, why because it meets the definition of an objective good”.

So, it seems something akin to saying, “A triangle on a flat plane is a 3 cornered, straight sided object, with internal angles that add to 180 degrees, why? Because that is the definition of a triangle”.

Now, I can see that CL’s method may be criticised. But as he doesn’t explicitely state something like “and the definition of a moral good is whatever God commands” it seems that Luke could use CL’s method to say “love is good, whether there is a God, or not”.

In exactly the same way as Luke could say “a triangle is….” whether God exists or not.

So if CL’s way of saying “x is good” works, it should work both for a theist and atheist, if it fails, it should fail for a theist and atheist.

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Stephen R. Diamond January 12, 2012 at 6:00 pm

We can always just say, ‘so what?’ You can’t outsource morality.

OTOH, ‘you desire it,’ is a reason. ‘If you want X and Y will help you obtain X, then you should do Y,’ that works. Desirism may or may not be successful but at least I can see how it could work, in principle. I fail to see how declaring something to be supernatural or irreducible or fundamentally (!) normative or whatever helps us even get off the ground. It sounds to me like, ‘you just should, that’s why.’

The problem with deriving ought from is, as I see it, is ultimately a fact about the world, rather than merely the meaning of terms. As a materialist I’m no theologian, but here’s how I think a theist might thing about objective morality. The immaterial soul is blessed with the ability to know good and evil, and dwelling spiritually (or mentally, if you prefer) on the good results in your behavior being better. This is a factor independent of (more exactly, in addition to) the desire to do good. (Thus the theist is apt to think what happens is part of God’s plan, even if the good isn’t perceptible to humans.)

Part of the confusion is that “reason to do” is underanalyzed. What does it mean to have a reason to do something? What does the claim that desires are our only reasons mean? I think it is supposed to mean that our desires our our only intrinsic purposes. But this is a factual claim, albeit a very basic one. Fyfe admits that it might turn out to be the case that desires don’t exist; so, it’s not a purely logical claim, even according to Fyfe. But in a theist conception, your purposes can include (are exhausted by?) the purposes God has for you. If these purposes come to direct your soul by virtue of your immersion in the truths revealed by your conscience, then these moral truths become a reason for acting.

If “good” were a primitive concept, physically irreducible, then it would *not* be true that you could be confronted with “Killing is bad” and respond, “So what?” You could say it but you couldn’t mean it. That you shouldn’t do it would be directly perceivable, and its perception would “automatically” (without the intervention of personal desire) afford one of the purposes of your subsequent behavior.

I think you underestimate the extent to which various semi-logical truths are true in part because of the way the world is. Quine went too far in his attack on analyticity, but he was right that, outside of purely logical truths, many basic, somewhat logical propositions (including the category error of unconditional imperatives) are grounded in facts about the world.

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PDH January 12, 2012 at 6:22 pm

Stephen R. Diamond wrote,

The problem with deriving ought from is, as I see it, is ultimately a fact about the world, rather than merely the meaning of terms. As a materialist I’m no theologian, but here’s how I think a theist might thing about objective morality. The immaterial soul is blessed with the ability to know good and evil, and dwelling spiritually (or mentally, if you prefer) on the good results in your behavior being better. This is a factor independent of (more exactly, in addition to) the desire to do good. (Thus the theist is apt to think what happens is part of God’s plan, even if the good isn’t perceptible to humans.)

Part of the confusion is that “reason to do” is underanalyzed. What does it mean to have a reason to do something? What does the claim that desires are our only reasons mean? I think it is supposed to mean that our desires our our only intrinsic purposes. But this is a factual claim, albeit a very basic one. Fyfe admits that it might turn out to be the case that desires don’t exist; so, it’s not a purely logical claim, even according to Fyfe. But in a theist conception, your purposes can include (are exhausted by?) the purposes God has for you. If these purposes come to direct your soul by virtue of your immersion in the truths revealed by your conscience, then these moral truths become a reason for acting.

If “good” were a primitive concept, physically irreducible, then it would *not* be true that you could be confronted with “Killing is bad” and respond, “So what?” You could say it but you couldn’t mean it. That you shouldn’t do it would be directly perceivable, and its perception would “automatically” (without the intervention of personal desire) afford one of the purposes of your subsequent behavior.

I think you underestimate the extent to which various semi-logical truths are true in part because of the way the world is. Quine went too far in his attack on analyticity, but he was right that, outside of purely logical truths, many basic, somewhat logical propositions (including the category error of unconditional imperatives) are grounded in facts about the world.

I’m simply talking about what, in fact, motivates us to do anything at all. An intrinsic property of something is only valuable to an agent to the extent that the agent values it. To say it has the property of intrinsic value is no different than saying that it has the property of mass or charge or that it is yellow. You would have to care about these things in order for it to have any value to you. I just don’t see how intrinsic value alone could ever provide this.

How would it – how could it – be directly perceivable that I shouldn’t do something unless I have some relevant desire? If I had no desires I’d have no reason to do anything at all. It can’t motivate me, not by itself, not in the absence of desires. God may have a purpose for me, which is all well and good for Him, but that doesn’t mean that I have a purpose.

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Stephen R. Diamond January 12, 2012 at 6:25 pm

A desirist could say that someone is wrong to want to pay homage to the greatness of God if that is a desire that tends to thwart the desires of others

Part of the problem (as antiplastic pointed out in another thread) is the analysis of what moral talk is really about. I think it’s about what conduct to engage in, not simply what desires to approve of. But accepting the theory on its own terms, it is “economically” wrongheaded. I may (not that I’m convinced) have an interest in suppressing certain desires of certain people, but my interests don’t represent the interests of humanity. The fact that “we” have an interest in suppressing certain desires doesn’t mean that each person taken individually has any such an interest. Fyfe is trying to derive morality from a theory of individual self-interest, but he’s got to solve the problem of the free rider and the interest in signaling. I can’t see how that’s remotely possible.

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Luke Muehlhauser January 12, 2012 at 9:15 pm

Wow, 122 comments…

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Stephen R. Diamond January 12, 2012 at 9:20 pm

This greatest desire is “that which is sought for its own sake” – Carrier considers this desire to be Eudimonia (flourishing, happiness, contentment with life,etc).

Person A and Person B both have the same conditions for flourishing. I’ll stipulate to that, arguendo. But isn’t it obvious that what makes Person A flourish the most might detract from B’s flourishing? Surely Carrier realizes that. So what is Carrier trying to accomplish? I assume he’s trying to justify some moral theory: where facts are the inputs and moral judgments the outputs. If there’s some other object of this theoretical effort, what is it? All he seems to be able to conclude from these premises is that each person is best served by pursuing his own over-arching desire. If he wants to call that an ethical theory, I would first accuse him of false advertising and second would point out that the only interesting thing about this claim consists of its asserting the existence of a master-desire, and that’s probably wrong. (Not to speak of master desires–plain, ordinary desires may not be real.).

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joseph January 12, 2012 at 9:22 pm

Hee Hee Hee,
We hijacked it and turned it into a morality debate. I think you can mostly thank CL.

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Stephen R. Diamond January 12, 2012 at 10:17 pm

You need to explain why there needs to be intrinsic value for morality to work before we waste any more time on it. However, this can’t be done because even if something did have intrinsic value that wouldn’t give me a reason to care about it! Plus, get serious. It doesn’t exist.

To echo a line of Daniel Dennett’s, I find it baffling that to most people ‘real’ morality is this thing that doesn’t exist and wouldn’t be binding even if it did, whereas things that do exist and are binding are considered to be ‘not real.’ The moment you start to look at what actually happens people say, ‘that’s not morality!’ instead of ‘I was wrong about morality.’ You might just dig your heels in and say ‘well morality doesn’t exist, then,’ which is fine – I agree that morality as naively defined by many people does not exist – but the advantage of basing your moral theory on things that exist is that those things don’t just disappear when people fail to provide a correct account of them. You’ll still have desires, they’ll still be malleable and you – and we – will still have reason to engage in things like condemnation, praise, the development of moral laws, a justice system, prisons etc. Now that sounds like morality to me but if you don’t want to call it that, fine, call it something else.

There may be be many problems with desirism but its most fervent critics don’t do a good job of engaging with it, in my opinion.

Of course intrinsic value doesn’t exist. The point is rather that Fyfe, like most ethical theorists who think they’re naturalists, doesn’t realize he is operating on the premise that it does exist.

You seem to think I advocate intrinsic value. Am I that unclear, or are you not trying to understand. The refrain that critics of so-called desirism “don’t engage in it” has become a mantra, uttered with hands over ears.

The reason desirism must include instrinsic value is that it outputs specific moral imperatives. The only way you avoid realizing that it is committed to intrinsic value is that you equivocate about what “intrinsic value” means. Intrinsic value is precluded the naturalist because there are no objective moral goods. Fyfe fails to deny intrinsic value in that, relevant, sense because he *redefines* intrinsic value, when convenient, as meaning value independent of a valuer. That’s simply not the issue. It doesn’t decrease his implicit commitment to intrinsic value; it only means that Fyfe assigns intrinsic value to the the satisfaction of desire.

Let’s be completely clear about this. If Fyfe wants to output moral judgments from facts about desires and their satisfaction conditions (including, of course, their mutual inter-relations) then he must order these desires in some one. If every desire counts as one, then he must figure out how to partition desires–what counts as one desire versus several; is the unit the same or different for different persons? But my point isn’t that this talk probably can’t be accomplished, but a much more fundamental and deadly one. However he has partitioned and weighted the desires to determine which desires are good and which bad, he has made a judgment about the intrinsic value of these desires. This judgment is arbitrary. If you don’t want to call it intrinsic value (although that’s what it is) then call it a judgment of moral weight. Any conclusions about the moral judgments outputted from the moral theory depend completely on the moral weight (intrinsic value) you place on segments of our desirings. So, the outputs that Fyfe discovers, the policy recommendations he derives from his moral theory (supposedly), don’t come from his musings about the relationship between desires. They come from his arbitrary moral judgments in the process of segmenting desire. Or if they don’t, he can’t output moral judgments and doesn’t have a moral theory.

The most important segmentation of desires regards the desires of different individuals. Does everyone’s desires count equally? Why? This a an issue of intrinsic value.

On Dennett’s position of settling for what’s possible etc.– Theories of morality like Fyfe’s will provide bad guidance for dealing with practical civic problems. The solution won’t come from embracing a common morality or by the triumph of one moral system or another. What most people — as you put it — call morality, that has failed. It shouldn’t be replaced by an equivocal doctrine dictating moral outcomes while denying it espouses a scheme of intrinsic value. We still have to solve civic tasks, but you wrongly assume morality is the way to reach agreement. ( I deal with this in my theory of civic morality (recently posted) — http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/2012/01/141-habit-theory-of-civic-morality.html

Note that’s it’s a theory of morality, not a moral theory.

On the claim that if intrinsic value existed it wouldn’t matter–This is true. But the point is that Fyfe has intrinsic value mattering in that his segmentation of desires is what counts in his output of moral judgments (see above). Intrinsic value shouldn’t be involved in scientific normativity, but Fyfe issues moral judgments that are predicated on *some particular* unit of desire being the measure of societal moral worth. An arbitrary decision that determines everything that matters.

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Stephen R. Diamond January 12, 2012 at 10:41 pm

I’m simply talking about what, in fact, motivates us to do anything at all. An intrinsic property of something is only valuable to an agent to the extent that the agent values it. To say it has the property of intrinsic value is no different than saying that it has the property of mass or charge or that it is yellow. You would have to care about these things in order for it to have any value to you. I just don’t see how intrinsic value alone could ever provide this.

How would it – how could it – be directly perceivable that I shouldn’t do something unless I have some relevant desire? If I had no desires I’d have no reason to do anything at all. It can’t motivate me, not by itself, not in the absence of desires. God may have a purpose for me, which is all well and good for Him, but that doesn’t mean that I have a purpose.

What do you mean by your question “how could it?” You haven’t pointed to a logical contradiction in thinking something for which I have no desire can’t motivate me. Are you saying, perhaps, that you can’t imagine things being like that? Your assumption here is that a person’s actions are accurately depicted by the concept of agency. To speak of agency is practically to adopt a belief/desire scheme of explanation. What if a person is a soul, inherently attracted to the good, independent of desire. You couldn’t rationally deliberate about this part of your motivation, but coming into contact with moral truths would impart some of their moral purpose. (Don’t souls in heaven lack desires? Not unfulfilled ones, I shouldn’t think.)

I think if our world view was of a universe with a fundamental ontology of goods and oughts, the above would probably be the rational way to think about it. A universe in which morality had an autonomous effect on history: things get better and better, in accordance with God’s will.

And then, if desires don’t really exist–which they more probably don’t–what then becomes of your belief that without desires we would do nothing? We would all be doing nothing.

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Stephen R. Diamond January 13, 2012 at 12:12 am

I believe that Fyfe accept that nothing has intrinsic value. So I think he’s ceded the quest for what is “true” if by that you mean something that is universally, absolutely true about morality via desires. Honestly, I don’t think Desirists care about that issue.

I think you conclude that Fyfe’s opponents miss the point because you don’t understand the criticism. You wrongly assume that we accuse Fyfe of asserting the existence of intrinsic value. If you don’t understand the criticism, it won’t make sense. The point is that Fyfe assumes intrinsic value while denying he does that. If you want a theory that outputs moral judgments based on the structure of desire, you have to have weighted criteria as part of your theory that’s generating the outputs. Those criteria are arbitrary; to use them is to embrace the intrinsic values they represent. (I explain this more carefully in another post.)

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drj January 13, 2012 at 5:14 am

Person A and Person B both have the same conditions for flourishing. I’ll stipulate to that, arguendo. But isn’t it obvious that what makes Person A flourish the most might detract from B’s flourishing? Surely Carrier realizes that. So what is Carrier trying to accomplish? I assume he’s trying to justify some moral theory: where facts are the inputs and moral judgments the outputs. If there’s some other object of this theoretical effort, what is it? All he seems to be able to conclude from these premises is that each person is best served by pursuing his own over-arching desire. If he wants to call that an ethical theory, I would first accuse him of false advertising and second would point out that the only interesting thing about this claim consists of its asserting the existence of a master-desire, and that’s probably wrong. (Not to speak of master desires–plain, ordinary desires may not be real.).

Carrier draws upon game theory, evolution and physical necessity in this universe to argue that A and B’s flourishing always be linked. This is because mutually advantageous cooperation will always win, over time, over lone agents acting against each other. Moral intuitions, empathy, love, (and other ideas that will link one’s own flourishing to the flourishing of others) will always turn up in any advanced species, because of this fact. In some instances, something or something, somewhere, might beat the odds, but playing those odds is not a sound, rational decision, the same way it isnt rational to buy a lottery ticket, expecting to win.
Note what I said earlier: morality is about providing rational reasons to do X over Y.

If you don’t want to think of this what he’s offering as a moral theory, fine! Who cares? Call it what you want! But if the empirical facts upon which it depends are true (we all share a greatest value, etc) does it give us rational reasons to choose X over Y, that apply not only to me, but to you and everyone else as well? You bet it does. THAT is what I’m interested in.

But call it whatever you like: If his theory holds, I can say stuff like: “You ought not kill your neighbor” – and be objectively right about it.

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drj January 13, 2012 at 5:22 am

What if a person is a soul, inherently attracted to the good, independent of desire. You couldn’t rationally deliberate about this part of your motivation, but coming into contact with moral truths would impart some of their moral purpose. (Don’t souls in heaven lack desires? Not unfulfilled ones, I shouldn’t think.)

You’ll have to explain what it could mean to be “attracted to the good”. It just seems like an aloof, wooey way of saying the agent has desires that are oriented a specific way. If souls were not “attracted to the good”, what’s the reason they should seek the good anyways? Can you do make a go at that without appealing to something that the agent desires, or would desire if he knew what he was really missing?

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PDH January 13, 2012 at 7:32 am

Stephen R. Diamond wrote,

I think you conclude that Fyfe’s opponents miss the point because you don’t understand the criticism. You wrongly assume that we accuse Fyfe of asserting the existence of intrinsic value. If you don’t understand the criticism, it won’t make sense. The point is that Fyfe assumes intrinsic value while denying he does that. If you want a theory that outputs moral judgments based on the structure of desire, you have to have weighted criteria as part of your theory that’s generating the outputs. Those criteria are arbitrary; to use them is to embrace the intrinsic values they represent. (I explain this more carefully in another post.)

I’m aware of what you assert but I don’t agree with it. I don’t see where Fyfe inserts intrinsic value back into his theory. The ‘criteria’ you mention are determined extrinsically.

What do you mean by your question “how could it?” You haven’t pointed to a logical contradiction in thinking something for which I have no desire can’t motivate me. Are you saying, perhaps, that you can’t imagine things being like that? Your assumption here is that a person’s actions are accurately depicted by the concept of agency. To speak of agency is practically to adopt a belief/desire scheme of explanation. What if a person is a soul, inherently attracted to the good, independent of desire. You couldn’t rationally deliberate about this part of your motivation, but coming into contact with moral truths would impart some of their moral purpose. (Don’t souls in heaven lack desires? Not unfulfilled ones, I shouldn’t think.)

If a person is a soul, inherently attracted to the good then either the good has extrinsic value to the soul in which case that is the source of its value or this has no more to do with morality than does the fact that iron filings are attracted to magnets.

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nonchai January 13, 2012 at 9:12 am

@drj – you write “Note what I said earlier: morality is about providing rational reasons to do X over Y.”

I disagree and suspect many others would too. To me a far better place to start – and I emphasise _start_ is thus:

Morality is – at its core about what we choose to condemn and what we choose to praise. At a societal level we then extrapolate condemnation and praise into practical actions that constitute punishment and reward. I also concede that some might want to replace punishment and reward with other methods that increase the amount of acts deemed praiseworthy, and decrease those acts that we condemn. So for example society might choose some pragmatic action such as policing, forced restraint, incarceration to reduce the possibility of condemnable acts.

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nonchai January 13, 2012 at 9:19 am

Notice that i’ve not mentioned desires, utility or anything like that. This is my “opening gambit”.

Some society in an alternate universe might decide for a brief spell – to say deem the following collection of traits praiseworthy:

Deceit, lying, sefishness, inflicting pain and harm on others, freeloading, uncooperative behaviour, stealing, murder, despotism and torture.

But one has to wonder for how long such a society would last. And given that individuals of such a society would need to suffer pain, experience a sense of loss, etc for the praiseworthy acts to be possible, surely it wouldn’t be long before some individuals begin suggesting a different and better set of traits to praise/condemn.

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nonchai January 13, 2012 at 9:33 am

See, here is MY own dilemma when pondering this stuff.

I personally intuitively am happy to begin from the basis that any such collection of praiseworthy traits and the converse – is 100% arbitrary. Totally. And there are no intrinsic properties in the universe that indicate any ought.

But as soon as i start down that road it doesn’t take me long before – at a collective level – a better set of traits becomes apparent – simply by looking at practicalities.

But this business of praise and condemnation is at its core a COLLLECTIVE thing.

If there exists a god, but at time A no other agent exists. Then I would assert that there is nothing moral we can say about god. Nothing until the idea pops into his head of creating one or more other agent. It takes more than one to be moral but – and i’m “putting this out there” – if the mere “idea” pops into gods head of god torturing this “agent to be” – and god starts to plan the creation and subsequent torture of this new agent, is god at this point in time now worthy of condemnation ? After all its only a plan. He could change his mind and not go ahead. ?

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drj January 13, 2012 at 9:41 am

Morality is – at its core about what we choose to condemn and what we choose to praise. At a societal level we then extrapolate condemnation and praise into practical actions that constitute punishment and reward. I also concede that some might want to replace punishment and reward with other methods that increase the amount of acts deemed praiseworthy, and decrease those acts that we condemn. So for example society might choose some pragmatic action such as policing, forced restraint, incarceration to reduce the possibility of condemnable acts.

And how do you decide what to praise? Why would you even praise an action? Because the action in question was aligned with something you value. Why would you condemn an action? Because the action in question was aligned with something you condemn. So I think you’ve just offered another way to say the essentially the same thing.

Figuring out what to praise and condemn requires us to examine our deepest, strongest values.

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drj January 13, 2012 at 9:43 am

“Because the action in question was aligned with something you condemn.” should be:

Because the action in question was aligned with something contradictory to your values.

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cl January 13, 2012 at 10:23 am

I can’t get to everybody at the moment but…

PDH,

Okay, cool, thanks for clear answers on those other things, now I just need you to explain precisely what YOU mean when you say that something is the basis of something else. Perhaps you could toss out a few sample usages as myself and J. Simonov have?

nonchai,

Humanity is so stupid and prone to interpreting biblical passages to suit each individuals own biases and selfishness that jesus DOESNT need to spell things out in black and white.

LOL! It’s worse than that. Even when God DOES spell things out in black and white, some of us can’t figure it out. Seriously! If you can’t understand that “love your neighbor as yourself” also means “don’t torture your neighbor,” the problem is not a lack of clarity on God’s part. It’s a lack of interest and/or comprehensive ability and/or something else on YOUR part. Similarly, if those African villagers aren’t familiar with the story of Jesus and the prostitute, it’s not for lack of clarity on the Bible’s part. That a subset of Christians eschews biblical morality does not entail that biblical morality is unclear. The apparent “argument” underneath all your rhetoric is illogical.

drj,

Just so you know, I objected to PDH’s claim that God can’t be a basis for morality. I don’t necessarily endorse the claim that there can be no basis for morality given naturalism. For example, even if naturalism is true, willing humans can agree to a social contract, and that would be, by every sense of the word, a “basis” of morality. So I’m not saying, “on naturalism there can be no basis for morality.” I hate to use the oft-convoluted word, but what I’m saying is more like, “on naturalism there can be no ‘objective‘ basis for morality.”

If this is what you mean when you use the term “basis”, then you haven’t adequately explained why no “basis” for morality could exist, given naturalism.

Stephen R. Diamond already explained it perfectly, to you in fact. He said, “…scientific, naturalistic atheism precludes the very existence of objective ‘moral foundations’ because such foundations require that normativity be immanent in the world.” With God, normativity can be immanent in the world, in the same way superglobals are immanent in PHP (to use a programming analogy). Not immanent in the sense of “moral waves” or “normative particles,” but immanent in the sense of an empirically true abstract claim.

But you haven’t shown why this is logically impossible: Mindless physical events produced beings with universal shared values, therefore mindless physical events are the basis or morality

So what’s the problem with that?

One problem is that it reflects only part of the meaning of “basis,” and not even the most important part as far as normativity is concerned. Yes, trivially, whatever produced human beings is the “basis” of our morality because it is the “basis” of our existence. So, in a trivial sense, you can say that mindless physical events are the basis for your morality. Hell, you can say that a car tire is your basis for morality. That’s not the extent of what I mean.

The real problem is that mindless physical events have no normative clout. OTOH, an omniscient, omnibenevolent Creator God has maximum normative clout. Therefore, it makes logical, normative sense to say that an omniscient, omnibenevolent Creator God is the best possible basis for morality. Likewise, it doesn’t make much normative sense to say that mindless physical events are the basis of our morality, and the logical sense of that statement is trivial (e.g. unimportant with regard to normativity).

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Larkus January 13, 2012 at 12:38 pm

Stoning people isn’t exactly what I would call ‘loving’ to your neighbour yet stoning is a punishment prescribed in the Bible.

How do you deal with conflicting commands in the Bible?

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nonchai January 13, 2012 at 12:41 pm

@drj

“And how do you decide what to praise? Why would you even praise an action? Because the action in question was aligned with something you value. Why would you condemn an action? Because the action in question was aligned with something you condemn. So I think you’ve just offered another way to say the essentially the same thing.”

I agree with what you wrote above, but no what i said wasn’t the same thing as your original x y quote.

“Figuring out what to praise and condemn requires us to examine our deepest, strongest values.”

Agreed. And selecting the values is utterly arbitrary. However , I don think that for _certain_ value sets – once one chooses those sets, nature _can_ in fact come to our aid and present to us facts which make discovering the hypothetical imperatives easier.

So, even though Sam Harris’s values of increasing human well-being and reducing suffering or harm are arbitrary choices, for that particular value-set there clearly are objective facts which will suggest to us the “imperatives”.

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drj January 13, 2012 at 12:47 pm

Stephen R. Diamond already explained it perfectly, to you in fact. He said, “…scientific, naturalistic atheism precludes the very existence of objective ‘moral foundations’ because such foundations require that normativity be immanent in the world.” With God, normativity can be immanent in the world, in the same way superglobals are immanent in PHP (to use a programming analogy). Not immanent in the sense of “moral waves” or “normative particles,” but immanent in the sense of an empirically true abstract claim.

Yes, I remember, and there have been probably at least a dozen responses from others and myself on that point. The main thrust being that values/desires provide normativity and they just happen to be immanent in the world, whether God exists or not – and furthermore, God’s existence has no effect on the normativity of values/desires.

One problem is that it reflects only part of the meaning of “basis,” and not even the most important part as far as normativity is concerned. Yes, trivially, whatever produced human beings is the “basis” of our morality because it is the “basis” of our existence. So, in a trivial sense, you can say that mindless physical events are the basis for your morality. Hell, you can say that a car tire is your basis for morality. That’s not the extent of what I mean.

The real problem is that mindless physical events have no normative clout. OTOH, an omniscient, omnibenevolent Creator God has maximum normative clout. Therefore, it makes logical, normative sense to say that an omniscient, omnibenevolent Creator God is the best possible basis for morality. Likewise, it doesn’t make much normative sense to say that mindless physical events are the basis of our morality, and the logical sense of that statement is trivial (e.g. unimportant with regard to normativity).

Quite frankly, you’ve thoroughly confused me with this whole “basis” thing, now. I haven’t the foggiest what you’re getting at. Maybe you can come up with a better way to say what you mean.

Normative clout, as has been argued at length (and repeated yet again, above) can only meaningfully come from desires/values. Again, THE basic premise in desirism (and more or less, goal theory): desires are the only reasons to act, that exist. In that premise, desirism is describing the most fundamental normative unit of reality. Richard Carrier doesnt quite word it that way in his theory – but he essentially claims that the only way to give anybody a reason to do anything at all, is to appeal to a desire they already hold. So again, he’s talking about what normativity is, and how it works, and believes it comes from the desires of the agent, not from on high, or from some supernatural, irreducible, vague, mystery-thing which quite probably does not exist (even as a coherent concept) that somebody labels as “normativity”.

PDH et al have repeatedly and eloquently pointed out that once you decouple normativity from the desires of moral agents – normativity has flown the coop. There’s nothing you can do or say to make an agent do X, want to do X, agree that X is right, if you cannot first appeal to a desire they hold. Maybe you tell him there’s this abstract ephemeral normativity that exists that binds him – he says, “I don’t care”. And that “I don’t care” is decisive and immovable. There’s no purchase from this alleged mysterious normativity to actually give this person a reason to do X.

If one of us, on the other hand, appeals to a universal desire that he, as a sentient being, holds, we can tell him, “you ought to do X”. He can respond with “I don’t care”, but then has produced a logical contradiction. He does care, because we are appealing to a desire he holds – which, by definition and by its real world phenomenology, proves that he does actually care (and therefore has a reason to do X).

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nonchai January 13, 2012 at 12:53 pm

@cl

“Seriously! If you can’t understand that “love your neighbor as yourself” also means “don’t torture your neighbor,”

Could you possibly be any more glib and naive?

The priests of the catholic church knew that verse perfectly well. They simply had other values and commandments from their biblical tradition that meant that there were higher priorities at stage. They calculated that putting someone on the rack for a bit, in order to gain a confession, a recantation, not only saved the torturee’s destiny from becoming damnation in hell, but also saved their laity from getting misled by satan and also going to hell.

After all there are also commands from jesus to turn the cheek when hit, to give the man your shirt etc etc, to sell all your possessions etc etc. But hey – only a tiny minority take those verses seriously.

You seem to talk as though the only thing ever to be asserted as a value in the bible is LYN. The beauty of the bible being so utterly full of contradictions, both theologically and morally is that anyone can make it seem to fit his own stance.

Maybe you need to read the good book in its entirety. Cherry picking the morally “nice” bits and then just assuming that the verse is specifically banning torture UNDER ANY CONDITIONS is just ridiculous.

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Tony Hoffman January 13, 2012 at 5:27 pm

Sorry, not a lot of time here, but that hasn’t stopped me before, so on!

Stephen D: “If you want a theory that outputs moral judgments based on the structure of desire, you have to have weighted criteria as part of your theory that’s generating the outputs.”

Not entirely sure I follow you here, but I’m going to go with it with so we can get on to your next sentence.

Stephen D: “Those criteria are arbitrary; to use them is to embrace the intrinsic values they represent.”

What seems arbitrary to me is the decoupling of desires from the question of normativity; it seems to me that desires are of themselves the only thing that could inform of us what we should and should not do. What I desire to do is how I begin to answer the question of what I ought to do. I address the issue not because I arbitrarily assign intrinsic worth to desires, but because the notion of value (or worth) itself has no meaning without desires.

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cl January 14, 2012 at 8:02 am

J. Simonov,

If you recall, you kicked it off with the assertion that we can’t talk about morality as a thing unto itself without implicitly reifying it, but as I pointed out with the running analogy, there is no particular reason to think this is the case when talking about abstractions. Other than perhaps that cl says so.

If you recall, I told you I was trying to make sure joseph didn’t think I bought into this weird “objective morality” (in the sense of value without a valuer). So it has nothing to do with me saying so, smarty pants. But I appreciate your concern.

I still don’t really believe you’d actually say something so bizarre as “Darwin is the basis of TOoS”,

Sure, it’s semantically a bit odd, I’d probably say, “Darwin’s ideas about natural selection are the basis of TOS.” The whole point is that by pretty much any stretch of the word “basis,” God can be a “basis” for morality, in fact God is the best possible basis for morality — unless of course the *ATHEIST* has some weird definition of the word “basis” — which is what I’m trying to find out from PDH.

You just got done telling us that God is the basis for morality because he perceives all the relevant moral facts perfectly, and relays them to humanity. That is not the manner in which Dawkins is the author of TGD.

It is. Dawkins perceived all the facts / ideas about his own book, decided how he wanted to write it, and wrote it. Dawkins is the ultimate authority on TGD. God is the ultimate authority on morality. Same thing.

The necessary truth isn’t held to a standard, God would be held to the necessary truth,

Held by who? I think you can rephrase that for clarity.

nonchai,

I personally intuitively am happy to begin from the basis that any such collection of praiseworthy traits and the converse – is 100% arbitrary.

That puts you miles ahead of other atheist moralists, IMHO. Most of those types can’t admit what you just admitted. Now, just brush up on your reading comprehension and you’ll be good to go! ;)

Could you possibly be any more glib and naive?

Can you possibly be more dense and contrarian?

The priests of the catholic church knew that verse perfectly well.

So? That they disobeyed it DOESN’T MEAN IT ISN’T CLEAR.

You seem to talk as though the only thing ever to be asserted as a value in the bible is LYN.

Not at all. There are literally hundreds of clear moral commands in Scripture. I could falsify your claims of “unclarity” all day long. I only brought up that one verse because you’re seriously trying to claim that the Bible is silent on things like torture, but that’s not true. You just have to read and think a little, tiny bit.

Maybe you need to read the good book in its entirety.

I have, several times. How about you?

Cherry picking the morally “nice” bits and then just assuming that the verse is specifically banning torture UNDER ANY CONDITIONS is just ridiculous.

I’ve not “cherry-picked” anything and you should learn what that means because that claim would only have weight if there was a verse condoning torture. And again, if you can’t figure out that “love your neighbor” precludes you from torturing them, it’s not because the verse is unclear. The problem is with you.

Larkus,

How do you deal with conflicting commands in the Bible?

Such as?

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cl January 14, 2012 at 8:19 am

drj,

Yes, I remember, and there have been probably at least a dozen responses from others and myself on that point. The main thrust being that values/desires provide normativity and they just happen to be immanent in the world, whether God exists or not – and furthermore, God’s existence has no effect on the normativity of values/desires.

That doesn’t work though. If God exists and has decreed a universal rule that we shouldn’t steal, then that decree is “objective” in the sense that it is overarching and applicable to all under God’s authority. Even if you or I say we should steal, even if you or I actually do steal, it remains a true statement to say “stealing is morally prohibited.” However, if no such universal rule exists, and Luke Muehlhauser comes along and says “we should not steal,” the situation is different. In the former, we have something like an “objective” moral command. In the latter, we just have Luke voicing his opinion. You see the difference?

PDH et al have repeatedly and eloquently pointed out that once you decouple normativity from the desires of moral agents – normativity has flown the coop.

I tend to agree. I don’t decouple normativity from desires. I’m trying to explain to you why “mindless physical events” can’t be a “basis” for morality in the same way God can be a “basis” for morality.

There’s nothing you can do or say to make an agent do X, want to do X, agree that X is right, if you cannot first appeal to a desire they hold. Maybe you tell him there’s this abstract ephemeral normativity that exists that binds him – he says, “I don’t care”. And that “I don’t care” is decisive and immovable. There’s no purchase from this alleged mysterious normativity to actually give this person a reason to do X.

I agree, and I’ve never argued anything to challenge that. Since you’re saying all this stuff I agree with, I’m not sure where we went astray. Is it really unclear how “mindless physical events” can’t be the same sort of “basis” for morality that God can? “Mindless physical events” can’t use knowledge or volition to prescribe anything for that which they create.

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joseph January 14, 2012 at 8:46 am

@CL,
Maybe this will make things clearer (?);

It seems you regard whether something (love, thanksgiving) as objectively good, is definitional.

But God serves as an Enforcer, and a relay of moral information.

Am I doing badly, or well? If badly…errr…why?

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drj January 14, 2012 at 11:05 am

That doesn’t work though. If God exists and has decreed a universal rule that we shouldn’t steal, then that decree is “objective” in the sense that it is overarching and applicable to all under God’s authority. Even if you or I say we should steal, even if you or I actually do steal, it remains a true statement to say “stealing is morally prohibited.” However, if no such universal rule exists, and Luke Muehlhauser comes along and says “we should not steal,” the situation is different. In the former, we have something like an “objective” moral command. In the latter, we just have Luke voicing his opinion. You see the difference?

Have you forgotten the other hypotheses contained with the theory (goal theory, at least) – which posit, there are universally held desires among sentient beings? I think Carrier goes so far as to claim that certain desires are necessary properties of persons.

This claim, if true, directly refutes your assertion that moral claims, on naturalism, must strictly be matters of personal opinion. They may be derived from subjective facts about individuals, but these subjective facts exist for all persons, and hence – are universally true for all persons.

Not sure why this is such a point of confusion…

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Larkus January 14, 2012 at 12:56 pm

Larkus wrote: “How do you deal with conflicting commands in the Bible?”

cl wrote: “Such as?”

Such as the example that I gave in my last comment. I’ll repeat it for you:
Larkus wrote: “Stoning people isn’t exactly what I would call ‘loving’ to your neighbour yet stoning is a punishment prescribed in the Bible.”

The commands that are in conflict are the command to LYN and the command to execute certain ‘criminals’ by means of stoning.

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Larkus January 14, 2012 at 2:18 pm

Concerning torture and the Bible:

nonchai wrote: “Cherry picking the morally “nice” bits and then just assuming that the verse [refering to LYN] is specifically banning torture UNDER ANY CONDITIONS is just ridiculous.”

cl wrote: “[...] that claim would only have weight if there was a verse condoning torture. [...]”

Is there a such a verse in the Bible? How about Deuteronomy 21:18-21?

If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother … Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city … And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die.

What does Amnesty International have to say about stoning? For example this:

There are specific legal hurdles in Pakistan to reporting sexual abuse. The law relating to rape is such that if women victims of rape fail to establish lack of consent, they may themselves become accused of zina (fornication). Zina is an offence punishable by stoning to death or public flogging. Women’s groups have campaigned for changes in the law to enable rape victims to report the crime without risk to themselves, but without success. In these circumstances, AI considers that the government is complicit in the torture of women.

What does the UN Commission on Human Rights have to say about stoning?
http://www.unhchr.ch/Huridocda/Huridoca.nsf/TestFrame/4ec3a246424e954c80256658003c2c7b?Opendocument

The Special Rapporteur throughout his tenure has received substantial information on the practice of corporal punishment in a number of countries. The information pertains to a variety of methods of punishment, including flagellation, stoning, amputation of ears, fingers, toes or limbs, and branding or tattooing. [...] The Special Rapporteur takes the view that corporal punishment is inconsistent with the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment enshrined, inter alia, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Being Subjected to Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

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Scott January 14, 2012 at 4:18 pm

I wonder how famous the saint guy really is. I’d never heard of him. But I’d heard of the food guy before. I mean, you’ve certainly got to be popular in some circles at some times to be a saint. But, as I understand it, there are plenty of obscure saints out there. And the food guy has at least some measure of fame. (I think I saw him mentioned on an episode of Bull Sh*t years ago.) So I wonder, if you added up all the people who’ve heard of the saint guy contrasted it with all the people who’ve heard of the food guy which number would be the biggest. Not that this bears on the main point of the cartoon.

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antiplastic January 15, 2012 at 12:50 pm

What seems arbitrary to me is the decoupling of desires from the question of normativity; it seems to me that desires are of themselves the only thing that could inform of us what we should and should not do. What I desire to do is how I begin to answer the question of what I ought to do.

Then I would suggest that your problem is with Fyfism. It is premised on the maneuver of decoupling your desires from what you ought to do. It is the claim that moral truths — normative truths about what you are obligated to do — consist of counting up things which are not your own desires and then altering your behavioral dispositions accordingly.

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nonchai January 15, 2012 at 1:52 pm

@CL, you seem to think your yahweh/Jeesus was such a nice LYN guy and that if anyone else reads the bible they will be blown away by just how moral, humane, kind, respectful of human rights your imaginary sky-daddy is.

So if LYN is the universal principle in the bible – how come yahweh commands all the things below ?” ( and I’m sure you’ll recognise where this stuff comes from – since you state that you’ve read the bible many times. )

Here goes:

@CL ( re my “You seem to talk as though the only thing ever to be asserted as a value in the bible is LYN.” )
You write: “Not at all. There are literally hundreds of clear moral commands in Scripture. I could falsify your claims of “unclarity” all day long [snip] you’re seriously trying to claim that the Bible is silent on things like torture, but that’s not true. You just have to read and think a little, tiny bit.’”
Ok, lets point out some of the O.T. biblical stuff to illustrate just how morally ambiguous and downright morally repugnant your imaginary biblical deity rally is:
* drowning the human race
* commanding Abraham to commit a vile act ( as stated by his prophets jeremiah and others ) – namely killing his own son. Here we have yahweh, telling Abraham to commit the very sinful act ( human sacrifice ) that supposedly other nations – the canaanites and others were condemned for. Apologists often claim that it was ok for yahweh to command Joshua etc to wipe out the canaanites because they sacrificed their children to their gods. And yet Mr hypocrite yahweh commands Abraham to do the very same supposedly vile thing. And then Yahweh rewards him for NOT standing up and reminding yahwheh that actually ( according to apologists ) Child sacrifice is a vile and disgusting thing to do in the eyes of god and therefore WHY THE HELL ARE YOU ASKING ME TO DO IT ?? It is a bit like god stating in his law ( which he does ) that to have sex with one’s daughter is forbidden and vile, and then testing his “servant” by commanding his servant to have sex with his own daughter and the servant simply replying “yessir – three bags full-sir, anything else vile and forbidden you’d like me to do too sir ?
* yahwe’hs condoning of slavery, and his immoral separation of the laws that applied to JEWISH slaves versus the laws that applied to non-jewish slaves.
* the law in Deuteronomy about cutting off the hand of a woman who grabs a man’s testicles in a brawl.
* is Yahweh advocating LYN when he commands: ““Let nothing that has breath remain alive. Show them no mercy,” couldn’t Yahweh have said, “To every child you orphan, a father you shall be. For every mother you kill, a mother you shall provide”? Were they so corrupt that this wouldn’t have made sense to them?”
* how about the law law which stipulates that if two men have a dispute (it does not indicate what kind of dispute), and one, after a trial, is proved to be righteous and the other wicked, then the wicked man may be subject to a beating with a rod, up to but no more than forty stripes. ??????
* if a slave owner beats a slave and the slave dies immediately, the slave owner is to be punished. However, if the slave, after the beating, doesn’t die immediately, but rather dies after a few days of suffer ing in bed, the slaveowner is not liable for the death.’ NICE !!
* stoning the rebellious son. NICE.
* yahweh’s legislation on divorce mean that women got a try raw deal. Everything was MAN centred. How come yahwehs laws concerning divorce are far more cruel than other legal systems of the ANE such as the code of hammurabi ? Women god a far better deal under those laws.

* Women are specifically declared by the OT – nay even the ten commandments as the PROPERTY of the man. Nice bit of non-mysoginistig LYN there mate….
* the confusion and hypocrisy in the bible where in some places “the sins of the father will be visited upon his children ( to the third and fourth generation ) and in other places – Jesus contradicts this concept entirely.
* killing a woman because she FailedTo Scream When Being Raped in the City, If You’re an Engaged Woman (Deuteronomy)
* Forcing a woman to be married to her RAPIST !!!!!!! Israelite rape laws are anything but fair and just to the woman. LYN seems to be for the man only. Women are just chattel.

* the command and endorsement of HEREM – “sacrificial devotion” – the use of genocide as an OFFERING to YAHWEH>

* rewarding sacrifice by winning battles for israelites who sacrificed their children to yahweh. Go read up about Jepthah. Human sacrifice was something actually ENDORSED AND REWARDED by Yahweh, early on in the O.T. Of course biblical passages written much later by Jeremiah and Ezekiel try to “whitewash” this early primitive barbarism. But it remains in the early texts.

* The “trial of jealousy” – The O.T. law dictates that if a “spirit of jealousy” comes over a man, even if he has no rational reason to suspect his wife of adultery, then the man is to take his wife “before Yahweh,” i.e., to the priest, and she is to undergo a magical, ahem, miraculous ritual which will expose her guilt or confirm her innocence. She brings a grain offering, and the priest prepares a concoction of holy water and dirt, which the bartenders call the water of bitterness. The priest then writes down some curses and the woman is to agree to
accept the curses if she is guilty. The priest adds the curses to the water of bitterness. The woman consumes the water of bitterness. She drinks the water of bitterness, and the water goes down into her “bowels” (apparently avoiding the bladder), and if nothing happens to her, then she’s proven innocent. If, however, she experiences intense anguish, and if her “womb discharges” and her “uterus drops,” then she is guilty. Her punishment is that she has become barren, according to the curse, and would then bear the shame of being accursed among her people. If the husband falsely accused her, he receives no punishment, but his wife is vindicated, and he’s probably a little embarrassed.

* Commanding soldiers to take their enemies wires as “BOOTY” Love your neighbour indeed. As Thom Stark puts it perfectly – “What do you call it when you kill a woman’s husband, forcibly take her captive, and force her to be your wife and bear your children? Just because you give her a month to cry in a stranger’s house with no loved ones around before making the exploitative arrangement “official” with a wedding ceremony doesn’t make this any less an act of brutal rape. It’s even more brutal than a rape her and leave her situation, because this is lifelong. A lifetime spent being violated by the sweaty man who impaled your husband before your children’s eyes. Yahweh’s laws are so progressive.”

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cl January 15, 2012 at 5:56 pm

drj,

Not sure why this is such a point of confusion…

It doesn’t seem like you’re thinking what I say through.

Have you forgotten the other hypotheses contained with the theory (goal theory, at least) – which posit, there are universally held desires among sentient beings? I think Carrier goes so far as to claim that certain desires are necessary properties of persons.

This claim, if true, directly refutes your assertion that moral claims, on naturalism, must strictly be matters of personal opinion.

No it doesn’t. Think about it. So-called “universally held desires” are irrelevant here. That any given “universally held desire” should be respected still remains a matter of personal opinion on naturalism.

But who cares. It’s moot at this point. I established my main point, which was that what PDH said is wrong: an omniscient, omnibenevolent Creator God is the best possible “basis” or “source” or “foundation” for morality. If you want to think that “objective” morality can exist on naturalism, so be it.

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tony January 15, 2012 at 6:27 pm

AP: “Then I would suggest that your problem is with Fyfism. It is premised on the maneuver of decoupling your desires from what you ought to do.”

I don’t understand it that way. I believe it asks me (and others) to consider our desires in relation to other desires. This seems slightly (but significantly) different than what you say above.

AP: “It is the claim that moral truths — normative truths about what you are obligated to do — consist of counting up things which are not your own desires and then altering your behavioral dispositions accordingly.”

I doubt very much that A. Fyfe would use the terms “normative truths” and “obligated to do” as aspects of Desirism. From what I recall, I think he is more careful in his language than that. But I agree that Desirism provides a framework in which we should alter our behavior, despite a specific desire that we may have, by providing a theoretical rationale for so doing.

These criticisms seem like a quibble, as it seems like the main thrust of Stephen D’s and your criticism has been vis-à-vis the is-ought problem and Desirism. As I have tried to explain earlier, it seems to me that Desirism avoids this problem by identifying the source of what we ought to do in the description of what we want to do. In other words, the exercise is simplified into one of identification and quantification, rather than one of philosophical justification.

I am coming to believe that Desirism poses a kind of gestalt switch difficulty for those more experienced in moral philosophy than those like myself.

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drj January 15, 2012 at 8:39 pm

No it doesn’t. Think about it. So-called “universally held desires” are irrelevant here. That any given “universally held desire” should be respected still remains a matter of personal opinion on naturalism.

I have thought about it – YOU arent getting it. Again, refer to the freakin premises:
a) desires are the only reason to act that exist OR
b) the only way to give anyone a rational reason to do anything, is to appeal to a desire

Either way: desires are posited to be rational reasons for action. That may either be true or false, but it isn’t a matter of mere opinion. If that is true, its fundamentally irrational to fail to respect one’s utmost desire.

But who cares. It’s moot at this point. I established my main point, which was that what PDH said is wrong: an omniscient, omnibenevolent Creator God is the best possible “basis” or “source” or “foundation” for morality. If you want to think that “objective” morality can exist on naturalism, so be it.

No, PDH et al, have shown you to be mistaken with respect to typical usages of the term ‘basis’. With your idiosyncratic usage, sure God would be the best ‘basis’ for morality, in the same way God would be the best ‘basis’ as to how to play chess – or in the same way an AI might be the ‘basis’ for morality, should Luke’s predictions ever come true. It’s just a given (and so incredibly obvious, it goes without saying) that any being more intelligent, powerful, and aware than us could do and act as a ‘basis’ in that manner. But that’s not the sort of basis anybody who participates in these types of discussions cares about. So if that’s your point – well, OK – you “win”, I guess….

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antiplastic January 15, 2012 at 11:34 pm

I don’t understand it that way. I believe it asks me (and others) to consider our desires in relation to other desires. This seems slightly (but significantly) different than what you say above.

“Consider x in relation to y…”

Can you not spot the Fyfist weasel-words here?

I doubt very much that A. Fyfe would use the terms “normative truths” and “obligated to do” as aspects of Desirism.

Irrelevant. Moral truths, normative truths, obligations, moral oughts: all synonyms. If Fyfists say “you morally ought to X” but deny that it is a normative truth that you ought to X, or that you are morally obligated to X, then I submit they are not speaking English. Which they aren’t.

Because they are obscurantists.

From what I recall, I think he is more careful in his language than that.

You may be the first and only person in history to describe Alonzo Fyfe as being careful with his language. Yes, that is a personal attack and yes it is also true and philosophically relevant.

But I agree that Desirism provides a framework in which we should alter our behavior, despite a specific desire that we may have, by providing a theoretical rationale for so doing.

“We”? Including “you”?

As I have tried to explain earlier, it seems to me that Desirism avoids this problem by identifying the source of what we ought to do in the description of what we want to do.

You’ve been bamoozled into repeating the Fyfist weasel words.

If 4 white guys and 1 Asian guy who all hang out together say “we” are white, since “taken in the aggregate, generally” we are white, you would laugh in their faces.

But this is exactly what Fyfism does.

Fyfism says, “we” (weasel word) ought to do what “we” want to do.

As though “we” was a person. But only persons are persons. You rationally, according to your desires, ought to do what you want to do, counting other peoples’ desires only like obstacles or instruments to getting what you want.

I am coming to believe that Desirism poses a kind of gestalt switch difficulty for those more experienced in moral philosophy than those like myself.

Yes. It is difficult for me to grant my affirmation to a laughably transparent fallacy. But you, Luke, Faithlessgod, and Lord Fyfe himself have all explicitly noticed that there is a distinct inverse correlation between philosophical education and acceptance of the theory. And like anti-Cantor-cranks and relativity-denying crackpots, it never ever ever seems to sink in that this in and of itself is epistemically probative.

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nonchai January 16, 2012 at 5:40 am

@cl writes : “an omniscient, omnibenevolent Creator God is the best possible “basis” or “source” or “foundation” for morality”

The examples from the O.T. I posted recently are hardly “omniscient, omnibenevolent”.

Critiquing one or another moral theory like Desirism is all very well, but to do so as some attempt to protect an underlying belief in xtianity and the bible as a source of moral revelation is barmy. The truth is that human morality has shifted throughout the ages and each person uses these texts to support their own moral views.

Very few people live life thinking to themselves that they are doing evil and know so, and want to do so. Plenty of people do – however do “evil” – while believing 100% that they are doing good – and “good” mandated by their god and back it up with scriptures. Racism, apartheid, slavery, misogyny, land grabs and more have all been done while the perpetrator thought themselves on the “right side” – bible in hand. All it requires is cherry picking and a little bit of time defining or redefining terms.

If @CL had restricted himself to a form of theism similar to modern quakers where there was no considerations of any scripture as veridical revelation then i might have more respect for him. But instead it seems to me that all this philosophical talk by CL , picking holes in a possible candidate for a naturalistic moral theory, is moot – given that CL appears to regard the bible as worthy of such a benevolent omnipotent god. I presume he also considers jesus to be god too. Dunno.

But even if CL were to defend theism and attack naturalistic moral theories on the basis that only a benevolent god can produce true moral objectivity, he still has to show that such a deity exists. If he doesn’t then we simply have to do with what we have.

And the simple fact that theists are forced to such desperate theodicies, arguments from sceptical theism and the like – just reiterates my views that in the absence of a god it is for humans to agree on moral norms among ourselves. The bible ha singularly failed to serve as a moral guide since the first letter was penned in the O.T. It was in any case – a “me too” document which borrowed heavily from other texts and laws from lands and cultures that surrounded the levant. There is nothing amazingly radical in the torah and OT which raises the moral bar in some supernatural way from other ANE laws of the time. And in many cases the morality of the israelites is worse than its neighbours. The fact that judaism evolved morally with time only reiterates its total man-made origins.

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PDH January 16, 2012 at 7:23 am

antiplastic wrote,

If 4 white guys and 1 Asian guy who all hang out together say “we” are white, since “taken in the aggregate, generally” we are white, you would laugh in their faces.

But this is exactly what Fyfism does.

Fyfism says, “we” (weasel word) ought to do what “we” want to do.

As though “we” was a person. But only persons are persons. You rationally, according to your desires, ought to do what you want to do, counting other peoples’ desires only like obstacles or instruments to getting what you want.

I don’t know whether Desirism succeeds or not but I think something you’re forgetting here is that OTHER people have desires, as well and THEY don’t want YOU to, for example, go around stealing their stuff. So they have reasons for action to try and change your desires.

You may try to do what you want but other people whose desires are incompatible with yours will want you to do something else and will use social tools such as praise and condemnation to help bring that state of affairs about. It works both ways.

It stands to reason that any sufficiently large group of rational agents is going to have to find a way of living with each other such that they can each pursue their own desires. Desirism offers a way of doing this. It says that the desires that will create problems will be the ones that thwart other desires so people generally have reason to turn those desires down if it’s possible.

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cl January 16, 2012 at 7:44 am

nonchai,

Really “mate,” you should get off it already. You accused me of cherry-picking then you went and cherry-picked a bunch of Old Testament verses just the way you need in order to prove your point. It would take days to correct all the lies and errors you just spouted in a single comment. For example, Yahweh makes no endorsement of human sacrifice in the story you cite. You are either a) incompetent at reading again; b) lying; or, c) embellishing facts to score rhetorical points. All bad, whichever way you cut it.

Also, realize that you’ve drifted completely away from your “the Bible is unclear” claim. Now you’re trying to use all these verses to claim the Bible is morally reprehensible. Well, if the Bible isn’t clear on morality, how can that be? You seem to want to have it both ways. When you want to argue against the Bible, you say it’s unclear. But then it’s apparently clear enough for you to figure out how immoral it all is, right?

You might think you’re pursuing logic when you copy and paste a bunch of drivel from some other atheist’s website, but you’re just contributing to the misinformation and error on the subject. Do you really need to lie and/or pass misinformation to prove your point?

Why aren’t the other atheists condemning you? Are they unconcerned about what’s really true?

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cl January 16, 2012 at 7:53 am

drj,

I have thought about it – YOU arent getting it. Again, refer to the freakin premises:

no, I’m “getting it” just fine. Your responses aren’t even in the same neighborhood as the claim I’m making, which suggests you think I’m talking about something I’m not. For example,

Either way: desires are posited to be rational reasons for action.

Doesn’t matter, when the question is “why can’t there be an objective basis for morality,” which is what we were talking about. Got it yet? That people have desires — even perhaps universally held desires — does not constitute an objective morality.

No, PDH et al, have shown you to be mistaken with respect to typical usages of the term ‘basis’.

False. I’ve asked PDH several times to explain what is meant by “basis” and PDH has not risen to that challenge that I’m aware of.

But that’s not the sort of basis anybody who participates in these types of discussions cares about.

Oh, my bad, then maybe you can enlighten me as to what everybody cares about, since you seem so enlightened? In what way CAN’T God be a basis for morality? Explain.

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Larkus January 16, 2012 at 8:21 am

@cl

It seems you have missed my last comment:

Larkus wrote: “How do you deal with conflicting commands in the Bible?”

cl wrote: “Such as?”

Such as the example that I gave in my last comment. I’ll repeat it for you:
Larkus wrote: “Stoning people isn’t exactly what I would call ‘loving’ to your neighbour yet stoning is a punishment prescribed in the Bible.”

The commands that are in conflict are the command to LYN and the command to execute certain ‘criminals’ by means of stoning.

So, how do you deal with conflicting commands in the Bible?

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GW January 16, 2012 at 11:00 am

The trap of philosophy is that conclusions for which there is no evidence are taken seriously. Even using CL’s tailor made definition of basis, his conclusion fails when we consider the world around us.

Given the changing nature of morality throughout human history, the confusion of morality amongst present human societies, the moral contradictions in the bible, and the OBVIOUS situational nature of morality, it is ridiculously implausible that morality is recognized and communicated to us, or created and communicated to us, by a disembodied mind. The demographics of morality blow this type of theistic morality out of the water. That is, if a perfect being were aware of them. A being who failed Communication 101? Much more likely .

But, all of the above is exactly what we would expect if morality was part evolutionary traits (for which their is evidence), part risk-reward evaluation (for which their is evidence), part social contract (for which their is evidence), part convenience (evidence), and part irrational appeal to emotion.

As so often happens, empirical observation leaves philosophy in the dust.

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antiplastic January 16, 2012 at 11:50 am

@PDH

I don’t know whether Desirism succeeds or not but I think something you’re forgetting here is that OTHER people have desires, as well and THEY don’t want YOU to, for example, go around stealing their stuff.

I’ve not forgotten it, I explicitly brought it up in the sentence you just quoted. Fyfism equivocates by putting forward the innocuous, banal truth that different people want different things, then through weasel-worded alchemy transmute this into some kind of binding moral fact. From the rational point of view, i.e. from the point of view of trying to maximize one’s own desires, other people’s needs are just as I say, alternately mere instruments or mere obstacles to getting what you want, no more or less relevant than any other nonpsychological fact relating means to ends.

So they have reasons for action to try and change your desires.

As though we needed a “theory” to tell us this!

What is at issue for you is whether you do, in fact have a reason to change your desires, not whether someone who is not you has a reason to change your desires.

You may try to do what you want but other people whose desires are incompatible with yours will want you to do something else and will use social tools such as praise and condemnation to help bring that state of affairs about.

You’ve glossed over the absurdity of Fyfist externalism: according to them, calling someone a depraved moral monster is not condemning or insulting them! It is a normatively neutral sociological observation, only occasionally (and then contingently) linked to any reason to change your behavior.

As I’ve said, I regard this as a prima facie refutation of the theory.

Let’s step back for a minute and consider how blame and condemnation actually work. If someone criticises you (assuming for the sake of this example there is no empirical disagreement that you in fact did the thing you’re being criticised for), this condemnation can be either warranted or unwarranted.

Rationally speaking, a criticism is warranted if and only if it points out that you were behaving in ways contrary to fulfilling your own subjective plans. Conversely, the criticism is unwarranted if and only if you weren’t behaving irrationally with respect to your goals. It doesn’t matter, rationally, if your goal is something rather vile, like looting the company pension fund and not getting caught: if you in fact did it efficiently and got away with it, everyone else is wrong to blame or condemn you, since you cannot be convicted of any rational error.

As Wittgenstein pointed out:

Now the first thing that strikes one about all these expressions is that each of them is actually used in two very different senses. I will call them the trivial or relative sense on the one hand and the ethical or absolute sense on the other. If for instance I say that this is a good chair this means that the chair serves a certain predetermined purpose and the word good here has only meaning so far as this purpose has been previously fixed upon. In fact the word good in the relative sense simply means coming up to a certain predetermined standard. Thus when we say that this man is a good pianist we mean that he can play pieces of a certain degree of difficulty with a certain degree of dexterity. And similarly if I say that it is important for me not to catch cold I mean that catching a cold produces certain describable disturbances in my life and if I say that this is the right road I mean that it’s the right road relative to a certain goal.

Used in this way these expressions don’t present any difficult or deep problems. But this is not how Ethics uses them. Supposing that I could play tennis and one of you saw me playing and said “Well, you play pretty badly” and suppose I answered “I know, I’m playing pretty badly but I don’t want to play any better,” all the other man could say would be “Ah, then that’s all right.” But suppose I had told one of you a preposterous lie and he came up to me and said, “You’re behaving like a beast” and then I were to say “I know I behave badly, but then I don’t want to behave any better,” could he then say “Ah, then that’s all right”? Certainly not; he would say “Well, you ought to want to behave better.” Here you have an absolute judgment of value, whereas the first instance was one of relative judgment.

It stands to reason that any sufficiently large group of rational agents is going to have to find a way of living with each other such that they can each pursue their own desires.

This is the classic Fyfist equivocation again. “Groups” don’t have reasons. Only individual people have reasons. And they have a reason to work together exactly and only to the extent that their working together increases the fulfillment of their own desires compared to a war of all against all. If “people generally” have a reason to stop you from doing something you really enjoy, then you have a reason to try not to get caught, not to give up enjoying it!

(Again, rationally speaking. I am an Expressivist and I think that you have a moral reason to change your behavior, but I don’t claim that morality is in the business of rational or objective persuasion.)

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PDH January 16, 2012 at 1:10 pm

antiplastic wrote,

I’ve not forgotten it, I explicitly brought it up in the sentence you just quoted. Fyfism equivocates by putting forward the innocuous, banal truth that different people want different things, then through weasel-worded alchemy transmute this into some kind of binding moral fact. From the rational point of view, i.e. from the point of view of trying to maximize one’s own desires, other people’s needs are just as I say, alternately mere instruments or mere obstacles to getting what you want, no more or less relevant than any other nonpsychological fact relating means to ends.

Yes, but that works two ways. From their point of view you are the obstacle. If they can influence your behaviour, they will.

What is at issue for you is whether you do, in fact have a reason to change your desires, not whether someone who is not you has a reason to change your desires.

Only if all of the other agents with whom I’m forced to live are perfectly fine with my desires being what they are. Otherwise, it absolutely is an issue for me if people who are not me don’t like my behaviour. If I have a desire to commit crimes then it’s unlikely that they will be OK with that. If I have a desire to remain outside of prison they can use that to their advantage.

You’ve glossed over the absurdity of Fyfist externalism: according to them, calling someone a depraved moral monster is not condemning or insulting them! It is a normatively neutral sociological observation, only occasionally (and then contingently) linked to any reason to change your behavior.

There’s not much point to praise and condemnation besides changing the desires of the people at whom they are directed.

As I’ve said, I regard this as a prima facie refutation of the theory.

Let’s step back for a minute and consider how blame and condemnation actually work. If someone criticises you (assuming for the sake of this example there is no empirical disagreement that you in fact did the thing you’re being criticised for), this condemnation can be either warranted or unwarranted.

Rationally speaking, a criticism is warranted if and only if it points out that you were behaving in ways contrary to fulfilling your own subjective plans.

Well, no. It’s warranted for other people to criticise this person if it points out that the person was behaving in ways contrary to fulfilling their subjective plans. Unless you think that we’re only allowed to criticise ourselves for some reason.

I might criticise the person who lets his pet dog urinate in my garden, for example, with the aim of stopping him from doing that. That may be contrary to his subjective plans but it’s not contrary to mine. People generally have reasons to want to discourage that sort of behaviour.

The further claim that Desirism makes is that the desires best reduced are those that thwart other desires. They will be the ‘problem’ desires that will lead to conflicts.

Conversely, the criticism is unwarranted if and only if you weren’t behaving irrationally with respect to your goals. It doesn’t matter, rationally, if your goal is something rather vile, like looting the company pension fund and not getting caught: if you in fact did it efficiently and got away with it, everyone else is wrong to blame or condemn you, since you cannot be convicted of any rational error.

By your own reasoning, if their goals involve wanting to prevent people from looting the company pensions fund then they would be irrational not to blame and condemn you. That’s one way to stop you doing it. If they can appeal to other desires that people have (such as not wanting to go to prison) to influence the would-be thief’s behaviour then they will.

This is the classic Fyfist equivocation again. “Groups” don’t have reasons. Only individual people have reasons.

And the collective name for lots of individual people is a ‘group.’ It is not unheard of for large numbers of people to share desires, especially given that desires are malleable and that people have means of influencing each other.

And they have a reason to work together exactly and only to the extent that their working together increases the fulfillment of their own desires compared to a war of all against all. If “people generally” have a reason to stop you from doing something you really enjoy, then you have a reason to try not to get caught, not to give up enjoying it!

And they have a reason to try and ensure that people actually stop doing it rather than merely pretend to stop doing it. Hence laws, a justice system, praise and condemnation, moral talk etc.

(Again, rationally speaking. I am an Expressivist and I think that you have a moral reason to change your behavior, but I don’t claim that morality is in the business of rational or objective persuasion.)

It seems to me that people are obviously going to want to change each other’s behaviour. In fact, it seems like they’ll pretty much have to if society is to function at all. That’s just what is meant by morality on Fyfe’s view.

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J. Simonov January 16, 2012 at 1:45 pm

@cl

If you recall, I told you I was trying to make sure joseph didn’t think I bought into this weird “objective morality” (in the sense of value without a valuer).

Does that matter? You said we can’t talk about morality itself without reifying it. That’s incorrect.

So it has nothing to do with me saying so, smarty pants. But I appreciate your concern.

You’re quite welcome. I guess in future you’ll know to be careful not to dabble in overly broad declaratives for no apparent reason.

Sure, it’s semantically a bit odd, I’d probably say, “Darwin’s ideas about natural selection are the basis of TOS.” The whole point is that by pretty much any stretch of the word “basis,” God can be a “basis” for morality, in fact God is the best possible basis for morality — unless of course the *ATHEIST* has some weird definition of the word “basis” — which is what I’m trying to find out from PDH.

It sure seems like the whole point is that God is a basis by your particular usage, rather than pretty much any stretch.

It is. Dawkins perceived all the facts / ideas about his own book, decided how he wanted to write it, and wrote it. Dawkins is the ultimate authority on TGD. God is the ultimate authority on morality. Same thing.

I think you are oversimplying pretty mightily here in order to make this strained analogy work. Dawkins did, indeed, perceive a bunch of facts and write about them, for instance Catholicism’s problems re. rape. However, he also interspersed a number of interpretations and arguments that were nowhere apparent until he himself thought them up (some of which are quite mistaken, as you are surely aware, which by itself also breaks your analogy).

Held by who? I think you can rephrase that for clarity.

No-one. Everyone has to conduct themselves in a manner concordant with necessary truths, by their nature.

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antiplastic January 16, 2012 at 4:22 pm

Yes, but that works two ways. From their point of view you are the obstacle. If they can influence your behaviour, they will.

You say this as though it is a counter to a single thing I have said, but I can’t think what that might be.

Only if all of the other agents with whom I’m forced to live are perfectly fine with my desires being what they are.

No. Not “only if”. The phrase you’re looking for is “regardless of whether”. From my rational perspective it doesn’t matter whether what’s standing in my way is a person who wants to stop me, or an inanimate brick wall. They are obstacles I have to deal with, noteworthy only to the extent I have to circumvent or eliminate them.

Otherwise, it absolutely is an issue for me if people who are not me don’t like my behaviour. If I have a desire to commit crimes then it’s unlikely that they will be OK with that. If I have a desire to remain outside of prison they can use that to their advantage.

Again, these are trivially true and obvious things, known for thousands of years before Fyfism claimed to have discovered them, and which refute nothing I’ve said.

There’s not much point to praise and condemnation besides changing the desires of the people at whom they are directed.

Then according to Fyfism, which is Externalist, there’s not much point in taking heed of moral criticism or praise, and hence not much point in making it. You’ve completely ignored and failed to address this absolutely fatal point in the passage you just quoted.

“You should stop this barbaric practice immediately because it’s morally reprehensible.”

This is obviously a condemnation. Unless you’re a Fyfist.

It’s warranted for other people to criticise this person if it points out that the person was behaving in ways contrary to fulfilling their subjective plans.

You’re changing the subject. We are talking about whether it’s rational from the point of view of the person being criticised. And from that point of view, it is only rational if the critique points out a more efficient way of getting what you want. If you say “you should cut that shit out” but you are not informing them of a more efficient way to maximize their own desire fulfillment, you have uttered a falsehood. No one is “warranted” in uttering falsehoods!

Unless you think that we’re only allowed to criticise ourselves for some reason.

I gave an extensive series of reasons why, rationally speaking, criticism that is not aimed at maximizing the targets desires is nonsense. But moral criticism is frequently and correctly unrelated to maximizing this. Therefore, by modus ponens, morality is not about maximizing the fulfillment of your desires.

I might criticise the person who lets his pet dog urinate in my garden, for example, with the aim of stopping him from doing that. That may be contrary to his subjective plans but it’s not contrary to mine.

If it is contrary to his subjective plans then by definition you are speaking nonsense and falsehoods. Fyfism in this respect is an error theory of morality, but they will never admit it.

The further claim that Desirism makes is that the desires best reduced are those that thwart other desires. They will be the ‘problem’ desires that will lead to conflicts.

Others of my desires, rationally speaking. From the point of view of pure practical reason, other people’s desires can take a long walk off a short pier. I may, if I so choose, take a personal and subjective interest in weighting the desires of my friends, or my race, or my nation, or everyone. But this is (from the point of view of practical reason) a purely optional choice, not subject to criticism.

“’Tis not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger.” – Hume

By your own reasoning, if their goals involve wanting to prevent people from looting the company pensions fund then they would be irrational not to blame and condemn you.

But ex hypothesi, they would be uttering gibberish, nonsense, falsehood. That seems an extremely irrational way to change someone’s mind. Unless you accept, as the expressivist has been trying to tell you, that morality is about appeals to sentiment, to the human passions, to our subjective ideals, and not about simply restating normatively inert, natural facts.

I noticed you completely failed to address the point of the LW passage.

That’s one way to stop you doing it. If they can appeal to other desires that people have (such as not wanting to go to prison) to influence the would-be thief’s behaviour then they will.

I sincerely hope you understand the moral difference between refraining from doing something because you believe it’s wrong, and refraining from doing something because you’re afraid you’ll get caught. It is why theistic morality is an abomination.

And they have a reason to try and ensure that people actually stop doing it rather than merely pretend to stop doing it. Hence laws, a justice system, praise and condemnation, moral talk etc.

According to Fyfism, moral talk used to alter behavior is literally false, nonsense, gibberish. And people have reasons to stop other people from misbehaving, not to stop themselves! The problem of Free Riders in game theory is not that the defectors are being irrational — they’re doing what they’re supposed to do!

It seems to me that people are obviously going to want to change each other’s behaviour. In fact, it seems like they’ll pretty much have to if society is to function at all. That’s just what is meant by morality on Fyfe’s view.

In true obscurantist fashion, it is constructed to give that impression. But once you look at the fine print, you notice that Fyfists are actually error theorists, moral nihilists. But like Unitarians who are basically “church-loving atheists”, they still enjoy the authoritative tone of voice that goes with the old way of speaking, and even though they admit there is no such thing as objective moral truth, they pull a bait-and-switch scam and redefine moral terms to mean something completely different from what everyone outside of their clique understands them to mean.

If someone like yourself just wants to talk about “enlightened egoism”, and extoll the profit-maximizing benefits of making small altruistic sacrifices and deferments of happiness in exchange for anticipated larger payoffs in the future, fine; there is already a vocabulary custom-made for talking about this. I just wish people would stop pretending that they’re talking about morality, when in fact they are nihilists.

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Marsha January 16, 2012 at 4:46 pm

I just wish people would stop pretending that they’re talking about morality, when in fact they are nihilists.

Oh, wow. It’s like, you can just SEE RIGHT THROUGH people. Wow. You have THE GIFT.

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Tony Hoffman January 16, 2012 at 5:10 pm

AP: “Consider x in relation to y…” Can you not spot the Fyfist weasel-words here?

No, I can’t.

Me: “I doubt very much that A. Fyfe would use the terms “normative truths” and “obligated to do” as aspects of Desirism.”
AP: “Irrelevant. Moral truths, normative truths, obligations, moral oughts: all synonyms. If Fyfists say “you morally ought to X” but deny that it is a normative truth that you ought to X, or that you are morally obligated to X, then I submit they are not speaking English. Which they aren’t.”

Maybe we’re just caught up on problems with definitions? I understand normative judgments under Desirism to be essentially appeals to the reasoning of a creature that lives in a society with other creatures that have desires. I think these appeals could be considered “obligations” or “moral oughts,” as you say above, but I don’t consider these appeals to be “moral truths” or “normative truths,” which I think implies a kind of objectivity and absolutism that Desirism does not strive to locate.

Me: “But I agree that Desirism provides a framework in which we should alter our behavior, despite a specific desire that we may have, by providing a theoretical rationale for so doing.”
AP: “We”? Including “you”?

Yes.

Me: “As I have tried to explain earlier, it seems to me that Desirism avoids this problem by identifying the source of what we ought to do in the description of what we want to do.”
AP: “You’ve been bamoozled into repeating the Fyfist weasel words. If 4 white guys and 1 Asian guy who all hang out together say “we” are white, since “taken in the aggregate, generally” we are white, you would laugh in their faces. But this is exactly what Fyfism does. Fyfism says, “we” (weasel word) ought to do what “we” want to do. As though “we” was a person. But only persons are persons. You rationally, according to your desires, ought to do what you want to do, counting other peoples’ desires only like obstacles or instruments to getting what you want.”

No. Desirism takes the approach that rather than continue the futile effort of explaining morality by trying to locate a thing that doesn’t seem to exist (a foundation for morality that is separate from our desires), we should establish normative rules by the content of the things that we know exist: desires. So, because I recognize that I have desires, and that other creatures in my society have (complementary and conflicting desires), and that if everyone acted according to their own desires and did not take mine into account I would be worse off , then it is rational for me support and partake in a normative system that will satisfy more of my desires than if I lived in one where all pursued their desires without concern for the effect of their action on other desires.

Me: “I am coming to believe that Desirism poses a kind of gestalt switch difficulty for those more experienced in moral philosophy than those like myself.
AP: “Yes. It is difficult for me to grant my affirmation to a laughably transparent fallacy. But you, Luke, Faithlessgod, and Lord Fyfe himself have all explicitly noticed that there is a distinct inverse correlation between philosophical education and acceptance of the theory. And like anti-Cantor-cranks and relativity-denying crackpots, it never ever ever seems to sink in that this in and of itself is epistemically probative.”

I don’t agree with your paragraph above, but I did enjoy reading it. (Seriously, that’s just a well-written little paragraph, and it’s fun to read.)

I think one of life’s injustices is that it’s inherently more difficult to explain to a 3rd party exactly why your anger over another’s words or actions is so well-justified. And I have to say that I am still struggling to locate exactly what is that you find so gallingly inconsistent or dishonest about Desirism and its chief proponents. Is it too much to ask that you quote Fyfe here saying one thing about Desirism, then saying something else that contradicts it? Because I think that would go a long way toward explaining exactly what it is that you find so irksome (and dishonest) about the project.

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Tony Hoffman January 16, 2012 at 6:02 pm

AP: “From my rational perspective it doesn’t matter whether what’s standing in my way is a person who wants to stop me, or an inanimate brick wall. They are obstacles I have to deal with, noteworthy only to the extent I have to circumvent or eliminate them.”

If you think that the extent to which you can cooperate or compete with a fellow human compared to competing or cooperating with a brick wall is only a matter of extent than you make yourself seem deluded.

AP: “Again, these are trivially true and obvious things, known for thousands of years before Fyfism claimed to have discovered them, and which refute nothing I’ve said.”

This makes you seem a tad histrionic. I have to ask again, do you a reference for something like A. Fyfe claiming that normativity is something he discovered?

AP: “Then according to Fyfism, which is Externalist, there’s not much point in taking heed of moral criticism or praise, and hence not much point in making it. You’ve completely ignored and failed to address this absolutely fatal point in the passage you just quoted.”

Define what it means for there to be “not much point in taking heed of moral criticism or praise.” Because Desirism, as I understand it, makes it perfectly clear what the point is.

AP: “You’re changing the subject. We are talking about whether it’s rational from the point of view of the person being criticised. And from that point of view, it is only rational if the critique points out a more efficient way of getting what you want. If you say “you should cut that shit out” but you are not informing them of a more efficient way to maximize their own desire fulfillment, you have uttered a falsehood. No one is “warranted” in uttering falsehoods!”

And the passage above just makes you seem like you’re now becoming unhinged. I seriously don’t know where you’re coming from, where you get your impressions, or what it is you’re trying to say. And I’m honestly trying to figure it out.

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Tony Hoffman January 16, 2012 at 6:05 pm

Luke: “Wow, 122 comments…”

Kenyans. We’re Kenyans.

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PDH January 16, 2012 at 6:11 pm

No. Not “only if”. The phrase you’re looking for is “regardless of whether”. From my rational perspective it doesn’t matter whether what’s standing in my way is a person who wants to stop me, or an inanimate brick wall. They are obstacles I have to deal with, noteworthy only to the extent I have to circumvent or eliminate them.

And from their perspective, you are the same. They are going to influence your behaviour as much as they can. If your desires are malleable, prepare to have them altered.

Again, these are trivially true and obvious things, known for thousands of years before Fyfism claimed to have discovered them, and which refute nothing I’ve said.

If you accept this then the debate is over. People have reasons to praise and condemn each other’s actions. Your only problem seems to be what to call this process.

Then according to Fyfism, which is Externalist, there’s not much point in taking heed of moral criticism or praise, and hence not much point in making it. You’ve completely ignored and failed to address this absolutely fatal point in the passage you just quoted.

If desires are malleable and praise and condemnation are a means of altering them, there is every reason to engage in praise and condemnation.

You’re changing the subject. We are talking about whether it’s rational from the point of view of the person being criticised. And from that point of view, it is only rational if the critique points out a more efficient way of getting what you want. If you say “you should cut that shit out” but you are not informing them of a more efficient way to maximize their own desire fulfillment, you have uttered a falsehood. No one is “warranted” in uttering falsehoods!

It simply doesn’t matter whether it’s rational from the point of view of the person being criticised. What matters is whether the criticism will be effective or not. Nobody cares whether the criticised person’s desire fulfilment – or desire fulfilment generally – is maximised or not. They care about whether the person stops doing whatever it is they want the person to stop doing.

This is the whole point.

I gave an extensive series of reasons why, rationally speaking, criticism that is not aimed at maximizing the targets desires is nonsense. But moral criticism is frequently and correctly unrelated to maximizing this. Therefore, by modus ponens, morality is not about maximizing the fulfillment of your desires.

Of course it isn’t. That’s not what desirism asserts. Desirism is NOT about maximising the fulfilment of desires. It says that the only reasons for action that exist are your desires, that desires are malleable and that we can use desires to evaluate other desires, which gives us reasons to encourage or discourage certain desires in others.

If it is contrary to his subjective plans then by definition you are speaking nonsense and falsehoods. Fyfism in this respect is an error theory of morality, but they will never admit it.

That is a baffling assertion. If its contrary to his subjective plans then it’s just tough. We’ll either change his desires or take him off the board.

Desirists are perfectly happy to admit that much of ordinary moral talk is in error. They bite the bullet on all sorts of things and I think quite a big part of why you have such a problem with them is that you don’t realise just how much they’re willing to do without. You hold them to things that they simply don’t care about. They’ve already dropped them and moved on.

Others of my desires, rationally speaking. From the point of view of pure practical reason, other people’s desires can take a long walk off a short pier. I may, if I so choose, take a personal and subjective interest in weighting the desires of my friends, or my race, or my nation, or everyone. But this is (from the point of view of practical reason) a purely optional choice, not subject to criticism.

It is subject to criticism if the the criticism changes your behaviour (as it often does, especially if that criticism comes attached with a jail sentence). Desires are malleable.

But ex hypothesi, they would be uttering gibberish, nonsense, falsehood. That seems an extremely irrational way to change someone’s mind. Unless you accept, as the expressivist has been trying to tell you, that morality is about appeals to sentiment, to the human passions, to our subjective ideals, and not about simply restating normatively inert, natural facts.

What nonsense are they uttering? What falsehoods?

Desires are not normatively inert, natural facts as they are the reason we do anything at all. The whole point of desirism is that you don’t need anything more than that.

I sincerely hope you understand the moral difference between refraining from doing something because you believe it’s wrong, and refraining from doing something because you’re afraid you’ll get caught. It is why theistic morality is an abomination.

You’re refraining from doing something because of your desires. There is no other reason.

According to Fyfism, moral talk used to alter behavior is literally false, nonsense, gibberish.

I think what you mean here is not according to ‘Fyfism’ but ‘according to antiplastic.’ Fyfism is unlikely to consider the process of influencing malleable desires to be ‘literally false, nonsense, gibberish.’

And people have reasons to stop other people from misbehaving, not to stop themselves!

And other people have reasons to stop them. I simply don’t understand why you’re having so much trouble with this point.

In true obscurantist fashion, it is constructed to give that impression. But once you look at the fine print, you notice that Fyfists are actually error theorists, moral nihilists. But like Unitarians who are basically “church-loving atheists”, they still enjoy the authoritative tone of voice that goes with the old way of speaking, and even though they admit there is no such thing as objective moral truth, they pull a bait-and-switch scam and redefine moral terms to mean something completely different from what everyone outside of their clique understands them to mean.

If someone like yourself just wants to talk about “enlightened egoism”, and extoll the profit-maximizing benefits of making small altruistic sacrifices and deferments of happiness in exchange for anticipated larger payoffs in the future, fine; there is already a vocabulary custom-made for talking about this. I just wish people would stop pretending that they’re talking about morality, when in fact they are nihilists.

It’s not enlightened egoism and if you would stop trying to paint it in those terms you would be able to see why you’re having so much trouble understanding this.

It’s not about ‘making small altruistic sacrifices and deferments of happiness in exchange for anticipated larger payoffs in the future.’ For example, you might well do much worse off in the long run because of desirism. It’s not about allowing you to maximise your desire fulfilment.

Desirism just says that people – including people OTHER than yourself – have reasons for action to alter each other’s and your desires and they will act on them, just as you will act on your desires.

You talk as if you live in a vacuum with no other agents, rational or irrational. They have reasons to change your behaviour and you have reasons to change theirs.

Desirism is quite clear about its terms, if you don’t want to call it morality, don’t. What matters is whether it works or not.

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nonchai January 16, 2012 at 7:54 pm

CL “For example, Yahweh makes no endorsement of human sacrifice in the story you cite.”

Hmm let me see: First Yahweh tells Abraham to kill his son as a sacrifice. Abraham happily proceeds to carry out the killing. Then Yahweh – at the last moment decides maybe it aint a good idea to let him go ahead ( although some ancient versions of this story actually DO have abraham carrying out the execution – maybe later scribes redacted this to reflect “modern” thinking ? ) . Let me ask you something CL . If god whispered in your ear and told you to do something that god has made clear to you is anathema – such as having sex with your daughter, would you just go ahead and start stripping off, or would you first vehemently protest to god, saying that surely god must have made a mistake. ? Abraham does nothing like this. No protest, no nothing. Why ? Simple – because the Abraham of the time this scripture/story was first told would have found nothing odd about being told to sacrifice his son, since this was the accepted practice not only of his neighbours but ALSO of canaanite and early israelite religion.

I would recommend you go and read some of the works of scholar Susan Nidich on this. And especially Thom Starks “Is God A Moral Monster”. Incidentally Thom Stark is a theist but no evangelical of course, but he IS an expert in the religions of the ancient near east. Check out his book Human Faces of God too.

Second, Ezekiel writes “Moreover, I gave them statutes that were not good and ordinances by which they could not live. I defiled them through their very gifts, in their offering up all their firstborn, in order that I might horrify them, so that they might know that I am Yahweh. “ This is an attempt by ezekiel, someone writing much later – in order to try and “spin” the fact obvious to the israelites of the time – namely that it HAD been standard practice of the israelites to sacrifice children. This is Ezekiels attempt to “whitewash” in a revisionist manner the old practices since the later judaism no longer found it acceptable.
Many scholars and historians of the ANE now take this view of things. Of course apologists and “true believers” never will.

Third: From Judges:

“”Then Jephthah vowed a vow to Yahweh and said, “If you will indeed give the sons of Ammon into my hands, then whoever comes forth from the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the sons of Ammon, shall be for Yahweh, and I will offer it up as a burnt sacrifice. So Jephthah passed over to the sons of Ammon to fight against them, and Yahweh delivered them into his hands.”

I’ll now quote from Thom Stark’s article directly on this:

“Here is a clear example testifying to Israelite belief in this period that Yahweh would give victory in battle in exchange for the satiation of human sacrifice. Why does Jephthah make this vow? Because the Ammonites were a formidable enemy, and Jephthah needed that extra divine boost in order to ensure a victory. Note that the text does not condemn Jephthah. Yahweh does not stop Jephthah from sacrificing his daughter. Moreover, according to the text, Yahweh is engaged in this whole affair, because after Jephthah made the vow, “Yahweh gave them [the Ammonites] in to his hand.” Moreover, Jephthah is expressly one upon whom the spirit of Yahweh is said to have rested. In the New Testament, the book of Hebrews lists Jephthah as one of Israel’s great heroes of faith.

Copan attempts to dispense with this passage by arguing that Jephthah’s vow was a “rash vow” , and that “is” does not equal “ought” (in other words, just because it happened in the Bible doesn’t mean it was good). First, the text does not say that Jephthah’s vow was “rash.” That’s what Copan says. Certainly, Jephthah laments that it turned out to be his beloved daughter whom he had to sacrifice, but his daughter doesn’t! She sees that because Yahweh had given him victory, it is only right for him to keep up his end of the bargain. She takes the news of her impending inflammation rather well, all things considered. This shows that these assumptions were a normal part of life in that period. Human sacrifice to the deity was taken for granted; it was not a “rash” aberration.

Second, while it’s true that “is” does not necessarily equal “ought,” the assumption the text maintains is that because Yahweh gave him victory, Jephthah now ought to sacrifice his daughter. He didn’t lament having to sacrifice a human being; he lamented having to sacrifice his beloved daughter, and understand ably so. But that’s the point that’s implicit in the text. Yahweh wants real sacrifices, not easy sacrifices. Child sacrifice was considered noble in this world precisely because it was the greatest possible sacrifice that could be made. Children who were made subject to sacrifice weren’t despised by their parents; they were beloved. Sacrificing them was very hard, and that’s precisely the point. That’s what the ancient deities wanted — hard sacrifices. So when the story goes that Jephthah lamented having to sacrifice his daughter, that is the point of the text. Yahweh required a real sacrifice, and it hurt Jephthah, just as it was supposed to. But as Jephthah’s own daughter said, the bigger picture was the security of Israel, and she was happy to sacrifice herself for that cause.

Moreover, as we will see shortly, making a vow to a deity to offer a human sacrifice in exchange for victory in battle was a common feature of West Semitic sacral warfare, so this hardly comports with Copan’s characterisation of Jephthah’s vow as “rash.””

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drj January 17, 2012 at 7:00 am

Cl,

Doesn’t matter, when the question is “why can’t there be an objective basis for morality,” which is what we were talking about. Got it yet? That people have desires — even perhaps universally held desires — does not constitute an objective morality.

I guess that depends what you mean by objective. But if the premises in goal theory hold, then there are true moral oughts that apply to every person, regardless of personal opinion. Personal opinions that stand opposed to true moral oughts would be caused by failures in reasoning or by ignorance of relevant facts. And furthermore, if that were true, moral pronouncements from atheists naturalists or theists alike have a rational basis (in the normal, non-cl usage of the term), are more than just personal opinion, and can apply to everybody

If you want the term “objective” to do more, well, have fun with that! But goal theory is quite capable of providing all that, assuming its empirical claims hold true, and I’m pretty sure the same goes for desirism. And I’d pretty sure there are a few other theories out there, that can come close. So anyhow… hopefully its clear just how empty all the bombastic, cliche rejoinders are about non-theists making moral claims..

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Stephen R. Diamond January 17, 2012 at 8:53 pm

Carrier draws upon game theory, evolution and physical necessity in this universe to argue that A and B’s flourishing always be linked. This is because mutually advantageous cooperation will always win, over time, over lone agents acting against each other. Moral intuitions, empathy, love, (and other ideas that will link one’s own flourishing to the flourishing of others) will always turn up in any advanced species, because of this fact. In some instances, something or something, somewhere, might beat the odds, but playing those odds is not a sound, rational decision, the same way it isnt rational to buy a lottery ticket, expecting to win.
Note what I said earlier: morality is about providing rational reasons to do X over Y.

If you don’t want to think of this what he’s offering as a moral theory, fine! Who cares? Call it what you want! But if the empirical facts upon which it depends are true (we all share a greatest value, etc) does it give us rational reasons to choose X over Y, that apply not only to me, but to you and everyone else as well? You bet it does. THAT is what I’m interested in.

But call it whatever you like: If his theory holds, I can say stuff like: “You ought not kill your neighbor” – and be objectively right about it.

I’ll grant you that if Carrier has proven that the rational self-interest of individuals corresponds to the usual moral platitudes, he should be counted as having provided a foundation for objective morality—one every bit as strong as the religious one, when the overweaning importance of escaping damnation defines rational conduct.

And while not quite as improbable, it’s getting there. First, let’s note that the long-run probability of a certain action panning out is irrelevant if you don’t consider the actual length of the term compared to human life. As Keynes said, in the long run we’re all dead. You need a linkage of implausible strength–one that can overcome other considerations even in the short term. If Carrier doesn’t provide it, he doesn’t do enough. If he does provide it, it’s obviously a fairy tale of natural harmony.

Of course, I’d have to read Carrier to seriously criticize his arguments. Why am I not tempted to do so? The story is obviously a fairy tale, borne of an overweaning sense of loss at NOT being able to say “Thou shalt not kill.” In short, if it requires such a fairy tale to sustain a moralistic naturalism, we’ve accomplished a reduction to the absurd.

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Stephen R. Diamond January 17, 2012 at 9:10 pm

Figuring out what to praise and condemn requires us to examine our deepest, strongest values.

This rests on a _psychological_ theory regarding how praise is rationally employed. If you follow the advice of the Skinnerian behaviorists, useful in a few contexts, you’ll praise movements toward what you want, even if very imperfect. Then, you don’t need to plumb your depths about what to praise–most people will agree on what to praise, even where they disagree on the goal. The criterion is that they’re moving in the right direction, a superficial criterion.

Fyfe thinks praise affects the strength of desires. This is wrong. People try to gain praise by pretending to meet the criteria. This might create cognitive dissonance and cause some change in the desire, but to consider praise and punishment as primarily aimed at changing desires is to embrace a very inefficient implement at best, and a paradoxical one at worst (where reactance is the result).

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drj January 18, 2012 at 7:28 am

Of course, I’d have to read Carrier to seriously criticize his arguments. Why am I not tempted to do so? The story is obviously a fairy tale, borne of an overweaning sense of loss at NOT being able to say “Thou shalt not kill.” In short, if it requires such a fairy tale to sustain a moralistic naturalism, we’ve accomplished a reduction to the absurd.

And really, one can easily impugn the anti-realists with similar pronouncements… that they cling to the anti-realism out of fear of moral responsibility, or they otherwise have some psychological attachment in the idea that their actions really don’t matter or are amoral. Not very productive, IMHO.

“Thou shalt not kill” on Carrier’s system might reduce to something like: “If you were aware of all the relevant facts about your own psychology, nature and were aware of the true probability that killing would bring you closer to fulfilling what you desire most, you wouldn’t do it”. Not very mysterious to me.. You’re free to pronounce it as an “obvious” fairy tale, but I disagree – I think he makes a plausible case (though obviously, not all the facts are in). If in the end, the theory only works for a subset of sentient creatures who share some values, then that’s fine too, though obviously not a totally universal moral system. We’d just have to accept the fact that we’ll have certain unresolvable conflicts, and we’ll either fight, or eventually learn to cooperate. Either way, most of us have a useful tool for evaluating the “rightness”/”wrongness” our actions.

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Tony Hoffman January 18, 2012 at 9:05 am

Stephen D: “And while not quite as improbable, it’s getting there. First, let’s note that the long-run probability of a certain action panning out is irrelevant if you don’t consider the actual length of the term compared to human life. As Keynes said, in the long run we’re all dead. You need a linkage of implausible strength–one that can overcome other considerations even in the short term.”

Interesting you would quote Keynes here. I remember reading a book by W. Edwards Deming in which he basically explained that the popular understanding that a free market is all about competition often obfuscated the obvious fact that economic strength is built largely on cooperation. And, of course, one of the most fundamental insights in the birth of Economics (comparative advantage, I think Ricardo) is of the economic advantage found in cooperation. So, not sure how strong you think that linkage is, but a lot of societies (and the smart money) have been placed on that one for centuries.

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nonchai January 18, 2012 at 2:25 pm

@cl

Here is another use of torture, used for years to establish guilt or innocence – Trial By Ordeal. Nothing in the bible condemns or talks about this.

Trial by ordeal was a means of determining guilt or innocence through infliction of injury. It was used after the collapse of the Roman Empire (c. 476) in Europe, when the laws of various Germanic tribes took the place of Roman law, which had been set by Roman emperor Justinian I (A.D. 483–565). In trial by ordeal a person accused of having committed a crime was injured in some way (the ordeal). For example, the person might be branded with a heated iron bar; if the injury healed within a certain period of time—usually three days—the person was determined to be innocent. If the wound did not heal, the person was found guilty. This method of judging guilt or innocence was also called divination because it involved discovering by supernatural means whether or not someone was guilty.

A simple message from god, or passage in the “good book” making clear that god bans tis technique might have saved many innocent lives.

Further Information: Biel, Timothy Levi. The Crusades. San Diego: Lucent, 1995; Halsall, Paul, ed. “Medieval Legal History.” Internet Medieval Sourcebook. [Online] Available http://www.fordham. edu/halsall/sbook-law.html, October 30, 2000; Trial by Ordeal. [Online] Available http://www.inter net-at-work.com/hos_mcgrane/viking/eg_viking_9.html, October 30, 2000.

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Colin January 19, 2012 at 12:10 am

I wish there was a like button on this blog.

Clearly, anybody who continues to ask “on what grounds can an atheist call X,Y, or Z good”, hasn’t bothered to study any non-theist realist moral theories. Those who are so overconfident in theisms ability to provide a coherent moral foundation also clearly havent studied any of the powerful objections to theistic accounts of ethics.

There are plenty solidnon-theist moral theories – desirism among them, or Richard Carrier’s goal theory,or a number of others… sure, none are without controversy, but there arent any theistic accounts of ethics without controversy either.

You may or may not be convinced by any of them, but we certainly need not bother with the incessant repetition of the silly meme, that non-theists just can’t have any moral foundation, every time some non-theist makes a moral claim. C’mon..

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Stephen R. Diamond January 19, 2012 at 10:41 pm

And really, one can easily impugn the anti-realists with similar pronouncements… that they cling to the anti-realism out of fear of moral responsibility, or they otherwise have some psychological attachment in the idea that their actions really don’t matter or are amoral.Not very productive, IMHO.

I think it’s quite productive. It’s pointing to a bias. But one should have evidence, such as Luke’s comment about not _having_ to accept antirealism and your glee about telling your neighbor that he shouldn’t kill. You’ll never get over your moralism without scrutinizing your reasons for thinking you need it—whether the reason is thinking humanity can’t do without moralism or wanting desperately to have an answer when a theist says only God can provide an objection foundation for morality. The same, in principle, goes for me. But if I have the motives you impute, I don’t think I have them quite so transparently.

“Thou shalt not kill” on Carrier’s system might reduce to something like:“If you were aware of all the relevant facts about your own psychology, nature and were aware of the true probability that killing would bring you closer to fulfilling what you desire most, you wouldn’t do it”. Not very mysterious to me..You’re free to pronounce it as an “obvious” fairy tale, but I disagree – I think he makes a plausible case (though obviously, not all the facts are in). If in the end, the theory only works for a subset of sentient creatures who share some values, then that’s fine too, though obviously not a totally universal moral system.We’d just have to accept the fact that we’ll have certain unresolvable conflicts, and we’ll either fight, or eventually learn to cooperate.Either way, most of us have a useful tool for evaluating the “rightness”/”wrongness” our actions.

Well, despite what I wrote a couple days ago, I did go read some Carrier. (Why’s that a feat? Carrier and Fyfe are mediocre writers.) Anyway, you’ve been arguing Carrier, and most others, Fyfe, and they each avoid some of the problems with the other—but they can’t be coherently combined.

The problem with Fyfe is that he’s equivocal on his objectives. But my critics, here, do have a point in that meta-ethics isn’t Fyfe’s explicit project. Then why does he equivocate and refuse to admit (as AP has repeatedly pointed out) that he really has an error theory? Because without _hints_ and veiled promises of moral realism, what he’d have to say could be said in a ten-page paper.

What does Fyfe want to accomplish? John Hoffman tells us that Fyfe’s _not_ interested in the meta-ethical issues, but never quite says what Fyfe _is_ interested in. Let me put Fyfe’s position in the most generous light. Fyfe claims that 1) morality is about the praise and disapproval of desires. He claims this is important because 2) praise and punishment strengthens and weakens desires. One thing he gets out of #1 is the justification for invoking approval of general rules—in the form of acceptance or rejection of broad desires—similar to rule utilitarianism without its apparent ad hoc character.

So far as the preceding paragraph goes, I don’t think Fyfe’s position is impeachable on “philosophical” grounds, although it’s terrible psychology. What would make Fyfe’s position philosophically impeachable is maintaining that his calculus of good and bad desires picks out a unique moral theory—such that the theory allows you to say “Thou shalt not kill!” Those who say they “don’t agree” with the criticism that Fyfe smuggles pre-existing moral weights might get it by understanding the gap between Fyfe’s claims about morality concerning desires and his implied claims to having a moral system. He can’t have a moral system without arbitrary judgments about how much weight to give different desires or how finely to carve them if they are each to receive equal weight. I could be more detailed, but I think everyone should get the idea.

But interpreting Fyfe with maximal charity, he’s saying this: In considering moral question, you should consider the underlying desires in relation to how much they block or advance other human desires. He can’t prescribe *how* to accomplish this considering, and he’s only able to output universal moral conclusions if he does, but if he were right, he still would have accomplished something. Without telling us how, he still would direct us about what kinds of things are relevant to morality. And he concludes that, since everything starts with desire, to make the world a better place [that is, by his lights and he hopes, his readers'] one should focus on improving human desires by approving of them. So, Fyfe (at his best) does NOT have an objective morality. But he does have a set of—thoroughly wrongheaded and ultimately rather despicable—set of recommendations as regards what I’ve called civic morality. Without commenting on this at length, let me point out that people are termed “judgmental” just when they insist on approving and disapproving *desires*. That such people are annoying and useless precisely because desires do not respond to praise or punishment [something Fyfe is beginning to have to deal with, as per the piece Luke linked to]. That centering *official* approval and disapproval on “desires” would be a regime that punishes thought crimes. This is indeed a very *churchly* method of dealing with moral issues: changing desires is what sermons concern—are the moralistic atheists all, perhaps, sons of clergy (or perhaps even former clergy)?

On to Carrier. Whereas Fyfe thinks it beside the point whether he has a theory of “morality,” the definition of morality is indeed Carrier’s *central* concern. Carrier says that morality is about what the actor “ought” to do. Hence, morality is just another name for rationality. But while it’s true that the concept of the “moral” includes “normativity” it also includes as part of its core meaning a contrast with the prudential. Morality isn’t real because nothing satisfies the constraints of being what one “ought” to do and being so for reasons besides prudence, i.e., ordinary rationality.

Carrier claims the rules of morality are rules of personal, egoistic rationality, but it i- fundamentally unclear why such rules should exist in the first place. He posits them not because their existence is plausible but because he needs them to construct a moral system out of pure rationality.

If Carrier stopped at misdefining morality, there’d be little problem, but he knows he needs more. He needs some convergence with the *tenets* of a personal morality his disciples might want to embrace. That’s where the fairy tale comes in. Since Fyfe and Carrier diverge at this point, I can quote Fyfe against Carrier—Fyfe is more patient belaboring the obvious than I:

“What reason do we have to think that someone would be happier if they were perfectly moral? There are definitely some moral traits that make us happier, but it seems like an extraordinary claim [read FAIRY TALE] to say that evolution would just happen to result in all our brains working in such a way that every moral trait would increase our happiness. Evolution works on the individual gene level. If an immoral trait makes it more likely that you’ll pass on your genes, that trait will become more common. Even one of the works that Dr. Carrier cites to defend his claim that acting virtuously makes you better off argues that evolution promotes some negative traits like aggressiveness. Sometimes doing good makes us happy, and sometimes doing evil makes us happy. Sometimes evolution favors good, sometimes evolution favors evil. With all the violence in the animal kingdom, and our own species, it seems unreasonable to assume that every trait which helps others would also help one’s own genes. So I see no reason to think that evolution would make it so that acting morally would always make us happier.”

And that’s why Carrier is spinning a fairy tale.

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Stephen R. Diamond January 19, 2012 at 11:06 pm

Interesting you would quote Keynes here. I remember reading a book by W. Edwards Deming in which he basically explained that the popular understanding that a free market is all about competition often obfuscated the obvious fact that economic strength is built largely on cooperation. And, of course, one of the most fundamental insights in the birth of Economics (comparative advantage, I think Ricardo) is of the economic advantage found in cooperation. So, not sure how strong you think that linkage is, but a lot of societies (and the smart money) have been placed on that one for centuries.

Most relationships in the natural (hence the human) world reflect cooperation and competition simultaneously. The most cooperative relationship imaginable, that between a mother and her infant, are at the same time competitive. (This was initially demonstrated by Robert Trivers.)

Humans have a hard time with ambivalence. So, we glorify the mother-child relationship as purely cooperative and demonize economic competitors to deny our cooperative relationship. Laissez-faire capitalism represents a denial of cooperation; Carrierism (not to be confused with careerism) represents a denial of competition.

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drj January 20, 2012 at 7:53 am

On “misdefining” morality…. There is no settled upon definition of moral terms. Every metaethical theory must begin by proposing definitions of moral terms, and then investigate, by whatever available means, if these definitions actually refer (and can provide us with the things we expect moral theories to provide – like reasons to do X and not Y). And of course, of particular interest, is what these theories do to the meaning of our moral statements, like “thou shalt not kill”. So its no slight of hand or misdeed that Carrier defines morality in the way he does – its a fundamental requirement for any ethical theory that moral terms have precise, clear definitions.

Furthermore, anybody claiming that morality does not exist, must also have precise definitions of moral terms, for their statements to be meaningful. So have have to ask, when you say morality does not exist, what the heck do your moral terms mean, and why are those definitions more privileged than Carriers? In any case, I admitted a while back – we can call Carrier’s theory something else besides “morality” – call it whatever you like! Either way, it does give us a guide for decision making, and gives us a way to meaningfully parse typical moral statements and connect them to something plausibly real.

“What reason do we have to think that someone would be happier if they were perfectly moral? There are definitely some moral traits that make us happier, but it seems like an extraordinary claim [read FAIRY TALE] to say that evolution would just happen to result in all our brains working in such a way that every moral trait would increase our happiness. Evolution works on the individual gene level. If an immoral trait makes it more likely that you’ll pass on your genes, that trait will become more common. Even one of the works that Dr. Carrier cites to defend his claim that acting virtuously makes you better off argues that evolution promotes some negative traits like aggressiveness. Sometimes doing good makes us happy, and sometimes doing evil makes us happy. Sometimes evolution favors good, sometimes evolution favors evil. With all the violence in the animal kingdom, and our own species, it seems unreasonable to assume that every trait which helps others would also help one’s own genes. So I see no reason to think that evolution would make it so that acting morally would always make us happier.”

The quote you pasted of Fyfe is a straw-man. Honestly, its a horrible critique that grossly misunderstands Carrier, in a rather surprising way for someone like Fyfe. It makes no sense to say “we shouldn’t expect morality to always make us happier”. An utmost values/desire must come first on Carrier’s theory, and is a fundamental prerequisite for moral terms make any sense at all.

On Carrier’s theory, if one were “perfectly moral”, one would be acting in perfect accord with their utmost desire. Desires are states of dissatisfaction. To fulfill a desire is to alleviate that state of dissatisfaction. So yes, one would be happier by being “perfectly moral”, because that’s what it means to fulfill a desire.

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Tony Hoffman January 20, 2012 at 4:30 pm

DRJ: “The quote you pasted of Fyfe is a straw-man. Honestly, its a horrible critique that grossly misunderstands Carrier, in a rather surprising way for someone like Fyfe. ”

Well, I’m no biologist, but I also think that saying that the Fyfe quote where it says “Evolution works on the individual gene level,” is such an oversimplification it probably fails. As I understand biology, Evolution works on phenotypic effects that are often influenced by several genes in conjunction (for one), and it also sounds as if Fyfe is implying that Evolution is confined to a competition between organisms whereas it is also a competition between populations.

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antiplastic January 20, 2012 at 6:27 pm

AP: “Consider x in relation to y…” Can you not spot the Fyfist weasel-words here?

No, I can’t.

“…in relation to…”

In what kind of relation, precisely? We are not told. Just as the Fyfist will repeat endlessly the slogan that morality is “about” reasons for action. Well, barbques and arson are both “about” deliberately applying fire.

I understand normativej udgments under Desirism to be essentially appeals to the reasoning of a creature that lives in a society with other creatures that have desires. I think these appeals could be considered “obligations” or “moral oughts,” as you say above, but I don’t consider these appeals to be “moral truths” or “normative truths,” which I think implies a kind of objectivity and absolutism that Desirism does not strive to locate.

I’ve been reading the literature on moral philosophy for over a decade and a half now and I honestly have never heard anything like the distinction you seem to want to make here.

“Morally, you to be nice to your sister.” “Is that true?” “Yes.”

That’s all that is meant when someone refers to moral truths. I am an expressivist and I have no problem talking about moral truths, and I categorically deny that they have any kind of objectivity to them.

Me: “But I agree that Desirism provides a framework in which we should alter our behavior, despite a specific desire that we may have, by providing a theoretical rationale for so doing.”

AP: “We”? Including “you”?

Yes.

But as I have shown now in exhaustive detail, it is not a “rationale” if it is irrational!!! And if you are working against maximizing your own desires, then by definition you are being irrational. This really is a two-horned dilemma for Fyfism: either they are saying 1) the purpose of behaving morally is just a special case of enlightened egoism (in which case, it is FALSE that you morally-ought to do something which does not maximize your desires), or 2) you have a free-standing moral obligation to maximize “everyone’s” desires, in which case the Fyfist is simply asserting what he is trying to prove, and smuggling in an unanalyzed normative claim into a purported deconstruction of normative claims.

You rationally, according to your desires, ought to do what you want to do, counting other peoples’ desires only like obstacles or instruments to getting what you want.”

No. Desirism takes the approach that rather than continue the futile effort of explaining morality by trying to locate a thing that doesn’t seem to exist (a foundation for morality that is separate from our desires), we should establish normative rules by the content of the things that we know exist: desires.

If Christianity seems to require the resurrection of Jesus, and you become convinced that this did not occur, the honest thing to do is become a disbeliever, not redefine “Christianity” to mean something it doesn’t. This is exactly what I mean when I say Fyfists are error theorists.

Note again how you just can’t seem to precisify formulations like “separate from our (sic) desires”. If what you morally-ought to do is sacrifice your wants for the goal of group-maximization regardless of whether this results in a net benefit to you, then the Fyfist is nakedly doing what he is accusing everybody else of doing: separating morality from desires. It’s useless to say “but it’s not separate from ‘desires generally’”, just as it’s useless to defend arson as being as innocuous as cooking because they’re both “about” fire.

So, because I recognize that I have desires, and that other creatures in my society have (complementary and conflicting desires), and that if everyone acted according to their own desires and did not take mine into account I would be worse off , then it is rational for me support and partake in a normative system that will satisfy more of my desires than if I lived in one where all pursued their desires without concern for the effect of their action on other desires.

Once again, this is flatly false as a matter of just basic game theory. It is rational for you to support but disobey at every opportunity such a system, whenever it benefits you. It is rational to support a system where everyone pays taxes, while making sure your taxes are as low or even nonexistent as possible.

Or consider this reductio: if a billion people walked across my lawn, it would be ruined, therefore you shouldn’t walk across my lawn. The issue (from the standpoint of practical reason, which is not the same thing as morality) is whether you shouldn’t walk on the lawn.

Is it too much to ask that you quote Fyfe here saying one thing about Desirism, then saying something else that contradicts it? Because I think that would go a long way toward explaining exactly what it is that you find so irksome (and dishonest) about the project.

I already did this in the previous thread: externalism is incompatible with moral criticism; admitting that according to any reasonable definition of morality, there are no moral truths but carrying on making moral judgments using the same old language knowing that you will be misunderstood; equivocating between “people generally” and “in general, people” etc.

If you think that the extent to which you can cooperate or compete with a fellow human compared to competing or cooperating with a brick wall is only a matter of extent than you make yourself seem deluded.

Did you not notice the literally dozens of times I’ve gone out of my way to bold “rationally speaking” or “from the perspective of mere practical reason”? Do you think I might have had a reason to so consistently qualify those statements?

I think there is a huge difference between looking at people as ends in themselves, rather than simply being a means to my own ends. That is why Fyfism, so formulated, is both false and morally odious. Reducing moral obligations to rational obligations to maximize one’s own desires simply cannot be correct. There is a clear and obvious moral distinction here which Fyfism cannot account for.

This makes you seem a tad histrionic. I have to ask again, do you a reference for something like A. Fyfe claiming that normativity is something he discovered?

The words of mine to which this is a response were “If I have a desire to commit crimes then it’s unlikely that they will be OK with that. If I have a desire to remain outside of prison they can use that to their advantage.” Do you deny that these are trivially obvious statements?

Define what it means for there to be “not much point in taking heed of moral criticism or praise.” Because Desirism, as I understand it, makes it perfectly clear what the point is.

This may be my last reply on this, because I’m growing tired of repeating myself.

Fyfists are externalists. Therefore, “you morally-ought to X” is BY THEIR DEFINITION not criticism or praise.

All of an individual’s rational obligations state how to maximize his own objectives. Some things which maximize the objectives of a group in aggregate do not maximize the objectives of each individual in the group. Therefore some things which maximize the aggregate objectives of the group are not rational obligations on some members of the group.

All moral truths are obligations on everyone. Therefore, since not all things which maximize aggregate objectives of a group are obligations on everyone, “that which maximizes aggregate desire fulfillment” cannot be identical to “that which is moral”.

You’ll find that this deductive argument is valid, and all of its premises true.

AP: “You’re changing the subject. We are talking about whether it’s rational from the point of view of the person being criticised. And from that point of view, it is only rational if the critique points out a more efficient way of getting what you want. If you say “you should cut that shit out” but you are not informing them of a more efficient way to maximize their own desire fulfillment, you have uttered a falsehood. No one is “warranted” in uttering falsehoods!”

And the passage above just makes you seem like you’re now becoming unhinged. I seriously don’t know where you’re coming from, where you get your impressions, or what it is you’re trying to say. And I’m honestly trying to figure it out.

I seriously don’t know what you consider to false or even mildly controversial in that passage — unless you are agreeing with my point that the Fyfist formulation, according to which the only reason to do anything is to fulfill one’s own desires, is both false and morally disgusting! Remember, I’m the one denying that this kind of silly talk is an adequate “foundation” for morality. If you find it “unhinged”, I suggest you take it up with them.

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antiplastic January 20, 2012 at 7:56 pm

Stupid uneditable posts.

“Morally, you be nice to your sister.”

“The words mine …”

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antiplastic January 20, 2012 at 7:58 pm

Yes, I officially can’t stand the way this software parses comment code. FFS.

“Morally, you {should} be nice to your sister.”

“The words {to which} mine {were a response}…”

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Stephen R. Diamond January 21, 2012 at 3:10 pm

Either way, it does give us a guide for decision making, and gives us a way to meaningfully parse typical moral statements and connect them to something plausibly real.

And why exactly do you want to do these things? A theory is proposed to solve some problem. What problem do you think requires that we parse typical moral statements if we are to solve them? Why would you want to connect them to something plausibly real? (Do you have this urge with regard to theistic claims. The only philosopher I can think of who interpreted theistic terms to make them compatible with naturalism is Spinoza—perhaps to avoid persecution for outright atheism. In other words, what’s the _point_ of this theory. Ary you sympathetic, then , to Spinoza? If not, why?)

[But you should know that Carrier doesn't say the definition is up for grabs. To the contrary, he maintains that *every* concept of morality equates it with rationality, but often without so admitting.]

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Stephen R. Diamond January 21, 2012 at 3:19 pm

No it doesn’t. Think about it. So-called “universally held desires” are irrelevant here. That any given “universally held desire” should be respected still remains a matter of personal opinion on naturalism.

I have thought about it – YOU arent getting it. Again, refer to the freakin premises:
a) desires are the only reason to act that exist OR
b) the only way to give anyone a rational reason to do anything, is to appeal to a desire

Either way: desires are posited to be rational reasons for action. That may either be true or false, but it isn’t a matter of mere opinion. If that is true, its fundamentally irrational to fail to respect one’s utmost desire.

Actually, no. The premises do NOT imply that desires are rational reasons for action. The imply that rational reasons for action are desires! By the terms of the premises, every rational reason to act is a desire; but NOT every desire is a rational reason to act.

The upshot: basing morality on desire does nothing to resolve *which* desires to base it on. It doesn’t mean that it should be based on *all* desires.

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Stephen R. Diamond January 21, 2012 at 3:37 pm

The quote you pasted of Fyfe is a straw-man. Honestly, its a horrible critique that grossly misunderstands Carrier, in a rather surprising way for someone like Fyfe. It makes no sense to say “we shouldn’t expect morality to always make us happier”. An utmost values/desire must come first on Carrier’s theory, and is a fundamental prerequisite for moral terms make any sense at all.

So, now it’s not only the error theorists and expressivists who don’t properly “engage with” these moralists. Luke’s favorite moralistic atheist can’t even get a minor variant of an opponent position correct.

On Carrier’s theory, if one were “perfectly moral”, one would be acting in perfect accord with their utmost desire. Desires are states of dissatisfaction. To fulfill a desire is to alleviate that state of dissatisfaction. So yes, one would be happier by being “perfectly moral”, because that’s what it means to fulfill a desire.

This is true based on Carrier’s *definitions*, but a definition does not a theory make. Carrier can say that acting in terms of one’s highest desires is moral [this is all quite outmoded Aristotelianism], but if everyone’s highest desire turned out to be killing his neighbor, no one would *care* about Carrier’s definitions because Carrier’s “morality” would be clearly incapable of playing morality’s role. Carrier’s *significance* depends on his claim that what he *defines* as good corresponds—not necessarily perfectly but significantly and substantially—with people’s moral intuitions. This is the point Fyfe is hitting and quite correctly so.

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Stephen R. Diamond January 21, 2012 at 3:39 pm

Well, I’m no biologist, but I also think that saying that the Fyfe quote where it says “Evolution works on the individual gene level,” is such an oversimplification it probably fails.

No, it’s absolutely correct according to almost all contemporary evolutionary biologists. See Dawkins, _The Selfish Gene_.

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Stephen R. Diamond January 21, 2012 at 4:02 pm

I know Luke doesn’t totally endorse desirism anymore, but I would think a desirist would criticize this gag on those same grounds. On desirism we judge a person by his desires, not by the effects of his actions. As best I can tell from reading Borlaug’s Wikipedia entry, the only morally relevant desire that he would be known for is the desire to use his talents at science to save the most number of lives in the short term. St Bernard, on the other hand, shows a clear desire to reform his life to become as harmless and loving as possible, and to minimize all other desires except also the desire to love and please God.

Let’s stipulate that Borlaug desired to become as compassionate a person as possible; let’s further stipulate that he wanted this for the sole reason that he wanted to please God.

How should we praise or disapprove Borlaug based on these facts? Do we disapprove because the root desire was a bad desire? Or do we approve because compassionate desires are good desires?

As far as I can tell, the necessity of this choice reflects a fatal ambiguity in desirism. Desires rest on deeper desires; the decision as to which level to focus on is arbitrary.

(Regardless, this “Fame” posting of Luke’s is, I think, pretty much what you can expect Fyfe’s views to inspire. It is NOT the case that Luke has somehow committed himself to moral realism with this posting. You don’t need moralism to have a sense of irony. But the _shallowness_ of the irony on offer is Fyfist to the core. It follows from the prescription of trying to create social change by issuing judgments of praise and disapproval regarding others’ desires. Fyfism is designed to allow its disciples to conspicuously signal how moral they are beneath a guise of being agents of social change. It’s a recipe for “political correctness.”)

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Stephen R. Diamond January 21, 2012 at 4:09 pm

Let’s stipulate that Borlaug desired to become as compassionate a person as possible; let’s further stipulate that he wanted this for the sole reason that he wanted to please God.

Of course, I meant Bernhard here, not Borlaug.

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Stephen R. Diamond January 21, 2012 at 4:19 pm

Maybe we’re just caught up on problems with definitions? I understand normative judgments under Desirism to be essentially appeals to the reasoning of a creature that lives in a society with other creatures that have desires. I think these appeals could be considered “obligations” or “moral oughts,” as you say above, but I don’t consider these appeals to be “moral truths” or “normative truths,” which I think implies a kind of objectivity and absolutism that Desirism does not strive to locate.

Tony,
Sorry I referred to you as John in another message.

You say desirism doesn’t strive for an absolute morality. What’s an absolute morality? Do you deny that desirism is capable of producing universally valid moral judgments–I simply mean moral judgments applying to all. From what I’ve seen from Fyfe, he’s actually unclear on this. But when _you_ deny that his morality is absolute, do mean mean to deny that desirism outputs universal moral rules? If not, what _does_ it output?

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drj January 21, 2012 at 8:28 pm

And why exactly do you want to do these things? A theory is proposed to solve some problem. What problem do you think requires that we parse typical moral statements if we are to solve them? Why would you want to connect them to something plausibly real? (Do you have this urge with regard to theistic claims. The only philosopher I can think of who interpreted theistic terms to make them compatible with naturalism is Spinoza—perhaps to avoid persecution for outright atheism. In other words, what’s the _point_ of this theory. Ary you sympathetic, then , to Spinoza? If not, why?)

Obviously I want these things because I just can’t bear to put away my moralistic, wagging finger…

Or it could be because there’s a whole class of decisions (moral decisions) that we face every day, with affects that potentially touch us all deeply in many ways, and yet we have no agreed upon framework for analyzing and deciding courses of action in the face of them. That is a problem.

But a similar process happens for theism. We see that people make all kinds of theistic claims. We look at the content of those claims, all their possible meanings, examine their coherence, study whether they refer to something plausibly real, and then come to a conclusion.

In the case of moral facts… well, they seem to exist. In the case of God, well.. He doesn’t seem too.

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Tony Hoffman January 22, 2012 at 9:58 am

Stephen D: “No, [evolution works on the individual gene level is] absolutely correct according to almost all contemporary evolutionary biologists. See Dawkins, _The Selfish Gene_.”

Yeah, I’ve read the Selfish Gene (one of my all-time favorite books). My point is that I am not so sure that natural selection on the gene level is the best (nor only available) way to look at morality from an Evolutionary perspective. I think that behavior in social animals stretches the single gene model of natural selection to the point where other concepts, like supervenience, as well as other ways of defining units (avatars) within populations, might be more descriptive and productive.

That being said, I also think I mis-read the Fyfe quote the first time, and I’m not even sure that my quibble matters.

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cl January 22, 2012 at 12:59 pm

Kenyans. We’re Kenyans.

LOL! That was awesome.

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Stephen R. Diamond January 22, 2012 at 1:43 pm

In the case of moral facts… well, they seem to exist.

What leads you to think so?

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Tony Hoffman January 22, 2012 at 2:40 pm

Stephen D: “You say desirism doesn’t strive for an absolute morality. What’s an absolute morality?”

By absolute morality I meant to distinguish from an objective morality. I understand objective morality to contain moral facts that are the same for everyone. This would include what theists say about morality with God (everybody has access to the same moral facts), and also kinds of naturalistic morality, like Desirism, that follow a sort of “ideal observer” way of establishing moral facts about a given society. I think that both of these kinds of objective morality are not necessarily absolute in that their moral facts could change – we see this in Christian attempts to explain moral evolution, and in my reading it is an admitted fact of some non-theistic moral theories. So what I meant to say is that I don’t understand an objective of a moral theory like Desirism to be to establish the kinds of moral facts that say something like, “It is always wrong to do x.” I think Desirism would output something like, “Given the facts on the ground, it is wrong to do x. Facts on the ground may change. We’ll keep you posted if things change.”

Stephen D: “Do you deny that desirism is capable of producing universally valid moral judgments–I simply mean moral judgments applying to all.”

I would say that Desirism may (in the future, certainly not now) be capable of producing objectively valid moral judgments, but that these moral judgments would not be universal or absolute in the sense that they would also apply to different societies. As I understand objectively valid moral judgments in Desirism, the validity is not much more than a mathematical result.

Stephen D: “From what I’ve seen from Fyfe, he’s actually unclear on this. But when _you_ deny that his morality is absolute, do mean mean to deny that desirism outputs universal moral rules? If not, what _does_ it output?”

I would say Desirism may (in the future) be able to output objective moral rules, given the known facts about a society with desires. There are serious problems to be overcome for that to even considered feasible, but I am not entirely sure they are insurmountable.

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antiplastic January 22, 2012 at 4:09 pm

I would say that Desirism may (in the future, certainly not now) be capable of producing objectively valid moral judgments, but that these moral judgments would not be universal or absolute in the sense that they would also apply to different societies.

So, it could (theoretically) turn out to be the case that pre-emptive war, torture, indefinite detention, and disregard of civilian casualties is morally acceptable “for” red state societies, but not “for” those of us in the blue states? So when, as a child, my family moved from Michigan to the Deep South, it would have been completely unproblematic to hear someone say, “now, I know you’ve been raised to believe that racism is wrong, but we are now surrounded by a culture that puts confederate flags on every car bumper and still practices de facto segregation, so you better just change your moral beliefs”?

In what sense would this be recognizable or useful as a realist moral theory?

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Tony Hoffman January 23, 2012 at 4:21 am

By society I meant something more like “world.” I don’t think desirism advocates pluralism, nor setting up moral republics.

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Stephen R. Diamond January 23, 2012 at 5:21 pm

My point is that I am not so sure that natural selection on the gene level is the best (nor only available) way to look at morality from an Evolutionary perspective. I think that behavior in social animals stretches the single gene model of natural selection to the point where other concepts, like supervenience

That doesn’t rebut my observation that today’s evolutionary consensus disagrees. (I’m not sure whether it was intended to.) Whether selection can be viewed from a nested perspective, so that it occasionally manifests some for of group selection or supervening influence, cannot rebut conclusions based on single-gene selection. (Consider other forms of supervenience. Chemistry adds nothing to physics–can’t justify violations of physics-based prediction.)

Many early-twentieth century evolutionists embraced group selection, misinterpreting Darwin. This indeed made it easy to explain morality as furthering group interest. From the single-gene perspective, you can’t invoke societal benefits to explain morality. That’s why, following Williams’s innovation (popularized and developed by Dawkins), you got theories explaining altruism as based on kin selection.

Fyfe was right on target to see the centrality of the issue of single-gene selection in refuting theories like Carrier’s, although he didn’t make clear the reason for the relevance of single-gene doctrine.

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Stephen R. Diamond January 23, 2012 at 5:43 pm

I would say that Desirism may (in the future, certainly not now) be capable of producing objectively valid moral judgments, but that these moral judgments would not be universal or absolute in the sense that they would also apply to different societies. As I understand objectively valid moral judgments in Desirism, the validity is not much more than a mathematical result.

I would say Desirism may (in the future) be able to output objective moral rules, given the known facts about a society with desires. There are serious problems to be overcome for that to even considered feasible, but I am not entirely sure they are insurmountable.

The reason it is incapable in principle of providing objectively valid moral principles is that objectively valid moral principles don’t exist. You’re really saying that such principles do exist because desirism or a similar theory can articulate them. But you say desirism offers the promise of moral principles. On what do you base your assessment of desirism’s promise? I think your reasoning is that 1) objectively valid moral principles exist; and 2) desirism is the best explanation on offer of their existence.

The argument can’t get off the ground unless you offer some reason to think objectively valid moral principles exist. But that’s the moral realism issue desirism supposedly supersedes.

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joseph January 24, 2012 at 1:12 am

@Stephen Diamond,
So I think you would agree we could come up with different systems of ensuring for the average an outcome that would be favourable in terms of health (mental, physical), longevity, fecundity, lowering suffering etc, but whether those it would be objectively good to maximise, or minimise, those parameters could never be established…is that a fair assessment?

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Jenna January 24, 2012 at 2:18 pm

Remember, I’m the one denying that this kind of silly talk is an adequate “foundation” for morality. If you find it “unhinged”, I suggest you take it up with them.

OMG. You just know EXACTLY what to say! I’m stunned by your Socratic brilliance. I mean, you just GET IT.

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Stephen R. Diamond January 25, 2012 at 12:30 pm

Joseph,

those parameters could never be established

Could never be established on an objective moral basis. The point can seem academic, but it isn’t. To say an objective morality exists is to say that moral reasoning can (at least in principle) resolve all societal conflicts, whereas people’s interests—including their moral interests—conflict. Religion is truly the opium of the people, counseling acceptance of the dominant morality as God-given and enforcing it with eternal threats. Atheistic moralism purveys the same essential “objective” moral principles, but replaces the lies of religion with the obfuscation of purified moralism.

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Tony Hoffman January 25, 2012 at 6:32 pm

Stephen D: “From the single-gene perspective, you can’t invoke societal benefits to explain morality.”

But that’s exactly what Hamilton did with kin selection. Altruism is thought to be a kind of moral stance. And Hamilton showed how, in certain circumstances, altruism would benefit kin who carried the same gene. The Shaker’s espousing of celibacy, which had at least some imagined social benefits, was disastrous to those who’s genetic makeup made them susceptible to its moral system. So while I agree that selection happens at the single gene level, I don’t believe that one can say that a tendency to adopt and reject what we might call certain moral stances should not be selected for on a single gene level.

In a similar way,

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Lila January 26, 2012 at 5:59 am

Well, the post was funny, but the discussion in the comments was really boring. Let’s get back some levity up in here, huh?

According to Wikipedia, “If other food [besides bread and water] was given to [St. Bernard of Corleone], he would place the food in his mouth to whet his appetite, and then take it out without consuming it.”

On top of it all, St. Bernard was a food-waster? LOLOLOL! :D

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Stephen R. Diamond January 26, 2012 at 3:23 pm

But that’s exactly what Hamilton did with kin selection. Altruism is thought to be a kind of moral stance. And Hamilton showed how, in certain circumstances, altruism would benefit kin who carried the same gene. The Shaker’s espousing of celibacy, which had at least some imagined social benefits, was disastrous to those who’s genetic makeup made them susceptible to its moral system. So while I agree that selection happens at the single gene level, I don’t believe that one can say that a tendency to adopt and reject what we might call certain moral stances should not be selected for on a single gene level.

Hamilton didn’t invoke societal benefits to explain altruism. Even if morality turned out to carry societal benefits, those weren’t the basis for their explanation. Societal benefit is adventitious, if it exists; only kin benefit invoked as an explanation.

Although kin selection may explain the acceptance of moral codes, you can’t explain the specific content of a morality where we owe moral duties to *everyone* based on a mechanism of kin selection. This was once thought possible because people often believed in group selection that pertained to the entire species.

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Tony Hoffman January 27, 2012 at 10:33 am

Stephen D: “
“From the single-gene perspective, you can’t invoke societal benefits to explain morality.”
and
“Although kin selection may explain the acceptance of moral codes, you can’t explain the specific content of a morality where we owe moral duties to *everyone* based on a mechanism of kin selection.”

In natural selection, any gene that consistently inserts itself into strands that get replicated more often than other genes will tend to be increase its proportion in that population. To that extent, genes that contribute to social cooperation that leads to those genes being replicated more often will tend toward selection. At this point, societal benefits and selection for genes that contribute to the behavior that leads to these benefits are roughly synonymous, or at least aligned.

My point isn’t that morality equals natural selection, but that it seems fairly straightforward to explain morality as a result of Evolution. If you are saying that morality, once explained as a product of Evolution, can’t provide us with moral truths that are absolute or grounded or some such other (what I would deem arbitrary) requirement, then I suppose I agree but I fail to see where that matters.

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Stephen R. Diamond January 27, 2012 at 11:36 am

To that extent, genes that contribute to social cooperation that leads to those genes being replicated more often will tend toward selection. At this point, societal benefits and selection for genes that contribute to the behavior that leads to these benefits are roughly synonymous, or at least aligned.

One of the big problems caused by the spread of moralistic atheism is that equivocation becomes a way of thinking. Yes, man has social instincts; but no, man’s sociability isn’t across a whole society (applied to “everyone”). To avoid this confusion, I use the term “societal” for the second.

Group selectionism, particularly where the group is the entire species, easily “explains” moral standards that benefits the species, but kin selectionism produces a narrower form of altruism. (Nepotism isn’t the moral code on offer by most moralists.) To take an example, if there were some innate tendency to be averse to killing other humans, kin selectionism would explain why we don’t kill kin or perhaps a stand-in for kin, those we intensively associate with. It wouldn’t explain a broad prohibition on killing of all humans. Such a tendency would not serve the purposes of propagating your own genes. This tendency is served by *favoring* your kin over other humans, a tendency discouraged by species-wide principles. “In social mammals, primates and humans, altruistic acts that meet the kin selection criterion are typically mediated by circumstantial cues such as shared developmental environment, familiarity and social bonding.”

The point isn’t relevant to what morality is “true.” It’s relevant to what harms and benefits we can expect from innate altruistic propensities. Moralistic atheists idealize morality; they think that we can achieve human harmony by reinforcing our natural moral propensities. Like Carrier, they may build moralistic systems that assume the kind of harmony among our natural moralistic impulses that would allow everyone to benefit from acting morally. Single-gene selection doesn’t predict this kind of innate morality. It predicts predicts “moral” behavior toward close associates and the opposite toward others. After all, the *difference* is what makes “moral” behavior adaptively advantageous: you treat those with your genes so they thrive; those without your genes so they (hopefully) perish.

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cindy January 27, 2012 at 11:22 pm

One of the big problems caused by the spread of moralistic atheism is that equivocation becomes a way of thinking.

LOL. Way to stooge for theistic morality. How soon before you launch into some Christian apologetics?

It predicts predicts “moral” behavior…

It “predicts predicts”? Is predicts something so well that it predicts it twice?
Sounds like more ” unreadable verbosity and stupefying impertinence ” to me.

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Stephen R. Diamond January 28, 2012 at 12:27 am

LOL. Way to stooge for theistic morality. How soon before you launch into some Christian apologetics?

If it’s any comfort, I find it a _tad_ less implausible that there’s an objective morality without god than that there’s a god.

It “predicts predicts”? Is predicts something so well that it predicts it twice?
Sounds like more ” unreadable verbosity and stupefying impertinence ” to me.

Cute. I assume you realize that’s a typo.

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Tony Hoffman January 28, 2012 at 9:22 am

Stephen D: “One of the big problems caused by the spread of moralistic atheism is that equivocation becomes a way of thinking.”

Do tell.

Stephen D: “To take an example, if there were some innate tendency to be averse to killing other humans, kin selectionism… wouldn’t explain a broad prohibition on killing of all humans. Such a tendency would not serve the purposes of propagating your own genes.”

No, I don’t think so. We don’t need to resort to kin selection alone to explain the fact that natural selection is not indifferent to something like misanthropy. Here, for instance, is an explanation from a working paper on social evolution by West, Mouden, and Gardner (the entire paper is available here: http://www.zoo.ox.ac.uk/group/west/pdf/West_etal.pdf):

A more complicated example, where the benefits can be in the future, rather than immediate, is if cooperation leads to an increase in group size, which increases the fitness of everyone in the group, including the individual who performs the cooperative behaviour (Kokko et al. 2001; Wiley and Rabenold 1984; Woolfenden 1975). This process, termed group augmentation, has been argued to be important in many cooperatively breeding vertebrates, such as meerkats, where a larger group size can provide a benefit to all the members of the group through an increase in survival, foraging success and the likelihood of winning conflicts with other groups (Clutton-Brock 2002). Similar arguments can explain cases of helping between unrelated individuals in wasps, where high mortality rates mean that there is an appreciable chance that a subordinate individual can inherit the dominant position, and hence also inherit any workers that they helped produce (Queller et al. 2000). Another theoretical possibility is that cooperation is a costly and honest signal of quality (Gintis et al. 2001).

Stephen D: “Single-gene selection doesn’t predict this kind of innate morality. It predicts predicts “moral” behavior toward close associates and the opposite toward others. After all, the *difference* is what makes “moral” behavior adaptively advantageous: you treat those with your genes so they thrive; those without your genes so they (hopefully) perish.”

Yeah, I think this also confuses the efficiency found in many evolved traits with a kind of teleological perfection. Basically, it seems like a mistake to assume that evolved traits are perfect, rather than assuming that they are (more or less) beneficial. When one does not require evolved cooperative behavior to evince perfection, but merely an advantage, there seems less trouble fitting the fact that humans tends toward cooperation, on balance, over ruthless competition. This is not meant to express a utopian naivete that all of our desires are for social cooperation, but it does seem to falsify the objection that we cannot locate a desire for cooperation based on our evolutionary past.

Here’s another interesting quote from the paper I cited above:

“Before describing the mechanisms that can explain cooperation, a general point about the differences between evolutionary mechanisms and rational choice theory is that evolutionary mechanisms only explain the average consequences of a behaviour. Therefore it is quite normal in nature to observe seemingly “irrational” behaviour where an observed cooperative behaviour provides no direct or indirect fitness benefit, such as when a female gorilla protects human children that fall into her pen, when dolphins help an exhausted swimmer, or when enslaved ants rear the brood of the slave making species that captured them. However, these ‘irrational’ or seemingly maladaptive behaviours can be trivially explained by considering the average fitness consequences of such an evolved “rule-of-thumb”. Specifically, the underlying mechanism that leads to such behaviours will have only been selected for if they, on average, provide a direct or indirect fitness benefit. For example, the behaviour of the female gorilla may be a consequence of selection for maternal care, the behaviour of dolphins may be a by product of selection for helping within dolphin groups, and the rearing behaviour of the enslaved ants is favoured because it is usually directed towards related brood. The general point here, that we shall return to in misconceptions 5 & 11, in relation to humans, is that maximisation of fitness does not lead to an expectation for perfect fitness-maximising behaviour in every real-time situation. This stresses the importance of studying behaviour within the context of the environment in which it was selected for and is being maintained (Herre 1987). The possibility for such irrational mistakes arises even before we start considering the time that it takes for selection to “catch up” with environmental change (e.g. natural selection has not adapted gorillas to live in zoos).

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joseph January 29, 2012 at 9:30 am

@Tony Hoffman

It would seem difficult to construe group cooperation as moral, rather than morally neutral, as a group can cooperate in some entirely immoral activity. For instance genocide, slavery, the rise of reality television etc…

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Tony Hoffman January 29, 2012 at 6:58 pm

Joseph: “It would seem difficult to construe group cooperation as moral…”

Well, certainly not what I was going for. So I’m glad you remain unconvinced on that.

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joseph January 30, 2012 at 1:15 am

@Tony Hoffman
Thanks for clarifying for me.

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Stephen R. Diamond January 30, 2012 at 4:54 pm

Stephen D: “To take an example, if there were some innate tendency to be averse to killing other humans, kin selectionism… wouldn’t explain a broad prohibition on killing of all humans. Such a tendency would not serve the purposes of propagating your own genes.”

No, I don’t think so. We don’t need to resort to kin selection alone to explain the fact that natural selection is not indifferent to something like misanthropy. Here, for instance, is an explanation from a working paper on social evolution by West, Mouden, and Gardner (the entire paper is available here: http://www.zoo.ox.ac.uk/group/west/pdf/West_etal.pdf):

Stephen D: “Single-gene selection doesn’t predict this kind of innate morality. It predicts predicts “moral” behavior toward close associates and the opposite toward others. After all, the *difference* is what makes “moral” behavior adaptively advantageous: you treat those with your genes so they thrive; those without your genes so they (hopefully) perish.”

Yeah, I think this also confuses the efficiency found in many evolved traits with a kind of teleological perfection. Basically, it seems like a mistake to assume that evolved traits are perfect, rather than assuming that they are (more or less) beneficial. When one does not require evolved cooperative behavior to evince perfection, but merely an advantage, there seems less trouble fitting the fact that humans tends toward cooperation, on balance, over ruthless competition. This is not meant to express a utopian naivete that all of our desires are for social cooperation, but it does seem to falsify the objection that we cannot locate a desire for cooperation based on our evolutionary past.

Here’s another interesting quote from the paper I cited above:

We’re losing a grip on the issue at hand. It sounds like you’re making a counter-argument to some argument like, “Natural selection can’t explain cooperation (alternatively, people having moral standards), therefore … [Maybe, therefore, they must have been created by God.} Which of course isn’t my point. What we were discussing is the sort of exact correspondence between the “morality” that Mother Nature would impart through by selecting for inclusive fitness (big if, if she imparts any morality), on the one hand, and the moral commandments that would best serve the interests of entire humanity. It would be a cosmic coincidence were these to coincide (as Fyfe pointed out in criticizing Carrier).

Your point that natural selection cannot be expected to produce an exact adaptation (and sometimes might produce extremely inexact adaptations) is correct, but again, it would be a cosmic coincidence if the contours of the changes actually selected for corresponded to the “moral interests” of the entire humanity. Which is to say Joseph’s comment is on the mark.

One distinction in paper you cited that I thought particularly useful is that between the “old group selectionism” and the “new group selectionism.” The old group selectionism assumed that group selection alone could account for some adaptations. This is the view that’s essentially disproven, and I’d add that the notion that natural selection has selected a morality expressing the interests of all humanity requires not only the old group selectionism but also that the “group” be the entire species. (Joseph’s point.)

As the paper put it:
>>In contrast, a number of workers have argued that group selection will lead
>to ‘group adaptations’ that have been selected for because of their benefit
>for the good of the group, and that groups can be viewed as adaptive
>individuals (superorganisms) in their own right (Reeve and Hölldobler 2007;
>Sober and Wilson 1998; Wilson 2008; Wilson and Wilson 2007; Wilson and
>O’Brien 2009; Wilson and Hölldobler 2005; Wynne-Edwards 1962). However, a
>formal analysis of this problem has shown that group selection will only
>lead to group adaptations in the special circumstances where either: (a) the
>group is composed of genetically identical individuals (clonal groups, r=1),
>or (b) there is complete repression of competition between groups (i.e. no
>conflict within groups; (Gardner and Grafen 2009).

I suspect that some confusion comes from distortions of my position, the result of my responding to isolated points. Perhaps it looks like, as one poster put it, that I’m “stooging for the theists” by saying that morality isn’t scientifically explainable. Or, more likely, saying that having moral principles is irrational. I think there are probably strong adaptive reasons for the capacity to have moral principles, but there’s a great deal of flexibility about what those principles are, and, from a prudential standpoint (the only real standpoint I know of), people generally _should_ have moral principles, but different people should have different moral principles. Moral principles are a powerful tool for forming character, but phenotypic variation in character is expected, and *more* of it than presently exists (not less, as say the moralists) would be better at the margin for each person–but I wouldn’t predict what would be better for humanity. My immediate point is that people should search for the most useful moral code, not the truest; my ultimate point, that the problems of morality won’t be solved by applying standard of personal morality to society. ( http://tinyurl.com/7t3zrrl )

I just posted another essay in my morality series in my blog. (“What’s morality for?–Integrity versus conformity — http://preview.tinyurl.com/6mq74zp ) It’s clearer than what I’ve written here–only about 500 words.

Anyone wanting to continue the discussion of morality after Luke closes his blog in a few days is invited to use my blog in the comment section to any of the essays in the morality series. The comments need not pertain to my postings. (See link.)

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Stephen R. Diamond January 30, 2012 at 5:05 pm

Anyone wanting to continue the discussion of morality after Luke closes his blog in a few days is invited to use my blog in the comment section to any of the essays in the morality series. The comments need not pertain to my postings. (See link.)

For the entire morality series: http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/search/label/morality
All told, less than 3,000 words — whether I’m succinct or am superficial, you say.

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Besos January 31, 2012 at 5:34 pm

For the entire morality series: http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/search/label/moralityAll told, less than 3,000 words — whether I’m succinct or am superficial, you say.

OH YEAH, BABY! The convo continues!!! HOOT!

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cl February 4, 2012 at 11:34 am

Well, my new blog isn’t quite “officially” launched yet, but since CSA is about to close comments forever, I’ve created an “Open Thread” post for anyone who’d like to continue this discussion.

http://www.thewarfareismental.net/b/

nonchai,

Come on by and I’ll be more than happy to show you why I’m not sold on your rhetoric.

PDH,

I’m willing to drop arguing your “God can’t be a basis for morality” claim because I’m thoroughly convinced it’s false and it’s not that big of a deal anyway. At the end of the day, it strikes me as semantics. However, I’d be very interested in talking more about desirism, and especially your comment about continuing to eat meat simply because you don’t feel an emotional pull that it’s wrong. I think there is a wealth of potential discussion material in that line of reasoning.

drj,

Hope to see you around as well.

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