Criticism of Atheists

by Luke Muehlhauser on June 10, 2010 in Criticism of Atheists,Ethics,Guest Post

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

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“Thou shalt not criticize other atheists.”

There was a comment to this effect in a recent post. As written, it could be easily answered and then dismissed. The last thing we need is a bunch of atheists walking lock-step behind some atheist leader doing whatever he tells us to do without questioning our orders.

However, I see another layer to this debate in which the criticism not only makes sense, but it is almost certainly valid and applicable to me and my own writings.

If one takes seriously the claims that I have made in my postings, we can reasonably expect that atheists are propagandized so as to favor the criticism of other atheists over the criticism of theists. While we certainly do not want to abolish the criticism of other atheists, we probably overdo it.

My own writings recently have addressed the shortcomings of Sam Harris, Sean Carroll, and Pat Condell. While I am not about to “take back” any of the things that I have written, why have I written about them rather than the absurd and far worse claims of theists?

Perhaps my priorities are out of alignment, and I ought to adopt a new set of priorities.

First, a refresher on some of the relevant features of desirism. We’ve got desires being the only reasons for intentional action that exist. Desires provide those who have them with reasons to act so as to promote desires that tend to fulfill other desires and inhibit desires that tend to thwart other desires. These attitudes are most efficiently placed in the brains of children by subjecting them to praise and condemnation.

Also, I have written that the national motto, “In God We Trust” is a statement of praise for those who trust in God and a statement of condemnation for those who do not. The national pledge is a statement made in praise of those who support a nation ‘under God’ and a statement of condemnation for those who do not.

Their effect – indeed their purpose – is to use the power of praise and condemnation to mold the desires of children so they grow up to feel comfort – even pride – at trust in God or a nation under God, and to have a corresponding aversion to anything that goes against these values. There is nothing about being an atheist child that would make one immune from these effects on the sentiments.

What we can expect from this is that adult theists will feel more comfortable criticizing atheists than criticizing other theists – seeing atheism as un-American or even anti-American while theism in its various forms are not.

However, we can also expect adult atheists to feel more comfortable criticizing other atheists than criticizing theists. Given an opportunity to provide equally valid criticism of some theist and an atheist, the sentiments planted in our brains as a result of the praise and condemnation inherent in practices such as the national motto and the pledge tilts the balance in favor of sound criticism of atheists.

Consequently, those seeking an alliance in order to oppose something they can associate with atheism is likely to tap these emotions planted in us as children and be successful. While, at the same time, any attempt to organize atheists in opposition to such a plan is going to likely tap into the same planted emotions and result in a fair amount of internal criticism.

This is not to say that the criticisms made against other atheists are not valid. It says that of the huge stack of valid criticisms one can devote one’s time and energy to, one will find it more comfortable to make (valid) criticisms of other atheists than to make (valid) criticisms of theists. In fact, a theist’s greater evil will often be ignored in favor of an atheist’s lesser evil.

If this analysis is correct, it would suggest that, in acting to fulfill the most and strongest of my own desires, and having affections planted in me during childhood that makes me more comfortable criticizing atheists and theists, I am more likely to post a criticism of Harris or Carroll or Condell than to post a criticism of the claims or actions of some religious figure.

Even this post fits the model of being a criticism of other atheists rather than saying anything harsh against theists (other than to explain how theists use such things as the Pledge and the Motto to generate these results).

This argues that atheists’ desires in this respect are not what they should be. As a result of acquiring the wrong malleable desires, greater evils committed by theists are ignored (and, thus, allowed to continue) in favor of correcting smaller evils committed by atheists. Our acting so as to fulfill the most and strongest of our desires is not generating behavior that would be as good at fulfilling other desires as some alternative. The better alternative would be actions not governed by a learned discomfort at giving criticism of religion and a learned comfort at giving criticism of atheists.

The desirist remedy to the discovery that the desires we have are not the desires we should have takes many forms.

First, there is the project of correcting one’s own sentiments. This is best done by trying to act the way one would act if one had the better sentiments at their appropriate strength. The more one practices at acting as a good (better) person will act, the more comfortable one becomes with that sort of behavior.

Changing one’s own affections is not easy. It takes a lot of time and hard work – the more time and the more hard work the older one becomes. However, it can be done. Even if not entirely successful, smaller successes (weakening bad desires that are not eliminated or strengthening good desires some amount) still count as a positive result.

Nobody has the ability to act in a way contrary to fulfilling the most and strongest of their desires, given their beliefs. The motivation to act as if one has good desires has to come from somewhere. It cannot come from nothing.

One possible source of motivation is the recognition of the reasons why a good desire is good or a bad desire is bad. Recall that a good desire tends to fulfill other desires. One’s interest in having those desires fulfilled are often the source for motivating change not only in others through praise and condemnation, but also in oneself through self-improvement.

Another source of motivation can be a desire to be a better person or to do the right thing. An aversion to lying is not the same as an aversion to be a liar, but the latter aversion can provide an agent with motivation to acquire the former desire.

Any plan for self-improvement in an area such as this will be sabotaged by the number of people that praise bad desires and condemn good desires. The Pledge and the Motto are not going to disappear simply because one adopts a moral project of ridding oneself of their influences. A part of this project must include taking steps to inoculate oneself against the harmful effects of misapplied praise and condemnation.

Second, this calls for a project to put the tools of praise and condemnation to work to mold the desires of others.

It calls for praising those who accept the challenge of criticizing religion and holding them up as role-models. Of course, for this the critics should actually be role-models; not people who litter their claims with reckless, false, and illogical claims.

And it calls for some level of condemnation for those who give evidence through their actions that they are more comfortable criticizing other atheists than criticizing theists who do worse evils. When one person’s suicide bomb is placed against another person’s cartoon, there is reason to question the motives of the atheist who is more comfortable criticizing the drawer of the cartoon to the maker and user of the bomb.

There is always motivation to promote virtue and inhibit vice – provided by the desires that virtues tend to fulfill and those that vice tend to thwart. However, it requires knowing what the virtues (and vices) are, and why they are virtues (and vices), and then putting the tools of praise and condemnation to work to actually promote these virtues and inhibit these vices.

Third, and most important, it calls for taking steps to protect children from those forms of praise and condemnation that are planting these inappropriate sentiments in the brains of a new generation.

Rituals and traditions such as the Pledge and Motto will continue to do their job of helping to unify those who favor theocracy and disunify those who oppose theocracy for as long as they are allowed to exist. They will continue to feed the practice of theists uniting in the criticism of atheists, and atheists disuniting in the criticism of each other. If one wishes to stop this condition and its effects, then it would be useful if one started to attack it at its roots – at the praise and condemnation that is planting these inappropriate sentiments in the brains of young children.

These are some of the implications of desirism. If we found atheists easily uniting against these childhood practices of praise and condemnation while theists attacked each other over the best way to implement these policies, we would have reason to question the usefulness of the system. However, we at least do not seem to be witnessing those types of effects. We see the effects that desirism predicts.

Unfortunately, one of these effects is that atheists will feel more comfortable criticizing other atheists than criticizing theists. It is a comfortable way of proceeding that one can change only with some hard work – a determined effort to do more of something one has been made to be uncomfortable doing.

Thus, it makes sense to say to some atheist writers, “You spend too much of your time criticizing other atheists.”

- Alonzo Fyfe

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{ 82 comments… read them below or add one }

MathAtheist June 10, 2010 at 7:00 am

Hi!

Not to derail the discussion, but I have a question about desirism itself. I posted my question earlier as a comment to Luke’s book but got no reply.

The question is this – can morality in principle be reduced to desires? Is it not true, that the same desire can lead to wildly different results, depending on other desires, beliefs and circumstances?

Take rape, for example. I would not argue that there are no sadistically inclined rapists, desiring to rape. However, it seems much rape is committed out of a simple desire for sexual gratification. Does that lead us to conclude, that desire for sexual gratification is bad, or are we now unable to condemn this kind of rape?

To make matters worse, what about desires such as the desire to belong to one’s group or the desire to do what’s right? Don’t these desires lead to both the most moral as well as the most heinous of acts?

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Paul June 10, 2010 at 7:23 am

“Does that lead us to conclude, that desire for sexual gratification is bad, or are we now unable to condemn this kind of rape?”

This is a non-sequitur.

For sake of discussion, the desire for sexual gratification is neither bad nor good.

Actually raping someone however, is an act of violence and by definition thwarts the victims desires. If the rapists is acting out of simple desire for sexual gratification (honestly I don’t understand this, but for sake of discussion will assume valid) then the rapist should have masturbated instead. Same end result – the satisfaction of the sexual desire. With the benefit that there are no victims – thus no desires thwarted.

Though my response may be rough around the edges I think it does articulate how desires could be maximized given the scenario.

Note – I do not speak for Alonzo Fyfe.

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MathAtheist June 10, 2010 at 7:43 am

“For sake of discussion, the desire for sexual gratification is neither bad nor good.

Actually raping someone however, is an act of violence and by definition thwarts the victims desires.”

Right, and that was exactly my point!

I guess I’m objecting to a different part of the theory than you had in mind. As Alonzo Fyfe has presented it, desire utilitarianism (desirism) is to be contrasted to act utilitarianism. Where in act utilitarianism one aims to assess the value of actions (what you did in your comment), in desire utilitarianism one assesses the value of desires.

As Luke put it in his ebook:
“In fact, the evaluation of moral claims always starts with the evaluation of desires. We do not start by evaluating actions or laws or ideas, but desires – for desires are the source of all moral value, the only reasons for action that exist.”

As to what was said in your comment, I completely agree.

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Erika June 10, 2010 at 9:19 am

in desire utilitarianism one assesses the value of desires.

But it does not follow that, therefore, every desire can be simply categorized as bad or good. They must be evaluated based on how they thwart or aid other desires. In fact, I would go so far as to say no desire can, in isolation, be declared bad or good under desirism. It can only be assessed as part of a larger set of desires.

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Erika June 10, 2010 at 9:22 am

Also, thanks for another thought provoking essay. I especially like this point.

This is not to say that the criticisms made against other atheists are not valid. It says that of the huge stack of valid criticisms one can devote one’s time and energy to, one will find it more comfortable to make (valid) criticisms of other atheists than to make (valid) criticisms of theists. In fact, a theist’s greater evil will often be ignored in favor of an atheist’s lesser evil.

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Paul June 10, 2010 at 9:22 am

I was not trying to assess the value of the action. Or at least I don’t think I am.

Given that I am still trying to sort out my views – at the moment I say a desire in and of itself is neither moral nor amoral. Actually I prefer to not talk in terms of morality at all.

One of my (tentative) axioms; if you will, is that person P1 having a desire for X and a person P2 having a desire that P1 not desire X is invalid if X is inconsequential to the other desires of P2. P2 is “thwarting” P1′s desire. P1′s desire for X -per the axiom- has no effect on P2′s desires.

As analogy if P1 wants to get a tattoo, then P2′s desire that P1 not get a tattoo is not a valid part of the equation. P2 has no meaningful basis for asserting his/hers desire on p1. This is a bit simplified. But I hope you get the point.

I say there is nothing wrong with someone having sexual desires. This desire alone does not in any meaningful way thwart the desires of others.

For a would be rapist I don’t know how the desires get reduced to a single desire. The desire for sexual gratification. Yes that is one of the desire but there is also -by definition- a desire for violence. Do you disagree with this? I failed to establish this in my previous post.

Violence would be desire thwarting would it not?

Now say I was the potential victim of this would be rapist. Do I have reasons to thwart his desires. I sure do, I desire to not be raped. And I will act accordingly. I don’t think I am assigning value to the act itself. I might be assigning value to the result.

Where perhaps I can run into some issues – is that I am do not ascribe to an ends-justify the means.

from the quote your provide of Luke’s ebook
“for desires are the source of all moral value, the only reasons for action that exist”

With the latter part of this I agree with Luke. Desires are the only reasons for actions that exist. To be otherwise is incoherent. Whether they are the source of all moral value, I don’t know. As previously stated I think morality as traditionally viewed need not be part of the equation at all.

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Cyril June 10, 2010 at 10:22 am

“For a would be rapist I don’t know how the desires get reduced to a single desire.”

I don’t know that you need to: two desires will do just fine.

For the hypothetical I understand you to have in mind, the would-be rapist has not a desire to rape but a desire for sexual satisfaction, and this leads them to rape.

The desiristic reply would be that we should use praise and condemnation based on his LACK of a desire NOT to rape. A desire to rape is a vice, and as such not having it is condemnable.

Also, I would have to question the intelligence of someone who thinks that the easiest way to get sexual release would be rape. Even barring “one-man techniques” as it were, even finding a floozy at a bar would be morally preferable (and probably a lot easier) than rape.

Those are just some thoughts.

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Paul June 10, 2010 at 11:17 am

Cyril -

“For the hypothetical I understand you to have in mind, the would-be rapist has not a desire to rape but a desire for sexual satisfaction, and this leads them to rape.”

I don’t follow how a single desire for sexual satisfaction would lead to rape. There are many ways in which this desire might be satisfied. Something *else* has to be the impetus (reason for action?) to lead to rape. That something *else* is a distinct and separate from the desire for sexual satisfaction and is itself a desire.

Aside that – thankfully I don’t any rapist. So I am not sure I am on firm ground that sexual satisfaction is a significant factor in the act of rape. Speaking only in hypothetical.

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Paul June 10, 2010 at 11:20 am

“Aside that – thankfully I don’t any rapist”

should have read

“Aside that – thankfully I don’t know any rapist”

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Jeff H June 10, 2010 at 11:31 am

I find this post a bit absurd. Why should I care whether my criticism goes toward theists or atheists? As far as I’m concerned, my criticism is directed toward people that are wrong (or that I believe to be wrong, I suppose). Period. End of story. It doesn’t matter whether they’re “on my side” or not – it only matters if they are speaking the truth or not. If they’re not, I’ll call them on it. And if I’m not, then I expect someone (theist or atheist) to call me on it.

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godless randall June 10, 2010 at 1:06 pm

thumbs up Jeff H. this post was a bunch of team politics bullshit not too mention way too long. we should criticize other atheists for lots of reasons. too many half wit atheists give the rest a bad name. too many atheists tolerate crap they crucify theists for, just because its from other atheist. here its no exception. there are plenty of atheists on this site who could use a good smackdown from the rest. we should serve it to them just like we serve it to anyone else wrong

fuck politics, and fuck atheist team politics even more

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Cory June 10, 2010 at 1:49 pm

@Jeff and Godless

I think the point is not whether we should intentionally cover up or ignore any errors by atheists. Rather, the question is one of where we direct our efforts. Are you seriously trying to say that you are actively criticizing *everyone* proportionally to their record of error? Obviously, that’s impossible. The question is that of who you are going to chase.

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Ben June 10, 2010 at 2:21 pm

There seems to be plenty of time in the day to bring the criticism all the way around. It’s not like we should only focus on the worst at the expense of every other level. We have to deal with it all in some way. And openly criticizing your own side breaks up group think and defuses some of the tension between atheists and Christians like nothing else can. If we want to get to their logical minds, we have to get passed their prejudices first. So criticizing atheists serves many ends.

Plus, so many atheists spend so much time only criticizing Christians that even if a few atheists devote all their time to cleaning our own house, the desirism calculation probably works out in their favor on balance. I honestly don’t see how we could hope to over-do it even if we really tried since there is such a strong trend towards anti-Christian only criticism. And pretending like every criticism matters as though if we don’t make every single one this minute the bad behavior will continue is a way overblown sentiment. Words don’t stop bullets or behaviors. It’s only influence. And we also have individual lives to live that will not be absolutely devoted to the world’s worst problems 24-7. Those lives demand variety on personal terms for the sake of sanity and having a life worth living in the first place.

I like your theory, Alonzo, but your calculations always seem pretty far off to me.

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MathAtheist June 10, 2010 at 3:21 pm

Paul -

“For a would be rapist I don’t know how the desires get reduced to a single desire. The desire for sexual gratification. Yes that is one of the desire but there is also -by definition- a desire for violence. Do you disagree with this?”

I don’t see that there has to be. For some, violence might be just a means to an end. Also, the rapist might even have a desire not to be punished (or not to rape) stronger than the desire for sexual gratification, however, he might believe that his actions do not constitute rape.

It seems absolutely plausible to me that two persons with the same desires could act differently in the same situation, only their beliefs being different. I don’t know if rape was the best example for what I wanted to say. I just used it as an example of something obviously-morally-evil. Perhaps, the desire for wealth and its possible consequences would had made a better example.

The point I was trying to make is that it is not always possible to judge isolated (or even sets of) desires as good or bad. We are actually in agreement on this point, as far as I can tell. From what I’ve read, I understand Luke and Alonso hold that desires are to be judged good or bad and everything else has to follow from that. (Maybe one of them could dispel this?)

“I was not trying to assess the value of the action. Or at least I don’t think I am.”

I was alluding to you saying “raping someone (..) thwarts the victims desires”. I agree that this is not a value statement. Because on desirism negative value is assigned to thwarting desires I assumed you did here too.

“I don’t think I am assigning value to the act itself. I might be assigning value to the result.”

I would think that that is the meaning of “assigning value to the action” in context of utilitarianism. Since you judge something by its utility, it is always the utility of the result you are talking about. On this view “X has good consequences” implies “X is good”. Substitute “this action” or “that desire” for X. Again, I don’t think we disagree on any of this in practice.

“With the latter part of this I agree with Luke. Desires are the only reasons for actions that exist. To be otherwise is incoherent.”

I did not want to jump ahead, while the previous question is still open, but for us to have something to disagree about too, I’d might as well comment on it. I mean, the statement “desires are reasons for actions” seems true as does the statement “whenever somebody acts, he has a desire to act so”. On the other hand, I do not think “desires are the only reasons for actions” follows.

Let me illustrate. Suppose I desire something I believe I can not get. Naturally, I do not act upon this desire. Now, if I’d somehow find a way to get it, I could act upon this desire. My desire(s) would have not changed at all, only my beliefs. Aren’t we justified to say then, that a change in beliefs can also be a reason for action?

The analogy I’d use here is to a man falling from a broken chair. One may justifiably say, that the reason for the man falling is gravity. If you want to say, that the only reason for the man falling is gravity, however, you have to explain why the man did not fall before the chair broke.

P.S. Sorry for the (very) long rant. :)

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MathAtheist June 10, 2010 at 3:42 pm

Erika –

“But it does not follow that, therefore, every desire can be simply categorized as bad or good. They must be evaluated based on how they thwart or aid other desires.”

But this evaluation is only the mechanics of how we assign value to desires. I contend, that it must be impossible in reality to assign moral value to (some) desires in such a way that moral actions could be distinguished from neutral or immoral ones by distinguishing the desires that can lead to those actions. I believe that, as a minimum, the beliefs of the actors have to be considered as well.

Cyril –

“The desiristic reply would be that we should use praise and condemnation based on his LACK of a desire NOT to rape. A desire to rape is a vice, and as such not having it is condemnable.”

What if the rapist does actually have a strong desire not to rape (if there can be such desires at all), but believes whatever he is doing not to be rape? We all imagine the rapist in the dark alley when talking about rape, while most rape occurs between acquaintances or spouses. A husband might rape his wife feeling entitled to intercourse, for example.

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cl June 10, 2010 at 3:53 pm

…and today’s voice of reason to the atheist flock comes from Ben:

…openly criticizing your own side breaks up group think and defuses some of the tension between atheists and Christians like nothing else can.

In my opinion, Luke’s great at criticizing atheist nonsense, when it comes from atheists not on his site. OTOH, I think Luke badly needs to crack the whip on the atheist hate and group think that’s getting worse around here. IMO, this was far less of a problem when this blog was far less popular. The only reason I keep coming back is because of the handful of people who really are taking the time to say some great things. The rest of it is group think and haterism posing as rationalism, as far as I’m concerned. That, and this site gave two of my computers cooties. Hmph.

As far as desirism goes… I’m discouraged to see the same ol’ merry-go-round gearing up again. I see little value in raising new arguments while so many old arguments rage on.

Alonzo,

When you get the time, can you explain how you justify your position on pederasty in light of the desirist principles you espouse? You argued that the Greeks were “probably wrong” but offered no support other than a vague allusion to unspecified venereal diseases that would seem to incriminate all forms of sex.

I refer any interested party to my comments in Draw Mohammed for the full transcript of my objection to Alonzo in this regard.

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Jeff H June 10, 2010 at 4:07 pm

I think the point is not whether we should intentionally cover up or ignore any errors by atheists. Rather, the question is one of where we direct our efforts. Are you seriously trying to say that you are actively criticizing *everyone* proportionally to their record of error? Obviously, that’s impossible. The question is that of who you are going to chase.

Well, that’s fair enough. But at the same time, bad atheist arguments make it really, really, really easy for Christians to dismiss atheism as a whole. If we can correct ourselves and refine our arguments, it makes it much more difficult for them to brush them off.

But like Ben said, we need to deal with all issues. We can’t get together in one big atheist meeting and decide what the ultimate worst argument is and then spend all our time criticizing that. There has to be a balance, and it tends to work best if people criticize the issue(s) that they are most passionate about. That’s why Thunderfoot (until recently) spent most of his time debating creationists, and why Hitchens loves criticizing the Pope, and why Alonzo can’t get off his childhood trauma about being forced to say the pledge of allegiance. If we specialize in the areas in which we’re interested, there’s a greater benefit…except that we all get more jaded and cynical in the process, I suppose :P

Anyway, I do see your point, however. Don’t sweat the small stuff until the big, scary, dangerous stuff is out of the way. Fair enough.

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Hitch June 10, 2010 at 6:21 pm

There is lots to discuss. I have no issue with disagreement. There is some discussion that is futile and pointless, basically sniping and bad-mouthing. There the best is to detect it and leave it. And if there is an interesting core despite all the other crap, steer it back to the core.

I must say i had a lot of discussion around DMD, simply because I was stunned how many atheists misconstrued the issue and felt inclined to attack atheists often quite unfairly over it. Then again there was also fair stuff to charge. But because there was a nugget of value there that was too important to let wash down by the sniping I was quite happy to hold against that but always bring it back to the point that there actually was.

But I have also learned that there are some who call themselves atheists who really are friendly of religion and mostly attack atheists to make them look unreasonable. I am compelled to challenge that when I see it, because atheism has a bad image as it is. It doesn’t need people to paint it undeservingly worse than the facts warrant.

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cl June 10, 2010 at 6:37 pm

Hitch,

There is some discussion that is futile and pointless, basically sniping and bad-mouthing. There the best is to detect it and leave it.

I wholeheartedly agree.

…there are some who call themselves atheists who really are friendly of religion and mostly attack atheists to make them look unreasonable.

I’m just curious: it sounds like you’re implying that one can’t be an atheist while being friendly of religion. If so, is there any reason an atheist can’t be friendly of religion, and what exactly does “friendly of religion” entail, anyways?

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JS Allen June 10, 2010 at 7:01 pm

This is an astonishingly dim-witted analysis. Isn’t it better to shore up your own troops and eliminate any on your own side who “litter their claims with reckless, false, and illogical claims”? Isn’t it better to let your opponents be discredited by such morons, and even encourage that behavior?

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Hitch June 10, 2010 at 7:07 pm

cl: “I’m just curious: it sounds like you’re implying that one can’t be an atheist while being friendly of religion. If so, is there any reason an atheist can’t be friendly of religion, and what exactly does “friendly of religion” entail, anyways?”

Let me clarify. I’m not saying at all that one cannot be friendly towards religion or religious people. In fact I am. What I mean is that there are some folks who claim to be atheists but do nothing but criticize atheists and defend religions often by misconstruing what the atheists meant to make them look worse and anti-religious. This is a different thing, because only religion deserves defense or fair consideration while atheism can be negatively stereotyped.

I was somewhat inarticulate I realize.

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AlonzoFyfe June 10, 2010 at 7:21 pm

I am wondering if those who are criticizing this article might want to consider responding to what I actually wrote.

Something tells me that a good many people read just the first sentence and wrote a comment.

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JS Allen June 10, 2010 at 8:05 pm

@AlonzoFyfe – I read the whole thing through, and some parts more than once, before criticizing it. Your articulation in your book of the basic principles of desirism is common-sense, but your application of the principles in this case seems utterly inept.

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AlonzoFyfe June 10, 2010 at 8:44 pm

JS Allen

Then where did you get the idea that I condemned all criticism of atheists? That was the opening statement, but an option I immediately rejected.

What I did argue, however, is that we live in a culture in which atheists are subject to more criticism than they deserve – by theists and other atheists – while theists get off easy – again by other theists and atheists.

If, to a large degree, people encounter a large number of criticisms of atheism and few criticisms of theism, then they can be excused if they adopt the conclusion that theism is the better option.

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cl June 10, 2010 at 8:59 pm

Hitch,

Hey, no problem. Thanks for helping me out.

Alonzo,

IMHO, JS Allen has already offered you some strong criticisms that are worth addressing, and it seems to me it would behoove you to reply to them:

Isn’t it better to shore up your own troops and eliminate any on your own side who “litter their claims with reckless, false, and illogical claims”? Isn’t it better to let your opponents be discredited by such morons, and even encourage that behavior? (JS Allen)

Also, I await your closing thoughts on the pederasty and smoking issues I raised in response to your “eating bacon” analogy in the Draw Mohammed post.

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JS Allen June 10, 2010 at 9:22 pm


Then where did you get the idea that I condemned all criticism of atheists

I never said any such thing. Where did you get the idea that I got that idea?


[emphasis added] What I did argue, however, is that we live in a culture in which atheists are subject to more criticism than they deserve – by theists and other atheists – while theists get off easy – again by other theists and atheists

Since when did desirism become some peevish whining about “fairness” regarding who gets or “deserves” criticism? I thought that desirism was about what would be most effective. In this passage, you sound like Milton stammering about his red swingline stapler in “Office Space”:

“Mmm-but the atheists get criticized mm-more. It’s not fair! I could put strychnine in the coffee!”

As I explained, it’s far more effective to maintain rigor in your own camp, and encourage the enemy to be given over to corruption. You seem incapable of digesting this pearl, let alone turning it to use against me.


If, to a large degree, people encounter a large number of criticisms of atheism and few criticisms of theism, then they can be excused if they adopt the conclusion that theism is the better option.

I see. People tally up the raw numeric count of criticisms and form their beliefs from the tally. Given this equation, you should be a rabid theist by now, since you were frequently criticized by theists as a kid. What went wrong?

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cl June 10, 2010 at 9:42 pm

JS Allen,

I’m fascinated by the apparent differences in our experiences. The way I see it,

1) atheists generally get off easy from other atheists and theists;

2) theists generally get more criticism than they deserve from atheists and other theists outside their own faith; and

3) theists generally get off easy from other theists inside their own faith.

Re 1, one reason I say this is because the atheist position is generally portrayed as more intelligent. Therefore, I see a tendency amongst lower-level debaters to “simply accept” sloppy atheist arguments based on this portrayal of intelligence and rationalism.

Re 2, when I say theists get more criticism than they deserve, by no means do I imply that society should look the other way when theists overstep their bounds. I mean to say that in my experience, atheist criticism of theists is grossly disproportional with atheist criticism of atheists.

Re 3, I’m saying that in my experience, theists of one faith criticizing theists of another is grossly disproportional with theists of one faith criticizing theists of the same faith.

At any rate, I like what you have to say in this thread and I think your replies to Alonzo are cogent.

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Charles June 10, 2010 at 10:12 pm

These attitudes are most efficiently placed in the brains of children by subjecting them to praise and condemnation.

Alonzo,

Just because a thing is ‘efficient’ doesn’t make it is ‘right’, or even ‘better’. You may want to check into the works of Alfie Kohn and other writers. Praise and condemnation are blunt instruments. There are better ways.

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cl June 10, 2010 at 10:44 pm

Charles,

Just because a thing is ‘efficient’ doesn’t make it is ‘right’, or even ‘better’. (to Alonzo)

FWIW, I agree completely. Among others, I have attempted to express precisely that fact to Alonzo quite a few times now. After months of hearing his arguments, I still maintain that a significant part of the problem is due to his definition of a good desire as one that tends to fulfill other desires. That a desire tends to fulfill other desires says nothing about its moral value. That’s exactly what the various iterations of the Nazi example illustrate IMO, especially Cartesian’s version. Soon I’ll catalog a list of valid examples.

A while back I made a rudimentary effort at devising a theorem to test the desirist’s claims against our moral intuitions. In the first two runs, things went according to plan and desirism seemed to hold up. However, one case seemed to flagrantly violate our moral intuitions [by our there, I allude to the average individual who values work, happiness, pleasure and family]. From that case:

If we were to add all these up, we’d get 0/21, for the desire to read books. This time, I’d say we definitely have an instance where the numbers strongly disagree with our moral intuitions. Would anyone really say that the desire to read books is “more bad” than the desire to shoot heroin?

My immediate reaction to what I’ve done here is, “so what?” All it seems I’ve done is to propose a method that lends itself to pragmatic decision-making. This is precisely why desirism’s definition of “good” needs adjustment, IMO [at least its prescriptive definition].

That a particular desire tends to fulfill more than thwart the balance of affected desires is only an indicator of its pragmatic value. In today’s examples, I would object to the conferring of “moral good” upon a particular desire simply because it tends to fulfill more than thwart the balance of affected desires. Similarly, I object to the conferring of “moral bad” upon a particular desire simply because it tends to thwart more than fulfill the balance of affected desires.

I should note that all three runs were single-agent evaluations. I’m still getting around to the multiple-agent evaluations. I’m interested to see how they’ll go, too.

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JS Allen June 10, 2010 at 11:05 pm

@cl – I don’t think our experiences are all that different. I would agree with your assertions #1 and #2, although I am very uncomfortable with vague statements like “get off easy”, or “more criticism than they deserve”. I don’t buy #3, but that could just be me.

Regardless, I don’t think it’s necessary to appeal to our shared experiences to refute Alonzo Fyfe’s specific application of desirism. The idea that desirists should calculate a mental arithmetic of “criticizing atheists” vs. “criticizing theists” is absurd on its face.

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cl June 10, 2010 at 11:12 pm

JS Allen,

I am very uncomfortable with vague statements like “get off easy”, or “more criticism than they deserve”.

Agreed. I was simply using the words you added emphasis to, which were Fyfe’s, if I remember correctly.

I don’t think it’s necessary to appeal to our shared experiences to refute Alonzo Fyfe’s specific application of desirism. The idea that desirists should calculate a mental arithmetic of “criticizing atheists” vs. “criticizing theists” is absurd on its face.

Agreed again. I think this criticism is strengthened by the fact that other people came to this conclusion, too. For example, Jeff H began his first comment with,

I find this post a bit absurd. Why should I care whether my criticism goes toward theists or atheists?

Another commenter, godless randall, seemed to agree.

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Ben June 10, 2010 at 11:20 pm

Cl,

“If we were to add all these up, we’d get 0/21, for the desire to read books. This time, I’d say we definitely have an instance where the numbers strongly disagree with our moral intuitions. Would anyone really say that the desire to read books is “more bad” than the desire to shoot heroin?”

Are you serious? Perhaps I’m misunderstanding, but you can’t even find one other desire that reading books contributes to? All you have to do is ask a person why they read, and they may well rattle off a list of perks. Education, pleasure, to settle down for the evening, to have something in common with someone else, etc. Your analysis is very peculiar and I wonder what standard for moral good you do set.

Ben

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JS Allen June 10, 2010 at 11:40 pm

@Ben – Have you ever injected heroin or smoked opium? I think not. The idea that someone experienced in opium ingestion would conclude that his friends’ highest pleasure would be in book-reading, is farcical in the extreme.

http://www.hedweb.com/hedethic/hedonist.htm

Alonzo isn’t even coherent enough to call for the storming of heaven: http://www.stormingheaven.com/

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cl June 10, 2010 at 11:52 pm

Ben,

Howdy.

Did you read the linked post? Did you notice my note in my last comment in this thread, that my evaluations were single-agent evaluations, and that multiple-agent evaluations would be forthcoming? I ask not to be pesky, but because it seems like you’re criticizing me for not making multiple-agent evaluations when I haven’t put the theorem to that test yet. The reasons I began with single-agent evaluations are:

1) such made it much easier to keep things simple, and

2) I believe that any true moral theory should apply whether we’re considering an isolated individual or a group.

Your analysis is very peculiar and I wonder what standard for moral good you do set.

I simply used Fyfe’s definition of good as tends to fulfill other desires. I agree that the outcome was peculiar. I argue that such is indicative of a shortcoming with Fyfe’s definition of good, and not my theorem, but if you disagree I’d be interested in hearing why.

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JS Allen June 10, 2010 at 11:52 pm

@Ben – Have you ever injected heroin or smoked opium? I think not. The idea that you would place “reading a book” higher on the hedonic chain is farcical in the extreme.

http://www.hedweb.com/hedethic/hedonist.htm

http://www.stormingheaven.com/

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Ben June 11, 2010 at 12:28 am

Hello cl,

Yes, the problem with your theorem is that your examples A-F applied to reading books does not take into account desires with known association to reading (like the examples I gave before). In other words, each item needs to be a nested hierarchy of related desires that we happen to know actually have a specific impact one way or the other on other desires. Not just random ones.

If reading contributes to your mental health in general, and enables you to have greater satisfaction in life all the way around (like someone might say that if they don’t sit down and “get away” everything else is more inhibited) then obviously that is going to factor well in the desirism calculus and correspond with our intuitions. Your examples are just too sporatic and hodge podge to even matter.

What in the world could be calibrating our intuitions in the first place? Desirism is the thing that explains what our intuitions are generally attempting to do in principle, and then allows us to break that down intellectually and cross check those heuristical conclusions, since our direct experiences (rather than intellectual knowledge) may well be inundated with historical systemic bias.

Otherwise, honestly, if reading doesn’t do anything in any way shape or form, WHY WOULD WE GIVE A SHIT ABOUT IT? If it’s not contributing to our lives… Either our intutions are going off of SOMETHING or why are we even taking them seriously at all? Why should we check desirism or any other moral theory with them? Cuz apparently they don’t seem to know anyhthing that corresponds to a reality we care about.

You just can’t kick the wall of desirism down. It’s just as tall when it’s on its side.

Ben

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Zeb June 11, 2010 at 4:33 am

I have to agree with Along on the point that atheists in America get harsher criticism than religious folk. Sure religious folk get more criticism because for a variety of reasons we spend more time criticising each other plus we take it from secularists. But at the end of the day most religionists will conclude something like, “His beliefs may ne wacky, nut at least us believes something.” Witness the treatment of Mitt Romney in the 2008 primary.

On the other hand I think a self critical bias is a virtue. In general I am much more anxious to correct the errors of fellow Christians, especially Catholics, than of atheists. For one, I assume my criticisms are more likely to be valued and fully considered. Second, my position is more likely to be considered by opponents if there are fewer people out there representing it poorly.

However I disagree with the basic assumption of the post, that atheists should or properly can be treated as a group. They share no characteristic by definition. The only thing they have in common is one belief that they don’t have, and I have never seen Alonzo criticize that. He has criticized irrationality and bigotry, and it’s odd to find people here complaining about that. Is rationality and bigotry when practiced by theists necessarily worse than when practiced by atheists?

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Alonzo Fyfe June 11, 2010 at 6:26 am

In looking through the criticisms of my post, I see a lot of heat, but not very much light.

I’ll start off by repeating a few points that many commenters seem to have skimmed over.

I am not defending a moral prohibition on criticizing atheists. I am not saying that it is a bad thing to make valid criticisms of other atheists or that faults, fallacies, and errors should simply be ignored – that we should simply turn a blind eye to such things.

What I am saying is that if one is going to criticize faults, fallacies, and errors, why give so much of one’s attention to the faults, fallacies, and errors of atheists and so little to the fults, fallacies, and errors of theists?

I suggest that this is due to a learned aversion to criticizing theists and a learned affection for criticizing atheists that is being taught to young children and continues to have an effect on adult behavior.

One person commented that there are costs associated with using flawed criticisms against relevant aspects of religious beliefs and, as a result, there is reason to criticize the flawed arguments and replace them with better arguments.

Yet, this assumes that the better arguments will actually get used. It is a different matter to float from flawed argument of an atheist to flawed argument of an atheist without ever getting around to the project of presenting sound criticism of theists.

The fact of ideas is such that one could adopt a permanent task of criticizing atheists – because one can always find an atheist making a mistake to be criticized. And, thus, potentially leave all of theism unmarred by any objection.

Or one could go the other way – critizing only theists and ignoring all of the mistakes of atheists. This would not have any merit either.

A better balance would be somewhere between these two extremes, the question then being: On which side of that better balance are we?

I argue here that the social forces are such that the balance is on the side of too much criticism of atheists and too little criticism of theists – even among atheists. So, a better balance can be found.

The one comment that that front-running political candidates can assert that only theists are fit to hold public office, that most voters would never vote for an atheist candidate, and that a substantial portion of Americans see atheists as the group that least share American values.

These opinions are learned, and the fact that they are being learned suggests that we live in a society where criticism of atheists is so prevalent that the claims are taken for granted – as are opinions on the virtues of theism.

If this is the tilt of public opinion, then it seems that the tilt of the socially responsible critic would aim to correct this imbalance. Not contribute to it.

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JS Allen June 11, 2010 at 7:14 am

Alonzo, you are either lying or deluded.

There are 38 comments here, and not a single one accuses you of “condemning all criticism of atheists”. You’ve raised that straw man twice, perhaps because you’re incapable of responding to the actual criticisms.

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Zeb June 11, 2010 at 7:31 am

I argue here that the social forces are such that the balance is on the side of too much criticism of atheists and too little criticism of theists – even among atheists.

[emphasis added]

You have not presented any argument that atheists are more apt to criticize atheists than theists. You have presented an explanation of why it would be the case if it is.

Clinical study is the only way I can think of to find out whether atheists are more apt to criticize atheists than theists. My experience is strongly the opposite, but I have not spent much time observing atheist commentary on the atheists and theists, so I make no claim either way. I can say that the weakness of popular atheist argument and the unwillingness of some atheists to be self critical led to me to believe that atheism was intellectually impoverished until I found this blog. After the New Atheists got big I figured that must be the best atheism had to offer, and their arguments were so bad and so blind that I felt more confirmed in my theism. Admittedly I had never investigated the high level arguments on either side. Luke’s criticism of bad anti-theist arguments and praise for good (though unconvincing) theist arguments made me realize that I have a lot more thinking and learning to do on this subject.

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noen June 11, 2010 at 7:41 am

Well, desirism is and always will be incoherent because, of course, desires are not objective things, they are subjective states of mind.

Let us say I construct a perfect replica of you, a robot with nothing but switches and relays inside. Then let us take the people of China, or however many people it takes, and we give them a radio transmitter and a set of rules. These rules follow a functionalist flowchart that perfectly simulates your brain. The way it looks to any Chinese operator is he receives some input, he refers to his flowchart, the flowchart says “on input S1 go into state S4.”

Let us call this robot Blockhead.

As far as we can tell Blockhead acts exactly like you would act. If I walk up to you and I ask “Hello! Did you remember to do that thing I asked you to do yesterday?” You’ll say “Why yes! Yes I did.” Now if I approach Blockhead and I ask him “Hello! Did you remember to do that thing I asked you to do yesterday?” He will say the same thing.

But Blockhead couldn’t remember doing that thing for me yesterday. He didn’t exist yesterday and he doesn’t have any memories anyways. So the question naturally arises:

Does Blockhead have desires?

No, Blockhead can’t have any desires. He’s just a bunch of switches and relays.

Does the Nation of China have desires?

No, don’t be absurd. Corporations and Universities and Nations don’t have desires. Even though we sometimes talk that way, that’s just a manner of speaking.

Does the Functionalist flowchart have desires?

No, the flowchart is purely syntactic. Desires are semantic and syntax is insufficient for semantics.

Desirism’s claim that desires have objective ontological status must be false.

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noen June 11, 2010 at 7:41 am

Oh… and by the way kiddies… rape is never about sex.

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Alonzo Fyfe June 11, 2010 at 7:53 am

JS Allen

Consider this objection:

And openly criticizing your own side breaks up group think and defuses some of the tension between atheists and Christians like nothing else can. If we want to get to their logical minds, we have to get passed their prejudices first. So criticizing atheists serves many ends.

This post only makes sense if it is taken as a response to the claim, “do not criticize atheists.”

I am aware of all of this. I read this and shrug and have to ask myself, “What does this have to do with my post? Did I SAY somewhere that no benefit comes from criticizing atheists? Did I SAY that it does not serve any ends?”

Or the comment:

But like Ben said, we need to deal with all issues. We can’t get together in one big atheist meeting and decide what the ultimate worst argument is and then spend all our time criticizing that. There has to be a balance, and it tends to work best if people criticize the issue(s) that they are most passionate about.

Which I could have written. It seems to be a restatement of what I had put in my post. Only the author seems to be making this claim as a criticism of what I wrote – a position that only makes sense if I am interpreted as having suggested big atheist meeting and decide what the ultimate worst argument is and then spend all our time criticizing that.

For which, the suggestion that we spend all the time on this one argument would imply spending no time criticizing other atheists.

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JS Allen June 11, 2010 at 8:23 am

@AlonzoFyfe

This post only makes sense if it is taken as a response to the claim, “do not criticize atheists.”

No it doesn’t. It also makes sense as a response to the claim that “the status quo is imbalanced”, or as a response to the claim that “we should criticize atheists relatively less than we already do”.

Which I could have written. It seems to be a restatement of what I had put in my post. Only the author seems to be making this claim as a criticism of what I wrote – a position that only makes sense if I am interpreted as having suggested big atheist meeting and decide what the ultimate worst argument is and then spend all our time criticizing that.

Again, you seem to have a problem with reading comprehension. The author of that post is defending status quo in the name of “balance”. You yourself are arguing against the status quo in the name of “balance”. That should only demonstrate how stupid it is to base a supposedly objective moral system on “balance”, “fairness”, or any of the other absurd defenses you’ve given for this absurd post.

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JS Allen June 11, 2010 at 8:37 am

@Alonzo – And you continue to ignore my criticism of the original post. It’s the very least of the problems with your application of desirism, BTW. You start with a fairly clear-headed conception of humanist morality in the form of “desirism”, and then arrive at an utterly nonsensical conclusion.

Consider the possibility that you might be a danger to yourself and to atheists.

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noen June 11, 2010 at 8:39 am

Ya know, some desires should be thwarted.

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cl June 11, 2010 at 8:56 am

Ben,

Yes, the problem with your theorem is that your examples A-F applied to reading books does not take into account desires with known association to reading (like the examples I gave before).

For one, that wouldn’t be a problem with the theorem. It would be problem with one or more particular test runs thereof. Second, the example I allude to does take into account desires with known association to reading. If I’m missing something, can you clarify?

If reading contributes to your mental health in general, and enables you to have greater satisfaction in life all the way around (like someone might say that if they don’t sit down and “get away” everything else is more inhibited) then obviously that is going to factor well in the desirism calculus and correspond with our intuitions.

I agree. That’s exactly what I did: evaluate the worth of reading, given the agent’s associated desires.

Desirism is the thing that explains what our intuitions are generally attempting to do in principle, and then allows us to break that down intellectually and cross check those heuristical conclusions, since our direct experiences (rather than intellectual knowledge) may well be inundated with historical systemic bias.

Again, I agree. My theorem is just an extension of that. It attempts to quantify what you describe in order to get away from the philosophical masturbation that so many of its proponents seem to have a fetish for. It’s an objective theory, then let’s quantify this stuff and start settling some arguments. You’re free to think what you want about my theorem of course, but the way I see it, at least I’m actually trying to take this thing to the next level. If you ask me, most everyone else is jerking off with words.

Otherwise, honestly, if reading doesn’t do anything in any way shape or form, WHY WOULD WE GIVE A SHIT ABOUT IT?

That’s for each individual to decide, but ultimately part of my point. If there’s no intrinsic value associated with reading, and an individual would gain nothing or lose something by reading, then why should they read?

You just can’t kick the wall of desirism down.

I don’t want to. I think it needs some emendations for sure, but I think it has some strengths, as well.

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cl June 11, 2010 at 9:10 am

Alonzo,

What I am saying is that if one is going to criticize faults, fallacies, and errors, why give so much of one’s attention to the faults, fallacies, and errors of atheists and so little to the fults, fallacies, and errors of theists?

And, as I have said, JS Allen provided you with a cogent answer. Will you deal with it? Again, here it is:

Isn’t it better to shore up your own troops and eliminate any on your own side who “litter their claims with reckless, false, and illogical claims”? Isn’t it better to let your opponents be discredited by such morons, and even encourage that behavior? (JS Allen)

Now, another criticism of my own:

A better balance would be somewhere between these two extremes, the question then being: On which side of that better balance are we? I argue here that the social forces are such that the balance is on the side of too much criticism of atheists and too little criticism of theists – even among atheists.

Now, I happen to agree with JS Allen that “cleaning up one’s own side” has value, and you and I can agree that only focusing on one side is imbalanced. What irks me about the “opposing sides’ approach is that it frames the whole thing in terms of “atheist vs. theist” criticism, when what critical thinkers ought to do is criticize invalid or irrational arguments indifferently. So long as we take a stand against irrationalism wherever we encounter it, how many atheists we’re criticizing vs. how many theists shouldn’t be an issue, IMO.

That’s why it feels like you’re taking a stand for partisan nonsense, when you ought to be taking a stand for freethought and critical thinking regardless.

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Alonzo Fyfe June 11, 2010 at 9:12 am

You start with a fairly clear-headed conception of humanist morality in the form of “desirism”, and then arrive at an utterly nonsensical conclusion.

And what is that conclusion?

Would it be related to:

You yourself are arguing against the status quo in the name of “balance”.

Because nowhere do I argue that balance is an intrinsic good and is to be pursued for its own sake.

What I did argue is that that the desires that determine the current nature of the debate include desires and aversions that good people would not have. These include a learned affection for criticizing atheists and a learned aversion to criticizing theists. A person without these learned affections would probably spend less time criticizing atheists and more time criticizing theists.

Perhaps my claim that we have these affections is false. However, we clearly live in a society with an expressed overall aversion to anything atheistic and preference for things theistic.

If the claim is that we can have these affections without them affecting our behavior, I would like to see how that is done.

Perhaps the counter-claim is that we have these affections, they affect our behavior, but an aversion to things atheistic and preference for things theistic is a good thing – or at least morally neutral.

Any of these three responses would be applicable to what I wrote.

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JS Allen June 11, 2010 at 9:33 am

@Alonzo

These include a learned affection for criticizing atheists and a learned aversion to criticizing theists. A person without these learned affections would probably spend less time criticizing atheists and more time criticizing theists.

As I explained, even if this were not true, desirism should say that it is desirable to make it true. Desirism should use praise and insult to inculcate an atmosphere where people are trained to criticize atheists but not theists.

Why is that so difficult to understand?

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Alonzo Fyfe June 11, 2010 at 9:44 am

As I explained, even if this were not true, desirism should say that it is desirable to make it true. Desirism should use praise and insult to inculcate an atmosphere where people are trained to criticize atheists but not theists. Why is that so difficult to understand?

Well, I try to give people the benefit of the doubt, which means throwing away interpretations of their writings that are totally absurd until all sensible interpretations have been ruled out.

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noen June 11, 2010 at 10:00 am

“Well, I try to give people the benefit of the doubt, which means throwing away interpretations of their writings that are totally absurd don’t disagree with me until all sensible interpretations have been ruled out I get the results that we wanted in the first place.”

fixkd that for ya.

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noen June 11, 2010 at 10:02 am

Or that do disagree… or whatever, and fuck you WordPress.

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cl June 11, 2010 at 10:21 am

Well, I try to give people the benefit of the doubt, which means throwing away interpretations of their writings that are totally absurd don’t [agree] with me until all sensible interpretations have been ruled out I get the results that [I] wanted in the first place.
(noen, humorously paraphrasing Alonzo)

Ha! That is exactly the reaction I got from Alonzo when questioning him on pederasty in the Draw Mohammed thread, among others.

Alonzo,

I’m not trying to snipe at you, either. Rather, I’m attempting to use the social tools to get you to have good desires. Specifically, the good desire to defend ostensibly valid criticisms of your arguments. If this bothers you, then you have a problem with your own theory, not me. I’m doing what your theory says I should.

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JS Allen June 11, 2010 at 10:25 am

If Alonzo Fyfe were CEO of Texaco, we’d soon see a memo like this:

Attention all Texaco employees! I have noticed that y’all spend a lot of time inspecting Texaco’s pipelines, equipment, and rigs and pointing out flaws that need fixing. Well, let me just point out that our competitor, BP, has a huge stinking problem right now that is polluting the entire environment. Every day it goes without fixing, the expense to BP rises, and they are on the verge of bankruptcy. But you never spend time pointing out their problems. No! It seems very imbalanced. Why is this?

I think it’s because the social climate has molded your affections, and you’re more affectionate of pointing out Texaco’s problems. If you weren’t so affectionate of pointing out Texaco’s problems, maybe you would’ve caught more errors for BP. I want you to ponder on that.

To infinity and beyond!
-Alonzo Fyfe, CEO

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cl June 11, 2010 at 10:30 am

JS Allen,

LOL!! Brilliant, and well-placed, IMHO! It’s really pleasing me to see people finally using the social tools of condemnation against what many consider to be poor argumentation. Good work, not to mention a proper implementation of desirism’s central tenets!

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Alonzo Fyfe June 11, 2010 at 12:57 pm

Obviously you have opted to stop making sense.

The absurdity of your argument should have clued you in that you had ventured far from the truth. That is assuming, of course, that you cared about making sense instead of, what the evidence suggests, are simply fishing to cast out barely relevant nonsense.

Just as obviously, Texaco employees are responsible for inspecting Texaco pipelines and do not even have access to BP pipelines to inspect.

However, a regulatory agency (for example) that spent all of its time inspecting Texaco pipelines and no time inspecting BP pipelines would be guilty of dereliction of its duties.

The same could be said of an impartial third-party organizing (or individual) concerned with offshore drilling generally. An organization concerned with preventing a catestrophic oil spill would be ill-advised to spend all of its time looking at one company’s pipelines and systems while ignoring all others.

It would, then, make sense to suggest that, “Unless you have some sort of independent reason to believe that BP’s quality control is beyond question, then you need to explain why you seem to think that only Texaco’s pipelines are worthy of your time and attention.”

By analogy, we are comparing Texaco’s and BP’s attention to quality oil collection systems to Atheists and Theists’ attention to quality arguments.

Consequently, our analogy could be extended by assuming that BP were responsible for 85% of the drilling in the relevant area and Texaco were responsible for 15%.

And somebody were to suggest, “maybe we are spending too much of our time and attention examining Texaco, and not enough examining BP.”

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JS Allen June 11, 2010 at 1:12 pm

@Alonzo – As hurtful to your pomposity as it may be to admit it, you’re not an “impartial regulatory agency responsible for regulating atheism and Christianity”. You’re an atheist. You decided to frame the issue in partisan terms, and now you want to place yourself outside and above both parties. The hubris is staggering; you sound just like a fundamentalist.

Have you ever had your IQ tested? I ask this in all seriousness. Or are you outside and above IQ tests, too?

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godless randall June 11, 2010 at 1:17 pm

alright fuck it:

JSAllen: As hurtful to your pomposity as it may be to admit it, you’re not an “impartial regulatory agency responsible for regulating atheism and Christianity”. You’re an atheist.

i was two seconds away from saying the same exact thing Mr. Fyfe switched it all up

i just didn’t want rattle the fucking atheist hornet nest anymore

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JS Allen June 11, 2010 at 1:36 pm

@godless – Alonzo is living proof that insults don’t always cure people of bad desires. I’m reminded of the line in “The Hangover”, where someone tells Alan Garner, “You are literally too stupid to insult”, and Garner replies, “Thank you”.

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Alonzo Fyfe June 11, 2010 at 2:28 pm

Is it not true, that the same desire can lead to wildly different results, depending on other desires, beliefs and circumstances?

Yes, it is true. Though some desires (e.g., kindness, cruelty) have a necessary connection to the fulfillment or thwarting of other desires. The desire to torture others can never be fulfilled by an act that does not involve thwarting some particularly strong desires on the part of those being thwarted. Also, the person with a desire to help cannot have this desire fulfilled by an act that does not fulfill other desires.

As for two-desire systems, desirism concludes that there is simply no reason to choose one desire over another in this type of system.

If Agent1 has a desire that P, and Agent2 has a desire that not-P, how are we going to choose between them? The only way to make a choice is to have a reason to choose a desire that P or a reason to choose a desire that not-P. Yet, the original assumption is that no such reason exists.

Desirism states that the fault lies with any theory that asserts that one is better than the other without providing any way of making sense of having a reason to choose one over the other. In otherwords, the right answer is that there is no way to claim that one is better than the other, and a theory that does not yield this answer in these simple cases is mistaken.

As for rape, there is the option that some rapes are a desire for intercourse (which cannot be fulfilled by masturbation) combined with the absence of an aversion to do harm. In these cases, an agent fulfilling the most and strongest of his desires will not avoid doing harm. We have many and strong reasons to promote an aversion to doing harm. The absence of a desire to do harm is not sufficient. We have reason to demand an actual aversion to doing harm.

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cl June 11, 2010 at 3:06 pm

Just so you know, Alonzo, it’s when you make clear, undeniable statements like these that I think you’re at your best:

Though some desires (e.g., kindness, cruelty) have a necessary connection to the fulfillment or thwarting of other desires. The desire to torture others can never be fulfilled by an act that does not involve thwarting some particularly strong desires on the part of those being thwarted. Also, the person with a desire to help cannot have this desire fulfilled by an act that does not fulfill other desires.

Also, when you say,

As for two-desire systems, desirism concludes that there is simply no reason to choose one desire over another in this type of system.

If Agent1 has a desire that P, and Agent2 has a desire that not-P, how are we going to choose between them? The only way to make a choice is to have a reason to choose a desire that P or a reason to choose a desire that not-P.

I agree, and I’m glad you brought that up. What does desirism prescribe when we have two agents that want P, and one that wants ~P? What about two-hundred agents that want P, and one that wants ~P? What does desirism prescribe then? Who’s right?

If you wish to kill two birds with one stone, feel free to answer in the context of any of the many examples I’ve left for you. Personally, the pederasty one is the most recent and relevant in my mind, but do you.

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Jeff H June 11, 2010 at 4:35 pm

Alonzo,

While I might disagree with you that we have some learned motivation to criticize atheism and not criticize theism (I’m always dubious at claims placed in childhood memories to begin with, and I see plenty of criticism of theism by atheists, so I would instead argue that we have a learned motivation to criticize anyone who disagrees with us), I’ll grant you that for the sake of argument. Let’s assume that in general, people (theist or atheist) have an aversion to criticizing theism and a motivation to criticize atheism.

Your response to this is that we should instead change this so that people are more critical of theism. You say, “It calls for praising those who accept the challenge of criticizing religion and holding them up as role-models….And it calls for some level of condemnation for those who give evidence through their actions that they are more comfortable criticizing other atheists than criticizing theists who do worse evils.” This is where I disagree. You are essentially saying that instead of putting a motivation to criticize atheism into others, we should put a motivation to criticize theism into others. I think this is wrong-headed.

What I said originally was that instead of this theism and atheism, we should be criticizing those who do not speak the truth – or who use poor arguments. Now, inasmuch as theists are wrong, we should criticize that – so in one sense I agree with you – but I think that the focus needs to be on truth. We need to instill in children the importance of seeking truth and using sound arguments to weigh evidence properly. We need to teach them to minimize bias – not give them a new one to use. Their only bias should be to lean towards claims with evidence and argumentation.

So this is why I say that I don’t care whether I criticize a theist or an atheist. And neither should you. What you should care about is if I am criticizing someone who speaks falsehood, and if I am correct in my criticism. Is this something we can agree on?

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Zeb June 11, 2010 at 4:58 pm

Alonzo, can you provide any rational reasons to believe that American atheists are more apt to criticize atheists than theist, or do you only have an argument that it is plausible that the wild be?

And is your prescription that 1. given equally irrational or contrafactual arguments and statements on different sides of a controversial topic, we should 2. desire to equally balance our criticisms of the errors in each side 3. desire to criticize each side proportionally to the harm it does 4. desire to equally balance our moral condemnation of the desires that lead to the errors of both sides 5. desire to condemn the desires that lead to the errors of the more harmful side proportionately to its harm 6. desire to praise the desire to adopt the more beneficial side and condemn the desires to adopt the more harmful sides (regardless the validity of the arguments and evidence that accompany such adoption)? 7. what other desire? (“More beneficial” and “more harmful” are my stand-ins for whatever moral terms you would use to describe ideological positions. Please correct these if necessary.)

FWIW I find your arguments more honest, direct, and lucid than others in this thread seem to (but I’m relatively new here and respect that other my have seen different sides of Alonzo’s writing than I have.)

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Zeb June 11, 2010 at 5:14 pm

No, the flowchart is purely syntactic. Desires are semantic and syntax is insufficient for semantics.

That looks pretty damning to me; I’d love to see a response. The more I read and think about desirism the more I think it is a pretty good description of how morality functions socially, but not what morality is or what in particular is morally good/bad.

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cl June 11, 2010 at 5:34 pm

Jeff H,

What I said originally was that instead of this theism and atheism, we should be criticizing those who do not speak the truth – or who use poor arguments. Now, inasmuch as theists are wrong, we should criticize that – so in one sense I agree with you – but I think that the focus needs to be on truth. We need to instill in children the importance of seeking truth and using sound arguments to weigh evidence properly. We need to teach them to minimize bias – not give them a new one to use.

YES, YES and more YES.

Zeb,

That looks pretty damning to me; I’d love to see a response. The more I read and think about desirism the more I think it is a pretty good description of how morality functions socially, but not what morality is or what in particular is morally good/bad.

I have no choice but to second your assessment and add this to the seemingly ever-growing chorus of objections concerning desirism, at least, until a proponent of desirism can provide a working rebuttal.

FWIW I find your arguments more honest, direct, and lucid than others in this thread seem to (but I’m relatively new here and respect that others may have seen different sides of Alonzo’s writing than I have.)

Lest I be mistaken as someone who’s alleged dishonesty on Alonzo’s behalf, I state right here and now that I haven’t. No matter how seemingly well-reasoned, anything I might say about Alonzo’s actual intentions would amount to speculation [cf. the problem of other minds]. Although I’m certainly doing my best to come with strong and valid counterarguments to test Alonzo’s claims, I’m not a “hater” of desirism or Alonzo or all. I see strengths and weaknesses in both, and I really do try my best to address both.

At the same time, we can’t let people get away with loose arguments, and I think Alonzo, Luke, faithlessgod et al. have quite a bit of catching up to do.

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AlonzoFyfe June 11, 2010 at 6:50 pm

I agree, and I’m glad you brought that up. What does desirism prescribe when we have two agents that want P, and one that wants ~P? What about two-hundred agents that want P, and one that wants ~P? What does desirism prescribe then? Who’s right?

Desirism prescribes nothing.

Desirism is about prescribing desires, not actions. In this situation, the simple descriptive fact of the matter is that you will have two (or two hundred) agents acting so as to realize a state in which P is true, and one agent acting so as to realize a state in which P is false.

Which side will win will depend on a number of factors such as strength, planning, and quantity of ammunition.

Under the assumptions in the case, this is the fact and no amount of wishing it were different would change things. Any theory that says differently – any theory that suggests that there is some method for choosing one over the other – is mistaken.

If somebody comes along and says that they have a theory for choosing P or not-P, then . . . well, I would like to hear it, but I am going to start off saying that they will not be able to pull it off without inventing entities that do not exist.

Remember, desirism is about prescribing desires, not states. A test of desirism would be one in which the question is whether or not there are reasons for promoting particular desires.

You can cast your question in a form that addresses selecting particular desires. However, given that there is a lot of different ways that casting can go, I think I will leave it to you to provide the details.

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cl June 11, 2010 at 7:33 pm

Alonzo,

Desirism prescribes nothing.

If desirism “prescribes nothing,” then why do you hold – repeatedly – that desirism is both descriptive and prescriptive? Do you not see that as somewhere between potentially misleading at best, to outright inconsistent at worst? I do.

Which side will win will depend on a number of factors such as strength, planning, and quantity of ammunition.

Hmmm… as I initially suspected, your theory is sounding more and more like majority rule to me, though you take great pains to distinguish desirism from any sort of “majority rule” comparisons! Do you not see that as somewhere between potentially misleading at best, to outright inconsistent at worst? I do.

Under the assumptions in the case, this is the fact and no amount of wishing it were different would change things. Any theory that says differently – any theory that suggests that there is some method for choosing one over the other – is mistaken.

This is a non-sequitur. We’re not discussing desirism’s competitors. We’re discussing desirism. Continued appeals to the alleged insufficiency of other theories only supports those who call you evasive and dishonest. Please don’t mistake that for an accusation of my own, either.

If somebody comes along and says that they have a theory for choosing P or not-P, then . . . well, I would like to hear it, but I am going to start off saying that they will not be able to pull it off without inventing entities that do not exist.

Yeah, and in doing so, you would be starting off by dismissing your competitor’s claims without even hearing them. Is that professional, IYHO?

Why are you flanking competing theories when it is your theory that’s under consideration here? Why do you do the same thing yourself Alonzo, as I’ve pointed out many times before? You invent entities that don’t exist, too: you appeal to the generic “we” in your arguments, as well as the generic “people generally.” Those are entities that don’t exist. In the real world, we have specified sets and subsets of actual people.

So please, leave your contempt for DCT out of this. It’s muddying up the waters, IMHO.

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AlonzoFyfe June 11, 2010 at 7:44 pm

And is your prescription that 1. given equally irrational or contrafactual arguments and statements on different sides of a controversial topic, we should…

…not have our actions motivated by social prejudices that would motivate us to focus heavily on the faults of one group while tending to disregard and neglect the faults of the other.

Period.

If you try to read more into than that, then you are having all sorts of trouble.

This is not an argument that states that balance is intrinsically good. There is no intrinsic goodness. It is not to be found in balance just as it is not to be found anywhere else.

Criticism should not be proportional to harm because . . . well . . . what if criticism is effective against removing a smaller harm but ineffective at removing a greater harm – then it makes sense to effectively remove the smaller harm instead, does it not? However, all else being equal people generally have more and stronger reason to promote criticism against those evils where the criticism will prevent the most harm.

On your item number 6, there is no “validity of arguments that accompany” the adoption of a desire. There is no valid inference that has a set of propositions as premises and a desire as the conclusion.

(Note: desires-as-means are packages of beliefs and desires-as-ends. The beliefs in a desires-as-means can have or lack rational support. However, all of the value in a desires-as-means is tied up entirely in the ends that it serves and not in the beliefs.)

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AlonzoFyfe June 11, 2010 at 7:46 pm

cl

If desirism “prescribes nothing,” then why do you hold – repeatedly – that desirism is both descriptive and prescriptive.

You have lifted my words out of context.

The context was the specific example you mentioned. In that case, desirism has nothing to prescribe since desirism is concerned with the prescription of malleable desires, not with acts. Since your case did not allow for malleable desires, desirism is not applicable to that kind of case.

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cl June 11, 2010 at 8:00 pm

Alonzo,

You have lifted my words out of context.

No, I haven’t:

The context was the specific example you mentioned.

That’s precisely the context I’m speaking in.

Again, with clarification in brackets: If desirism “prescribes nothing” [when we have differences between imbalanced groups of agents], then why do you hold that desirism is both descriptive and prescriptive, since – as you just said – when it comes to multiple agents that P and a minority that ~P – desirism prescribes nothing?

How is desirism prescriptive, then?

Since your case did not allow for malleable desires, desirism is not applicable to that kind of case.

Who says my case didn’t allow for malleable desires? Did you just make that up? Malleable desires are exactly what’s being presupposed here. Given two (or 200) agents with malleable desire P, and one agent with malleable desire ~P, what does desirism prescribe?

OTOH, I am pleased to see that you apparently dropped the talk about DCT, finally.

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AlonzoFyfe June 11, 2010 at 8:16 pm

Jeff H.

What I said originally was that instead of this theism and atheism, we should be criticizing those who do not speak the truth – or who use poor arguments. Now, inasmuch as theists are wrong, we should criticize that – so in one sense I agree with you – but I think that the focus needs to be on truth.

Yes, it should be, but what if it is not?

What if a set of social prejudices has been set up whereby one group is subject to significantly more criticism for an untruth while, for another, untruths are often allowed with little or no criticism?

What if we can explain that fact in terms of a learned affection for criticizing one group and aversion to criticizing the other?

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cl June 11, 2010 at 8:25 pm

Who’s to say theist untruths are more tolerated than atheist untruths?

In my experience, atheists are near-unilaterally fixated on theist arguments, often to the complete obliviousness of blatant untruths on their own side. There are so many examples of this on this blog this week that I can’t keep up with them all, and when I tried to keep up with them all, Luke’s spam filter flagged me presumably for submitting too many links.

Consider:

How many atheists criticized faithlessgod for admittedly making the untrue claim that I am a racist? One?

OTOH, how many atheists criticized me for making the true claim that an omniscient, omnibenevolent God would have perfect access to the set of moral facts? A dozen?

Well? There’s my support for the claim that atheists here apparently have their priorities backwards, and are willing to tolerate untruth from their own over truth from “the opposition.” Anyone care to take a shot at explaining what that means?

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cl June 11, 2010 at 8:33 pm

Another example of atheists overlooking error on their own side occurred in the thread of Noah’s Flood and its Predecessors, where many atheists either denied or did not oppose one of the very same principles of source criticism used to castigate WLC in the most recent Craig / Ehrman post. If my memory serves right, Charles (@ #1) and a guy named Michael (somewhere near #30) were the only two atheists to step up and take a stand for objectivity in that thread. I think Luke gave us a “fair enough,” too, now that I think about it.

Point is, instead of focusing on and criticizing untrue claims, period, many atheists focused on lambasting theists for what may or may not be an untrue claim (recall that we don’t know and can only make reasoned speculations), and in doing so made themselves look foolish.

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AlonzoFyfe June 11, 2010 at 9:02 pm

cl

Again, with clarification in brackets: If desirism “prescribes nothing” [when we have differences between imbalanced groups of agents], then why do you hold that desirism is both descriptive and prescriptive.

Your clarification is not a clarification.

Desirism “prescribes nothing” [when we have no malleable desires], in which case I there are still other instances in which there are conditions where there are malleable desires.

Given two (or 200) agents with malleable desire P, and one agent with malleable desire ~P, what does desirism prescribe?

It is not possible to answer this question with the information provided. It is necessary to know the specific desires we are working with.

For example, consider the case where P = “That everybody have a desire that not-P”. Now, you have 200 people with a desire that everybody have a desire that not-P.

If we were to prescribe this desire that P (simply because it is the most common, for example), we would be prescribing a state in which everybody had a desire that P and yet P was universally thwarted. Because, if everybody had a desire that P then everybody would have a desire that everybody had a desire that not-P – which would be false in a universe where everybody has a desire that P.

On the other hand, assume that 200 people have a malleable desire that “the red rock is on top of the green rock” and 1 person has a desire that “the green rock is on top of the red rock.”

In this case, desirism would prescribe for the 200 people that they realize a state of affairs in which the red rock is on top of the green rock and would prescribe for the 1 person to realize a state of affairs in which the green rock were on top of the red rock.

It would also be the case that those who want the red rock on top of the green rock would be able to better secure such a state if they caused the 201st person to also desire that the red rock be on top of the green rock. And the one person could better secure a state in which the green rock is on top of the red rock if he could make the desire that the green rock be on top of the red rock universal.

If anybody were interested to ask such a question, it would be the case in this instance that there are more and stronger reasons to promote a desire that the red rock be on the green rock, than that the green rock be on the red rock. However, nothing has value except in terms of its relationship to a desire so, even though this is true, by definition this truth does not matter to either of our participants. We cannot make this fact matter without adding a new desire.

So, in this example, we cannot make it the case that it is true that there are more and stronger reasons to have everybody acquire a desire that P, we cannot make it important that there are more and stronger reasons to have everybody acquire a desire that P. We still cannot prescribe that everybody has a desire that P to anybody but those who would have their desires filled by such a state.

So, you see, I need to know more about this “desire that P” that you are talking about. Different answers will yield different conclusions based on the different relationships that are possible between the desire that P and possible states of the universe in which P is true or false.

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cl June 12, 2010 at 12:17 am

Alonzo,

Your clarification is not a clarification.

Really now? I’ll make a note of that. Let’s see if you manage to support that by the end of your comment.

On the other hand, assume that 200 people have a malleable desire that “the red rock is on top of the green rock” and 1 person has a desire that “the green rock is on top of the red rock.”

Okay, now that’s a fair enough example of what I asked you for. So, my clarification was a clarification, which makes your aforementioned claim false. I was asking you what desirism prescribes when we have 200 agents with some malleable desire P and one agent with some malleable desire ~P. You replied,

In this case, desirism would prescribe for the 200 people that they realize a state of affairs in which the red rock is on top of the green rock and would prescribe for the 1 person to realize a state of affairs in which the green rock were on top of the red rock.

Then all you are doing is using 54 words to say “people should do what they want,” which only requires six words. If you’re just saying “people should do what they want,” you’re going to have a hard time convincing people that your theory is about morality. Is that what you’re saying?

So, you see, I need to know more about this “desire that P” that you are talking about. Different answers will yield different conclusions based on the different relationships that are possible between the desire that P and possible states of the universe in which P is true or false.

You act like I didn’t suggest specific “desires that P” when I did. Well, what about the ones we’ve already discussed? Pederasty? Smoking? I clearly articulated my questions to you in those regards in #35 of Draw Mohammed. I would be really happy if we could run through that, either in this thread or there, of course, after you make your rounds with everyone else.

What I’m trying to find out from you is how desirism handles real world types of moral conflicts, because either your theory doesn’t always work too well at that level, or you’re simply not explaining it coherently, or I’m misunderstanding you at one or more turns. Or, some combination of those things is also possible, but one example of why I say desirism is not working is the perderasty thing. Instead of evaluating hypothetical examples, I had asked you to evaluate the real-world example of pederasty. I noted the differences between modern American attitudes towards sex and classical Greek attitudes. In short, we strongly condemn what they praised and considered permissible. I asked you who you thought was right or wrong and why. You replied that you thought the Greeks were “probably wrong” but all you offered in support was a vague allusion to an unspecified set of “venereal diseases” that would seemingly also make all other forms of non-monogamous sex also “probably wrong” if that’s going to be our sole criteria.

With all due respect sir, I’ve asked you about this several times.

Eneasz

You? Again? As for trolling, guess what:

…a troll is someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community… [Wikipedia]

By definition, your comment is trolling. What have you offered to this thread? Oh yeah: nothing but an obviously “inflammatory, extraneous, and off-topic message.”

Now, if you have some kind of objection or premise or statement to discuss, then put it on the table and we can have a discussion. If not, get out of the way for the people that are trying to have discussions.

noen,

Some of the same haters also make you their scapegoat from time-to-time, and I mock them for it, and you’re going to throw me under the bus? Fair enough. To each their own, but I’m going to hold you to the same standard I’ll hold the rest: provide some kind of evidence for your claim. Something we might actually be able to debate. Don’t just spout off. Or, do. I don’t care. How is it that I’m a “troll” when all I’m doing is calling things as I see them and trying to keep up with every opinionated person who has something to say to me?

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cl June 12, 2010 at 12:20 am

Sorry about that. The “Eneasz” and “noen” parts of my last comment were for the Dr. Craig and Objective Morality thread. I accidentally CTRL+A’d.

Please ignore!

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Zeb June 12, 2010 at 5:13 am

what if criticism is effective against removing a smaller harm but ineffective at removing a greater harm – then it makes sense to effectively remove the smaller harm instead, does it not?

That’s my argument for why atheists should be more apt to criticize equally flawed arguments and bad desires in atheists, and vice-versa for theists.

On your item number 6, there is no “validity of arguments that accompany” the adoption of a desire.

I was not talking about the adoption of a desire, I was talking about the morality of a desire to adopt a position on a controversial topic, regardless of the validity of the arguments that accompany that position (or indeed the truth of the position). If theism is more harmful than atheism (in that it tends to thwart more desires), it seems desirism would prescribe the desire to adopt atheism even if atheism is false and even if invalid arguments accompany the adoption of atheism. Of course the converse would the case if atheism is more harmful than theism (even if atheism is true and accompanied by valid arguments). That would justify American culture’s inculcating anti-atheist prejudice. So it seems desirism would actually prescribe prejudice unless the desire to hold any side of a controversial topic was morally equivalent.

You said ‘we should

…not have our actions motivated by social prejudices that would motivate us to focus heavily on the faults of one group while tending to disregard and neglect the faults of the other.

which I take to mean ‘desire not to be prejudiced.’ So how does desirism prescribe the desire not to be prejudiced, rather than the desire to be prejudiced against the more harmful positions?

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Jeff H June 12, 2010 at 2:47 pm

Yes, it should be, but what if it is not?

What if a set of social prejudices has been set up whereby one group is subject to significantly more criticism for an untruth while, for another, untruths are often allowed with little or no criticism?

What if we can explain that fact in terms of a learned affection for criticizing one group and aversion to criticizing the other?

Again, just to state: I’m granting the “learned affection/aversion” thing to you for the sake of argument. You completely missed everything that I wrote in order to comment on the one thing I was already granting to you. I’m not sure what to make of that.

But at any rate, I’m not disagreeing with you that, if this aversion exists, we should get rid of it. I’m disagreeing with you on this: “It calls for praising those who accept the challenge of criticizing religion and holding them up as role-models….And it calls for some level of condemnation for those who give evidence through their actions that they are more comfortable criticizing other atheists than criticizing theists who do worse evils.” This is more than just removing the aversion…this is adding a motivation to criticize theism, purely for the sake of it being theism. That, specifically, is what I’m arguing against.

I’m saying that yes, we should remove the aversion to criticize theism, but we should replace it with a motivation to criticize falsehood. Regardless of whether it is theist falsehood or atheist falsehood. I mean, really, I’m sure I’ve heard you say similar things before, this should not be all that difficult for you to agree with.

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noen June 12, 2010 at 7:49 pm

cl
Some of the same haters also make you their scapegoat from time-to-time, and I mock them for it, and you’re going to throw me under the bus?

I’m an agnostic, I throw everyone under the bus. ;) This isn’t a team sport. I simply noticed that you were engaging in a lot of meta. Meaning a lot of extraneous chatter about process rather than being on topic. Not that I’m so innocent, but I’m trying.

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cl June 14, 2010 at 7:24 am

noen,

I simply noticed that you were engaging in a lot of meta. Meaning a lot of extraneous chatter about process rather than being on topic.

Which comments of mine would you consider “extraneous chatter about process,” and what exactly do you mean by process? Looking back over my comments in this thread, I think each one has been relevant, but it always helps to see oneself through another.

Alonzo,

Hopefully you had a restful weekend. Here is a partial list of desirism-based questions I await your answers to:

1) How is desirism prescriptive if – as you say – it “prescribes nothing” in the case of 200 that P and one that ~P, where P = some malleable desire (for example pederasty or smoking)?

2) Regarding pederasty, you replied that you thought the Greeks were “probably wrong,” but all you offered in support was a vague allusion to an unspecified set of “venereal diseases” that would seemingly also make all other forms of non-monogamous sex also “probably wrong.” Was non-monogamous sex also “probably wrong” at that time? Is non-monogamous sex “probably wrong” now? If not, can you clarify your supporting arguments?

3) You argue against the invocation of “things that don’t exist” in moral arguments, yet, you frequently refer to the generic “we” and “people generally.” Isn’t that an invocation of things that don’t exist? Meaning, aren’t you invoking something ontologically similar to the hypothetical observer?

Also, when I asked,

What does desirism prescribe when we have two agents that want P, and one that wants ~P? What about two-hundred agents that want P, and one that wants ~P? What does desirism prescribe then? Who’s right?

…you replied,

Which side will win will depend on a number of factors such as strength, planning, and quantity of ammunition.

I can’t help but to conclude that all you’ve given is a description of mob rule. If you’re just saying “people should do what they want,” you’re going to have a hard time convincing people that your theory is about morality. So,

4) Is that what you’re saying?

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cl June 15, 2010 at 1:38 pm

Alonzo,

Reflecting further on my last comment to you, it seems that your statement,

Which side will win will depend on a number of factors such as strength, planning, and quantity of ammunition[.]

…is not necessarily a description of mob rule because a strong, well-planned minority with a large [or powerful] quantity of ammunition can most certainly overcome a majority. So it seems that your statement is actually more akin to a description of survival of the fittest.

Though, I’m just trying to further clarify my own thoughts here, which is beside the point and doesn’t nullify any of my questions to you – questions which other commenters have also expressed an interest in hearing you answer, BTW.

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