Saturday, May 2, 2009

“It’s just so obvious!”: The case of torture

Over at What’s Wrong with the World, my esteemed co-blogger Zippy Catholic and others have been debating the morality of waterboarding, Catholic teaching vis-à-vis torture, and related matters. Here is my contribution to the discussion.

36 comments:

cold said...

Dr. Feser I'm sorry for putting this here. But maybe you can help me understand this.

You have a blog entry on final causes. Does an atheist deny that there are any kind of final causes? Would they deny that when I build something to do some task that it really doesn't have that purpose or end?

Does allowing for any type of final causation allow a "Divine foot in the door" from their perspective?

I don't know what I believe. I think I might be agnostic. But, if God were to exist that would be something. I've lost someone really close to me. They died at a very young age. I was thinking that there just doesn't seem to be any purpose to life but then I came across this talk of final causes. And it really got me thinking. I'm not very philosophically inclined. But if I were to correctly understand the position on final causes for a consistent atheist (by consistent I mean one who doesn't borrow nice theistic ideas occassionaly) then I would probably be quite impressed that God exists. Because i certainly do things with purpose and ends and goals in mind.

Does a consistent atheist deny anytype of final causation?

If possible if you could explain at an accessible level. I not any where near as smart as you or the other posters on this board.
I'm a kid who's kind of lost right now.

Jime said...

Cold, you has made a lot of many interesting and intelligent questions, and professor Feser probably is going to address some of your doubts.

Like you, most of us read this blog to learn of Dr.Feser's extensive philosophical knowledge, specially about neo-thomism, philosophy of religion and mind, and related topics.

Commenting in your questions, I'd say that atheists don't necessarily deny purpose in some level, but such purpose is only accidental, illusory and existing in the mind of human beings; there is not objective purpose as such.

Quoting Richard Dawkins "The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference" (River Out Of Eden, p. 155)

Note that for Dawkins, at the bottom, there is not objective purpose at all. "Blind pitiless indifference" is everything that exists as an actual feature of the universe. There is no room for objective purpose in a purely material universe.

So, in my opinion, a consistent materialistic atheist can't recognize the existence of real purposes; he could only accept the "illusion" of purpose existing only in the mind of human beings. But such purpose doesn't exist as such, it's pure fantasy or illusion.

If they accept that purpose and intentionality is actually existing, they would be undermining their own materialistic worldview. This is why, eliminative materialism (the idea that the mind actually doens't exist; only exist cerebral processes) is probably the only consistent position in materialism.

I recommend you to get a copy of Dr.Feser's book "Philosophy of mind" for a balanced discussion of these questions; and The Last Superstition for a discussion of final causes.

I'm sorry for the loss of that person close to you. But death is possibly not the end of the story. Some evidence suggest, on empirical grounds, that consciousness can possibly survive physical death. This evidence is not incompatible with atheism or agnosticism, it's only incompatible with materalism.

Some researchers of afterlife evidence are secular, not religious. The evidence is there to be closely and rationally examined, regardless of your religious or non-religious beliefs.

If you have interest in these questions, see the book "Your Eternal Self" by Craig Hogan; or the book "Is there an afterlife?" by David Fontana (a non-religious psychologist with extensive knowledge about afterlife evidence).

The key point is that (contrary to the materialistic propaganda) you don't need to be a Christian or theist to believe, rationally, in the possible or actual existence of an afterlife.

We could discuss such questions through e-mail if you want.

Hope these comments help.

Matt Beck said...

Hi Dr. Feser,

Here is my contribution to the discussion. As it so happens, I just came off a two-day battle with Catholic author Mark Shea concerning this very point, in which I cited your three long blog posts from 2006 treating of the Iraq War and Catholic Just War tradition. That may very well be the reason he is currently infecting your comboxes at What's Wrong with the World. If this proves to be the case, then I am truly sorry.

In my exchanges with Mr. Shea I ignored the aspect of extracting information and focuses solely on the punitive. I basically argued that the state is sovereign and has the right to administer corporal punishments, and that an arrogant and uncooperative attitude in a known terrorist like KSM is sufficient to warrent those punishments, in my opinion.I emphasize "in my opinion" because, unlike Mr. Shea, I do not presume to speak for the Magisterium on this matter. The weight of his argument appears to rest on his monotonic citation of Veritatis Splendor 80, which I plainly told him was beside the point, since the Magisterium's use of the word "torture" in that document meant something other than what he was taking it to mean. As you correctly identified in your response to him, he merely begs the question: the point at issue is the very point he dogmatically assumes. I see no evidence that a merely perfect use of logic and facts will be enough to compel him to relinquish his claims to occupy unchallenged the moral high ground.

Cold,

Much of the intellectual establishment today - not just the self-identifying atheists - reject any notion of final causes. Not every atheist would reject every form of final cause, at least not by his own lights. However, this is usually accomplished by slight of hand: the final cause is surreptitiously subsumed into the efficient cause, which the atheist is more than happy to acknowlegde. A very consistent atheist, I think, would probably be forced to admit that there is a problem. I'm sure Dr. Feser can give you a more thoughtful answer.

For my own part, I would encourage you not to give up the search. I shall say a prayer for you, if you don't mind.

-Matt

Neil Parille said...

I've followed Mark Shea's blog on and off for a few years and it seems that he should, to put it mildly, do some study on theology. A little training in biblical exegesis wouldn't hurt either.

Warren said...

Ed,

Thank you for your immensely clarifying post at W4. I've been hoping you'd weigh in on the subject.

I do hope you realize what you're getting into when discussing this issue with Mark Shea. I should point out immediately that I regard Shea as one of the most lucid and effective Catholic apologists around today - firmly in the Chestertonian tradition and fiercely loyal to Christ and His Church. But on the subject of "torture" - and, more broadly, the "lies" of the "criminal" Bush/Cheney administration, their "shredding" of the US Constitution, their "illegal" war in Iraq, etc, etc - Shea is as far through the looking-glass as any poster at Daily Kos or any Code Pink protester. He is, in fact, a complete monomaniac on this particular subject (while remaining completely sane in most other respects), and is constitutionally unable to brook any opposition, no matter how calmly or rationally elucidated. Indeed, the very calmness and rationality of your argument is likely to inflame him even more. In arguing with Shea on this topic, you have unwittingly allied yourself with his White Whale - and he will chase you "round Good Hope, and round the Horn, and round the Norway Maelstrom, and round perdition's flames" before he gives up.

I see that Shea has initially taken a calm and reasonable tone in the discussion. This is a very flimsy mask for what lies beneath, however, and he won't be able to keep the mask in place if the discussion goes on for very long. Take it from me, a long-time reader of his blog. "Even then, when... his mates thanked God the direful madness was now gone; even then, Ahab, in his hidden self, raved on."

Edward Feser said...

Hello Cold,

An atheist could in theory acknowledge final causes, but it is very hard to see how one could avoid a supernaturalist view if one does so. So, in practice almost all modern atheists accept a "mechanistic" view of the world on which final causes don't exist. Most of them would not deny that we have purposes and the like, but the problem is that it is very hard to reconcile this admission of common sense with a mechanistic view of the world. That's why the "mind-body problem" is such a problem in the first place. I explain all this in detail in my book The Last Superstition.

Edward Feser said...

Hi Matt, Neil, and Warren,

As you may have seen, Shea's already started to lapse into his Inquisitor shtick, and I've pretty much lost any desire to continue trying to carry on a discussion with him.

(And I doubt it's your fault, Matt. He's been haunting the W4 comboxes for a few days now anyway.)

Edward Feser said...

Oh, and thank you for recommending my books, Jime. I hope all our comments will be useful to Cold. I wish I could write more right now, but as usual I've got a million things going on at once!

Ilíon said...

Edward Fesser: "So, anyone who wants to defend waterboarding has to establish that it is a morally acceptable means of acquiring information in the first place, before he can appeal to the value of some piece of information allegedly acquired by means of its use. ..."

And there's where you lose it.

Certainly, appealing to the utility of an act's consequence does not establish that it is a morally permissible act. But, at the same time, the burden of proof rests squarely with those who insist that "waterboarding" is morally impermissible.

The all-too human desire to take the easy way by evading this moral duty doubtless goes far to explain why such persons imagine that in merely asserting it to be 'torture' they have settled the issue; when, in fact, all they have done is torture the language and further erode our collective ability to think clearly.


Edward Fesser: "So, anyone who wants to defend waterboarding has to establish that it is a morally acceptable means of acquiring information in the first place, before he can appeal to the value of some piece of information allegedly acquired by means of its use. Nor is it any good to argue that if firebombing Dresden and dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were morally justifiable, so too must waterboarding be morally justifiable. For the former acts were not morally justifiable, but gravely immoral, even though they were carried out in the course of a just war."

And losing at above is part and parcel of this erroneous set of poplar assertions.

These acts were horrible (as in "God spare me ever to be faced with such a decision") decisions.

The horrible consequences of the actions which followed from the acts were evil -- in just the sense of the word that the death and distruction following the Christmas Day Tsumani were evil.

BUT, the destruction of those hundreds of thousands of human beings was *not* morally evil. To make that case, you folk must successfully make the case that there existed a less-evil choice which the decision-makers knew of and intentionally disregarded.


Personal squeemishness is not evidence of dwelling on a higher moral plane.

Ilíon said...

[I'm sorry for misspelling your name, Mr Feser]

Ilíon said...

Jime: "Commenting in your questions, I'd say that atheists don't necessarily deny purpose in some level, but such purpose is only accidental, illusory and existing in the mind of human beings; there is not objective purpose as such."

But that is *exactly* to necessarily deny the reality of any purpose to existence in in reality (as you go on to somewhat indirectly say). Moreover, there is no such thing as a *consistent* non-materialistic atheism -- any non-materialistic atheism must be an ad hoc mess. Well, with perhaps the exception of an atheism which denies that anything at all exists.

----
Cold: "Does an atheist deny that there are any kind of final causes? Would they deny that when I build something to do some task that it really doesn't have that purpose or end? ... Does a consistent atheist deny anytype of final causation?"

Yes, a consistent atheist (and there are so very few of those) must deny any and all final causation. At most, a consistent atheist can say of your mental state in doing this task only that you are under the illusion that you are doing it toward an end -- because, given atheism, after all, your very 'self' and your very consciousness of being conscious of being a 'self' are themselves illusions.

Yet, one wonders, just *who* is it experiencing the illusion, since the 'self' is itself an illusion?

Cold: "I don't know what I believe. I think I might be agnostic. But, if God were to exist that would be something"

You yourself are the proof, the only proof you will ever need (once you understand the point) that there is, indeed, a Creator-God. And that he is a person, a rational being, not a mere-thing or process or mechanism.

In a nutshell --
IF we assert that:
1) there is no God -- a transcendant being existing "outside" the physical world,
2) or that there is an entity which one might call 'God,' but that the world (and we physically embodied rational beings who are in it) was/is not caused by this entity, but rather had/has no cause,
3) or that there is someone or something one might call 'God,' but that the world (and we physically embodied rational beings who are in it) was not intended, but rather merely happened without a reason,
THEN we logically must end with asserting that we ourselves cannot think or reason or know or imagine or believe or ... on and on. In short, the denial that there is a Creator-God logically entails that we ourselves do not even exist.

But that's absurd; therefore, we see that the assertion which logically compels the conclusion is seen to itself be absurd.


I, too, wish to express my condolences for you loss ... and to tell you that (routine) death is itself an evidence against materialism/atheism.

For, were materialism/atheism indeed the truth about the nature of reality, then routine death could not happen, but only death due to extraordinary causes. This is because, per materialism/atheism, "life" -- that is, the biological processes by the presence of which some entities are deemed 'alive,' and by the absence of which other entities are deemed 'not alive' -- is nothing more than chemical reactions. Per materialism/atheism, one has explained, without remainder, what "life" is by elucidating its biochemistry.

But, chemicals do not get "tired" of reacting with other chemicals.

Anonymous said...

Some of the comments here seem to suggest that atheism necessarily presupposes reductive naturalism and/or mechanism. There's certainly a strong correlation between those metaphysical views and the sort of outspoken, aggressive atheism of Dawkins, Dennett, et al., but we shouldn't get carried away.

It's important to remember that for many philosophers, theism is just not an issue for one reason or another. Rightly or wrongly, they assume either that God obviously doesn't exist, that it would be impossible to know it, or that any kind of God that might exist would not be the sort of God that matters for religion. So the question of theism just isn't an important question for them. Philosophers of this sort tend, in my experience, to be less likely to embrace the kind of austere naturalism that many of the comments above have associated with atheism. I won't speculate as to why exactly militant atheism and austere naturalism tend to go together, but I will say a few things about the kinds of metaphysical views that are in principle available to philosophers who are not religious believers of any recognizable kind.

To begin with, rejecting strong reductionism about consciousness, intentionality, persons, or teleology does not commit one to theism, let alone to any range of religious views. It's important to distinguish between various *kinds* of reduction. As Searle (who is one of those "it's just obvious" atheists) argues, there is a difference between some thing, property, or feature being *causally* reducible and its being *ontologically reducible*. Something like consciousness could be *causally reducible* in the sense that it it is caused by something of which consciousness is not a feature. That sort of reducibility does not entail that consciousness is *ontologically reducible*. If consciousness is ontologically reducible, then consciousness is nothing but something else that is non-conscious. But it is at least perfectly conceivable that the operations of the brain give us a sufficient causal explanation of consciousness without it being true that consciousness just is nothing but the operations of the brain. Even a theist should probably grant this point in the case of non-human animals, unless he thinks either that non-human animals aren't conscious (which is what Descartes said and what few people who actually live and work with animals could seriously consider) or that they have immortal souls that can exist separately from their bodies.

The same sort of distinction applies to non-conscious teleological features (though Searle, for his part, seems to go into reactionary mode when this suggestion is made): it is at least plausible to argue that the goal-directed but non-conscious features of systems like organisms can be causally reduced but not ontologically reduced. Of course, the reasons for thinking so will be different than the reasons for thinking so about consciousness, since non-conscious teleology does not have what Searle would call a "first-person ontology." But there are all kinds of reasons to think that full-blown reductionist accounts of biological function are extremely unsatisfying simply as accounts of biological function. A philosopher who thinks that functions can't be ontologically reduced would not thereby have any compelling reason to be a theist, especially if he thinks that causal reduction succeeds.

Two more points to complicate the matter further. First, there is no reason why a theist *can't* believe that these features can be causally but not ontologically reduced. Christians, at least, have not traditionally believed that the soul pre-exists the body, and many have denied that persons are essentially immaterial souls whose proper mode of existence is disembodied. All that a Christian *must* believe is that the nature of persons is not such as to make it inconceivable that God could preserve their existence after death and resurrect them later on. There are plenty of contemporary Christian philosophers who think of things this way. Though some of them would argue that the mind is irreducible in an even stronger sense than I described above, they still hold a basically materialist, but non-reductive, view of the person: consider William Hasker, Nancy Murphy, Lynne Baker, Peter van Inwagen, Trenton Merricks, et al.

Finally, it is even perfectly consistent for an Aristotelian who is, like Ed, a thoroughgoing anti-reductionist about teleology and the mind to be an atheist. Such a philosopher will necessarily disagree with Ed about what follows from Aristotelian metaphysics, of course, but he might argue either that the principles that Ed invokes in his version of the cosmological and teleological arguments do not entail the existence of a transcendent being or that whatever they do entail is not a being that is intelligent, purposeful, or otherwise a candidate for being identified with the God of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, or even the monotheistic strands of Hinduism.

Note that I'm not claiming that all of these views are equally defensible. Some of them I think are not, some I think are defensible but less plausible than others. My point is more about what the philosophical possibilities are. Most of those possibilities are actually defended; though there are few thoroughgoing Aristotelians who are not also theists of a kind, that fact has more to do with sociology than with philosophy, and there are some philosophers who defend very, very similar views without embracing theism.

So, the moral of my story is that the philosophical landscape, but possible and actual, is more varied than these comments have suggested. The idea that atheists have to hold austere metaphysical views that deny the existence of all sorts of ordinary things could possibly be true, but neither the actual range of philosophical views nor the most plausible understanding of conceivable views makes that likely.

Jime said...

But that is *exactly* to necessarily deny the reality of any purpose to existence in in reality (as you go on to somewhat indirectly say). Moreover, there is no such thing as a *consistent* non-materialistic atheism -- any non-materialistic atheism must be an ad hoc mess. Well, with perhaps the exception of an atheism which denies that anything at all existsHi Ilíon,

Regarding the purpose of existence, I said that atheists don't necessarily deny it, because they could argue that the purpose is enjoying life or something like that. Actually, many of them say it.

My point is that such purpose is, for a consistent materialistic/mechanistic atheist, purely arbitrary and subjective, not objective.

And given that for them the mind (including the "self" and subjetivity) is an illusion, then any purpose is illusory too.

In conclusion, my opinion is that for a materialistic atheist there is not exist such thing as a ontologically objective purpose to existence; but there is exist purposes in the same way that ideas, the "self" or concepts exist (i.e., as a product of cerebral processes and without ontologically independent existence)

Regarding the existence of a consistent non-materialistic atheist, I think it's possible.

For example, Buddists don't believe in the Christian God (so they're agnostic or even atheists regarding it), but they believe in afterlife, reincarnation and trascendental spirituality (hence, they're not materialists)

Therefore, they're non-materialists atheists/agnostics, and their view is arguebly internally consistent (but it doesn't make it necessarily truth).

We could summarize these things in the following points:

1)Materialists have to be, if consistent, atheists (since that if matter is all there is exist, a non-material God is per definition impossible; it entails other non-material substances, like consciousness, is non-existent too).

Someone could object to this point, arguing that are materialists who believe in the Christian God (like Christian philosopher and materialist Kevin Corcoran, whose books I haven' read, so I don't know what his materialistic position actually is)

Also, theologian and professor of Christian philosohy Nancy Murphy defends a "non-reductive materialism"; and she believes in the Christian God. See this interview with her:

http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=3310


By the way, Dr.Murphy wrote an recent article to "Science" entitled "Neuroscience and the Soul" defending materialism in neuroscience. A reply to such article by non-materialist neuroscientist Mario Beuregard can be read in this post in my blog:

http://subversivethinking.blogspot.com/2009/04/mario-beauregards-unpublished-response.html


2)But an atheist (regarding to the Christian God or any other personal God) could be a non-materialist. Example: Buddhists.

The reason is that non-materialism doesn't entail theism (nor Christian theism in particular), and it explains the existence of secular dualist philosophers (Robert Almeder, David Lund, Neal Grossman, Karl Popper, etc.) and scientists (John Beloff, John Smythies, Henry Stapp, etc.)

For example, see this paper entitled "Space, Time and Consciousness" by neuroscientist John Smythies published in the Journal of Consciousness Studies:

http://www.imprint.co.uk/pdf/smythies.pdf

He argues there that "the
Universe consists of three fundamental entities — space-time, matter and consciousness,
each with their own degrees of freedom
"

Note that for him consciousness is not a product of the brain (nor identical with it), but a primary and funfamental entity. Therefore, his position is non-materialistic.

I see the positions of these thinkers as "internally consistent", regardless of if their position is actually correct or not.

I hope to have made my opinion clear.

Anonymous said...

Jime,

Part of the trouble here is that you're using the word "materialist" to refer to at least several distinct ideas. One is that everything that exists in any sense at all is material (that would have to be what 'materialism' means for it to make sense for 'materialism' to rule out theism as a simple matter of definition). Similar views might be that everything that exists is either material or dependent upon something material. But one could be a materialist *about some particular issue* without being a materialist in that sense. Thus people like Murphy are materialists about persons, but they aren't global materialists because they believe in God and don't believe that God is a material being.

Distinguish materialism in those senses, then distinguish different kinds of reduction, then distinguish non-reductive materialism from other kinds, and the whole issue becomes substantially more complicated.

You're also right that atheism doesn't even require materialism of any variety. That just makes things even more complex.

So I think we should all just stop talking about what atheists per se believe and start worrying about identifiable thinkers and/or positions.

Jime said...

Anonymous,

You're correct about the two meaning of materialism:

1)A materialism as an ontological position regarding the nature of reality (e.g. dialectical materialism)

2)A materialism limited to the mind-body question (e.g. eliminative materialism).

The first sense of materialism entails the second, but not the reverse.

So, you can be a materialist regarding the mind-body problem (or about persons), but not regarding the nature of reality. Actually, Antony Flew seems to be materialist in this sense (he doesn't believe in an afterlife).

However, I see a contradiction in Murphy and Corcoran being materialists about persons, since that (as far I know) Chrsitian theim implies that human beings have unmaterial souls. So consciousness and the "self" is not reducible to a material thing as the brain.

This is why most christian philosophers are not materialists.

But as I said, you're correct about the distinction of the different meanings of "materialism", since that confounding them in a same argumentation (wituout draw the corresponding distinctions) put us at risk to commit a possible fallacy of equivocation regarding some of these problems.

Crude said...

I'd just like to chime in and mention that what comprises 'materialism' now and then throws me. For instance, Galen Strawson describes his position as 'real materialism'. But what he advocates is panpsychism. Likewise, William Hasker has been listed here as a materialist, but he subscribes to "emergent dualism" and rejects the idea of the mind as a solely material thing. Property dualists and the like often seem to be lumped (awkwardly, in my view) into the same category as materialists often.

I would agree that one doesn't strictly have to be a mechanistic materialist to be an atheist. On the other hand, I will admit that just about every agnostic or atheist non-materialist I've read seems to come so close to recognizing God or the God-like that it strikes me as odd.

Ilíon said...

Certainly, anyone can cobble together any number of disparate conceptions. For instance, any number of 'atheists' deny that there is a Creator and assert that themselves are not materialists.

But, is not the question, as always, "Do these concepts cohere?" And, if it is seen that they do not cohere, than what must give to achieve coherence?

Frederic Kolman said...

You ask me, "Does an atheist deny that there are any kind of final causes?" As I understand it, an atheist does not see God Almighty as our Creator and source of spiritual light. So, we humans are stuck here on earth with each other with only the meaning that we have imposed throughout the progress of civilization. Capitalism, socialism, humanism, etc. have endowed our socities with the meanings they now possess for the individual in contemporary times. Unfortunately, terrorism has a lot of influence over life nowadays as we know it. Just looking at that broad panorama through time, you get a sense for how random and chaotic life has been. Do you endeavor to locate causation in thst welter? Therefore, those of us who are now here by luck, fate, and chance, should look at life as an existentialist. We are agents behaving in life and our acts define us. We have choices and we make decisions. We take responsibility and experience guilt. God is not present in these scenarios. We have to face the consequences for our actions. If we choose faith,on the other hand, then we will see the divine in our human existence. I believe and I regard the Bible as a guide. There is no divine intervention, however. In sum, an atheist rolls with the punches.

Anonymous said...

What's the deal with final causes?
Why wouldn't an atheist say that final causes exist?

I'm an atheist and yes - I have actions that are directed or purposive. BUT! that doesn't mean there is purpose to life or that God exists.

The theist wants to trick you into thinking "if final causes exist here, then they MUST point to God existing".

Crude said...

And the atheist wants to trick you into thinking that if final causes exist, they don't point to God! Don't believe the lies!

*ahem* Okay, that jokery aside - Ed lays out the case for final causes, as well as why final causes (and other arguments) ultimately point towards God, in The Last Superstition. Pick up the book, most recent anonymous, if you want to understand his reasoning and argument. It's good stuff, if a bit abrasive against the more inane atheists (Dawkins, etc. While being highly complimentary of others' arguments, like Searle and Fodor.)

Ilíon said...

Inane argumentation should be abraded.

Anonymous said...

There is no final "eschatological" purpose in a non-magical universe but there still is purpose. so the human race might not be here in any form 2 billion years from now that isn't a reason to kill yourself today. You'll work, raise children and save money because the present is actually important too.

Ilíon said...

Isn't it interesting that Magick-worshippers (I prefer to call it "Magick" to distinguish it from fairy-tale and fantasy 'magic'), such as this Anonymouse, seem constitutionally incapable of thinking clearly, or of not imputing to us their own intellectual failures.

Anonymous said...

My criticism stands.

Crude said...

Your argument, isn't. It's just a declaration by fiat. "There is purpose because I say there's purpose! You'll do these things because you'll do them!"

As I said, to see why Ed connects final causes with theism, read his book. He also does a fine job of explaining why denying final causes and universals "really" exist has some terrifying consequences.

Anonymous said...

Dr Feser, I do wish you would actually answer the question of whether or not waterboarding is or is not morally acceptable based on your two criteria of "orthodox" Roman Catholicism and classical natural law. You're quick to get hung up on the notion of whether torture is "obvious" or not. But what about the "torture" bit. I understand you are a serious professional philosopher, but a little less bloviating and sidestepping would be greatly appreciated. You seem to enjoy the gamesmanship of philosophy perhaps a tad too much. "Open theological question" indeed. Or is it the case you might in fact disagree with "orthodox" Catholic moral teaching on this one, and you're afraid to go out on a limb without the Magesterium there to catch you. I expect a witless, condescending response.

Edward Feser said...

Oh brother. More of this crap.

Anonymous, I have made it clear many times over at WWWtW why I think there are serious questions about whether waterboarding is (a) intrinsically immoral, (b) not intrinsically immoral but still immoral all things considered, or (c) not immoral at all. I don't know of any compelling arguments for (a), though there might be some. There are stronger arguments for (b). As I have said, I have not had a chance to form a settled view of the question. The reason I brought it up, though, is that I wanted to show why the issue is more complicated than some people seem to think, so that the self-righteous posturing should stop.

I have also said that inflicting severe pain for purposes of punishment, though not intrinsically immoral, is still something that should not be done, all things considered. And I have said that (1) the standard "neo-con" arguments in favor of waterboarding for the purposes of extracting life-saving information from a terrorist are inadequate, and (2) until the Church pronounces on this issue, waterboarding should not be used. How all that is "pro-torture," I have no idea.

I invite you to go back and read what I have written more carefully and fair-mindedly. Barring that, I invite you to buzz off.

Ilíon said...

Amonymouse: "My criticism stands."

But you haven't offered a criticism -- and in fact, what you've done is simply signal your refusal to grapple with the issues (and specifically, the utter pointlessness of human existence were God-denial the truth about the nature of reality).

All you've done is fly the colors of your tribe; we've seen that flag, it's boring.

Aaron said...

Cold,

I'm deeply sorry for your loss. I can relate to much of what you say, especially about your feelings of hopelessness and purposelessness in a world without God. And like you, I feel like if God does actually exist, then one could live believing that there is in fact objective meaning and purpose to life.

I highly recommend you read "The Last Superstition." Parts of it are certainly more demanding than others, but I don't at all believe they would be over your head, or such that you wouldn't be able to understand them.

I would also like to recommend 2 other books that I found particularly fascinating and helpful to read. They are "God and the Philosophers" and "Philosophers Who Believe." Both books are collections of autobiographical essays of philosophers describing their personal journeys to belief in God.

I am very much like yourself in that I'm not sure what I believe. I think these books would really help you, as they helped me, in reading about these men and women who have wrestled with the same questions that we are.

As someone who is dealing with grief yourself, I'll leave you with a quote from one of my favorite essays:

"The modern Western practice is to disown one's grief: to get over it, to put it behind one, to get on with life, to put it out of mind, to insure that it not become part of one's identity. My struggle was to own it, to make it part of my identity: if you want to know who I am, you must know that I am one whose son died. But then, to own it redemptively. It takes a long time to learn how to own one's suffering redemptively; one never finishes learning."

-Nicholas Wolterstorff

Warren said...

Anonymous, thy name is Shea.

Anonymous said...

Dr Feser, you still seem reluctant to make a stand one way or the other. Why is it that you're willing to avoid making a clear moral stand on this particularly grave issue of torture, and crystal clear moral arguments for and against comparably mundane matters? Saying that things are "more complicated than some people seem to think" is lukewarm at best, Jesus' vomit at worst. Face it... you're in line with the Neocons, but you're afraid of the Magesterium. Split hairs all you want, Dr. Feser, you're just another self-described "orthodox" Catholic who's trapped in an American theological discourse of crap. I'll buzz off when you ante up.

Edward Feser said...

The reason is the same reason I (like any other philosopher) don't have a firm view of many other philosophical and moral issues: I simply haven't yet had a chance to think it through completely given everything else I'm working on. The only reason I raised it at all was that I believe that Zippy Catholic was being unjust in holding, as he had in a couple of posts at WWWtW a week or so ago, that the right view (i.e. his view) was so obvious that no serious inquiry was needed in order to discover it and that those who disagreed with his view were comparable to those who minimize the Holocaust, abortion, etc. This struck me as so over the top, that a response was in order to show that things are not as simple as that.

How you think my view that waterboarding and the like should NOT be used unless and until the Church makes it clear that it is morally licit -- IF it is -- somehow supports the "Neocon" agenda (whatever that is) I have no idea.

Anyway, I have explained in detail over at WWWtW exactly why I take the view I do. Rather than answer any of my arguments, you simply repeat groundless speculations about my "real" motives.

Whatever. But I do hope it brings you some satisfaction, fella -- if you need to troll comboxes to get your kicks, you've given us all another bracing reminder of why the rest of us should count our blessings. Thanks!

Edward Feser said...

"Anonymous" is not Mark Shea, Warren. Shea has the guts to post under his own name. Nor is it anyone else I've tangled with over at WWWtW. The content and style actually seem to me to point to a certain other blogger -- of the obscure, pathetic, anonymnous kind, though one who (like a certain well-known blogger) seems to have something of a fixation on me. I won't provide a link, lest two or three readers check it out and thereby double his traffic.

Michael B said...

Anonymous, you're as witlessly contemptuous and venomous as a Perez Hilton, and as uncomprehending as Larry, Moe and Curly grappling with the ontological argument.

Also, anon, if you were more genuinely interested in the subject of waterboarding as applied to the three terrorists or alleged terrorists it was used upon, and were interested in its moral viability or lack thereof in those three circumstances, then you'd be content to simply use the descriptive term 'waterboarding' without using the categorical, indiscriminate term 'torture' at all. Or, bare minimum, you would at least be willing to acknowledge various degrees or classifications of 'torture' ranging, for example, from waterboarding on through to more truly extreme and obvious forms such as scaphism. Under such a schema there might be three or four, or several more, degrees or gradients of "torture" conceived.

Instead, you use the more presumptive and indiscriminate and categorical term precisely because you want to use it as a weapon, to browbeat with, or to accuse President Bush or others in the administration with, etc. So, you're not interested in a serious, probative inquiry in the first place, on a moral plane. You're interested in clubbing others with a rhetorical weapon.

That's why you're content to personify a Perez Hilton-styled bombast and witlessness, and a Larry, Moe and Curly-styled dullity and incomprehension. You don't care about others' humanity and humane treatment, you care about your triumphalist, egoistic bravado and an overly leveraged and presumptive and facile contempt. That's certainly the appearance you lend, on at least two or three different levels.

In short, you stink, you reek.

Warren said...

""Anonymous" is not Mark Shea, Warren."

Oh I know, it was just a dumb remark, meant tongue in cheek.

Anonymous said...

You folks haven't got the slightest idea who I/Anonymous am, and you never will.

That being said... Dr. Feser, I appreciate your response to my admittedly snarky posts. Complicating the way we think about torture in moral terms should be the goal of all philosophers and non-philosophers alike. So thank you. If I understand your theological/philosophical/ ideological perspective correctly, you are saying that at base torture of the waterboarding variety IS NOT immoral, which I presume means that it IS moral (I believe this was your "a" option.) So here's what I see is at stake in your argument: those who say that waterboarding is unquestionably torture are in effect rejecting the theological system that you and many of your readers subscribe to, at least in this case. All of which raises the the obvious (perhaps too obvious) point, namely, that theology doesn't have a monopoly on morality.

And to all of your knee-jerk defenders... relax, this is a blog, where all trolls are free.