Thursday, October 27, 2011

Reading Rosenberg, Part I

I called attention in an earlier post to my review in First Things of Alex Rosenberg’s new book The Atheist’s Guide to Reality.  Here I begin a series of posts devoted to examining Rosenberg’s book in more detail than I had space for in the review.  The book is worthy of such attention because Rosenberg sees more clearly than any other prominent atheist just how extreme are the implications of the scientism on which modern atheists tend to base their position.  Indeed, it is amazing how similar his conclusions are to those I argue follow from scientism in chapters 5 and 6 of The Last Superstition.  The difference is that whereas I claim that these consequences constitute a reductio ad absurdum of the premises that lead to them, Rosenberg regards them as “pretty obvious” and “totally unavoidable” truths about an admittedly “rough reality,” which atheists should embrace despite its roughness.  How rough is it?  Writes Rosenberg:

Science -- especially physics and biology -- reveals that reality is completely different from what most people think.  It’s not just different from what credulous religious believers think.  Science reveals that reality is stranger than even many atheists recognize. (p. ix)

and

The right answers are ones that even some scientists have not been comfortable with and have sought to avoid or water down. (p. xii)

What these answers amount to is nothing less than a pretty thoroughgoing “nihilism,” though a nihilism that Rosenberg assures us is of “a nice sort,” or at least can be made bearable given that “there’s always Prozac.”  Part of what he has in mind is what you’d expect any atheist to claim -- that there is no God, no life after death, and that neither the universe as a whole, nor history, nor any individual human life has any point or purpose.  He also has in mind claims that some atheists try to resist or qualify but which many of them would allow are at least hard to avoid given their metaphysical assumptions -- that free will and morality (including any secular system of morality) are illusions.

But Rosenberg goes well beyond these familiar atheist themes.  In his view, when followed out consistently, scientism entails that introspective consciousness does not give us genuine knowledge of our own nature or of the causes of our behavior.  Indeed, it entails that the self is an illusion.  It entails that meaning and purpose are illusions even at the level of the individual human mind -- that none of our thoughts is really “about” anything at all, and that no individual human being ever really forms plans or has any purposes of his own.  And it entails that history, the humanities, and much of social science, to the extent that they presuppose that there are selves with meaningful thoughts who plan and act purposively, give us no genuine knowledge about the world -- they are, at best, mere entertainments.  In general, narratives or stories of any sort (including allegedly “true” narratives or stories, and including allegedly true secular narratives or stories) are sheer fictions.  Only the “formulas, wiring diagrams, systems of equations… geometrical proofs” and the like of scientific discourse give us actual knowledge.

What Rosenberg is committed to, then, is the claim that the scientism upon which modern atheism rests entails a radical eliminative materialism (though he doesn’t employ that term in the book, perhaps so as to avoid too much technical jargon in a work aimed at a largely non-philosophical audience).  Common sense takes it to be obvious -- indeed, so obvious that it seems that only philosophers ever bother calling attention to the fact -- that the things we say and the thoughts our words express have meaning, that they are about or refer to things in the world.  That is to say, they have intentionality, the philosopher’s technical term for a thought’s meaningfulness, “aboutness,” or “directedness toward” an object or referent.  Eliminative materialism (or the version of eliminative materialism Rosenberg endorses, anyway) holds that this is an illusion, that intentionality is not a genuine feature of the world and ought to be eliminated from our picture of reality.  Much (though not all) of what Rosenberg has to say rests on this fundamental thesis.

Some of this ground was already covered by Rosenberg almost two years ago, in his online article “The Disenchanted Naturalist’s Guide to Reality.”  (I replied to that article in an earlier series of blog posts, here, here, and here.  What I said in those posts applies to the book as well, though naturally I will have new things to say in the present series of posts.)  The article is useful reading for anyone who wants a prĂ©cis of the book, though (perhaps for marketing reasons) the book is slightly less downbeat than the article.  (The last line of the article is “So much for the meaning of history, and everything else we care about.”  The subtitle of the book is “Enjoying Life Without Illusions.”  On the other hand, by the time of the book’s last line, Rosenberg is advising his readers to “Take a Prozac or your favorite serotonin reuptake inhibitor, and keep taking them till they kick in.”  I hope Duke University’s health plan affords Rosenberg a generous prescription drug benefit!)

The article also seems a tad more explicit than the book is about just how radical the implications of denying intentionality are.  To be sure, the book makes it clear enough that Rosenberg holds that none of our thoughts is really “about” anything.  But except for an allusion here or there, it does not make it as plain as the article does that this entails that linguistic meaning (including the purported meanings of the very words in Rosenberg’s book and article themselves) is also an illusion, and that strictly speaking there are no such things as beliefs, desires, and the like.  Perhaps Rosenberg was concerned that even the average secular reader would find it difficult to read such claims sympathetically.  As a combox remark following his original article indicates, Rosenberg is impatient with what he regards as facile attempts to show that eliminative materialism is self-refuting (“He says he believes that there are no beliefs!” etc.)  So, perhaps Rosenberg hoped to forestall such objections by putting the emphasis on the idea that the “aboutness” of our beliefs is illusory, rather than on the theme that beliefs themselves are, or that the “aboutness” of even our words is.

Rosenberg is correct to hold that the eliminative materialist can easily avoid using locutions like “believes that,” so as to evade any direct self-contradiction of the “believing that there are no beliefs” kind.  The real question, though, is whether the eliminativist can, even in principle, entirely avoid stating his position in a way that does not presuppose intentionality.  And the answer (as I argued in my earlier posts on Rosenberg and in chapter 6 of The Last Superstition, and as I will argue in this series of posts) is that he cannot avoid it.  That much suffices to refute Rosenberg’s position.  But there are many other problems with it.

Scientism’s guide to reality

We’ll get to all that.  For the moment let’s look a little more closely at Rosenberg’s scientism.  The first thing to say about it is that scientism (the view that science alone gives us knowledge of reality), rather than atheism, is the true subject of The Atheist’s Guide to Reality.  Atheism is for Rosenberg just one of the consequences that he takes to follow from scientism, not something he argues for independently.  Indeed, while one could argue for atheism on non-scientistic grounds, one imagines that Rosenberg would have no interest in such arguments if they were positively at odds with scientism.  What he is interested in is spelling out what else follows from the scientism that motivates his atheism.

For this reason Rosenberg does not even bother saying much by way of criticism of theistic arguments.  Much of his justification for this neglect is New Atheist-style bluster to the effect that “belief in God is on a par with belief in Santa Claus,” etc.  (Rosenberg confesses that the tone of his book is bound to come across as “patronizing” and “smug.”)  But he does try to offer what he takes to be three substantive reasons for it.  First, he says, everything that needs to be said by way of philosophical criticism of theism has already been said by others, and indeed was pretty much said by David Hume in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion.  Second, the fact that theists persist in their belief despite these well-known criticisms shows that they are not going to be convinced by arguments anyway.  Third, atheists are, accordingly, better advised to devote their attention to exploring the implications of their own position rather than arguing against theism.

Needless to say, these are not philosophically serious reasons for refusing to engage theistic arguments, for they blatantly beg the question.  Rosenberg himself acknowledges that there are intelligent and well-informed people who are not atheists.  He surely realizes that they are not going to agree with him that Hume put paid to theism over two centuries ago, will also not agree with the insinuation that those who think otherwise are either ill-informed or dishonest, and therefore will disagree as well with the judgment that the atheist need not make any case for his position but can focus instead on spelling out its implications.  Rosenberg has offered them no argument for thinking otherwise, but only assertion.

No doubt Rosenberg would accuse those who would make such a retort of bad faith; indeed, his book is peppered with condescending accusations of bad faith against those who disagree with him.  But such accusations also simply beg the question, for whether contemporary theists really are acting in bad faith is itself part of what is at issue in the dispute between atheists and theists.  The only way to establish that they are would be actually to deal with their arguments, and to show (rather than merely to assert), not only that the arguments fail, but that they fail so spectacularly that no intelligent and well-informed person acting in good faith could possibly accept them.   

That would be a rather bold claim to make even if Rosenberg showed any evidence of being familiar with what serious philosophers of religion, past and present, have actually said.  In fact one suspects that his reading on the subject ended with whatever was in the anthology they used in his undergraduate PHIL 101 class.  Rosenberg comes across as a paradigm case of the sort of person the atheist philosopher of religion Quentin Smith had in mind when he judged that “the great majority of naturalist philosophers have an unjustified belief that naturalism is true and an unjustified belief that theism (or supernaturalism) is false.”  Their naturalism, Smith says, typically rests on nothing more than an ill-informed “hand waving dismissal of theism” which ignores “the erudite brilliance of theistic philosophizing today.”  Smith continues:

If each naturalist who does not specialize in the philosophy of religion (i.e., over ninety-nine percent of naturalists) were locked in a room with theists who do specialize in the philosophy of religion, and if the ensuing debates were refereed by a naturalist who had a specialization in the philosophy of religion, the naturalist referee could at most hope the outcome would be that “no definite conclusion can be drawn regarding the rationality of faith,” although I expect the most probable outcome is that the naturalist, wanting to be a fair and objective referee, would have to conclude that the theists definitely had the upper hand in every single argument or debate.

Due to the typical attitude of the contemporary naturalist… the vast majority of naturalist philosophers have come to hold (since the late 1960s) an unjustified belief in naturalism. Their justifications have been defeated by arguments developed by theistic philosophers, and now naturalist philosophers, for the most part, live in darkness about the justification for naturalism. They may have a true belief in naturalism, but they have no knowledge that naturalism is true since they do not have an undefeated justification for their belief.  If naturalism is true, then their belief in naturalism is accidentally true.  [“The Metaphilosophy of Naturalism,” Philo: A Journal of Philosophy (Fall-Winter 2001)]

Now Smith, unlike Rosenberg, actually has expertise in the philosophy of religion.  He also has expertise in areas of philosophy for which Rosenberg no doubt has greater respect (such as philosophy of science and metaphysics) and in natural science as well.  Nor is Smith by any means the only prominent naturalist to regard many of his fellow non-believers as prone to just the sort of ignorance and dogmatism of which they accuse theists.  (See the passages from the likes of Thomas Nagel, John Searle, Tyler Burge, and William Lycan quoted at the end of this recent post.)  Rosenberg can hardly accuse such thinkers of ignorance of science and philosophy, or of having a theological ax to grind.  Yet if they are right, then atheists cannot pretend to have a so strong a presumption in their favor that they needn’t bother engaging the arguments of the other side.  And even if they are wrong, the atheist has to show that they are wrong, not simply assert that they are.

Consider also that Rosenberg’s sword cuts both ways -- that the move he makes could be made against atheists themselves.  Suppose a theist wrote a book called The Theist’s Guide to Reality, but devoted no attention to answering any atheist arguments against theism.  And suppose he tried to justify this by suggesting, first, that everything that needs to be said against atheism has already been said by others, and indeed was pretty much said by Thomas Aquinas; second, that the fact that atheists don’t acknowledge this shows that they are not going to be convinced by arguments anyway; and third, that theists are accordingly better advised to devote their attention to spelling out the implications of their position rather than arguing against atheism.

Rosenberg would no doubt regard this as delusional.  But of course, we theists regard his own refusal to engage the other side as delusional.  There is no way rationally to break this deadlock except to do what Rosenberg refuses to do -- actually to examine the arguments for both sides of the dispute between atheism and theism, rather than shamelessly to beg the question in favor of one of the sides and simply declare this farcical procedure to be the “rational” one.  (Any atheist reader tempted at this point to deploy the Myers Shuffle by shouting “Courtier’s Reply!” should know that that would simply be to beg the question yet again, since whether the arguments for theism are really comparable to those of a naked emperor’s apologist is precisely what is at issue.)

Writes Rosenberg:

[T]his book is written mainly for those of us who are already deniers, not just doubters and agnostics.  Although we will address the foibles and fallacies (as well as the wishful thinking) of theists, we won’t treat theism as a serious alternative that stills [sic] needs to be refuted.  This book’s intended readers have moved past that point.  We know the truth.  (p. xii)

“We know the truth.”  Replace “deniers” with “believers,” and “theists” and “theism” with “atheists” and “atheism,” and Rosenberg sounds exactly like Jerry Falwell (or at least like what liberals think Jerry Falwell sounded like).  This is not philosophy.  It‘s a shout-out to an amen corner, an appeal to the mob.  That those in the mob have advanced degrees and Darwin Fish on the trunks of their cars doesn’t make it any less so.

So much for what the book does not say.  In the next post we’ll get to the first of Rosenberg’s actual arguments -- the reason he thinks scientism is unavoidable.

166 comments:

Brian said...

Here's a question:

Does atheism necessarily imply things like materialism, scientism, etc.?

Joshua said...

It seems to me that right from the bat such a worldview defeats any attempt to argue for it. To even articulate such a worldview presupposes that one's thoughts have meaning, and to marshal any evidence presupposes that such evidence is really about reality. It just seems to, in a more convoluted and apparently "sophisticated" way end up just as self-defeating as one who claims that truth is absolutely relative. If it is, then how can you argue with someone who disagrees? You have denied the very basis over which any argument is possible.

I am reminded of a response a professor of mine once gave to a student who said he agreed with Hume about there being no universals in thought. "Maybe you have no universals, but I do" The student tried to argue back that the human mind was incapable of such but he just responded that the student seems to have a universal concept of humanity from which he was arguing from. Maybe Rosenberg has no meaning behind any of his thoughts or words (heck maybe he really isn't a he, after all he denies the ontological self). But by making that claim, he refutes also any basis for him to make that claim about me or you, or even really about himself.

machinephilosophy said...

A universal is just a quantification of a term. Is the "denial" of universals saying that no one can use the word "no" and other universal quantifiers? If so someone's flat out of luck, in the nature of the case, because of what that statement itself asserts.

Moreover---and I'm following Grisez and Boyle very closely here---once -communicated-, that universal denial becomes performatively and empirically inconsistent---not "just theory", as the presets of loop guruism would say.

Because the set of communications is itself quantified so as to affect the set of objects with that name, "communication" (data transfer, sends, etc., call it what you like, doesn't change a thing)---including that communication itself---that same communication is thereby itself neutralized because of a self-imposed impossibility.

Kordig, the "Man With No Name" of the philosophy of logic, turned this kind of analysis into a science, and---sure enough---he was a theist. He knew well that divine mindfulness was inherent and necessarily assumed in the mind-ruling authority of how we treat our most basic and irreducible assumptions.

Anonymous said...

Of course, Rosenberg is trying to express the inexpressible and is therefore running into linguistic contradiction. But what if the truth is indeed inexpressible? How could we humans convey it sans linguistic expression?

Philip Cartwright said...

Scientism, like Naturalism, is incoherent and based on metaphysical illusions. But the thing to remember is that it is not held in place by argument, but by a culture. It is not a problem of the intellect, but a problem of power.

And, of course, neither Scientism nor Naturalism are the only options for atheists.

Alfredo said...

I think you're a little too hard on Rosenberg on the matter of his dialectical situation.

(I leave aside his deprecating and condescending remarks about theists and religious believers in general. We Christians do (or should) feel an obligation to treat our opponents with respect. Atheists often do not feel any such obligation. Too bad for them, but so be it.)

To return to the main point: You or I might write something intended for a theistic or Christian audience in which I am trying to articulate the consequences of some doctrine that I assume is accepted by all the readers. I wouldn't feel obliged in that context to refute atheistic objections to God's existence. Rosenberg apparently intends to do something like this for scientistic readers. That doesn't mean that his book can't be criticized by people outside his intended audience. But the criticisms should be mainly directed, as many of yours are, at either showing that some of the alleged consequences do not follow or that the consequences that do follow are defective in ways the author seems unwilling to face up to.

mattghg said...

If scientism is unavoidable, and Rosenberg has arguments to that effect, then atheism follows. He really doesn't need to address theistic arguments if that's the situation.

It isn't the situation, of course, but my point is that Rosenberg could have politely declined to argue against theism and given a good reason for doing so (argue for scientism and show that atheism follows from it) rather than blown so much bluster.

DNW said...

I have not read Rosenberg's book, nor as of yet, the article. But on the basis of your description, I think that he is doing something quite useful. He is sketching out the unvarnished implications of his system of assumptions, and exhibiting the mindset - if we take his motivations at face value - that ensues from such assumptions and the embrace of their implications.

An interesting question is what a scientistic language and "community" of "persons" would look like if they attempted to match behavior to belief.


We could start by listing the concepts (and their implicative baggage) that an attempt at ideological consistency would require they jettison ... person, mind, intention, self, "meaning" and explore where that would lead "in real life".

Regardless of whether or not such an effort would collapse under the weight of internal contradictions, or whether a nihilist would even think it worth trying to align his "life" with his "insights", it would be interesting to observe the struggle to work it out.

As long as the reach of these humanly deconstructed appetite entities did not extend to me.


My considered opinion however, is that no matter how loudly I encouraged them to "JUMP!", they would make some kind of excuse for not doing so. Something along the lines of: " Well, we are born into these illusions and this cloud of deception, and have evolved to live it; therefore trying to radically adjust our "lives" in order to conform to our insights would be as pointless as reality itself. So, by the way, please don't kill me if I annoy you, even though it's not really wrong or even meaningful in a scientific sense, even to me."

machinephilosophy said...

"what if the truth is indeed inexpressible? How could we humans convey it sans linguistic expression?"

You're already conveying it by expressing the inexpressibility claim itself as true.

Ray Ingles said...

"neither the universe as a whole, nor history, nor any individual human life has any point or purpose."

In what sense of 'point'? Does the universe express a proposition? Does a human life express a proposition?

Even if the universe wasn't produced with a purpose in some Mind, why can't individuals within the universe develop purposes for it? I mean, if I find a rock and throw it to ward off an oncoming bear, am I wrong to find a purpose for that rock?

"morality (including any secular system of morality) are illusions."

If morality is understood as a behest or set of commands, I suppose. On the other hand, if it's understood as 'the study of how best to relate to others' it can be non-illusory.

I asked JA on the last thread if it was a good idea to sacrifice your queen for a pawn at the start of a chess game, and he said no. When I pointed out that wasn't part of the basic rules of chess (unlike, say, how putting your king in check is forbidden), he dropped the conversation.

If you want to win a chess a game, you shouldn't throw away your queen casually. That "shouldn't" arises from the interaction of the desire to win the game, and the fundamental rules of chess. It's a strategic rule. That doesn't mean it's an "illusion", though.

Humans have desires, and the universe has fundamental 'laws' of physics. If morals are understood as "strategies for how to interact with others so as to fulfill one's desires", they don't have to be illusions, either.

machinephilosophy said...

So there's some kind of rabbit-out-of-the-hat moral obligation to prohibit giving Natural Selection a boost using a shotgun?

-Which- purposes? -Which- desires? You're ignoring the main question, which is typical of pie-in-the-social-sky I-think-I-can moralistic thumping and whining.

Let's see an argued distinction between such purposes and desires that does not merely repeat them as if that's an invisible-moral-friend argument for them.

Ray Ingles said...

machinephilosophy - Okay. You can start here or here, though I can give a nutshell version.

Life isn't a zero-sum game. Frequently everyone can win (or everyone lose). In such cases, game theory has identified traits that general, successful strategies incorporate - they are 'nice' (don't start fights), 'non-envious', 'forgiving' (don't get stuck in loops of mutual recrimination), but 'retaliating' - they defend themselves if attacked. Sound familiar? (See also the Traveller's Dilemma.)

As to objections about 'which purposes', I'd like to relay a story I read about back in 2003:

"When one of the most secure and luxurious of his palace-and-bunker complexes was completed in 1984, at a cost of $70 million, Saddam Hussein moved in right away. But even protected by enormous layers of concrete, sand and steel, behind zigzag corridors and blast doors made to withstand a Hiroshima-size explosion, and guarded by men who knew they'd have to be ready to die for him, or be killed by him, Saddam apparently could not sleep.

'All night long he heard a sound like the cocking of a pistol,' remembers Wolfgang Wendler, the German engineer who supervised the project. Wendler was summoned by angry officials to find out what was wrong. He discovered a faulty thermostat."

Saddam, of course, deserves no pity. But this is the kind of life he led - literally jumping at shadows, because there was no one he could fully trust. Stalin became so suspicious of doctors that later in life he refused their treatment and consulted with veterinarians instead. These dictators had plenty of purely material comforts, but in the process of acquiring them they'd given up any chance of enjoying them untroubled by fears of assassination, let alone the pleasures of sharing them with loved ones. They could literally never afford to fully relax. Perhaps there are a few individuals for whom that would be worth the trade, but I wonder if they ever regretted the situations they'd locked themselves into.

Anonymous said...

mattghg wrote: "Rosenberg could have politely declined to argue against theism and given a good reason for doing so (argue for scientism and show that atheism follows from it)"

Peter Kreeft calls this the fallacy of "refuting" an argument by refuting its conclusion:

"Arguers often assume that they have completed their job when they only refute a conclusion and do not refute the argument that supposedly proves it. But they have not. For they have only put forth an apparently-equally-good argument to prove the opposite conclusion; they have only engaged in offensive logical warfare and not defensive; they have left the original argument still standing. The result of this is not to prove or convince, but to paralyze the mind of a rational and objective listener, for the listener now finds himself suspended between two arguments, and two conclusions, that seem equally convincing."

--Peter Kreeft, Socratic Logic (3.1 edition), pp. 104-105

machinephilosophy said...

That was a nutshell version of no argument at all, just some Sesame Street "Why can't we all just get along?" crap that has nothing to do with the question. Very similar to the evasiveness of loop gurus of religion.

Don't bother telling stories as if they are good substitutes for arguments. The question is about the criteria for obligation. If I didn't have an argument for my views, I would simply say so, not go on and on with preacher-like homilies, sending people off to chase equally vague writings on other websites, which are not even valid URLs anyway. But what's a little more vagueness and evasion when the original question has not even been addressed with an actual argument?

For some, a bullet in someone's head achieves a purpose, fulfills a desire---and is game over, and no amount of "can" moralizing will make a whit of difference.

DNW said...

Brian said..

"Here's a question:

Does atheism necessarily imply things like materialism, scientism, etc.?"



"McTaggart [an idealist] ... was an advocate of women's suffrage; and though an atheist from his youth was a firm believer in human immortality and ..."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._M._E._McTaggart


Acknowledgement to the works of F.C. Copleston for the original information ...

Ray Ingles said...

machinephilosophy - "The question is about the criteria for obligation."

"Obligation" in what sense, though?

As I noted, you're not obligated by the rules of chess to avoid sacrificing your queen in a chess game. But if you want to win the game, it's an obligatory strategic consideration.

A related concept is engineering. One is not obliged to build a bridge out of steel and cement. But if you want the bridge to stay up, you're obligated not to build it out of pudding.

(As to the links, I'm not sure how they got corrupted. Let's try it again. They're showing up right in the preview window.)

DNW said...

machinephilosophy said...

That was a nutshell version of no argument at all, just some Sesame Street "Why can't we all just get along?" crap that has nothing to do with the question. Very similar to the evasiveness of loop gurus of religion.

Don't bother telling stories as if they are good substitutes for arguments. The question is about the criteria for obligation. If I didn't have an argument for my views, I would simply say so, not go on and on with preacher-like homilies, sending people off to chase equally vague writings on other websites, which are not even valid URLs anyway. But what's a little more vagueness and evasion when the original question has not even been addressed with an actual argument?

For some, a bullet in someone's head achieves a purpose, fulfills a desire---and is game over, and no amount of "can" moralizing will make a whit of difference.

October 28, 2011 10:21 AM


I hesitate to drag this fellow out, but since I am not leveling an accusation and one dictator has already been brought up ...

We all recall that the often referred to Herr Hitler was no believer in God, yet he was a man who still conceived of a purpose of his own: the values system of which reflected a kind of altruism within certain confines.

And although he reputedly had trouble sleeping at night during his later years, he would no doubt have gone on to sleep soundly in the bosom of his Aryan maidens but for a few practical misjudgments regarding just how far he could push borders and when.

Although the current scientific view holds that there is no such thing as a "pure race", and although Herr Hitler's program of selective breeding and human cultivation might not, had he succeeded politically, have produced exactly the results he envisioned, it's difficult to see what grounds a scientistic type would have for condemning the program. Hitler did not intend to go to war with, nor exterminate everyone.

In fact, our good friend John Rawls seems to have envisioned a kind of wan, if non-racially based and ostensibly non-violent, reproductive management analogy, as applying with some relevance to the social system he envisioned.

Anonymous said...

Your blog is totally pro-click, machinephilosophy.

mattghg said...

Ray,

You don't have to play chess in the first place or build bridges in the first place, either. That kind of gives an idea of where the analogy breaks down. Sure, if I want to live in such a way as would be most likely to be lovliest for everyone, then game theory might well give me a good idea of how to go about doing so. But I'm not obliged by game theory to decide to live in such a way.

Perhaps you think that game theory goes further and has shown that the best strategy for me to do well (without even caring about everyone else) is to be nice? I doubt this, but in any case those kinds of calculations are surely going to vary wildly depending on what kind of power relationships I'm in to start with (if I have tonnes of power then I can pretty much behave however I like, Gadaffi's fate notwithstanding). A genuine moral obligation is one that exists irrespective of whether or not it's the best strategy to adopt for my own benefit. That's why there aren't any real criteria for obligation in the view that you sketch.

Life isn't really much like a game of chess or building a bridge!

machinephilosophy said...

Morals are hardly about "I -can-! I -can-! It's a -strategy-!" The question is whether or not there is any obligation or duty to do or not do anything.

You can thump little ditties all day, and that still won't count as a moral or ethical theory, although I suppose it would count as some kind of non-christian or non-religious flavor of loop guru fundamentalism.

Jime said...

I've just finished the reading of Rosenberg's book and I think his views on morality are correct (if naturalism is true).

Another atheist philosopher, ethicist Joel Marks, has also defended the view that atheism implies a-morality (=the non-existence of morality). See Marks's article "The Amoral Manifesto":

http://www.philosophynow.org/issue80/An_Amoral_Manifesto_Part_I

I suspect that nihilism will be the position that most naturalists will adopt in the future regarding topics like morality and consciousness, because it seems to be the most plausible position for them given the premises of naturalism.

Ray Ingles said...

DNW - "We all recall that the often referred to Herr Hitler was no believer in God"

Do we really? That's... by no means established. He certainly wasn't a standard Christian, but rather seems to have been more of a syncretist.

"it's difficult to see what grounds a scientistic type would have for condemning the program"

I'm curious. Pretend you're a 'scientistic type', and give it your best shot.

monk68 said...

Ray,

No one is questioning that GIVEN some chosen goal (in your analogy "the desire to win the game [of chess]"), certain "strategic" rules (which drive action) or “action-rules” would logically follow as being more or less conducive to achieving that goal; and, hence, invest those action with a kind of “meaning” for the one performing them in pursuit of his chosen goal. Those strategic rules (and corresponding activities) would be neither illusory or meaningless GIVEN that goal. So what? I have witnessed atheists resorting to this sort of thing more times than I care to remember; Sam Harris being the most recent. Anyone can drum up a "subjective" account of what is, or is not, "meaningful" to oneself, given a self-designated goal or purpose.

An atheist is perfectly capable of living a "purpose driven" life. But his ontology (or at least his interpretation of the ontology he claims to hold), necessitates that his chosen goal [winning the game of choice] is objectively, ontologically, arbitrary. Hence, the correlative “rules” or actions which are said to be “meaningful” to the atheist in achieving his chosen goals are arbitrarily meaningful. The “meaning” of the actions hook onto the goal whose arbitrary nature flows from an atheist’s ontology where no grounds exist for adopting one goal over another. The fact that such goals or purposes give “meaning” (purposive direction for action in the world) to the atheist’s life derives solely from the atheists prior choice of goal(s). The atheist in effect gives himself his own sense of meaning by the goals he chooses. But why does he choose one goal over another? Only he can say. On atheism he cannot appeal to any feature of the universe itself which tips the scale in favor of one goal over another. The theist's chief complaint then is that the atheist's philosophical outlook entails that he can choose whatever the hell he wants when it comes to the very goal(s) which in turn gives "non-illusory" "meaning" to his actions in the world.

cntd . . .

monk68 said...

cntd from above . . .

Whether he helps an old lady across the street, or else shoves her into an oncoming bus depends solely on his arbitrary selection of goals [the game]. If he thinks old ladies are useful for something (maybe baking pies or knitting sweaters to keep atheists fed and warm), then he may implicitly or explicitly play the game called “Granny Preservers” where the object is to keep old ladies alive. Given as much, it becomes "meaningful" "to him" to follow the action rules which help him achieve the goal of that game, which may reasonably include helping an old lady across the street. If he does this well and often he may count himself as having lived a very meaningful life.

But then, if he would like to see the physical or societal resources consumed by old ladies re-directed to healthy atheists, he may implicitly or explicitly play the game “Granny Gonners” where the object is to reduce the number of resource-sucking old ladies in the world. Given as much, it becomes meaningful "to him" to follow the action rules which help him achieve the goal of that game, which may reasonably include shoving old ladies in front of buses. If he does this well and often he may count himself as having lived a very meaningful life.

In both cases, the action rules followed are meaningful to the actor only GIVEN the game he has chosen to play. But on atheism there is no intelligible way of predicating terms such as "good" or "evil" of the chosen game itself. Any game will do - regardless of what sort of real world activities follow logically as a matter of playing by the rules of the [chosen] game - so as to win. That is the logical problem that theists have with atheists who drone on atheistic accounts of "meaning" or "morals", etc. If you are willing to admit that your ontology does not provide you any reason to choose one game over another during your brief lifespan here on earth, I will count you a logically consistent atheist, even if I reject your ontology (or at least its interpretation) on other grounds. If you would like to argue that your ontology provides a reason for choosing one action-directing game over some other action-directing game, I'm all ears. After all, theists enjoy magical thinking – or so I hear.

Pax,

Ray Stamper

Ray Ingles said...

mattghg - "Sure, if I want to live in such a way as would be most likely to be lovliest for everyone, then game theory might well give me a good idea of how to go about doing so."

Do you think there's such a thing as 'human nature'? Does it mean something to say someone's 'human' as opposed to something else?

If so, might there be a broad commonality of goals? Might it even be the case that some goals might wind up being contrary to the best interests of humans as such?

Other humans are going to be part of the environment of any human, no matter what goals they pursue. Like the laws of physics, that's not an 'element of the game' one can 'opt out' of (until space travel, I suppose).

"A genuine moral obligation is one that exists irrespective of whether or not it's the best strategy to adopt for my own benefit."

That explains why, say, Christianity teaches morals by pointing out that God punishes in the afterlife those who do good in this life. Only the truly selfless would behave morally then.

Hmmm. Wait, that's not how morals are taught, is it?

Ray Ingles said...

machinephilosophy - "The question is whether or not there is any obligation or duty to do or not do anything."

Well, if it comes down to it, I'm okay with morals just being a 'really good idea that winds up benefiting myself and my loved ones' rather than something I'm duty-bound to do.

(Ever read Dennett on 'forced moves'? Just curious.)

Anonymous said...

Ray said: "Do we really? That's... by no means established. He certainly wasn't a standard Christian, but rather seems to have been more of a syncretist."

Because he put God ahead of everything else? He could have been a nominal Christian or a Catholic, but one who valued other idols (belief in the greatness of German people, belief in socialism, adoration of Karl Marx, dislike of 'lesser races' - Jews and Slavs etc.) ahead of God. These would be contrary to orthodox Christian or Catholic teaching. It's more likely Hitler went against the Catechism of the Catholic Church then with it. Certainly the slaughter of Catholic Polish women, children and non-combatant men (such as my grandfather) to strengthen one's worldly kingdom does not appear as Church teaching, neither is consequentionalism. He may as well have been an atheist, since his war mongering was not derived from Jesus Christ.

Ray Ingles said...

Anonymous - You might want to re-read what I wrote. I said Hitler wasn't a standard Christian. He seemed to draw from a lot of different traditions.

(Of course, the vast majority of those who actually carried out the Holocaust were Christian.)

Duke of Earl said...

Well, if it comes down to it, I'm okay with morals just being a 'really good idea that winds up benefiting myself and my loved ones' rather than something I'm duty-bound to do.

Just as long as you don't mind someone else thinking that the best thing for them and theirs is bumping off you and yours.

(Of course, the vast majority of those who actually carried out the Holocaust were Christian.)

Were they? We know of the Confessing Church, who were Christians opposed to Hitler, of whom a lot ended up in the camps. We know that Hitler created a German Christian Church where the first allegiance was to the German State and not to that "Jewish religion."

I would go as far as to say that a person who rejected the Jewish Jesus could not be a Christian in any meaningful sense of the word.

Fan said...

"(Of course, the vast majority of those who actually carried out the Holocaust were Christian.)"

Just so happens the the vast majority of those who fought against it were Christian.

Jinzang said...

you're not obligated by the rules of chess to avoid sacrificing your queen in a chess game. But if you want to win the game, it's an obligatory strategic consideration.

If you accept the goal of winning the game. But you've only kicked the can down the road. A doting parent might sacrifice their queen in order to let their child win at chess. Hence it is not at all obvious that one *should* play chess to win.

Similarly, you cannot assume that the continued existence of humanity is a self-evident goal. (Though I personally agree.) It is not contrary to logic (though it is perverse) to regard mankind as similar to a noxious bacteria in a petri dish.

Tony said...

Whether he helps an old lady across the street, or else shoves her into an oncoming bus depends solely on his arbitrary selection of goals [the game].

Right. Arbitrary all the way around.

Ray, the better analogy is not a simple chess game between you and your pal, it is you playing yourself at chess, and all the while you making up "slight' changes to the rules any time you wish for it because you could create a really neat board situation that way. After a while, of course, you simply walk away from the board. Why? Because (a) playing against yourself means playing while announcing all of the potential future moves you envision and your whole strategy to your opponent, and he to you; (b) in addition to knowing your opponent's strategy in perfect detail, you also have the capacity to will that he move in a particular way, so he cannot possibly avoid your strategy; and (c) changing the rules at will means you aren't really playing chess any more, and you aren't playing anything else either: there is no more knowing what "win" means, or whether X situation is "better" than any other. There is no longer any meaning to the game.

Ray, you appear to have completely missed the radical depth of Rosenberg's comments about meaning. Even if you want to say that you can "give yourself" meaning for these actions for the next 5 minutes, it is all illusory, because there is no self to have meaning, and there is no free will to make choices, etc.

Do you think there's such a thing as 'human nature'? Does it mean something to say someone's 'human' as opposed to something else?

If naturalism is correct, then the answer to both of these is: NO. Which is exactly what Rosenberg is saying.

E.H. Munro said...

If you accept the goal of winning the game. But you've only kicked the can down the road. A doting parent might sacrifice their queen in order to let their child win at chess. Hence it is not at all obvious that one *should* play chess to win.

Similarly, you cannot assume that the continued existence of humanity is a self-evident goal. (Though I personally agree.)


This is my biggest problem with all the bafflegab spit out by the gnu herd. Mike Flynn pointed out once here in a combox that in the gilded age the theory of evolution by natural selection produced the philosophy of Social Darwinism. And then once we reached the age of western liberal social democracy evolution suddenly became about "cooperation". But in both cases it was nothing more than academics grafting their values onto scientific theory.

Just as Herbert Spencer grafted his free market anarchism onto natural selection and produced a theory of life as a competition (the phrase survival of the fittest was actually Spencer's and not Darwin's) more modern thinkers have grafted their morality onto natural selection.

Even if we accept that the continued existence of the human race is the goal it's not at all clear that the strategies that serve us in within the context of liberal social democracy would have worked as well during the first quarter million years of hominid existence.

Any evolutionary sociological/psychological/anthropological theory that starts with an assumption about an ideal state of affairs is attempting to sneak a moral conclusion into the bar through the back door.

machinephilosophy said...

mattghg

Agreed on obligation, criteria, and the niceness quandry. But if moral obligation is not necessarily the best strategy to adopt for your own benefit, why should it benefit any -other- self or any self at all? And whose judgment gets preference in assessing arguments and deciding this issue?

Seems like there is a core rational self-interest that already necessarily drives the discussion from each person's respective vantage point in deciding the truth of the matter. That doesn't mean that finite individuals perfectly instantiate such a position of evaluative authority, but they still must play the role of God of their own belief choices.

Felix said...

"It entails that meaning and purpose are illusions even at the level of the individual human mind -- that none of our thoughts is really “about” anything at all, and that no individual human being ever really forms plans or has any purposes of his own."

So why write a book? If that is the case, there is no "reality" (a certain "aboutness" regarding the state of the world) because there are no "people" to precieve it. There is no such thing as "atheism" (a certain "aboutness" regarding the exsistence of God) because there are no "atheists" to believe in it. More importantly, how can Rosenberg say that his scientism lead to his atheism when there is no such thing as "science" because there are no "scientists" to practice it?

"If morality is understood as a behest or set of commands, I suppose. On the other hand, if it's understood as 'the study of how best to relate to others' it can be non-illusory."

but

" In general, narratives or stories of any sort (including allegedly “true” narratives or stories, and including allegedly true secular narratives or stories) are sheer fictions"

Therefore Ray completely misses the point, there is no "relating" to "others". Since "people" or a concept of a "person" is just an illusion. Hitler did not kill "Jews" or other "people", all it is was energy and matter rearranging itself through a given time in a confined space (gas chamber. In light of Rosenberg's argument, we can't eve say that the twin towers fell and killed "people".

Ray Ingles said...

Felix - "Therefore Ray completely misses the point, there is no "relating" to "others". Since "people" or a concept of a "person" is just an illusion."

Rosenberg thinks that. I don't.

Ray Ingles said...

Fan - "Just so happens the the vast majority of those who fought against it were Christian."

Sure. Still, Christianity doesn't seem to be an inoculation against Holocausts.

But, of course, the key point is that the Holocaust wasn't caused by atheism, as DNW tried to claim.

He'd be on firmer ground if he talked about the Holodomor. (Though even that was partly caused by the rejection of Darwinian evolution and the dogmatic insistence on Lysenkoism.)

Ray Ingles said...

Duke of Earl - "Just as long as you don't mind someone else thinking that the best thing for them and theirs is bumping off you and yours."

Ah, but if there's something like a 'human nature', then it's possible for people to be mistaken about what will benefit them the most. Indeed, it happens rather frequently.

Ray Ingles said...

E.H. Munro - "And then once we reached the age of western liberal social democracy evolution suddenly became about "cooperation"."

Oddly enough, you're the first person to bring up 'evolution' in this discussion. Just to take a random example, I haven't used it as a justification for anything, have I?

No, I'm more comparing morals to engineering, or medicine. Engineers have an even more complex job than physicists, putting together working mechanisms in the face of many uncertainties and unknowns. They frequently have to resort to 'rules of thumb', approximations, and techniques that have historically worked, even if why they work isn't always fully understood. As Alan Cox pointed out, "[P]eople built perfectly good brick walls long before they knew why cement works." Engineers generally have to design conservatively and build in redundancy and margins for error.

Engineering moral (and legal) codes is similarly complicated... but that does not imply that it's impossible. Engineering continually improves and finds new ways of doing things, sometimes better than the old, sometimes merely applicable in certain special cases. There may never be an Ultimate Engineering that can accomplish all possible things... but that doesn't mean engineering is pointless.

And, of course, recently Steven Pinker has provided some evidence that morals - insofar as they relate to letting people live together more safely and prosperously - have, in fact, progressed not unlike engineering or medicine.

djindra said...

"Part of what he has in mind is what you’d expect any atheist to claim -- that [... no] individual human life has any point or purpose."

Rosenberg doesn't speak for atheists as a group and certainly doesn't speak for me. But does he even speak for himself? If a jobless, aimless heroine addict told me he believed his life had no purpose I might accept that he truly believed it. But Rosenberg is highly educated. He writes papers. He publishes books. Why? These things did not happen accidentally. They were not forced on him. He must have worked hard to achieve these things. So when he claims he does these things for absolutely no purpose, and further claims there is none, I have to say he is not being quite honest with us or himself.

djindra said...

People, like Rosenberg, who say morality is an illusion must be closet solipsists.

djindra said...

machinephilosophy,

"The question is whether or not there is any obligation or duty to do or not do anything."

-- so says Hobbes. His answer was authoritarianism. That seems to be a favorite answer.

Felix said...

Ray - Rosenberg thinks that. I don't.

I'm interested as to how you can escape the conculsion that Rosenberg made. If all that there is (including humans)is NOTHING BUT energy and matter, how can there be any sort of "aboutness" regarding anything? How can there be a concept of self? There is no "life" and no "death" as we understand it to be? Since all we are is NOTHING BUT energy and matter now, and then energy and matter later. Hence Hitler's action could not be "wrong" in any sense.

Of course you can say that an atheist can appeal to other things other than materialism and naturalism, but then what are you appealing to? Emotions? A sense of right and wrong (morality)? But then of course that is an illusion since they are just brain states that are NOTHING BUT chemicals, neurons, and muscles. So how can one attribute "good" and "bad" notions to anything? On what grounds can one set of matter and energy discriminate against another set of matter and energy? Don't appeal to rationality here, since it's also a brain state.

Unless you want to appeal to something beyond all this energy and matter, I don't know how you can escape his conclusion.

Of course, you can say that an atheist can live with morals, and I'll agree with that. But on what rational grounds can you say this? even if you can find it, how will you give an account of rationailty if everything is NOTHING BUT matter and energy?

djindra said...

Felix,

"If all that there is (including humans)is NOTHING BUT energy and matter, how can there be any sort of 'aboutness' regarding anything? How can there be a concept of self?"

The 'how' doesn't matter. The 'is' matters. There is 'aboutness' no matter if we can explain it or not.

"A sense of right and wrong (morality)? But then of course that is an illusion since they are just brain states that are NOTHING BUT chemicals, neurons, and muscles."

It seems that your complaint is merely that you believe atheists paradoxically *ought* to reject "ought" -- and it confuses you that some reject your pigeon-holing.

"Unless you want to appeal to something beyond all this energy and matter, I don't know how you can escape his conclusion."

And you beg the question. You assume up front that energy and matter cannot possibly generate morality. But that belief has no rational basis. And it seems empirically false.

Anonymous said...

Djindra,

Rosenberg doesn't speak for atheists as a group and certainly doesn't speak for me.

So, you would believe that if materialism necessarily entailed conclusions like Rosenberg's, you'd believe the only rational thing to do would be to abandon materialism. Right?

djindra said...

Anonymous,

"So, you would believe that if materialism necessarily entailed conclusions like Rosenberg's, you'd believe the only rational thing to do would be to abandon materialism. Right?"

Since materialism doesn't necessarily entailed conclusions like Rosenberg's I don't have that problem.

Anonymous said...

People, like Rosenberg, who say morality is an illusion must be closet solipsists.

--

I'm glad to hear this from you. After these many months, we are finally starting to agree on something.

Gonna have a cold one for this.

Felix said...

Djindra

"It seems that your complaint is merely that you believe atheists paradoxically *ought* to reject "ought" -- and it confuses you that some reject your pigeon-holing."

Atheism is implicit materialism, in the same sense as Christianity is implicit theism. I just don't see how an atheist can argue out of that.

"And you beg the question. You assume up front that energy and matter cannot possibly generate morality. But that belief has no rational basis. And it seems empirically false."

There is no begging the question here, but rather pretty self evident. what is emperical can only be done on things that are observed in the physical world. Morality, on the other hand, is not. What can we measure morality in? what scientific constant can we gove it? Is there even a number? And even if science can tell us what we ought to do for others, why should I do it? If all is NOTHING BUT matter and energy, does it even matter if I don't? That is just one of the problems, if all actions (including moral ones) are just the movement of sub atomic particles at it's most basic core, is there anything that can be of purpose or aboutness?

"The 'how' doesn't matter. The 'is' matters. There is 'aboutness' no matter if we can explain it or not."

But you haven't shown that on purely materialistic, reductionalist terms. I fail to see how you can do it.

Felix said...

Another thing: If all that there is in this world is NOTHING BUT matter and energy, is there anything know as "science"? How can there be any "aboutness" to empericalism that Djindra says will tell us about morality (even as commomn sense understands it) if "science" itself is an illusion? Since there are no "scientist" to practice it, since all brain activities are physical movements of sub atomic particles at it's core? Something that science itself was suppose to show us.

Anonymous said...

Atheism is implicit materialism, in the same sense as Christianity is implicit theism. I just don't see how an atheist can argue out of that.

--

I don't think this is correct. While materialism implies atheism, the opposite isn't necessarily true. Many of those philosophers who criticize materialism are atheists.

Ray Ingles said...

Anonymous - "So, you would believe that if materialism necessarily entailed conclusions like Rosenberg's, you'd believe the only rational thing to do would be to abandon materialism. Right?"

Yes, but it's far from clear that those conclusions follow from materialism. As Rosenberg notes, materialism has been spectacularly successful at explaining things, and seems to be true. Yet we also have intentionality.

We don't understand - yet- how the brain gives rise to consciousness, but we have a lot of evidence it does. Be very wary of stating categorically that 'materialism can't account for so-and-so'. You don't want to commit Haldane's Error.

E.H. Munro said...

Oddly enough, you're the first person to bring up 'evolution' in this discussion. Just to take a random example, I haven't used it as a justification for anything, have I?

I'm not certain what this has to do with anything. I was paraphrasing an observation of a novelist that posts here sometime. His point was that people regularly graft their beliefs onto scientific theory.

During the gilded age, when Dickens and Alger were making a fortune writing rags-to-riches tales a brilliant economic philosopher (and polymath) conceived that the logical implication of natural selection was that life was a giant competition. But, of course, what he was doing was grafting his own philosophy onto the scientific theory. Just as Pinker is doing now.

And that was what I was commenting on, especially with Rosenberg's "nice nihilism". If the only reality is bosons & fermions (and this isn't a new philosophy, it's just Gen X Atomism), and we don't exist, who's to say that Shiny Happy Nihilism is the best approach? He's attempting to smuggle an ethical conclusion into the bar through the back door convinced that no one sees him doing it. Like yourself he's doing nothing but kicking the problem down the road and hoping that no one will force him to prove it.

Verbose Stoic said...

djindra,

"-- so says Hobbes. His answer was authoritarianism. That seems to be a favorite answer."

No, his answer was "self-benefit". THEN came authority to enforce the social contract. The former is the favourite answer, in my opinion.

Tony said...

As Rosenberg notes, materialism has been spectacularly successful at explaining things, and seems to be true. Yet we also have intentionality.

No, I don't think so. Materialism as such has not explained anything at all. What science has succeeded in doing is used matter and agent causality to explain a great deal. Nothing about that process of explanation precludes formal and final causality in the least. When materials scientists have tried to dabble in "explaining", over and above than what they already explained in terms of agent and material cause, by using philosophical arguments involving materialISM, they have uniformly failed to advance any successful take on the world.

JA said...

@Ray:
1)Your analogy is still false. A chess game has certain rules and a clearly defined end or goal; sans a universal moral framework--either deontological or teleological--there can be no moral rules to follow toward a desired end. Given your construal of reality, the comparison cannot be made.

Your understanding is less about ethics and more about tactics or strategies to a given end--it is an instrumentalism, fitting for our technocratic age--but without a clear ethically defined end, it means little, as my post on the last topic and machinephilosophy so aptly puts it. What desires should we fulfill if we are to be guided by such an amoral instrumentalism? Gassing the Jews is no better than curing cancer, or caring for your neighbor the equivalent to sacrificing him to Quetzalcoatl. You have absolutely no way of evaluating between them. Both are toward what can be construed as rational ends by their perpetrators.

Your appeals to game theory are not useful for a number of reasons. First, they beg the question. You are implying an anthropology that humans are rational utility maximizers without demonstrating it, that we are nothing but mere biological machines with the programming to maximize material prosperity. In other words, you are sneaking in a premise, a "just-so" story. Second, not only have you not demonstrated this, but it really a very reputable position. Certainly, some philosophers are utilitarians, but utilitarianism has a great number of problems. I could apply, as one possible approach amongst many, apply Charles Taylor's account of persons as subjective "strong evaluators" to demonstrate how people are by nature subjective moral evaluators who are constantly engaged in interpretation and reinterpretation, rather than machines that attempt to maximize their material well-being over all else. Of course, I am not limited to Taylor's analysis. I could have made use of arguments derived from the ideas of Analytic Thomism, Quine, Wittgenstein, Rorty, Nozick ("Utilitarian Monster"), Nietzsche, Heidegger, any of the poststructuralists, and any of the critical theorists, to name I can think of just off of the top of my head. Third, there are nasty consequences of utilitarianism, such as Peter Singer's moral approval of bludgeoning babies to death if it significantly increases the wellbeing of the parent(s). One could even justify genocide under this framework.

Modern humanism is derivative of Christian anthropology and ethics. Once that base is jettisoned, there is no reason to believe that human life is of high value. There is no reason not to, as all pre-Christian people did, evaluate a person's worth by their social standing. To claim that this same valuation can be reached by appeals to pure reason or utility. Behind all of this is an unbelieving late cultural Christianity that is slowly being attenuated.

If you want to defend a universalizable morality and you are opposed to divine-command or virtue ethics, then you need to resort to Kantianism, a la John Rawls or someone like him, or you need to read the utilitarians, like Peter Singer. Referencing websites written by the philosophically illiterate in defense of your claims and computer science is neither serious nor compelling.

2) Hitler was a Christian now? I miss the days when someone's actions betrayed their allegiance. Like, when Christ says, "Love your neighbor" and you do not, then it obviously means that you are not his follower. We live in a stupid age where we are what we call ourselves, as if we are little gods who can bend reality to our will.

If I said I was an atheist and then prayed to God, you would call me on it. But apparently that logic doesn't apply when it scores you points. This argument is not only unreasonable, but beyond stupid.

Ray Ingles said...

JA - I'll respond more later, but if we're going to be tossing around words like "beyond stupid"...

"Hitler was a Christian now?"

No, he wasn't. Let's see, what was it I said? Oh, yes, here it is. I'll quote it for you - and perhaps I'll emphasize it, since apparently you missed it the first time: He certainly wasn't a standard Christian, but rather seems to have been more of a syncretist.

In other words - since, again, my earlier words don't seem to have done the trick - Hitler probably wasn't an orthodox Christian (though he was known to claim Jesus was an Aryan), but he certainly wasn't an atheist.

djindra said...

JA,

"I miss the days when someone's actions betrayed their allegiance."

When were those days?

"If I said I was an atheist and then prayed to God, you would call me on it."

Then if you approved "God with us" to be stamped on the Nazi belt buckle that might preclude you from being an atheist at the very least. OTOH, Christians have been on both sides of nearly every issue. There is no objective standard to choose which side is the "true" believer.

"What desires should we fulfill if we are to be guided by such an amoral instrumentalism? Gassing the Jews is no better than curing cancer, or caring for your neighbor the equivalent to sacrificing him to Quetzalcoatl. You have absolutely no way of evaluating between them. Both are toward what can be construed as rational ends by their perpetrators."

Moses carried "Thou shall not kill" down from the mountain and immediately killed 3000 of his own followers. No doubt he evaluated the situation and found it called for re-interpreting the commandments as he and the voice in his ear saw fit. So how can Christians or Jews claim to be on more solid ground? History has repeatedly shown they have no solid ground.

djindra said...

Verbose Stoic,

"No, [Hobbes] answer was 'self-benefit'. THEN came authority to enforce the social contract. The former is the favourite answer, in my opinion."

For Hobbes, 'self-benefit' (or self-interest) was the motivation to find an answer, IMO.

JA said...

@Ray: What you claimed was that Hitler was a syncretist (which isn't exactly correct) and thus at least part Christian or influenced by it. You also claimed that most of the people who committed the holocaust were Christians. Your rhetorical claims in this regard serve to associate Christianity with the holocaust. As such my rhetorical response to your utterly risible claim was both appropriate and accurate.

djindra said...

Felix,

"Atheism is implicit materialism."

But atheism is not implicitly anti-oughtness in a total sense.

"There is no begging the question here, but rather pretty self evident. what is empirical can only be done on things that are observed in the physical world."

I observe moral behavior in this physical world. Don't you observe the same?

"What can we measure morality in? what scientific constant can we give it? Is there even a number?"

Science or scientific objectivity is not the same as materialism. I cannot today measure morality except by crime statistics. But I can observe normative behavior. I can call murder immoral just as easily as any Christian can. No, that is not a scientific claim. But it is a possible materialistic claim. Neither science nor materialism specifically denies morality.

"And even if science can tell us what we ought to do for others, why should I do it?"

This is extremely easy to answer. I have self-interest. I'm also interested in the survival and happiness of my family and my nation. When I see a wrong committed, it makes me angry just as it makes Christians angry. This emotional response happens instinctively. It requires no holy law or rational proof prior to making us angry. It just does -- because that's the way our biology works.

"if all actions (including moral ones) are just the movement of sub atomic particles at it's most basic core, is there anything that can be of purpose or aboutness?"

Yes. We see it every day.

"How can there be any "aboutness" to empiricalism that Djindra says will tell us about morality (even as common sense understands it) if "science" itself is an illusion?"

First, science is not an illusion. Second, I have no idea what you mean.

djindra said...

JA,

"[Ray] also claimed that most of the people who committed the holocaust were Christians."

That's hard to deny. Germany prior to WWII and after WWII surveyed as overwhelmingly Christian. Nazi propaganda had a Christian flavor to it. It's true that the Nazis were trying to create a "true" Christianity that supported their ends, but that's what sect do.

Felix said...

"I observe moral behavior in this physical world. Don't you observe the same?"

No I actually don't. If all that ever was was nothing but movement of sub atomic particles, on what ground are you deriving morals from?

"This is extremely easy to answer. I have self-interest. I'm also interested in the survival and happiness of my family and my nation. When I see a wrong committed, it makes me angry just as it makes Christians angry. This emotional response happens instinctively. It requires no holy law or rational proof prior to making us angry. It just does -- because that's the way our biology works."

But as I said before, emotions are simply brain states (if one goes with materialistic narrative). There is no truth content to any of this. How I "feel" (if there is such thing) is again, nothing but chemicals, neurons, and muscle contractions. One might say that we evolved to feel angry at say, child rape. But unless you can say that child rape is in itself wrong regardless of our evolutionary past, then there is no truth content to the morality you're proposing, just arbitary and functional lines. Whatever works works. But don't worry, for Micheal Ruse assures us:"if we benefit biologically by being deluded about the true nature of formal thought, then so be it. A tendency to objectify is the price of reproductive success” - So much for marality.

"Yes. We see it every day."

What proof is there? You also mentioned there just is "aboutness". why should I take that as a brute fact? Without any emperical evidence? Even if we tend to see it as self evident, could we have not evolved to see it as such, but not actually existant? We "appear" to see "aboutness" in things, but you still can't proof that it is actually there. (Remember the materalist narrative as I say this)

"First, science is not an illusion. Second, I have no idea what you mean."

You forgot to quote my last part, which states that there are no scientist to practice it. "Science" is an investigation into the workings of the natural world and can only make sense in the light of scientists. If the sense of self is an illusion, then there are no "scientist" as we know it to investigate nature, but matter and energy now and matter and energy later. I'm, at the most, bassic level, not informed by anything, since the concept of a "scientist self" is an illusion. Hence no investigation, no science.

Anonymous said...

djindra:

"Then if you approved "God with us" to be stamped on the Nazi belt buckle that might preclude you from being an atheist at the very least."

There are many atheists who were not (and are not) anti-theistic. An atheist need not have anti-theism as his primary life goal either nor have it as any goal at all. Religion can be used to manipulate people too and an atheist with this basic idea could find it of great utility. Besides the German cultural milieu was Christian, it would make great sense to apply that as a motto as an additional unifying force. However the Nazis demanded blind obedience to Hitler and this would be contrary to Christianity, where God is the most important figure.
One can also not do evil in God's name and Catholicism teaches against that too. That too was ignored.

djindra:

"OTOH, Christians have been on both sides of nearly every issue. There is no objective standard to choose which side is the "true" believer."

You can. You can decide if Nazi actions were in line with Jesus and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Was their ideology and were their actions in line? No.
Do we refer to our fellow Europeans as sub-humans when Jesus or the Church never made such a judgment?
Were some Nazis true believers? Sure, they may really have believed in a god or even perhaps thought that the Christian God is real, but they certainly did not listen to Him, in as far as they did not follow what God taught in the New Testament. Cognitive dissonance, common human hypocrisy and ignorance of Church teaching/Scriptures would account for this.

"Moses carried "Thou shall not kill" down from the mountain and immediately killed 3000 of his own followers. No doubt he evaluated the situation and found it called for re-interpreting the commandments as he and the voice in his ear saw fit. So how can Christians or Jews claim to be on more solid ground? History has repeatedly shown they have no solid ground."

And atheism does not even have that. Reading "Thou Shalt not Kill" or rather Thou Shalt not Murder in the Bible and believing that Christianity is true does not magically make you never susceptible to any secular, worldly temptations to perhaps follow nationalist fervour and get rid of those backward Poles or Gypsies.

Felix said...

"Science or scientific objectivity is not the same as materialism. I cannot today measure morality except by crime statistics. But I can observe normative behavior. I can call murder immoral just as easily as any Christian can. No, that is not a scientific claim. But it is a possible materialistic claim. Neither science nor materialism specifically denies morality."

and

"I observe moral behavior in this physical world. Don't you observe the same?"

Since all things are just brain states and are NOTHING BUT chemical, neurons and muscles - what "observations"? Secondly, how is morality a materialistic claim if emotions that you appealed to earlier is again, physical workings of the brain?

Daniel Smith said...

djindra: "I have self-interest. I'm also interested in the survival and happiness of my family and my nation. When I see a wrong committed, it makes me angry just as it makes Christians angry. This emotional response happens instinctively. It requires no holy law or rational proof prior to making us angry. It just does -- because that's the way our biology works."

So, let me get this straight (if I may read some context into your answer here)...

We, as humans, have evolved emotions.

These emotions are our moral barometer.

Hence, "whatever makes me angry" is wrong and "whatever makes me happy" is right... is that correct?

Let's flesh this out:

What if it makes me angry that my wife chooses to care for our sick son rather than make me dinner?

If what she does makes me angry then she is wrong (by your definition.)

Now, what if my anger makes my wife angry?

Then I am wrong to be angry!

So how then can I know when my anger is right or wrong?

This one example shows that there must be something beyond your "emotional morality"?

djindra said...

Felix.

"But as I said before, emotions are simply brain states (if one goes with materialistic narrative)."

Then it's evident that movement of sub atomic particles can generate brain states which can generate emotions which result in moral decisions.

"But unless you can say that child rape is in itself wrong regardless of our evolutionary past, then there is no truth content to the morality you're proposing, just arbitrary and functional lines."

First, you're taking the position of a logical positivist. I'm not one so you should peddle those wares elsewhere.

Second, your argument for some sort of all-or-nothing, cosmic moral truth makes no sense. Our morality relates to humans and only humans. We don't have any obligation to live by the morality of dogs or chimps, and they have no obligation to live by ours. We don't pass laws to regulate the behavior of ants. A cosmic moral sun does not revolve around the human species. Yes, whatever works for us, works. Whatever works for ants, works. That is the function of morality. There is no requirement that there must be a cosmic morality that exists outside human interests any more than there must be a cosmic sexiness that applies outside our species. Both are functional. Of course they are functional. If they were not, it would be better to rid ourselves of them. If that bursts your bubble, so be it. I have no need to call upon gods of magic and mystery to explain such things.


"If the sense of self is an illusion, then there are no "scientist" as we know it to investigate nature..."

I still have no idea what you are getting at and why you think I'll follow you there when I reject your basic premises. The self is not an illusion. There is a science that investigates nature. Since you doubt those two statements your line of reasoning results in nonsense, IMO.

djindra said...

Anonymous,

"Religion can be used to manipulate people too and an atheist with this basic idea could find it of great utility. Besides the German cultural milieu was Christian, it would make great sense to apply that as a motto as an additional unifying force."

I agree. But then of what help is Christianity if it and its followers can be so easily and fully manipulated by false prophets? The dogma is that somehow a Christian belief system is some sort of prescription against moral collapse. It's dogma of true believers as well as atheistic manipulators like some neocons. It goes back to Plato and further. Looking at history I see no evidence of the safety of theology.

Anonymous said...

Germany was indeed a Christian dominated country prior to WWII, however, that had very little to do with the Nazi's rise to power and the lack of resistance to it.

The Nazi party provided Germans with desperately needed economic stability as well as national identity. Just how many Germans actually supported the ideals of the Nazi party is VERY unclear.

Ewerton Caetano said...

Dear Prof. Feser,

I have found the following argument against scholasticism:

"Most of the modern project has proceeded on the assumption that the will is metaphysically prior to the intellect. The scholastics held the contrary position. Civilization's gone to Hell since they were dethroned in the nominalist revolution, which I took to be a vindication of their position: garbage in, garbage out, after all.

But if the intellect is prior to the will, then the nominalist revolution should've been impossible. That it happened at all is evidence that there is no real reason to choose between the axiomatic principles on which scholasticism was based and those on which nominalism was based -- that, at the end of the day, where you fall really does boil down to will, to arbitrary choice.

Which means the whole dispute was over before it began, because the nominalists were right. Which perhaps explains the really quite remarkable collapse of the scholastic tradition, which, I'm given to understand, was almost continent-wide within a century." (http://collapsetheblog.typepad.com/blog/2011/10/will-intellect.html)

I would like to hear from you some words on this argument.

Felix said...

"Yes, whatever works for us, works. Whatever works for ants, works. That is the function of morality."

Again, function is a brain state, nothing more than chemicals, neurons and muscles. So what function? what can you base your morality on in a purely materialist/naturalistic terms? Observation? again, that is just another brain state.

You object when I took your biology narrative further as a move of being a logical positivist. But in your earlier line reply: "This emotional response happens instinctively. It requires no holy law or rational proof prior to making us angry. It just does -- because that's the way our biology works"

So is it biological determinism that governs or morality or not?

"The self is not an illusion. There is a science that investigates nature. Since you doubt those two statements your line of reasoning results in nonsense, IMO. "

Not if you take the materalist/naturalist narrative. If again, all that there is are physical movements of particles, what observation? What science? If all that there ever was is matter and energy now and matter and energy later, how can you say that there is anything such as a self? Unless you want to appeal to something other than matter and energy, saying things such as "aboutness" exsits, self is not an illusion is only begging the question. Since these are things that you assume without considering the materialist narrative. Saying things such as:"Then it's evident that movement of sub atomic particles can generate brain states which can generate emotions which result in moral decisions." doesn't help, since I can say that they generate what "appears" to be emotions and therefore we make what "appears" to be moral decisions.

21st Century Scholastic said...

@Ewerton Caetano:

1) Voluntarism (precedence of the will over the intellect) is false, and the intellect can be shown to be preeminent. It's not an arbitrary decision. To see how this could be done, see Mark Nowacki's excellent paper: "Why Ockham Can't Tell You Why the Chicken Crossed the Road".

http://ink.library.smu.edu.sg/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1067&context=soss_research&sei-redir=1&referer=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.it%2Furl%3Fsa%3Dt%26rct%3Dj%26q%3Dmark%2520nowacki%2520against%2520voluntarism%26source%3Dweb%26cd%3D1%26ved%3D0CB0QFjAA%26url%3Dhttp%253A%252F%252Fink.library.smu.edu.sg%252Fcgi%252Fviewcontent.cgi%253Farticle%253D1067%2526context%253Dsoss_research%26ei%3D4KytTqXtLpT74QS9puH2Dg%26usg%3DAFQjCNEY46Ss2U8xySMNjxO8OueYWQIlAg#search=%22mark%20nowacki%20against%20voluntarism%22

2) There are good reasons for accepting realism about universals independently of any consideration about the intellect and the will.

Ray Ingles said...

JA - "What you claimed was that Hitler was a syncretist (which isn't exactly correct) and thus at least part Christian or influenced by it."

Well, he was.

"Your rhetorical claims in this regard serve to associate Christianity with the holocaust."

Well, it was.

Christianity was hardly the only factor. But it was a significant one.

And you may have missed this, too - but I even pointed to an equivalent horror associated with atheism. Again, atheism wasn't the only factor, but it did have some play.

Ray Ingles said...

Felix - "if all that there is (including humans)is NOTHING BUT energy and matter, how can there be any sort of "aboutness" regarding anything?"

Obviously, arrangement makes a difference. My wife runs a bakery. She can take flour, eggs, and so forth and produce a delicious cake. I can take the exact same ingredients and make an inedible mess. As I noted before, We don't understand - yet - how the brain gives rise to consciousness, but we have a lot of evidence it does.

Unlike Rosenberg, I don't deny the obvious fact that humans have intentionality. Unlike theists, I don't assume material explanations cannot possibly account for intentionality.

You said to djindra, "But as I said before, emotions are simply brain states (if one goes with materialistic narrative)."

Why does it follow that being 'brain states' would automatically make them illusions though?

Ray Ingles said...

Daniel Smith - "We, as humans, have evolved emotions."

So far, so good.

"These emotions are our moral barometer."

Shoot, we didn't get all that far. :)

The chess analogy is a simple 'proof of concept' - the concept being, "Given desires interacting with fixed rules, strategic rules arise naturally." In chess we have the desire to win the game, and the rules of chess.

In real life, things are more complicated. But "[w]e, as humans, have evolved emotions", and we have fixed rules like the laws of physics. Strategic rules follow from that.

Chess is a zero-sum game. But as I noted before, Life isn't a zero-sum game. Frequently everyone can win (or everyone lose). In such cases, game theory has identified traits that general, successful strategies incorporate - they are 'nice' (don't start fights), 'non-envious', 'forgiving' (don't get stuck in loops of mutual recrimination), but 'retaliating' - they defend themselves if attacked. Sound familiar? (See also the Traveller's Dilemma.)

Felix said...

"We don't understand - yet - how the brain gives rise to consciousness, but we have a lot of evidence it does."

I don't think you can ever explain it. You can always read another post on this blog: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2009/09/schrodinger-democritus-and-paradox-of.html

Which is why I don't think you can ever reconcile the between materialism and the concept of self. And as for brain states and why they can never be reconciled with what we precive, take Paul churchland, another EM proponent: "Consider sound. We know that sound is just a train of compression waves travelling through the air, and that the property of being high pitched is identical with the property of having a high oscillatory frequency. We have learned that light is just electromagnetic wave. We now appreciate that the warmth or coolness of a body is just the energy motion of the molecules that make it up. What we now think of as ‘mental states’are identical with brain states in exactly the same way"

If that's not enough, Francis Crick explains: "The astonishing hypothesis is that you, your joys and your sorrows, you memories and your ambitions, your sense of identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules"

Therefore there is no such thing as a delicious muffin made by your wife, or anything such as cold, hot, or red. There IS no reality as common sense would have us to understand it - all an illusion. Hence there is no such thing as "evidence", all an "assembly of nerve cells and molecules".

JA said...

@Ray:

1) You completely failed to respond to my earlier criticism. I hope this means that you are reading actual philosophy instead of webpages by the philosophically illiterate.

2) You are inconsistent and overtly rhetorical. First, you associate Christianity with Hitler and the holocaust. After I criticize that position, you feign offense, claiming that my characterization was incorrect because you technically claimed that Hitler was a syncretist. Then I point out that this technicality is irrelevant because you made the association for rhetorical effect. Now, you drop this posture and claim that Hitler and the holocaust were SIGNIFICANTLY influenced by Christianity. Stop shifting your claims.

3) Do you have any links not from extremely biased and non-academic sources? Or links that aren't removed by 500 years that at best providing contextualization from which an inferral can be kinda sorta drawn? You linked to the Freedom from Religion Foundation. You expect anyone here to take this seriously?

After roughly 15 minutes on JSTOR browsing the first couple dozen relevant search results, I gathered that not only would a claim like yours be contentious, i.e. that Christianity was a SIGNIFICANT influence, but that establishing any connection at all is difficult--and what can be established is largely with the liberal "social gospel" type Protestants that were heterodox and enamored by the same "utilitarian" eugenics that the Nazis experimented with.

Further, the topic is nuanced and convoluted. Every treatment of it I perused used quite a bit of space to establish its definitions carefully and contextualize its claims.

Jinzang said...

Life isn't a zero-sum game. Frequently everyone can win (or everyone lose).

Sure. But all you have shown is that behavior people consider moral can arise through self-interest and immoral behavior is often against our self-interest. No doubt this is the reason our society doesn't run off the rails.

But there are also many, many cases of people behaving immorally out of self-interest. Self interested behavior does not and cannot be identical with moral behavior, There are too many counter-examples.

Ray Ingles said...

JA - "You completely failed to respond to my earlier criticism."

Kinda redundant, as I've responded to similar points by others. But if you really want the personal touch... maybe tomorrow. I've got family to hang with today.

"You are inconsistent and overtly rhetorical."

Well, I was responding to DNW, with the same level of proof he advanced for Hitler being an atheist. I assume you're just as angry with him?

However, what you seem to be angry about is that I didn't actually say anything wrong, I just said it in a way that you didn't like. I didn't claim Hitler was a Christian, nor did I claim that the Holocaust was caused solely by Christianity (well, technically the anti-Semitic strain within Christianity that's still around in some limited circles). So far as I can tell, you're left with a "No True Scotsman" objection, and some indignation.

"You linked to the Freedom from Religion Foundation. You expect anyone here to take this seriously?"

If they're wrong, you can explain why they're wrong, no?

"the topic is nuanced and convoluted."

Oh, okay. I'll expect similar castigation of DNW forthwith.

Jinzang said...

Why should I care if Hitler called himself a Christian any more than if he was a vegetarian? It's a silly argument.

Obviously, nominally religious people often do awful things. I don't have to read anything more than the Gospels to know that.

JA said...

@Ray:

1) Your response to others was a reiteration of your position, not a response to my criticism. At no point did you address any of my arguments. I am forced to take it that you do not have an adequate response.

2) No, you did say something wrong, as I took time to demonstrate. I tend to let those who establish a belief system define it. When Christ and the early Christians define a Christian as someone who believes X and does Y, then that is what a Christian is. Since Hitler and the Nazis did not, then they weren't. Of course, this doesn't mean that legitimate Christians sometimes are not unfortunately persuaded to do violence, but at the point that they are committing atrocities, there isn't much doubt as to where their true allegiances are. You may reject this, claiming that they self-identified as Christian OR they were influenced by Christianity, which provides sufficient grounds to call them Christian, but the former is a rather voluntaristic approach that is itself contentious--as I demonstrated earlier, albeit briefly, and you failed to respond to--and based on a weak and insubstantial inference in the latter case.

By the by, if you want to take such an expansive definition, then you are technically a Christian. True, you are a rather heretical Christian: you don't believe in God nor any one the other claims of Christianity, but as a product of Western culture and history, which is defined by Christianity in nearly every respect, then the same is true for you, as I have already pointed out. You believe in a universal morality and truth, for instance. Your views on how we are to relate to one another are rooted in voluntarism, which is a product of scholastic debate and first formulated by William of Ockam. Further, the very idea of secularism and religion as opposed to one another is born of medieval Christian political thought. The difference is that in the modern world, the hierarchy has been inverted with the secular placed over the religious. Outside of Western culture, this binary doesn't even exist.

This broad point is one that Nietzsche makes in the Third Essay in "On the Genealogy of Morals." What he identifies as mainstream atheism is derivative of Christian sentimentalization, especially the belief in truth and the ascetic pursuit of it. Unlike Nietzsche, most atheists are unfortunate not serious enough to to follow their beliefs to their logical conclusions. Feser is also aware of this to some degree. He has claimed that without a God, there is no guarantee that our senses and minds are reliable, which undermines every Truth (witha capital "T") claim that atheists make.

cont . . .

JA said...

cont . . .

3) I explained what was wrong with these sources in the previous sentences and in the coverage of my JSTOR search. Your glib responses are becoming rather irritating.

4) I never engaged DNW, nor did I read his comments carefully. There are too many separate conversations to follow them all. Rather, I was responding to comments you made about my "dropping" a conversation from the last post, which were unfair because your last response was non-responsive.

Looking back, I see that DNW commented that Hitler was no believer in God. True, the reality is more complex than he states it, but look at the context: he made this remark to contextualize Hitler's values, not to assault atheism. On the other hand, you have claimed repeatedly that Christianity provided a significant contribution to the holocaust, which is hardly an innocent error, but rather an inflammatory conclusion based upon contentious and flimsy evidence.

And again, this is in no way a response to my more substantive points. This comment is a distraction: an attempt to rhetorically shift the massive errors on your part in order to focus on the paltry mistake of another. It is characteristically dishonest.

5) Every single one of these responses is non-response. You either pretend that you answered something in the past, ignored my prior arguments, or attempt to rhetorically shift the discussion way from your errors onto something or someone else. I am under the impression that I am wasting my time with you and that you have less interest in serious discussion than ideological posturing.

JA said...

@Jinzang:

Precisely, it is a stupid argument. The whole point of it is rhetorical and diversionary. Ray has failed to address the actual substance of many of the claims here and instead draws attention to inflammatory and stupid claims that 15 minutes of real research could delegitimize.

Ray Ingles said...

Jinzang - "Why should I care if Hitler called himself a Christian any more than if he was a vegetarian? It's a silly argument."

So the fact that some atheists do terrible things is an equally bad argument against atheism, right?

Ray Ingles said...

JA - "You believe in a universal morality and truth, for instance. Your views on how we are to relate to one another are rooted in voluntarism, which is a product of scholastic debate and first formulated by William of Ockam. Further, the very idea of secularism and religion as opposed to one another is born of medieval Christian political thought."

Astronomy grew out of astrology, and chemistry grew out of alchemy. The modern disciplines even use some of the same terminology as their predecessors. However, that historical quirk doesn't mean that astrology or alchemy are necessary for their descendants.

If one conceives of morality as more akin to engineering, then inheriting from one 'school' of engineering will definitely leave visible marks. As I noted, engineers "Frequently have to resort to 'rules of thumb', approximations, and techniques that have historically worked, even if why they work isn't always fully understood."

Even mistakes can persist due to inertia; Benjamin Franklin guessed wrong about which way electric current was flowing, which is why to this day we call the charge on the electron 'negative' and treat current as if it were flowing in the opposite direction from how electrons actually move.

I linked to Pinker's contention before, that traces Western moral development from different trends than Christianity, and seems to support a 'progressively improving engineering' model.

"[Feser] has claimed that without a God, there is no guarantee that our senses and minds are reliable, which undermines every Truth (witha capital "T") claim that atheists make."

I'm not worried about 'guarantees'. I don't think humans get 'certainty' about anything, so I'm content with evidence and warrant. Plantinga's EAAN, for example, has some... practical issues.

Ray Ingles said...

JA - "sans a universal moral framework--either deontological or teleological--there can be no moral rules to follow toward a desired end."

The principle the chess analogy is meant to demonstrate is that the combination of goals and fixed constraints gives rise to strategic rules. That principle's been granted, at this point we're just quibbling over application.

Now, 'universal' goals covering any imaginable type of being are probably impossible, I'll grant.

I, however, am willing to settle for goals and 'goods' shared by all humans. (If really pressed, I'll settle for the vast majority of humans, though I don't really believe there are all that many Hannibal Lecters out there.)

I've noted that people can be mistaken about what they really want, and/or what will actually serve their goals. I linked to an example before: "[W]hen Dunn asked a fresh group of 109 people about the things that would make them happiest, she found that they were, on average, doubly wrong. A majority of 63% predicted that personal spending would make them happier than selfless spending while 86% said that they would be happier with the $20 bill than the $5 one. Those are certainly the intuitive answers, but they are not the empirical ones. Which would you believe?"

A lot of theists like to point out that helping others brings a unique kind of peace and joy, and I'll certainly grant that, too.

So, 'universal framework', maybe not. A framework that covers (at least) the vast majority of humanity, given that there's a broad commonality among humans... that seems quite possible.

"What desires should we fulfill if we are to be guided by such an amoral instrumentalism?"

Well, the link above points out that we actually can identify some 'goals' as working better overall than others. So it's not true that "You have absolutely no way of evaluating between them."

One interesting result from game theory is that a wide range of goals can lead to similar strategic rules. That's not so surprising, anyway - if you want to raise children, you want a safe, stable, prosperous society. If you want to live it up without having to fight duels every day, you want... a safe, stable, prosperous society.

"You are implying an anthropology that humans are rational utility maximizers without demonstrating it..."

Actually, one of my claims is that people are irrational 'utility maximizers' that are frequently unsuccessful because of that.

"Third, there are nasty consequences of utilitarianism, such as Peter Singer's moral approval of bludgeoning babies to death if it significantly increases the wellbeing of the parent(s)."

I'm one of many who don't think that follows from utilitarianism, especially when meta-evaluation of goals is thrown in.

"Referencing websites written by the philosophically illiterate in defense of your claims"

You want a reputation before you'll evaluate the ideas. Oh well, then. Guess we'll just have to be patient.

"and computer science"

I really think philosophers should be seeking out new metaphors, lest they fall into the error Dennett identified: "Mistaking a failure of imagination for an insight into necessity."
is neither serious nor compelling.

Ashley Duque Kienzle said...

Indeed, it entails that the self is an illusion. It entails that meaning and purpose are illusions even at the level of the individual human mind -- that none of our thoughts is really “about” anything at all, and that no individual human being ever really forms plans or has any purposes of his own.

In other words, he is a dilettante in philosophy of mind, holds views that few atheists hold, and attacking him will be easy.

It is nice when you find a straggling enemy that conforms to your expectations, even if he is not the strongest in his Army.

djindra said...

Ray,

"Why does it follow that being 'brain states' would automatically make them illusions though?

Exactly. He's very confused unless he holds that 'brain states' and brains are illusions too.

djindra said...

Anonymous,

"Germany was indeed a Christian dominated country prior to WWII, however, that had very little to do with the Nazi's rise to power and the lack of resistance to it."

I agree. It had little to do with the rise and was incapable of preventing the rise. Christianity, broadly speaking, was and is irrelevant. But it did not prevent the Nazis from selling their ideology as a type of Christian theology. It certainly was not sold as atheistic.

DNW said...

JA said...

" ... I never engaged DNW, ... There are too many separate conversations to follow them all. ... I see that DNW commented that Hitler was no believer in God. True, the reality is more complex ... but look at the context: he made this remark to contextualize Hitler's values, not to assault atheism. "

" ... but look at the context ..."

Just so. Which is why it wasn't originally worth the time to engage on this line; as I believe with you, he was being fundamentally dishonest.

You will notice that upon point after substantive point, where one could be resolved from an originally casual remark, Ingles has conceded.

Now, my mention of a "casual remark" above, is in itself not casual.

For what you will note is that both in the case of the Hitler challenge, and in his taking of issue with my use of the term "pointless", what we observed was Ingles' attempt to challenge a remark by re-contextualizing it.

In the case of my use of the term "pointless" to characterize an atheist world-view, Ingles was finally brought to admit that the use of the term "pointless", was not, as he tried to imply with his reference to some linked material, a violation of a sound linguistic rule which would have required that the use of the term " a point" could only be meaningful when reserved as a reference to some subjective emotional and possibly private state.

And too, no sooner than did Ray challenge the characterization I made, than Professor Feser provided a new posting citing just such an atheist as I had characterized, saying just what I had characterized such a person as believing.

So? Ray's tack then shifted to an accusation that I didn't qualify my use of the term atheist and had used it an implied categorical.

This, is the juncture where one would typically express incredulity via some blatant vulgarity.

Now let's briefly take up the Hitler matter.

As you did recall, I brought Hitler up in brackets so to speak, after Ray had previously introduced Saddam Hussein's paranoia driven insomnia.

My obvious point regarding an unbelieving Hitler was that he had a purpose according to Ray's subjective definition of purpose, and while it was not "universal" in the sense of promoting universal brotherhood or some such concept, it bore, within certain limitations, marks of a self-sacrificial concern for the welfare and survival and flourishing of, at least some chosen, others.

Now, just as when I referred to the philosophical pointlessness of an atheist world view without introducing a list of those atheists who explicitly endorsed such a belief as a formal doctrine, so too on this blog maintained and authored by a philosopher who is a Catholic Christian, I said Hitler was no believer in God, without stipulating that Hitler might have believed in some immanent unconscious force manifest in the universe, or have conceived of such an immanent and impersonal force as expressing its form regarding living beings though the material "struggle for survival".

If that sounds like Feser's God to anyone, so be it and let them argue with themselves about meaning and "God".

Gee, you know, Hitler laughed out a "Gott Sei Dank", when informed that Chamberlain had swallowed the Sudetenland bait. So he must have believed in God!

No, Hitler's use of cultural forms or his rhetorical blather about "providential" occurrences and such in Mein Kampf, don't give us any more reason to take it literally, than did his description of being clasped to the bosom of the goddess of struggle, while a young man.

So, ok, maybe Hitler was a sort of believer. He believed in goddesses: and their names were Fate, Destiny, Distress, Vengence, Peace, and History.

lolzlolzlolz said...

LOL. Anglo-American atheism has all these moralistic qualities that make it look like some kind of puritanism minus all the God stuff.

These a-holes thought they were doing us credulous proles a favor and the best they could give us was political correctness and some asperger-y utilitarianism.

BEEP BOP BEEP BOP COMPUTING THE SATISFACTION-SUFFERING QUOTIENT OF EVENT "Screwing The Neighbor's Dog" .... EVENT ACCEPTED PROCEED TO META-EVALUATION OF GOALS, BEEP BOP BEEP BOP ACCEPTED PROCEED TO HAVE HAVE FUN WITH DOG.

What these guys need is a Nietzsche who spanks them every night until they forget about all that stuff. Maybe Rosenberg could give it a try; after all, you know, he "gets" it, but he's too dull and boring to do it like the good ole Fred. Not everyone has the passion of an Italian lover AND the mind of a German logician, sorryyyy~

djindra said...

Felix,

"So is it biological determinism that governs or morality or not?"

Biology, not biological determinism. And because morality is based on our biology it becomes perfectly valid to speak of 'truth content' regarding that morality. It takes it out of the realm of the arbitrary.

"what can you base your morality on in a purely materialist/naturalistic terms?"

I repeat, biology.

"Unless you want to appeal to something other than matter and energy, saying things such as 'aboutness' exits, self is not an illusion is only begging the question."

And you are begging the question as well. We both have to do so because there is no answer. Nevertheless, I don't appeal to vague, non-material beings or forces which we do not know exist. We do know the material world exists.

"I can say that they generate what 'appears' to be emotions and therefore we make what 'appears' to be moral decisions."

That appears to be vague nonsense.

djindra said...

DNW

No, Hitler's use of cultural forms or his rhetorical blather about 'providential' occurrences and such in Mein Kampf, don't give us any more reason to take it literally, than did his description of being clasped to the bosom of the goddess of struggle, while a young man.

And you can apply the same standards to Pat Robertson, GW Bush, Calvin, all Popes, Rushdoony, Feser, and any other self-proclaimed Christian. In the end, all Christians and non-Christians define themselves. When it comes to behavior or even ideology, their so-called religion or lack there of is irrelevant.

Felix said...

"I repeat, biology."

Even if you appeal to biology, is still a materialistc. You still can't look beyond the narrative that it is nothing but "neurons and molecules" as Crick puts it. But then again, you seem to think that a certain type of biology that can escape purely materialistc terms which we should all adhere to. However, in the same breath:

"Nevertheless, I don't appeal to vague, non-material beings or forces which we do not know exist. We do know the material world exists."

"That appears to be vague nonsense."

How? Unless you can provide a purely materialist account of the mind, I don't see how you can escape this. Again I ask, what truth content? all that there is (if I go with the materialistc narrative) is sound/light wavelength that excites neurons and molecules.

Actually, you're the one who is begging the question. Until you can PROOF that the there is a mind using purely materialistic terms, you can't assume anything in the material world. Until you can give a materialistic proof that there is colour, self, free will, life and death etc beyond molecules, neurons and energy now, and molecules, neurons and energy rearranged later, you simply can't assume anything.

DNW said...

Djindra quotes and rejoins,

"DNW

'No, Hitler's use of cultural forms or his rhetorical blather about 'providential' occurrences and such in Mein Kampf, don't give us any more reason to take it literally, than did his description of being clasped to the bosom of the goddess of struggle, while a young man.'

And you can apply the same standards to Pat Robertson, GW Bush, Calvin, all Popes, Rushdoony, Feser, and any other self-proclaimed Christian. In the end, all Christians and non-Christians define themselves. When it comes to behavior or even ideology, their so-called religion or lack there of is irrelevant."

" And you can apply the same standards ..."


Wrong. Aside from your attempt to shift the terms of the question, I had established specific criteria and gave illustrations, which show that your present attempt to establish a self-definition based parallel is bogus.

I referred specifically to a series of goddesses to "whom" Hitler had rhetorically referred in Mein Kampf. The fact that he employed these figures of speech in his polemic would not convince anyone, other than Richard Carrier perhaps, that Hitler believed in the literal existence of these goddesses.

If you felt the urge to advance an unrelated contention, you could have done it equally well without misleadingly quoting me.

DNW said...

"What these guys need is a Nietzsche who spanks them every night until they forget about all that stuff. Maybe Rosenberg could give it a try; after all, you know, he "gets" it..."


Another of the same name already tried.


http://www.archive.org/details/TheMythOfThe20thCentury



http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_Rosenberg#Nazi_policy_and_Rosenberg.27s_views

djindra said...

Felix,

"Even if you appeal to biology, is still a materialistc."

Exactly. Surely you know this is my position. Morality is strictly materialistic. There is no reason to think it should be otherwise.

"Again I ask, what truth content?"

In terms you seem to (dis)like: morality is excited neurons.

"Until you can PROOF...."

The burden of proof is on those making extraordinary claims. Hopefully we both agree that there is a material world. I don't claim there is anything beyond it. You do. So you must prove it.

Felix said...

"morality is excited neurons. "

Now THAT is an extrodniary claim. How do you proof that morality is excited neurons, when it is just excited neurons, is excited neurons and excited neurons? My position is that there is no morality, nothing you can say that is right or worng, after all, it's just excited neurons, how can excited neurons be right? How can it be wrong? It's just sub atomic particles.

"There is no reason to think it should be otherwise."

What's there to "think" about? It's just excited neurons.

djindra said...

DNW,

So any Christian who refers to luck or fortune or Cupid or Mother Mary or angels or saints is now suspect.

Felix said...

"Until you can PROOF that the there is a mind using purely materialistic terms, you can't assume anything in the material world. Until you can give a materialistic proof that there is colour, self, free will, life and death etc beyond molecules, neurons and energy now, and molecules, neurons and energy rearranged later, you simply can't assume anything."

Please keep the discussion in context I've not mentioned God in the above quote, all I said was that your options are limited. This argument is about whether or not there is anything such as a self, free will, morality etc if we are consistent with the materialist narrative. And I say you can't have that because these things are NOT material. Until you can proof otherwise, I'll assume that they don't exist accoring to the materialistic worldview, that they are NOTHING BUT neurons and molecules. You're the one who is claiming otherwise, so now proof it.

Daniel Smith said...

Ray Ingles: "Shoot, we didn't get all that far. :)"

Well my statement was an attempt to clarify djindra's position - not mine. He's the one who claims that emotions are a moral barometer - not me.

Daniel Smith said...

djindra,

You claimed earlier that your "anger" was an indicator of morality. I posed a hypothetical situation involving anger, my wife, my son and myself that I was hoping you would comment on.

Did you miss it?

If so, here it is again:

What if it makes me angry that my wife chooses to care for our sick son rather than make me dinner?

If what she does makes me angry then she is wrong (by your definition.)

Now, what if my anger makes my wife angry?

Then I am wrong to be angry!

So how then can I know when my anger is right or wrong?

Jinzang said...

So the fact that some atheists do terrible things is an equally bad argument against atheism, right?

If the argument is that Christians are evil (e.g. Toquemada ), it's a good counter-argument.

However, if the argument is whether atheism is true, the only suitable arguments are those establishing the existence of God or showing the faults of objections to them. And you'd have to be blind as a bat not to notice that these arguments have been made many times on this blog.

BTW, what you call "rhetoric," most people call trolling.

FM said...

The burden of proof is on those making extraordinary claims. Hopefully we both agree that there is a material world. I don't claim there is anything beyond it. You do. So you must prove it.


Since most philosopher would agree that strict materialism creates more problems that it solves, or it is even self-contradictory, I think that the Strict Materialism you are advocating is a pretty wild claim hence the Burden of Proof falls on you as well.


This has nothing to do on the fact that we agree or not that there is a material world... that would be a discussion between someone who advocated materialism and someone who would deny the material world all-together.

Also since many philosophers have shown cause for rational belief in God and most people in the planet do believe in some kind of God, the atheist and fully materialist position is hardly 'default'...

Hence, again, the Burden of Proof falls on you as well.


WAKE UP! Even Flew eventually admitted that the 'put the burden on proof on the opponent'-trick is often invalid.

In your case wholly invalid.

So use your brain and show proof or go trolling somewhere else!

--

@ Brian

No, Atheism does not necessarily imply materialism.

One could believe in reincarnation and yet not believe that there is a God, hence he'd believe in the soul (ie that there are immaterial things) but he'd be an atheist (ie there is no God).

Some western Buddhists are atheists, but yet they do believe in something like a cosmic conscience... etc...

Funnily (or sadly?) enough some of Bultmann followers envisioned an atheist form of Christianity...



================


Well, on the practical side, if indeed Rosenberg tells people at the end of the book to start taking Prozac... that's hardly enjoying life without illusions but more enjoying life with drugs.


In a way I sense a lot of despair in that sentence.

If I was an Atheist and read something like that I certainly wouldn’t be thrilled.

Also the subtitle of the book is a big fat contradiction… since he tells people ‘to enjoy life without illusions’, but enjoying things is in itself a big illusion… then it makes no sense at all, if you think about it.

A better (more honest) subtitle would have been: “You are meaningless, your thoughts are nothing, I’d tell you to deal with it but you can’t since you are nothing and meaningless… so start taking some LSD”

But perhaps that subtitle would have not made the smug atheist crowd so happy...

:P

Jinzang said...

I don't deny that there are atheistic moralities, any student of history knows there have been many. But I do deny that there is any "scientific" morality. The foundational principles of morality can neither by proven or disproven by scientific methods.

It seems to me that any genuine morality requires conscious beings with purposes and free will. All three of these are embarrassments to thorough going naturalism and a naturalistic philosophy will have a tough time establishing an objective morality consistent with naturalism

JA said...

I'm done with Ray. He either ignores my arguments, such as the criticism that his chess analogy is fallacious; redirects my criticism when he doesn't have a response, such as his claim that DNW should be the target of my scorn after Ray made the risible accusation that Hitler was a Christian; or dishonestly reconfigures, misrepresents, and selectively references my arguments.

I study ethics and political and moral philosophy in a well regarded graduate school. No one who writes about these things professionally makes arguments anything like Ray's. The vast majority in academia would find his views naive and impossible to substantiate.

For the last century, we have been aware that morality is culturally contextualized and that even Western rationality is a cultural invention. It has also been very apparent, especially following the bloodiest century in human history, the discoveries of anthropology already mentioned, the usurpation of Newtonian mechanics and disruption of the narrative of scientific progress, etc., that the Western narrative of progressive history is nothing more than a myth. There is no way to squeeze a progressing ethics out of a historicist narrative any longer.

The only way you get morality that is not manufactured is either by appeal to deontological ethics (e.g. Kantian categorical imperatives or divine command) or virtue ethics (e.g. based on teleological accounts of nature). This is not a contentious position in the least; this is the norm in philosophical discourse. Referencing philosophically illiterate bloggers or popular writers doesn't cut it, only actual philosophy does. Right now, Ray (or djindra, I might add) isn't even equipped to talk about very basic metaethical and normative distinctions and problems.

Ray Ingles said...

DNW - "I believe with you, he was being fundamentally dishonest."

And oddly enough, I think the same of you. For example this claim:

"You will notice that upon point after substantive point, where one could be resolved from an originally casual remark, Ingles has conceded."

Take one example: "Ingles was finally brought to admit that the use of the term "pointless", was not, as he tried to imply with his reference to some linked material, a violation of a sound linguistic rule"

Actually, as I see it, you characterized positions like Rosenberg's as "without illusions". What can we conclude about other atheist positions, then?

I pointed out a post on meaning (in the sense of significance or importance) and you mistook(?) it for talking about 'expressing propositions'. Except that your original comment talked about things like "the awesomeness of sentience, or the grandeur of... life". What propositions do those express? If your position is that a human life must express a proposition, what proposition does yours express?

Verbose Stoic tried to take up your mantle when you went away, talking about meaning in a third sense, that of 'purpose'. But that doesn't seem to be working out, either.

"on this blog maintained and authored by a philosopher who is a Catholic Christian, I said Hitler was no believer in God"

So, in the context of this blog, if someone isn't a Catholic Christian, they are "no believer in God"? So much for the term Judeo-Christian, I guess.

When I responded, I didn't even claim Hitler was a Christian. Indeed, I specifically said he wasn't, and was rather a 'syncretist' partly influenced by Christianity - my point being that whatever he was (conceivably deist) it can't be concluded he was an atheist. At no point - go ahead and check - did I claim that Christianity 'caused' the Holocaust.

Ray Ingles said...

Jinzang - "If the argument is that Christians are evil (e.g. Toquemada ), it's a good counter-argument."

Cool. Who's argued that here?

"However, if the argument is whether atheism is true..."

Which also wasn't the topic here, but rather the consequences if atheism were true.

FM said...

By the way isn't Rosenberg position self-refuting from the start?

I mean: isn't scientism like logical positivism that its premise denies everything that follows?

If indeed we say that science is the only means of knowledge... such position cannot be proven scientifically, hence it fails at its own game.

Also claiming that everything is 'an illusion' is also not a scientific claim.

Perhaps everything is NOT an illusion but science just is not advanced enough to understand what 'intentionality' really is.

Also the very claim that everything, including our ego and our thoughts are an illusion strikes me more like a metaphysical claim rather than a scientific one, hence it would also be refuted by scientism itself....

... causing thus a big self-refuting PARADOX (that will destroy the universe, although the destruction might be limited to our own galaxy :P)


Then OF COURSE you got to take some Prozac :P

Ray Ingles said...

JA - "I'm done with Ray."

When did you start?

"He either ignores my arguments, such as the criticism that his chess analogy is fallacious"

"Ignores?" I specifically responded by pointing out I wasn't using it in the way you assumed. I'm not claiming life is a chess game. I'm pointing out that the combination of goals and fixed constraints leads to strategic rules that are non-illusory.

Assuming enough similarity among humans that broad classes of goals are common, and the fixed constraints of things like the laws of physics, how could strategic rules not arise?

"Ray made the risible accusation that Hitler was a Christian"

You still haven't read what I actually wrote, where I specifically said "He certainly wasn't a standard Christian, but rather seems to have been more of a syncretist."

"For the last century, we have been aware that morality is culturally contextualized and that even Western rationality is a cultural invention."

But if that's the case, your arguments against me (to the extent that you've actually argued, I guess) are just culturally constructed and are easily dismissed too, right?

In any case, I actually agree that morality is "culturally contextualized" in some ways. For example, given how human sexuality works, if humans are to live in groups, some concept of modesty is pretty much a 'forced move'. How that's implemented varies widely (picture a Polynesian islander in only a loincloth, a Chicago businesswoman dressed for a meeting, or a Saudi Arabian woman in a chador on the way to the market) by culture, but the principle is the same. (We can also, I'll note, evaluate the effectiveness and drawbacks of each implementation.)

(And that illustration was in the first links I gave.)

"It has also been very apparent, especially following the bloodiest century in human history... that the Western narrative of progressive history is nothing more than a myth."

Speaking of 'ignoring arguments', you still haven't even skimmed the link to Pinker's work I provided? You certainly haven't read his book, then.

"I study ethics and political and moral philosophy in a well regarded graduate school. No one who writes about these things professionally makes arguments anything like Ray's."

Is that why you haven't even bothered to read them?

William Peaden said...

"Only the “formulas, wiring diagrams, systems of equations… geometrical proofs” and the like of scientific discourse give us actual knowledge."

How can this be true by a scientistic account, since these are presumably intentionally directed the same as 'personal narratives', 'history', 'meaning'. Surely, they direct the mind to certain truths. Or is this just the same as the objection 'believes in no beliefs'?

DNW said...

"I pointed out a post on meaning (in the sense of significance or importance) and you mistook(?) it for talking about 'expressing propositions'.



Not at all. As you will be reminded below, the reference to propositions was introduced later, in response to your mutating objections to very idea of "meaning" as coherently referencing anything other than a kind of subjective emotion or affective attitude toward some encountered phenomenon.


"Except that your original comment talked about things like "the awesomeness of sentience, or the grandeur of... life". What propositions do those express? "

None, other than some self-referential description of the speaker's own mood; if we take seriously the theory of the exemplified atheist doing the expressing, regarding his views on the proper use of the term "having a point", or "meaning".

Which is just what I had been saying about their gaming the system of logical discourse with excitable jabber about grandeur; with illogical insinuations of objective moral significance; and with covert suggestions of a cosmic moral obligation to recognize and respect this or that.


"If your position is that a human life must express a proposition, what proposition does yours express?"


My position was that: your attempt to argue that the use of the term meaning should be restricted to that which was subjective and emotional, fell apart when confronted by a "No Trespassing" sign. And, that your subsequent attempt in responding to me to suggest a definition on the basis of a consensus (which you somehow psychologically reconciled within yourself with your earlier theory that "meaning" was some kind of synonym for a subjective emotion or disposition), fell apart when confronted with Russell's notion of a proposition or an obelisk.

If you wish to defend a theory of "meaning" which restricts the proper use of the term "meaning" to one which is definitionally consistent with an announcement of the private experience of an affect, or the mere mental registration of an affect, please go ahead and do so.

Because right now, all you are doing is knocking around the comments board in a fruitless search for rhetorical gaps to inhabit.

DNW said...

"The only way you get morality that is not manufactured is either by appeal to deontological ethics (e.g. Kantian categorical imperatives or divine command) or virtue ethics (e.g. based on teleological accounts of nature). This is not a contentious position in the least; this is the norm in philosophical discourse. Referencing philosophically illiterate bloggers or popular writers doesn't cut it, only actual philosophy does. Right now, Ray (or djindra, I might add) isn't even equipped to talk about very basic metaethical and normative distinctions and problems.

October 31, 2011 10:48 PM"


I find the reference to what I take to be a "re-recognition" if I may speak casually, of virtue ethics to be interesting.

Of course classical virtue ethics presumes a certain number of things which the usual opponents of an Aristotelian analysis of "universals" would be hard pressed to salvage in order to refashion an "objective morality" more to their very own linking.

But that is just what some seem to be doing.

I think that not all post moderns are comfortable ironically posed and floating there in moral midair. Not because of any intellectual discomfort: as their intellectual comfort probably follows as a rule from their public sinecures.

But because they sneakingly suspect some of those contributing to their welfare may look upward, and the scales falling from their eyes, gaze upon them in particular as they describe man in general.

It would be a cold and indifferent gaze, as at an annoying thing that had inflated its way up on energy extracted from others.

djindra said...

Daniel Smith,

Thanks for pointing out I missed your earlier post.

You assume I meant:

1) We, as humans, have evolved emotions.

2) These emotions are our moral barometer.

3) Hence, "whatever makes me angry" is wrong and "whatever makes me happy" is right... is that correct?

Not quite. If I smash my thumb with a hammer, it might make me angry. But this has nothing to do with morality. Anger is one of many emotions. Any might be part of our moral barometer in a given situation. Any might be activated by something other than a moral situation. Emotions are not exclusively reserved for moral decisions. So I reject your insinuation that I believe whatever makes me angry, alone, defines right and wrong.

So if it makes me angry that my wife chooses to care for our sick son rather than make me dinner, it does not follow that it's a moral situation in the first place. But even if it was a moral situation, it does not follow that my moral barometer is always right, or that emotions always agree. That's why we have a legal system. The assumption is -- and I think it's a safe assumption -- that disinterested third parties can better filter out immediate self-interest from a more objective, relatively cool-headed, moral interest. But without any emotions at all, that legal system could not function. Lawmakers depend on them to make the laws. Citizens depend on them to construct extra-legal customs and mores. And third parties often depend on those emotions to judge moral dilemmas.

Ray Ingles said...

DNW - "If you wish to defend a theory of "meaning" which restricts the proper use of the term "meaning" to one which is definitionally consistent with an announcement of the private experience of an affect"

And that's the key problem. That's not what I've been saying, it's how you have attempted to characterize my position. Not only have I explicitly denied that, I've pointed out that you have switched your definition of 'meaning' willy-nilly to avoid any of my questions.

I wasn't talking about 'no trespassing' signs or obelisks. Those do convey propositions (from mind to mind). I was talking about things like life qua life having a point, because you were talking about life having a point.

Speaking of 'rhetorical gaps', you've never clarified what your point was (in any sense). When you talked about life (in atheism) being 'pointless' did you mean (a) life doesn't express a proposition, (b) life doesn't have a purpose, or (c) life doesn't have importance? Or some combination of the above?

How does a theist conception differ? Which of the above senses of 'point' or 'meaning' does a life possess?

What's funny is that we both seem to agree that 'life' doesn't express a proposition, but you take that as a refutation of my point.

djindra said...

JA,

"The only way you get morality that is not manufactured is either by appeal to deontological ethics (e.g. Kantian categorical imperatives or divine command) or virtue ethics (e.g. based on teleological accounts of nature). This is not a contentious position in the least; this is the norm in philosophical discourse. Referencing philosophically illiterate bloggers or popular writers doesn't cut it, only actual philosophy does. Right now, Ray (or djindra, I might add) isn't even equipped to talk about very basic metaethical and normative distinctions and problems."

Translation: If we don't fit into JA's mental box he doesn't want to be bothered.

djindra said...

JA,

I study ethics and political and moral philosophy in a well regarded graduate school.

Well, that explains it. Try living and thinking for yourself.

JA said...

@Ray:

For the last time: the chess analogy is a false one. If you do not have either a deontological or teleological moral framework embedded in reality, that is like having a chess game with NO rules and NO end goal to guide the behavior of the pieces. In response, you just asserted that there are rules and that morality is a strategy to get to this end goal without actually addressing the contention.

So, tell me Ray: what's the end goal of life? What is the purpose? In chess it is to win. What is the MORAL analog in human life?

And Steven Pinker is a Psychologist, not a philosopher. His writings on ethics and history are popular, not academic. He still believes in a 19th century progressive historicism for crying out loud.

DNW said...

Blogger Ray Ingles said...

DNW - "If you wish to defend a theory of "meaning" which restricts the proper use of the term "meaning" to one which is definitionally consistent with an announcement of the private experience of an affect"

And that's the key problem. That's not what I've been saying..."



Then perhaps you should not have tried to take issue with what I said by placing up a link to an essay that defined it in just that way: a subjective emotion.

https://badidea.wordpress.com/2007/09/27/the-meaning-of-meaning-why-theism-cant-make-life-matter/


" ... meaning is an emotion. "


And yet you deny this represents your view. Thus, after all of this time we have absolutely no idea at all what it is you think you have been saying about the meaning of the term "meaning".

Like I said earlier, if you want to write an essay on what you do mean to say, help yourself. And be sure to drop a link as to where it can be found once you have finished.

Ray Ingles said...

JA - "In response, you just asserted that there are rules and that morality is a strategy to get to this end goal without actually addressing the contention."

The "rules" are the laws of physics. Humans bring the teleology to the situation. Humans approach the universe with purposes and intents, and thus arises the teleology.

For example, humans want good things for themselves and their loved ones. And there's a surprising overall commonality in what people consider 'good'.

To illustrate the possible variation... There are insects on Earth that practice what's called 'traumatic insemination'. (The male literally stabs the female with weapon-like genitals.) Other insect females get all their sperm at one time, as juveniles, and store it, never mating after that. A hypothetical species that combined those traits would be required to practice violent child rape simply to reproduce.

Compared to that, and other outre reproduction schemes, humans are all practically identical. And the way human reproduction works has consequences for how we interact with each other. I already pointed out modesty as a consequence.

"He still believes in a 19th century progressive historicism for crying out loud."

I know, it's such a ridiculous idea you don't even have to argue against it, you can just heap scorn! Convenient, that.

Ray Ingles said...

"Then perhaps you should not have tried to take issue with what I said by placing up a link to an essay that defined it in just that way: a subjective emotion."

In the context of 'the meaning of life', yes. Not in the context of signage and obelisks.

Ray Ingles said...

DNW - "Thus, after all of this time we have absolutely no idea at all what it is you think you have been saying about the meaning of the term "meaning"."

And this is why it's hard to think you're being honest. I've pointed out three distinct referents for the English term 'meaning' ('expressing a proposition', 'importance, significance', and 'purpose'). I've agreed with you that the first doesn't apply to the concept of 'the meaning of life'. I've expressly stated that when dealing with 'the meaning of life', what's meant is 'importance, significance'.

Verbose Stoic, on the other thread, has advanced the notion of 'purpose', but there are problems with that; at least, if one wants to claim it's an "illusion" in an atheist framework, anyway.

Anonymous said...

Our new topic: Stephen Pinker, 21st Century Hegelian.

Let's keep on piling them up. Gotta distract the discussion, hubba hubba.

Daniel Smith said...

djindra: "If I smash my thumb with a hammer, it might make me angry. But this has nothing to do with morality. Anger is one of many emotions. Any might be part of our moral barometer in a given situation. Any might be activated by something other than a moral situation. Emotions are not exclusively reserved for moral decisions.
...
it does not follow that my moral barometer is always right, or that emotions always agree. That's why we have a legal system.
...
disinterested third parties can better filter out immediate self-interest from a more objective, relatively cool-headed, moral interest. But without any emotions at all, that legal system could not function. Lawmakers depend on them to make the laws. Citizens depend on them to construct extra-legal customs and mores. And third parties often depend on those emotions to judge moral dilemmas."


You initially appealed to "biology", "anger", "self-interest" and "excited neurons" as the basis for your "strictly materialistic" morality. Now you are adding society's legal system, cooler heads and disinterested third parties into the mix. You seem to be moving away from your initial claims in that you now appeal to things that temper or counteract the self-interest and emotions you first based your morality on.

If your anger is not a good barometer for morality, but cooler heads and disinterested third parties are needed, then why bring up anger at all?

Here's what you initially said:

"When I see a wrong committed, it makes me angry"

What I find interesting in re-reading this is that you start with this:
"When I see a wrong committed..."

From this, I can only conclude that you must already know right from wrong! That is the only basis for rationally concluding that your anger is due to a "wrong" being committed and not due to something that is not moral - such as hitting your thumb with a hammer. So your anger stems from a knowledge of right and wrong and not the other way around. Your anger stems from a pre-existing morality! It has nothing to do with the actual emotions you feel (which - as you say - can come from many non-moral situations!)

You may want to think about this some more.

JA said...

Great. Since the laws of physics are the only limitation, gassing Jews, turning old people into sausage, cliterectomy, killing people with big feet, and torturing kittens is all moral. Just as long as I can't do the physically impossible, I'm all good.

By the way, what's the analog for the goal of chess in reality? What are we after? You haven't answered that oh so critical question yet. In fact, you never address my critical points. Instead, you cite Pinker, who is a nobody, and then accuse me of just dismissing him without argument when I spent a paragraph in the prior post on progressive historicism.

Jime said...

Oxford philosopher Timothy Willianson wrote a recent article on naturalism here:

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/09/04/what-is-naturalism/

Rosenberg replied to it here:

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/09/28/2011/09/17/why-i-am-a-naturalist/

And Williamson's reply to Rosenberg is here:

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/09/28/on-ducking-challenges-to-naturalism/

I think Williamson has good points.

StoneTop said...

Since the laws of physics are the only limitation, gassing Jews, turning old people into sausage, cliterectomy, killing people with big feet, and torturing kittens is all moral

If you choose to define it as moral then that is your definition... though I think you would find that many people would disagree with your particular definition of morality.

JA said...

@Stonetop: I am responding to Ray's incoherence, not proffering a moral vision.

djindra said...

Daniel Smith,

"Now you are adding society's legal system, cooler heads and disinterested third parties into the mix."

I'm adding more individuals with their own biology. Morality, being social in nature, is a team effort. So I'm not moving away from the biological, I'm amplifying.

"If your anger is not a good barometer for morality... then why bring up anger at all?"

Emotions, not anger (one emotion). Nothing in this world is perfect. Corroboration is important -- particularly when the item under examination is a social phenomenon.

"From this, I can only conclude that you must already know right from wrong!"

Yes, assuming we are healthy people, both you and I have a sense of right and wrong. We both get an emotional response when we see something that strikes us as wrong. I'm on safe ground there. This is not to suggest either of use have a perfect ability to sense right from wrong. There is no requirement that biological systems must be perfect, otherwise there would be no need for eyeglasses.

Ray Ingles said...

JA - "Since the laws of physics are the only limitation"

Let's recap how this went. I asked if sacrificing your queen for a pawn was a good idea. You agreed that it wasn't.

I then pointed out that sacrificing your queen wasn't against the rules of chess. You can't put your king in check, but there's no 'limitation' on sticking your queen where it'll get snatched by a pawn.

But - as you've agreed, note - doing that is a bad idea. It's unlikely to further your goal of winning the chess game. (At least, at the start of a game; in the endgame there might be situations where it'd be worth doing.) There is what I've called a 'strategic rule' against it.

So, in the analogy, while the laws of physics are what you've called 'hard rules'... as soon as those 'hard rules' are approached with goals, with a teleology in mind, what I call 'strategic rules' (and I suppose you'd call 'soft rules') naturally arise. The laws of physics don't ban you from jumping off cliffs, but if you want to survive, doing so is a bad idea.

"By the way, what's the analog for the goal of chess in reality? What are we after? You haven't answered that oh so critical question yet."

Well, I've talked about that a little before, though mostly we've spent our time with you trying to wriggle out of the principle you initially agreed to.

Humans have goals and desires. Some are very basic and inborn and apparently universal (air, water, food, sleep, shelter, etc.) and some are so common that only extremely rare individuals seem not to need them (e.g. the company of other people), and some are deeply personal and not common at all (a desire to write a novel, say). We can take Maslow's hierarchy as a starting point.

Now, given those goals, and the fixed 'hard rules' of the laws of nature - how the universe works - I've suggested that 'strategic rules' also arise. I pointed out an example - sexual modesty.

Assuming those goals, human life fits the conditions of a non-zero-sum game in game theory. And, as I said from the very start, "In such cases, game theory has identified traits that general, successful strategies incorporate - they are 'nice' (don't start fights), 'non-envious', 'forgiving' (don't get stuck in loops of mutual recrimination), but 'retaliating' - they defend themselves if attacked."

I admit, the undergirding doesn't look like 'divine command morality'. But the results wind up looking awfully similar - not unlike how geocentrism and heliocentrism make similar astronomical predictions.

"accuse me of just dismissing him without argument when I spent a paragraph in the prior post on progressive historicism."

You spent a paragraph on assertions and dismissals, not 'argument' (in Monty Python terms, "a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition").

djindra said...

Ray Ingles,

You might be interested in The Moral Judgment of the Child by Jean Piaget. He starts by exploring the way boys develop localized rules for the game of marbles. They do so without much, if any, adult supervision yet still develop a kind of sacred respect for those rules that could be considered a moral system. The book is available free online.

DNW said...

Jime said...

" Oxford philosopher Timothy Willianson wrote a recent article on naturalism here:

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/09/04/what-is-naturalism/

Rosenberg replied to it here:

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/09/28/2011/09/17/why-i-am-a-naturalist/

And Williamson's reply to Rosenberg is here:

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/09/28/on-ducking-challenges-to-naturalism/

I think Williamson has good points"


So do I. He's covering some of the same ground that has been covered here.

What we see in that exchange is a paradigm case of a logician arguing with an ideological triumphalist whose grandiose yet logically incoherent ideology has led him into a kind of philosophical dead end. But one wherein as a result of his associating himself with "science", he feels privileged to announce with satisfaction something along the lines of, "Well, at least the mystery of life is solved once and for all."

Unlike Oliver Wendell Holmes, whose dream revealed that the secret of the universe smelled vaguely of kerosene, Rosenberg has discovered that it is all fermions and bosons and nothing, really, else.

For some reason, Rosenberg's psychological type is addicted to a peculiar kind of flag waving. One that doesn't really jibe with the substance of the message they are delivering. Science Patriotism is ultimately meaningless, but de rigueur nonetheless.

But don't despair children. Before departing back into the everlasting non-being (phenomenologically speaking) from which you came, a potential if illusory life of evolutionarily driven but ultimately illusory puzzle solving and orgasmic satisfactions, lies before you. If, that is you select the right environment in which to operate, the right associates to manipulate, and you calculate the application of applied forces correctly.

And though pride is meaningless, you should be proud to know that you have the courage to embrace this meaninglessness.

Taking his own scientific principles as as our guide, we should probably surmise that naturalism and Darwinism explain Rosenberg away too: On one set of terms as just an illusion of patterns generated by bosons and fermions. On another, as little more than the representative of kind of survival strategy engaged in by an organism of a particular dispositional type; which, when confronted by certain environmental opportunities, made certain (illusory) choices for the maximizing of "its" (illusory self) satisfactions.

A phenomenon which then results from a "social" point of view, in the manifestation of a certain type of institution dwelling male anthropoid: such as we see there.

Certainly seems as though the notion has the potential to be formulated as a reasonable hypothesis; and in truth if we may speak of such a thing, I don't think that Rosenberg would object to this characterization at all.

JA said...

@Ray: No, I agreed that it wasn't, but that your example was a false analogy because you deny deontological and/or teleological ethics. You never adequately responded to that point and instead tried to use the laws of physics as a stand in. The implication of this move is that anything the laws of physics allow is moral, including really nasty things I don't think you can continence.

But now you are adding survival into the equation, which the laws of physics do not demand. You never really justified this move, but then again, you don't justify many anyway. Regardless, physics + survival does NOT mean that individual human life must be valued absolutely. This does not preclude mass slaughter and oppression if these things can be made to serve the purpose of the survival of the group in a utility calculus. So, for instance, since the Israelis cannot make peace with the Palestinians and the latter are increasing in population, which threatens the Israeli state's existence, the utility maximizing principle to ensure survival is mass genocide. Sure, from their perspective it would be better if the Palestinians made amends, but they won't. Since individual human life has no intrinsic value--that belief, after all, is uniquely Christian--the only moral thing is to kill them. This also means, of course, that it would be moral to club one's baby to death if one were to lose one's income and it would help ensure the survival of the family. Further, it also means that we can welcome eugenics back. All those poor people and minorities that the progressives experimented upon was justified. Best to also prevent them from breeding with forced abortions, killing their children, and sterilization--only for the good of the group, mind you.

So far we have laws of physics + survival + utility. You can't squeeze human dignity out of this. And you don't justify WHY survival and utility are moral imperatives, rather than, say, in Nietzsche's words, the affirmation of life by great cultural, artistic, and achievements that are noble and powerful. Of course, this doesn't mean that human life need be respected either. If a few million need to die for the nobility of an Napoleon to arise, so be it.

If you didn't catch that, I'll reiterate: privileging survival and utility is a choice--one shaped by personal and cultural beliefs. You have no way to universalize this. Sure, you can make a case by letting me know that I will live longer under certain conditions or what have you. But who cares? Why should the ability to live a few more years take priority over fun or greatness? This is a choice!

Without an objective morality hard coded into the natural world with a hierarchy of ends, a la virtue ethics, there is no reason to prefer your end to my end. Your morality is chosen and manufactured--only one of many possible.

And I did not make rank assertions about progressive historicism. I claimed that the belief in historical "progress" was dispelled as a myth after the bloodiest century in human history and a number of discoveries that demonstrated things like the cultural and historical contingency of morality or that scientific knowledge does not increase incrementally, but rather through paradigm shifts. Last time I checked, these were facts, not assertions.

cont . . . .

JA said...

. . . . cont

Let me make this clear as day: no one outside naive new atheists without expertise in ethics would take your claims seriously. If you made this argument in a paper at a university, it would not be well received. Your conclusions do not follow your arguments--you cannot get the dignity of individual human life out of physics + survival +utility--and your arguments are not universalizable, but based upon cultural prejudice, including your propensity for rationality and game theory, which is entirely problematic--another something I demonstrated earlier in reference to Charles Taylor's claims, but that you completely ignored.

Go read some books on ethics and come back. No doubt if I made facile and incorrect claims about computer science or evolution, you would tell me to educate myself prior to writing about them. This no less applies to you. And as of right now, you sound about as ignorant of the matter as a young earth creationist is of biology.

JA said...

I thought I would add something important: it's not demonstrable that people are rational utility maximizers. Positivism in the social sciences, including game theory, fails to make accurate predictions that account for human behavior, which is what I was trying to get at in my reference to Taylor's works--but I could have very well instead referenced anthropology or made use of genealogies or deconstruction. The point is though that morality, including Western rationalist beliefs, are culturally constructed and historically contingent--even the very language use reflects this. The very concept of freedom prominent in the West--the lack of constraints upon a self-sovereign will--is a cultural invention with roots in theological debates between Aristotelian and Nominalist scholastics.

The morality you uphold can never be more than a choice from within a specific cultural tradition. Referencing the laws of physics can never be a basis for morality--all it tells us is how quantifiable phenomena relate, which can have no bearing on qualitative moral evaluation. This was, in fact, the entire point of abandoning Aristotelianism from scientific study and replacing it with the new "mechanistic" philosophy. The former was concerned with natural phenomena both quantitatively and qualitatively. This was rough for the fathers of science, so they banished the qualitative from the natural world so that they could solely focus on the quantitative. This laid the foundation for the fact-value distinction in scientific and social scientific discourse today, which rather plainly asserts that you cannot get an "ought" from an "is."

This means that you cannot get an "ought"--don't kill people for fun--from an "is"--the laws of physics, which is what you are trying to do. At best, you can only tell me outcomes: doing X will likely increase or decrease my lifespan, but you cannot ever make the claim that this is an ethical imperative. There is no reason to be a rational utility maximizer over a Nietzschean, over a pagan, over a cannibal.

If it isn't clear, let me spell it out for you in Nietzschean terms: secular Western rationalistic morality has no natural or absolute philosophical basis for its claims. The continuing belief that it does despite this is fideism.

djindra said...

JA,

"So, for instance, since the Israelis cannot make peace with the Palestinians and the latter are increasing in population, which threatens the Israeli state's existence, the utility maximizing principle to ensure survival is mass genocide."

Or they can do as the ancient Israelites did to the Canaanites -- they can submit to their god's will. Maybe they liked listening to a god who (some surprise) just happened to want what they wanted.

"Since individual human life has no intrinsic value--that belief, after all, is uniquely Christian--the only moral thing is to kill them."

That's Christian propaganda.

"If a few million need to die for the nobility of an Napoleon to arise, so be it."

Or if the whole human race (save one family) needs to be destroyed by flood to 'save' humanity, so be it. How is that moral foundation any different?

"Without an objective morality hard coded into the natural world with a hierarchy of ends, a la virtue ethics, there is no reason to prefer your end to my end."

You seem to imply 'virtue ethics' is the same as consequentialism. Regardless, 'virtue ethics,' or character, or ends might be hard coded into individuals naturally. Furthermore, hard coded rules possibly could result in a 'virtue ethics' or could result in preferences for certain ends over others.

"I claimed that the belief in historical 'progress' was dispelled as a myth after the bloodiest century in human history and a number of discoveries that demonstrated things like the cultural and historical contingency of morality..."

That's spin. I'll give it another spin. If human life has intrinsic value we now have 7 billion valued individuals on the planet. A century or two ago we could not have supported that many people on the planet. That's added value, therefore it's progress.

"...or that scientific knowledge does not increase incrementally, but rather through paradigm shifts."

That's nonsense.

djindra said...

JA,

"Go read some books on ethics and come back."

That's naive.

"No doubt if I made facile and incorrect claims about computer science or evolution, you would tell me to educate myself prior to writing about them."

Philosophical speculation cannot be compared to scientific and/or engineering facts.

"The morality you uphold can never be more than a choice from within a specific cultural tradition."

You seem to be a moral relativist so why are you trying so hard to force atheists into the foxhole with you?.

JA said...

@djindra:

LOL. Thanks, I normally don't respond to trolls--and your polemic is no exception--but your inability to distinguish between basic categories in the field of ethics, including the difference between consequentialism and virtue ethics, was quite amusing.

BenYachov said...

>Philosophical speculation cannot be compared to scientific and/or engineering facts.

Philosophers, Theist or Atheist are simply superior thinkers to philosophically ignorant and incompetent scientists and Gnu Atheists. All the great ground breaking scientists understood at least some philosophy.

You have no further proof then the fact anti-philosophy scientists like Krauss have debated WLC & gotten their arse's kicked royally.

Stephen Law managed to hold his own against Craig & give him a challenge. Why? He is an Atheist Philosopher! (Thought granted his arguments are only effective against Theistic Personalist deities who don't exist in the first place).

As Atheist Philosopher Mary Migley said "Those who reject philosophy often become slaves to an outdate form of it".

Anti-philosophy types are simply mentally inferior.

One need only read djindra's posts to see that.

JA said...

Another LOL, doubly funny given your naturalism, is your ignorance of basic texts and ideas from the philosophy of science. I didn't think anyone with a passing interest in science still thought that scientific knowledge largely came by a plodding incrementalism. Kuhn dispelled that myth fifty years ago. Apparently, you also still believe in progressive historicism. Can I take a stab and guess that you are still into phrenology and phlogiston theory as well?

grodrigues said...

@JA:

"Apparently, you also still believe in progressive historicism. Can I take a stab and guess that you are still into phrenology and phlogiston theory as well?"

Not phrenology or phlogiston theory but in another thread, mr. djindra shared with us the following pearl:

"And I claim that without occasional empirical feedback math truths are in doubt."

This is in Pauli's "not even wrong" famed category. Maybe mr. djindra thinks that every six months the mathematical community should consult him like a divinely sanctioned oracle for the necessary empirical feedback just to make sure that "math truths" are not in doubt.

Ray Ingles said...

JA - "The implication of this move is that anything the laws of physics allow is moral"

As I noted before, you've never really started arguing with me, since I've specifically corrected you on this misapprehension and you've repeatedly ignored it.

"But now you are adding survival into the equation, which the laws of physics do not demand. You never really justified this move..."

Survival is one human motivation among many. And I'm a human. So is every person I know. I'm going to go out on a limb and accuse you, JA, of being human too.

The 'strategic rules' I'm talking about (as distinct from the 'hard rules' of chess or physics, the distinction you repeatedly avoid making) exist from a human perspective. That doesn't mean they're illusions, though - they are logical consequences of (human) desires interacting with constraints.

"Regardless, physics + survival does NOT mean that individual human life must be valued absolutely."

Christianity's been okay with the death penalty for a long time now, so 'absolutely' is a bit much. And, like all other groups, it's only slowly come to recognize non-Christians as part of the 'in-group' getting full moral significance.

The in-group's membership has fluctuated throughout history. In the earliest past, it may have been as limited as "the male members of my tribe". It certainly didn't include women as full persons in their own right - consider how recently women acquired the right to vote in the United States, and how many countries do not have full legal equality for women today. Slaves didn't count, and people from outside one's own tribe (and then city, and then country, and then 'race') didn't make the cut either. To a large extent, the increase in general moral behavior described by Pinker and others is a record of the gradual (though not linear or continuous!) expansion of that 'in-group' to encompass more and more people.

"So, for instance, since the Israelis cannot make peace with the Palestinians and the latter are increasing in population, which threatens the Israeli state's existence, the utility maximizing principle to ensure survival is mass genocide."

The Palestinians are robots, programmed for battle, and cannot possibly develop in any direction other than warlike? If that isn't the case, then maximal is achieved via finding a way to end the conflict.

Even if there are warriors among the Palestinians who will never change, are they even the majority?

(Actually, while I do not believe that religion 'causes' war in general - it's often a contributing factor or catalyst, but not 'the' cause - the Israel/Palestinian conflict pretty much is such a case. Early in the Zionist movement, there were serious proposals to locate a 'Jewish homeland' in South America; but the call of a divinely-ordained millennia-past land grab mandated the Middle East, and now...)

Ray Ingles said...

Ja - contd - "If you didn't catch that, I'll reiterate: privileging survival and utility is a choice--one shaped by personal and cultural beliefs."

The implementations of that 'choice' are indeed shaped by personal and cultural beliefs. But no human fails to have goals - and thus utility - and survival is a, ahem, extremely common goal.

In addition, we can actually test to see what goals people pursue and what the results are for their utility. I've pointed out research indicating that spending on others actually produces more happiness than people expect. Loving others, and being loved, turns out to be just about the best path to joy anyone's found. That's an important consideration.

"But who cares? Why should the ability to live a few more years take priority over fun or greatness? This is a choice!"

But if you want 'fun' or 'greatness', you need to work with others. Those high in the Communist Party in the Soviet Union were better off than the 'proletariat', sure. They still missed out on big chunks of the standard of living of a middle-class American because their system impeded production and innovation. And, ultimately, proved fundamentally unstable. Whence the 'greatness' now?

"it's not demonstrable that people are rational utility maximizers"

To reiterate: Actually, one of my claims is that people are irrational 'utility maximizers' that are frequently unsuccessful because of that.

Everyone attempts to maximize their utility as they perceive it. Caring for their children or the glory of God or a better car than the neighbors. But there's the question of what actually does promote utility. And reason can help us out with that.

"This means that you cannot get an "ought"--don't kill people for fun--from an "is"--the laws of physics,"

Agreed up to this point.

"which is what you are trying to do."

And here's where your continual refusal to engage my central point is laid starkly bare. I'm not trying to devise an 'ought' from an 'is'; I'm deriving 'oughts' from 'ares' and goals. You've already agree that 'oughts' can arise in exactly that way - in chess, the 'is' are the rules of chess, and the goal is 'winning the game'.

Ray Ingles said...

JA - contd - "I claimed that the belief in historical "progress" was dispelled as a myth after the bloodiest century in human history..."

Let me ask you a question: Can you summarize how Pinker addresses this point?

"a number of discoveries that demonstrated things like the cultural and historical contingency of morality"

Can you summarize how Pinker addresses this point?

Personally, I already addressed it - e.g. If one conceives of morality as more akin to engineering, then inheriting from one 'school' of engineering will definitely leave visible marks. As I noted, engineers "Frequently have to resort to 'rules of thumb', approximations, and techniques that have historically worked, even if why they work isn't always fully understood."

But I dare you to claim that you can't observe progress in engineering. (That link also discusses moral progress, which you claim is impossible to discern.)

"or that scientific knowledge does not increase incrementally, but rather through paradigm shifts"

And see, here is why I don't take your dismissals all that seriously regarding academic philosophy. In the areas I do have more experience in, your arguments are... weak. They seem "based upon cultural prejudice," specifically modern Western graduate academic culture.

The idea that science doesn't progress incrementally is vastly different from the idea that it doesn't progress at all. Electrons in orbitals don't smoothly change their energy. Although they make discrete 'leaps', that doesn't mean we can't tell the difference between an increase or decrease in energy!

Likewise with scientific progress, the fact that science progresses in jumps and paradigm shifts doesn't mean its course is arbitrary. We can clearly see a progression of increased explanatory power and precision. I prescribe a course in nondeterministic algorithms, or the various types of simulated annealing to expand your metaphor base a bit.

Ray Ingles said...

JA - contd - "Further, it also means that we can welcome eugenics back."

And here's a concrete example where not knowing the science, just having opinions about science, leads you astray.

One of the (many) reasons eugenics is wrong is that it assumes that it's possible to identify genes that are bad, and eliminate them. Genetics is more complicated than that, and traits that are 'bad' in one circumstance can be literally life-saving in others. For example, a person with two copies of the sickle-cell gene will suffer from sickle-cell anemia and die young. But a person with only one copy does not suffer such ill effects and has a significantly increased resistance to malaria. In a region where malaria is endemic, the risk of having babies die from sickle-cell anemia is offset by the improved chances of other babies surviving malaria. Cystic Fibrosis is another recessive trait where only one copy of a mutated gene apparently affords some protection from Typhoid and perhaps Tuberculosis. A further example is RH-negative blood; there is some evidence that, while RH-negative women are at increased risk of miscarriage, they have an easier time getting pregnant.

We don't know what positive traits even 'negative' genes might help to enable - perhaps the stereotype of the artist susceptible to drug abuse has a basis in fact, and by working to eliminate alcoholism we would devastate the art world.

This leads into another evolutionary argument against such eugenic practices. Diversity in a population is a very good thing. It helps a population cope with all kinds of threats - disasters, disease, variations in environment, and more. If a trait really is "bad", it will be eliminated in due course without - even in spite of - our intervention.

djindra said...

JA,

You're kidding yourself. I'll take your non-response as intellectual incompetence.

djindra said...

grodrigues,

"Maybe mr. djindra thinks that every six months the mathematical community should consult him like a divinely sanctioned oracle for the necessary empirical feedback just to make sure that "math truths" are not in doubt."

A divinely sanctioned oracle isn't empirical feedback. Divinely sanctioned pronouncements would be your understanding of the foundation of math truths, not mine.

djindra said...

BenYachov,

You keep inventing a me who is not me. I don't reject philosophy at all, as I've made clear to you. I reject bad philosophy. And I realize the limitations of any philosophy, particularly ideologically tainted philosophy.

grodrigues said...

@djindra:

"Maybe mr. djindra thinks that every six months the mathematical community should consult him like a divinely sanctioned oracle for the necessary empirical feedback just to make sure that "math truths" are not in doubt.

A divinely sanctioned oracle isn't empirical feedback. Divinely sanctioned pronouncements would be your understanding of the foundation of math truths, not mine."

Please, abstain from commenting about that which you know nothing about, e.g. my position on what is the proper foundation for truth in mathematics.

It is also telling that you chose to counter my "divinely sanctioned oracle" ironical jab, which just in case you missed, describes *you*, leaving the substance unresponded. And please, refrain from asking "what substance"? If you cannot read and follow through the implications then the problem is yours, not mine; although I can spell them out for you, just in case you really are that thick.

djindra said...

grodrigues,

"Please, abstain from commenting about that which you know nothing about, e.g. my position on what is the proper foundation for truth in mathematics."

Is this a new policy for everyone or just me? I'll give you a clue. Please refrain from mischaracterizing me. Things might go better without hypocrisy.

grodrigues said...

@djindra:

"Please, abstain from commenting about that which you know nothing about, e.g. my position on what is the proper foundation for truth in mathematics.

Is this a new policy for everyone or just me? I'll give you a clue. Please refrain from mischaracterizing me. Things might go better without hypocrisy."

Given your silence about it, I take it that you admit as I stated, that you talked about that which you know nothing. Good first step. Mischaracterizing you? I quoted you, far more than you ever did about my opinions, so in what way did I mischaracterize way? Did you or did you not asserted that "I claim that without occasional empirical feedback math truths are in doubt"? A quick search will turn up the relevant link. Or are you going to cling to the "divinely sanctioned oracle" irony to purposefully miss the substance -- that there is nowhere and no one to go to for the "occasional empirical feedback" and that the whole enterprise is misguided in the first place, because empirical truths never proved false a single, not even one mathematical truth and could never do?

Ray Ingles said...

grodrigues - "empirical truths never proved false a single, not even one mathematical truth and could never do?"

True. Likewise, however, mathematical truths don't prove anything about the real world. For a few thousand years, people figured Euclidean geometry was 'the' real geometry. The parallel postulate was annoying, but no one doubted it.

Then elliptical and hyperbolic geometry were discovered. And that was interesting, but not practical.

Then Einstein comes along and shows that the actual geometry that best applies to the world is hyperbolic. Euclidean geometry is still as true as any other mathematical result - the conclusions follow from the premises - it's just that those premises don't happen to match reality.

Perhaps djindra meant to paraphrase Winston Churchill - "However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results." That no amount of elegance in a mathematical theory can substitute for verifying predictions in the real world?

StoneTop said...

The morality you uphold can never be more than a choice from within a specific cultural tradition.

And? The only difference between that and declaring that your particular deity of choice defines morality is the level of honesty involved... the person who recognizes that their morality is based on the environment is much more honest then the person declaring that their morality is based on the declarations of some arbitrary deity.

JA said...

@Ray

You claim that I've repeatedly ignored your claims; however, this is not the case. All of my posts have been attempts to show that your ethical conclusions do not follow the foundations you lay for ethics. Most of these arguments have been dropped by you.

I'm just going to highlight a few of the dishonest things you do in the most recent post:

-Shift from highlighting survival as the motivating factor to one of many. This flexibility allows you to make stronger claims regarding ethics when it is convenient, but also allows you to avoid having to defend survival as the goal of human life.

-After making a claim that your ethical framework does not provide a foundation for defending absolute human dignity, you respond with the claim that Christians haven't always lived up to framework in practice. (They sin -- what a shocker! Now if only Christianity could make an account for this novel argument.) This is a non-answer and a diversion. You have provided no defense against my claim.

-You never responded to the claim that a utilitarian framework would actually demand mass slaughter under specific circumstances; instead, you took my example and professed faith that the conflict could be worked out, allowing you to avoid those implications--yet you never reckon with the possibility that a peaceful resolution is impossible and the implications of your utilitarianism under those circumstances.

-Your distinction between is/ought and are/ought is laughably mendacious. If you are going to use semantics instead of argument to introduce moral obligation into the natural world like this, at least use a different verb than "to be."

-You insist that I agree with your chess analogy to substantiate the prior point addressed on this list, but you've ignored my argument that the analogy does not work for you without teleology/deontology.

-You question beg to high hell. A good example is your insistence that moral reasoning is like engineering. You never substantiate this analogy with sound reasoning, but only assert it.

-You reformulate my arguments into straw men. I made an argument that utilitarian implies eugenics. You then claimed that eugenics is problematical because it may not be possible to identify genes. However, this argument has nothing to do with genes. Simply, if eliminating a population will create more pleasure for others than overall pain, it is justified. It doesn't matter what genes they have at all, but what the outcome of this calculus is. (I'll also note, as an aside, that if genes can be identified in the future, the implication of your argument is that eugenics is A. OK.)

-You have not responded, for the second time, to my criticism of positivism, game theory, and rationality. Instead, you merely claim that people are irrational utility maximizers, which doesn't address my critique at all, which applies just as much to that reformulation as to the prior one.

As these examples illustrate, dialogue with you is impossible as you dismiss arguments, resort to non sequiturs, recharacterize arguments as straw men, question beg, shift the focus to minor points in order to ignore stronger arguments, make broad and dubious claims without reasoning or evidence, shift the burden to your critics rather than responding to criticism, and make use of red herrings (e.g., Hitler was a Christian of some sort!). You are everywhere and thus nowhere. You can't sustain a point and discuss it with precision. You are guilty of shifting and vagueness. Trying to even identify your basic argument is like nailing Jello to a wall.

JA said...

@djindra: Another Funny! Your response to me was a polemic and failed to address a single substantive point that I argued--and you are now accusing me of being non-responsive.

LOLOLOLOLOOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOOLOLOLOLOOLOLOLOL

Please, don't stop. I've never had my own personal jester before.

JA said...

@Stonetop:

If you followed my argument, it is that without a deontological and/or teleological framework, morality is all relative. The metaphysics get you out of the problem, both by providing a natural basis for morality and demonstrating the existence of God and providing knowledge about Him by hard logic.

This doesn't make knowing what is ethical in every circumstance simple, of course. Language and culture play an interpretive role in attempting to deduce the natural law, especially as ethical situations increase in complexity. But, of course, it doesn't follow from that that natural law is useless, even if imprecise in certain circumstances.

grodrigues said...

@Ray Ingles:

"Then Einstein comes along and shows that the actual geometry that best applies to the world is hyperbolic."

The geometry of the spacetime manifold is encoded by a Riemannian metric that itself is a variable of the theory. Been a long time since I last looked at GR, but as far as I know, there is a priori no constraint that the sectional curvature be negative -- for example, in the Friedmann-Lemaitre-Robertson-Walker exact solution to GR's equations, the spatial part can be either elliptic, hyperbolic or euclidean.

"Perhaps djindra meant to paraphrase Winston Churchill - "However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results." That no amount of elegance in a mathematical theory can substitute for verifying predictions in the real world?"

What mr. djindra wrote was, and I repeat, "I claim that without occasional empirical feedback math truths are in doubt". Your charitable interpetation of him is at odds with this sentence and other ones he produced in the past. About "Likewise, however, mathematical truths don't prove anything about the real world": since the objective of mathematics, qua mathematics, is not to make or verify predictions about the real word, what point exactly are you trying to make in stating the obvious?

Ray Ingles said...

JA - "Shift from highlighting survival as the motivating factor to one of many."

In the comment where I mentioned survival, I also mentioned "the company of other people", "a desire to write a novel", and everything in the Maslow hierarchy, which includes "Friendship, Intimacy, Family", "a need to be respected and to have self-esteem and self-respect", "to become everything that one is capable of becoming". How did you miss that?

"you respond with the claim that Christians haven't always lived up to framework in practice"

No, no! I responded with the claim that many Christians have explicitly denied the principle. Clement of Alexandria did so ~200AD with the death penalty, and then there's Aquinas' 'just war theory'. This isn't people failing to live up to principles, this is people actively arguing that the principles are compatible with ending human life.

"You never responded to the claim that a utilitarian framework would actually demand mass slaughter under specific circumstances"

Given sufficiently extreme hypothetical circumstances, that's possible in pretty much any moral framework. A whole lotta Christians argued for Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The question becomes, do such hypothetical circumstances ever obtain in practice?

"you never reckon with the possibility that a peaceful resolution is impossible and the implications of your utilitarianism under those circumstances."

Do you think dropping the bombs on Japan was the right thing to do?

"Your distinction between is/ought and are/ought is laughably mendacious."

I actually did think about it. But I finally decided that switching from singular to plural wouldn't be a big deal. "This JA person appears to be able to read English," I thought. "Even he couldn't be so willfully obtuse as to miss the conjunction, right?"

But evidently not. I will express this again, very precisely:

One cannot derive an 'ought' from an 'is'. But one can derive an 'ought' from an 'is' and a goal. Once you have a goal, that creates a teleology from which to evaluate the 'is' and derive an 'ought'. That's what the chess analogy illustrates.

In practice, people derive 'oughts' (plural of 'ought') from 'ares' (plural of 'is') and 'goals' (plural of 'goal').

Ray Ingles said...

JA contd - "A good example is your insistence that moral reasoning is like engineering."

It really is. Morals, as schemes for how people are to interact with each other, develop and progress just like engineering. Slavery was an advance over 'kill everyone on the opposing side', but had many drawbacks, including endemic violence and crippling of innovation. We moved up to 'exchange of prisoners', and even up to things like the Marshall Plan, which was, by any measure, an enormous success.

"You reformulate my arguments into straw men."

Wow. I actually don't think I've misrepresented anything you've said, but even were that true... that's like the pot calling the event horizon black. For example:

"You then claimed that eugenics is problematical because it may not be possible to identify genes."

[Sigh.] No.

I said that it's not possible to identify all the effects of genes in all possible environmental conditions and alongside all possible other genes. (Genes don't have precise effects anyone, but probabilistic ones; but I'll agree to leave aside that complicating factor for now.) The only definitive test is the real world. If a gene really is more harmful than beneficial, it will weed itself out in due course.

"Simply, if eliminating a population will create more pleasure for others than overall pain, it is justified."

And that's the problem. That can't be established. Not just now, but in the future as well. Even if we do get a magical level of biological knowledge sufficient to map out all the potential effects of some gene or another, and determine that we're better off overall without it... that level of biological knowledge will of necessity imply the ability to eliminate the gene without eliminating a person with it. (Indeed, probably by correcting the gene in the person.)

So no, elimination of populations, or even 'gentler' eugenics like in the movie 'Gattaca' won't work. In the movie, it didn't work because they couldn't actually map out phenotypes from genes like they claimed.

What you're asking for in the 'identify genes' bit (leaving aside that you should have said 'identify effects of genes') is the equivalent of a 'magic perfect lie detector'. If something like that could exist, it would have practical more repercussions... but it doesn't and can't.

"You have not responded, for the second time, to my criticism of positivism, game theory, and rationality."

When you make a case that actually applies to what I'm saying, perhaps I will devote more time to it. (For example, not only have I not claimed that people are "machines that attempt to maximize their material well-being over all else", I've directly and explicitly denied that.)

Ray Ingles said...

grodrigues - "The geometry of the spacetime manifold is encoded by a Riemannian metric that itself is a variable of the theory."

Good point, I did oversimplify there.

"since the objective of mathematics, qua mathematics, is not to make or verify predictions about the real word, what point exactly are you trying to make in stating the obvious?"

Well, it hasn't been 'obvious' to a lot of people that even the most rigorous and precisely-defined of mental models - mathematics - don't dictate the real world. Einstein was willing to give up Euclidean geometry, but balked at QM's "spooky action at a distance".

An example I suppose we both can agree on - however beautifully the various trend curves of technology fit an exponential model, the Singularity types are, at best, charmingly naive to assume that the real world must follow those graphs endlessly into the future.

Oh, yeah, and another area where people believe the models over reality.

djindra said...

grodrigues,

"Given your silence about it, I take it that you admit as I stated, that you talked about that which you know nothing."

I know considerably more about what I believe and say I believe than you do. So if you want me to elaborate on your idiotic statement about me I will...

"djindra thinks that every six months the mathematical community should consult him like a divinely sanctioned oracle..."

Where did I suggest the mathematical community should consult me or any other person? Who but you thinks empirical verification consists of consulting a divinely sanctioned oracle? That's revelation. Reliance on revelation is the opposite of reliance on the empirical.

You, OTOH, *do* imply math is based on revelation. You might call it 'intuition' or some other vague feel-good term, but it's really a pulled-from-thin-air revelation from the math gods. So you accuse me of your own sin.

As yet you haven't explained how mathematicians get their foundation in the first place. How does a brain-in-a-jar, a brain that has never experienced the world, objects or space -- how does that brain intuit the idea of one? How does it intuit the idea of addition? Equality? How does it deduce the idea that 1+1 equals two? I see no way it can.

djindra said...

JA,

to Ray: "You never responded to the claim that a utilitarian framework would actually demand mass slaughter under specific circumstances"

Since nobody here seems to be a Utilitarian, nobody here feels compelled to answer this straw man. You have this fantasy that we don't answer your questions when, in fact, you simply don't like the answers you get.

grodrigues said...

@djindra:

As expected, you responded nothing and missed everything. It takes talent, let me tell you that.

"djindra thinks that every six months the mathematical community should consult him like a divinely sanctioned oracle

Where did I suggest the mathematical community should consult me or any other person? Who but you thinks empirical verification consists of consulting a divinely sanctioned oracle? That's revelation. Reliance on revelation is the opposite of reliance on the empirical."

Can you read? Because I have already *anticipated* this response from you. Quotes? Here is the relevant portion in my reply to you:

"Or are you going to cling to the "divinely sanctioned oracle" irony to purposefully miss the substance -- that there is nowhere and no one to go to for the "occasional empirical feedback" and that the whole enterprise is misguided in the first place, because empirical truths never proved false a single, not even one mathematical truth and could never do?"

But what else can be expected from the resident troll?

"You, OTOH, *do* imply math is based on revelation. You might call it 'intuition' or some other vague feel-good term, but it's really a pulled-from-thin-air revelation from the math gods. So you accuse me of your own sin."

The only assertion I made in this blog about my position on mathematics is that I tend to favor a moderate Aristotelian realism. Produce one quote in which I assert or imply what you say I do. Just one.

"As yet you haven't explained how mathematicians get their foundation in the first place. How does a brain-in-a-jar, a brain that has never experienced the world, objects or space -- how does that brain intuit the idea of one? How does it intuit the idea of addition? Equality? How does it deduce the idea that 1+1 equals two? I see no way it can."

I never asserted that mathematics is not informed by sense data; in fact, I explicitly said it is -- you know the whole moderate Aristotelian realism thingy? I begin to suspect that you do not make the least idea what my objections are...

And what you can or cannot imagine counts about as much as what I can or cannot imagine. If you want to debunk Platonism say (which I reject) then you need more than an argument from incredulity. Not that I expect you will provide one, because I doubt you even know the arguments *for* Platonism. But please, by all means prove me wrong.

djindra said...

grodrigues,

"Because I have already *anticipated* this response from you."

If you anticipated it why make it in the first place? I took it as an accusation and, your hedge notwithstanding, I think that's exactly how it was meant.

"what you can or cannot imagine counts about as much as what I can or cannot imagine."

Then I assume you reject many of the arguments Feser makes about mind and dualism since they depend upon what can be conceived or not. I'm with you there. But it also follows that mathematical axioms are neither true nor false simply because we can imagine (or conceive) axioms. They must be corroborated in some way outside pure imagination. That's always been my position on math.

"I never asserted that mathematics is not informed by sense data;"

Then maybe you essentially agree with me but you may not like where it leads. My interest in this issue has been mostly connected to supposed truth in 'all possible worlds.' Philosophers sometimes use this rhetoric, and they sometimes use math as an example of it. To me this is nonsense. If math is 'informed by sense data' as you say and I agree, then we are brains-in-a-jar in regard to 'all possible worlds.' We have no sense experience within those possible worlds. Se how can we consider ourselves informed about the laws of physics or math or being in those worlds? We cannot deduce any truth -- including mathematical truths -- about those possible worlds based upon truths that exist, as far as we know, only in our own world. The fact that neither you nor I can conceive of 1+1=3 only says our math is 'informed by sense data' within a world where this appears to be universally and necessarily true.

StoneTop said...

If you followed my argument, it is that without a deontological and/or teleological framework, morality is all relative.

Well yes, morality is relative... as what I consider moral isn't the same as what someone brought up in another culture would consider moral.

The metaphysics get you out of the problem, both by providing a natural basis for morality and demonstrating the existence of God and providing knowledge about Him by hard logic.

No, it really doesn't... it just lets you pass on examining your morals by declaring them to come from an arbitrary deity.

One doesn't need metaphysics to determine a "natural" base for morality. Nor does it in any way demonstrate the existence of a deity. Further it fails to make the leap from the generic and indemonstrable "first mover" to "cut off your foreskin / bow in a particular direction five times a day / engage in symbolic cannibalism once a week"

grodrigues said...

@djindra:

"Then I assume you reject many of the arguments Feser makes about mind and dualism since they depend upon what can be conceived or not. I'm with you there. But it also follows that mathematical axioms are neither true nor false simply because we can imagine (or conceive) axioms. They must be corroborated in some way outside pure imagination. That's always been my position on math."

I used the word "imagine" on purpose, not conceive. But such subtleties are beyond your pale.

"My interest in this issue has been mostly connected to supposed truth in 'all possible worlds.' Philosophers sometimes use this rhetoric, and they sometimes use math as an example of it."

And yet more deflection; we go from your claim that without empirical feedback mathematical truths are in doubt to a rant about Possible Worlds. Amazing.

"We cannot deduce any truth -- including mathematical truths -- about those possible worlds based upon truths that exist, as far as we know, only in our own world."

You do not even understand modality well. Not that it matters much, but two points: 1. Necessary truths like mathematical truths hold in every possible world. 2. There are possible world semantics that do not entail any ontological commitment; A possible world is more like a large (but finite, assuming the total number of events in the universe is finite, a very reasonable assumption), consistent conjunction of propositions that completely describes a state of affairs of the universe that could have been obtained.

Finally, I note that you did not responded to my objections; you did not provide a single argument against say, Platonism, and your "position" on mathematics is backed up by mere assertion; you did not produce the quote of me saying or implying that "math is based on revelation". Your behavior betrays that you are neither intellectually serious nor intellectually honest. I see no point in continuing this conversation.

djindra said...

grodrigues,

"I used the word 'imagine' on purpose, not conceive. But such subtleties are beyond your pale."

And I used 'imagine' and 'conceive' on purpose since I reject the imagined difference between these two concepts as used around here. That subtle and vague difference is no more than an excuse for ad hoc fantasy assertions.

"And yet more deflection; we go from your claim that without empirical feedback mathematical truths are in doubt to a rant about Possible Worlds. Amazing."

That you don't see the connection is a poor reflection on your grasp of the issue. Far from a deflection, it's the heart. What is 'truth' in math about? What does it apply to? How pervasive is its application?

"You do not even understand modality well. Not that it matters much, but two points: 1. Necessary truths like mathematical truths hold in every possible world. 2. There are possible world semantics that do not entail any ontological commitment;"

Yes, you want to define your way into truth. You smugly assume (1) and (2) are definitionally true and feel no need to prove it.

"Finally, I note that you did not responded to my objections; you did not provide a single argument against say, Platonism, and your "position" on mathematics is backed up by mere assertion;"

And I note that you did not respond to my challenge. If math is 'informed by sense data' what is math without that (empirical) sense data? By grasping onto a math 'informed by sense data' you have capitulated. There is no need for me to provide an argument against Platonism. You basically agree with me whether you admit it or not.