Friday, April 25, 2014

A second exchange with Keith Parsons, Part I


I’d like once again to thank Keith Parsons, and moderator Jeffery Jay Lowder, for the very fruitful first exchange we had a few weeks ago.  You can find links to each installment here.  Per Jeff’s suggestion, our second exchange will be on the topic: ”Can morality have a rational justification if atheism or naturalism is true?”  Jeff has proposed that we keep our opening statements to 2500 words or less, and I will try to rein in my logorrheic self and abide by that limitation.  That will be difficult, though, given that my answer to the question is: “Yes and No.”

Let me explain.  I’ll begin by making a point I’m sure Keith will agree with.  Many theists and atheists alike suppose that to link morality to religion is to claim that we could have no reason to be moral if we did not anticipate punishments and rewards in an afterlife.  I am sure Keith would reject such a line of argument, and I reject it too.  To do or refrain from doing something merely because one seeks a reward or fears reprisals is not morality.  I would also reject the related but distinct claim that what makes an action morally good or bad is merely that God has commanded it, as if goodness and badness were a matter of sheer fiat on the part of a cosmic dictator who has the power to impose his will on everyone else.  This too would not really be morality at all, but just Saddam Hussein writ large.

So, I reject crude divine command theories of morality.  That is one reason I think it is not quite right to claim that there can be no justification of morality if atheism were true; or at least, what (probably) most people understand by that claim is, in my view, false.  Crude divine command theories simply get morality wrong.  They get God wrong too.

More on that, perhaps, later in this exchange.  But first, another reason the claim in question is not quite right -- or at least way too quick -- has to do with what actually is the foundation of morality, or in any event the proximate foundation.  Like Philippa Foot, I would argue that goodness and badness are natural features of the world.  In particular, they have to do with a thing’s either realizing or failing to realize the ends toward which it is directed given its nature.  For example, a tree, given its nature, is directed toward ends like sinking roots into the ground, carrying out photosynthesis, and so forth.  To the extent it realizes these ends it is a good tree in the sense of a good specimen or instance of a tree, a healthy or flourishing tree.   To the extent it fails to do so, it is a bad tree in the sense of a bad specimen, a sickly or defective tree.  Similarly, a lioness is directed by her nature toward ends like hunting, moving her cubs about, and so forth.  To the extent she does so she is a good or flourishing specimen of a lioness, and to the extent she fails to do so she is a bad or defective specimen.  And so on for other living things.

Now so far this is a non-moral sense of “goodness” and “badness,” but moral goodness and badness are just special cases of the more general notions.  In particular, moral goodness or badness is the sort exhibited by a rational creature when he chooses either to act in a way conducive to the realization of the ends toward which his nature directs him, or to act in a way that frustrates those ends.  The goodness or badness of a plant or non-human animal is sub-ethical because they cannot understand what is good for them or will to pursue it.  Our goodness or badness is of an ethical sort because we can understand and will these things.  And it is irrational for us not to try to understand and to will them insofar as practical reason is by nature directed toward discerning the good, and the will is by nature directed toward pursuing the good. 

This is just a brief summary of the Aristotelian-Thomistic (A-T) natural law conception of the good, and obviously it raises many questions.  I have developed and defended this conception at greater length elsewhere (such as in chapter 5 of my book Aquinas, in the first half of my Social Philosophy and Policy article “Classical Natural Law Theory, Property Rights, and Taxation,” and in my article “Being, the Good, and the Guise of the Good,” in the volume Neo-Aristotelian Perspectives in Metaphysics, edited by Daniel Novotný and Lukás Novák).  Keith would no doubt disagree with a lot of what the A-T position has to say, but the point for the moment is to emphasize something else with which Keith might agree.  Just as what is good or bad for a tree or lioness is grounded in the natures of those things, so too is morality grounded in human nature.  Moral goodness, like these other kinds of goodness, is in that way what Foot calls “natural goodness.”  But human nature is something a person can know and understand whether or not he believes in God, just as he can understand the nature of an oak tree or a lioness whether or not he believes in God.  Hence there is a sense in which one could give a rational justification of morality even if he were an atheist.

I say that Keith might agree with this not just for the obvious reason that he is an atheist, but also because, if I understand his views correctly, he is sympathetic to the broadly neo-Aristotelian approach to ethics represented by Foot.  So, if I understand him correctly, there is a pretty significant amount of common ground between us on this issue.  Now let me explain where I think we differ.  First of all, while there is a sense in which morality might be rationally justifiable if atheism were true, I would say that morality could not be rationally justified if naturalism were true.  The reason is that morality presupposes the existence of what Foot calls “natural goodness,” and natural goodness in turn presupposes the reality of natural teleology, of natural substances being inherently directed toward the realization of certain ends.  And naturalism is simply incompatible with the reality of natural teleology.

To forestall a possible misunderstanding, the reason I say that naturalism and natural teleology are incompatible is not because naturalists deny “intelligent design.”  I am not saying that natural objects are like watches or other artifacts which have functions only insofar as those functions have been imposed by an artificer, so that affirming that they have functions requires affirming an “intelligent designer” of the William Paley or ID theory sort.  That would make the teleology of natural substances extrinsic to them, as the time-telling function of a watch is extrinsic to the metal bits out of which it is made.  From an A-T point of view, that just gets natural teleology fundamentally wrong.  Natural teleology is natural precisely because it is intrinsic to a thing, following from its nature or substantial form.  And you can know the nature of a thing, and thus determine its teleological features, whether or not you believe in God.

(That does not mean that natural teleology does not ultimately entail a divine ordering intelligence.  I think it does.   But the reason why it does -- a reason which Aquinas sets out in his Fifth Way -- is more complicated and less direct than Paley and ID theory suppose.  It has nothing to do with complexity, probability calculations, analogies to artifice, etc.  In my view, ID theory has succeeded only in kicking up a gigantic cloud of dust that has badly obscured the proper understanding of natural teleology and its relationship to natural theology.  I have discussed this issue in a number of blog posts, in chapter 3 of Aquinas, in my Philosophia Christi article “Teleology: A Shopper’s Guide,” and at greatest length in my Nova et Vetera article “Between Aristotle and William Paley: Aquinas’s Fifth Way.”)

The reason is rather that naturalism is committed to the “mechanical world picture” (to use Tim Crane’s apt phrase) that the philosophers and scientists of the 17th century put at the center of modern Western thought.  Not every element that was originally part of that picture has survived, but the core of it has.  And that core is the idea that there is in the natural order no irreducible teleology of the sort affirmed by Scholastics and other Aristotelians.  All genuine explanations must, on this view, either be non-teleological or, if they make use of teleological notions, still be “cashable” in non-teleological terms. 

Now, if I may digress for a moment: The idea that the natural order is fundamentally non-teleological is often characterized as if it were a finding or result of modern science, but it is not that at all.  It is rather a methodological stipulation about what will be allowed to count as “scientific.”  It’s like the rule against traveling in basketball.  It would be preposterous to argue: “In every basketball game played so far, traveling has not been allowed.  So, the history of basketball gives us overwhelming empirical evidence that there can be no legitimate traveling in basketball.”  That traveling isn’t allowed isn’t some inference we’ve drawn, but rather is just part of the rules of the game.  The reason you don’t see legitimate cases of traveling in actual basketball games is that they’ve been ruled out by fiat from the start.  Similarly, the reason you don’t find explanations in modern science that make use of irreducibly teleological notions is not that “science has shown” that there is no irreducible teleology.  It is rather for the completely trivial reason that appeals to irreducible teleology have been ruled out by fiat as “non-scientific.”

Hence the “argument from science” against irreducible teleology, though often tossed out matter-of-factly as if it were obviously correct -- for instance, by Alex Rosenberg, to take a recent example -- is in fact utterly fallacious.  Whether there is such a thing as irreducible teleology in nature is not a question for empirical science to settle, but rather a question for metaphysics and philosophy of nature.  And as I have argued many times, we cannot make sense either of our own thought processes, or of the irreducible causal powers of different natural substances, or indeed of the very possibility of there being any efficient causation at all, unless we affirm irreducible finality or teleology in nature.  (See e.g. chapter 6 of The Last Superstition, chapter 2 of Aquinas, my article “Between Aristotle and William Paley: Aquinas’s Fifth Way,” and chapter 2 of Scholastic Metaphysics.) 

But again, that is a digression, because whether there really is irreducible teleology in nature is something we need not settle for present purposes.  The point for now is just that if there is no irreducible teleology in nature, then there can be no “natural goodness” either and thus no morality.  Here I imagine that Keith would disagree.  I presume -- and Keith, please correct me if I am wrong -- that Keith would say that teleology can be given a naturalistic reduction, perhaps after the fashion suggested by writers like Ruth Millikan.  Hence (the argument would continue) natural goodness, and thus morality, can be given a naturalistic foundation. 

Atheist philosopher and blogger Daniel Fincke has defended a view like this, but as I argued a couple of years ago in a post criticizing his position, it will not work.  To see why not, consider a distinction between kinds of teleology inspired by John Searle’s distinction between intrinsic intentionality, derived intentionality, and as-if intentionality.  Derived intentionality is the sort that the ink marks and sounds we call words have.  The meaning or intentionality of words is real, but in no way intrinsic to the ink marks and sounds themselves.  Instead it derives from the intrinsic or “built-in” intentionality of thought.  As-if intentionality is what is in play when we describe things as if they had intentionality, e.g. when you say of a marble you’ve dropped that it “wants” to roll away.  Of course, it doesn’t really want to roll away, because it is not the sort of thing that can want anything.  As-if intentionality is not really intentionality at all, but just a useful fiction.

Now if there were no intrinsic intentionality (as an eliminative materialist might claim) then there could not be any genuine intentionality at all.  For derived intentionality can exist only if there is intrinsic intentionality from which non-intrinsic intentionality might be derived; and as-if intentionality isn’t real intentionality in the first place. 

But now consider a parallel distinction between intrinsic, derived, and as-if teleology.  Intrinsic teleology would be the sort that Aristotelians attribute to natural substances, an inherent or “built-in” directedness toward an end.  Derived teleology would be a “directedness toward an end” that a thing does not have intrinsically, but only insofar as it is imparted to it by something else.  The purposes of watches and other artifacts would be teleology of this sort.  As-if teleology would be what is in play when we find it useful to describe a thing as if it were directed toward an end. It is not genuine teleology at all, but at most just a convenient fiction. 

Now, the naturalist claims that there is no intrinsic teleology in the sense just described.  That means that all teleology must somehow be either derived or as-if; in particular, a Millikan-style reductionist account of natural teleology would have to say that the teleology of any substance is either derivative from the teleology of something else, or mere as-if teleology.  Yet if there is no intrinsic teleology for things to derive their non-intrinsic teleological features from, then they cannot really coherently be said to have derived teleology.  Their teleology must be mere as-if teleology.  In particular, Millikan-style reductions of teleology in terms of natural selection are really just ways of attributing as-if teleology to biological phenomena. 

But as-if teleology isn’t really teleology at all, any more than as-if intentionality is genuine intentionality.  It is at most merely a convenient fiction.  Accordingly, accounts like Millikan’s don’t really imply that teleology is real but reducible, but rather at best that it is not real, but a useful fiction.  (Searle has made a similar point about views like Millikan’s.)  And in that case you cannot really get natural goodness, and in turn morality, from a naturalistic account of teleology.  The most you can do is argue that it is as if there were teleology in nature, and as if there were goodness in nature, and as if there were such a thing as morality.  But to say it is as if morality existed is, needless to say, not to give a justification of morality.  It is at best a justification for pretending that there is morality.  (And could even the pretense of morality long survive if we all knew it to be mere pretense?  To ask the question is, I think, to answer it.) 

So, even if there is a sense in which atheism is consistent with there being a rational justification of morality, naturalism is not consistent with there being such a justification.  But then, most modern atheists are probably atheists because they are naturalists.  And in that case, their atheism is not consistent with there being a rational justification of morality.  Only a non-naturalistic atheism -- whatever that would look like -- would be consistent with it. 

But even that is true only with qualification.  For I would argue that even intrinsic teleology (and by extension natural goodness and thus morality) is ultimately, when a complete metaphysical analysis of teleology is given, intelligible only in light of classical theism.  The reasons, as I indicated above, are those given in the Fifth Way, properly understood and developed.  (Again, see my book Aquinas and my Nova et Vetera article for the full story.)  There is a parallel here with efficient causality.  You can know that things have causal powers, and what those causal powers are, whether or not you believe in God.  Still, as the Scholastic argues, when a completed metaphysical analysis of causation is carried out, it turns out that a thing could not even for an instant exercise the causal power it has -- the power to actualize potentials -- unless there were a purely actual uncaused cause which continuously imparts to things their causal power.

All that raises lots of questions, of course, but I have already gone a little over the word count.  (Feel free to do the same, Keith!)  Maybe we can return to some of these issues later in this exchange.  (I addressed the relationship between theism and morality in an earlier post a few years ago, and addressed the Euthyphro objection in yet another post.  Interested readers are directed to those posts, but for now I must shut up!)

126 comments:

Timotheos said...

Hello, Dr Feser! I just got Scholastic Metaphysics and I've been loving it so far! I do have one complaint about it though.

I think you might have dismissed Lagrange's argument for the PSR too quickly. The main reason you disregarded his argument was based on an objection by Hume distinguishing two senses of nothing, but Lagrange responded to this objection on pg. 147 in vol. 1 of God: His Existence and Nature. Now his response is a little strange, so you may have just decided to not mention it for brevity's sake, but it seems unfair to only spend a mere paragraph on him when he did go to the trouble to attempt a response. Either way I would like to know your thoughts on his counter-argument.

I did like your way of grounding the PSR however, which was a clever linkage of it with Lewis' argument from reason (not that lame Plantinga version), and I think it worked successfully, so Lagrange's argument may be a little superfluous.

I know this comment is off-topic, but this is something that is really bugging me, so if you have the time, I would like to know your thoughts.

wrf3 said...

If, as you suppose, morality is "a thing’s either realizing or failing to realize the ends toward which it is directed given its nature." then either divine command theory must be true or God must not be sovereign.

This definition is problematic for other reasons, too, since a thing's nature can be open to interpretation. What is the nature of man? If it is to be obedient to God, then divine command theory must be true. If it is to be disobedient to God, or to ignore God, then individuals determine what is and isn't good.

Timotheos said...

@ wrf3

I don’t see why the dilemma in the first part of your response is true; why should we think God’s creating a thing with a certain nature commands what activities would be morally good for a thing with that nature?

(Now in creating that thing, it is true God gives it a certain nature, but what is good for that thing follows upon what the nature is and not what God commands is good for that the thing with that nature. For instance, a Euclidian triangle has three angles that add up to 180 degrees because it follows upon the definition of a triangle as a three sided polygon on a Euclidian plane and not because God commands that is the case)

The second part of your response misses the distinction between the nature of a thing and what follows because of the thing’s nature. For instance, the fact that men have the capacity for a sense of humor is because they are rational, but “the capacity for a sense of humor” is neither a man’s nature nor a part of it. Thus, the reason a man is directed towards being obedient to God by nature is because God is the highest in truth, and since a man’s nature is to be a rational animal, a man is directed towards the highest truth (God, according to Aquinas) by his rationality.

It’s also no objection to the definition of man as a rational animal by pointing to the possibility of rational aliens, because this is a metaphysical definition of man instead of a biological one, so if rational aliens were discovered, they too would be metaphysical men.

Tony said...

What is the nature of man? If it is to be obedient to God, then divine command theory must be true.

This is an incredibly badly scoped out notion of "the nature of man". It belongs to all creatures, merely by being created, that they be related to God's will in a certain way, ordained to follow God's will either necessarily or freely. To be "related to God's will" isn't distinctive to any created nature at all. It doesn't express man's nature.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand the "yes" aspect of Dr. Feser's "yes or no" response. If "natures" and "final causality" can only make sense if God exists, then how can the atheist have more breathing room with this world as opposed to one with the personalist God? Sure, he may be able to recognize the "natures" and "ends" of this world, but just because he doesn't recognize their utter dependency on God doesn't seem to completely justify his godless appeal to them and his employment of them in arguments.

Or put another way:

Classical theism: God --> final causality --> morality

Personalism: God --> morality (directly via divine command)

Why should that one intermediate make a world of difference in terms of rational justification, if that intermediate can come from no other source but God?

Greg said...

Anon,

Classical theism: God --> final causality --> morality

This is the ontological hierarchy. But it is not the empistemological hierarchy, which is:

Final causality --> God
Final causality --> morality

Since final causality is the basis of morality, it is possible for atheists to be good, even in a non-accidental sense (ie. that they are good because they recognize the good). But the same principles which imply morality also imply God.

E.R. Bourne said...

Anonymous at 8:23 PM

Dr. Feser's "yes" is actually rather significant. Of course the classical theist sees everything in the world as radically contingent and dependent on God for existence at each and every moment, but this would not, for instance, require mentioning God when discussing biology, chemistry, or any other empirical science.

The purpose is to maintain the integrity of the natural order. The difference between your two listed hierarchies of causation is literally an entire world. In the first, the world is an object of knowledge in its own right, and God is not seen as committing violence to the natural order but rather being the very reason for its intelligibility. In the second, morality is seen as a largely arbitrary set of dictates that are utterly unrelated to who we are as creatures.

This parallels with other types of causation as well. Modern science would not be able to exist as a coherent endeavor if we simply posited God as the immediate cause of all phenomena. This is not to say that God is not the ultimate cause of all things, but it is to say that without natures and ends, as you put it, we could not develop an independent knowledge of the natural world.

George R. said...

Ed writes:

"So, even if there is a sense in which atheism is consistent with there being a rational justification of morality, naturalism is not consistent with there being such a justification."

Atheism is per se inconsistent with morality. For as St. Thomas wrote: "The nature of the son is the command of the father." Therefore, the 'son' who rejects the command of his 'father' rejects his own nature and, therefore, cannot act according to it.

Nor can an atheist obey the natural law in any true sense, for the natural law is predicated on that reality which can be known by reason, and both a) the existence of God and b) the fact that we are bound to obey the commands of God can both be known by reason. Therefore, the atheist cannot act according to the natural law (except materially and accidentally), for he denies that reality which is the principle of all moral action.

Nor can acting according to the natural law materially, which the atheist is in fact capable of doing, be considered acting morally in any univocal sense when compared with the moral actions of him who has subjected himself to the commands of God. For the principle of the former is natural, while the principle of the latter is supernatural. Therefore, the two kinds of actions cannot belong to the same genus, and can only be signified by the same term equivocally.

Joy & Gratitude said...

I think the easiest and most effective response here on the part of the atheist would be to subscribe to a deflationary account of the metaphysical foundations of morality. Moral prescriptions arise from our ethical sensibilities, but the ethical sensibilities that we have are a mere by-product of the grinding of our genetic and biological machinery over the long history of evolution. Our moral sensibilities tell us about how we feel about things; and, given the way evolution does in fact unfold, we could not not feel that way.

We regard things as precious and loveworthy or detestable to degrees, and our morality arises from perceiving things the way we do. We perceive things the way we do because to do so benefits the survival of our species. Thus, morality is as real as it needs to be for us to be as we are--which, in fact, necessitates no metaphysical foundation beyond ourselves (no "eternal gaze" from which we have arisen and which forever beholds us).

Not that I myself buy this, but, I think this is perhaps the most salient issue in the debate. It seems to me that theism (of which I am an adherent) needs to be more creative on this point and undergo the difficult task of demonstrating why our aboriginal allegiance to what we take to be the good and the beautiful ought be regarded as an allegiance to something that is really there, not just in our heads or real "for us."

Btw, can someone explain to me how to use bold, italic, etc., font? Not used to this type of format.

Scott said...

@Joy & Gratitude:

"Btw, can someone explain to me how to use bold, italic, etc., font?"

This site accepts some basic HTML tags.

To put something in italics, do this:

<i>You text here.</i>

When you post that, it will look like this:

Your text here.

Bolding works the same way, except you use the letter b in the tags instead of i.

To post a link, do this:

<a href="http://google.com">Your text here.</a>

When you post that, it will look like this:

Your text here.

Hope that helps.

Scott said...

(Sorry, of course that first example should say "Your text here.")

Jeremy Taylor said...

Joy & Gratitude,

Well, maybe I'm wrong but it seems to me that, as far as this debate goes, surely Parsons must take a moral realist perspective as well.

Otherwise, all he can really do is accept some conventional idea of right and wrong and make psychological and sociological arguments about why a completely (or almost so) secular and atheistic society would not trespass this morality significantly more than any society trespasses against their moral ideals.

Such an argument is more my sphere, that of the political philosopher, and not the sort of thing you'd expect Dr. Feser and Parsons to be arguing over.

I will say that the strongly irreligious in our society are rarely anything but politically naive, whatever their philosophical credentials. Part of the idiocy of the Gnus seems due to the fact they have a very simplistic, left-liberal idea of society, culture, and politics.

Stephen Krogh said...

Perhaps I've missed the definition, but are we taking naturalism as something close to Plantinga's definition as "the denial that there is any such person as God"?

I ask, because on that definition Aristotle seems to be a naturalist--the unmoved mover isn't a person, and isn't a creative being--but still has teleology in his natural science, and clearly thinks ethics is based on human nature.

Perhaps I've missed the definition of the term here?

TheOFloinn said...

a tree, given its nature, is directed toward ends like sinking roots into the ground, carrying out photosynthesis, and so forth. To the extent it realizes these ends it is a good tree... To the extent it fails to do so, it is a bad tree... Similarly, a lioness is directed by her nature toward ends like hunting, moving her cubs about, and so forth. To the extent she does so she is a good... lioness, and to the extent she fails to do so she is a bad ... specimen.

Seems to me that since natural selection supposedly rewards the former and punishes the latter, that evolution is analogous to morality for non-rational things.

Joy & Gratitude said...

Many thanks, Scott.

With regard to your comments, Jeremy, let me try to clarify my initial point in light of your statement that Parsons needs to affirm moral realism in order for the debate between he and Feser to be substantive and philosophically interesting.

I would agree, but, the question seems to be, "What sort of work, so to speak, ought we expect our version of realism to be (capable of) doing? For example, pretty much all people would agree that abducting, brutalizing, and then burying alive a young child is "wrong," and that such acts as that "ought not be." What, exactly, must be meant by these valuative judgements in order for one to be a realist? In short, Ought not, or else what?

Let us understand by "immoral act" and act which is such that it is in some way incongruous with the nature and structure of reality.

A strong version of realism, such as one finds in the Western theistic traditions and Eastern (and Platonic) doctrines of karma holds that reality will, in the final analysis, avenge itself upon the wrongdoer, reward the righteous, and compensate the innocent victim, in one form or another.

Now, the version of morality I raised for consideration earlier is admittedly a weaker form of realism than this, but, still, I think it could count for realism all the same (given the definition offered above). In light of atrocities such as that mentioned above, a person holding this position could reply, "Well, yes, I detest such actions from the bottom of my heart, and I would absolutely agree that people should not act that way. But, my friend, what I mean by this is that acting in such a way as this is repulsive to the evaluative faculties with which nature has furnished me; is destructive of the enjoyment of life of which we are, thanks to our physiological make-up, capable. In short, less people acting like that leads to more enjoyment and a deeper sense of integration, and the opposite leads to the opposite of these. Therefore, it is wrong. Why do we need the buck to stop elsewhere, some place 'deeper?' If the conjunction of light being reflected at a given wave-length in conjunction with the operation of our visual equipment suffices to explain our experience of color, why could not something similar be said about our experience of the valuative dimensions of reality? We regard certain things as good or bad, and, rightly so. We should accept these valuations as ours, and act upon them, for so has it been given to us to evaluate things. Alls I'm saying is that these are simply our valuations; they manifestly are not embraced by any 'deeper' facet of reality (e.g., it's not as though the ocean spits back out the innocent children it swallows up in a tsunami), but, equally obvious is the fact that they don't need to be in order to be ours and for us to continue to affirm and act upon them (thus, rightly, the parents of the child killed in the tsunami will rightly mourn, shake their fists at the stars, and make preparations so that, the next time it is the ocean vs. humans, we'll be able to 'whip it,' or at least be able to avoid its lashes).

Again, this is not my own point of view, but I think it is intelligible and worth taking seriously. And, I agree with your point (as I understand it) regarding the relationship between optimistic secularism and the cold facts of social reality and human history. Belief in a transcendent principle of value appears to have done us at least as much good as harm.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Well, surely the first thing to be said is this naturalistic hasn't proven anything. That our moral experience is just a completely naturalistic by-product of evolution is a highly contentious point and he will need to explain himself.

Not least, our moral experience is highly cultural and social. And I have never heard an evolutionary or naturalistic account of morality that really dealt with this cultural and social media of morality. You hear a lot of claims which are little more than morality comes from our evolutionary impulses to altruism, but how altruism could account for the intricate combination of social and cultural sources and processes that leads to an individual's awareness of morality I'm unsure.

The lack of transcendent sanction for modern secular morality is only the beginning of its problems. Modern moralists tend to believe (and more and more so as the old moral capital is used up) morality can be based either on some kind of unleashed moral feeling or enlightened harmonising of self-interest, or a combination of these. They largely forget that to have a chance of being reasonably moral the individual usually has to be immersed in numerous sources of morality from birth - religion, family, community, tradition and history, art, and so on - and that a good chunk of our moral awareness must be in the form of culturally specific exemplars, narratives, and images.

Anonymous said...

Joy & Amp, Gratitude, I would argue that to the degree an atheist acts truly morally, he does not act as an atheist. To the degree he acts as an atheist, he does not act truly morally.
By “atheist” I mean the contemporary materialist/naturalist atheist. By “truly morally” I mean doing the right thing for no other reason than that it is the right thing. If our atheist acts truly morally in that sense, he is acknowledging that there is, in fact, a “right thing,” an objective moral order that binds us to act in certain ways and refrain from acting in other ways regardless of the benefit or detriment to ourselves. Such an objective moral order cannot exist for the materialist. That order is purposive and directive. A purposive and directive order cannot arise from random, meaningless processes. At best, such processes could only create the illusion of purposiveness and directiveness, just as biological evolution, for the materialist, creates only the illusion of teleology. It is hard for me to see how such an illusion could be morally binding. Therefore, a law, in the moral as in the legal sense, requires a lawgiver.
Now, it does no good to argue that morality is a cultural construction because if that’s the case, then why should our atheist be bound by the morality of his culture rather than that of some other culture or indeed by any morality at all? By what standard could cultural moralities be adjudicated? If there is no such standard, then there is no moral order, only idiosyncratic and arbitrary rules for different cultures, none any more or less valid than the others. If there is such a standard, it must transcend all cultures or it is just one more set of idiosyncratic, arbitrary rules. And it does no good to argue that morality is an evolutionary adaptation. Such a morality is an illusion randomly generated by behavior and natural selection. Once our atheist has seen through the illusion, why should he abide by it? The lawgiver, then, cannot be culture or nature (at least in the materialist view of nature), but must be something (or Someone) that transcends both. Therefore, when our atheist acts truly morally in the relevant sense, he acknowledges God whether he knows it or not, whether he believes it or not, and whether he likes it or not.
It is, of course, entirely possible that our atheist could act in a manner consistent with morality for pragmatic reasons, e.g., being faithful to his wife to avoid STDs or an expensive divorce, or dealing honestly so that his business prospers. He could also do so out of fear of punishment or of social ostracizing. Such actions could be entirely consistent with the materialist atheist world view. They would not, however, be truly moral in the relevant sense. Our atheist would be doing the right thing for personal gain and only as long as and to the degree that he did gain from it. He would not be doing it because it is intrinsically the right thing.

Matt Sheean said...

"A strong version of realism, such as one finds in the Western theistic traditions and Eastern (and Platonic) doctrines of karma holds that reality will, in the final analysis, avenge itself upon the wrongdoer, reward the righteous, and compensate the innocent victim, in one form or another. "

just two cents of mine here: Western theistic traditions, as I understand it, would hold that these things will happen because of God's just nature. As regards morality, though, I'm not sure that we need to say, as you do, "ought not or else..." We could say, you ought not lest you act contrary to reason, or you ought not lest you be punished, etc., but reason in the abstract isn't a very threatening thing and whether or not we might be punished wouldn't make a wrong a wrong in any stronger sense than it already is so.

I would want to emphasize rather, the difference between the sort of weak realism that the naturalist would want to put forward and the theist's moral realism. That would be that "good" applies to both equivocally. The naturalist, I think, cannot say that some action is good except by reference to some further end that makes that act good for something. The theist on the other hand, does not act rightly because it would be good according to some end, but because s/he loves God and any act that was the result of anything other than the love of God would not be good in itself, but simply good for something else. Whatever that something else was, though, couldn't be the measure of the good so long as it was another finite thing. So, the naturalist can be a realist insofar as there are states of affairs that are objectively better for the flourishing of human beings, etc., but this conception of morality seems pretty desiccated. But, it is very hard for me to see how anyone couldn't just set an end for their actions under which all their actions would have a rationale and thus be "good" for that end. I don't see how a moral theory can be speaking of morality genuinely without understanding truly moral acts as good in themselves (that's to say, done out of a love of the Good). I think I'm moving a little fast here, but I hope not too fast to see where the gaps in my thinking might be filled in.

Matt Sheean said...

oops, I kinda repeated what Anon said above me

Step2 said...

That our moral experience is just a completely naturalistic by-product of evolution is a highly contentious point and he will need to explain himself.

Okay.

I don’t know how complicated this exchange is allowed to get, but one strategy I see for Parsons is attacking an incongruity about Original Sin. If man was meant to know his own moral nature and good ends, why would acquiring moral knowledge be the first forbidden fruit and the instrument of his corruption?

Scott said...

@Step2:

The kind of "knowledge" of good and evil at issue in the Genesis story is not intellectual but participatory. The same Hebrew word is used to mean sexual intercourse.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Step2,

Well, if he posted a link about evolutionary game theory, then he would hardly being explaining much himself would he.

Anyway, I think game theory hardly seem to explain human morality. It neither explains the role it plays in our consciousness nor can it replace analysis of tthe social and cultural embedding of morality.

Tony said...

Nor can an atheist obey the natural law in any true sense, for the natural law is predicated on that reality which can be known by reason, and both a) the existence of God and b) the fact that we are bound to obey the commands of God can both be known by reason.

George, your conclusion is contrary to what St. Thomas teaches. For, St. Thomas indicates that a person who reaches the age of reason first considers the final end, and may choose a due end without discerning that the due end is properly God.

when he begins to have the use of reason, he is not entirely excused from the guilt of venial or mortal sin. Now the first thing that occurs to a man to think about then, is to deliberate about himself. And if he then direct himself to the due end, he will, by means of grace, receive the remission of original sin: whereas if he does not then direct himself to the due end, and as far as he is capable of discretion at that particular age, he will sin mortally, for through not doing that which is in his power to do.

The phrase "a due end" is used instead of "God" because the child reaching the age of reason may not have been taught about God and probably cannot discern definitely the proofs for the existence of God (I have never known a 7-year old who could follow the proofs, much less come up with them), but can STILL act for a due end. This is because a child of 7 can understand the basics of human nature and thus grasp that right action entails being truthful, just, etc. Hence even those who don't know God explicitly can act rightly - that is, rightly both exteriorly and with right intention.

The fact that God's existence can be known to reason doesn't mean that each and every human either knows God or is guilty of vincible ignorance - children and youths who are honestly seeking for the truth but have not reached it yet, for starters.

"The nature of the son is the command of the father."

Without the context, I cannot even understand what this sentence even means. Since "father" and "son" are not capitalized, does this mean it applies generically to all fathers and sons? Or is it just God the Father and God the Son? In humans, the nature of the son has nothing to do with "the command" of the father, at least in any obvious sense of "command".

Step2 said...

The same Hebrew word is used to mean sexual intercourse.

While the Hebrew noun is derived from a verb that can mean sexual intercourse/intimate knowledge the noun used in the text doesn't include those meanings as far as I can tell.

Well, if he posted a link about evolutionary game theory, then he would hardly being explaining much himself would he.

Next time I'll write a 9000 word explanation about a complex topic in a blog's comment section, or not.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Paraphrase, perhaps? Maybe then you'd better be able to discern what is strictly relevant to the point and what is not: game theory is hardly a suitable explanation for the entire social-cultural edifice of morality in a society. In fact, to think it could replace this edifice is to fall victim to the naivety on these issues that I was referring to.

Glenn said...

Tony,

>> Nor can an atheist obey the natural law in any true sense,
>> for the natural law is predicated on that reality which can
>> be known by reason, and both a) the existence of God
>> and b) the fact that we are bound to obey the commands
>> of God can both be known by reason.

> George, your conclusion is contrary to what St. Thomas
> teaches. For, St. Thomas indicates that a person who
> reaches the age of reason first considers the final end,
> and may choose a due end without discerning that
> the due end is properly God.

The point is a good one, and well worth making.

At the same time, St. Thomas also teaches that, "[W]hen a man wills to give an alms for the sake of vainglory, he wills that which is good in itself, under a species of evil; and therefore, as willed by him, it is evil."

And immediately prior to this, St. Thomas states that, "The act of the will cannot be said to be good, if an evil intention is the cause of willing."

If this is so, then it would seem to follow that that agent is not acting morally when from an evil intention he chooses an end -- even if the end chosen happens to be a due end and, thereby, is itself morally good.

Now, given the totality of his comment, it seems not that George is denying that an atheist is capable of choosing a due end (for he does say, e.g., that "acting according to the natural law materially [is something] which the atheist is in fact capable of doing"), but that he is pointing out that an atheist is not capable of choosing a due end for other than natural reasons, i.e., for reasons having to do only with self and the world.

Anonymous seems to getting at the same or a similar point when he later writes,

"It is, of course, entirely possible that our atheist could act in a manner consistent with morality for pragmatic reasons... Such actions... would not, however, be truly moral in the relevant sense. Our atheist would be doing the right thing for personal gain and only as long as and to the degree that he did gain from it. He would not be doing it because it is intrinsically the right thing."

- - - - -

(It seems to me that some sort of attenuating qualification ought to be added, lest the above be (mis)taken as a justification for harsh judgmentalism. I'm not at the moment sure what might serve well in this regard, so will default to yet another teaching of St. Thomas: "It is by no means lawful to induce a man to sin, yet it is lawful to make use of another's sin for a good end, since even God uses all sin for some good, since He draws some good from every evil[.]")

Tony said...

Glenn, you are quite right that the fully good, the good in the proper and complete act means an act that is right not only in its object but also in its intention, and ultimately because the intention is rightly ordered from top to bottom, including being done for God's sake. So an act of dealing justice that is done in order to pursue a final good that is inconsistent with God is ultimately not a good act properly speaking.

But that's NOT the kind of act St. Thomas is talking about in I-II, Q89, A6. He is talking about a child coming into the use of reason and considering "a due end" in the sense of the absolutely due end, the final good, not just some proximate good. And St. Thomas goes on to clarify that even for a child who has not been baptized,

For the first thing that occurs to a man who has discretion, is to think of himself, and to direct other things to himself as to their end, since the end is the first thing in the intention. Therefore this is the time when man is bound by God's affirmative precept, which the Lord expressed by saying (Zechariah 1:3): "Turn ye to Me . . . and I will turn to you."

And this justifies when he says

And if he then direct himself to the due end, he will, by means of grace, receive the remission of original sin: whereas if he does not then direct himself to the due end, and as far as he is capable of discretion at that particular age, he will sin mortally, for through not doing that which is in his power to do.

It is this sense of "a due end" of which he is speaking, where the rightness obtains right through to the final end itself. And the final end is really God, of course, but an ignorant child may not be aware explicitly that his choice is for God - he may think of his choice under the aspect of "uprightness", or "wholesomeness" or "integrity", or even "orderliness according to human nature" because these are the best explicit concepts he has. It is not true that choosing his final end under such aspects are choosing contrary to God, this is why Thomas says "and as far as he is capable of discretion at that particular age", such an act of choosing is precisely the morally good act for which God's response will be sanctifying grace for the remission of original sin.

Thus a person can be justified, upright, and acting morally without explicitly believing in God.

It is also true that if a person remains in that state of grace, he is nearly certain of eventually coming to believe explicitly in God and adhering to that understanding. A person who continues to respond to the graces to act well will also tend to respond to instruction about God, leading to an "Aha!" moment in which his new knowledge conforms to what he already holds implicitly or unclearly, allowing him to expand and perfect his understanding. This is yet another reason why evangelizing the ignorant is a duty of Christians.

Glenn said...

Tony,

Thank you for the response.

I'll just say that there was a presumption on my part that George was not talking about children who had yet to fully enter into the use of mature reason, and agree with the conclusion that, generally speaking, "a person can be justified, upright, and acting morally without explicitly believing in God".

Other than that, I'll defer to the message your response conveys.

George R. said...

Tony writes:
"Thus a person can be justified, upright, and acting morally without explicitly believing in God."

I think you've been reading to too many Pope Francis interviews, Tony.

The Council of Trent expressly teaches that without faith no man was ever justified. (Session 6, Ch. VII)

Also, as St. Paul writes in Hebrews 11:6, "Without faith it is impossible to please God."

It's true that someone can be more or less disposed to receive justification and sanctifying grace before he actually knows there is a God. Moreover, if he maintains his good disposition, he will assuredly receive sanctifying grace and be justified. But this in no way means that his justification can be acheived without his knowing and assenting to the true faith. You are horribly misreading Thomas Aquinas here.

Tom said...

This is odd. The comments were at 28 last night, then spiked up to 90 this morning, almost all of which were added in the middle of the thread, and now are back down to 29. What gives?

Glenn said...

George,

The concluding paragraph of your prior comment makes perfect sense to me.

As does this:

It's true that someone can be more or less disposed to receive justification and sanctifying grace before he actually knows there is a God. Moreover, if he maintains his good disposition, he will assuredly receive sanctifying grace and be justified.

Your next statement, however, seems to make no sense at all:

But this in no way means that his justification can be achieved without his knowing and assenting to the true faith.

How can one agree that another can be justified prior to actually knowing there is a God, and simultaneously claim that justification cannot be achieved without knowing and assenting to the true faith, which true faith requires actually knowing there is a God? To do both seems to involve a contradiction.

The Council of Trent expressly teaches that without faith no man was ever justified. (Session 6, Ch. VII)

I'm guessing you are referring to this: "The causes of this justification are: the final cause is... the efficient cause is... the meritorious cause is... the instrumental cause is the sacrament of baptism, which is the sacrament of faith,[35] without which no man was ever justified finally[.]"

That word "finally" (in "justified finally" (my emphasis)) seems like an important word. It seems to indicate that justification does not necessarily and always involve some kind of digital-like flip-flop from "off" to "on", but sometimes involves something more akin to an analog-like progression.

Also, as St. Paul writes in Hebrews 11:6, "Without faith it is impossible to please God."

St. Paul doesn't say without explicit faith it is impossible to please God.

If that were so, i.e., if without explicit faith it is impossible to please God, then God would not be pleased by someone approaching explicit faith.

But why would God not be pleased by someone approaching explicit faith, even if that approach should be via, e.g., an interim implicit faith?

Glenn said...

(By "prior comment" I mean the one prior to the one I'm responding to, i.e., the comment ending in "...the two kinds of actions cannot belong to the same genus, and can only be signified by the same term equivocally.")

DNW said...

I agree with the overall thrust of your argument, and am personally convinced that virtually all radically "naturalistic" attempts to ground moral duties are either overtly non-rational (Rorty); comically question begging (Sam Harris); or else covertly import what is to some degree or another a disguised teleology of entitlement (Rawls): dishonestly arguing in precisely the manner they claim to reject.

There should not even be a conversation about "ethics" with someone who recognizes only a will to power, and ridiculous ideas of "justice" drawn from their idiosyncratic urges as real.

The naturalist/nominalist however, benefits in public argument from the realist's hesitancy to rigorously apply the nominalist's worldview and ontology to the nominalist himself as a predicate for further discussion. Thus preserving the illusion of real debate where there is none; and allowing the nominalist a free pass on the clear implication that the nominalist itself has no class based claim to interpersonal consideration or tolerance.

You have, let's say, your boot on Rorty's wattled neck. He annoys you: and with his death one fewer political claims made by a florid and physically contemptible and weak man whose goals you do not respect, will be importunately leveled against your life.

What other justification on his own terms, do you need to step down hard?

Hell, "species" even becomes objectively meaningless in his mouth.

Scott said...

@Tom:

"This is odd. The comments were at 28 last night, then spiked up to 90 this morning, almost all of which were added in the middle of the thread, and now are back down to 29. What gives?"

If you're sure you weren't accidentally looking at the second thread (which does have just over 90 posts), then all I can think of is that there may have been a bunch of spam posts that have since been moderated into oblivion. I didn't see it, though.

George R. said...

Glenn writes:
"That word 'finally' (in 'justified finally' (my emphasis)) seems like an important word."

Glenn, you may have gotten an ambiguous translation. I think that 'finally' belongs to the clause following the relevant one. Here's another translation of the passage:

"the instru[...]mental cause is the sacrament of baptism, which is the sacrament of faith, without which (faith) no man was ever justified; lastly, the alone formal cause is the justice of God..."

It can be found here:

http://www.documentacatholicaomnia.eu/03d/1545-1545,_Concilium_Tridentinum,_Canons_And_Decrees,_EN.pdf

Tony said...

It's true that someone can be more or less disposed to receive justification and sanctifying grace before he actually knows there is a God. Moreover, if he maintains his good disposition, he will assuredly receive sanctifying grace and be justified.

St. Thomas is explicitly teaching that there is no such thing as a person who has reached the age of reason and who does not either commit a mortal sin or who “chooses a due end” and who also at that instant receives sanctifying grace. There is no in between, where a man will eventually be granted grace if he maintains his good disposition. And he affirms that there are such as choose a due end, though they have no baptism.

Then the only question is whether such a child must EXPLICITLY believe in God. In addition to the common sense reality that some of these children will only with the faintest glimmering know of such a God in an explicit manner, and the fact that we already know that baptized babies have faith implicitly but not as explicit acts, we have the testimony of the Fathers:

St. Justin Martyr, 1.46 "Christ is the Logos of whom the whole race of men partake. Those who lived according to Logos are Christians, even if they were considered atheists, such as, among the Greeks, Socrates and Heraclitus."

Apology 2.10:" Christ... was and is the Logos who is in everyone,
and foretold through the prophets the things that were to come, and
taught these things in person after becoming like to us in feeling."

Hegemonius (?) Acts of Archelaus with Manes 28: "From the creation of the world He has always been with just men...Were they not made just from the fact that they kept the law, 'Each one of them showing the work of the law on their hearts.' For when someone who does not have the law does by nature
the things of the law, this one, not having the law, is a law for
himself...For if we judge that a man is made just without the works of the law... how much more will they attain justice who fulfilled the law containing those things which are expedient for men?"

St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 18.5 [at funeral of his father, a convert]: "He was ours even before he was of our fold. His way of living made him such. For just as many of ours are not with us, whose life makes them other from our body [the Church], so many of those outside belong to us, who by their way of life anticipate the faith and need [only] the name, having the reality."

Tony said...

St. John Chrysostom, . 5: (c. 391 AD): "For this reason they are wonderful, he [Paul, in Romans 2:14-16] says, because they did not need the law, and they show all the works of the law...Do you not see how again he makes present that day and brings it near... and showing that they should rather be honored who without the law hastened to carry out the things of the law? ...
Conscience and reasoning suffice in place of the law. Through these
things he showed again that God made man self-sufficient in regard to the choice of virtue and fleeing evil...He shows that even in these early times and before the giving of the law, men enjoyed
complete Providence."

Theodoret of Cyrus, Interpretation of the Epistle to Romans 2.14-16: "For they who, before the Mosaic law, adorned their life with devout reasonings and good actions, testify that the
divine law called for action, and they became lawgivers for
themselves... He shows that the law of nature was written on hearts.

From the Holy Office letter condemning Fr. Feeney’s teaching, 1949: That one may obtain eternal salvation, it is not always required that he be incorporated into the Church actually as a member, but it is necessary that at least he be united to her by desire and longing. However, this desire need not always be explicit, as it is in catechumens; but when a person is involved in invincible ignorance, God accepts also an implicit desire, so called because it is included in that good disposition of soul whereby a person wants his will to be conformed to the Will of God. These things are clearly taught in the dogmatic letter which was issued by the Sovereign Pontiff, Pope Pius XII, on June 29, 1943 (Mystici Corporis)... he mentions those who are related to the Mystical Body of the Redeemer "by a certain unconscious yearning and desire," and these he by no means excludes from eternal salvation...

Tony said...

Council of Trent: For though no one can be just except he to whom the merits of the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ are communicated, yet this takes place in that justification of the sinner, when by the merit of the most holy passion, the charity of God is poured forth by the Holy Ghost in the hearts[38] of those who are justified and inheres in them; whence man through Jesus Christ, in whom he is ingrafted, receives in that justification, together with the remission of sins, all these infused at the same time, namely, faith, hope and charity.

And, just as a baptized baby has faith, hope and love as theological virtues though not the conscious and willed acts of the virtues, so also does a child who reaches the age of reason who chooses a due end has sanctifying grace and also the 3 theological virtues, though not the explicit and clear sense of them.

"Were not our hearts burning within us?" a person who has been called and cleansed by grace may later, through having the faith preached to them, come to grasp that they 'believed already', but did not know that whereof they believed. The grace of faith is there as a kernel, doing the work of Christ in the soul, even without the clear understanding of the recipient.

Glenn said...

George,

Glenn, you may have gotten an ambiguous translation. I think that 'finally' belongs to the clause following the relevant one. Here's another translation of the passage:

"the instru[...]mental cause is the sacrament of baptism, which is the sacrament of faith, without which (faith) no man was ever justified; lastly, the alone formal cause is the justice of God..."

It can be found here: http://www.documentacatholicaomnia.eu/03d/1545-1545,_Concilium_Tridentinum,_Canons_And_Decrees,_EN.pdf


Thanks for the link to a better translation. Yes, the translation I used lacks a semicolon. And the inclusion of the semicolon in the better translation, along with its use of 'lastly' in lieu of 'finally' does make for a not insignificant difference.

Still, the clause following the relevant one is not itself lacking in relevance, or at least seems not to be, for it speaks of the justice received by those who are just as being variously received ("each one according to his own measure"), and of the Holy Ghost distributing that justice both as He wills and "according to each one's proper disposition and co-operation."

Given this alone, it does not seem either unwarranted or blasphemous to see the occurrence of justification as being entirely a black-and-white, either-or matter, regarding which it is necessarily the case that one moment one clearly is not justified and the next moment one definitely is fully justified.

Glenn said...

s/b "...as not being entirely.."

Glenn said...

And thank you, Tony, for the additional... "food".

Glenn said...

(Yeesh. "...the clause..." s/b "...the series of clauses...")

Tony said...

Glenn, I think the confusion lies in what is meant under the term justification, for it can refer to different things in different contexts. What is certainly true is that one either has sanctifying grace or one does not, that's an either / or switch and it happens not gradually but as one act by God. Since every man who is in the state of grace is justified, there is no in-between state of being partially justified.

However, one can increase in grace, becoming more intensely united to God, more perfect, more holy, more meritorious. Hence Trent says:

If anyone says that the justice received is not preserved and also not increased before God through good works,[125] but that those works are merely the fruits and signs of justification obtained, but not the cause of its increase, let him be anathema.

The "justice" that is capable of increase is greater rightness of conformity of the will with God's will, which is indeed a matter of degree. One can be less or more conformed to God while being in a state of grace throughout.

Thus: (a) Jesus's act of redemption is a redemption sufficient for all men. But it will not redeem each and every man until that redemptive merit is applied to that man:

But though He died for all,[16] yet all do not receive the benefit of His death, but those only to whom the merit of His passion is communicated; because as truly as men would not be born unjust, if they were not born through propagation of the seed of Adam, since by that propagation they contract through him, when they are conceived, injustice as their own, so if they were not born again in Christ, they would never be justified,

and (b) justification is an aspect of the event of God's making his dwelling in the soul which happens with the gift of sanctifying grace, regarding it under the aspect of man's basic rightness of relationship with God, and (c) the granting of grace is viewing the event as under the aspect of a gratuitous gift of God, which cannot be earned, (d) the indwelling is viewing the event under the aspect of the "matter" (so to speak) of the reality: what is it that is present; (e) sanctification is also an effect of that same grace, under a different perspective - that of holiness and friendship with God - and capable of increase or decrease; and (f) grace, justification, and sanctification are necessary for _final salvation_ but do not imply salvation as a necessary consequence - though if a man remain in that grace then just so far his salvation will be achieved in the end - it is contingent.

Gary Black said...

@Step2

I think game theory is missing the point here. Game theory can explain which moral codes are successful and therefore are more prevalent. It cannot tell us whether we should be moral realists or if morality is a useful illusion. For instance, if you convinced everyone morality was an illusion, game theory might show your idea to be a poison. However, it cannot show it to be true or false.

Glenn said...

Tony,

You open the nuances with such an ease and clarity that it's like, I don't know, manna from heaven. It's very much appreciated. Thank you.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Gary Black,

Game theory cannot even tell us that. It is not a replacement for a proper analysis of morality in society and culture.

Step2 said...

Game theory can explain which moral codes are successful and therefore are more prevalent. It cannot tell us whether we should be moral realists or if morality is a useful illusion.

The successful moral codes will not only be more prevalent, they will also have the particular cultural and social history supporting them that Jeremy was wanting an explanation for. At various points of strategic stability those behavioral rules become so closely tied to reputation and a cultural sense of justice they are ingrained into the current population. Morality is real but is fully dependent on game context to make sense of it.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Seems to me more like flash in the pan nonsense - like evolutionary psychology or sociobiology - that periodically are claimed as great insights and usually involve rather crude attempts to make the humanities subservient to methods of the natural and physical sciences.

I can't really see how there will be much gained in insight by trying to force our moral and social experience into this game theory framework.

The idea that our social and cultural conceptions are reducible to Darwinian imperatives seems, for a start, unfalsifiable and, therefore, not a claim that natural science can advance.

And if we take, for example, the family and analyse all its role in moral instruction and support - the role of early instruction, habit, example and image, familial tradition, the affection familial relationships ceate, the economic support healthy families can provide and so on - I do not see anything that important which game theory can add to our analysis.

Gary Black said...

@Step2

Game theory might give you prevalence and persistence. (Jeremy Taylor disagrees and my mind it not made up.) Beyond that, if you conclude that morality becomes "ingrained" and "real" you'll have to form some type of argument - not merely assert it. Game theory itself gives you neither of those things you seem to be inferring from it.

This is not to say that you cannot make the argument, just that you have not yet made it. (And in fact others had made counterarguments that if you attempt to reduce morality to this type of theory you preclude it being real in any sense).

@Jeremy Taylor
I agree that there are almost always irreducible complexities that are not accounted for in systems like game theory.

Tony said...

The successful moral codes will not only be more prevalent, they will also have the particular cultural and social history supporting them that Jeremy was wanting an explanation for. At various points of strategic stability those behavioral rules become so closely tied to reputation and a cultural sense of justice they are ingrained into the current population. Morality is real but

Correction: BEHAVIORAL codes will not only...

And, as soon as the Darwinian sociologist "discovers" this, he shows why the behavior in question isn't a moral code, it is a behavioral paradigm. As wrong as Hume was about morality, he WAS actually right about non-teleological natural causes: you cannot get an "ought" out of an "is". What Step2 means by "Morality is real" is that these behavioral paradigms are real. But that's not what the rest of us mean by the "ought" of morality.

Step2 said...

Beyond that, if you conclude that morality becomes "ingrained" and "real" you'll have to form some type of argument - not merely assert it.

In a sense it is like language, the individual is completely immersed in it from birth and it becomes part of their core identity. People can of course learn other languages, but without a similar degree of cultural familiarity there will still be a "home" language and the "other" language.

What Step2 means by "Morality is real" is that these behavioral paradigms are real. But that's not what the rest of us mean by the "ought" of morality.

I'll grant it isn't connected to some revelation purporting to be from eternity, but it is as valid and diligently applied and defended as every moral code.

Gary Black said...

If I may - when I was considering your analogy, I thought it was pretty good. Then again, inasmuch as morality is like language, game theory has little explanatory power.

It is definitely like language - inasmuch as they both have irreducible teleological elements. But you can't sneak the [virtual] teleology in with a different unexplained phenomenon.

If I may intrude into your conversation with others... one reason it seems your view doesn't give "real" morality is because it isn't proscriptive. It is only descriptive. This seems obvious no matter the diligence in which it is applied.

Tony said...

but it is as valid and diligently applied and defended as every moral code.

As Gary said, Step2, you need to show it, not just assert it. Can you elicit a good, clear, firm example of the behavior morphing from "successfully spreading itself" into "behavior which is obligatory on all members of the society? Because, as Gary and I see it, all the game theory does is explain the successfulness of the behavior in spreading itself.

Step2 said...

If I may - when I was considering your analogy, I thought it was pretty good.

Thanks.

Then again, inasmuch as morality is like language, game theory has little explanatory power.

Wittgenstein would disagree and so do I.

But you can't sneak the [virtual] teleology in with a different unexplained phenomenon.

I was responding to your challenge about how something goes from objectively prevalent and persistent to subjectively ingrained. How that implicates teleology more than the fact that all games have outcomes is a mystery to me.

If I may intrude into your conversation with others... one reason it seems your view doesn't give "real" morality is because it isn't proscriptive.

It explains direct and indirect reciprocity, which are the foundations of the golden rule and its proscriptive silver rule corollary.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Step2 has confused things. His original post was a response to my point about the social and cultural complexities of moral instruction.

I wasn't refer to the ultimate reality of morality, as I essentially agree with the natural lawyers on this score, but only about moral instruction.

Gary Black said...

@Step2


Could you reference me to what work of Wittgenstein is most relevant here? Unless you prefer to summarize his arguments, I don't mind reading it from him.

Tony said...

Step2: It explains direct and indirect reciprocity, which are the foundations of the golden rule

Gary: But you can't sneak the [virtual] teleology in with a different unexplained phenomenon.

I am not thoroughly familiar with game theory, so I might be missing something here. So far as I understand it, game theory can account for what happens inside the game. It is fundamentally impossible for it to account for whether someone (or many someones) actually wants to play the game, or will actually choose to play the game. The motivation for initiating the event is essentially outside the event.

To a lesser extent, the same issue applies to the choice to play this game rather than that game - nothing about game theory predicts or predicates choosing A over B, as long as both are coherent, internally consistent games. The motivating factors within the games are separate from the motivations to enter into A versus B game.

Which, I think, brings us back to Gary's point: you are slipping prior intentionality and thus teleology into the mix by even resorting to game theory for its explanatory power. That is to say, game theory cannot account for the prior motivations. And the basis for morality is found precisely within those prior factors.

Step2 said...

Could you reference me to what work of Wittgenstein is most relevant here?

Sure.

Tony,
Don't hate the player hate the game. :)

It is fundamentally impossible for it to account for whether someone (or many someones) actually wants to play the game, or will actually choose to play the game.

To some extent it is possible to refuse to play but only because they are sufficiently insulated from the competitive loss. In that respect I would say it a derivative of the war of attrition strategy.

Tony said...

You mean it is impossible to just "not play"? It is, for example, impossible to say "you want to crucify me if I don't say the right things? Go ahead, make your day."

I recall the old sensitivity training / break_down_your_sense of_morals classroom nonsense: theacher sets up the old scenario 11 men in a lifeboat only meant for 10, who do you choose to throw overboard? When you say "I will just step off myself" she says your answer is "not allowed" - see, the rules of the game don't allow for that answer. There is always a way to step out of the game. Those whose eyes are on the next life aren't committed to a specific outcome in this life, so there is no "game" outcome that can force their hand.

Step2 said...

You mean it is impossible to just "not play"?

I just wrote it was possible to an extent. However refusing to play doesn’t mean the game stops.

It is, for example, impossible to say "you want to crucify me if I don't say the right things? Go ahead, make your day."

Give my regards to Donald Sterling and Cliven Bundy. A martyr complex doesn’t justify someone’s moral beliefs.

Steven Carr said...

'Just as what is good or bad for a tree or lioness is grounded in the natures of those things, so too is morality grounded in human nature. '

I think Edward Feser's conception of morality can be summed up with the slogan 'If it feels natural, do it.'

Anonymous said...



"I think Edward Feser's conception of morality can be summed up with the slogan 'If it feels natural, do it.' "


You should probably leave the thinking to others then.

Steven Carr said...

I should probably stop quoting Feser and putting 2 and 2 together to make 4.

' And you can know the nature of a thing, and thus determine its teleological features, whether or not you believe in God. '

What is the nature of a homosexual?

That is easy to find out.

So we can at once determine what is moral for homosexuals to do.

Just examine homosexuals and see what is natural for them.

Tony said...

However refusing to play doesn’t mean the game stops.

No, it means that the game is within a larger context, and morality rests in the larger context FIRST, that's why it is found inside the game. Therefore neither the game nor game theory can account for morality.

Give my regards to Donald Sterling and Cliven Bundy. A martyr complex doesn’t justify someone’s moral beliefs.

Actually, I was thinking more of Jesus Christ's approach to the Romans. And St. Peter's.

I fail to see how submitting to someone else's evil acts by not resisting is supposed to "justify" any sort of morality. Your comment, Step2, is just thoughtless fluffery, they are not even germane much less an actual answer to my point.

Tony said...

What is the nature of a homosexual?

Stephen Carr, unless homosexuals aren't even human, they have exactly the same human nature as all other humans: they are rational animals. To have human nature means to be part of a species that procreates sexually, via a two-sex union. To be rational is to elevate every aspect of that bodily design to the service of rational goods, making the physical and the spiritual aspects of man integrated as one whole. That integration implies that the acts that satisfy the sexual desires physically and emotionally are, at the same time, ordered to the permanent, faithful love of both the spouse and children.

Nothing about that changes between gays and straights, since they both have human nature.

Steven Carr said...

'To have human nature means to be part of a species that procreates sexually, via a two-sex union.'

So it not natural for Catholic priests or homosexuals to procreate sexually?

Steven Carr said...

'So it not natural for Catholic priests or homosexuals to procreate sexually?'

Sorry, that should be 'not procreate sexually'...

Tony said...

Wow, what an original thought. Nobody in the history of the world has come up with that question about priestly celibacy. So, we might as well assume that there is no answer to such a question as THAT. What a stumper. What a way to put the nails on the coffin lid of Catholic beliefs. What a way to display sheer brrrrraahahahahahhahha. Oops, couldn't hold it in any longer.

Scott said...

@Steven Carr:

I'm on record here as not accepting the view that natural law alone suffices to demonstrate that homosexual acts are immoral. However, your objection isn't very strong. Celibacy doesn't positively frustrate the natural end of sexual intercourse any more than refraining from eating certain foods is morally equivalent to ingesting poison.

Step2 said...

No, it means that the game is within a larger context, and morality rests in the larger context FIRST, that's why it is found inside the game.

I don't grant that there is another context altogether, there are just places and situations within the game where you can temporarily refuse to play.

I fail to see how submitting to someone else's evil acts by not resisting is supposed to "justify" any sort of morality.

Seeing as how I'm proposing game theory as an explanation for morality it would be absurd to imagine this as inherently submissive, so I will assume you carelessly projected that into my comments.

Your comment, Step2, is just thoughtless fluffery, they are not even germane much less an actual answer to my point.

I quoted exactly the point of yours I was refuting.

Steven Carr said...

How on earth can celibacy not frustrate the end of reproducing?

Scott said...

@Steven Carr:

"How on earth can celibacy not frustrate the end of reproducing?"

I see you've omitted the word "positively." Celibacy doesn't involve any positive action that impedes procreation.

Step2 said...

There is also a Josephite marriage, where a couple can choose celibacy after their marriage vows.

Steven Carr said...

'Celibacy doesn't involve any positive action that impedes procreation.'

You mean Catholic priests don't do anything positive? They don't take vows of celibacy?

What did you hypothetical god design homosexuals to do?

All we have to do, according to Feser, is to examine the nature of homosexuality to see what is natural for homosexuals. This is then the moral thing for them to do to fulfill their telos.

Steven Carr said...

FESER
In particular, moral goodness or badness is the sort exhibited by a rational creature when he chooses either to act in a way conducive to the realization of the ends toward which his nature directs him, or to act in a way that frustrates those ends.

CARR
Gosh, Professor Feser is pretty clear that if a man chooses to act in a way which frustrates his natural desire to have children, then that man is immoral.

Tony said...

Scott, I have my doubts that S. C. here is posing sincere and serious questions. I doubt that a serious answer has any hope of making any headway at all.

Tony said...

I don't grant that there is another context altogether, there are just places and situations within the game where you can temporarily refuse to play.

First, I proposed one that I don't think you can challenge successfully: that of a person choosing to forego what is necessary to remain in this life for eternal life hereafter. Certainly you have not yet countered it successfully.

Secondly, I suggest that you define the field of "the game" that you think is as inclusive a context as it gets, because I have not arrived at a context for "the game" that automatically and definitively precludes a person from choosing not to play. And I feel that your qualifier:

there are just places and situations within the game where you can temporarily refuse to play

are weasel words, because (seems to me) ANY capacity to step outside the game, even temporarily, means that the game subsists within a larger context.

Of course, it goes without saying, any capacity to step outside the game that is temporary, if the temporary period runs "until I have died" is, effectively, the same thing as stepping outside the game permanently. So, I don't think so.

Perhaps you can describe for us how the 7 brothers in Maccabees who willingly submitted being tortured to death rather than worship idols were satisfying a rules of a "game".

Mr. Green said...

Step2: Seeing as how I'm proposing game theory as an explanation for morality

Game theory might (or might not) explain how morality plays out, but the point was to explain how morality is grounded. Game theory doesn't do that, because that isn't a matter of how a process develops (i.e. how something plays out — such as a game, get it?). What you are doing is making a claim that there is no such thing as genuine morality, and then anticipating the obvious response of, "Then where did we get this thing from that we think is morality?" And if there were no morality in the strict sense (being absolute, objective, etc., etc.) then our pseudo-morality substitute would indeed have had to develop in such a way that it could come to look enough like actual morality for people to mistake it for the real thing, and we could then investigate what game theory has to tell us about that development. But even less is morality's foundation explained by explaining how it doesn't really exist. Hence the previous comments saying that appeals to game theory are missing the point.

Step2 said...

Dr. Feser: Many theists and atheists alike suppose that to link morality to religion is to claim that we could have no reason to be moral if we did not anticipate punishments and rewards in an afterlife. I am sure Keith would reject such a line of argument, and I reject it too. To do or refrain from doing something merely because one seeks a reward or fears reprisals is not morality.

Tony: First, I proposed one that I don't think you can challenge successfully: that of a person choosing to forego what is necessary to remain in this life for eternal life hereafter.

How is Tony's linking of morality explicitly to a reward in the afterlife not deserving of rejection?

Perhaps you can describe for us how the 7 brothers in Maccabees who willingly submitted being tortured to death rather than worship idols were satisfying a rules of a "game".

They were refusing to play the king's game so they resisted and they lost. You don't think they are alive in heaven for refusing to eat pork do you? The main reason a wannabe martyr can invoke sympathy is because of an overreaction by the authority. So it becomes a propaganda issue at that point.

Tony said...

How is Tony's linking of morality explicitly to a reward in the afterlife not deserving of rejection?

Because nothing I said requires or supposes that the "for eternal life hereafter" refers to the eternal life being a reward over and above the ordinary consequence of acting so. What I said is equally appropriate when the eternal life is its own inherent consequence for acting rightly for love of God. (I.e., it's not a game because neither the outcome nor the rules by which it becomes the outcome are extrinsic to the inherent meaning of the act itself.) You can't seriously propose that all of the places in the Gospel where Christ refers to the holy saints being invited to share His Father's joy as being somehow an optional extra that God just decided to throw in for fun. You don't invite a friend over to celebrate as something over and above wanting to share your life with him because of the friendship, as if the inviting were a REWARD for his loyalty.

They were refusing to play the king's game so they resisted and they lost.

They rejected the king's rules of the "game" (as it were) and played by real life instead.

You don't think they are alive in heaven for refusing to eat pork do you? The main reason a wannabe martyr can invoke sympathy is because of an overreaction by the authority. So it becomes a propaganda issue at that point.

You can't have it both ways. If they were playing a propaganda game, they won: for the last 2000 years, the king has been the bad guy and they have been the good guys. But of course, the main reason they "won" is that they refused to treat it as a game at all: you can't "win" a game that requires of you to be loyal right through torture even unto death, unless there is a context that exceeds life and death. The old saw "once you can fake sincerity, you've got it made" doesn't work when the proof of the sincerity is death.

And yes, I do think that they are alive in heaven for refusing to eat pork, because they (correctly) associated obedience to the rule about ritual impurity as important for spiritual purity: the ritual and ceremonial law is binding law even though it's basic purpose is to point to a more important level of reality. Unless it is binding, it cannot help clarify the importance of the underlying level of reality. Obedience to God on ceremonial matters is REAL AND TRUE obedience, even though it isn't the most important part of the law.

Anonymous said...

Step2 takes his debating tuition from donindjra. He just comes up with random objections, pushes them til they fall part, pays no real attention to the debate (so learns nothing and loses none of the conceit about the superiority of his position), and then either melts away or just switches to another random objection. He is not worth debating.

Step2 said...

If they were playing a propaganda game, they won: for the last 2000 years, the king has been the bad guy and they have been the good guys.

I can admit the king overreacted without lying to myself that the seven brothers won, since they died. Neither am I inclined to respect religious propaganda as necessarily true.

And yes, I do think that they are alive in heaven for refusing to eat pork...

Because a supposed prophet said it was offensive to God? Please, that is the lamest reason ever formulated for the reward of eternal life. And yes, eternal life (or rather the promise of it) is a reward meant to quell existential anxiety, everyone knows this.

Steven Carr said...

I see Tony advises people not to answer questions about Feser's logic.

This is what happens when you quote Feser rather than praise him.

You get accused of not being sincere.

But still, it is easy to see how Christians run away from questions....

Anonymous said...

Stephen Carr, is there supposed to be some substance to your post?

Scott Scheule said...

I think Carr is being ignored because he's being rude, but noentheless, I think his points are cogent and worthwhile.

He asks whether or not homosexuals' nature is to engage in homosexual acts.

Tony says, "unless homosexuals aren't even human, they have exactly the same human nature as all other humans: they are rational animals. To have human nature means to be part of a species that procreates sexually, via a two-sex union."

But that's not satisfying. Why not say "To have human nature means to be part of a species that procreates sexually, via a two-sex union, in which a small percentage of the species does not procreate but engages in sexual relations with those of the same sex"?

Is there any reason one statement is more descriptive of the human race than the other?

Anonymous said...

He's being ignored, also, because this is becoming an old thread and he is posting something off-topic, at the bottom of it.

Anyway, homosexuality is a deficiency like a predilection to alcoholism or a club foot. The existence of these does not mean they are natural. According to classical natural law, homosexual acts are against the ends of our sexual organs.

Tony said...

Because a supposed prophet said it was offensive to God? Please, that is the lamest reason ever formulated for the reward of eternal life. And yes, eternal life (or rather the promise of it) is a reward meant to quell existential anxiety, everyone knows this.

Ah, now we see Step2's intent all along: that the entire account of moral behavior by the classic philosophers, who proposed, for example, that virtue is its own reward, is all nonsense and balderdash, from top to bottom. And yet he would have us believe that what he means by morality is too the kind of behavioral *obligation* that they mean.

Well, its just silly, Step2. It is possible that the classical natural law philosophers were WRONG about there being a moral code that makes virtue its own reward, but you are just dreaming if you pretend you can borrow the obligatoriness of that account and import it into your account that rejects the basis for it. And once it is not morally obligatory, well it isn't really morality anymore, it is just a game. And that's a totally different thing that you are accounting for.

No need to respond. It is clear that we are 180 degrees apart in what morality is even supposed to be about, so there is never going to be a fruitful discussion on it.

Step2 said...

No need to respond.

Actually I do need to respond because “Mr. Sniper” Anonymous will accuse me of melting away if I don’t.

It is clear that we are 180 degrees apart in what morality is even supposed to be about, so there is never going to be a fruitful discussion on it.

It is clear to me you are making blatant appeals to divine command theory and rewards in the afterlife and then magically denying you are doing it. You know my favorite movie quote though, "Never underestimate the power of denial."

Mr. Green said...

Step2: It is clear to me you are making blatant appeals to divine command theory and rewards in the afterlife and then magically denying you are doing it.

And that's the problem. It's "clear" to you that Tony is saying something that is blatantly not at all what he's said. At least, that's clear to me. And to Tony. And to Anonymous. And to everyone else in the thread. So you might put your efforts into trying to understand what the point is, and not whether you agree with it or like it or find it "lame".

Or, you know, you could just stamp your foot and insist that he is too! and continue to miss the point. Up to you, I guess.

Anonymous said...

As I said, Step2 takes his debating lessons from donindjra (sp?). He here for serious discussion, which is why he jumps around so much from one half-baked objection to the next. One might even go so far as to say he is a troll.

Scott Scheule said...

Anonymous,

"Anyway, homosexuality is a deficiency like a predilection to alcoholism or a club foot. The existence of these does not mean they are natural. According to classical natural law, homosexual acts are against the ends of our sexual organs."

Is using our noses as a place to rest glasses evil then as well?

You're assuming that the natural ends of our sexual organs are heterosexual sex--but I see no reason to assume that. One could just as easily say, the ends of our organs are heterosexual in the vast majority of cases but homosexual sex in a small minority of cases.

Tony said...

Step2: It is clear to me you are making blatant appeals to divine command theory and rewards in the afterlife.

Tony: that virtue is its own reward,
when the eternal life is its own inherent consequence for acting rightly for love of God.
because they (correctly) associated obedience to the rule about ritual impurity as important for spiritual purity: the ritual and ceremonial law is binding law even though it's basic purpose is to point to a more important level of reality.

hmmhm...chpmmm...ppppfffhahahahahaha

I tried to hold it in, Step2, really I tried. But that was just too funny.

Mr. Green, I am going to put the money on "stamp the foot" model - can we add a toss of the ponytail?

Step2 said...

Tony,
I'm glad I could give you a somewhat maniacal laugh but your attempt to dovetail ritual purity into virtue is irrelevant because it doesn't affect your position that the prohibition on eating pork is based on God's command and a universal duty of "REAL AND TRUE" obedience to God in all matters, i.e. the definition of divine command theory. You haven't come anywhere close to showing how an absolute ban on eating pork is essential to human flourishing and human happiness, which is what a natural law theory would lead me to expect.

Your second line of argument, that eternal life is an inherent consequence of good behavior rather than a reward from God takes you in a similar direction as the Euthyphro dilemma. If there is a moral system outside of God that God is required to acquiesce to then God isn't the true ground of morality.

Tony said...

Step2, you speak as if the Euthyphro dilemma hadn't been solved ages ago, but it has. Here is a version of the statedment:

The dilemma is that if the acts are morally good because they are good by nature, then they are independent of God.

Acts that are morally good by reason of the natural law are good because they are suited to man's nature. But man's nature is something made and chosen by God's will. So, in a sense, what is naturally good is good by God's command. But God made man to reflect His own nature "in God's image and likeness", so ultimately what is morally good for man is due to his nature which is related to God's nature.

The way Euthyphro puts it is "Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?"

The answer is that the pious is loved by God because it is like to Himself, which is the ground of all that is lovable. Therefore, it is neither true that God loves the pious for something prior to God or independent of God, nor for a conformity to an arbitrary rule made by God. Nor could God make a being whose goodness was to be conformed to a rule that is opposed to godliness, since all created being (and therefore all created good) springs out of Him as exemplar cause.

your position that the prohibition on eating pork is based on God's command and a universal duty of "REAL AND TRUE" obedience to God in all matters,

Oh don't be an absolute IDIOT, Step2. I specifically referred to the rule of not eating pork as a ritual and ceremonial rule, because it is not part of the natural law. Nothing about natural law theory supposes or requires that all laws are natural laws, nor that all obligations of obedience to God are in the form of natural laws. You will find no proponent of natural law who even for a moment suggests that not eating pork is part of the natural law. Nor is driving on the right side of the road. Nevertheless, you will find natural lawyers agreeing that the ancient Jews were obligated to follow the ritual laws (while we are not), and that we are obligated to drive on the right side of the road (while the British are not). That there is obligation that springs from the natural law doesn't mean all obligation springs from the natural law.

Glenn said...

Step2,

Here's Albert Einstein speaking (indirectly) on the quelling of 'existential anxiety' (in his Principles of Research):

"I believe with Schopenhauer that one of the strongest motives that leads men to art and science is escape from everyday life with its painful crudity and hopeless dreariness, from the fetters of one's own ever shifting desires. A finely tempered nature longs to escape from personal life into the world of objective perception and thought; this desire may be compared with the townsman's irresistible longing to escape from his noisy, cramped surroundings into the silence of high mountains, where the eye ranges freely through the still, pure air and fondly traces out the restful contours apparently built for eternity.

"With this negative motive there goes a positive one.

"Man tries to make for himself in the fashion that suits him best a simplified and intelligible picture of the world; he then tries to some extent to substitute this cosmos of his for the world of experience, and thus to overcome it. This is what the painter, the poet, the speculative philosopher, and the natural scientist do, each in his own fashion. Each makes this cosmos and its construction the pivot of his emotional life, in order to find in this way the peace and security which he cannot find in tbe narrow whirlpool of personal experience."

Glenn said...

(Corrected link: Principles of Research)

Anonymous said...

There is a difference, in natural law, between using something against it nature, which is immoral when talking of human functions, and using something simply in a way that is not the usual natural end, which is not immoral. The former would include homosexual acts, whereas the latter would include using one's nose to rest one's glasses.

Step2 said...

Step2, you speak as if the Euthyphro dilemma hadn't been solved ages ago, but it has.

It is only solved if you equate God with moral goodness before considering the dilemma. Since I’ve spent years telling you the multiple reasons I think Yahweh was not always morally good, I have no idea why you would believe I would adopt that premise.

Nevertheless, you will find natural lawyers agreeing that the ancient Jews were obligated to follow the ritual laws (while we are not), and that we are obligated to drive on the right side of the road (while the British are not).

You need a much, much stronger example than traffic laws. As a counterexample, let’s say a rogue spy named James Bond decides to hijack your vehicle and because of his unsurpassed loyalty to England he orders you at gunpoint to drive on the left side of the road. Following 007’s driving command is potentially dangerous to yourself and others in a way eating a bit of pork is not, but is this a law that can never be broken under any circumstance? Is it morally praiseworthy to die at the hands of a British agent to confirm the absolute, objective virtue of American traffic laws?

That there is obligation that springs from the natural law doesn't mean all obligation springs from the natural law.

If it doesn’t spring from natural law it must come from somewhere. Hint: Divine command theory.

Glenn,
Thanks for the excerpt. I'm a bit of a quoteaholic, so you might see some of that in the future.

Tony said...

if you equate God with moral goodness... I think Yahweh was not always morally good

Oh, good, because "God" and "Yahweh" are the same word, right? Or not.

If you don't think that Yahweh is morally good, then you don't think he is God - not what I mean by the word, anyway. As should have been obvious from the way I used the word. And if he isn't God, he isn't the being who I refer to in order to answer Euthyphro. Which actually makes it easier, because if that's the case, there CAN'T be any valid "command theory" of God's law that is separate from natural law, because if Yahweh isn't God, we don't have any divine revelation and we have no revealed divine commands, only natural law as the expression of divine law.

But if you think that Yahweh is "supposed to be" the God of goodness and creation, in some arcane theory, but he fails to manage it somehow (mistaken identity), then you must think that Scripture isn't divinely inspired to be free of error, and thus either the depiction of Yahweh in it may be erroneous, or the depiction of what it means to be God is erroneous. In which case you should have no problem with equating the REAL God of goodness and creation with the God that defines morality and thus unravels Euthyphro.

Is it morally praiseworthy to die at the hands of a British agent to confirm the absolute, objective virtue of American traffic laws?

What fun! Step2, you keep stepping into it, over and over, and it's just funny. Practically every explanation of law that includes both natural law and human law shows how human laws have limitations and exceptions, and are subject to the requirements of higher goods, which is the very basis of principled exceptions to human laws. Without natural law to provide that, you cannot actually EXPLAIN how a moral human being is supposed to go about figuring when to obey a human law and when he ought to disobey it. All of which is part of what we mean by morality. But of course human laws are not divine laws, so the principles work out differently for those.

You are making yourself even MORE ridiculous presenting this as if it were a *problem* for morality and natural law (and godliness), when it is nothing of the sort.

Step2 said...

And if he isn't God, he isn't the being who I refer to in order to answer Euthyphro.

Of course he is that being, you aren't denying revelation and everyone knows it.

...because if that's the case, there CAN'T be any valid "command theory" of God's law that is separate from natural law, because if Yahweh isn't God, we don't have any divine revelation and we have no revealed divine commands, only natural law as the expression of divine law.

True as far as it goes, but natural law also can't be interpreted through the static, narrow lens of divine law or else it will be wildly inaccurate. Once you understand natural law as an evolving body of rules its relation to game theory becomes more apparent.

Step2, you keep stepping into it, over and over, and it's just funny.

As word play, "Step2 keeps stepping into it, over and over" is moderately funny. Of course that requires the apparently difficult ability to laugh at yourself.

All of which is part of what we mean by morality.

We don't typically mean the same thing though, most of what I think is justified disobedience you think is immoral.

Glenn said...

Step2,

Once you understand natural law as an evolving body of rules its relation to game theory becomes more apparent.

1. If game theory can be applied to evolving bodies of rules, then, since the Internal Revenue Service Code is an evolving body of rules, game theory can be applied to the Internal Revenue Service Code.

And if we wanted to be (really) perverse, then we could go on to say something like:

Given that the IRS code declares that everything is income unless specifically excluded from income, it follows that any attempt to apply game theory to natural law is income (for the reason that such attempts are not specifically excluded from income), and, therefore, is subject to income tax.

But we don't want to be (really) perverse, do we? Or, at least, we have some willingness not to be, right?

2. That aside, it is evident that an unjustified downsizing and an unfounded primacy have been smuggled into the statement quoted above.

Regardless of the extent to which it may please one to understand natural law as an evolving body of rules, it, natural law, clearly is far more than that. And the fact of the matter is that natural law predates game theory, and not just by a little.

So, if one is going to massage and manipulate natural law (i.e., if one is going to redefine and reshape it) such that the resulting bastardization falls under the purview of some calculative Johnny-come-lately, it may well be better to say: "If natural law is viewed as an evolving body of rules, then a kind of game-theoretic analysis can be applied to it."

But note:

a) if the original construction is used, the 'it' which is claimed to have apparent relation to game theory is an "evolving body of rules", and not natural law itself; and,

b) if the suggested reconstruction is used instead, the 'it' to which a kind of game-theoretic analysis can be applied is that self-same "evolving body of rules", which evolving body of rules is, again, not natural law itself.

cont...

Glenn said...

...cont

3. Some quotes (in which any and all emphases belong to the authors involved):

a) "Game theory is designed to address situations in which the outcome of a person's decision depends not just on how they choose among several options, but also on the choices made by the people they are interacting with. Game-theoretic ideas arise in many contexts. Some contexts are literally games; for example, choosing how to target a soccer penalty kick and choosing how to defend against it can be modeled using game theory. Other settings are not usually called games, but can be analyzed with the same tools. Examples include the pricing of a new product when other firms have similar new products; deciding how to bid in an auction; choosing a route on the Internet or through a transportation network; deciding whether to adopt an aggressive or a passive stance in international relations; or choosing whether to use performance-enhancing drugs in a professional sport. In these examples, each decision-maker's outcome depends on the decisions made by others. This introduces a strategic element that game theory is designed to analyze." -- Easley, David and Kleinberg, Jon, Networks, Crowds, and Markets: Reasoning about a Highly Connected World, Chapter 6)

b) "The nominal inspiration for game theory was poker, a game [Johnny] von Neumann played occasionally and not especially well... In poker, you have to consider what the other players are thinking. This distinguishes game theory from the theory of probability, which also applies to many games... Good poker players do not simply play the odds. They take into account the conclusions other players will draw from their actions, and sometimes try to deceive the other players. It was von Neumann's genius to see that this devious way of playing was both rational and amenable to rigorous analysis." -- Poundstone, William, The Prisoner's Dilemma, p 40

c) "Game theory is about perfectly logical players interested only in winning. When you credit your opponent(s) with both rationality and a desire to win, and play so as to encourage the best outcome for yourself, then the game is open to the analysis of game theory. " -- ibid, p 44

d) "[T]he essential kernel of game theory is easy to grasp, even for those with little background in -- or tolerance for -- mathematics. Game theory is founded on a very simply but powerful way of schematizing conflict, and this method can be illustrated by a few familiar childhood games. Most people have heard of the reputed best way to let two bratty children split a piece of cake. No matter how carefully a parent divides it, one child...feels he has been slighted with the smaller piece. The solution is to let on child divide the cake and let the other choose which piece he wants. Greed ensures fair division. The first child can't object that the cake was divided unevenly because he did it himself. The second child can't complain since he has his choice of pieces...

"The cake problem is a conflict of interests. Both children want the same thing -- as much of the cake as possible. The ultimate division of the cake depends both on how one child cuts the cake and which piece the other child chooses. It is important that each child anticipates what the other will do. This is what makes the situation a game in von Neumann's sense.

"Game theory searches for solutions -- rational outcomes -- of games. Dividing the cake evenly is the best strategy for the first child, since he anticipates that the other child's strategy will be to take the biggest piece. Equal division of the cake is therefore the solution to this game. This solution does not depend on a child's generosity or sense of fair play. It is enforced by both children's self-interest. Game theory seeks solutions of precisely this sort." -- ibid, pp 42-43

cont...

Glenn said...

...cont

e) "In Chapter 6, we developed the basic ideas of game theory, in which individual players make decisions, and the payoff to each player depends on the decisions made by all. As we saw there, a key question in game theory is to reason about the behavior we should expect to see when players take part in a given game.

"The discussion in Chapter 6 was based on considering how players simultaneously reason about what the other players may do. In this chapter, on the other hand, we explore the notion of evolutionary game theory, which shows that the basic ideas of game theory can be applied even to situations in which no individual is overtly reasoning, or even making explicit decisions." -- Easley, David and Kleinberg, Jon, Networks, Crowds, and Markets: Reasoning about a Highly Connected World, Chapter 7

Now hear St. Thomas: "If [an individual action] does not proceed from deliberate reason, but from some act of the imagination, as when a man strokes his beard, or moves his hand or foot; such an action, properly speaking, is not moral or human; since this [the moral action] depends on the reason. Hence it will be indifferent, as standing apart from the genus of moral actions."

If St. Thomas is right, and Easley and Kleinberg are right, then situations regarding which evolutionary game theory is said to have application are comprised of actions which stand apart from the genus of moral actions.

- - - - -

Finally, let's hear from the evolutionary biologist Richard D. Alexander:

f) "The concepts of justice as fairness, or equal opportunities for all, and of justice and equality as moral must have gained currency during human history in relation, first, to the suppression of widespread nepotistic favoritism and, second, to the expansion of a base of indiscriminate altruism[.] These trends must have contributed to the rise of universal indiscriminate altruism as an ideal of morality and a rational social objective. I find it an easy speculation that the concept of a single just God for all people bears a close relationship to the same trend." – Alexander, Richard D., A BIOLOGICAL INTERPRETATION OF MORAL SYSTEMS

i) As indicated above, the emphases in "a single just God for all people" are Mr. Alexander's.

ii) It may be recalled that Mr. Alexander is referenced in the wiki article for which a link had been earlier provided (in your comment of April 26, 2014 at 3:47 PM), and that, in fact, Mr. Alexander is the only one referenced on the sole occasion that the term 'moral' is used in the article proper.

iii) Lastly, it is not difficult to see either how or why the (so called) speculation to which Mr. Alexander draws attention is, as he has found it to be, easy to make.

Glenn said...

(Corrected link: Chapter 7)

Step2 said...

If game theory can be applied to evolving bodies of rules, then, since the Internal Revenue Service Code is an evolving body of rules, game theory can be applied to the Internal Revenue Service Code.

It can, but in order to bribe...I mean persuade members of Congress to provide you with a tax loophole requires some hefty donations among key committee members and/or their favorite political action committees.

Given that the IRS code declares that everything is income unless specifically excluded from income, it follows that any attempt to apply game theory to natural law is income (for the reason that such attempts are not specifically excluded from income), and, therefore, is subject to income tax.

My amateur understanding is the IRS code declares everything received that can be monetized is income. If you can make money applying game theory to natural law more power to you. Anyway, since I have been taxing everyone's patience that can be theoretically viewed as a type of income loss.

This solution does not depend on a child's generosity or sense of fair play. It is enforced by both children's self-interest.

As the game is repeated along with the mother praising the child for being fair and good, the child learns to associate equal sharing with those moral terms.

If St. Thomas is right, and Easley and Kleinberg are right, then situations regarding which evolutionary game theory is said to have application are comprised of actions which stand apart from the genus of moral actions.

Simply because EGT can apply to non-reasoning actors doesn't mean it applies only to them. Going back to my April 26 comment, you'll see it was offered to show how morality could be a by-product of naturalistic forces. So EGT must apply to non-reasoning actors in order to have explanatory value but only indirect reciprocity applies to reasoning actors because it requires language-enhanced social awareness and analysis.

Glenn said...

Step2,

Simply because EGT can apply to non-reasoning actors doesn't mean it applies only to them. Going back to my April 26 comment, you'll see it was offered to show how morality could be a by-product of naturalistic forces.

Are you referring to that April 26 comment of yours which contains a link to the wiki article which says that, "The object of the evolutionary game is to become more fit than competitors – to produce as many replicas of oneself as one can..."?

If so, then how does EGT account for the moral behavior which, when abided by, tends to frustrate realization of the object of the evolutionary game?

Anyway, I'm glad to see you have a sense of humor. That you do means you’ll be better able to appreciate that the application of EGT explanations to the grounding of morals is roughly equivalent to the application of the GLH method to the problem of bald spots. (See hair.)

Glenn said...

Step2,

Simply because EGT can apply to non-reasoning actors doesn't mean it applies only to them. Going back to my April 26 comment, you'll see it was offered to show how morality could be a by-product of naturalistic forces.

Are you referring to that April 26 comment of yours which contains a link to the wiki article which says that, "The object of the evolutionary game is to become more fit than competitors – to produce as many replicas of oneself as one can..."?

If so, then how does EGT account for the moral behavior which, when abided by, tends to frustrate realization of the object of the evolutionary game?

Anyway, I'm glad to see you have a sense of humor. That you do means you’ll be better able to appreciate that the application of EGT explanations to the grounding of morals is roughly equivalent to the application of the GLH method to the problem of bald spots. (See hair.)

Step2 said...

If so, then how does EGT account for the moral behavior which, when abided by, tends to frustrate realization of the object of the evolutionary game?

There are various ways in which that plays out, typically relying on strong genetic influence for individual sacrifice to protect the group and its perceived territory. Among humanity the rules of the game, or at least the rules for the most successful societies, trend towards more abstract goals of protection without close relation. Yet plainly the methods by which those rules are conveyed invoke the notion of kin relation, a divine or ancestral father/mother figure, the brotherhood of humanity, etc. It is also important to understand the payoff of the game is in fitness units, or relative reproductive worth (you omitted this point by using the ellipsis), which is potentially connected with but not identical to replication.

That you do means you’ll be better able to appreciate that the application of EGT explanations to the grounding of morals is roughly equivalent to the application of the GLH method to the problem of bald spots.

I'll admit EGT appears to lack the drama of revelation only because it doesn't provide a subjective view of the high stakes.

Step2 said...

Step2,

It is also important to understand the payoff of the game is in fitness units, or relative reproductive worth (you omitted this point by using the ellipsis), which is potentially connected with but not identical to replication.

My question had to do with the object of the game, not its payoff.

Another point I omitted making reference to can be found further along in the paragraph I quoted from, namely:

"Evolutionary Game Theory only uses asexual reproduction for the sake of simplicity."

What do you make of that?

For my part, it leads to think that if one should prefer to be guided by the Paramecium rather than the Paraclete, the charitably thing to say to such a one would be, "Good luck."

Step2 said...

My question had to do with the object of the game, not its payoff.

Okay, but the payoff is part of the answer to your question. You are trying to view the objective in an isolated manner and overlooking the ways different strategies interact. Even my cynical take on the IRS code shows that some games have a high entry cost, so trying to explain it only from the perspective of the game's objective makes it harder to understand the other related strategies required to compete in that game.

For my part, it leads to think that if one should prefer to be guided by the Paramecium rather than the Paraclete, the charitably thing to say to such a one would be, "Good luck."

That was a better jab than your previous attempt. Inspiration comes in many forms, or so I've been told.

Scott said...

Wait, do we have two different posters posting under the name of "Step2"?

Step2 said...

@Scott
Glenn accidentally typed my handle on his last post. Either that or my split personality has taken over :)

Glenn said...

Heavens to Murgatroyd, did I do that? Yikes.

Glenn said...

Inspiration comes in many forms, or so I've been told.

No comment.

Glenn said...

>> My question had to do with the object of the game, not its payoff.

> Okay, but the payoff is part of the answer to your question.

Fair enough.

> You are trying to view the objective in an isolated manner and overlooking the ways different strategies interact.

Well... if mutation complicates evolutionary game theory, and for that reason is overlooked by EGT... and the existence of organisms which reproduce sexually rather than asexually complicates evolutionary game theory, and for that reason is overlooked by EGT... I don't see how I can be faulted for asking a particular question which pertains to the object of the game rather than its payoff.

Glenn said...

That was a better jab than your previous attempt.

Two minutes for roughing, eh?

Actually, the point of the prior "jab" was simply that EGT covers up serious treatment of the question of the grounding of morals, and pretends that something is present which really is not (an explanation for the grounding of morals).

And all the (pardon my saying) waffle-ese re 'interacting strategies' -- which will thrive, which will die, etc. -- says not a thing about where the so-called 'strategies' come from.

Step2 said...

I don't see how I can be faulted for asking a particular question which pertains to the object of the game rather than its payoff.

I was only faulting you for omitting one of the reasons EGT, even as a simplified model, is more complicated than it first appears.

Actually, the point of the prior "jab" was simply that EGT covers up serious treatment of the question of the grounding of morals, and pretends that something is present which really is not (an explanation for the grounding of morals).

I think EGT is very grounded in the basic details of survival and legacy; for the individual, the group, and ultimately it can implicate the whole species. We can observe EGT strategies in nature and they aren't based on mythical tablets engraved on a mountaintop, so if you want to discuss a pretend grounding of morals let's start with your position. There's your counter-punch.

Glenn said...

Step2,

I was only faulting you for omitting one of the reasons EGT, even as a simplified model, is more complicated than it first appears.

Had I listed reasons why EGT is more complicated than it appears at first, and gone on to claim that that list was complete, then it would make sense to fault me for having omitted one reason why EGT is more complicated than it appears at first.

However, it doesn’t make sense to fault someone for failing to mention all the reasons why EGT is more complicated than it at first appears, when that someone hadn’t commented upon whether EGT might be less complicated, as complicated or more complicated that it at first appears, and had only asked how EGT accounts for certain kinds of behavior.

(Btw, it's okay to fault me. I just ask that you have at least a half-way decent reason for wanting to fault me, and that you make some sense while doing so.)

We can observe EGT strategies in nature and they aren't based on mythical tablets engraved on a mountaintop...

Hey, you can give as (almost) good as you get.

... so if you want to discuss a pretend grounding of morals let's start with your position.

My position is that in order for an agent’s action to be moral (or immoral), it must, at a minimum, involve a choice stemming from the deliberate use (or misuse) of reason.

Moving on, my understanding of EGT is that both an agent's choice and its deliberate use (or misuse) of reason is outside the scope of what is relevant to that with which it, EGT, is concerned. For example,

"It is intriguing that, despite the extremely close similarities between the conclusions of evolutionary stability and Nash equilibrium, they are built on very different underlying stories. In a Nash equilibrium, we consider players choosing mutual best responses to each other’s strategy. This equilibrium concept places great demands on the ability of the players to choose optimally and to coordinate on strategies that are best responses to each other. Evolutionary stability [with which EGT is concerned], on the other hand, supposes no intelligence or coordination on the part of the players. Instead, strategies are viewed as being hard-wired into the players, perhaps because their behavior is encoded in their genes. -- Easley, David and Kleinberg, Jon, Networks, Crowds, and Markets: Reasoning about a Highly Connected World Chapter 7: Evolutionary Game Theory

"...the notion of a player’s knowledge, complete or incomplete, is dispensed with. What drives systems is not the rationality of the players but the differential success of the strategies." -- A very short intro to evolutionary game theory

cont...

Glenn said...

...cont

And then there is this (that it might be easier to follow, I have broken one para into several):

"In recent years, anthropologists, biologists, economists, and others have adapted models from biology to the study of human populations in which traits may be transmitted by learning as well as genetically.

"One strand of this literature has developed models of cultural evolution by modifying the biological models to take account of distinctive capacities, notably our ability to learn from our own experiences and from one another and to update our strategies in light of the information we process.

"A second strand, evolutionary game theory, has modified classical game theory to take account of our limited cognitive capacities by positing agents who update their behaviors using imperfectly observed local information.

"Thus, the two strands -- the theory of cultural evolution and evolutionary game theory -- have amended very different starting points -- models of natural selection and classical game theory, respectively -- in the first case [cultural evolution], augmenting the assumed level of human cognitive prowess, and diminishing it in the second [case [evolutionary game theory]]." -- Bowles, Samuel, Microeconomics: Behavior, Institutions, and Evolution

Glenn said...

All of which leads me to say that if one should prefer to be a happy and contented member of that class of agents whose choices are considered irrelevant, whose deliberate use of reason is meaningless, and whose limited cognitive capacity is further diminished, then the charitable thing to say to such a one would be, "Have fun."

Step2 said...

However, it doesn’t make sense to fault someone for failing to mention all the reasons why EGT is more complicated than it at first appears, when that someone hadn’t commented upon whether EGT might be less complicated, as complicated or more complicated that it at first appears, and had only asked how EGT accounts for certain kinds of behavior.

Let me try an analogy in hopes that it will make sense. As you've pointed out previously EGT is already a simplified model yet still able to show some degrees of complexity. By looking at the objective in an isolated manner you are removing all the complexity. If someone gives you a photograph there is a very good chance you can recognize the person it depicts, correct? If they draw you a rough outline or sketch it may be more difficult but it is possible to pick out the distinguishing features. On the other hand, if they draw you a stick figure there is no way to connect the model to its object.

Evolutionary stability [with which EGT is concerned], on the other hand, supposes no intelligence or coordination on the part of the players. Instead, strategies are viewed as being hard-wired into the players, perhaps because their behavior is encoded in their genes.

Again, EGT must be able to account for irrational players. There is absolutely no way I can claim a paramecium (to borrow your example) made a rational choice. However, there is also nothing in EGT that states players must be irrational. For whatever reason you are projecting that false limitation into the theory.

All of which leads me to say that if one should prefer to be a happy and contented member of that class of agents whose choices are considered irrelevant, whose deliberate use of reason is meaningless, and whose limited cognitive capacity is further diminished, then the charitable thing to say to such a one would be, "Have fun."

All of which leads me to say you don't have a charitable thing to say after all. Let the rhetorical games continue apace.

Glenn said...

Step 2,

1. Let the rhetorical games continue apace.

And let not your understanding continue to be covered with a carapace.

Amen.

2. There is absolutely no way I can claim a paramecium (to borrow your example) made a rational choice.

That’s okay, I'm in a similar boat. There is absolutely no way I can claim a paramecium made an irrational choice. No offense to the poor little critters, but concomitant with their not having what it takes to be rational, they lack what it takes to be irrational. Their "choices" are always non-rational.

3. >> All of which leads me to say that if one should prefer to be a happy and contented member of that class of agents whose choices are considered irrelevant, whose deliberate use of reason is meaningless, and whose limited cognitive capacity is further diminished, then the charitable thing to say to such a one would be, "Have fun."

> All of which leads me to say you don't have a charitable thing to say after all.

And your retort leads to me wonder whether, after all, you are not exactly overjoyed that -- from an EGT perspective -- your conscious choices are considered irrelevant, that your deliberate use of reason is deemed to be meaningless, and that your presumed limited cognitive capacity is further diminished.

This in turn leads me to wonder whether you may actually attach some value to the making of conscious choices and meaning to the deliberate use of reason, as well as hold that one's cognitive capacity, no matter how limited, is not to be diminished but to be cultivated, developed and nourished.

Assuming that these wonderings of mine have not wandering too far from the truth of the matter respecting your view, I extend to you an invitation to pay careful attention to the point which follows.

4. [T]here is...nothing in EGT that states players must be irrational. For whatever reason you are projecting that false limitation into the theory.

You are mistaken. I have not said that EGT players must be irrational. Rather, I have called attention to the fact that, according to EGT, whether a player is rational is irrelevant.

To wit (and as previously mentioned (with emphases now added)),

“What drives systems is not the rationality of the players but the differential success of the strategies. -- A very short intro to evolutionary game theory

Capisce?

cont...

Glenn said...

...cont

For your reading pleasure:

5. From Karl Sigmund's The Loitering Presence of the Rational Actor

"[O]nly recently have humans come to understand the mathematics of social interactions. The mathematician John von Neumann and the economist Oskar Morgenstern were the first to tackle the subject, in a book they were planning to call A General Theory of Rational Behavior. By the time it was published in 1944, they had changed the title to Game Theory and Economic Behavior[.] The book postulated, as did all follow-up texts on game theory for generations, that players are rational...

"Three decades later, game theory got a new lease on life through the work of biologists William D. Hamilton and John Maynard Smith, who used it to analyze biological interactions, such as fights between members of the same species or parental investment in offspring. This new “evolutionary game theory” was no longer based on axioms of rationality...

"There is, of course, no contradiction between the two game theories [classical game theory and evolutionary game theory]. As with all mathematical theories, their aim is to rigorously derive the consequences of well-defined assumptions that are taken as granted. Just as there are geometries that use the parallel axiom and others that do not, so there are game theories that employ rationality axioms [such as classical game theory] and others that do not [such as evolutionary game theory]...

"The academic tribes, however, will hesitate to accept the gift of game theory from economists if they are told that it comes with the rational actor model. Not everyone wants to shoulder the obligations that model entails. Humans have no doubt developed the faculty of reasoning to a unique degree; but our decisions are also guided by other factors, such as habits and customs, passions, emotions and 'animal spirits' (to use the expression of economist John Maynard Keynes). Many actions do not fall under the heading of rational behavior as that term is commonly understood (although it must be admitted that modern economists' definitions of rationality are as far removed from the everyday use of that word as modern theology's concepts of divinity are from the average layperson's idea of the Good Lord).

"Psychologists, for instance, analyze decisions in terms of (often unconscious) cues and heuristics, and are not likely to switch to the paradigm of Beliefs, Preferences, Constraints and Expected Utilities that underlies the rational actor model. Why should they? In evolutionary game theory, they can enjoy the full panoply of behavioral experiments without the restraints imposed by the loitering presence of the rational actor[.]"

Step2 said...

Rather, I have called attention to the fact that, according to EGT, whether a player is rational is irrelevant.

It is irrelevant in the limited sense that the success "of a specific strategy" is not dependent upon the rationality of the player. If someone follows a successful strategy without any rational understanding it doesn't make the strategy a failure. Likewise a rational understanding of a failed strategy doesn't make it a success.

"What drives systems is not the rationality of the players but the differential success of the strategies."

While your quote is just a single sentence from a "very short intro" to EGT, I would object that it too quickly dismisses the ability of rational players to choose among different strategies and invent new and hybrid strategies. So there is a feedback effect operative where strategies themselves are influenced to a degree by rational players in ways other players cannot.

Glenn said...

Step2,

While your quote is just a single sentence from a "very short intro" to EGT, I would object that it too quickly dismisses the ability of rational players to choose among different strategies and invent new and hybrid strategies.

No, the single sentence does not dismiss the ability of rational players to choose from different strategies. What it does do is make clear that it is the differential success of the strategies which is relevant to EGT.

Btw... (probably) unbeknownst to yourself, you have conceded Tony's point from 13 days ago (here).

Step2 said...

What it does do is make clear that it is the differential success of the strategies which is relevant to EGT.

Even after claiming the best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry I don't have any reason to say they are strategically equivalent. This was still true when the mice carried fleas infected with the Bubonic plague and killed a third of the human population.

Since we have hit moderation time-out, this will be my last comment.