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Professor Raymond Tallis on good and bad arguments for atheism

I have often found that the best refutations of arguments for atheism are written by atheists. Raymond Tallis is a splendid example of this rule. In an article entitled “Why I am an atheist,” in Philosophy Now, May/June 2009, 73:47-48 (click here or here to read online), he manages to slay no less than three arguments for atheism, before advancing two much better arguments of his own. Interestingly, however, some of the best online refutations of Tallis’s own arguments for atheism have been written by …. you guessed it, atheists.

The relevance of all this to Intelligent Design should be obvious. Arguments for Intelligent Design are based not only on the existence of complex specified information in living organisms, but also on the fine-tuning of the cosmos. If there were a cosmic Creator, then it would have to be a God of some sort. But if there were compelling or even strong arguments against the existence of God, they would also be arguments against at least the cosmic version of Intelligent Design.

Without further ado, let’s have a look at what Tallis calls the bad arguments for atheism.

First, there’s the argument from lack of evidence for God:

The worst reason for not believing in God (though the least obviously bad), is that there is no evidence for His existence. This is a bad reason for atheism because no-one can agree what would count as evidence. Miracles, scriptures, the testimony of priests and prophets etc, can all be contested on empirical grounds: but for some people the fact that we communicate intelligibly with one another, or that the world is ordered, or even that there is something rather than nothing, is sufficient evidence to demonstrate that there is a Creator who not only made the world but also made it habitable by and intelligible to us. Therefore the appeal to evidence, or lack of it, will always be inconclusive.

Often atheists appeal to Occam’s razor when justifying their skepticism along these lines, but the philosopher Michael Anthony, a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Haifa, Israel, undercut this argument in an incisive article entitled, Where’s the Evidence?. Allow me to quote a short excerpt:

The trouble is that Ockham’s Razor is of little use in disputes over whether some entity X exists. That is because it is typically an open question in such disputes whether everything that needs explaining can in fact be explained without X. Theists believe, or at least suspect, that there are features of reality which are inexplicable without appeal to a divine being: the existence of a contingent universe, the fine-tuning of physical constants, etc. We need not decide here whether a divine being is needed to explain these things: what is important is just that the Razor itself cannot decide such matters. It comes into play only assuming that a complete explanation of the relevant phenomena is possible without X; at which point it licenses us to eliminate X from our ontology.

The second bad argument for atheism which Raymond Tallis criticizes is the argument from the various evils that religious belief has inflicted on the human race – warfare, sectarian bigotry, clerical corruption and the oppression of women, as well as the hampering of open-ended scientific inquiry. Tallis’ rebuttal of this argument is commendably fair-minded:

However, the jury must still be out over the net benefit, because we cannot run the course of history twice, once with and once without religion, to determine whether religion has overall made us treat each other worse. Or, come to that, whether religion has blocked progress in understanding nature and making the world more comfortable to live in and life more bearable, or vice versa….

… Badly behaved priests and sickeningly venal and powerful churches do not demonstrate the untruth of religion. While they remind us of the corrupting influence of power, particular when it claims to have transcendental authority, this fact doesn’t support the Big Bang against the Six Days of Creation.

It is heartening to see that there are some atheists who are capable of separating the metaphysical truth claims of a religion from the moral goodness or badness of the people making those claims. Certainly, a corrupt founder can bring a religion’s metaphysical truth claims into discredit, if some of those claims pertain to him (or her); but it is hard to see how corrupt followers can inflict such damage on a religion.

The final bad argument for atheism is that belief in God traumatizes people, but Tallis has no time for this one either:

Another bad reason for being an atheist is that religious beliefs scare people witless, particularly children, with their doctrines of salvation and damnation. That argument won’t wash either. If God expects certain things of you – including belief in Him – and the punishment for disappointing Him is eternal damnation, then it’s a supreme kindness to frighten you into obedience to His Will, as interpreted by the experts.

Having cleared the table, Tallis puts forward what he considers to be the two best arguments for atheism: first, if a personal God exists, He is a morally capricious Being, which makes His existence implausible; and second, the concept of God is self-contradictory. First, let’s examine Tallis’s charge of capriciousness:

According to the religions in which I was brought up (though not, of course to all religions), God unites in His Person a risibly odd combination of properties. In order to uphold a world picture which links the great events that brought the universe about with the little events that fill our lives, it has to conflate metaphysics and morality, physics and politeness – something of the significance of the Big Bang with an Angry God who sulks because he is not adequately praised, and who intervenes at a personal or political level in an often random and sometimes quite repulsive way… The God who merges the power that slew thousands to avenge the slights felt by other thousands, or to lift a righteous person up, with the power to bring the boundless totality of things into being, is an ontological monstrosity – like a chimera uniting the front end of a whale with the back end of a microbe.

The charge that Tallis is making here is that the personal God of the Abrahamic religions is both big and small at the same time – and not only small, but petty to boot.

My initial line of response would be to ask Tallis what he considers more important than people. For it was he himself who wrote:

But we are quite different from other species, if only because, as the philosopher Schelling pointed out, it is in us that, “Nature opens its eyes . . . and notices that it exists.” We are the only species that quarrels over its own nature and has written about the origin of species. (You can be a beast, but I’m human.. Article in The Times, October 29, 2005.)

“OK,” you might be thinking, “so we’re not beasts. But why should an infinite God care about human beings in particular?” The best and most succinct answer to that question which I’ve ever seen comes from an online article by (you guessed it) another atheist, Jason Rosenhouse: Coyne lays an egg. In his article, Rosenhouse takes Professor Jerry Coyne to task for what he considers a very unsatisfactory review of Professor Michael Behe’s book, The Edge of Evolution (Free Press, 2007). At one point Rosenhouse quotes a remark made by Coyne in his review:

So what scientific reason can there be for singling out just one species as the Designer’s goal?

and answers Coyne’s question with a ready reply:

There is only one species with the intelligence to contemplate a relationship with God. That’s why we might single out just one species.

Bravo, Professor Rosenhouse! I couldn’t have put it better myself.

A God who takes an interest in human affairs is not a small God, then.

The next point I’d like to make is that the value of human life is not additive. Two lives are worth no more than one. To see why, consider the following moral dilemma discussed by the atheist philosopher, Philippa Foot, in a now-famous essay, The Problem of Abortion and the Doctrine of Double Effect:

Suppose that a judge or magistrate is faced with rioters demanding that a culprit be found for a certain crime and threatening otherwise to take their own bloody revenge on a particular section of the community. The real culprit being unknown, the judge sees himself as able to prevent the bloodshed only by framing some innocent person and having him executed.

In such a case, Foot declares, the judge “may not kill the innocent person in order to stop the riots.” And she is surely right. As the Talmud puts it:

Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world. (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5; Babylonian Talmud Tractate Sanhedrin 37a.)

It is not morally absurd, then, for God (if He exists) to take a personal interest in one particular human being. It would be utterly wrong to think that one person is too small to take an interest in. On the contrary, there is nothing in all the world which is larger than a single human individual.

Nor is there anything petty about God taking a personal interest in a particular tribe of human beings, provided that He has a morally significant reason for doing so – e.g. a special task that He wishes to accomplish through them.

Finally, I would invite Professor Tallis to make a distinction between what God does on a given occasion, and the way in which His actions are subsequently described by human beings. The Israelites, after passing safely through the Red Sea, may have gloried in the death of the Egyptian armies that pursued them: “Both horse and rider He has hurled into the sea” (Exodus 15:21). That sounds like gloating, and I for one do not believe in a God who gloats at the destruction of human beings, be they good or bad. But I have no problem believing that of all the peoples of the world, God might choose one (the Jews) as the people to whom He would first reveal Himself. After all, He had to pick somebody. I also have no problem believing that He may have providentially assisted the Jewish people to escape from the clutches of their captors, the Egyptians. To assert this is in no way equivalent to asserting He intended the destruction of the Egyptians who chose to pursue the Israelites; rather, it simply means that God intended to make sure that nobody who wished to harm the Israelites would be capable of pursuing them.

Thus people may be petty and vindictive in exalting God’s mighty works; but God Himself is never petty.

Professor Tallis’s other main argument for atheism is that “God is a logically impossible object,” as he puts it in his provocatively titled article, In search of the G-spot. What he particularly objects to, as he writes in his article, “Why I am an atheist,” is the notion of a God who combines in His Being both the unbounded and the specific:

… the notion of a God who is infinite but has specific characteristics; unbounded, but distinct in some sense from His creation; who is a Being that has not been brought into being; who is omniscient, omnipotent and good and yet so constrained as to be unable or unwilling to create a world without evil; who is intelligent and yet has little in common with intelligent beings as we understand them; and so on.

As a religious believer, I completely reject Tallis’s assertion that the God of classical theism, or even the God of Judaism and Christianity, has any specific characteristics whatsoever. Let’s start with classical theism: God is an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent Being Who created the cosmos. The latter part of that description (“Who created the cosmos”) sounds specific. However, it does not describe the essence of God (which is utterly unbounded), but a particular action, freely performed by God. Likewise, the actions performed by God in the Bible do not endow Him with specific characteristics as a Being; they are simply specific choices that He made at critical points in human history.

“But the God of Judaism is one God,” I hear you object. “That’s specific.” But what does “one” mean here? Does it mean “one and not two”? No. It means “one and indivisible.” God cannot be divided into parts; if he could, he would be contingent, and hence not God.

Someone might object that the God of the Jews is quite distinct from, say, Zeus and Thor, so He must have specific properties in His Being, to distinguish Him from those entities. Not so. Zeus and Thor have certain very specific properties; God is distinguished from these pint-sized deities by the general property of being totally unbounded in His essence. And lest anyone suggest that the word “His” implies specificity on God’s part, let me add that no Jew has ever attributed a body to the omnipresent God of the Bible, who forbade anyone to make an image of Him.

“But what about the Christian God?” I hear the skeptic ask. “By His very nature, He’s three persons – not two, and not twenty-five. Three sounds pretty specific, wouldn’t you say?” No, I wouldn’t. According to one popular explanation developed by St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 A.D.), the Trinity is simply a necessary consequence (even if we finite human beings are incapable of deducing it ourselves) of the general fact that God knows and loves Himself perfectly – God the Son being God’s knowledge of Himself, and God the Holy Spirit being God’s love of Himself. To say that God is a Being whose nature it is to know and love Himself perfectly is a completely general, non-arbitrary statement about the essence of God.

Turning to Professor Tallis’s remaining objections to the logical coherence of the notion of God: it should be readily apparent that an unbounded Being Who cannot fail to exist is necessarily “in some sense distinct from His creation,” since the cosmos is utterly contingent.

Nor can I see why Tallis objects to “a Being that has not been brought into being.” Or is he claiming that it is an a priori truth that whatever exists, has a beginning – or at the very least, a cause? But surely, the notion of an Uncaused Cause makes perfect sense. For instance, the atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell, in his famous 1948 BBC debate with the Jesuit priest, Fr. Frederick Copleston, upheld the view that “it’s illegitimate even to ask the question of the cause of the world.” The point at issue between Russell and Copleston was not whether there was an Uncaused Cause, but where one should stop in one’s quest for causes.

What about the problem of evil? It seems that Tallis has a point when he objects to the notion of a God “who is omniscient, omnipotent and good and yet so constrained as to be unable or unwilling to create a world without evil.” This would seem to imply a certain specificity on God’s part, wouldn’t it? No, not at all. I’ll answer Professor Tallis by directing him to an online article written by another atheist, Professor Bradley Monton, who describes what he considers to be “the most promising reply to the problem of evil,” as follows:

This isn’t the most formal way to present it, but I’ll present it with a parable. Suppose that God exists, and God is omnipotent and omniscient, and has the desire to be omnibenevolent. So God creates a very nice universe, a universe with no evil. We might at first think that God has fulfilled the criterion of omnibenevolence, but then we recognize that God could do more – God could create another universe that’s also very nice. Agents could exist in that universe that didn’t exist in the first universe, and so there’s an intuitive sense (which is admittedly tricky to make precise mathematically) in which there would be more goodness to reality than there would be were God just to create one universe.

But of course there’s no reason to stop at two – God should create an infinite number of universes. Now, he could just create an infinite number of universes, where in each universe no evil things happen. But in doing so, there would be certain creatures that wouldn’t exist – creatures like us, who exist in a universe with evil, and are essential products of that universe. So God has to decide whether to create our universe as well. What criterion should he use in making this decision? My thought is that he should create all the universes that have more good than evil, and not create the universes that have more evil than good.

So that’s why an omnipotent omniscient omnibenevolent God would create our universe, even though it has evil – our universe adds (in an intuitive sense, setting aside mathematical technicalities) to the sum total of goodness in the universe, and hence it’s worth creating.

I don’t personally endorse Professor Monton’s solution to the problem of evil myself. Still, I wouldn’t rule it out either, and I think Professor Monton does a commendable job of showing that a promising reply to the problem of evil can be made, without any special pleading on the theist’s part.

Finally, we are left with Professor Tallis’s objection to the concept of a God “who is intelligent and yet has little in common with intelligent beings as we understand them.” Tallis is right to be wary of a purely apophatic theology which tells us what God is not, but doesn’t tell us what He is. There are, however, two viable alternatives. The first is the classical theism of St. Thomas Aquinas, who asserts that the attribution of intelligence to God is neither an equivocal one (where the word “intelligence” has a totally different meaning for human beings from the meaning it has when applied to God), nor a univocal one (where the word “intelligence” has the same meaning for humans as it does for God), but an analogous one. For Aquinas, the statement, “God is intelligent” simply means: “There is something in God which is to God like intelligence is to human beings.” The other attributes of God can be construed in the same fashion. As the philosopher and former atheist Edward Feser puts it in his excellent article on Classical Theism:

For the Thomist, this is the key to understanding how it can be the case that God’s goodness is His power, which is His knowledge, which is His essence, which is His existence. Such a claim would be nonsensical if the terms in question were being used univocally, in exactly the same sense in which we use them when we attribute goodness, power, knowledge, etc. to ourselves (and as they are used in Paleyan “arguments from analogy”). But neither are the senses utterly equivocal. Rather, what we mean is that there is in God something analogous to what we call goodness in us, something analogous to what we call knowledge in us, and so forth; and in God, it is one and the same thing that is analogous to what are in us distinct attributes.

Not all Christians find Aquinas’ doctrine of analogy persuasive, however, and some Christians would hold that “intelligence” means the same thing for us as it does for God. Some very famous Christian philosophers and theologians, such as St. Anselm (c. 1033-1109) and Duns Scotus (c.1265-1308), have argued that since “knowledge” is a pure perfection, which does not impose any limitations on its possessor, the term “knowledge” must have the same meaning for God and creatures alike: it can be applied univocally to both. (In this respect, knowledge is unlike the perfection of “rationality,” which is limiting because it requires its possessor to arrive at a conclusion only after reasoning his/her way from premises.) Thus although the manner in which God knows is utterly different from our own, and although God’s knowledge is infinitely greater than ours in degree, the actual meaning of the word “know” is the same for God as it is for other intelligent beings.

In any case, as I have argued before, the differences between Aquinas and Duns Scotus on this issue have been greatly exaggerated. Moreover, in formulating his doctrine of univocal predication, Scotus was not opposing the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas, but those of the theologian Henry of Ghent. And speaking of Aquinas, here is what he wrote in his Summa Contra Gentiles Book II, chapter 46, paragraph 4, about why the cosmos would have been lacking in perfection if God had not made intelligent creatures:

[T]he highest perfection of things required the existence of some creatures that act in the same way as God. But it has already been shown that God acts by intellect and will. It was therefore necessary for some creatures to have intellect and will.

Duns Scotus couldn’t have put it better himself.

I conclude, then, that the concept of God remains a defensible one, that Intelligent Design therefore remains an intellectually viable undertaking, and that Professor Tallis’s arguments have failed to undermine belief in God. I would also like to commend Professor Tallis for refuting three popular arguments for atheism, and I would urge him to read from the writings of other atheists and ex-atheists who have progressed beyond the more serious philosophical arguments he puts forward on behalf of atheism.

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129 Responses to Professor Raymond Tallis on good and bad arguments for atheism

  1. 1

    Excellent, as usual. Thank you.

  2. Great post.

    Isn’t it interesting that the 3 bad arguments for Atheism that Tallis pointed out make up the bulk of Hitchens’ arguments against theism! Afterall, Hitchens, and also Dawkins, produce some philosophically and theologically lousy arguments covered by a rhetoric flair.

  3. first, if a personal God exists, He is a morally capricious Being, which makes His existence implausible;

    If it is implausible that a morally capricious God can exist it is only because one has been ingrained with a Judeo-Christian worldview.

    Hence to reject the plausibility of a morally capricious God is to reject the implausibility of the Judeo-Christian worldview hence to reject the implausibility of the Judeo-Christian worldview and to accept the plausibility of atheism would be irrational.

    and second, the concept of God is self-contradictory.

    No. The concept of a materialist believing in a material cause for the Big Bang is self-contradictory, however.

    Ultimately atheism is wishful thinking. It is more often than not a crutch to justify certain actions or an excuse to justify certain inaction.

  4. tribune7

    If it is implausible that a morally capricious God can exist it is only because one has been ingrained with a Judeo-Christian worldview

    I agree with that, but even if the issue is specific to the Judeo-Christian worldview, I don’t think the “morally capricious” argument is valid because in my opinion it is based on a misunderstanding of what an omnipotent being is capable of.

    I mean what atheists refer to as a morally capricious being is the way God is able to be infinitely merciful and at the same time severe in punishment. But being able to combine attributes that may seem to contradict each other from a human’s point of view is exactly what I would expect from an omnipotent God that we cannot fully comprehend. Don’t you think?

    I mean if God was too merciful and unable to punish, or too harsh and unable to show mercy, that would not be an omnipotent being because he will be deficient in his attributes, just like humans.

  5. So it appears the best argument for atheism remains unsurprisingly the oldest one, the problem of evil and injustice, and related to it, undeserved human suffering – ie the problem of theodicy. The problem is this understandable philosophical position has to be supported by a theory or theories of materialist evolution (how does the atheist account for the natural world?). Here is the rub, for this is not honestly admitted to, and the pretense is that it is the other way around. That is atheist scientists and the secular atheist elites in our culture pretend to themselves that atheism has its support in the *viability* of their materialist theories of the natural world, and that their atheism is then justified on SCIENTIFIC grounds, and not solely or even predominantly on philosophical ones. Such a collective deception is necessary in the Age of Science, especially to scientists!

    The argument against corrupt churches and priests being used as an argument against God has other weaknesses to it, related to but not quite the same as what is mentioned above. That is corrupt and evil men create God in their own image, so their own brutality and bigotry is then attributed to the Creator by them. Yet this argument cannot be used against God, only a corrupt and decadent clergy. It really is a very weak argument and is something that should be see through more readily than it is.

    Another weakness to this argument is that it ignores a fundamental aspect to human evil. This is human evil is usually if not fundamentally committed in the name of good and the more terrible the evil, the more it is justified as a great good. Look at history. Therefore evil and brutality will always be justified by appeals to the Greater Good, and thus to God himself. Of course in communist and socialist countries, evil by the state was and is justified as necessary for the greater good, God is not brought into it. So then it is thus to be expected that evil is justified and rationalised as goodness by those carrying out evil and receiving the imprimitur of God on High, in order to justify their own cruel actions.

    Human iniquity can thus only operate in this way, that is masquerading as goodness or necessity, and in the main thus having God’s sanction.

  6. Hmmmm, “morally capricious”…

    I have three sons. I am also very much involved with maintaining discipline in my house. Every now and then I have the following pattern of events.

    Somebody breaks a rule. Normally there should be at least a rebuke, or in case or repeated occurrence something more serious to make my point about it. However, sometimes I feel that what the little boy actually needs is a cuddle instead, some encouraging words and a little time to persuade himself about what is right and what is wrong.

    The reaction from the two other brothers, on the other hand, is often not compassion, but demand for judgement. After all, he should have been told off or punished, they say.

    I am as consistent as I can be, but from their perspective it is nearly impossible to predict when this thing will happen. For them, I may appear “morally capricious”.

  7. In such a case, Foot declares, the judge “may not kill the innocent person in order to stop the riots.” And she is surely right

    One wonders, then, about all the innocents God destroyed (e.g. all the infants killed in the massacres ascribed to him, e.g. The Flood, or Sodom & Gomorrah).

    Finally, I would invite Professor Tallis to make a distinction between what God does on a given occasion, and the way in which His actions are subsequently described by human beings. The Israelites, after passing safely through the Red Sea, may have gloried in the death of the Egyptian armies that pursued them: “Both horse and rider He has hurled into the sea” (Exodus 15:21). That sounds like gloating, and I for one do not believe in a God who gloats at the destruction of human beings, be they good or bad.

    And this might provide an answer – in essence you’re denying the inerrancy of the Bible. Would you then argue that The Flood did not happen?

  8. As a religious believer, I completely reject Tallis’s assertion that the God of classical theism, or even the God of Judaism and Christianity …

    Ah! So, I was right all along in my suspicion that the “God of classical theism” (which Feser is always pushing) is not the Living God, the God of the Bible.

  9. VJTorley: The final bad argument for atheism is that it traumatizes people, but Tallis has no time for this one either: …

    You ought to work on the phrasing here, as what you wrote has little relationship to what you meant.

    ===
    VJTorley:Turning to Professor Tallis’s remaining objections to the logical coherence of the notion of God: it should be readily apparent that an unbounded Being Who cannot fail to exist is necessarily “in some sense distinct from His creation,” since the cosmos is utterly contingent.

    Even if God can fail to exist (and I find myself suspecting, based on what the Bible says about God, that he could “commit suicide,” so to speak), he is still necessarily distinct from his creation; for, were he not, than the creation would be himself. That is, that he is distinct from the creation had nothing to do with whether or not he “cannot fail to exist,” but rather has to do with the facts that (non-exhaustively):
    1) he is non-contingent (regardless of whether he is ‘necessary’ in the sense Aristotle meant);
    1a) the creation is contingent;
    1b) the creation *is* a creation;
    2) he is “the ground of all being” — he is Being Itself;
    3) he is perfect — he is complete/integral in himself and unchanging;

    ==
    Prof.Tallis:… the notion of a God who is infinite but has specific characteristics; unbounded, but distinct in some sense from His creation; who is a Being that has not been brought into being; who is omniscient, omnipotent and good and yet so constrained as to be unable or unwilling to create a world without evil;

    The creation is distinct for God — necessarily so, else it would *be* God. But, God “has not been brought into being” (and nothing can cause itself to be, in any case), and God is complete and unchanging (so he can’t “add” to himself by creating “more of himself”).

    It is logically impossible for God to create a creation which is perfect — any world God creates will *be* a creation; it is contingent; its being is not in itself, it is not complete-of-itself. Conceivably, he could have created the world to be ‘perfect’ in the sense of being unchanging — call it the Diamond World (or the Trinket World) — but while such a world might be utterly beautiful, it would not be alive.

  10. The worst reason for not believing in God (though the least obviously bad), is that there is no evidence for His existence. This is a bad reason for atheism because no-one can agree what would count as evidence.

    This is a strange position. If lack of evidence is a poor argument for atheism because we cannot agree on what counts as evidence; then equally purported evidence is a poor argument for theism because we cannot agree on what counts as evidence. If we are ruling out evidence then what basis can there be for any belief either way?

    If we can’t agree on what counts as evidence then what we need to do is discuss what is acceptable evidence and try to find some common ground.

  11. I’m not sure why anyone would think that atheism benefits from an argument from evil; while it may be useful in an argument that a “good” god doesn’t exist, theism itself doesn’t define god as “good”.

    IMO, an entirely “good” universe simply can’t exist and be a rational universe, because good can only exist if it is contextualized by not-good. The existence of evil, or not-good, is necessitated by the principle of identity in any rational universe.

    Why is a rational universe necessary? For individuated entities to exist so they can know the good, and ponder and come to know god. Thus, evil is necessarily existent in any universe where one can rationally come to know and love god.

    If we were to exist as beings that simply “know” god, without having to come to know god or rationally accept god or choose good, then a rational universe wouldn’t be necessary, and evil need not exist.

    You cannot choose god, or good, if nothing that is not-god, or not-good, exists to contextualize your choice. Thus, in order for free will to exist and be meaningful, not-good must exist, and what is at least experienced as not-God must exist.

  12. Prof Torley:

    Interesting post, as usual.

    I note to MF, that as he will recall, ANY argument of form P => Q can be rejected if one is sufficiently unhappy with Q.

    Simply reject Q and argue NOT-Q so NOT-P, with perfect validity; even if one will then have to fend off the impacts of a reductio ad absurdum. So, indeed, what counts as evidence (= accepted facts + accepted chains of logic + accepted explanations) can indeed be a decisive issue.

    But, when we deal with major worldview issues, the problem is that alternative start points can be at least as problematic, or even far worse than that.

    So, we are back at the table of comparative difficulties across alternative worldview first plausibles, compared on factual adequacy, coherence and explanatory elegance and power: simple but not simplistic.

    Onlookers, my own 101 take on the matter is here.

    GEM of TKI

  13. Shogun, I was thinking that in paganism the gods can be quite morally capricious. Of course, widespread belief in capricious gods do not bode well for the practice of science.

    So if an atheist is making the claim that a morally capricious god can’t exist he is overlooking the “sez who?” argument, and of course it’s the Bible that “sez who” so what we basically wind up with is a Bible-believing atheist which is highly illogical.

  14. “The notion of God is defensible”? Sure. We are unhappy; we would not be unhappy unless we were conscious of a self-existent “good” of happiness; therefore “the good” exists. See? That was easy, (Okay—I borrowed.)

    First of all, if we are talking about the God of the Bible, “God is love,” not intellect. Thomas was quite wrong on that one. We are all aware, of course, that the notion that God is intellect came from Plato and Aristotle, not the Bible? That you will not find one single statement in the Bible to the effect that intellect is the essence of God? Not one?

    In fact the story of the fall of man can be read to mean that intellect is specifically not the essence of God. They were tempted to believe that the knowledge of good and evil would make them “like God.” This knowledge is exactly what the philosophers had in mind when they used the term “intellect,” or judgment, which was supposed to help them determine what is good.

    But this knowledge did not make them like God; instead it exposed their nakedness by revealing the difference between God and them, which is their mortality (“you will surely die”). This suggests, for one thing, that to be “like God” is not at all what the Greek philosophers imagined it to be. They claimed that God was intellect and tried to glorify themselves through the power of judgment, but this same power divided them between the analytic and synthetic methods of describing the good. “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise. The intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

    Secondly, just because Professor Tallis published his argument for atheism in Philosophy Now doesn’t mean that it isn’t jejune. The “ontological monstrosity” tack is too silly for words. What do we care if Professor Tallis’s deistic sensibilities are offended by a personal God? And he gives himself away with the “physics and politeness” crack. What, we’re supposed to accept some fantasy-land hierarchy now where Einstein obtains immortal transcendence over those who believe that equality with God is not something to be grasped and choose to remain meek and lowly and be kind to others? Hey Professor Tallis, ever heard of the Beatitudes? Oh, I forgot. One needs to have ears to hear the things of God—and those ears don’t generally attach themselves to people who full of their own counsel. Besides, you’ve been published in Philosophy Now! You’re practically immortal yourself!

    And the “infinite but specific” jive is equally unimpressive. The misguided claim that the Bible agrees with the Greek notion that God is infinite rests on exactly one verse: “His understanding is infinite.” Let’s set aside the rather important question of translation and cut to the chase: it is his understanding that is “infinite,” not God himself. The transcendent quality that the Bible ascribes to God is immortality, not infinity. Life, not intellect, is the “light of men,” and immortality does not cause the mischief that infinity causes in philosophy for the simple reason that the difference between mortal and immortal life is not absolute. Mortal life is not immortal, but it is still life. Immortal God can still be born in a mortal being, as we are soon to celebrate. The infinite, however, cannot be finite.

    “His understanding is infinite.” If God created the heavens and the earth, then modern science is now in the process of showing that this is most certainly true from the human point of view. What God made reveals an entirely different order of understanding from the finite thinking of men. The Bible speaks simple truth; the atheists are caught admiring themselves in a room of mirrors.

  15. “The final bad argument for atheism is that it traumatizes people, but Tallis has no time for this one either:”

    Please modify this sentence to clarify the “it”. I believe you mean “religion”, or “belief in God”, and not, as the immediate antecedent would suggest, “atheism”.

    Thanks for a thoughtful post, brother.

  16. RKBall,

    The MOST pleasant surprise in my life was when God was there for me in a time of need for me. Therefore since God is real and is indeed the source of all Good, then the definition of the most extreme source of trauma that could visit a person would be to be separated from God, i.e. from the source of all that is good. That is why I am eternally grateful for, and accepting of, Christ’s redeeming work on the cross:

    General Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, Entropy, and the Shroud
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/5070355/

  17. allanius:

    “We are unhappy; we would not be unhappy unless we were conscious of a self-existent “good” of happiness; therefore “the good” exists.

    Has it ever ocurred to you that “the good” is simply that which which confers fitness advantages?

  18. “Moreover, in formulating his doctrine of univocal predication, Scotus was not[?] opposing the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas, but those of the theologian Henry of Ghent.”

  19. RkBall and sbk:

    Well-spotted. I’ve made the necessary editing changes. Thank you.

  20. kairosfocus

    Thank you for your kind comments. By the way, I’m not a Professor. I just have a Ph.D. in philosophy, that’s all.

    I entirely agree with your remarks about inferences. One person’s modus ponens is another’s modus tollens, as they say, and a determined atheist will certainly try to deny premises that lead to theism.

    I’ve just been having a look over at your 101 Web page. There’s lots of very interesting stuff there, which I’d recommend that readers have a look at. Here’s the link:

    http://nicenesystheol.blogspot.....u2_bld_wvu

    Thank you once again.

  21. Heinrich:

    You ask a very good question about infants killed in massacres attributed to God. It’s funny – I was just reading the Biblical account of the death of the firstborn of Egypt this morning, in Exodus 12. What a coincidence!

    Here’s my take. The only reason why God could conceivably intend the death of an infant is to spare it from an even worse fate that would otherwise have befallen it, had it lived. This is of possible relevance to the the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, as the people of those cities lived in a very depraved society in which children would subjected to various kinds of sexual abuse. However, it does not help us with the Flood or the death of the firstborn of Egypt.

    With regard to these two events, there are only two possibilities:
    (1) they were sent by God; or (2) they weren’t.

    If they were sent by God, then since they cannot be construed as acts of rescue, and since the children were innocent victims, they must have been killed in a manner that would befit a moral Deity. They must have died instantly and painlessly. God could have accomplished this by simply shutting down their nervous systems, so they felt nothing. As He maintains everything in existence, this would be a very easy thing to do – all He had to do is withhold His usual co-operation from creatures. Thus saving the children from a painful death wouldn’t have required a positive act on His part (i.e a miracle), but merely a negative one.

    The other possibility is that these events were not sent by God, but were natural events. Maybe the death of the firstborn of Egypt was an unusually severe plague. And maybe the Flood was a cometary impact that caused high tidal waves all around the world, drowning people in coastal areas. In that case, God’s intention would not have been to kill people, but to deliver certain people whom He specially chose (Noah and his family in the case of the Flood; the Israelites in the case of the plagues of Egypt) from a catastrophe. The real miracle, then, would not have been that large numbers of people died, but that a few were supernaturally delivered.

    Not being a Scripture scholar, I’m reluctant to adjudicate between the two views. I realize, of course, that there are passages in Scripture which seem to indicate that the Flood and the plagues of Egypt were sent by God as a punishment, which creates difficulties for the second view. Then again, a superficial reading of Scripture also suggests that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart – but not even Orthodox Jews (who are firm believers in free will) take those passages at face value.

    Anyway, those are my thoughts on the matter. Hope that helps.

  22. Ilion (#8):

    One could believe in the God of classical theism without believing in the God of the Bible. That’s an intellectually consistent position.

    However, historically speaking, the notion of such a God was largely derived from Biblical teachings about God, combined with Greek philosophical ideas. Personally, I doubt very much whether the notion of such a God would have been arrived at, in the absence of the Bible.

  23. markf (#10)

    Thank you for your post. I agree on the need for common ground between believers and non-believers, when reasoning about God’s existence. The classical arguments for God’s existence (e.g. the Five Ways) take as their starting point certain evident facts about the world – e.g. the occurrence of change, or of causation, or of things that go out of existence, or of grades of excellence, or of laws of Nature that are about something. Intelligent Design arguments start from the existence of complex specified information in Nature.

    The next step is the tricky part: agreeing on what counts as an explanation, and where to stop in one’s demand for explanations.

    One thing I recall reading nearly thirty years ago, when I came across Germain Grisez’s Beyond the New Theism, is that one should continue to ask a question until and unless it becomes apparent that there is something wrong with doing so. Grisez argued that there is nothing obviously wrong with asking why the cosmos exists, given that it is contingent; hence we are entitled to infer a necessary Being.

    From studying Intelligent Design, I have also learned a lot about abductive logic: when faced with competing explanations of a given fact, it is rational to adopt the best explanation of that fact.

    I agree, however, that a lot more work needs to be done on the subject of epistemology and religious claims. This will be the subject of a future post of mine.

  24. Heinrich –One wonders, then, about all the innocents God destroyed (e.g. all the infants killed in the massacres ascribed to him, e.g. The Flood, or Sodom & Gomorrah).

    Innocents die today still via disease or natural disasters albeit I suspect the greatest killer of them remains the will of man.

    I guess if you are a materialist you may think physical death is the greatest tragedy and if you are one looking for an excuse to hate God you will point to this and say “see, I am good because I disapprove.”

    For a Christian the death of an innocent isn’t a tragedy for the innocent since all who are physically born are fated to physically die. The tragedy is the heartbreaking pain to those who loved him. The greater tragedy, of course, is never to have loved him in the first place, and to consider his existence the result of an ultimately pointless series of random events is absolutely evil, but a materialist would probably not quite get that.

  25. VJT:

    Thanks.

    the price tag of the rejection tactic, though may be reductio ad absurdum.

    G

    PS: Just added a turtles all the way down vicious infinite regress worldview diagram.

  26. allanius (#14)

    Thank you for your post. You write:

    First of all, if we are talking about the God of the Bible, “God is love,” not intellect. Thomas was quite wrong on that one. We are all aware, of course, that the notion that God is intellect came from Plato and Aristotle, not the Bible? That you will not find one single statement in the Bible to the effect that intellect is the essence of God? Not one?

    How about this one? “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1.)

    Yes, the Bible does tell us that God is love (1 John 4: 8, 16). But it also tells us that God is truth. Jesus Himself said, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). In John 15:26 and John 16:13, he refers to the Spirit of Truth. And 1 John 1:5 tells us that “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.”

    By intellect I simply mean: that which understands truth. God’s understanding is perfect; hence God is the Supreme Intellect, just as He is the Supreme Good. His essence is both knowledge and love: He is that Being whose nature it is to know and love Himself perfectly, A consequence of this is that He knows and loves everything else perfectly.

    And finally, how about these verses, from Psalm 119?

    “And do not take the word of truth utterly out of my mouth, For I wait for Thine ordinances.” (Ps. 119:43)

    “Thy righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, And Thy law is truth.” (Ps. 119:142)

    “Thou art near, O LORD, And all Thy commandments are truth.” (Ps. 119:151)

    “The sum of Thy word is truth, And every one of Thy righteous ordinances is everlasting.” (Ps. 119:160)

    I hope that helps clear up any misunderstandings between us.

  27. I agree with Tallis that the God of the Old Testament is morally capricious, but why do so many people then disbelieve in God instead of updating their understanding to something more consistent with their own moral compass?

    As to the existence of evil, this has never been a problem for me. Most of the evil of this world is caused by us. It seems obvious that we must become moral and worthy beings by our own choice. Otherwise, we would be immature babies in need of constant supervision. God wants us to grow up.

    AS to natural suffering, the things is that this world is a place where physical bodies are vulnerable and death the sure end, the release of the soul from the body. We’re here for good reason, but death is not a tragedy.

  28. #23 VJ

    My main point is to refute Tallis’s argument:

    The worst reason for not believing in God (though the least obviously bad), is that there is no evidence for His existence. This is a bad reason for atheism because no-one can agree what would count as evidence.

    I am not clear whether you agree with Tallis. It seems to me that the only good reason for believing or not believing in something is the status of the evidence. Indeed a reasonable definition of evidence might be along the lines of “something which gives you a good reason to believe in something else”.

  29. molch,

    Has it ever ocurred to you that “the good” is simply that which which confers fitness advantages?

    Why would a fitness advantage be “good”?

  30. O/T: Just watched totality of the lunar eclipse. Once in 400 years, at the N Hemisphere Winter Solstice. Let us not forget that the choice of thos season for Christmas as a festival of light and the “official” birthday of Jesus, is that this is the time of minimum light in the world; and light is coming into the world. Let us pray that light and a miracle of healing will come to our benighted, mortally wounded, suicidal civilisation.

  31. markf (#28):

    Thank you for your post. I don’t disagree with you when you write: “It seems to me that the only good reason for believing or not believing in something is the status of the evidence.” As far as it goes, that’s true.

    I would like to make the following observations, however:

    (1) As Tallis rightly points out, we first need to know what would count as evidence. And to answer that question, as Michael Anthony remarks in the passage I quoted above in my article, we need to know what would count as a good explanation of the facts which are relevant to deciding the issue;

    (2) Your phrase “the status of the evidence” sounds rather impersonal. When the “something” in question is a proposition describing a personal relationship (e.g. “My wife loves me,” or “God loves me”), the decision procedure will have to take into account certain first-person facts which may be known to oneself alone, and which cannot be dispassionately analyzed on a third-person basis. Thus I would not agree with those skeptics who would rule out religious experience a priori as a reason for believing in God.

  32. Barry Arrington:

    Thank you for your kind words. I’m glad you enjoyed the article.

  33. VJTorley:As a religious believer, I completely reject Tallis’s assertion that the God of classical theism, or even the God of Judaism and Christianity, has any specific characteristics whatsoever. …

    Ilíon:Ah! So, I was right all along in my suspicion that the “God of classical theism” (which Feser is always pushing) is not the Living God, the God of the Bible.

    VJTorley:One could believe in the God of classical theism without believing in the God of the Bible. That’s an intellectually consistent position. …

    Does “the God of classical theism” represent in incomplete understanding of the Living God — in which case no sensible Christian will have a philosophical problem with the concept — or is “the God of classical theism” an understanding of the deity which is in opposition to the understanding of “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob”?

    ===
    Look, the very term “theism” bothers me. To describe or categorize Biblical religion as “theism” is to implicitly, and improperly, put Judaism and Christianity on the same continuum with (classical) polytheism and pantheism … and with atheism. AND, the creation of this false relationship leads to, and lends credence to, that supremely silly pseudo-argument, so belovéd of Dawkins and his acolytes, that “atheism just rejects one more” — for this false relationship implies that God is but one more being (or posited being) in “the world.”

    But, the fact is, most paganisms, most polytheisms (and certainly classical-age polytheism), pantheism, Mormonism and so on are all cut from the same cloth as (western-style) atheism. They are but variations on materialistic atheism (while non-materialistic atheism results in Buddhism or somethig akin to it). All these systems posit or assert that “the world” or “the universe” — that is, time-space and matter-energy — is the ultimate basis of reality, and that minds “arose,” all by themselves, from matter-in-motion … and, ultimately, from Chaos. All these systems posit or assert that ‘Mind‘ (if minds even exist!) is an effect of matter.

    In total opposition to all variants of materialistic atheism (and also in opposition to non-materialistic atheism) are transcendant systems: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, possibly some formulations of Hinduism, and so on … that is, systems which posit or assert — or conclude — that ‘Mind‘ is the ultimate basis of reality. All these systems see that matter is an effect of ‘Mind’.

    Now, of course, I understand that we have the difficulty of existing language: if/since the use of ‘theism’ to denote transcendant systems in general leads to the the false conception that they are just variations of materialism, yet seeing that the term ‘atheism’ naturally/linguistically implies ‘theism,’ then what term should we use instead? I have no idea; nevertheless: I am not a ‘theist’, I am a Christian.

  34. Ilion:

    You can see a discussion (updated overnight in light of recent exchanges at UD) of the distinction between classical, generic theism and specifically Biblical Judaeo-Christian theism. Islamic theism is somewhat different.

    When the inference form morality as the law in our hearts, minds and consciences is appropriately enfolded in theism — beyond cosmological, ontological and teleological reasoning — theism begins to approach the revelational theism of scriptures.

    But, indeed, it is not equal to it.

    BTW, the distinction is one part of why design thought is not to be properly equated to Biblical Creationism, in any of its various forms. (Young Earth, Young Cosmos Biblical Creationism is by no means the only form of Creationism, though it is probably the most common form of self-identified creationism in North America today. To give a measure, many of the founders of the Fundamentalist rebuttal to Modernism in the early 1900′s were not YEC in views; and neither were some key church fathers (e.g. Augustine) and perhaps even so noteworthy a theologian as Aquinas [VJT, do correct me if I err on this last]. The picture is more complex than we may be led to think based on today’s headlines.)

    However, Christians are theists in the strict worldviews sense.

    GEM of TKI

  35. kf: All your points are well taken. On a minor note, Aquinas believed that God created man in finished form and not through a gradual process, which is why Christian Darwinists are being disingenous when they shamelessly misuse his name to justify their incoherent world view.

  36. i find it odd that ppl who like to label themselves atheists, often say – well which god do you want me to belie in ( and then proceed to run off a whole list of historical deities)

    but , they are totally overlooking that it is the inner impetus within each individual that is giving rise to their conception of god , which is then built around either tradition , history , or experience,

    ie the atheist is comparing the stained glass of the window colors to god , an overlooking the fact that there is only one light behind those colours ,giving rise to our individual conceptions.

    if they had reason, they would see that there are numerous instruments to register god. there are as many as there are human beings , and these human instruments register god or lack of god , according to how finely tuned they are. and how finely tuned they are depends on their level of spiritual unfoldment. (and as very many atheists are rude ,arrogant and selfish and only worship intellect;therefor lacking much spiritual unfoldment its no surprise that they have so far failed to recognize god.)

  37. Steve

    Thanks.

    I was not sure on that one and asked.

    Great to hear from one of UD’s resident experts!

    G

  38. VJ, if God is unbounded, does that also mean He is unbounded by morality? If so, wouldn’t He then be morally capricious?

  39. TM:

    We find ourselves as morally governed creatures, which points to a Lawgiver.

    God, as ground of the cosmos, is inherently good. He is not externally constrained in his behaviour, but his character of goodness decisively shapes what he does.

    So, as perfect Love Himself, God is not and cannot be capricious.

    Nor is divine caprice our real challenge, it is that as too often ill-willed moral rebels, were we to get justice, we would not fare very well. So our challenge is to obtain mercy.

    Thus, the significance of the gospel as good news, God himself intervening in love to rescue us, as we receive the Saviour:

    Titus 2: 11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. [ESV]

    That puts up a very different picture than debating points about alleged divine caprice.

    G’day

    GEM of TKI

  40. tragic mishap (#38)

    I don’t really have anything to add to kairosfocus’s excellent response. God is that Being whose nature it is to have a complete knowledge and a perfect love of whatever exists. Such a Being cannot fail to be good. A spiteful Deity would be unintelligible.

  41. kairosfocus and Ilion:

    FYI, St. Augustine, St. Jerome and even Origen all taught that the Earth was less than 10,000 years old, and Aquinas evidently believed the same. In fact, Saints Augustine and Jerome taught that the Earth was less than 6,000 years old. As a matter of interest, the Fathers of the Church were unanimous on this point. I discuss this question at http://www.angelfire.com/linux.....l#section3 .

    However, while the Fathers defended the Mosaic account of creation, none of them (to the best of my knowledge) positively stated that you could not call yourself a Christian if you believed that the Earth was older than 6,000 (or 10,000) years.

  42. Ilion (#33):

    Thank you for your post. You make a number of good points.

    I define classical theism broadly, as the belief that God is an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent Being Who created the cosmos. Most classical theists also hold that God is essentially simple, and utterly beyond space and time. Many would also add that God is impassible. However, I am aware of philosophers and theologians who have raised objections to these alleged attributes of the Deity, so I’ve left them out in order to cast my net as wide as possible.

    I agree that “theist” is an unsatisfactory term for Jews and Christians to use when describing their beliefs about God. Perhaps “Transcendentalist would be better, although it sounds a bit Emersonian. “Mentalist” sounds odd, and doesn’t necessarily imply belief in God. “Universal Transcendental Mentalist,” perhaps? That sounds a bit of a mouthful. Do you have any better ideas?

    When Richard Dawkins says that he believes in one fewer God than we do, we should reply that to believe in two gods is to misunderstand the whole notion of God. If God is not a universal explanation of reality, then He is nothing at all. There cannot be two universal explanations of reality.

  43. Clive:

    “Why would a fitness advantage be “good”?”

    Are you familiar with the ecological concept of fitness? By definition, an individual that is more fit (e.g. has higher annual survival, mating success, fecundity, earlier first reproduction, higher offspring survival, etc.) is the one that will leave more, and more fit, offspring than a less fit conspecific. Those pheno-/genotypes of individuals in a population that strive for (i.e. behave in such a manner to be more likely to attain) and do attain fitness advantages will therefore become more frequent in the future population. Thus, perceiving a fitness advantage as “good” (i.e. as something to strive for) is a likely trait of fit individuals in a surviving population.

  44. molch,

    Are you familiar with the ecological concept of fitness? By definition, an individual that is more fit (e.g. has higher annual survival, mating success, fecundity, earlier first reproduction, higher offspring survival, etc.) is the one that will leave more, and more fit, offspring than a less fit conspecific. Those pheno-/genotypes of individuals in a population that strive for (i.e. behave in such a manner to be more likely to attain) and do attain fitness advantages will therefore become more frequent in the future population. Thus, perceiving a fitness advantage as “good” (i.e. as something to strive for) is a likely trait of fit individuals in a surviving population.

    You’re making an inference from likeliness to goodness. I don’t see how that follows.

  45. Clive:

    “You’re making an inference from likeliness to goodness.”

    No, you misunderstand me.

    First let me say that I am using the term good in the meaning of “something to strive for / something advantageous to have”. Let me know if you disagree with this use.

    Now I’ll try to rephrase: Some individuals perceive fitness-relevant traits as good (something to strive for), some do not. Those individuals that perceive them as good are more fit, because they are more likely to actually obtain those traits that they strive for than individuals that don’t strive for them. Therefore, the perception of fitness advantages as good is itself a fitness advantage.

  46. molch,

    First let me say that I am using the term good in the meaning of “something to strive for / something advantageous to have”. Let me know if you disagree with this use.

    Of course I disagree with it. “It is good to live” is the only moral maxim it can be based on; it is not the other way around. You have to start with morality even to say that life is good and worth keeping or reproducing. This doesn’t produce goodness, but rather is based on it. Why should it be good to have an advantage? For life? Why is living good? Why should it be strove for?

  47. Here also, we seem to be talking past each other.

    “”It is good to live” is the only moral maxim it can be based on; it is not the other way around.”

    Yes, it is exactly the other way around. The only species that have survived until today are those that strove for survival and fitness advantages. That’s why perceiving “life” and “fitness advantages” as “something to strive for”, i.e. “something good” is a common trait in currently living beings.

    That is an explanation for your questions why we perceive survival and fitness advantages as good.

  48. In other words God is co-extensive with good. Thanks!

  49. molch,

    Yes, it is exactly the other way around. The only species that have survived until today are those that strove for survival and fitness advantages. That’s why perceiving “life” and “fitness advantages” as “something to strive for”, i.e. “something good” is a common trait in currently living beings.

    Why is living good? Common traits don’t matter to this question. Striving for something, like life, is only strove for if it is good to begin with. Otherwise it would not be strove for. You have to put first things first. Claiming that “fitness advantage” and the word “good” are synonyms is nonsense.

  50. Clive:

    “Why is living good? Common traits don’t matter to this question.”

    Of course they do. Perceiving living as good is a common trait. Perceiving living as bad is not a common trait, because the individuals that perceive living as bad don’t live and reproduce well.

    “Claiming that “fitness advantage” and the word “good” are synonyms is nonsense.”

    I never claimed that the words are synonyms. Please be charitable and read what I write more carefully, instead of blaming me of writing nonsense. I claimed, and justified, why the things we perceive as good are things that confer fitness advantages.

  51. molch,

    Of course they do. Perceiving living as good is a common trait.

    Why? Because it is common? That makes absolutely no difference to any question of ought or good. You may as well say the many leaves in my yard are therefore good because they are all in my yard and there is a lot of them.

    Perceiving living as bad is not a common trait, because the individuals that perceive living as bad don’t live and reproduce well.

    So what?

    I never claimed that the words are synonyms. Please be charitable and read what I write more carefully, instead of blaming me of writing nonsense. I claimed, and justified, why the things we perceive as good are things that confer fitness advantages.

    Why do we perceive living as good? Saying that it is common is not a justification.

  52. Clive:

    “Why do we perceive living as good?”

    Because if we didn’t, we wouldn’t be alive.

  53. Since the comments on “Taking Manhattan out of the Apple” have been closed, and the discussion had pretty much converged onto the same topic in both threads, I’d like to respond here to two comments over there:

    596:

    Molch: “That which is subjectively experienced by us is obviously a reliable enough index of the external reality that we can survive in it. In other words, the more reliable the subjective index of the external reality produced by a being’s senses, the more likely it will be successful in surviving and producing offspring in said reality. However, that does not make that particular subjective reality any more objective. A gutworm’s subjective reality is extremely different from a dolphin’s, from a human’s, from a daffodills. That does not make either of these realities less reliable for the survival and reproduction potential of the respective being. But it obviously also does not make either of them “the objective reality”

    StephenB: “Whenever people start writing this kind of nonsense, and it is nonsense”

    Your claim that it is nonsense does not make it so. Please point out where the logic fails.

    StephenB: “To argue that we cannot apprehend the objective differences in gender or the facts of reproduction is to embrace irrationality.”

    No. You are both misunderstanding/misinterpreting my position and drawing invalid inferences. See below.

    597:

    molch: “If you, again, re-read my 532 & 535, you will see that I don’t deny what you seem to think I deny. Yes, objective reality is the ultimate standard. But since objective reality is not directly accessible to us, the usefulness of our subjective indices of reality is measured by their success in navigating said reality.”

    StephenB: “Let’s call it your good news, bad news report. The good news is that objective reality exists and serves as the rational standard. The bad news is that we cannot apprehend objective reality, which means that derivative rational standard is also out of reach.”

    No. You obviously don’t understand that the usefulness of our subjective indices of reality in navigating that reality IS the derivative rational standard.

  54. Clive:

    I’ll try yet another angle to help you understand:

    “Why do we perceive living as good?”

    Because perceiving living as good helps us survive and produce fit offspring. Just like perceiving eating as good helps us survive and produce fit offspring.

  55. molch,

    Because perceiving living as good helps us survive and produce fit offspring. Just like perceiving eating as good helps us survive and produce fit offspring.

    Why is life good?

  56. molch,

    Because if we didn’t, we wouldn’t be alive.

    So what? What’s wrong with death?

  57. —molch: “No. You obviously don’t understand that the usefulness of our subjective indices of reality in navigating that reality IS the derivative rational standard.”

    Well, let’s find out who doesn’t understand. Explain with an concrete example how “the usefulness of subjective indices of reality in navigating that reality” can produce a rational standard.

  58. –Clive to molch: “So what? What’s wrong with death?”

    Good question.

  59. Ms Molch:

    A key point: as Ms Anscombe pointed out long ago now, you cannot move from is to ought, unless you have a grounding is which makes ought integral to the world.

    Theism does: the good Creator God, who is not externally constrained but is good as to his core character. The God who made us as morally governed creatures, with the power of choice that is the foundation of the core virtue: love.

    Atheism, including the currently fashionable evolutionary materialism, does not.

    That, as can be seen since the days of Plato’s The Laws Bk X, 360 BC, is the root of the issue above.

    Let me cite, so you can take time to look seriously at it:

    _________________

    >> Ath. . . . [[The avant garde philosophers and poets, c. 360 BC] say that fire and water, and earth and air [[i.e the classical "material" elements of the cosmos], all exist by nature and chance, and none of them by art, and that as to the bodies which come next in order-earth, and sun, and moon, and stars-they have been created by means of these absolutely inanimate existences. The elements are severally moved by chance and some inherent force according to certain affinities among them-of hot with cold, or of dry with moist, or of soft with hard, and according to all the other accidental admixtures of opposites which have been formed by necessity. After this fashion and in this manner the whole heaven has been created, and all that is in the heaven, as well as animals and all plants, and all the seasons come from these elements, not by the action of mind, as they say, or of any God, or from art, but as I was saying, by nature and chance only. [[In short, evolutionary materialism premised on chance plus necessity acting without intelligent guidance on primordial matter is hardly a new or a primarily "scientific" view!] . . . .

    [[Thus, they hold that t]he Gods exist not by nature, but by art, and by the laws of states, which are different in different places, according to the agreement of those who make them; and that the honourable is one thing by nature and another thing by law, and that the principles of justice have no existence at all in nature, but that mankind are always disputing about them and altering them; and that the alterations which are made by art and by law have no basis in nature, but are of authority for the moment and at the time at which they are made.- [[Relativism, too, is not new.] These, my friends, are the sayings of wise men, poets and prose writers, which find a way into the minds of youth. They are told by them that the highest right is might, and in this way the young fall into impieties, under the idea that the Gods are not such as the law bids them imagine; and hence arise factions, these philosophers inviting them to lead a true life according to nature, that is, to live in real dominion over others, and not in legal subjection to them. >>
    _________________

    Let’s make it concrete.

    If justice is a matter of convention and power struggle, what was wrong with the recently exposed behaviour of a certain prof Epstein, now facing gaol time for incest with his adult daughter?

    Why can’t we simply redefine marriage in law, so that he could divorce her mother and marry her [as the Pharaohs of old did, marrying both their sisters and their daughters], if anything goes and might and/or manipulation and/or survival of the fittest, most effective reproducers make ‘right’?

    Indeed, as he managed to have some 1 in 200 of the current world population as descendants [apparently nearly everyone in and around Mongolia has his blood in them], Genghis Khan was the most right of all, on these terms.

    Why do we find such repugnant?

    GEM of TKI

  60. Oops, forgot to close a tag.

  61. “So what? What’s wrong with death?”

    Um, wow, we’ve been around the block with that one a number of times now. Nothing is wrong with death. It is simply an observed fact that those individuals and species who are dead, are not currently alive. You know, as in extinct. They are not the ones that left fit offspring. Thus, they are not the ones alive today. The ones that are alive today are the ones whose ancestors found being alive to be a good thing, and passed on that trait. Just like the ones that found eating to be a good thing are the ones that eat, and thus usually survive and reproduce better than the ones that don’t.
    Finding being dead to be a good thing might turn out phantastic for those who are dead. I wouldn’t know. I haven’t been dead. But it means not being among those who are currently living. And it turns out that in order to be among those who are currently living, one had to have ancestors who found living to be a good thing. And we, or at least I, am talking about the currently living. And unless I am monumentally misunderstanding you, you are also talking about the currently living species and individuals?

  62. StephenB:

    “Explain with an concrete example how “the usefulness of subjective indices of reality in navigating that reality” can produce a rational standard.”

    Simplest of examples: Person x tells me that objects of class y (e.g., fire) have property z (e.g., hot). I have encountered a number of objects y. They all had property z. I adopt the general rule that objects of class y have property z and treat them accordingly. I am successful with that strategy. Indeed, millions of people have been successful with that strategy with millions of examples of objects y and properties z. Thus, generalization is a widespread rational standard.

  63. “as Ms Anscombe pointed out long ago now, you cannot move from is to ought, unless you have a grounding is which makes ought integral to the world.”

    Yes. That “is” would be the reality of fitness-relevant relationships in social species. That “ought” you are looking for would be reciprocity. As discussed.

  64. Another angle:

    Clive: “Why do we perceive living as good?”

    Molch: “Because if we didn’t, we wouldn’t be alive.”

    Clive: “So what?”

    In my experience, people who aren’t alive can’t ask questions, or answer them. So, a prerequistite for you having this discussion with me seems to be that we are both alive. IOW, this discussion is only relevant to the living.

  65. molch,

    In my experience, people who aren’t alive can’t ask questions, or answer them. So, a prerequistite for you having this discussion with me seems to be that we are both alive. IOW, this discussion is only relevant to the living.

    Yes. Now the living can ask the question and get an answer as to why living is good. An answer I have yet to get.

  66. molch,

    So your answer is that there is nothing wrong with death, and nothing right about death, and nothing wrong with life, and nothing right about life.

  67. molch: “In my experience, people who aren’t alive can’t ask questions, or answer them.”

    So what? You keep begging the question.What is good about being able to ask questions or answer them? For that matter, what is wrong with killing someone for asking questions that you do not like?

  68. —molch: “Simplest of examples: Person x tells me that objects of class y (e.g., fire) have property z (e.g., hot). I have encountered a number of objects y. They all had property z. I adopt the general rule that objects of class y have property z and treat them accordingly. I am successful with that strategy. Indeed, millions of people have been successful with that strategy with millions of examples of objects y and properties z. Thus, generalization is a widespread rational standard.”

    Though you may think so, you are not really being very precise here. I assume you mean that, using your subjective impressions about fire and heat, you successfully coped with your environment and avoided getting burned. A strategy for coping, however, is not the same thing as a rational standard for determining if and why it is worthwhile to cope.

    This brings us back to my original point about our knowledge about objective reality:

    StephenB: “To argue that we cannot apprehend the objective differences in gender or the facts of reproduction is to embrace irrationality.”

    —”No. You are both misunderstanding/misinterpreting my position and drawing invalid inferences. See below.”

    Do you accept the fact that we can apprehend the objective reality of gender or don’t you? Do you accept the fact that we can apprehend the objective reality of reproduction or don’t you? Or, are you taking the position that, even though our subjective perceptions suggest that people reproduce, we cannot really know as an objective fact that they do?

  69. Clive:

    “Now the living can ask the question and get an answer as to why living is good. An answer I have yet to get.”

    Yes. And after all that we have discussed it should be clear that the only question that is relevant to the perception of morality is not “why is life good”, but “why do we (as in: we, the living) perceive life as good”. And I sincerely hope that you have understood that by now, and have understood my answer to it.

    “So your answer is that there is nothing wrong with death, and nothing right about death, and nothing wrong with life, and nothing right about life”

    Thank goodness – you finally got it! That is basically my position on life and death per se, until I can actually compare the two directly by having experienced them both, or talk to someone who can. Until such a time, the only relevant piece of the puzzle is that we, the living, perceive life as good!

  70. StephenB:

    “What is good about being able to ask questions or answer them?”

    If you would have read for context, you would have dicovered that this was not about asking questions being good, but about asking questions being possible.

  71. StephenB:

    “A strategy for coping, however, is not the same thing as a rational standard for determining if and why it is worthwhile to cope.”

    No. It isn’t required to be. You asked for a rational standard. I gave you a rational standard for a specific coping strategy. A rational standard for if and why it is worthwhile to cope in this context would be to determine the likelihood of encountering object x and the costs and benefits of coping versus not coping, derived in an analogous way as described for the first standard.

    “even though our subjective perceptions suggest that people reproduce, we cannot really know as an objective fact that they do?”

    Correct. The conclusion that people reproduce is the most useful one in navigating the objective reality (i.e. acting as though it was the objective reality produces successful outcomes), and is therefore probably pretty close (at least close enough to produce these successful outcomes) to objective reality. Which is why most humans accept and use, and act according to this conclusion every day. Myself included.

  72. molch,

    Until such a time, the only relevant piece of the puzzle is that we, the living, perceive life as good!

    But why do we?

  73. My summary of molch.s position [“even though our subjective perceptions suggest that people reproduce, we cannot really know as an objective fact that they do?”]

    Correct. The conclusion that people reproduce is the most useful one in navigating the objective reality (i.e. acting as though it was the objective reality produces successful outcomes), and is therefore probably pretty close (at least close enough to produce these successful outcomes) to objective reality. Which is why most humans accept and use, and act according to this conclusion every day. Myself included.”

    I think that statement speaks for itself. In your judgment, we cannot know if human’s reproduce, or if they breathe, or if they die.

  74. —molch: “If you would have read for context, you would have dicovered that this was not about asking questions being good, but about asking questions being possible.”

    Apparently, you cannot even follow your own argument. The following was your summary of a conversation with Clive:

    –Clive: “Why do we perceive living as good?

    –Molch: “Because if we didn’t, we wouldn’t be alive.”

    —Clive: “So what?”

    —molch”In my experience, people who aren’t alive can’t ask questions, or answer them. So, a prerequistite for you having this discussion with me seems to be that we are both alive. IOW, this discussion is only relevant to the living.”

    So, the question about the good is still on the table, except for the fact that you attempted to change the subject.

    So, you see, it is you who cannot read for context.

  75. –Clive: “So your answer is that there is nothing wrong with death, and nothing right about death, and nothing wrong with life, and nothing right about life”

    –molch: “Thank goodness – you finally got it! That is basically my position on life and death per se, until I can actually compare the two directly by having experienced them both, or talk to someone who can. Until such a time, the only relevant piece of the puzzle is that we, the living, perceive life as good!”

    And around the maypole we Go.

    —Clive: “Why do we perceive life as good?”

    —molch: ” Molch: “Because being alive is a prerequisite for having discussions.”

    —StephenB “What is good about being able to ask questions.”

    —molch: “Please read for context.” “I wasn’t speaking about what is good.”

    —StephenB: “Please follow your own argument. The question of why we perceive life as good is still on the table and your comment about being able to ask questions is your latest installment.”

    —Clive: What is wrong with death?”

    —molch: Life is neither right or wrong [good or bad].” In fact, nothing is good or bad.—except that we perceive living as good.”

    —StephenB: Why do we perceive living as good?

    —molch: “Because being alive is a prerequisite for having conversations.”

    —StephenB: “Why do we perceive it as good to carry on conversations?”

    —molch: “Please read for context.”

    —StephenB: “I did read for context. Please follow your own argument.”

    Welcome to the wacky world of Darwinism.

  76. StephenB,

    Thanks for summarizing.

  77. Hi Molch,

    It is an objective fact that something exists?

    Vivid

  78. Clive:

    Molch: “Until such a time, the only relevant piece of the puzzle is that we, the living, perceive life as good!”

    Clive: “But why do we?”

    We’ve been over this. Please read 45 and 47 for the answer.

  79. StephenB:

    -Molch: “The conclusion that people reproduce is the most useful one in navigating the objective reality (i.e. acting as though it was the objective reality produces successful outcomes), and is therefore probably pretty close (at least close enough to produce these successful outcomes) to objective reality. Which is why most humans accept and use, and act according to this conclusion every day. Myself included.”

    -StephenB: “I think that statement speaks for itself.”

    You seem to think that there is something wrong with that statement?

    -Clive: “Why do we perceive living as good?

    –Molch: “Because if we didn’t, we wouldn’t be alive.”

    —Clive: “So what?”

    —molch: ”In my experience, people who aren’t alive can’t ask questions, or answer them. So, a prerequistite for you having this discussion with me seems to be that we are both alive. IOW, this discussion is only relevant to the living.”

    -StephenB: “So, the question about the good is still on the table, except for the fact that you attempted to change the subject.”

    No. I was obviously explaining why being alive was a prerequisite for asking questions. Not why asking questions is good or not. If or why asking questions might be good or not is irrelevant to the observation that we are currently engaging in it and that there are observed prerequisites for this to occur.

    —molch: ” In fact, nothing is good or bad.—except that we perceive living as good.”

    Please read the my previous comments on this thread to recognize your gross misrepresentation of my position here.

    —StephenB: Why do we perceive living as good?

    —molch: “Because being alive is a prerequisite for having conversations.”

    No. That was not my answer to Clive’s question (you never asked the question). See above my answer to Clive for the answer to this question.

    -StephenB: “Welcome to the wacky world of Darwinism.”

    Welcome to the whacky world of misquotations and misrepresentations.

  80. Hi Vivid,

    “It is an objective fact that something exists?”

    Yes. I exist. The way I have learned to use the word “exist” means that existence is a prerequisite for perception. I perceive, thus I exist.
    (Mind you, although solipism cannot be disproven, I find it a pretty useless philosophy in its strong form, so I also operate under the assumption that lots of other stuff that I perceive to interact with actually does exist, including you).

  81. Let’s just summarize my position in this discussion, so as to re-introduce some clarity and remove unhelpful and irrelevant tangents:

    Most present day humans (as in: those individuals that are alive) appear to follow a simple moral rule: reciprocity. Why is that? We can observe that in social species, those individuals that engage in reciprocity (i.e. I do to you what I want you to do to me) have fitness advantages. We also observe that those individuals that strive for fitness advantages are more likely to obtain them. We also observe that those individuals that perceive a fitness advantage as something to strive for (i.e. as something “good”) are more likely to actually strive for it. That means, perceiving reciprocity as good, and using it as a rule, confers fitness advantages in social species. Being alive is also a fitness advantage. Perceiving being alive as good therefore confers fitness advantages. The fittest individuals are the ones that survive and leave offspring. The ones that didn’t survive and leave offspring are extinct today. We inherited fitness-relevant traits from our ancestors, like perceiving things like reciprocity and being alive as good, and acting accordingly. That’s why most presently living human beings generally enjoy being alive and follow the rule of reciprocity.

    I hope that everybody can now clearly understand that the question of “why is living good”, or “why is asking questions good”, or even the question “is living good” is completely irrelevant to the question of the origin of moral rules.

  82. molch,

    Most present day humans (as in: those individuals that are alive) appear to follow a simple moral rule: reciprocity. Why is that? We can observe that in social species, those individuals that engage in reciprocity (i.e. I do to you what I want you to do to me) have fitness advantages. We also observe that those individuals that strive for fitness advantages are more likely to obtain them. We also observe that those individuals that perceive a fitness advantage as something to strive for (i.e. as something “good”) are more likely to actually strive for it. That means, perceiving reciprocity as good, and using it as a rule, confers fitness advantages in social species. Being alive is also a fitness advantage. Perceiving being alive as good therefore confers fitness advantages. The fittest individuals are the ones that survive and leave offspring. The ones that didn’t survive and leave offspring are extinct today. We inherited fitness-relevant traits from our ancestors, like perceiving things like reciprocity and being alive as good, and acting accordingly. That’s why most presently living human beings generally enjoy being alive and follow the rule of reciprocity.

    The entire paragraph relies on what is good to begin with. It is good that there should be fitness, life, reciprocity of good things, etc., it doesn’t produce it nor is it justified except on the grounds of recognizing good to begin with. Things that are strove for are strove for because they are good already, not because striving makes them good by virtue of striving.

  83. molch,

    We’ve been over this. Please read 45 and 47 for the answer.

    I’ve read them, they take good for granted, they don’t explain it.

  84. —molch: “We’ve been over this. Please read 45 and 47 for the answer.”

    Let me make this very simple.

    We already know your first argument:
    We perceive life as good, THEREFORE, we survive.

    We are asking for the argument that needs to precede it

    [x] is the case, THEREFORE, we perceive life as good.

  85. Molch RE 80 “Yes. I exist.” Does this mean that you accept that existence is an objective fact? Thanks

    Vivid

  86. —molch: “The conclusion that people reproduce is the most useful one in navigating the objective reality (i.e. acting as though it was the objective reality produces successful outcomes), and is therefore probably pretty close (at least close enough to produce these successful outcomes) to objective reality. Which is why most humans accept and use, and act according to this conclusion every day. Myself included.”

    —”You seem to think that there is something wrong with that statement?”

    Well, of course there is something wrong with it. Human reproduction is obviously an objective fact. It isn’t just our perception that people reproduce, they really do reproduce. It isn’t just a “useful” conclusion. It is a fact.

    Further, you are on record as stating that we cannot apprehend objective reality. Now you assert that your formulation is likely very “close” to objective reality, a claim that presupposes knowledge about the very same objective reality that you previously characterized as unknowable.

    Why don’t you stop this nonsense and ask us for some good reading material?

  87. —molch: “I perceive, thus I exist.”

    Unfortunately, I know thatyou are serious about this. You are so thoroughly immersed irrational subjectivism that you actually believe your perceptions are responsible for your existence. On the contrary, in order to perceive, you must exist and continue to exist even when you are not perceiving. The rational formulation is this: I exist, therefore I perceive.

    So, I have to ask. Did the Darwinism produce the subjectivism, or did the subjectivism produce the Darwinism, or did wishful thinking produced a composite of the two?

  88. Pardon the intrusion, but since existence is a necessary condition for perception, “I perceive, thus I exist” is correct. “I exist, therefore I perceive” is incorrect, since perception doesn’t necessarily follow from existence.

  89. –Robb: “Pardon the intrusion, but since existence is a necessary condition for perception, “I perceive, thus I exist” is correct. “I exist, therefore I perceive” is incorrect, since perception doesn’t necessarily follow from existence.”

    molch’s position is that we cannot know anything about objective reality. Thus, she cannot mean what you mean when she says, “I perceive, thus I exist.” In other words, she does not concede, as you pointed out, that “existence is a necessary condition for perception.” If she did, she would be acknowledging that we can, indeed, know something about objective reality.

    What she means is that her perception allows her to “assume” that she and others exist, which is consistent with her view that we cannot know it as an objective fact. Thus, she cointinues to give perception logical precedence over existence. Indeed, for her, human reproduction is not an objective fact but is rather a “useful” conclusion that helps us to navigate.

    —”“I exist, therefore I perceive” is incorrect, since perception doesn’t necessarily follow from existence.”

    It depends on whether you are referring to the epistemological dynamic or the metaphysical reality.

    It is, indeed, correct to say, “Because I perceive, I can deduce that I also exist.”

    On the other hand, it is incorrect to say, “Because I perceive, I exist.”

    The reverse is true: Because I exist, I can perceive.

    In that context, it is correct to say, “I exist, therefore I perceive.”

    Actually, Descartes played this trick centuries ago, beginning with his famous statement, “I think, therefore I am.” He was speaking in epistemological/methodological terms. It wasn’t long before incompetent philosophers, including Descartes himself, successfully managed to convert, “Because I think, I can deduce that I am” into “Because I think, I am.”

    We are talking about old errors with new labels.

  90. StephenB:

    In other words, she does not concede, as you pointed out, that “existence is a necessary condition for perception.”

    Actually, she explicitly says so immediately prior to the statement that you’re disputing: “The way I have learned to use the word ‘exist’ means that existence is a prerequisite for perception. I perceive, thus I exist.”

    The reverse is true: Because I exist, I can perceive.

    That’s ambiguous, while your prior formulation, “I exist, therefore I perceive”, is unequivocal as logicians use the term “therefore”. You’re apparently using the term in a different way.

    It wasn’t long before incompetent philosophers, including Descartes himself, successfully managed to convert, “Because I think, I can deduce that I am” into “Because I think, I am.”

    Indeed, given the sentence prior to molch’s disputed statement, it seems that you’re committing this very fallacy.

  91. —Robb: “Actually, she explicitly says so immediately prior to the statement that you’re disputing: “The way I have learned to use the word ‘exist’ means that existence is a prerequisite for perception. I perceive, thus I exist.”

    I disagree. The words, “the way I have learned to use the word, ‘exist,” do not, in my judgment, constitute an unambiguous statement that she can know anything about objective reality. That is, after all, the context of this entire discussion. However, if molch has changed her position and now acknowledges that we can know at least one objective fact, more power to her.

    —indeed, given the sentence prior to molch’s disputed statement, it seems that you’re committing this very fallacy.”

    Since I went to the trouble of articulating the difference between the two forms, you can safely assume that I understand the differences that I alluded to.

    As I pointed out earlier, there is a difference between reasoning [a] from the fact of perception BACK to its necessary condition, as in, “I perceive, therefore I must exist,” and [b] reasoning FORWARD from the necessary condition of existence to the fact the one perceives, as in, “I exist, therefore I can perceive.”

    Perhaps our discussion would be more fruitful if you would articulate your own position on the matter. Do you agree that we can know something about objective reality? More precisely, do you agree with me that we can know as an objective fact that humans reproduce? Molch disagrees. What say you?

  92. “The entire paragraph relies on what is good to begin with.”

    No, it doesn’t. And if you still can’t understand that, I’ll leave it be here, because to go on further is obviously not fruitful.

    “It is good that there should be fitness, life, reciprocity of good things”

    You keep failing to understand that it all start with the observation of life, and what the properties of those living things are. If life per se is good or bad is completely irrelevant, it is simply observed to occur and to have certain properties. This discussion was concerned with trying to explain these observed properties.

  93. StephenB:

    “Well, of course there is something wrong with it. Human reproduction is obviously an objective fact. It isn’t just our perception that people reproduce, they really do reproduce. It isn’t just a “useful” conclusion. It is a fact.”

    Well, maybe then you could know that my statement is wrong, i.e. how you would distinguish the outcome of my assumption and your assumption.

    “Further, you are on record as stating that we cannot apprehend objective reality. Now you assert that your formulation is likely very “close” to objective reality, a claim that presupposes knowledge about the very same objective reality that you previously characterized as unknowable.”

    No. Please demonstrate how my claim presupposes knowledge about the objective reality.

  94. Sorry, editing salad, correction for above:

    “Maybe then you could point out how you would know that my statement is wrong,…”

  95. R0bb & StephenB:

    R0bb – Thanks for helping to clarify my position in 80 – you completely understand what I was saying;

    I perceive. I have learned that existence is a necessary prerequisite for perception. Therefore I must exist. I said so in 80.
    To clarify further: Myself and all my inner states are completely knowable to me. In that sense, we can regard them as “objective facts”, although the use of the word objective seems somewhat strange in this context, since I am the only person this knowledge is accessible to.
    Also, this is not at all at odds with my position that we cannot have the same level of knowledge about external reality. And if Stephen cares to read back to where this discussion stared, that EXTERNAL reality is explicitly the one under discussion.

  96. —molch: “Well, maybe then you could know that my statement is wrong, i.e. how you would distinguish the outcome of my assumption and your assumption.”

    I know as an objective fact that humans reproduce. By your own admission, you do not.

    –”Please demonstrate how my claim presupposes knowledge about the objective reality.”

    Do I really need to explain this? If, as you claim, we cannot know anything about objective reality, then we cannot know if something has come close to that which we know nothing about.

    —“I perceive. I have learned that existence is a necessary prerequisite for perception. Therefore I must exist. I said so in 80.”

    Well, then, you are finally acknowledging that you can know something about objective reality and you have been wasting everyone’s time by advancing the reverse argument.

    —To clarify further: Myself and all my inner states are completely knowable to me. In that sense, we can regard them as “objective facts”, although the use of the word objective seems somewhat strange in this context, since I am the only person this knowledge is accessible to.”

    You are confusing yourself again. Subject = the knower—Object = the thing known.

  97. —molch: “Also, this is not at all at odds with my position that we cannot have the same level of knowledge about external reality. And if Stephen cares to read back to where this discussion stared, that EXTERNAL reality is explicitly the one under discussion.”

    You are, once again, changing your position in a futile attempt to avoid refutation. All along you have been arguing that we have NO knowledge of objective reality. Now you are speaking about our “level of knowledge” about external reality.

  98. StephenB:

    “If, as you claim, we cannot know anything about objective reality, then we cannot know if something has come close to that which we know nothing about.”

    You are, again, distorting my actual statements. I never said that we know that something has come close to reality. I said something is “probably close to reality”. This is an inference from our repeated observation that things that we perceive as similar give us similar outcomes if we treat them the same. I simply use the rule of generalization that if x reacts similar to y, x probably IS similar to y, and will henceforth be treated as such.

    “I know as an objective fact that humans reproduce. By your own admission, you do not.”

    That is not an answer to my question how you could distinguish between the outcomes of your assumption and of mine, i.e., how you would show that your assumption is correct and mine is not.

    “You are confusing yourself again. Subject = the knower—Object = the thing known.”

    No. I am not confused in the least about the meaning of Subject and Object. But maybe you are confused about the philosophical meaning of subjective = relating to or of the nature of an object as it is known in the mind; and objective = intent upon or dealing with things external to the mind;

    “You are, once again, changing your position in a futile attempt to avoid refutation.”

    No. If you would actually read what I wrote, you would see that I haven’t changed my position at all.

    “you are speaking about our “level of knowledge” about external reality.”

    Yes. And from the context you should know that what I am speaking of here, is that the level of knowledge that is accessible to us about external reality is the inference from the usefulness of the indices conveyed by our perceptions in navigating that reality.

    You seem utterly convinced that all that you perceive is the objective reality? Is that indeed your position?

  99. molch,

    Because perceiving living as good helps us survive and produce fit offspring. Just like perceiving eating as good helps us survive and produce fit offspring.

    I believe unfit offspring are good. Am I wrong by your criterion of making fit offspring you’re singular mantra about what good is? I have frankly found your discussion incoherent.

  100. 100

    molch,

    And from the context you should know that what I am speaking of here, is that the level of knowledge that is accessible to us about external reality is the inference from the usefulness of the indices conveyed by our perceptions in navigating that reality.

    You’re making an inference from usefulness to knowledge where it does not follow. Not all knowledge is useful by any means, especially not the way you mean it about only being useful to “navigate reality” by repeated observations and claiming that as knowledge by being useful. You have to presuppose knowledge and inference prior to the claim that anything should be useful. Indeed you need an entire philosophy before you even get started with “usefulness means knowledge”. You need to determine what “useful” means before you can use it. You need the moral assumption that it “should” be strove for. You need the added assumption that however useful “indices” are they “should” be followed because they are useful, which itself hinges on the assumption that life is worth preserving because it is good in and of itself, especially your own life. It doesn’t seem to me that you really unpack your assumptions and philosophical presuppositions in these discussions.

  101. —molch: “You are, again, distorting my actual statements. I never said that we know that something has come close to reality. I said something is “probably close to reality”.

    No. You are just not following your own argument. In order to know that something is “probably” close to reality one must still know something about reality. How could it be otherwise?

    —”No. I am not confused in the least about the meaning of Subject and Object. But maybe you are confused about the philosophical meaning of subjective = relating to or of the nature of an object as it is known in the mind; and objective = intent upon or dealing with things external to the mind;”

    Objective reality is simply how things are, as opposed to how we may happen to perceive them, which is subjective reality. It is, for example, an objective fact that music is related to mathematics, and that some forms of music are more intricate than others. It is a subjective reality, however, that some listeners are better equipped to appreciate that music than others. The subjective experience of the listeners will vary with their respective levels of sophistication. All of them know something about the objective reality of the music, but not all know to the same extent.

    –”Yes. And from the context you should know that what I am speaking of here, is that the level of knowledge that is accessible to us about external reality is the inference from the usefulness of the indices conveyed by our perceptions in navigating that reality.”

    Where do you get this nonsense? Since I have been bearing with you for this long, I think I have a right to know. Just give me the name of the person or school of thought that provided you with that world view.

    –”You seem utterly convinced that all that you perceive is the objective reality? Is that indeed your position?”

    Of course not. To perceive is not to know. To be sure, we come to know the particulars of things through our senses, but our intellect abstracts a universal reality from the experience. Thus, when I meet a new person, I perceive through my senses the particulars, that is, those physical traits that are unique to him/her alone, such as height, weight, hair color, shape, etc. With my intellect, I abstract the universal humanity of the person. Thus, I know, as a matter of objective reality, that I am talking to a person and not a monkey. To know is to apprehend the universal. If universals didn’t exist, there would be no knowledge, only perception.

    There is also a common-sense approach to the problem of knowing.
    I don’t just perceive that humans reproduce, I know it. You claim that we cannot know anything about objective reality, which means you are claiming, by extension, that we cannot know as an objective fact that humans reproduce. Obviously, that is a ridiculous position to hold.

    And please don’t tell me again that I am misrepresenting your position. I am simply extracting the substance from your convoluted descriptions, reducing it to its simplest essence, and reframing it in the language of rationality.

  102. “I know as an objective fact that humans reproduce. By your own admission, you do not.”

    Molch my friend this is crazy.Is it an objective fact that the population of the world has inceased over the 500 years? Where did all these people come from, where did you come from if reproduction is not an objective fact? The stork?

    Vivid

  103. Clive:
    “I believe unfit offspring are good. Am I wrong by your criterion of making fit offspring you’re singular mantra about what good is?”

    I have no idea if you are right or wrong. There is no context to this that would give right or wrong any meaning here. If you actually believe that unfit offspring are good, and act according to that belief, you are not very likely to be well represented in the future human gene pool. And no, the fact that you will or will not is neither good nor bad; it is NOT necessary to be either good or bad – it is simply an observed occurrence.

    “Not all knowledge is useful by any means”

    Examples please.

    “You have to presuppose knowledge and inference prior to the claim that anything should be useful.”

    No. read my 62.

    “Indeed you need an entire philosophy before you even get started with “usefulness means knowledge”.”

    That may or may not be true – either way it does not entail that “having a philosophy” requires “presupposed knowledge”.

    “You need the moral assumption that it “should” be strove for. You need the added assumption that however useful “indices” are they “should” be followed because they are useful, which itself hinges on the assumption that life is worth preserving because it is good in and of itself, especially your own life.”

    No. I’ll repost my position again, and ask you, again, to kindly point out EXACTLY WHERE the assumption is needed that “life is good in and of itself”:

    Most present day humans (as in: those individuals that are alive) appear to follow a simple moral rule: reciprocity. Why is that? We can observe that in social species, those individuals that engage in reciprocity (i.e. I do to you what I want you to do to me) have fitness advantages. We also observe that those individuals that strive for fitness advantages are more likely to obtain them. We also observe that those individuals that perceive a fitness advantage as something to strive for (i.e. as something “good”) are more likely to actually strive for it. That means, perceiving reciprocity as good, and using it as a rule, confers fitness advantages in social species. Being alive is also a fitness advantage. Perceiving being alive as good therefore confers fitness advantages. The fittest individuals are the ones that survive and leave offspring. The ones that didn’t survive and leave offspring are extinct today. We inherited fitness-relevant traits from our ancestors, like perceiving things like reciprocity and being alive as good, and acting accordingly. That’s why most presently living human beings generally enjoy being alive and follow the rule of reciprocity.

  104. StephenB:

    “In order to know that something is “probably” close to reality one must still know something about reality.”

    Well, there you go again. I don’t KNOW that something is close to reality. I infer it.

    “Objective reality is simply how things are, as opposed to how we may happen to perceive them, which is subjective reality.”

    And:

    “To perceive is not to know. To be sure, we come to know the particulars of things through our senses, but our intellect abstracts a universal reality from the experience.”

    1) So we agree that perception is necessarily subjective. Different people/beings have different perceptions. Now, if our intellect needs to use that subjective perception to abstract from, how could that which results from the abstraction possibly be not subjective? You seem to be claiming that different beings that start with different perceptions somehow arrive at the identical abstraction, and that this abstraction IS objective reality?
    When a person perceives the land he can see and travel as flat, and his intellect abstracts that the world he lives on is flat, is that the objective reality?
    Or, when a person perceives daffodils as being yellow, and his intellect abstracts that daffodils are reflecting light in the narrow spectrum between 550 and 600 nm, is that the objective reality?
    Or, when a person perceives a rock with no holes as a solid object, and his intellect abstracts that rocks without holes are objects with no empty spaces throughout, is that the objective reality?

    2) What you seem to be talking about when you say “universal reality” is the observed usefulness of generalization. Correct? If not, please specify what you mean by “universal”.

    “You claim that we cannot know anything about objective reality, which means you are claiming, by extension, that we cannot know as an objective fact that humans reproduce. Obviously, that is a ridiculous position to hold.”

    And you have yet to show why this position is ridiculous, by which you probably mean: demonstrably false.

  105. Vivid:

    “Where did all these people come from, where did you come from if reproduction is not an objective fact? The stork?”

    You seem to misunderstand my position. I don’t assume the people I observe populating the world came about by anything other than something very close to what we currently understand as reproduction. There is an infinity of scenarios, that are also compatible with the current evidence, which are different from the currently inferred mechanisms that are summarized as reproduction. But I assume that reproduction is a process that happens in the objective reality in a manner close to the way we perceive it, because I don’t have any evidence that suggests otherwise. But that is very different from KNOWING that it indeed IS objective reality. See my earlier statement:

    The conclusion that people reproduce is the most useful one in navigating the objective reality (i.e. acting as though it was the objective reality produces successful outcomes), and is therefore probably pretty close (at least close enough to produce these successful outcomes) to objective reality. Which is why most humans accept and use, and act according to this conclusion every day. Myself included.

  106. 106

    molch,

    If you actually believe that unfit offspring are good, and act according to that belief, you are not very likely to be well represented in the future human gene pool.

    I think the only human gene pool that would disagree with me would be eugenists, like the Nazis, Spartans, and savage tribes. Actual functional civilizations agree with me and do not discard their “unfit” babies. They work with them and try to heal them and love them unconditionally regardless of their “fitness.” The future human gene pool is not going to return to savagery with their children, if they do, the rest of humanity will step in and correct their barbarism. \

    “Not all knowledge is useful by any means”

    Examples please.

    Unlawful carnal knowledge, the legal definition of rape. The knowledge pedophiles have of pedophilia. The knowledge of the ability to steal and swindle. All morally evil knowledge does not become useful by virtue of being knowledge. This should be obvious.

    “You have to presuppose knowledge and inference prior to the claim that anything should be useful.”

    No. read my 62.

    I read it. Read my previous comment in response.

    Most present day humans (as in: those individuals that are alive) appear to follow a simple moral rule: reciprocity. Why is that? We can observe that in social species, those individuals that engage in reciprocity (i.e. I do to you what I want you to do to me) have fitness advantages.

    This is simply false. There are plenty of cases of assisted suicide done under the guise of “I would do this for you too if you needed it,” or in other words, “reciprocity,” which by definition do not confer a fitness advantage. And reciprocity itself presupposes what should or shouldn’t be reciprocated. We do not follow this rule as if it were void of moral considerations. All prisoners would rather not be locked up, and would love to offer the warden freedom in return for their own freedom. But the warden already has freedom. Life is not balanced as you seem to think in matters of reciprocity. Those who have “fitness advantages” whatever that means, may have it by doing a disservice and stepping on everyone their entire lives, as we see with certain corporate tyrants. Life has much more complicated and intricate multiplicity than your weird caricature of reciprocity, and fitness as an extension, of life implies. Besides, do as you would be done by does not mean reciprocity. Reciprocity means that there is a duty to do to others as they have done to you, as long as what they did was morally right, and the impetus of that duty can only be as strong as the moral desire within the recipient to return the kind act. This is true regardless of whether it confers a fitness advantage. Friendships have no fitness advantage where there is no fitness and no advantage to be gotten as as result. Because let’s be clear, fitness advantage means physical fitness, and advantage means an advantage over others, which has no basis in friendship or even family relations or business matters or general civility. You cannot get more physically fit by doing a nice turn to your friend, and you can only get a physically fit advantage over others by working out and eating healthy and so on. It doesn’t matter how fit someone is if what they want to do to others and have others do to them is morally wrong. Prisons are filled with them, and they aren’t reproducing in jail.

    That means, perceiving reciprocity as good, and using it as a rule, confers fitness advantages in social species.

    Reciprocity in and of itself is not good or bad, it depends on the content of the act, not the mere fact of returning it. Simply by returning an act that is morbid will be morbid, it doesn’t become good by just returning an act.

  107. —-molch: “Well, there you go again. I don’t KNOW that something is close to reality. I infer it.”

    In order to infer that something is close to reality, you would have to know what reality is. Or, to express the reciprocal of the idea, if you don’t know what reality is, then you would have no rational standard for saying that anything that you perceive is close to it. We cannot say that [a] is almost like [b] if we don’t know what [b] is.

    —“What you seem to be talking about when you say “universal reality” is the observed usefulness of generalization. Correct? If not, please specify what you mean by “universal”.”

    “Observed usefulness” is irrelevant as an epistemological concept. We are not discussing a strategy for coping with reality but rather our capacity to know what it is. If we did not have that capacity, we could not distinguish intellectual knowledge from a hallucination. Anytime I use the words, objective or universal, I mean the opposite of their respective counter terms, subjective or particular. Thus, “monkeyness” is the universal form, and the individual monkey you are observing, which is different from any other monkey that ever lived, is the particular. We perceive the particular [this monkey] through our senses, and know [apprehend] the universal form [monkeyness] after abstracting it from sense experience with our intelligence. It is universal because the form is the same for everyone. It is Objective because the reality that the form [image] faithfully represents exists outside the mind. Thus, in epistemological terms, universal means for everyone, not just for you; objective means outside the mind, not inside.

    —“Now, if our intellect needs to use that subjective perception to abstract from, how could that which results from the abstraction possibly be not subjective?”

    The knower is, indeed, subjective, but the thing known is objective. You know that you are observing a monkey, but that doesn’t mean that a real monkey has entered your brain. It means that your mind has presented to you a universal form of “monkeyness,” and that form constitutes objective knowledge about something outside of your existence and experience.

    —You seem to be claiming that different beings that start with different perceptions somehow arrive at the identical abstraction, and that this abstraction IS objective reality?”

    The abstracted intellectual form is NOT the objective reality but is rather a faithful representation of objective reality.

  108. Clive:

    “I think the only human gene pool that would disagree with me would be eugenists, like the Nazis, Spartans, and savage tribes. Actual functional civilizations agree with me and do not discard their “unfit” babies”

    Unfortunately, your use of the term fitness here, which you seem to derive from the use of the term by Nazis and Spartans (and whatever you mean by “savage tribes”), is quite different from the term fitness used in my discussion; which is the term as defined by modern ecological science, which should have been obvious from the context.

    “They work with them and try to heal them and love them unconditionally regardless of their “fitness.””

    That comment of yours makes clear that you obviously don’t understand the ecological concept of fitness. Otherwise you would know that parents nurturing, healing and loving offspring is a component of that offspring’s fitness. In species with extended parental care, like ours, it is indeed one of the most pivotal components. Thus, neglecting your offspring would be one of the most influential acts that you, as a human, could commit if you acted according to your belief that unfit offspring is good, since neglected human offspring is per observation more unfit than nurtured, healed and loved human offspring.

    “Unlawful carnal knowledge, the legal definition of rape. The knowledge pedophiles have of pedophilia. The knowledge of the ability to steal and swindle. All morally evil knowledge does not become useful by virtue of being knowledge.”

    Seems to me that all these kinds of knowledge are quite useful to the users of that knowledge on the sides of for example perpetrators, potential and actual victims, witnesses, preventors and persecutors.

    “I read it. Read my previous comment in response.”

    Uhm, your previous comment (#100) was the one I was criticizing. It does not contain any justification that presupposed knowledge is necessary for the judgement that something is useful. It makes the naked claim. I demonstrate in 62 why that presupposition is unnecessary. If you object, please tell me where exactly you disagree with 62.

    -molch: Most present day humans (as in: those individuals that are alive) appear to follow a simple moral rule: reciprocity. Why is that? We can observe that in social species, those individuals that engage in reciprocity (i.e. I do to you what I want you to do to me) have fitness advantages.

    -Clive: This is simply false. There are plenty of cases of assisted suicide done under the guise of “I would do this for you too if you needed it,” or in other words, “reciprocity,” which by definition do not confer a fitness advantage.

    Please demonstrate how the occurrence of assisted suicide is evidence that reciprocity in general does NOT confer a fitness advantage. You seem to think that I claimed that every single instance of reciprocity confers a fitness advantage. I neither claimed that, nor is that necessary for reciprocity to have an average fitness advantage that leads to increase of this trait in the population. Surely you understand at least THAT MUCH about population ecology.

    “And reciprocity itself presupposes what should or shouldn’t be reciprocated.”

    No. That is so obviously false that I am really surprised you think that. The things that beings reciprocate or don’t reciprocate observably vary dramatically with species, population, culture, environments, etc. etc. etc.

    “Life is not balanced as you seem to think in matters of reciprocity. Those who have “fitness advantages” whatever that means, may have it by doing a disservice and stepping on everyone their entire lives, as we see with certain corporate tyrants.”

    Well, I am glad we agree at least on those grounds. It should have been clear that I do NOT think life is balanced in matters of reciprocity or in matters of anything, really. Remember the beginning of this conversation when I pointed out to kairosfocus that the world is full of examples of his metaphorical lions eating lambs? That reciprocity is something that most children LEARN to use by incentives of reward and punishment? Reciprocity is of course not the only strategy with fitness advantages in social environments. If it were, it would indeed be a fixed, universal trait, and we would never encounter lions. Maybe you want to familiarize yourself with the concepts of game theory, density-dependent selection, and fitness trade-offs to gain some more insight here. But that is really a side point. In this particular discussion, it is not really relevant that reciprocity is not the only fitness relevant strategy and that there are complex trade-offs with competing strategies; it is only relevant that it is A fitness-relevant strategy.

    “Besides, do as you would be done by does not mean reciprocity.”

    Sorry, but that’s exactly what reciprocity means both in philosophy and biology. You are of course free to make up your own definitions of words, but unless you actually justify them, I don’t see any use in discussing them.

    “Because let’s be clear, fitness advantage means physical fitness, and advantage means an advantage over others, which has no basis in friendship or even family relations or business matters or general civility.”

    Again, you obviously fundamentally misunderstand the ecological concept of fitness. I really don’t see much use in continuing this discussion if you don’t even grasp that friendships, family relations, business relations and social relations in general are pivotal fitness components in a social species.

    “Simply by returning an act that is morbid will be morbid, it doesn’t become good by just returning an act.”

    I never said that every particular act returned in reciprocity is good, or needed to be good. What I said, and what matters, is that the rule of reciprocity is good; in this context it is good by virtue of acting as a deterrent, which is here what makes reciprocity work as a social rule. Following the rules of reciprocity, as we have discussed plenty of times earlier, means to recognize that according to reciprocity, I can expect to receive a morbid act (i.e. retaliation/punishment), if I dole one out. That acts as substantial deterrent for lots of people, a lot of the time. And please don’t construe that again into me saying “all the people, all the time”. That’s obviously neither meant here, nor in accordance with the observed evidence, nor necessary. The fitness landscape is much more complex than JUST reciprocity.

  109. 109

    molch,

    Reciprocity: Noun. The state of being reciprocal: mutual dependence, action or influence.
    http://www.merriam-webster.com.....eciprocity

    Matthew 7:12 (New King James Version)

    12 Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

    http://ezinearticles.com/?Do-U.....id=2645760

    They are not the same. Reciprocity depends on moral considerations, and things are not good by virtue of being reciprocated, nor does the mere act of reciprocity confer fitness. For if every act were a bad or harmful act, regardless of whether the recipient wanted the act done to them or not, would be detrimental on the grounds of strict adherence to reciprocity for it’s own sake. The reason people want good things done to them and return the favor is because they recognize morality to begin with, and treat their incoming and outgoing actions in accordance with it. No act becomes good by virtue of being reciprocated. I hope all of this is obvious so far.

    Again, you obviously fundamentally misunderstand the ecological concept of fitness. I really don’t see much use in continuing this discussion if you don’t even grasp that friendships, family relations, business relations and social relations in general are pivotal fitness components in a social species.

    You’re welcome to make up your own definitions of fitness, but it has nothing to do with friendship, family, or social relations, of which the content is either good or bad in such relations, which is a metaphysical moral consideration, not one based on one’s fitness or lack of fitness. If you mean by “fitness” to act moral in social and familial relations, then you’re definition is so far out of touch as to be meaningless.

    Fitness:
    1. The quality or state of being fit.
    2. The capacity of an organism to survive and reproduce.

    None of which have any bearing on friendships, work relations, family relations, etc. One can reproduce, in a moral void, without any care about any of these things.

    Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival.
    C. S. Lewis

    “And reciprocity itself presupposes what should or shouldn’t be reciprocated.”

    No. That is so obviously false that I am really surprised you think that. The things that beings reciprocate or don’t reciprocate observably vary dramatically with species, population, culture, environments, etc. etc. etc.

    No they don’t vary vastly, not among any creatures that we can know about from the inside, namely ourselves. Basic moral platitudes do not change over cultures and times, as I tried to show you here.

    I sincerely wonder about your fixation on fitness and the moral consideration of duty known as reciprocity. Do you think life is about fitness? Do you think morality is derived from reciprocity? By the way, reciprocal altruism is a contradiction in terms. In other words, it is exactly like saying selfish selflessness.

  110. StephenB:

    “if you don’t know what reality is, then you would have no rational standard for saying that anything that you perceive is close to it.”

    Yes, I do. I use the rational standard of generalization (derived from its observed usefulness). I observe A and B. They seem similar to me. I interact with them. The interactions produce similar outcomes. I infer that A and B indeed ARE similar. This pattern can successfully be generalized. I generalize the pattern onto reality: I perceive A, which is an index of B (reality). I interact with B according to the perceived properties of A. The interaction produces successful outcomes. Thus I infer that B is similar to A.

    “We are not discussing a strategy for coping with reality but rather our capacity to know what it is. If we did not have that capacity, we could not distinguish intellectual knowledge from a hallucination.”

    False. A hallucination is not helping us to cope with reality. What you call intellectual knowledge, and I call useful indices of reality, IS helping us cope with reality.

    “We perceive the particular [this monkey] through our senses, and know [apprehend] the universal form [monkeyness] after abstracting it from sense experience with our intelligence.”

    So maybe you could clearly define what constitutes “the universal form of monkeyness” that makes it so “universal” and “objective”.

    “The knower is, indeed, subjective, but the thing known is objective. It means that your mind has presented to you a universal form of “monkeyness,” and that form constitutes objective knowledge about something outside of your existence and experience.”

    That is a complete non-sequitur. The person perceiving is subjective. The perception is subjective. Your mind extracts a generalization of “monkeyness” from the perception of the object (“monkey”) it perceives. And magically, that generalization becomes “objective”? Your mind just suddenly “knows” what “objective monkeyness” is, although the only thing it has to work with is the subjective input of your perception (which includes you perceiving other beings’ subjective perceptions communicated to you one way or the other)?

    “The abstracted intellectual form is NOT the objective reality but is rather a faithful representation of objective reality”

    If you substitute “faithful” with “useful”, I totally agree with that statement.

  111. Clive:

    You cite:

    “The state of being reciprocal: mutual dependence, action or influence.”

    and:

    “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

    And then, inexplicably, you say this:

    “They are not the same.”

    What? [Whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them] is NOT the same as [mutual action] to you? I am at loss???

    Here is the standard philosophical meaning of reciprocity, which basically echos exactly your two quotes:
    Reciprocity (philosophy): The social norm of reciprocity is the expectation that people will respond to each other in similar ways.

    “Reciprocity depends on moral considerations, and things are not good by virtue of being reciprocated, nor does the mere act of reciprocity confer fitness. For if every act were a bad or harmful act, regardless of whether the recipient wanted the act done to them or not, would be detrimental on the grounds of strict adherence to reciprocity for it’s own sake.”

    Uhm, we are not talking about a hypothetical world where every act is a harmful act. Reciprocity would obviously not make sense, and thus probably not exist in such a world. But that is NOT the world we live in, and thus irrelevant to this discussion. We are discussing the world we live in, where lots of acts are beneficial.

    “You’re welcome to make up your own definitions of fitness, but it has nothing to do with friendship, family, or social relations, of which the content is either good or bad in such relations, which is a metaphysical moral consideration, not one based on one’s fitness or lack of fitness. If you mean by “fitness” to act moral in social and familial relations, then you’re definition is so far out of touch as to be meaningless.
    Fitness:
    1. The quality or state of being fit.
    2. The capacity of an organism to survive and reproduce. None of which have any bearing on friendships, work relations, family relations, etc. One can reproduce, in a moral void, without any care about any of these things.”

    Have you ever read anything that any actual scientists in their fields have studied, tested and written about ecology? About fitness? About trade-offs? About sociobiology? About sociology? It seems not. Otherwise that succession of comments in its utter disregard and contradiction of ecological concepts and of biological and sociological data is not explainable.

    “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival.
    C. S. Lewis”

    A scholar in literature and Christian apologetics is your go-to authority for ecological concepts? That may explain a lot.

    -molch: The things that beings reciprocate or don’t reciprocate observably vary dramatically with species, population, culture, environments, etc. etc. etc.

    -Clive: “No they don’t vary vastly, not among any creatures that we can know about from the inside, namely ourselves. Basic moral platitudes do not change over cultures and times”

    The things that are or aren’t reciprocated are not “basic moral platitudes”, they are a large and diverse variety of very specific items and concepts.

    “Do you think life is about fitness?”

    Uhm, yes, in the most basic sense it is obviously about fitness.

    “Do you think morality is derived from reciprocity?”

    Yes. I have lost count in how many versions I have stated that by now.

  112. 112

    molch,

    You cite:

    “The state of being reciprocal: mutual dependence, action or influence.”

    and:

    “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

    And then, inexplicably, you say this:

    “They are not the same.”

    What? [Whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them] is NOT the same as [mutual action] to you? I am at loss???

    That’s right. Matthew didn’t report Jesus’s words that one had to do onto others in reciprocal fashion what others had done, it wouldn’t matter one whit whether anyone was returning an action or a favor, the point is to treat others how you’d like to be treated, regardless of whether they actually treat you that way.

    Have you ever read anything that any actual scientists in their fields have studied, tested and written about ecology? About fitness? About trade-offs? About sociobiology? About sociology? It seems not. Otherwise that succession of comments in its utter disregard and contradiction of ecological concepts and of biological and sociological data is not explainable.

    I have, and find their philosophy, that they athropomorphize onto animals and get wrong about humans, mostly nonsensical; case in point–reciprocal altruism, which is nonsense. Life is not only about ecology, for goodness sakes. I understand that scientists love to take their special field and apply it to life in general and broaden the scope, but it is very ill advised. And frankly, it doesn’t matter what I’ve read, your response is not an argument. You’re welcome to live in that world, the real world will have to be faced eventually.

    “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival.
    C. S. Lewis”

    A scholar in literature and Christian apologetics is your go-to authority for ecological concepts? That may explain a lot.

    Do you consider this an argument? Lewis mentioned this tactic in his essay Bulverism, which you would do well to read.

    -molch: The things that beings reciprocate or don’t reciprocate observably vary dramatically with species, population, culture, environments, etc. etc. etc.

    -Clive: “No they don’t vary vastly, not among any creatures that we can know about from the inside, namely ourselves. Basic moral platitudes do not change over cultures and times”

    The things that are or aren’t reciprocated are not “basic moral platitudes”, they are a large and diverse variety of very specific items and concepts.

    Very specific items and concepts that draw as their sole source of what should or shouldn’t be reciprocated from basic morality, at least in the only case we have inside information and can make such determinations, that is, as humans.

    “Do you think life is about fitness?”

    Uhm, yes, in the most basic sense it is obviously about fitness.

    How is that obvious? You’ll have to define your concept of fitness to me then, because I’m simply at a loss as to how the meaning of life is about fitness.

    The last link I used in my previous comment was of a man who couldn’t get a definition of fitness either. It’s a catch-all apparently; which means all of the purpose of life and the application of morality. But this is not what it really means in practice outside of the bizarre world of shape-shifting evolution and sociobiology.

    “Do you think morality is derived from reciprocity?”

    Yes. I have lost count in how many versions I have stated that by now.

    Reciprocity depends on it. It doesn’t create it. Otherwise there could be no determinations on how one should act in the first place, nor how another should react.

  113. 113

    molch,

    I’ve been following your conversation with Clive with interest. I have a few questions, to clarify better your position:

    Is this concept of “reciprocity” you say undergirds our morality (in line with fitness) a neutral characteristic? In other words, is it independent from any kind of virtue or value? If I’m following you, it must be. You would say it’s a resultant vector from our biology. It reminds me of the libertarian contract, to the extent that any type of mutual contract can be established. That is, behavior can be mutually destructive, with both parties willing participants.

    Do you maintain that with the above concept, we can derive how one should or shouldn’t act? Or do you maintain that no such deduction is possible, and that we just kind of feel our way along while reciprocity/fitness induces in us perceptions of “good” and “bad” or “right” and “wrong”?

    Finally, do you really think this is the way people get through an ordinary day, by mere reciprocation? I fail to see how your moral philosophy is anything but arbitrary, even in the context of biology/ecology/fitness, what have you. Maybe you could give a concrete example. It seems the same old is/ought fallacy rehashed. Just anecdotally, and experientially, people act contrary to this notion not infrequently (for example, forgiving your aggressor without retaliation in a reciprocal fashion). If you’re willing to invoke a “good” response for every “good” action, does this hold true for “bad” actions as well?

    Here’s the crux of the biscuit: for you, there is no right or wrong act, we only perceive them as such because they somehow improve fitness (you’ve been vague with exactly how this works). Restated, normative ethics is illusory. Of course, regardless of whatever utilitarian concept you use to try and approximate ethics with, you run into the unfortunate problem of being unable to say whether we should reciprocate at all. Or why we should recognize such a system as valuable, and not act contrary to it. That is, if you even grant that we should or shouldn’t behave in any manner, for the sole reason that it recognizably influences fitness.

  114. Molch @111, I have concluded that, in your present state, you are incapable of rational thought. I wish you well.

  115. Clive:

    “the point is to treat others how you’d like to be treated”

    And, as I have pointed out many times already, the common adoption of that rule is the direct consequence of the mechanism of reciprocity. According to reciprocity, I can expect to be treated by others the way I want to be treated if I treat them the same way.

    “I have, and find their philosophy, that they athropomorphize onto animals and get wrong about humans, mostly nonsensical;”

    Philosophy? You don’t like what the data says and you call it philosophy? Ecology, sociobiolgy and sociology are sciences. They collect data and analyze it. That data demonstrates that individuals that engage in social interaction x have higher fitness than individuals that don’t. That’s doing science with data. That has nothing at all to do with philosophy.

    “case in point–reciprocal altruism, which is nonsense”

    Definition and conditions for reciprocal altruism:
    In evolutionary biology, reciprocal altruism is a behaviour whereby an organism acts in manner that temporarily reduces its fitness while increasing another organisms fitness, with the expectation that the other organism will act in a similar manner at a later time.
    1) the behaviour must reduce a donor’s fitness relative to a selfish alternative;
    2)the fitness of the recipient must be elevated relative to non-recipients;
    3)the performance of the behaviour must not depend on the receipt of an immediate benefit;
    4)A mechanism for detecting ‘cheaters’ must exist.
    5)A large (indefinite) number of opportunities to exchange aid must exist.

    If that’s nonsense to you, you have a very different concept of nonsense than most people I have ever interacted with.

    “Life is not only about ecology, for goodness sakes.”

    This is not a discussion on the meaning of life, it is a discussion on the origin of moral rules.

    “I understand that scientists love to take their special field and apply it to life in general and broaden the scope, but it is very ill advised.”

    I haven’t broadened any scopes. I have been talking about why we observe certain traits in currently living beings, which is exactly the scope of ecology and evolution.

    “And frankly, it doesn’t matter what I’ve read, your response is not an argument.”

    No. It wasn’t supposed to be. It was pointing out that your response to MY argument was completetly out of line with currently available data, which show that social relationships ARE a fitness relevant factor in social species.

    “You’re welcome to live in that world, the real world will have to be faced eventually.”

    Thanks, I am indeed quite happy in my world, I hope you are happy in yours!

    “Do you consider this an argument?”

    It is an argument obviously insofar that Lewis’ opinion is completely incongruent with the current state of the data, which might not be surprising since he was neither an ecologist nor a sociologist who would have dealt with that kind of data. He is also dead now, and couldn’t even have evaluated the data accumulated since his death, even if he wanted to.

    “Very specific items and concepts that draw as their sole source of what should or shouldn’t be reciprocated from basic morality, at least in the only case we have inside information and can make such determinations, that is, as humans.”

    So, the exchange of gifts between guests and hosts according to the social status and relationships between the participants and their families and associates in Japanese culture is “solely based on basic morality?” And the fact that Europeans don’t engage in such an exchange is also solely based on the same basic morality? Sorry, but that is obviously logically not possible.

    “You’ll have to define your concept of fitness to me then, because I’m simply at a loss as to how the meaning of life is about fitness.”

    I don’t know what you mean by “meaning of life” in this context. But if you look around you will notice that the vast majority of living beings spend the vast majority of life trying to improve their chances of staying alive and producing fit offspring. That’s what fitness means.

    “Reciprocity depends on it. It doesn’t create it. Otherwise there could be no determinations on how one should act in the first place, nor how another should react.”

    You keep repeating versions of this statement without either justifying it, or showing where my position, which I have laid out and justified a number of times now, and which is in direct conflict with yours, is inconsistent.

  116. StephenB:

    “I have concluded that, in your present state, you are incapable of rational thought. I wish you well.”

    I am sorry you have concluded that. It is a strange and sudden conclusion, since none of your arguments have challenged the rationality of my arguments, even where we directly discussed rationality. Well, my arguments speak for themselves. I have enjoyed the exchange and likewise wish you well.

  117. Hi HouseStreetRoom:

    “Is [reciprocity] independent from any kind of virtue or value?”

    I don’t quite understand what you mean here. But I’ll repeat what I mean by reciprocity as the basis for morality, so maybe that will clear it up:
    If behaviour is reciprocrated, i.e. if acts that are beneficial to the recipient are answered with beneficial acts, and acts that are harmful are answered with harmful acts, i.e. retaliation or punishment, a participant will likely deduce that acting in such a way that maximizes benefits and minimizes harm to the individuals he interacts with will result in him receiving lots of benefits and little punishment.

    “Do you maintain that with the above concept, we can derive how one should or shouldn’t act?”

    Yes, of course. The obvious beneficial rule to deduce from the above is: one should do to others as one wants to be done to.

    “Finally, do you really think this is the way people get through an ordinary day, by mere reciprocation?”

    Of course it is: look around! If business person A facilitates a contract for business person B, B will be much more likely to consider A when looking for a future subcontractor. If A babysits for B all the time, B is likely to make time to dogsit for A, or bake a cake, or something like that. If A rapes B, B goes to the police and has A put in jail.

    “I fail to see how your moral philosophy is anything but arbitrary, even in the context of biology/ecology/fitness, what have you. Maybe you could give a concrete example.”

    If A burns B’s house down, A likely faces severe retaliation/punishment for the severe harm A has done to B. Do you find that arbitrary?

  118. HouseStreetRoom continued:

    “there is no right or wrong act, we only perceive them as such because they somehow improve fitness (you’ve been vague with exactly how this works)”

    I think I have provided plenty of examples by now, but let’s reiterate the burnt-down house. I hope it is obvious to you that having his house burnt down reduces B’s fitness [just one exemplary angle: B loses a large amount of resources invested in the house and its contents, and has to allocate resources to replace the losses that would otherwise have been allocated to college tuition (or, more applicable to the majority of the world's human population: to buying food)]. And I hope it is equally obvious that being sent to jail for burning B’s house down also reduces A’s fitness. Thus, it is beneficial for A to perceive burning houses down as wrong, and consequently not do it, because it will keep A out of jail and avoid the substantial fitness-reduction associated with it.

    “you run into the unfortunate problem of being unable to say whether we should reciprocate at all. Or why we should recognize such a system as valuable, and not act contrary to it.”

    No, I don’t run into that problem at all. We engage in this system because, on average, it works!

  119. 119

    molch,

    And, as I have pointed out many times already, the common adoption of that rule is the direct consequence of the mechanism of reciprocity. According to reciprocity, I can expect to be treated by others the way I want to be treated if I treat them the same way.

    You cannot expect it without a shared knowledge of moral duty to each other to begin with, which is not created by the mere act of reciprocity. Reciprocity depends on the feeling of duty towards others and of right conduct as opposed to wrong conduct, all of which would be impossible without a prior knowledge of morality, reciprocity doesn’t create right or wrong conduct, or morality, by being reciprocated. Reciprocity is a reaction, the second thing, in response to a moral or immoral action, the first thing. Otherwise, there could be no sense of moral duty to reciprocate, nor any ability to weigh the moral content of an act and whether it should be reciprocated. The idea of any purpose conveyed to help another at the expense of one’s self is a moral consideration to begin with, it doesn’t become moral by being reciprocated. You may as well say that geometry can create morality by virtue of a circle coming around to its original starting point. An is cannot produce an ought. I get the feeling you’re not reading the links I leave for you. They would really help. If you’re in a moral void, reciprocity has no ability to create morality; but rather it depends on it. Morality has no contingencies. It has no premises, but is rather the premise for all moral considerations. This is the very crux of the Euthyphro Dilemma, does God say that which is good, is good, because he says it, or is it an ultimate goodness that even God must adhere to? Neither God nor goodness are contingent, which makes the dilemma a dilemma. There’s an answer to this dilemma, but let’s be clear, morality is not a conclusion of reciprocity of ecological particulars, it is always the premise by which considerations are made.

    “Reciprocity depends on it. It doesn’t create it. Otherwise there could be no determinations on how one should act in the first place, nor how another should react.”

    You keep repeating versions of this statement without either justifying it, or showing where my position, which I have laid out and justified a number of times now, and which is in direct conflict with yours, is inconsistent.

    Common sense justifies it. Thinking justifies it.

  120. Clive:

    “You cannot expect it without a shared knowledge of moral duty to each other to begin with, which is not created by the mere act of reciprocity”

    Yes, I can. I have shown you exactly how and why, many many times now. The most complete version of my reasoning is in 82. You have so far failed to show where that reasoning fails. And please don’t fall back again on claiming that the reasoning presented therein relies on any premises. The argumentative premise I start off on is an observation. Observations themselves require no premises, they are simply data. In order to show that my premise is false, you have to show that the data are false.

    “morality is not a conclusion of reciprocity of ecological particulars, it is always the premise by which considerations are made.”

    In order to establish this, you have to show exactly where the data I am working with are incorrect or where the chain of reasoning connecting these data fails. So far, you have failed to do so.

    “Common sense justifies it. Thinking justifies it.”

    Sorry, that is obviously not an argument, since my thinking and common sense arrive at different conclusions.

  121. Molch at 117 & 118

    Hello, Molch. This is my first time posting on Uncommon Descent, so I ask that you be patient with me.

    I must say that I’m very curious about your description of morality as a mechanism for ensuring survival.

    You argue, as the basis for human morality and behavior, that reciprocity is the ‘golden rule’, so to speak, but then argue that these actions impart some Darwinian survival advantage. But this sounds to me like two separate criteria for determining human morality. Whether or not a person reciprocates certain behavior will not tell you whether or not such behavior is advantageous in the sense of fitness or survival, and whether or not some action has resulted in increased fitness will not tell you if such an increase was the result of reciprocity.

    In terms of an actual description, you may only arbitrarily link the two (reciprocity and survival) and say that in one particular situation, some form of reciprocity fortuitously resulted in some kind of fitness or survival. You cannot argue, however, that one must necessitate the other, as in beneficial forms of reciprocity necessitate beneficial forms of fitness, or, of course, the alternative.

    Furthermore, assumptions about whether or not reciprocity results in certain fitness advantages will always be an epistemological uncertainty. This fact is generally as old as the book of Job. A man never knows that a good action or a ‘beneficial’ action shall always result in a positive outcome. And if a man can never be certain if his actions shall result in a positive outcome, then how can his unconscious Darwinian impulses? His survival states would have to make assumptions about things they could never be certain of. Hypothetical musings about what activities increase fitness, and what activities do not will always be arbitrary. This is because qualifications of enhanced fitness are always post rationalizations. You assume after the fact that a certain form of reciprocity has resulted in fitness, not that reciprocity, by necessity, must result in fitness. In short, you must only imagine that a certain form of reciprocity results in fitness, but this suffers from the fallacy of cum hoc ergo propter hoc. You have no way of determining whether or not certain forms of reciprocity must result in any form of fitness.

    You argue:

    “If behaviour is reciprocrated, i.e. if acts that are beneficial to the recipient are answered with beneficial acts, and acts that are harmful are answered with harmful acts, i.e. retaliation or punishment, a participant will likely deduce that acting in such a way that maximizes benefits and minimizes harm to the individuals he interacts with will result in him receiving lots of benefits and little punishment.”

    But this line of reasoning ignores “harmful acts” which can result in beneficial outcomes, and beneficial acts which result in harmful outcomes. If a bully causes his victim to overcome his fear of bullies (and perhaps take some Karate lessons), and consequently enhances his fitness, we have not reached the conclusion that bullying is good merely because it resulted in some positive or beneficial outcome. Quite the opposite. We still assume that bullying is bad regardless of whether or not the outcome is positive or negative. According to your criteria, however, bullying would have to be considered ‘good’ or ‘positive’ because it resulted in the enhancement of another individuals fitness/survival. I don’t know about you, but I would be hesitant to live in a society where we place all of our bullies up on thrones and parade them through the city for their selfless dedication toward enhancing the survival traits of nerds.

    In the end, I am fairly confident that you are not mounting an accurate description of the being we refer to as ‘Homo Sapien’. The Homo Sapiens I know are not probability calculators. They do not sit and carefully consider their own likelihood of reciprocating behavior, and they do not, as far as I know, consider the implications of fitness while they do it.

    It is the very fact that people (and very often) act opposite of reciprocity which makes your argument arbitrary.

  122. 122

    Clive:

    “You cannot expect it without a shared knowledge of moral duty to each other to begin with, which is not created by the mere act of reciprocity”

    Yes, I can. I have shown you exactly how and why, many many times now. The most complete version of my reasoning is in 82. You have so far failed to show where that reasoning fails. And please don’t fall back again on claiming that the reasoning presented therein relies on any premises. The argumentative premise I start off on is an observation. Observations themselves require no premises, they are simply data. In order to show that my premise is false, you have to show that the data are false.

    You start with a notion of morality to begin with, not just “data” as if it were only geometrical movements of matter. Otherwise, if you were in a moral vacuum with no notion of morality, all you would have as “data” would be particle movements, physical events, which might have duration of time, speed, velocity, and any manner of physical description, but nothing to do with an “ought” or a “should” or an observation of such. If you observe there metaphysical traits, it’s only because you’re already aware of them, and see things in light of them, the physical movements of “data” do not produce it. It would be like saying moving 5 feet in 2 seconds produces justice by virtue of its duration, distance and speed. Let’s be clear in our thinking.

  123. “If you observe there metaphysical traits”

    I don’t observe “metaphysical traits”. Metaphysical events are, by definition, not observable, otherwise they would be physical. Behavior is not metaphysical. Individual A carrying out act a, and individual B carrying out act b are completely physical events, that are observed, and the regularities among them described.

    “It would be like saying moving 5 feet in 2 seconds produces justice by virtue of its duration, distance and speed”

    It is exactly like saying moving 5 feet in 2 seconds produces superiority by virtue of its comparative duration, distance and speed exceeding all the other observed runners.
    It is saying that answering behavior A with behavior B produces justice by virtue of its comparative fitness value conferred on the participants exceeding all the other observed behaviors.
    “Justice” or “morality” are categorizations we use to describe regularities we perceive among completely non-metaphysical events and behaviors.

  124. Clive:

    “You start with a notion of morality to begin with”

    No, I don’t. I start with this observation:
    We can observe that in social species, those individuals that engage in reciprocity (i.e. I do to you what I want you to do to me) have fitness advantages.

  125. Hi Molch

    “That means, perceiving reciprocity as good, and using it as a rule, confers fitness advantages in social species”

    If I understand what your saying is that everything revolves around fitness advantage.Reciprocity is a fitness advantage. Where the”good” comes from all this escapes me. Fitness is just an “is” ,just as unfitness is an is”. It is nor more “moral” to have a fitness advantage as there is no more “immoral” to have an unfitness advantage.

    Is to be unfit “immoral”?

    Vivid

  126. Hi Fez – welcome to this discussion!

    “Whether or not a person reciprocates certain behavior will not tell you whether or not such behavior is advantageous in the sense of fitness or survival”

    No, of course the observation of one person doing or not doing x doesn’t tell you anything about the fitness effect of behavior x. But many many studies in the fields of ecology, sociobiology and sociology that collected and analyzed data concerning the question [do individuals in social species that engage in reciprocity have higher fitness than individuals that do not] tell you a lot about that fitness effect.

    “whether or not some action has resulted in increased fitness will not tell you if such an increase was the result of reciprocity”

    ? I don’t think I understand what you are saying here? If the action you speak of is a reciprocal act, then I can of course make a reasonable correlational inference from an adequate data set…

    “You cannot argue, however, that one must necessitate the other, as in beneficial forms of reciprocity necessitate beneficial forms of fitness, or, of course, the alternative.”

    You are on the wrong track here. “Beneficial” in the ecological context (which is the context of my argument) already entails “conferring a fitness advantage”.

    “Furthermore, assumptions about whether or not reciprocity results in certain fitness advantages will always be an epistemological uncertainty.”

    Yes. Everything in science is. But that doesn’t render science useless.

    “A man never knows that a good action or a ‘beneficial’ action shall always result in a positive outcome. And if a man can never be certain if his actions shall result in a positive outcome, then how can his unconscious Darwinian impulses? His survival states would have to make assumptions about things they could never be certain of. Hypothetical musings about what activities increase fitness, and what activities do not will always be arbitrary. This is because qualifications of enhanced fitness are always post rationalizations. You assume after the fact that a certain form of reciprocity has resulted in fitness, not that reciprocity, by necessity, must result in fitness. In short, you must only imagine that a certain form of reciprocity results in fitness, but this suffers from the fallacy of cum hoc ergo propter hoc. You have no way of determining whether or not certain forms of reciprocity must result in any form of fitness.”

    In this paragraph you are misunderstanding how fitness and selection work. The behavioral reaction norm of an individual does not have to be some sort of perfect oracle of the fitness outcome of every single separate behavioral response. Selection is the perfect arbiter: those individuals with the reaction norm that confers, averaged over their lifetime, the highest relative fitness will pass on that reaction norm to their heirs, and their heirs will be more frequent in the future population than the heirs of those whose reaction-norm, on average, had a lower relative fitness. Notice the term relative in there. No absolutes like “this behavior works every time in every situation” are necessary. It only has to work better, on average, than the alternatives present in the population. And the individual who performs the behavior does not have to consciously “know” that it will have a fitness advantage every time it behaves according to its inherited reaction norm in order for this to work.

    “But this line of reasoning ignores “harmful acts” which can result in beneficial outcomes, and beneficial acts which result in harmful outcomes.”

    and:

    “It is the very fact that people (and very often) act opposite of reciprocity”

    Yes, and I have mentioned a number of times above that I do indeed, in the context of this discussion, ignore other fitness relevant behavioral strategies, but that presents no problem for my argument that is specific to reciprocity. Please read my 108 for clarification.

    “The Homo Sapiens I know are not probability calculators. They do not sit and carefully consider their own likelihood of reciprocating behavior, and they do not, as far as I know, consider the implications of fitness while they do it.”

    Like I said above: the individual who performs the behavior does not have to consciously “know” that it will have a fitness advantage every time it behaves according to its inherited reaction norm in order for this to work.

  127. Vivid:

    “Where the”good” comes from all this escapes me. Fitness is just an “is” ,just as unfitness is an is”. It is nor more “moral” to have a fitness advantage as there is no more “immoral” to have an unfitness advantage. Is to be unfit “immoral”?”

    come now, vivid, I thought you were a more careful reader than that – where the “good” comes from is deduced clearly in the full statement below:

    Most present day humans (as in: those individuals that are alive) appear to follow a simple moral rule (i.e. a rule that distinguishes “good” things from “bad” things): reciprocity. Why is that? We can observe that in social species, those individuals that engage in reciprocity (i.e. I do to you what I want you to do to me = things that increase fitness) have fitness advantages. We also observe that those individuals that strive for fitness advantages are more likely to obtain them. We also observe that those individuals that perceive a fitness advantage as something to strive for (i.e. as something “good”) are more likely to actually strive for it. That means, perceiving reciprocity as good, and using it as a rule, confers fitness advantages in social species. Being alive is also a fitness advantage. Perceiving being alive as good therefore confers fitness advantages. The fittest individuals are the ones that survive and leave offspring. The ones that didn’t survive and leave offspring are extinct today. We inherited fitness-relevant traits from our ancestors, like perceiving things like reciprocity and being alive as good, and acting accordingly. That’s why most presently living human beings generally enjoy being alive and follow the rule of reciprocity.

  128. 128

    molch,

    It is exactly like saying moving 5 feet in 2 seconds produces superiority by virtue of its comparative duration, distance and speed exceeding all the other observed runners.
    It is saying that answering behavior A with behavior B produces justice by virtue of its comparative fitness value conferred on the participants exceeding all the other observed behaviors.

    This is only possible if you already have a standard of comparison that you bring to the value of the actions, and therefore not derivable from them. You take for granted that fitness should be promoted, but this is a moral standard by which you compare all actions, but is itself not derivable from moving 5 feet in 2 seconds, nor would the opposite be true, that death should be promoted by moving 6 feet in two seconds. That’s my point, is does not produce ought, and justice and all other moral considerations are oughts, which can never be gained by any amount of comparative actions. It is a knowledge by which we judge actions, the actions do not produce the standard, they are judged by the standard.

  129. 129

    molch,

    We can observe that in social species, those individuals that engage in reciprocity (i.e. I do to you what I want you to do to me) have fitness advantages.

    Again, you’re making an inference from fitness to the conclusion that things should be fit, and that anything that should be strove for should be promoted. You’re making an inference from a physical condition to a metaphysical claim. And secondly, reciprocity is harmful and is contrary to fitness in many cases, as with alcoholics and drug abusers who share their vice with each other. There was a story in Germany of a man wanting to be eaten and a man wanting to eat him. It was perfectly consensual. They were reciprocating each others wishes. It is impossible that fitness advantage was mutual given that one man was dead and the other put in prison. Reciprocity, without moral considerations, is dead in the water.

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