Home » Intelligent Design » So Two Atheists Are Playing Cards And One Says to the Other . . .

So Two Atheists Are Playing Cards And One Says to the Other . . .

Watching atheists debate moral issues is fascinating.  Like a man wading a river with water up to his nose and saying “water, what water?” they are up to their noses in irony and yet appear to be completely oblivious to it.

Two atheists debating moral issues are like two card players arguing over whether a particular play is legal when one of them is judging the play by the rules of bridge and the other is judging the play by the rules of poker.

The rules of bridge and the rules of poker, like the rules of all card games, are arbitrary.  Arbitrary rules work fine so long as all the players agree to abide by them.  But what happens when I want to abide by the rules of bridge and you want to abide by the rules of poker?  Who gets to decide whether the arbitrary rules of poker or the arbitrary rules of bridge apply?  The answer, of course, is there is no standard by which we may judge whether the rules of poker are superior to the rules of bridge.  It is a matter of preference.

Sal’s post about Richard Dawkins’ views on infidelity reminded me of Phillip Johnson’s famous “the grand sez who” article.

http://www.arn.org/ftissues/ft9303/articles/pjohnson.html

Atheists’ moral “rules” are nothing but expressions of preference.  Dawkins asks “Why should you deny your loved one the pleasure of sexual encounters with others, if he or she is that way inclined?”  Given atheist premises there is no possible answer to this question other than “I prefer not to.”  Dawkins apparently prefers otherwise.  Who is to judge between the two preferences?

Notice here that the utilitarian/consequentialist “harm principle” to which many atheists instinctively resort when it comes to moral questions does absolutely no good.  Let’s assume the wife prefers monogamy and the husband wants to sleep around.  The “traditional values” atheist says the wife’s position is the moral position because infidelity harms her in obvious ways.  Dawkins says the wife should lighten up, because not only is she not harmed in any way, but also her narrow-minded anti-free love bigotry is harmful to the husband, because it denies him pleasure to which he is inclined.  On what ground can we judge between the asserted harms?  There is none.

Notice also that evolutionary storytelling is singularly unhelpful.  Dawkins says we evolved to have sexual jealousy.  Does he not also have to say that the urge to have sex with more than one partner is an evolved trait?  After all, on his premises there is no other explanation for the existence of that trait.  So when one evolved trait conflicts with anther evolved trait who gets to decide which evolved trait should prevail?  In this particular instance Dawkins has volunteered to show us the way, but why should anyone care what Dawkins’ arbitrary preferences are as opposed to the arbitrary preferences of, say, the Pope?

At the end of the day, on atheist premises good and evil are empty concepts.  There is only “I prefer.”  In other contexts Dawkins himself expresses this plainly when he writes that we live in a universe that has “no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.”  Why, then, does Dawkins believe he has any warrant to lecture us on moral issues?  After all, the obvious answer to any moral assertion he may make is “sez who?”to which he must answer “sez me.”  And the obvious answer to that is “why should I care what you say” to which the answer is . . . [crickets].

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95 Responses to So Two Atheists Are Playing Cards And One Says to the Other . . .

  1. 2
    CentralScrutinizer

    Ultimately, the “I prefer” with the most power wins, whether God or the State or the robber with a pistol in your face.

    Might makes “right.”

  2. Might makes “right.”

    Sez who?

  3. Bertrand Russell said:
    “I cannot see how to refute the argument for the subjectivity of ethical values, but I find myself incapable of believing that all that is wrong with wanton cruelty is that I don’t like it”

    He may be incapable of believing it, but that’s his problem from that perspective. It comes down to nothing but preference.

  4. LarTanner said
    “Might makes “right.”

    Sez who?”

    The fact that each of them will take your wallet.

  5. 6
    CentralScrutinizer

    Lar Tanner: Sez who?

    Sez the ones with the bigger might.

    Like it or not, it’s simply a fact of life in a world of competition.

  6. Sez the ones with the bigger might.

    Like it or not, it’s simply a fact of life in a world of competition.

    Ah, but the world is also one of cooperation and collaboration.

    The architects of the United States government strove to leverage all three. They did a decent job of it. Not perfect, but very good.

    This gives the lie to the hysterical statement, “on atheist premises good and evil are empty concepts.” False. On atheist premises, good and evil are meaningful concepts and very useful. However, they are not absolute. On atheist premises, there is no agency or church-head proclaiming moral law from a “ground of being.” Similarly, there is no ruler with automatic authority to impose his or her values on people.

    In short, there’s no need to make atheism the boogeyman–that just tells every onlooker that the theist is nervous.

  7. 8
    CentralScrutinizer

    LarTanner: Ah, but the world is also one of cooperation and collaboration.

    Of course. The flow of power (and thus ‘morality’) is very often a complicated arrangement.

  8. 9

    LarTanner writes: “This gives the lie to the hysterical statement, “on atheist premises good and evil are empty concepts.”

    “No ultimate foundation for ethics exists.” Will Provine

    “Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, ethics is illusory.” Michael Ruse

    “Cosmic evolution may teach us how the good and the evil tendencies of man may have come about; but, in itself, it is incompetent to furnish any better reason why what we call good is preferable to what we call evil than we had before.” Thomas Huxley

    “no purpose, no evil and no good” Dawkins

    Lar, are these prominent atheists, in your words, “hysterical” when they claim that the concepts of good and evil are ultimately empty? No, they seem pretty dispassionate to me. And why shouldn’t they be? On their premises the conclusions they state are obvious.

    LarTanner writes: “On atheist premises, good and evil are meaningful concepts . . .”

    Fail. The most prominent atheists in the world disagree with you. Your statement also flies in the face of common sense.

    LarTanner writes: “there’s no need to make atheism the boogeyman–that just tells every onlooker that the theist is nervous.”

    Um, no one has made ethics a “boogeyman.” I simply pointed out the logical ends of their premises. I’m not nervous. Dawkins is nervous when he admits that it is difficult, on his premises, to say whether Hitler was right or wrong.

  9. Barry,

    I’m not going to help you with your reading comprehension or fair quoting practices.

    But you clearly don’t know the first thing about atheism. I’m not sure you even think there is much at all to know about atheism. You talk about “logical ends,” and it all rings hollow because you clearly have not given much serious thought to the subject.

  10. LarTanner:

    On atheist premises, good and evil are meaningful concepts and very useful. However, they are not absolute

    Say then that I tell you I’m a Zoroastrian; that this is the primary feature of my weltanschauung. Does this give you any information about my subjective notions of good and evil?

    Say that I tell you I’m a Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, Animist, or anything else. Do these weltanschauungs afford you any information about my subjective notions of good and evil?

    Now say that I tell you that I’m an Atheist or Agnostic. That tells you a point about my theistic beliefs, but it says nothing of definitional interest about my weltanschauung. It tells you not one thing about what I believe in regards morality. For these, and without further enquiry, ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are meaningless terms when applied to these two takes on Theism.

    If I should tell you that I am an Atheist, and you want my sense of morality, then you have need to ask some other question. Either point by point, or by looking for a weltanschauung that I subscribe to. The most common and trivial notion for this would be to ask which political party or movement with which I identify. Not whom I vote for, if the other guy is Hitler; but which I identify with.

    Similarly you could point to any entrenched political apparatus and ask if I identify with it. Whether it be the US Govenment, or that of New Zealand, Russia, or so on.

    ‘Good’ and ‘evil’ are meaningful terms in a general sense. But for them to apply to any ‘ist’ or ‘ism’ it is first necessary that the ‘ism’ in question defines what is good and what is evil. Atheism and Agnosticism by themselves, are not such animals.

    I am more than happy to admit any error I have made in these statements. Simply show me the official ‘Atheist guidebook to morality’ or the official ‘Agnostic guidebook to morality’ and I will happily recant.

    But then:

    On atheist premises, there is no agency or church-head proclaiming moral law from a “ground of being.” Similarly, there is no ruler with automatic authority to impose his or her values on people.

    If that is correct then there are no such guidebooks and the point of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are meaningless to both Atheism and Agnosticism. And if you can proffer such a guidebook then your notion that Atheists, and perhaps Agnostics, do not have ‘authorities’ and ‘high priests’ is in error.

  11. 12

    Lar@10: Do you care to make an actual argument or are you satisfied with resting on your “Barry is just an ignorant poopyhead” response? Did they teach you to argue like that in your PhD program? I love interacting with you. You are among the other side’s best and brightest, and if that’s the best you can do, well alright then. I feel better on this side.

  12. Maus,

    Merely assuming that you are a fellow human being (and assuming you are aren’t a psychopath) we would have many grounds with which to discuss morality – as a fellow human we have similar desires, rationality, and empathy. And so morality is not arbitrary like the rules of a card game. I wouldn’t need to know what religion you are or to read a guidebook to assume that you wouldn’t want to be murdered or robbed, and that you thus would feel that it’s wrong to murder or rob others. I wouldn’t know what you’re feelings are towards eating ham though.

  13. 14

    Goodusername (GUN) writes: “I wouldn’t need to know what religion you are or to read a guidebook to assume that you wouldn’t want to be murdered”

    Ah, the usual appeal to empathy as a foundation for ethics — GUN knows Maus would feel badly about being murdered; therefore GUN concludes he should not murder him. GUN, do you not see that your analysis just pushes the “sez who?” question back; it does not resolve it. Your argument assumes you should care about how Maus feels about being murdered. Sez who?

  14. @es58

    “He may be incapable of believing it, but that’s his problem from that perspective. It comes down to nothing but preference.”

    Is there anyone who actually believes that and is able to live by it?

    So, if you are wronged, tough luck, right? Let’s say someone spreads false rumors about you. Is that right or wrong or just a matter of personal preference. The fact that you didn’t like it is something you just have to live with.

    Or, you could choose to get revenge in which case the other guy has to live with it. Or he too, could take revenge, etc etc etc.

    Or you could go to the extreme, let’s say someone wants your daughter. Rape may be against the law, but it is not wrong in the absolute sense of the word and if they can get away with it, they have done nothing wrong because it is all personal preference, right?

    Atheists are under the false impression that if they can get away with something, they will never have to take responsibility for it. Why is this a dangerous concept? Because anything can be justified under atheism – everything is relative – what does it really matter if you do something “wrong” if you don’t get caught – really?

    Why is it that the top 10 murderous dictators were all atheists? Would that have anything to do with their view of God(there is none), humans(no particular value/purpose, nothing but randomly evolved animals), and no judgment after death(I’m totally free.) When taken to the extreme, these beliefs CAN lead to unspeakable horrors. Fortunately, most atheists are nice neighbors and don’t take their beliefs to the logical extreme, but the potential is always there because there is nothing in their worldview to prevent that from happening.

    Unfortunately, total freedom removes all meaning from life, our choices, and our beliefs because it means that ultimately nothing matters.

  15. Ah, the usual appeal to empathy as a foundation for ethics — GUN knows Maus would feel badly about being murdered; therefore GUN concludes he should not murder him. GUN, do you not see that your analysis just pushes the “sez who?” question back; it does not resolve it. Your argument assumes you should care about how Maus feels about being murdered. Sez who?

    Actually, I didn’t say we should. I don’t have to say we should – we already do. As I said, as fellow humans we have similar desires, rationality, and empathy – under those circumstances, morality will exist.

    How does, say, Christianity, resolve the “sez who?” question? Let’s assume God exists – should we obey God’s laws? Sez who? It does add a utilitarian/consequentialist factor to the equation (Hell), but then, is morality nothing more than fear of divine punishment?

  16. Barry @12, If you think that my response to you amounted to “Barry is just an ignorant poopyhead,” then there’s no point continuing a discussion because you are not understanding what I say but rather going off on what you think I mean. I have already pointed out that this is what you do in the OP. As one of your UD comrades is wont to say, perhaps you can “do better.”

    Maus @11: Same counsel to you. Look at what I actually say, not what you think I mean. (My post-graduate programs taught me to do this.) I wrote this:

    On atheist premises, good and evil are meaningful concepts and very useful. However, they are not absolute.

    Do you disagree? Which part, specifically, do you take issue with?

    I also wrote this:

    On atheist premises, there is no agency or church-head proclaiming moral law from a “ground of being.” Similarly, there is no ruler with automatic authority to impose his or her values on people.

    Again, do you disagree? With which part?

    I’d appreciate it if y’all responded to my actual statements before working out “the implications of my logic.” UD-ers tend to go straight to the implications, and get them wrong far too often.

    I am going to count it as my good fortune to have my comments sit in moderation only a little while in this thread. But I have no intention to continue posting. I only commented originally because sometimes an OP sets off the BS meter to such a degree that not trying to post would have bordered on a fault.

  17. 18

    GUN writes: “Actually, I didn’t say we should. I don’t have to say we should – we already do. As I said, as fellow humans we have similar desires, rationality, and empathy – under those circumstances, morality will exist.”

    You say that we all have empathy as if you know that for a fact when the fact of the matter is plainly otherwise. History, especially the bloody history of the 20th century, is full of examples to the contrary. Did Ted Bundy have empathy for the dozens of women he tortured, raped and murdered. Obviously not. SHOULD he have had empathy for them? Sez who? You? Who are you that your opinion matters more than anyone else’s?

    And even if it is the case that most people have empathy for others you still have not answered why empathy matters. You say empathy SHOULD matter. Sez who? You? Who are you that your opinion matters more than anyone else’s?

    Does it not bother you that your moral system is based on propositions that are obviously and demonstrably false? It should.

    GUN writes: “should we obey God’s laws?” Yes.

    GUN writes: Sez who? God.

    GUN writes: “is morality nothing more than fear of divine punishment?” No. God has woven morality into the very fabric of the universe. Details obviously vary from culture to culture but the core of God’s moral code — what Lewis called the Tao — is universal, timeless and transcendent. GUN, do you want to know why you have a moral sense? Because you are created in the image of God. No matter how vehemently you deny that fact deep down you know it to be true. Do you know why the Bible says that the fool has said in his heart there is no God? Because only a fool denies what he knows to be true.

  18. LarTanner:

    I wrote this:

    On atheist premises, good and evil are meaningful concepts and very useful. However, they are not absolute.

    Do you disagree? Which part, specifically, do you take issue with?

    Well, I should think that was apparent if you read what I wrote as to my thoughts about what you wrote. But either you disagree, or it is opaque to you in a manner that I am uncertain as how to resolve for you.

    So try this then: Since you hold that ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are consequences of a specific count, or range of counts, of non-specific deities. Then I would like your explanation as to how ‘good’ and ‘evil’ can be brought to you — like Sesame Street — from the numbers 0, 1, or 42.

    I only commented originally because sometimes an OP sets off the BS meter to such a degree that not trying to post would have bordered on a fault.

    Here here. That’s my most prevalent excuse for posting here also. Here’s hoping that the BS can be cleared between us.

    ——————–

    goodusername:

    Merely assuming that you are a fellow human being (and assuming you are aren’t a psychopath) we would have many grounds with which to discuss morality – as a fellow human we have similar desires, rationality, and empathy.

    That’s a rather presumptive bit of circularity however. If I have been raised with a different set of subjective morals then what is moral to you may seem psychopathic to me. And vice versa.

    With respect simply to empathy it is commonly found in studies that human agents go out of their way to ‘punish’ another human agent in a manner resembling that of cutting one’s nose. Indeed, our entire sense of ‘serving justice’ is prefaced on a studied lack of empathy for the circumstances of the victim of our justice.

    And there’s hardly a limit to the pettiness of such notions. In the US it is far-and-away illegal to eat dogs or horses due the shared sense of morality about such affairs. But in the orient dogs are a common food item, while in Belgium horses are on the menu. Whom is a psychopath under which culture depends solely on that culture’s subjective morality.

    So before I can state, or allow you to assert, that we share most points of empathy in common then I will need to know what weltanschauung you subscribe to. Otherwise I’m clearly out of sorts. Nor, as I mentioned to LarTanner, does a count of godlike objects inform me as to what that may be.

  19. Did Ted Bundy have empathy for the dozens of women he tortured, raped and murdered. Obviously not. SHOULD he have had empathy for them? Sez who? You? Who are you that your opinion matters more than anyone else’s?

    Ted Bundy probably did lack empathy, for whatever reason – perhaps he was a psychopath or sociopath. Perhaps empathy can be developed to some extent, but for the most part it’s something natural in us. If someone lacks empathy it’s likely due to some kind of brain damage or defect, such as the highly autistic. And so I would say that one “should” have empathy only in the same sense that I’d say a blind person “should” be able to see.

    And even if it is the case that most people have empathy for others you still have not answered why empathy matters.

    Empathy is why it pains us to see others in pain. Empathy is why we care about others and is thus a major reason why we have rules on conduct, i.e. morality. I don’t want to be robbed, and because of empathy it saddens me to see a complete stranger being robbed. It’s difficult (for me at least) to imagine how a group of sentient, empathetic, rational beings could live together and morality NOT to develop. And since I’m discussing the origin of morality – empathy matters.

    You say empathy SHOULD matter. Sez who? You? Who are you that your opinion matters more than anyone else’s?

    I never said empathy “should” matter. I’m not even sure what that means in this context.

    Does it not bother you that your moral system is based on propositions that are obviously and demonstrably false? It should.

    What propositions are those? You mean the “we all have empathy”? I never said that. I know there are people who lack empathy – that’s why I had the parenthesis in comment #13.

    GUN writes: “should we obey God’s laws?” Yes.
    GUN writes: Sez who? God.

    I don’t think I even need to bother pointing out the logical problem there.

    GUN writes: “is morality nothing more than fear of divine punishment?” No. God has woven morality into the very fabric of the universe.

    This is where the discussions on morality typically break down between Christians and atheists. The Christian goes after the atheist for a perceived lack of concrete and meaningful answers to the origin and nature of morality. The Christian in turn, to the same question… gives answers like this. Talk about irony.

    Details obviously vary from culture to culture but the core of God’s moral code — what Lewis called the Tao — is universal, timeless and transcendent.

    There’s an obvious inter-subjectivity. People generally don’t want to be killed, robbed, raped, lied to, etc. So it’s hardly any wonder that morality is similar the world over.

  20. The idea of sex with any other woman than my wife — to whom I have been married for almost 36 years, and who is the mother of my two beloved daughters — is utterly repulsive to me.

    It was even repulsive to me when I was an atheist. Somehow I must have absorbed Judeo-Christian values by osmosis from the culture when I was growing up.

    We were married by her Methodist minister on February 12, 1977. (He was not at all happy that she was marrying a devout atheist, but he acquiesced.) In the end it all turned out okay, once I realized in 1994 that my atheism was not only totally irrational and scientifically absurd, but completely destructive of the human soul.

    Thank God that I did not raise my two daughters with the misery, irrationality, and nihilism of my former atheism.

    If it had not been for C.S. Lewis, a Christian friend, the ID movement, and You Know Who, I might have condemned my children to a lifetime of darkness, as promoted by people like Richard Dawkins.

  21. “On atheist premises, good and evil are meaningful concepts and very useful.”

    Maning and useful insofar as they are convenient labels if people are to get whatever it is they want/need with minimum conflict. But certainly not because any action is intrinsically good or evil.

  22. “Meaningful” not “maning”….

  23. Larry said:

    ” On atheist premises, good and evil are meaningful concepts and very useful. However, they are not absolute.

    Do you disagree? Which part, specifically, do you take issue with?”

    To understand your point, that good and evil are meaningful but not absolute, you have to explain to what are relative good and evil as they are not absolute.

  24. Maus@19:

    Since you hold that ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are consequences of a specific count, or range of counts, of non-specific deities.

    You think THIS is what I “hold”? Why on earth do you think so? Surely, nothing I have actually written says anything like this.

    Maus, you seem to have the UD disease of being very liberal about telling me (and atheists, materialists, feminists, “deviants,” and others on the UD naughty list) what I hold and what it ultimately means.

    The plainest point I can make to you is that I do not hold what you say I do. You have bypassed what I wrote and told me I accept some premise that I haven’t stated and that I do not in fact accept.

    You UD folks routinely do this; y’all butcher the simplest declarative sentences. Case in point: Barry’s hatchet job at comment 9. See also Blas at 24. And, you too, Maus, are doing the same thing.

    All of you: Just stop it, already. It’s annoying and immature, and it’s unfair practice (if not intellectually dishonest).

    Pardon directness.

    As another UD regular might say, “I ask you [UD] to correct yourself.”

  25. 26

    LarTanner, seriously, do you have anything of substance to add to this discussion? If you do, please do so. Your last several comments have been whiny “you people are poopyheads” 3rd grade level complaints. You are embarrassing yourself.

  26. Barry,

    The substance of what I’ve said to this point amounts to this: we have no reason to take Richard Dawkins’s views on morality as necessarily authoritative. We have no reason to take your views as necessarily authoritative. Same with the Pope, the Dalai Lama, Deepak Chopra, Ghandhi, MLK, Aristotle, and dozens of others.

    To each and every one, we can always say “sez who?”

    But “sez who?” is the wrong question because we don’t care who sez. What we care about is what they sez.

    So, here is something that someone sez:

    Even sticking to the higher plane of love, is it so very obvious that you can’t love more than one person? We seem to manage it with parental love (parents are reproached if they don’t at least pretend to love all their children equally), love of books, of food, of wine (love of Chateau Margaux does not preclude love of a fine Hock, and we don’t feel unfaithful to the red when we dally with the white), love of composers, poets, holiday beaches, friends . . . why is erotic love the one exception that everybody instantly acknowledges without even thinking about it? Why can a woman not love two men at the same time, in their different ways? And why should the two — or their wives — begrudge her this? If we are being Darwinian, it might be easier to make the case the other way, for a man sincerely and deeply loving more than one woman. But I don’t want to pursue the details here.

    I’m not denying the power of sexual jealousy. It is ubiquitous if not universal. I’m just wondering aloud why we all accept it so readily, without even thinking about it. And why don’t we all admire — as I increasingly do — those rare free spirits confident enough to rise above jealousy, stop fretting about who is “cheating on” whom, and tell the green-eyed monster to go jump in the lake?

    The paragraphs ask us to think about sexual jealousy and the bases for it, about why we insist that a romantic partner or spouse be sexually beholden to one person for life (or until the death of the partner). The writer invites us to “wonder aloud” about sexual jealously and our acceptance of it. Clearly, the writer is in a transition of views on the matter.

    I don’t read the writer as saying “sexual jealousy is stupid.” Neither does the writer argue that sexual jealousy is immoral. The writer makes no claim that sexual jealousy should be jettisoned altogether.

    So, I think the writer has presented interesting and thought-provoking views. The writer, of course, is Dawkins.

    How have you, Barry, responded? In the OP, you ask, “Who is to judge between the two preferences?”

    I don’t think you are a “poopyhead.” I don’t know you. I’m sure you are a real sweetheart and pillar of the one-percent.

    But I think, as I’ve said, “who” is not as great a question as “how.” How should we judge between preferences? To me, the answer is to judge through democratic and republican processes, rooted in laws which themselves are based on assumptions of civil equality and common welfare.

    I hope this answer provides enough substance to satisfy you.

  27. Hi Barry,

    I gave a good-faith effort in providing the substantive material you requested.

    When do you think you will release that post?

  28. –Lar Tanner “On atheist premises, good and evil are meaningful concepts and very useful. However, they are not absolute.”

    How can an act be relatively good or relatively evil if there is no such thing as absolute good or evil? How do you know in which moral category an act belongs if neither category actually exists?

  29. StephenB,

    How can an act be relatively good or relatively evil if there is no such thing as absolute good or evil? How do you know in which moral category an act belongs if neither category actually exists?

    Here’s how.

    Step 1: Imagine a category called “very morally good,” and picture an action which satisfies it.

    Step 2: Imagine a category called “very morally bad,” and picture an action which satisfies it.

    Step 3: Observe an actual human action.

    Step 4: Assess where on the scale of good and bad the observed action falls.

    Step 5: Refine definitions of categories of good and bad, as necessary.

    Step 6: Consult with others of the definitions of good and bad.

    Step 7: See Step 5, then repeat from Step 3.

  30. 31

    Let’s use LarTanner’s morality steps and see where it gets us.
    Step 1: Imagine a category called “very morally good,” and picture an action which satisfies it.
    Hitler says killing all the Jews in the world would be very good.

    Step 2: Imagine a category called “very morally bad,” and picture an action which satisfies it.
    Hitler says allowing free speech would be very bad.

    Step 3: Observe an actual human action.
    Hitler observes his underlings plan and prosecute the holocaust.

    Step 4: Assess where on the scale of good and bad the observed action falls.
    Hitler says, the holocaust is the very epitome of good. It falls on the extreme side of goodness.

    Step 5: Refine definitions of categories of good and bad, as necessary.
    Hitler says it is not necessary to refine the categories. He’s pretty satisfied.

    Step 6: Consult with others of the definitions of good and bad.
    Himmler and Goebels agree with hin.

    Step 7: See Step 5, then repeat from Step 3.
    Check. The holocaust is good.

    Congratulations LarTanner. You’ve just created a system that could be used to justify the holocaust as extremely good.

  31. And, indeed, the Holocaust–which was perpetrated against groups in addition to European Jews–was justified as being morally good.

    Moreover, very many people who claimed to have moral authority and who represented themselves as having access to objectively determined moral laws either sanctioned the Holocaust and/or didn’t think it necessary to act against those particular actions of the Nazi regime.

    Just what is your point, Barry? Are you going to get serious or are you going to mess around in the usual usual?

  32. Lar, I can’t imagine a category called “very morally good” or “very morally bad.” I can only imagine a category called “good,” and a category called “bad.” To be sure, I can imagine greater and lesser degrees of goodness (giving one’s life for a friend or forgiving an enemy vs. sharing a sack of peanuts or paying someone a compliment). I can also imagine a category of “bad,” which lends itself to greater or lesser degrees of badness (murdering a million Jews or molesting a child vs. using vulgar language in a men’s locker room or stealing a paper clip). In each case, though, we are discussing higher and lower levels on a scale of moral absolutes

    Take me through your steps with a concrete example. Person A, who is married, engages in an extra-marital affair with person B, who is also married. Define the act in moral terms (evil, relatively evil, good, relatively good etc) Explain why it is a good or bad act as opposed to a relatively good or relatively bad act or vice versa. Equally important, identify the moral standard you use to arrive at your answer.

  33. StephenB

    Take me through your steps with a concrete example. Person A, who is married, engages in an extra-marital affair with person B, who is also married. Define the act in moral terms (evil, relatively evil, good, relatively good etc) Explain why it is a good or bad act as opposed to a relatively good or relatively bad act or vice versa. Equally important, identify the moral standard you use to arrive at your answer.

    You already have all the tools you need from me, here in this thread, to run through this example yourself.

    I can’t help thinking that your request is but the prelude leading to a different point. If so, care to make that point? I bet we all can guess what it is!

    (Post completed at 4:09 pm EST, with a usual 1-3 hr. delay in moderation.)

  34. –Lar: “To me, the answer is to judge through democratic and republican processes, rooted in laws which themselves are based on assumptions of civil equality and common welfare.”

    Exactly what kinds of foundational laws are you proposing? You have already ruled out the Natural Moral Law, The Ten Commandments, and the Bible on the grounds that they are absolute and objective. You are, therefore, committed to a relative and subjective moral code arrived at through consensus from the bottom up. If 80% of the people decide that all atheists should immediately be executed, would that be acceptable? If not, why not?

  35. StephenB

    You have already ruled out the Natural Moral Law, The Ten Commandments, and the Bible on the grounds that they are absolute and objective.

    I have not ruled them out, I don’t think they are absolute, and I don’t think they are objective. Congratulations on the trifecta.

  36. I’ve sought to be responsive to comments directed at mine, but I’m now tired of waiting on UD moderation.

    If I don’t respond to future comments, it’s not because I didn’t want to; it’s because UD’s policy makes it too difficult to hold a real discussion. But I guess real discussion has never been what UD is all about.

    UD Editors: LarTanner, we get to your comments as soon as we can, taking into account that UD is an all volunteer operation and we all have day jobs. Of course you don’t have to respond to any more comments. Indeed, if I had been thrashed as soundly as you have been in this thread, I would probably pick up my marbles and go home too.

  37. 38

    LarTanner: “And, indeed, the Holocaust–which was perpetrated against groups in addition to European Jews–was justified as being morally good.”

    Agreed. But I am sure you will agree that it was not morally good. But you and I mean different things by “morally good.” I mean that those who perpetrated the holocaust transgressed an objective transcendent moral code. You mean “I personally do not prefer holocausts.” But, again, you can provide no reason why your personal predilections should be binding on anyone else.

    LarTanner: “Moreover, very many people who claimed to have moral authority and who represented themselves as having access to objectively determined moral laws either sanctioned the Holocaust and/or didn’t think it necessary to act against those particular actions of the Nazi regime.”

    Perhaps that is true. If it is, I am sure you will agree that the people of whom you speak were not acting in a way that was morally good. But, again, you and I mean different things by “morally good.” I mean that the those who lied about the moral status of the holocaust or failed to act against it transgressed an objective transcendent moral code. You mean “I personally do not prefer lying about the moral status of the holocaust or failing to act against it.” But, again, you can provide no reason why your personal predilections should be binding on anyone else.

    LarTanner. “Just what is your point, Barry?”

    I have made my point about a dozen times. Can it really be true that you don’t grasp it yet? Astonishing. Here it is one last time: An atheist may make moral pronouncements, but he has no answer when he is asked “sez who” other than “sez me.” Thus, the atheist cannot ground his moral judgments on anything other than his personal preferences and he can provide no reason why anyone else should agree with his personal preferences.

  38. 39

    There is no concept so empty as one where exterminating millions of Jews can be equally seen as good or evil, nor is it “hysterical” to point out the calamitous mental deficiency of those who would make such an equivocation.

  39. –Lar: “You already have all the tools you need from me, here in this thread, to run through this example yourself.”

    –”I can’t help thinking that your request is but the prelude leading to a different point. If so, care to make that point? I bet we all can guess what it is!”

    I simply asked you to use your own tools to discern whether or not adultery is evil or relatively evil or good or relatively good. You didn’t even bother to try. The point should be obvious: If you, thinking that your tools have some value, cannot use them to answer a simple question about morality, then you should not expect someone like me, who knows that they have no value, to use them–especially since I already know the right answer to the question. Adultery is objectively evil, is always wrong, and cannot, therefore, be a “relative evil.”

    [You have already ruled out the Natural Moral Law, The Ten Commandments, and the Bible on the grounds that they are absolute and objective].

    –”I have not ruled them out, I don’t think they are absolute, and I don’t think they are objective. Congratulations on the trifecta.”

    First of all, you did rule them out. You wrote, “On atheist premises, there is no agency or church-head proclaiming moral law from a “ground of being.” Similarly, there is no ruler with automatic authority to impose his or her values on people.”

    So, it is clear that you reject morality coming from any source outside of yourself except for popular opinion. Indeed, I asked you to tell me which of your foundational “laws” you would use to ground civil law. You decided to pass on that one as well.

    (That is why you avoided answering another simple question: If 80% of the people decide to execute atheists, would that be permissible? Is it necessary for me to explain why you didn’t respond? All right, I will explain. If you answer yes, then you have signed your own death warrant, which you are unwilling to do. If you answer no, then you are confessing that an objective morality that transcends popular opinion does, indeed, exist. So, you evade.

    Second, If you “don’t think” that the Ten Commandments, the Natural Moral Law, and the Bible constitute objective and absolute standards for morality, then (excuse me) you are simply unacquainted with the facts.

  40. Barry@38

    I have made my point about a dozen times. Can it really be true that you don’t grasp it yet? Astonishing. Here it is one last time: An atheist may make moral pronouncements, but he has no answer when he is asked “sez who” other than “sez me.” Thus, the atheist cannot ground his moral judgments on anything other than his personal preferences and he can provide no reason why anyone else should agree with his personal preferences.

    Ah, well I already answered your point at 27. You have not responded to that. So now I’m astonished.

    Here was the thrust of the answer I gave. Please follow along.

    You don’t have an answer to “sez who?” any more than I do. You may answer, “God sez, that’s who,” but that answer is feeble because (1) ‘God’ has no more moral authority than Richard Dawkins or anyone else, and (2) If you take the God idea seriously, you don’t really know what God says or what God means. You need to rely on the Church, or on the “fathers” or on Joel Osteen, or Rabbi Kook, or Osama bin Laden.

    So, “sez who?” stinks as a question. If you want to argue with someone that they shouldn’t commit or sanction genocide, you can say “ABC prohibits it.” If that person says back “Well, XYZ permits it,” then you are out of luck. And the genocide will proceed as planned.

    But if you point out that committing genocide is ultimately against their interests, you might stand a better chance. Historically, those who have committed atrocities have themselves died horribly, or been jailed, or brought infamy and grief upon their families and country.

    So, to sum up, if you want another to accept your morals “God sez” is no better than “Tom Cruise sez.” God’s fictional and crazy, and Tom Cruise is just crazy. You’ll do better to tell your conversational partner that violating your morals will be against their self-interest (too much risk, too little reward).

    Of course, both approaches work even better when there’s a specific system of punishment in place. But in the end, neither you nor I can respond very well to “who sez?”

    Perhaps you can explain why your particular answer to “who sez” should hold more weight than someone else’s answer.

    StephenB@38

    So, it is clear that you reject morality coming from any source outside of yourself except for popular opinion.

    You consistently tell me what I accept and reject, and you are wrong almost 100% of the time! If I’m not as responsive as you wish, maybe you should consider that you really are not understanding.

    I do not–repeat, DO NOT–reject any morality coming from any source outside myself.

    What I reject is that any source is inherently and necessarily authoritative. Therefore I can accept some precepts (perhaps) in the decalogue without taking those precepts as always and in-every-single-case binding. I can see that some statements of the Hebrew Scriptures, filtered and attributed to Jesus, are helpful while others are bizarre or garbage. I can assent to having the US Constitution as the law of (my) land, while also believing that parts of it ought to be amended. Finally, I can accept my thinking on many moral questions while also realizing that I can be incorrect and should be prepared to change my views.

    So, given that I do not reject morality per se but rather reject, specifically, that holy texts such as the Hebrew Scriptures, Greek New Testament, Koran, etc. provide intrinsically authoritative and binding moral pronouncements, what questions of yours really remain?

  41. UD Editors: LarTanner, we get to your comments as soon as we can, taking into account that UD is an all volunteer operation and we all have day jobs.

    Not sure how flexible the design of this site is, but if we could “Like” and “Dislike” posts, or even rate them based on 1 to 5 stars, moderators could consider letting comments through and only looking at those deemed truly negative by the community.

    That could also introduce a new way to present possible threads of interest.

  42. LarTanner @41
    It seems that you are missing the point yet again. The grand ‘sez who’ is not about trying to convince another person to accept a certain standard of morality. Rather, it points at the problem of relativism. Without universally acknowledged standard, concepts of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are meaningless. Seeking to equate right with what is in a person’s best interests is just asking for trouble. If you were a guard in a Nazi concentration camp, it would undoubtedly be in your personal best interests to go along with the program and be party to genocide. If you were a firefighter, it would undoubtedly NOT be in your best interests to run into a burning building to rescue a trapped person. As the foregoing examples show, there is no correlation between self-interest and ‘rightness.’
    Another tiresome atheistic proposal for establishing morality is the ‘do no harm’ idea. This quickly falls flat upon scrutiny. If I kill an organism to eat it, I have obviously harmed it. Is that wrong? Am I obliged to starve myself to be a moral person? Should we hold criminally accountable a wolf who kills and eats a sheep? One may protest, “It only applies to situations where there is no necessity to harm another being.” This is no escape, however. For what if there is a situation where necessity could be argued? Perhaps someone might feel it necessary to kill another human being, not because of direct physical threat, but because in some indirect fashion that person presents a challenge to survival (perhaps an aged parent or a disabled person whose care costs are skyhigh). Even if you would argue against such an act, the problem is that it is hardly clear cut. The principle provides no reliable standard. Another problem with this idea is that many who pay lip service to it happily ignore it where it concerns matters like sexuality. It is a fact of medical science that sexual promiscuity can be damaging to one’s own health and that of one’s partner(s). Yet how many atheists does one hear condemning sexual promiscuity on the grounds that it may cause harm to others?
    Concerning your statement that God has no more moral authority than Tom Cruise, it is statements like this that suggest that you are not a serious thinking person. A hypothetical God would absolutely have the right to establish objectively right and wrong. The act of creation itself carries certain intrinsic rights that are acknowledged the world over. That’s what patents and copyrights are all about. We recognize that when someone makes something (whether a tool, a machine, a piece of software, a book, etc.), he/she has a right to exercise control over it and to receive profit that it may produce(at least in some measure). Therefore, if God is the architect of existence, it would be fitting for him to establish laws of morality, just as he would establish the physical laws.

  43. Optimus @43

    The grand ‘sez who’ is not about trying to convince another person to accept a certain standard of morality. Rather, it points at the problem of relativism. Without universally acknowledged standard, concepts of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are meaningless.

    This is simply not so in reality, especially your last statement. It is a fact that we currently have no universally acknowledged standard of moral rightness and wrongness. Agree? Yet, moral concepts are not meaningless: others in this very thread have assented to the idea that we can establish good and bad locally. This cannot be so if good and bad are “meaningless.”

    Another argument I have put out in this threas–but without a response–is that “sez who” does not get one out of what you call “the problem of relativism.” Even if we both agree on the identity of the “who,” we still have to determine what “who” said and how “who” meant it to be taken. This determination leads us right back to the very same “sez who” problem.

    Optimus and Barry: do you agree? How does one now get out the the “sez who” problem?

    This thinking has lead me to point out that there may be other ways which do a better job of adjudicating between conflicting moral claims. But you folks don’t want to take this idea seriously.

    I’ll now skip the middle part of your post. It doesn’t interest me, but let me know if there’s something you think I really ought to address. Your last paragraph, however, says:

    Concerning your statement that God has no more moral authority than Tom Cruise, it is statements like this that suggest that you are not a serious thinking person. A hypothetical God would absolutely have the right to establish objectively right and wrong.

    I agree with the last statement to a certain extent. By “hypothetical God,” you are referring to the Philosophers’ God. This is the deity whose attributes are pondered by pre-Christian philosophers such as Aristotle; by folks such as Augustine, Anselm, Abelard, Bonaventure, Duns Scotus, Aquinas, and Ockham; and by non-Christian philosophers such as Averroes and Maimonides.

    I know this God, but the one I am talking about is not hypothetical. I am talking about the Biblical God, the fictional character named–multiply named–in the Hebrew Scriptures and its offspring religious texts, including Christian and Islamic. That God, the Biblical one, is no moral authority.

    You may object and argue that the Biblical God and the Philosophers’ God are one and the same. I’d be thrilled to hear your defense of this. Until you persuade me, however, the distinction is useful because the character of one is spelled out in narratives and direct quotations–however much we may want to argue over their content. The existence and attributes of the other is extrapolated from nature and from observing human behavior. In other words, the Biblical God is documented, and the Philosophers’ God is speculated.

    That said, the relationship between the Philosophers’ God and morality has several problems. For one, consider your closing remark: how is it that God established physical laws and the universe always follows them, while he also established moral laws and people routinely break them?

    Another problem is the morality of the Philosophers’ God. I’m referring to the Euthyphro Dilemma. Postulating the Philosophers’ God as the “ground of being” doesn’t resolve the dilemma because while the Philosophers’ God is said to be omnipotent, he cannot do absolutely anything. The Philosophers’ God cannot make a square circle or make a rock so heavy he couldn’t lift it. That is, he cannot violate his own laws. If he is good, then the self-evident brutality of the world (no, it’s not ALL brutal) is either a violation or the Philosophers’ God isn’t all good or he isn’t all-powerful. Plantinga’s fee-will defense notwithstanding, the problem(s) of evils continue to vex the Philosophers’ God, in my opinion.

  44. –Lar: “You consistently tell me what I accept and reject,”

    I am simply calling attention to your own statements.

    –”I do not–repeat, DO NOT–reject any morality coming from any source outside myself.”

    You reject any moral AUTHORITY outside of yourself except for societal consensus. I confirm that point each time I challenge you to name any other acceptable moral authority and you refuse to respond.

    –”What I reject is that any source is inherently and necessarily authoritative.”

    You reject the authority of the Natural Moral Law. You reject the authority of Biblical morality. You reject the authority of the Church. You reject the authority of every moral source outside of yourself except for society’s consensus, which is always changing. Even then, you likely pick and choose which of those changing standards that you happen to prefer, which means, in the final analysis, you accept only yourself as the final moral authority.

    –”Therefore I can accept some precepts (perhaps) in the decalogue without taking those precepts as always and in-every-single-case binding.”

    Which of the Ten Commandments do you think may not be binding in every case? Give me an example where you think the standard might no hold. (Understand that the fifth commandment forbids “murder” not “killing.”)

    –”I can see that some statements of the Hebrew Scriptures, filtered and attributed to Jesus, are helpful while others are bizarre or garbage.”

    Which moral statements attributed to Jesus are, in your judgment, “bizarre or garbage?”

    –”I can assent to having the US Constitution as the law of (my) land, while also believing that parts of it ought to be amended.”

    But you have no standard for judging the moral status of that document–no standard for believing which parts ought to be amended. Indeed, you appear not to know about the moral authority behind the US Constitution, which is named in the Declaration of Independence.

    –”Finally, I can accept my thinking on many moral questions while also realizing that I can be incorrect and should be prepared to change my views.”

    Which of your views about morality do you accept without question and which ones are open to revision?

    –”what questions of yours really remain?”

    All those above as well as these four from 35 and 40 that were left unanswered:

    Exactly what kinds of foundational principles for civil law are you proposing?

    If 80% of the people decide that all atheists should immediately be executed, would that be acceptable? If not, why not?

    What moral authority outside of yourself and societal consensus do you accept?

    Why did you deny that the Natural Moral Law or the Bible constitute objective morality?

  45. 46

    LarTanner said: “Perhaps you can explain why your particular answer to “who sez” should hold more weight than someone else’s answer.”

    I think you – and others – miss the salient point that the question refers to. Unless the two people involved in a morality debate agree that there is an objective good – a standard of good that is objectively valid – then the debate/argument can only be rhetorical/subjective in nature. IOW, it’s not that any individual “who sez” is intrinsically/obviously more valid than any other; the point is that unless you and I agree that there is an objective standard by which competing moral claims can be arbited, what is the basis for arbiting our debate?

    You can say that the only outside authority that you submit to is social consensus, but I doubt you actually submit your moral views to social consensus. I would expect that you disagree with social consensus at least in some areas, and you might even work to change the consensus view. What do you think the consensus view on morality is here at UD? Why are you not conforming to it, but are rather arguing aginst it?

    So, at the end of the day, while you (and other atheists) might hold “social consensus” or “secular humanism” up as some sort of exterior standard to lay claim to (IMO, to avoid being seen/characterized as a complete moral relativist), the fact probably is that if you disagree with any particular points of such exterior rules, you will not attempt to change your own view to conform to that outside rule (as you are not doing so here at UD).

    LarTanner said: “What I reject is that any source is inherently and necessarily authoritative.”

    LarTanner said: ”Finally, I can accept my thinking on many moral questions while also realizing that I can be incorrect and should be prepared to change my views.”

    Incorrect according to what? If you reject “any” source as authoritative, how can whatever you think be “incorrect”? Since it is apparent that you accept no source as factual or objective, how is one to change your mind about what is moral absent facts or any accepted objective basis? Rhetoric? Appeal to emotion? What sound logical basis is left for arbiting what is morally good or evil?

    Even if we do not agree on a particular source for objective moral values, unless you agree that objective moral values exist (such as: it is always immmoral, in all cases, in all cultures, to torture children for personal pleasure, regardless of what anyone says or believes to the contrary), then all you are doing in this thread is hand-waving and attempting to distract others (and possibly yourself) from your moral relativism, where nothing is intrinsically good or bad and if someone thinks it is good to torture a child for fun, then for them, it is so.

  46. StephenB:

    You reject any moral AUTHORITY outside of yourself except for societal consensus.

    But I don’t accept “societal consensus” as a necessary moral authority, and I don’t know why you think I would.

    I challenge you to name any other acceptable moral authority and you refuse to respond.

    I missed your “challenge,” then. Lots of people, books, and institutions are acceptable as moral authorities. They just don’t possess authority intrinsically or for all time or in every single instance of human behavior for millions of years. My personal favorite authorities are the meditations of Marcus Aurelius and the Pirkei Avos. I like the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin and the essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson.

    Which of the Ten Commandments do you think may not be binding in every case?

    “I am the Lord, your God, Who took you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” (Ex 20:2)

    Which moral statements attributed to Jesus are, in your judgment, “bizarre or garbage?”

    You may question their status as moral statements, but then George W. Bush called Jesus a political philosopher, so we’re in Humpty-Dumpty times. My favorite gems include Matt. 10:32-39, Mark 12-14/Matt. 21:18-22, and Luke 8:26-33. Great stuff.

    But you have no standard for judging the moral status of that document–no standard for believing which parts ought to be amended.

    Really? After all this time and all I’ve discussed you still persist in saying I have “no standard”? Have you understood at all anything I’ve written?

    ndeed, you appear not to know about the moral authority behind the US Constitution, which is named in the Declaration of Independence.

    Oh, please. This petty posturing of yours is embarrassing.

    Which of your views about morality do you accept without question and which ones are open to revision?

    They are all open to revision. At 42, I have lots of life yet to experience and much to learn.

    Exactly what kinds of foundational principles for civil law are you proposing?

    If 80% of the people decide that all atheists should immediately be executed, would that be acceptable? If not, why not?

    What moral authority outside of yourself and societal consensus do you accept?

    Why did you deny that the Natural Moral Law or the Bible constitute objective morality?

    I think the founding documents of the USA–i.e., the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution–are pretty good.

    Acceptable to whom and on what basis? To me, no. To US law? no.

    I have names some works that I personally accept as moral authorities. I reject that any work, person, institution, or idea has any automatic, intrinsic moral authority.

    I deny the universality of natural law, but classical theories of natural law are interesting. Sacred texts like the Hebrew Scriptures, the Greek New Testament, and the Koran (among many others) are best understood in the times and places of their composition. While some statements continue to have prima facie relevance today, many more are irrelevant and/or require feats of retroactive interpretation to make them fit modern progress in our understanding of humanity and civil justice.

    Now that I’ve answered all of your questions, perhaps you will answer mine:

    1) How does answering “God says so” to a moral question (e.g., should any two non-related consenting adults be allowed to marry each other?) fully resolve that question?

    2) How do children learn what is morally right and what is morally wrong?

    3) What qualifies as an objective moral standard, and how do precepts from the Hebrew Scriptures, the Greek New Testament, the Koran, the Analects of Confucius, and others meet the standard?

    4) When standards in #3 conflict, how should anyone resolve the conflict in favor of one or the other standard?

    5) How specifically has your acceptance of an objective moral authority influenced your moral behavior toward others? For instance, were you ever about to murder someone and then stopped because you remembered the fifth commandment?

    6) What specific moral behaviors toward others do you do (or not do) that necessarily require an “objective” source such as the Bible? That is what does the Bible give you that you could not, even in principle, get from a non-Biblical source? (If you do not want to use the Bible, substitute the source of your choice.)

    7) Millions of people around the world today and throughout the past centuries believe the Buddha was the most “beautiful, loving and wonderful person to have walked the earth.” Do you agree? On what basis could such a thing be decided?

    8) On what specific matters do you and God disagree? What about you and Jesus?

    Many thanks!

  47. WJM

    I think you – and others – miss the salient point that the question refers to. Unless the two people involved in a morality debate agree that there is an objective good – a standard of good that is objectively valid – then the debate/argument can only be rhetorical/subjective in nature. IOW, it’s not that any individual “who sez” is intrinsically/obviously more valid than any other; the point is that unless you and I agree that there is an objective standard by which competing moral claims can be arbited, what is the basis for arbiting our debate?

    No, I get the salient point. I even basically agree with you, except I think you invest too much into the term “objective.” If you and I disagree and we wish to have that disagreement resolved , then we both need to accept the authority of an independent party to rule on the matter for us.

    For example, you say I stole your Matchbox cars. I say the cars never belonged to you in the first place. Our case can be decided by a party (perhaps a text or a person) without a stake in the outcome and without preference for either one of us.

    All I am really saying is that the authority of that party is something granted and not intrinsic. Moreover, that party does not need to have intrinsic authority to rule effectively in our case. More-moreover, if that party is going to continue to serve authoritatively, it must evolve to accommodate new and different scenarios; otherwise, it must be replaced.

    (Incidentally, this final statement is precisely the reason that religions and legal systems require some much commentary and amendments. The initial strictures have a lifespan.)

    So, we really are quite close on some fundamental issues. We can talk meaningfully about morally good and bad behaviors. Nothing about believing in a certain god or not believing prevents us from sharing many, if not most, values.

    But I think we see today what happens when we try to force ancient morality onto modern issues. Fill in the blanks for examples….

  48. 49

    LarTanner:

    “I don’t accept “societal consensus” as a necessary moral authority”

    “Lots of people, books, and institutions are acceptable as moral authorities. They just don’t possess authority intrinsically”

    “My personal favorite authorities are . . .”

    “They [i.e., my moral views] are all open to revision.”

    “I think the founding documents of the USA–i.e., the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution–are pretty good.”

    “I reject that any work, person, institution, or idea has any automatic, intrinsic moral authority.”

    “I deny the universality of natural law, but classical theories of natural law are interesting.”

    I get it. In your moral framework YOU are the judge of all things. Morality does not hold you accountable; you hold morality accountable. For you, morality is nothing but a matter of LarTanner’s personal preference.

    But don’t you see that that is what we have been saying all along. When you say something is wrong you are saying nothing more than “I personally do not prefer it.” When you say something is right you are saying nothing more than “I personally prefer it.”

    You still refuse to answer the basic question, which is: “Why on earth should I or anyone else care what LarTanner prefers?”

    I assume you will continue to avoid that question, but, of course, the answer is obvious. There is no reason I or anyone else should care what you prefer.

  49. You still refuse to answer the basic question, which is: “Why on earth should I or anyone else care what LarTanner prefers?”

    I assume you will continue to avoid that question, but, of course, the answer is obvious. There is no reason I or anyone else should care what you prefer.

    Of course! One of the main points of what I stated much earlier is that my caring or preferring is irrelevant. As I argued, focus on the content, not the person/institution advocating the content.

    Am I “the judge of all things,” as you say. Well, each of us has to judge things. That comes with the territory when one is a rational animal. I know I don’t want to abdicate that personal responsibility for a mess of pottage.

  50. 51

    LarTanner writes:

    Of course! One of the main points of what I stated much earlier is that my caring or preferring is irrelevant. As I argued, focus on the content, not the person/institution advocating the content.

    Am I “the judge of all things,” as you say. Well, each of us has to judge things. That comes with the territory when one is a rational animal. I know I don’t want to abdicate that personal responsibility for a mess of pottage.

    Thank you. I am surprised, but you did answer the ultimate question. We appear to be in perfect agreement.

    In the second paragraph of your response you concede that morality is nothing more than what you prefer. In the first paragraph you concede there is no reason for anyone to care about what you prefer.

    Of course you do say “focus on the content.” Well, of course, the question I have been trying to get at is “By what standard should we evaluate the content?” And you just answered it. You are a pure moral relativist, and in your view the only standard by which to evaluate the “content” is whether you subjectively prefer the “content” or not. At least you’re honest about that. Unlike Will Provine, who is always candid about the implications of his atheism, most atheists seem to try to hide the fact that one of the implications of atheism is that there is simply no foundation for ethics. Thank you again for your candor.

  51. Barry@51,

    Sure. Of course, we are all in the same proverbial boat. Your morals are preferential, and there’s no reason for anyone to care about what you prefer.

    Careful with one persistent detail. There are several viable foundations for ethics, just nothing that gets an automatic pass. To say “there is simply no foundation for ethics” is not true and not what I have argued.

  52. 53

    LarTanner@52:

    The discussion you and I have been having is a perfect example of this aphorism: “Disagreement is not an easy thing to reach. Rather, we move into confusion.” John Courtney Murray

    You write: “Your morals are preferential, and there’s no reason for anyone to care about what you prefer.” The point of the OP in a nutshell is that the atheist must say this. I could not have have summed the matter up more succinctly.

    Here is where we moved into confusion (rather than disagreement). You write: “There are several viable foundations for ethics, just nothing that gets an automatic pass.”

    The crux of the confusion is that you and I mean different things by the word “foundation.”

    When I use the word “foundation,” I mean “the objective base on which all ethics rests.” You deny that such a thing exists, and when you use the word “foundation” you appear to mean “general guidelines from various sources that I might use to inform my preferences about which moral precepts to accept or reject.”

    You write: “[For the atheist] to say ‘there is simply no foundation for ethics’ is not true and not what I have argued.”

    Well it depends on what one means by “foundation” doesn’t it. If one means what I mean by the word “foundation,” the statement “the atheist believes there is simply no foundation for ethics” is obviously true.

    On the other hand, if one means what you mean by the word “foundation,” the statement “the atheist believes there is simply no foundation for ethics” is obviously false.

  53. Barry @53,

    A lucid summary of the confusion. I agree with everything you have written.

    We have, then, fundamentally irreconcilable viewpoints, right? If so, the question now is how we get along. Do we turn our backs to each other and walk away, or do we never speak of the matter again, or do we covertly/overtly try to persuade the other that his view is wrong?

    Your thoughts?

  54. 55

    LT: “No, I get the salient point.”

    I don’t think you do, but we’ll get to that.

    LT: “I even basically agree with you, except I think you invest too much into the term “objective.””

    I only “invest” in it when my investment in it is required in order to assume a debate can be resolved by something other than rhetoric and subjective considerations, and I only invest as much as is necessary. I think perhaps this is where you fail in your perspective, as we will soon see.

    LT: “If you and I disagree and we wish to have that disagreement resolved , then we both need to accept the authority of an independent party to rule on the matter for us.”

    But you’ve rejected that avenue in any meaningful sense when you say “I reject that any work, person, institution, or idea has any automatic, intrinsic moral authority.” Obviously, any third-party or exterior “authority” we agree to is not binding to one that has already dismissed that entity as a source of intrinsic authority on the matter being arbited.

    LT: “For example, you say I stole your Matchbox cars. I say the cars never belonged to you in the first place. Our case can be decided by a party (perhaps a text or a person) without a stake in the outcome and without preference for either one of us.”

    Why would either of us submit to such an arbitrary authority unless we believed in the inherent moral validity of the principle being applied, and had faith in the capacity of the ruling entity for fair judgement thereof? But, you have rejected that acceptance of validity, and you have rejected that faith. So now you are hand-waving to distract from an argument you’ve already emptied of any binding personal validity.

    LT “All I am really saying is that the authority of that party is something granted and not intrinsic.”

    I think this is where you miss the point entirely. It’s not about the authority of any “party”, it is about the validity of the concept of morality in the first place. Unless I believe that some things are right and some are wrong, I have no basis for giving a crap what any “authority” says about it whatsoever, and no reason to “submit” to any supposed authority on the matter. You and I must agree that there is an objectively valid principle (whether we initially agree on what it is or not) that can be used to rationally arbit our debate about what is moral and what is not, regardless of whether or not we agree that there is any authority figure/entity/text in existence we trust to use the principle to judge our case.

    LT: “Moreover, that party does not need to have intrinsic authority to rule effectively in our case. More-moreover, if that party is going to continue to serve authoritatively, it must evolve to accommodate new and different scenarios; otherwise, it must be replaced.”

    Unless we both agree with the principle being used by any such authority figure, we have no reason to go to the authority figure. This is where you are missing the boat: it’s not about the authority figure, the person, the entity, the text, etc; it’s about whether or not you and I can agree that there is a binding, objectively valid principle of morality in the first place. If morality is entirely subjective with no objectively valid moorings, why bother bringing in a third party unless we both agree to the principle by which the third party is going to attempt to arbit our disagreement?

    LT: “(Incidentally, this final statement is precisely the reason that religions and legal systems require some much commentary and amendments. The initial strictures have a lifespan.)”

    You are confusing wording and culture with underlying principle. Unless we first agree that stealing is objectively wrong, we have no reason to bring in any third party to determine if what occurred is “stealing” or not. If I don’t believe stealing is wrong, why should I let myself become party to a judgement about something I don’t think requires any such judgement?

    LT: “So, we really are quite close on some fundamental issues. We can talk meaningfully about morally good and bad behaviors. Nothing about believing in a certain god or not believing prevents us from sharing many, if not most, values.”

    That depends on what you call “meaningfully”. A debate about entirely subjective values cannot be rationally or factually arbited. If I refuse to admit that theft or murder are objectively immoral actions, then we cannot “meaningfully” debate moral matters. We can gossip, rhetorically chat, and appeal to emotions and all sorts of irrational feelings, but there’s no rational, factual way to arbit disagreements that do not initially accept a factual, objective basis.

    LT: “But I think we see today what happens when we try to force ancient morality onto modern issues. Fill in the blanks for examples….”

    I think what we see today is what happens when people dismiss well-thought traditional views as if automatically inapplicable to modern times out of an undeserved sense of intellectual superiority.

    Tell me, why should I agree in the first place that theft is immoral? Why should I agree in the second place to arbit our debate with anything other than a gun? Your entire argument is an exercise in unexamined question-begging.

    If you don’t answer any other question, answer this one: Is it morally wrong, in any culture at any time and by any person, to torture children for their personal pleasure?

  55. 56

    LarTanner at 54:

    We have, then, fundamentally irreconcilable viewpoints, right? If so, the question now is how we get along. Do we turn our backs to each other and walk away, or do we never speak of the matter again, or do we covertly/overtly try to persuade the other that his view is wrong?
    Your thoughts?

    Well, for one thing I have removed you from the moderation queue. Please try to keep your sometimes overly sardonic responses in check. I will try to do the same (no guarantees).

    I appreciate the time you and other materialists spend here at UD. We need to push each other and keep each other honest. Otherwise, it is easy to get intellectually lazy.

    I do not expect to convince you and presume you do not expect to convince me. Still, there is value in our exchange. Several thousand lurkers visit UD each day. I put my arguments out there for them. They are the audience and the ultimate judges of who “won.”

    So keep coming. Keep hammering away at us. Let the chips fall where they may.

  56. 57

    Really, the essence of the argument about morality is relatively simple; one either believes there is a factual, true, objective principle (or set of principles) involved, or one does not. Either we are interpreting an objective, factual good when we make moral decisions and arguments, or we are interpreting subjective feelings and ideas.

    If we hold what we are ultimately debating to be subjective in nature, there is no sense in “debating” it at all (debating in the sense of a logical argument).

    I like chocolate ice cream, you like vanilla, there is no debate to be had. It’s a matter of personal preference. I like to give to charity and help the less fortunate, others like to kill and cannibalize young children.

    If it’s just a matter of personal preference and no objective, factual, binding moral truth exists, then let’s just admit what we’re doing here is rhetorical in nature and stop waving our hands to distract from what is ultimately nothing other than comnplete moral relativism.

  57. –Lar: “Lots of people, books, and institutions are acceptable as moral authorities. They just don’t possess authority intrinsically or for all time or in every single instance of human behavior for millions of years. My personal favorite authorities are the meditations of Marcus Aurelius and the Pirkei Avos. I like the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin and the essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson.”

    If they possess no “intrinsic moral authority for all times or in every single instance,” then they have no moral authority. To have moral authority is to have the right to bind everyone to the code in question. Without that binding power, there is no authority. The two go together. Accordingly, if you arrogate unto yourself the right to pick and choose which elements of a given source possess intrinsic moral authority and which ones do not, then you are also saying that you are the final moral authority by presuming the right to make that selection. That you prefer some authors over others is irrelevant.

    –“Really? After all this time and all I’ve discussed you still persist in saying I have “no standard”? Have you understood at all anything I’ve written?”

    I am afraid you have not answered the question. Who or what is the moral the moral authority of the U.S. Constitution that you claim has some moral standing? Why, in your judgment, does it have any moral authority at all?
    Meanwhile, my earlier questions persist and remain unanswered:

    Exactly what kinds of foundational principles for civil law are you proposing?

    If 80% of the people decide that all atheists should immediately be executed, would that constitute moral public policy? If not, why not?

    Is adultery a morally good or a morally bad act?

    You asked me two questions:

    –“On what specific matters do you and God disagree?”

    No disagreements. God created human nature and is, therefore, the only one who is qualified to expound on a moral code proper to that same human nature. That same morality exists in a less developed form as the Natural Moral Law. The purpose for the moral law is to guide us toward our final end and to steer us away from final destruction. If we have no final end or destiny, then morality serves no purpose at all.

    –“What about you and Jesus?

    No disagreements. Jesus’ moral code is perfect in every way because it speaks to man’s purpose and man’s nature. If man has no nature, then obviously there can be no moral code proper to it, which simply means that there can be no moral code That is basic logic.

    The challenge is to apply an unchanging moral code to ever changing circumstances. This can be very challenging at times since the proper application isn’t always clear and, at times, requires a large measure of prudence and wisdom. On the other hand, when the code itself is also thought to be changeable, or subjective, or relative, there is no hope because there is no direction.

  58. WJM@55:

    LT: “If you and I disagree and we wish to have that disagreement resolved , then we both need to accept the authority of an independent party to rule on the matter for us.”

    But you’ve rejected that avenue in any meaningful sense when you say “I reject that any work, person, institution, or idea has any automatic, intrinsic moral authority.” Obviously, any third-party or exterior “authority” we agree to is not binding to one that has already dismissed that entity as a source of intrinsic authority on the matter being arbited.

    I must not understand your point. If we disagree with each other and then both decide to have an impartial judge settle the case for us, what’s the problem?

    There would be no philosophical inconsistency on my part to abide by the judge’s authority because I still believe the judge’s authority has been conferred. The judge was not born into authority. Neither is the general role of judge intrinsically authoritative, as I think we both would agree that a judge from the nation of France would have no proper jurisdiction in the matter.

    Maybe we are having mutual confusion on the word “intrinsic”? I tend to mean something like “inborn” or “automatic,” so when you tell me that a judge has “intrinsic authority,” that sounds nonsensical to me, as in I truly cannot understand what meaning you intend to convey.

    You say:

    If you don’t answer any other question, answer this one: Is it morally wrong, in any culture at any time and by any person, to torture children for their personal pleasure?

    I think it is morally wrong, I don’t know anyone who would think it morally right, and I am not sure that anyone I’ve ever read about in history or fiction (American Psycho comes to mind) would declare it morally right.

    But, to use your characterization of my views, what I’ve just stated is my preference, and I cannot guarantee that 100% of others (past, present, and future) agree with my preferences. Neither do I have the authority to force my personal views on others.

    As an atheist, I do not have a “foundation” for ethics–in the sense of the term used by Barry in comment 53. However, I do have a foundation for personal ethics, in my sense of the term “foundation.”

    One nit before I move on. In your question, you use the word “torture.” This term brought to mind the careful distinction brought in earlier in this thread. Someone talking about the fifth commandment pointed out that the commandment prohibited “murder,” not “killing.”

    You see the difference, right? Killing can be justifiable, even good. Murder can never be. Terms like “torture” and “murder,” in common usage, already come with negative moral freight. By definition, they are morally bad or legally prohibited.

    So, I welcome questions on serious moral issues, but I don’t like questions that already contain the answer in them. I’m not trying to be all postmodern-y and define away something like torture, but if we are trying to evaluate a specific moral question we cannot use words that themselves convey a moral outcome.

    And so I’m interested: if torture is wrong by definition, and torture of a child is especially heinous, why did you feel the need to add on “for personal pleasure”?

    If I may guess your rationale, I think you want to show me and everyone that even with an example of something we cannot conceive anyone, ever, finding at all moral, the strongest objection the atheist ethicist can muster is “I dislike it.” (Hopefully, I could also say it’s against the law, but that’s a different [though not unrelated] matter.)

    I do think that’s the strongest moral objection that can be made. There is no equation or formula that pops out the answer, as far as I can tell.

    But please note that it’s not the only objection that can be made. There are rational and practical objections, too, which are quite powerful. I could say,”that’s a human being just like you,” or “that’s someone’s child just as you are someone’s child.” I could point out that the community will rail against the torturer, and possibly execute him/her as well as drive out his/her family.

    Please also note that I have argued that the strongest moral objection a theist can make does not seem to me stronger than the atheist’s objection. I would be interested to hear what specific objection you could make as a theist that would be more powerful than the atheist’s. All I can think of is the threat of losing heaven and suffering eternal damnation. That is powerful–if the torturer believes your threat.

    On the other hand, “I object” is pretty powerful, whether it comes from one defiant revolutionary or millions of people in a society. A person who says “I object” and then intervenes in what s/he perceives to be injustice–because who else will?–can be very effective.

  59. 60

    LT: “But, to use your characterization of my views, what I’ve just stated is my preference, and I cannot guarantee that 100% of others (past, present, and future) agree with my preferences. Neither do I have the authority to force my personal views on others.”

    Thank you for simply admitting you’re a moral relativist. I can no more debate your moral preferences than I can debate what foods or fashions you prefer. Rational, logical debates require a sound, binding premise to arbit differences. Personal preference is not a sound, binding basis for such arguments.

  60. 61

    LT: “But please note that it’s not the only objection that can be made. There are rational and practical objections, too, which are quite powerful. I could say,”that’s a human being just like you,” or “that’s someone’s child just as you are someone’s child.” I could point out that the community will rail against the torturer, and possibly execute him/her as well as drive out his/her family.”

    Those are not rational objections – they are appeals to emotion. Appeals to emotion can be made either way, depending on preference. Practicality is not an objective or sound basis, because it depends on what one’s goal is (their preference) as to what is the most practical way to achieve it.

    As a theist, I have access to a different assumption than you have access to. As an atheist, you must assume morality – what is considered good or bad – is ultimately subjective. Therefore, you have no basis for making a case that an action “is” bad; all you can do is try and manipulate others emotionally or through rhetoric to do what you would prefer they do. Therefore, all of your moral “arguments” are nothing but attempts at manipulation towards your preferences, not any attempt to find moral truths that – according to your position – do not exist.

    If one assumes, however, that good and evil are not relative, but rather are grounded in objective reality, then one has a basis for meaningful argument and debate, and for taking action against evil and for good. Note how your moral relativism leaves you without even the right or power to stop someone from torturing, killing and cannibalizing children. My, it’s a good thing our history wasn’t writ by moral relativists in this country, don’t you think?

    Under moral relativism, why should anyone care if there are slaves? Why should anyone risk their lives for abolition, or equal rights, or to protect children and the innocent? Who cares if we take the land from native americans and kill them off, or herd Jews into gas chambers?

    But then, the only people who actually practice moral subjectivism/relativism are sociopaths. It’s an empty position to advocate, one no sane person can actually live by, or would want to (even Dawkins admits this). It’s the typical, baseless, empty posturing of a pseudo-intellectual committed to atheism that hasn’t taken the time to really inspect the ramifications of what they are so superficially believing.

  61. 62

    LarTanner, yes there are instances in human history where children have been tortured for pleasure. I blogged about one such here:

    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....ever-good/

    You say: “Your morals are preferential, and there’s no reason for anyone to care about what you prefer.”

    These Turks to whom Dostoevsky was referring, it seems had a moral preference. Their preference was to assert (by their actions) that torturing babies for fun is a moral thing to do. Now, you obviously prefer to say they were wrong. But you say there is no reason for anyone (including these Turks) to care about what you prefer.

    Can it really be LarTanner, that the only reason you can say that torturing babies for fun is wrong is that you, personally, do not agree with it? As I argue in the above post, this seems self-evidently wrong to me.

  62. WJM@60:

    I can no more debate your moral preferences than I can debate what foods or fashions you prefer.

    Sure you can. Some food choices are healthier and more nutritious than others–this is a basis for rational debate. Some people have different dietary needs than others. This too is a basis for rational disagreement. There’s plenty of room for reason-based, evidence-based discussion.

    @61:

    all of your moral “arguments” are nothing but attempts at manipulation towards your preferences, not any attempt to find moral truths that – according to your position – do not exist.

    Why would one try to find something that didn’t exist?

    If one assumes, however, that good and evil are not relative, but rather are grounded in objective reality, then one has a basis for meaningful argument and debate, and for taking action against evil and for good.

    Hogwash. You’re saying that I need to have a rational and rationalized philosophy already in place before I can do or say anything. That’s just not reality. You’re describing fantasy.

    The basis for meaningful argument and debate is the defining of assumptions (i.e., premises). You start from one premise, and I start from another. Like it or not, we are right now arguing and debating meaningfully, if not effectively.

    The only way to make argument and debate meaningless is to refuse to define, acknowledge, and proceed from premises. My position is not without premises. You just don’t like them, and you think yours are super(ior).

    And by the way, in argument emotional appeals are valid and extremely effective. If I want to persuade someone and influence behavior, I need all the tools at my disposal. That includes emotional appeals.

    And I can think of lots of times people have acted on subjective preferences. Heck, I do it all the time. Your claim that preferences provide no basis for “taking action” against evil and for good is preposterous. If I consider it evil, I can govern myself to act against it. If I consider it good, I can praise and support it. That’s my prerogative. To say my preferences don’t allow to act is to detach philosophy from reality.

    Under moral relativism, why should anyone care if there are slaves? Why should anyone risk their lives for abolition, or equal rights, or to protect children and the innocent? Who cares if we take the land from native americans and kill them off, or herd Jews into gas chambers?

    WJM, did you know that slavery still exists today? According to the Wikipedia article on slavery (take it as you will), there are between 12-27 million people enslaved in the world right now.

    Should you care about this? I know I do, but do you want to determine for yourself how serious the matter is and what actions you should take, or do you want to be told what to think and believe about it? Do you want to be told what response to take?

    Tell me, now that you know slavery still exists, what exactly is the moral action that you will take? What is the moral action that must be imposed upon every single one of your objective-morals brethren to address the wrong?

    But then, the only people who actually practice moral subjectivism/relativism are sociopaths.

    I know this was part of your big finish, but maybe you could tome it down. Show me the empirical data supporting that (all) people who practice moral subjectivism/relativism are sociopaths. For myself, I might wonder that if in practice people are actually relativists and only philosophically committed to objectivity.

    But that’s a different matter. First, let me know about how you as an objectivist will now conduct your life–as you must, per absolute standards–knowing and caring about the slavery in the world. I assume all–and I mean all–the other objectivists will take action too, as they must. Absolute standards, of course.

    I’m serious. You’ve signed up for objectivism, so now show me how you practice it.

  63. Barry@62

    Can it really be LarTanner, that the only reason you can say that torturing babies for fun is wrong is that you, personally, do not agree with it? As I argue in the above post, this seems self-evidently wrong to me.

    I think a good response to this is the analogy I start to lay out in comment 63.

    There, I say that even though you may “prefer” some foods, we can have a rational discussion on the relative health effects and benefits of a particular diet.

    Why, then, should you change your dietary “preferences”? Because you can live healthier, longer, and happier by altering your diet to include more vegetables and less fats/sodium. My disagreement isn’t the only thing; your long-term welfare is at issue, too. Now, you may refuse to change your diet, but that’s a separate matter that does not change whether one diet is better for you than another.

    This is, of course, all illustration. I’m not talking about you, Barry, or your real diet, which I know nothing about. But the analogy is that some behaviors have better long-term consequences for people and societies. Volunteering to help a neighbor is an example of a behavior that can be shown to foster good will and stable relationships. As a regular practice, corporal punishment can be shown to have detrimental effects on children and parent-offspring relationships.

    So, like overwhelmingly most people (I hope) torturing babies for fun or not-for-fun is something I disagree with. Beyond my personal disagreement is the physical distress torture would inflict on a child and the social damage to the character of the torturer.

    So what’s wrong with baby torture? What’s wrong is the damage to self-interest that it would inflict upon the perpetrator and any community sanctioning it. No one is left unharmed.

    Pertinent to your link. The Russian pogroms are justifiably infamous. The descendants of the perpetrators carry the guilt and shame of those actions to this day. The history of Russia is forever marred by the brutality its generals and military leveled against the most vulnerable.

  64. 65

    LT: “Sure you can. Some food choices are healthier and more nutritious than others.”

    In order for this to be analogous to our debate about morality, you’d have to admit that some actions are “more good” than others, and can be shown to be “more good” by some objective standard (which would make it amenable to rational argument). However, you’ve already said that no such intrinsically valid standard exists. So all you’re doing here is blowing more obfuscatory smoke to cover your subjectivism.

    Note the contradiction when you later say:

    LT: “Why would one try to find something that didn’t exist?”

    If moral truths do not exist, then there’s no way to make the claim that some things are “more good” than others, showing the lie in your food comparison. In your analogy, if no “food truths” exist to be rationally uncovered, there’s no way to claim that “some food is more nutritious than other food”. So you’re just blowing ill-considered smoke to hide the emptiness of any such “debate”.

    LT: “Hogwash. You’re saying that I need to have a rational and rationalized philosophy already in place before I can do or say anything. That’s just not reality. You’re describing fantasy. ”

    No, what I’m describing is the fact that you have not considered the ramifications of what you are arguing. People do all sorts of things that are irrational, and hold all sorts of irreconcilable, self-contradictory, ill-considered beliefs. You can say you are a moral relativist, and make all kinds of empty, ill-considered, self-contradictory statements in an attempt to promote that perspective, but at the end of the day you cannot live that way unless you’re a sociopath.

    You still act, think, and behave as if some things are wrong, and as if you have the capacity to discern good from evil, and as if you have an obligation to thwart evil and pursue what is good. Otherwise, you wouldn’t even bother making an argument here as if pursuing the truth of such matters was good, and as if allowing erroneous thought about morality to advance was wrong.

    LT: “Should you care about this? I know I do, but do you want to determine for yourself how serious the matter is and what actions you should take, or do you want to be told what to think and believe about it? Do you want to be told what response to take?”

    There’s no reason to care about it whatsoever under moral relativism. What are you going to do about it? You already have said you don’t have the right to try to enforce your particular “flavor” of morality on others, so anything you do – including advocating against it or trying to make people feel bad about it – is to some degree trying to impose your personal morality onto others.

    Like I said – you’re not a moral relativist or a moral subjectivist, because if you were it wouldn’t matter to you if somewhere in the world slavery existed, or if your neighbor was beating his child senseless every night. But you do care, and you would act, and you do advocate for what is right and against what is wrong, because your “moral relativism” is a hollow, intellectual shell at odds with how you actually live your life.

    LT: “Tell me, now that you know slavery still exists, what exactly is the moral action that you will take? What is the moral action that must be imposed upon every single one of your objective-morals brethren to address the wrong?”

    I never said any action should be imposed on anyone for any reason. You are assuming things about me and my argument that are erroneous. My argument here is not about what anyone should do in the face of something that is wrong, nor is it about action anyone should take to do right: my argument is about nothing other than the necessity of accepting the primary principle that without us assuming that an objective, factual, real commodity of “good” & “evil” exists, there’s nothing meaningful to argue or debate.

    If morality is purely subjective, what logical, rationally sound reason do I have for caring if slavery still exists today? Or if my neighbor beats his child? Or if muslims butcher the genitalia of little girls? Or if some christian sect burns some people they believe are witches? What logical reason do I employ for acting to change their minds or behaviors? The only reason available to the moral relativist is purely selfish: they just want other people to act in a way they personally prefer.

    LT: “I’m serious. You’ve signed up for objectivism, so now show me how you practice it.”

    I practice morality under the assumption that it reflects an actual, real, objectively existent commodity. That means some things are good, and some are bad, independent of any individual opinion about it. That means I have an obligation to do good as best I can, and an obligation to avoid evil as best I can.

    As with any commodity assumed to be objective, I look for self-evidently true statements that serve to describe the nature of that commodity (like self-evidently true statements that describe the effects of gravity or electricity). The first such self-evidently true moral statement is that it is wrong to torture children for one’s personal pleasure. It is as obvious as the statement “what goes up must come down”.

    From that and similarly self-evidently true statements, I form the principled basis for a broader system of morality that derives necessarily true and conditionally true statements about what is good, and what is evil, from those initial self-evidently true statements and by employing the principles of logic. I am obligated to arrange my actions in this world to pursue what I understand through reason and first principle to be good, and not try to rationalize “whatever I feel” into being “good”. My preferences are subordinate to the factual, actual good.

    As KF here reiterates and has been shown to be the case in over 2000 years of philosophy, you cannot get an ought from an is. What is good – how humans ought behave – must be real in itself, which means humans must have a purpose. Without such a universal purpose, then humans are free to do whatever they wish, for whatever purpose they wish, and call whatever they wish “good”, and nobody has any right to say or advocate otherwise on any binding or significant principle other than the very principle that empowers everyone: “because I say so”.

    You either believe in an actual, real good that authorizes behavior accordingly, or your only ultimate justification is “because I say so”, or “might makes right”. I know as a self-evident truth that “might makes right” is not a moral principle, therefore moral relativism is evil, because “might makes right” (because I say so, because I prefer it) is ultimately the only authorization a moral relativist has.

    Now, what do I do about it? More importantly, why should I do anything about it? You seem to fear that I would impose behaviors on you. Why should I do that?

    For a moral objectivist like me, there are inescapable ramifications to good and evil behavior, just as there are inescapable ramfications to behavior in terms of interacting with gravity or electricity. When I advocate or argue morality, I do so because I care about the harm that others are doing to themselves, not because I want to force them to behave like me. Forcing others to behave like me by law or might or by using rhetoric or emotional manipulation to try and get others to do what I want for no ultimate reason other than that it is my personal preference is wrong.

    Only a moral objectivist has the assumed foundation by which to rationally and factually argue morality by merit, and only a moral objectivist has a sound reason to do so other than – ultimately – selfishness. IOW, a moral subjectivist cannot rationally justify trying to get others to behave a certain way (give up slavery or beating their child) other than that is what they personally wish them to do, even if they use some contrived other reason that might appeal to the person they are trying to convince.

    Furthermore, according to what basis does a moral relativist presume to advocate against a behavior that is socially accepted? If society says it is okay to objectify women and treat them like property, what is the basis for the relativist to buck the system? The only principle the relativist has is the same one that authorizes the activity – “because I say so”, or “I prefer it”.

    However, the moral objectivist has such a basis; somethings are factually good, and factually evil, regardless of what any supposed authority or society itself says. Furthermore, because it is a factual commodity of reality, “what is good” is as discoverable to anyone looking for it as are the basic principles of gravity or electricity. Furthermore, public opinion and figures of authority do not decide what is factual about gravity or electricity, and neither do they decide or decree what is factual about morality.

    Thus, I have the right (as given by actual, fundamental purpose) and the authority to discern what is factually good and evil (not invent or make up, but discern), and the motivation to pursue good and dissuade evil as best I can using only good means, and the rationale to allow those that insist on doing evil to themselves to do so without forcing them to do otherwise, and the capacity and right to intervene on behalf of innocent or weak others.

    Which is how any reasonable, self-respecting person acts, even if they are in error about what is good and what is evil, and even if they intellectually argue otherwise.

  65. –Lar: “So what’s wrong with baby torture? What’s wrong is the damage to self-interest that it would inflict upon the perpetrator and any community sanctioning it. No one is left unharmed.”

    Who are you to impose your values on the baby torturer? You say that his behavior will damage his self interest, but he will likely disagree with you. Give this person the same courtesy that you desire for yourself. Allow him the right to craft his own moral code just as you demand the right to craft your own moral code.

  66. 67

    LT: “Volunteering to help a neighbor is an example of a behavior that can be shown to foster good will and stable relationships. As a regular practice, corporal punishment can be shown to have detrimental effects on children and parent-offspring relationships.”

    And if I prefer doing what you call fostering ill will, unstable relationships, and I prefer acting in a way that you find to be damaging children and parental relationships, because I consider those end results preferable? Do I not get to equally call that “good”? Do I not get to equally call volunteering to help a neighbor a bad thing, for whatever justifications I consider valid? Eugenicists considered it a bad thing to save the weak and diseased and the mentally challenged. The spartans tossed the weak off a cliff.

    LT: “So, like overwhelmingly most people (I hope) torturing babies for fun or not-for-fun is something I disagree with. Beyond my personal disagreement is the physical distress torture would inflict on a child and the social damage to the character of the torturer.”‘

    That is still your personal disagreement, because someone else might wish to torture the child specifically to cause the harm you personally wish to avoid. You’re trying to objectify your personal preferences. You can’t have it both ways; either good is an objective commodity, or it is a personal preference, even if “most” other people share that preference. Someone might consider sundering society and severing relationships and sowing disharmony, unrest and pain a good thing to pursue, for whatever reason.

    LT: “So what’s wrong with baby torture? What’s wrong is the damage to self-interest that it would inflict upon the perpetrator and any community sanctioning it. No one is left unharmed.”

    That depends on what the self-interested goal is of that person or that society. Once again you are objectifying your personal view by implying that all societies and people should share them. Some cultures and people enjoy spreading pain, suffering, chaos and anarchy. By your position, that kind of goal has equal claim to being “good”, and so those people and that kind of society has equal validity in seeing everything you promote as being evil.

    So, all you are doing here, once again, is blowing self-contradictory smoke up our collective rears. You carefully phrase your argument using relativist terms, but every implication you offer above explicitly assumes that good is an objective commodity – it’s good to help neighbors, it fosters “good” will (who gets to define “good” will?), it strengthens relationships (as if that is objectively good), it damages self-interest (according to what study? All self-interest? Even the self-interest of enjoying harming children?), etc. Everything you wrote assumes that what you see as good is an objectively applicable and valid commodity for everyone – or, that at least most everyone else will agree with you that it is good.

    But, of course, you’re blind to the ongoing question-begging quality of your argument. To make the case that moral relativists can agree on anything when it comes to what is right and wrong, you have to assume that they are all somehow magically bound to very similar good. IOW, your “argument” succeeds only in accordance with the proportion of people that already agree with how you personally, subjectively define “good”. That’s not a logical argument, that’s an appeal to popularity.

    IOW, as long as you’re in a society populated mostly by moral objectivists who operate by the same general rules as you, you’re free to hide from yourself the true ramifications of moral relativism.

  67. 68

    LarTanner, your argument is based on an equivocation regarding the word “good” and its derivatives/opposites (e.g., “better” “worse”).

    You say that eating a healthier diet is obviously “good” in the sense that it has an objective and measurable positive impact on the function of one’s body. In your example the meaning of the word “good” is “improves the function of a physical system (i.e., a human body). This is not any different than saying that oil is “good” for my car, because it will make it last longer and run better. Notice, however, that the sense of your word “good” here is devoid of any moral content. In other words saying oil is “good” in this sense says nothing about the moral status of oil.

    You then say that in the same way a “good” diet improves the function of one’s body, a “good” act (volunteering) improves the function of community by fostering goodwill and stable relationships. Undoubtedly you are correct that volunteering is “good” in this sense. Underlying your argument, however, is an unspoken assumption – that everyone will agree that it is “good” ( in the sense of a morally right act) to improve the function of a community. In other words, you have assumed the very thing you started out to demonstrate.

    Why is it good to improve the function of a community? It is not helpful to use the word “good” in the sense that you have used it to answer this question as we can easily see by substituting the definition instead of the word: “It is good [i.e., improves the function of a community] to improve the function of a community. Gibberish.

    Now let’s use a moral (as opposed to a functional) meaning of the word good. Moral standard: “Love your neighbor and treat him as you would like to be treated.” Here’s the sentence again: It is good [i.e., I have acted in a way that demonstrates love to my neighbor and have treated him as I would like to be treated] to improve the function of a community.

    Thus, your argument depends on an equivocation between two senses of the word “good.” The word “good” can mean “improves function” and it can mean “conforms to a moral standard.” It is not logical, however, to ground arguments about the second sense in examples based on the first sense of the word.

  68. The paragraphs ask us to think about sexual jealousy and the bases for it…. The writer invites us to ‘wonder aloud’ about sexual jealously and our acceptance of it.

    The paragraph is also a blunder. To advance its “point” about how people can love more than one person, it presents the old societal bromide of a mother’s love–but perhaps uncomfortable with platitudes, it mentions that it is at least a social expectation.

    Thus, we contrast predilection with socially reinforced standards of behavior against possibly negative predilections to argue that social standards against other predilections make no sense.

    At the same time, a similar argument is that we should not enforce motherly behavior on any one. So, that strain of argument by itself is both skeptical of the trait that it leverages so it can equate “love” to a sexual conquest or fling.

    Hey, the mother can love more than her kids can’t she? I mean it’s simply a bias that she has to remain partial to her kids, so if she sees more kids that attract her interest, surely we shouldn’t feel too badly if she pursues those other kids with part of her time. She can even stand behind the idea that it’s not like she loves them any less in any provable, quantifiable fashion, even if for the time being she seems more infatuated with them–hey, it will all even out. And how’s it any of our business anyway?!

    Also, in asking about the “basis” for jealousy, what is the basis for empathy? Simply its wide distribution. Thus we owe some of the benefits of morality to a simple brute fact. Another simple, brute fact seems to be that empathy isn’t uniformly distributed. So isn’t asking a person with a lesser empathic capacity to emulate the more empathic, kind of like asking short people to be taller, or at least act like they were?

    And again, the example presents a societal cultivation of native empathy counteracting individual variances owing to wont, to explain why we should curb social expectations about individual impulses. It’s a mess.

  69. WJM@56

    In order for this to be analogous to our debate about morality, you’d have to admit that some actions are “more good” than others, and can be shown to be “more good” by some objective standard (which would make it amenable to rational argument). However, you’ve already said that no such intrinsically valid standard exists. So all you’re doing here is blowing more obfuscatory smoke to cover your subjectivism.

    I do admit that some actions are “more good” than others. They can be shown to be “more good” by measuring whether they strengthen social ties or weaken them. Is this an intrinsically valid standard? No. Is it a valid standard? Yes.

    Am I equivocating on the term “good,” as Barry says in comment 68? Yes, although I think his analysis is flawed. I tend to think of that which is morally good as being precisely that which strengthens social relationships and personal/communal welfare. Barry talks about the good as being that which “conforms to a [a? a? which one? whose? sez who?] moral standard.” This definition seems a bit vague.

    WJM, you then say:

    If moral truths do not exist, then there’s no way to make the claim that some things are “more good” than others, showing the lie in your food comparison.

    I tried again and again to show that this is untrue, that in fact there do not need to be moral truths (i.e., independent and absolute) for us to be able to evaluate individual actions as being on the good side of the scale or on the bad side. To me, it’s a simple (though not simplistic) matter of people inventing a tool to categorize actions and people. That’s it, morality is a man-made tool. But I’ve failed to convince you and I accept the failure.

    You then say:

    Like I said – you’re not a moral relativist or a moral subjectivist, because if you were it wouldn’t matter to you if somewhere in the world slavery existed, or if your neighbor was beating his child senseless every night.

    This is patently ridiculous and mean. To be a moral relativist is not to say “anything goes.” It’s really just an acknowledgement that context plays a big part in determining where particular actions and views fall on the good-evil scale. It’s not an abdication of personal value and it does not prevent one from arguing moral issues.

    Again, I’m not sure what the sticking point is for you. Clearly, each one of us has a slightly different set of personal morals and values that characterize our identities. In language, we talk of idiolects, the unique ways that individuals speak and use language. You and I may both speak English, but we will have utterly distinct and unique ways of using the language. We are, all of us, linguistic relativists, and there is no objective English that anyone speaks or writes. I think it’s much the same with morality.

    But I get your point of view. For whatever reason, you need to feel that everyone is a moral objectivist, but some people just deny it. In this case, it’s me denying it and posturing as a relativist.

    You say

    I never said any action should be imposed on anyone for any reason.

    Why not? If slavery is objectively wrong, do you not have an obligation to oppose it? Do not you and all moral objectivists have this obligation?

    Look at what you said before

    I practice morality under the assumption that it reflects an actual, real, objectively existent commodity. That means some things are good, and some are bad, independent of any individual opinion about it. That means I have an obligation to do good as best I can, and an obligation to avoid evil as best I can.

    Is slavery good or bad? If it’s bad, why don’t you have an obligation to oppose it? If slavery is bad, don’t we all have the obligation to go into those places where it is practiced and impose the objective morality on them?

    Please do explain to me, WJM, why the people who are doing the enslaving should not be made to stop, and why you personally should not act to stop them.

  70. StephenB@66

    Who are you to impose your values on the baby torturer? You say that his behavior will damage his self interest, but he will likely disagree with you. Give this person the same courtesy that you desire for yourself. Allow him the right to craft his own moral code just as you demand the right to craft your own moral code.

    So if I deny objective moral values I disallow myself to express the values that I do personally hold? I am disallowed from making public arguments? It’s “discourteous” to share my views with others?

  71. Barry,

    Actually referencing Mein Kampf, you can get a better example of Hitler’s own moral adjustments as he reports them and avoid the somewhat caricature-ish version here. In Book 1, Chapter 2, he says that his father didn’t raise him to be no anti-semite, and for years as an adult he thought that anti-semitism was silly. Until, he saw a scientific groundingand not an ethnic one.

    To the young Hitler, Germany arising from the its lowly state is the ultimate good. He resents Austria as the seat of power over Bavarian and Prussian Germany. And through his formative years he reasons that absent any reality to abstract causes he’s simply being a good example of German stock to vie for Germany’s ascendence. The Volkisch movement, as he tells it, is simply the idea that the quintessential part of you is that stream of traits that you inherit. And there is no better way to prove their fitness than to become the pinacle race of humanity.

    To some extent, he only begins to resent the Jews by their peculiarity. He can respect French people who from within French borders vie for the ascendency of France, the Spanish who, from withing Spanish borders, vie for the supremacy of Spain or Britons who promote England as the pinnacle. To put it in your terms, they are all playing bridge.

    He cannot respect the Jews distributed throughout Europe, with their more-sophisticated-than-thou attitudes in the press, telling the Germans how the French art is to be preferred to their own. He also sees the artificial universalism of Marx to be fostered by Jews and he begins to equate universalism (with Jewish pre-eminance ruled by the Messiah) of Judaism with the universalism of socialists. And he sees both the universalism of the Jewish Marxists and the isolationism of the diaspora Jews as a subversive plot to sap the momentum of German vigor, while subverting the open contest of nations for supremacy to their subtle sapping ways of the ones who still refer to themselves as the “Chosen People”. Eventually, he began to hate Pauline Christianity where Christians were “grafted onto the tree of Judaism” and saw it as some of the same cultural cooption.

    So 1. imagine a category of very good morality: one champions one’s own stock as can be the only force of a sense of mission, specifically the Rise of Germany. 2. Imagine a set of very morally bad acts: cheating, subterfuge. 3. Observe a human action: Jews call themselves “God’s chosen” 4. Assess: well it’s kind of like his patriotism and his own conviction that Germans are the best race. But it’s kind of different in that they live among us acting like–and expecting to be treated as one of our society. 5. Refine categories: well they really aren’t playing fair like the other stocks of people and they are spreading dissent about the primary connection one has to community one’s stock and cultural character. 6 Consult with others: Yup, others feel like I do. 7. Ridding all above-board players of these unnatural cheats that live among us is good.

    Assess: 1) Relying on natural explanations is reasonable and good. Volkism is good, because it explains what drives us in terms of our inheritance and variation. 2) Flummery is bad and diverting organic cultures by your flummary is in the nature of parasite and host. 3) Jews believe in a God that will thwart the trend of nature, gather them all back into a land, send a Messiah down from the sky to rule over all other lands from Jerusalem. It’s just a different, curious belief. 4) It not only violates #2, it switches 1 and 2. Jews believe in supremacy of a kind, just not in a standup fight. Thus they both obey and subvert the natural order. 5) Jews are unnatural and spread disrespect for the unnatural and miraculous. They’re character and mode is probably fixed, like our own. 6) Yup, people believe this. 7) Holocaust is not only good for Germany, but a service for all players of the game of ascendency.

    These are solid concepts from 1) the Volkisch movement, 2) Positive Christianity, and relies heavily on Mein Kampf, Book 1, Chapter 2 and Book 2, Chapter 6 for an insight into his nihilism. I could probably give you citations for most of the stuff that may seem novel–except Hitler never publicly opposed Christianity.

  72. 73

    JJ, fascinating work. Thank you.

  73. –Lar: “So if I deny objective moral values I disallow myself to express the values that I do personally hold? I am disallowed from making public arguments.

    You are presenting contradictory arguments:

    [a] On the one hand, you say, as a relativist, that there is no such thing as an absolutely, objectively, universally right or wrong act.

    [b] On the other hand, you acknowledge, kicking and screaming, that torturing babies is always wrong on the grounds that, without exception, it damages the self interest of the perpetrator.

    You can’t have it both ways.

  74. StephenB@74,

    Please let’s clear up one matter first.

    Is a person who denies that there are objective moral values (objective here defined as independent and absolute; different from universal) categorically disallowed from expressing any moral values to anyone? Yes or no.

    Is such a person not allowed to make public declarations of the values s/he holds? Yes or no.

  75. LarTanner,
    This debate isn’t really about morality, it’s about reality. You happen to think that the world is real and God is not. Your opponents think God is real and the world is not.

    To them, no concept, no idea, nothing, has any real meaning absent God. Not morality. Not rationality. Not knowledge. Not free will. Not even existence.

    For you to try to explain morality as a human endeavor (i.e. without reference to a God) is a waste of time. The response will always be the same: Your version of morality is not real because it’s not “intrinsic”, “objective”, “universal”, “transcendent”, “God given”. Nothing is real unless it is God given.

  76. -Lar-“Is a person who denies that there are objective moral values (objective here defined as independent and absolute; different from universal) categorically disallowed from expressing any moral values to anyone? Yes or no.”

    Oh sure. You may, if you like, contradict yourself by denying that objective morality exists and then arguing that torturing babies violates the standards of objective morality. In a free society, there are no laws against being illogical. When I say that “you can’t have it both ways,” I just mean that you cannot hold both positions and remain reasonable. That is not the same thing as saying that you may not express yourself.

  77. –lastyearon: “This debate isn’t really about morality, it’s about reality.”

    No, it is about atheists’ inability to provide a rational account of their world view in the context of morality.

  78. StephenB@77, I don’t understand your response. Are you saying that denying objective moral values means I can’t express any moral values whatsoever.

    If I think you seem hostile in your last few posts, am I allowed to express that opinion?

  79. 80

    LT: “I tried again and again to show that this is untrue,
    that in fact there do not need to be moral truths (i.e., independent and absolute) for us to be able to evaluate individual actions as being on the good side of the scale or on the bad side.”

    You are assuming we have agreed on the value of the units of good or evil that the scale employs. You are again begging the question, but at this point it is obvious that fundamental principles (and the need for them to base rational argument upon) are a blind spot to you. You refer to the scale of good and evil as if we have agreed to it’s principle of measurement; you refer to third party judges as if we have have agreed to the rulebook they judge from; you write about what is good for society or relationships as if we have agreed upon a fundamental vision of societal or relationship goals and purpose.

    You assume others share your basic sense of “oughts”, but provide no basis for those shared goods to be anything other than coincidence or shared cultural views, which could validate any historical atrocity.

    And so, yes, ultimately you’ve provided no basis for moral evaluation other than “because I say so” – because you say relationships should be X, because you say society should be X, because you say that people should pursue purpose X. Or, you have appealed to popularity – because most people might agree with your populist or emotional rhetoric and pejorative appeals.

    But, you have provided no FACT of morality; you’ve provided no basic unit from which rational debate can ensue. My basic fact, basic unit from wich rational debate can ensue is: it is always morally wrong to torture children for personal pleasure – no matter if everyone at that time and place disagree, it is still wrong.

    That is the first unit on my morality scale. If we cannot agree to that basic unit, and cannot build an broader argument from it, then no further debate is possible. If you, the scales you describe, the judges you would draw into our argument do not agree to that fundamental premise, then they might be judging the popularity of an act, or they might be weighing the general social, emotional reaction to an act, but they are not evaluating the morality of the act.

    I have a basis for expecting that we can find common moral ground; I have a basis for that common moral ground to be something other than whatever is popular or happens to be acceptable at the time in that culture; I have a basis for challenging what any culture or authority claims to be moral; I have a basis that justifies pursuit of good beyond selfish proliferation of my personal views, I have a basis for a moral principle that is not rooted in selfish “because I say so”, acquiescence or appeal to popularity, or simply naked “might makes right”.

    You have no basis for any of that; the basis of your morality is coincidental agreement and popularity, which again, can justify any atrocity in history.

    Without our agreement on a moral truth as the unit or rule of measurement, there is no means by which to measure by scale or make a ruling – there is only appeal to emotion, popularity, or coincidence.

  80. 81

    LT: “I don’t understand your response. Are you saying that denying objective moral values means I can’t express any moral values whatsoever.”

    No, it just means you have no basis other than personal preference that an act is good or evil.

  81. WJM@80:

    You are assuming we have agreed on the value of the units of good or evil that the scale employs.

    No, we do not need to agree at all.

    Now, I asked you some questions at the end of comment #70. Please answer them, as it may help clarify some of the issues with your argument.

  82. 83

    LT: “Why not?”

    Because imposition by force of one’s views upon others is as wrong as slavery. Two wrongs do not make anything right.

    LT: “Is slavery good or bad?”

    It is morally wrong.

    LT: “If it’s bad, why don’t you have an obligation to oppose it?”

    Immorality is essential free will self-destruction. I have an obligation, to the best of my ability, to respect the free will of others. That means letting them make immoral choices if they choose to do so, up to the point where someone else is being harmed against their will; then I may be compelled to act, not to keep the first person from behaving immorally, but rather to keep the second person from being harmed by the first.

    If the first person is behaving immorally with the consent of the second person, and nobody is being harmed against their will, and attempting to force my moral views on them would be as immoral as whatever they’re doing. I must try to respect everyone’s free will as much as possible, including their free will to do immoral things.

  83. 84

    Immorality is essential[ly] free will self-destruction.

  84. WJM@83,

    So your moral objectivism allows you to sit back comfortably and condemn others without requiring you to act against evil?

    And your problem with relativism is that, according to you, it doesn’t allow condemnation yet makes any intervention against evil an “imposition.”

    OK, then. I guess the objectivists have a pretty sweet deal.

  85. –Lar: “I don’t understand your response. Are you saying that denying objective moral values means I can’t express any moral values whatsoever.”

    No. I just thought that you might want to know that holding two contrary positions at the same time is not an intellectually respectable position. It has nothing to do with your right to express yourself, which I affirm without qualification.

    –”If I think you seem hostile in your last few posts, am I allowed to express that opinion?”

    Why would you think that? I wish only the best for you. My purpose for asking all those questions (which you studiously and consistently ignored) was to stimulate your thinking so that you could grasp the subject matter more fully.

  86. StephenB:

    You may, if you like, contradict yourself by denying that objective morality exists and then arguing that torturing babies violates the standards of objective morality.

    I do deny that objective morality but I do not argue that “torturing babies violates the standards of objective morality.”

    So where is the contradiction? Please be precise. WJM was just devastated in comment 85 and this thread has come to Godwin’s Law twice. Perhaps you can fare better.

  87. Correction: “I do deny that objective morality exists, but I do not argue that “’torturing babies violates the standards of objective morality.’”

    Question remains. Where, StephenB, is the contradiction?

  88. 89

    LT: “So your moral objectivism allows you to sit back comfortably and condemn others without requiring you to act against evil?”

    I have no power to condemn others. Pointing out evil, and arguing against it rationally, is not “condemning” anyone. And no, generally speaking, I’m not required to act against evil, and more than I’m required to act to prevent people from doing all sorts of stupid and self-destructive things. It might be laudable, but it’s not obligatory in most cases.

    LT: “And your problem with relativism is that, according to you, it doesn’t allow condemnation yet makes any intervention against evil an “imposition.””

    Now you’re just throwing out straw men and red herrings that have nothing to do with anything I’ve said.

    My problem with moral relativism is that it isn’t rationally supportable, nor can it actually be functionally practiced by any sane, rational person, which I am pointing out. All you and other supposed moral relativists do is blow smoke, equivocate and offer up irreconcilable statements to prop up what you apparently think is a clever intellectual position. When it comes right down to it, you act as if some things are objectively right and wrong, even if you won’t admit it.

    When you cannot even act as if what you say is true, you really should reconsider your beliefs.

  89. –Lar: “I do deny that objective morality exists, but I do not argue that “’torturing babies violates the standards of objective morality.’ Where is the contradiction?”

    To be a consistent moral relativist, you would have had to say that torturing babies might be wrong for one person but not necessarily for another, or that it might be wrong in some circumstances but not others. Or, you could have said that it seems unappealing to you, but you cannot speak for others.

    In this particular instance, though, you stated that torturing babies was wrong–period, meaning that it is wrong for all people, at all times, and in all circumstances. That is the same thing as saying that it is objectively, universally, and absolutely wrong.

    Thus, you deny objective morality in the abstract, but when confronted with the question of torturing babies, you reverse yourself and argue, unwittingly, on behalf of objective morality in order to appear more reasonable. Then, when the example passes, you revert back to your original position in an attempt to have it both ways.

  90. WJM@89:

    generally speaking, I’m not required to act against evil,

    Fantastic. That’s a great system. It must be nice not to feel like a good person while not having to do anything at all to oppose evil. This way, one can stay away from the real world at precisely the moment when it needs the intervention of a person with ethics.

    What a sane and rational practice!

    My problem with moral relativism is that it isn’t rationally supportable, nor can it actually be functionally practiced by any sane, rational person, which I am pointing out.

    Pure assertion and dramatic gesturing. You’ve repeated this line a few times now, perhaps satisfied that it sounds nice and kind of scholarly.

    Perhaps this is the time for you to regale me with all of the objectively demonstrable truths about ethics. Go ahead, list them. There must be dozens of such objectively demonstrable truths. Let’s see them and talk about their grounding in empirical, verifiable fact.

    But for now, I think it’s pretty well concluded that the morality you are championing is actually bankrupt. I appreciate your admitting the heart of it to onlookers.

    StephenB@90

    To be a consistent moral relativist, you would have had to say that torturing babies might be wrong for one person but not necessarily for another, or that it might be wrong in some circumstances but not others. Or, you could have said that it seems unappealing to you, but you cannot speak for others.

    In this particular instance, though, you stated that torturing babies was wrong–period, meaning that it is wrong for all people, at all times, and in all circumstances. That is the same thing as saying that it is objectively, universally, and absolutely wrong.

    Responding to your first paragraph: I don’t speak for others and have never claimed to do so, in this thread or anywhere else.

    Your second paragraph is problematic for two reasons. As I pointed out earlier, the very term “torture” (what is it with you guys and torture, anyway?) carries a negative moral connotation by definition. The concept of torture is inherently bad because badness is part of the definition. You cannot ask someone to evaluate something that’s already evaluated. So what you need to do is put the action-in-question into more morally neutral terms.

    If we do this, I can now ask you whether it’s wrong to cut off the foreskin of an 8-day-old male’s penis. One can conceivably see this act as a kind of torture. Therefore, it is morally wrong (because “torture,” by definition, is wrong).

    I assume, then, that you oppose ritual circumcision as practiced by Jews for millenia

    The other part of your mistake in understanding my argument is that a relativist has a battery of arguments to make on why this or that act is morally good or bad. A relativist cannot say “this is wrong/right at all times and places,” but can say “this kind of act has historically not worked out well.” Or “this act will have serious financial ramifications later on.” These are not objecitvist arguments but arguments based on observation, evidence, forethought, and emotion.

    But I guess if you agree with WJM, you may feel it’s enough only to be able to classify acts as good or bad. If you agree with him, actual ethical living in a world with other ethical beings is not part of the equation.

    Talk about having it both ways!

  91. 92

    LT: “Fantastic. That’s a great system. It must be nice not to feel like a good person while not having to do anything at all to oppose evil. This way, one can stay away from the real world at precisely the moment when it needs the intervention of a person with ethics.”

    Perhaps you meant: “It must be nice to feel like a good person …?” Otherwise, your statement doesn’t seem to carry any sarcastic bite, as it seems to have been intended for. I never claimed to be a good person, nor do I feel like a good person. My concept of morality and how I behave in accordance is governed strictly by logic, not “feelings”.

    LT: “Pure assertion and dramatic gesturing. You’ve repeated this line a few times now, perhaps satisfied that it sounds nice and kind of scholarly.”

    I don’t think I need to rehash over 2,000 years of philosophy that demonstrates one cannot get an ought from an is and the ultimately philosophical ramifications of moral relativism — although, I’m sure you think yourself far too clever for all of that.

    LT: “Perhaps this is the time for you to regale me with all of the objectively demonstrable truths about ethics.”

    This line clearly demonstrates that you are utterly out of your depth and have no idea how to even process the debate. Nobody claimed there were “objectively demonstrable truths” about morality (which I guess, for some reason, you’ve decided to start substituting the word “ethics”). The question isn’t if objective moral truths factually exist, or if they can be shown to factually exist, but rather the question is: can any sane, rational person live as if they do not exist? Can any moral system no founded upon the assumption that they exist not consume itself down to “because I say so” and “might makes right”? Can any moral system devoid of the assumption of self-existent “oughts” be anything other than a mask for personal desire and self-interest? The answer to all of that is “no”.

    But to understand that, you’d have to know something about first principles, self-evident truths and necessary assumptions. For instance, can you objectively demonstrate to me that the fundamental principles of logic are true? No, you cannot (not without using logic as part of the argument). In order to debate, we must ASSUME logic is a set of valid principles.

    Second, can you objectively demonstrate that anything exists outside of your personal experience (plato’s cave)? No, you cannot. But, again, you must act and live and argue as if that is true. Now, you could make some smug intellectual solipsist argument that everything really is “in your mind”, but what’s the point? Who are you making that argument to? Why? It’s self-defeating sophistry.

    So you see, the argument is not about “proving” that moral truths exist; the argument is about revealing that, like the concept of free will, a world exterior to our own mind and the validity of the principles of logic, we must either accept that moral truths exist, or we regulate our arguments about it to madness and sophistry. You might as well argue that you have no free will, that all of outside reality doesn’t really exist, and that the principles of logic are not valid.

    I cannot prove to anyone that any particular moral statement is true, any more than I can prove to anyone that “A=A” is true, or that I exist as something more than their personal delusion. But what I can reveal, at least for those not mad or wicked, is that denying that moral truths must exist destroys any meaningful argument you can make about it.

    It’s really very simple; if there is no objective foundation to judge “what is moral” by, then there is no rational debate to be had about it. There’s only monkeys flinging feces at each other hoping to make the other monkey cow to their desires.

  92. 93

    LT, it doesn’t matter if objective moral truths factually exist any more than it matters if free will factually exists or if a world exterior to your mind factually exists: you cannot live and act otherwise. The moral outrage dripping from your posts about my not intervening against evil as if it were my moral duty to do so belies your claim of moral relativism.

    Or, you are just flinging textual feces at me trying to get me to “feel bad” about my moral position, then what you offer is just rhetoric and appeals to emotion – showing that you have no factual or objective basis for your argument. IOW, you’re engaging in sophistry.

    You are the one attempting to have it both ways; you want to hold onto your own moral relativism, but argue against the moral position of others. If you believe in moral truths, then you are arguing against what you see as an erroneous moral view in me or StephenB; or, if you are a relativist, then you must hold that StephenB and I can hold our own relativistic moral beliefs as we wish, and you have no reason to argue against it – unless you’re just trying to manipulate us to think more like you for your own personal purposes.

    The hypocritical, self-destroying structure of your argument here is the same kind of self-impalement made by everyone that denies necessary first principles and self-evident truths about logic and free will. These is not a new observation about the fallacy and emptiness of the position you advocate – it’s as old as philosophy.

  93. –Lar: “Responding to your first paragraph: I don’t speak for others and have never claimed to do so, in this thread or anywhere else.”

    You continue to contradict yourself. First, you tell me that torturing babies for fun is wrong because it harms the self interest of the perpetrator, which means all perpetrators. Now you say that you can’t speak for all perpetrators. Please make up your mind.

    –”If we do this, I can now ask you whether it’s wrong to cut off the foreskin of an 8-day-old male’s penis. One can conceivably see this act as a kind of torture. Therefore, it is morally wrong (because “torture,” by definition, is wrong).”

    It depends on the purpose. If the act is done solely for the purpose of inflicting pain and for the perverse pleasure of the one who is doing it, then it is obviously wrong in all circumstances. It if is done for some other reason, then the legitimacy of that reason must be established. What a person does is important, but why he does it is even more important. A surgeon can inflict pain for moral reasons; a sadist, acting as a sadist, cannot.

    …”a relativist has a battery of arguments to make on why this or that act is morally good or bad.

    The relativist has no rational arguments.

    –”A relativist cannot say “this is wrong/right at all times and places,” but can say “this kind of act has historically not worked out well.”

    The relativist cannot possibly know how well things worked out since his actions influence others in secret ways and have repercussions that last far beyond his lifetime. Indeed, the relativist cannot even explain why things should work out well. Moral relativism is a totally bankrupt position.

  94. WJM@92:

    This line clearly demonstrates that you are utterly out of your depth and have no idea how to even process the debate. Nobody claimed there were “objectively demonstrable truths” about morality (which I guess, for some reason, you’ve decided to start substituting the word “ethics”). The question isn’t if objective moral truths factually exist, or if they can be shown to factually exist, but rather the question is: can any sane, rational person live as if they do not exist?

    Then we must be at the same depth. According to you, you don’t know whether moral truths exist. But you know you have no obligation to act against evil and you know that moral subjectivism is wrong.

    I think we’ve concluded the discussion: you’ve completely evacuated your position of all substance and import.

    StephenB@94:

    First, you tell me that torturing babies for fun is wrong because it harms the self interest of the perpetrator, which means all perpetrators.

    “The” perpetrator is not equal to “all” perpetrators. This is bias clouding your reading comprehension. The perpetrator refer to the one specific perpetrator. What’s more, the self-interest argument can be made to anyone–any specific one person. It’s an argument, not an appeal to objective moral truths. It’s a line of reasoning based on asking a person to consider long-term risks and rewards. For some unknown reason, you seem to think such arguments are off-limits or off-limits to someone professing to be a relativist. Now you say that you can’t speak for all perpetrators. Please make up your mind.I’ve always said this and never backed off from it. Just because I don’t speak for you doesn’t mean I can’t present you with an argument.

    You say:

    It depends on the purpose.

    Congratulations. You are a moral relativist. You think it’s OK to torture babies for fun–if the purpose is something you agree with.

    The relativist has no rational arguments.

    Since you are a relativist, I am starting to see in my exchanges with you that you may be onto something.

    If you have any hope of recovering face in this debate, you better come back with something really good and interesting. Otherwise, I think you’ve had enough and I’ve become bored.

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