Home » Intelligent Design » William Munny: Ubermensch

William Munny: Ubermensch

We have art for the same reason we put windows in houses. We need to see outside. Just as a window allows us to see the physical world outside of the narrow confines of the walls surrounding us, art allows us to see out into the world of ideas, and sometimes the view is appalling. I was reminded of this a few days ago when a friend told me he had not watched more than one episode of Breaking Bad because the squalor and violence depicted was unbearably depressing. He said he finally grasped why the program might be worth watching further when he read my post, Walter White: Consequentialist. Yes, the squalor and violence in that series were awful, but they served the artist’s purpose, which was to examine an ordinary man’s spiral into ever-increasing evil once he decided the end could justify the means.

Great art is not always beautiful. When an artist examines an ugly idea, his art will reflect that ugliness. Consider the movie Unforgiven, Clint Eastwood’s best film. If you like your existential nihilism served especially bleak and full of despair, you can hardly do better than this. In a small Wyoming town two cowboys disfigure a young prostitute. Denied justice by the local sheriff, “Little Bill” Daggett, the residents of the brothel pool their money and offer a reward for the death of the cowboys. William Munny is an aging gunfighter turned Kansas farmer, who once killed women and children during a train robbery. Munny, his friend Ned, and the “Kid” travel to Wyoming, kill the cowboys, and collect the reward. As he is about to return home, Munny learns Little Bill has captured Ned and tortured him to death. Munny goes back into town where Ned’s body is on display outside the saloon. This enrages Munny, and he goes in and kills the saloon keeper, Little Bill and several of his deputies. Munny walks out, warns the townspeople to give Ned a proper burial, and the movie ends as he rides off into the rainy night.

Two lines of dialogue and the epilogue capture perfectly the nihilism at the heart of the film. In the final scene Munny is standing over a wounded Little Bill Daggett about to administer the coup de grâce. Daggett says, “I don’t deserve this . . . to die like this.” Munny replies, “Deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it,” and shoots him dead.  A few minutes later at the end of the film a text epilogue scrolls across the screen.  It says that Munny moved away from Kansas, “some said to San Francisco, where it was rumored he prospered in dry goods.”

Munny is a Nietzschen “ubermensch,” the nihilist superman. Deserving has nothing to do with it indeed, because justice is an illusion, part of the outdated “slave morality” that does not bind him. God is dead. There is no good. There is no evil. There are only the strong and the weak, and at that moment Munny has the gun, and Daggett is disarmed, wounded and lying on the floor. Munny has killed women and children. He has just murdered an unarmed saloonkeeper and several deputies in a fit of pique. Now he’s going to murder Daggett in cold blood. And none of these things will prevent him from moving to San Francisco where he will prosper in dry goods.

Our materialist friends say that “good” and “evil” are entirely subjective concepts. Frequent commenter Pro Hac Vice puts it this way:

I don’t believe “bad” is an objective statement, any more than “tasty” is. “It is tasty” is a subjective statement. So is “it is bad,” if you start from the assumption that “bad” is a subjective quality.

When I say Brussels sprouts are tasty, I mean nothing more than that I prefer the taste of Brussels sprouts. It is an entirely subjective statement. PHV is right about that. He might say that Brussels sprouts are “bad,” and if he did he would not be heaping moral opprobrium on Brussels sprouts. He would merely be saying that he does not prefer the taste of Brussels sprouts. Is there any standard by which we could somehow arbitrate between my view of Brussels sprouts and PHV’s view to determine once and for all if they are good or bad? Of course not. There is no standard to judge between subjective preferences.

Will Munny murdered women and children for personal gain. He murdered two cowboys for the reward money. He killed an unarmed saloonkeeper. He murdered several deputies, and in the end he murdered Bill Daggett. Let’s call all of these things “Munny’s Crimes.”

I am certain PHV would say that Munny’s Crimes are “bad.” I am equally certain that he would say that when he asserts that Munny’s Crimes are “bad,” he is using the word “bad” in the same way he used it when he referred to Brussels sprouts. In other words, all he is saying is that he personally, for whatever reason, does not prefer to commit Munny’s Crimes. An inevitable logical corollary to PHV’s position is that if someone else (let’s call him “Frank”) were to say that Munny’s Crimes were good, PHV could say that he personally disagrees with Frank. He might even say he strongly disagrees with Frank. But he cannot logically say that some standard exists to arbitrate between his view on the matter and Frank’s view. After all, whether Munny’s Crimes were good or bad is, under PHV’s rules of analysis, nothing more than an expression of personal preference, ultimately no different from whether to eat Brussels sprouts or leave them on the plate.

Now someone might say PHV’s conclusions are illogical, but they would be mistaken. PHV’s conclusions follow from his premises like night follows day. Let us examine his argument:

1. Particles in motion are all that exist or ever have existed.

2. This means there is no God.

3. Since God does not exist, transcendent ethical norms are not possible.

4. It follows that when we describe a behavior as “bad” we are not saying that it is a transgression against an objective standard of ethical norms, because no such standard exists.

5. The only other possibility is that when we describe a behavior as “bad” we are merely expressing a subjective personal preference, i.e., we do not prefer the behavior.

6. Therefore, when we say, for example, that blowing up a train and killing women and children for personal gain is “bad” we are saying nothing more than that we do not prefer such a thing.

7. Finally, if someone else says that blowing up a train and killing women and children for personal gain is “good,” while we may disagree with them, there is no objective standard by which our views could be arbitrated.

Dostoevsky, though a Christian, would agree that PHV’s premises lead to his conclusions: In Brothers Karamazov he wrote:

‘But,’ I asked, ‘how will man be after that? Without God and the future life? It means everything is permitted now, one can do anything?’ ‘Didn’t you know?’ he said. And he laughed. ‘Everything is permitted to the intelligent man,’ he said.”

We see, then, that PHV is correct. If God does not exist, if materialism is true, if the entire universe consists of nothing but particles in motion, then the concept of an objective standard for ethical norms is meaningless. Indeed, the very concept of libertarian free will is meaningless, and if libertarian free will – the ability to have done otherwise – does not exist, no one can be held morally responsible for their behavior because, by definition, they could not have done otherwise. As Munny says to Daggett, “Deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it.” And why shouldn’t Munny move to San Francisco and prosper in dry goods in spite of all of his crimes? After all, he has done nothing evil.

If we heard that a hairy ape in Africa killed a dozen other hairy apes with a rock, we wouldn’t demand “justice” for the dead hairy apes. Munny is nothing but a jumped up hairless ape who happens to be cleverer with firearms than the hairless apes he killed. On a materialist worldview, there is no difference between the hairy ape and the hairless ape, and the fact that our subjective reactions to the two massacres might differ cannot be based on anything other than pure sentiment, certainly not because there is a moral difference between the two acts.

Richard Dawkins summarized the theme of Unforgiven in his River Out of Eden:

In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.

Munny’s innocent victims got hurt, and he got lucky in the dry goods business.

We see then that PHV’s argument is perfectly valid, even airtight, given his premises. But is his argument sound? Now that, dear readers, is another question, and the answer to that question depends on whether PHV’s first two premises are true, and there are many good reasons to believe they are not. The self-evident existence of transcendent moral truth is one such reason. I have stated several times in these pages that it is self-evident that torturing infants for personal pleasure is evil. By “self-evident” I mean that to deny the proposition leads to absurdity. By “absurd” I mean “the quality or condition of existing in a meaningless and irrational world.” Mark Frank has asked me several times what “absurdity” results from denying that it is evil to torture infants for pleasure. I have answered him several times, and I will answer him again: If torturing infants for personal pleasure is not evil, then the universe is absurd – the entire world is meaningless and irrational.

In the quotation above, Richard Dawkins insists the universe is, in a word, absurd. StephenB, KF, I and others have been arguing that the universe is not ultimately meaningless. We believe that our intense intuition that torturing infants for pleasure is evil in all places at all times for all people is not merely a strongly held personal preference. We argue that our intuition is based on our perception of a fundamental reality that is part of the very warp and woof of the universe. God is not just good; he is very goodness. When he created the universe his goodness pervaded his creation leading him to announce “it is good,” and even in the universe’s current fallen state, the Creator’s goodness continues to pervade it, and we perceive that goodness. Indeed, it is impossible not to perceive it. There are some things that we cannot not know. That torturing infants for pleasure is evil – that it transgresses the moral law woven into the fabric of the universe – is one such thing.

There are many reasons other than the existence of self-evident moral truth to believe that God exists. We admit, however, that none of these reasons to believe establishes that God exists with apodictic certainty. It follows that there is some possibility that PHV’s first two premises are correct and that the universe is ultimately meaningless and irrational. But just as we cannot be absolutely certain we are right, PHV cannot be absolutely certain we are wrong. Even Dawkins is honest enough not to insist he has certain knowledge about God. He says only that there is “probably” no God. The smug certitude so many materialists display on these pages is unwarranted, and it follows that we should be very careful indeed before we choose on which side of Pascal’s wager to place our chips.

  • Delicious
  • Facebook
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Twitter
  • RSS Feed

139 Responses to William Munny: Ubermensch

  1. Unforgiven is great for dialogue:

    “The Schofield Kid: [after killing a man for the first time] It don’t seem real… how he ain’t gonna never breathe again, ever… how he’s dead. And the other one too. All on account of pulling a trigger.

    Will Munny: It’s a hell of a thing, killing a man. Take away all he’s got and all he’s ever gonna have.

    The Schofield Kid: Yeah, well, I guess they had it coming.

    Will Munny: We all got it coming, kid.”

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0105695/quotes

    Seems Munny’s nihilism is selective. But I think that’s the point of the movie. It’s really hard to be consistent with materialism when you have to deal with your own time that comes. To recognize that we’re no different than those who have gone before – those who are now dead, is a sombering realization.

  2. This clip from “Chronicle” is short, sweet and an accurate description of what reality *should* be like for our materialist friends were they consistent.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4oXDZMsjvUM

  3. I am certain PHV would say that Munny’s Crimes are “bad.” I am equally certain that he would say that when he asserts that Munny’s Crimes are “bad,” he is using the word “bad” in the same way he used it when he referred to Brussels sprouts.

    I have noticed that you are quite fond of announcing what other people believe. I have also noticed that you are not very good at it. Your detailed diatribe is not a very insightful or accurate description of my beliefs.

    In other words, all he is saying is that he personally, for whatever reason, does not prefer to commit Munny’s Crimes.

    This is incorrect. I am also saying that I believe Munny’s Crimes (I’m taking your word for what they are, I’ve never seen the movie) are morally wrong and, in my subjective opinion, should not be committed by anyone.

    An inevitable logical corollary to PHV’s position is that if someone else (let’s call him “Frank”) were to say that Munny’s Crimes were good, PHV could say that he personally disagrees with Frank. He might even say he strongly disagrees with Frank. But he cannot logically say that some standard exists to arbitrate between his view on the matter and Frank’s view.

    This is a little sloppy. You are not trying very hard to see my perspective, perhaps because you’ve already decided (incorrectly) that you understand it. I don’t believe that there is an external, objective standard to arbitrate between our views. But that’s empirically true—what external, empirical arbiter will step down from on high to tell us whether Frank or I is actually correct? (Maybe that will happen in the afterlife, but that’s neither here nor there.) Whatever your beliefs on the existence of objective morality, the only arbiters in this life are human beings applying their subjective beliefs.

    And of course I certainly believe in the existence of such subjective standard to arbitrate between our views. There’s my standard, the court’s standard, the mob’s standard, Frank’s standard—lots of standards. Just no external, objective actor telling us which of those is correct.

    Now someone might say PHV’s conclusions are illogical, but they would be mistaken. PHV’s conclusions follow from his premises like night follows day. Let us examine his argument:
    1. Particles in motion are all that exist or ever have existed.
    2. This means there is no God.
    3. Since God does not exist, transcendent ethical norms are not possible.
    4. It follows that when we describe a behavior as “bad” we are not saying that it is a transgression against an objective standard of ethical norms, because no such standard exists.
    5. The only other possibility is that when we describe a behavior as “bad” we are merely expressing a subjective personal preference, i.e., we do not prefer the behavior.
    6. Therefore, when we say, for example, that blowing up a train and killing women and children for personal gain is “bad” we are saying nothing more than that we do not prefer such a thing.
    7. Finally, if someone else says that blowing up a train and killing women and children for personal gain is “good,” while we may disagree with them, there is no objective standard by which our views could be arbitrated.

    Are you perhaps thinking of a different Pro Hac Vice? Because this does not describe my beliefs at all. Numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6 are flatly wrong statements of my beliefs. For example, I quite carefully explained to you in a prior thread that I don’t deny the possibility of the existence of objective standards. I take the position that they don’t seem to be definable or detectible, not that they can’t possibly exist. Numbers 5 and 7 are arguable but distorted, which is probably the best possible result when you declare what someone else believes without taking much trouble to learn them first.

    I’m skipping a bit of the rest of your lecture, as “Dostoevsky” isn’t an argument.

    But is his argument sound? Now that, dear readers, is another question, and the answer to that question depends on whether PHV’s first two premises are true, and there are many good reasons to believe they are not.

    Not to beat a dead horse, but they are not, in fact, my premises.

    There are some things that we cannot not know. That torturing infants for pleasure is evil – that it transgresses the moral law woven into the fabric of the universe – is one such thing.

    I know that you love this example, and as I’ve explained I think it’s because this is an extremely easy case. Whether our morality is subjective or objective, no one participating in this discussion will disagree that hedonistic torture is wrong. The question is, why? Because of objective morality, or because this is such an extreme example that any human being sufficiently socialized to have a public debate will subjectively feel that it’s wrong?

    As I wrote earlier, this is like arguing that everyone owns shoes. Look around, everyone you see at the office has shoes on! Therefore everyone owns shoes. But the observation doesn’t prove the point. Similarly, the fact that everyone in this discussion agrees that hedonistic torture is wrong doesn’t prove that the feeling comes from an objective source.

    So what happens in boundary cases? Is there an objective solution to the N Guilty Men problem, for example?

    It follows that there is some possibility that PHV’s first two premises are correct and that the universe is ultimately meaningless and irrational.

    Not my premises, and I don’t believe that the universe is either meaningless or irrational. I believe that we give the universe meaning, and that rationality is an inherent property of the universe.

    The smug certitude so many materialists display on these pages is unwarranted…

    “Smug certitude” could fairly describe your position as well, couldn’t it? After all, you just wrote an entire essay attacking a strange caricature of my beliefs because you couldn’t be bothered to get them straight.

    Moreover, what are the odds that your perception of “self-evident” moral truths is wrong? Entire generations of Christians have been wrong about one truth or another from our modern perspective. Are you susceptible to such error, or are you superior to them in your ability to discern Objective Truth?

  4. Objective Morality: Is It A Tangible part Of Reality?

    Since, as a Christian Theist, I hold that God continuously sustains the universe in the infinite power of His being, and since I also hold that God created our ‘inmost being’, i.e. our souls, then I also hold that morality is a real, objective, tangible, part of reality that we should be able to ‘scientifically’ detect in some way. I think this quote from Martin Luther King is very fitting as to elucidating what the Theist’s starting presupposition should be for finding objective morality to be a ‘real, tangible, objective’ part of reality:

    “The first principle of value that we need to rediscover is this: that all reality hinges on moral foundations. In other words, that this is a moral universe, and that there are moral laws of the universe just as abiding as the physical laws.”
    - Martin Luther King Jr., A Knock at Midnight: Inspiration from the Great Sermons of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

    And, contrary to what the materialist/atheist would presuppose beforehand, we find much evidence to back up Dr. King’s assertion that “there are moral laws of the universe just as abiding as the physical laws”. For instance, we find that babies have an innate moral sense thus directly contradicting the notion that morals are learned as we grow older:

    The Moral Life of Babies – May 2010
    Excerpt: From Sigmund Freud to Jean Piaget to Lawrence Kohlberg, psychologists have long argued that we begin life as amoral animals.,,,
    A growing body of evidence, though, suggests that humans do have a rudimentary moral sense from the very start of life. With the help of well-designed experiments, you can see glimmers of moral thought, moral judgment and moral feeling even in the first year of life. Some sense of good and evil seems to be bred in the bone.,,,
    Despite their overall preference for good actors over bad, then, babies are drawn to bad actors when those actors are punishing bad behavior.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05.....&_r=0

    The following study goes even further towards establishing the objective reality of morality by showing that ‘Moral evaluations of harm are instant and emotional’:

    Moral evaluations of harm are instant and emotional, brain study shows – November 29, 2012
    Excerpt: People are able to detect, within a split second, if a hurtful action they are witnessing is intentional or accidental, new research on the brain at the University of Chicago shows.
    http://medicalxpress.com/news/.....brain.html

    Of course, despite the wonder inherent in the preceding study, some atheists will, for whatever reason, try to claim that this instantaneous moral compass which humans have, contra the ‘survival of the fittest, dog eat dog’ mantra, ‘just so happened’ to evolve to be an instant moral reaction to violent actions (despite the fact that Darwinists cannot even explain how a single neuron of the brain arose in the first place). But the following study, completely contrary to what atheists/materialists would presuppose beforehand, shows that morality is embedded at a much deeper ‘non-local’, beyond space and time, basis.

    Quantum Consciousness – Time Flies Backwards? – Stuart Hameroff MD
    Excerpt: Dean Radin and Dick Bierman have performed a number of experiments of emotional response in human subjects. The subjects view a computer screen on which appear (at randomly varying intervals) a series of images, some of which are emotionally neutral, and some of which are highly emotional (violent, sexual….). In Radin and Bierman’s early studies, skin conductance of a finger was used to measure physiological response They found that subjects responded strongly to emotional images compared to neutral images, and that the emotional response occurred between a fraction of a second to several seconds BEFORE the image appeared! Recently Professor Bierman (University of Amsterdam) repeated these experiments with subjects in an fMRI brain imager and found emotional responses in brain activity up to 4 seconds before the stimuli. Moreover he looked at raw data from other laboratories and found similar emotional responses before stimuli appeared.
    http://www.quantumconsciousnes.....Flies.html

    As well, the following experiment, from Princeton no less, is very interesting in that it was found that ‘perturbed randomness’ precedes a worldwide ‘moral crisis’:

    Scientific Evidence That Mind Effects Matter – Random Number Generators – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4198007

    Mass Consciousness: Perturbed Randomness Before First Plane Struck on 911 – July 29 2012
    Excerpt: The machine apparently sensed the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre four hours before they happened – but in the fevered mood of conspiracy theories of the time, the claims were swiftly knocked back by sceptics. But it also appeared to forewarn of the Asian tsunami just before the deep sea earthquake that precipitated the epic tragedy.,,
    Now, even the doubters are acknowledging that here is a small box with apparently inexplicable powers. ‘It’s Earth-shattering stuff,’ says Dr Roger Nelson, emeritus researcher at Princeton University in the United States, who is heading the research project behind the ‘black box’ phenomenon.
    http://www.network54.com/Forum.....uck+on+911

    There is simply no coherent explanation that a materialist/atheist can give as to why morally troubling situations are detected prior to our becoming fully aware of them. The materialist/atheist simply has no beyond space and time cause to appeal to to explain why the phenomena should happen! Whereas as a Theist, especially as a Christian Theist who believes that the Lord Jesus Christ died and rose again to pay for our sins, I fully expect morality to have such a deep, ‘spooky’, beyond space and time, effect since, or course, I hold that God sustains the universe, and I also hold that we have ‘souls’ which are made by God.

    Verses and Music

    Hebrews 1:3
    ,,and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.,,,

    Psalm 139:13
    For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

    Black Eyed Peas – Where Is The Love?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WpYeekQkAdc

    Supplemental notes:

    That a transcendent, beyond space and time, cause is needed to explain the continued existence of the universe is noted here:

    ‘Quantum Magic’ Without Any ‘Spooky Action at a Distance’ – June 2011
    Excerpt: A team of researchers led by Anton Zeilinger at the University of Vienna and the Institute for Quantum Optics and Quantum Information of the Austrian Academy of Sciences used a system which does not allow for entanglement, and still found results which cannot be interpreted classically.
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/re.....111942.htm

    Closing the last Bell-test loophole for photons – (Zeilinger) Jun 11, 2013
    http://phys.org/news/2013-06-b.....otons.html

    That a transcendent, beyond space and time, component is present within humans is noted here:

    Quantum Information/Entanglement In DNA – Elisabeth Rieper – short video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/5936605/

  5. PHV

    “Whether our morality is subjective or objective, no one participating in this discussion will disagree that hedonistic torture is wrong. The question is, why? Because of objective morality, or because this is such an extreme example that any human being sufficiently socialized to have a public debate will subjectively feel that it’s wrong?”

    Let’s take this apart a bit more: “Because of objective morality or because this is such an extreme example….” Is that really a dichotomy?

    This is where you seem to be confused, (if you don’t mind my chiming in here).

    When you say “because this is an extreme example….” you are appealing to a standard of judging (ie., between extreme and less extreme examples). You admit that anyone here would object because it’s extreme. Extreme is a value. Where does that come from?

    You’ve pretty much contradicted yourself here when at one momemnt you say that there are no objective moral values, then at another moment you can’t help appealing to them when you need to make your case. Granted, you seem to appeal to them in an indirect manner as if no-one will notice. But they do. I did. In fact, it’s rather glaring.

    You seem to be saying that we people appeal to morality as a group, and that we are legitimate judges of what is right and wrong; but at the same time, there is no standard above human judgment.

    If there is no standard above human judgment, then there really is no way that we can judge. You might say rather, that we arbitrary make moral choices for our own convenience.

    Extreme examples are what they are because there ARE standards. It’s the less extreme examples of objective morality that we have a harder time discerning; and this is pretty much Barry’s point. It’s why he uses the example he does.

    If he used a less extreme example, such as “a person ought not contradict him/herself,” (and we’ve actually had such discussions here), then there would be those who object. Nobody seems to object to the current example.

    But even with the less “extreme” example I gave above, you can argue objectively. In fact, in the same way that Barry argues for the self evident nature of some moral standards, it is self-evident that contradiction is incoherent. The example is in fact a law of reason put into moral terms.

    So with that, we can derive what we ought to do; beginning with the issue of deception. We ought not to be deceptive because deception involves contradiction. Since contradiction is logically incoherent, deception (involving contradiction) is written into the fabric of the universe as something we ought not to do.

    I agree with Barry that morality is at its very basic level, self-evident. And the best measure of whether something is moral or immoral, is against the self and our own feelings and desires, as you have rightly discerned by saying that humans are judges. I.e., by the golden rule -”do as you would be done by,” we humans have acknowledged the standards by which to live. Seems it’s the same at it’s very basic level in all human societies. I think there’s a reason for that.

  6. CannuckianYankee,

    Thanks for your thoughts. You suggest first, if I understand you correctly, that it’s inconsistent to call BA’s example “extreme” if I deny the applicability of objective standards. I don’t think it is, though. I’m using “extremity” as a measure, essentially, of the empirical question of how many people would agree with the proposition. If no one, or virtually no one, would disagree with the proposition, then I think it’s an “extreme” example. It’s true that “How many people agree with this?” is a kind of objective standard, but not the kind we’ve been discussing. I think BA and I would agree that “lots of people think X is true” is not the same thing as proof that X is objectively good.

    My position is that people who are taking part in a civil conversation have self-selected for certain characteristics. No one who’s well-adjusted enough to function well in society is likely to believe that it’s moral to eat babies or fire randomly into crowds or drive trucks through churches. It’s not impossible, of course, but it’s very unlikely. So if our observation is simply, “No one here thinks those are good things to do,” then it’s a pretty unhelpful observation. There are (at least) two possible explanations for it, and there’s no obvious reason why it’s more compatible with BA’s explanation than mine.

    Except, of course, and only arguably, for this “self-evident” thing. The problem with “self-evident” is that, as StephenB acknowledged, it’s not any kind of argument. It’s a statement of faith that has no traction with anyone who doesn’t already agree with it. BA’s attempts to translate it into some sort of logical statement are largely incoherent. His definition of “absurdity” seems indistinguishable from “a very bad result.” In other words, I don’t understand what makes a world in which people torture children for fun “meaningless and irrational” in any way that’s distinguishable from “very very very bad.” What’s the “meaning” or “rationality” that have been subtracted from that world? Objective rightness? That would be circular. StephenB acknowledged these problems by facing up to the lack of argument and logic in “self-evidence.” It’s not clear to me whether BA does the same.

    Here’s a thought experiment for you: let’s say we put together a list of 50 to 100 “self-evident” moral propositions. “Killing is self-evidently always wrong,” “abortion is self-evidently always wrong,” “stealing is self-evidently always wrong,” “stealing for any reason other than desperate need is self-evidently always wrong,” etc. And let’s say we asked 1,000 committed, born-again Christians to agree or disagree with each proposition. Do you think we’d get 1,000 identical answer sheets? I don’t. I don’t think 1,000 people would agree with one another as to the set of “self-evident” moral truths, not because they don’t perceive self-evident moral truths but because they all perceive slightly different self-evident moral truths.

    Self-evidence is not logically the same thing as objectivity. We can’t determine whether non-empirical self-evident truths are actually objective truths without a test for objective moral truth, which is the thing we were looking for in the first place.

    Am I wrong? How do you reliably distinguish a factually objective moral truth from one that you merely feel is objectively true, especially given human fallibility?

  7. 7

    PHV: “Here’s a thought experiment for you: let’s say we put together a list of 50 to 100 “self-evident” moral propositions . . .”

    That you would propose this thought experiments indicates that you still have not grasped the argument I’ve made, far less refuted it.

    Your argument appears to be that since we cannot have perfect agreement on the set of self-evident moral truths, there are no self-evident moral truths. Your conclusion does not follow from your premise.

    My argument is that if there is even one self-evident moral truth, then the objective nature of morality is established. There is at least one self-evident moral truth: torturing infants for personal pleasure is evil. Therefore, the objective nature of morality is established.

    PHV: “I’m using “extremity” as a measure, essentially, of the empirical question of how many people would agree with the proposition.”

    Have you taken an opinion poll on that matter? No you have not. You merely assume that no one would disagree with the proposition. Why do you assume that? Because you view the proposition as “extreme.” Why do you view it as extreme? Because you made a value judgment. You judged the example to be “extreme,” which leads straight back to the point Cannuckian made.

    I don’t know who you are trying to fool with your dodge about it being an “empirical” determination based on head counting. Is it us, or are you trying to fool yourself too?

    PHV: “Am I wrong?”

    Yes.

  8. That you would propose this thought experiments indicates that you still have not grasped the argument I’ve made, far less refuted it.

    I think I understand you, although I could be wrong. I don’t think it’s possible to refute your argument, which seems to revolve around what you feel to be self-evident. Your feelings are your feelings, and not something that can be refuted. If you have an argument intended to stand on its own outside your own perceptions, then I can’t articulate it and don’t understand it. My biggest stumbling block is your definition of “self-evident.” Your use of absurdity as a test seems circular and subjective, so I’m not sure if you intend it to be a logical argument that’s accessible to people who don’t share your subjective feelings.

    Your argument appears to be that since we cannot have perfect agreement on the set of self-evident moral truths, there are no self-evident moral truths. Your conclusion does not follow from your premise.

    As I’ve said before, including in this thread, it is not my position that “there are no self-evident moral truths.” I believe it’s possible for objective moral truths to exist. I just don’t think they’re objectively definable in practice, which makes them effectively indistinguishable from subjective opinions.

    I also think that there are plenty of “self-evident moral truths.” But there’s no logical reason why “self-evident” would necessarily be the same as “objective.” And in fact, what we see is lots of people with lots of different “self-evident moral truths.” Without any objective actor to judge among them, or help them distinguish “objectively self-evident” from “something I strongly feel is objectively self-evident.” Once again, it’s all effectively indistinguishable from a world of subjective morals.

    My argument is that if there is even one self-evident moral truth, then the objective nature of morality is established.

    That seems reasonable.

    There is at least one self-evident moral truth: torturing infants for personal pleasure is evil. Therefore, the objective nature of morality is established.

    I don’t think you’ve done anything more than articulate that you feel this is self-evident. You don’t seem to be able to articulate any indicia of actual objectivity, such as an arbiter separate from yourself capable of rendering objective, perceptible judgment that can be objectively distinguished from subjective opinion.

    To really prove this to anyone who doesn’t already agree with you, I think you’d need a much better way of demonstrating “self-evident” truths. If you want to use your absurdity tool, I think you need a much more rigorous definition of “absurdity.”

    Have you taken an opinion poll on that matter? No you have not. You merely assume that no one would disagree with the proposition. Why do you assume that? Because you view the proposition as “extreme.” Why do you view it as extreme? Because you made a value judgment. You judged the example to be “extreme,” which leads straight back to the point Cannuckian made.

    This is almost entirely wrong. Again, I’d like you to consider (even for the sake of argument) that you really aren’t very good at determining what other people think. At least, you have not done a very good job in this thread of determining what I think—you get it wrong almost perfectly consistently.

    I’m not calling it an “extreme” hypo because I’ve made a value judgment. I’m calling it “extreme,” as I explained above, because I think as a matter of objective fact virtually no one in the real world would disagree with the proposition. No, I haven’t taken an opinion poll. It is possible that I’m making a wrong assumption. But I doubt it.

    PHV: “Am I wrong?”
    Yes.

    Would you mind answering the other question in that paragraph? “How do you reliably distinguish a factually objective moral truth from one that you merely feel is objectively true, especially given human fallibility?”

  9. Actually, let me amend my first paragraph. I don’t understand why you think the thought experiment would be irrelevant. Perhaps I don’t understand your argument after all. Why would it not establish that people perceive different sets of “self-evident” moral truths? Or if it would, why would that not be a serious rebuttal to what I take to be your position, that the proof of objective moral standards is that they are self-evident?

  10. 10

    “I think I understand you, although I could be wrong.” No, you don’t understand. If you understood you would not have proposed the thought experiment that you proposed.

    “If you have an argument intended to stand on its own . . .” You have demonstrated yet again that you do not understand the nature of self-evident truth. One cannot argue for a self-evident proposition. It is either accepted or denied. If it is denied, the denier is either a liar or a lunatic. In either case, it makes no sense to argue with him. Someone once said that if a man says it is morally acceptable to murder his mother, he does not need an argument. He needs correction.

    “Without any objective actor to judge among . . .” There is an objective actor to judge. God. If God exists (and as I have argued, there are many good reasons to believe he does, Dr. Torley has just posted several of them), your argument fails.

    “You don’t seem to be able to articulate any indicia of actual objectivity, such as an arbiter separate from yourself capable of rendering objective, perceptible judgment . . .” Of course, I have. God.

    “I think you’d need a much better way of demonstrating “self-evident” truths.” How many times do I have say that a self-evident truth cannot be demonstrated.

    “This is almost entirely wrong.” I will let the readers determine who is right or wrong. I note that you have not refuted my argument. You’ve only repeated your own. How do you know everyone would consider the example extreme? Because you personally consider the example extreme and assume everyone would agree with you (and of course they would). In other words, you most certainly did not make an empirical determination. You made an assumption about how an empirical determination would come out. And what is your assumption based upon? It is based on your value judgment that the example is extreme. Which, again, gets back to where Cannuckian started.

  11. 11

    I thought we were making progress when we had this exchange:

    Barry: “My argument is that if there is even one self-evident moral truth, then the objective nature of morality is established.”

    PHV: “That seems reasonable.”

    But I guess not:

    PHV: “Why would it [i.e., the thought experiment proposed above] not establish that people perceive different sets of “self-evident” moral truths?”

    Your thought experiment might well establish that there is not unanimous agreement on the set of self-evident moral truths. I never argued there was. My argument does not rest on the existence of unanimous agreement on the set of self-evident moral truths.

    PHV: “why would that not be a serious rebuttal to what I take to be your position, that the proof of objective moral standards is that they are self-evident?”

    Because there is a fundamental difference between the following two propositions:

    1. There is a set of self-evident moral truths upon which there is unanimous agreement.

    2. There is at least one self-evident moral truth.

    The first is not true and my argument is not based on it. The second one is true and my argument rests on that truth.

  12. You’ve said both that “one cannot argue for a self-evident proposition,” and that I “still have not grasped the argument [you've] made.” What’s the argument you’re making, if it’s not an argument for self-evident propositions?

    There is an objective actor to judge. God. If God exists (and as I have argued, there are many good reasons to believe he does, Dr. Torley has just posted several of them), your argument fails.

    I think that overlooks the Euthyphro dilemma, as it is usually understood. Setting that aside, sure, if there’s an ultimate objective actor (God counts!) then it could call the balls from strikes and be our external, objective arbiter.

    But that doesn’t solve the dilemma in the mortal world, does it? Who speaks for God? Barry Arrington? But your list of “self-evident” moral truths won’t match up with other believers’ “self-evident” moral truths. We’re back to subjectively trying to persuade one another.

    Again, it’s not just a question of whether objective moral truths exist. It’s a question of what they are. Can we define them? Can we distinguish them from our subjective beliefs and preferences? Can we do those things objectively, despite our human fallibility?

    If we have to wait to die and see what God says, then in the meantime we’re still living in a subjective world. And if God is speaking to us while we live, then we’re back to trying to distinguish His objective words from our subjective perceptions.

    It sounds like now you’re saying you can’t do that via arguments and logic, unless I misunderstand you. (In which case, though, what’s this absurdity thing all about? Is it not an attempt to prove self-evidence?)

    Would you mind answering my earlier question? How do you reliably distinguish a factually objective moral truth from one that you merely feel is objectively true, especially given human fallibility?

  13. Please let me know if this is an accurate statement of your position:

    1. There is at least one self-evident moral truth.
    2. One such truth is that it is morally wrong to torture babies for fun.
    3. It’s not possible to prove (1) or (2) through argument, because they are self-evident.
    4. A truth is self-evident if denying it leads to absurdity.
    5. “Absurdity” means the quality or condition of existing in a meaningless and irrational world.
    6. If (2) were not true, the world would be meaningless and irrational.

    You seem to vacillate between “there’s no way to argue this” and trying to make an argument.

    Insofar as there’s any attempt at a logical argument here, I think it falls (at least) with your attempt to use “absurdity” as proof of or a definition of self-evidence.

    If (2) were false, I think we’d agree the results would be horrible. (I’d make that call subjectively, you’d do so using your perceived objective standard.) But “absurd” needs some additional meaning for your progression to hang together logically, and I’m not seeing it. Why would there be no meaning to the world under (6)? Why would there be no rationality?

  14. To clarify the sequence of statements, I wrote #12 before reading #11.

    You have clarified that you are not trying to say that you’re not taking the position that there “is a set of self-evident moral truths upon which there is unanimous agreement.” (My previous comment, #13, goes to what you say is your position.)

    But I have trouble squaring that with your previous comments, in earlier threads, implying that people who claim to disagree with your articulation of self-evident moral truths are lying.

    Am I wrong about that? Do you disagree with StephenB, who takes the position that people can’t disagree with him in good faith? If not, then I think you are in fact, taking the position that there is a set of self-evident moral truths on which there is unanimous agreement (even if some people perversely deny that they agree with you).

    And in either case, I think it’s relevant that fallible humans can and will make mistakes. Consequently, how can you ever know that you’ve divined even one self-evident objective moral truth? It can’t be through argument–you’ve said they can’t be proved that way. And if it’s just through feelings, well, we misinterpret feelings all the time. So how do you check yourself?

  15. 15

    PHV @ 12:

    “What’s the argument you’re making, if it’s not an argument for self-evident propositions?”

    Again, you demonstrate you do not understand. You do not argue “for” self-evident propositions. You argue “from” self-evident propositions.

    “I think that overlooks the Euthyphro dilemma . . .”

    As has been explained many times, the Euthyphro dilemma is a false dilemma.

    “But that [the existence of God] doesn’t solve the dilemma in the mortal world, does it? Who speaks for God?”

    I do not speak for God. God speaks for himself. One way he has done that is to make us aware of self-evident moral truths.

    “But your list of “self-evident” moral truths won’t match up with other believers’ “self-evident” moral truths.”

    Back to the divergent lists are we? I’ve already demonstrated (in a way that you agreed was reasonable) that my argument does not depend on the existence of such a list. Why beat that horse again?

    “Again, it’s not just a question of whether objective moral truths exist.”

    Then what are we arguing about?

    “Can we define them?” We can define at least one.

    “Can we distinguish them from our subjective beliefs and preferences?” We can distinguish at least one from our subjective beliefs and preferences.

    “Can we do those things objectively, despite our human fallibility?” We can do those things with respect to at least one despite our human fallibility.

    “If we have to wait to die and see what God . . .” Red herring. We don’t.

    “And if God is speaking to us while we live . . .” He is.

    “. . .we’re back to trying to distinguish His objective words from our subjective perceptions.” Which I have demonstrated we can do in at least one instance.

    “How do you reliably distinguish a factually objective moral truth from one that you merely feel is objectively true, especially given human fallibility?”

    The question is meaningless, so I can’t answer it. I will say this. Some moral truths are self-evident. You can identify them by the fact that they are self-evident. Others are not.

  16. 16

    PHV @ 13:

    “If (2) were false, I think we’d agree the results would be horrible.”

    This statement demonstrates (again) that you do not understand the concept of self-evident truth. It is like saying “if 2+2 were to equal 5 it would not make sense” or “if a circle were square it would no longer be round.”

    It is not possible for (2) to be false. You know that.

    “Why would there be no meaning to the world under (6)? Why would there be no rationality?”

    You are, again, asking me to argue “for” a self-evident proposition. How many times do I have to tell you that is not possible?

  17. 17

    PHV @ 14:

    “But I have trouble squaring that with your previous comments, in earlier threads, implying that people who claim to disagree with your articulation of self-evident moral truths are lying.”

    I have never said that. I have said that if anyone says that the holocaust was not self-evidently evil, they are a liar. I stand by that. I have said that if anyone says that torturing a baby for personal pleasure is not self-evidently evil they are a liar. I stand by that.

    “. . .StephenB, who takes the position that people can’t disagree with him in good faith?” I am certain StephenB takes the position that people can disagree with him in good faith about some of his positions and not others. For example, if StephenB were to assert that it is evil to torture babies for pleasure, he would say that no one can disagree with him in good faith (and he would be right). If he were to assert that pistachio ice cream is tasty, he would say anyone could disagree with him in good faith. You have misunderstood StephenB, as you have misunderstood me.

    “I think it’s relevant that fallible humans can and will make mistakes.”

    Certainly they will. But the nature of a self-evidently true statement is that to understand it is immediately to perceive its truth. I am fallible and I make mistakes. Nevertheless, I cannot be mistaken that 2+2=4. I am fallible and I make mistakes. Nevertheless, I cannot be mistaken that torturing babies for personal pleasure is evil.

    “So how do you check yourself?”

    Consider the following propositions:

    1. 2+2=4. True. How do you check yourself?

    2. For any proposition A, A cannot be true and false at the same time and in the same sense. True. It follows from the law of identity. But on what does the law of identity rest? The law of identity cannot be demonstrated. How do you check yourself?

    You keep coming back to “feelings.” I perceive the law of identity to be true even though there is absolutely no argument that I can make to demonstrate that it is true. Do you think that my belief in the truth of the law of identity is also based on my “feelings” because I cannot check myself?

  18. Again, you demonstrate you do not understand. You do not argue “for” self-evident propositions. You argue “from” self-evident propositions.

    Then what’s the argument you’re making from self-evident propositions? Earlier you said this:

    My argument is that if there is even one self-evident moral truth, then the objective nature of morality is established. There is at least one self-evident moral truth: torturing infants for personal pleasure is evil. Therefore, the objective nature of morality is established.

    If that’s the argument you keep referring back to, then it’s perfectly circular:

    If one example of X exists, then X as a category exists. X1 is a self-evident example of X. Therefore X as a category exists.

    X1, your torture principle, can’t be demonstrated or argued, only taken as a given. (Anything else would be an argument.) The argument for X is only true if you accept the a priori assertion that the example X1 exists, which assumes that the category X exists. That’s circular.

    It’s also problematic since the “self-evident” nature of your exemplar moral truth rests on your subjective perceptions. We know subjective perceptions can be wrong, so how do you check yours? You keep saying that it’s impossible to be wrong, but that’s another judgment that’s subject to error (see below).

    Another problem with your argument is that it assumes that “self-evident” and “objective” are synonymous. But they obviously aren’t. Mark Frank used the example earlier that certain smells are self-evidently noxious to an individual–there’s no argument for it, they just are. But that’s not an objective, transcendent truth. Different people can and do have different self-evident opinions.

    It is not possible for (2) to be false. You know that.
    ….
    I have never said [that ‘people who claim to disagree with your articulation of self-evident moral truths are lying’]. I have said that if anyone says that the holocaust was not self-evidently evil, they are a liar. I stand by that. I have said that if anyone says that torturing a baby for personal pleasure is not self-evidently evil they are a liar. I stand by that.

    I see two irreconcilable positions. Earlier you said that you that it’s not true that “there is a set of self-evident moral truths upon which there is unanimous agreement.” But here and elsewhere you have identified at least two supposedly self-evident moral truths about which you say there is unanimous agreement (although people supposedly lie about it). That’s a set of two “self-evident moral truths upon which there is unanimous agreement” in your opinion, isn’t it?

    As for your belief that no one could disagree with you, how do you know? Not because of a logical argument, which you say is impossible. So how? Your belief is (a) subjective and (b) no guarantee against error. People believe factually incorrect things all the time, sometimes strongly enough to kill or die for them.

    Your response is to identify logical truths and point out that it’s not possible to be wrong about them. But saying that there are some beliefs about which you can’t be in error isn’t the same thing as showing that this belief belongs in that set.

    For example, we can swap out the proposition in your claim:

    It is self-evident that claiming your own subjective moral beliefs are actually objective beliefs shared by all is evil. By “self-evident” I mean that to deny the proposition leads to absurdity. By “absurd” I mean “the quality or condition of existing in a meaningless and irrational world.” If insisting your subjective moral beliefs are actually universal objective truths is not evil, then the universe is absurd – the entire world is meaningless and irrational.

    There is no way to say the statement is true or false without resorting to our personal beliefs, which differ.

  19. (That is to say, our personal beliefs differ in general–I don’t mean to say that I actually believe it’s objectively morally wrong to claim one’s subjective beliefs are actually objective truths.)

    I keep coming back to your odd claim that it’s impossible for you to be wrong about this. How do you know when it’s impossible to be wrong about something? And how do you know you’re not wrong about that?

    In other words, let’s say A is the belief in something and B is the belief that you can’t possibly be wrong about A. You could be wrong about B, in which case you could be wrong about A. So to be sure about A we need C, the proposition that you couldn’t possibly be wrong about B. But you could be wrong about C, so we D as well… It’s an infinite regression. Logically you must be susceptible to error.

    I don’t see any logical way to say, “I can’t be wrong about this belief” other than empirically testing it. Since we can’t do that, we’re left with your feeling that you can’t be wrong. And we know that our feelings can in fact be wrong!

    Does that apply to mathematical and logical propositions? I don’t know. I don’t think we are wrong about those truths, but we could be. (Since our belief to the contrary is a B, and subject to its own error, etc.) I think we can say provisionally that those are correct, since we can test them in the objective physical world. (Is this rock not this rock? No, it is itself. Is 2+2 still 4? Yes, it is.) But that doesn’t apply to moral truths, which don’t have any physical dimension.

  20. A paradox just struck me.

    PVH is surely right that it is always possible you are wrong about an objective belief.  Take the paradigm example – 2+2=4. Very young children are frequently  wrong about 2+2=4. They are neither lunatics nor liars. Quite sophisticated adults are wrong about more complicated sums which are true for the same reasons as 2+2=4. It is a question of degree – as the maths get simpler and simpler you get more and more confident – but there is always the possibility you were a bit closer to the young child than you realised. 
    Oddly – there is a class of subjective statements which you cannot get wrong e.g. I think, I hate, I have a pain, I am angry.

  21. That one might subjectively be wrong about a thing they subjectively believe to be objective in nature is entirely irrelevant. Like the belief that what one is experiencing is not a delusion, but is actually an exterior world with other actual individuals like themselves with thoughts and beliefs, there are things one must act as if true regardless of if they can intellectually consider that belief potentially not true.

    I can intellectually consider the possibility that 4-sided triangles exist; that doesn’t mean I should, or can, live as if 4-sided triangles can or do exist.

    The two competing arguments here can be summed up thusly:

    1. I subjectively believe, and may be in error, that X is a subjective commodity;

    2. I subjectively believe, and may be in error, that X is an objective commodity.

    A third statement in consideration is:

    3. I subjectively believe, and may be in error, that X is self-evidently true.

    PHV is making the case that because one cannot be absolutely certain that X is an objective commodity, then there is no reason to believe it is. Unfortunately, there’s no way to be certain of just about anything other than “I exist”, and some people intellectually talk themselves out of that (although I wonder who they think they are convincing).

    That we subjectively believe everything we believe, and may ultimately be in error about any of it, is simply a fundamental aspect of our existences – but, we cannot live that way. We must think, live and act as if we know things to be true; we must think, act and live as if some things objectively exist, even though there’s no way to absolutely prove it, and even though other people may disagree with us.

    Mr. Arrington rightly says that a self-evidently true statement (not just an obviously true statement) is a statement that if denied leads to absurdity (via logical inference from that position). Holding that one is not experiencing an exterior world populated with real people leads to the absurdity of having to act as if what you believe is false every second of the day. That’s the definition of absurd.

    IOW, you must think and behave as if X is true, but intellectually you deny that X is true, and insist that not-X is true. That is absurdity.

    Let’s look at the definition of absurd from Merriam-Webster:

    1: ridiculously unreasonable, unsound, or incongruous
    2 : having no rational or orderly relationship to human life : meaningless ; also : lacking order or value

    PHV, in another thread here, has said that he/she thinks and acts as if morality is both binding and actionable on others – meaning, that PHV judges the behavior of others according to his/her own morality and has the right to act (intervene) in accordance with that morality.

    Here we have PHV intellectually describing morality as nothing more than sets of personal preferences individuals have, but PHV is acting as if his/her personal preferences are binding and actionable on others – IOW, as if those preferences provide an objective grounds by which to judge the behavior of others and provide some kind of objective justification for intervening in the personal affairs of others.

    If one holds X to be nothing more than subjective personal preference, like strongly preferring apple pie to cherry, one doesn’t hold that eating apple pie is “wrong” and that other people shouldn’t eat it it and that they have the right to stop other people from eating apple pie because it’s a subjective, personal preference.

    IF one holds X to be an objectively valid commodity, however, then X is no longer just a matter of personal preference, and so one is authorized by that view to judge the acts of others as “wrong” and are justified in intervening.

    However, PHV is attempting to argue that X is in fact nothing more than personal pereference & that his personal preferences give him the capacity to judge the behavior of others and intervene when he feels like it. This principle of “right” of personal preference empowers PHV to judge others and intervene on nothing more than the whims of personal preference, whether it be about a moral issue or what kind of pie someone is ordering at a restaurant.

    PHV attempts to provide cover for this absurdity by claiming that the very sense of “wrongness” he/she feels in reference to some acts others commit is itself nothing more than a subjective feeling, but that is where PHV is attempt a “compatibilist” redefinition of the term “wrong”. The sense that someone else is doing something “wrong” is not rationally extractable from what one holds to be nothing more than personal preference. When others choose apple pie over cherry, there is no sense of something “wrong” occurring, that the person should be stopped from eating apple pie.

    It is only in context of an assumed objective judging framework of some sort that an act can be viewed as “wrong”. PHV holds his/her own preferences as binding on others, which means PHV is acting as if his/her own preferences are objective in nature, even while intellectually framing them as subjective. They are, of course, subjectively held, but are acted on by PHV as if they were objective and binding on others, giving PHV moral “right” and “obligations” that are actionable on others.

    Of course, the absurdity in this position is evident. Nobody in their right mind would claim that judging others as good or evil according to what one believes to be nothing more than personal preference (“enjoying apple pie is evil), and then intervening in their personal lives based on nothing more than personal preference, is a good system of morality and proper behavior. No sane or good person lives or thinks that way. No sane or good person would submit to another person intervening in their lives under a principle or justification no more substantive that “because I felt like it”.

    This is the absurdity of PHV’s position once he/she denies that there is at least one self-evidently true moral statement from which one can accept that morality refers to an objective, binding commodity that gives him/her the substantive capacity to judge the behavior of others and the right, even obligation, to intervene in certain cases.

    PHV’s “morality” descends into “because I felt like it” and intervening “because I can”, which only sociopaths actually act as if true. PHV’s position is the very essence of what Mr. Arrington said would be the case if the self-evidently true is denied: a descent into absurdity.

  22. So, long story short: PHV’s perspective that it is moral to enforce one’s personal preferences on others for no ultimate reasons beyond “because I feel like it” and “because I can” is the very essence of absurdity that Mr. Arrington refers to.

    Any sane person would agree that “because I feel like it” and “because I can” are not sound moral principles. Only a sociopath can live that way. One’s foundational premise of morality cannot be “personal preference” without it leading to absurdity, which means that you believe something that is logically irreconcilable with real behavior in real life.

  23. One can subjectively believe that the statement “it is immoral to torture infants for personal pleasure” to be objectively true, or they can believe it to be a matter of personal preference – subjectively true for those that agree with it.

    This leads to absurdity (as defined above) because PHV cannot act as if it is only a matter of personal preference; PHV and all non-sociopaths will act as if it is self-evidently true and binding, requiring no evidence or argument, and as if all humans are under a universal and binding obligation to not do such a thing and to intervene if such a thing is occurring. We would consider anyone who knew about it but did nothing to be evil as well; we wouldn’t think “well, they didn’t feel like intervening, so …”.

    The absurdity lies in intellectually believing something that is utterly irreconcilable (rationally speaking) with how one must behave in real life.

  24. 24

    PHV @ 18: “Then what’s the argument you’re making from self-evident propositions?”

    “That’s circular.”

    It should alarm you that in order to defend your position you’ve descended into tedious, obviously false blithering

    The set “self-evident moral truths” is not empty if there is at least one self-evident moral truth. There is at least one-self-evident moral truth. Therefore, the set “self-evident moral truths” is not empty. Not circular in the slightest degree.

    “You keep saying that it’s impossible to be wrong, but that’s another judgment that’s subject to error.”

    More blithering. There are indeed certain statements that are certainly true. Consider the following statement: “Error exists.” To deny the truth of the statement is self-referentially incoherent. Therefore, it is impossible to be wrong about it. It is self-evidently true.

    Do you admit that it is impossible for you to be wrong if you believe the statement “error exists” is true?

    Mark Frank’s noxious odor example is rife with error. “I don’t like the smell of X” is simply not in the same epistemic category as “error exists.”

    “self-evident opinions”

    I can’t believe you used that phrase.

    “That’s a set of two “self-evident moral truths upon which there is unanimous agreement” in your opinion, isn’t it?”

    More tedious blithering. You are moving the goal posts. The “set” we were discussing previously was the complete set of all self-evident truths, about which there is not unanimous agreement. Now we are talking about a different set, the set of these two specific self-evident truths. To say that there is not unanimous agreement about the first does not contradict the statement that there is unanimous agreement about the second.

    At this point you have descended into the intellectual equivalent of “wack-a-mole.”

    “As for your belief that no one could disagree with you, how do you know?”

    Because, by definition, no one can disagree with a self-evidently true statement. Do you disagree with the statement “error exists”? Do you admit that if anyone disagreed with that statement they would be wrong? How do you know?

    “For example, we can swap out . . .”

    Nonsense. Here is your argument:

    1. Barry says there is at least one self-evident moral truth.

    2. I can demonstrate that Barry’s statement is false by asserting that a non-self-evident moral truth is in fact self-evidently true, thereby demonstrating that merely asserting that something is self-evident does not make it self-evident.

    Your argument fails because the self-evidence of the assertion “torturing babies for pleasure is evil” does not rest on my assertion. It rests on the fact that the statement is in fact self-evidently true.

    “I keep coming back to your odd claim that it’s impossible for you to be wrong . . .”

    Yes you do.

    You say it is possible for every proposition to be wrong. Is it possible for that proposition to be wrong?

    “Is 2+2 still 4? Yes, it is. . . . But that doesn’t apply to moral truths, which don’t have any physical dimension.”

    2+2=4 has a physical dimension? Do tell.

  25. 25

    Mark Frank @ 20:

    “PVH is surely right that it is always possible you are wrong about an objective belief.”

    Mark, is it possible that that statement is wrong?

    “Very young children are frequently wrong about 2+2=4. They are neither lunatics nor liars. Quite sophisticated adults are wrong about more complicated sums which are true for the same reasons as 2+2=4.”

    Good heavens man, are you really saying that since a newborn infant does not know that 2+2=4 then 2+2=4 is not self evidently true?

    Get a grip.

    This statement demonstrates again that you do not understand the first thing about self-evident propositions. A self-evidently true statement is one that merely by understanding it one immediately knows it must be true. If the first part of the formula is missing (i.e., merely understanding it), then it is not self-evidently true. To your statement 2+2=4 is self-evidently true to all persons with the mental capacity to understand it. 26,564+68,222=94,786 is not a self-evidently true statement. KF has explained this to you before. You obviously were not paying attention.

  26. I think there are some different things getting muddled together in this discussion.

    1) Are there beliefs that sane people cannot possibly be wrong about?

    This depends, like all statements with the word “possible”, on the nature of the possibility. But if we take a strong form – can never be wrong under any conceivable circumstances – then I would argue this is only true of beliefs about your own mental state.  Any objective beliefs are by definition beliefs about something which is independent of your beliefs and your beliefs might simply not match up to that something.

    2) Are there objective beliefs for which you cannot argue or give evidence?

    If there are such beliefs then if someone has an opposite belief it kind of limits the discussion. Personally I have never come across a convincing example but maybe it doesn’t matter because what really matters is:

    3) Are there objective beliefs which denying them leads to absurdity (whether or not there other ways or arguing for them or giving evidence)?

    Clearly there are such beliefs – reductio ad absurdum is an accepted method of proof. Note it is still quite possible to be wrong about such beliefs – reductio ad absurdum can be hard – and it may that there are other methods of arguing for such beliefs – that is independent.

    The key here is what kind of absurdity?

    1) It might be impractical at a personal level. It would be extremely hard to live your life denying the belief that objects fall to the ground if not supported or that other people mean the same as you when they use a word etc etc. This does prove the belief is objective. It would be quite impractical to deny the belief that you are in pain when you are.

    2) It might be impractical if everyone denied it (but practical for you to deny it alone). So you might deny the belief you are capable of sex and just about function,  but if everyone believed it society would collapse. Again such beliefs can be subjective – you might deny the belief that you like sex. If everyone believed it society would be in deep trouble.

    3) It might be a logical absurdity. This seems to be the only contender for showing the belief is objectively true. So denying 2+2=4 can quite quickly to a logical absurdity such as 0=2. The nature of mathematics is a complicated philosophical debate but my point is that a moral statement has to lead to logical absurdity if this is to be an indication it is objectively true.  At the moment all the proposed absurdities are practical absurdities which can easily arise from denying commonly held subjective beliefs.

  27. Barry @ 25:

    MARK: “PVH is surely right that it is always possible you are wrong about an objective belief.”

    BARRY: Mark, is it possible that that statement is wrong?

    Yes – so what? It a statement I am arguing for. I am capable of error. That by itself does not prove it wrong. Does it?

     

    MARK: “Very young children are frequently wrong about 2+2=4. They are neither lunatics nor liars. Quite sophisticated adults are wrong about more complicated sums which are true for the same reasons as 2+2=4.”

    BARRY: Good heavens man, are you really saying that since a newborn infant does not know that 2+2=4 then 2+2=4 is not self evidently true?

    Get a grip.

    This statement demonstrates again that you do not understand the first thing about self-evident propositions. A self-evidently true statement is one that merely by understanding it one immediately knows it must be true. If the first part of the formula is missing (i.e., merely understanding it), then it is not self-evidently true. To your statement 2+2=4 is self-evidently true to all persons with the mental capacity to understand it. is not a self-evidently true statement. KF has explained this to you before. You obviously were not paying attention.

    I don’t think I mentioned new born children. There are, believe it or not, children at an age where they understand 2+2=4 but it is not immediately obvious it is true. Just as we both understand 26,564+68,222=94,786 but it is not immediately obvious it is true. After all the only difference between the two is the level of complexity.  I can see you haven’t spent much time teaching infants!

  28. The nature of mathematics is a complicated philosophical debate but my point is that a moral statement has to lead to logical absurdity if this is to be an indication it is objectively true.

    MF seems to be saying that while denying the self-evident nature of the moral statement in question might lead to practical absurdity, it doesn’t lead to logical absurdity.

    I think practical absurdities are good indications that what one is considering is objective in nature and that logical absurdities are proof that something is objective in nature. For instance, it would be practically absurd to hold the view that there is no exterior, objectively existent existent world populated by individuals. It would be practically absurd to hold the view that there is no free will. It would be practically absurd to believe that morality is entirely a matter of subjective personal preferences.

    The question is, why should one cling to a belief that leads to a practical absurdity? If one cannot live as if X is true, and expects that no one can live as if X is true, what is the purpose/benefit of believing in something that leads to practical absurdity?

    As to whether or not PHV’s views lead to logical absurdities, that depends. If one holds that what one “ought” to do is only a subjective “feeling”, then what one is necessarily endorsing is that morality is, ultimately, doing whatever one feels like doing, justified by “because I feel like it” and authorized by “because I can”, which means that “torturing infants for pleasure” is morally good for anyone who feels like doing so and can.

    This would put PHV in the position of calling the same thing both “good” and “not good”; by the principle of “because I feel like it” and “because I can”, the actions of the perpetrator must be evaluated as “morally good”; yet PHV wishes to eat his cake too and “personally feel” that the act is “wrong”.

    Well, it’s not wrong by the standard PHV endorses – “because I feel like it” and “because I can” – so how else can it be judged wrong? That PHV doesn’t like it doesn’t change the fact that he is logically bound to admit that by the criteria he adheres to, the act must be judged as morally justified.

    But, what PHV wants is to be able to consider the act “good” by his arbiting moral standards, and “bad” by the same arbiting moral standards – because I feel like it, and because I can.

    This puts PHV in the predicament of saying that an act is both X and not X – moral and immoral, a logical absurdity.

    By MF’s argument, then, morality must refer to an objective commodity because unless it is objective, it leads to logical absurdity.

  29. PHV,

    Except, of course, and only arguably, for this “self-evident” thing. The problem with “self-evident” is that, as StephenB acknowledged, it’s not any kind of argument.”

    What makes you believe that a self-evident proposition needs an argument? It doesn’t. StephenB doesn’t need to acknowledge that it’s not any kind of argument, because it isn’t, and doesn’t need to be. It’s nature of being self-evident is that it needs no argument. In fact, if it required an argument it wouldn’t be self-evident. I’m sure you are aware of this. Please re-read what I stated about deception as it relates to non-contradiction.

    The reason why we’re having this discussion is not because we’re trying to argue for the self-evident nature of morality; but because materialists refuses to acknowledge the very basic level of argumentation on these issues; those that begin with the laws of reason.

    The shoe really is on the other foot. You have stated that StephenB needed to acknowledge something about self-evident truth; but it’s not him, it’s you. If I missed a part of that conversation, forgive me, but I think I’m right on this one point.

    The very essential point in this discussion is the issue of having any kind of morality without having an objective standard that transcends the human level. Materialists will always argue in circles on this issue because they can’t acknowledge the obvious; that for us to even talk of morality requires that transcendent standard.

    That we can recognize and acknowledge a dichotomy between “The Good” and evil, is not a human trick that we’ve conjured up over hundreds of thousands of years of our evolution; but becfause “The Good” actually exists. If it does not exist, even the human evolutionary trick that materialists suppose, would not be possible. We would live in a world where thoughts of right and wrong would be completely non-existent.

    And if there is that transcendent standard; which I believe is the self-evident source for morality, then all morally right propositions are also self-evident. They don’t require an argument. The “extreme” example is not extreme because not enough people believe it is right, but because no-one with a rational mind would believe it is right. It’s not an issue of relative belief, but of rational thought that goes back to the basic laws of reason that we all adhere to – even in this discussion; whether or not we acknowledge them.

  30. WJM #28

    I think practical absurdities are good indications that what one is considering is objective in nature and that logical absurdities are proof that something is objective in nature. For instance, it would be practically absurd to hold the view that there is no exterior, objectively existent existent world populated by individuals. It would be practically absurd to hold the view that there is no free will.

    To give one example, or even hundreds of examples, of objective statements that when denied lead to practical absurdity is not a proof that “practical absurdities are good indications that what one is considering is objective in nature”. The point is that there are also plenty of subjective statements that when denied lead to practical absurdity. I gave one example – “I like sex”. Another one would be “I can tolerate communicating with other people”.

    It would be practically absurd to believe that morality is entirely a matter of subjective personal preferences.

    That of course is what we are debating. Although I would not phrase it as entirely a matter of subjective personal preferences.

    The question is, why should one cling to a belief that leads to a practical absurdity? If one cannot live as if X is true, and expects that no one can live as if X is true, what is the purpose/benefit of believing in something that leads to practical absurdity?

    No reason. I was not arguing that we should believe things that lead to practical absurdity. I was arguing that such beliefs may be subjective.

    As to whether or not PHV’s views lead to logical absurdities, that depends. If one holds that what one “ought” to do is only a subjective “feeling”, then what one is necessarily endorsing is that morality is, ultimately, doing whatever one feels like doing, justified by “because I feel like it” and authorized by “because I can”, which means that “torturing infants for pleasure” is morally good for anyone who feels like doing so and can.

    That doesn’t follow. The justification for a subjective judgement (the word “feeling” is not quite right – it implies a whimsical lack of deliberation) can be something quite objective and concrete. My subjective judgement that homosexuality is morally perfectly acceptable is justified by the objective fact that no one suffers. I can’t follow the rest of your argument but I assumes it rests on this faulty premise.

  31. WJM, you’re still eliding “to whom” in order to make your point sound profound. “That PHV doesn’t like it doesn’t change the fact that he is logically bound to admit that by the criteria he adheres to, the act must be judged as morally justified to the person who believes the act is justified, although not to anyone else.”

    “This puts PHV in the predicament of saying that an act is both X and not X depending on your perspective – moral to one person and immoral to another.” Nothing logically absurd about it if you complete the thought.

    Congratulations, you’ve proved that subjectivists believe that the Nazis believe the Holocaust was justified. A fairly trivial and useless observation.

  32. #29 CY

    And if there is that transcendent standard; which I believe is the self-evident source for morality, then all morally right propositions are also self-evident.

    It follows from this if there is a single morally right proposition that is not self-evident then there is no transcendent standard. Are you sure you want to stick to it?

  33. BA, I have to prioritize work today, so I may not be able to respond in my customary great length. Let me focus on what I think is the most important failure in your “argument” – it’s circular.

    The set ‘self-evident moral truths’ is not empty if there is at least one self-evident moral truth. There is at least one-self-evident moral truth. Therefore, the set ‘self-evident moral truths’ is not empty.

    This is circular because, as you’ve admitted there’s no component argument for the existence of X1, you just assume it a priori. (This is despite your strange attempt to use absurdity as such an argument, which you seem to have abandoned.)

    In other words, you’re assuming a priori that a self-evident moral truth exists, and using it as proof that self-evident moral truths exist. That’s circular.

    For example:

    The set ‘magical space dragons’ is not empty if there is at least one magical space dragon. There is at least one magical space dragon. Therefore, the set ‘magical space dragons is not empty.

    If my only argument for the existence of at least one magical space dragons is to assume it as a self-evident truth, then it’s a circular argument. Both arguments assume their conclusion–that the set is not empty.

    Nothing in your post above is really an argument, though, is it? It all just rests on your personal assertions. This is the Grand Sez Who 2013 Edition. Self-evident moral truths exist. Sez who? Barry Arrington. This is one of them. Sez who? Barry Arrington. It’s impossible for Barry Arrington to be wrong about that. Sez who? Barry Arrington. It’s impossible for Barry Arrington to be wrong about being wrong. Sez who? Barry Arrington. It’s impossible for anyone to disagree with Barry Arrington. Sez who? Barry Arrington. Nothing ever resolves out to an argument that exists outside your own head, making it all ultimately a subjective assertion of truth.

    Your assertions are not arguments. They’re impervious to reasoning or logic, being founded ultimately only on your say-so. I think that makes them impossible to refute or to prove. But since they’re founded ultimately on your perceptions and feelings, we’re still in a subjective and error-prone world. (Identifying truths about which it’s impossible to be wrong (assuming arguendo that you’ve done so) does not establish that your assertions fit within that set. And the one such truth you identified is actually self-evident in that denying it is self-refuting. “Barry Arrington can’t be wrong about this” is not self-evident in that way, as there’s nothing self-refuting about the statement, “Barry Arrington has mistakenly assumed his personal beliefs are self-evident objective moral truths.”)

  34. CY,

    “I’m just right, and I can’t prove it because it’s self-evident but it makes your position incoherent” isn’t much of a starting point for a dialogue between neighbors. To a subjectivist, this position is especially strange given that the real world operates according to subjectivist principles—no matter how much you believe your morals are objective in nature, your neighbor (even if he’s also an objectivist!) will disagree with you sooner or later. You use the tools of moral subjectivism to resolve that disagreement.

    What if I took the position that you’re self-evidently wrong? No argument needed or possible, it’s just self-evident! Where does that lead us?

    And if there is that transcendent standard; which I believe is the self-evident source for morality, then all morally right propositions are also self-evident.

    That’s a problematic position because we know, empirically, that people disagree over “morally right propositions” all the time, based on their conflicting beliefs in inconsistent moral propositions. Possibly they’re all just mistaken in the way they perceive the self-evident truths, but if it’s possible to be so mistaken (such that entire generations and cultures disagree with one another) then there’s no practical objectivity to speak of.

    Perhaps, as we’ve said before, “self-evident” isn’t the same thing as “objective” when it comes to morality. Perhaps it’s self-evident to a Christian in 1810 Atlanta that slavery isn’t wrong, just as it’s self-evident to a Christian in 2010 Atlanta that it is.

    “Self-evident” can be subjective. It’s self-evident to some people that heights are terrifying, but that’s subjective. No one has articulated any reason why “self-evident” moral truths would also be objective. I guess it’s just another “sez who” problem. It just is because the objectivist sez so. The objectivist can’t be wrong about that because the objectivist sez so. Ad infinitum.

  35. MF,

    Take the paradigm example – 2+2=4. Very young children are frequently wrong about 2+2=4. They are neither lunatics nor liars. Quite sophisticated adults are wrong about more complicated sums which are true for the same reasons as 2+2=4. It is a question of degree – as the maths get simpler and simpler you get more and more confident – but there is always the possibility you were a bit closer to the young child than you realised.
    Oddly – there is a class of subjective statements which you cannot get wrong e.g. I think, I hate, I have a pain, I am angry.

    This is an excellent example. I wish I’d thought of it. There’s nothing about self-evidence that logically precludes error. BA’s use of math as a self-evident truth makes that plain, since of course people make math mistakes all the time.

    Although there may be statements that cannot be made erroneously (I think, error exists), Barry Arrington’s moral assumptions don’t logically belong in that set as their denial isn’t self-refuting. Lumping those assumptions in with that set is itself another unargued, unsupported assumption whose denial is not self-refuting: error exists, and is possible there.

  36. 36

    Pro Hac Vice, I notice that you dodged the questions in my 24. Into the moderation que with you demonstrate you are willing to argue in good faith by answering them.

  37. #36 Barry

    Pro Hac Vice, I notice that you dodged the questions in my 24. Into the moderation que with you demonstrate you are willing to argue in good faith by answering them.

    You are extraordinary. Why do you assume he was dodging the questions rather than failing to notice them, or not having enough time to do it now, or noticing them and then forgetting, or a thousand other reasons? It isn’t physically possible to respond to everything everyone writes in these debates – especially if you are working at the same time as PVH is. You have to prioritise. I can’t count the number of times I have asked you questions or given you challenges which you have not responded to. I have not blamed you in the slightest for just these reasons.

    I don’t suppose you have ever moderated yourself. Try it. It is almost indistinguishable from banning.

  38. PHV thanks. I was pleased with the example myself.

    Although there may be statements that cannot be made erroneously (I think, error exists)

    I think it may be possible to make a sincere mistake saying “error does not exist”. It would be a pretty dim thing to assert but you could just about imagine someone coming to that conclusion. Mostly I would just struggle to know what they meant. Anyhow I am happy to make an exception for some logical statements as objective and incorrigible – moral statements clearly don’t fall into that category.

    I fear you will be unable to respond in a practical time if you are in moderation. Barry frequently resorts to banning or moderation if he doesn’t like the way you are arguing. It reflects well on you. You can always post at TSZ – many UDers participate there as well.

  39. PHV,

    Then there is no principled difference between you and the Nazi. He is inflicting his personal preferences on others because he feels like it and because he can, and you are inflicting your personal preferences on the Nazi because you feel like it and because you can.

  40. Congratulations, you’ve proved that subjectivists believe that the Nazis believe the Holocaust was justi4fied. A fairly trivial and useless observation.

    No, what I’ve shown is that there is no principled moral difference between nazis and anyone else under moral subjectivism. If you are a moral relativist, you must admit that you are the moral equivalent of a Nazi. Period. You both do whatever you feel like because you feel like it and because you can.

    There is no difference other than personal preference, like preferring apple pie to cherry, which is not a substantive difference.

  41. F/N (Attn PHV and MF et al): Back to basics — rationality (not rationalism) 101 . . . including moral common sense.

    Try:

    3 + 2 = 5

    ||| + || = |||||

    This is self evident, as one who understands what it asserts (in light of conscious experience of the world) will see it to be true and that it must be true on pain of immediate, patent absurdity.

    Similarly, for “error exists” [just try to deny this and see where it gets you!], or “I am conscious” — as rocks have no dreams and those who dream, even if deluded, are conscious.

    Notice, these are first truths, one does not have turtles all the way down or turtles in a circle or let’s arbitrarily pick a turtle and call it no 1. They are not grounded on other claims and chains of arguments, but on insightful rational understanding of the world as we experience it.

    Nor is it circular to accept such, so any arbitrary “turtle” will do. These, we understand and we see — if we are willing — that to deny is patently to be absurd. Which, we are also going to be directly aware of.

    Try:

    3 + 2 = 4

    ||| + || = ||||

    Take away 4 both sides:

    | = __________, i.e, absurd.

    When it comes to start-points for reasoning, we have self-evident first principles of right reason.

    A good beginning is a bright red ball on a table, A.

    This effects a world-partition, W = { A | NOT_A }

    Once we understand that distinct identity, it immediately follows that the law of identity, that of mon-contradiction and that of the excluded middle obtain. A is itself, LOI. A cannot be simultaneously ~A, LNC. Anything, x in W, will be A, or ~ A but not both or neither.

    These are self evident to the point where the attempt to deny and utter or even think such will have to use the same principles. And don’t even bother on trying Q-mech. To get to Q-mech and to assess results in Q-mech, we have to be based on the laws all the way. (If you want more details, cf the Weak argument correctives.)

    Then, we look at the weak form principle of sufficient reason: for any A we can ask, why A and seek/hope to find a good answer. Which has as corollary, cause and effect, especially the issue of on/off enabling causal factors — think, Boy Scouts fire triangle.

    SETs are important and ground rationality.

    Period.

    Now, the pivot of debate is moral SETs.

    Same principles and context apply, noting that a key feature of normal consciousness is conscience. Normal to the point that if one asserts that it is essentially delusional in asserting that we are governed by ought, that would put us in a Plato’s Cave absurd world of shadow shows that would bring our general rationality under hyperskeptical doubt. In short, the simplest reply is, anything that implies general de;lusion of a major feature of rational conscuiousness undermines the foundation of rationality and refutes itself. Errors are particular, not global.

    And of course we come to: it is SET that it would be wrong to kidnap, torture, rape and murder a child. With corollary, that if such is in progress we are duty-bound to intervene to save the child from the monster.

    Just try to directly deny it: no takers, the game is to try to obfuscate, undermine, divert, etc.

    All are absurd and speak volumes.

    There are moral SETs, we are quite aware of many of them, and we have to reckon with our being under moral government, as testified by the normally functioning conscience — as that we live in a world of light, sights and sounds is testified to by other senses.

    The best explanation is that we live under a moral governor.

    That is, there is a world-foundational IS that adequately grounds OUGHT.

    The only serious candidate, being the inherently good, Creator-God.

    And to me, that is the real root issue, as that cuts across major worldview tastes, preferences and assertions; some of them dressed up in lab coats.

    So, let’s just cut to the chase scene.

    KF

  42. If you are a moral relativist, you must admit that you are the moral equivalent of a Nazi. Period. You both do whatever you feel like because you feel like it and because you can.

    Some Nazis did not do what they felt like. They rejected their better feelings and instead followed the murderous orders of their superior officers. Some were persuaded by propaganda and centuries old cultural bias.

    Perhaps, BA and WJM, if you did not fancy yourselves to be the moral superiors of the Nazis, you would then see how awful you appear online and how unreasonable your positions are. You might also realize that your imaginary friend stands in as the worst fuehrer of them all

  43. Barry Arrington,

    Pro Hac Vice, I notice that you dodged the questions in my 24. Into the moderation que with you demonstrate you are willing to argue in good faith by answering them.

    In fact, as I explicitly stated in 33 this morning, I’m trying to concentrate on work. No dodging, just prioritization. You have cultivated a nasty reputation as being unable or unwilling to have civil conversations with people who disagree with you; this is certainly consistent with that tendency. It is also a transparent attempt to save face and distract attention from your failure to answer criticisms of your position.

    There aren’t many questions in 24, and I’ve more or less answered them already. (That’s one thing that indicates that this isn’t a significant point of discussion, but rather a tactical excuse for redirecting the conversation from criticisms you can’t rebut.) Let’s address them:

    The set “self-evident moral truths” is not empty if there is at least one self-evident moral truth. There is at least one-self-evident moral truth. Therefore, the set “self-evident moral truths” is not empty. Not circular in the slightest degree.

    That’s not a question, but let’s pause to observe the circularity here. The set of X is not empty if I can find at least one X. I assert without argument that at least one X exists. Therefore the set of X is not empty. That is circular.

    Do you admit that it is impossible for you to be wrong if you believe the statement “error exists” is true?

    Here’s the first question. Yes, I think it’s impossible for the statement “error exists” to be incorrect. I don’t think that does your position any favors, though; “error exists” is trivially true because to deny it is inherently self-refuting. Denying your assertions is not self-refuting. You have to insert lots of additional assumptions, such as your definitions of “absurdity,” to pretend otherwise. And you were unable or unwilling to answer my questions about how the refutation of your principle was “absurd.” Instead you abdicated all argument and fell back on the inherent inerrancy of your own beliefs. Somewhat ironic in light of your earlier statement, “the smug certitude so many materialists display on these pages is unwarranted.”

    Do you disagree with the statement “error exists”? Do you admit that if anyone disagreed with that statement they would be wrong? How do you know?

    I already answered these questions, but I think you’re looking for an excuse to ban me in order to save face, so I’ll try to be as complete as possible. No, yes, because denying the statement is inherently self-refuting.

    Your argument fails because the self-evidence of the assertion “torturing babies for pleasure is evil” does not rest on my assertion. It rests on the fact that the statement is in fact self-evidently true.

    Your position isn’t just that it’s self-evident, but that it’s self-evidently objectively true. Self-evident truths can be subjective truths, such as “heights aren’t scary” or “I have five fingers on each hand.” Those aren’t true statements for an acrophobe or an amputee.

    And of course, we do have only your assertion supporting these “self-evident” truths. Unlike logical self-evident truths, your assertions can’t be objectively tested and denying them isn’t inherently self-refuting. Your assertion that they are self-evident is nothing more than the report of your personal feeling that they are true combined with an inability to support that feeling with external logic. But you could of course be wrong—your inability to articulate an argument could be because you’re only reporting subjective feelings.

    2+2=4 has a physical dimension? Do tell.

    My thinking was that if someone doubts that 2+2=4, we can test it by putting two items with two items and counting the result. That’s the sort of test that’s impossible with your self-reported moral truths.

    MF’s example of mathematical error has me rethinking this, though. Complex math problems are both “self-evident” and subject to error, and lots of math problems can’t be represented in the physical world. We can still do the math, though, to objectively test the assertion. That’s something we can’t do with your semi-divine pronouncements. So rather than “physical dimension,” I’d say that “self-evident” logical truths are testable.

    The test would be, I think, that the denial of a truly self-evident logical truth is self-refuting. Your “self-evident” truths fail that test.

    I’m no philosopher, so I’m working this out to a certain extent as we go. Kantian Naturalist is leading a higher-level discussion of some of these ideas at TSZ. I may cross-post this response there in case you suppress this response to further save face.

    Now I really have to get back to work.

  44. F/N: Plato, The Laws, Bk X, 2350 years ago on radical relativism, its roots and fruit:

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

    [[Thus, they hold that t]he Gods exist not by nature, but by art, and by the laws of states, which are different in different places, according to the agreement of those who make them; and that the honourable is one thing by nature and another thing by law, and that the principles of justice have no existence at all in nature, but that mankind are always disputing about them and altering them; and that the alterations which are made by art and by law have no basis in nature, but are of authority for the moment and at the time at which they are made.- [[Relativism, too, is not new; complete with its radical amorality rooted in a worldview that has no foundational IS that can ground OUGHT.] These, my friends, are the sayings of wise men, poets and prose writers, which find a way into the minds of youth. They are told by them that the highest right is might [[ Evolutionary materialism leads to the promotion of amorality], and in this way the young fall into impieties, under the idea that the Gods are not such as the law bids them imagine; and hence arise factions [[Evolutionary materialism-motivated amorality "naturally" leads to continual contentions and power struggles], these philosophers inviting them to lead a true life according to nature, that is, to live in real dominion over others [[such amoral factions, if they gain power, "naturally" tend towards ruthless tyranny], and not in legal subjection to them.

    There have been all too many cases in point across the centuries. Some of them utterly horrific.

    And once upon a certain time, in at least one such case, the defence offered at trial was, I was just following orders of my superiors (so also projecting that there is no higher common and universal natural law . . . ), in a context where that is all we ultimately have to appeal to.

    The defence, for cause, was rejected.

    KF

  45. PS: LT above, of course means to suggest that God is an imaginary a moral monster equivalent to Hitler, and by extension, those who follow God under a theistic tradition are equivalent to Nazis. That is unspeakably contemptuously dismissive and hateful and inciting thereof, and it is as direct an example of a patent absurdity as can be given. (Cf. here on for a discussion of the common New Atheist inciting rhetoric too often seen on this in our day. On the reasonableness of believing in God, I suggest here on, and yes, that starts from SETS and first principles of right reason — for good cause as seen above.) Also, he cannot bring himself to accept that there are SETs that are moral, as outlined above, that they point to OUGHT being grounded in an IS that can bear their weight. There is but one serious candidate, the inherently good Creator-God. KF

  46. Pro Hac Vice, I notice that you dodged the questions in my 24. Into the moderation que with you demonstrate you are willing to argue in good faith by answering them.

    Well done Barry. Your final response is unanswerable, literally! I do feel for you. Your whole little empire is crumbling around you. What can you do? “Barry sez so” only works where Barry makes the rules.

  47. F/N: Time for a key word:

    >> ob·fus·cate
    (bf-skt, b-fskt)
    tr.v. ob·fus·cat·ed, ob·fus·cat·ing, ob·fus·cates
    1. To make so confused or opaque as to be difficult to perceive or understand: “A great effort was made . . . to obscure or obfuscate the truth” (Robert Conquest).
    2. To render indistinct or dim; darken: The fog obfuscated the shore.
    [Latin obfuscre, obfusct-, to darken : ob-, over; see ob- + fuscre, to darken (from fuscus, dark).]
    obfus·cation n.
    ob·fusca·tory (b-fsk-tôr, -tr, b-) adj.

    The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.>> KF

  48. 48

    PHV has addressed (not that I would say “answered”) my questions. He is no longer in mod.

  49. @ Pro Hac Vice

    You’d be very welcome to call in at The Skeptical Zone for tea and sympathy. Your patience with Barry has been an education.

  50. He is no longer in mod.

    OK objection withdrawn, counsellor.

  51. Some Nazis did not do what they felt like.

    Entirely irrelevant to the argument, which is about a Nazi that presumably liked it, and someone who presumably dislikes it.

    They rejected their better feelings and instead followed the murderous orders of their superior officers. Some were persuaded by propaganda and centuries old cultural bias.

    What difference does any of that make? Under moral subjectivism, how one feels is the justification for an act. What makes a person feel that way is entirely irrelevant because it is not required to justify an act as moral.

    Perhaps, BA and WJM, if you did not fancy yourselves to be the moral superiors of the Nazis, you would then see how awful you appear online and how unreasonable your positions are. You might also realize that your imaginary friend stands in as the worst fuehrer of them all

    First, if you don’t fancy yourself morally superior to a Nazi, you’ve basically just admitted you are the moral equivalent of a Nazi, which is exactly the point I’m making.

    Second, why should I care how “awful” I “appear” to anyone online?

    Third, if you consider the arguments “unreasonable”, then make your case.

    Fourth, who is my imaginary friend, and what has it done that makes it the “worst fuehrer of them all”?

  52. 52

    PHV @ 43:

    You have cultivated a nasty reputation as being unable or unwilling to have civil conversations with people who disagree with you; this is certainly consistent with that tendency

    It is true that I have little patience with the sort of sophistry you are selling, and I treat it harshly. I make no apology. Your statement reminds me of a song from the 70′s. “He had a nasty reputation as a cruel dude. They said he was ruthless. They said he was crude.” :-)

    The set of X is not empty if I can find at least one X. I assert without argument that at least one X exists. Therefore the set of X is not empty. That is circular.

    Let’s examine why your example is mistaken, even obviously so. Let us substitute set Y for set X where set Y is the set of addition operations involving only the positive integer “2” where the addition operation equals exactly 4. I assert without argument that at least one such addition operation exists (namely, 2+2=4). Therefore the set Y is not empty. You say reasoning like this is circular. You are obviously wrong. Your position does not bear up under the slightest scrutiny. How embarrassing for you.

    Do you admit that it is impossible for you to be wrong if you believe the statement “error exists” is true? Yes, I think it’s impossible for the statement “error exists” to be incorrect . . . “error exists” is trivially true because to deny it is inherently self-refuting.

    OK. So your definition of a statement about which it is impossible to be wrong is a statement that is (1) trivially true; and (2) that to deny would be inherently self-refuting.

    The statement “torturing babies for personal pleasure is evil” meets your criteria. It is trivially true. It is impossible to deny it in any meaningful way, and therefore any attempt to deny it would be inherently self-refuting. Welcome to the world of recognizing self-evident moral truths. I’m sorry we had to drag you through the door kicking and screaming.

    I think you’re looking for an excuse to ban me in order to save face

    I admit that I find your whack-a-mole sophistry to be tedious, but I am not looking for an excuse to ban you. If I banned people for sophistry you would have been gone long ago.

    Self-evident truths can be subjective truths

    Only if you equivocate about the meaning of the phrase “self-evident truth.” Of course, I am not surprised that you equivocate, equivocation being in the sophist’s standard bag of tricks.

    And of course, we do have only your assertion supporting these “self-evident” truths.

    That may be the stupidest thing you’ve ever said, and that is saying a lot. That “torturing babies for personal pleasure is evil” is self-evident does not rest on my assertion. It rests on the fact that it is in fact self-evident. Your attempts to distort and distract from this point have gone beyond laughable and have become kind of pathetic.

    Unlike logical self-evident truths, your assertions can’t be objectively tested . . .

    By “tested” I assume you mean “demonstrated” or “confirmed.” Logical self-evident truths cannot be tested. Tell me. What test would you use to confirm the law of identity? Again, a self-evident truth cannot be demonstrated. It is either accepted or rejected.

    Arguments are based on premises. As in “A is true because B is true.” That leads to “B is true because C is true” which in turn leads to “C is true because D is true” and so on. At some point, the answer to “And why is X true” must be “It just is.” Do you deny this?

    Your assertion that they are self-evident is nothing more than the report of your personal feeling that they are true combined with an inability to support that feeling with external logic. But you could of course be wrong—your inability to articulate an argument could be because you’re only reporting subjective feelings.

    I assume by “external logic” you mean “even more basic logical premises that lead to a conclusion.” Let us substitute again:

    PHV’s assertion that the law of identity is self-evident is nothing more than the report of his personal feeling that it is true combined with an inability to support that feeling with even more basic principles. Your inability to articulate an argument that demonstrates the truth of the law of identity could by because you’re only reporting your subjective feeling that the law of identity is true.

    Complex math problems are both “self-evident” and subject to error

    That you would say this demonstrates, once again, that you do not have any idea what you are talking about. See my comment destroying Mark’s assertion at 25. See also KF’s excellent discussion at 41.

    Your “self-evident” truths fail that test.

    No, they don’t.

    I’m no philosopher,

    And how.

    Kantian Naturalist is leading a higher-level discussion of some of these ideas at TSZ

    Because he is too gutless to spew his sophistry on these pages where he knows his arguments will be destroyed.

  53. PHV:

    Here’s the first question. Yes, I think it’s impossible for the statement “error exists” to be incorrect. I don’t think that does your position any favors, though; “error exists” is trivially true because to deny it is inherently self-refuting. Denying your assertions is not self-refuting.

    Is the error that exists objective or subjective?

  54. Ok, I’ll take a stab at suggesting an objectively self-evident moral truth.

    Lying, a deliberate intent to falsify information or cause a false perception in others, is objectively morally self-evidently wrong.

    It is objectively wrong. In a materialistic universe directed solely by physical laws and quantum effects, falsehood, the intentional misrepresentation of fiction as fact is impossible. Laws and particles don’t lie. They are what they actually are, however difficult they may be to measure or predict, they are regardless uninfluenced by fiction. In a materialistic universe, outcomes and consequences are always factual, never fictional and the distinction between fact and fiction can be objectively compared. Facts are objectively true and correct while fiction is objectively false and incorrect, albeit difficult to observe and measure, but theoretically possible even at quantum levels. Now if one argues that the universe is not solely materialistic and admits to a nonphysical, supernatural aspect of “mind” or “conscience”, then regardless, lying remains objectively wrong; one has merely admitted to the means by which a mental decision to lie is not limited by the physical constraints on materialistic laws and particles.

    Lying is morally wrong because it is an attempt to cause others to believe a falsehood in contradiction to what they would otherwise would think based upon the truth. In absence of a lie, decisions can be made in accordance with truth and fact, had the liar not intervened to affect the outcome. Lying is a moral act because the alternatives, silence permitting a materialistic outcome (unaltered by fiction) is an amoral act while truth permitting the same materialistic outcome (also unaltered by fiction) is either indistinguishable from amoral silence or moral if correcting a falsehood and illuminating fact and truth. Lying to affect an outcome for moral reasons merely reinforces the moral basis for the lie. Lying is also “wrong”, as opposed to “right”. Lying establishes the source as dishonest, not to be believed without expenditure of unproductive effort and energy, which merely establishes facts as if the source had remained silent to begin with. In a materialistic universe, truth and fact are objectively “right” whereas fiction is objectively “wrong”, even antithetical to the universe as it factually exists. But again if one admits to supernatural mind or conscience, then depriving someone of the truth deprives them of the opportunity to choose or decide with morally right behavior, even if the intended outcome is deemed morally preferable. But if the means (to an end) are falsified, there is no assurance that the end hasn’t been falsified as well. The entire gamut of communication with a liar is an unproductive, fruitless expenditure of time, patience and bandwidth (as posters here know all too well). Causing a needless waste of resources and unsustainable outcomes based on ephemeral fiction rather than enduring fact, consequent to lying, is morally wrong.

    Lying is self-evidently wrong. We are able to lie or tell the truth, we all know our ability to lie is self-evident. Lying requires a conscious deliberate effort by the “self”, the entity formulating the lie. Further, lying requires knowledge of what is true and factual and then awareness of how to alter the truth and facts so as to cause the target to believe a falsehood. Lying is neither accidental nor unaware. Lying is causative and intentional – it is self-evident.

    Lying is morally, objectively and self-evidently wrong.

  55. Me:

    And if there is that transcendent standard; which I believe is the self-evident source for morality, then all morally right propositions are also self-evident.

    PHV:

    That’s a problematic position because we know, empirically, that people disagree over “morally right propositions” all the time, based on their conflicting beliefs in inconsistent moral propositions. Possibly they’re all just mistaken in the way they perceive the self-evident truths, but if it’s possible to be so mistaken (such that entire generations and cultures disagree with one another) then there’s no practical objectivity to speak of.

    Again; if there is that transcendent standard – above human understanding. You seem to be thinking that humans are themselves the standard. If that’s the case, then morally right porpositions are a matter of opinion, and we have no business as humans judging any moral position; because it’s simply meaningless. Any person can prop him or herself up as the standarbearer of morality. That’s exactly what’s wrong with the materialist position. It’s ultimate end is “might makes right,” which is not only tyranny, but logically untenable as well. We know that might and rightness are two different categories. It does not follow that I SHOULD do something because someone forces me to do it. I then have no choice, and then the issue of right becomes meaningless.

    It’s these issues among many others, which keep me from being a materialist.

    Clarification: when I say “morally right propositions” I mean those that line-up and are not contradictory to the source (standard); which I believe is God.

    If God is just, then justice is a morally right proposition. If God is love, then love is a morally right proposition….etc…

  56. #54 Charles

    Could you rewrite your comment more concisely (I suggest 200 words)? It is rather hard to work out the thread of your argument.

    Thanks

  57. 57
    CentralScrutinizer

    When an insane person asserts, “I am Napolean”, he is asserting a “self evident truth.”

    The problem with self-evident truths are is that the only people who agree with you are others that see that “self evident truth.”

    PHV is right. And he has been crystal clear about his views. He has not denied that an objective moral truth exists. But regardless of whether or not there is an objective moral truth, nobody can determine what it is. Nobody’s sense of “self evidency” is actual evident any more than someones “self evident” claim of being Napolean is evidence that he is Napolean.

    It’s a subjective world, folks. Despite all the philosophizing, and claims of “moral certainty”, everyone is acting subjectivity, even when there is a large consensus.

  58. CentralS:

    When an insane person asserts, “I am Napolean”, he is asserting a “self evident truth.”

    No. That’s not what self-evident means. It does not mean whatever seems apparent to the self, but what is incontrovertibly true apart from what I may believe to be true.

    You are asserting that self-evident truth is what it is merely to the observer. Don’t mistake what the self is here. It is not the obersver, but the truth itself. It has nothing to do with what we believe to be true. I can believe that 2+2=3, but that is not self-evidently true. I can argue that 2+2 does not equal 3 by demonstration. I CAN argue that 2+2=4, but it is incontrovertibly true. It does not require demonstration or argument. To be idiomatic here: “it is what it is.”

    From Webster:

    Self-Evident:

    ….evident without proof or reasoning.

    synonym: prima facie.

    related terms:

    self-explanatory; apparent, clear, evident, hands-down, manifest, obvious, open-and-shut, patent, plain, transparent, unmistakable; incontestable, incontrovertible, indisputable, indubitable, undeniable, unquestionable; accepted, given, granted.

    Near Antonyms:

    arguable, contestable, debatable, disputable, doubtable, dubious, moot, problematic (also problematical), questionable.

    http://www.merriam-webster.com.....lf-evident

  59. Charles @ 54

    You are exactly right.

  60. When an insane person asserts, “I am Napolean”, he is asserting a “self evident truth.”

    Under what definition of “self-evident truth”? Do you know what “self-evident truth” means, as a philosophical concept? It seems to me that the only way you can come up with this incorrect example is by looking at the words in the phrase and stringing common definitions of those words together.

  61. Charles,

    While that is a great argument supporting the proposition that lying is always immoral, it cannot by definition make a case that lying is self-evidently wrong. Self-evident truths require no argument or evidence to apprehend that they are true. Other arguments are made from self-evidently true moral statements, not towards them.

    Let’s look at the basis you cite for a material justification of the “wrongness” of lying:

    In a materialistic universe, truth and fact are objectively “right” whereas fiction is objectively “wrong”, even antithetical to the universe as it factually exists.

    Also, while what a lie refers to is not factually existent, the lie itself is. Thus by your rationale, a lie is justified as “right” because the lie itself factually exists in the material universe.

    You say:

    Lying is self-evidently wrong.

    Let’s put this to the test.

    You, your wife and children are part of the resistance in Nazi germany. You are hiding Jews in secret areas of your home. The Nazis knock on your door and ask you if you know of any Jews hidden anywhere in the city. You believe that to reveal the Jews hidden in your house will mean their torturous, horrific imprisonment and eventual death.

    Is it immoral to lie to the Nazi at your door? I think it is obvious (even if perhaps not self-evidently so) that the moral thing to do is to lie to the Nazi at your door; it would be immoral **not** to lie.

    Morality doesn’t serve the factual nature of the material universe; it serves the spiritual nature we as humans all share.

  62. CS:

    When an insane person asserts, “I am Napolean”, he is asserting a “self evident truth.”

    In order for a truth to be self-evident, it must, by definition, be true.

  63. Here’s hoping that PHV will answer my question.
    PHV:

    Yes, I think it’s impossible for the statement “error exists” to be incorrect.

    Is the error that exists objective or subjective?

  64. 64
    CentralScrutinizer

    WJM @60 :Under what definition of “self-evident truth”? Do you know what “self-evident truth” means, as a philosophical concept? It seems to me that the only way you can come up with this incorrect example is by looking at the words in the phrase and stringing common definitions of those words together.

    See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-evidence

    I’d say my take on it is decent.

    PHV is right philosophically and in a common sense, practical way. But it’s been fun watching the exchange. By and large, it’s only the common sense, practical way that matters. It’s a subjective world. You and Barry have fallen short in any sort attempt to make PHV’s views look absurd philosophy, and wrong practically.

  65. 65
    CentralScrutinizer

    WJM,

    To continue, take the “killing babies for fun is always evil” claim made here over and over. Do you think that is equivalent in a self-evidentiary way with the statement, “A finite whole is greater than, or equal to, any of its parts”?

    If so, than I think it’s you and Barry who don’t know what a self-evident truth is.

  66. CS, It is in a different domain indeed from wholes and parts, but that does not prevent it from being true once we understand what is being said in light of our conscious experience of the world, and in light of the must be so on pain of absurdity on attempted denial. Try to deny the assertion and see where it patently, immediately lands you. Indeed, I observe that those who dispute it are very careful to avoid overtly and directly denying it. No prizes for guessing why. Then we can ask what this case by way of corollaries is telling us about the value, equality, dignity and reasonable expectations of the human person. Especially one who by definition is too weak and to undeveloped mentally to exert advantageously the might and/or manipulation makes ‘right’ explicit or implicit dictum of the materialists since Plato. KF

  67. William J Murray @ 61

    Thus by your rationale, a lie is justified as “right” because the lie itself factually exists in the material universe.

    While the “lie” may exist factually (e.g. as a stream of encoded information bits), what the lie purports to describe (e.g. “1 2 3 4 5 6 are all prime numbers”) does not factually exist. The lie can be compared to the facts it contradicts, and exposed as a lie, as a fiction, and that comparison can be done objectively, and in a purely materialist universe the “lie” (i.e. it’s claims or descriptions, rather than how it is encoded and transmitted) can be shown as “wrong” by virtue of the fact that the purported description is contradicted by fact and hence the purported description is objectively wrong.

    But regardless of how objectively a lie can be exposed, is a lie morally wrong?

    Is it immoral to lie to the Nazi at your door? I think it is obvious (even if perhaps not self-evidently so) that the moral thing to do is to lie to the Nazi at your door; it would be immoral **not** to lie.

    You are arguing the relative morality of a greater good vs. a greater evil. It is immoral to lie, it is also immoral to torture, imprison and murder Jews. Arguably, the greater immorality is torture, imprisonment and murder vs. deception to prevent same. Regardless, both are immoral, albeit with different consequences to which we attach differing valuations of morality. Both are objectively, self-evidently, morally wrong, but we (reasonably) view torture, etc. as more wrong than the lie to prevent same.

    The self-evidence of both being immoral is that you would pose it in this context as a dilemma, i.e. which of the two morally wrong choices to make?

    Morality doesn’t serve the factual nature of the material universe; it serves the spiritual nature we as humans all share.

    Factual physical laws, particles, entanglements, energy and matter, etc. have no moral component, and accordingly, agreed that a materialistic universe is not served by morality because morality, as opposed to gravity (for example), is non-physical. That morality serves our shared spiritual nature is again agreed, but that is because morality’s component is essentially orthogonal to material physical components – i.e., they never intersect.

    A materialistic universe is indifferent to any moral aspect of fiction because it is uninfluenced by fiction (whether moral or immoral), while moral and immoral facts exist both in our materialistic universe because we (as resident moral beings) define and attach such meaning, regardless of however we assert the origins of our morality. Life exists in our materialistic universe and we further deem life, especially human life, particularly human infant life to be both “good” morally as well as “right” materialistically.

    But fiction is objectively wrong in a materialistic universe, and though materialistically nonexistent, fiction can be immoral (e.g. a lie), or amoral (e.g. a bedtime story), or moral (e.g. an analogy like Orwell’s “1984″). It is because a “lie” is both fictional and immoral that it’s “wrongness” seems objective and self-evident in both materialist and supernatural contexts, simultaneously. A “lie” seemed an apropos example whether one is a materialist or theist.

    We are perhaps arguing past each other, for different points?

  68. F/N: why would anyone think it reasonable to suggest that someone in delusion imagining himself to be Napoleon is a case of self-evident truth? First, one’s name is not a self-evident truth. One’s name is not seen to be true on our conscious experience of the world once one understands what is being said in saying “Me llamo XCVB . . . ” Nor would denying that one’s name is XCVB immediately, patently and necessarily land in absurdity. The case in the main is not even relevant. And the delusional madman is the same on steroids. Self evident does not mean that which seems true to the self. It is possible to be deluded about or deny a SET, but only on pain of patent absurdity. Comparable to saying 2 + 3 = 4, and insisting that the steps of laying out four sticks on one side and groups of two and three on the other then taking away four on both sides leaving one on the side with 2 + 3 and 0 on that which had had 4 could be merely a mistaken perception. after all we could at any time or situation be mistaken. (Hint, the appeal to general delusion or dismissive potential for same is self-referentially absurd by infinite regress that undermines rational discussion.) KF

  69. PS: Cf here on SETs.

  70. Central Scrutinizer

    I’d say my take on it is decent.

    Unfortunately, that is not the case. What is your response to my comment @62?

    PHV is right philosophically and in a common sense, practical way. But it’s been fun watching the exchange.

    PHV is wrong in both ways.

    By and large, it’s only the common sense, practical way that matters. It’s a subjective world.

    The phrase “it is” indicates being, which is, by definition, objective; the phrase “it seems” indicates perception, which is, by definition, subjective. Thus, your phrase, “it is a subjective world” contradicts itself.

    You and Barry have fallen short in any sort attempt to make PHV’s views look absurd philosophy, and wrong practically.

    The very fact that PHV cannot (or will not try to) answer my question @52 shows that his position is untenable. He left the scene right after I put it to him. Since you think he is correct, why don’t you take it up for him? He agreed, kicking and screaming, that error exists. My question persists: Is the error that exists objective or subjective?

  71. Correction in my #67:

    (e.g. an analogy like Orwell’s “1984?) should have been
    (e.g. an allegory like Orwell’s “Animal Farm?)

    (sigh)

  72. #70 StephenB

    The very fact that PHV cannot (or will not try to) answer my question @52 shows that his position is untenable.

    Or more mundanely that he never read your comment or has got fed up with UD.

  73. SB: The very fact that PHV cannot (or will not try to) answer my question @52 shows that his position is untenable.

    Mark Frank

    Or more mundanely that he never read your comment or has got fed up with UD.

    If that is the case, he certainly picked a convenient time to get fed up. Since Central Scrutinizer, a defender of PHV, also got fed up at just the right time, perhaps you, another fan, and someone who is not yet fed up, would like to take it on.

    PHV agreed, kicking and screaming, that error exists. So, here is my question: Is the error that exists objective or subjective?

  74. Charles,

    I think we do have some disagreements, but not about anything that is worth arguing about. For example, I don’t think it is always immoral to lie. That you do doesn’t bother me. If I am wrong, I will accept the consequences.

    Like I said, I respect and enjoy your argument, but my conscience, which I consider to be the sensory apparatus by which I perceive the moral landscape, tells me that there is a qualitative difference between some lies and others; and by logic I can find no good reason to not lie in those situations – in fact, logic tells me I must.

    In those situations, where my conscience is clear and logic clearly supports my decision to lie, I know, as much as I know anything, that I have done nothing wrong.

  75. #73 StephenB

    If by “error exists” you mean people make errors then it objective. What’s behind this?

  76. Mark Frank

    If by “error exists” you mean people make errors then it objective. What’s behind this?

    If people make errors, and if those errors are objective, then so is the truth from which those errors deviate. In other words, the maker of the mistake doesn’t simply feel wrong because his actions do not conform to his subjective preferences, he is wrong because they do not conform to the objective standard of reality. If truth is not objective, then error isn’t even possible.

  77. #76 Stephenb

    I said it was an objective fact that people make errors. That doesn’t mean that all the errors are about objective things – though clearly many of them are. But if for example I believe someone is attractive then learn something about them that makes them unattractive that would be a subjective error.

  78. Mark:

    I said it was an objective fact that people make errors. That doesn’t mean that all the errors are about objective things – though clearly many of them are. But if for example I believe someone is attractive then learn something about them that makes them unattractive that would be a subjective error.

    Well, then, you don’t understand the meaning of the term “error exists,” which is a reference to the error itself, not the person making it. So, once again from the top: Is the error that exists [which is exactly what I originally asked] objective or subjective?

  79. #78 StephenB

    You are right I don’t understand what “error exists” means other than that people make errors. Perhaps you can explain or give me a reference.

  80. MF:

    That error exists — as you know or should know as it has come up many times, is not only factually so but undeniable and self-evident.

    To see that in action, simply try to deny it. The attempted denial directly leads back to the truth of the proposition.

    So, it is true and cannot be denied on pain of absurdity.

    As to whether such is objective, we all went through basic sums in school and know by experience what it is to have a few red X’s.

    Try:

    3 + 2 = 4

    ||| + || = ||||

    Take away 4 on both sides:

    | = _________

    Absurd, and empirically observable.

    People do make errors, and such errors do exist.

    That they exist is undeniable, on pain of absurdity.

    This is a self-evident truth, which you seem to have an enormous difficulty accepting as a reality. Where, on compelling evidence and reasoning with numerous material cases in point, such truths undeniably exist.

    This being one of them, one that we need no great citation of authorities and references to demonstrate. (Though it was Josiah Royce who pointed out the significance of the fact and consensus, and where it points to for building sound worldviews. And it was Elton Trueblood who kept pointing to it in later decades.)

    And from this first example we can go on to the contrast that a rock has no dreams and cannot be deluded that it is conscious, while — even if deluded as to circumstances — one cannot be deluded that one is conscious.

    Thirdly, by simply pondering a red ball A sitting on a table, one can see that the world is thereby partitioned:

    W = {A | ~A }

    Thence the core three first principles of right reason are immediately present. LOI, LNC, LEM.

    Further, we see the weak form principle of sufficient reason as undeniable: If A is, we may ask and investigate why seeking or at least hoping for a reasonable answer. From this, we come to cause, contingency, necessity of being, and possible vs impossible being.

    Such SETs do not give us worldviews complete, but they give us squares, plumblines, levels and yardsticks for laying out and assessing sound views. For instance as SET’s exist, truth and knowable truth — warranted even to undeniable certainty — exist. Radically relativist and subjectivist worldviews are therefore incapable of addressing major aspects of reality. Thence, systems that lead to such, are falsified by implying what is contrary to reality.

    Already, that has sobering implications for the oh so prestigious Lewontinian-Saganian a priori evolutionary materialism of our day, never mind the lab coat.

    Mix in self-evident moral truths and the implications are even more stark.

    For instance, it is self evidently immoral, wrong and evil to kidnap, torture, rape and murder a child. So much so that as immediate corollary, should we discover such in progress we have a patent duty of care to intervene and try to rescue the child from the Nero-like monster.

    This case brings out just why the moral implication of evolutionary materialism and fellow travellers, that might ad manipulation make ‘right’ is absurd. The child has no might and likely no rhetorical ability to persuade such a monster. But, the child has worth, value, dignity and exists as an end in him or herself to be cherished and nurtured not abused, despoiled, destroyed and discarded like a bit of detritus. The child has unalienable rights such that we all have duties of care. And so the child reveals that we are under the moral government of OUGHT. Which points to there being a foundational IS for reality that properly — objectively — grounds that ought.

    Which brings up the underlying fish-bone such cross-ways in ever so many gullets: the only serious candidate to be such an IS is the inherently good Creator-God and ground of being, who is inherently a necessary — inter alia both eternal and immaterial — and maximally good and great being. Matter, of course being utterly contingent, as is beyond reasonable doubt post Einstein, Hubble et al.

    So, much pivots on that so simple but undeniably true point, error exists.

    KF

  81. #80 KF

    I do not deny that “People do make errors”. In fact that is precisely the meaning I ascribed to the phrase “error exists” in #75 and #77 but SB rejected. I am not sure what you mean when you add “such errors exist” over and above the fact that people make errors. Perhaps you are putting forward Royce’s proposal that when we make an error the erroneous idea must also exist in some sense other in our heads? I strongly disagree and can see nothing self-evident about this proposal nor any absurdity arising from denying it.

  82. Mark Frank:

    You are right I don’t understand what “error exists” means other than that people make errors. Perhaps you can explain or give me a reference.

    To say that “error exists,” means that some ideas, philosophies, or concepts are in error because they deviate from what is true about reality. That these false ideas exist is self-evident. Do you agree?

  83. #82 StephenB

    Of course there are plenty of false ideas around. I don’t see how that is different from the fact that people make errors. Those ideas exist in the sense that people have them i.e. make errors.

  84. Mark Frank

    Of course there are plenty of false ideas around. I don’t see how that is different from the fact that people make errors. Those ideas exist in the sense that people have them i.e. make errors.

    There is a big difference between the concept that “people make mistakes,” which is a statement about an action (verb), and the concept of a false idea, which is a statement about a thing (noun). I don’t understand why you have so much difficulty providing a straight answer to a straight question. Isn’t it self-evident that false ideas exist?

  85. 85
    CentralScrutinizer

    Stephen B: What is your response to my comment @62?

    Irrelevant. What matters is that it is “self-evidently true” to him. Just like you believe certain “self-evident” things to be true. Maybe your “self-evidently true” things are false as well. How can you tell if you’re believing a true thing or not? You can’t. At the end of it all is a leap of faith. Which means, there is nothing that is really self-evidently true.

  86. 86
    CentralScrutinizer

    Stephen B,

    At any rate, do you consider these two statements to be both “self-evidently true” using the same rational facilities in your brain?

    1. If A = B, and B = C, then A must equal C

    2. Killing babies for fun is always evil

  87. MF:

    Have you ever received or issued an assignment that for cause was full of red X’s?

    Those X’s — starting with wrong sums in elementary school, are errors.

    What you seem to be trying to do is to force-fit the concept of error into nothing more than an act of erring. But the product of that act, the error, plainly exists.

    (This is beginning to sound like yet another red herring chase to dodge an inconvenient point. Per our common experience starting with those sums in school and including necessarily false propositions, such as trying to deny that error exists, error does exist, and undeniably so. That is, this is a self evident truth. Which is the material matter at issue.)

    KF

  88. Pardon, clumsy expression — the X’s mark the errors.

  89. CS:

    Where we speak of equivalence classes, A = B, and B= C so A = C is self evident.

    Killing babies for fun or the like is always wrong, and that is a violation of a self evident right and chief value: innocent life.

    KF

  90. 90
    CentralScrutinizer

    KF: Where we speak of equivalence classes, A = B, and B = C so A = C is self evident. Killing babies for fun or the like is always wrong, and that is a violation of a self evident right and chief value: innocent life.

    Obviously these are in different domains. Both are axioms. The first has no instances of conflict and a normal brain “sees” that there never can be a conflict. That’s why it’s an axiom. Are you saying the second is like unto it?

  91. CentralScrutinizer

    Irrelevant. What matters is that it is “self-evidently true” to him.

    If an insane man claims to be Napolean, then his claim may seem to be true for him, but it is, in fact, a false claim. Something that is self-evidently true is, by definition, true for everyone. In other words, it is really true; it doesn’t just seem that way. In fact, two people cannot both be Napoleon. (Law of Non-Contradiction). It is not just self-evident to me, it is also self-evident to you. It is self evident to all rational, sane people. That is how we know that the person who doesn’t believe it is insane or irrational.

    Just like you believe certain “self-evident” things to be true.

    Self evident truths are not believed, they are known.

    Maybe your “self-evidently true” things are false as well.

    Nothing that is true can also be false. (Law of Non-contradiction).

    How can you tell if you’re believing a true thing or not? You can’t. At the end of it all is a leap of faith. Which means, there is nothing that is really self-evidently true.

    Faith requires a leap, knowledge does not. I know that the Law of Non-contradiction is true. I know that I am not Napoleon. I gather that you also know that you are not Napoleon. No faith is required. Faith is for those things that we cannot know.

  92. CS

    Stephen B,

    At any rate, do you consider these two statements to be both “self-evidently true” using the same rational facilities in your brain?

    1. If A = B, and B = C, then A must equal C

    2. Killing babies for fun is always evil

    1. Is a validly reasoned argument, not a self-evident truth. The self-evident truth on which that argument is based is the Law of Identity. If the Law of Identity and the Law of Non-contradiction were not true, then the argument IF/THEN could not be made.

    2. Is a self-evident moral truth.

    A self-evident logical truth (Law of Non-Contradiction) is not exactly the same thing as a self-evident moral truth (We should do good and avoid evil), but both are self evident.

  93. CS

    1. If A = B, and B = C, then A must equal C.

    I also notice that this formulation is confused in the context of the present discussion. Yes, if we are discussing a mathematical equation it would follow because each item can be the quantitative equivalent of the other. However, it does not follow in terms of identity because A, B, and C have already been defined as being different from the other by virtue of having different letters assigned to them.

  94. 94
    CentralScrutinizer

    SB :Faith requires a leap, knowledge does not.

    Even your “knowledge” requires a leap of faith: a belief that you are sane.

  95. CS: The A –> B –> C –> A pattern is an aspect of equivalence classes and an equivalence relationship, where relationships are reflexive, symmetric and transitive. It is not at all an axiom, there are relationships that do not cycle like that with a transitivity property, or one or both of the other two may fail. (This gets into abstract algebra.) It is however true that equivalents will be mutually equivalent, and that cannot fail on pain of contradiction in relevant cases where this is patent, e.g 1 + 4 = 3 + 2 = 5 + 0 and back so 1 + 4 = 5 + 0. That is, arithmetic equality is a familiar case. The moral truth is different in some ways, but it has the requisites that on understanding, we see it true and necessarily so on pain of absurdity. KF

  96. CS: The insane can and do know, i.e. knowledge does not require sanity. Especially in Mathematics, they have made significant contributions — doff hats to Cantor among others. KF

  97. PS: A knows x in the relevant — strong — sense, if A has a warranted, true belief that x is so; e.g. that error exists is undeniably certain. In the weaker sense (common in science and the like), the warrant provides reliability and/or credibility but not certainty beyond future correction. For instance in a criminal case in the anglophone world, warrant must be to the degree of moral certainty called beyond reasonable doubt.

  98. StephenB

    There is a big difference between the concept that “people make mistakes,” which is a statement about an action (verb), and the concept of a false idea, which is a statement about a thing (noun). I don’t understand why you have so much difficulty providing a straight answer to a straight question. Isn’t it self-evident that false ideas exist?

    Because it isn’t a straight question. It is a deceptively short question but not an easy one to interpret. Try asking it (without priming them beforehand) of some casual acquaintance. I can almost guarantee they will wonder what you are on about. It is clearly true that people have false ideas. But Royce wanted to go from there to assert that errors exist independently of people in some kind of Platonic Universal space – that is far from self-evident and to my mind false.You are confused by the fact that you are using a noun into thinking it must refer to something. You need to read the Philosophical Investigations. Language is “bewitching your intelligence”.
     
    KF

    Those X’s — starting with wrong sums in elementary school, are errors.

    Those X’s are marks on piece of paper. Without background knowledge , they could be a form of art, a message written in code, or a doodle. We call them errors because they document someone’s mistakes. The error was the failed attempt to do the sums or whatever.

  99. MF: Pardon, but did you notice that I immediately corrected a garbled point — cf the very next comment, a brief clarification? The X’s mark the errors, the errors are there on the paper for all to see. The ACT of error was in the wrong sum, and the error remains thereafter in its own right, there for all to inspect. But all of this is side tracks, it matters not to the undeniability of the existence of error, which you are studiously diverting from acknowledging. KF

  100. MF: Royce was an idealist. That is irrelevant to the undeniable fact of error. It is you who seem to be resistant to a self evident truth, because you don’t like where it may point. The nature of just what an error is is utterly irrelevant to whether such are facts, and to whether it is undeniable that they exist. Indeed, you will see that the substantiating arguments used in and around UD rely on the self referential character of the proposition and inspect the result of denial: E –> ~E. A simple conjunction will produce a necessarily false proposition, which implies that one of the two must be in error by failing to report states of real affairs correctly. And obviously that is ~ E. E, error exists, is undeniably and so self-evidently so, on simple logic. Separate from any onward arguments for idealism Royce may have had. KF

  101. F/N: On equivalence relations, “having the same birthday as” is a good illustration. Let us say A, B, C were all born Nov 30 in various years. AbA [reflexive], AbB means BbA will hold ;symmetric], and AbB and BbC entail AbC [transitive]. Transitivity is self evident once we have a valid equivalence relation and cases. Also, the distinction between equivalence in the material sense and identity is illustrated. Alvin, Bob and Carl could even be identical triplets, they are not the same identical person. KF

  102. KF #99 and #100

    The answers to the sum were also marks on a piece of paper. They can only be called a mistake or error if they are understood as the result of a child’s effort to answer a sum. Even if what was written was 2+2=5 that is not an error unless you understand it as an attempt to answer the question 2+2.

    I am quite happy to accept that people make errors. This is obviously true. If you and SB want to phrase it as “error exists” then that’s OK with me – just so long as it is not interpreted as any more than the obvious fact that people make errors. I do not understand:

    * What is the additional concession you are seeking
    * What consequences flow from this

  103. I missed this comment from Barry till now:

    Kantian Naturalist is leading a higher-level discussion of some of these ideas at TSZ

    Because he is too gutless to spew his sophistry on these pages where he knows his arguments will be destroyed.

    Hmmm.

    I’m not sure this new plan to attract traffic to your web site is going to work, Barry.

    PS @ Mark

    I’ve noticed this verb/noun trick performed quite regularly here. Who could argue with “errors happen”, thinking of errors as unintendedly wrong acts. I’m not sure errors, in fact, exist except when they happen. “Accidents happen” is true. “Accidents exist”, I don’t think so. “Accident exists” is obviously meaningless. Is “Error exists” any more meaningful? Not unless there is reification going on and Stephen has a secret definition for “error” that he is about to share with us.

  104. PS @ StephenB

    Barry has need of your grammatical skills

  105. #103 AF

    Nice example – “accidents exist”.

  106. MF:

    First, the context of a SET is always one of our understanding our world. Second, the specific context of a teacher correcting sums given, right at the outset. Third, the marks on paper are understood in common, both the 2 + 3 = 4 error and the teacher’s red X in correction.

    In short, with all due respect, all of this is trivially distractive.

    You then proceed to overlook repeatedly given context that we are not just dealing with a consensus fact, but a proposition that is undeniably so.

    Again, E = Error exists

    ~ E denies this

    { E AND ~E} –> 0

    Necessarily false, with mutually exclusive and exhaustive claims about the real world.

    One must be false to truth, i.e. it is an assertion that proposed a state of affairs but fails to refer accurately to reality.

    By simple inspection, it is ~ E.

    E is UNDENIABLY true because of its self referential properties. (Where, the same does not relate to that accidents occur or exist. To deny such, does not automatically instantiate an accident.)

    Just to make matters clear on what error means, that there are no secret code meanings and agendas smuggled into the word, error, here is AmHD as a standard public example on the ordinary, relevant meaning — which, with all due respect, both you and AF were duty-bound to examine before commenting dismissively in such a way:

    er·ror
    (rr)
    n.
    1. An act, assertion, or belief that unintentionally deviates from what is correct, right, or true.
    2. The condition of having incorrect or false knowledge.
    3. The act or an instance of deviating from an accepted code of behavior.
    4. A mistake.
    5. Mathematics The difference between a computed or measured value and a true or theoretically correct value.
    6. Abbr. E Baseball A defensive fielding or throwing misplay by a player when a play normally should have resulted in an out or prevented an advance by a base runner.
    [Middle English errour, from Old French, from Latin error, from errre, to err; see ers- in Indo-European roots.]
    error·less adj.

    The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

    KF

  107. 107
    CentralScrutinizer

    KF @96: The insane can and do know, i.e. knowledge does not require sanity. Especially in Mathematics, they have made significant contributions — doff hats to Cantor among others.

    Insanity need not be total insanity. I know an idiot savant who can play the piano like Chopin, and yet is utterly convinced beyond all attempts at refutation that Santa Clause exists. To him, Santa Clause is an unshakeable “self-evident” truth.

  108. KF #106
    I am sorry I have no idea what you are trying to say.

    Can we keep it simple.

    I am quite happy to accept that people make errors. What is the additional concession you are seeking?

    It may help to point out that you can create a noun out of any verb e.g. pontificate – you can refer to every instance of it happening as a pontification and then the philosophically minded might assert “pontification exists”. By doing so you would not have added any information over and above the fact that people pontificate from time to time. In the same way when people err we call it an error and the philosophically minded might assert “error exists”. But are you saying something in addition? And, if so, what?

  109. MF

    Pardon, but this is now taking on the dimensions of selective hyperskepticism.

    If you will glance just above, you will see that no-one — least of all me, is dubiously creating a noun out of a verb and pretending that something shadowy that would not otherwise exist is thereby invented.

    Error, FYI, is a standard term, with a broadly recognised meaning as commonplace as sums for cause marked up with X’s. Whether the matter is a mental state —

    oops, I forget, evolutionary materialists doubt the reality of minds too (so who is MF and who is KF he is differing with . . . above and beyond ion flows in neurons . . . oops, experience and experience based knowledge is also now suspect . . . and so to infinite regress . . . and absurdity) —

    . . . or whatever, there is a commonplace state of affairs that is denoted, as AmHD testifies inter alia, as a noun.

    Error is a given state of affairs produced by acts, assertions, beliefs, etc that unintentionally, are out of line with what is correct, true or right. And, as was already exemplified let us consider a young pupil who writes a sum as follows:

    2 + 3 = 4

    Which, on inspection asserts:

    || + ||| = ||||

    But as can easily be shown, remove |||| sticks on both sides:

    | = _________

    Oops, error revealed by absurd contradiction.

    No wonder Miss Jones put a red X next to Johnny’s sum:

    3

    + 2
    ______

    4 X

    With all due respect, you have tried to make a mountain out of a mole-hill.

    Let us look at my actual chain of reasoning as presented elsewhere, as case study no 1 on on self-evident truths:

    For instance, consider Josiah Royce’s subtle but simple claim: error exists.

    To try to deny it only ends up giving an instance of its truth; it is undeniably true.

    Let’s zoom in a bit (using mostly glorified common sense “deduction” and a light dusting of symbols), as this will help us understand the roots of reasoning and reasonableness. As we have stressed, this is back to roots, back to sources, back to foundations. So, in steps of thought:

    1: Let us take up, Royce’s Error exists, and symbolise it: E. (Where the denial would be NOT-E, ~E. Error does not exist, in plain English. Don’t overlook what, equivalently, ~ E tries to say: “it is an ERROR to hold that error exists.” Oops, it seems we can already see why the claim error exists is undeniably true!)

    2: Attempt a conjunction, to draw this out more formally: { E AND ~E }

    3: We have here mutually exclusive, opposed and exhaustive claims that address the real world joined together in a way that tries to say both are so.

    4: Common sense, based on wide experience and our sense of how things are and can or cannot be — to be further analysed below, yielding three key first principles of right reason — tells us that, instead:

    (a) this conjunction { E AND ~E } must be false (so that the CONJUNCTION is a definite case of an error), and that

    (b) its falsity being relevant to one of the claims,

    (c) we may readily identify that the false one is ~E. Which means:

    ______________________________________

    (d) E is true and is undeniably true. (On pain of a breach of common sense.)

    5: So, E is true, is known to be true once we understand it and is undeniably true on pain of patent — obvious, hard to deny — self contradiction.

    6: It is therefore self evident.

    7: It is warranted as reliably true, indeed to demonstrative certainty.

    8: Where, E refers to the real world of things as such.

    9: It is a case of absolute, objective, certainly known truth; a case of certain knowledge. “Justified, true belief,” nothing less.

    10: It is also a matter of widely observed fact — starting with our first school exercises with sums and visions of red X’s — confirming the accuracy of a particular consensus of experience.

    11: So, here we have a certainly known case of truth existing as that which accurately refers to reality.

    12: Also, a case of knowledge existing as warranted, credibly true beliefs, in this case to certainty.

    13: Our ability to access truth and knowledge about the real, extra-mental world by experience, reasoning and observation is confirmed in at least one pivotal case.

    14: Contemporary worldviews — their name is Legion — that would deny, deride or dismiss such [including the point that there are such things as self evident truths that relate to the real world], are thence shown to be factually inadequate and incoherent. They are unable to explain reality.

    15: Such worldviews are, as a bloc, falsified by this one key point. They are unreasonable. (And yes, I know this may be hard to accept, but if your favoured system contradicts soundly established facts and/or truths, it is seriously defective.)

    16: Of course the truth in question is particularly humbling and a warning on the limits of our knowledge and the gap between belief and truth or even ability to formulate a logical assertion and truth.

    17: So, we need to be humble, and — contrary to assertions about how insisting on such objectivity manifests “arrogance” and potentially oppressive “intolerance” – the first principles of right reason (implicit in the above, to be drawn out below) allow us to humbly, honestly test our views so that we can identify when we have gone off the rails and to in at least some cases confirm when our confidence is well grounded.

    So — while we can be mistaken about it — truth exists and we can in some cases confidently know it on pain of absurdity if we try to deny it. In particular, it is well warranted and credibly true beyond reasonable doubt or dispute that error exists. Truth therefore exists, and knowledge — i.e. the set of warranted, credibly true [and reliable] claims — also exists. (As noted already, but it bears repeating as it is hard for some to accept: this cuts a wide swath across many commonly encountered worldview ideas of our time; such as, the idea that there is no truth beyond what seems true to you or me, or that we cannot know the truth on important matters beyond conflicting opinions.)

    I think we can see plainly enough where the matter stands on its merits, without side tracks over Royce was an idealist. So was Plato. Doesn’t mean everything they said was or is useless or must be freighted up with every conceivable onward extension and idea they argued.

    In this case, Royce rightly highlighted that here we have a point of global agreement based on undeniable experience, from which we may start (at first, presumably with common good sense). And it turns out not just to be a consensus of experience, but it is demonstrably undeniable that error exists.

    Of what onward ultimate nature may be an interesting debate, but it is not material to the basic issue in front of us: certain things are true, are known to be undoubtedly true once we understand on our basic experience as thinking creatures, and must be true on pain of patent absurdity should we attempt denial. That is: truth, certainly and undeniably knowable truth exists, and worldview schemes that tend to deny or imply denial are fatally factually inadequate.

    KF

  110. Some cannot be led to truth because that is exactly what they are trying to avoid.

  111. #109 KF

    So all you are saying is that an error is the result of erring – and that such results exist? Of course, that is true.

    The only point I would like to emphasise is that such results can only be recognised as errors if you know/assume that somebody was intending something and erred. So for example if the result is 2+2=5 written on a piece of paper that is an error if someone was intending to solve the problem 2+2. i.e. errors in this sense are errors because they are the result of human mistakes, the same physical outcome produced for different reasons would not be an error.

    But I expect you meant that.So what is the consequence?

  112. William J Murray @ 110

    Some cannot be led to truth because that is exactly what they are trying to avoid.

    Moreover, they have been so ‘succesfully maladaptive’ at avoiding truth for so long that they’ve cognitively imapired their brains/minds: they quite literally may have lost some cognitive ability to comprehend “politically incorrect” facts. They seemingly can’t with intellectual honesty, discuss concepts they don’t agree with.

    Dishonesty reduces applied intelligence: re-wires the brain

    Clever Sillies – Why the high IQ lack common sense

    We all know numerous bandwidth-sucking examples of such personalities, whose minds when trapped in intellectual cul-de-sac’s of their own making, instead of admitting “I understand your point”, pour smoke out their cybernetic ears and freezeup in a BSOD….. well, until they pop up on the next UD thread for another round of “whack a mole”.

  113. [Does error exist?]

    Mark Frank

    Because it isn’t a straight question. It is a deceptively short question but not an easy one to interpret. Try asking it (without priming them beforehand) of some casual acquaintance.

    It is easy to interpret. Something either exists or it doesn’t. Its existence is either self-evident or it isn’t. I made no mention about which form its existence takes, much less did I say anything about Plato. Wrongheaded ideas exist as real mental entities. If they didn’t exist, they could not be transferred from person to person. They are not acts, they are false concepts. You cannot bring yourself to admit that they exist and I know why. If error exists, then so does the truth from which it deviates. Since you disdain the latter, you disavow the former. It’s really very simple. That is why you would not answer the question.

  114. Alan Fox:

    I’ve noticed this verb/noun trick performed quite regularly here.

    It isn’t a trick. The process of making a mistake (verb) is not at all the same thing as the existence of a false belief (noun). Or, to take it in reverse order, the false belief that there is water in the swimming pool (noun) is not the same thing as the act of diving into an empty pool (verb). We are discussing the existence of a false belief, idea, concept, or philosophy. Mark (and you) are confusing the existence of an idea with an activity.

    Who could argue with “errors happen”, thinking of errors as unintendedly wrong acts.

    No one would argue againt that point, but it is irrelevant to the discussion.

    However, that is not the point being made. I’m not sure errors, in fact, exist except when they happen. “Accidents happen” is true. “Accidents exist”, I don’t think so.

    Not a good example. An accident is not a description of a false, idea, concept, or philosophy.

    Not unless there is reification going on and Stephen has a secret definition for “error” that he is about to share with us.

    I defined it several times. You just slept through it. Try rereading the above two paragraphs. Here is a hint: Search for a sentence that contains the words, idea, concept, belief, or philosophy.

  115. William J Murray

    Some cannot be led to truth because that is exactly what they are trying to avoid.

    Yes. The evidence is right before us.

  116. Certainly errors (noun, plural) exist. False beliefs (noun, plural) exist. True statements exist, as do true beliefs. And obviously there is a paradox in asserting that “errors exist” is a false statement.

    A paradox no less profound than “This statement is false” – that is, not very.

    One common error is that of reification. Moving from “errors exist” (or “false beliefs exists”) to “Error exists” reifies “Error” without justification, and commits the fallacy of misplaced concreteness.

  117. StephenB

    I defined it several times. You just slept through it. Try rereading the above two paragraphs. Here is a hint: Search for a sentence that contains the words, idea, concept, belief, or philosophy.

    Wouldn’t be simpler to link to where you start a sentence with something like “When I use the noun ‘Error’, I mean…” or merely give your definition?

    @ Reciprocating Bill:

    Moving from “errors exist” (or “false beliefs exists”) to “Error exists” reifies “Error” without justification, and commits the fallacy of misplaced concreteness.

    Thanks for confirming it’s not just me. ;)

  118. Oops missed an “it”!

    Wouldn’t it be simpler

    Don’t want the grammar police on my trail!

  119. No, Alan, it’s not just you. A lot of people have learned to be wary of reification. Not every noun refers to a concrete entity with an existence independent of the minds of humans.

    It’s all too easy to convert verb forms into noun forms, as we’ve seen above with “error.” And if there’s “error” floating around, there must be “truth” out there as well, waging a titanic battle with error. And where is “love” in the wide blue yonder outside of the hearts of lovers?

    Adjectives are also dangerously subject to reification. Thus we have “evil” and “goodness” enjoying independent existences outside of our heads.

    And don’t get me started on “being.”

  120. Not to mention “Intelligence.”

  121. One common error is that of reification

    No reification here. Error exists and errors exist.


    and commits the fallacy of misplaced concreteness.

    Nope.

    Certainly errors (noun, plural) exist. False beliefs (noun, plural) exist. True statements exist, as do true beliefs.

    Correct.

  122. Alan

    Wouldn’t be simpler to link to where you start a sentence with something like “When I use the noun ‘Error’, I mean…” or merely give your definition?

    An error is a false belief, idea, concept, or philosophy. I have defined it several times.

    Thanks for confirming it’s not just me. ;)

    Reciprocating Bill does not understand the meaning of reification. Neither do you. To reify is to assign concreteness to abstractness. No one here has done that. Ideas, concepts, philosophies, and beliefs are all abstract realities. No one here has suggested that they exist aThey exist as abstract realities. But thank you for playing.

  123. No one here has suggested that they exist aThey exist as abstract realities.

    There appear to grammatical errors here, StephenB, as the sentence is unintelligible. Would you like to recast it in clear English?

  124. SB:

    To reify is to assign concreteness to abstractness.

    Which is exactly what you do when attribute to “Error” existence above and beyond individual errors.

  125. Alan: “There appear to be grammatical errors here, StephenB.

    It’s called a posting error, Alan, but thank you for playing.

    It should read, “No one here has suggested that they exist as concrete realities. They exist as abstract realities.”

  126. SB” To reify is to assign concreteness to abstractness.

    Recriprocating Bill;

    Which is exactly what you do when attribute to “Error” existence above and beyond individual errors.

    Incorrect. Both the singular expression, which refers to error in general, and the plural expression, which refers to specific errors), represent abstract realities. You are confusing singular and plural with concrete and abstract. But thank you for playing.

  127. Daniel King

    A lot of people have learned to be wary of reification.

    As well they should be.

    Not every noun refers to a concrete entity with an existence independent of the minds of humans.

    That’s right. Not every noun refers to a concrete entity with an existence independent of the minds of humans.

    Were you hoping to make a point?

  128. StephenB, KF

    I have no problem with accepting that people have false beliefs, ideas, concepts, and philosophies – just so long as you don’t want to pretend they exist independently of someone holding those beliefs, ideas, concepts, and philosophies. Does that satisfy you all?

  129. StephenB:

    “No reification here.”

    Rick: How can you close me up? On what grounds?
    Captain Renault: I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!

    “Error exists and errors exist.”

    Where and in what way does “error” (an abstract concept) exist, except in human minds?

    Were you hoping to make a point? :)

  130. Mark Frank

    I have no problem with accepting that people have false beliefs, ideas, concepts, and philosophies – just so long as you don’t want to pretend they exist independently of someone holding those beliefs, ideas, concepts, and philosophies. Does that satisfy you all?

    The ideas themselves are not independent of the knower, but the realities that they represent are independent of the knower. So it is with the idea of objective truth, which is a correspondence of the mind (inside the person) with reality (outside the person). Truth is the counterpart to falsehood; both exist in the mind and both represent something that exists outside the mind.
    Let’s take an example: Assume that heliocentrism is true and geocentrism is false. Insofar as one believes in the former, his idea corresponds with reality and is, therefore objectively true. Insofar as one believes in the latter, his idea does not correspond with reality and is, therefore objectively false. Subjectively, one might believe that geocentrism is true, but the soundness of that belief can only be tested by something outside the mind, namely objective reality.

  131. SB #130

    I have no problem with what you write except for:

    the realities that they represent are independent of the knower

    We were talking about false ideas etc – so they don’t represent realities.

    It is worth mentioning that false beliefs, ideas, concepts, and philosophies are not the only kind of errors. We make errors of judgement, errors of timing, errors of procedure to name just a few others.

    Contrary to your assumption – I have no idea where this is going – I just want to be precise about what I belief.

  132. MF: The issue is that error exists and that on inspection, this is undeniably true. Thus, we have here an example of self-evident truth. Consequently, schemes of thought that crucially rely on notions that truth and knowledge are no more than subjective opinion [especially as backed up by might makes 'right'], are cases of errors. KF

  133. KF #132

    A) The issue is that error exists and that on inspection, this is undeniably true. Thus, we have here an example of self-evident truth.

    It is undeniably true that people make errors. Whether that is self-evidently true rather depends on which of the definitions of self-evident that are floating around you are using. I can’t see a logical absurdity in the idea that people never make errors about anything – although clearly that is not actually the case.

    B) Consequently, schemes of thought that crucially rely on notions that truth and knowledge are no more than subjective opinion [especially as backed up by might makes 'right'], are cases of errors. KF

    1) How does B follow from A?
    2) There are many schemes of thought that do not crucially rely on truth and knowledge in the sense that entirely objective statements do. There is an element of opinion as well. That is why they are subjective.  Of course knowledge plays a role in even the most subjective of judgements – even the famous taste of ice-cream – but not the same role as it plays in objective statements.

  134. StephenB at last confirms:

    “No one here has suggested that they exist as concrete realities. They exist as abstract realities.”

    Thank-you. That at least is clear. I am immediately provoked to ponder if reality can be abstract? The “supernatural” being the most heinous example of reification, I have often suggested avoiding the concept by using reality as the set of what is ascertainable as fact by sensory input (extended by the vast range of scientific instruments which extend our vision) and shared experience (extended by libraries, the internet and other methods of mass comunication and information storage). Anything else is in the set I like to call imagination.

    To avoid the semantic rabbit trail, of course abstractions exist as thoughts in our heads (and by any method we adopt to record our ideas) but not otherwise.

    So StephenB is welcome to demonstrate that his religious beliefs are objective or that they exist outside the collective imagination of those who made them up and those that hold them. Bref, show me those tablets! ;)

  135. #134 Alan

    I missed that from SB. I have no idea what an abstract reality is but I would be interested to know if it means that SB is proposing that errors can exist independently of people.

  136. I missed that from SB.

    I’ve tried to get over to KF on the odd occasion that the strength of an argument does not depend on the volume of words but on their clarity of meaning. It would be mean to suggest that anyone would adopt arcane, vague and equivocal language in a large fog of words deliberately. ;)

    I have no idea what an abstract reality is but I would be interested to know if it means that SB is proposing that errors can exist independently of people.

    I think I disagree with Reciprocating Bill when he says:

    And obviously there is a paradox in asserting that “errors exist” is a false statement.

    Maybe we would agree that errors don’t persist but are transient acts or we could agree on “errors exist but only transiently”. I think StephenB concedes the argument when he introduces the concept “abstract reality”.

    As Daniel Smith asks:

    Where and in what way does “error” (an abstract concept) exist, except in human minds?

  137. The issue is that error exists and that on inspection, this is undeniably true.

    It is the ordinary “errors exist” that is undeniably true. But so what? Its status as “self-evidently true” results from a self-referential short circuit, and tells us nothing about the world. It does open opportunities for wishful reasoning, made possible by the referential flexibility of language.

    Further: “Error exits” entails the unjustified reification of “errors” into “Error.” And, given that the mundane “errors exist” triggers the paradox of self-evidence without that reification, the self-referential “self-evidence” of “errors exist” does nothing to justify the promotion of “errors” into “Error”

    The self-evidence of “error exists” is parasitical upon that of “errors exist,” by means of an unjustified reification.

  138. I picked up this thread because SB wrote:

    SB: The very fact that PHV cannot (or will not try to) answer my question @52 shows that his position is untenable.

    I am sure that he has now moved on to more interesting things, as PHV did, but I should like to note that it was SB and KF who dropped out of the conversation. In KF’s case with some outstanding questions to answer.

  139. 139

    Hello all,

    Just a quick note from DFW, as I’m on a little layover. I did indeed check out over the holiday, as we gathered with family for Thanksgiving. We had fourteen people, four dogs, two turkeys and no internet. It was lovely. I came back to a pile of work and a business trip, which will keep me fairly busy until Thursday. But I hate to leave the conversation so abruptly, especially since people here take it so personally (and angrily). So while I’ll look over the thread for loose ends when I have a longer break, I’d appreciate anyone who feels I’m neglecting their position letting me know.

    In particular, StephenB, you point to “@52″ but I think you mean @53? Or at least, your question about whether “error” as a category is objective or subjective. That’s a relatively easy answer–I do believe in objective facts, so when people make mistakes about those facts their errors are objective. If I calculated the volume of a one-meter cube as three cubic meters, for example, I would be objectively wrong.

    I don’t believe that moral principles are objective facts, of course, so “error” there would be subjective.

Leave a Reply