Tuesday, 22 April 2008
I'm doing a kind of informal survey to satiate my curiosity. My question is whether or not you are an ethical/moral realist? I am not asking whether or not you believe that morality can exist without God; I am asking whether or not you believe that nontheism is true *and* objective moral values exist. The most sophisticated nontheistic thinkers I have encountered or read thus far (Bertrand Russell, J.L. Mackie, Keith Augustine, Quentin Smith, etc.) have (1) denied that objective moral values exist and (2) agreed that their existence presupposes or would constitute strong evidence for theism.
“I am not asking whether or not you believe that morality can exist without God; I am asking whether or not you believe that nontheism is true *and* objective moral values exist.”
Two different things, huh? ;) You could've fooled me.
Objective moral values are only as real as they appear to be. Incidentally the person noticing is also only as real as he/she appears to be. Both patterns are on a similar level (hence, to fall back on a previous example, "that computer" is really in front of "you"). Too often when one "understands" the one they forget to also "understand" the other. Hence if you only put the one side of the equation in perspective and not the other, you end up reloading the wrong perspective again and finding contradictions where none exist. This is what I call, "yang neglect." If you are using the terms of the emergent personal sphere, you use the terms of the personal sphere. If you use the terms of physics, then you use the terms of physics. If you use the terms of your understanding all of existence, then you use those terms. Each of which is merely a different level of accuracy, but you don't pit the levels against each other like a mad scientist and expect anything but monstrous results.
Any immediate pattern is just what it is and remains that way because our ability to evaluate what it is (and deal with it) is on equal terms. Our "is" we brandish without a second thought should be taken in light of that and not necessarily presumed to supersede it. It's not so much that the patterns (for instance, a moral pattern) we encounter aren't real, it's just that if we are looking to be philosophically precise, virtually nothing in middle world we know is the best frame of reference for all our "brute fact" assessments. Our normative patterns aren't fake, they're just not absolutely existentially accurate. I'm sure every version of realist and anti-realist both have the same thing going on in their head when they experience their keyboard at their desk. What does it matter what label it is given? Granted when you dwarf a given pattern with an infinity of everything it apparently isn't, the original seems quite trivial, but then again we don't exist at that level so it doesn't matter and we are back at "yang neglect" yet again. There's an apparent divide, but not a relevant one.
Richard Carrier (Sense and Goodness, pg. 120) "Current cutting edge science is already suggesting that everything else about the universe (matter, energy, physical law) derives solely and entirely, in some way or other, from the geometry of space-time. This is the powerful explanatory prospect offered by Superstring Theory, for example, which has made amazing strides towards explaining all manner of bizarre things about subatomic physics. Other theories are converging on the same conclusion. Only time will tell, but for now this is the most plausible conclusion: matter and energy are geometric properties of space-time, and all physical laws follow therefrom."
It should be clear we live in a persistent state of objectively uncertain terms and we can only assign the label "objectively" insofaras those uncertain terms allow. You shouldn't be asking whether we can be a consistent "nominalist." You should be asking whether we can be consistent. Carrier seems to treat abstract entities just as I do almost to the extent our passages are simply reworded. If he isn't a nominalist, then apparently I'm not either.
(pg. 31): "Now an early mistake can be made, a wrong turn taken. If this idea of meaning is not realized, it is easy to forget what things really mean, to get confused about what words refer to. I think Plato got confused. By not realizing that words are names that people made up to describe their sensations, he got around to thinking that ideas, even numbers, had a supernatural substance, that they were themselves distinct 'things', more than mere labels or codes. There are people who still think this even today..."
From my perspective there are a number of lines of evidence that suggest we can only be so consistent and that apparently there are more consistent brands of thinking than others. There's no reason to assume we've been guaranteed the ability to have mathematically precise epistemology and it seems to be a logical impossibility since even the Christian God could never be certain he wasn't besieged by a Cartesian demon and might only be duped into thinking he had all the attributes he's supposed to have. Math is based on givens and givens are assumed. That doesn't mean we just accept any so-called given, but at some level you can't escape it and in fact no one can. There will always be a state of flux. Recognizing that does not make it not a state of flux.
I'm not sure if it even makes sense to concede as others have that "if objective moral values existed that would constitute good evidence for theism" since all of the loaded architecture of the statement is incoherent and would not make sense in any possible world. However fellow atheist, Keith Augustine, said this:
"I think it is perfectly possible that objective moral laws exist in some Platonic realm of ideas, but I think it is implausible that such is the case."
I couldn't disagree more. About the same moment they exist in the Platonic realm is about the same point that they no longer mean anything. I can have ten different kinds of measuring sticks propped up on my wall over there yonder, but I can't imagine that magically making me obligated to use them in the same swoop no matter what supernatural substance they may be made out of. It's free association and we still haven't explained what we originally set out to explain. Thus, I can't imagine "objective moral values" "existing" in the way that theists tend to assert any more than I can imagine a circular square. One might as well say, "The existence of circular squares would make good evidence that married bachelors exist." Um...yeah, I guess so? Or not. Augustine even argues from his atheism, and that's something I don't approve of. One would have a very fucked up philosophy if they started defining their worldview from the basis that unicorns don't exist. "Since unicorns don't exist and their magic horns were what granted us the ability to have good fortune, it follows that we will have no good fortune as a-unicornists." Certainly unicornists would rejoice with such sustained idiocy, wouldn't they? Granted he clarifies what audience he's aiming at, but that's inherently avoidable epistemic weakness and seems to be the primary element that distinguishes his way of thinking as an atheist, from mine. I argue independently and abstract entities in the platonic real sense don't make sense in any possible world regardless of who the audience is (even if it's just me in my own head). If I were a theist, I still wouldn't be a platonic realist.
Augustine also says, "Decisions will vary between people with different thoughts on a subject, hence it is reasonable to argue that moral values are subjective and vary with individual conscience."
Yep, no correlation whatsoever. lol, I pity my team. How else can we correct our own moral method or discern that someone else's moral ways are better than our or deficient? There has to be something objective about it in order to pull that off.
Elsewhere he said, "Once an individual or community has accepted a general set of basic moral premises (e.g. murder is wrong), moral disputes can arise when applying those premises in real-life cases--such as when one has to choose between two children joined at the head at birth when only one could survive an operation."
Apparently he's abandoned any criteria for sorting out good moral premises from bad moral premises. Unfortunately it seems, he has merely allowed himself to fit too much the mold his opposition has set out for him and he could certainly do better than that. Conceptual ideals are just as good as the platonic realm without the incoherent baggage.
"Similarly, when I claim that genocide is wrong, I am not making an objective claim about the morality of an action; I am expressing an opinion."
People apply their moral desires in ignorance and are typically untalented at it and understanding the consequences of it. Genocide can be shown to be an error of judgment given what their primary motivation already is, if they are claiming to be acting under moral pretenses. There will be no stop to the "kill before they kill you" tribal attitude as long as the gratuitious deprioritization of human life is a normative cultural attitude. Insecurity isn't a very good substitute for a more sensible long term option.
Genocide is an extreme example, but the noise of subjectivity in general shouldn't be an excuse to not recognize the indispensable commonalities that go into any proposition said to be moral and the ever ready room for improvement. As long as we can come up with criteria to sort through our moral "givens" and as long as we can always use what we have in some better and better way, that sounds like a fairly objective recipe to me. This can't be boiled down purely to preference. We didn't create the psychological principles we are struggling to apply and that "emergent property" status that our minds have is a level of discourse that never seems to find a healthy standing in this kind of conversation. Not everything works as well as everything else just because you may want it to. It is all still "just physics," but that's not the most convenient reference point to talk about how it works at our level. We are able to connect with each other on common moral ground because we aren't systemically divergent enough to really claim to be operating on an entirely different platform. Obviously this isn't absolute and there is more than one way to go about attaining greater accuracy with the system at hand, but it should be considered that even the mammalian kingdom has much of the same basic recipe going for it at the psychological level, minus the developed intellect to formulate the more complex ideas about it and behaviors. We're on pretty firm proverbial ground if we so choose to recognize it and the fact that theists can get away with thinking morality is so objectively absolute should be evidence to them that in the event theism turns out to be false, something else must account for that general consistency.
On the scale of things, I'm farthest from Keith Augustine, not too far off from Jeff Lowder, and virtually identical to Richard Carrier. Good call providing links.
When I am asked whether objective moral values exist, I could say, "Why yes they do." But I know that means something entirely different to you than it does to me (and other atheists seem to have adopted the theistic intentions of the terms) and it's not quite fair that the philosophical fine print of one system (everything outside the bubble of middle world) is blown out of proportion for the sake of contrast with another. Hence I'm not allowed to use these simple straight forward terms because of all the linguistic superstitions surrounding them. Do I "really" mean it? No, I don't "really" mean it like a theist's superstitions would have it, but I do "really" mean it in the way that I really do and it is analogous to the validity of your basic perceptions. One can practically make use of the concept in an every day setting even if there is no actual Platonic connection. It makes the most sense to me to adjust the basics of middle world sensibilities to the facts of science in a simple and straight forward way that retains all the basic notions of interaction we are used to. It's unfortunate that theism typically puts society so far back in terms of progress in that regard. Que the pop-up version of Christopher Hitchens, "Religion poisons everything." :p
I consider my moral paradigm to be "real" in the sense that it is and to "exist" in the sense that it does (it is a real pattern I confront in my mind, right?), and I consider there to be better more objective moral assessments than others (that map more accurately onto the external world and produce discernibly better results) and I consider there to be common values and ethical principles that people can't really do without even if the application of those abstractions in all sorts of contexts can yield a wide spectrum of subjective results. We may very well find this same moral pattern analogous to prosperity, empathy, and reciprocation born out in alien minds from other planets because of it's incidental utility for the "selfish" gene via "convergent evolution." And truly whenever the ingredients of the recipe come together, there you will by definition always find that same pattern. How could it be any other way and why does "something else" need to be involved? The "problem of universals" is a false mystery, in my opinion. Things just are what they are. They don't need help existing.
Superman: "Don't worry, miss. I've got you."
Lois Lane: "You've got me? Who's got you?"
Superman: "It's a movie, bitch. Just shut your trap."
Why can't I say then that objective moral values exist? Why can it not simply be understood in the way that I mean it rather than having to come up with a bunch of new terms that would seem to imply an entirely new bizarro world of moral propositions as though we weren't already working with at the very least the kernel of "real morality" for the last 10,000 years or more? The "new" atheists aren't re-inventing the moral wheel here, but we are trying to understand better what the wheel actually is and how it came to be the way it is in light of better information about how the world actually works, and apart from the superstitions surrounding that age old basic abstract. I shouldn't even have to mention that I understand all of this (as far as I know) consistently within the context of all the many things I've said throughout my site (in terms of nontheism, evolution, physicalism, materialism, determinism/compatibilism, and the infinite backdrop of "fully articulated chaos") that you've already been exposed to. Moral values are systemic and the special arrangement of system is all physical contingency. They are as real as they appear to be and you don't really get to choose how your basic operating system works or the incidence of how that pattern comes together best in any moral framework you may find most suitable to work with.
My best assessment is that your "survey question" is invalid and that there was no reason to ask it unless you were begging the question with loaded starting assumptions. It could just be a matter of allowing me to define each aspect in the way that I do, but it has to be said that you cannot have the yes/no answer you are searching for as you likely conceive of it.
Whatever reason it is that you won't accept that your question is invalid is our specific and possibly only significant point of disagreement. And as far as I know I've advocated a complete picture already. Everything I'm saying here can be derived from things I've said elsewhere (especially here and here) and I know you're smart and can pull things together on your own...so my unfortunate task is to as delicately as possible point out the persistent problem.
That was funny and painless, right? The question is pointless. We disagree on the nature of universalism. Continuing to ask loaded universalism based questions begs the question and is a symptom of "I'm not willing to think of it any other way." Um...okay? I'm sure you can trick a few atheists into answering it. Hurray! Feel free to ignore a hundred good reasons to think otherwise about universals but expect the same response to every new variation of the same theme.
It's no big deal...pretty much every theistic philosopher I've met here on xanga does it in some way or another. It does get pretty annoying having to slice and reslice the same information because someone has decided to misunderstand in a slightly different way.
Speaking of annoying, remember the time when...
Here (and here), you try to sell the idea that the "old" atheists had the right idea that trying to live the amoral grind of random chance was a good idea. You see it as the logical conclusion of non-theism, and I see it as senseless reactionaryism that I could have told you was doomed to fail before they even started writing their atheist manifestos. It's fairly obvious our middle world sensibilities were catered to live in close proximity to the vitality of life in that system. Spreading the hot coals to the four winds wasn't going to be a good idea. It doesn't mean that fire burns all the way up to heaven. There's no rule that says you can't embrace the exploits of your system as they appear to be and merely understand them differently in a technically accurate sense.
Here, you try to sell the idea that there is some rule in chaos that prevents the incidence of what we would label order. "Fully articulated chaos" is neither chaos nor order. It just is what it is since we are in "brute fact" land. The labels we put on the incidence are simply what correspond to our preconceived notions of each. From the most accurate point of reference however (the brute fact of all existence), there's really no meaningful difference.
(Sense and Goodness, pg. 86): "It follows that every random chaos will always, as a matter of logical necessity, contain many pools of order."
Here, I actually agree with you. Only some multiverse theorists (to my knowledge) like Max Tegmark actually attempt to account philosophically for the "abitrary ontology" factor inherent in that kind of atheistic "loose end".
"It is clear that if physical reality is less than the set of all possible universes, then there has to be some rule or algorithm that separates the set of actually-existing universes from the set of merely-possible but in fact non-existing universes."
It requires noticing that our definition of arbitrary is dependent on the possibility of it being another way. If all possibility exists, then it cannot fit the definition of arbitrary and the problem is resolved. This is simplest idea I know of that contends for brutest fact of them all and requires fewer assumptions than theism to account for particularity of the realm we do know of.
"To illustrate his argument, Tegmark gives the example of the of the numbers between 0 and 1. A useful definition of something's complexity is the length of a computer program needed to generate it. Imagine trying to generate a single number berween 0 and 1, specified by an infinite number of decimal places. Expressing it would take an infinitely long computer program. But to generate all numbers between 0 and 1, all you would have to do is start at 0, step through 0-1, 0-2 and so on, then 0-01, 0-11, 0-21 and so on--an easy program to write. In other words, creating all possibilities is much simpler than creating one very specific one."
Here, much like the unicornists from my analogy earlier, you almost seem to express your joy that atheists have taken theism much too seriously. The philosophical castles of theism hardly need to be "replaced." Rather our culturally inherited preconceived notions about what theism was supposedly doing for us need to be checked at the door. Theism was only doing the job well because we weren't paying very close attention.
Here, you seem to assume that the essence of God is immune from the very same criticism you have just voiced. What makes the logos the way it is? Why should it be trusted? Why is it just not a random, arbitrary, "chaotic" happenstance of being that you would otherwise be absolutely against? What defines it? At least evolution provides a means by which the virgin abstract of it can be field tested through trial and error over long periods of time, cultivating a pattern we could call the faculty of reason. The field of chaos does not have a rule against us existing in the way that we apparently do. It just means there's a whole lot not like us lucky lottery winners (as much as it takes).
Then, I stepped in and laughed with you at the army of arguments you faced, while you were busy doing your thing. Rather than making fun of the 101 arguments against Christianity, perhaps you should consider the weight of that evidence on those simpler terms rather than trying to overturn a vast landscape of arguments to the better explanation with some philosophical technicality only the select few might comprehend.
Here, you say you should have pulled your punch more often. Noted. Not sure if it changes anything here. It seems your articulation of nominalism is purely anti-universalism incarnate and no doubt as stated, it doesn't seem to make a terrible lot of sense other than to just be the bizarrely articulate opposite of universalism. I think that gives universalism too much credit. And I'm still not sure what "nonzero interval of space" means.
Here, you note I do in fact think the positions you've laid out are entirely nonsensical criticality displacement. From my point of view you're stuck on a systemic mirage. I'm also not going to apologize for the dissensible nature of the atheists before me who wore the boots laid out for them by their opponents. They were wrong in the way that they were. End of story. Perhaps they did the best they could with what they got and were influential at the time and said what needed to be said in that climate, but you give them too much convenient credit. The solution, is the solution, is the solution. Doesn't matter who writes it, or when, or if they don't happen to be saying the right thing at the right juncture of history when incidental ears are the most receptive to it. You care about truth, right?
It's too bad many atheists are behind in the game, the public is too poisoned by religion to think straight, and theists like yourself are too sure God is the only solution to the problem and too preoccupied with avoiding nihilism to notice he doesn't. :p Sorry, Jargon. My experience is this all comes to you in droves on its own the instant you stop presuming God has to factor into the equation. The reason theism is not compelling in any way is that it doesn't ever explain anything, it always compounds the problem with interest, and there's never a discernable reason why what we had to start with couldn't account for what we were looking for in the first place. It is the philosophical scenic route to nowhere.