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Divine Commands and Psychopathic Tendencies

February 2nd, 2013 by Matt

Sam HarrisThere has been some interesting debate in the blogosphere over Sam Harris’ contention that a divine command theory of ethics manifests “a psychopathic and psychotic moral attitude.”

Randal Rauser responded to Harris’ contention noting that “if you read through the twenty traits on the Psychopath Checklist you’ll find qualities like callousness, shallow effect, grandiose sense of self-worth, and lack of empathy. But you won’t find adherence to a divine command theory of meta-ethics among them.” Christopher Hallquist rejoins:

“I almost have a hard time believing Randal is serious here.  When he talks about “adherence to a divine command theory of meta-ethics,” what he means is believing that blowing up a bus full of children is right if that’s what God told you to do. That may not be explicitly listed in the Psychopath Checklist, but neither are things like actually blowing up a bus full of children. And being willing to approve of such an act just because you think God approves certainly sounds like something that would require a shocking degree of callousness and lack of empathy.”

I plan to address Harris’ original charge in a future post. Here I will limit my comments to Hallquist’s defence of it.  Hallquist suggests that a divine command theory (DCT) is psychopathic for two reasons. First, a DCT entails the following conditional: If God commands you to blow up a bus full of children then you are required to blow up a bus full of children.  Second, accepting the truth of this conditional requires a “shocking degree of callousness and lack of empathy” possessing such callousness and lack of empathy is, a of course, a psychopathic trait.

Hallquist has considerable confidence in these arguments. So much so he finds it hard to believe Randal’s denial of his conclusion is serious. Note also the rhetorical tactics he uses. The picture of people up blowing up buses full of children brings immediately to pictures of terrorism, sometimes terrorist activities are done for religious motivations, and since 9/11 there has been considerable fear and angst about terrorist acts of this sort. Hence, Hallquist taps deep into people’s fears. Moreover, a long meta-narrative going back to the enlightenment contends religion causes wars, is the source of violence and so on, whether that narrative is historically accurate or not is a matter of considerable dispute. However, prejudices of this sort are widely believed and raw in a post 9/11 environment. The fact a position resonates with people’s fears, emotions and prejudices, however, does not excuse us from asking whether it is true or rationally defensible. In this case I think a little reflection shows it is not. Hallquist’s argument is unsound and, in fact, incoherent. Hallquist’s bravado is therefore strongly misplaced.

Let us turn to Hallquist’s first premise. A DCT entails the conditional: If God commands you to blow up a bus full of children then you are required to blow up a bus full of children. This conditional is indeed an implication of divine command theories.  Undoubtedly that sounds shocking at first but note two important points which Hallquist skims over:

First, this is a conditional or hypothetical statement; it states that if God commanded blowing up buses then blowing up buses would be morally obligatory. Nothing about this conditional entails that God actually ever does, or even could, command such a thing, nor does it entail one is ever rationally justified in believing that he does. It simply states that if this situation occurred then the action would be permissible.  It’s a well-known point in logic that a person can affirm that one thing would be true if a certain situation occurred without being committed to claiming it ever occurs. It would be true for example that if I had never been born then I would not be writing this post right now, that does not mean I believe I was never born.

Second, DCT entails that blowing up buses is morally obligatory only if God commands them.  In the context of which these theories are discussed, God is understood as an omniscient, omnipotent, morally perfect person who created and sustains the universe.  To say God is morally perfect is to say he possess certain character traits such as being loving, just, impartial, etc; and that he possesses these traits in all possible worlds in which he exists.

So what a DCT entails is that blowing up a bus of children is right only under hypothetical conditions, which may well be impossible, where a person who was fully informed, rational, loving, just, and impartial would knowingly endorse the action. It’s under those circumstances and only under these that a divine command theory entails such acts would be permissible.

Notice also the hypothetical is one where God actually issues the command; the action is actually endorsed by away fully informed, rational, loving, just, and impartial person. It’s not a hypothetical situation where someone claims falsely or mistakenly that God did so.

Having clarified the relevant conditional we can now turn to Hallquist’s second premise. Hallquist contends that accepting this conditional requires “a shocking degree of callousness and lack of empathy,” but this is clearly false. What is being envisaged is not that it’s permissible to blow up buses per se but rather the blowing up of buses under certain hypothetical situations: where it is not unloving, not unjust, not based on false information, and not irrational.  The circumstances are such where an impartial, compassionate person would knowingly, after a fully rational consideration of the facts, endorse killing.  These are fairly clearly not circumstances where one could support the action only if they lacked empathy. By definition they are cases where impartial emphatic concern mandates the action.

Consequently, Hallquist’s second premise is incoherent. It affirms that only a person who lacked empathy and was callous could accept killing in circumstances where a fully loving impartial person, (i.e. one who was empathetic) has in fact endorsed it.  Far from being a cogent argument, this is a contradiction.

As a final problem Hallquist’s argument appears to entail not just that a DCT is psychopathic but that every substantive meta-ethical theory is psychopathic, including all known secular meta-ethical theories. Consider the structure of Hallquist’s argument. He notes a DCT entails the conditional that if God commands torturing people as much as possible then it is obligatory to do so. The problem is that an analogous line of reasoning applies to any ethical theory.

Consider utilitarianism: the theory that an action is obligatory if it maximizes happiness and good. It follows from this that if blowing up a bus maximizes happiness, blowing up buses is obligatory. Similar things apply with Kantianism: the view that an action is obligatory if and only if it is categorically prescribed by reason. It follows that if blowing up a bus is categorically prescribed by reason then it is obligatory to blow up a bus.  The same is true with virtue ethics, the view that an action is obligatory if and only if, it would be performed by a virtuous person. It follows that if a virtuous person would blow up a bus then blowing up a bus is obligatory. I maintain the same is true of any meta-ethical theory. Let P be any property one considers to be identical with the property of being obligatory. It will be true that this meta-ethical theory entails that if P is possessed by the action blowing up a bus then blowing up buses is obligatory.

If it is psychopathic to claim that blowing up a bus could be permissible even if a perfectly rational, loving, just and omniscient person commands it, then it must be absurd that blowing up a bus could be obligatory if it’s required by reason, compatible with virtue, or maximizes happiness. So unless one wants to declare all meta-ethical theories as arbitrary, the claim that these conditionals are obviously psychopathic needs to be reconsidered.

The moral here is that the mere fact a moral theory entails that killing is permissible in certain hypothetical situations does not by itself refute the theory. What is needed are further reasons for thinking it would be clearly psychopathic to endorse the killing in those hypothetical circumstances. This means people like Hallquist and Harris must show both that it’s possible for a essentially loving and just God to command something that only a callous unloving person who lacked empathy and could endorse. That seems like contradictory nonsense. The fact that a contradiction resonates with certain fears, cultural angst, and fits with a popular meta-narrative about religious history does not make a contradiction true.

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  • Nothing about this conditional entails that God actually ever does, or even could, command such a thing, nor does it entail one is ever rationally justified in believing that he does.

    Beside the point. If you adhere to DCT then whatever God commands is right. So even if it is highly unlikely that God would command such a thing (not that it actually is highly unlikely), the question is IF God commanded such a thing, and in fact if someone felt that God did command such a thing, then it is perfectly OK and morally defensible to blow up a busload of innocent people.

    If DCT is valid, then it is. One puts aside one’s personal scruples, personal humane feelings, overrides these to commit an atrocity. Denying these natural feelings of empathy etc is psychopathy.

    Now it is not at all unlikely that people get the idea that God talks to them and instructs them to do horrible things. Here are just a couple of examples.

    http://crimescape.com/books/mom-god-told-me-to-kill#tab-foreword

    http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/2001-08-17/news/0108170166_1_baby-s-death-baby-s-father-documents

    So if one has a mystical experience and feels that God has commanded an atrocity —-surely that would, if DCT theory was true, be a valid mitigating circumstance?

  • This means people like Hallquist and Harris must show both that it’s possible for a essentially loving and just God to command something that only a callous unloving person who lacked empathy and could endorse

    Well does the below qualify:

    “But you may keep for yourselves all the women, children, livestock, and other plunder. You may enjoy the spoils of your enemies that the LORD your God has given you.”

    “And I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem for battle: the city shall be taken, houses plundered, women ravished; half of the city shall go into exile, but the rest of the people shall not be removed from the city. “

    Also the fact that God tortures people for eternity for the crime of non-belief, is certainly something most normal sane people with a healthy amount of empathy for their fellow humans would recoil against.

    Just from these few examples it is quite obvious that “it’s possible for a essentially loving and just God to command something that only a callous unloving person who lacked empathy and could endorse”

  • By the way, why do religious people tend to use such big words and have such a convoluted writing style?

    FFS I’ve had people explain quite complex engineering and physics principles which are easier to follow than the stuff that comes from Matt —and all we are talking about here is whether following God’s command to kill is moral or not (any dummy could tell you that it is not ) —not say the flow of fluids in a pipe or the dynamic response of a bridge to an earthquake.

    For clarity in writing I suggest Jerry Coyne’s “Why Evolution is True”

  • On the massacre of children at Beziers (campaign of the Cathars):

    The pope said: “Kill them all, God will know His own” (remember the Pope was God’s representative on earth).

    Psychopathic or not psychopathic?

    I say psychopathic.

  • It seems to me Hallquist is attacking a 1/2DCT, that is, a theory of command theory entailing a one-half divine commander. This half-divine commander possesses God’s attributes of power and authority but lacks his attributes of moral perfection.

    Since there is no half-God, however, Hallquist is attacking the nonexistent and the impossible.

  • Wayne, Matthew is using the language of a philosopher, since this is a philosophical issue. His choice of vocabulary has nothing to do with his religious beliefs, except of course that he’s using language appropriately to defend his beliefs.

  • This half-divine commander possesses God’s attributes of power and authority but lacks his attributes of moral perfection.

    Since there is no half-God, however, Hallquist is attacking the nonexistent and the impossible.

    Tom. Where is your evidence that the Christian God is morally perfect. And by what standard do you judge that your God is morally perfect?

    Surely to say that God is morally perfect means that there must be some moral standard external to same God by which you can say God is morally perfect.

    So again –please state what moral perfection is, and then prove to us that God as revealed in the Bible is morally perfect by your own definition of moral perfection.

  • Further on what I’ll call HDCT (Half-Divine Command Theory): If Hallq were really responding to theistic DCT, his conditional would need to go more like this (implicitly or explicitly):
    If a morally perfect person with sufficient authority commanded me to do X, then it would be right for me to do X.

    Hallq treats it as if “morally perfect” was optional in that formulation, but it’s certainly not optional to the Judeo-Christian conception of God. (I’m told, however, that it may be optional to the Muslim conception of Allah. I’m no authority so if I’m wrong I’m open to being corrected on that.)

  • Wayne,

    In this stage of the argument it’s not necessary to prove that God is morally perfect, but only to show that if a morally perfect God exists, then DCT is not the psychopathic doctrine Hallq says it is. Or in other words, the point (at this moment) is not to prove that DCT is true, but that it’s morally good, rather than psychopathic.

    And it’s also not necessary to solve the Euthyphro to answer Hallq’s charge; not unless the Euthyphro objection is indeed without any answer at all; but (a) if it’s without any answer, then other moral positions, including Hallq’s, is equally open to Euthyphro-like charges, so it’s no advantage to him that you bring it up; and (b) theism is uniquely equipped to answer this objection, for reasons I don’t think we need to go into. Suffice it to say that if the God of theism is morally perfect, as theists understand him to be, and if God commands X, then it is good to do X.

  • Clarification: other moral positions are subject to Euthyphro-like charges if they claim to carry moral authority—which Hallq seems to be claiming, in view of his moral censure of terrorism.

  • The definition of “If X, then Y” is “Not X, or Y”, Therefore, “If God commands to blow up busses full of children, then it is morally right to blow up busses full of children” means “God doesn’t command to blow up busses full of children OR it is morally right to blow up busses full of children”.

    It follows that everyone who believes that God doesn’t command to blow up children (which includes atheists who believe that non-existent beings don’t command anything) also believes the conditional statement that Hallquist claims only a psychopathic person could believe. I guess that makes him a psychopath.

    Or just someone who doesn’t understand conditional statements. Either way, this idiocy is a waste of time.

  • Substitute “psychopathic person” for “psychopath” in the above comment.

  • Hallq’s objection is so silly I can hardly believe it’s serious.

    If God’s will grounds moral duties, then if it grounded a duty to murder children, there would be a duty to murder children. This is tautologically true, given the conditionals and the meanings of the words. It applies equally to whatever you pick to ground moral duties, and whatever duty you choose to be grounded, in virtue of the structure of the proposition.

    The argument seems equivalent to saying, “If it were obligatory to murder children, it would be obligatory to murder children. How psychopathic, to believe in obligations!”

    Of course, he could be arguing that God cannot in fact ground moral duties, hence his will cannot ground a duty to murder children, but that would presuppose the falsehood of DCT, and can’t very well act as an argument against it.

  • but only to show that if a morally perfect God exists, then DCT is not the psychopathic doctrine Hallq says it is

    OK. Let’s grant the above is the case.

    Now on to the next step (which is more immediately relevant):

    1. What constitutes moral perfection, in your understanding?

    2. Based on your understanding of moral perfection, is God as revealed in the Bible morally perfect?

    Don’t go off on a huge evasion. Just answer the questions.

  • You are rather demanding, Wayne.

    If you have a comment to share about what’s been said here, I’d be glad to interact with it. I’m not inclined to respond to imperious questions, however.

  • Note that Wayne, despite providing us with lots of bluff, lots of emotion, and lots of posture, hasn’t yet provided a coherent objection to divine command ethics.

    I wonder why? Perhaps because the Euthyphro Dilemma is among the worst arguments ever formulated in philosophy of religion?

  • Wayne, you seem to like asking questions. I hope you don’t mind me asking you one. What moral theory do you hold to be true?

  • Wayne, you seem to like asking questions. I hope you don’t mind me asking you one. What moral theory do you hold to be true?

    Hey….I’m not going to answer that one. I’m the first to admit I’m not a theologian.

    But I’m a greenhorn in these matters. But when I ask most people about most things, whether it is about fixing my car, cooking, solving a dynamics problem or a differential equation, those who really understand their subject and have nothing to hide can generally explain even seemingly complex topics in simple language.

    It is the height of arrogance to demand that someone interested in your belief system or philosophy of life or whatever, wade through a whole lot of textbooks before being able to provide a succinct and clear answer. Those who cannot provide clear answers, again, are either obfuscating because they know what they believe does not hold up under close scrutiny, are simply showing off by making simple things complex, or really do not understand what they are talking of.

    Now I repeat my question of you. Really really simple.

    I grant you that if a morally perfect god exists then DCT is valid.

    So now here are what should be really simple questions for you guys to answer:

    1. By what standard do you judge whether God is morally perfect? (surely one cannot say God is morally perfect unless one has some preconceived notion of what morally perfect is).

    2. And should not that standard be external to God?

    3. And does God as revealed in the Bible meet the standard of moral perfection as defined by you in (1) above.

    Come on now —-these questions should not be too taxing on your brain —afterall you surely would have already worked these out in your own mind, if you are the sort of thinking Christians you claim to be??

  • What moral theory do you hold to be true?

    Hey….I’m not going to answer that one. I’m the first to admit I’m not a theologian.

    Hang on, a person needs to be a theologian to know which moral theory she holds to be true…?

  • Wayne, the problem is those questions have been responded to and answered repeatedly in the literature on DCT. So the claim these are simply “honest” questions that no one answers sounds a tad contrived. Now I repeat my question of you. Really really simple.

    I grant you that if a morally perfect god exists then DCT is valid.

    Actually above you repeatedly denied this was the case. See your comments above where you attempt to defend Sam Harris’s criticism of a DCT.

    blockquote1. By what standard do you judge whether God is morally perfect? (surely one cannot say God is morally perfect unless one has some preconceived notion of what morally perfect is).

    I agree, DCT assumes that one can reliably know what is right and wrong, loving, empathetic, impartial, and so on independently and prior to any knowledge one has about Gods commands.

    The problem is this is entirely compatible with DCT, because DCT is not the claim that you cannot know what is right and wrong independently of belief in God. It’s the claim that rightness and wrongness are identical with Gods commanding and prohibiting.

    The fact that one thing is identical to another does not mean one cannot know or recognise one without believing the other. People have for centuries recognised what water is before anyone knew water was H20, it does not follow water is not H20.

    2. And should not that standard be external to God?

    No, for the reasons I just point out, the fact one has a conception of or knowledge of what is right and wrong prior to any knowledge of divine commands does not mean wrongness exists independently of Gods commands.

    . And does God as revealed in the Bible meet the standard of moral perfection as defined by you in (1) above.

    Actually, I’d answer no,. I agree that the conception of God we find in the bible does in places clash with the prior conception we have of what is right and wrong. I also don’t think this matters much because, unless you think our prior conception of morality is infallible and imperfect, and in no need of revision and correction, you’d actually expect that a revelation of morally perfect God to depart from our prior conceptions in this way.

    But Wayne, the real issue here is that even if the image of God presented in the bible is of an evil barbarian what does that prove about a divine command theory? Nothing.

    It does not show that God does not exist, nor does it show that the nature of right and wrong are not best explained by identifying moral obligations with Gods commands. All it shows is that the bible is not a reliable guide to what those commands are. Given a DCT does not claim that the bible is a reliable revelation ( nor does DCT deny it, its simply a separate issue) this all this shows is that again you have attacked a red herring by changing the subject.

    But Wayne perhaps you can now answer why you push these objections, given you (a) in a previous thread claimed there are no true objective moral claims. There is something rather funny about atheist outrage against a moral theory because it might in hypothetical circumstances claim killing is not wrong, when the same atheist embraces a moral view that nothing is wrong including killing.

    Come on now —-these questions should not be too taxing on your brain —afterall you surely would have already worked these out in your own mind, if you are the sort of thinking Christians you claim to be??

    As always bravado and subtle insults along the lines ( I am so smarter than you) substitutes for actually understanding the issue, doing any reading on it or even giving a consistent position.

  • the problem is those questions have been responded to and answered repeatedly in the literature on DCT

    For heaven’s sake—do you think even the average Christian knows what DCT is, let alone read anything about it?

    But surely it is not so complex that it cannot be explained in clear and simple language —-again why is it that theology seems to be written in such a way as to make it so difficult to follow an argument or understand —is it deliberate?

    when the same atheist embraces a moral view that nothing is wrong including killing.

    Bullshit —-where on earth do you get this idea? An atheist can say his idea of morality and altruism is a result of evolution —-he can claim that morals are then objective.

    Anyway this ‘objective’ or ‘subjective’ thing is really a nonsense argument because these are just words, the definition of which both atheists and theists hardly agree on.

    you’d actually expect that a revelation of morally perfect God to depart from our prior conceptions in this way.

    Well surely that begs the question —how ffs do you then know that God is morally perfect?????

  • Beside the point. If you adhere to DCT then whatever God commands is right. So even if it is highly unlikely that God would command such a thing (not that it actually is highly unlikely), the question is IF God commanded such a thing, and in fact if someone felt that God did command such a thing, then it is perfectly OK and morally defensible to blow up a busload of innocent people.

    If you read the post above I actually do admit this is the question and offer several arguments to show the answer is yes. Care to address the arguments instead of ignoring them.

    If DCT is valid, then it is. One puts aside one’s personal scruples, personal humane feelings, overrides these to commit an atrocity. Denying these natural feelings of empathy etc is psychopathy.

    That’s true of every moral theory, religious or secular, suppose one believes in the existence of moral obligations independent of God. It follow that: If these obligations tell us to commit atrocities then we have a moral obligation to commit an atrocity. One puts aside one’s personal scruples, personal humane feelings, overrides these to commit an atrocity.
    So by your logic, it follows that believing in moral obligations which exist independent of God is psychopathic.

    Now it is not at all unlikely that people get the idea that God talks to them and instructs them to do horrible things. Here are just a couple of examples.

    So if one has a mystical experience and feels that God has commanded an atrocity —-surely that would, if DCT theory was true, be a valid mitigating circumstance?

    That actually does not follow, to claim an action is right if God commands it is not the same as saying its right whenever someone thinks or claims God commands it. I actually made this point in the post above.
    But again this argument proves to much, because for any moral theory you think of religious or secular I can come up with cases where some person claims that an immoral action is justified by the theory.
    Suppose for example you believe there are moral obligations that exist independent of any God. Its not at all unlikely that some people will get the idea that these obligations require them to do horrible things. Pol Pot and Stalin are examples, therefore by your logic anyone who claims moral obligations exist independently of God are evil and psychopathic.
    Again all I see here is fairly obvious special pleading.

    Also just for the record I think you’ll find that anyone who sincerly claims that they murdered someone because God told them to would be found to be legally insane and hence not acquitted, so in modern liberal secular jurisprudence claiming God told you to do it in fact already is a mitigating circumstance.

  • therefore by your logic anyone who claims moral obligations exist independently of God are evil and psychopathic.

    If those moral obligations come from dogma, religious or otherwise then you are absolutely right. The likes of Pol Pot and Eichman (the banality of evil) were evil not because they necessarily were born different from the rest of us, but because they put aside normal and healthy instincts of empathy in the service of ideology and dogma or what is written in a book. The same sort of thing happened during China’s Cultural Revolution. Unthinking blind obedience to a book or an ideology or a leader or a god.

    Whether this ideology and dogma arises from a belief in the supernatural or otherwise, it does not really matter.

    But then to be consistent, you would not expect me to be taking issue with Pol Pot, until I have slogged through Das Kapital, or become completely versed in Marxist socio-political thought eh?

  • On the massacre of children at Beziers (campaign of the Cathars):
    The pope said: “Kill them all, God will know His own” (remember the Pope was God’s representative on earth).

    Actually, Pope Innocent did not say that, that statement was attributed to the Abott Arnaud Amalric, not to the Pope. Moreover its doubtful the attribution is accurate. The original records of the event do not record it. Its only mentioned by Caesar of Heisterbach writing 20 years latter and Ceaser in fact only states that Amlaric was reported as saying this by a third party not that he said it.
    Though if you google the quote you will see lots of atheist sites claiming the Pope said it. These same sites of course tell us we must be very sceptical of documents in the gospels after all there are only four sources and they were written decades latter.

    Psychopathic or not psychopathic? I say psychopathic.

    I think intellectually dishonest is a better answer.

  • If those moral obligations come from dogma, religious or otherwise then you are absolutely right.

    Actually, as I said its an implication of any moral system wether dogmatic or not dogmatic.

    But then to be consistent, you would not expect me to be taking issue with Pol Pot, until I have slogged through Das Kapital, or become completely versed in Marxist socio-political thought eh?

    If you attempted to give a criticism of Marxist ethics I would expect you to be familar with Marxist ethics. If you simply repeated arguments Marxist scholars had addressed and refuted and showed no attempt to respond then i would consider your critique to be a poor one.

  • Actually, Pope Innocent did not say that,

    Whether or not he actually uttered those words is not really that relevant—-the words summed up his attitude.

    The Cathars were wiped out in horrible ways, and most Christians even up to a couple of hundred years ago would have thought it perfectly OK to kill heretics. Aquinas even advocated for it, I understand.

    Afterall the last Auto-da-fé execution was in the 1820s was it not?

  • Actually, as I said its an implication of any moral system wether dogmatic or not dogmatic.

    Bullshit. Most people will not put aside normal feelings of human empathy unless motivated to do so by a dogmatic form of religion such as fundamentalist Christianity or Islam. Or a dogmatic atheistitic creed such as Marxism Leninism.

    Many people who did appalling things during the Cultural Revolution in China, simply look back on it and can’t understand why they would beat up teachers, even kill them, etc……and feel ashamed of it. The reason why they did it at the time is not because they wanted to be evil at the time, but because of a righteous fury worked out by adherence to a dogmatic creed.

    If one has some cursory knowledge of communism, its parallels with Christianity are absolutely startling. It is a peculiarly Western creed, and could only have arisen in a Christian culture.

  • If you attempted to give a criticism of Marxist ethics I would expect you to be familar with Marxist ethics.

    No. If someone said it was OK to kill landlords or members of the bourgeouis simply because Marxist dogma demanded it (whether it actually does or not is another story), I have the right to say that it is wrong and asks questions of it and oppose it —even if I had not read one sentence of Marx or Engels.

    Similarly if someone says that whatever God commands is cool—and God is defined by the Bible —-then I have the right (not just legal —but also intellectual) to say that is really fucked up.

  • Hey…just found an article about the last dude executed by Church authorities for heresy….reproduced from Wikipedia below:

    Upon returning to Spain, he used his position as a school master to teach others about deism. He was accused by the Spanish Inquisition of being a deist and of teaching his students about deism. He was arrested for heresy and held in jail for close to two years. The clergymen of the Spanish Inquisition demanded Ripoll be burned at the stake for his heresy, however, the civil authorities chose to hang him instead. Allegedly, the Church authorities, upset that Ripoll had not been burned at the stake, placed his body into a barrel, painted flames on the barrel and buried it in unconsecrated ground.

    I’m sure Matt would be advocating for similar had he been born a couple of hundred years ago. He would have quite happily had people like me killed.

  • Wayne, please quit swearing. Why don’t you let your words speak for themselves? Why resort to foolish cursing for rhetorical effect and divulge the weakness of your argumentation?

  • Kim —-that you can only act take me to task for the occassional swear word, and nothing else shows that it is you who has nothing to offer to the debate.

    It is Matt’s blog, not yours. So you don’t need to play the little prude police.

    And Matt is at least being polite enough to respond most of the time.

  • Bullshit. Most people will not put aside normal feelings of human empathy unless motivated to do so by a dogmatic form of religion such as fundamentalist Christianity or Islam. Or a dogmatic atheistitic creed such as Marxism Leninism.

    Well instead of saying “bull shit” you are welcome to try and refute the argument. Take any property P which is said to be identical with what is right. It will follow that “if an action contrary to ones empathetic feelings has P, P is right. This will hold simply as a matter of logic regardless of what content you give to P.

    The fact that many people would not put aside normal feelings act on this implication does not mean its not an implication of their position.

    Wayne as I have repeatedly pointed out you are giving arguments which, if valid, lead to the conclusion that any moral system is psychopathic.

    Your also quite wrong about how people in fact act, take mainstream secular theories like utilitarianism lots of secular people today have openly advocated actions like torture, killing non combatants, nuclear deterence, infanticide and so on, on the basis of their theory and at least have been willing to say that if there theory entailed this it would be justified. Your welcome to pretend that’s is not the case but it actually is the case.

  • Similarly if someone says that whatever God commands is cool—and God is defined by the Bible —-then I have the right (not just legal —but also intellectual) to say that is really fucked up.

    No one is saying that you don’t have the right to object. What we’re saying is, don’t pretend that you’re adding anything useful to the conversation by making silly objections which happen to demonstrate your ignorance of the current literature.

  • But surely it is not so complex that it cannot be explained in clear and simple language —-again why is it that theology seems to be written in such a way as to make it so difficult to follow an argument or understand —is it deliberate?

    I just find this hilarious. So when atheists don’t understand the issues its because they are deliberately convoluted and confusing, but when Christians don’t understand the issues it’s because they’re just stupid.

    This is a post on moral philosophy, Wayne. Don’t post about something you haven’t studied or at least read up on and then whinge about it being too confusing for you

  • [...] sparring mate, Matt Flannaghan at MandM, brought that memory back with his recent blog post “Divine commands and psychopathic tendencies.” In the post he’s at his old tricks – going into a frenzy of mental gymnastics [...]

  • Wayne – really like your observation:

    “If one has some cursory knowledge of communism, its parallels with Christianity are absolutely startling.”

    it’s something that has really struck home to me as I have studied the problems of dogmatism and, in particular, the history of persecutions in communist regimes.

    As for your other comment:

    “It is a peculiarly Western creed, and could only have arisen in a Christian culture.”

    I don’t know – will have to think about it. Communism is a pretty vague descriptor and so-called “communist” movements” have also been strong in non-christian countries.

  • I don’t know – will have to think about it. Communism is a pretty vague descriptor and so-called “communist” movements” have also been strong in non-christian countries.

    A similarity or a mindset I suppose, is the progressive linear worldview, similar to Christianity, as opposed to say the cyclical world view of the east.

    History plays out in an almost mechanical fashion (albeit the need for catylysts) from primitive communism to slave society to feudal to capitalist to socialist and finally to the utopia of communism (communist ideology’s equivalent of heaven. The way history will play out has an inevitablity about it –similar to Christianity.

    Like Christianity communism has a well defined eschatology. Like Christianity it has its prophets its theology (stuff written by Marx Engels and Lenin), its schisms, Trotskyism, Marxism Leninism, Marxism Leninism Maoism, its revisionists (equivalent to heretics in Christianity). All these different communist sects of course typically label others as not being true communist, and they all despise the milquetoast social democrats.

    Communist countries never called themselves as such –they were socialist countries —the stepping stone to the nirvana of communism. Sort of like Christians are part of the body of Christ on earth, but things are not quite all cool yet, that will come in the near or not so near future –heaven.

    They also have a similar way to Christians of rationalizing past misdeeds and moral failings —–ie they were ‘mistakes’, or those who committed certain crimes were not ‘true communists’, and that if only Trotsky had taken over communist utopia actually would have been realised.

    When the Chinese communists fell out with the Soviets in the early 1960s, they accused the Soviets of revisionism, and I have read that the Soviets had whole institutes of academics studying Marxist Leninist theory to rebut the charge of revisionism.

    And then of course it is the ideology and dogma trumps what should have been socialism’s original aim –the betterment of mankind. Instead it was sometimes held that it was-betterto be poor under socialism than rich under capitalism.

    Similarly I suppose many Christians are now largely neglectful of the moral teachings of Jesus —instead it is more important to be ‘theologically’ correct.

    I sort of have an idea of the religious mindset —my parents were communist and up until my early twenties I was absolutely sure that one day the whole world would become communist and people everywhere would welcome it. I believed in it as strongly as some religious people believe that they will go to heaven.

  • Communism is a pretty vague descriptor and so-called “communist” movements” have also been strong in non-christian countries.

    True….but then Christianity has also come on really strong in many formerly non-Christian countries. I think that a culture or people can find an ideology or religion or idea attractive, but that does not necessarily correlate with their original wherewithal to invent same ideology.

  • OK Wayne, I can see now where your understanding of communism has arisen. And why you see the strong parallels with Christianity. We have some similarities in our background experiences.

    I suppose in the evolution of my thinking I have seen that too, but also have realised how such dogmatism arises naturally from the way our cognitive systems work.

    Mind you – at the same time one should not throw out the baby with the bath water. I think people are now starting to realise they should have paid more attention to Marx’s very deep analysis of capitalism. Even in its more advanced form it is still suffering the crises and periodic destruction of value Marx identified. Similarly in philosophy I am continually surprised at how often the academics ignore the German Materialists, including Marx and Engels, and even Lenin. Consequently students of philosophy end up with a very naive and mechanical understanding of scientific philosophy.

  • at the same time one should not throw out the baby with the bath water

    Ken—agree with you 100%. In spite of many idiocies, a lot of the stuff attributed to the Soviet Union and Maoist China are wild fantasies, and needs serious rebutting. Both these regimes had some real and significant achievements, and the people in both countries tended to be better off than capitalist countries at a similar level of economic development. Of course this propaganda is put out to convince people that socialism has nothing to commend itself and inevitably leads to disaster.

    In terms of the baby and the bathwater, I would also say the same of Christianity. The idea that people are essentially equal (at least spiritually) was a revolutionary idea for its time, and it was I think the first great universalist creed in that anyone could be Christian regardless of ethnic, social, racial, or previous religious background.

    I found this one communists critique or another communists critique of religion quite fascinating.
    http://mikeely.files.wordpress.com/2009/01/pavel_andreyev_critique_of_avakian_on_god.pdf

  • Wayne, you write

    when the same atheist embraces a moral view that nothing is wrong including killing.

    Bullshit —-where on earth do you get this idea? An atheist can say his idea of morality and altruism is a result of evolution —-he can claim that morals are then objective.

    I refer you to your own comment on the matter at
    http://www.mandm.org.nz/2012/12/apologetics-in-auckland.html#comment-162275
    On Dec 29, 2012 at 10:46 pm you wrote:

    Craig’s arguments are tiresome —the moral argument is pathetic and easily falsifiable, and the reason why atheist philosophers seem to lose on this is they stupidly accept Craig’s premise that moral values are objective and then try to box themselves out. The fact is there are no objective moral values, because through time and history moral values have differed between cultures and civilizations. But that does not mean one cannot dearly hold onto ones own moral values, even if they are subjective.

    So when Craig argues for God’s existence on the basis of objective moral duties you argue they don’t exist, however when atheists argue against divine command ethics by appealing to objective norms which they claim only a Pscyopathic would deny the existence of you claim the opposite.

    Note also your appeal to evolution is inconsistent, suppose hypothetically evolution had given us feelings which endorsed blowing up the neighbouring tribes babies, then identifying objective moral duties with evolution would entail blowing up babies is wrong.

    So the very response you give here is subject to the same argument you claim is compelling against a DCT.

    Once again Wayne your position is self contradictory.

  • Matt, you have a very naive understanding of the evolutionary process as indicated by your supposition:

    “suppose hypothetically evolution had given us feelings which endorsed blowing up the neighbouring tribes babies.”

    Our instincts and emotions have, often very deep, evolutionary origins. But this does not refer to our behaviour or actions. You are confusing the two. Evolution doesn’t “endorse” or lead to such behaviours.

    Yes we have instincts of “them vs us” and those instincts may be co-opted to drive a behaviour – but it is the instinct that has resulted from evolution not the behaviour.

    An modern example are the instincts of purity and disgust which have served a role in protecting life and health. But modern religion and other ideologies has sometimes co-opted these to encourage a behaviour of discrimination against people of different races, beliefs or sexuality. Similarly the behaviours connected with the ideas of sacredness rely on the co-option of instincts or purity.

  • Ken, again try reading carefully before you comment, in the quote from me you cite, you’ll note I only refer to feelings, I don’t claim evolution causes behaviour.So citing this and claiming I was saying it did is simply a straw man.

    Note also the idea that one can identify moral obligations with evolutionary instincts is not mine, it was suggested by Wayne as a way of grounding objective moral duties. If evolutionary instincts cannot endorse behaviour then that only shows another problem with his idea, it is not a problem for anything I said because I never claimed it could. Again Ken actually reading and understanding what others say is important before you write on it.

  • So when Craig argues for God’s existence on the basis of objective moral duties you argue they don’t exist…

    OK here is my take on it. I believe that our moral feelings, altruism etc are something that has evolved along with our biological evolution. Perhaps even whole groups who had these moral feelings more than others had more survival potential than those humanoid groups which did not have the same tendency to band together and cooperate for survival.

    Similarly human groups which had low natural inhibitions against murder or rape or theft would probably have lower surivival potential as well.

    So I am saying the likely explanation of our feelings of morality etc are grounded in evolutionary theory.

    You say they are grounded in God.

    You probably hold to your moral viewpoints every bit as strongly as I do mine.

    Whether you call these values subjective or objective is irrelevant —they are just labels with no real meaning behind them –because in fact the atheist is as moral and as the theist, and furthermore is probably just as likely to die for his cause as the theist his.

    Now objective or subjective —those are just meaningless terms in the context of this argument. When I said morals were subjective I simply meant that they were not objective facts like gravity and evolution. Which they are not. But that does not mean I do not have my own moral system that is real to me.

    Similarly just because saying Beethoven is the greatest composer is a subjective statement does not mean to the person that is saying that statement it is completely real and meaningful.

    Again, theology just seems to be word play….it is a nonsense field where people make up hypothetical situations and then try and go about ‘solving’ them —-without any reference to the real world and evidence whatsoever.

  • Here is Matt’s argument:

    1. God is morally perfect

    2. The one true God is the God revealed in the Bible. Sola Scriptura right?

    But Matt then goes on to admit the following “I agree that the conception of God we find in the bible does in places clash with the prior conception we have of what is right and wrong. I also don’t think this matters much because, unless you think our prior conception of morality is infallible and imperfect”

    So Matt —if your God as revealed in the Bible clashes with your prior conception of what is right and wrong, how on earth can you then justify your conclusion that he is morally perfect??????????????????

  • Matt answered that in the quoted portion …

  • unless you think our prior conception of morality is infallible and imperfect

    If one’s conception of morality is infallible and imperfect, how then can one know that the Biblical God is morally perfect?

    If one’s vision is impaired, how can one when looking at a painting say that it is the most beautiful painting in the world?

  • I also don’t think this matters much because, unless you think our prior conception of morality is infallible and imperfect, and in no need of revision and correction, you’d actually expect that a revelation of morally perfect God to depart from our prior conceptions in this way.

    Matt means “infallible and perfect” here.

    If one knows he is fallible and imperfect with regards to making right choices–as we all are–then it should not surprise him to think that God’s true concept of right and wrong may differ from his.

    This is not a (human) fallibility of always being incorrect, it is a fallibility that recognises he generally knows that right and wrong exist, and he knows with varying degrees of certainty that some things are wrong and some things are right, but knows that he is mistaken about some things (say because he has been made aware of previous mistakes), even if he is not sure what it is that he is mistaken about.

  • Matt, instincts can’t endorse anything – they are not a conscious process. They are automatic.

    Behaviour may result from instincts – but that is not a conscious thing. Once we are in the manual mode we can actually override instincts.

    Endorsement requires conscious deliberation.

    That of course in no way discredits the scientific understanding of morality which, like all biology, has an evolutionary context. In fact it is evidence for it.

  • A mathematical example of my recent comment.

    My capture was incorrect. I had misread it as six plus ? = 18. Possibly because I have only encountered addition subtraction options in MandM, perhaps because I was not concentrating, perhaps both. But I was mistaken, it was 6 × ? = 18. When I reread it I identified both the correct equation (and answer), but I was also aware that my previous answer was wrong, and how it had been wrong.

    The point being a true understanding led me to understand both what is actually correct, and how I had been mistaken. Further, I am absolutely certain that my prior equation “interpretation” was incorrect; that is I am not now vacillating between 2 options, I have changed my (errant) opinion and am more certain of the new (correct) one. Fallibility does not mean that one is never about to recognise the truth, it mean that he may be mistaken at times. But a fallible person can know things with a high degree of certainty.

    (And I will pay more attention to the capture equation this time)

  • Consider a textbook on same, some advanced mathematics topic. To the best of my ability I read the book trying to understand it. Some of the answers to the problems in the book seem, to me, to be, clearly in error.

    While it would be entirely reasonable and humble to allow for the possibility that my understanding of mathematics is very limited compared to the author of the book. And that it this that is the problem, and the errors in the book are not actually errors.

    The above is a reasonable assumption. That is analogous to Matt’s take on the Bible and morality.

    However what is not reasonable to assume, based on my limited mathematics capability, is to go even further and boldly proclaim to the world that the same textbook is entirely free of error and the author of the book is the greatest genius of mathematics that ever lived and that it is impossible that the author of the book could ever be in error when it comes to mathematics ……..UNLESS of course ……I had evidence external to the textbook itself, that this was actually the case, that the author was perhaps a Fields Medal Winner or some incredibly esteemed mathematician.

    Now most Christians (and I assume Matt does as well) assumes that the Bible is free of error (or largely so), and its moral teachings are free of error.

    But unlike the case of the mathematics textbook, Matt does not have any EXTERNAL evidence that the author/s of the Bible were infallible geniuses. In fact there is no evidence EXTERNAL to the Bible itself, that God had anything whatsoever to do with it.

    In fact, based on the teaching of Sola scriptura, one is not even allowed to consider the possibility of evidence for the nature of God outside the Bible itself.

    So Matt is going around proclaiming that the Bibles teachings on morality are perfect —-even though he has no evidence external to to the Bible itself which suggests that this may well be the case.

  • ..even though he has no evidence external to to the Bible itself which suggests that this may well be the case.

    Although I anticipate Matt will answer there there is….inner spiritual testimony.

  • Ken, moral norms are prescriptive they endorse certain behaviour and reject other forms of behaviour. if evolutionary feelings or instincts don’t endorse behaviour then you cant claim that moral norms are grounded or identified with evolved feelings and instincts.

    like I said, I never said evolved instincts can endorse things, my point was that is an implication of Wayne’s suggestion that we can identify moral norms with evolved instincts.

  • [...] sparring mate, Matt Flannaghan at MandM, brought that memory back with his recent blog post “Divine commands and psychopathic tendencies.” In the post he’s at his old tricks – going into a frenzy of mental gymnastics [...]

  • While I think divine command theory can surmount all these objections, I reject it as superfluous as well as ignoring the moral obligations operating prior to its own moral theorizing.

    Just as some supervisory theory of truth must be in force already in order to evaluate competing theories of truth, so morality and moral goodness are already necessarily embedded in the propriety of rational principles of thought and in the criteria we must use to evaluate moral theories.

    Moral theorizing is merely a particular instance of the higher category of universal rational standards on which that theorizing itself logically depends. If there is no moral obligation to think rationally, there can be no moral obligation to think rationally about morality or act rationally with regard to morality.

  • Matt, I agree “moral norms are prescriptive they endorse certain behaviour and reject other forms of behaviour.” As such they are a result of intellectual deliberation. Of course that does not necessarily mean they are rational – we are, after all, more a rationalising species than a rational one.

    Feelings, instincts and emotions are not intellectual, they are automatic and immediate. They need to be. Consequently they cannot endorse anything. But they, of course, can and usually do drive, result in, behaviour. That is very necessary.

    On the other hand a “rationalised” dogmatic moral prescriptive system can endorse, encourage or disapprove of specific behaviours. Even specific emotions. That often seems to be the purpose of moral codes – “justification” of the often, in truth, unjustifiable.

    So while there is no question of my emotions or feelings “endorsing” a specific behaviour or moral code there is cerainly every possibility that I can adopt a dogmatic prescriptive moral system which is designed to justify and endorse my behaviour – even when my behaviour is clearly wrong to very one else. Motivated reasoning is a great thing – it can give the pretence of support for anything I want and be used to justify the most extreme forms of moral relativism.

    And my underlying motivations for developing a dogmatic prescriptive moral code may even be an attempt to justify behaviour, and using motivated “reasoning” to do so.

    That is why divine moral ethics are so handy – once you rely on a supernatural dictator you can justify anything – no matter how truly bad it is.

  • Ken that’s simply a string of fairly controversial meta-ethical assertions.

    But note also that almost every objection you raise against DCT applies to those assertions.

    If moral norms are identical with rules humans make up through intellectual deliberation it follows that if a group of humans made up rules which endorse blowing up babies then blowing up babies is morally justified.

  • However what is not reasonable to assume, based on my limited mathematics capability, is to go even further and boldly proclaim to the world that the same textbook is entirely free of error and the author of the book is the greatest genius of mathematics that ever lived and that it is impossible that the author of the book could ever be in error when it comes to mathematics ……..UNLESS of course ……I had evidence external to the textbook itself, that this was actually the case, that the author was perhaps a Fields Medal Winner or some incredibly esteemed mathematician.

    This is mistaken on several counts. First, no body and certainly not I argued that the Bible is free of error, on the basis of my limited understanding. What I did was argue that a certain argument against biblical infallibility fails once you realise this. Your confusing the act of refuting an argument against a thesis with offering a positive argument for this thesis.

    Second, as to your example, if I read a book on math by a fields medal winner, in most cases I would not know this from “external” evidence. I would know it because the dust jacket of the book would tell me who the author is. We almost always know who the author of the book is by reading the name written on the book and the blurb on the book. We don’t read some second book to tell us who wrote the first and if we did we would have a problem because know we need a third book to tell us who the author of the second book is before we can trust it, and we then need an author of the fourth book to tell us who the author of the first book is an so on.

    But not you keep avoiding the arguments in the post, can you actually refute them or are you going to keep asking questions and when they are answered go off on tangents.

  • Wayne the breath taking hubris of people who think that because they have some science training they can make sweeping claims about moral philosophy never astounds me.

    So I am saying the likely explanation of our feelings of morality etc are grounded in evolutionary theory.
    You say they are grounded in God.

    I did not say that moral feelings are grounded in God. I said moral obligations are grounded in God. Feeling obligated is not the same thing as being obligated.

    But second, note again the special pleading here, because if one grounds moral obligations in evolution then it follows that if we have evolved so that we felt good about blowing up babies from the enemy tribe, then blowing up babies from the enemy tribe is good.

    Whether you call these values subjective or objective is irrelevant —they are just labels with no real meaning behind them –because in fact the atheist is as moral and as the theist, and furthermore is probably just as likely to die for his cause as the theist his.

    Actually the words objective and subjective do have a real meaning. To say moral duties are objective is to say moral claims such as: its wrong to torture children to death for fun. Are true independently of wether an individual human being or his societies believes that it is or endorses the action.
    Note your criticising the Catholic church was wrong for killing people in accord with its beliefs presupposes moral duties are objective. If they are subjective then what the catholic church did was not wrong as they believed what they were doing was right.

    When I said morals were subjective I simply meant that they were not objective facts like gravity and evolution. Which they are not. But that does not mean I do not have my own moral system that is real to me.

    That’s simply a way of redefining the word, objective so it refers to what is subjective. Things are not “real” because I strongly believe they are. Reality is the way things are. The idea that something is “real to me” is a confused statement.

    Similarly just because saying Beethoven is the greatest composer is a subjective statement does not mean to the person that is saying that statement it is completely real and meaningful.

    That assumes that statements about beauty in the arts are subjective. Its not clear that is true.

    Moreover, the fact a statement is “real to the person saying it” does not make it objectively true.

    Again, theology just seems to be word play….it is a nonsense field where people make up hypothetical situations and then try and go about ‘solving’ them —-without any reference to the real world and evidence whatsoever.

    This is a bizzare statement given the above, you have just choosen to use the word “objective” to describe what is subjective, tried to use the word “real” to refer to things which one believes are real but really are not, and suggested moral claims can be real and objectively true despite admitting there are no facts of the matter. And you claim Theology is about “word play….it is a nonsense field where people make up hypothetical situations and then try and go about ‘solving’ them —-without any reference to the real world”

    Apart from the fact your confusing philosophy and theology, and also failing to understand the method of the former and why hypothetical situations actually have implications for the real world. Once again your whole comment is simply an assertion of a contradiction.

  • Sure, Matt, “almost every objection you raise against DCT applies to those assertions” – but, of course, not all. Most other systems don’t rely on the commands of a supernatural dictator.

    As I said, we can all be guilty of motivated “reasoning” – and we are usually rationalising rather than being rational when in the justifying mode. That’s true for people of all beliefs. It’s part of being human.

    But reliance on the commands of a supernatural dictator (really reliance on the messenger who invents these commands which happen to correspond with their prejudices) is specifically giving up all hope of basing a moral system, or individual moral decisions, on evidence and careful reasoning.

    It is no accident that most of the situations where people are blowing up school buses, or shooting young women who want an education, are heavily influences by beliefs in supernatural dictator.

  • Sure, Matt, “almost every objection you raise against DCT applies to those assertions” – but, of course, not all. Most other systems don’t rely on the commands of a supernatural dictator.

    Sorry, but as I argued above those objection are not limited to moral theories which rely on divine commands. It’s a simply implication of logic that for any property that is identified with what is morally right.
    You cant just decide an argument is valid when its God that is being talked about and then dismiss the same argument when its your own pet theory.

    But reliance on the commands of a supernatural dictator (really reliance on the messenger who invents these commands which happen to correspond with their prejudices) is specifically giving up all hope of basing a moral system, or individual moral decisions, on evidence and careful reasoning.

    So Ken if individual moral decisions, evidence and careful reasoning leads someone to conclude that its permissible to blow up a bus of children, is it permissible to do so?

    Also can you explain how a moral decision based on careful reasoning, and weighing of evidence, can be non psychopathic. When a moral decision by God, who being omniscient is aware of all the evidence and who being perfectly rational reasons very carefully will only be endorsed by someone who is psychopathic?

  • machinephilosophy

    While I think divine command theory can surmount all these objections, I reject it as superfluous as well as ignoring the moral obligations operating prior to its own moral theorizing.

    But DCT is a theory about how moral obligations can even exist, it doesn’t say anything about the content of the moral commands. How can it be ignoring prior moral obligations? I’m also curious as to what you think constitutes these so called high level moral obligations which underly moral theorizing – what makes them true?

  • It seems that Hallquist is just rehashing tired old arguments about religion. I can point to any group of people and claim that the crazies in the bunch serve to represent the whole… silly. Thanks for the post!

  • Matt – you ask (and I a think you are repeating yourself) “So Ken if individual moral decisions, evidence and careful reasoning leads someone to conclude that its permissible to blow up a bus of children, is it permissible to do so?”

    I guess you could do he experiment – in NZ I am sure we would judge you wrong and lock you up.

    The question of “permissible” is itself a result of evidence and rational, collective, informed reasoning. And if your church decided to blow up a school bus and claim you came to the decision after applying careful reasoning – you might get your chance to rehearse that reasoning in court but I suspect we would judge your reasoning was not careful. That it was illogical and motivated. Perhaps pathological or insane.

    Hardly an unusual situation if you think about it. Most criminals probably claim there actions were “right” and could argue a logical, “reasoned” case for them.

    Just because one group claims to be using careful reasoning does not make it true.

    I suspect you would not be able to produce evidence and careful reasoning to justify blowing up school buses. How about you advancing some evidence and careful reasoning to and let’s see if we can pick holes in it.

  • Matt – you ask (and I a think you are repeating yourself) “So Ken if individual moral decisions, evidence and careful reasoning leads someone to conclude that its permissible to blow up a bus of children, is it permissible to do so?”
    iI guess you could do he experiment – in NZ I am sure we would judge you wrong and lock you up.

    Nice evasion of the question. As usual avoid the question and attack other people.

    The question of “permissible” is itself a result of evidence and rational, collective, informed reasoning.

    So if and rational, collective, informed reasoning entailed that you should blow up a bus it would be permissible to do so.

    And if your church decided to blow up a school bus and claim you came to the decision after applying careful reasoning – you might get your chance to rehearse that reasoning in court but I suspect we would judge your reasoning was not careful. That it was illogical and motivated. Perhaps pathological or insane.

    Again an evasion of the question, note I did not ask “if my church decided to blow up school bus and I out of illogical and pathological insanity agreed with them would it be permissible to do so”

    I asked if and rational, collective, informed reasoning entailed that you should blow up a bus it would be permissible to do so.

    Hardly an unusual situation if you think about it. Most criminals probably claim there actions were “right” and could argue a logical, “reasoned” case for them.
    Just because one group claims to be using careful reasoning does not make it true.

    Again an evasion of the question, note I did not ask whether if a group “claims” to be using careful reasoning to justify blowing up a bus, are they justified.
    I asked if and rational, collective, informed reasoning entailed that you should blow up a bus it would be permissible to do so.

    I suspect you would not be able to produce evidence and careful reasoning to justify blowing up school buses. How about you advancing some evidence and careful reasoning to and let’s see if we can pick holes in it.

    Another evasion of the question,

    I did not say I believed there was careful reasoning in support of the claim it was ok to blow up buses. I asked you: if and rational, collective, informed reasoning entailed that you should blow up a bus it would be permissible to do so.

    Let me know when instead of making insulting insinuations your ready to actually address the substantive point.

  • Bloody hell, Matt, you are touchy. Or is this just your method for avoiding the obvious.

    Perhaps we can do he experiment in a more practical way:

    What about your setting out your evidence and careful reasoning to support your belief that it is morally permissible to blow up a bus full of school children.

    We can then look at your evidence and reasoning and critique it.

    I am convinced that we will find logical and evidential mistake, holes and chasms (big enough to drive a bus through). Because I am convinced that it is not possible to justify such actions.

    But give it a go – I am happy to cooperate.

    You can see my point that simply declaring that you have evidence and have reasoned carefully is not going to fool me.

  • I should have added that the other experiment using DCT has been done in Israel, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Because the justifications involve blindly following the orders of a supernatural dictator (or her human messenger) reasoned consideration just hasn’t come into it. It’s not required. One should question your god. That’s why DCT can be used to justify any old evil.

  • What about your setting out your evidence and careful reasoning to support your belief that it is morally permissible to blow up a bus full of school children.

    Lol, nice tactic. As soon as you can’t answer the point you try and shift the burden of evidence. You are the one who repeatedly talks about advocate a scientific view of morality and that moral truths can be arrived at by evidence. Why is it that you utterly fail to provide any kind of evidence for a straight forward moral claim?

  • Hugh, I think you are getting confused by debating me on two separate blogs. That also makes it i possible for others to follow. Let’s just stick with one. OK?

  • “But DCT is a theory about how moral obligations can even exist, it doesn’t say anything about the content of the moral commands. How can it be ignoring prior moral obligations? I’m also curious as to what you think constitutes these so called high level moral obligations which underly moral theorizing – what makes them true?”

    It assumes a supervisory morality in that theorizing itself, without which there would be no obligation to theorizing about it in the first place, or to accept one theory rather than any other. It affects all moral obligations, commands, and theorizing, and therefore all moral content.

    What makes something true, aside from some already existing rational system into which it must fit, includes what morally obligates us to recognize the principles of general reason and logic as the universal criteria for deciding what is true about any theory of any kind, moral or not.

    If this is not the case for abstract logical theory, then the case for any rationally preferable moral theory is impossible, irrelevant, and in the nature of the case, hardly obligating acceptance. And in that case, first-order moral commandments of any kind are a joke.

  • Ken

    Again care to actually answer the question I ask instead of changing the subject and pretending I said something else instead.

  • What makes something true, aside from some already existing rational system into which it must fit, includes what morally obligates us to recognize the principles of general reason and logic as the universal criteria for deciding what is true about any theory of any kind, moral or not.

    I suspect you are incorrectly using the term “moral” here. It doesn’t make sense to say we are simply “morally” obligated to recognize reason and logic, unless you are prepared to say that my can of Red Bull is committing a moral foul for not being reasonable. Sure, unlike the energy drink we have the cognitive capacity to reason but what on earth “morally” obligates us to use it? It seems like you are just inventing this moral obligation out of thin air and it just pushes the problem back a step.

  • Ken

    If anyone here is doing “mental gymnastics” it is you, not Matt. He keeps answering your questions, and it seems like you’re doing everything you can from addressing what Matt is saying or asking you. Hugh is right when he points out that you’re just shifting blame when an avenue of criticism falls short. Additionally, he’s right when when he says that no evidence of a solely scientific basis of morality has been provided. Wayne has come forth with what can only be characterized as a subjective moral philosophy which tries to retain the right to deny other subjective/objective moral philosophies, and all your argumentation at this point is coming up with wild scenarios in an attempt to score rhetorical points.

  • Alabaster, perhaps you should declare where you are coming from and your motives, instead of attacking and misrepresenting me. This discussion is being carried out in two blogs at the moment and it is at Open Parachute, not here, that I have put more effort to explaining the scientific understanding of morality – as I currently see it.

    You are very welcome to critique that explanation – but please do so properly and in detail. Accusing me of “shifting the blame” is just a cop out – demonstrating an unwillingness to engage but an, unfortunately all too human, willingness to shout abuse across an ideologica divide.

  • Matt – your question is along the lines of “when are you going to stop beating your wife?” You ask “if individual moral decisions, evidence and careful reasoning leads someone to conclude that its permissible to blow up a bus of children, is it permissible to do so?”

    My answer is and has been that I don’t think it is possible to draw that conclusion undress your logic is faulty, evidence ignored and motivated reason used.

    You are unable to present any argument for consideration so I assume that you can’t – no surprise there.

    So it is not a question presented in good faith. Because you know as well as I do that you can’t come to that conclusion honestly.

    But really such games are not important. We all know that non religious moral systems can easily grant permission to things that are wrong. Just as can religious ones. My contention is that in both cases the premises, evidence and/or reasoning are faulty.

    But no doubt people who have used those shonky systems will then claim heir conclusions are permissible just as those relying on a supernatural dictator have in Afghanistan, Israel and Pakistan.

    You are just playing a game as a diversion from acknowledging that DCT can be used to justify the most extreme and horrible forms of moral relativism. And, yes, so can non-religious moral systems, although they don’t provide the tool of a divine supernatural dictator whose orders must be followed without question or justification.. Although Stalin, Hitler and Mao must be considered pretty close to that.

  • My answer is and has been that I don’t think it is possible to draw that conclusion undress your logic is faulty, evidence ignored and motivated reason used.

    Exactly, which is the same claim the DCTist makes, i.e. despite what some radical fundy might believe about what God commands it’s not actually possible to reach the conclusion unless your belief about what God actually commanded is mistaken and motivated reasoning is used.

    This is the same for all the main normative theories of ethics. If the consequent is that blowing up a bus full of children is required then its likely that the antecedent in the condition is not satisfied.

  • Yet, Hugh, there are believers blowing up school buses and shooting women who demand education.. Even murdering their own children because they believe their god told them to do it.

    You may pass off that situation by calling them fundies, but surely their claims of what their god commands are just as valid as yours. Unless you can apply a system involving evidence and careful collective reasoning how do you possibly double check those commands you are getting from voices in your head or messengers of your god. Especially as you are told you must rely on faith and should not question what your god commands. That demand is it restricted to fundies.

    And if you do use evidence and reasoning then you are using the same system I use which has absolutely no use for a supernatural dictator and the blind following of divine orders. You have made you god superfluous – which is simply the extension of natural science into human morality. Science shows there is absolutely no need for gods to explain the world around us and we are now seeing the same is true for human morality..

  • Hugh, apparently we can dismiss as impossible that reason and evidence would support a particular action, but we have no way of being able to tell wether a perfectly rational person who is omniscient could have commanded the same action.

  • Matt, you say:

    “we have no way of being able to tell wether a perfectly rational person who is omniscient could have commanded the same action.”

    And what would you do if this new god gives the same command – appeal for another “perfectly rational person who is omniscient?”

    It’s gods all the way down, is it?

    Far better to think for yourself and stop blindly following orders. And be specially suspicious when someone claims the orders are “divine.”

  • “Science shows there is absolutely no need for gods to explain the world around us and we are now seeing the same is true for human morality..”

    What a complete load of twaddle or maybe blind faith [ the epitom ofscientism
    Science hasnt even started on the question of why there is some thing rather than nothing, it doesnt address the is/ought question

  • *epitome of scientism]
    As for human morality, evolutionary theory concerning the adaptive advantage of certain behaviours doesnt tell us whether they are right or wrong, just that they may have contributed to higher survival rates.
    however as i keep pointing out genocides contribute to the dominance of the aggressor population [ it is after all just a technique for competing for limited resources], as does ‘soldier rape’ [ a means of spreading the aggressor population genes through the conquered population].
    Yet Ken has consistantly labelled such actions “wrong” while at the same time arguing for an evolutionary origin of human morality.

  • “It doesn’t make sense to say we are simply “morally” obligated to recognize reason and logic, unless you are prepared to say that my can of Red Bull is committing a moral foul for not being reasonable. Sure, unlike the energy drink we have the cognitive capacity to reason but what on earth “morally” obligates us to use it? It seems like you are just inventing this moral obligation out of thin air and it just pushes the problem back a step.”

    If we’re not morally obligated to recognize reason and logic, then why are you using them to arbitrate the status of moral obligation? Are you just inventing their authority to obligate you to think of all morals in one way instead of some other way?

  • [...] sparring mate, Matt Flannaghan at MandM, brought that memory back with his recent blog post “Divine commands and psychopathic tendencies.” In the post he’s at his old tricks – going into a frenzy of mental gymnastics [...]

  • Ken,

    I don’t need to be detailed when I critique your method of argumentation, since Matt and Hugh are doing a fine job of responding to the details. I’m stating what your arguments look like. Also, what I’ve said can by no means be construed as an attack upon you, unless you extend your identity to your arguments or your method of argumentation. There’s a world of difference between “Ken the person” and “Ken’s arguments.”

  • Jeremy, I realise your attempt to denigrate science was actually just a jerking of your knee, but perhaps I should elaborate on my comment “Science shows there is absolutely no need for gods to explain the world around us.” Provide a bit of context.

    In the 17th Century Galileo argued that scripture could not provide a reliable source of knowledge about the world – especially as it needed interpretation. He argued that we should look for information about reality in reality itself. That our study of reality and reliance on evidence provided a far better understanding of reality than did scripture. This was considered heretical and revolutionary by some but is one reason we see Galileo as a hero of science. Because that approach has enabled an important revolution in modern science (although ancient Greeks held the same concept of reliance on evidence). It also enabled modern science to break away from religion. A vital step in enabling the power of science. Effectively the Christian interventionist god became a diest god, a retired engineer, and finally became irrelevant. The god concept never found any use in science – it had no supporting evidence or explanatory power. Newton may have weakly used the concept when he was stumped (a filler for ignorance) but no-one today finds it necessary as part of a mature scientific theory, or even a realistic hypothesis.

    In Galileo’s time the Church convened a council of theologian consultants to rule on the validity of the ideas of a heliocentric solar system. That would not happen today. Modern governments turn to scientists for knowledge and understanding of aspects of the real world – not theologians. Just imagine governments today convening a panel of theologians to determine what is happening to the earth’s climate. Makes you laugh doesn’t it.

    But what this use of evidence and close connection with reality showed again and again is that former explanations invoking gods were just myths. They had no real basis and explained nothing. In fact the “god did it” explanations were just an indication of ignorance. As real scientific knowledge advanced religion necessarily retreated. The wisest believers had to concede again and again to science and accept scientific knowledge. Because it works. Mind you there are still many believers who reject modern science, especially in areas like climate change, biology and cosmology. And many more who desperately try to accomadate science to their supernatural beliefs.

    Whereas Galileo, perhaps opportunistically, specifically left questions of morality firmly in the grasp of scripture I think religion has been losing ground there in just the same way, although the process may have started later. The actual experience of modern religionists glaringly shows they have no superior grasp on morality – quite the reverse.

    Your reference to the “is/ought question” is an example. There is a lot of rubbish written about “is/ought” but basically it’s sourced back to Hume. And don’t forget the example Hume used – those who go from an is, specifically the existence of a god, to an ought, without any explanation of the connection or mechanism. To quote Hume:

    “. . . The author proceed for some time in the ordinary way of reasoning, and establishes the being of a god, . . . .when of a sudden I am surprised to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not.”

    He complains that no evidence, explanation or reason is given for getting from the is (of a god) to the oughts and ought not. I am sure Hume would disapprove, in the same manner, of Matt’s DCT.

    In fact the real lesson of Humes writings on this is that morality is not an intellectual process but an emotional one. And modern science is reinforcing that view. It seems to me that here modern science has returned to Hume’s powerful ideas on morality while most moral philosophers, and especially religious philosophers, have forgotten them and concentrate on intellectual mechanisms.

    My reading of the science of morality (in areas like cognitive science, psychology and neuroscience) encourages me to think it is making real progress. No it’s not using science to decide what is “right” and “wrong” (and the science of morality shows why that is a stupid idea) so it is foolish to pretend otherwise. But it a helping us understand why we have such strong emotional concepts of “right” and “wrong”, how these evolved and why social consensus on the normative moral rules has changed, and is changing today. Personally I see a growing understanding of the role of intellectual consideration and reason as an integral component together with moral feelings and emotions. That provides a really good basis for approaching the problems we have today in a pluralist and multicultural society.

    Frankly, Jeremy, the twaddle and blind faith here is coming from Matt and his DCT. Science will help clear way that rubbish – if you let it.

  • “we have no way of being able to tell wether a perfectly rational person who is omniscient could have commanded the same action.”
    And what would you do if this new god gives the same command – appeal for another “perfectly rational person who is omniscient?”
    It’s gods all the way down, is it? Far better to think for yourself and stop blindly following orders. And be specially suspicious when someone claims the orders are “divine.”

    Again Ken you evade the substantive point I raised. How can it be the case that we can know and rationally believe that given all the evidence it’s rational and just to endorse some action and the same time be unable to rationally tell whether God: a fully informed (omnsicent) fully rational just person would endorse the same action ?
    Simply asserting that Divine Command theorists “blindly follow orders” does not actually answer this.

    Again your free to answer what I actually said, alongside the original question where I asked you if rational, collective, informed reasoning entailed that you should blow up a bus it would be permissible to do so. Which I note you still have not answered.

  • Matt, I have a picture of you sitting on the end of a branch while you saw it off. Can’t you see that you have made your god completely superfluous on questions of morality with this:

    How can it be the case that we can know and rationally believe that given all the evidence it’s rational and just to endorse some action and the same time be unable to rationally tell whether God: a fully informed (omnsicent) fully rational just person would endorse the same action ?”

    Of course, setting up this imaginary god I have to agree that she would agree with me about a moral question that I have arrived at by considering the evidence and applying careful and collective reasoning. That is if I have set up this imaginary god to have the same values I have.

    (In practice, as I have set up this god in my own image she will also have all the prejudices I have too. She is a puppet and I can get her to endorse blowing up a school bus if that’s what I want).

    But why would I possibly go to all the trouble of setting up this imaginary god? I have done all the work myself.

    Aren’t you just saying that your god is completely irrelevant. That you come to your moral decisions in the same way I do. The only difference is that you presented some supernatural dictator has done the work for you.

    They haven’t.

    Either you are truly deluding yourself. Or you are suing this imaginary dictator to give supernatural, “divine” endorsement to the moral decision you arrived at on your own. If so you are are con man.

  • What makes me laugh Ken, is the idea of a government turning to scientists to see if something was ethical or morally right. Though you may worship at a bunsen burner Ken, you need to understand that science is merely a tool, it is only as moral, ethical or useful for guidance as the quality of the people using it.
    I see you still have considerable faith in the now discredited conflict thesis concerning science and Christianity, why? And why do you keep misrepresenting the Gallileo affair?
    Is/ought, science can tell us some of what is, it may even be able to describe the difference between what is and how we percieve things ought to be, is it any use in telling us how things ought to be? Given that you have just said that right and wrong are stupid ideas according to your science of morality, we certainly wont be consulting you.
    So a question, if what you see as right or wrong are merely emotional reactions (i guess to things you instinctively like or dont like) how can anyone ever trust you to be honest and honourable in dealing with them?

  • “Aren’t you just saying that your god is completely irrelevant. That you come to your moral decisions in the same way I do. The only difference is that you presented some supernatural dictator has done the work for you.”

    Ken, if you would have any clue about what you are talking about, you would realize that how people come to make decisions has nothing to do with whether or not Divine Command Theory is true or not.

  • Jeremy, I guess you can’t help yourself, or is it “lying fir Jesus.” You continue to lie and misrepresent – cant you handle reality?

    You might laugh at “the idea of a government turning to scientists to see if something was ethical or morally right.” Personally I would shudder – it’s the last thing I want.

    Just because science can investigate and come to an underanding of how we evolved as a moral species does not mean science takes over our moral decisions. The science actually makes clear why it shouldnt. I have already pointed that out to you – but no you want to continue with that lie.

    Why is that?

    Perhaps what’s upset you is that we no longer consider priests, Imams and philosophers as founts of moral knowledge either . Sensube givernmebts no longer turn to them fir moral decisions, do they? With the dusgusting behaviour of some of these groups lately they are the last people to trust morally.

    What science tells us is that morality is very much a personal, emotional thing. We take advice, and we sometimes reflect on and reason about moral situations, but we make our own moral decisions.

    Another lie – “you have just said that right and wrong are stupid ideas according to your science of morality.” You know that is not true and thereby demonstrate that it is you who has in regard for right and wrong – you are prepared to present bare-faced lies – and record it in the Internet!

    Given the recorded evidence here, Jeremy, I think we have the right to ask of you:

    “how can anyone ever trust you to be honest and honourable in dealing with them?”

  • William – your bitch is with Matt not me. After all, when you say:

    “how people come to make decisions has nothing to do with whether or not Divine Command Theory is true or not”

    you are supporting me.

    It is Matt who argues for DCT.

  • Ken, it appears, upon rereading your comment of Feb 8, 2013 at 11:33 am , that i have indeed partially misrepresented you for which i am both sorry and glad. Sorry because i have no wish to misrepresent anyone and glad that you did not actually say what i had first understood you to say ie that right and wrong were stupid ideas according to your science of morality. I apologise unreservedly for both misunderstandinding the text and then misrepresenting what it said.

    However you did say,
    “But it a helping us understand why we have such strong emotional concepts of “right” and “wrong”, how these evolved and why social consensus on the normative moral rules has changed, and is changing today.”
    which could well be understood to imply that right and wrong are purely matters of fashion, what people agree on at any one time. Does this mean you believe right and wrong are determined by majority opinion? And which majority?, your social/family circle, your nation , your race or the whole world?
    If this is the only determinant of what is right or wrong, if they cannot be determined externally to our feelings and current fashion, then really there is are no such things.
    Who are you to say any action by anyone has ever been wrong? All you are saying is that any particular action is not currently fashionable in your contemporary circle.

  • Jeremy, you seem upset by my saying science is “helping us understand why we have such strong emotional concepts of “right” and “wrong”, how these evolved and why social consensus on the normative moral rules has changed, and is changing today.”

    This is surely a pretty obvious statesman of fact – do you not agree that we attach a high emotional energy to the concepts of “right” and “wrong?” And do you not agree that our normative social moral rules have changed and are changing in front of our eyes?

    Surely you do, despite your probable disapproval of some modern moral codes – statements of fact about reality should not be interpreted as approval of every detail included in the observation – obviously.

    Specifically this does not mean that my own concepts of “right” and “wrong” “are purely matters of fashion, what people agree on at any one time.” Nor does it mean I “believe right and wrong are determined by majority opinion.” Any more than you do.

    However, the so-called “fashionable morality” is often a vast improvement on the past moral codes. We now reject the former acceptance of slavery, discrimination against women and homosexuals, and racism. That rejection is fashionable and, most of us would say, absolutely correct.

    I believe that this sort of moral progress arises from the fact that as a conscious, intelligent, social and empathetic species we can actually reflect and deliberate on our situations and make informed moral decisions. We are also a species that learns from this deliberation, and the resulting cultural effects. This learning has an influence on our moral and intuitional reactions. There is a dialectical relationship between the conscious and unconscious mental processes. And also between the individual and cultural/social moral attitudes.

    I think, Jeremy, that you have a lot of interfering baggage whihc prevents you from understanding what I am actually saying. You badly misinterpreted and misrepresented what I said previously and still write as if you retain that prejudiced concept of my morality.

    Just because I am an atheist does not mean I conform to your prejudiced stereotype of atheism. You clearly have a lot of misconceptions you need to get rid of and I suggest you stop putting words or ideas into my mouth and actually read what I write.

    I think you have a lot to learn.

  • Strangely enough, I think much the same of you Ken, That you are incredibly naive in the face of history and human behaviour for a person of your age, that you confuse knowledge with wisdom. I think you too have a lot to learn, but not about stuff or theories or things that science can teach you but about the character and heart of man.
    I would like you to ask yourself one question, why is it that everyone sooner or later does what they know to be wrong and fails to do what they know to be right?

    “I believe that this sort of moral progress arises from the fact that as a conscious, intelligent, social and empathetic species we can actually reflect and deliberate on our situations and make informed moral decisions.”

    And yet you have on many previous occassions said that humans are a rationalising rather than a rational species. Do you not understand how you contradict yourself. Look out the window Ken, we kill the most defenceless among us at rates unprecedented in human history, since WW2 we have thoroughly polluted the entire world with the waste of modern materialistic society, poisoned our evironment with agri-chemicals and with pharmaceuticals and apparently we have become steadily less satisfied and more unhappy as our material wealth has increased . Becoming more knowledgeable hasnt made any impact on our ability to make wise choices in most areas of life, your optimism that increased knowledge will result in improvement in moral choices appears without foundation and in complete contradiction to human norms.

  • Jeremy, I think you need to get out more so that you can develop a more balanced appreciation of fellow humans. There is a lot to be positive about.

    You sound badly depressed.

    And also you need to recognise that humans are complex. There is no contradiction between my comment that we are more a rationalising than rational species and my belief that sometimes we can develop a relatively objective analysis of situations when we cooperate to overcome our biases and reflect on our situation.

    We make our own purpose and meaning in life and we can be either pessimists or optimists. Angry or accepting.

  • Ken are you proposing ethical pluralism? You make this statement:

    What science tells us is that morality is very much a personal, emotional thing. We take advice, and we sometimes reflect on and reason about moral situations, but we make our own moral decision

    Is it a matter of what one ‘wants’ and how that affects ones emotional wishes. The individual seems to be the subject. What ‘I‘ want is the moral code, ‘I’ follow. And if some of us get along then fine. One is sure to reject DCT. It has boundaries, they are objective. I also see that you claim

    Perhaps what’s upset you is that we no longer consider priests, Imams and philosophers as founts of moral knowledge either

    I agree that science help humanity with knowledge human morality. But I notion this type of claim above makes is that the ethical standard of these sources is questionable or redundant based on some peoples actions in history. Lets be fair. You appear to praises science as a bastion for modern culture needs to reflect on the actions of scientists.

    Let us remember some of the new words science has introduced into the English language. One such example is NAPAM. The discovery and it’s usefulness for military operations was fully known and explored by scientists. Despite the devastating results of this compound the scientists continued with it’s development. I wonder if the 100,000 Japanese mostly non combatant victims who experienced the full force of this chemical on March 9th/10th 1945 thought as the bombs rained down on them ‘I am so pleased they did not mix ethics with their science’. Often history focuses on the experiences of the bomb aimer, not the bomb builder. So, caution should be applied when claiming one needs no philosophical deliberation outside of the scientific enterprise. It seems vital, because the personal feelings, and emotions of many scientists appear to create moral situations that are dubious at best. If we consider the last century alone science should blush.

    Ken you also come across as condescending to Jeremy. Are you following the ‘Dawkins directive’? I hope not.

  • Nick, first let’s clear up your charge that I am condescending towards Jeremy. I notice you don’t even attempt to justify that statement. But look at the facts. Jeremy grossly misrepresented me and clearly lied in his claims about my position. He has since withdrawn and apologised for one claim, although his motivated and biased misinterpretation of me continues. Where the hell are you coming from to interpret that as me being condescending? I simply called him out. Surely the condescension is in Jeremy’s personal rants against a straw man position of my personal morality?

    I actually have no respect for the tactic some commenters here have of “sticking the boot in” when someone like me challenges their ideas. I believe their inability to honestly egage with the discussion is a real sign of weakness on their part.

    Now, I can’t see how you get moral pluralism out of a brief description of how we operate at the personal level. You seem to have your own agenda which is driving misinterpretation. (I suspect you are using the term pluralism in a derogatory way so I guess it is pointless to discuss Harris’s idea of a moral landscape – that’s not what you mean).

    You suggest I reject DCT because “It has boundaries, they are objective.” I disagree. DCT can be used to justify the worst sort of moral subjectivism and moral relativism – precisely because it is not objective. It is simply a mechanism for attaching “divine” authority to ones own prejudiced ethics. That’s why it can be used to justify blowing up school buses – you rely on what some tyrant claims her god told her to tell you what to do. Where is the objectivity in that?

    Of course, from a scientific perspective I reject DCT in the same way as I reject all religious myths. They are not derived from evidence and investigation of reality. Nor are these ideas validated against reality.

    I have been arguing for an objectively-based morality and believe the evidence shows that to be the case – at least in the case of Haidt’s moral foundations of harm/care (I don’t think so for some of his other moral foundations and believe his unwillingness to differentiate the two is a weakness in his theory).

    You seem to be blaming humanity’s desire to investigate, understand and improve the world, and individual scientists, for all the negative applications of technology. Such a twisted perspective will not lead you to understand why these bad things happened – consequently you cannot make any contribution to preventing humanity repeating such mistakes.

    And WTF is the “Dawkins directive?” Never heard of this before – perhaps you can provide a link? Of is it a weak “in joke?”

  • Of course, setting up this imaginary god I have to agree that she would agree with me about a moral question that I have arrived at by considering the evidence and applying careful and collective reasoning. That is if I have set up this imaginary god to have the same values I have. (In practice, as I have set up this god in my own image she will also have all the prejudices I have too. She is a puppet and I can get her to endorse blowing up a school bus if that’s what I want).

    Again that simply avoids the question I have raised: if my claiming that God: a fully informed rational person commands a particular action involves me “setting up a puppet” that can justify anything at all. Why does claiming that reason and facts would lead a rational person to endorse an action not also involves me “setting up a puppet” that can justify anything at all?

    Aren’t you just saying that your god is completely irrelevant. That you come to your moral decisions in the same way I do. The only difference is that you presented some supernatural dictator has done the work for you.

    No, all this shows is that belief in Gods commands is irrelevant to making accurate moral decisions. DCT theorists however never claimed otherwise, there claim is that moral obligations are identical with Gods commands not that one needs to believe in divine commands to make more decisions. This is the distinction between ontology and epistemology which has been pointed out to you before.
    William M actually pointed this out to you in his response to you.

    Either you are truly deluding yourself. Or you are suing this imaginary dictator to give supernatural, “divine” endorsement to the moral decision you arrived at on your own. If so you are are con man.

    Unfortunately insulting people is not a response either. All you have done is (a) evaded my question and (b) misunderstood what a DCT is.

    Like I said when your ready to accurately present anothers view point and actually offer a reason for rejecting it let me know.

  • Matt, I don’t know how many times you are going to repeat yourself to obscure my position. You say “Why does claiming that reason and facts would lead a rational person to endorse an action not also involves me “setting up a puppet” that can justify anything at all?”

    I have essentially agreed with you on this. Of course people can claim they have arrive at a justification of a truly evil act like blowing up a school bus by using carfeul and rational reasoning. In a sense they are just as capable of justifying evil as the believer arguing from DCT.

    The difference arises in the use by DCT of “divine” authority. This relies on faith and can’t be questioned. It’s not accessible to reasoned consideration (if it were it would not be “divine” – he god would not provide any justification).

    In contrast, arguments which claim to be be based on reason and evidence can be subjected to rational judgement by others. We can use our own evidence, and we can reduce the problems of bias and ideology by collective discussion. Never perfect, but far better than just taking people at their word.

    It’s like the difference between religious creationism and scientific evolution. Some Christians argue that the earth is 6000 years old, their evidence is the bible which they claim is he word of god. It’s “divine” and must be believed, not questioned or subjected to rational analysis – equivalent to DCT.

    On the other hand we have evolutionary science and a range of hypotheses related to mechanisms. Individual scientists may argue for their own pet hypotheses – but the rest of us can subject their ideas to rational consideration, look at a wealth of evidence, consider their reasoning and check the predictions against reality.

    We often make mistakes in scien e, and even well supported scientific knowledge is provisional. But because it doesn’t rely on “divine” authority it is open to rational consideration and new evidence.

    We can do the same with morality – in fact we should. To rely on “divine” authority is surely going to lead to the worst forms of moral relativism.

    Think about it – what is the mechanism for you receiving ese “divine” commands?

  • Just a thought.

    I doubt Abraham would have followed God’s direct command to kill his only son if he had actually attempted to use his own moral reasoning rather than blindly accepting the authority of his chosen deity.

  • Ken, lets make one thing clear. I have neither apologised for nor acknowledged lying. To lie is to be deliberately untruthful. I have apologised for misreading, misunderstanding and hence misrepresenting something you wrote. No lying was involved.

  • If diety directly commanded you to do something Paul, even something you didnt want to do, do you honestly believe you could resist? If you were allowed to resist then moral reasoning would have to be involved on your part to initiate obedience.
    If you understood that your God was directly commanding you to do something you didnt want to do then your commitment to God and your belief in his reality would have to be somewhat greater than belief in something you had simply chosen. There would need to be reason to believe.

  • Where in DCT does it say it relies on faith and cannot be questioned? Matt can correct me but last i heard DCT was about the ontology of right and wrong, not about human belief, behaviour knowledge or faith.

  • Jeremy, as Matt describes it DCT implies:

    “If God commands you to blow up a bus full of children then you are required to blow up a bus full of children.”

  • Jeremy, as Matt describes it DCT implies:

    “If God commands you to blow up a bus full of children then you are required to blow up a bus full of children.”

    Yes and your view implies: If collective evidence and reason entails that you should blow up a bus full of children then you are required to blow up a bus full of children.

    The difference arises in the use by DCT of “divine” authority. This relies on faith and can’t be questioned. It’s not accessible to reasoned consideration (if it were it would not be “divine” – he god would not provide any justification)….
    In contrast, arguments which claim to be be based on reason and evidence can be subjected to rational judgement by others. We can use our own evidence, and we can reduce the problems of bias and ideology by collective discussion. Never perfect, but far better than just taking people at their word.

    I agree that you keep asserting that this is a difference however simply stating something is the case does not provide anyone with a reason for thinking it is, do you want us to take your word on blind faith?

    How can we be able to accurately without relying on blind faith not be able to tell what “collective reasoning based on evidence” entails and yet not be able to tell what a God: a rational person who was fully informed would command.

    I find it hard to see how one could have good reasons for thinking that reason and the facts support some course of action but not have good reasons for for thinking that God: a rational person who is fully informed will support the same action. You have yet to provide any basis for this pretty obviously arbitrary assertion?

  • machinephilosophy:

    If we’re not morally obligated to recognize reason and logic, then why are you using them to arbitrate the status of moral obligation? Are you just inventing their authority to obligate you to think of all morals in one way instead of some other way?

    Please forgive me if I’ve entirely understood you, but how does our moral obligation to think reasonably rather than unreasonably render DCT moot?

  • machinephilosophy

    If we’re not morally obligated to recognize reason and logic, then why are you using them to arbitrate the status of moral obligation? Are you just inventing their authority to obligate you to think of all morals in one way instead of some other way?

    I’m not inventing their authority. We live in a world governed by the rules of logic and so our ability to use logic is the only way to gain knowledge of truth. If morality is ontologically grounded in this world, i.e. it really exists, then the only way to learn about moral ontology is to use logic. But we aren’t required to know about it. You are equivocating between our “obligation” to logic in order to form true beliefs about moral ontology and the moral obligation to follow moral principles which exist ontologically. Our commitment to using logic only extends as far as what is required to carry our moral duties. Any more than that, in what sense am I obligated to use reason? If I write down 2 + 2 = 5 on a piece of paper on a desk in front of me because it makes me happy, am I morally culpable? Or if I’m playing a game with friends where the aim to come up with the most illogical story, are we doing wrong? That seems silly. You are merely asserting that we have a moral commitment to logic as a brute fact but I don’t see why or how that is the case. How would you ground this?

  • Matt, I think your argument here is key:

    “I find it hard to see how one could have good reasons for thinking that reason and the facts support some course of action but not have good reasons for for thinking that God: a rational person who is fully informed will support the same action. You have yet to provide any basis for this pretty obviously arbitrary assertion?”

    I say again, Matt, i sont disagree.

    The reasons you think your god will support a particular action (or actually command it) is that you second guess her.

    You have “good reasons” for thinking your god will support or command an action because you have applied reason and evidence. Even if you have adopted a unnecessary god’s eye view for it.

    Now that says nothing about the quality of the reasoning – whether you put your god into the consideration or not you can still be guilty of faulty reasoning and motivated logic.

    So you are arguing a straw man. I don’t claim that one cannot come to the same conclusion when you include an unnecessary god – you can.

    But the fact you are equating these situations underlines the unnecessary role your god plays – except for providing “divine” authority, which incidentally is the role Mao Tse Tung, Stalin and Hitler played in justifying atrocities under their regimes.

    Given that your god is unnecessary your are either deluded to use her or you are a con man (because you know she is unnecessary). Using the “divine” to win compliance in what could be the most extreme moral relativism (eg blowing up a school bus) because this commands faith rather than objective reasoned consideration.

    Just as the atrocities committed during the Stalin Terror or the “Cultural Revolution” could be done as acts of faith (after all the commands came from the Great Helmsman), not reasoned consideration.

  • “Bullshit. Most people will not put aside normal feelings of human empathy unless motivated to do so by a dogmatic form of religion such as fundamentalist Christianity or Islam. Or a dogmatic atheistitic creed such as Marxism Leninism.”

    i know its back tracking a little, Wayne, but if your statement above is true how do you explain crime, commercial exploitation, most abortion etc

    It seems to me that empathy is often conspicuous by its absence rather than its presence.

  • “The reasons you think your god will support a particular action (or actually command it) is that you second guess her.

    You have “good reasons” for thinking your god will support or command an action because you have applied reason and evidence. Even if you have adopted a unnecessary god’s eye view for it.”

    This gets things around the wrong way, putting the action before the command and then trying to justify it after the fact ie rationalising.Its like the Americans or the Germans claiming God is on their side which is always wrong, because the question is not “is God on our side” but rather “are we on His”.

    In law we have a basic principle that ignorance is no excuse ie claiming you didnt see the 50km sign is no defence for doing 100km. The laws [including speed limits] exist, and are ultimately enforceable whether we know about them or not. The laws of nature are the same, gravity, entropy, inertia etc really dont care whether you know and understand them. We all fall down, die etc whether we are Oxford educated scientists or illiterate Kalahari bushmen.
    Divine Command Theory explains right and wrong as existing by divine fiat, identical with Gods commands and prohibitions, and consistant with his character and purposes. DCT recognises right and wrong as being independant of human existence and thought, hence objective rather than subjective.

    I guess that accepting DCT depends on accepting two things 1,God and 2, that right and wrong exist objectively ie external to and independant of human kind.
    If you deny God it seems difficult to ground objective right and wrong, which gets us back to Sam Harris. Morality, right and wrong, as adaptive behaviours that confer advantage or otherwise through evolutionary history. Adaptation that confers advantage will change with environmental pressure and evolutionary sucess is always measured in arrears. This means all behaviours that have contributed to the current existence and dominance of any human population can be characterised as right or good while any behaviour that leads to a decline in a given population is wrong or bad. It also means that Sam Harris talk of humam flourishing is at least partly rubbish because the human species is not a homogenous mass and intraspecies competition is always greater than interspecies competion. Moral right is therefore whatever favours the reproductive success and survival of me and my gene pool [family etc]. Awesome!!

  • Jeremy why do you have to swear. some of us like to follow this blog but swearing for rhetorical effect is uncool.

  • Jeremy, perhaps you and Matt need to consult to get your act together about DCT. Seems to me that when you hear voices in your head, (or you get messages from your priest, Imam or theologian) telling you to blow up a school bus you will unquestionably follow the commands – because they are “divine.”

    Matt, at least, recognises that although he believes in commands and should blow up that bus if his god has really commanded it, he should actually check it out. So he applies some reason and considers the evidence. And because he is applying human values and objective evidence (secular oralitu) he comes to the conclusion that the command from his god is immoral and therefore cannot be genuine.

    You on the other hand are going to reject reason, evidence, and especially human values. After all, if we evolved as an empathetic, social and moral species we must be evil – anything to do with evolution is evil!

    Sick.

    Or perhaps I shouldn’t make such assumptions about your morality and values? Must be all the scolding I have been getting from you here – I am falling into your bad habits.

  • Patricia, notice the quotation marks around the comment that included the swearing. This was a cut and paste quote from an earlier comment by Wayne, hence the associated question addressed to him. Peace :-)

  • Ken,

    We know roughly that the law of the land is put in place to safeguard its citizens.

    So if some nut comes along and says it is perfectly legal for him to do some action X which happens to cause grievous bodily harm to unsuspecting citizens, what do we conclude?

    Obviously the correct thing to do would be to use reason, based on the knowledge that the law is there to safeguard citizens, to determine that the action X is almost certainly forbidden by the law.

    But by your reasoning, we should conclude that since it is possible for some nutbags to do such a thing, the legal system is flawed because it’s dogmatic and does not allow citizens to employ reason and should therefore be rejected.

    That’s silly.

  • But I’ll draw the analogy anyway since you are probably jumping out of your seat to misrepresent me, as usual.

    We know that God’s nature is just, kind, loving etc.

    So if some nut comes along and says God commanded him to blow up a bus full of children, what do we conclude?

    Obviously the correct thing to do would be to use reason, based on the knowledge of God’s nature, to determine that blowing up children is almost certainly forbidden by God’s commands.

    But by your reasoning, we should conclude that since it is possible for some nutbags to do such a thing, DCT is flawed because it’s dogmatic and does not allow people to employ reason and should therefore be rejected.

    That’s silly.

  • Ken i dont know all the ins and outs of DCT, nor of theology ( and i am only really interested in Christian theology ) , but clearly i know more than you. Christian DCT at least, says such commands will be consistant with Gods character and previous commands. So blowing up buses fill of children may fit in with Allah, or Kali, or Yama but it is totally at odds with the teaching and example of Jesus Christ. DCT is a theory of the ontology of right and wrong as such it is not guidance or direction on how i should live. As you have been keen to point out one doesnt have to know the origin of morality or believe in God to live a moral life. Further i am a nonconformist protestant, i do no have a priest, imman or theologian issuing any commands. Further still, the christian bible teaches quite clearly that we are to test what we are told or think we hear against the teaching of Jesus and the principles of scripture before we accept things. Again as you like to point out humans have a tendancy to rationalise and i am not going to dispute that christians can be as guilty of trying to rationalise what they want as opposed to what they should do, as much as anyone else.
    We are not an empathetic and moral species, we are a species which is capable of empathy and capable of moral awareness, we are equally capable of lacking orsupressing empathy

  • Jeremy, I repeat – DCT implies (according to Matt):

    “If God commands you to blow up a bus full of children then you are required to blow up a bus full of children.”

    As I said, you two need to consult and get your act together – I understand Matt is also a Christian.

  • Hugh, I am pleased you have been able to work this out for yourself. Despite Matt assuring you:

    If God commands you to blow up a bus full of children then you are required to blow up a bus full of children.

    Congratulations – you have been able to do that because you used secular morality, relied on evidence,human values and reasoning.

    Now you might say: “We know that God’s nature is just, kind, loving etc.” – but do you? How do you know you god wouldn’t command such a thing? Aren’t you just placing your god as a veneer on the very human consideration and rejection of the command.

    After all, when you say “We know . .” I can quite legitimately ask:

    “How do you know that?” How do you know your god would not command killing kids? – doesn’t your holy book say he has done far worse?

    So “How do you know that?”

    And I suspect your reaction is to retreat or mumble something incoherent.

    Isn’t you claim of knowledge meaningless?

  • * or dehumanising people when it suits us. Certain we arealso very capable of behaving in morally bad or completely immoral ways. As i have said many times before, if you were right and God didnt exist, if all religion is false, then what you are left with is normal human behaviour and you can have no justification in complaining about it, whether you see it as good, bad, moral or immoral. Without external objective standards there can only be what works and what doesnt. If altruism and empathy work thats sweet, but in different conditions genocide and brutality may be more effective, equally sweet.
    The fact that you cannot live by nor tolerate the logical conclusions of your own worldview is your problem not mine. It seems to me that it is you who is rejecting evidence and reason.

  • A theoretical implication is not the same as an actual reality, as Matt pointed out, nothing about this conditional implication means that God would or even could do such a thing. And as i mentioned the christian application of DCT understands God commands to be consistant with his character and commands, specifically as revealed to us in the person, character and actions of Jesus Christ.

  • Jo Stalin and Pol Pot were atheists, maybe you should consult them on the subjects of genocide, brutality, re-education camps, get you act together on the effectiveness of genocide etc. Just a thought.
    There are some “theoretical implications” of DCT that i do not accept as actual realities (and judging from his comments neither does Matt), or as Tom Gilson pointed out at the beginning of these comments, this particular supposed implication rather leaves out the Divine part of DCT. This is hardly surprising as Sam Harris only seems to be able to conceive of god as a somewhat more powerful human, which only goes to show how ignorant of christian theology he actually is.

  • Ken, notice again your objections to Hugh are that we can “know” certain things about morality independent of belief in God.

    But as has been repeatedly pointed out to you, a DCT is not the claim that one cannot know things independently of belief in God, its the claim that moral obligations depend on God for there existence. This is not the same thing.

    Water is identical with H20, yet people can recognise something as water without having any beliefs about hydrogen, as the ancient athenians for example did when they recognized the Aegean sea as salt water. The universe depends for its existence on the big bang, yet a person can know that the universe exists as Aristotle did without believing in the big bang. There are numerous examples one could provide to show that the fact one thing is identified with or depends on something does not mean one needs to believe in that thing to know about the other.

    Don’t you think its dishonest to keep conflating ontological questions with what a things nature is, with epistemological questions of how we know something exists, especially when the distinction has been pointed out to you over and over and over and over again?

  • Hugh wrote

    Ken,

    We know roughly that the law of the land is put in place to safeguard its citizens.

    So if some nut comes along and says it is perfectly legal for him to do some action X which happens to cause grievous bodily harm to unsuspecting citizens, what do we conclude?

    Obviously the correct thing to do would be to use reason, based on the knowledge that the law is there to safeguard citizens, to determine that the action X is almost certainly forbidden by the law.

    But by your reasoning, we should conclude that since it is possible for some nutbags to do such a thing, the legal system is flawed because it’s dogmatic and does not allow citizens to employ reason and should therefore be rejected.

    That’s silly.

    In fact his position is even more silly, you’d have to conclude that because you and I use our reason to work out what the law is, laws are superflous, unnecessary, and our legal obligations do not depend on what the law actually is.

  • Congratulations – you have been able to do that because you used secular morality, relied on evidence,human values and reasoning.

    Not sure what you are referring to here, I’m guessing it’s this:

    Obviously the correct thing to do would be to use reason, based on the knowledge of God’s nature, to determine that blowing up children is almost certainly forbidden by God’s commands.

    I just used reason, the same way you would use reason to know that an action X which causes grievous bodily harm to an unsuspecting individual is probably forbidden by law. Saying I used “secular morality” is just like saying I would use another legal system to determine that, which is silly.

    Now you might say: “We know that God’s nature is just, kind, loving etc.” – but do you?

    This is kind of like saying:

    Now you might say: We know that the law is for safeguarding citizens” – but do you?

    I hope the answer is obvious to you now. Obeying the law is only useful under a legal system that is designed for safeguarding citizens, as DCT only works under a God who is wholly good, just, loving etc.

    “How do you know that?” How do you know your god would not command killing kids? – doesn’t your holy book say he has done far worse?

    Again this like asking:

    “How do you know that?” How do you know a legal system which is designed for safeguarding citizens would not legislate action X which causes grievous bodily harm to unsuspecting citizens?

    The answer should be fairly self evident. But just in case you don’t follow, here it is:

    Because if it did, it almost certainly wouldn’t be a legal system which is designed for safeguarding citizens

    Ergo, if a just, wholly good and loving God did command to blow up a bus full of children, he almost certainly is not a just, wholly good and loving God (whom, under classical theism, cannot be God).

    – doesn’t your holy book say he has done far worse?

    Actually no. Matt has written extensively about this issue on this very blog, and authors such as Paul Copan have dealt with it in published books so it’s at best ignorant and at worst dishonest of you to say this.

  • Matt and Hugh, you have both referred to legal systems in your attempts to “prove” things by analogy. (That’s an extremely weak way of reasoning, especially when supporting outrageous claims, and reveals your straw clutching. I suggested you would end up mumbling, Hugh).
    Matt says:

    you’d have to conclude that because you and I use our reason to work out what the law is, laws are superflous, unnecessary, and our legal obligations do not depend on what the law actually is.

    And Hugh:

    “How do you know that?” How do you know a legal system which is designed for safeguarding citizens would not legislate action X which causes grievous bodily harm to unsuspecting citizens?
    The answer should be fairly self-evident. But just in case you don’t follow, here it is:
    Because if it did, it almost certainly wouldn’t be a legal system which is designed for safeguarding citizens

    You are equating your “divine commands” to these laws (and your god to the legal system, I suppose).

    Yet laws are man-made devices. They are not objective (although often objectively-based). They are completely fallible – we are always updating them. And yes, Hugh, in many countries these laws do cause grievous bodily harm.

    We are always considering our laws by applying reason and evidence (secular actions), judging their applicability and relevance, changing them as a result. Even eliminating some altogether.

    And one of the reasons we have to do this is that in the past many of these laws were mad without thought, by applying religious concepts – effectively using a “divine” command system.

  • Hugh, you argue:

    “if a just, wholly good and loving God did command to blow up a bus full of children, he almost certainly is not a just, wholly good and loving God (whom, under classical theism, cannot be God).
    – doesn’t your holy book say he has done far worse?
    Actually no. Matt has written extensively about this issue on this very blog, and authors such as Paul Copan have dealt with it in published books so it’s at best ignorant and at worst dishonest of you to say this.”

    Notice the almost (my bolding)! You aren’t sure. You have left yourself some wiggle room. And theologians, politicians and racists love to use motivated logic and shonky reasoning to take advantage of that wiggle room. Matt has justified biblical atrocities this way, as has (famously) Craig. They have justified infanticide (Craig in the most naïve and brutal way). And biblical passages can and are used to justify the most inhuman acts.

    The fact you turn to abusing me, rather than calmly explaining why the bible contains all these evil passages (a fact accepted by most reasonable bible scholars) shows you do not wish to approach that problem sensibly.

    Rather destroys your argument, doesn’t it.

    I asked how you know your god’s “nature is just, kind, loving etc.” You can’t give a rational argument – but I can.

    You know that because that’s how you created your god – in your own ideal image.

    Problem is, because of the theological motivated reasoning and shonky logic it’s easy to use such a god to justify any evil. In the end it produces moral relativism and can be used to justify the most evil acts – like infanticide and blowing up school buses.

  • Matt, I really find these naïve “philosophical” “arguments” juvenile. You argue:
    ” Water is identical with H20, yet people can recognise something as water without having any beliefs about hydrogen, as the ancient athenians for example did when they recognized the Aegean sea as salt water. The universe depends for its existence on the big bang, yet a person can know that the universe exists as Aristotle did without believing in the big bang. There are numerous examples one could provide to show that the fact one thing is identified with or depends on something does not mean one needs to believe in that thing to know about the other.”

    It is of course obviously and trivially true that “the fact one thing is identified with or depends on something does not mean one needs to believe in that thing to know about the other.”

    After all, I am arguing that the very nature of life produces biological value. With the development of brains, emotions and feelings this biological values produces an animal moralit6y. As animals develop self-reflection and intelligence, and they become more3 social they produce a normative moral system.

    Neither you or anyone else has to know anything about the scientific understanding of human evolution and morality, or indeed “believe” in that science, to accept the normative moral systems we have.

    The fact that you can build such arguments by analogy in no way provides any evidential, or even logical, support for them.

  • Jeremy, you know this is insulting and irrelevant – so why present it?:

    ” Jo Stalin and Pol Pot were atheists, maybe you should consult them on the subjects of genocide, brutality, re-education camps, get you act together on the effectiveness of genocide etc.”
    Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mao were psychopaths – as were the Christians Hitler, Franco, Pinochet, and many other dictators.

    Why should any of us, whatever our religious beliefs, consult psychopaths on moral issues.

    Seriously Jeremy, you aren’t thinking, only hating.

    And WTF is this thing you have about Same Harris? Sorry, should realise – you hate him too. But he is irrelevant to the discussion her, you know.

  • Yet laws are man-made devices. They are not objective (although often objectively-based). They are completely fallible – we are always updating them. And yes, Hugh, in many countries these laws do cause grievous bodily harm.

    We are always considering our laws by applying reason and evidence (secular actions), judging their applicability and relevance, changing them as a result. Even eliminating some altogether.

    And one of the reasons we have to do this is that in the past many of these laws were mad without thought, by applying religious concepts – effectively using a “divine” command system.

    I suspected you’d come back with something like this, and I’m glad because it confirms that you didn’t even begin to understand the analogy.

    The laws are objective with respect to what is legal, which is the relevant scope of that analogy. Do you agree with the following:

    “If the law permits you to blow up a bus full of children, it is legal to blow up a bus full of children?”

  • Hugh – you ask “If the law permits you to blow up a bus full of children, it is legal to blow up a bus full of children?”

    Well of course its legal – by definition – that’s exactly what you wrote.

    But it is not morally correct.

    I think you are arguing that divine commands are like laws. They can therefore be morally wrong.

    And I think that, because the use of “divine” authority rather than evidence and reason, there are good chances that they will be wrong.

    Think about – how do you receive these “divine” commands? Surely that gives you a clue?

  • You aren’t sure. You have left yourself some wiggle room.

    The wiggle room is because there’s no logical contradiction between a loving God commanding that if there are morally sufficient reasons for it. I cannot even begin to comprehend what they could possibly be and I am fairly confident there aren’t any, but that does not entail that it is impossible.

    This is similar to how you cannot be 100% sure that using “reason and evidence” won’t lead you to blowing up a bus full of children. It is possible to conceive of a scenario where you’d consider that, say the bus full of children had been hijacked with explosives and was on its way via an open road to a populated township where hundreds or even thousands more innocent peoples lives were at stake, and the only other feasible option would be to destroy the bus at a point where no one else would be hurt.

    So really you’re just special pleading for your position, as usual.

    The fact you turn to abusing me, rather than calmly explaining why the bible contains all these evil passages (a fact accepted by most reasonable bible scholars) shows you do not wish to approach that problem sensibly.

    Rather destroys your argument, doesn’t it.

    Saying you were being ignorant or dishonest is hardly abuse, toughen up. And no it doesn’t destroy my argument at all – yet more dishonesty from you – seeing as my argument is that the blowing up a bus full of children objection to DCT doesn’t make it absurd, not that the God of the bible is the God of classical theism on which DCT depends. That’s a completely different discussion despite your attempts to steer it toward that, but I’m beginning to see that you have trouble distinguishing points relevant to different subjects.

    You know that because that’s how you created your god – in your own ideal image.

    This isn’t a “rational argument”, it’s an assertion (a wrong one).

    Problem is, because of the theological motivated reasoning and shonky logic it’s easy to use such a god to justify any evil. In the end it produces moral relativism and can be used to justify the most evil acts – like infanticide and blowing up school buses.

    More special pleading. It’s quite easy to use claims of “reasoning and evidence” to justify whatever the heck you want to do as well, I’m not quite sure how you can’t see that.

  • Well of course its legal – by definition – that’s exactly what you wrote.

    And there we have it. The solution to the objection to DCT!

    If, under DCT, God’s commands constitute moral requirements, then

    “If God commands you to blow up a bus full of children, you are morally required to blow up a bus full of children”

    is the same as

    “If you are morally required to blow up a bus full of children, then you are morally required to blow up a bus full of children”

    is it trivially true by definition. But this doesn’t mean DCT is especially problematic because, as you’ve seen, the variable in the conditional can be replaced for any such system. One more time, for you Ken.

    If decisions arrived at by reason and evidence constitutes what is morally required, then

    “If a decision arrived at by reason and evidence requires you to blow up a bus full of children, then you are morally required to blow up a bus full of children”

    is the same as

    “if you are morally required to blow up a bus full of children, you are morally required to blow up a bus full of children”

    If you cannot grasp this, Ken, then I give up.

  • Hugh, you seem to have got lost in the discussion somewhere. I have never denied that “the variable in the conditional can be replaced for any such system.” Or, to put it more sensibly, any dogmatic moral system can be manipulated to argue that it is morally OK to commit an atrocity. DCT is not alone in this and I have never said it is. So you seem to have been bashing your head against another straw man.

    Bu I have said that because DCT relies on “divine” authority, evidence and reason are ignored, at worst, or even at best, manipulated to fit the desired “divine” outcome. That is the problem with the “divine” and “sacred” – try talking with a Catholic” today about the e oils committe by this lame duck pope!

    This was the problem with Stalin, Mao, Hitler, Franco, Pinochet, etc. these people were, in effect “divine” and therefore their commands were not questioned. Divinity and sacredness, by non-believers as well as believers, destroys arguments based on evidence and reason and can be used to justify any evil.

  • Maybe you didnt notice Ken, but this whole comment section is underneath a post about Sam Harris comments concerning DCT, ie they are at least part of the subject at hand.
    By the way isnt it a general rule of internet debating that the first person to use Hitler to support their argument loses :-) and you didnt even use him properly.
    You might try listening to Pete Singer, science, evidence, reason and human values (whatever they are and whose) can be used to justify any evil.
    Last thing for the moment, you make claims concerning the morality of actions (you are pretty fast to call other people liars or haters), how about outlining your basis for morality, why you see things as right or wrong, and some supporting argument/evidence as to why what you have to say is anything more than just your opinion.

  • Jeremy, I think we have exhausted any substantive issue and there is no point continuing if it only involves exchanges of emotional sticks and stones.

    However, if you are at all serious with your final request (“how about outlining your basis for morality, why you see things as right or wrong, and some supporting argument/evidence as to why what you have to say is anything more than just your opinion”) I have a suggestion.

    Clearly the comments section of a blog really doesn’t allow for that, although I have tried to do so here. Alternatively you could actually peruse my blog (Open Parachute) where I have written extensively on morality.

    But fortunately I have a neater solution. I have written a document called Making Sense of Morality which outlines my ideas. It’s in the form of a mini-book (about 20,000 words). I am currently trying to get some review/feedback/criticism of it before finalising it for publication in one form or another.

    If you, or anyone else here, are sufficiently interested to read the document and provide me with some honest critical feedback in good faith I will send you an electronic or ebook copy of the draft. (Usual review conditions of course). Just contact me through my blog’s contact page and let me know what format is suitable for you.

  • Ken, out of curiousity have you managed to get any sections of that book published in a reputable ethics journal? How much of the stuff you write about ethics and religion has passed academic peer review from people trained in the subjects you are writing on?

  • Matt, I don’t have any academic pretensions in this field – just a lay person’s interest Perhaps this will help you understand where I am coming from – its from the draft preface:

    This is not meant to be an academic text. I aim it at the general reader who is interested in human morality and perhaps trying to make sense of the different ideas about morality they find in society.

    A familiarity with morality is part of being a good citizen – but do we get trained for this job? Should we all get taught morality or ethics in our normal education?

    I think too often human morality, ethics, is treated as a speciality subject that should be left to academics, philosophers or theologians. Yet what is the point of a dry, technical, discussion amongst academics, philosophers or theologians – especially as many of the words used (as well as much of the writing) are not intelligible to the lay person? What is the point of thick text books recording abstract ethical debates and read only by specialists? Who of us actually consult technical papers in academic research journals on ethics?

    Maybe these, in the end, do contribute to the sum total of human knowledge and ideas. But they are of no direct help to you and me, the person in the street, who must react at any time to moral situations we come across. We all face ethical questions on a day to day basis; we often have to respond intuitively or rapidly. We just can’t sit back and consult a text book or research journal on ethics, refer to our particular holy book, or ring up a philosopher or theologian. Yet, we all just seem to get on with the job of being moral.

    Even when we choose to reflect on ethical questions at leisure, most of us have no patience for the dry academic and technical language of philosophers of ethics, or for the supernatural stories and mental gymnastics of theologians. We want to discuss these issues in our day-to-day language, considering real issues we may face – sometime regularly, sometimes once in a blue moon.

    I have tried to take this approach here. While I have put together ideas from moral psychology, human cognition and evolutionary psychology I have tried to present them in an accessible fashion.
    I don’t use the technical terms favoured by philosophers of ethics and theologians in their writings on human morality. There is a time and place for jargon and technical terms, of course. But while they may help communication within the “in-group,” the academics who commonly use these terms, they do not help communication with people in general. They can turn readers off, even drive them away. But they can also inhibit communication because outside the “in-group” different people may interpret the meanings of these terms differently.

    As you can see, I am not interested in an abstract academic review – more a review by someone who can appreciate the need for such issues to be presented in a popular style.

    Contact me if you are open to providing such a review of the draft.

  • “…how does our moral obligation to think reasonably rather than unreasonably render DCT moot?”

    Moral obligation is already operative and given a free pass with regard to all the issues involved in evaluating and adjudicating divine command theory, in order to carry out all that analysis.

  • “I’m not inventing their authority. We live in a world governed by the rules of logic and so our ability to use logic is the only way to gain knowledge of truth.”

    “Governed”? lol Plenty of things are known and discovered without any rational deliberation whatsoever. If you unpack the definition of “governed”, you’ll find moral obligation or else a reduction which itself is implicitly held to be obligating acceptance, and then the problem merely repeats itself in that reduction. There’s no way around this except through yet another supervisory claim that merely raised the issue all over again as well.

    What obligates how reason and logic themselves are to be construed without merely shifting the issue to the status and authority of whatever answer is given?

  • “You are equivocating between our “obligation” to logic in order to form true beliefs about moral ontology and the moral obligation to follow moral principles which exist ontologically.”

    Evquivocation or any other alleged activity of thought has no relevance here unless you yourself are assuming what is in question: that one is already obligated to think rationally as prior obligation that supervises how one construes moral obligation.

    “Our commitment to using logic only extends as far as what is required to carry our moral duties.” Any more than that, in what sense am I obligated to use reason?

    If you would actually read my responses, you’d see that I’ve already answered that. To adjudicate the sense in which we are obligated ALREADY requires some obligation about how that issue is to be adjudicated.

    “If I write down 2 + 2 = 5 on a piece of paper on a desk in front of me because it makes me happy, am I morally culpable? Or if I’m playing a game with friends where the aim to come up with the most illogical story, are we doing wrong? That seems silly.”

    How much of your time can you spend doing those things to the exclusion of everything else? Until all other responsibilities are ignored and your kids starve?

    “You are merely asserting that we have a moral commitment to logic as a brute fact but I don’t see why or how that is the case. How would you ground this?

    Why should your apprehension of reasons be required, if there’s no obligation to think of them one way instead of any other? You’re just repeating the oughts you negate about reason, in the very process of negating them through rational demands, as if there’s a background ought or obligation operating nonetheless, to construe morality the way you “ought” to construe it.

    Again, moral propriety is just a logical sub-category of rational propriety, and operates in existential parallel with it. Any attempt to get around this is itself necessarily yet another moral pretense about how morality ought or ought not to be construed. Morality is already embedded in rational standards about how we ought to think—about anything, including morality and rationality itself.

    Morality presupposes rationality operationally, and rationality presupposes morality in its propriety as a universal rule-observing system.

  • “Governed”? lol Plenty of things are known and discovered without any rational deliberation whatsoever. If you unpack the definition of “governed”, you’ll find moral obligation or else a reduction which itself is implicitly held to be obligating acceptance, and then the problem merely repeats itself in that reduction. There’s no way around this except through yet another supervisory claim that merely raised the issue all over again as well.

    You’ve misunderstood me. The world is “governed” by the rules of logic in the sense that the world simply operates according to those rules and does not violate them. What is contained in the universe is not in any sense – and certainly not a moral sense – “obligated” to operate according to those rules, it all just does.

    What obligates how reason and logic themselves are to be construed without merely shifting the issue to the status and authority of whatever answer is given?

    This is not a “moral obligation”, it’s a requirement in order to be rational, and I’ve already talked about why these are not the same. You aren’t considered culpable or blameworthy simply for being irrational.

    Evquivocation or any other alleged activity of thought has no relevance here unless you yourself are assuming what is in question: that one is already obligated to think rationally as prior obligation that supervises how one construes moral obligation.

    Again you’re just conflating moral obligation with rational requirement, they are not the same. For example, you equivocating just makes me think of you as mistaken, not guilty and in need of forgiveness.

    If you would actually read my responses, you’d see that I’ve already answered that. To adjudicate the sense in which we are obligated ALREADY requires some obligation about how that issue is to be adjudicated.

    …and you’re doing it again.

    How much of your time can you spend doing those things to the exclusion of everything else? Until all other responsibilities are ignored and your kids starve?

    This is just a plain misunderstanding of the issue. The moral problem here is that I’m being neglectful of my kids or responsibilities, not that I’m writing irrational things for fun on a piece of paper.

    Why should your apprehension of reasons be required, if there’s no obligation to think of them one way instead of any other?

    ….and again.

    Again, moral propriety is just a logical sub-category of rational propriety, and operates in existential parallel with it. Any attempt to get around this is itself necessarily yet another moral pretense about how morality ought or ought not to be construed. Morality is already embedded in rational standards about how we ought to think—about anything, including morality and rationality itself.

    Morality presupposes rationality operationally, and rationality presupposes morality in its propriety as a universal rule-observing system.

    …and again. Let’s not mention the fact that basically everything said here is an unbacked assertion.

    Moral obligation is already operative and given a free pass with regard to all the issues involved in evaluating and adjudicating divine command theory, in order to carry out all that analysis.

    Ignoring the fact that you’re equivocating again, even if we grant you this “moral obligation”, It would not be given a free pass, it’s accounted for in DCT by merely stipulating that God wills that we use logic. Just because that obligation is required for us to theorize about moral obligations, it doesn’t mean the theory must be false. Our physical existence is required for our theorizing about the big bang, does that mean necessarily the big bang theory is false? Seems odd.

  • “requirement in order to be rational”

    You’re still marshalling reason as if it somehow determines what you ought to think about ought.

    If it’s just a definitional requirement, then one can be selective about the definition. But being rational is precisely what is in question here, as the supervisory calculus for application to things like morality, moral reasoning, and moral theorizing, a point repeatedly ignored. If there is no moral impugnity in rejecting rationality or being selective about it, does moral obligation just pop up out of nowhere all of a sudden in concrete instantiations of that rationality in moral theorizing?

  • ” it’s a requirement in order to be rational, and I’ve already talked about why…”

    I’m not talking about any requirement that defines rationality. I specifically stated why be rational at all about anything. Rationality is an abstract universal notion and system. If there’s no moral import to being rational generally, then there’s no obligation to construe moral terms one way instead of some other. Construe them as irrelevant references to an invisible obligating friend notion, and no morals are even relevant to anything, much less obligating. And since construance operates at a non-moral level, there’s nothing immoral about construing morality into no morals whatsoever.

  • “This is just a plain misunderstanding of the issue. The moral problem here is that I’m being neglectful of my kids or responsibilities, not that I’m writing irrational things for fun on a piece of paper.”

    You’re avoiding the issue. How many irrational things can I write for fun on a piece of paper with moral impunity? If it’s done enough or in some waya that causes something immoral, you haven’t yet excluded it from moral constraints after all. To restrict it by relating it to other things in any sense of what one is obligated to do generally, is all that morally relevant activity is in the first place. The fact that it can affect other things and so has some sense and degree of limits based on other possibly-affected values, is precisely what is meant by moral relevance and moral significance. Soon as you constrain one thing based on the value of other things, you’re moralizing.

  • “Just because that obligation is required for us to theorize about moral obligations, it doesn’t mean the theory must be false.”

    Where have I said that some theory must be false because we are morally obligated to theorize about moral obligation? I said moral obligation is already embedded in reason’s propriety as a concomitant factor.

    If an obligation is generally required to theorize, it means that that theorizing about moral obligations in turn morally obligates at a universal level that has the authority to determine what is and is not moral as a direct consequence. That’s why people theorize about moral obligation, because it affects it generally across the board of all possible first-order moral activities and values.

  • Our physical existence is required for our theorizing about the big bang, does that mean necessarily the big bang theory is false? Seems odd.

    There is that form of reasoning in anything I’ve said? Our physical existence does not obligate like rationality and rational propriety, which are rules about how thought *ought* to proceed. The obligation is already in the notion of what is proper in the very meaning of rational thought, how should “ought” or “should” operation in order to think rationally about anything, including moral values and and moral obligations. Physical existence makes things like morality possible, but it doesn’t obligate it one way or another.

  • ” You are equivocating between our “obligation” to logic in order to form true beliefs about moral ontology and the moral obligation to follow moral principles which exist ontologically.”

    So we can dispense with logic and still formulate moral principles?

    Then formulate one moral principle without uniting a subject with a predicate according to fixed rules of identity and other logical relations. Just one will do.

    Also, you’ll be taken more seriously if you actually dispense with using logic when talking about morality. No obligation, remember.

  • Where does the moral obligation come in if not at the level of logic and reason? To try to rationally argue that morality ought to be construed one way instead of some other is to merely raise the question: Why not just dispense with morals at the intellectual level and be done with it? There’s no obligation at that point, and at any subsequent point moral obligation is just a rabbit pulled out of a hat.

    Requirement jargon just shifts the issue to a new term, but all the same problems remain for requirement itself. No mention, of course, of criteria or what precisely it is that “requires”. If-then conditionals won’t exorcise the logical demon.

  • machinephilosophy,

    Suppose I did grant you that there is a moral requirement to understand reason, logic and rationality as we do and use it (although I’m still not convinced), what is the ontological grounding for this moral requirement? Your answer would seem to be this:

    Moral theorizing is merely a particular instance of the higher category of universal rational standards on which that theorizing itself logically depends.

    What do you mean by “universal rational standards”? Do you mean just “universally accepted” or do you mean to say that there is an objective basis for this? The former would mean you don’t actually think morals are objective and the latter would just mean you are pushing the problem back a step and need to explain the ontological existence of these rational standards.

    There is that form of reasoning in anything I’ve said?

    Yes, you accused DCT of ignoring the supervisory obligation to logic needed in order to theorize about it. This is the same as accusing the big bang theory for ignoring the fact that the universe came about is required in order for us to theorize about it.

    Obviously both are begging the question, as the big bang is a theory to account for how the universe about, as DCT is a theory to account for all moral ontology.

  • Hugh, I think a bit of humility is in order as you are over-exaggerate the status of DCT when you say:

    “DCT is a theory to account for all moral ontology.”

    My dictionary defines theory this way:

    “A well substantiated explanation of some aspects of the natural world; an organised system of accepted knowledge that applies in variety of circumstances to explain a specific set phenomena”

    Clearly DCT is not a theory, that is a misnomer. It’s nothing more than a bit of religious speculation, without evidential or logical support.

    Nothing wrong with speculation – I am all for it. As long as we recognise that it is speculation and not a “substantiated explanation.”

  • Ken, unfortunately one does not determine wether something is a good metaethical theory by consulting a dictionary.

  • Matt, I guess you theologians have a completely different concept of theory to the rest of us mere mortals.

    Yet that does not change the fact that what you call a “theory” is actually no more than theological speculation without a grounding in evidence or genuine logic.

    No wonder you are scared of dictionaries.

  • “What do you mean by “universal rational standards”? “

    Exceptionless universal standards about the requirements for thought, such as is assumed by your requirement for a clarification of meaning, and all of your demands for reasons and explanations, even about reason and logic themselves.

    If there’s no moral obligation to use abstract universals which make up the notions of reason and logic, why are you assuming others ought to conform to your demands for reasons on pain of rejection or dismissal? Without obligated adherence to abstract universals, your arguments, comments, requests for reasons and explanations are a joke, by your own position of morally insulated or irrelevant ratiocination. What your position does is justify being a sociopath as long as it’s held back at some pre-fundy level of abstract reasoning where moral obligation has no meaning much less prescriptive application.

    Columbine shooter Eric Harris did precisely this in his journals, basing his notion of giving natural selection a boost by killing people on his nominalistic view that good and evil are just words that don’t refer to anything real—or valuable in the competition for survival. On your view, there’s no moral problem because it was just a calculatory decision at the level of morally-irrelevant reasoning processes.

  • “The former would mean you don’t actually think morals are objective and the latter would just mean you are pushing the problem back a step and need to explain the ontological existence of these rational standards.”

    The above statement itself doesn’t mean or imply anything unless you assume rational standards are ontologically problem-free in the case of your own thinking in relation to theorizing generally.

    Self-exempting universal claims about the ontological status of reason and logic can hardly be in a position to point fingers.

    To merely ask questions about the ontological status of reason and logic is to assume that one has an ontologically problem-free vantage point from which to rationally and logically analyze such issues about reason and logic.

    The magic question of self-referential metaphysics in relation to grandiose universal claims about such things (or questions that coyly assume them) is, as always:

    What about that statement ITSELF?

  • “Yes, you accused DCT of ignoring the supervisory obligation to logic needed in order to theorize about it. This is the same as accusing the big bang theory for ignoring the fact that the universe came about is required in order for us to theorize about it.”

    I see you supplied no argument for the analagy.

    Divine command theory ignores the already-operative morality of thought that makes possible its import as a theory in relation to morality.

    The Big Bang theory assumes a morality of thought, but as a theory does not need the fact that the universe came about for such theorizing to proceed, but for one of its basic premises as at least one of the initial facts that prompts the argument or discussion.

    There’s actually a difference between what is needed for a rational process per se in relation to any issue, and what is needed as a basic premise relevant to a specific argument with a specific conclusion.

    It’s YOUR position that undercuts its own relevance and importance, since by that position itself, it’s just theory, like scribbling for fun, completely irrelevant to morality.

    In fact, the whole moral/non-moral dichotomy itself is morally self-trivializing by the implication of its own assertion.

    Divine command theory falls on the sword by assuming supervisory theoretic oughts to push itself through as a lower-order moral theory.

    If reason has no moral status, assumptions, and implications, why are people who believe that claim still THEORIZING about it as if such theorizing does in fact obligate having one view of morality as opposed to any others, after all?

  • That response I think nicely shows your tactics throughout this conversation.

    Matt, I guess you theologians have a completely different concept of theory to the rest of us mere mortals.

    First, I referred to a meta-ethical theories, meta ethics is a branch of philosophy not theology, moreover I could make similar points about theories in normative, ethics, philosophy of mathematics, political philosophy and so on.

    Second, I said that what counts is a good meta ethical theory is not determined by a dictionary I did not say I was “scared of a dictionary”

    If you think a divine command theory is simply baseless speculation your welcome to show the evidence and arguments used by those who propose such are arguments are unsound. That involves actually responding to them.

  • Matt, I pointed out the inappropriateness of use of the word “theory” for DCT, and in particular Hugh’s claim “DCT is a theory to account for all moral ontology” (alongside his claim of knowledge of the character of his god). And that is clear because DCT is not

    “A well substantiated explanation of some aspects of the natural world; an organised system of accepted knowledge that applies in variety of circumstances to explain a specific set phenomena”

    Your rejoinder “one does not determine wether something is a good metaethical theory by consulting a dictionary” was an irrelevant response as no one was claiming that. And it was an attempt at diversion also because you avoided the whole issue of the nature of theory.

    The fact remains that DCT is not based on actual evidence. (Neither you or Hugh have presented any here). Nor, in the view of most people, is it based on credible logic. Quite a few people have been pointing out the faults in the logical arguments you and Hugh rely on.

    So yes I do “think a divine command theory is simply baseless speculation.” And I have consistently been pointing out that the arguments you and Hugh used are unsound. I have been responding to them.

    Unfortunately, you have a habit (apparently Hugh as well) of withdrawing from the discussion – then coming back and whining that your critics don’t response to your arguments. I see a pattern there – perhaps that’s where your theological training comes in?

  • Actually my point stands, you don’t determine what counts as a “theory” in philosophy by consulting a dictionary any more than you determine substantive answers in philosophy of science about what counts as a scientific theory by consulting a dictionary.

    Dictionaries tell us the common understanding of English words. They don’t tell us what the canons for theory construction are in various different disciplines.

    As to your dictionary definition, that would rule out pretty much all secular ethical theories, such as utilitarianism, Kantianism, virtue ethics, pretty much all epistemological theories, in fact all theories in philosophy at all.

    Moreover you definition begs important questions by saying that theories only apply to “aspects of the natural world” that’s clearly false. Consider various theories of Platonism in mathematics and ontology, these are clearly important theories and cant be dismissed simply because on Platonism numbers and abstract objects are non natural. Or consider the numerous secular meta-ethical theories which argue that moral obligtaions are non reducible non natural properties, again that’s an important theoretical position that needs to be assessed on its merits not dismissed because Ken’s dictionary uses the word “theory” a particular way.

    Moreover, the definition is clearly bad because it states a theory is “an organised system of accepted knowledge” that’s clearly false, often in a subject there are two or more major theories which compete and its not yet accepted knowledge which is correct. In law for example there are competing theories of legal positivism and legal naturalism, none is accepted as knowledge. In ethics deontological theories compete with teleological theories, neither is accepted as knowledge.

    Moreover this is true even in science, string theory is not yet accepted as knowledge its still a theory. The steady state theory is in fact rejected by most cosmologists that does not mean it is not a theory or that it was not despite the fact it was not accepted knowledge. Copernicus’s theory does not accord with accepted knowledge and so on.

  • Matt, your little lecture on dictionaries is simply a diversion – a way of avoiding my point.

    It doesn’t matter if the term “theory” is applied in the common name or not – the content is the issue.

    To say “string theory is not yet accepted as knowledge its still a theory” actually is a naive misunderstanding of the situation. Yes “string theory” is the common name – but ask the actual leaders in the field, the people doing the mathematical work and they will tell you that it is not a theory. Many of them will tell you it’s not even an hypothesis. At this stage is well structured and pretty detail scientific speculation. These people worry that so far they have not been able to test their ideas against reality (although some hope that the LHC may yet offer possibilities).

    An aside here – working scientific researchers will tell you that many of gheir well formed scientific ideas are wrong – we know that because we test them against reality and find them lacking. We are used to being wrong and having to change our iseas as a result – rather exhilarating. Now, if well structured hypotheses turn out to be wrong very often, just imagine the fate of speculative ideas. There chances of being correct seem pretty remote. They serve well in stimulating research but they can hardly be considered as reliable knowledge.

    If these so-called “string theorists” can be honest about the actual nature of their work why can’t you theologians. DCT is not a real theory, even if you commonly call it so. It has no evidential basis and the logic is hardly accepted by most people. It’s actually silly to even compare it with the so-called “string theory” because at least that is well structured and mathematically supported.

    So come on, Matt. Stop these little diversions. They are irrelevant. The real issue is the credibility of DCT as a religious speculation. My point is that it is not supported by evidence. And the logic you use to support it is motivated and faulty.

    I think that is why you wish to divert us into shallow discussion of dictionaries. You cannot answer the criticisms of your logic and you therefore pretend not to hear them.

  • Ken, in the previous comment when I pointed out that wether something was a good metaethical theory is not determined by a dictionary you responded I was avoiding the issue because I your point was about the nature of a theory. In this comment you claim my comments about your definition of a theory are flawed Is a diversion because you were discussing the evidence for a theory. Nice try.

    As to the rest of your comment, the issue is wether as Hugh said a divine command theory is a theory of moral ontology. Pointing out how physicists use the word theory is irrelevant because we are not talking about physics we are talking about theories in ethics and meta ethics,

    I also pointed to several other problems with your dictomary definition of theory which you now ignore.

    The evasion is not from me as anyone who reads this thread can see.

    As to you showing my arguments are unsound, I read th dialogue very differently I’d say we have had a discussion where repeatedly you have raised the same confused objection you always do and Hugh and I have repeatedly shown it to involve special pleading, confusion between ontology and epistemology, and your responses have been to pretend people said things they did not and attack them. The reality is your rebuttals would not be accepted in any peer reviewed journal of substance in ethics. Your welcome to pretend otherwise but it’s just pretending.

  • machinephilosophy,

    You’re obviously now just talking past me and restating your position. In my last post I actually granted for the sake of argument that an obligation to reason exists, so you cannot keep pretending that explaining to me the consequences of the absence of it is a relevant response, because it’s not. What’s needed is account of how it exists, and all you’ve done is appealed to some “universal rational standards” which I asked you to explain and you pretended that stating that they are “exceptionless” and that I am assuming them is a sufficient response. It’s not. It’s clear you’d rather halt this discussion by refusing to give an account of what you believe and pretending that explaining that if you are wrong that everything is meaningless is enough. This is the same as me asking you to give an account of the origin of human species and you simply stating that its required for us to even be having this conversation, as you can see its a useless response. You cannot object to DCT purely on the basis that your theory is correct, that is question begging.

  • I suppose, Matt, I have to repeat this to make the point again

    So come on, Matt. Stop these little diversions. They are irrelevant. The real issue is the credibility of DCT as a religious speculation. My point is that it is not supported by evidence. And the logic you use to support it is motivated and faulty.

    You had in previous comments repeated ad nauseum the claim that non-religious moral system could possibly come to the same conclusion as DCT – that it was morally required to blow up a school bus. I have several times agreed with you – yet you continued to accuse me of not answering questions.

    That was simply a tactic to avoid my point – that while a rational moral system could come to the same conclusion because of motivated or ideologically driven reasoning it is, in principle, open to rational inspection, identification of faults and correction of previous conclusions.

    On the other hand DCT is not open to rational inspection because it relies on the authority of a “divine” command – the authority of your god which should be accepted as a matter if faith.

    This makes a very convenient system to create blind followers who will commit any atrocity the leaders require. On the top of ideologically driven and motivated reasoning you place an authority demanding blind obedience because she is “divine.”

    Non religious moral systems of course can be manipulated and they can result in incorrect decisions. But there is more chance of arriving at correct decision. Whereas DCT can be used, and has been used, to justify the most inhuman moral relativism. It’s ideal for that.

    On top of that it does not fit with current scientific findings in moral sciences – cognitive science, neuroscience or psychology. And you have had to resort to faulty logic (and tactics of avoidance) to justify DCT.

    The key problem in DCT is the “divine.”

    .

  • Ken I am sure repeating over and over that someone’s system is blind impervious to rational inspection counts as an argument to you. But in philosophy we actually want some argument . Why is basing rules on what God defined as a rationally omniscient and therefore fully informed person, blind and dogmatic and basing it on reason and facts not blind.

    I have dealt with this before http://www.mandm.org.nz/2009/11/audi-and-the-infallibility-of-religious-reasons.html there is no reason at all for claiming this other than your simply saying so over and over. That’s not rebutting anything.

  • Matt – you ask:

    Why is basing rules on what God defined as a rationally omniscient and therefore fully informed person, blind and dogmatic and basing it on reason and facts not blind.

    In a reasonable discussion you would provide support for you assertions – not put the onus on others.

    But. I’ll bite:

    1: You have introduced an imaginary figure “God” defined (as you say) “as a rationally omniscient and therefore fully informed person”

    a). Having introduced a requirement of omniscient you remove any possibility of checking. Who are you, me or any other mere mortal, to question this directive from God? Surely we are placed in a position where we must blindly accept the directive? If you don’t agree the onus is on you to provide the evidence and reasoning.

    b). You ignore the requirement of mechanism – how do you get these “divine” rules. Even if your god is “divine” etc. by definition, how do you know the message is accurate, the messenger honest, etc.? If you can provide a credible answer the onus is on you to do so – put it out there for consideration.

    c). Tied up with these unknowns and assumptions is the ability to manipulate and distort, to impose any old rubbish as a “divine” command. And that happens. . If you don’t think that is probable or even possible the onus is on you to provide a reason argument and/or evidence to support your claim

    Matt, you have done nothing to argue why one should not see DCT as simply blindly following orders and opening one up to the worst sort of moral relativism. The onus is on you.

    2: You ask why “basing it on reason and facts not blind.”

    a). Yes, of course, basing things on reason and facts does not necessarily produce a completely true picture or a completely correct decision. One’s evidence could be insufficient. One’s reasoning could be motivated and/or faulty. Ideologically driven even.

    b). On the other hand evidence and reasoning is very likely to produce a sufficiently accurate picture of the situation for ones requirements. It would therefore enable a morally correct decision; at least correct enough for one’s situation.

    c). the alternatives are just disastrous. If one can be wrong or inaccurate when one does one’s best with evidence and reasoning, just imagine the immense cock ups that come with blind faith.

    Again you have relied on logical possibility, not even acknowledged logical probability.

    Matt – it is simply avoidance to claim:

    “there is no reason at all for claiming this other than your simply saying so over and over. That’s not rebutting anything.”

    I have rebutted your claims (again). If you think I am “saying things over and over” it’s because you have not responded to those rebuttals. You have to do more than simply repeat, “over and over,”you naïve equation of DCT problems with the problems of reason and evidence.

    DCT has a key problem of being “divine”. Reason and evidence don’t have that problem.

  • a). Having introduced a requirement of omniscient you remove any possibility of checking. Who are you, me or any other mere mortal, to question this directive from God? Surely we are placed in a position where we must blindly accept the directive? If you don’t agree the onus is on you to provide the evidence and reasoning.

    I agree that if God actually commands something then there is no room for disagreement. That however does not mean that there is no room for questioning or reasoning or assessing purported claims that God commanded something.

    The same is true of facts and reason, if it is the case that facts and logic actually justify a moral conclusion then it’s impossible for the conclusion to be false. If it were false then its not dictated by the facts and logic.

    Of course this would not lead you to state that relying on the facts and reason is “dogmatic” because while one has to concede that if the facts and reason dictate a conclusion you should accept it. You’d grant there can be discussion and debate about whether the facts and logic in fact support some conclusion.

    So again, this provides no reason for thinking that following the facts and reason is not dogmatic and following divine commands is. Both are on par.

    b). You ignore the requirement of mechanism – how do you get these “divine” rules. Even if your god is “divine” etc. by definition, how do you know the message is accurate, the messenger honest, etc.? If you can provide a credible answer the onus is on you to do so – put it out there for consideration.

    I have already answered this, if one can reliably ascertain what the facts and reason dictate then one can use the same method to ascertain what an informed rational person would command. It makes no sense to say we can tell what reason and the facts would dictate and then claim we cant know what an informed rational person would conclude. Again just special pleading.

    c). Tied up with these unknowns and assumptions is the ability to manipulate and distort, to impose any old rubbish as a “divine” command. And that happens. . If you don’t think that is probable or even possible the onus is on you to provide a reason argument and/or evidence to support your claim

    Yes and throughout history people have manipulated distorted and imposed any old rubbish saying its what the facts and reason entail is morally permitted. So again parity. Except in my case you arbitrarily demand proof when in your own case you don’t see it as a problem. Again special pleading.

    a). Yes, of course, basing things on reason and facts does not necessarily produce a completely true picture or a completely correct decision. One’s evidence could be insufficient. One’s reasoning could be motivated and/or faulty. Ideologically driven even.
    b). On the other hand evidence and reasoning is very likely to produce a sufficiently accurate picture of the situation for ones requirements. It would therefore enable a morally correct decision; at least correct enough for one’s situation.

    If we have a reliable way of being able to form a sufficiently accurate picture of what the facts and reason dictate then we must have a way of forming a sufficiently accurate picture of what an informed person would command. If on the other hand the fact that God is fully informed and perfectly rational means we cannot know what he would command then we cant tell what the facts and reason dictate.

    Again you seem to simply repeat the problem I have noted with your position.
    You have put forward the absurd and contradictory position that we can know what reason dictates but not what a rational person would dictate, we can reliably know what the relevant facts are but cant know what a person aware of all the relevant facts would claim. Thats contradictory, blind faith in asserting a contradiction is I agree disastrous, stop doing it. Ranting about “theologians” does not make a contradiction true.

  • ” What’s needed is account of how it exists, and all you’ve done is appealed to some “universal rational standards” which I asked you to explain and you pretended that stating that they are “exceptionless” and that I am assuming them is a sufficient response.”

    You’d have an easier time finding out the color differences in binary numbers. Having to assume universal rational principles in order to formulate questions about them IS the explanation of their ultimate and universal status. If something logically or rationally more basic could explain or show the “how” of reason and logic themselves, they would not be the basicalities I’ve specified, and all the same questions would legitmatly arise all over again for that “more basic” explanation itself.

    If you really want to be taken seriously in challenging reason and logic, it’s just like what people who believe in faith beyond reason need to do: Stop reasoning about it.

    How many kinds and numbers of self-contradictions would one need to figure out that there’s no avoiding what’s being challenged in that very same act of challenging it? The explanation of reason and logic’s status as ultimate and necessary is a via negative, which I continue to point out, and which is actually simpler than processes of elimination in mathematics.

    To ask me to explain universal rational standards is to presuppose their necessity in the first place in that same demand for explanation, as well as bypass the need to justify the need for an explanation and a “how” for that demand, which is a category mistake anyway.

    To explain anything is to simply point out in turn each component or aspect of it and how they relate to other things. In the case of reason and logic, however, which are the basis of any explanation whatsoever, they must be assumed in order to compose an explanation of any kind and about any object of thought. So there is no possible “more basic” explanation of reason and logic themselves, except to show that without them one cannot even formulate an explanation of anything, just as you yourself have not bothered to explain your own demand for an explanation of them. The reason for that is an existential one called sine qua non. Without which, nothing.

    In the case of logic, since it’s defined as the set of principles and processes whereby any justification is possible, logic itself does not beg justificatory questions in that same logical sense, although if its legitimacy is challenged, it must be existentially justified as necessary and so on, but in terms of basic primitives like purpose, need, relevance to goals and values, and so on. That process too must proceed according to logic, but is not itself a strictly logically prior justification of logic. But logic does not itself beg the *logical* question, precisely because logic itself IS what defines the notion of begging the question and makes it a defection from logical and rational ideals.

    The necessary presuppositions of thought don’t dance on Sesame Street, or need maintenance to keep turning on axles inside people’s heads. they assume logic and reason, logic and reason assume them, and they are all cross-assumed and taken together are coextensive in a prior system.

    Why would rationally necessary assumptions need a “how” anyway? Does asking how ITSELF need a “how”? Do you seriously think things like binary oppositions and polar concepts have moving parts or something? They’re inert, just like the laws of logic. They don’t need operational explanations, because any explanation necessarily assumes them as the indirect or direct assumptions of any predication whatsoever, such as an explanatory one. Reason and logic necessarily apply to all thought. Any attempt to deny this assumes it. You can try to deny their ultimacy, adequacy, and efficacy, but that attempt will be embarrassingly telltale. Anyone who seriously questions these things about reason and logic ends up performing a slapstick cognitive comedy with themselves as the butt of the joke.

    Try putting together a Tinkertoy mechanism of how the demand for and precise working nature of the warrant for explanatory principles functions. Every connection of the parts will already assume the structural integrity of the process itself.

    Try NOT assuming universal rational standards yourself, when you put out unexplained demands for explanations. Such demands are merely instances of those same universal demands. If you go down that path, you might just realize the nature of their ultimacy, necessity, and indispensability in all possible thought. I’ve never seen anyone even try to explain the demand for explanation, but only tread that demand as insulated from its own requirements.

    When it comes to the necessary logical and rational assumptions of all possible thought, as Henry Kissinger once said, “The absence of alternatives clears the mind marvelously”.

  • “all you’ve done is appealed to some “universal rational standards” which I asked you to explain and you pretended that stating that they are “exceptionless” and that I am assuming them is a sufficient response.”

    To demand an explanation and allege insufficiency in my responses is to assume universal rational principles of explanatory adequacy and sufficiency in that very demand itself.

    Are you seriously saying that you don’t realize the self-contradiction of that?

    We’re not talking about a Tinkertoy project here. We’re talking about the unavoidable principles of talking about things per se. The criteria of logical and rational criteria is simply logical and rational criteria all over again, applied to themselves. Any possible proposed alternative is simply the same rose by another name.

    Don’t take my word for it, try it yourself: Explain your own demands, and “how” THEY exist. But be sure and completely dispense with assuming reason and logic in that process so that you won’t be accused of implicitly aping my position in spite of your own assertions. By demonstrating the suspension of both, it will be clear that you really are calling reason and logic into serious question.

    However, there is such a thing in advanced logic studies called theory of questions or the logical theory of interrogatives, so you may be dead in the water from the get-go. My money’s on the logicians.

  • Matt, you answer to my point 1b about mechanism really didn’t answer that question (how do you receive these divine commands) but nevertheless is fundamental as it undermines DCT. You said

    “if one can reliably ascertain what the facts and reason dictate then one can use the same method to ascertain what an informed rational person would command. It makes no sense to say we can tell what reason and the facts would dictate and then claim we cant know what an informed rational person would conclude.”

    I agree – and for the life of me can’t see where you got the idea I was suggesting “we can’t know what an informed rational person would conclude.” I have repeated my position several times.

    But suddenly we have an “informed rational person,” someone who doesn’t have divine powers. In fact divinity has suddenly evaporated. Your “informed rational person” is now doing the work you originally postulated your god for. You have described the non-religious moral system I use.

    You then proceed to reinforce this position by saying:

    “If we have a reliable way of being able to form a sufficiently accurate picture of what the facts and reason dictate then we must have a way of forming a sufficiently accurate picture of what an informed person would command.”

    Yep, I agree – that’s how a rational person would understand it. And you dig your hole even deeper by adding:

    If on the other hand the fact that God is fully informed and perfectly rational means we cannot know what he would command then we can’t tell what the facts and reason dictate.

    At first sight this again removes the necessity for your god. However, you have suddenly slipped in “fully informed” and perfectly rational.”

    Are you going to insist on the fully and perfectly?

    Because if you don’t then we absolutely agree with each other.

    But if you do, then you have God as you originally defined her. But God is not human, not even the “informed rational person” of your argument.

    In that case we are back at the beginning. You have defined a being who has the ability to formulate commands that you and I “informed rational persons” can’t second guess. And therefore someone whose commands should not be questioned (we don’t have the omniscience to question) but should be blindly followed.

    That is quite different to rational non-religious moral systems.

    It is the omniscience, the “divine” nature of your “fully informed” and perfectly rational.” postulated commander which is the difference and hence the problem.

    By the way, nowhere have I ever:

    put forward the absurd and contradictory position that we can know what reason dictates but not what a rational person would dictate, we can reliably know what the relevant facts are but cant know what a person aware of all the relevant facts would claim.

    I agree that is a stupid position – but it’s not mine. It’s your straw man and is entirely of your manufacture.

  • Ken , if your position is that moral obligations are identified with what an imperfectly rational partially informed person dictates then your position is easily shown to be false. Because a person with those attributes will from time to time make mistakes and hence what the claim is obligated will not be identical with what we are in fact obligated to do?

    But to your main point if your suggestion is that we can reliably know what an informed person who is partially rational dictates. But we can never reliably know what a person informed of all the relevant facts who makes no mistakes says, then in fact you are commited to the claim we can never know correct answers to moral questions.

    In which case you cant know that the correct answer to “should I blow up a bus” is no?

    Whose system is Pscyopathic?

    If we are to have moral knowledge we must be able to reliably get correct answers to a sufficently large number of moral questions in which case we must be able in a large number of cases be able to get the answer that a fully informed fully rational person would reach.

  • Matt, you are off at a tangent again setting up another straw man.

    You asserted:

    “If we have a reliable way of being able to form a sufficiently accurate picture of what the facts and reason dictate then we must have a way of forming a sufficiently accurate picture of what an informed person would command.”

    My position exactly. If it’s yours you are admitting to using the same approach to morality as I do. And it’s a secular approach.

    However, if you insist on a “divine” source of your moral code you are postulating a situation where you just do not “have a way of forming a sufficiently accurate picture of what an [your ominiscent, "divine"] person would command.” How could you, unless you are “divine” yourself?

    You commit yourself to blindly following without any way of second guessing her.

    The “divine” is the source of your problem. It commits you to faith, blindly following. And therefore capable of the worst sort of moral relativism.

    In the real world we all make mistakes. But you seem to be aiming for exactly the same as me when you say:

    “If we are to have moral knowledge we must be able to reliably get correct answers to a sufficently large number of moral questions in which case we must be able in a large number of cases be able to get the answer that a fully informed fully rational person would reach.”

    You have presented the same target as me – but notice that, of necessity, you have dropped the “divine”, omniscient requirement because you realise that would make this target impossible.

    Yes, I am repeating myself because you are avoiding the consequences of insisting on the “divine”. It destroys the rest of your argument and you must cover up with a diversion.

  • Machinephilosophy

    I’m not challenging logic. I’m challenging the fact that all you’ve done is assert that moral obligations are a subset of these universal rational standards and then tell me that these standards are necessarily self explanatory. Not only is that begging the question against a meta ethical theory but it in turn explains nothing about morality and how it’s objective. Example, If one arbitrarily chooses their own moral axioms and follows a correct logical pathway which leads to rape or murder, what basis is there to say that action is wrong? It would appear to be the only way is to assume their axiom is wrong but I don’t see how you would base that. Reason and logic is not partial to the welfare of humanity. It just is.

  • Machinephilosophy,

    There’s a fundamental equivocation in your response to Hugh. As I understand it, you’ve asserted that the use of universal rational principles is fundamentally a *MORAL* requirement. Now whilst Hugh has denied that the use of these rational principles is a *MORAL* requirement, he hasn’t denied that there are these universal rational principles.

    To see the distinction, consider the fact that In academic epistemology, there’s a distinction between two kinds of evidentialism: There’s ‘moral evidentialism’ which construes evidentialism in a moral sense, but there’s also a ‘non-moral evidentialism’ in which epistemic justification is just said to supervene upon ones total evidence.

    These are clearly not one and the same thing. If I were to deny moral evidentialism (as in-fact I do) it would not commit me to denying non-moral evidentialism.

    In the same way, it seems fundamentally confused to accuse Hugh of denying the reality of universal rational principles when in point of fact he’s only denying that the use of them is a moral requirement.

  • Machinephilosophy,

    The other thing is that you don’t appear to have adequately responded to Hugh’s proposed counter-example to your supposition that the use of rational principles is a moral requirement.

    Suppose that I write “2+2=5″ on a piece of paper just because it makes me feel happy. Evidently, i’v made a mistake of logic. But in what sense am I morally culpable for this little incident? Could someone justly punish me? Do I owe anyone recompense? clearly not!

    Now you responded to this initially by suggesting that If we did this to the extent that our children were starving, then we would be doing something morally wrong. Well right, but the reason for our moral error in such a case evidently isn’t the fact that we’ve made a logical mistake, but the fact that we’re neglecting our children. So your response seems to me to be quite confused.

  • Ken actually your answer shows the special pleading I was getting at. You conceed, that we can reliably know in a significant number of cases what a fully informed fully rational person would command without ourselves having to be fully informed or fully rational, but then you say we cannot know what a divine fully informed rational person would command unless we are divine. The only reason you give for this is, the latter uses the word divine whereas the former is secular. You seem to think this circular special pleading is some kind of killer argument. It’s not it simply illustrates my point. The reality is you have no basis at all for what you are saying so you just keep repeating the assertion over and over thinking that repeating a baseless claim makes it credible.

  • Matt, I guess you can’t help yourself – your have to throw in something like accusations of “special pleading” rather than pursue an honest discussion. Or is that just boiler-plate with you?

    Here is how I see it:

    1: While ideally we desire to be fully informed fully rational persons, of course in the real world we aren’t perfect. I think you agree with me here.

    2: Because we are (imperfectly) rational and informed we can make a good stab at arriving at the moral conclusions a fully informed, fully rational person would conclude morally – and be successful in a significant number of cases. I think you agree with me here.

    3: Where we disagree (and this appears to be the only disagreement at this stage) is on the nature of the “divine.”

    A). You appear to say that we (imperfectly rational and informed persons) can know what a “divine” fully rational, fully informed person would conclude (or command). If that is so, why drag “divine” into it? Or why drag the “fully informed, fully rational” person into it?

    In either case you are saying we can second guess the fully informed, fully rational person and the “divine” person. Whatever special powers you attribute to the “divine” they do not seem to enable any better compression and decision making than we already have ourselves.

    So, on moral, questions you have just declared your “divine” person irrelevant. You actually advocate a secular morality.

    B). My dictionary describes “divine” as god-like, having special powers which I assume must make the “divine” person something more than a fully infomed, fully rational person. I assume these special powers relate to all sorts of things, including knowledge, so the “divine” person might be expected to know something more, much more, about correct moral positions than the person who is just fully informed and fully rational.

    Therefore I conclude that we cannot know what a “divine” person would command morally, because just knowing (imperfectly) what a fully informed, fully rational person would conclude is not sufficient.

    So, if this is your concept of “divine” you must concede that advocating DCT is advocating blind following of orders because we ourselves are unable necessarily to come to the same conclusions the “divine” person does.

    So which is it – a “divine” that is irrelevant or a “divine” that means you must blindly follow her commands and therefore open yourself up to the possibility of the worst forms of moral relativism?

  • “Suppose that I write “2+2=5″ on a piece of paper just because it makes me feel happy. Evidently, i’v made a mistake of logic. But in what sense am I morally culpable for this little incident? Could someone justly punish me? Do I owe anyone recompense? clearly not!”

    You do something like that in the design of MRI software, and you’ll end up killing quite a few people. No one would ever think of putting anyone in prison for criminal negligence, because after all, it’s just a calculatory error, no more serious than tinkering with arithmetic calculations in air traffic control flight-path coordination algorithms, all with the blessings of your claim of moral impugnity.

    To say that it depends on context, simply makes my point, that there is a moral relevance to any activity after all, because everything is related to everything else and and everything occurs in the context of everything else that occurs. Obviously there is a hierarchy of importance, but on your position, you could drive your family around the grocery store parking lot forever, since contemplating which parking space to park in is a morally irrelevant and therefore indefinitely extendable activity.

    More specifically related to morality, however, is the question: how many of those calculations can you do with moral impugnity in place of other tasks in your life, such as while your car is stuck on the tracks as an oncoming train approaches. Just tell your family you need to do a few hundred more math calculations inside your happy bubble of morally-insulated activity.

    How can there be neglect when the only act was a single repeated math calculation focused on to the exclusion of all else? On your position, if no other act was performed, no moral neglect could have possibly occurred. If the calculatory act is truly non-moral, how can there be neglect added to it without attaching moral significance to it in that very same process? You can’t pull neglect out of the hat if the only thing in the hat is that one morally-irrelevant activity.

    “Now you responded to this initially by suggesting that If we did this to the extent that our children were starving, then we would be doing something morally wrong. Well right, but the reason for our moral error in such a case evidently isn’t the fact that we’ve made a logical mistake, but the fact that we’re neglecting our children.”

    Such logical mistakes could be extended indefinitely if they are in fact morally irrelevant. To constrain such activities at all, in relation to morality, is—surprise!—to thereby moralize about those activities after all and therefore make them morally relevant and significant.. According to your position, so you could abandon all moral responsibilities whatsoever, but the neglect centers in the very activity you just got through saying was morally irrelevant. All you were doing was making little logical mistakes with glee. By all means scribble and calculate your life away, morally insulated by the non-moral nature of those activities.

    If anything moral is neglected or contradicted, how else was that done except through the repetition or extension of such non-moral activities in the first place?

    Obviously, the moral importance of all activities is a matter of degree. But one small seemingly insignificant triviality or error in the beginning, as both Aristotle and Aquinas said, leads to ten thousand errors in the end.

    Programming errors are probably the most glaring example of this principle, which is one reason why, for example, in C programming, administrators finally got hip and started auditing pointer error and error correction in programmers, which had caused lost contracts and destroyed careers and companies, expecially since it was found to take up over 45% of their time at work. Eventually IDEs were designed to track such things dynamically, especially in mission-critical R&D situations where thousands and even millions of lives were being put at risk by simple mathematical and logical errors of lazy programmers who couldn’t care less. But it’s just logic and math calculations, right?

    If you write “2+2=5″ on a piece of paper just because it makes you feel happy, how many times can you do that and still maintain its moral irrelevance? Any constraint on this activity is the admission that it’s not quite so morally irrelevant after all. Just like thousands of other examples in essays on morality, the irrelevance is an illusion indicated by the sputtering qualifications issued as soon as that activity is actually taken to its logical conclusion.

    I’m sure you’d be very happy if a friend or relative were to write 2+2=5 over and over and do nothing for the rest of their lives, all the while thanking you over and over—equally endlessly—for giving them the idea. In such a situation, it would be difficult to think of a way to counter them, given your view, if in the processing of trying to get them to stop obsessing with such activity, they responded by calling you a pompous moralistic fool—and used the exact same moral irrelevance argument against your attempt at intervention, as the basis for their calling you that name.

  • 1: While ideally we desire to be fully informed fully rational persons, of course in the real world we aren’t perfect. I think you agree with me here.
    2: Because we are (imperfectly) rational and informed we can make a good stab at arriving at the moral conclusions a fully informed, fully rational person would conclude morally – and be successful in a significant number of cases. I think you agree with me here.

    Agreed, I would say if we have moral knowledge at all we most in a decent number of cases reliably discern what a fully informed fully rational person would command.

    A). You appear to say that we (imperfectly rational and informed persons) can know what a “divine” fully rational, fully informed person would conclude (or command).

    Exactly, if God is perfectly rational and fully informed (omniscient) then the content of what he knows and commands will not differ from the content of what a fully informed human person commands. So it is completely arbitrary to say we can know what one would command and not the other.

    If that is so, why drag “divine” into it? Or why drag the “fully informed, fully rational” person into it?

    This question assumes that the only answer a meta ethical question must answer is, whats the best method for gaining knowledge of whats right and wrong. But that’s false, As I have pointed out divine command theories and other meta-ethical theories are attempts to explain moral ontology: ask the question of what is the nature of moral obligations, what are they, why do they exist? And so on. As I noted in my comment yesterday one cant explain the nature of moral obligations by identifying them with the commands a less than fully informed less than rational person would issue.

    In either case you are saying we can second guess the fully informed, fully rational person and the “divine” person. Whatever special powers you attribute to the “divine” they do not seem to enable any better compression and decision making than we already have ourselves.

    Well that’s also false, in terms of relevant epistemological powers God has the same powers a fully informed fully rational person would have, seeing we are neither fully informed or fully rational God is a better decision maker than us.

    The question however you have to ask Ken is this, can we imperfect fallible humans of imperfect knowledge and rationality get a reliable grasp in a large number of cases of what sorts of things a fully informed, fully rational person would command. If the answer is yes then humans can grasp what God commands rationally without “blind faith” and your objection fails. If not then for the reasons I have already offered, we fall into moral scepticism and cannot get reliably get correct moral answers to moral questions. In which case you cant justifiably claim “blowing up a bus” is wrong, and so your argument again fails.

    So, on moral, questions you have just declared your “divine” person irrelevant. You actually advocate a secular morality.

    That’s doesn’t follow: the fact we don’t need to believe in God to know be able to tell what’s right and wrong does not mean God is irrelevant to moral theory, because meta ethical theories purport to answer other questions than just “can we know this?” and as I have already noted the reason of fallible human beings cannot answer metaphysical questions about “what are moral obligations”.

    B). My dictionary describes “divine” as god-like, having special powers which I assume must make the “divine” person something more than a fully infomed, fully rational person. I assume these special powers relate to all sorts of things, including knowledge, so the “divine” person might be expected to know something more, much more, about correct moral positions than the person who is just fully informed and fully rational.

    That’s a contradiction, if God knew more information relevant to morality than a fully informed person then that person would not be fully informed would he?

    Yes a Divine person has powers a fully informed rational person does but the content of what a divine person knows and commands given the facts will not differ from the content of what a fully informed human person would command given the facts. So if you are going to say you can’t know what one would command without blind faith you have to say the same about the other.

  • You do something like that in the design of MRI software, and you’ll end up killing quite a few people.

    Why do you think that using MRI software to kill people is wrong? What axiom are you assuming and why is that axiom correct?

  • “Why do you think that using MRI software to kill people is wrong? What axiom are you assuming and why is that axiom correct?”

    I didn’t say that using MRI software to kill people is wrong.

    Are YOU saying there is any obligation to supply reasons for something when requested or that an axiom “ought” to be correct?

    If there’s no obligatory propriety to thought, then I have no idea what you are even asking.

    The examples are within the confines of what most people would count as morally significant as opposed to mere mathematical calculations per se.

    The issues are relational , and have nothing to do with specific moral stances on the issues mentioned.

    How many times could one substitute morally insignificant activities for those times when one could be carrying out WHATEVER one considers moral activities?

    IF I believed that activity X was, per se, morally insignificant, I’d admit that substituting X for any other activity was also morally insignificant, including spending my entire life doing X to the exclusion of all possible morally significant activity, with no loss of moral status on my part, precisely because of that moral insignificance.

    Given that as my position, I would not be shirking any moral responsibility, whatever that might be, because I bypassed it all by simply substituting the morally insignificant activity, X, throughout my entire life. My life would be morally insignificant, morally neutral, and morally indefectible. End of story.

  • OK Matt, you have come down on the side of a “divine” = fully rational and fully informed, rather than anything “mysterious” or really omniscient. Not “divine” = supernatural or god-like. That being the case, with your definition, you can make a good stab at what your god would “command” because she is nothing more than a rational informed person, behaving fully rationally and with full information. Something we all try to approximate when we wish to make conclusions, or understand anything. Our “ideal” but nothing “supernatural”. Not able to arbitrarily subvert the laws of nature, etc.

    With that definition, you can do as good a job as I can in determining if something is “right” or “wrong”. Neither of us will appeal to supernatural creatures. We will consider the existing information, do our best to objectively reason, and because we are human (and I assume healthy humans, not psychopathic) with objectively-based human values we are likely in many cases to come to the same conclusions. Differences will occur because, perfectly naturally, as humans we are prone to ideological biases and motivated reasoning. But that’s a secondary, although important, effect.

    But, with your strongly limited definition of “divine” (which I would never use, and I suspect is not accept by most religous people) then I agree with you completely – you can determine that it is wrong to blow up a school bus. But, being such a sensible person, why the hell woudl you think you had received a command from your god for anything, let alone that? How have you been receiving these commands – imagined voices, by email, – how?

    In effect, Matt, I think the essence of what you describe is probably the way most religous believers and non-believers make moral decisions when in the reflective, “manual” mode. (We have yet to discuss the unconscious, “auto” mode where most of our moral decisions and conclusns actually occur in practice). Although, many religious adherents will deny it. They will still claim a role for their god. Even, and especially, a supernatural role.

    I wonder how your religious colleagues will react to the demotion of your, and their, god? When you say:

    “if God knew more information relevant to morality than a fully informed person then that person would not be fully informed would he?”

    you remove anything special from your god. She has simply become an extension of a human, without any extra powers than simply accumulation of knowledge. Something we approximate, especially by recognising which knowledge is most important and overcoming our time limitations by concentrating on that.

    I don’t think you really add anything special to your god when you say:

    “in terms of relevant epistemological powers God has the same powers a fully informed fully rational person would have, seeing we are neither fully informed or fully rational God is a better decision maker than us.”

    That is just saying none of us can possibly get all be information, but acknowledging that perhaps we can actually have all the relevant information, without any special powers. And some people are pretty rational – collectively we can sometimes be amazingly rational.

    This hypothetical fully informed, fully rational person is the concept we come across in law, and in normal human endeavour. We all, in effect, have this ideal, something we try to be, and do our best to be within the natural limits of time, information and intellectual ability. A common ideal in all sorts of areas, especially law and science.

    It’s just that most of us don’t give the ideal target a name, especially the name “God.”

    I can understand how we all have an ideal, a target, but creating a god out of that is pretty weird to me.

  • Given that as my position, I would not be shirking any moral responsibility, whatever that might be, because I bypassed it all by simply substituting the morally insignificant activity, X, throughout my entire life. My life would be morally insignificant, morally neutral, and morally indefectible. End of story.

    But obviously that isn’t your position and obviously you believe your life has moral significance. This is potentially the last question I’m going to ask you, as in, I already think I’m wasting my time, but I’m giving you the benefit of a doubt. If you avoid this question then this conversation is over.

    What gives your life moral signifiance?

    Replying with “are you saying there is an obligation to give a reason for my life having moral significance? if there is no obligation to reason, your question doesn’t make sense” is circular and is not an answer.

  • Hugh, these sort of questions intrigue me:

    What gives your life moral significance?

    I think because they can b answered at different levels and one has to stop an wonder which level is required.

    So I usually stop and put it back on the questioner – hoping their answer will indicate the level and real content of the question.

    So I hope you are willing to give answer for yourself:

    What gives your life moral significance?

  • Ken,

    God’s commands.

    Now, you have nothing to do with my conservation with Machinephilosophy, stop trying to derail the conversation

  • Sure, Hugh, not interested in that debate anyway.

    But I must say the answer is pretty shallow because it shows absolutely no autonomy and, in theory, nothing to live for once you give up that belief.

    I would hate to be so committed to a belief.

    So on with your chat.

  • Ken maybe just maybe you should actually read some theology or perhaps some New Testament
    You keep making the accusation that recognising Gods commands shows a lack of autonomy which is a claim on your part that Christians wont accept. We would be more inclined to the opinion that refusing to recognise our position relative to Creator God shows a childish stubborness, kind of like a two year old toddler refusing to acknowledge his father might just know a bit more about life and reality than the toddler does. But only “kind of like” because the difference in power ,comprehension and wisdom between us and Creator God is vastly greater than the difference between a father and his toddler son.
    Or to put it another way a student doesnt lack autonomy when he submits to teaching and training by his professor.
    Or a third analogy, the average citizen has more autonomy and freedom when he submits to some laws for the good of all than if he lived in a anarchy.
    Further the essence or heart of sin is found in elevating ourselves to the point of usurping Gods rightfull authority.
    Now i know you wont recognise this, but every time you go on about autonomy in this manner, you are simply saying “i will be my own god in my own life and the Creator can go jump for all i care, i will be like a toddler and close my eyes so he is not there”. Its not an argument thats going to persuade anybody.
    It takes an autonomous choice to choose to obey, God will never force you.

  • Jeremy, I suspect you are unable to understand what I mean by autonomy – after all we each have our own experiences.

    But when someone says to me they have moral significance because of “God’s commands” I get the picture of a young student “Red Guard” during the Maoist “Cultural Revolution” who said much the same thing – getting their moral significance from the Great Helmsman, Mao Tse Tung.

    I can appreciate that when in the throes of ideological enchantment (and the divine commander can be mortal as well as godly) one says silly and shallow things like this.

    But people do grow up, and grow out of such enchantments. They can feel a great sense of loss, lack of purpose, etc., when they find their hero or belief really has feet of clay.

    A more mature, autonomous, sense of significance or purpose can more readily ride out such changes. Grounding our significance and purpose in more basic real things provides a better basis for the inevitable changes in ideas and beliefs which inevitably come with maturity and understanding.

    That is if one is open to changes in beliefs. I really like the saying – if you have not changed any of your ideas in the last few years you should check your pulse. You may not be alive.

  • “What gives your life moral signifiance?”

    You really don’t understand anything in the entire discussion.

    This is like someone over at Vox Day’s blog actually telling me that he challenges me to give a reason for a rational ideal.

    To think at all is to necessarily assume significance of one’s life in some sense and degree. Since, yes, thinking is a part of life, and if life doesn’t have significance, no aspect of life, such as thinking, has significance.

    And my entire position, repeated at least a handful of times, has been that significance, obligation, etc. is already embedded in thinking itself.

    Unless the clueless who never actually think or read anything about a subject assume that only their own questions have significance while everyone else must cow-tow to their presumption while not having to explain their own implicit criteria that’s never even mentioned. That way, they themselves never have to defend their own views, and any possible answer is discounted in advance as insufficient without any need to back up the dismissal or alleged insufficiency.

    “Replying with “are you saying there is an obligation to give a reason for my life having moral significance? if there is no obligation to reason, your question doesn’t make sense” is circular and is not an answer.”

    Why would it be circular? You mean the mere fact that you ask a question means that any answer given is known to be circular in advance without any argument whatsoever, and without having to back up any arbitrary answer-precluding question, even if your own assumptions presuppose precisely what is in question?

    Can I too just avoid every issue and keep jumping to yet other questions without having to back up anything I say? Is that the kind of response you want?

    I guess I’m unclear what would be a sufficient answer to your vagueness. Vagueness and no responsibility to think about your own assumptions is the REAL God of your life, since you don’t deviate at all from The Troll Sequence.

    “Replying with “are you saying there is an obligation to give a reason for my life having moral significance? if there is no obligation to reason, your question doesn’t make sense” is circular and is not an answer.”

    What WOULD count as an answer? Or does that violate your don’t-argue-anything-yourself / put-all-logical-responsibility-on-others principle you use as a cognitive Jesus to run interference for you while you think of another question to substitute for having to back up your own unargued assumptions?

    Isn’t logical self-exemption fun?! And most importantly, it’s easy—no thinking required. (which is known by divine command in advance as not counting as an answer, anyway).

    I’ll ask you one last question (as if to give the impression that I’ve been providing exact logical justifications when I really haven’t done much of anything):

    What gives your questions the quality of deserving an answer? (and saying that my own question assumes the same thing—or any other response—won’t count as an answer, because there’s no need for me to back anything up when I’m desperate to make myself look like I know something when I don’t, and according to The Troll Sequence that’s what I’m supposed to say next and any calling attention to the one-sidedness of my demands for justification just shows that anyone who disagrees with me can’t answer the question).

    Now is THAT a response that makes you feel at home inside your head? Note that any response that differs from my position is not an answer and that I don’t actually have to back up that claim, and…. and…. [return to step one in Troll Sequence].

  • “Replying with “are you saying there is an obligation to give a reason for my life having moral significance? if there is no obligation to reason, your question doesn’t make sense” is circular and is not an answer.”

    Any circularity is in your own presumption about your own question.

    Are you saying that the significance of your own question gets exempted, while whoever your question is addressed to must provide justification for the significance of their entire lives?

    Since you so devotedly avoid questions about criteria, would saying my life is significant because the Great Pumpkin told me it is count as an answer?

    How do you tell the difference between a divine command and sheer intellectual laziness? Does yet another another divine command do that for you?

    And can I too use divine command theory as a magic wand to hide behind so that I don’t actually have to provide any arguments or do any thinking? That way I’ll have a formulaic response for your questions that matches your own unargued DCT auto-responses. That means we can all be DCT script kiddies!

  • Machinephilosophy

    You are pretty much trying to discard the whole area of meta ethics by just asserting that morality just “is” and that any attempt to reason any further is circular.

    This is a ridiculous position and my guess is that it won’t be found anywhere in literature, and for good reason too.

    This has been a fantastic waste of my time.

    Good day.

  • “This is a ridiculous position and my guess is that it won’t be found anywhere in literature, and for good reason too.”

    You don’t READ any literature, so how would you know?

    To give reasons for God or divine command theory is the aped-out admission that you do in fact want a higher authority, reason, to give you at least the appearance of rationality as the certifying factor that you deny when your bluff is called, as if reason does in fact obligate truth, legitimacy, and respectability of a view after all.

    Readers of this thread can judge for themselves who the ignorant intellectual hypocrite is and who’s facing up to the questions and the assumptions behind them.

    Twenty years from now you’ll still be looping through the same dozen statements over and over and over. 3/4 of Christian youth are leaving Christianity precisely because of YOUR mentality, not mine.

  • Couldn’t resist.

    You don’t READ any literature, so how would you know?

    I actually do, and to my knowledge no one dismisses meta-ethics because they think it is circular by nature, they actually engage with the arguments. You are welcome to prove me wrong here.

    The funny thing is, you’ve been telling me that reason is required to question the obligation of reason and thus it’s necessarily circular, the problem is you are using reason to point this out so you are guilty of the same circularity. Of course I’m using reason to point that out, so under your view that would be circular, so on and so forth.

    In otherwise it’s impossible to discuss ANYTHING without being circular in your view, so for you to just accuse me of being circular is insane.

    Twenty years from now you’ll still be looping through the same dozen statements over and over and over. 3/4 of Christian youth are leaving Christianity precisely because of YOUR mentality, not mine.

    It’s also classic how you make up statistics and make baseless assertions about them and expect it to make some sort of lasting impact. What a joke.

    There is a good reason why the blog owner and other posters here are no longer dignifying you with a response, and I’m not sure why I still am.

  • “I actually do, and to my knowledge no one dismisses meta-ethics because they think it is circular by nature, they actually engage with the arguments. You are welcome to prove me wrong here.”

    I never dismissed metaethics because it’s circular. Just more of your convoluted dishonesty digging your hole deeper and deeper, aside from your own comments being morally insignificant by your own position.

    I’ve said that morality is already embedded in the propriety of rational thought per se, as necessary presuppositions, a notion which you apparently aren’t able to understand because of your circular fundy-thump mentality about morality.

  • “It’s also classic how you make up statistics and make baseless assertions about them and expect it to make some sort of lasting impact. What a joke.”

    The joke’s on you, Einstein. The statistics come from a citation on this blog to Barna Group research. What is clearly a joke is people like you as they are viewed in the minds of Christian youth. I never get accused of talking in circles or trying to fudge my position.

  • ““I actually do”

    You actually DON’T. Once again the joke’s on the fundy thumper trying to act like he’s knows something when he doesn’t, and that he’s read the literature when he hasn’t.

    The notion of a logically prior criterion for morality has been a core aspect of atheist philosopher Kai Nielsen’s position for 40 YEARS, since the first edition of his book, Ethics Without God, came out in 1973, and developed in great detail in the second edition of the book in 1990, in some of his 400+ journal articles, and also in his 2005 book, Atheism and Philosophy.

    Except for convoluted fundies who don’t actually read the literature, Nielsen is not only a leading atheist thinker, but arguably the greatest atheist philosopher of all time.

  • “You are pretty much trying to discard the whole area of meta ethics by just asserting that morality just “is” and that any attempt to reason any further is circular.”

    I never said that any attempt to reason any further is circular. Perhaps you could interrupt your non-reading long enough to cite where I said that. What I said was that divine command theory already depends on obligations that are already operating prior to such theorizing. So any moral obligation in divine command theory is merely pulling a morally obligating rabbit out of a non-moral hat.

    “This is a ridiculous position and my guess is that it won’t be found anywhere in literature, and for good reason too.”

    I thought you said you read the literature, but here you admit you’re just guessing. Surprise, surprise.

    “This has been a fantastic waste of my time.”

    I could have told you that, but then you don’t seem to even understand the implications of your own position about reason being morally insignificant, and so in your mind there’s no problem in going on and on and on reasoning nonetheless, as if the legitimacy of your moral theory hinges completely on rationality after all, in spite of your own assertions to the contrary.

    But maybe I’m completely mistaken in believing that almost all Christians are epistemologically sociopathic.

  • “There is a good reason why the blog owner and other posters here are no longer dignifying you with a response”

    That’s not going to obscure the fact that you’ve avoided just about every issue, dismissed possible responses in advance without argument, and self-contradict in every single attempt at argument after denying reason’s significance with regard to morality, and yet continue to desperately argue as if argument obligates the construance of moral theory.

    Unlike you, Matt, who is quite familiar with our differences, is not trying to illogically fudge himself into legitimacy by illegitimizing the process itself and then precluding opposition views in advance without argument or criteria.

    And the last time I checked, I’m still listed as an official contributor to this blog! Fancy that! For the non-readers, though, it’s a well-kept secret.

  • Perhaps you could actually cite the appropiate article so we can read the stats and analysis. Somehow i doubt Barna Group has research showing 3/4 of Christian youth leaving Christianity because of people like Hugh. To make this claim you will need to actually state what the research showed and establish that Hugh meets those criteria as opposed to just throughing assertions around. Last i read, a major cause of Christian youth deserting Christianity was a lack of depth on their own part and a consequent unpreparedness to deal with the aggressive animosity toward Christianity at university level.

  • If you don’t know which post it was, then you haven’t really been paying attention to this blog. Search on critical engagement. Barna Group stats (75%+), as well as the USA Today survey (70% but with some returning) and one other newer survey that puts attrition at 83% beginning at age 25 through age 30, can all be cut in half and it’s still the case that within 20 years there won’t be a replacement generation for the older one currently financially propping up organized non-Catholic Christendom. The financial implosion is already underway, and the situation for Catholicism is far worse.

    Generally, Christianity is like the fat person desperate for social acceptance, who, instead of losing weight, starts using drugs and learning user lingo. The main reason youth are leaving Christianity, however rightly or wrongly, is because they don’t feel comfortable expressing their doubts about God and Christianity to parents, ministers, and other Christians in churches. And the Benny Hill evangelical Christians don’t understand that until youth’s eyes stop rolling, you’re still doing everything wrong. Cool music and pizza parties won’t give Christianity a whit of street cred in the general culture. Churchianity is completely blind to this.

    The response of churches is even more insane: Megachurches have William Lane Craig and others in for some conference, and when you listen to the actual discussions, it sounds like a talk show for 5 year olds.

    The only reason atheism is not growing faster is that most atheists, mirroring their fundy counterparts, don’t know the stronger arguments of their own philosophers. Once they muscle up on things like Nielsen’s incoherence argument against the very concept of God and his argument for a necessarily independent criterion for morality and the concept of goodness, Christianity in particular and theism in general will be on a fast track to oblivion. The fact that both camps unwittingly collude in avoiding self-reference and criterial issues only ensures a faster decline for belief in God.

    The retreat into experientialism and other fallacies in the aftermath of Hume and Kant is what sealed theism’s fate, although it’s taken three centuries for the consequences of this to pervade the culture.

    What Christendom doesn’t get is the simple fact that you weaken whatever you exaggerate. And because of the exaggerated confidence hawked by the infomercial mentalities of evangelicals, Christianity is now just a staggering cognitive drunk spouting mindless bromides. Precisely when it will fall face-down in the gutter is anybody’s guess. But a simple running of the most conservative financial and demographic numbers clearly indicates it won’t be long. Like many alcoholics, nothing will change until things hit absolute rock bottom in a pool of their own vomit.

  • “a major cause of Christian youth deserting Christianity was a lack of depth on their own part and a consequent unpreparedness to deal with the aggressive animosity toward Christianity at university level.”

    Well what caused that?

    The bottom line is that the stark contrast between what was ingrained in the churches and what is then encountered in college and the general culture results in a collossal net embarrassment and bewilderment for Christian youth. The one certainty developed in college is that parents, ministers, and people in churches in general were simply talking in circles all along, while the new fallacies encountered in colleges and universities are too sophisticated for the students to have any hope of even recognizing them—much less being able to see through them.

    It’s almost impossible to convey just how bad the thinking situation is within Christianity—almost to a person.

  • What can i say, people have been predicting the demise of Christianity ever since the Renaissance and it hasnt happened yet. Yes critical thinking may be missing in most Christians but its mostly missing in the population in generall. The west has be seduced by materialism (prosperity through economic growth) but that may soon change in a full planet with increasing shortages of the resources that support western economic culture.
    I read up a little on Kai Nielsen, i thought his morality was incoherent, he is a utilitarian and a Marxist. Utilitarian is scary, if he genuinely lived like that i would be glad to be in another country, further marxism is a complete failure, discredited economically and with a totally false view of human nature which of course contributed directly to its economic failure. I also read a debate he had with William Lane Craig, i was not impressed, certainly he said nothing that WLC wasnt able to respond to thoroughly and comprehensively.
    I do agree that when Christianity starts worrying about social acceptability its making major mistakes. Jesus Christ specifically said that in following him we wouldnt and couldnt ever be socially acceptable, we should listen to our own scripture more, same goes for coool music and pizza parties, they are no substitute.
    Ray Comfort is no great theologian or apologist but he has one thing right, promoting Christianity as a path to a happier, easier and more prosperous life is only going to result in failure disappointment and disillusionment. God wants to help us through life not avoid it

  • ” i thought his morality was incoherent”

    What’s incoherent about it? It’s arbitrary, question-begging and based on consensus plus a reciprocal self-interest he calls wide reflective equilibria (a la John Rawls), but it’s clearly coherent.

    But even if it were incoherent, that’s not an issue unless you’re using reason as the ultimate determiner of oughts about oughts, a moral standard about moral standards. The entire discussion is always and necessarily about what Reason says ought to be the legitimate and accepted moral theory.

    Craig actually told me in a public Facebook comment a couple of months ago that he’s never heard of even an attempt at refuting Martin’s incoherence argument against the concept of God. Yet he did debate Nielsen. I’m surprised it was not covered by either party, but this is one of those white elephants that always haunts Christian philosophy—at least until some rogue like me starts raising hell about it.

    Also, I’m not predicting the demise of Christianty but predicting the total collapse of organized Christianity based on current trends already firmly established, not just by surveys but by the sheer demographic facts. Even the televangelist industry is freaked out by what’s going to happen when the current elderly Christian population is dead and gone. When that crutch is gone, time’s up for the orgs.

    Not sure what prompted your remarks about social acceptability. That’s never been an issue I’ve even talked about. Ray Comfort is the last person on earth I’d want representing my views, and probably one of the last to happen onto that hackneyed insight. Appeasement for the sake of social acceptance is always a blink in this or any other poker game.

    Both atheist and theists use reason as a crypto-theist mind-God that passes final judgment on everything including itself and morality, and neither want to talk about that fact. Any argument against this thereby assumes it.

  • The exchange of perspectives and ideas was getting really interesting and entertaining. Why stop now? Arguments arise from conflicting views. It’s better to settle it in a formal manner.

  • Any subjective morality is incoherent wen it comes up against another with which it conflicts. It has no basis for claiming to be right true superior or even simply priority.

  • The debate boils down to one of right or wrong, but of course there is no such thing in the logical, relative world. The psychology of those who commit atrocious acts in the name of a deity is scientifically interesting, but I think we end up thoroughly lost if we attempt to debate their non-relative moral standing.

  • Jeremy, you say:

    Any subjective morality is incoherent wen it comes up against another with which it conflicts. It has no basis for claiming to be right true superior or even simply priority.”

    That is trivially true, but in this discussion “divine” command theory turns out to be subjective. It relies on human prejudices and biases, as conveyed through the mouth on one’s invisible friend. It doesn’t have anything like a direct objective basis in itself. But it can be a powerful buttress to emotional, perhaps instinctual, moral urges which can be very inhuman. Like blowing up school buses or shooting girls in the face for desiring an education.

    And while DCT has feet of clay, it is in the end a relative morality. It has no “superiority” because it has no objective basis. Humanity has managed to develop some ethical positions which have overwhelming agreement across ideologies, cultures and religions, because they are objectively based in the human values of life, care, well-being and opposition to harm.

    It is DCT which is incoherent.

  • Two things Ken
    1, i was discussing Kai Nielsens version of morality not DCT
    2, in the current world situation where we have a major clash between Islam and the rest of the world including Christianity and secularism, this truth is hardly trivial. In fact it is going to be one of the major challenges facing the world in the near future. You secularists if you cannot find something you believe in morally and know to be true absolutely and worth defending as superior in everyway to Islam, then you have a whole lot of pain coming similar to what Europe and Britain are staring to experience. There may be individually nice muslim people but Islam has no room for any other point of view, its conversion or dhimmitude, Islam doesnt have concepts like tolerance, human dignity, respect for alternative points of view etc, it has no room for your worldview or for mine.

    A third thing, DCT is an ontological theory of the origin of moral truth, not a theory concerning human moral awareness. Your position on DCT is predicated on your refusal to acknowledge God that is your privilege, it has no bearing on His reality. He has this to say to you “Behold I stand at the door and knock, if any man opens the door I will come in to him and sup with him and he with me”, and, “Taste and see that the Lord is good”. Ken the only reason you cant find God is that you are unwilling to look for Him, He is more than willing to be found by people who want to find Him. This opportunity is available to you also.

    “Humanity has managed to develop some ethical positions which have overwhelming agreement across ideologies, cultures and religions, because they are objectively based in the human values of life, care, well-being and opposition to harm.”

    I think you are missusing the word “objective” here, human values based on human traits are “subjective”

    What about the human values of , me first, because i can, as long as i dont get caught, looking out for number one, not my problem, i want. Based on the universality with which such values are practised i would say humanity is in overwhelming agreement on these values too.

    Why do the human values you like have any priority over the ones you dont like? What criteria do you use in making that judgement? What gives the criteria you use any particular credibility? Who are you?

    I admire your optimism Ken, i think its unfounded and that you need to look out the window more.

    By the way i am interested in reading your treatise, my public email is “the_fifth_horseman@hotmail.co.nz”

  • Jeremy, I don’t think there is anything new in your response I should respond to. We have been through it all before.

    I will email you about your offer to review and give me feedback on my short book (definitely not a treatise) “Making Sense of Morality.”

  • Jeremy, can’t get the email you gave to work. Copied and passed still no luck.

    Trying @hotmail.com – that seems to be working so far.

  • Matt,
    This is a well-reasoned post. The point about utilitarianism implying an analogous conditional (if blowing up a bus has the highest utility, then it is obligatory) is very good. I wonder, though, what you think about a slightly different conditional:

    If God were to command the gratuitous torture of children, then torturing children would be morally obligatory.

    This conditional is better, I think, for Hallquist’s argument since it references an action that is necessarily wrong. At least, it seems to me that there is no possible world in which it is morally permissible to gratuitously torture children. This kind of action could be used as a test case, so to speak, such that any moral theory that implies that it is possible that such a thing is obligatory must, for that very reason, be a bad theory. The fact that utilitarianism implies that it is possible that, in some circumstance, it is obligatory to blow up a bus full of people doesn’t strike me as a reason to reject the theory. The fact, if it were one, that a theory implies that it is possible that it is obligatory to torture children strikes me as a much better reason to reject the theory.

  • Hi Jason.
    I agree that that is a better conditional ( in fact as you’ll know it’s the standard one) because it spells out something that is plausibly necessarily wrong.

    What I’d say is, this take the conditional:

    1. If God were to command the gratuitous torture of children, then torturing children would be morally obligatory.

    By itself this does not entail its possible for gratuitous torture to be permissible. To get that implication you need the additional premise that: it’s possible for God to command the gratuitous torture of children. If one accepts ( as DC theorists normally do) that God has certain character traits such as being loving, just and so forth essentially, then it’s possible for God to command the gratuitous torture of children only if it’s possible for a loving and just fully informed person to command the torture of innocent children.

    So here is what I’d say:

    If, as I think is the case, it’s impossible for a fully informed loving just, rational person with the divine attributes to command torture, then 1. has an necessarily false antecedent. To argue that a DCT entails this impossible counter factual refutes DCT would be to argue too much because I think every meta-ethical theory will entail an analogous counter factual.

    Consider utilitarianism: even if its impossible for gratuitous torture to maximize utility, utilitarianism still implies the counter-factual, that if it did maximize utility then it would be obligatory. Similarly with Kantianism: even if it’s impossible for gratuitous torture could be categorically required by reason, Kantianism implies the counter-factual, that if it were categorically required by reason then it would be obligatory. The same is true with virtue ethics. Even if it’s impossible for a perfectly virtuous person to ever gratuitously torture a child, virtue theories imply the counter-factual: that if a virtuous person were to gratuitously torture a child, gratuitously torturing a child permissible, and so on. So unless one wants to declare all meta-ethical theories as arbitrary, the claim that these theories entail a necessarily false counter-factuals is problematic needs to be reconsidered. It seems to me all meta-ethical theories entail that in impossible situations necessarily wrong actions can be permissible.

    On the other hand if contrary to what I think is the case, it is possible for a loving and just, fully informed, impartial compassionate, person to sincerely command the gratuitous torture of children then that would entail that it’ s possible the gratuitous torture of children is wrong. I agree that seems highly counter intuitive. The problem here is that, I also think it’s highly counter intuitive that it’s possible for a loving and just, fully informed, impartial compassionate, person to sincerely command the gratuitous torture of children

    Moreover, am inclined to think that anyone who grants that it’s possible for a person who is loving, just, fully informed, rational, impartial and compassionate and so on to command gratuitous torture will also deny that it’s a necessary truth the gratitutious torture of children is wrong. Certainly my intuitive response to both claims is the same. I think it’s both necessarily true , that it’s wrong to gratuitous torture children and I think it’s necessarily true that a loving, just, impartial, fully informed rational person could not sincerely command that action. Moreover, if someone could provide me with a reason for thinking that gratuitous torture of children was compatible with being loving, just, impartial and so on then I think that would provide reasons for revising my intuition it’s necessarily wrong.

    So I don’t think you can coherently get a reductio argument against DCT from the conditional 1. So I doubt one could defensibly infer that it’s possible that God commanded this and also object that this action is necessarily wrong.

    I do agree with you that other theories in so far as they entail that its possible for gratuitous torture is permissible are problematic. But that’s because those theories don’t ground moral obligations in the commands of a person who has the type of attributes God has which make it implausible to say the antecedent of the conditional is true.

  • Matt,
    Thanks for your thorough reply. I appreciate it. I wonder if you have read Alexander Pruss’s paper, “Another Step in Divine Command Dialectics”? Some of what you are saying, specifically about other moral theories (such as utilitarianism) implying analogous counterfactuals, seem similar to the point that Pruss makes. I’m not saying that you got the point from him, I just wonder if you agree that you are making essentially the same point.

    In any event, I am curious about your take on the semantics of claims such as “God can command that we gratuitously torture children.” Correct me if I am wrong, but I think that you believe that such statements are false because, since God is essentially loving, he cannot issue such a command. Now, is it appropriate to take “God can command that we gratuitously torture children” as equivalent to “There is a possible world in which God commands that we torture children.”

    So my question is, what is the relationship between these two claims (“God can X” and “There is a possible world in which God does X”)? Do they mean the same, does one imply the other?

    The reason I ask is that my initial reaction to claims involving ‘can’ is that we are talking about ability. And the fact that a person has an ability does not, of course, entail that he ever exercises it. But nor does it entail, it seems to me, that there is a possible world in which he exercises it. This seems reasonable because the following is not incoherent: Even though Joe would never do such a thing, he can kill his mother. Joe deeply loves his mother and would never harm a hair on her head, but he is a very strong man, and he could easily kill her.

    Now, I don’t now if there are possible worlds in which Joe kills his mother, in part because I don’t have a robust theory about cross-world identity that would tell us in which worlds Joe exists. That is to say, I grant that there are possible worlds in which a child of Joe’s mother kills her (and even worlds in which this child is named ‘Joe’ and shares Joe’s birthdate), but I don’t know whether the person who kills Joe’s mother in those worlds is Joe. It might be, for example, an essential property of Joe that he loves his mother. But, I don’t think that my claim that Joe can kill his mother hinges on it being the case that there is a possible world in which he does. Even if there are no possible worlds in which Joe kills his mother, it seems to me that it is still true that Joe can kill his mother in the sense that he has the ability to.

    So, suppose I grant that it is impossible for God to command the gratuitous torture of children in the sense that there is no possible world in which he does (because there is no possible world in which God is not loving). It seems to me that with reasoning parallel to the above, I can still maintain that God can issue the command in the sense that he has the ability to do so just as Joe has the ability to kill his mother.

    Okay, I’m sure I’ve made many mistakes here. Help me out.

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