Sunday, January 13, 2008

If God is dead ... rejoice (updated)

Elizabeth Anderson’s “If God is Dead” essay is one of the best indictments of the Bible that I have ever read, says novelist Ed Cline.

Posing the conundrum of why God (or Allah, or whomever) is considered to be the be-all and end-all of morality – originating morality and rewarding it and punishing its delinquency – she writes:

“Consider first God’s moral character, as revealed in the Bible. He routinely punishes people for the sins of others. He punishes all mothers by condemning them to painful childbirth, for Eve’s sin. He punishes all human beings by condemning them to labor, for Adam’s sin (Gen. 3:16-18). He regrets his creation, and in a fit of pique, commits genocide and ecocide by flooding the earth (Gen. 6:7). He hardens Pharaoh’s heart against freeing the Israelites (Ex. 7:3), so as to provide the occasion for visiting plagues upon the Egyptians, who, as helpless subjects of a tyrant, had no part in Pharaoh’s decision. (So much for respecting free will, the standard justification for the existence of evil in the world.)”

So even if you believed the existence of this fiction, why would you grant him authority over morality?

UPDATE: Fact is, even Christians don't take their morality from the Bible, a point made perfectly clearly by Mr Dawkins:

                                 
But that doesn't mean that the source of morality is somehow "innate," which is where Team Dawkins gets it wrong.   The source of morality is not God or Helen Clark, it's neither our neighbours nor our feelings.  No, the source of morality is reality.

It should be obvious enough why this matters, but to those who eschew thinking about ethics and who prefer instead to bloviate solely about politics, there's a political connection here too, as Peter Schwarz points out:

Does morality depend upon religion? Most people believe it does, which is a major reason behind the appeal of the religious right. People believe that without faith in a supernatural authority, we can have no moral values--no moral absolutes, no black-and-white distinctions, no firm demarcation between good and evil--in life or in politics. This is the assumption underlying Justice Antonin Scalia's recent assertion that "government derives its authority from God," since only religious faith can supposedly provide moral constraints on human action.

And what draws people to this bizarre premise--the premise that there is no rational basis for refraining from murder, rape or anarchism? The left's persistent assault on moral values.

That is, liberals characteristically renounce moral absolutes in favor of moral grayness.

BUT MORALITY ISN'T GREY.  It is absolute.  It's absolute because the source of morality is reality, which is impossible for anyone to evade, even the most hard-bitten religionist.  Fact is, there are serious problems with the approaches taken by both the religionists (who insist on intrinsic rules, yet insist again on cherrypicking which ones are really and truly the ones to live by), and by their subjectivist opponents (who insist there are no absolutes, except the rule that there are no absolutes).

But to dismiss these objections is not to answer our question here, which is: “Can you then have morality without God? Whence comes moral structure if the Law-Giver in Chief is dead?”. The answer, to say it once again, is reality, and the constraints it places up on us.  The source and locus of all our values is reality. Where else could they come from?  All facts, to us, are potentially value-laden.  The world is fashioned in a particular way, and to derive happiness and flourishing in such a world we need to act in such and such a way.

In response to this all too obvious point, those trained in university philosophy departments will often wheel out something called the 'Is-Ought' argument as 'proof' that facts are inherently value-free, or (to put it another way), that neither reality nor reason provide any basis from which to formulate a reliable ethics.

THE 'IS-OUGHT' ARGUMENT was a remarkable piece of sophistry devised by a drinker called David Hume ("David Hume could out-consume Schopenhauer and Schlegel" -- as many of you will remember), who suggested the fact that the world is this way or that way provides no means of suggesting whether one ought or ought not do something, and thus there is no way -- no way at all -- to put together any sort of rational morality. This is the sort of thing that in university philosophy departments passes for a sophisticated argument.
What's remarkable is that such a fatuous proposition should still have sufficient legs to persuade graduates of philosophy departments over two-hundred years after it was formulated. The 'is-ought problem' is a problem only if your mind has been crippled by such a department.
Aristotle stands first in line as a healthy contrast to both religionists and subjectivists and university philosophy professors in being a consistent (and too-frequently overlooked) advocate of a rational, earthly morality -- his was a "teleological" approach to ethics. That is, he said, we each act to achieve certain ends, and those ends must be the furtherance of our lives. All actions are (or should be) done "for the sake of" achieving some goal.

ARISTTOTLE PROVIDES A STARTING point from which to proceed rationally. Let’s think about what the basis for any rational standard of morality for human life would be. Morality should be ends-based – it should be goal-directed – but what end should it pursue? Surely the starting point would be the nature of human life itself? Shouldn’t the fact that human beings do have a specific nature tell us what we ought to do?

IT WAS AYN RAND who identified that the crucial fact about human life that provides such a starting point is the conditional nature of life, the fact that living beings daily confront the ever-present alternative of life or death. Act in this way and our life is sustained. Act in that way, and it isn't. Life is not automatic; it requires effort to sustain it, and reason to ascertain what leads towards death (which is bad), and what leads towards life (which is good). What standard then provides the basis by which a rational morality judges what one ought to do, or ought not to do? Life itself. Life is the standard. As Ayn Rand observed in her essay ‘The Objectivist Ethics,’

It is only the concept of "Life" that makes the concept of "Value" possible. It is only to a living entity that things can be good or evil.

Following Rand, Greg Salmieri and Alan Gotthelf point out that,

Rand’s virtue-focused rational egoism differs from traditional [ie., Aristotelian] eudaimonism in that Rand regards ethics as an exact science. Rather than deriving her virtues from a vaguely defined human function, she takes “Man’s Life” – i.e. that which is required for the survival of a rational animal across its lifespan – as her standard of value. This accounts for the nobility she ascribes to production – “the application of reason to the problem of survival” (1966, p. 9). For Rand, reason is man’s means of survival, and even the most theoretical and spiritual functions – science, philosophy, art, love, and reverence for the human potential, among others – are for the sake of life-sustaining action. This, for her, does not demean the spiritual by “bringing it down” to the level of the material; rather, it elevates the material and grounds the spiritual.

THE FACT THAT LIFE is conditional tells us what we ought to do: in the most basic sense, if we wish to sustain our life, then we ought to act in a certain way. This is the starting point for a rational, reality-based ethics: reality itself.

clip_image001If, for example, that glass of brown liquid in front before us is dangerously toxic, then one ought not drink it. That would be bad. If, however, it is a glass of Epic Pale Ale, Limburg Czechmate or Stonecutter Renaissance Scotch Ale, then all things being equal one ought to consume it -- and with gusto. That would be good.
So much for the 'is-ought problem.' The fact that reality is constituted in a certain way, and that every living being confronts the fundamental existential alternative of life or death is what provides the basic level of guidance as to what one ought or ought not do. This fundamental alternative highlights an immutable fact of nature, which is that everything that is alive must act in its self-interest or die. A lion must hunt or starve. A deer must run from the hunter or be eaten. Man must obtain food and shelter, or perish.  We must seek out good beer or else sentence ourselves to a lifetime of drinking Tui. 

The pursuit of morality is that important.

The fact that we exist possessing a specific nature and that reality is constituted the way it is tells us what we ought to do.

(The intelligent reader will already have noticed that in seeing morality in this way, the primary issue in morality is not our responsibility to others, but fundamentally our responsibility to ourselves. Without first understanding our responsibility for sustaining our own life, no other responsibilities or obligations are even possible. Tibor Machan observes that this fact is recognised even in airline travel, where the instruction is always given that if oxygen masks drop from the ceiling you should put your own on first before trying to help others. Basically, this is a recognition that if you don't look after yourself first then you're dead, and of no use either to anyone else or to yourself. This might help explain to interested readers why Ayn Rand named her work on ethics: The Virtue of Selfishness.)

To any living being, facts are not inherently value-free, they are value-laden – some facts are harmful and we should act to avoid them; others are likely to be so pleasant that we should act to embrace them --  but all facts we should seek to understand, and in this context we should understand that all facts are potentially of either value or disvalue to us.   Facts are inherently value-laden.

Contemplating the delightful reality of a glass of Limburg Czechmate, for example, demonstrates that some facts can be very desirable indeed, and are very much worth embracing. The point here is that it is not the facts themselves that make them valuable, it is our own relationship to those facts: how those facts impinge upon and affect our lives for either good or ill. It is up to us to discover and to make the most of these values. Leonard Peikoff makes the point in his book Objectivism:

Sunlight, tidal waves, the law of gravity, et al. are not good or bad; they simply are; such facts constitute reality and are thus the basis of all value-judgments. This does not, however, alter the principle that every "is" implies an "ought." The reason is that every fact of reality which we discover has, directly or indirectly, an implication for man's self-preservation and thus for his proper course of action. In relation to the goal of staying alive, the fact demands specific kinds of actions and prohibits others; i.e., it entails a definite set of evaluations.
For instance, sunlight is a fact of metaphysical reality; but once its effects are discovered by man and integrated to his goals, a long series of evaluations follows: the sun is a good thing (an essential of life as we know it); i.e., within the appropriate limits, its light and heat are good, good for us; other things being equal, therefore, we ought to plant our crops in certain locations, build our homes in a certain way (with windows), and so forth; beyond the appropriate limits, however, sunlight is not good (it causes burns or skin cancer); etc. All these evaluations are demanded by the cognitions involved -- if one pursues knowledge in order to guide one's actions. Similarly, tidal waves are bad, even though natural; they are bad for us if we get caught in one, and we ought to do whatever we can to avoid such a fate. Even the knowledge of the law of gravity, which represents a somewhat different kind of example, entails a host of evaluations --among the most obvious of which are: using a parachute in midair is good, and jumping out of a plane without one is bad, bad for a man's life.

But this is (or should be) basic stuff.

NOW, UNLESS YOU'RE a university philosophy professor (or David Hume) you don't simply sit there looking wide-eyed at the world, acting only on the basis of what appears in front of you on the bar. As Aristotle pointed out, if we want the good then our actions should be goal-directed.  A rational man acts with purpose: that is, he acts in pursuit of his values. If our purpose is the enjoyment of more glasses of Limburg Czechmate, for example, (something even David Hume would agree is a value) then we must act in a way that allows us to acquire more drinking vouchers with which to buy them, a fridge in which to keep them, and to sustain our health, wealth and happiness so that we might enjoy them for many more years in the future.

We should act in this way or in that way, in other words, in order to bring into reality certain facts that our (rationally-derived) values tell us are good. Acting in this way is itself good. We might even call it “virtuous” – virtues being the means by which we acquire our values.
And further: we should act not just in order to stay alive. As Aristotle and Rand both point out, the proper human state of life is not just bare survival, it is a state of flourishing – not just life, but “the Good Life.” Rand again:

In psychological terms, the issue of man's survival does not confront his consciousness as an issue of "life or death," but as an issue of "happiness or suffering." Happiness is the successful state of life, suffering is the signal of failure, of death...
Happiness is the successful state of life, pain is an agent of death. Happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one's values...
But neither life nor happiness can be achieved by the pursuit of irrational whims. Just as man is free to attempt to survive in any random manner, but will perish unless he lives as his nature requires, so he is free to seek his happiness in any mindless fraud, but the torture of frustration is all he will find, unless he seeks the happiness proper to man. The purpose of morality is to teach you not to suffer and die, but to enjoy yourself and live.

Such is the nature of a rational morality. The fact that the world is constituted as it is, means that if life is our standard -- my life, here on this earth -- then we ought to recognise the value of a rational morality, and if we wish to achieve happiness we ought to act upon values derived from a rational morality focused upon life on this earth.

What the hell else could be as important?

Let me say it again on conclusion: the standard for morality -- the rational standard -- is not obedience to what your God says or Moses says; it's not doing what your priest or your pastor or your Imam says; it's not subscribing to the same standards as your teachers or your peers the folks who live next door; it's not listening to what your own "inner voice" seems to say, or what your mother or your father or your Great Grandfather Stonebender used to say.  Not if it defies reason.

The rational standard is Life, our life, and the lives of those we love. The immediate beneficiary of our actions is not others; it's ourself, and the purpose of such a standard is not to suffer and die, but to enjoy ourselves and live.   (Once we've identified and internalised ethical guidelines to further our own flourishing, we can then only then safely listen to our own "stomach feeling," but it would be fatal to do so any earlier.)

To turn Descartes on his head (which is no less than the silly French philosopher deserves), the basic ethical principle is this: "I am, therefore I'll think." Because if we don't think clearly there'll soon be no "I" around to think about.

I hope you think about that.

* * * * *

** For your homework, if you want to know more about Objectivist morality then you might want to act on that ...

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31 Comments:

Anonymous JC said...

Better questions might be why quote the Old Testament when it was replaced by something quite different 2000 years ago, and in the case of the Jews, by a much more benign approach to God and life?

And why do you/we accept the authority of our current Govt when it bestows equally Old Testament assaults of democracy and unfairness upon us?

Why is there an explosion of baptisms in the UK so that parents can get their children into faith based schools which produce better individuals than the state system?

And why is secular Europe so spineless in the face of Muslim aggression?

The answers to these questions won't be found in thinking that belief in God is critical, but that people of some faiths have simply been more efficient in setting up and maintaining systems that make for strong communities.

Religion is a philosophy on and of life that seems to work for most people and works best when allied to some degree of secularism.
But secularism on it's own, no.. that way lies apathy and death of peoples.

JC

1/13/2008 01:23:00 pm  
Anonymous James said...

"Better questions might be why quote the Old Testament when it was replaced by something quite different 2000 years ago, and in the case of the Jews, by a much more benign approach to God and life?"

In other words..So God realised he had been wrong and issued an update...?So Gods not perfect now?


"Why is there an explosion of baptisms in the UK so that parents can get their children into faith based schools which produce better individuals than the state system?"

Not becaused they are faith based....more privitised and therfore open to innovate and reject State dogma....

1/13/2008 03:52:00 pm  
Blogger Matt B said...

Better questions might be why quote the Old Testament when it was replaced by something quite different 2000 years ago, and in the case of the Jews, by a much more benign approach to God and life?

Ah yes, the old "we disown the Old Testament" argument.

Actually jc:

1) the Old Testament is regularly cited as a source of modern morality by Christians e.g. the ten commandments. Old Testament passages are regularly read out in churches. Christianity continues to recognise the authority of the OT.

2) Jesus spoke approvingly of every "iota" of Old Testament law in Matthew 15:17-20. Jesus was not only aware of the Old Testament's barbarism, he specifically endorses the Old Testament in its entirety, and does so immediately after quoting one of its most repugnant guides for behaviour, the Old Testament command for children to be killed for cursing their parents in Matthew 15:1-9 (also see Mark 7:9-13).

1/13/2008 04:58:00 pm  
Anonymous JC said...

"In other words..So God realised he had been wrong and issued an update...?So Gods not perfect now?"

He never could be, because it's a man made philosophy.

"Not becaused they are faith based....more privitised and therfore open to innovate and reject State dogma...."

So do we agree that statism is a religion? :)

JC

1/13/2008 05:44:00 pm  
Anonymous JC said...

"1) the Old Testament is regularly cited as a source of modern morality by Christians e.g. the ten commandments. Old Testament passages are regularly read out in churches. Christianity continues to recognise the authority of the OT."

Of course it does, and Christ stated that he came to fulfill the prophesies of the OT. He then set about thoroughly changing it's thrust. Three things spring to mind..

"Turn the other cheek", eg, stop looking for tribal vengeance. That remains a distinguishing mark between the West and many parts of the East today and explains much of our progress.

"Let he who is without sin.. " That was a powerful blow to the old patriarch system that has taken centuries to fulfill, but the emancipation of women is a crucial difference in our economic performance compared to say, Islam.

"Render to Caesar..." The separation of church and state that has stood us in such good stead.

Arguing from the OT, and/or cherry picking from the NT is simply a fundy argument used to bypass the history shaking ideas of Christ that were as important secularly as they were to the Faithful.

JC

1/13/2008 06:18:00 pm  
Anonymous Dave Mann said...

I watched, fascinated, the TV1 programme on prof. Lloyd Geering on Saturday night. His story was, I thought, well told and absorbing.

While I didn't altogether agree with all he has said and done, I concurred with the general thrust of his argument and he seemed to me to have arrived at similar conclusions to Elizabeth Anderson’s, albeit by a more scholastic route.

However, the programme finished of with the depressing scenario presented that the 'new' and 'relevant' religion for the planet is now greenism!

Oh for fuck's sake. The Christians now want to replace a fantasy-laden set of delusions with a fantasy-laden cult of fucking dolphin worship.

Its so depressing. Has everybody just decided to push Darwin, Stephen Hawking et al and science in general to one side in their childish need to venerate unseen spirits?

I almost long for the return of the Inquisition. At least during that age they had some good art, music and sculpture.

1/13/2008 08:23:00 pm  
Anonymous JC said...

ave,

They say "misery loves company".. especially when that's where the money, votes and power comes from nowadays.

So why the shock that after decades of denial.. including the Pope just a few weeks ago, are you now blaming Christians for a global phenomena that started back in the 1960s?

Religion is likewise about money, votes and power, and it would be dumb to not climb on the gravy train when so many wonderful and secular scientists assure us that there's a "consensus" and the argument is over.

And you should be grateful that Geering, a patron of the Coalition For Open Govt., which strongly endorses the EFA, has opened a political line on "Greenism" which will soon be unable to be fully debated under the EFA.

Now, you don't think that was an accident, do you?

JC

1/13/2008 09:23:00 pm  
Blogger Matt B said...

Well JC, you've managed to contradict yourself in just two posts. First the OT was replaced, now its just that the thrust has been changed.

If christianity recognises the authority of the OT, what the hell is wrong with citing its lessons for morality?

Go on, admit it: YOU are picking and choosing the bits of the bible you like and don't like. I want to thank you for doing so, by the way, but don't for one second accuse anybody else of cherry picking when that is exactly what's required if you want to be a good christian.

1/13/2008 09:28:00 pm  
Blogger Matt B said...

What's ridiculous is the basic idea promoted by JC and his ilk that the OT is both true and superseded.

He is right that the NT is much nicer than the OT. But if you accept the OT is the word of the christian god and it is true, then whatever the NT says one is still worshiping the very same deity that killed all those Egyptian babies.

Worshipping that deity. Loving it. Singing songs to the omnipotent, omniscient baby killer.

Hell yes I'm cherry picking. I am not netting off all the good things the bible records god doing. Not a single baby has to die ever when its an omnipotent being in charge. Whatever god's objectives were in Egypt, omnipotence implies they could have been achieved in a way in which not a single person had to suffer. Omnipotence implies all suffering made by god, of which there is plent, is gratuitous.

1/13/2008 09:46:00 pm  
Anonymous JC said...

"Well JC, you've managed to contradict yourself in just two posts. First the OT was replaced, now its just that the thrust has been changed."

Thats a point, although not a very valuable one. Afterall, is the new EFA a replacement of the old Act.. or just the thrust has been changed?
Whatever, it's excited quite a lot of people.

"Go on, admit it: YOU are picking and choosing the bits of the bible you like and don't like. I want to thank you for doing so, by the way, but don't for one second accuse anybody else of cherry picking when that is exactly what's required if you want to be a good christian."

Actually, I said it was a "man made philosophy" and thus clearly indicated that it couldn't be considered some sort of God like authority.

JC

1/13/2008 10:23:00 pm  
Anonymous JC said...

"What's ridiculous is the basic idea promoted by JC and his ilk that the OT is both true and superseded."

I never said it was true. I said it was a man made philosophy.

You can make up as many strawmen as you like, but you can't alter that basic fact, and that the man made philosophy has changed over time.

I've identified three critical examples that have come down to us from Christ, and they have at least as much secular appeal as religious.

JC

1/13/2008 10:55:00 pm  
Blogger AngloAmerican said...

Just because a few people gathered together wise sayings and compiled them over time and attributed them to a mythical “Jesus” doesn’t mean it’s true. It’s an old trick to mix in generally wise stuff with absolute nonsense and present it as holy truth. All of the teachings were developed well before the invention of Christ.

1/14/2008 07:16:00 am  
Blogger Matt B said...

Man made philosophy or not, JC, you and all christians cherry pick it in precisely the way you accuse others of doing. Get your own house in order first.

What does the EFA have to do with anything? There is an internal inconsistency in your two statements. Citing something outside the argument doesn't fix it.

Slightly more positively, we can agree christianity is man made, and obviously so, and that things Jesus said, like the golden rule, are valuable for some people, including me. But you can get those values from anywhere. Indeed, it should be obvious that christians in fact do not organise their values blindly on the bible. They apply a filter, and thankfully so. That filter, wherever it comes from, is not religious, it is presumably innate. Religion is not the source of morality, it is at most an inspiration for some people.

1/14/2008 10:57:00 am  
Anonymous Dave Mann said...

Well said matt b. I couldn't be bothered replying to jc's rave about the EFA coz it seemed so off-the-planet; no discussion possible there.

A friend of mine left a Bible at my place some years ago. I think he was trying to do a 'Gideon' on me in some not-so-subtle way. It was one of those pentecostal jobs, and everything this Jesus character was supposed to have said was written in red. So I read it.

As far as I could see, the man said almost nothing, apart from trotting out a few platitudes and some generalised fluffy nonsense which is so vague as to be meaningless.

Unlike, say, classical or Theravada Buddhism and many eastern philosophical disciplines, Christianity doesn't seem to address any of the basic questions about human existence short of just pulling a set of silly invented stories out of thin air and repeating them ad nauseum mixed with a few common sense rules of behaviour which are in no way unique.

How could anybody seriously think that any of Christianity's (or Judaism's or Islam's) core beliefs are anything but deluded and sick fantasy? The aspects that actually make these religions unique - such as virgin birth, death by torture, multiple personalities, pergatory, hell, dream revelations, plagues, angry daddy-god, salvation by simple belief etc etc are so mad as to make one seriously question the sanity of those who profess to 'believe' them.

1/14/2008 12:12:00 pm  
Blogger Josh said...

I actually agree with most of what you've said here, but I am obliged to point out that that's not what the is-ought problem says at all -- it just says that no single "is" statement implies an "ought" statement, in the way that they can imply other "is" statements. Multiple "is" statements in the form of an argument are perfectly capable of deriving "ought" statements, and no-one's ever said otherwise.

1/14/2008 01:49:00 pm  
Anonymous JC said...

"Man made philosophy or not, JC, you and all christians cherry pick it in precisely the way you accuse others of doing. Get your own house in order first."

Lets not make with the insults.. I've had nothing to do with religion for 40 years and I made that decision when I was 23.
But it doesn't impel me to have contempt for people who are religious like Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, the last two popes, Bush, Blair, Howard or our very own Edmund Hillary who was once a lay preacher and stayed out of WW2 until 1945 for "religious" reasons.

What is the epitome of dumbness is to be contemptuous of people because they have religious beliefs.

"What does the EFA have to do with anything? There is an internal inconsistency in your two statements. Citing something outside the argument doesn't fix it."

OK, I was trying to make a point, and it didn't come off.

"Indeed, it should be obvious that christians in fact do not organise their values blindly on the bible. They apply a filter, and thankfully so. That filter, wherever it comes from, is not religious, it is presumably innate."

Good, we agree. Christians (and Muslims too) apply a filter that allows them to get on with life and make money or raise hell or whatever. This may make them look hypocritical to outsiders but it's just that they carry several sets of values in their heads which they riffle like cards before pulling out the one that suits the occasion. It's that flexibility that's made the West the top dogs for so long.
George Bush apparently has his admirers in the Arab world.. they respect him for being a man of faith, but they admire him for being deadly as well.

JC

1/14/2008 06:01:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

JC,
If man was able to create a religious based morality then man is capable of developing a rational morality. Just take out one fictional thing...god. The great thing about a rational morality is that you don't get "Because god said so" justifications or "My god is the true god" wars.

1/14/2008 09:12:00 pm  
Anonymous JC said...

"If man was able to create a religious based morality then man is capable of developing a rational morality. Just take out one fictional thing...god."

Agreed. However, it does seem that Man is hardwired for God belief..

"The great thing about a rational morality is that you don't get "Because god said so" justifications or "My god is the true god" wars."

Perhaps not. But you *will* get other justifications. In reality there have been few absolutely religious wars.. there's nearly always more practical considerations, and religion, like nationalism is simply a handy motivating tool.

JC

1/14/2008 11:30:00 pm  
Blogger HORansome said...

Let me join in support with Josh here. What you've said, Peter, is cogent but it does mispresent what academic philosophy says about the Is-Ought Problem. Still, nothing a close reading of David Hume won't fix, eh?

1/15/2008 05:13:00 pm  
Blogger Brian S said...

For the record, this is what Hume wrote:

In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, I have always remark'd, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary ways of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when all of a sudden I am surpriz'd 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. This change is imperceptible; but is however, of the last consequence. For as this ought, or ought not, expresses some new relation or affirmation, 'tis necessary that it shou'd be observ'd and explain'd; and at the same time that a reason should be given; for what seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it.

And that's pretty much it!

1/16/2008 11:37:00 am  
Blogger PC said...

For the record, these are Aristotle's views on this point, as briefly summarised by Irfan Khawaja:

"Aristotle’s discussion of practical truth and the practical syllogism [appears] at Nicomachean Ethics VI. The idea is that there is a sui generis brand of ‘practical truth’ which differs from theoretical truth and thus involves a different conception of justification than operates in nonpractical (i.e., epistemic) contexts. Further, since the conclusion of a practical syllogism is an action rather than a belief, practical justification concerns itself with a different justification than operates in nonpractical contexts” (Khawaja, Irfan: 'The Foundations of Ethics: Objectivism and Analytic Philosophy,' 6–7. Summarised and critiqued by Stephen Boydstun.).

1/16/2008 12:25:00 pm  
Blogger PC said...

And Humeans might also care to reflect on Rand's point on the foundations of morality:

"“What is morality, or ethics? It is a code of values to guide man’s choices and actions—the choices and actions that determine the course of his life. Ethics, as a science, deals with discovering and defining such a code.

“The first question that has to be answered, as a precondition of any attempt to define, to judge, or to accept any specific system of ethics, is: Why does man need a code of values?

“Let me stress this. The first question is not: What particular code of values should man accept? The first question is: Does man need values at all—and why?” (Rand, Ayn: 'Objectivist Ethics,' 13)

Answer that question, the very first question of morality, and you've answered Hume's objection.

1/16/2008 12:28:00 pm  
Blogger PC said...

And for further reflection, here's what David Fate Norton says about Hume's own argument for the foundations of morality, which in a very slippery sense steals the very concept contemporary Humeans claim to be impossible in order to make a very sound conclusion.

[From Fred Seddon's summary] According to Norton, Hume does indeed believe we can get “oughts.” They “cannot be deduced from factual premises, but they are derived from the facts of human experience.” (Norton, David Fate, 'THE CAMBRIDGE COMPANION TO HUME,' 171)

This implies that we have to distinguish between “deduction” vs “derivation” and between factual premises (which seem to be facts about non-human nature) and human experience (which seem to be facts about human nature.) After all, Hume is writing a TREATISE ON HUMAN NATURE.

This whole essay is probably worth the read. It’s title is “Hume and the Foundations of Morality.” In the end, Hume thought morality was founded, not on an external mind independent reality, but on human nature—the nature of man is the key for him. Here’s Norton one more time.

“To say that morality is founded on human nature [instead of God’s commands or on nature] is to suggest that with respect to morals, human nature is a primitive element, an ultimate fact, beyond which explanation cannot go.” (Norton, David Fate, 'THE CAMBRIDGE COMPANION TO HUME,' p. 169)

1/16/2008 01:13:00 pm  
Blogger Matt B said...

What is the epitome of dumbness is to be contemptuous of people because they have religious beliefs

JC, you've said a lot here that I agree with, but not this.

Religious beliefs come in different flavours, but generally those beliefs include a claim to absolute truth and absolute morality.

Given these assumptions, it is obvious how some believers feel inclined to tell other people about why the others' morals are wrong and express a desire for everyone to live by the believer's absolute morality.

It is at this point that contempt is appropriate. A non-believer simply sees a religious person as someone with their own ideas on morality, but the outsider cannot be judge those ideas to be objectively superior or inferior. The outsider can agree, but he can also recognise other reasonable people will disagree.

The outsider therefore rejects any attempt by the believer to write rules for everyone based on the believer's particular ideas. The outsider also rejects what amounts to trickery to get others to believe similarly because, as trickery, harm is possible.

It is not the beliefs per se that are worthy of contempt, in my opinion, but the attempt to take those beliefs and use them against others and cause harm.

1/16/2008 08:11:00 pm  
Blogger Brian S said...

PC,

For want of time, this comment will have to suffice for now:

Hume's point is that one cannot reason to an "ought" conclusion solely from "is" premises. In order for the syllogism to be valid, your reasoning must include an ought premise. Indeed, there is an ought premise hidden in your statement that "The fact that life is conditional tells us what we ought to do: in the most basic sense, if we wish to sustain our life, then we ought to act in a certain way". The premise, of course, is that we ought to value our lives. I think Hume is correct that "ought" assertions and "is" assertions are logically independent. However it does not follow from this that morality is subjective and beyond reason. As in other spheres of knowledge, explanation is central to theories of morality and although moral ("ought") and factual ("is") assertions are logically independent, moral and factual explanations are not. Explanations do not simply consist of reasoning from premises through to conclusions. The value of an explanation lies in how well it solves a problem but the explanation does not have to be justified by anything or based on anything.

1/17/2008 12:08:00 pm  
Blogger Canterbury Atheists said...

I totally reject the proposition The Christian Bible, is some how the only tenant of morality, nor even a prime source as suggested in the intro (the Bible being a series of plagiarisms concocted by four or more authors rather than a single entity) I certainly don’t believe in Gods, Ghosts, Spirits, Ghouls, Devils, Aliens etc and reject that Christian bible and the like were written by God (cripes ‘this God’ wasn’t bright enough to know the Earth circles the Sun). Atheists use a myriad of sources for morals. Principally I use the moral structure I was bought up with and make my own conclusions as to what is right and wrong. I do not look for absolutes like “you can not lie” or “you must hate gays”. I have no fear I will rot in hell for breaking rules. The fact I share morals like “thou shalt not steal” doesn’t mean I wish to live with the Christian moral code, any more than Christians want to live a life using Muslim or Hindu moral structure. I believe all humanity shares a basic innate sense of morality and the human authors of religious texts just expanded on these using ‘tried and true’ tenants from past generations, throwing in hell for good measure and a bit of ‘hard sell’.

6/23/2008 04:50:00 pm  
Blogger Canterbury Atheists said...

I totally reject the proposition The Christian Bible, is some how the only tenant of morality, nor even a prime source as suggested in the intro (the Bible being a series of plagiarisms concocted by four or more authors rather than a single entity) I certainly don’t believe in Gods, Ghosts, Spirits, Ghouls, Devils, Aliens etc and reject that Christian bible and the like were written by God (unless ‘this God’ wasn’t bright enough to know the Earth circles the Sun). Atheists use a myriad of sources for morals. Principally I use the moral structure I was bought up with and make my own conclusions as to what is right and wrong. I do not look for absolutes like “you can not lie” or “you must hate gays”. I have no fear I will rot in hell for breaking rules. The fact I share morals like “thou shalt not steal” doesn’t mean I wish to live with the Christian moral code, any more than Christians want to live a life using Muslim or Hindu moral structure. I believe all humanity shares a basic innate sense of morality and the human authors of religious texts just expanded on these using ‘tried and true’ tenants from past generations, throwing in hell for good measure and a bit of ‘hard sell’.

6/23/2008 04:51:00 pm  
Blogger PC said...

Hi Canterbury Atheist. You say "I ... make my own conclusions as to what is right and wrong..."

I wonder if I might ask you a few questions:

I wonder basis you use to form those conclusions?

What was the basis for the morals you were taught as a youngster?

Where does this "basic innate sense of morality" come from?

6/23/2008 05:04:00 pm  
Blogger Canterbury Atheists said...

Hi there, these are very complex questions and frankly I don't have time to give answers that would satisfy you, nor change your own point of view.But I will say both my parents were 'free thinkers'. If you want to believe that a nameless God installs 'morals' into ones DNA, then what I would need to believe this proposition is solid evidence (the same sort of evidence that is lacking for the existence of gods, ghosts, devils, fairies at the bottom of the garden etc etc) The burden of proof is therefore for you to provide - not me. Oh yeah, everyone is born an atheist or are you suggesting we are automatically born a Baptist, Buddhist, Shinto etc? Gotta shoot.

6/24/2008 12:26:00 pm  
Blogger PC said...

Hi Canterbury Atheist,

I think you might have misunderstood the intent of my questions. I was very far from suggesting that "a nameless God installs 'morals' into ones DNA" -- what I was suggesting was that your own idea of morality being innate is itself dangerously close to that.

Fact is, I just wrote the article above arguing against that notion -- that the source of morality is the intersection of ourselves with reality.

6/24/2008 12:57:00 pm  
Blogger Canterbury Atheists said...

You are right PC, my apologies mate or as my teen sons say "my bad".Buy you a beer next time I see ya (darks are what I'm into)Cheers.Paul

6/25/2008 01:58:00 pm  

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