Monday, January 17, 2011

Clarification Needed

Hi George. I want to give you an adequate reply to your post here, but I need some further clarification from you before I do that.

You wrote: “You will notice that I include objective morality as a possible option for the atheist.”

You also wrote: “Morality is objective in the sense that rules, whether understood by convention or natural order, are the basis for the definition of a species and how it interacts with the world.”

And also: “Morality is subjective in the sense that our choices impact our ability to survive; so the best solution is not always clear, or do not impact our survival, so that reason can transcend a rule that has outlived its merit.”

My question for you is this: is being self-contradictory objectively wrong? Or is the claim, “being self-contradictory is wrong,” a matter of personal opinion, i.e., subjectively wrong? The reason I ask is because you accused the Bible of being self-contradictory. Then later you wrote: “Are you morally obligated to follow the laws of logic? Nope. You have every right to be wrong.”

I have another question that concerns what you wrote here: “In order for the premise that subjective morality is self-contradictory to be true, man must be unable to refuse an objective moral truth by fiat.”

Whose fiat are you talking about? And so I’m clear, are you saying that the ability to disobey a law shows that morality is not objective? Or have I misunderstood you? Also, do you make a distinction between, on the one hand, whether one is able to or can break a law, and on the other hand, whether one is permitted or allowed to break a law?

You wrote: “In order for your premise to stand you must prove that man is solitary by nature, that nothing in reality transcends his personal opinion of what is moral or immoral.”

To which premise were you referring? Also, so you’re clear, I do not believe that there is nothing in reality that transcends man’s personal opinion. God is transcendent.

You wrote: “By picking and choosing what you want the definitions to be, you create black and white pronouncements from a million shades of gray.”

I was operating according to the dictionary definitions of objective and subjective. There are free dictionaries online for you to look up the meanings. Should I assume from your comment here that we should go by your definition of objective and subjective instead of the dictionary definitions of these words? If so, then I refuse. There’s no reason we can’t use the dictionary definitions of these words.

Also, you wrote: “Logic does not transcend reality, it is a slave to it. Logic is objective. .......... What transcends logic to make it objective? Reality.”

Are you saying that logic is not part of reality? If reality transcends logic, then is it impossible for logic to be part of reality?

Looking forward to your clarification so that I might give you a proper reply.


Katie said...


this post is very fascinating, and related to a thesis I am currently working on. My thesis has three parts. 1. The Logic of Nature 2. The Logic of Man 3. The Logos or Logic of God

George--you had mentioned that logic is a slave to "reality." If my thesis is anywhere near the ball park of modeling something real--then this will throw us all a curve ball, for we shall have to contend with three "forms" of logic!

As well, "reality," as pointed out in my third essay, shall prove to include more than our single "system" or material universe--but at least one additional system.

This is supported by rumor (both holy and mathematical), as the holy documents mention a system or society of God (Theologians call this The Trinity); while physicists are whispering rumors to the tune of there being "systems" or "universes" exterior to well, they are saying that they will need anywhere from 11 to 26 (or MORE) dimensions if they are to successfully MODEL REALITY!!

Now, that's sure to complicate all of this discussion, I'm sure you will agree.

If you want to read my thesis, as I have already posted Part 1 (The Logic of Nature) it is at:

Peter--I think you're awesome (and very brave)



Anonymous said...

You do know that I responded to this post last week on my blog, right?
I know you're busy, just thought you might have missed it.


A Man said...

I agree with Bertrand Russell that if we labor under a presumption of atheism, there is no absolute morality that can be proven apart from that which we as humans tend to prefer.

For example, if aliens who were more advanced and spiritually significant than us were to come and we would have to sacrifice a human to save one of them, many of us wouldn't do it. This shows that our morality is based largely on kin selection.

Likewise, if we only could prevent a dog from biting a child, by imposing an even greater pain on the dog, we would usually do it. This is what Richard Posner says in his debate with Peter Singer, who argues passionately for ending cruelty to animals.

As another example, killing mentally handicapped children before they have had a chance to develop sentience may be viewed as a good or bad thing depending on the society.

Ultimately morality, just like anything else, has to proceed from a common understanding. There is no way you can convince a rational psychopath that raping is bad, provided his morality is warped enough.

That said, the vast majority of humans DO have empathy and we tend to form societies that impose rules on us which make us individually harm less and less people. Starting a day care center? Get a license. Want to go hunting? Get a permit.

Moreover, almost all humans have logic, and this helps establish basic morality. "Punishing an innocent man" contradicts the definitions of punishing and innocent. You can call it wanton brutality, or you can slander the man, but you can't honestly say you are punishing someone and that they are innocent at the same time. "Don't do onto others what you wouldn't have them do onto you" follows nicely from a John Rawls construction, which rests on just a few premises that most people accept .

Ultimately for most things, a relative morality is a defensible system. If you want X, you should do Y. This is how "should" make sense. If you want to be thought of as rational, you should debate rationally. If you don't care, then you can do what you want, there is no "should".

The meaning is: if you did Y, and X didn't happen, then it's not your fault. Otherwise, if X happens, it may have been your fault.

This type of morality works very well and we use it every day. To pretend that Christianity or indeed any religion is able to determine morality in every instance is disingenuous. William Lane Craig would call this "ontology vs epistemology". Sure, let us suppose that there is an objective moral code. So what, how does that help us decide what action to take?

Actually, what happens is that some authority figures decide to interpret scripture one way or another, and often in a very idiosyncratic way. This is the problem with "absolute morality". Suppose there was an absolute moral rule such as "you shall never use condoms because they are meant for contraception". What about if there is a greater problem, like AIDS? A pure absolute moral doctrine like that ignores reality -- that many if not most people, even if pious, still sin. And many are not so inwardly pious as outwardly. This should be recognized, not ignored, when making policy.

Finally let's take a real scenario. Suppose there is an absolute obligation to debate until all information has been conveyed. BUT there is a volcano erupting. In the relative morality, one can easily figure out that they want to live more than they want to debate. But if someone happens to interpret scripture to mean that debating is one of those absolute obligations, then there has to be a great elaborate ad hoc scheme about which absolute obligations trump which other absolute obligations. In the end, it's obvious that our everyday morality comes from our own interests and our society.

Anonymous said...

"Actually, what happens is that some authority figures decide to interpret scripture one way or another, and often in a very idiosyncratic way."

Exactly. Whether its christians or muslim or hidu or any other holy book that morals are recorded within.All these folk may claim the moral came from God.

But nothing changes to help make these moral rules anymore "objective" than any others that are around .Because these holy thoughts still arrive via using human brains.

Just because moral thought arrives via religious thought process,and is then recorded within a holy book. Its still little differnt than if arriving via an atheist minds.

Until God arrives on the scene himself in person,and sticks around too ,so as to help provide humans with a more objective/absolute value .

Moral thought remains totally human. And no ammount of holy book claims,ever helps to make it become anything otherwise

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