George the primate said:
No Steve, I haven’t “backed around” on anything. Is there a point to all this semantic drivel?
“Altruism” and “self interest” are not perfectly defined little bins Steve, that you can easily classify all human behavior into. They are not mutually exclusive, and they can be taking place amongst all kinds of individuals, kin groups, tribal groups, or entire nations. And yes, the word "tension" could be used to describe what is going on in these myriad biological interactions and decisions...so what?
George has difficulty keeping track of his own arguments. He originally defended altruism on evolutionary grounds.
As I then pointed out, this overlooks the various cases in which altruism is in tension with self-interest.
He then admits a systematic tension, but acts as if this admission has no bearing on his original argument.
But if altruism and self-interest are often at odds with each other, then how does evolutionary ethics prioritize the options?
George has a habit of making some sweeping claim, then when it’s challenged, scaling back his original claim so that it dies the death of a thousand improvised qualifications.
At this point his claim is vacuous because it’s been so heavily caveated (after the fact) that it’s now consistent with contrary lines of evidence.
“I see you failed to answer my question. Is waiting for the green light being altruistic or is it looking out for your self interest?”
Your question is irrelevant. The point at issue is not whether altruism is sometimes in one’s self-interest, but rather, what a secular ethicist would do when they conflict.
Sorry you’re unable to absorb that elementary distinction however often it’s drawn to your attention. Sorry that you can’t stick to your own evolutionary framework.
“I’m sorry if I’m not familiar with the ‘stock hypotheticals’ scenarios where you get to flagellate your Reformed Christian hypocrite ego and pretend what a great altruistic person you are compared to say some Buddhists in a life boat.”
i) Since George, like many unbelievers, tries to flaunt the intellectual superiority of his anti-Christian outlook, it really isn’t asking to much that he know what any college-educated intellectual would be expected to know.
There are many homeschoolers who are way ahead of George.
ii) Likewise, this is another example of how he loses the train of his own thought.
He is the one who brought up altruism, not me. The burden is on him to defend altruism from his evolutionary frame of reference.
Whether I myself am consistently altruistic is irrelevant to the way in which George chose to frame the debate. I’m arguing with him on his own grounds, not mine.
This has been pointed out to him repeatedly. But he suffers from a persistent mental block.
“Steve…is it possible for you to make a point without cutting and pasting other people’s words and ideas?”
George, this is what is known as evidence. The documentation of one’s claims. I realize that’s a foreign concept to you.
You originally accused me of misrepresenting the opposing position. Therefore I cited many different examples of moral relativism from secular ethics.
You are long on assertion, but short on evidence.
Unlike you, I corroborate my claims.
Having said the lifeboat scenario is a stock scenario in ethics, I then gave an example. That’s what makes it a stock scenario. It’s attributable to others as part of an ongoing community of discourse.
“Is it possible for you to get through a post without mimicking my prose and simply changing some words to try and rail against the facts of biological evolution that frighten you?”
This is both typical and revealing of how unbelievers react. If they lob a grenade into your backyard, then it’s a good grenade.
But if you grab the very same grenade before it explodes, and return it to the sender, then it’s a bad grenade. “Naughty, naughty grenade!”
The unbeliever conveniently forgets where the grenade came from in the first place. He disowns it. He waxes indignant that you would return his incendiary merchandise.
“Is it possible for you to try and make your argument using real world examples, and empirical evidence, instead of meaningless hypothetical scenarios, that you steal from websites, where you didn’t even read and include their conclusion? One that was VASTLY different then the one line quip you’ve tacked onto it here?”
i) Hypotheticals are used all the time in secular ethics. Sorry that George is unable to reason at an academic level of discourse.
ii) If I were “stealing” the hypothetical, I’d hardly be quoting it verbatim and given the URL.
You see, once you call his bluff, how often an unbeliever will degenerate into endless drivel.
“Again Steve, I’m starting to form a mental profile of you based on the level of intellect I see displayed in these posts…and it is not flattering.”
This says less about me than it does about George’s sense of self-importance, as if living for his approval were one’s major goal in life.
“You’re going to need to do better if you’re going to hold my interest.”
Ah, yes. This is known in the medical literature as Exit Sign Syndrome (ESS).
The onset of ESS is triggered whenever the unbeliever, sensing that he may be on the losing end of an argument he initiated, is seized by an uncontrollable urge to scan the premises for the nearest exit sign.
“I'll probably move on after this post, the amusement level you're providing me is just not worth my time at this point.”
Since we’re not here to entertain you, you are welcome to find a new playmate.
So Steve cuts and pastes the lifeboat hypothetical from a long, thoughtful website article that was using it as analogy to advocate how best to manage the world's limited resources in both shared and private property scenarios amongst rich and poor populations with different population growth rates.
Did Steve even read the article, and its conclusions? Conclusions that had nothing to do with religious "worldviews"?
Since George was ignorant of this commonplace hypothetical, I quoted an example.
George is now confusing the general terms of the hypothetical with the particular case it was deployed to illustrate in the article I referenced.
Naturally the conclusion had nothing to do with religious worldviews since the hypothetical is generic rather than specific.
One can plug a variety of specific scenarios into this general framework. Indeed, the author of the article made that very point. The hypothetical is one thing, and its application another.
Try, George, just this once, to keep two ideas in your head at the same time.
It’s not as if the author invented the lifeboat scenario.
My contention remains untouched that while altruism and self-interest aren’t mutually exclusive, there are many situations in which they do come into conflict.
“No…it would seem not, he just googled ‘life boat ethics’, cut and pasted the story he needed, and then added this one line quip to flagellate his own needy Calvinist, hypocrite ego.”
George is being forgetful again. I don’t need the story. George needed the story since he was unacquainted with this textbook scenario.
“Again, Steve seems to be claiming that ‘Reformed Protestant Christians’ are all somehow magically ‘self-sacrificial’ people, that they would happily give up there seats in lifeboats to humanists, Buddhists, Muslims and perhaps even Mormons…because we all know from real world experience, that Reformed Protestant Christians don’t value their own lives, as much as the other world’s religious and atheistic traditions.”
George suffers from certain tenacious intellectual impediments. Too much football without a helmet?
i) I didn’t limit my example to Reformed believers, but to Christians generally.
ii) I also qualified my usage: what would a “consistent” Christian do in contrast to a “consistent” humanist.
“Perhaps Steve wants to relate the real world example of the Titanic in this example?”
Actually, the sinking fortunes of the H. M. S. Beagle would serve as a better illustration.
“Yes I imagine Steve sitting on his fat ass…”
Like unbelievers generally, George has a baccalaureate degree in four letters rather than belles-lettres.
“In his comfy Western home, munching on microwave popcorn…”
As usual, George is unable to connect the dots of his own argument. George was the one who brought up altruism, not me. George was the one who defended altruism on the basis of evolutionary ethics.
Since George has access to a computer, he obviously enjoys the same standard of living as I do. So his accusation, if valid, would be self-incriminating.
“While he posts about how ‘moral and altruistic’ he is compared to others, on some backwater Calvinista cult website. Yes I can just imagine Steve is a paragon of virtue and altruism following in the great footsteps of Jesus.”
i) As always, George is unable to distinguish between whether someone is ethical, and why someone should be ethical given his conceptual scheme.
This is an issue that crops up all the time in secular ethics.
“You’re a poseur Steve…you’re a hypocrite…you’re in denial. Feel free to post your tax returns and prove me wrong.”
Since, by his own rubbery ruler, George’s value-judgments are purely subjective, the charge of hypocrisy is toothless.
“Feel free to give up your home and computer and TV to that poor homeless person…”
The homeless are generally drug addicts who’d hawk my computer for their next fix. Hardly doing them a favor by subsidizing their habit.
“Or poor Mexican family who needs a seat on your ‘lifeboat, Steve.”
Mexico is a country rich in natural resources. Mexicans are responsible for their national self-determinism, not me. I don’t have a vote South of the border.
“Here’s a clue Steve…there are no such things as your hypothetical morals…it’s a figment of your imagination, till we see it demonstrated in the REAL WORLD.”
Here’s a clue George…there’s a difference between hypothetical morality and moral hypotheticals.
“You're a hypocrite Steve.”
Yes, George, you do like to repeat yourself. Didn’t take long for you to run out of material.
i) There’s no general injunction in Scripture to sell all one’s earthly goods.
ii) The charge of hypocrisy is irrelevant to truth-claims.
George has exhibited an utter inability to either offer a rational defense of what he believes or a rational critique of what I believe. Instead, he stakes his case on textbook fallacies.
“No Steve, that point was never established, and that was the point of my ‘bear in the woods sceanrio.”
i) Since your bearish scenario is a hypothetical thought-experiment which you failed to demonstrate in a real world situation, it’s just a figment of your imagination, right?
ii) And you never miss a chance to miss the point. As has been explained to you on several occasions now, the question at issue is not whether some human behavior is instinctual, but whether, given the conscious capacity of human beings to reflect on their biological impulses, evolutionary ethics is sufficient to underwrite our moral deliberations.
“You haven’t shown where I’ve committed any ‘Naturalistic Fallacy’.”
If you weren’t so illiterate in the field of secular ethics, it would be unnecessary to explain it to you. But, since you ask, here’s an example:
c. The Is-Ought Problem
The first philosopher who persistently argued that normative rules cannot be derived from empirical facts was David Hume (1711-1776) (1978: 469):
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 way of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God or makes observations concerning human affairs; when 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.
It is this unexplained, imperceptible change from 'is' to ‘ought’ which Hume deplores in moral systems. To say what is the case and to say what ought to be the case are two unrelated matters, according to him. On the one hand, empirical facts do not contain normative statements, otherwise they would not be purely empirical. On the other hand, if there are no normative elements in the facts, they cannot suddenly surface in the conclusions because a conclusion is only deductively valid if all necessary information is present in the premises.
How do Darwin and Spencer derive 'ought' from 'is'? Let us look at Darwin first, using an example which he could have supported.
1. Child A is dying from starvation.
2. The parents of child A are not in a position to feed their child.
3. The parents of child A are very unhappy that their child is dying from starvation.
4. Therefore, fellow humans ought morally to provide food for child A.
Darwin (1930: 234) writes that "happiness is an essential part of the general good." Therefore, those who want to be moral ought to promote happiness, and hence, in the above case, provide food. However, the imperceptible move from 'is' to ‘ought’ which Hume found in moral systems, is also present in this example. Thus, Darwin derives ought from is when he moves from the empirical fact of unhappiness to the normative claim of a duty to relieve unhappiness.
The same can be said for Spencer whose above argument about the survival of the fittest could be represented as follows:
1. Natural selection will ensure the survival of the fittest.
2. Person B is dying from starvation because he is ill, old, and poor.
3. Therefore, fellow humans ought to morally avoid helping person B so that the survival of the fittest is guaranteed.
Even if both premises were shown to be true, it does not follow that we ought to morally support the survival of the fittest. An additional normative claim equating survival skills with moral goodness would be required to make the argument tenable. Again, this normative part of the argument is not included in the premises. Hence, Spencer also derives 'ought' from 'is.' Thomas Huxley (1906: 80) objects to evolutionary ethics on these grounds when he writes:
The thief and the murderer follow nature just as much as the philanthropist. Cosmic evolution may teach us how the good and the evil tendencies of man may have come about; but, in itself, it is incompetent to furnish any better reason why what we call good is preferable to what we call evil than we had before.
d. The Naturalistic Fallacy
But evolutionary ethics was not only attacked by those who supported Hume's claim that normative statements cannot be derived from empirical facts. A related argument against evolutionary ethics was voiced by British philosopher G.E. Moore (1873-1958). In 1903, he published a groundbreaking book, Principia Ethica, which created one of the most challenging problems for evolutionary ethics--the 'naturalistic fallacy.' According to Michael Ruse (1995: 223), when dealing with evolutionary ethics, "it has been enough for the student to murmur the magical phrase 'naturalistic fallacy,' and then he or she can move on to the next question, confident of having gained full marks thus far on the exam." So, what is the naturalistic fallacy and why does it pose a problem for evolutionary ethics?
Moore was interested in the definition of 'good' and particularly in whether 'good' was a simple or a complex property. Simple properties, according to Moore, are indefinable as they cannot be described further using more basic properties. Complex properties, on the other hand, can be defined by outlining their basic properties. Hence, 'yellow' cannot be defined in terms of its constituent parts, whereas 'colored' can be explained further as it consists of several individual colors.
'Good,' according to Moore, is a simple property which cannot be described using more basic properties. Committing the naturalistic fallacy is attempting to define 'good' with reference to other natural, i.e. empirically verifiable, properties. This understanding of 'good' creates serious problems for both Darwin and Spencer. Following Bentham and Mill, both identify moral goodness with 'pleasure.' This means they commit the naturalistic fallacy as good and pleasant are not identical. In addition, Spencer identifies goodness with 'highly evolved,' committing the naturalistic fallacy again.
“The fact remains that ‘altruistic’ behaviors are seen in many other sentient mammals. There are countless examples of animals sacrificing themselves to predators to save others in their family or group. I doubt any of these animals are Reformed Protestants.”
You see how hopeless it is to reason with an opponent as lacking in philosophical sophistication or even mental discipline as George.
The question at issue is not whether we can see examples of altruism in the animal kingdom, but whether that should be exemplary for human beings.
“Still disturbed by the fact that she nursed you with her breast milk.”
Actually, I was bottle-fed.
“And he's really upset that we have all these hominid fossils like Australopithecus”
What’s upsetting about fossilized monkey bones?
“And that he can't explain why Noah didn't put these hominids on the ark.”
Noah put a sample of every then-extant natural kind of land animal or bird on the ark. What’s there to explain?
“I live for exposing pretentious, ignorant, hypocrites like you, Steve. Thanks for the opportunity. The irony has been rich and deeply satisfying. Thanks.”
And thanks, George, for presenting such a tightly reasoned and evidentially robust case for infidelity. You did the cause proud.