Saturday, July 24, 2010

Be truthful or ruthless?


“This is an NOT argument based on the evidence, and the probabilities have little if anything to do with it, regardless of what the point of this argument may be. Clears the underbrush? Narrows the field? Still irrelevant if we make decisions based on truth (evidence, reason, logic, probability) and nothing else.”

I deployed two distinct, but related arguments. Turning to the next argument, if I’m an atheist, then why should I give a fig about the truth except when the truth happens to coincide with my self-interest? Life is unfair. Nasty, brutish, and short. So why not be ruthlessly pragmatic? I only serve the truth if and when the truth serves me?

I can still play the odds, but that’s not the same thing as pursing truth for its own sake.

Christian theism and atheism are not symmetrical positions. Nothing ultimately matters in a godless universe. You can’t play for keeps. Sooner or later, you lose everything.

“Delusion” carries a derogatory connotation. But in a world without moral absolutes, there is no reason you *shouldn’t* be deluded.

“It is far more illustrative than Jesus' descriptions of hell, and contemptibly so: if it influence's the faith and decisions of Muslims and their targets of evangelism because of the mere possibility that it may be true, then it is a delusion in the truest sense of the word.”

i) Fear of hell would only be delusive if hell is nonexistent.

ii) You’re assuming that Jesus’ figures of speech should be taken literally.

iii) Fear can be a rational factor in decision-making. Avoid high-risk behavior. Don’t gamble if you can’t afford to lose.

iv) ”Contemptible” is a value judgment. But unless atheism can underwrite moral absolutes, what’s wrong with being “contemptible”?

At July 22, 2010 12:28 PM , steve said...

"Dr. Logic,"

I could say a number of things, but for now I'm going to confine myself to one observation.

Morality isn't about doing what I feel like. Indeed, the acid test of morality is doing something I dislike–because that's what I'm *supposed* to do. Duties overrule desires.

If I'm a teenager who impregnates a girl (consensual sex), then walks out on her, and if, two years later, she tracks me down, hands our son over to me and says it's my turn, then walks out the door, I may not "care" about raising my son. That's not my "preference."

It is, however, my *obligation.* Indeed, that's a fundamental difference between desires and duties.

Of course, it's always nice when duties and desires coincide, by in the real world that's often not the case.

You can, of course, disagree, but that merely exposes the fact that your "non-absolute" morality is just a sham. A nice sounding label to sanctify whatever you want to do, whether you're Florence Nightingale or Jeffrey Dahmer.

At July 24, 2010 6:59 AM , steve said...

Doctor Logic said...
“Yes, it *is* your preference. You prefer to be the person who raises his son in that situation more than you prefer to be the person who walks away. What you really mean is that you have a conflict between the two desires. Your immediate desire for pleasure conflicts with your desire to be seen as a good person. And if you do walk away, you will experience moments when you lack the gratifications of bachelorhood (e.g., when you're bored or feeling dejected), and the sting of abandoning your child will feel that much worse. And so you'll return to your son.”

i) You seem to be a hedonist. When a critic of hedonism points out that people also do unpleasant things, the hedonist expansively redefines “pleasure” to cover any apparent counterexamples. But that renders the theory tautologous. By definition, “pleasure is whatever you do.” And in that event, the theory operates apart from any evidence.

ii) You’re also equivocating. To say that I have a reason for doing one thing rather than another, to say that if do something, then that’s what I intended to do, is not synonymous with “pleasure” or “gratification.”

“Your response features the usual crippling confusion that I've come to expect from Christian apologists. All of you conflate morality with absolute morality. In any argument about the subject, you beg the question. You say that if there's no absolute morality, then there's no morality at all. It's inane. Obtuse, to use your preferred word.”

i) Your hedonism doesn’t provide an ethical alternative to moral absolutes. Morality is a about what we *ought* to do, not merely what we “prefer” to do, or “desire” to do. Doing what we ought to do sometimes involves self-denial. Your failed alternative commits the naturalistic fallacy.

ii) And suppose, for the sake of argument, that my objection is “inane”? So what? That’s my “preferred” objection. I find that objection “gratifying.” Who are you trying to correct my “preference”? What makes your preference better than mine?

“Of course my argument is morally compelling. It's just that morality is a matter of caring.”

No. Morality is a matter of doing what we’re *supposed* to do, or refraining from what we ought not to do.

“It is irrational to think that the desire to be rational can be rationally justified!”

We can have rational desires if God designed us to function in a certain way, and we function consistent with our design specifications.

“It's hypocritical because you say you think psychological coercion is bad form.”

i) I didn’t say it’s “bad form.” Rather, it said it’s not equivalent to ethics.

ii) BTW, the charge of hypocrisy is toothless if you reject moral absolutes. Suppose I find hypocrisy “desirable”? “Gratifying”? Indeed, a hypocritical lifestyle can be far more pleasant than a life of dutiful self-denial.

At July 24, 2010 7:01 AM , steve said...

Cont. “In the next breath, you propose a scenario that's psychologically coercive.”

As a negative illustration! Try to pay attention.

“It's self-defeating because, without assuming your conclusion, the only reason why (iv) should be important is because we both subjectively care that people not be murdered.”

In my illustration, I don’t subjectively care that people not be murdered. Rather, I refrain from murder because it is too risky. I’m afraid of getting caught.

“You understand this, but you're begging the question when you apply this definition to the claims of moral subjectivists.”

Suppose, for the sake of argument, that I’m begging the question. So what? It gives me pleasure to beg the question. It’s not as if that would be wrong.

“A moral subjectivist defines morality as an idealization or abstraction of what he cares about.”

Ted Bundy would appreciate your justification.

“Under subjectivism, most people still think murder is wrong, and this is because most people care that murders be stopped.”

Except for murders, who don’t think murder is wrong. Take the hit-man. It’s just a job.

“And a good person is someone who cares to act in accordance with my (or my culture's) cares.”

Now you’re having to violate your core principle. If what is right is defined by my subjective preferences, then you can’t suddenly switch to “cultural cares,” as if that’s equivalent to what any given individual prefers.

“Apart from the aforementioned hypocrisy, what makes you think that I care to dismember you?”

If we ran out of supplies, cannibalism would be the only way for you to survive.

“But it gets better than that. Let's suppose that I were a moral realist. Why would a moral realist not care to dismember you?”

Because that’s not something a person *should* do.

“Just because morality is real, doesn't mean you should act in accordance with it. Indeed, most moral realists do not.”

Now you’re confusing what people *should* do with what they *would* do. That’s a category mistake.

"Rational argument is a game played between players who care about all of the above. There's no point in presenting arguments to people who don't accept the ground rules of rational thinking. If you *do* care about these things, then you can stop pretending that my rational arguments aren't compelling to you."

You can't have ground rules for rational argument unless you're obligated to play by the rules. But since you deny epistemic duties ("There's no absolute, objective reason why every person should be rational"), your demand is self-refuting.

"Let's get this out of the way. Do you care to be rational?"

You repeat the same mistake ad nauseam. Atheism and Christian theism are not symmetrical positions. I care about rationality because I'm a Christian. If I were not a Christian, I'd have no reason to care about rationality, per se. Stop comparing incomparable positions. Your position has difference consequences from mine.

“I'm not confusing the two. You are. You suggested that you would not want to share a lifeboat with me because I don't believe in absolute ‘oughts’. Aren't you confusing what a person would do with what he should do?”

You’re ignoring the obvious. If a man thinks cannibalism is wrong, then that fosters a moral inhibition. While it’s possible that he will overcome his inhibition, at least he has an inhibition to overcome. Men who think cannibalism is wrong are less likely to commit cannibalism than men who don’t think cannibalism is wrong. For the latter have no inhibition to overcome.

“I don't care that I absolutely shouldn't (or should) eat you.”

The cannibal may not care, but that’s a source of concern for his next meal.

“But isn't the important thing whether (1) I subjectively, non-morally desire to not eat you, and (2) whether I subjectively, morally desire not to eat you?”

If you think your subjective, amoral desires don’t correspond to real obligations, then you’ve set the threshold for resistance exceedingly low.

“In fact, even if I were a moral realist, I might think it my moral duty to eat you. So why are you afraid of sharing a lifeboat with me?”

i) Are you trying to be obtuse? There’s an obvious difference between a position in which it’s not even possible say cannibalism is objectively wrong, and a position in which that is a possibility.

ii) If, moreover, someone is a moral realist, then at least he has some standards we can appeal to. If he’s mistaken, we have something to work with.

"Sure. And I've been discussing this with Paul. I don't classify all of my desires as moral desires. My desire to eat cake is not a moral desire, whereas my desire to be fit and healthy is more so. For me to be moral by my own moral standard involves the self-denial of cake."

That's not responsive to what I said. You said morality is a matter of caring. I replied by pointing out that morality is a matter of doing what we *ought* to do (or not doing what we ought not to do). You have yet to bridge the gap between duty and pleasure.

"First of all, I don't consider myself a hedonist."

You've used hedonistic terminology to characterize your position.

"Second, I would only run afoul of the naturalistic fallacy if I said 'Here is subjectivism, a description of how we make moral decisions. Therefore you ought to X.'"

No. You commit the naturalistic fallacy when you turn wants into oughts. And you've been doing that all along.

"Most Christians find subjectivism such a terrifying concept that they need to lash out."

"Lash out" is a judgmental phrase. But since, by your own admission, your value judgments are purely subjective, your indictment is only impressive to yourself, and not to the object of your indictment.

No comments:

Post a Comment