Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Failure of Enlightenment Morality, Part CLVII

Adam Gurri has another interesting post on the question of how you can justify morality. He argues against those who believe that in order to have a coherent view of morality, you must believe in God:
They [the people who say this] assume that the existence of God and of morality are logically linked to one another, that morality requires a "bases" or justification of some sort which only God can properly fill the role of ... Belief in the existence of right and wrong and belief in the existence of the divine are two entirely logically distinct concepts ... As a nonrationalist, I see no logical inconsistency in the fact that I don't believe in a divinity but do believe in morality. Nor do I see any logical consistency with any of the other combinations of beliefs on those two topics.
But then he says that he has a problem with the application of reason to the question at all:
They assume that human beliefs are or ought to be logically consistent ... In fact, logic is irrelevant to whether or not I believe in either God or morality. Belief is not arrived at through reason. This isn't a bad thing. In fact, it is impossible for logic to give us a reason to believe in anything.
I'm not sure I understand exactly what he is saying here in regard to the role of reason in moral discourse. If logic is "irrelevant to whether or not I believe in either God or morality," then why should anyone find his point that there is "no logical inconsistency in the fact that I don't believe in a divinity but do believe in morality" persuasive? If logic is not operative in the discussion of the relation between God and morality, then why is the absence of logical inconsistency in a position on this relation commendable?

I agree that "any reason for believing must begin with some non-logical premise," but only because everything must begin with some non-logical premise, including logic itself, which is founded on non-logical foundations. The law of contradiction, for example cannot itself be proven without employing what it is trying to prove. This is the whole idea behind first principles: there are some things you have to accept as axiomatic in order to think at all. But to conclude from this that you can't use reason to resolve important problems is what Chesterton called the "suicide of thought." If logical consistency is not to be the arbiter of whether one's position is a good one or not--in ethics or anything else--then what is? In fact, Gurri employs it to defend his position on morality--even if his position is that logical consistency doesn't matter.

He says that morality is "a part of human nature." I don't see how this addresses the problem of how any moral statement can be considered authoritative over human behavior. On the other hand, I know he has written about his dependence on Hume and Adam Smith. I suspect that Hume's replacement of reason as the relevant feature of human nature with the passions is what is lurking in the background here: morality is what we feel to be right. In taking this position, he seems to be counting on the existence of some set of perennial sentiments that characterize humans, and there are indeed many sentiments that do seem universal across cultures and throughout history (C. S. Lewis' "tao"). On these the Humean theory is unproblematic. But, of course, there are many other things which we would today consider to be unquestionably good (basic human rights) or unquestionably bad (slavery) that Humean ethics simply cannot make sense of, since people have had different sentiments about them over time.

He has jumped out of the rationalist pan and into the emotivist fire.

There were things that Hume took for granted as being "moral" according to his system of ethics based on the passions--just as Kant took many of the same things for granted in his ethics based on reason, like the sanctity of marriage and of keeping your promises--that came into question later.

I share a dissatisfaction with the common Protestant view of ethics. But that isn't the only theistic view of morality. There is the older, classical view in which there is a recognition that there is a divergence between man-as-he-is and man-as-he-could-be-if-he-realized-his-telos (i. e., man as he should be), and that the laws or rules of morality consisted in those things that got him from the former to the latter. A classical theist believes that the author of that telos is the best authority to go to to determine what these rules for realizing one's telos are.

The problem with the Humean view of ethics (based on the passions)--as well as the Kantian view (based on the intellect) and the Kierkegaardian view (based on the will)--is ironically tied to the very Protestantism that many secularists now find themselves in conflict with on issues like this. Protestantism, in swallowing the nominalism of William of Occam, denied the existence of a telos inherent in human nature. There is no "man-as-he-should-be"; there is only "man-as-he-is." And therefore there is no need for rules to get him from what he is to what he should be.

Hence the failure of the whole Enlightenment attempt to ground morality in anything whatsoever. As Alastair MacIntyre has eloquently pointed out in his seminal After Virtue, once you have rejected the classical view of inherent nature and purpose in things--and the classical Thomistic synthesis based on it, you foreclose any possibility of any justification of morality at all.

It's all a crap shoot.

28 comments:

Adam Gurri said...

Ack, wrote a comment but it seems Blogger rejected it for being way too long (go figure).

I've published it as a Google Doc; if you're interested you can read it here.

I'm glad you found my post thought-provoking!

Martin Cothran said...

Adam,

I got it in my e-mail, but I don't see it on the comments page. I'll just post it myself. Thanks.

Martin Cothran said...

This is Adams post:

You put a lot of thought into this so I'm going to try and respond to your points as best as I can.

First, this (http://sophistpundit.blogspot.com/2008/06/moral-philosophy-reader-recently-asked.html) is the best summary of my views on how morality works that I have ever written.

You said that the problem was one of "how any moral statement can be considered authoritative over human behavior."

As you say, there is a moral sentiments half of the answer to this--murdering an infant in front of someone without any context will draw revulsion from nearly every individual in any society on the planet in any period of history.

The other half comes from the community you are a part of. Certain behavior is in general approved and certain behavior is not. There's a thick, blurry line that divides simple rules of conduct--with table manners being at one extreme end--from what we would call rules of morality--rules against murder and rape being the other extreme. But the bottom line is that the authority of any moral rule comes from the interplay of personal sentiments and community conventions.

Now, on logical consistency:

You said:
"If logic is "irrelevant to whether or not I believe in either God or morality," then why should anyone find his point that there is "no logical inconsistency in the fact that I don't believe in a divinity but do believe in morality" persuasive?"

I do not pretend to be an expert on why people are or are not persuaded, but I can promise you it has nothing to do with logic. As with moral rules, we take on new beliefs because of some interplay between our feelings and a framework of thinking that we have acquired over the years, a framework we pick up from the conventions and traditions we are exposed to.

When I make my arguments, I do my best to appeal to different frameworks of thinking--by challenging a devoted rationalist to find an actual logical link between diety and morality, or a logical reason for believing or disbelieving in a diety, for instance. Do I expect to persuade people? No, but I have my own reasons for thinking discussion is still a worthwhile pursuit.

You said:
"This is the whole idea behind first principles: there are some things you have to accept as axiomatic in order to think at all. But to conclude from this that you can't use reason to resolve important problems is what Chesterton called the "suicide of thought." If logical consistency is not to be the arbiter of whether one's position is a good one or not--in ethics or anything else--then what is?"

First off, I never said that reason isn't a useful tool. I only said that it was misapplied--you cannot use reason to arrive at belief, plain and simple. You can use it to help you think through things, but ultimately you will have to end that thought process with a judgment call, which is nonrational.

To answer your question--logical consistency is one good standard for judging the quality of a position if you are making a descriptive argument. When calculating the trajectory of a catapolt you don't need to know if the basic principles are correct to know that calculating as though the boulder weighed 5 lbs at one point and then as though it weighed 100 later in the equation will not yield an accurate prediction.

But when it comes to rules of behavior, we are talking about something completely different.

Thomas said...

"[Y]ou cannot use reason to arrive at belief, plain and simple. You can use it to help you think through things, but ultimately you will have to end that thought process with a judgment call, which is nonrational."

This is absurd. People do this all the time. People have become vegetarians when they were persuaded by arguments against factory farms, despite having no particular love for animals. People have been convinced to oppose wars despite their own sense of self preservation. Anyone who has done something like this, or who knows one who has, knows this to be false. And who hasn't refused to do something they felt like doing that was accepted within some culture or sub-culture? Surely everyone has done that at some point in their lives.

Aside from this central point, there are a number of things that are simply false in your response.

Not all cultures regarded the public murder of children to be immoral; it was widely and often casually practiced in the ancient world.

For some reason, you seem to assume the arguments for God or an objective morality belong in the philosophic discipline of logic rather than metaphysics or ethics. That's a category mistake.

And while there is, of course, an interplay between emotions and culture in considering something wrong, it doesn't follow that's the whole story. From the fact that a certain morality exists in a particular culture, it does not follow that morality is solely the product of a particular culture and has no further truth-value. Usually, when a person declares something to be wrong, they are not saying "I feel that x is wrong because of my culture and my own emotions, but I don't declare it to be actually wrong." Rather, they make are making a claim that something is intrinsically wrong. To psychologize such a person would be to commit another category mistake, because it overlooks what the person's claim actually is in order to make it fit into some preconceived narrative.

Adam Gurri said...

Thomas,

You examples of people being persuaded simply point to cases where people have changed position because they have been persuaded that the new position matches their (nonlogical, nonrational) values better than their old one. Or possibly got them to change some values by appealing to others that they felt more strongly about.

Regardless, they did not appeal to some logical, rational proof of the superiority of one position over another. They appealed to things that people felt strongly about. That is how persuasion works.

For some reason, you seem to assume the arguments for God or an objective morality belong in the philosophic discipline of logic rather than metaphysics or ethics.

Why would I assume that? Where did I assume that? My whole point is that this isn't about logic.

I wish I had not brought up the specifics of my own views on morality; it is in many ways a side track from the point I was trying to make. I have written a new post that I think makes my point much more clearly than the original.

Thomas said...

"You examples of people being persuaded simply point to cases where people have changed position because they have been persuaded that the new position matches their (nonlogical, nonrational) values better than their old one. Or possibly got them to change some values by appealing to others that they felt more strongly about."

No, they are not. Read them again. They are about people changing their values contrary to cultural pressures and their own emotional disposition. As I understand it, your claim is that people don't make decisions for rational reasons, but due to one's culture and one's own feelings. That's an empirical claim, and it's false. Most hard moral decisions involve acting against one's own desires and often one's culture (or sub-culture). Many people do this. You seem to be holding to this idea regardless of the empirical evidence otherwise, much as religious caricatures do.

To the extent that one becomes convinced of the truth of something through a reasoned argument, but does not act in accordance with that truth, this is a character flaw. To the extent that one is not even capable of being persuaded by a reasoned argument, one is plagued by both moral and intellectual flaws. As Hegel says:

"Since the man of common sense makes his appeal to feeling, to an oracle within his breast, he is finished and done with anyone who does not agree; he only has to explain that he has nothing more to say to anyone who does not find and feel the same in himself. In other words, he tramples underfoot the roots of humanity. For it is the nature of humanity to press onward to agreement with others; human nature only really exists in an achieved community of minds. The anti-human, the merely animal, consists in staying within the sphere of feeling, and being able to communicate only at that level."

Adam Gurri said...

I think the crux of our disagreement is that I do not even understand what you mean by a "rational argument".

Let's take one of your examples:

"People have become vegetarians when they were persuaded by arguments against factory farms, despite having no particular love for animals."

Here are your claims in this example, as I understand them:

1. There is something wrong with factory farms.
2. This can be demonstrated through a chain of logic.
3. Even people who don't care about the well being of animals have been persuaded by this logic.

Is that fair?

What I would like is for you to explain to me:

1. What is the value-neutral (that is, purely reason-based, not at all appealing to subjective emotions or valuations) basis for claiming that there is something wrong with factory farms?
2. What is the chain of logic that demonstrates this is the case?

I can't for the life of me think of any answer to satisfy these questions, but perhaps I am simply lacking in imagination and reasoning abilities.

Could you clarify for me?

Martin Cothran said...

I would like to interject one important point as you two go at it here in regard to persuasion. The standard classical model of persuasion, as laid down by Aristotle in his Rhetoric, is that it has three modes: Ethos, logos, and pathos.

In other words, people are persuaded in three ways: by the character and trustworthiness of the speaker (ethos), the rational strength of the speaker's arguments (logos), and the way in which the speaker, through his speech, draws the audience to him by appealing to their emotions (pathos).

In a good piece of persuasive speech or writing, all three of these are working in harmony. These modes are still an essential part of communications theory.

These three modes of persuasion track the three parts of the soul: the will, the intellect, and the imagination. To deny that any one of them has persuasive force would be simply to deny that aspect of human nature. So to say that people are not convinced by rational appeals is to throw into doubt that there is a human intellect. On the other hand, to say that all persuasive appeals are appeals to reason is to throw the will and the passions into doubt.

I'm just pointing this out to give this debate some context.

You may continue firing...

Adam Gurri said...

Martin,

I began to write a response to your comment, but decided it was a whole other can of worms that I couldn't produce a quick answer to. So..noted! And to be continued another time! :)

KyCobb said...

Martin,

"It's all a crap shoot."

That's true anyway, and it always has been. There is no definitive word of God on morality that nearly everyone accepts and there never has been. Even if you could establish a theocratic state in which you imposed your interpretation of God's immutable moral laws on everyone else, the interpretation of God's immutable moral laws would inevitably change over time to maintain sufficient support in the populace to maintain the regime, or else the regime will fail.

Thomas said...

I think you're correct that we mean different things by "reasoned argument." There are several assumptions you seem to be making about rational arguments that I think are unfounded (though, they do belong to some illustrious schools of philosophy, so probably I shouldn't be too critical):

1) That a reasoned argument is "value-neutral". This has been the assumption of enlightenment rationalism, but I think it unfounded and unrealistic. If you were to look at the arguments of rationalists such as Plato, Aristotle, or Hegel (or even Kant) there's no commitment to value-neutral reason. It's not clear why there should be. Simply because arguments often contain rhetorical components does not mean that they are irrational.

2) A reasoned argument is not necessarily a "chain of logic". Certainly classical ethical arguments aren't. Ethical arguments start from common and learned opinion, and follow out the reasoning to find what stands up to scrutiny and what doesn't. Nor are the arguments limited to a priori truths: ethics is manifestly an a posteriori mode of knowledge. For virtue ethics (the dominant ethical theory within Christianity and the one with the best pedigree), ethics does not aim at categorically laying out what one must do. Rather, it aims at a rigorous examination of human happiness; it says, if you want to be happy, then you must.... This is discovered not by a chain of logic, but by dialectical reason, which is both logical and empirical. For this reason, the most influential living virtue ethicist, Alasdair MacIntyre, has engaged quite deeply with scientific fields like biology.

Martin Cothran said...

KyCobb,

I fail to see how the fact that someone (e.g. a theocratic state) fails to approximate a standard or fails to retain it in the same form over time is an argument against the existence of a standard. Is the fact that people violate laws against morality evidence that laws against morality do not exist?

KyCobb said...

Martin,

How can a standard be said to exist when no-one can agree on what it is? Morality laws are on the books-you can look them up-they exist whether you think they should be enforced or not. But Jews think the Torah contains God's immutable laws, Muslims the Koran, LDS the Book of Mormon. Protestants and Catholics have differing versions of the Bible, each translation which comes out attributes different meanings to the same phrases, and even people of good will using the same translation discern different meanings. Holy Books don't provide immutable standards of morality-they are merely used to justify each groups' decision as to what they think should be moral. Fifty years ago God's immutable law prohibited interracial marriage (10 years ago in the case of Bob Jones University), 150 years ago God's immutable law required african-americans to be slaves, and 500 years ago God's immutable laws required witches to be executed. In each case the group was certain they were doing God's will in accordance with his eternal, unchanging laws, when in reality they were merely enforcing their own culture's standard of morality at that time.

Thomas said...

So if people disagree on something, it can't be true? Why don't you think about what that would entail. If people disagree about mathematics (regardless of their own capacity to do mathematics) there must be no mathematical laws. If people disagree about the order of the Pharoahs in Ancient Egypt, there must be no right answer to the question, and so on. That's the most absurd and arbitrary criteria for truth one can come up with.

So what if people can't agree? Some people don't have the intellectual training to do so. Some people don't care enough to put the work in. Some people allow their cultural bias to prevent them from seeking the truth. So what?

The criteria seems to be suited to those who do not wish to do the hard work of finding the truth for themselves. If they find that people disagree, the burden of doing the thinking for themselves is lifted off their shoulders. That criterion panders to the intellectually lazy by offering as an excuse in the boring and well-known fact (in cultures both ancient and modern) that people don't always agree on what's true.

The argument is a non-sequitor, and relies on a hidden premise: that if something is true, everyone will agree about it. That premise is false.

Thomas said...

I should specify the last post is directed at KyCobb.

Thomas said...

KyCobb,

You're just assuming what you're trying to prove. To the extent that what you're saying is an argument at all, it runs something like this.

1. Any true principle will be recognized by everyone
2. The principles of moral philosophy are not recognized by everyone.
3. Therefore, the principles of moral philosophy are not true principles.

(1) is obviously false, and (2) is naive, since it ignores the common ground between schools of ethical thought. Now you seem to be modifying the argument:

1. Any true principle will be universally recognized by the "great minds" in a field
2. The principles of moral philosophy are not universally recognized by the great minds in the field
3. Therefore, the principles of moral philosophy are not true principles.

This brings out the more fundamental flaw. Not only is (1) false, but the argument as a whole is simply a sort of appeal to authority. Only instead of arguing that because all the authorities agree that x is true, x is true; you are saying that because not all authorities believe x is true, x is therefore not true. The latter is even more fallacious than the former.

In order to determine what is true in any given intellectual discipline, one does not simply poll the experts, deciding as true those propositions they all assent to, or (more naively) as false those which they do not all assent to. At least one doesn't do so if one wants to seek the truth and avoid intellectual sloth. Instead one engages in the inquiry that belongs to the discipline itself, whether that means surveying the fossil record, looking through the historical record, or learning the forms of demonstration proper to mathematics and/or philosophy.

"[a]nd everyone who disagrees with you is just intellectually lazy or culturally biased?"

I do not think that one who disagrees with me on ethical issues is necessarily lazy or culturally biased. I do think that someone who does not want think for him- or herself about ethical issues, but instead rely on some vague notion that "people disagree and so I don't have to go about finding out the truth for myself" are most definitely intellectually lazy.

I don't know that it even rises to the level of cultural bias. After all, we're told to think for ourselves and not accept things on authority. I think it's too lazy to be have enough energy to be biased.

Martin Cothran said...

I suppose that if KyCobb comes back and disgrees with you, it will mean that there is no right answer to the question you all are debating, which makes you wonder why he would be debating it.

Adam Gurri said...

it may be silly to inform you of this, but I will be away for four days, and so will be unable to contribute any more to this discussion. I really do want to follow up, though; too many intelligent sparring partners to pass up.

Martin Cothran said...

Adam,

I have a feeling this one may last a while, and I'm planning on another post in a few days on a similar topic, so I think we'll be here a while. Have fun.

KyCobb said...

Thomas,

You are misrepresenting my argument. I'm not saying that there is no true standard of morality because there is no unanimity as to what it is-I'm saying that no-one agrees with anyone else as to what the true standard of morality is. Its not like solving a math equation or historical research because there is no objective standard by which one can determine whether Jesus is the son of God and died and rose again to save us from our sins, or there is no God but Allah and Muhammed is his prophet. Those are absolute statements which cannot both be true, and which also contradict the faith-based beliefs of Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and Scientologists, among numerous others. So if you want me to believe that a person with the proper intellectual training can ascertain the one true set of God's immutable moral laws by setting aside their cultural biases and hard work, tell me how this would be done, rather than merely claiming it can be done. And if it can be done, who has done it, and what did that person determine the one true immutable moral laws of God are.

Martin Cothran said...

KyCobb,

Woah. Roll back the tape. That's exactly what you said. You said: "How can a standard be said to exist when no-one can agree on what it is?" And now you're saying, "I'm not saying that there is no true standard of morality because there is no unanimity as to what it is."

We're scratching our heads here.

And now you are offering an argument against any religion's particular truth claims that's even worse than your first argument. Are you trying throw us off the scent of the first bad argument by trying to draw our attention to an even worse one?

You said: "Its not like solving a math equation or historical research because there is no objective standard by which one can determine whether Jesus is the son of God and died and rose again to save us from our sins, or there is no God but Allah and Muhammed is his prophet. Those are absolute statements which cannot both be true, and which also contradict the faith-based beliefs of Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and Scientologists, among numerous others."

What do the truth claims of one religion have to do with the truth claims of another? The only way this argument has any force is if someone is claiming that all these religious truth claims are, in fact, true. Who is claiming that? The Christian rejects the claims of other religions that are inconsistent with it. He's not claiming that they're "both true": He's claiming that his are true and the others are not.

If this argument is sound, then all we would have to do to prove atheism is false is to list the atheist positions that are inconsistent with each other. Can we do that?

Of course, I suppose you could just deny you made that argument like you denied you made the previous argument, now couldn't you?

KyCobb said...

Martin,

Good job of knocking down strawmen. If I had meant that there had to be unanimous agreement, I would have said something like, "How can a standard be said to exist when there isn't a consensus as to what it is?" Unanimity is a ridiculous standard-there are still people who think the earth is flat.

Thomas claimed that a person who is intellectually trained, and who sets asides his cultural biases and works hard, can ascertain the one true set of God's immutable laws. But the fact that as you correctly stated, each person is going to believe his faith is true and others are false demonstrates the impossibility of setting one's cultural biases aside. Even if all the christians in the US were able to reach a consensus on what they believe the one true set of immutable moral laws of their trinitarian God are, which is never going to happen, they can't impose that standard of morality on the jews, muslims, mormons, scientologists, hindus, buddhists, et. cetera. Its still a crap shoot-there is no way to demonstrate that one standard of faith-based morality is objectively true and another is objectively false. In a free society morality cannot be justified by a particular faith when religious belief is as splintered as it is in the U.S.

Martin Cothran said...

"How can a standard be said to exist when no-one can agree on what it is?"

KyCobb said...

Martin,

As language teacher, I would expect you to know the difference between no-one and everyone. I'm not saying there isn't unanimity on God's moral laws, I'm saying that its difficult to find even two people who agree on what God's laws are. In a nation of three hundred million people, there are probably a couple of hundred million versions of God's immutable moral laws. Now if you and Thomas have a way to eliminate all the false versions and determine what the one true set of God's laws are through hard work, I'd love to know what it is.

Thomas said...

KyCobb,

The first step would be to think about it for yourself, and don't let other people do your thinking for you.

You keep bringing up the fact that people disagree as though that indicates in some way that no moral standard exists. But there's no logical connection between the two unless you're making the argument I fleshed out on your behalf. Since you've rejected that, it's not clear that you're making an argument at all.

If all you want to say is that (a) cultures disagree over matters of morality and religion, and (b) that some religious and moral view are mutually exclusive with others, then you're not saying anything everyone doesn't already know. People have known that since the dawn of civilization. I don't know why you think this has some relevance to the debate over which moral or religious traditions are true. That's a separate question.

If you're argument is that because there are different moral position, and because people can't agree about which are true, therefore none of them are true, then your argument not only commits the error we've been discussing (the absurd premise that if something is true, a certain number of people will agree to it), but also is strikingly naive. In that case, your view is itself a moral position (moral skepticism) that has its own truth claims (e.g., that no moral position can establish its own truth-claims objectively). The very position you are arguing for is subject to your own criticism. Your view is one moral philosophy among others. The difference seems to be that you don't want to defend it as a moral philosophy, you just want to accept it without having to do the work of offering a reasoned argument. Which is convenient, because that sort of moral skepticism is self-defeating.

KyCobb said...

Thomas,

Lets get back to the claim of the original post, which is that Enlightenment morality is a failure because its not grounded in God's laws. I'm not arguing that God doesn't have one true set of moral laws, I'm arguing that since no-one can agree on what they are, you can't base society's morality on them, so the Enlightenment didn't change anything-societal morality is a crap shoot whether God has one true set of immutable laws or not.

Lets say that, thanks to your intellectual training, ability to cast off your cultural biases, and hard work, you succeed in ascertaining what God's true moral laws are. You would succeed in establishing a sect based on those laws, but hundreds of millions of Americans will reject you as the latest prophet of God. Morality will still be a crap shoot, there will just be one more sect putting in its two cents worth in the process of establishing society's consensus on morality.

Adam Gurri said...

Wow, you guys had quite the debate while I was away!

Just thought I'd bring to your attention the fact that the Vulgar Moralist has entered the fray.

Thomas said...

Whether enough people believe in a set of moral principles for these principles to be reflected in law and custom is, of course, a sociological question, and certainly (as has been established) not a question that touches on the truth of any particular moral principle. The more important question that is raised in this post is: what moral principles ought law and social custom be based on. This brings us into ethical inquiry in itself.

Ethics, for the virtue ethics tradition, is the inquiry into human happiness. It is a practical science (science, of course, in the classical sense) that begins in the concrete human situation. Human activity aims for an end, that end is happiness, and ethics is the science which tells us generally what is required to attain what our acts already aim at.

It turns out that while people generally aim at happiness, often people don't achieve it. Some people pursue happiness through hard drugs, others through seeking money, and so on. Since these actions seem to lead to happiness, but turn out not to, the practical solution is to move beyond a vague notion of happiness and obtain a concrete idea of what happiness actually is. Once that is attained, human activity be more rational by aiming more directly at what it had before sought more implicitly.

That's the starting point, anyway, of the inquiry into ethics. It might be obvious that the idea of happiness is not really the naive notion many people have(pleasure), nor is happiness unconnected to the question of what human beings essentially are. It should be obvious too that the argument is dialectical: it does not proceed from axiomatic first principles and move by deduction, but by examining the object of inquiry starting from common opinion and human experience. It's only irrational if you think of rationality as something like the geometric method.