Saturday, November 13, 2010

Sam Harris on Morality: More pronouncements from the Englishmen.

I have said before that there is a hierarchy of positions on the issue of how (and whether) moral beliefs can be justified. On the top of the scale is classical religious thought, a scheme of belief in which morality makes complete sense. On the next level down is existentialism, which rightly concludes that if you reject God, then you must also reject morality. And since they reject God, they realize they must reject morality too. It is a mistaken position, but it's at least intellectually consistent.

On the bottom of this hierarchy is the New Atheism, which simply plays pretend and clings, despite no rational justification of its position, that, despite there being no God, there is still morality. The existentialists, being philosophically sophisticated, basically laugh at this position. Nietzsche calls the people who hold it "Englishmen" because he saw the Victorian culture of 19th century Britain doing exactly this.

And how ironic is that? That the New Atheists are essentially recapitulating the Victorian view on morality?

This latter position has now been taken up by people like Sam Harris, the author of Letter to a Christian Nation. I have not read Harris' new book The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values, and I hope to review it soon. However, his comments describing his argument in the book don't look terribly promising.

Harris first tries to recast the concept of morality in what he calls "flourishing,"and flourishing, he says, "depends on the way the universe is." Therefore (apparently), morality depends on the way the universe is. He argues that because questions of right and wrong are about human and animal well-being, and that human and animal well being depend on certain things in the world that we can study scientifically, that therefore morality can be studied scientifically.
In my book I argue that we can view all possible experience on a kind of landscape, where peaks correspond to the heights of well-being and the valleys correspond to the lowest depths of suffering. The first thing to notice is that there may be many equivalent peaks on this landscape - there may be many different ways for people to thrive. But there will be many more ways not to thrive.
In fact, what he seems to be doing is simply redefining morality, which cannot be scientifically studied, by repackaging it in something called "flourishing," which he defines in such a way that it can be scientifically studied. He then concludes that morality can be scientifically studied. It's sort of a shell game where the pea somehow gets removed from the shell it was originally under.

There are two fallacies that people like Harris commit over and over when they discuss morality, as if committing them enough times somehow made them go away. The first is that think they can cross back and forth over the "is/ought" divide as if it didn't exist, and they never explain how they get from an is to an ought. As David Hume pointed out in the 18th century, you simply can't do it. To conclude anything about what should be on the basis of what is is to commit what other philosophers have since called a "category mistake." It's like saying that 2 + 2 = 4 is purple, or that my appreciation of a song I heard today is three feet tall.

This, by the way, is not a problem for classical morality (i.e., Aristotelian Thomism), since classical morality presupposes formal and final causes. If you believe that things (such as human beings) have a definitive nature and purpose, and that acting in accordance with that nature is what is good, and acting in defiance of that nature is bad, then everything makes sense. But the New Atheists, adopting the modern view deriving from the Englightenment that there are no formal or final causes, have left themselves at the mercy of what has been called "Hume's Guillotine."

The second fallacy Harris and his fellow New Atheists repeatedly commit is the Naturalistic Fallacy, which consists of asserting that you can explain ethics by simply describing the conditions that accompany the quality of goodness. If, for example, pleasure always accompanies virtuous acts, then virtue and pleasure must be the same thing. G. E. Moore articulated the problem with this fallacy in his Principia Ethica in the early 20th century.

It is important to note that Hume and Moore are not Christians or even traditional thinkers: Hume was a British empircist Philosopher (and religious skeptic) and Moore was a modern analytic philosopher.

The more fundamental problem, however, is that the New Atheists are mostly philosophically ignorant and don't even seem to be familiar with the fact that these are problems in the first place. I have yet to hear one of them actually address the is/ought problem or explain how their position on morality avoids the Naturalistic Fallacy. You would think they had never heard of Hume or Moore.

I'm sure Harris is more specific in his book, but it will be interesting to find out whether he tackles these problems head on--or whether he simply ignores them as he has done in all the public statements from him I've seen so far.

82 comments:

E.R. Bourne said...

Martin, I have not read the book either, but it seems as if there might be some hope in his idea, since it at least attempts to justify morality by basing it on actual human life. While it is certainly not a thorough or even coherent attempt at natural law, and even though Harris' metaphysics (if he even knows the word) is hopelessly modern and incoherent, I still cannot help but be intrigued by someone who is popularly read attempting to look to human biology in order to determine the good.

Martin Cothran said...

E. R.

The point is that in order to derive morality from biology, you have to ignore the is/ought distinction. If you reject Aristotelian Thomism, you're stuck with an unbridgeable divide between the science and ethics.

When you talk about basing morality on "actual human life," you mean basing it on what is. But that's the whole problem: what is and what ought to be are in two entirely different categories for the person who does not believe in intrinsic nature and purpose.

The only result of such attempts will be to give philosophically naive atheists a warm, fuzzy feeling

Singring said...

'On the top of the scale is classical religious thought, a scheme of belief in which morality makes complete sense.'

Surely you can't be serious?!

I have yet to come across a system of morality more contradictory and nonsensical than that propounded by Christianity.

One simple question should illustrate this:

Is it right to condemn the son for the sins of the father?

'On the bottom of this hierarchy is the New Atheism, which simply plays pretend and clings, despite no rational justification of its position, that, despite there being no God, there is still morality.'

Really? Most 'New Atheists' are very clear in their position that there is no absolute morality. There is rational morality, though it is based on personal opinion and empathy, so subjective at its root.

'On the next level down is existentialism, which rightly concludes that if you reject God, then you must also reject morality. And since they reject God, they realize they must reject morality too. '

Be accurate, Martin.

Existentialists must reject ABSOLUTE morality, yes. But they can still hold a personal system of morality.

I reject God, but I certainly don't reject morality. In fact I have a very stringent system of morality I adhere to that I can make (subjectively based) arguments for.

KyCobb said...

Martin,

This is a topic that you often return to. As I have pointed out before, even if one accepts your premise that there is a God with a set of rules he wants us to live by, we don't know what those rules are. As a result, morality today is the same thing as morality has always been, which is the consensus of the society as to what ought to be at the time in question. Even Christians who claim their morality is based on the immutable words of God have very different views of what is moral than Christians who made the same claims fifty years ago, 150 years ago, and 300 years ago. And our society includes millions of people who have very different moral traditions. So your position on the philosophical problem is irrelevant to the issue of how a society's moral consensus is developed and how it evolves.

In a previous thread one poster claimed that through education and hard work he could discerne what God's actual immutable laws of morality are. I pointed out that even if that were true, society would not fall at his feet and universally accept him as God's Prophet, but rather the best he could do would be to establish yet another sect whose voice would be included in the cultural debate. Nothing would change in the way that society develops a moral consensus.

Lee said...

> Existentialists must reject ABSOLUTE morality, yes. But they can still hold a personal system of morality.

Certainly an atheist can hold moral values to be true. What he can't do is explain why anyone ought to accord them any authority.

Singring said...

'Certainly an atheist can hold moral values to be true. What he can't do is explain why anyone ought to accord them any authority.'

I disagree.

I can't hold that my morals are true. Neither can you. What I can do, however, is make some good arguments as to what me and you ought to do in any given situation. This doesn't mean that there is any prescriptive value in those arguments, but they are reasonable and based on the available evidence and some extrapolation of the short-term outcomes. The basic rule I abide to is the minimisation of harm.

For example:

Imagine there is a fire in a fertility clinic. The building is about to come down on your head. There is a little girl that will burn to death if you don't rescue her in one corner of the room and there is a flask of 10,000 frozen four-cell embryos in the other corner that will be lost if you don't rescue them. You can only rescue one.

Which one will it be?

IN my system of morality - though not absolute, I can make that decision in an instant. I save the child.

In your system of morality, the decision is equally simple: You save the frozen four-cell embryos.

It's up to you to decide if you want to stick with your sstem or try mine in future.

KyCobb said...

Lee,

"Certainly an atheist can hold moral values to be true. What he can't do is explain why anyone ought to accord them any authority."

You can explain until you are blue in the face why other people ought to accord your version of God's moral laws any authority, which won't keep Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Christians of different sects, and nonbelievers from rejecting your version in favor of their own.

One Brow said...

If you reject Aristotelian Thomism, you're stuck with an unbridgeable divide between the science and ethics.

If you accept Artistotelism Thomism, you're stuck with using arbitrary determinations of "purpose" to formulate morality, and different determinations of the purpose of, e.g., sex will lead to different determinaitons of the morlaity of, e.g., gay marriage. Instead of arguing about why one of us should accept the morals of the other, the conflict is merely put back a level, into why one of us shoudl accept the decisions of purpose formuated by another. As a result, morals only become absolute with an arbitrarily determined set of purposes. It is not different than the morality of the New Atheists.

E.R. Bourne said...

Martin runs an excellent blog at which many of you comment frequently. If you are serious in attempting to actually understand the content of the classical philosophical tradition which Martin so eloquently represents, then you will never accomplish this by looking at blogs and engaging in polemics on the internet. This tradition is too rich to be exhaustively explained on a weblog.

Harris, Hitchens, Dawkins, and Dennett, the most popular of the New Atheists, have not once demonstrated any real knowledge of the almost 2500 year old classical philosophical tradition. This is especially egregious for Dennett who is a professional philosopher. Even if you are an atheist, do not look to these men to provide a rigorous or coherent objection to anything other than popular modern apologetics, which often gets more wrong than right.

Lee said...

> I disagree.

I'm shocked.

> I can't hold that my morals are true. Neither can you.

Why would you bother with morals if you can't hold them to be true? And why should someone else put aside whatever he is otherwise doing to embrace something you offer that you don't ever hold as true?

> What I can do, however, is make some good arguments as to what me and you ought to do in any given situation.

Do reason and ethics go hand in glove? I doubt it. You can make a reasonable argument to protect and love children born with defects, or you can turn right around as the Romans did and make a reasonable argument to kill them.

> This doesn't mean that there is any prescriptive value in those arguments...

So again, why should anyone stir himself to embrace an argument in favor of a moral code without prescriptive value?

> The basic rule I abide to is the minimisation of harm.

What do you say, then, to someone whose basic rule says otherwise? When Lady Astor asked Josef Stalin when he was going to stop killing people, his response was you have to break eggs to make an omelet. Stalin did everything but minimize the harm he was doing. You say tomayto, Joe said tomahto. Why should Joe have listened to you?

> Imagine there is a fire in a fertility clinic... Which one will it be? IN my system of morality - though not absolute, I can make that decision in an instant. I save the child.

> In your system of morality, the decision is equally simple: You save the frozen four-cell embryos.

Really? Glad I asked, then, it's good to know what's on my mind, and who better to ask than you?

But I thought this was about reason. If you gave a reasonable argument for choosing to save the girl over the embryos, I must have missed it. Why not embrace the ethics of the greenies and say, there are already too many people, so let the girl and the embryos die?

Martin Cothran said...

Singring:

I have yet to come across a system of morality more contradictory and nonsensical than that propounded by Christianity.

One simple question should illustrate this: Is it right to condemn the son for the sins of the father?


The only thing that one simple question illustrates is an ignorance of Christian morality. Tell me where Christian morality demands that Christians condemn sons for the sins of their fathers?

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

There is rational morality, though it is based on personal opinion and empathy, so subjective at its root.

Gee, and I always thought that "rational" meant "based on reason." But your "rational" morality is based on personal opinion and empathy--in other words, emotion.

The funny thing about this is that, while it's the religious people who are always accused of having beliefs based on emotion, it's really the atheists whose beliefs are based on emotion.

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

Be accurate, Martin. Existentialists must reject ABSOLUTE morality, yes. But they can still hold a personal system of morality.

Be accurate? Have you ever read Sartre or Nietzsche? In fact, the whole reason Sartre was reviled for his criticism of the Vietnam War by his followers was precisely because he rejected morality--and then went and judged someone else for their actions. For the most prominent existentialists, you simply have no rational grounds for making moral judgments. That's why consistent existentialists don't make them--either for absolute or subjective reasons (not that there is any such thing as a "subjective reason").

No, Singring, you're an Englishman. Embrace your Inner Victorian.

Martin Cothran said...

KyCobb,

... even if one accepts your premise that there is a God with a set of rules he wants us to live by, we don't know what those rules are.

Where did I say that that I believed that Christian ethics was merely a set of rules to live by? You apparently do not understand classical ethics. I suggest you read After Virtue by Alasdair MacIntyre. It will disabuse you of the notion that real Christian ethics is merely living by a set of rules.

Martin Cothran said...

KyCobb,

... morality today is the same thing as morality has always been, which is the consensus of the society as to what ought to be at the time in question.

This statement has everything going for it except for the evidence. It doesn't make much rational sense either.

Why does the fact that one belief with majority support at one time in history make it the same kind of belief as that of another which has majority support at another point in history?

Merely because they have majority support they are the same? Slave-based economies undoubtedly enjoyed popular support at some points in history, whereas free societies now have majority support. Are slave-based economies and free-economies therefore the same?

I think you need to explain what you mean here because it doesn't make any obvious sense.

Martin Cothran said...

One Brow:

If you accept Artistotelism Thomism, you're stuck with using arbitrary determinations of "purpose" to formulate morality ...

That's a fine assertion you've got there: that all determinations of purpose are arbitrary. Maybe you would care to offer an argument for it.

But my point is more fundamental: without the concept of purpose, there is no morality. Morality is the means by which a man gets from the human being he happens to be to the human being he would be if he realized his telos (or purpose). That's it. So if there is no purpose, there is no morality.

Morality is only "rule-based" to the extent that there are things he can do (rules, if you like) by which he gets from the first state (as he is) to the second state (as he should be). This is where KyCobb gets mixed up.

So if you don't believe that human beings have a purpose, that's fine. Just don't go around pretending you believe in some kind of morality.

Singring said...

'Harris, Hitchens, Dawkins, and Dennett, the most popular of the New Atheists, have not once demonstrated any real knowledge of the almost 2500 year old classical philosophical tradition.'

Dennet is a philosopher, so I doubt he would agree with that statement.

But anyway: why should they?

I have challenged Martin on this before and I challenge you now: Can you name any single empirical advancement that philosophy has produced in the entire 2500 year history you cite except for the development of science? More importantly: Can you give any example of philosophy giving access to any kind of truth, be it of morality or reality, since the advent of modern science some 500 years ago?

'Why would you bother with morals if you can't hold them to be true?'

'Truth' is something absolute, at least in the context you and Martin use it. That's why I said my morals aren't 'true'.

Let me ask you this:

Why would you bother to smell a flower, watch a movie, hug your wife or children?

Apparently in your world, something is not even worth bothering with if it isn;t some absolute, holy truth handed down from on high. What an utterly depressing and self-loathing approach to life.

'You can make a reasonable argument to protect and love children born with defects, or you can turn right around as the Romans did and make a reasonable argument to kill them.'

Absolutely. The question becomes: Whgich of the two produces less harm. That's my maxim. What is yours?

'Stalin did everything but minimize the harm he was doing. You say tomayto, Joe said tomahto. Why should Joe have listened to you?'

If you answered my scenario in the fertility clinic, you would have gotten your answer. But unfportunately, but completely expectedly, you refused to answer it, though you did give a hint:

'Really? Glad I asked, then, it's good to know what's on my mind, and who better to ask than you?'

So I take it that you would have saved the child instead of the 10000 embryos?

OK. Great. Same decision I would make.

So I guess not ALL life is of they same value, as one child's life outweights that of 10,000 four cell embryos in your system and mine.

But that means your system of absolute morals is bullcrap. Not ALL life is sacred. It depends on the situation. Glad we agree.

'But I thought this was about reason. If you gave a reasonable argument for choosing to save the girl over the embryos, I must have missed it. '

I though it was rather obvious: The girl can suffer. The girl has a family that will suffer if she dies.

Neither of the two is the case with any of the embryos.

Do you disagree? On what basis?

Singring said...

'The only thing that one simple question illustrates is an ignorance of Christian morality. Tell me where Christian morality demands that Christians condemn sons for the sins of their fathers?'

Nice dodge once again, Martin.

It is not Christians that condemn (though a lot of them do, I can post you a slew of quotes from some prominent Christians if you want), it is God.

That was my question and you dodged it (what else is new).

So just to make it as clear as possible (tough I'm sure you'll find a way to dodge it again):

Is it moral for God to condemn the sons for the sin of the father?

Since you have stated that religious morality is very clear and straightforward I'm sure you can answer this with a Yes or a No.

'The funny thing about this is that, while it's the religious people who are always accused of having beliefs based on emotion, it's really the atheists whose beliefs are based on emotion.'

Emotion is not the same as personal opinion, Martin. Once again you conflate two very different things (again, what else is new?). For example: When I watch a documentary on the Holocaust, my emotional reaction is that I want to see everyone responsible sentenced to death. Period. My rational opinion (derived from a subjective set or standards, I admit) is that the death penalty is not right, however. So you see, there is not necessarily an overlap between my emotional respnse and my general opinion on the matter.

This is precisely why we have generally accepted rules as a society: To trump the emotional response some of us may have with a more measured, reasonable one.

'For the most prominent existentialists, you simply have no rational grounds for making moral judgments. '

Of COURSE I do! They are simply not based on some absolute standard, but my own, subjective one. You are not the first Christian I have come across you cannot understand the difference between making absolute and relative moral judgements. To be quite frank, it frightens me to see that so many Christians seem to be incapable to imagine themselves making moral decisions and judgements on their own without clinging to the guiding hand of they dictator in the sky.

If you need God to tell you that the Vietnam war was wrong then you are utterly morally bankrupt, Martin. No different from an automaton being fed with moral instructions by God. Whatever he says is right, I guess. Like wiping out the entire population of the earth in one giant flood or torturing children for eternity in hell.

Nice.

Lee said...

Well, Singring, you never answered the question I asked you, so I wouldn't worry about my refusing to give you the answer you wanted.

I asked, what is it about your view of morality that confers any sense of authority to it?

You mumbled something about "reason" and then omitted it. I pointed out that you can give a reasonable defense of pretty much any moral choice, even the terrible ones. Clearly, we need something more than reason. The Nazis with their clipboards and stopwatches, as they studied the effects of cold on their human guinea pigs, were a lot of things, but one of them was reasonable.

KyCobb said...

Martin,

"Merely because they have majority support they are the same? Slave-based economies undoubtedly enjoyed popular support at some points in history, whereas free societies now have majority support. Are slave-based economies and free-economies therefore the same?"

Slave-based economies were the norm for thousands of years until societal consensus evolved to the point that it was no longer viewed as acceptable. There is no hierarchy of morality as you described, there is only the morality of a given society, which will justify what it finds acceptable in an ad hoc fashion. Race is a clear example, as Christian morality was used both to justify slavery and segregation and to oppose it. As an extreme example, Bob Jones University did not abandon racial segregation until the year 2000.

Singring said...

'Well, Singring, you never answered the question I asked you, so I wouldn't worry about my refusing to give you the answer you wanted.'

So just for the record:

You refuse to give an answer to the question. I therefore, based on your earlier statement, must assume that you would save the child and leave the embryos.

Glad we agree.

'I asked, what is it about your view of morality that confers any sense of authority to it?'

There is no inherent authority to it, save what I can build as a rational argument based on the evidence and my subjective standards of what the ideal outcome of any action should be (i.e. the minimisation of harm). I thought that was very clear.

This is in fact exactly the way societies around the world make their rules, as much as you would like to deny it. That's why slavery used to be accepted and practiced by Christians but no longer is.

Or maybe God just changed his mind about slavery one day?

One Brow said...

That's a fine assertion you've got there: that all determinations of purpose are arbitrary. Maybe you would care to offer an argument for it.

Sure. Purpose describes what something ought to be. However, we an only observe what is. There are no markers for purpose, no standard thatg can be measured. Last I checked, you agreed there is no way to derive an "ought" from an "is".

But my point is more fundamental: without the concept of purpose, there is no morality. Morality is the means by which a man gets from the human being he happens to be to the human being he would be if he realized his telos (or purpose). That's it. So if there is no purpose, there is no morality.

I understand natural law is the attempt to tie right and wrong to what something "ought" to be, but that is a feature of that system specifically, not morality generally. I have a picture of who I want to be, and I act accordingly. My picture does not derive from some arbitrarily chosen "purpose", but from my best understanding of what will benefit my population, because I choose to act for their benefit.

Morality is only "rule-based" to the extent that there are things he can do (rules, if you like) by which he gets from the first state (as he is) to the second state (as he should be). This is where KyCobb gets mixed up.

Morality can also be "rule-based" in that we decide which types of actions are right or wrong, and formulate rules to apply to various situations, without regard to whether they advance the development of the individuals following them. The ways of dertermining what is right or wrong are multiple.

So if you don't believe that human beings have a purpose, that's fine. Just don't go around pretending you believe in some kind of morality.

I accept that I may not have what you recognize as a morality. I don't see any reason to take your opinion of the matter as determinative.

One Brow said...

Certainly an atheist can hold moral values to be true. What he can't do is explain why anyone ought to accord them any authority.

Lee,

That puts atheists in the same position as theists, no doubt.

One Brow said...

Harris, Hitchens, Dawkins, and Dennett, the most popular of the New Atheists, have not once demonstrated any real knowledge of the almost 2500 year old classical philosophical tradition.

The metaphysics of this tradition proved to be inadequate to describe the universe, and thus were discarded. Despite attempts by a handful of current-day philosophers to shoehorn A-T metaphysics into modern understanding, they are fatally flawed.

One Brow said...

Gee, and I always thought that "rational" meant "based on reason."

Reason is the process of taking a foundation and looking at the implications of that foundation. Such foundations are always chosen by arbitrary means.

The funny thing about this is that, while it's the religious people who are always accused of having beliefs based on emotion, it's really the atheists whose beliefs are based on emotion.

Actually, it's everyone's morlaity that is based on emotion. Atheists just recognize this.

Thomas said...

"The metaphysics of this tradition proved to be inadequate to describe the universe, and thus were discarded."

Which is why none of the great philosophers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries -- such as Hegel, Marx, Heidegger, Merleu-Ponty, Whitehead, and so on -- were deeply influenced by Plato and Aristotle....

Such an assertion evinces: (1) little acquaintance with contemporary philosophy, especially continental philosophy, (2) no evidence of having actually read and understood what classical metaphysics set out to do, and (3) the strange (but for some reason common among "neo-atheists") view that the way philosophies are evaluated is by polling people to see if they agree, rather than engaging the arguments on their merits.

All of which is fine, but your confidence in the demise of classical philosophy is misplaced.

Singring said...

Lee, I suggest you take this little test:

http://www.philosophyexperiments.com/fatman/Default.aspx

It might give you an indication of how moral decisions actually are made, even in your case.

I'd be interested to find out your consistency score.

Lee said...

> That puts atheists in the same position as theists, no doubt.

So your position, OneBrow, is that the creator of a universe has no authority over his creation?

Singring said...

'So your position, OneBrow, is that the creator of a universe has no authority over his creation?'

No. The fact is that you have no way of veryfying any of the following to any degree of certainty:

a) That any God exists

b) That the Abrahamic God exists

c) That the version of God presented in the Bible exists

d) That the Bible is a correct reflection of God's moral rules

e) That we have an accurate record of the Bible's writings

Now even IF you (unlike the thousands of theologians before you) were able to somehow overcome all these hurdles and arrive at stage e), you would have failed because the Bible is inconsistent in its representation of God's morals or any other morals you wish to name.

You simply have no way of proving that your particular idea of God's will or morals is any more accurate than that of a Hindu, a Muslim, a Jew or even a Satanist or Atheist.

Even WITHIN Christianity there have been wars fought for centuries about whether or not God really wants us to do this, that or the other.

It is patently absurd to claim that YOU of all people know exactly what God wants without a single shred of evidence in support of this claim.

IN summary:

Even IF God exists, it is virtually impossible to divine what exactly his moral rules are. This is precisely why you moral standard is no more 'true' than that of any atheist.

E.R. Bourne said...

Allow me to concur with Thomas. Singring, your question merely displays that you, like the New Atheists (including Dennett) are thoroughly unacquainted with the tradition that you supposedly know to be false. The science of metaphysics does claim to yield knowledge, but to speak of it in terms of empirical advancement is already to completely misunderstand the endeavor.

What you do not realize is that you already have many assumptions that you bring to the discussion which, if we explored them adequately, would themselves be controversial and disagreed upon. Such matters cannot be settled in a combox.

OneBrow, most of these comments apply to you as well. Most modern philosophers can only provide, if anything, a crude caricature of what they think ancient and medieval philosophers believed.

At bottom, I think the problem is a refusal to give philosophy any credit at all. Philosophy is a science like any other save its superiority (this is itself a philosophical point which can be defended). It is difficult, taxing, and takes many years to master. Martin has been very fair in answering many of your questions, but it is obvious that a rigorous knowledge cannot be gained by quick back-and-forth exchanges.

Martin Cothran said...

One Brow, Singring, et al.

I've never seen so much Victorianism going on as in the comments section of this post. I'll be sure to cover over my piano legs the next time I have an atheist over for dinner.

The problem with all of these warm, fuzzy statements about morality based on "personal opinion" is that it just tables the question. If your morality is based on your "personal opinion," then what is your "personal opinion" based on? You had to determine what your personal opinion was going to be, after all. So how did you decide?

For KyCobb, it appears to be figuring out which way the wind of popular opinion blows. So in his view, if the majority thought that Jews should be persecuted, there is no moral stance from which it could be objectively argued against.

One Brow says that the foundation of any moral system is arbitrary. Under that view, any moral system is as good as any other, since the foundations of all of them are arbitrary. Therefore, a slave society is as good as a free one.

Singring too, despite saying he isn't religious, worships at the altar of his own subjective personal opinion, but he's big on expressing his disappointment with people who disagree with him on a regular basis on this blog as if the rest of us have any reason to care what his subjective opinion is.

And, of course, whenever I make some sort of moral statement you all disagree with, I am roundly condemned, as if there were some other, absolute moral position to which I should have acquiesced, but which I didn't. In other words, despite the protestations that morality is somehow "subjective" or "based on personal opinion," you all will turn right around next week, as you have consistently done in the past, and act like there are absolute standards of morality and everything else.

This is what good Victorians do.

The whole Victorian project was to attempt a stringent morality without a religious basis. It ended up becoming more moralistic for the fact that it didn't have any solid religious foundation to appeal to. The less religious it became, the more moralistic it got.

So carry on, I'm interested to further observe the increasing fervor with which you all champion your positions on something you profess is ultimately arbitrary.

One Brow said...

Which is why none of the great philosophers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries -- such as Hegel, Marx, Heidegger, Merleu-Ponty, Whitehead, and so on -- were deeply influenced by Plato and Aristotle....

Thomas, that is really beneath you. Do you really think that I can't tell the difference between "exerted an influence" and a metaphysical system that was "inadequate to describe the universe and thus were discarded."? Am I supposed to believe that you can't tell the difference, that you believe to discard a system means that every single feature of that system must be rejected?

One Brow said...

So your position, OneBrow, is that the creator of a universe has no authority over his creation?

The question is moot. I don't have sources that are verifiably from this presumed creator. I only have sources that other humans claim were so authored, but show no sign of being anything beyond human inventions.

One Brow said...

E.R. Bourne,

If you want to examine my misconceptions of Thomistic metaphysics in detail, and I am sure there are several, feel free to go over my review of Feser's The Last Superstition and point out my misunderstandings, as Thomas was so kind to do (he also provided supplemental readings that were very helpful). I'm sure Feser also provided a crude charicature, but we all have to start somewhere.

Philosophy is a science like any other save its superiority (this is itself a philosophical point which can be defended).

Philosphy is no more a science than mathematics or chess are sciences.

Martin Cothran said...

I am always amused when people say the classical metaphysics was somehow found inadequate or intellectually wanting. I have yet to hear exactly how this was done. What argument refuted classical metaphysics?

I hope it isn't science One Brow is thinking of, since science professes to be a-metaphysical.

Classical metaphyics was never refuted, it simply went out of intellectual fashion. As Thomas Kuhn has pointed out about science, it changes less because one theory is refuted and another proven right than because the advocates of one die out and are replaced by the advocates of another.

Martin Cothran said...

One Brow,

Philosophy is a science in the classical sense of the word 'science', meaning an "organized and systematic body of knowledge."

Just because it isn't a physical science or a natural science doesn't mean it isn't a science. In fact, that's why they call them "natural" sciences and "physical" sciences: in order to distinguish them from other non-natural and non-physical sciences.

One Brow said...

Martin,

Is there something special about your piano legs? :)

You had to determine what your personal opinion was going to be, after all. So how did you decide?

Different sources come in. Empathy, notions of fairness, attempts to apply things equally, practicality, culture, etc.

One Brow says that the foundation of any moral system is arbitrary. Under that view, any moral system is as good as any other, since the foundations of all of them are arbitrary. Therefore, a slave society is as good as a free one.

You haven't defined what you mean by "good" here, and usually "good" (as I understand you to mean) is defined *within* a moral system. Now, within my moral framework, the slave society is not as good. I base that on the empathy I feel for slaves, among other things.

And, of course, whenever I make some sort of moral statement you all disagree with, I am roundly condemned, as if there were some other, absolute moral position to which I should have acquiesced, but which I didn't.

If I ever said anything that indicated you needed to accept my moral positions, I apologize. You should be free to condone/condemn gay marriage, interracial marriage, abortion, gambling, various legal and illegal drugs, and anything else, based on no reason at all. Hopefully, I will be able to confine myself in the future to 1) pointing out where any reasons you do supply are conter-factual, and 2) objecting to your support of government enforcement for morality positions that offer no discernable benefit to the public. In other words, I don't expect you personally, nor any person/church in America, to support or officiate gay marriages. I'll be perfectly content if you just settle for condemning them without preventing them.

One Brow said...

Martin,

Many scientists no doubt claim to be a-metaphysical (at least in the sense that they are unconcerned about metaphysical implications to their work), but how can any discipline that discusses the world not touch upon metaphysics? It's like saying you will study numbers, but not mathematics.

I'm not sure how you can "refute" a metaphysical system. It is either useful or not useful, applied or discarded, relevant or ignored. In the case of classical metaphysics, notions like purposes were discarded because they were not useful, they offered no insight to solving problems.

As Thomas Kuhn has pointed out about science, it changes less because one theory is refuted and another proven right than because the advocates of one die out and are replaced by the advocates of another.

Either Kuhn neglected to note that the "another" gained advocates for basically objective reasons, or you failed to relay that part of his analysis. There's are objective reasons we have very, very few modern physicists that support Newton equations over Einsteins.

Philosophy is a science in the classical sense of the word 'science', meaning an "organized and systematic body of knowledge."

Along with history, homeopathy, and chess. I fully acknowledge that if you to use a definition of science that includes any organized and systemic body of knowledge, philosophy falls under that rubric. I would hope that philosphers woudl prefer a category that would distingusih them from homeopathers.

In fact, that's why they call them "natural" sciences and "physical" sciences: in order to distinguish them from other non-natural and non-physical sciences.


The terms "natural" and "physical" are generally used to describe the difference between them and social sciences which, due to the non-reductionistic nature fo the objects of study.

Any field of study where you can produce results that say it is eaually valid to claim certain fundamental propositions are ture or are not true (as opposed to just unknown at this time), you have left the field of science. This will happen to any reasonbaly complex field or sutdy that relies on a bivalued evaluaiton system (such as philosophy or mathematics).

Singring said...

'The problem with all of these warm, fuzzy statements about morality based on "personal opinion" is that it just tables the question. If your morality is based on your "personal opinion," then what is your "personal opinion" based on?'

It is based on two things: empirical evidence and the evaluation of that evidence based on personal preference/subjective standards.

For example take the child/embryo scenario:

It can be empirically verified by science that, to the best of our knowledge, a four-celled embryo has no way whatsoever of experiencing pain - for one thing, because it does not even have a single neuron yet. A child on the other hand, clearly has the capacity to experience pain and suffering from the time it is born and probably even some time before that.

If you disagree with any of these scientific data, Martin, please do enlighten us.

Since, as I have stated earlier, my standard for making decisions is to minimise the overall amount of suffering and harm in any given situation (this is my personal, subjectively chosen standard that I have chosen since the outcome appeals to me based on empathy toward other human beings and my own wishes for well-being), I will clearly choose to save the child that can suffer over the 10,000 embryos that cannot.

Based on this I can also make the personal judgement that others who do not act in the way I would are morally wrong.

Is this judgement absolute? No. Can I call upon some higher power to force others into following my morality? No.

Can I argue for my position and support it with argument as I have done above?

YES.

Now, Martin, I have laid out clearly and transparently my method of making a moral decision and judgement in this case. Can you do the same?

How would YOU decide in this situation, Martin, and how would YOU arrive at your decision?

If your morality is so superior and so universally applicable (and above all, simple and clear), then this should present no problem at all.

And while you're at it you may also wish to anser the other question that has yet again gobe unanswered twice (your usual pattern):

Is it moral for God to condemn the son for the sin of the father.

Yes. Or. No?

'Singring too, despite saying he isn't religious, worships at the altar of his own subjective personal opinion, but he's big on expressing his disappointment with people who disagree with him on a regular basis on this blog as if the rest of us have any reason to care what his subjective opinion is.'

Can you name one istance or one post I have ever made where I have not clearly and distinctly laid out which parts of your reasoning and or/argumentation I have disagreed with and why?

There once again is rich irony that your last post is nothin but an attack on others and their motives rather than an attempt to answer any of the moral questions raised or providing any argument for why your morality is so reliable and authoratative.

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

There once again is rich irony that your last post is nothin but an attack on others and their motives rather than an attempt to answer any of the moral questions raised or providing any argument for why your morality is so reliable and authoratative.

Where did I attack anyone's motives?

Martin Cothran said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Singring said...

'Where did I attack anyone's motives?'

I quote:

'And, of course, whenever I make some sort of moral statement you all disagree with, I am roundly condemned, as if there were some other, absolute moral position to which I should have acquiesced, but which I didn't. In other words, despite the protestations that morality is somehow "subjective" or "based on personal opinion," you all will turn right around next week, as you have consistently done in the past, and act like there are absolute standards of morality and everything else.'

We are critiquing your posts based on their factual and rational merit and internal consistency, Martin, not because we are claiming they do not confomr to our 'morals'.

Two more questions go unanswered yet again.

I'm sure OneBrow KyCobb are as continually amazed as I am at your persistent refusal to adress any actual points made in any posts. On the other hand, you delight in dodging these issues by picking one sentence and asking a counter-question.

Personally I am sick and tired of constatntly answering your patronizing questions, giving detailed elaborations on how my position and the foundations for it only to then receive a smarmy, patronizing response that dodges the issues and never once gets to what I directly asked you about your original claims. If I were the author of a blog and were as utterly incapable of answering my critics with valid argument as you are, I'd be ashamed of myself.

You made the following claim in your blog article:

'On the top of the scale is classical religious thought, a scheme of belief in which morality makes complete sense.'

If this is the case, then these questions should be very easy to answer:

Is it moral for God to condemn the son for the sins of the father?

What is YOUR standard for making a moral decision, for example with regard to the the fertility clinic scenario I have illustrated?

But then why do you seem to have such a terribly hard time answering them?

KyCobb said...

Martin,

"For KyCobb, it appears to be figuring out which way the wind of popular opinion blows. So in his view, if the majority thought that Jews should be persecuted, there is no moral stance from which it could be objectively argued against."

I was describing a state of fact rather than proposing a strategy. Everyone has the opportunity to contend in favor of their values and oppose what they believe is wrong, and the resulting societal consensus thereby reflects the values of society as a whole at the time. It is a fact the Jews were frequently persecuted by Christians who thought they were doing God's Will over the centuries. That doesn't mean that you have to accept what you view as injustice; it is the contention of people in support of their values that causes societal consensus to evolve.

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

I asked a six-word question, and you spent precisely 340 words not answering it. I asked you where I questioned anyone's motives, and you provided no evidence that I did.

In the course of not answering my question, you complained that you had to expend so many words not answering it--and then complaining that I wasn't answering your questions.

What you could have done was admit that nowhere did I question anyone's motives. That would only have taken just a few words. And then you wouldn't have had to spend so many words not admitting it and less effort in doing exactly what you were accusing me of doing.

Martin Cothran said...

While Singring unsuccessfully tries to find somewhere on this combox where I questioned someone's motives, I'll make an observation about the "reason" he gives for his moral positions that are not based on reasons:

His moral position, he says,is based on two things: empirical evidence and the evaluation of that evidence based on personal preference/subjective standards.

The first part--basing moral judgments on empirical evidence--runs right into the fact/value distinction I mentioned before. He doesn't say how he gets around this problem and continues to ignore it.

The second part--about personal preference/subjective standards--just tables the question again.

I said that saying that your moral views are based "personal opinions" just tables the question, since you then have to determine what your personal opinions are based on. So what does Singring do, he tables it again. One of the two things he says his personal opinions are based on are his personal opinions.

So maybe I can shorten the discussion a bit by just asking him, Is it personal opinions all the way down?

Martin Cothran said...

While Singring continues to hunt for where I questioned anyone's motives in this combox, let's address his views on the contribution of philosophy to science:

I have challenged Martin on this before and I challenge you now: Can you name any single empirical advancement that philosophy has produced in the entire 2500 year history you cite except for the development of science?

"Except for the development of science"? Kind of important, wouldn't you say? There would be no science of any kind--empirical or otherwise--without philosophy.

But let's answer this question very specifically, so Singring doesn't wriggle out of it using his patented method of writing long posts accusing you of not answering his questions and then barraging you with other questions that he will later accuse you of not answering, whether you have or not.

Well, okay. It probably won't stop him from doing that, but let's give it a try anyway.

Here are the empirical discoveries made by philosophers:

The movement of the planets
The movement of the earth
The eliptical orbits of planets
The moons of Jupiter
The orbit of Haley's Comet
The structure of the Milky Way (the galaxy, not the candy bar)
The existence of microorganisms
The nucleus of cells
Photosynthesis
Tropical biodiversity
The discovery of oxygen
Basic atomic theory
Basic structure of molecules
The synthesis of urea
Chemical structure
Electrical transformation of chemicals
Basic geological change
Identification of dinosaur fossils
The classification of species
The rules of heredity
Human anatomy
Blood circulation
The discovery of anesthesia
Basic germ theory
Vaccination
The law of falling bodies
Universal gravitation
The laws of motion
The second law of thermodynamics
Electromagnetism
Basic nuclear forces

There you go.

Martin Cothran said...

Oh, I almost forgot. There's one more:

Evolution.

Singring said...

LOL, this time you really take the prize, Martin. Desperation on display.

First off, let me just highlight once more that despite your bold original claim that:

'On the top of the scale is classical religious thought, a scheme of belief in which morality makes complete sense.'

...you have again refused to even mention the two major questions about morality I have raised and directly asked you three times now and once more just dance around the issues and adress anything but morality.

'I asked a six-word question, and you spent precisely 340 words not answering it. I asked you where I questioned anyone's motives, and you provided no evidence that I did.'

Excuse me? I precisely quoted the lines where you questioned the motives of the atheists here - you accused us of attacking your blog posts because they do not adhere to our moral code, when in fact we attack them because they are factually wrong, or intellectually lacking or inconsistent. It has nothing to do with moral values. Yet you spend two posts ignoring it. Classy.

'"Except for the development of science"? Kind of important, wouldn't you say? There would be no science of any kind--empirical or otherwise--without philosophy.'

Oh, I agree and admit that. But that's about it (philosophy was not even able to verify the utility of science once it hatched the idea). The remainder of the laundry list of empirical discoveries you give is all...

...how do I put this...

...scientific! Those discoveries were made by scientists based on empirical evidence! It is absolutely bizarre to claim that philosophers developed evolution or vaccination!

Or are you honestly trying to tell me now that your criteria for a philosophical 'truth' is emprirical evidence and observation?

Really?

Singring said...

Let's quote one of the most revered 'philosophers' you have on your list and see what he thinks about philosophy:

Richard Feynman:

'Philosophers, incidentally, say a great deal about what is absolutely necessary for science, and it is always, so far as one can see, rather naive and probably wrong.

My son is taking a course in philosophy, and last night we were looking at something by Spinoza - and there was the most childish reasoning! There were all these Attributes, and Substances, all this meaningless chewing around, and we started to laugh. Now how could we do that? Here's this great Dutch philosopher, and we're laughing at him. It's because there is no excuse for it! In the same period there was Newton, there was Harvey studying the circulation of the blood, there were people with methods of analysis by which progress was made! You can take every one of Spinoza's propositions and take the contrary propositions, and look at the world - and you can't tell which is right. Sure, people were awed because he had the courage to take on these great questions, but it doesn't do any good to have the courage if you can't get anywhere with the question.

It isn't philosophy that gets me, it's the pomposity. If they'd just laugh at themselves. If they'd just say, `I think it's like this, but von Leipzig thought it was like that, and he had a good shot at it, too'. If they'd explain that this is their best guess ... But so few of them do; instead, they seize on the possibility that there may not be an ultimate fundamental particle, and say that you should stop work and ponder with great profundity: `You haven't thought deeply enough, first let me define the world for you'. Well, I'm going to investigate it without defining it!'

I would have to agree with him.

You. on the other hand, apparently would like to classify this man as a philosopher.

One Brow said...

I'm sure OneBrow KyCobb are as continually amazed as I am at your persistent refusal to adress any actual points made in any posts.

Martin is human, and it is human nature to address the points you can most easily address. No amazement needed.

You. on the other hand, apparently would like to classify this man as a philosopher.

So would I. Not strictly nor primarily a philosopher, but he did philosophize upon occasion, such as in the passage you quote. In particular, taking the position that neither of two opposing views can be proven, and thus the argument should not be taken too seriously, is philosophying.

One Brow said...

The first part--basing moral judgments on empirical evidence--runs right into the fact/value distinction I mentioned before.

Martin,

I would still like to hear how, given the fact/value distinction, you manage to bridge the fact/purpose distinction. Perhaps you have a recommended source for that?

For example, how can we determine which of the following statements is correct:

1) The primary purpose of sex is reproduction (this is used to support the idea that only heterosexual marraiges can be sanctioned).

2) The primary purpose of sex is pair-bonding (this could be used to support the idea that a marriage should be recognized between any two insufficiently related adults regardless of sex/gender).

3) The primary purpose of sex is establishing a place in the community (this could be used to support notions such as plural marriage).

Can you, or some source, come up with something more than "it's obvious"?

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

Excuse me? I precisely quoted the lines where you questioned the motives of the atheists here - you accused us of attacking your blog posts because they do not adhere to our moral code, when in fact we attack them because they are factually wrong, or intellectually lacking or inconsistent. It has nothing to do with moral values. Yet you spend two posts ignoring it. Classy.

You apparently do not understand the distinction between a reason and a motive. A reason is the rational ground upon which someone says or does something. There's nothing wrong with guessing at what someone's reason or rationale is. I guessed at the reason in the case you gave. I have always done that and will continue to do that.

A motive, on the other hand, is (usually) a non-rational cause of someone's actions or words. I'll give you an example of this from your own post in which you criticize me for doing this. You described my remarks with the expression, "Desperation time."

In other words, you accused me of saying what I said because I was desperate. Were you guessing at the reason or rationale behind my remarks? Or were you giving the non-rational cause behind what I said? Were you giving the reason or the motive?

Physician, heal thyself.

Singring said...

'A motive, on the other hand, is (usually) a non-rational cause of someone's actions or words. '

Redefine away, Martin. A motive is the reason, rational or not, of someone doing or saying something. You stated that our criticism was motivated by our morals, when in fact it is motivated by our wish to adress factual and argumentative errors in your posts.

More importantly, however, you have now wasted several posts going on and on about why and how you were not questioning our motives, and have still have not even deemed it necessary to adress any of the actual moral issues raised.

If this is indicative of the power of your 'scheme of belief in which morality makes complete sense', I must say it is less than flattering.

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

A motive is the reason, rational or not...

Hmmm. So there can be a non-rational reason? And you also have personal opinions which you base on personal opinions. It's an interesting world you live in.

Is there a Mad Hatter and a March Hare there as well?

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

In regard to the list of empirical discoveries I listed made by philosophers, could you point out any of the thinkers who discovered them who would have described himself as a scientist? If so, please give names.

Singring said...

'So there can be a non-rational reason? And you also have personal opinions which you base on personal opinions. It's an interesting world you live in. '

Playing semantics rather than adressing the moral issues. As expected.

Would you prefer me to say:

'A motive is the CAUSE (or IMPETUS or ROOT), rational or not, of someone doing or saying something.'

...so you can understand it better, Martin? I am not writing a scholarly article here, I am haveing a casual debate.

Stop playing silly, childish games and start adressing he issues that you claimed were so easy to adress within your religious scheme of things.

Are the questions I asked really so hard to anser? Or are they so threating to your position you dare not answer them? I guess we'll never know because the rule of the game here seems to be to make an assertion, demand critics of said assertion to explain in detail how they arrive at their conclusions, then when asked to do likewise start playing semantics or dodge the question until it is buried in an ocean of obfuscating posts.

Singring said...

'In regard to the list of empirical discoveries I listed made by philosophers, could you point out any of the thinkers who discovered them who would have described himself as a scientist? If so, please give names.'

I'll respond in the patented Martin Cothran way:

Could you point to any of the apostles who described themselves as Catholics?

E.R. Bourne said...

One Brow, let us assume that each of your examples are purposes of the reproductive system. Which one is primary is somewhat irrelevant since morality is determined by whether or not an action frustrates natural purpose. If we have three purposes of sex, one considered biologically and two socially (man is a social animal, after all), nothing prevents us from saying that they are all legitimate purposes of human reproduction. What we are prevented from saying, though, is that anything other than heterosexual reproduction is morally licit since, even by your implicit admission, it is the only one which does not frustrate any of the three natural ends which you provided.

Singring said...

'What we are prevented from saying, though, is that anything other than heterosexual reproduction is morally licit since, even by your implicit admission, it is the only one which does not frustrate any of the three natural ends which you provided.'

How does homosexual sex frustrate reproduction? To do so, it would have to prevent or reduce the ability to reproduce in homosexuals, which it obviously does not.

E.R. Bourne said...

Singring, you are misunderstanding the terms. Frustration does not mean prevention simply. If we consider the act alone we understand that any type of homosexual behavior, by definition, cannot result in reproduction. The act does not frustrate the person as such or his reproductive system, but no one ever said it did. What it does do is frustrate the end for which reproduction exists. In other words, frustrate means use that is contrary to a natural end. Seen in this way, your objection is fallacious because you are using the word 'frustrate' in a way other than I was.

Singring said...

'What it does do is frustrate the end for which reproduction exists. In other words, frustrate means use that is contrary to a natural end.'

It can only be contrary if it prevents inhibits or in any other way reduces the ability of a homosexual person to procreate which it does not.

Are you saying that in every instance in which a married heterosexual couple engages in sex but fails to procreate they are engaging in immoral behaviour? How about infertile married couples that have sex? Is that immoral? Or married couples in their old age that can no longer procreate...immoral?

One Brow said...

E.R. Bourne,

Thank you for attempting to respond. Your response differs from the presentation of Dr. Feser, who emphasized the notion of primary purpose. Further, saying that any action that frustrates any natural purpose leads to very difficult positions.

In the example under consideration, requiring homosexuals to engage with members of the opposite sex will frustrate the purpose of pair-bonding. Forbidding them to have sex at all will frustrate the purpose of the organs to begin with. Allowing them sex with same-sex individuals frustrates reproduction. So, how do we choose which purpose(s) is/are the one(s) not to frustrate?

Not to mention, there is still the initial burden of showing that any of these purposes actually exist. How can you demonstrate that any of the putative purposes is real?

One Brow said...

Singring, allow me to answer these:

Are you saying that in every instance in which a married heterosexual couple engages in sex but fails to procreate they are engaging in immoral behaviour?

If they deliberately prevent conception (e.g., wear a condom), yes.

How about infertile married couples that have sex? Is that immoral?

If they are infertile by choice, the sin was in the action that caused their infertility (vasectomy, etc.). Other than that, as long as the sperm gets deposited into the vagina, no.

Or married couples in their old age that can no longer procreate...immoral?

Same as above.

Singring said...

I imagine these would be the responses of someone who holds that homosexual activity is a sin. They also highlight why the 'frustration of natural purpose' canot be a yardstick of morality in this case (never mind the fact that a 'natural purpose' is a somewhat arbitrarily chosen criterion and there is no reason to grant it any authority in my opinion).

'If they are infertile by choice, the sin was in the action that caused their infertility (vasectomy, etc.). Other than that, as long as the sperm gets deposited into the vagina, no.'

Homosexuals are as much homosexuals by choice as heterosexuals are heterosexual by choice (reams of research indicate this).

Therefore, if infertility is not the fault of the couple but sex in this isntance is not sinful, neithejr can homsexual activity be so.

E.R. Bourne said...

I believe Dr. Feser would acknowledge that we do not have to discover a primary function of something in order to determine whether or not something has any natural function at all.

Either way, let's return to your main points. I think that you are using 'frustrate' incorrectly. To not use something is not to frustrate its purpose, otherwise it would be immoral to sit down since we use our legs for walking. The difference is whether or not the use is contrary to the natural end. If, as you say, a person is not sexually attracted to members of the opposite sex then celibacy would, in fact, be the most moral option.

At a more general level, we have to consider natural ends in light of the particular species. I may or may not have sexual attractions to members of the same sex, but this, though, is irrelevant when determining the natural ends of my reproductive system, which I do not have in virtue of being an individual per se but in virtue of being a member of a biological species.

Finally, that nature acts for an end is evident if we explore what, exactly, we mean by the word 'nature,' which ultimately includes the principles of motion and change. Without the end or the act, in Aristotelian terms, nature itself is simply unintelligible.

Singring said...

'If, as you say, a person is not sexually attracted to members of the opposite sex then celibacy would, in fact, be the most moral option.'

What about the elderly and infertile couples? Is celibacy the only moral option in these instances?

E.R. Bourne said...

Sorry to respond so quickly, but I am writing a paper now (On God's Existence, no less).

Singring, I think One Brow adequately answered your question. To frustrate the end is a willful act.

Without the deliberate frustration of the natural end, no immoral act is committed.

Singring said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
One Brow said...

The difference is whether or not the use is contrary to the natural end.

In the case of homosexual sex, the use is conformative to the natural ends of pair-bonding and establighing a place in society. So, claiming a use is contrary to one natural end does not make it against natural law, as long as it accomplishes a different natural end. Otherwise, every time you eat, you frustrate the natural end of talking (and vice-versa).

If, as you say, a person is not sexually attracted to members of the opposite sex then celibacy would, in fact, be the most moral option.

Why is fulfilling some of the natural ends of sex less moral than not fulfilling them?

At a more general level, we have to consider natural ends in light of the particular species.

Celibacy is not any greater of a fulfillment of the natural ends in light of the species than homosexual sex. In fact by not engaging in the pair-bonding and heirarchical constructs a homosexual marriage would entail, the choice of celibacy would bring you further from your natural end than the choice of a homosexual marriage.

I may or may not have sexual attractions to members of the same sex, but this, though, is irrelevant when determining the natural ends of my reproductive system, which I do not have in virtue of being an individual per se but in virtue of being a member of a biological species.

I don't believe you will find me saying that sexual orientation plays any part in determining the natural role of sex, so I assume you directed this to Singring.

Finally, that nature acts for an end is evident if we explore what, exactly, we mean by the word 'nature,' which ultimately includes the principles of motion and change.

Even if we accept that whole framework (which to me confuses description and end, but that is a different conversation), it does not lift a finger to tell us for which ends any particular events act.

Without the end or the act, in Aristotelian terms, nature itself is simply unintelligible.

Again, this does not mean we can offer proof of the validity in the choice of a particular end.

Singring said...

My previous iteration of this comment was rather unintelligeble so I'm rephrasing it. One Brow has adressed several of the problems, but I would like to know the following:

E.R., you said:

''Singring, I think One Brow adequately answered your question. To frustrate the end is a willful act.

Without the deliberate frustration of the natural end, no immoral act is committed.'

Imagine a married heterosexual couple that is naturally attracted to each other in which one of the partners is infertile and therefore cannot procreate due to no fault of their own. According to your rationale, the most moral path for both partners would be to remain celibate for the duration of their marriage. The same would be true for a couple in which both partners are beyond a certain age or naturally infertile.

In other words: why would the above individuals not be behaving immoraly by having sex, but homosexual partners that are naturally attracted to each other would when they have sex?

E.R. Bourne said...

Singring, you are misusing the word nature. I may have a genetic predisposition to alcoholism, but this does not change the fact that alcoholism is a vice which must be avoided. Similarly, if someone happens to be attracted to someone of the same sex, this affords us no knowledge of the natural ends of humanity.

One Brow, it is still the case that, even if I accept that there is an equivalency between the ends of pair bonding and procreation, immorality consists in frustration of the natural ends for which sexuality exists. Heterosexual sex is therefore the only kind that can fulfill all of the ends in your example.

Ultimately, though, there is a hierarchy of goods, where reproduction is certainly prior to any other end of procreation, the bond of unity between husband and wife, for example.

Your claim about place in society is, I think, vague at best. A society is natural and therefore good, but the good of society must be accomplished through the natural good of the family, something from which homosexual sex is excluded since it, by definition, cannot result in procreation. Homosexuality simply has no place in the natural hierarchy of human relationships precisely because it is unnatural.

And yes, if you accept the whole framework it will tell you for which ends anything acts, since the act and the end are not separate. In fact, the end of the act is more primarily the act than the motion.

E.R. Bourne said...

Singring, as I said before, immorality consists in the deliberate frustration of natural ends. None of your examples is an example of a deliberate frustration of natural ends.

A heterosexual couple is unable to reproduce for two reasons: 1) they deliberately interfere with the marital act or 2) they are unable to procreate through some deficiency. Notice that it is through a lack or privation that a heterosexual couple that is not deliberately interfering in the marital act cannot reproduce. It is not due to some privation that two men or two women cannot naturally reproduce, the very nature of the act cannot yield offspring. This is the crucial difference for which your examples fail to account.

One Brow said...

One Brow, it is still the case that, even if I accept that there is an equivalency between the ends of pair bonding and procreation, immorality consists in frustration of the natural ends for which sexuality exists. Heterosexual sex is therefore the only kind that can fulfill all of the ends in your example.

So, you do recognize that some natural ends have priority over others. Thank you for confirming this.

Eating frustrates talking. Talking frustrates eating. Yet, no one considers it immoral to talk nor to eat, just because you can't do both at the same time.

What is the natural law stance on sex between married partners who don't like each other (such as might occur in an arranged marriage)? If the pair-bonding aspect is frustrated, is this sex therefore immoral? Surprise me, say yes. I don't think you be sonsistent enough to do that.

Ultimately, though, there is a hierarchy of goods, where reproduction is certainly prior to any other end of procreation, the bond of unity between husband and wife, for example.

I fail to see any "certainly" about this priority. From my very first comment in this thread, I have been looking for some to show this can be proclaimed in a non-arbitrary fashion. Why does reproduction have priority, and to such a degree that pair-bonding becomes irrelevant in determining morality.

Your claim about place in society is, I think, vague at best. A society is natural and therefore good, but the good of society must be accomplished through the natural good of the family, something from which homosexual sex is excluded since it, by definition, cannot result in procreation.

There are ways to acquire families other than direct procreation. In fact, there are famlies led by homosexual parents in America today, even in states where the parents are not allowed to marry. So your claim that homosexual marriages can not participate in families is counterfactual. Further, since the natural end of a marriage is to provide for the stability of these families, when you forbid this marriage you are frustrating the natural ends of marriage. Your only claim to justifying this is your apparently arbitrary decision that reproduction must hold the dominant position in these determinations. However, that arbitratiness is not a part of the natural reasoning itself, but an outside determinaiton to which natural law is applied. When you start from a different position, no more arbitrarily chosen from what I can tell, it becomes sinful to oppose homosexual marriages, even more so if they are raising children.

Homosexuality simply has no place in the natural hierarchy of human relationships precisely because it is unnatural.

I remember this quote:
"I may or may not have sexual attractions to members of the same sex, but this, though, is irrelevant when determining the natural ends of my reproductive system, .."

If homosexual marriage can not gain from being homosexuality being natural, then it can not be denied from being homosexuality being unnatural. If the natural status of homosexuality is relevant, or it is not. From my understanding of natural law, it is not.

Thomas said...

Onebrow,

I shouldn't have been sarcastic, but it's quite absurd to say that modern philosophers have discarded Aristotle's metaphysics. For one thing, in the last couple centuries there are quite a few "pure" Aristotelians, even in American academies (Veatch, Sachs, Joseph Owens to some degree). Thomists are fairly common as well, and draw heavily from Aristotle. Hegel's philosophy made features of Aristotle's Physics absolutely central to his whole system. Heidegger's whole ontological problematic is fundamentally Aristotelian, and Heideggerian phenomenology comes more from Aristotle than Husserl. I could go on, but you get the point--Aristotle's metaphysics, in one form or another, are still alive and well in contemporary philosophy. Not that it matters that much; the most naive way one could possibly go about determining the validity of a philosophic system is by counting heads.

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

Playing semantics rather than adressing the moral issues. As expected.

Maybe you could explain how pointing out someone's logically contradictory statements is "playing semantics."

You believe in "non-rational reasons." That's not semantics. That's nonsense. And so is an explanation which consists in saying your personal opinions are based on your personal opinions.

One Brow said...

Thomas,

I stand corrected. I have no doubt there will always be philosophers who used the Aristotlean or Thomistic frameworks. My apologies for the gross overstaement.

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

So I still haven't heard which of the scientific discoveries I listed were made by people who called themselves scientists.

Surely, given the number of discoveries I listed, you are not having trouble finding them.

Are you?

One Brow said...

Martin,

Did you have anything yet on how to say one purpose is more central than another purpose in a non-arbitrary way, possibly on the three different purpose I offered for sexual intercourse?

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

Thank you for your quote from Feynman. I like Feynman when I have read him, but in this quote he's basing his opinion of philosophy on an account of a class taken by his son. Is this the kind of reasoning the impress you?

Martin Cothran said...

One Brow,

I would still like to hear how, given the fact/value distinction, you manage to bridge the fact/purpose distinction. Perhaps you have a recommended source for that?

I have explained before that it is only those outside the Aristotelian-Thomist paradigm who are subject to the fact/value problem. If you believe in natures and purposes, there is not problem.

In regard to which of alternative options you gave for the purposes of sex, you determine it the same way you determine the purpose of a body part or organ. How do I know a nose is for breathing. Because I look at it, and not only does it for the most part engage in breathing, but its structure is clearly oriented toward doing it well.

I look at sex, and, biologically speaking, for the most part it results in reproduction (when not interfered with accidentally or intentionally). The structure of the organs involved are clearly oriented toward doing that well.

And by the say, talking about the "purpose of sex" is not a very good way to address this issue. Since "sex" is not a thing. It is an joint action. You could say that the purpose of that action is simply pleasure, although that term does not capture all that is involved in the impulse toward sex.

It would be more accurate to talk about the purpose of the organs involved, which more clearly betray a reproductive purpose.

I really don't know what you mean by "pair-bonding". It's not an expression I connect with romantic situations, so maybe you could explain it.

What is interesting about this whole discussion of final causes is that when you listen to anatomists talking about organs or chemical biologists talking about DNA, or animal behavior experts talking about why animals engage in certain behavior, they readily talk about purpose. But for some reason, when the subject turns to human sexuality, we can't talk about purpose.

Maybe one of you would like to address why you think this is so.

Singring said...

E.R.:

'2) they are unable to procreate through some deficiency. Notice that it is through a lack or privation that a heterosexual couple that is not deliberately interfering in the marital act cannot reproduce. It is not due to some privation that two men or two women cannot naturally reproduce, the very nature of the act cannot yield offspring. This is the crucial difference for which your examples fail to account.'

A man lacks or is privated a uterus. How does this make him in any way different from a woman that is infertile? They both are infertile due to their nature and through no fault of their own. You are being very inconsistent in your application of what is and is not a person's 'natural end', even though your entire system hinges upon it.

Martin:

'So I still haven't heard which of the scientific discoveries I listed were made by people who called themselves scientists.

Surely, given the number of discoveries I listed, you are not having trouble finding them.'

Surely, given the veracity of the New Testament writings, you are not having trouble finding an apostle who described himself a Catholic?

'but in this quote he's basing his opinion of philosophy on an account of a class taken by his son. Is this the kind of reasoning the impress you?'

I quoted Feynman as an example of his opinion of philosophers (a term you would like to label him with). Of course you know that, and once again you choose to mangle my words.

'You believe in "non-rational reasons." That's not semantics. That's nonsense.'

Either you have read my posts explaining my wording and decided to deliberatly lie about it, or you haven't and are now just making random statements without even bothering to read posts.

Still not a word on the two moral questions I aksed you. The more this goes on, the more your 'scheme of belief in which morality makes complete sense.' is exposed for the farce that it is.

You apparently can't even answer a very, very simple question like this:

Is it moral for God to condemn the son for the sin of the father?

One Brow said...

I have explained before that it is only those outside the Aristotelian-Thomist paradigm who are subject to the fact/value problem. If you believe in natures and purposes, there is not problem.

The issue is not how to gets values from natures and purposes, but how to get purposes from facts. Any method you use to discern a purpose from a fact can also be extended to dicerning morality directly from facts.

In regard to which of alternative options you gave for the purposes of sex, you determine it the same way you determine the purpose of a body part or organ. How do I know a nose is for breathing. Because I look at it, and not only does it for the most part engage in breathing, but its structure is clearly oriented toward doing it well.

Can you come up with a non-arbitrary way making that determination? Because "I look at it" and "clearly oriented" are every bit as subjective as anything you claim about atheistic morality.

I look at sex, and, biologically speaking, for the most part it results in reproduction (when not interfered with accidentally or intentionally). The structure of the organs involved are clearly oriented toward doing that well.

I look at homosexual sex, and for the most part it does not result in reproduction. The structure of the organs are just as "clearly oriented" to doing that well.

I look at DNA transmission in bacteria or amoebas, and for the most part it does not result in reproduction. The structure of teh cells are "clearly oriented" to doing that well.

The choice of reproduction remains arbitrary.

And by the say, talking about the "purpose of sex" is not a very good way to address this issue. Since "sex" is not a thing. It is an joint action. You could say that the purpose of that action is simply pleasure, although that term does not capture all that is involved in the impulse toward sex.

I offered a couple of other potential purspose, neither of which is simply pleasure.

It would be more accurate to talk about the purpose of the organs involved, which more clearly betray a reproductive purpose.

Again, I see an equally clear and strong pair-bonding, family-promoting purpose.

I really don't know what you mean by "pair-bonding". It's not an expression I connect with romantic situations, so maybe you could explain it.

The increased sense of intimacy, the feelings of trust, the willingness to give yourself over to your partner are all encouraged adn enhanced by a solid sexual relationship. You've never felt that?

What is interesting about this whole discussion of final causes is that when you listen to anatomists talking about organs or chemical biologists talking about DNA, or animal behavior experts talking about why animals engage in certain behavior, they readily talk about purpose. But for some reason, when the subject turns to human sexuality, we can't talk about purpose.

Maybe one of you would like to address why you think this is so.


Who has stopped you from trying to talk about purpose? Talking about purpose is different than trying to legislate based on that purpose.