Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Calvinists Strike Back: The Infidel Delusion

I should very quickly point out that, although the authors are all, I think Calvinists and Triabloggers, none of this is about what is at issue between Calvinists and their opponents. From what I have seen, it does make some strong points. See especially Manata's discussion of the Outsider Test. (I'm not going to vouch for the tone of this document, though).

49 comments:

steve said...

Thanks for the plug. For the record, Jason Engwer is not a Calvinist.

Doctor Logic said...

Oh gosh. It gets idiotic on page 1.

Headshaker said...

@Dr Logic - How so? I couldn't detect any glaring illogical statements.

Anonymous said...

Don't write him off so easily, DL is pretty knowledgeable about getting idiotic immediately.

Anonymous said...

Interesting story,

I posted a link to this book review on my facebook and one of my friends liked it so he reposted it. He's friends with John Loftus on Facebook so John saw it and commented on it. He liked it (or I think a bettee word for it would be hated) it enough to warrant a response.

Long story short, John just replied to them in his blog:
(http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2010/07/on-assessing-triablogues-review-of.html)

Small world.

Doctor Logic said...

Headshaker,

On page 1, Steve Hays starts out with the childish canard that the only morality worth caring about is absolute morality. That's like saying that the only deliciousness worth caring about is absolute deliciousness, or the only music worth listening to is absolutely good music. Hays seems to be telling us that he doesn't give a %$#* about being courageous unless courage is an absolute moral virtue at the abstract level. (I think we're supposed to assume he lacks any subjective appreciation for courage from which he infers an absolute virtue.)

Hays follows that up with the declaration that "Even if atheism were right, it is still a wrong turn."

For all practical purposes, Hays declares that it's preferable to be deluded and happy than be correct and stuck with a limited life in a physical universe. He seems to back off from saying that this is an argument against atheism, but essentially he says that he doesn't care about being right if it's going to mean receiving bad news.

If Hays really feels that way, there's not much point in engaging him in rational argument, is there? Well, not unless atheists are presenting him with something at least as good as eternal life and unlimited rice pudding.

If Christians like Hays would just imagine a world without God, they might see that their appreciation for moral behavior exists independently of any abstract reasoning, and, thus, independent of any absolute values. Upon reflection, they might even find that they would appreciate truth and rational inference, even if the conclusions weren't always sweetness and roses. Of course, it's possible that, in his heart, Hays couldn't care less about truth, but you know me, ever the skeptic...

Alas, fear and superstition prevent Christians from performing this sort of "what if" analysis. Christians think God is reading their minds and answering their prayers every day. God sees them safely through traffic (except when he doesn't), helps their sports teams win (except when they don't), and saves lives (when the victim survives) or takes victims to a better place (when the victim dies). Can you imagine how insulted such a mighty God would be if you were to spend a day imagining life without him? What would happen if you lived a day free of such bias? God would surely smite you! Except when he doesn't.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Interesting Dr. Logic. Feel free to contact me sometime. Cheers, Ed Babinski

steve said...

Doctor Logic said...

“On page 1, Steve Hays starts out with the childish canard that the only morality worth caring about is absolute morality.”

“Childish” is a value judgment. But if you reject moral absolutes, then what’s wrong with being childish (assuming, for the sake of argument, that my “canard” was “childish”)?

“That's like saying that the only deliciousness worth caring about is absolute deliciousness…”

That’s an argument from analogy minus the argument. Why should I regard morality as equivalent to taste?

“Hays seems to be telling us that he doesn't give a %$#* about being courageous unless courage is an absolute moral virtue at the abstract level.”

If there are no moral absolutes, then what makes courage virtuous? You rattle off some putative counterexamples, but your counterexamples lose their moral worth once you ditch moral realism. So your exercise is self-defeating.

“(I think we're supposed to assume he lacks any subjective appreciation for courage from which he infers an absolute virtue.)”

What’s the value of subjective appreciation for courage if it doesn’t correspond to an objective moral fact about courage?

“For all practical purposes, Hays declares that it's preferable to be deluded and happy than be correct and stuck with a limited life in a physical universe.”

i) To begin with, that’s not what I said. Either you’re obtuse, or else you’d rather caricature what you cannot refute.

ii) But let’s play along with your caricature for the sake of argument. If you reject moral absolutes, then what is wrong with being deluded?

“He seems to back off from saying that this is an argument against atheism, but essentially he says that he doesn't care about being right if it's going to mean receiving bad news.”

No. What I said is, why should we care about being right if there is no epistemic duty to be right? Are you too dim to grasp the issue?

“If Hays really feels that way, there's not much point in engaging him in rational argument, is there?”

If you reject moral absolutes, then what’s the point of rational argument? There’s no obligation to be right.

“If Christians like Hays would just imagine a world without God, they might see that their appreciation for moral behavior exists independently of any abstract reasoning, and, thus, independent of any absolute values.”

“Moral behavior” which doesn’t answer to moral absolutes is indistinguishable from immoral behavior.

“Alas, fear and superstition prevent Christians from performing this sort of ‘what if’ analysis.”

i) Hypotheticals are a basic feature of rationality.

ii) If you reject moral absolutes, then there’s no obligation to avoid “fear and superstition.”

Thanks for your self-refuting tirade, Dr. Illogic.

Doctor Logic said...

Steve,

You have a misunderstanding of something basic to philosophy and psychology.

“Childish” is a value judgment. But if you reject moral absolutes, then what’s wrong with being childish (assuming, for the sake of argument, that my “canard” was “childish”)?

I'm calling your bluff on this one. It doesn't matter if there's no absolute, objective reason why every person should eschew childishness. My argument is compelling to you because you prefer - you care - not to be childish.

The same goes for rational thinking. There's no absolute, objective reason why every person should be rational. (Indeed, any such rational justification you come up with would be circular.) The point is that we desire to be rational, and are often biologically compelled to be rational. My argument is compelling to you because you care about being rational.

So, you sit across the table from me, holding a spoonful of dung, asking me to give you an absolute reason why you ought not eat the dung. Sorry, but I'm not worried that either of us is going to start eating dung, especially not on a regular basis.

Let's suppose (contra reality) that you really didn't care about being rational. How would the existence of some absolute moral imperative cause you to be rational? Surely, such an imperative only has a hold on you if you care. If you lack a subjective appreciation for rationality, a rational argument won't change that.

None of what I have said is self-defeating. My arguments appeal to people who subjectively value rationality. People who don't subjectively value rationality won't give a damn about my arguments, and I can live with that.

The reason you think my comments are self-defeating is that your model of morality is wrong. You mistakenly think that people are moral because the perform some sort of deductive inference from self-evident moral absolutes. The reality is that morality is caring, not deduction. A man's supposed moral absolutes are inferred from his cares. It's not the other way around.

If I could somehow prove to you on paper that objectively good people absolutely ought to rape, kill and steal, would you still want to be an "objectively good" person? I put it to you that you would prefer to be a subjectively good person, and an objectively evil person. You would rather be "objectively evil" because you care about not murdering, not raping, etc. Of course, this is all hypothetical because there are no decent arguments about objective goods, let alone proofs. But it does make the important point. People aren't good because they perceive and obey some abstract objective moral framework of absolutes. They act on their cares.

If you don't care about being rational, and don't care about being childish, then my argument isn't going to work on you. Like I said, I can live with that.

steve said...

Doctor Logic said...

“I'm calling your bluff on this one.”

Never call a player’s bluff when you have a losing hand.

“It doesn't matter if there's no absolute, objective reason why every person should eschew childishness. My argument is compelling to you because you prefer - you care - not to be childish.”

i) If I were an atheist, it wouldn’t matter. Unless your argument is morally compelling (which you deny at the outset), then it has no force.

ii) If your “argument” reduces to emotional bullying, then that’s not an “argument.” Rather, that’s high school social dynamics. Who’s hot and who’s not.

“The same goes for rational thinking. There's no absolute, objective reason why every person should be rational. (Indeed, any such rational justification you come up with would be circular.) The point is that we desire to be rational, and are often biologically compelled to be rational.”

i) I don’t think evolutionary biology compels us to be rational.

ii) But let’s play along with your claim for the sake of argument. That only works for animals which are unaware of their biological programming. If, however, an animal becomes conscious of its biological programming, then it’s in a position to realize that its “desire to be rational” it not, itself, a rational desire.

iii) You’re downshifting to psychological coercion, like the desire of an adolescent schoolgirl to fit in. To do whatever it takes to be accepted. Wearing the “right” clothes. The “right” hairdo. The “right” makeup. Listening to the “right” music.

iv) I might like to murder the guy who stole my girlfriend if I thought I could get away with it. In your worldview, my murderous desire is amoral.

“So, you sit across the table from me, holding a spoonful of dung, asking me to give you an absolute reason why you ought not eat the dung. Sorry, but I'm not worried that either of us is going to start eating dung, especially not on a regular basis.”

If you want to bring “rationality” down to the level of certain tastes and odors we find naturally repellent, that doesn’t exactly commend your worldview.

“Let's suppose (contra reality) that you really didn't care about being rational. How would the existence of some absolute moral imperative cause you to be rational? Surely, such an imperative only has a hold on you if you care. If you lack a subjective appreciation for rationality, a rational argument won't change that.”

There’s a fundamental asymmetry between atheism and Christian theism at this point. In Christianity, there’s a match between our subjective appreciation for rationality and objective epistemic duties. But by your own admission, you don’t have that in atheism.

“None of what I have said is self-defeating. My arguments appeal to people who subjectively value rationality. People who don't subjectively value rationality won't give a damn about my arguments, and I can live with that.”

Of course it’s self-refuting. You appeal to “rationality.” But your real position boils down to one’s personal preference, which is hardly interchangeable with rationality.

steve said...

Cont. “The reason you think my comments are self-defeating is that your model of morality is wrong. You mistakenly think that people are moral because the perform some sort of deductive inference from self-evident moral absolutes. The reality is that morality is caring, not deduction. A man's supposed moral absolutes are inferred from his cares. It's not the other way around.”

I said nothing about moral motivations. I’ve been discussing the metaphysical foundations of morality.

“If I could somehow prove to you on paper that objectively good people absolutely ought to rape, kill and steal, would you still want to be an ‘objectively good’ person? I put it to you that you would prefer to be a subjectively good person, and an objectively evil person. You would rather be ‘objectively evil’ because you care about not murdering, not raping, etc.”

i) We can always dream up hypothetical scenarios which generate tensions between what is subjectively the case and what is objectively the case. But why not deal with the real world situation of atheism and Christian theism? Does Christian theism trigger this cognitive dissonance? No.

ii) And, once again, that goes to the asymmetry between the respective positions.

“Of course, this is all hypothetical because there are no decent arguments about objective goods, let alone proofs. But it does make the important point. People aren't good because they perceive and obey some abstract objective moral framework of absolutes. They act on their cares.”

i) This isn’t a question of what makes people good, since–on your view–nobody is good. There is no good to emulate.

ii) And, once again, I’m not discussing incentives or disincentives. Rather, I’m discussing what grounds moral ascriptions. You admit that moral ascriptions are baseless.

“If you don't care about being rational, and don't care about being childish, then my argument isn't going to work on you.”

To call one’s opponent “childish” is an attempt to shame him into changing his belief or behavior. But your moral nihilism takes the sting out of that accusation.

“Like I said, I can live with that.”

Yes, well…if the ship were going down, I won’t be stepping into the same lifeboat you do. Hard to sleep in a lifeboat with a moral nihilist by my side. I might be missing some body parts when I awake.

Tim said...

There are more things crying out for analysis here than I have time to discuss.

"There's no absolute, objective reason why every person should be rational."

I'm trying to imagine the reaction in the atheist blogosphere if any prominent defender of Christianity were to say something bizarre like this. Boggle. What can you mean by "should" here?

"So, you sit across the table from me, holding a spoonful of dung, asking me to give you an absolute reason why you ought not eat the dung. Sorry, ..."

DL, is it that you can't think of a good reason not to eat dung (but it doesn't matter, because you aren't about to start), or is it that you have some sense of "absolute reason" in mind that is different from "reason that all informed, rational people would find probative"?

Sometimes I think folks need to be reminded that logical positivism is dead and that A. J. Ayer was one of the pallbearers.

Doctor Logic said...

Steve,

Your response features the usual crippling confusion that I've come to expect from Christian apologists.

All of you conflate morality with absolute morality. In any argument about the subject, you beg the question. You say that if there's no absolute morality, then there's no morality at all. It's inane. Obtuse, to use your preferred word.

i) If I were an atheist, it wouldn’t matter. Unless your argument is morally compelling (which you deny at the outset), then it has no force.

Of course my argument is morally compelling. It's just that morality is a matter of caring. Indeed, this would be the case even if moral realism was true. Under moral realism, if you make an argument, but I don't care about rational thinking, then your argument won't be compelling. The only difference between the moral realism and moral subjectivism cases is that the realist claims I am absolutely evil while the moral subjectivist claims I am subjectively evil (or just unpleasant).

ii) But let’s play along with your claim for the sake of argument. That only works for animals which are unaware of their biological programming. If, however, an animal becomes conscious of its biological programming, then it’s in a position to realize that its “desire to be rational” it not, itself, a rational desire.

YES!! Don't dismiss this! This is an important point. For the "desire to be rational" to itself be rational, it would have to have rational justification. And rational justification requires that same desire to be rational. It's circular! It is irrational to think that the desire to be rational can be rationally justified!

Doctor Logic said...

Steve,

iii) You’re downshifting to psychological coercion, like the desire of an adolescent schoolgirl to fit in. To do whatever it takes to be accepted. Wearing the “right” clothes. The “right” hairdo. The “right” makeup. Listening to the “right” music.

iv) I might like to murder the guy who stole my girlfriend if I thought I could get away with it.


Now THIS is a hypocritical and self-defeating argument.

It's hypocritical because you say you think psychological coercion is bad form. In the next breath, you propose a scenario that's psychologically coercive.

It's self-defeating because, without assuming your conclusion, the only reason why (iv) should be important is because we both subjectively care that people not be murdered. You then (falsely) suppose that I can have no moral convictions in my worldview.

Look, I know what moral realism is, but you don't seem to understand what moral subjectivism is. The moral realist defines moral status as something that derives from self-evident, human-independent moral absolutes. A good person is then someone who recognizes moral reality, and cares enough to act in accordance with it. You understand this, but you're begging the question when you apply this definition to the claims of moral subjectivists.

A moral subjectivist defines morality as an idealization or abstraction of what he cares about. Under subjectivism, most people still think murder is wrong, and this is because most people care that murders be stopped. And a good person is someone who cares to act in accordance with my (or my culture's) cares. Note that in both cases, you rely on the cares of the recipient of your argument.

To reiterate, under realism morality = something deduced from absolutes. Under subjectivism, morality = caring.

Now, you could say that there's nothing to ground moral subjectivism in the sense that a hypothetical alien society could exist in which people care to murder, and for whom murder would be good. But that's not where we live. And if humans and said aliens ever came to exist, we might not be able to rationally resolve our differences. But so what? That doesn't represent a flaw or a contradiction in the subjectivist position.

Getting back to our debate, just imagine that every rational argument opens with the implicit disclaimer "If you care about rational inference..." and every conclusion opens with the implicit statement "then you ought to care about the following conclusion..."

Doctor Logic said...

Steve,

i) We can always dream up hypothetical scenarios which generate tensions between what is subjectively the case and what is objectively the case. But why not deal with the real world situation of atheism and Christian theism? Does Christian theism trigger this cognitive dissonance? No.

The subjectivist is saying that moral principles are not fundamentally real, but rather that we construct moral principles by abstracting or idealizing from our subjective cares. Your response is to tell me that, under Christianity, there's no dissonance between our idealized subjective cares and God's principles. Just as if Christian principles were abstract idealizations of your subjective cares. Great! You've made my point for me!

Yes, well…if the ship were going down, I won’t be stepping into the same lifeboat you do. Hard to sleep in a lifeboat with a moral nihilist by my side. I might be missing some body parts when I awake.

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

But it gets better than that. Let's suppose that I were a moral realist. Why would a moral realist not care to dismember you? Just because morality is real, doesn't mean you should act in accordance with it. Indeed, most moral realists do not.

Doctor Logic said...

Tim,

If you have a non-circular, rational argument for rationality, I would LOVE to hear it.

DL, is it that you can't think of a good reason not to eat dung (but it doesn't matter, because you aren't about to start), or is it that you have some sense of "absolute reason" in mind that is different from "reason that all informed, rational people would find probative"?

I'm saying that people ultimately do what they care to do. People do what they think is right.

If you are a rational person, then you care about rational inference, and you care about an accurate picture of the way the world is. How you act when confronted by this reality will depend on your cares, but the rational man does not warp reality to fit his cares. He accepts reality by overcoming his bias, and then uses his cares to decide how he wants to act.

For example, I might rationally determine that pollution is making the world less safe for me and future generations. However, I might care more about the fun I have (which incidentally pollutes the environment) than I do about environmental safety. Rationality tells me how to act in accordance with my cares, i.e., having fun.

A real world example. I don't eat vegetables. But I don't let my care (my bias) tell me that vegetables are overrated. I don't reject the science about nutrition. I know that not eating vegetables will adversely affect my health. That's reality informed by rational inference. However, in the face of this, I find I care more about what tastes good than what optimizes my lifespan.

Getting back to your question, there's no absolute reason not to eat dung because there's no absolute reason we ought to survive, etc. Nevertheless, I know that dung is unpleasant to smell (let alone eat), and that it probably won't do me any good. The rational man accepts that there is no absolute reason not to eat dung, but that the rational man acts in accordance with his cares. And if he cares to avoid eating dung, he won't eat it.

Indeed, if it were shown that dung were healthy, it wouldn't become rational for everyone to start eating it. Some people might prefer ill-health to eating dung, and that would be a rational trade-off for them.

Paul Manata said...

Dr. Logic,

So I take it you'd disagree with the authors of the The Christian Delusion? Their moral indictments of Christianity seemed more serious than saying, "I don't prefer that," like one might say about Brussel sprouts.

But as you've indicated, that's all there is to morality. Morality is simply a descriptive project, a list of likes and dislikes. And on that score, all cognizers are infallible about their moral beliefs just in case they have accurately reported what they like or dislike.

But it certainly seems odd to say that we can't be mistaken about our moral beliefs. We may swap them out for other moral beliefs, but what would it even mean for a subjectivist to say, "I was wrong about my moral belief B, I should not have held B"? If B was really what you preferred at the time, then B was not wrong and it would be false to claim you should not have held it. B was moral, by definition.

In any case, I just can understand subjectivism as a moral position. I understand it, but it isn't ethics, really. It's psychology. It's descriptive. Thus it can't account for moral disagreement. It makes no sense to claim that someone is wrong for disliking, say, straight vanilla extract, does it? Disagreement should instead be seen as one trying to get another to care about what the other does. So when you run into a child molester and are outraged at what he does, you are disgusted in a similar way that you would be if you ran into someone eating dung. You try to get the molester to prefer adults to children. But you can't say that the molester is wrong for preferring the love of children. But molesting children for fun seems as clear a case for something absolutely wrong as there is. It certainly can't be a moral thing to do--which it is, for him, on subjectivism. It is what he cares about, and so he is not in moral error. But surely he is. (I would have addessed emotivism but you seemed to deny emotivism in your discussion of reasons for actions in response to Dr. Mcgrew.)

Tim said...

DL,

Rationality is by definition normative. We can have an argument about whether certain beliefs are well supported, but unless the word "should" loses its meaning, there's no question that we should all be rational. Aristotle covers this in the Metaphysics, Book Γ.

You write:

If you are a rational person, then you care about rational inference

But you also write:

Rationality tells me how to act in accordance with my cares

Does this mean that people who don't care about rationality don't know how to act in accordance with their desires? If they do know this, doesn't that mean that they are at least intermittently rational?

You write:

there's no absolute reason we ought to survive

I'm still struggling to figure out what you mean by "absolute reason." Would you say, in the same sense, that there's no absolute reason not to torture small children for amusement?

steve said...

"Dr. Logic,"

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

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

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

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

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

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

SteveK said...

DL,
Steve Hays starts out with the childish canard that the only morality worth caring about is absolute morality. That's like saying that the only deliciousness worth caring about is absolute deliciousness, or the only music worth listening to is absolutely good music.

You are arguing a straw man and equivocating terms.

Morality is nothing like preference or desire so it cannot be like saying "only deliciousness worth caring about is absolute deliciousness". It is only that way in your mind because you choose to equivocate terms.

You assert that morality is like gastronomic preference/taste when it is not. Just ask the people around you. Nobody says they prefer, or strongly prefer, that nobody steal their money. They say it is morally wrong to steal their money. The person is making a command statement, not a statement of preference.

Your assertions fall flat.

Doctor Logic said...

Paul,

Your comment starts out with a lot of promise. Subjectivism is descriptive, just as you say it is. However, you seem to fall into the same trap as the other commenters here:

But you can't say that the molester is wrong for preferring the love of children.

What you mean is

But you can't say that the molester is *absolutely* wrong for preferring the love of children.

If subjectivism is true, then the term "wrong" doesn't mean "absolutely wrong" and has never really meant that.

I disagree that subjectivism implies infallibility. Morality is typically based on some idealization of feelings and desires. For example, my desire for what I want to do now is not the same as my desire for the long term. If I act on my desire in the present, I may frustrate my desire for my future. For example, my desire to eat cake now frustrates my desire to lose weight. Immediate desires conflict with desires for a better future.

We also frame moral preferences in terms of ideal worlds. In an ideal world, every man loves his neighbor, and fences come between us. Yet, in the real world, I doubt my neighbors love me. If I am the first on my block to build a fence, my desire for security conflicts with my ideal ethic of neighborly love.

Finally, we frame moral claims in legalistic terms, i.e., "X is wrong" means ""it should be against the law of the land to do X".

These conflicts don't usually happen in the case of someone's like for straight vanilla extract. We don't feel as strongly about that person's choice, and it doesn't conflict with our personal ideals in the same way as moral conflicts do. But I don't see how this weakens moral subjectivism at all. Without begging the question, you can't say that wrong doesn't mean "in conflict with strong, idealized cares."

So there is fallibility. When I step on that scale tomorrow, I will regard my giving in to immediate desire for cake as a moral failure.

Doctor Logic said...

Tim,

Rationality is by definition normative. We can have an argument about whether certain beliefs are well supported, but unless the word "should" loses its meaning, there's no question that we should all be rational.

I disagree. You might be able to say that any person who accepts rational principles will find rationality to be normative, but that's trivial. You can't say that a person who rejects rational principles will rationally find anything at all.

Does this mean that people who don't care about rationality don't know how to act in accordance with their desires? If they do know this, doesn't that mean that they are at least intermittently rational?

I think everyone is at least intermittently rational about at least some things. We can't help it. It's in our nature to be at least partially rational. However, it's also true that humans don't usually come into beliefs by a rational process of induction and self knowledge, and they don't always properly subject their beliefs to clear tests of consistency.

This is why critical thinking is vital to rationality. We have to criticize every one of our beliefs, no matter how obvious it may seem, or else we run the risk of maintaining irrational beliefs.

I'm still struggling to figure out what you mean by "absolute reason." Would you say, in the same sense, that there's no absolute reason not to torture small children for amusement?

There are no absolute moral imperatives. You are not compelled by absolute moral imperatives to avoid torturing small children for amusement. Rather, you are compelled by your desire not to do so. The realist rationalizes this compulsion as the external pressure of some ethereal moral absolute. For the subjectivist, the compulsion is ultimately cognitive and physiological.

Doctor Logic said...

Steve,

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

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


Yes, it *is* your preference. You prefer to be the person who raises his son in that situation more than you prefer to be the person who walks away.

What you really mean is that you have a conflict between the two desires. Your immediate desire for pleasure conflicts with your desire to be seen as a good person. And if you do walk away, you will experience moments when you lack the gratifications of bachelorhood (e.g., when you're bored or feeling dejected), and the sting of abandoning your child will feel that much worse. And so you'll return to your son.

You are not compelled by an abstraction, but by real feelings that conflict from time to time. You don't reason to the choice of child custody by some abstract proof. If you did, your house would be full of orphans.

SteveK said...

DL,
There are no absolute moral imperatives.

Another assertion that lacks any connection to the reality that humans consistently experience. Moral imperatives weigh on our conscience as an experience that reflects the reality around us. They constantly nag at us as imperatives. We cannot ignore them. Those that live as though they can ignore them are called sociopaths - not people with alternative lifestyles or exotic preferences.

If there are no moral imperatives, there are no morals because, by definition, all morals are imperative -- just as logic is imperative.

You are not compelled by an abstraction.

Does this include logic?

Paul Manata said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paul Manata said...

Dr. Logic,

You say,

"What you mean is

"But you can't say that the molester is *absolutely* wrong for preferring the love of children."

If subjectivism is true, then the term "wrong" doesn't mean "absolutely wrong" and has never really meant that.


I don't quite grasp this. You admitted that ethical statements are descriptive statements, i.e., statements of the psychological state of mind of the utterer (e.g., "I prefer to help old ladies cross the road;" or, similarly, "I prefer vanilla over chocolate"). As long as you honestly report your preferences, how can you be wrong? Would you ever suggest that someone could be wrong for preferring vanilla over chocolate?

You say that you don't think subjectivism leads to moral infallibility because,

"Morality is typically based on some idealization of feelings and desires. For example, my desire for what I want to do now is not the same as my desire for the long term."

I don't get this. A statement like, "molesting children is immoral" simply describes the someone S's preference. S prefers not to molest children. If that is an honest report, how could S be wrong about it? And, what would it even mean to claim that S's preference not to molest a child for fun could be "different" down the road? Wouldn't this mean that, simply, S has a different preference at time t2 than he had at t1? But if S is honest at t1 and t2 about his mental states, then, according to subjectivism, the moral statements said at t1 and t2 both have the same truth value.

(BTW, subjectivism can make sense of absolutes, just not objective absolutes.)

You then say,

"Finally, we frame moral claims in legalistic terms, i.e., "X is wrong" means ""it should be against the law of the land to do X".

It is of course a mistake to confuse morality with legality. The problems are too obvious to state. There are many things we believe to be immoral that we do not believe should be made illegal. This statement also presupposes some very questionable views on government and their authority in private life. So I'm not confident this line of reasoning would get you very far.

You said,

"So there is fallibility. When I step on that scale tomorrow, I will regard my giving in to immediate desire for cake as a moral failure."

All this means, I think, is that you don't understand your own position. At best you believe that you didn't really prefer the cake when you ate it. Perhaps you lied to yourself, perhaps you were self-deceived, perhaps you gave in to temptation. But it cannot be the case that if morality is as you say--a descriptive report of your preferences--that you did something wrong or immoral.

Doctor Logic said...

Paul,

First, kudos for understanding the basic idea of subjectivism.

When I wrote my last comment, I was confused by your previous comment. When you used the term 'wrong', you meant 'fallible', not 'morally wrong'. Anyway...

Suppose that S has conflicting desires. D1 is the desire to eat cake. D2 is the desire to lose weight because S is obese.

At t1, S succumbs to temptation because

t1: D1 > D2

At a later time, t2, S may find the reverse:

t2: D2 > D1

and will regret eating the cake.

What you are saying is that we have merely described the facts here, and there is nothing intrinsically failed either at t1 or t2. And I agree.

However, S considers D2 to be his moral desire, and D1 to be an immoral (or amoral) desire. So, from S's perspective, he is morally fallible. S can say he was morally wrong at t1. S says "I was wrong to eat the cake."

The majority of human agents from the same culture as S will agree with S, and they concur that D2 is the moral desire while D1 is the immoral/amoral temptation.

Not all desires are regarded as moral desires by an agent or culture. Some desires are considered to be morally neutral. So a constellation of moral + amoral desires can result in an immoral decision.

Finally, if a different species or a different culture might have different moral ideals. It's true that subjectivism can't rank us versus them, but it doesn't really matter. Subjectivism describes what will happen when we encounter each other.

Morrison said...

The Infidel Delusion is the antidote to what Loftus called the "poison" his book represents.

(Don't blame me, that's what he called it and brags about.)

And if the Loftus Gang does not think this book is a serious set back for them, then THEY are in DENIAL.

We are already arranging to have 500 copies ready for distribution at our book table when the semester starts later next month.

Tim said...

DL,

I wrote:

Rationality is by definition normative. We can have an argument about whether certain beliefs are well supported, but unless the word "should" loses its meaning, there's no question that we should all be rational.

To which you replied:

I disagree. You might be able to say that any person who accepts rational principles will find rationality to be normative, but that's trivial. You can't say that a person who rejects rational principles will rationally find anything at all.

You are misunderstanding my claim. I am not speaking about what someone will “find” normative: I am saying that the concept of rationality itself is a normative concept. You may claim, if you like, that it applies vacuously because there are no such things as cogent reasons. But it does not matter a bit whether someone who rejects the principles of rational thought fails, as a result of his rejection of those principles, to find or feel their force. He would have greater hope of success in denying the existence of gravity.

I certainly agree with you about the value of -- and the great need for -- critical reasoning.

About moral imperatives, you write:

There are no absolute moral imperatives. You are not compelled by absolute moral imperatives to avoid torturing small children for amusement. Rather, you are compelled by your desire not to do so. The realist rationalizes this compulsion as the external pressure of some ethereal moral absolute. For the subjectivist, the compulsion is ultimately cognitive and physiological.

Even if you were right that I am compelled solely by my desires -- and this position, it seems to me, runs the risk of trivializing your thesis by defining as my desires those things (whatever they are) that compel me to act as I do -- it would not follow that there are no absolute moral imperatives.

Paul Manata said...

Dr. Logic,

You wrote,

"When I wrote my last comment, I was confused by your previous comment. When you used the term 'wrong', you meant 'fallible', not 'morally wrong'. Anyway..."

From what I can tell, either type of wrongness works. I suggest making explicit what's going on in subjectivism that causes my concerns here.

Generally, when we try to understand an ethical theory we look at two aims moral theories set for themselves: (1) practical aims and (2) theoretical aims. (1) deals with the action-guiding principles, or principles for correct moral reasoning. (2) deals with what criteria make a moral evaluation true.

For our purposes, I'm not concerned with (1) here, but with (2). Given what you have said here, and given that you have seemed to agree with my understanding of the basics of subjectivism, I think we can agree that Ethical Subjectivism would explicate (2) as:

[ES] What is right or wrong for a cognizer S is identical to various psychological states of S's, analyzed as preferences for and preferences against some state of affairs.

So, [ES] states that when S says, "X is immoral," what this means is "S dislikes X." Conversely, "X is moral," just means the descriptive fact that "S likes X."

So, what makes statements like the above true is, obviously, that S really like/dislike X. If S is honest about, say, "S likes X," then S cannot be wrong, per [ES].

Now, we have been talking about subjectivism as a moral theory, not a theory of food preferences. Morality has to be a subject, and when moral theorists are theorizing about ethics, they are theorizing about certain kinds of claims. I suggest using some Paradigmatic Moral Evaluation. I propose this:

[PME] It is immoral to sexually molest children for fun.

Per [ES], [PME] is identical with this:

[PME*] I dislike sexually molesting children for fun.

Now, the argument that [ES] leads to our being morally infallible is a hypothetical:

[MI] Per [ES], if a human cognizer S honestly reports S's psychological state with respect to some moral evaluation X, then S cannot be wrong with respect to X.

Given the above work, all of which I think you'd be bound to agree with given what you've admitted in this thread, I suggest your claim that,

"However, S considers D2 to be his moral desire, and D1 to be an immoral (or amoral) desire. So, from S's perspective, he is morally fallible. S can say he was morally wrong at t1. S says "I was wrong to eat the cake."

is not consistently [ES]. S is mistaken here. For, per [MI], if S honestly reports S's desire, then S could not have been wrong in S's moral evaluation. What really is going on is that S is correct on both scores. If S honestly liked X at t1, and honestly disliked X at t2, then S held true moral beliefs at both t1 and t2.

You're also talking about intra-subjective evaluative judgments. I think you can't escape the argument here, but suppose you could. I think it is obvious that inter-subjective evaluative judgments suffers from the infallibility problem, which is a devastating consequence. For Hitler to say, "It is moral to exterminate the Jews" just means "I [Hitler] like exterminating Jews." If he is honest, then he "It is moral to exterminate Jews" is correct when uttered by Hitler, which is a fantastic consequence!

So i don't think you've escaped the problem that subjectivism leads to the conclusion that we are all morally infallible (and this is despite the other problems of subjectivism, many of which I consider more severe than the argument expressed in this thread). You also make some comments about culture (which isn't subjectivsm), so I'll leave that alone.

SteveK said...

DL,
I'm wondering if you think the classical "Problem of Evil" is a non-subjective problem with a non-subjective solution, or if it is merely a reflection of your subjective desires, and as such, is only a problem for you?

Paul Manata said...

SteveK,

I actually debated a self-described ethical subjectivist on that very question:

http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2007/02/if-evil-then-god.html

Doctor Logic said...

Paul,

I believe there is an equivocation here:

[ES] What is right or wrong for a cognizer S is identical to various psychological states of S's, analyzed as preferences for and preferences against some state of affairs.

What do you mean by "right or wrong"?

You cannot mean that S's determination of right/wrong is correct in any way. That would be contrary to the descriptive program of subjectivism.

At best, you should only be defining right and wrong as preferences.

Under moral subjectivism, right and wrong are indeed names given by the subject for his moral preferences. As such, we should rather say that:

[ES2] What is regarded as right or wrong for a cognizer S is identical to various psychological states of S's, analyzed as preferences for and preferences against some state of affairs.

Which, of course, is trivial.

This leads us to your Hitler example:

[PART i] For Hitler to say, "It is moral to exterminate the Jews" just means "I [Hitler] like exterminating Jews."

[PART ii] If he is honest, then "It is moral to exterminate Jews" is correct when uttered by Hitler, which is a fantastic consequence!


[PART i] sounds fairly consistent with [ES2]. (It would be much better to put [PART i] as "I [Hitler] find exterminating Jews most consistent with my values.")

However, your [PART ii] seems to import the equivocation in your original [ES]. In your original [ES], it appears that you claimed some sort of correctness for right and wrong with respect to S, and this "correctness" is leaking into [PART ii].

If, instead, we reflect on [PART ii] using [ES2], [PART ii] becomes a simple restatement of [PART i]. That is, Hitler thinks he is being moral, which is a trivial and true statement.

Doctor Logic said...

Paul,

Me:
"However, S considers D2 to be his moral desire, and D1 to be an immoral (or amoral) desire. So, from S's perspective, he is morally fallible. S can say he was morally wrong at t1. S says "I was wrong to eat the cake."

You:
is not consistently [ES]. S is mistaken here. For, per [MI], if S honestly reports S's desire, then S could not have been wrong in S's moral evaluation. What really is going on is that S is correct on both scores. If S honestly liked X at t1, and honestly disliked X at t2, then S held true moral beliefs at both t1 and t2.


What you're saying here contradicts the description I gave in my prior comment. Not all desires are moral desires. S can (net) desire cake at t1 and (net) not desire cake at t2, while keeping his moral desire for healthy eating fixed. S's non-moral desire for cake overwhelms his moral desire for healthy eating. In other words, at t1, S can say "I am wrong to eat this cake."

To clarify this further, a person could have a fixed set of moral beliefs while acting sometimes consistently and sometimes inconsistently with that set of moral beliefs.

Moreover, the kind of fallibility you refer to is not the kind of fallibility people refer to in normal moral discourse.

How does a person become aware of moral failure?

(1) A person could find that their actions do not conform to their desires because they lack some information about consequences.

(2) A person could alter his values, then come to regard his past actions as moral failures.

(3) A person could be immediately aware of moral failure if he knowingly acts in contradiction with his moral desires in order to satisfy some non-moral desires.

All of these kinds of revelations are compatible with [ES2].

Doctor Logic said...

Tim,

I am not speaking about what someone will “find” normative: I am saying that the concept of rationality itself is a normative concept.

I agree that a typical rationalist is someone who accepts that rationality is normative. However, I think that rational thinking consists of specific kinds of inference and belief-forming procedures. Consequently, I think it's possible for a mind to be compulsively rational without necessarily treating rationality as a moral imperative.

Even if you were right that I am compelled solely by my desires... it would not follow that there are no absolute moral imperatives.

True, but (a) there's no need for absolute moral imperatives and subjectivism is a simpler model, and (b) the original claim was that subjectivism is somehow inconsistent, and that's what I'm contesting.

Doctor Logic said...

SteveK,

I'm wondering if you think the classical "Problem of Evil" is a non-subjective problem with a non-subjective solution, or if it is merely a reflection of your subjective desires, and as such, is only a problem for you?

I really don't know what you're asking.

The PoE is a problem if you think that (a) God is good and powerful, and (b) goodness conforms to your own subjective goods (e.g., children not being wiped out by tsunami). In that case, any reasonable model of God's behavior predicts he'll intervene to prevent the bad stuff from happening.

The only way out is to give up a premise or, maybe, to fine tune your model of God.

But if God's goodness predicts nothing at all, you could formulate an evil God hypothesis with as much support from the evidence.

Indeed, the world looks indifferent to humans, and subject to nothing but physics. And for this, there's overwhelming evidence.

steve said...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

steve said...

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

As a negative illustration! Try to pay attention.

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

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

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

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

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

Ted Bundy would appreciate your justification.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doctor Logic said...

Steve,

Let's get this out of the way.

Do you care to be rational?

Do you care to avoid begging the question?

Do you care to avoid hypocrisy?

Do you care to avoid fallacies?

Do you care to avoid making inane comments or arguments?

If you don't care about any of these things, then we can happily end our discussion here.

Rational argument is a game played between players who care about all of the above. There's no point in presenting arguments to people who don't accept the ground rules of rational thinking.

If you *do* care about these things, then you can stop pretending that my rational arguments aren't compelling to you.

Doctor Logic said...

Steve,

Doing what we ought to do sometimes involves self-denial.

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

Your failed alternative commits the naturalistic fallacy.

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

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

But have I done this?

You denied using psychological coercion:

As a negative illustration! Try to pay attention.

But, dude, you followed up a few lines later with this:

Ted Bundy would appreciate your justification.

Hey, I'm used to it. Most Christians find subjectivism such a terrifying concept that they need to lash out.

Doctor Logic said...

Steve,

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

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

I don't care that I absolutely shouldn't (or should) eat you. But isn't the important thing whether (1) I subjectively, non-morally desire to not eat you, and (2) whether I subjectively, morally desire not to eat you?

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

Hitler was a moral realist, but I don't infer from this that all realists want to put me in a gas chamber. Some realists want to be irrationally nice to me.

steve said...

Doctor Logic said...

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

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

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

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

Tim said...

DL,

You quote me:

I am not speaking about what someone will “find” normative: I am saying that the concept of rationality itself is a normative concept.

Then you reply:

I agree that a typical rationalist is someone who accepts that rationality is normative. However, I think that rational thinking consists of specific kinds of inference and belief-forming procedures. Consequently, I think it’s possible for a mind to be compulsively rational without necessarily treating rationality as a moral imperative.

Once again: the question is not whether someone could reason effectively in practical, historical, or scientific contexts without, at the metalevel, holding the belief that rationality is normative; rather it is whether, in established usage, to call someone or his reasoning “rational” or “irrational” is to make a normative judgment. Your attempt to flatten out the concept of rationality into something purely instrumental does indeed have the consequence that, to the question “Why be rational?” you have no answer other than, “Because I feel like it.” Unfortunately, that is not an answer that can be turned around and given as a reason that someone else should be rational. You think (as far as I can tell) that the answer “Because being rational is, as such, intrinsically better than being irrational” is vacuous. I disagree, since I concur with Aristotle that in every discipline there are starting points like this that one must apprehend directly rather than inferring them from something else. That, I think, is one of the watersheds in this conversation.

Your final remark suggests that you adopt subjectivism on the basis of Ockham’s Razor. Is this your only, or even your principal, line of argument for subjectivism, or did you arrive at your preference for subjectivism by some other line of reasoning?

steve said...

Doctor Logic said...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

steve said...

Doctor Logic said...

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

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

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

You've used hedonistic terminology to characterize your position.

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

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

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

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

Paul Manata said...

Dr. Logic,

I don't think there is equivocation on my end. Subjectivism is indeed a matter of what makes a moral evaluation true or false. What makes it so is simply that it is an actual preference of the individual. On subjectivism, "X is moral" just means "I like X." That my interpretation is correct is shown by the fact that (a) that's the interpretation all metaethicists give it and (b) it explains why non-cognitivists are anti-subjectivists (cf. Mark Timmons' stuff).

If moral evaluations are identical to psychological states, then whatever is true of the one is true of the other, right? E.g., (x)(y)[x=y) --> (P)(Px <-> Py)]. That is, if x and y are identical, then any property x has, y also has, and vice versa.

So, apply this to subjectivism. Let M = moral evaluation and let P = a psychological state of the sort "I like/dislike X." On subjectivism, M = P.

Now, if S honestly reports his psychological state, that is, if S "likes X" and this is an honest report, then "S likes X" is true. S actually has or is in that psychological state.

From this it follows that if P has the property "true", then M has that same property.

You interpretation is simply trivial and (philosophicaly) uninteresting. If S likes X, then S will regard himself as liking X. However, the converse is not always true. S could be decieved, say. If S is deceived, then S does not have the psycholigical state P, "I like/dislike X." S may think S is in P, but thinking so doesn't make it so (granting we can be mistaken about internal mental reports).

So I apreciate the work in your response, but I think it fails from the get go.

Also, if we continue, I'd rather use paradigmatic moral evaluations, like "molesting children for fun is immoral," or "exterminating millions of Jews is immoral" (a la Hitler).

Paul Manata said...

To add to the above:

Since we both agree that a moral evaluation X of S's is a report of a descriptive psychological state of S's of the sort, "I like/dislike X", then bivalence tells us that S either has that psychological state, or S does not, so:

P v ~P

If S is mistaken about having P, then ~P. And since a moral evaluation M is identical to a psychological state of the sort, "I like/dislike X," or, P, then if ~P, then ~M.

All of this shows your examples of moral failure are misunderstandings of subjectivism. For example, if S comes to hold a different psychological state at a later time, t2, than S was in at t1, then S is just confused about subjectivism because if S actually preferred X at t1, then X was true at t1. Later, if S preferes ~X at t2, then ~X is true at t2. But what the consistent subjectivist cannot say is that she was in moral error at t1. At best she can say something like, "I have different preferences at t2 than I had at t1." But that doesn't make X at t1 false.

SteveK said...

DL,
The PoE is a problem if you think that (a) God is good and powerful

My first option to you was the non-subjective option where what you and I think doesn't enter into the equation. So this statement sounds more like the second option I gave you - the subjective option where the PoE is only in your mind.

(b) goodness conforms to your own subjective goods (e.g., children not being wiped out by tsunami).

This would also be my second option - the subjective PoE. Here the problem is only a problem for you, not anyone else.

If the PoE is entirely subjective then it doesn't require a solution or a response by outsiders. The "problem" is limited to those who see it that way. It's theirs to fix.

SteveK said...

Paul,
I actually debated a self-described ethical subjectivist on that very question

I didn't read it, but I liked the title of your post.

Christianity certainly doesn't teach this, but subjective morality doesn't do away with God's real existence, his subjective Holiness, the final subjective judgement, heaven & hell, etc. It just means some subjectively don't like God's morality. The subjective PoE is completely useless.

Oh, and I liked this comment of yours too.

I do agree that one can launch an internal critique. But the problem here is that most people aren't knowledgeable enough regarding Christian theology to make a proper internal argument. I'd argue that to the extent that you represent Christianity properly, no successful internal argument can be given...