Saturday, March 23, 2013

Peter Singer on infanticide


 The moral philosopher Peter Singer thinks that infanticide can be justified. See a discussion here.  

70 comments:

Dr. Evangelicus said...

More like 'the immoral philosopher.'

Zach said...

I do think he is brave and consistent in following out his premises to their conclusions. He's wrong, and it is our job to show where he went wrong.

I don't even think it is his materialism that is the culprit in his chain of reasoning. It is the unqualified assumption that it is morally permissible to kill something that lacks self-awareness.

Papalinton said...

"The moral philosopher Peter Singer thinks that infanticide can be justified. See a discussion here."

Well, it's not a discussion. It's Scott Klusendorf's theological interpretation of Singer's position. Perhaps, Victor, had you put up both Singer's piece and Klusendorf's response, it might go somewhere towards a discussion.


Here's an interesting story: It starts:

"For social conservatives, it is often said, life begins at conception and ends at birth. If so, nowhere is that more true than in Mississippi. " Read the rest of the article HERE.

ingx24 said...

Really, under materialism anything can be justified. Why is murder bad if all you're doing is stopping a bunch of meaningless chemical reactions (that we mistakenly call "thoughts" and "feelings" and "consciousness")? How the hell do you reconcile morality with a philosophy that (at least implicitly) denies that people even exist?

zillipede said...

I started reading the linked article but stopped since I thought that the arguments against Singer were terrible. Some examples:

"How do we condemn ancient Romans who tortured Christians for the public’s enjoyment?"

By noting that they could equally enjoy doing things that don't involve torture, and that such a solution would be more moral according to utilitarianism. Even if you arrange things so that torture comes out "positive" on an utilitarian scale, in any realistic scenario it will still be far from being the most moral alternative.

"If Singer is correct that rationality and self-consciousness define the morally significant person, then why shouldn’t greater rationality make you more of a person?"

That doesn't follow; the level of self-consciousness required to be a moral agent could be seen as a on-off kind of thing.

"The only way for ‘my birth’ to be more than a linguistic convention is to admit that ‘I’ existed before I was born, or at least at the time of my birth."

This is just playing word games. There's obviously a continuity in the structure of the body from conception onwards that makes it practical to speak of "my birth" even if I didn't technically exist as a self-aware person then.

"In a purely mechanistic universe, there can be no right and wrong, only what we prefer."

Well, if there were things that everyone prefers, then we could create moral rules based on that, which would be universal/"objective" for all practical purposes. And it turns out that everyone prefers happiness over unhappiness, etc, so we DO have that basis.

Emanuel Goldstein said...

Singer is an atheist.

You can be for infanticide, killing old people, killing religious people, killing anyone you don't like and still be a consistent atheist.

So whats the big deal?

im-skeptical said...

ingx24 and Emanuel Goldstein,

I earlier pointed out that many Christians have this attitude about atheists, and I was accused of ad hominem. I guess it's OK for you to say it, but not OK for me to point out that that's what you believe. The fact is you are wrong. Before you go around tossing such accusations about, you should make a little effort to understand what atheism is about. YOUR philosophy says there can be no morality without god or some magical guiding spirit, that's your problem, not ours. Atheism is not a philosophy, but most thinking atheists do adhere to a worldview that is incompatible with killing people. Studies do show that atheists tend to be more compassionate that Christians, as has been pointed out numerous times in this forum. So speak for yourselves, and stop lying about people like me.

ingx24 said...

im-skeptical,

I was personally referring to reductive materialism, the common view among contemporary atheists that thoughts, feelings, imaginings, etc. are nothing more than either A) chemical reactions and electrical impulses in the brain or B) the functional roles played by said chemical reactions and electrical impulses. Your view, as I understand it, does not fall under the label of reductive materialism (I would hesitate to even call it "materialism", in fact), so my post does not apply to you.

im-skeptical said...

ingx24,

I am in fact a full-blown materialist, but materialism says nothing about morality. The view that materialism implies a lack of morality is is a misunderstanding held by people with dualist beliefs. This misunderstanding is a direct consequence of their dualism, as I have argued before, because they simply can't imagine how people could have morality (or even consciousness) without without a spirit inhabiting their body. They are wrong.

WMF said...

The view that materialism implies a lack of morality is is a misunderstanding held by people with dualist beliefs.

And Richard Dawkins. And other atheists. And other non-dualists.

im-skeptical said...

"And Richard Dawkins"

I've heard that claim, but I've found nothing in his writing that supports it. Do you have any evidence?

ingx24 said...

im-skeptical,

You have said yourself that you allow for the existence of subjective mental experiences that are not physically observable. This is not materialism. You may call these mental experiences "physical", but that does not make your position materialist. John Searle does the same thing - he just redefines the physical to include he mental in order to avoid being labeled a dualist.

The reason why materialism cannot account for morality has nothing to do with "spirits" or God or whatever. Materialism is incompatible with morality, as it reduces out of existence the pains, pleasures, feelings, etc. that have to exist for morality to even make sense. Killing someone, for example, is clearly bad under a dualist scheme (especially if death is indeed annihilation, since in that case you literally just wiped someone out of existence), but under a materialist scheme killing someone is nothing more than stopping a bunch of chemical reactions and resultant behavior, hurting someone is nothing more than causing damage that results in chemical reactions that cause aversive behavior, etc. The entire concept of morality in this case becomes absurd.

im-skeptical said...

ingx24,

Wrong on both counts.

A subjective experience is subjective, which by definition means private - not objective. That does not in any way imply that the experience must be immaterial. These experiences may at some time in the future become observable or shareable by others. We're getting closer all the time.

also, materialism is incompatible with morality in YOUR philosophy, not mine, and not in reality.

John Mitchell said...

"These experiences may at some time in the future become observable"

What?

im-skeptical said...

"What?"

A subjective experience, by definition, cannot be shared, but the mental activity can (at least in principle). Mental activity has already been transmitted between the brains of rats via electrical signals, causing a receiver rat to respond to the sensory input of a sender rat. I would call this sharing an experience.

ingx24 said...

I would call that rat experiment trivial at best. Of course taking the electrical activity that produces a sensory experience in one organism and reproducing it in another is going to result in a similar sensory experience being produced. That doesn't change the fact that these experiences are subjective.

Samwell Barnes said...

"The view that materialism implies a lack of morality is is a misunderstanding held by people with dualist beliefs.

"And Richard Dawkins"

I've heard that claim, but I've found nothing in his writing that supports it. Do you have any evidence?"


The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference. - Richard Dawkins, "God's Utility Function," published in Scientific American (November, 1995)

How's that for evidence?

It's straightforwardly impossible to have morality if you deny that there's such a thing as "good." If you follow Dawkins, then make your bed with the nihilists.

Zach said...

Atheism doesn't imply moral irrealism. People who would say something like that are ignorant. I know many people who are atheists and moral realists. Their position is the toughest to attack, because they sort of cherry pick and it isn't always clear their worldview is consistent. Vulgar materialism, on the other hand, does imply moral irrealism, and is relatively easy to logic fist to death.

im-skeptical said...

"That doesn't change the fact that these experiences are subjective."

So what? An experience may always be something that we call subjective, but you can no longer say that feelings, or even thoughts, are strictly subjective. This experimentation goes beyond just sensory input. "They have developed a brain-to-brain interface that can transmit information from one rat directly to another, enabling the animal on the receiving end to perform behavioural tasks without training."

im-skeptical said...

Samwell Barnes,

He's talking about the universe that has no god. He's not talking about human morality. You should do some reading, not just quote mining. There is material by Dawkins that supports the idea that human morality evolved.

ingx24 said...

Again, though, these mental experiences are still not being "observed". What is happening is that a subjective mental experience is being duplicated, i.e. it is being had by more than one organism at once. Maybe this makes mental experiences less "subjective", depending on your point of view, but it doesn't change the fact that mental experiences are not observable in the sense that physical objects and processes are.

zillipede said...

"The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference. - Richard Dawkins"

I'm sure you're reading Dawkins wrong; take a look at the preceding sentences. Dawkins is saying that the universe does not seem to be designed by a good or evil force - that we live in a universe where some people get hurt unjustly and others get lucky, and where the process of evolution causes suffering without any evil plan behind it. This does not mean that he is indifferent to the suffering of animals (or people), or that he thinks that there's no such thing as morality. He just doesn't think that there is evidence of purpose or morality behind the (non-)design of the universe itself.

WMF said...

He's talking about the universe that has no god

Learn to read.

im-skeptical said...

WMF,

As it happens, I've read a fair amount of what Dawkins has written, and I have specifically looked into what he had to say about human morality. Did you see zillipede's comment? I'm still waiting for your evidence, but I doubt you can produce it.

Karl Grant said...

Zillipede,

This does not mean that he is indifferent to the suffering of animals (or people), or that he thinks that there's no such thing as morality.

Wrong, Dawkins has readily conceded on more than one occasion that there is no such thing as morality. In this interview, we get the following exchange:

I asked an obvious question: “As we speak of this shifting zeitgeist, how are we to determine who’s right? If we do not acknowledge some sort of external [standard], what is to prevent us from saying that the Muslim [extremists] aren’t right?”

“Yes, absolutely fascinating.” His response was immediate. “What’s to prevent us from saying Hitler wasn’t right? I mean, that is a genuinely difficult question. But whatever [defines morality], it’s not the Bible. If it was, we’d be stoning people for breaking the Sabbath.”

I was stupefied. He had readily conceded that his own philosophical position did not offer a rational basis for moral judgments.


And in this interview we get this little gem:

Interviewer: “Ultimately, your belief that rape is wrong is as arbitrary as the fact that we've evolved five fingers rather than six.”

Richard Dawkins: “You could say that, yeah.”


There are more examples that could be added, but these will suffice. Dawkins clearly concedes he has no rational basis to make moral judgments and from a practical standpoint morality does not exist for him.

im-skeptical said...

Karl,

Read a little more carefully, and don't just follow the lead of the anti-atheist author of the article. In neither of your examples did Dawkins say that he lacked morality, and I suspect some of his clarifying statements were left out. Those examples don't suffice. Try reading what he himself has written on the topic, and make an effort to understand what he really thinks about it.

Victor Reppert said...

It doesn't follow from the fact that atheists are more realists that atheism doesn't entail and moral irrealism. People can fail to realize the implications of their positions.

Karl Grant said...

I'm Skeptical,

Read a little more carefully and don't just follow the lead of the anti-atheist author of the article

Ad hominem circumstantial again? I have tried to break this habit out of you by giving you a taste of your own medicine and failed. The fact that these interviewers might be anti-atheist has no bearing what-so-ever on the validity of these statements.

In neither of your examples did Dawkins say that he lacked morality, and I suspect some of his clarifying statements were left out

You just keep rolling in the logical fallacies don't you? This is a blatant argument from silence, because you are so desperately hoping that there might be something else to these statements then what is shown and are using your devotion to atheism and wishful thinking to fill in the blanks. Silence is not a valid substitute for reason or evidence. In these statements Dawkins has admitted he has no rational basis for making moral judgments; ergo he has no way to rationally say if something is right or wrong; if he admits he has no way to determine the morality of an action he has no meaningful moral standard and therefore no practical morality.

Try reading what he himself has written on the topic, and make an effort to understand what he really thinks about it.

I have read what he has written on this topic and there is a pattern to it. Dawkins continually makes statements like those above and then tries to weasel out of the implications.

zillipede said...

Karl,

I read and listened to your two other examples, and remain unconvinced. I would interpret the first one as him saying that it's hard to find an uncontroversial basis for moral judgment (something which I believe most moral philosophers would agree on, and there's of course lots of meta-ethical debate among theologians, too); as the very next sentence is "Dawkins proceeded to cite the abolition of slavery and the civil rights movement as examples of Western moral advancement", it's obvious that Dawkins believes in morality and that there can be a moral difference between societies, even if he hesitates to endorse some specific ethical system (like utilitarianism).

Seriously, how can you read "Dawkins proceeded to cite the abolition of slavery and the civil rights movement as examples of Western moral advancement" and still maintain that he doesn't believe in morality?


In your second example he says outright that there are universal moral principles and that he is glad that he lives in a world where rape is considered immoral. That he says that moral beliefs are influenced by one's evolutionary history (something I find obviously true), and that he might have thought differently about moral issues in a hypothetical scenario where "he" was a non-human and our evolutionary past was different, has no bearing on his current belief that morality exists and that we should condemn rape, racism and slavery.

You seem to go out of your way to find ways to read Dawkins out of context so as to imply that he lacks belief in morality, even when he affirms his belief the same minute or in the next sentence. It's getting ridiculous.

Karl Grant said...

Zillipede,

I would interpret the first one as him saying that it's hard to find an uncontroversial basis for moral judgment

That's one way to interpret it, but it's not the only way, is it?

Seriously, how can you read "Dawkins proceeded to cite the abolition of slavery and the civil rights movement as examples of Western moral advancement" and still maintain that he doesn't believe in morality?

Very easily, because as Dr. Reppert just said people can fail to realize the implications of their positions. If you are gonna say What’s to prevent us from saying Hitler wasn’t right? then the obvious corollary to it is asking How can you tell the abolition of slavery is a moral advancement? Like I said, Dawkins has a habit of continually making statements like this, failing to realize the implications of them and then tries to weasel his way out when the implications are pointed out.

Or to put it another way, Dawkins seems like he doesn't want to be bound by an absolute framework but he also wants the power to judge ideas and beliefs as moral.

In your second example he says outright that there are universal moral principles and that he is glad that he lives in a world where rape is considered immoral. That he says that moral beliefs are influenced by one's evolutionary history

And at the same time he agrees they are arbitrary. If something is arbitrary why should somebody follow it?

You seem to go out of your way to find ways to read Dawkins out of context so as to imply that he lacks belief in morality, even when he affirms his belief the same minute or in the next sentence. It's getting ridiculous.

And you go out of your way to defend the validity of Dawkins statements despite him contradicting himself every other statement. So I guess we balance each other out.

Samwell Barnes said...

No. When someone says there is, at bottom, no good and evil, I will take them as meaning precisely that: Good and evil are unrealities; they are not part of the fundamental structure of existence; they have no place in any metaphysic that aspires to be true. Let's not twist our minds in the hopes of arriving at some hokey, kindergarten meaning along the lines of "Ah..'no good and evil' just means there are no good and evil forces like angels and demons and gods and goddesses!" Come on. In addition, "no good and evil" has a pretty obvious moral meaning in Western culture thanks to a long pedigree of Nietzschean thought (which of course couples it, not reduces it, to godlessness).

More evidence: He and others like Jerry Coyne have repeatedly made the metaphysical assertion that human beings are fundamentally biological robots. Now...how could morality exist or make any sense in a world of robots? Robots participating in rallies? Robots advancing causes on the Senate floor? The very idea sounds like the premise of a dark comedy film.


So when he says he's glad to live in a world without slavery, he is just expressing his personal tastes, not some moral truth with metaphysical purchase. But if he's trying to elevate his tastes to the level of universal principles, then all that means is that he's being inconsistent, and probably suffering from cognitive dissonance. It wouldn't be the first time.

im-skeptical said...

"But if he's trying to elevate his tastes to the level of universal principles, then all that means is that he's being inconsistent"

He's not. Your "universal principles" and your notions of good and evil as "part of the fundamental structure of existence" are nothing more than abstract constructs that were invented by religious people to establish grounding for their theistic beliefs, and used as justification to deny reality and denigrate those who disagree.

I repeat what I said before: Dawkins has never been fairly represented by the people here, that I know of. They are not even willing to understand what he says. They only know that they hate him.

Papalinton said...

Victor
You know as well as I do that the uncoupling of morality and religion is long overdue. The bandying about of moral precepts and judgements is no longer, and has not been, the exclusive preserve of religion for a very long time.

And this is as it should be. Religions cannot claim the moral high ground it once claimed of itself. The Catholic Church in one fell swoop dispelled that gigantic myth in spades over the last twenty years. And who knows how long it has been an enabler and perpetrator of 'kiddy fiddling' and child abuse; I suspect centuries upon centuries?

What was once considered appropriate moral justification has now been seen as nothing more than pious rhetoric proscribing any legal or social remediation of criminal clergy behaviour within the church, a covering of one's ass for the sake of protecting the institution. Religions have forfeited any right to be considered as an appropriate authority on moral issues going forward.

Peter Singer represents a significant change in approach to moral and ethical issues and standards. He is for the most part honestly and fairly putting it out there in the public domain to engender thought and discussion. This form of contemporary public discussion on morality and ethics has been long a slammed door in religious circles, with the clergy exclusively, pedestalling themselves as purveyors of all things moral.

In case you have yet to come across it, HERE is what religion has contributed to the world this month, February-March 2013.

cautiouslycurious said...

Karl and Sam,
Do you think that utilitarianism is a form of moral nihilism?

I only ask because some of the things he says that you say point to moral nihilism could be accurately said of utilitarianism. For utilitarians, morality is indeed arbitrary. If we didn’t evolve a way to sense sound waves, then it would no longer be immoral to use heavy machinery at night, because it would no longer have the negative consequences associated with that activity. In that sense, it is arbitrary, because evolution is arbitrary in that sense. Also, for utilitarians, there is no good or evil at the bottom. It all stems from the reactions at the conscious level, which is more than one step above matter. I also fail to see how the Hitler quote is a concession that his position can’t offer a justification for morality; it’s a concession that he doesn’t know, not that he thinks it’s not possible.

Karl Grant said...

CautiouslyCurious,

Do you think that utilitarianism is a form of moral nihilism?

Normative moral theories, which includes utilitarianism, are based off of value theories; which all begin with a version of what is good and bad, in utilitarianism's case this is maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain, then moving on to determine what actions are permissible and forbidden. Nihilism states that we have no good, no evil, no certainty, no concrete values and that any attempt to try and quantify pleasure and pain, as utilitarianism tries, or assign the labels good and evil to determine the correct course is a pointless exercise in futility. So no, nihilism and utilitarianism are opposing views when it comes to ethics.

I also fail to see how the Hitler quote is a concession that his position can’t offer a justification for morality; it’s a concession that he doesn’t know, not that he thinks it’s not possible.

If he doesn't know if there is a way to judge actions morally then he doesn't have meaningful moral standards beyond personal preference; making moral decisions and enacting moral standards requires knowledge of morality. That Dawkins thinks there might be a possibility of determining this does not change this fact.

cautiouslycurious said...

Karl,

“If he doesn't know if there is a way to judge actions morally then he doesn't have meaningful moral standards beyond personal preference; making moral decisions and enacting moral standards requires knowledge of morality. That Dawkins thinks there might be a possibility of determining this does not change this fact.”

Sorry, I thought you were making the stronger claim that Dawkins thinks that atheism entails nihilism. He does know of ways to judge actions morally that go beyond personal preference. He outlines them in his book. What he doesn’t say is which particular system is correct, saying it wasn’t relevant to the point he was making and because he’s not a moral philosopher. Regardless, he in no way implies that these positions are false on the account of atheism. This is basically what he has done, reframe the question using another example, say it’s a hard question, and circle back to his original point that morality is not based on the Bible, as if he was on autopilot.

Anyway, since he has publicly stated that Harris’s Moral Landscape has significantly changed his views on the topic of morality (specifically saying that moral philosophers need to incorporate more neuroscience), it seems like the quote you mentioned is no longer up-to-date in determining Dawkin’s current views. Also, the quote makes sense under consequentialism as the scenario is a common objection. He may have had trouble answering the objection of someone claiming that the Holocaust was good because it led to a better outcome. It may seem intuitively obvious that a tremendous amount of suffering occurred and that any benefit of the masses doesn’t offset it, but what if someone claims different? How do you prove them wrong? Who is to say which one is correct? That’s a genuinely difficult question, that is, until you read the Moral Landscape.

Karl Grant said...

CautiouslyCurious,

He outlines them in his book. What he doesn’t say is which particular system is correct, saying it wasn’t relevant to the point he was making and because he’s not a moral philosopher.

If Dawkins entire response to these questions is "I don't know" then all of his statements on this subject are worthless. If he's not a moral philosopher he lacks the expert authority to speak definitely on this subject. More to the point, if he doesn't know which particular system is correct but maintains religion in general and Christianity in particular have no impact on morality then that statement is nothing more than his personal bias and ideological commitment, and is most definitely not a reasoned position, and should be treated as such.

That’s a genuinely difficult question, that is, until you read the Moral Landscape.

I have read Harris's book and you know what? The Moral Landscape is nothing more than the plain old secular moral reasoning that we have seen done countless times and it is a piss-poor example of said reasoning on top of that. Harris defines well-being as flourishing or human fulfillment, much like Aristotle did (The moment one begins thinking about morality in terms of wellbeing, it becomes remarkably easy to discern a moral hierarchy across human societies, pg. 60). First off we have the problem, one Aristotle pointed out, that you couldn't call a person happy until you could look at their whole life and all the consequences of their life's choices. On pg. 15 he gives a couple of examples of what he calls a 'good' and 'bad' life: the woman in the war zone and the happily married billionaire. Now one's obviously in a better situation then the other but neither situation is set in stone, the billionaire could end up in a war zone just as easily or worse later in life, likewise the women might might become wealthy and powerful late in life. Well-being is a fickle and subjective thing.

But what really gets interesting is on the last part of pg. 189 and the beginning of pg. 190 Harris admits that if people such as rapists, liars, and thieves could be just as happy as good people, then his moral landscape would no longer be a moral landscape, that instead it would be a continuum of well-being on which saints and sinners would occupy equivalent peaks. He tries to dismiss this by saying we are descended from common ancestors and that we have similarities that transcends culture. The problem is that on pg. 15 Harris says about three million Americans are psychopathic. If they are psychopathic they do not care about the mental states of others. Rather they enjoy inflicting pain on other people. Also, the lives of dictators such as Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong show it is possible to have a long and productive life with your every need and want fulfilled for decades by brutally oppressing millions and committing mass murder. So, yeah I am not too impressed with Harris trying to define morality as personal well-being and happiness.

Not to mention despite his claims to scientifically determine morality, his central claim in the book (Morality is all about improving the well-being of conscious creatures) is a philosophical premise. It’s not a fact of science nor is it derivable from science. It is a value judgment.

cautiouslycurious said...

Karl,
“If Dawkins entire response to these questions is "I don't know" then all of his statements on this subject are worthless. If he's not a moral philosopher he lacks the expert authority to speak definitely on this subject. More to the point, if he doesn't know which particular system is correct but maintains religion in general and Christianity in particular have no impact on morality then that statement is nothing more than his personal bias and ideological commitment, and is most definitely not a reasoned position, and should be treated as such.”

No, his entire response in respect to moral questions is not “I don’t know.” He is specifically concerned with why we act morally (e.g. altruism) and whether the Bible is a source of it. This is a question of human behavior, probably one tied into our evolutionary history. Do we act this way because of the Bible, or not? I fail to see why you would have to have the answer as to why something is moral in order to answer this sociological question. Perhaps you could expand on that.

Well, I certainly didn’t expect this diversion from the original topic.:

“First off we have the problem, one Aristotle pointed out, that you couldn't call a person happy until you could look at their whole life and all the consequences of their life's choices. On pg. 15 he gives a couple of examples of what he calls a 'good' and 'bad' life: the woman in the war zone and the happily married billionaire. Now one's obviously in a better situation then the other but neither situation is set in stone, the billionaire could end up in a war zone just as easily or worse later in life, likewise the women might might become wealthy and powerful late in life. Well-being is a fickle and subjective thing.”

True, well-being is a fickle and subjective thing. You could be feeling really healthy right now and end up finding that you have lung cancer during your regular checkup despite not having smoked nor lived in an area with low pollution. Health is a fickle and subjective thing. Do doctors need to know a patient’s entire life in order to make meaningful assessments as to how healthy they are? Surely not. While the doctor may not know whether that pack of cigarettes you smoked last week will manifest itself as lung cancer or not, they can still make reasonable evaluations based on the current circumstances and use that information to make reasonable prognoses. Similarly, we can make reasonable prognoses about the two individuals knowing that the person in the warzone is unlikely to marry a billionaire, and a warzone is unlikely to end up in a warzone. We could be wrong, but that’s doesn’t stop science.

cautiouslycurious said...

Karl (cont.),
“But what really gets interesting is on the last part of pg. 189 and the beginning of pg. 190 Harris admits that if people such as rapists, liars, and thieves could be just as happy as good people, then his moral landscape would no longer be a moral landscape, that instead it would be a continuum of well-being on which saints and sinners would occupy equivalent peaks. He tries to dismiss this by saying we are descended from common ancestors and that we have similarities that transcends culture. The problem is that on pg. 15 Harris says about three million Americans are psychopathic. If they are psychopathic they do not care about the mental states of others. Rather they enjoy inflicting pain on other people.”

I happen to disagree with Harris on this point of his, but he’s not saying what you interpret him as saying. He’s saying that what if two groups of equal size get equal utility from contradictory things, then we are at a stalemate for deciding which group gets the shaft. This is clear when he says that if ‘immoral’ and ‘moral’ people get the same level of happiness, then they occupy equal peaks (I would add that we need to evaluate the other groups level of happiness should the other group get its way). If each group get’s the same utility and each member get’s the same utility, then the math only works if the groups are the same size. He then points out why this is not a valid concern noting “No one, to my knowledge, believes that there is so much variance in the requisites of human well-being as to make the above concerns seem plausible.” It’s hard to fit your interpretation into his position in any way, utilitarianism is a numbers game, do you really think that 3 million is going to take precedence over 297 million when each individual has equal shares of utility at stake?

“Also, the lives of dictators such as Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong show it is possible to have a long and productive life with your every need and want fulfilled for decades by brutally oppressing millions and committing mass murder. So, yeah I am not too impressed with Harris trying to define morality as personal well-being and happiness.”

I don’t see any discernible point being made here. You clearly admit that one individual caused the suffering of millions, so the felicific calculus would not be in his favor. Harris’s position would conclude that such action is immoral, so I don’t see the problem here. Do you think that a valid criticism of secular morality is that it doesn’t have ultimate justice?

Karl Grant said...

CautiouslyCurious,

He is specifically concerned with why we act morally (e.g. altruism) and whether the Bible is a source of it.

First, he's not concerned whither the Bible is the source of it or at least influences it. He has already made up his mind on that subject, as this tidbit from the first interview shows:

I think that’s the best answer to your question, although I agree that it’s a complicated answer—it doesn’t come from anywhere simple—and it is necessary to say that whatever else it comes from, it most certainly doesn’t come from religion. Anybody who thinks that they get it from religion really is deluded. Certainly nobody could maintain they seriously get it from the Bible.

Also, if you are gonna state whither something does or does not influence a person's morality you better have laid a solid foundation of what morality is and how it came to be before rendering that judgement.

This is a question of human behavior, probably one tied into our evolutionary history

The problem with that is Dawkins has also written that he is implacable opponent of genetic determinism and that his genes do not tell him what to do. Now it is the genes that are selected by evolution and if we are not controlled by our genes then we are not controlled by evolution. If we are not controlled by evolution we don't get our morality from evolution either.

Do doctors need to know a patient’s entire life in order to make meaningful assessments as to how healthy they are? Surely not.

Really? Then why do doctors ask for not just your medical history but your family medical history, personal habits, occupational hazards of your job, etc...? Plus you are talking about two very separate things. Morality concerns every decision a person has made in their lives, every event they have experienced, every thought and urge they have.

we can make reasonable prognoses about the two individuals knowing that the person in the warzone is unlikely to marry a billionaire

Maybe not marry a billionaire but wars don't last forever, nor do people never escape from warzones. You can't say for certain her life will not improve.

We could be wrong, but that’s doesn’t stop science.

But this not science you are talking about, this is philosophy.

Karl Grant said...

He’s saying that what if two groups of equal size get equal utility from contradictory things, then we are at a stalemate for deciding which group gets the shaft.

If he is talking about group morality then why give examples like the woman in the war zone and the billionaire which are individual examples and not group examples? Nor does the phrase groups of equal size appear anywhere in the book (I love Kindle, especially its search feature).

He then points out why this is not a valid concern noting “No one, to my knowledge, believes that there is so much variance in the requisites of human well-being as to make the above concerns seem plausible.”

Yes and this is bullshit on Harris' part. Utilitarianism, which is what Harris is advocating here, has gone under heavy criticism by philosophers in its two centuries of existence. Some of those criticisms is Utilitarianism is a moral assumption that begs questions such as Can an equation for interpersonal utility comparisons be anything but arbitrary? or Is it actually moral to adapt an impartial view that concerns itself with maximizing aggregate well-being when doing so may cause me not to prefer those close to me to strangers? And that it assumes what is true for the whole, in this case a person's well-being, is also what's true for it's parts (such as values, morality and life's larger purposes) which is a fallacy of division. I ripped those two things above right out of a philosophy book I got lying around. For Harris to say the above statement indicates ignorance or blatant dishonesty, since many philosophers and critics of Utilitarianism do believe otherwise.

Do you think that a valid criticism of secular morality is that it doesn’t have ultimate justice?

Well, let's see. According to Harris I cease to exist when I die. This is a fate that I will not escape from and no matter what actions I take in life this outcome will be the same. If my world ends with me why should I care about the well-being of others?

Karl Grant said...

Oh, I didn't have the time to add this earlier about your statement:

It’s hard to fit your interpretation into his position in any way, utilitarianism is a numbers game, do you really think that 3 million is going to take precedence over 297 million when each individual has equal shares of utility at stake?

Let me say congratulations, since of the estimated three hundred and fourteen million Americans about 75% is Christian and only about 15% have no religious affiliation. You have just stated under Utilitarianism that we have the moral right to enact school prayers, religious displays on public property, the Ten Commandments in the courthouses, religious license plates and any thing else that is conductive to the well-being of Christians in general in this country. But Harris does not believe we have this right and I bet you don't either, so either Utilitarianism is not a numbers game or both you and Harris are holding contradictory beliefs.

Dan Gillson said...

This should read: the moral philosopher Peter Singer thinks that infanticide can be justified in certain cases. He doesn't think that we can justify infanticide wholesale. Don't get me wrong: Singer's moral philosophy is ... bizzare (to put it politely); however, that doesn't give reasonable people license to misrepresent his views.

cautiouslycurious said...

Karl,
“Also, if you are gonna state whither something does or does not influence a person's morality you better have laid a solid foundation of what morality is and how it came to be before rendering that judgement.”

I don’t think this is necessary. I don’t think you need a full rendering of a correct solution in order to figure out that certain solutions are incorrect. In this case, we are trying to explain certain behaviors, if a certain influence can’t explain those behaviors, then it gets discarded. Do I need a full understanding of why soldiers jump onto grenades in order to determine that the position of the solar system isn’t going to be a factor? I would hope you agree that astrology isn’t an influence, even if we don’t know the full explanation.

“The problem with that is Dawkins has also written that he is implacable opponent of genetic determinism and that his genes do not tell him what to do. Now it is the genes that are selected by evolution and if we are not controlled by our genes then we are not controlled by evolution. If we are not controlled by evolution we don't get our morality from evolution either.”

Just because we are not determined by our genetics does not mean that we are not influenced by them to a large degree. Due to this, I don’t find his stance on genetic determinism to be an objection to him citing that evolution probably plays a large role in why we think certain things are moral.

“Really? Then why do doctors ask for not just your medical history but your family medical history, personal habits, occupational hazards of your job, etc...? Plus you are talking about two very separate things. Morality concerns every decision a person has made in their lives, every event they have experienced, every thought and urge they have.”

Right, doctors are able to make reasonable evaluations without complete information. So too is the case for morality. Also, your health concerns every decision you make as well. Your decision to smoke or not, your decision to exercise or not, etc., all have an influence on your overall health. It just so happens that we can evaluate it without complete information. I fail to see why we should expect complete information when it comes to morality when we don’t expect it for other fields. It seems like a double standard to me.

cautiouslycurious said...

Karl (cont.),
“Maybe not marry a billionaire but wars don't last forever, nor do people never escape from warzones. You can't say for certain her life will not improve.”

This completely misses what I said. I said that it doesn’t matter that we can’t be certain about it; it just matters that we can make reasonable evaluations. If we required this level of certainty for everything, then we would undermine the sciences as well. This is why I particularly like the title, the science of morality. It dodges these criticisms that are irrelevant to the main thrust of the venture and seeks to abide by the confines as found in the sciences rather than the absurd conditions imposed by philosophers.

“But this not science you are talking about, this is philosophy.”

It’s a matter of philosophy that a billionaire will end up in a war-zone or whether someone will escape one? Surely you’re joking. These are empirical questions far outside the domain of philosophy.

“If he is talking about group morality then why give examples like the woman in the war zone and the billionaire which are individual examples and not group examples? Nor does the phrase groups of equal size appear anywhere in the book (I love Kindle, especially its search feature).”

Because group morality is simply the sum of its parts, once you know how it works for the individual, then you know how to apply it to groups. I never claimed he used that phrase, I said it’s the logical implication of the passage. Instead, he uses the term “moral landscape” to refer to that, shocking I know. He says that the landscape can be used to illustrate well-being for the individual or the collective (i.e. groups).

“He then points out why this is not a valid concern noting “No one, to my knowledge, believes that there is so much variance in the requisites of human well-being as to make the above concerns seem plausible.”

Yes and this is bullshit on Harris' part.”

None of the objections you mention concern the quoted part above. But to answer your questions. I believe that there can be objective measures for interpersonal utility, but they are not developed yet (just as the measurement of pain is plausible yet not there yet). Note, this is not an objection against utilitarianism; it’s simply a concern about its applicability. The second part is a simple yes; it’s basically an extension of Moore’s open question argument, which has a simple solution (we just deny that it’s an open question, if you want to make the case that it is, you are free to do so). I think the next part concerns the is-ought gap, and using that objection means that you simply misunderstand Harris’s position.

cautiouslycurious said...

Karl (cont.),
"Well, let's see. According to Harris I cease to exist when I die. This is a fate that I will not escape from and no matter what actions I take in life this outcome will be the same. If my world ends with me why should I care about the well-being of others?”

You shouldn’t unless it affects your own. Neither Harris nor I am saying that you should. Now, what’s the objection? Do you think that morality is somehow defined to include crossing the is-ought gap? Well, sorry, secular morality no more requires a method of convincing someone to act morally than, as Harris puts it, medicine needs a way to convince someone that vomiting non-stop is bad for their health. They simply conclude that it’s not good and move on, and so it is the case with morality.

“Let me say congratulations, since of the estimated three hundred and fourteen million Americans about 75% is Christian and only about 15% have no religious affiliation. You have just stated under Utilitarianism that we have the moral right to enact school prayers, religious displays on public property, the Ten Commandments in the courthouses, religious license plates and anything else that is conductive to the well-being of Christians in general in this country. But Harris does not believe we have this right and I bet you don't either, so either Utilitarianism is not a numbers game or both you and Harris are holding contradictory beliefs.”

I said it only works if we have equal shares of utility at stake. It’s now let you argue that that assumption applies in your given scenario. (Hint: it doesn’t.) You’ve made an amateurish mistake; you’ve simply said that majority rules, when that is not the case at all with utilitarianism. You still need to sum the individual utilities. In my statement, it was stipulated that they were the same for each person, so the majority would indeed produce more utility. However, that assumption doesn’t always hold. Basically, I said that 297*x>3*x and you responded with counterexample saying 297*y>3*x as if I’m obligated to agree or face contradiction. Good luck in showing that contradiction.

Karl Grant said...

CautiouslyCurious,

I don’t think you need a full rendering of a correct solution in order to figure out that certain solutions are incorrect. In this case, we are trying to explain certain behaviors, if a certain influence can’t explain those behaviors, then it gets discarded. Do I need a full understanding of why soldiers jump onto grenades in order to determine that the position of the solar system isn’t going to be a factor?

The Bible speaks at lengths of morality, so does religion in general. It has meaning in a discussion about morality, determining morality and what influences morality. The solar system does not and is a red herring. This is no different than demanding that someone have a basic understanding of biology before criticizing the evolutionary theory. Or do you think somebody need not know the difference between genus and species before saying evolution is false?

Just because we are not determined by our genetics does not mean that we are not influenced by them to a large degree. Due to this, I don’t find his stance on genetic determinism to be an objection to him citing that evolution probably plays a large role in why we think certain things are moral.

So the idea that we are not beholden to our genes and ignore their influence by sheer willpower does not damage the fact that said genes play a role in our moral decisions in any way, shape or form? I got a question, do you actually think about what you write?

It just so happens that we can evaluate it without complete information. I fail to see why we should expect complete information when it comes to morality when we don’t expect it for other fields. It seems like a double standard to me.

Because this isn't doing it without complete information, this doing it without basic information and basic understanding of the subject material. When you assess a person's risk of heart attacks you have to know first what the heart does and at least have a general idea of what factors effect it. Dawkins saying he doesn't know how to determine morality but he is sure that religion and religious texts don't play a part is akin to him saying he doesn't know why heart attacks happen but Bob being about two hundred pounds overweight was not a factor in him having one.

It’s a matter of philosophy that a billionaire will end up in a war-zone or whether someone will escape one? Surely you’re joking. These are empirical questions far outside the domain of philosophy.

That's not what I said and you know it. Saying that morality is based on personal well-being, which is what Harris is advocating, is a philosophical statement. This empirical question is used to support a philosophical position, not a scientific one.

Karl Grant said...

But to answer your questions. I believe that there can be objective measures for interpersonal utility, but they are not developed yet (just as the measurement of pain is plausible yet not there yet).

That is hypothesis contrary to fact because you are treating a future hypothetical situation as if they are fact to dismiss criticism here and now. Objective measures for interpersonal utility might be developed, they might never be developed but unless you can point to an example in the here and now the criticism stands.

You shouldn’t unless it affects your own. Neither Harris nor I am saying that you should.

So if you were lying on the sidewalk dying, I shouldn't stop to lend a hand because it doesn't effect my personal well-being one way or another? That's good to know.

Do you think that morality is somehow defined to include crossing the is-ought gap? Well, sorry, secular morality no more requires a method of convincing someone to act morally than, as Harris puts it, medicine needs a way to convince someone that vomiting non-stop is bad for their health. They simply conclude that it’s not good and move on, and so it is the case with morality.

But the thing is that people's concept of 'good' or 'happiness' is subjective. You have admitted so. Vomiting non-stop is bad for their health is an objective fact, you are comparing apples and oranges.

You still need to sum the individual utilities. In my statement, it was stipulated that they were the same for each person, so the majority would indeed produce more utility. However, that assumption doesn’t always hold. Basically, I said that 297*x>3*x and you responded with counterexample saying 297*y>3*x as if I’m obligated to agree or face contradiction. Good luck in showing that contradiction.

So basically morality based on the greater group's well-being only works when you aren't part of the smaller group being shunted off to the side.

Papalinton said...

Karl Grant: "So basically morality based on the greater group's well-being only works when you aren't part of the smaller group being shunted off to the side."

Tell me about the smaller group of homosexuals being shunted off to the side under the Catholic plan.

cautiouslycurious said...

Karl,
“The Bible speaks at lengths of morality, so does religion in general. It has meaning in a discussion about morality, determining morality and what influences morality. The solar system does not and is a red herring. This is no different than demanding that someone have a basic understanding of biology before criticizing the evolutionary theory.”

Astrologers do say that astrology influences morality. You simply dismiss them because you think they are incorrect and that the explanation is silly. You have done this without learning about what you are dismissing. This is exactly what you accuse Dawkins of doing. Now, do you need a full explanation of morality in order to dismiss astrology? If not, then you’ve cleared Dawkins of any wrong-doing. Otherwise, you’re being hypocritical. You’ve now switched the accusation of Dawkins from not fully providing a full explanation of morality to simply not having a basic understanding of the Bible; this is a completely separate issue and whether it has meaningful contributions to the discussion is under dispute.

“So the idea that we are not beholden to our genes and ignore their influence by sheer willpower does not damage the fact that said genes play a role in our moral decisions in any way, shape or form? I got a question, do you actually think about what you write?”

Where did I say anything about sheer willpower? Environmental factors certainly affect us in ways, which would break genetic determinism. Now, is morality due to genes or environmental factors? Well, considering that morality is so uniform across cultures, it would seem that it is something being selected for rather than, say, something in the local water supply.

“Because this isn't doing it without complete information, this doing it without basic information and basic understanding of the subject material. When you assess a person's risk of heart attacks you have to know first what the heart does and at least have a general idea of what factors effect it. Dawkins saying he doesn't know how to determine morality but he is sure that religion and religious texts don't play a part is akin to him saying he doesn't know why heart attacks happen but Bob being about two hundred pounds overweight was not a factor in him having one.”

First, that analogy was in reference to Harris’s use of the billionaire and war-victim, not Dawkins. Second, we do have basic facts about those two situations and evaluate their circumstances. Third, your heart attack example is not very apt. It’s more like Dawkins has looked into whether Cherry coke causes heart attacks and he found that they don’t. He dismisses the Cherry coke hypothesis, yet he still doesn’t know what causes heart attacks. According to you, this would be invalid, but anyone in science would disagree with you.

cautiouslycurious said...

Karl (cont.)
“That's not what I said and you know it. Saying that morality is based on personal well-being, which is what Harris is advocating, is a philosophical statement. This empirical question is used to support a philosophical position, not a scientific one.”

When I say an empirical claim and your response is that it’s not an empirical claim, that it’s a philosophical claim, then that is exactly what you said, it’s simply not what you meant. The distinction here between philosophy and science isn’t that meaningful to me, since it would mean that all scientists engage in philosophy and hence he has expertise on the issue.

“That is hypothesis contrary to fact because you are treating a future hypothetical situation as if they are fact to dismiss criticism here and now. Objective measures for interpersonal utility might be developed, they might never be developed but unless you can point to an example in the here and now the criticism stands.”

When I say that they are not developed yet, I mean that they are not accurate enough to actually use in practice. We know what we need to get, we know it’s there, and we are developing tools to more accurately measure what we need, and we are getting more accurate, but it’s just not there yet. But like I said, this is not an objection to utilitarianism as a principle, so the point is moot.

“So if you were lying on the sidewalk dying, I shouldn't stop to lend a hand because it doesn't effect my personal well-being one way or another? That's good to know.”

Yeah, if you have no problem being immoral, then you’re simply immoral. There’s nothing magical about reason that is going to hit you over the head and make you comply.


“But the thing is that people's concept of 'good' or 'happiness' is subjective. You have admitted so. Vomiting non-stop is bad for their health is an objective fact, you are comparing apples and oranges.”

Do you know what an analogy is? It’s when you compare two things that have something in common. They don’t have everything in common, or else they would be the same. So, I go and compare two situations, saying they have X in common, and you respond saying that one situation is X and the other one has –X, you’re comparing apples and oranges. Really, this is getting quite annoying. Please respond to my points and stay on topic. Also, simply claiming that something is subjective doesn’t make it any less objective. A lot of things that are subjective and objective, such as height, the health benefits of peanuts, etc.

“So basically morality based on the greater group's well-being only works when you aren't part of the smaller group being shunted off to the side.”

So basically you have no idea how utilitarianism works, good to know.

Karl Grant said...

CautiouslyCurious

Astrologers do say that astrology influences morality. You simply dismiss them because you think they are incorrect and that the explanation is silly.

One, this is the The Courtier's Reply and it's a logical fallacy, not to mention the kind of thing somebody resorts to when they don't have an effective counter-argument and they know it. Two, you are making an assumption that I simply dismiss claims I find odd out of hand rather then doing any kind of investigation or critically thinking on the subject; which is probably how you handle things and definitely how your role-model Dawkins handles things. Three, you will still have to have a way of determining morality and at least basic, general understanding of astrology to make that judgment call, so the point still stands. Now I asked you a question and I want a straight yes or no answer, not some logically fallacious evasion, do you think somebody need not know the difference between genus and species before saying evolution is false?

You’ve now switched the accusation of Dawkins from not fully providing a full explanation

On the contrary, my point remains the same. Dawkins needs to have a understanding of morality and way of determining morality in order to make a judgement call on whither something influences morality or not. You are the one who introduced the phrases ''full'' and ''complete'' understanding of morality into this discussion.

Where did I say anything about sheer willpower?

You didn't say anything about sheer willpower, Dawkins did. Pay attention.

Well, considering that morality is so uniform across cultures, it would seem that it is something being selected for rather than, say, something in the local water supply.

No shit. Morality being uniform across cultures is typically a defense of theistic based morality. Here is an example from Professor Daniel C. Peterson:

Moral law is notably uniform across cultures. While applications can and do vary, fundamental values don't. No culture teaches that murder is good, that selfishness is a virtue or that parents should be disrespected.

Moving on:

First, that analogy was in reference to Harris’s use of the billionaire and war-victim, not Dawkins.

First, the paragraph you have quoted doesn't deal with billionaire and the war-victim but with the sentence: It just so happens that we can evaluate it without complete information. I fail to see why we should expect complete information when it comes to morality when we don’t expect it for other fields. It seems like a double standard to me which is a statement you were using to defend Dawkins. Is there something wrong with your reading comprehension?

Third, your heart attack example is not very apt. It’s more like Dawkins has looked into whether Cherry coke causes heart attacks and he found that they don’t.
It’s more like Dawkins has looked into whether Cherry coke causes heart attacks and he found that they don’t. He dismisses the Cherry coke hypothesis, yet he still doesn’t know what causes heart attacks.


No, this is like not being able to explain how the heart works but still rendering judgement about the cause of heart attacks. If I asked you what happens during a heart attack and your answer is "uhhh..." do you think I am gonna take any pronouncements you make on the causes of heart attacks seriously? Same with Dawkins: Religion and the Bible have nothing to do with morality. Well, how do you determine if an action is moral or not? Uhhh, I don't know. That's a hard question.

Karl Grant said...

The distinction here between philosophy and science isn’t that meaningful to me, since it would mean that all scientists engage in philosophy and hence he has expertise on the issue.

In that case all philosophers engage in science. Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. But as Brain Earp pointed out when Harris pulled the same trick:

So by “science” Harris evidently means, “philosophy” … or at least something that’s not different from philosophy in a principled way. Let me check my brochure for a second and confirm what the title of his talk was — the radical-sounding title that sold so many tickets — yes, here it is, it’s, “Who says science has nothing to say about morality?” If we do a quick update based on Harris’ personal definition of science, we get … “Who says philosophy has nothing to say about morality?”

The answer is: no one ever said that. Moral philosophy plus facts is not “science” telling us objective moral truths.


Now you said:

We know what we need to get, we know it’s there, and we are developing tools to more accurately measure what we need, and we are getting more accurate, but it’s just not there yet.

So your response is pretty much to double down on hypothesis contrary to fact. You don't know it's there, you think it's there. Other people don't and other people probably don't agree with your standards of measurement either because we are not dealing with objective thing like the amount of liquid in a flask but subjective concepts like "Well-being."

Yeah, if you have no problem being immoral, then you’re simply immoral.

But under utilitarianism that is moral. After all, you said: You shouldn’t unless it affects your own. Plus Harris denies the concept of moral responsibility, he buries it in the end-notes but on pg. 217 he states that moral responsibility is a social construct and that in neuroscientific terms no person is more or less responsible than any other.

Do you know what an analogy is? It’s when you compare two things that have something in common.

Oh, I understand perfectly what an analogy is and I also understand that comparing an objective fact (vomiting non-stop and it's health implications) and a subjective topic (personal well-being) is a piss poor analogy.

Also, simply claiming that something is subjective doesn’t make it any less objective. A lot of things that are subjective and objective, such as height, the health benefits of peanuts, etc.

Now you are being stupid. Objective (completely unbiased) and subjective (depending on perspective) are two separate things. You flunked English, didn't you? Also, you have already admitted twice in this discussion that well-being is subjective. Does True, well-being is a fickle and subjective thing, ring any bells?

So basically you have no idea how utilitarianism works, good to know.

I understand that you said utilitarianism is a numbers game, do you really think that 3 million is going to take precedence over 297 million when each individual has equal shares of utility at stake? When I pointed out same standards applied to a group you belonged to, numbering less than 30 million with the opposing group numbering 280 million plus, you responded that assumption doesn’t always hold. Basically, I said that 297*x>3*x and you responded with counterexample saying 297*y>3*x without bothering to explain why it doesn't always hold or why one is 297*x>3*x and 297*y>3*x. Nor have you tried to set a common definition for utility we both agree on for those calculations. This comes off as rationalization and evasion of having to deal with consequences of a belief system you espouse.

Karl Grant said...

Oh, and don't expect any further replies from me on the subject. Ideologues tend to bore me.

cautiouslycurious said...

Karl,
Since you’ve stated that your no longer going to reply, this is for any spectators:
“One, this is the The Courtier's Reply and it's a logical fallacy, not to mention the kind of thing somebody resorts to when they don't have an effective counter-argument and they know it. Two, you are making an assumption that I simply dismiss claims I find odd out of hand rather then doing any kind of investigation or critically thinking on the subject; which is probably how you handle things and definitely how your role-model Dawkins handles things. Three, you will still have to have a way of determining morality and at least basic, general understanding of astrology to make that judgment call, so the point still stands. Now I asked you a question and I want a straight yes or no answer, not some logically fallacious evasion, do you think somebody need not know the difference between genus and species before saying evolution is false?”

One, that’s fairly dishonest of you. I simply stated a fact about a subject. If you want a source, you could have simply asked, no reason to get snippy about it. Two, it’s obvious that you didn’t do any research on the subject; otherwise you would have known that astrology does concern itself with morality, but even if you did, you didn’t need to fully understand morality in order to dismiss it as nothing more than wordplay. I see you’ve moved onto bulverism, my role model is not Dawkins. Three, I’ve already explained why this is not the case. If you could respond to those reasons rather than reasserting your position, that would be greatly appreciated. To answer your last question, no, they don’t need to know that distinction. They could adequately understand evolution without ever learning about genuses. Also, you seem to have ignored my explanation for why this is a poor point.

“On the contrary, my point remains the same. Dawkins needs to have a understanding of morality and way of determining morality in order to make a judgement call on whither something influences morality or not. You are the one who introduced the phrases ''full'' and ''complete'' understanding of morality into this discussion.”
I’m aware of your point, but you have yet to substantiate it. We already know that you don’t need to know the cause of a thing in order to rule out possible causes. This is a fairly routine in science, so I don’t see why you’re having such a hard time with it.

“You didn't say anything about sheer willpower, Dawkins did. Pay attention.”

Please cite your source. I can only find where you say that Dawkins has argued against genetic determinism. Do you think that there is some dichotomy between sheer willpower and genetic determinism? If so, then that’s a lot of circuitry that needs to be rewired.

“No shit. Morality being uniform across cultures is typically a defense of theistic based morality.”

Let’s work from established premises please. We’re talking about scientific explanations for observed phenomena. If you think that you’re theistic hypothesis has any merit, then find an academic publisher.

“If I asked you what happens during a heart attack and your answer is "uhhh..." do you think I am gonna take any pronouncements you make on the causes of heart attacks seriously?”

This is not a methodological problem, this is your problem. Like I said before, I can analyze a possible cause and justly eliminate one without knowing the actual cause.

“In that case all philosophers engage in science. Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.”

Nope, saying that scientists use philosophy in order to come up with hypotheses in no way implies that philosophers test their ideas with empirical data. So, sorry, this isn’t a two way street.

cautiouslycurious said...

Karl (cont.),
“So your response is pretty much to double down on hypothesis contrary to fact. You don't know it's there, you think it's there. Other people don't and other people probably don't agree with your standards of measurement either because we are not dealing with objective thing like the amount of liquid in a flask but subjective concepts like "Well-being."”

Sure, we don’t know it’s there kind of like we don’t know that pain is concerned with nerves and the brain. Some people don’t think we can get to the point where we can measure someone’s pain because they don’t agree that it’s there and they don’t agree with the standards we use because pain is not an objective matter, so it’s not like you can be in more or less pain. This is the point we are at. If you think that trying to measure pain commits oneself to the hypothesis contrary to fact, then so be it. But like I said before, this is not an objection to utilitarianism in principle, so it’s not that great of an objection.

“But under utilitarianism that is moral. After all, you said: You shouldn’t unless it affects your own.”

Just wow. You do realize that utilitarianism states that you need to consider the total utility, and not a single value, right? I think the source of your error is that you are assuming that utilitarianism is prescriptive in all cases, but that assumption is false and this is clear when you say next line that Harris denies the existence of moral duties. I’ve explained earlier why the lack of such a feature is not a valid objection. If that is not the source of your error, then I have no idea how anyone with any inkling of understanding the concepts involved would make such a mistake.

“Oh, I understand perfectly what an analogy is and I also understand that comparing an objective fact (vomiting non-stop and it's health implications) and a subjective topic (personal well-being) is a piss poor analogy.”

I didn’t compare the truth values of those. I compared the reasonableness of requiring the ability to convince someone of an objective fact as a requirement of something being objective. You’ve simply mischaracterized this point.

“Now you are being stupid. Objective (completely unbiased) and subjective (depending on perspective) are two separate things. You flunked English, didn't you?”

Subjective: pertaining to or characteristic of an individual; personal; individual. Apparently they forget to teach you that words can have more than one meaning.

“Does True, well-being is a fickle and subjective thing, ring any bells?”

Yes, and I compared it to health, which is also subjective, as it pertains to the individual. Also pertaining to the individual is height, nutritional value of peanuts, etc. These attributes are both subjective and objective. Now, considering your definition of subjective, then no, well-being is not subjective and you were patently incorrect to describe the scenario you painted as subjective. Apparently, trying to use the principle of charity here is frowned upon.

cautiouslycurious said...

Karl,
“Basically, I said that 297*x>3*x and you responded with counterexample saying 297*y>3*x without bothering to explain why it doesn't always hold or why one is 297*x>3*x and 297*y>3*x.”

Sorry, I thought that you knew at least the minimum about utilitarianism. Basically, you have a bunch of small entities, called humans, and they each have a particular value, indicated by their well-being. To get the total well-being of a population, you simply sum up the individual values. Let’s say you have two groups of people, group A (has 293 people) wants X (say a soccer stadium) and group B (has 3 people) wants Y (say a cricket stadium) and there are only enough resources to accomplish one task. In this thought experiment, we’ll stipulate that if X is built, each person in group A will experience U utility, and if Y is built, each person in group B will experience U utility. So if X is built, the total utility will be 297*U, and the same for Y, 3*U. Since 297*U is greater than 3*U, it means that there is greater utility by building the soccer stadium, so it should be built instead. However, reality is never so cut and dry. You went balls to wall and applied this reasoning, completely forgetting the assumption it was built on. If group A and group B don’t get the same utility, then it’s not a simple matter of majority rules. If you want to say majority rules, then you have to satisfy that assumption, which you didn’t, hence the bad analogy and why the hypothetical then becomes 297*U>3*Z.

“This comes off as rationalization and evasion of having to deal with consequences of a belief system you espouse.”

Your ignorance of the subject matter isn’t my problem. If have trouble understanding, simply ask. This would be a welcome turn of events compared to your recent mischaracterizations and false accusations.

“Oh, and don't expect any further replies from me on the subject. Ideologues tend to bore me.”

Yeah, I should have cut this conversation short a while ago. It’s a shame that sciolism seems to be the standard for theists around here. Since you have moved into name calling, I very much doubt that you have any argument left that isn’t as pitiful as the one’s you’ve already shared.

Karl Grant said...

Okay CautiouslyCurious, I am gonna give you one last go since I got nothing else to do right now. I am not gonna respond to it all, I am just going to respond to the blatantly obvious.

One, that’s fairly dishonest of you. I simply stated a fact about a subject.

Your statement, You simply dismiss them because you think they are incorrect and that the explanation is silly, is not stating a fact. It is putting words in my mouth since you didn't bother ascertain whither I actually investigated astrology or not before making this statement. In fact, you have a habit of doing this since you said it’s obvious that you didn’t do any research on the subject; otherwise you would have known that astrology does concern itself with morality and nowhere in that paragraph did I say that astrology doesn't concern itself with morality.

It is also example of the fallacy of the Complex Question since you just made the assumption You simply dismiss them because you think they are incorrect and that the explanation is silly and ran with it before asking me a loaded question (Now, do you need a full explanation of morality in order to dismiss astrology?) based solely on said assumption in a blatant attempt to force me into a Catch-22 situation. News flash dumbass, you can't call someone hypocritical based on words you put in their mouth.

To answer your last question, no, they don’t need to know that distinction. They could adequately understand evolution without ever learning about genuses.

Okay then, you don't get to call Young Earth Creationists ignorant when they advance their arguments against evolution as you have done so in the past.

We already know that you don’t need to know the cause of a thing in order to rule out possible causes.

I know you don't need to know the final cause to rule out possible causes. I never said the word cause in any statement on this subject, you are the one who filled in that blank. You have a real bad habit of putting words in other people's mouths. When Dawkins said What’s to prevent us from saying Hitler wasn’t right? I mean, that is a genuinely difficult question he admitted that he didn't have the knowledge and the means means to test whither something was moral in the first place. He admitted when he said he couldn't tell if Hitler was right or not doesn't know how to test if something is a possible cause or not but he still made a judgement call on morality concerning religion. Don't you think there might be a little problem there?

I’ve explained earlier why the lack of such a feature is not a valid objection. If that is not the source of your error, then I have no idea how anyone with any inkling of understanding the concepts involved would make such a mistake.

If there is no such thing as moral duty or moral obligation, then I am under no obligation to accept your pronouncements on morality or abide by your moral code, meaning you can't call my actions moral or immoral. This is a very simple concept.

Since you have moved into name calling

When you start putting words into my mouth to build up a straw-man that can mock and ridicule, I see no reason to remain civil.

Now, quite frankly, that is more attention then you deserve.

im-skeptical said...

"No shit. Morality being uniform across cultures is typically a defense of theistic based morality. Here is an example from Professor Daniel C. Peterson:"

Not much of a defense, is it?

"But what of an individual who believes that morality is merely an illusion foisted upon him by evolution?" says Peterson. Of course he has it all wrong. God is the illusion, morality did evolve in humans, and it actually exists.

Karl Grant said...

I'm Skeptical,

Not much of a defense, is it?

Why should I mount more of a defense? Advancing long, well-thought out, logically sound arguments is wasted upon you and CautiouslyCurious. CC builds straw-men out of his opponents' arguments and proceeds to knock them down. You just keep repeating the same crap over and over, despite multiple people pointing out the flaws. You also both think you can debunk something without bothering to learn the basic information about what you are debunking, something that would abhor any real intellectual.

im-skeptical said...

Karl,

If that article is what you call a "well-thought out, logically sound" argument, it's no wonder you keep failing to make your points. It's nothing more than an emotional appeal. Why don't you look that up in your dictionary of logical fallacies?

Karl Grant said...

I'm Skeptical,

If that article is what you call a "well-thought out, logically sound" argument, it's no wonder you keep failing to make your points. It's nothing more than an emotional appeal.

Referencing that article wasn't a well-thought out, logically sound appeal. Referencing that article was merely an example to point out religious thinkers are aware of morality being uniform across cultures, which CC thinks is a revolutionary concept none of us have ever heard about before. So I am gonna to make a reminder that you don't know the difference between an example and an argument.

cautiouslycurious said...

Karl,
Going to keep to one post from now on, so condensed answers are to be expected.

“Your statement, You simply dismiss them because you think they are incorrect and that the explanation is silly, is not stating a fact. It is putting words in my mouth since you didn't bother ascertain whither I actually investigated astrology or not before making this statement.”

I find this humorous. I present a scenario such as “If I told you the sun exploded 20 minutes ago, would you believe me? No, because you could see for yourself that the claim is false.” And you criticize me for simply detailing what I think the rational response to the rhetorical question is. This is not me putting words in your mouth (and certainly not a straw man since I’m not saying that’s its false); you are free to say that you’re irrational. Nonetheless, since you find my writing style so offensive, replace “you” with “a rational person.”

“and nowhere in that paragraph did I say that astrology doesn't concern itself with morality”

I didn’t specify that paragraph, but you did say it: “The Bible speaks at lengths of morality, so does religion in general. It has meaning in a discussion about morality, determining morality and what influences morality. The solar system does not and is a red herring.”

“It is also example of the fallacy of the Complex Question since you just made the assumption You simply dismiss them because you think they are incorrect and that the explanation is silly and ran with it before asking me a loaded question (Now, do you need a full explanation of morality in order to dismiss astrology?) based solely on said assumption in a blatant attempt to force me into a Catch-22 situation.”

There’s no Catch-22 here.

“I never said the word cause in any statement on this subject, you are the one who filled in that blank. You have a real bad habit of putting words in other people's mouths. When Dawkins said What’s to prevent us from saying Hitler wasn’t right? I mean, that is a genuinely difficult question he admitted that he didn't have the knowledge and the means means to test whither something was moral in the first place. He admitted when he said he couldn't tell if Hitler was right or not doesn't know how to test if something is a possible cause or not but he still made a judgement call on morality concerning religion. Don't you think there might be a little problem there?”

This is your opinion; I’ve already provided another interpretation that is backed up by his other statements. That interpretation involved explanations, not tests. The entire time I’ve been talking, I’ve been talking about explanations and hypotheses, not test(s) (cases). The examples provided (e.g. the cause of heart disease) have involved causes, not tests. It’s fairly ironic that you’re now doing what you accused me of doing, since you just made the assumption that I agree with your interpretation (that goes counter to the entire discussion) and then added a loaded question.

“Okay then, you don't get to call Young Earth Creationists ignorant when they advance their arguments against evolution as you have done so in the past.”

Good luck in justifying this conclusion.

“If there is no such thing as moral duty or moral obligation, then I am under no obligation to accept your pronouncements on morality or abide by your moral code, meaning you can't call my actions moral or immoral. This is a very simple concept.”

You are under no obligation to accept it, but I can still call certain actions moral or immoral. This would be like saying that since we have no obligation to live healthily, you can’t say that certain actions are bad for one’s health. Or how about those who don’t believe in evolution, the evolutionists can describe their traits as being adaptive or not, despite them being under no obligation to accept said pronouncements. This is a very simple concept.

Karl Grant said...

CautiouslyCurious,

I find this humorous. I present a scenario such as “If I told you the sun exploded 20 minutes ago, would you believe me? No, because you could see for yourself that the claim is false.

This is a false analogy and doesn't damage my claim that Dawkins needs a basic understanding of morality and a way to test whither something is moral or not before making judgement calls. I can tell the sun didn't explode twenty-minutes ago because I have basic knowledge in the form of my experiences twenty minutes ago and I have a way to test the validity of that claim just by stepping outside and looking up. You can make all the fictitious examples you want, but it's not gonna change the fact that I need knowledge of the subject material and way to test the validity of those claims to call bullshit on them. And a way to test whither a claim is moral or not is something Dawkins admits he does not have when he says he can't determine whither Hitler is right or wrong.

I didn’t specify that paragraph, but you did say it: “The Bible speaks at lengths of morality, so does religion in general. It has meaning in a discussion about morality, determining morality and what influences morality. The solar system does not and is a red herring."

The solar system is not astrology. Astrology is a system of interpreting how astral bodies, including ones in the solar system, affect a person's behavior. Astronomy also studies the solar system and has nothing to say about morality. That's because the solar system is a part of the universe, not a system of interpreting how said part of the universe effects us. You do love to twist other people's words, even if you have to commit blatant category errors, to create your straw-men, don't you?

There’s no Catch-22 here.

Your statment Now, do you need a full explanation of morality in order to dismiss astrology? If not, then you’ve cleared Dawkins of any wrong-doing. Otherwise, you’re being hypocritical. That is a blatant attempt at forcing me into a Catch-22 position.

This is your opinion; I’ve already provided another interpretation that is backed up by his other statements. That interpretation involved explanations, not tests

Saying you can't determine whither Hitler was right or wrong is not an explanation of morality, it is not saying you don't know where morality comes from. It is saying that you don't know how to determine whither an individual's actions are moral or not. And if you can't test if something is moral or not, if you don't have any research criteria or methodology to make that judgement call, you damn well can't make a statement about whither something (religion) is moral or influences morality.

Good luck in justifying this conclusion.

You just admitted people need not know basic biological information like the difference between species and genus when critiquing evolution and your entire argument is being ignorant of something doesn't prevent you from debunking it.

You are under no obligation to accept it, but I can still call certain actions moral or immoral. This would be like saying that since we have no obligation to live healthily

How? You are not dealing with a hard science like medicine or evolution here. You are dealing with a social contract here which require both parties to agree upon what is moral to begin with, how we determine something is moral and agree we have an obligation to abide by said moral rules. Saying you disapprove of my actions and you consider them immoral when there is no agreement or obligation is not the same thing as saying I have cancer or that my species is part of the primate family. The latter two are hard facts, the former is merely your opinion.

Karl Grant said...

Oh, I forgot to elaborate here. When I said I have cancer or that my species is part of the primate family. The latter two are hard facts, the former is merely your opinion. I really don't have cancer, that's just an example.

cautiouslycurious said...

Karl,
Condensed to one post:
“This is a false analogy and doesn't damage my claim that Dawkins needs a basic understanding of morality and a way to test whither something is moral or not before making judgement calls.”

No one disagrees that you need test cases, only you think that someone does. I don’t care about the rest of your claim. It’s accepted in the sciences, your acceptance isn’t required.

“I can tell the sun didn't explode twenty-minutes ago because… You can make all the fictitious examples you want, but it's not gonna change the fact that I need knowledge of the subject material and way to test the validity of those claims to call bullshit on them.”

You completely missed the point of this analogy and your point even misses the mark. The claims that Dawkins was dismissing was for the Bible, not morality, so he would need knowledge of the Bible, which is not the subject of this discussion.

“The solar system is not astrology. Astrology is a system of interpreting how astral bodies…affect a person's behavior. Astronomy …has nothing to say about morality...You do love to twist other people's words, even if you have to commit blatant category errors, to create your straw-men, don't you?”

Here’s the quick run-down of this part of the conversation: I say that astrologers think that the solar system concerns morality. You say that the solar system does not. I say that you dismissed the explanations of astrology as being irrelevant to morality. How is this anything other than an accurate description of your response? What else is that supposed to mean!? Nobody brought up astronomy until now. If that was your intended meaning, then you simply didn’t answer my point at all.

“Your statement Now, do you need a full explanation of morality in order to dismiss astrology? If not, then you’ve cleared Dawkins of any wrong-doing. Otherwise, you’re being hypocritical. That is a blatant attempt at forcing me into a Catch-22 position.”

You’re right; I assumed that you were scientifically literate. I should be more careful in the future when discussing on theistic forums as they tend not to accept the practices of science. Change hypocrite to scientifically illiterate, and by implication, no credibility to talk about this issue, which in turn would kind of be hypocritical; funny how that turns out that way.

“Saying you can't determine whether Hitler was right or wrong is not an explanation of morality, it is not saying you don't know where morality comes from.”

Simply reasserting your interpretation doesn’t give it any more merit. Nothing new here so I’ll refer you back to my previous points on this issue. Also, I didn’t say it was an explanation for morality, I said it Dawkins answer involved explanations, as in that’s what he was referring to when he said that was a hard problem.

“You just admitted people need not know basic biological information like the difference between species and genus when critiquing evolution and your entire argument is being ignorant of something doesn't prevent you from debunking it.”

One, you don’t need to know the distinction between genus and species in order to critique evolution because evolution doesn’t rely on that distinction. As such, your question had nothing to do with understanding evolution. Second, you’re simply putting words in my mouth. My actual position is that you can have phenomena that you are ignorant of, and still debunk explanations for it.

“You are not dealing with a hard science like medicine or evolution here. You are dealing with a social contract here which require both parties to agree upon what is moral to begin with, how we determine something is moral and agree we have an obligation to abide by said moral rules.”

It may not be a hard science, but that doesn’t make it not objective. Consequentialism has nothing to do with social contracts. We no more need to agree on terms than in the sciences. This moral system doesn’t require that everyone agrees to abide by said rules.

Karl Grant said...

Yeah, more of the same. I gave you two more chances to improve; you didn't. But thank you for admitting this isn't science what you are doing (It may not be a hard science), that alone undermines half of what you said in this discussion.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have better things to do in my free time.

HyperEntity111 said...

Richard Dawkins posted: ''Basil Fawlty, British television's hotelier from hell created by the immortal John Cleese, was at the end of his tether when his car broke down and wouldn't start. He gave it fair warning, counted to three, gave it one more chance, and then acted. "Right! I warned you. You've had this coming to you!" He got out of the car, seized a tree branch and set about thrashing the car within an inch of its life. Of course we laugh at his irrationality.

But doesn't a truly scientific, mechanistic view of the nervous system make nonsense of the very idea of responsibility, whether diminished or not? Any crime, however heinous, is in principle to be blamed on antecedent conditions acting through the accused's physiology, heredity and environment. Don't judicial hearings to decide questions of blame or diminished responsibility make as little sense for a faulty man as for a Fawlty car?

Why is it that we humans find it almost impossible to accept such conclusions? Why do we vent such visceral hatred on child murderers, or on thuggish vandals, when we should simply regard them as faulty units that need fixing or replacing? Presumably because mental constructs like blame and responsibility, indeed evil and good, are built into our brains by millennia of Darwinian evolution. Assigning blame and responsibility is an aspect of the useful fiction of intentional agents that we construct in our brains as a means of short-cutting a truer analysis of what is going on in the world in which we have to live.''

http://www.edge.org/q2006/q06_9.html

I look forward to seeing how this quote will be spun.

im-skeptical said...

"But doesn't a truly scientific, mechanistic view of the nervous system make nonsense of the very idea of responsibility"

No. It only makes nonsense if the idea that we are responsible to your non-existent God. That has always been a laughably ridiculous notion.

cautiouslycurious said...

Karl,
You do realize that most of the analogies have been to the medical field, itself not being a hard science in the same exact ways that morality isn’t, right? This is far from admitting that it’s not a science, unless you’re dismissing most of the sciences as not being science since they can’t compete with the standards of physics. I doubt you’ll be able to respond without mischaracterizing what I’ve said, so I’ll agree, there are better things to do than to converse with you.

HyperEntity,
What do you think that quote shows? We do indeed do those things. The families of victims do indeed want retribution, but is that the result of rational analysis or emotion? Given the emotional impact of the event, it would seem that emotion clouds judgment. Should retribution play a role in the justice system? Many people don’t think it should; they do indeed see the criminals as merely faulty units, similar to a robot stuck on kill mode that needs to be isolated from society (If you point out this is not the general view, may I remind you that the general public has also expressed visceral hate to other minorities, e.g. homosexuals). When we assign blame, we are in fact short-cutting whether this is the result of programming or not, the result of intent or not. Was this simply a robot that backed into someone who shouldn’t have been there or was the robot akin to the Terminator? Assigning responsibility is simply a short-cut to decide whether it is safe for the robot to be in society. We don’t blame the robot that moves back and forth mindlessly, but the computer that specially targets human-like objects would be ‘evil’ and ‘responsible’ for those deaths and needs to be put down (even though theists here would deny machines have intentionality), otherwise, it would result in more deaths, that might include me (a fairly useful evolutionary speaking to eliminate/move away from things that are out to kill you). So, yes, we would blame ‘mindless’ systems for deaths and yes, some people think murderers contain ‘faulty’ systems.