Sunday, August 03, 2014

A little exercise

Provide a convincing argument against slavery that would be convincing to anyone  who thinks slavery isn't wrong, without any explicit or implicit theological appeals.

I actually think that, at least for long periods of history, the institution of slavery is defensible from the standpoint of utilitarianism, for example. It is now a socially unpopular idea. But so is infanticide and bestiality, but Peter Singer is prepared to defend both.

I don't think it can be done. It's a dog eat dog world, only the fittest survive, if we have the power to enslave others, what's wrong with it? It will certainly help me pass on my genes. Owning slaves gives people a selective advantage.

Believe, me I despise slavery. But I don't see a universally convincing secular argument.

29 comments:

John Moore said...

Enslaved people don't contribute their creativity and enthusiasm to the economy, which means an economy with many slaves and relatively few slave-holders will be less creative and dynamic.

Creativity and dynamism are important for adaptation when the economic circumstances change, often due to new technology. Creativity actually causes technological inventions and economic change. So if your economy is competing with a more creative and dynamic society, you're likely to lose in the long run.

That's the key, because if you see a fairly stagnant and isolated economy, like many economies in ancient times, then slavery might have benefitted that economy (as a way of organizing large labor pools) for centuries at a time. But in the long run, it's practically inevitable for a more dynamic and creative economy to out-compete a slave economy.

Today, things change very fast compared to ancient times, so it's obvious to us that creativity is important. A creative, dynamic society can build machines that perform the labor equivalent of millions of slaves. But in ancient times, this wasn't the case.

Talking about genes, it's probably true that you pass on your genes better when you cooperate with many others in your economy. Slavery means not cooperating very well with others in your economy. In the long run, good cooperation is better for all participants.

B. Prokop said...

"But in the long run, it's practically inevitable for a more dynamic and creative economy to out-compete a slave economy."

I do hope you are right, because right now it looks very much like the world's biggest slave economy (China) is running rings around the "dynamic and creative" ones.

Ilíon said...

"
Talking about genes, it's probably true that you pass on your genes better when you cooperate with many others in your economy. Slavery means not cooperating very well with others in your economy. In the long run, good cooperation is better for all participants.
"

So, you're saying that "evolution[ism]" is false? What are you, a 'Science!' hater creationist?

Aragorn said...

The hypothetical makes it possible to resist all examples.

"convincing to anyone who thinks slavery isn't wrong". Who is going to determine if a person who thinks slavery isn't wrong is going to be convinced?

The Golden Rule should be enough - and NO it's not religious.

Victor Reppert said...

I don't mean they will be actually convinced, I mean that they ought to be convinced.

Jayman said...

The Golden Rule should be enough - and NO it's not religious.

Is it enough?

Suppose a poor man, whose only options are slavery or death, chooses slavery. His master might then consider his act of taking on a slave as an act of kindness.

Ilíon said...

"Suppose a poor man, whose only options are slavery or death, chooses slavery. His master might then consider his act of taking on a slave as an act of kindness."

... which just happens to be the form of slavery the OT law (reluctantly) allows. But people who go out and steal people to enslave them are to be put to death, according to the OT law.

Ilíon said...

VR: "I don't mean they will be actually convinced, I mean that they ought to be convinced."

But see, even putting it that way presupposes the reality of objective/transcendent moral obligations (*). There is no getting away from the fact that (real) moral obligations are transcendent/universal.

(*) And, by the way, the "secularists" -- the very people who explicitly deny that moral obligations are real, universal, and transcendent -- constantly presuppose the very thing they are denying, including even in the act of denying it. As just one minor example, reflect upon their (im)moral outrage that anyone dares to doubt the efficacy of "evolution[ism]" to explain, well, much of anything.

B. Prokop said...

Consider the economics of the time, and the disadvantages put upon a "free" person. Interesting that in the Levitical Law, after 7 years a slaveowner was required to give his slave the choice between freedom and continued servitude. Now why is that even in there? Obviously there were some (many) who preferred the relative security of belonging to a household to the economically perilous life of belonging to no one. I could well imagine that most slaves chose to stay where they were, rather than fend for themselves in an economy not conducive to unattached persons.

Also, recall that in the Middle Ages the person most to be pitied (and feared) was the man who held allegiance to no Lord.

Aragorn said...

Is it enough?

Suppose a poor man, whose only options are slavery or death, chooses slavery. His master might then consider his act of taking on a slave as an act of kindness.


And the Golden Rule is NOT applicable here?

Jayman said...

And the Golden Rule is NOT applicable here?

I did not claim the Golden Rule was not applicable here. In fact, I was applying the Golden Rule to the situation. If my scenario is reasonable then the Golden Rule permits slavery in at least some circumstances. That means the Golden Rule is not enough to decide that slavery is always wrong and you are incorrect to think it does.

Aragorn said...

But see, even putting it that way presupposes the reality of objective/transcendent moral obligations (*). There is no getting away from the fact that (real) moral obligations are transcendent/universal.

(*) And, by the way, the "secularists" -- the very people who explicitly deny that moral obligations are real, universal, and transcendent -- constantly presuppose the very thing they are denying, including even in the act of denying it. As just one minor example, reflect upon their (im)moral outrage that anyone dares to doubt the efficacy of "evolution[ism]" to explain, well, much of anything.


I suppose you haven't read Morriston or Wielenberg, have you?

Aragorn said...

I did not claim the Golden Rule was not applicable here. In fact, I was applying the Golden Rule to the situation. If my scenario is reasonable then the Golden Rule permits slavery in at least some circumstances. That means the Golden Rule is not enough to decide that slavery is always wrong and you are incorrect to think it does.

Then you were attacking a straw man. I would never say that slavery is never permitted. If it is the lesser evil - sure.

Aragorn said...

@ Ilion

I suppose you haven't read Morriston or Wielenberg, have you? If you haven't, then you're in good company. Theist moral philosophers who are committed to theistic metaethics don't seem to engage their arguments either - what them being devastating to theirs.

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

Aragon -- I agree. In fact, I just made this very point on my blog (which you may have read).

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularoutpost/2014/08/02/christian-apologists-ignore-the-best-objections-to-the-moral-argument/

W.LindsayWheeler said...

Plato is right about the "tribe of fools" is many.

So enslaved people don't contribute their creativity and enthusiasm to the economy. Is that it?

If I remember my Roman history, many a Greek slave benefited Roman culture and society. Some Roman slaves did run a business and afterawhile bought their freedom.

Seeing the ignorance out there is just mindblowing.

I worked in the Alps of Switzerland and lived in a place with no electricity. I made hay with a scythe four hours in the morning and spent the afternoons turning it over manually.

Did I have time to cut trees down and quarter them for firewood? Did I make my own clothes and shoes?
Did I draw my own water?

I see that many people here really don't have any concept how hard it was back then to live. You had to draw your own water from a cistern or river, you had to manually wash dishes and clothes and then find time to plow and harvest.

That leaves no time for literature, study or any other civilizational pursuit. Only slavery freed up people to engage in government, study and writing.

Not a person here has lived in the Stone Age as I have had. I know by living it. Slavery is an institution that freed the family to pursue higher goals. We don't need slavery now but in the Ancient world it was needed.

Aragorn said...

Yup. That's where I got it @ Jeff. :D

Crude said...

I would never say that slavery is never permitted. If it is the lesser evil - sure.

So allowing slavery isn't so bad after all? Go figure.

Ilíon said...

Apparently, slavery is an absolute moral evil for all persons in all times and places only when you can use the Bible's "failure" to "adequately" condemn (*) it as a stick with which to flog your dead-horse claims about the moral deficiency of Biblical religion.

(*) and never mind that it commands the death penalty for the slave-taker, and never mind that the "slavery" allowed by the Bible has little to no relationship, outside the term, to what moderns are thinking about when they use the term 'slavery'

SteveK said...

The fact that there exist real evil requires there to exist real goodness. You cannot explain the existence of these realities in naturalistic terms. Secularism falls short.

John Moore said...

Yes, I think slaves generally don't contribute their creativity. They only contribute brute labor.

W.LindsayWheeler pointed out that some rare exceptions have existed such as educated Greek slaves in ancient Rome. But I think these exceptions don't negate the overall truth of my argument. Let's say just 99% of slaves don't contribute creativity.

B. Prokop suggested that China is a slave economy today, so that brings up the question of what slavery is. There have obviously been many different forms of slavery in different times and places.

Ilíon suggested my statement about passing on genes was creationist, but I don't understand his point.

SteveK said, "You cannot explain the existence of these realities in naturalistic terms. Secularism falls short." Are you guys just assuming you're right without any real discussion?

Aragorn said...

So allowing slavery isn't so bad after all? Go figure.

Are you really dense, or are you just playing? Don't get too hurt when you get slammed in another thread. Just take your licking and move on. :-)

B. Prokop said...

"that brings up the question of what slavery is"

You are quite correct. Slavery is more prevalent even in today's world than most people would like to admit. Victims of sex trafficking are slaves in every sense of the word. Child labor is frequently (though not always) slavery. Working in sweatshops with no hope of leaving is no different than slavery. Command economies (such as China) where the populace at large have little to no choice as to where they live or work is state-run slavery. Countries like North Korea are nothing more than gigantic slave labor camps. The "guest workers" in Gulf State countries like Kuwait and Dubai are slaves, pure and simple. A large portion of the American prison population are basically slaves. Many migrant workers are essentially slaves. One could make the argument (I do not) that draftees into military service are slaves. Child brides are slaves.

I could go on, but you get the point. A sizable percentage of today's world population is enslaved (though fortunately less than a generation ago when entire continents were enslaved by Soviet-style Communism, and less still than two generations ago when even more were enslaved by Nazi Germany and Militarist Japan).

Aragorn said...

But we're not talking about the understanding of slavery in a moral dilemma that involves lesser evils. The Bible puts it as a general principle that it is okay.

Aragorn said...

Where does it say that slave-taking of other peoples (non-Israelites) were to be meted with eh death penalty?@ilion. I'm really curious.

Ilíon said...

John, more or less: "Ilíon suggested my statement about passing on genes was creationist, but I don't understand his point."

Ilíon doesn't "suggest" things, he's a man, so he says them. And, you have a well developed talent for missing the point when you need to, so of course you don't understand. So, let me refresh your memory:

"Talking about genes, it's probably true that you pass on your genes better when you cooperate with many others in your economy. Slavery means not cooperating very well with others in your economy. In the long run, good cooperation is better for all participants."

This is heresy with respect to evolutionism, which is all about conflict. Also, there is no "long term" in evolutionism, for the "long term" is a view, requiring a mind who has desired goals or end-states and remembers past and current states.

Hugo said...

Victor wrote:
"Provide a convincing argument against slavery that would be convincing to anyone who thinks slavery isn't wrong, without any explicit or implicit theological appeals."

If someone thinks that slavery isn't wrong, I am not sure any argument can convince them, as it's a more about what core values individuals have, care about, and share with others. In its simplest form, the argument could be that, given (a) freedom is a basic human right for all individuals and (b) slavery deprives a human of his/her freedom, then (c) we can conclude that slavery is wrong.

In case of disagreement, the problem would be to discuss why 'freedom' should, or should not, be a shared value, what does it entail exactly, and when is it 'ok' to revoke it (such as throwing someone in jail, which is clearly depriving them of most of their freedom.)

"the institution of slavery is defensible from the standpoint of utilitarianism, for example."

But utilitarianism is not some sort of broad moral framework that can be used for all situations. One can argue that when we need to choose between certain options, using utilitarianism references can lead to a decision that's better for the greater good, perhaps while sacrificing some individual preferences.

" It's a dog eat dog world, only the fittest survive, if we have the power to enslave others, what's wrong with it? It will certainly help me pass on my genes. Owning slaves gives people a selective advantage. "

Any rational thinker would refuse the idea that we live in a 'dog eat dog world' where selfishness is the default state. Using reason entails that you care for your own well being and accept that others also care for their own well being, and that you should work together to mutually benefit your own well being, as there is nothing wrong with others being happy while you are. Being part of a satisfied community is always better than being a happy individual in an unhappy community.

" But I don't see a universally convincing secular argument."

And I don't see a non-secular argument either, because there is no such thing as a non-secular morality argument! Theists 'claim' that they have religious reasons to make moral judgment, they 'think' that morality is grounded in a god. However, in reality, concepts such as justice, equality, liberty, fairness, tolerance, etc... are all defined in secular terms, based in the reality we live in. They have objective definitions, which means that there is a 'best' answer to any question, but they still depend on human thoughts to have meaning.

The easiest way to prove this point is this: give some examples for each of the 4 categories:
(1) Actions which you agree are morally good, and that are morally good according to God
(2) Actions which you agree are morally good, but that are not morally good according to God
(3) Actions which you agree are morally bad, and that are morally bad according to God
(4) Actions which you agree are morally bad, but that are not morally bad according to God

You won't have much to put in (2) and (4), right? That's because there is an objective definition of what morally good/bad is and we are all simply trying to classify actions within that implicit definition. Nobody can truly define what it is, just like nobody can truly define what 'truth' is. Yet, we all agree there are true things, objectively, even though we disagree on what is true or not all the time.

Crude said...

Aragorn,

Are you really dense, or are you just playing?

It's called sarcasm. ;)

Don't get too hurt when you get slammed in another thread

You never got too old for wishful thinking, eh Aragorn? You've swallowed most of your teeth in your interaction with me, intellectually speaking. But I suppose if you have to lie to recover your pride, well, that's secular morality at work.

Jayman said...

But we're not talking about the understanding of slavery in a moral dilemma that involves lesser evils. The Bible puts it as a general principle that it is okay.

Which passages in the Bible do you think say slavery is generally okay as opposed to offering advice about specific forms of slavery?