Monday, March 14, 2016

Why shouldn't we treat some people as inferior?

Some of the most historically influential arguments for not treating groups of people are inferior are religious in nature. They say that everyone was created by God, Jesus died for everyone, therefore, no person, in virtue of being a member of a group, should be treated as inferior.

On the other hand, if you assume the secular view that human beings are in the groups they are in through evolution, then you have to deal with the idea that creatures are entitled to the survival advantages that evolution has provided them. Thus if being white, or male, gives you a position of power that makes you, (as opposed to others) better able to pass on  your (selfish) genes than other people, then why shouldn't you take advantage of that superior power?

I realize that the former kind of argument has not prevented religious people from exploiting others, nor has the second argument prevented secularists from being nonexploiters. But what would be the secularist rebuttal to the latter argument?

20 comments:

Ilíon said...

"But what would be the secularist rebuttal to the latter argument?"

There is none that is logically consistent with the premises of either secularism or atheism.

Angra Mainyu said...

Victor, I have a few objections:

First, if by "inferior" you mean "morally inferior", then I reckon good people are superior to bad people. For example, most people are superior to a serial killer or a mass murderer. Reciprocally, bad people are inferior to good people, and so on.

Second, most arguments for the inferiority of a group of people are also in my experience, religious. For example, religion X claims or implies that people who reject it are somehow morally inferior (and for that reason they allegedly deserve infinite punishment, or to be expelled from their lands, or whatever). Chosen people anyone?

Third, you say "They say that everyone was created by God, Jesus died for everyone, therefore, no person, in virtue of being a member of a group, should be treated as inferior."
If I take that as it's written, it's a nonsequitur. Do you have additional premises in support of that "therefore"?
How is a person not inferior to a member of the group "not bad people" if it's a member of the group "bad people"?

Fourth, some Christians (e.g., W.L. Craig) hold that non-Christians plausibly deserve infinite punishment for rejecting God (rather than for murder, theft, or adultery). Given that Christians don't deserve on that account infinite punishment (even if they don't deserve infinite bliss, either), but non-Christians do, then it seems extremely likely on that view that Christians are morally better; i.e., non-Christians are inferior.

Fifth, you claim "if you assume the secular view that human beings are in the groups they are in through evolution, then you have to deal with the idea that creatures are entitled to the survival advantages that evolution has provided them." But that does not follow.

"Thus if being white, or male, gives you a position of power that makes you, (as opposed to others) better able to pass on your (selfish) genes than other people, then why shouldn't you take advantage of that superior power?"
1. In which sense are you using the word "selfish"?
Because it's clear that genes are not psychologically selfish. And the usual non-psychological sense is irrelevant to any of the moral matters at hand.
So, what do you mean?

2. Suppose Bob and Tom have had similar environmental opportunities, but due to genetic differences, Bob has plenty of hair, is tall, very intelligent and very athletic, while Tom is short, bald, obese and has low IQ.
As a result, Bob is overall much more attractive to most women.
On theism, does Bob have a moral obligation to somehow refrain from using his advantages when looking for a find a female partner he finds more attractive?
Should he refrain from using his advantage (i.e., his superior power) to have a happy life?

Moreover, let's say that Bob is fertile, whereas Tom is not infertile. Should Bob refrain from using his superior reproductive power to pass on his genes?
That would be weird.

SteveK said...

"why shouldn't you take advantage of that superior power"

I see that, unlike other posts, nobody is rushing to respond/answer.

Angra Mainyu said...

SteveK:

I'm not rushing, but I did answer. By the way, do you think one always shouldn't use one's genetic advantages? (i.e., one has a moral obligation not to?)
One of the problems with Steve's argument is that he uses "White" and "male" because those words tend to trigger a reaction "one shouldn't use the advantage" (as if those provided a genetic advantage, but leaving that aside), but once one introduces other cases of genetically-based advantages, it becomes clear that it's not true that one shouldn't always use them. But then here is a problem: if somehow that one should not treating people as inferior for belonging to a certain group is entailed by theism (or Christianity, or whatever you like), and somehow not treating people as inferior for belonging to a certain group entails one should not use one's genetic advantages, then it follows that theism (or Christianity, or whatever you like) entails that one should not use one's genetic advantages. But that is a false conclusion. Even if sometimes one shouldn't use one's genetic advantages, it's not the case that one should never use them.
So, either theism (or Christianity, or whatever you like) is false, or there is something wrong with Victor's argument (or both, of course).

John Moore said...

The question boils down to why the strong should cooperate with the weak. The answer is obvious when you realize there are many types of strength. People you superficially see as weak may be strong in other ways. And diverse teams tend to be much stronger than homogeneous teams.

Consider Stephen Hawking. I'm pretty sure I could beat him in a wrestling match, but does that mean Hawking is worthless as a human being? Ridiculous as it is, this is the kind of thing Victor's talking about when he asks why we shouldn't "treat some people as inferior."

Ilíon said...

SteveK: "I see that, unlike other posts, nobody is rushing to respond/answer."

That's because the only answer anyone wants to give will be an incoherent-and-evasive one, such as John Moore's immediately above.

Ilíon said...

... that or a pointless-and-evasive wall-of-text as Angra Mainyu has done.

Angra Mainyu said...

My replies are neither pointless nor evasive, as Ilíon has falsely claimed.

The fact that they reject - and for very good reasons, as I explained in them - some of the assumptions in Victor's post do not make them either of those.

But given that none of the points I made has been seriously challenged - issuing substance-less condemnations does not constitute a serious challenge -, I will not add any substantive points for now.

Ilíon said...

... or ever.

Talon said...

About Steven Hawking, what about his illness or genes produces a superior physicist? Couldn't everything society values about Hawking intellectually be cultivated in superior people to greater effect? In purely secular terms, he's a rather unremarkable meat robot and a defective one to boot. Couldn't one argue a society's resources (education, grant money, etc.) are thus better spent on a scientist (or two) who doesn't suffer from a debilitating disease that will also require expensive, long term medical treatment? On the whole, is human flourishing enhanced by expending these resources? Why? If a human life has no intrinsic value, but an individual might possess skills which have utility, why not offer a cost/benefit ratio to supporting "inferior" people based on the skills they have? If someone like Hawking dips below the value threshold, euthanasia is always a dignified alternative to the suffering they and their caretakers might experience.

Victor Reppert said...

1) Obviously treating someone as inferior, in this context, does not mean treating someone badly because they have done something bad and deserve it. What I mean here is, for example, treating people as inferior because they are black, or based on some other morally irrelevant reason.

2) Prior to the advent of Christianity people in the Roman Empire typically exposed female infants, sexually exploited slaves, etc. Jews thought that Samaritans should be mistreated just because they are Samaritans. People have justified this using religion, I think this is an after-the-fact rationalization. People can be treated as inferior because they are enemies of the revolution, or Jewish. Hitler's rationalization for the Holocaust was in no way religious.

4) Craig would say that both Christians and non-Christians deserve eternal punishment, but the Christian's sin is paid for. I have always had trouble with that picture, and wouldn't try to defend it myself, as I think it brings legal ideas into spiritual issues in a contrived way.

5) But let's say I am in a position of power to own slaves and exploit them to the hilt. It would, surely, be better for the maximization of happiness if I were to free them. But, what's in it for me? Why should I care about the happiness of others. If I benefit socially from caring, then I should behave in caring ways. If I have sympathy for others, then I should act on that sympathy, unless other desires override. But what if these are not my overriding impulses. Then what do I do?

If I have committed a murder in the past. I deserve punishment. But should I confess and admit to it? I have a good life now. Why should I give it up to receive what I deserve.

There are plenty of secular motives for being moral, but they only to so far, and don't operate under all circumstances. Then what? In many cases people have been driven by a belief in a moral ultimate reality to do what is morally right, but these cases have a way of getting ignored.

6) We should use our genetic advantages when we can do so within the confines of justice. But why should I accept those confines, unless I have sympathy or a social interest in accepting those constraints. What if I don't?

Angra Mainyu said...

1. In that case, it's not clear what counts as a group in the sense of the first sentence in your OP.
For example, do groups like "Christian", "Marxist", "Wahhabi", etc., count?

2. While not all mistreatment is based on religion, that does not imply that none is, or that mistreatment based on religion is not common. In fact, if some of the people engage in post-hoc rationalization and give a religious rationale for their mistreatment of other people, and then they incorporate the mistreatment as part of their religious duties (i.e., they make it part of their religion), then one could expect that subsequent generations will also engage in mistreatment, but in this case, it will be in fact based on their religion, not on a post-hoc rationalization.
For example, take a look at Deuteronomy 20:10-18. That clearly incorporates mistreatment (amounting to genocide) of the groups Hittite, and Amorite, Canaanite, Perizzite, Hivite, and Jebusite, while it also incorporates the mistreatment of people in distant cities (who aren't to be exterminated if they surrender, but will still be attacked and forced to pay tribute).
Now, even though the biblical story, commands, etc., was something that some ancient Israelites who were already predisposed against those groups made up, subsequent generations would take it as part of their religion, and would unjustly treat people because of their belonging to one of those groups.
In fact, even today, those atrocious commands are defended by people, clearly on religious grounds (it's not as though they interacted with the targeted people, who are long dead), though fortunately, there are no present-day targets in those cases.
Another example is the Islamic unjust treatment non-Muslims who are "people of the book" and are still forced to pay some tax, and even worse for those who aren't "people of the book". The mistreatment is now part of their religion (it's in the hadith, which is accepted by authoritative by most Muslims).

3. Without additional premises, that still seems to be a non-sequitur.

4. Why do you think Craig would say that?
For example, here he says "that the rejection of Christ as Lord and Savior, being a rejection of God Himself, is a sin of infinite gravity and proportion and therefore plausibly does merit infinite punishment. So seen, people are sent to hell, not so much for murder and theft and adultery, but for their rejection of God."
That seems to imply, in context, that people who do not reject Jesus, etc., do not deserve infinite punishment (even if they don't deserve infinite bliss, either, and even if they deserve punishment that would accrue due to new immoral actions if properly applied).

Angra Mainyu said...

5. That's a different sort of argument. You seem to be asking for a non-moral reason not to behave immorally. My point was based on your OP.
Still, I will address your questions:
But let's say I am in a position of power to own slaves and exploit them to the hilt. It would, surely, be better for the maximization of happiness if I were to free them. But, what's in it for me? Why should I care about the happiness of others. If I benefit socially from caring, then I should behave in caring ways. If I have sympathy for others, then I should act on that sympathy, unless other desires override. But what if these are not my overriding impulses. Then what do I do?
What do you do, or what do you have a moral obligation to do?
You have a moral obligation to free the slaves, but probably in that scenario you will not.

On the other hand, suppose Jacob is one of those ancient Israelites who believes Yahweh has given them the women of the town he just raided as a sexual slave (e.g., Numbers 31, Deuteronomy 20) - and he was given one of those women -, and he also believes Yahweh's rules are only just? Or suppose Ahmed is an IS fighter who believes Allah's sanctioned his getting a Yazidi sexual slave?
Of course, they should not rape their slaves, and in fact they should set them free - in the moral sense of "should" -, but if they're not inclined to do so, the biblical/hadith support for their acts of slavery and rape will likely provide social cover, making it advantageous to them to engage in such actions, at least if they have no sympathy for the victims, or not enough sympathy to override their desire to rape them.

If I have committed a murder in the past. I deserve punishment. But should I confess and admit to it? I have a good life now. Why should I give it up to receive what I deserve.
Is that a moral "should", or a means-to-ends "should"?
Morally, I'm not entirely sure you have a moral obligation to admit to it. Do people have an obligation to do so, even if that will cost them their lives? What if you also have a family to support, and they will also be punished if you come clean, or at least won't be able to sustain themselves? I think it depends on the specifics of the case. But what you seem to be asking is again for non-moral reasons not to flaunt your moral obligation, assuming that you do have a moral obligation to turn yourself in. Well, it depends on the case, but what's your point?


There are plenty of secular motives for being moral, but they only to so far, and don't operate under all circumstances. Then what? In many cases people have been driven by a belief in a moral ultimate reality to do what is morally right, but these cases have a way of getting ignored.

What do you mean by a "moral ultimate reality"?
If you mean that they act because they believe there is a fact of the matter as to whether they have an obligation to X, and they believe they do, then sure, but that does not require theism.
If you mean that even that is not enough, but belief in God gives a further reason, that does not seem to be the case, unless they also believe in some sort of ultimate good or bad consequences for them. But then, assuming the consistency of both theism and nontheism (a matter for another discussion), neither theism entails that there will be ultimate punishment for immoral behavior (or reward for not immoral behavior), nor nontheism implies that there will be no such consequences. For example, nontheists sometimes believe in karma. And theists may well believe that they are already saved, no matter what they do.

Angra Mainyu said...

6. That's also not the original evolution-based argument.
But still, when you ask why you should accept the confines of justice, you don't seem to be asking a moral question - i.e., that does not seem to be a moral "should".
If it is a moral "should", I would just say that the ball has to stop somewhere, and it's intuitively clear that it would be immoral of you not to accept the confines of justice (in the context in which the word is used here), so it follows you morally should accept the confines of justice.
If it's a means-to-ends "should", that depends on the circumstances. If Jack is a psycho, maybe he rationally reckons he'll be better off not accepting the confines of justice. But he would still be acting immorally (which he wouldn't care).
So, believing in long term or endless consequences (e.g., Hell, karma, etc.) may sometimes modify a person's behavior, and lead them to refrain from behaving immorally. On the other hand, religious beliefs (and more generally ideologies of any kind) also promote a number of immoral behaviors - namely, when the religion/ideology got the moral facts wrong -, whereas not having those religious beliefs does not promote that.

In any case, even if sometimes some people who don't believe in karma, Hell, etc., have overall instrumental reason to behave immorally, that does not work as a general argument for all non-theists. There are plenty of non-theists who value being good people, not behaving immorally, not inflicting unjust suffering, etc., more than they value the potential benefits of such behavior. In other words, the evolution-based argument you were making (about the genetic advantages, etc.) does not succeed.

Victor Reppert said...

AM: In any case, even if sometimes some people who don't believe in karma, Hell, etc., have overall instrumental reason to behave immorally, that does not work as a general argument for all non-theists. There are plenty of non-theists who value being good people, not behaving immorally, not inflicting unjust suffering, etc., more than they value the potential benefits of such behavior. In other words, the evolution-based argument you were making (about the genetic advantages, etc.) does not succeed.

VR: But doesn't that rely, to a large extent, on our sympathy for others? Can't this vary from person to person.

In practice, can you acknowledge that in many cases religious beliefs have supported justice? Isn't it the case that, for example, the historic case for abolitionism was an argument with religious premises? Wasn't Bryan concerned with the defense of creationism because he feared that evolutionism would be used as a basis for cut-throat capitalism?

Angra Mainyu said...

AM: In any case, even if sometimes some people who don't believe in karma, Hell, etc., have overall instrumental reason to behave immorally, that does not work as a general argument for all non-theists. There are plenty of non-theists who value being good people, not behaving immorally, not inflicting unjust suffering, etc., more than they value the potential benefits of such behavior. In other words, the evolution-based argument you were making (about the genetic advantages, etc.) does not succeed.

VR: But doesn't that rely, to a large extent, on our sympathy for others? Can't this vary from person to person.

In practice, can you acknowledge that in many cases religious beliefs have supported justice? Isn't it the case that, for example, the historic case for abolitionism was an argument with religious premises? Wasn't Bryan concerned with the defense of creationism because he feared that evolutionism would be used as a basis for cut-throat capitalism?

AM: It relies on human psychology, which includes sympathy for others and aversion against breaking moral rules. If you look at how people actually behave, you don't see that people who aren't religious aren't motivated by moral considerations - not remotely. Nearly all humans (psychopaths, babies, etc., aside) are moved by moral considerations.

As for your second point, I don't know how many cases count like that. The historic case for abolitionism usually had religious premises, and so did the case for slavery. The fact is that when people live in a social context in which a certain religion is believed to be the right source of morality, of course moral arguments will usually be based on religious language.
As for Bryan's concern, sure, I never suggested that religious people are not motivated by their moral beliefs. But Bryan's moral beliefs led him astray, and that happens often when people based on their moral beliefs on a bad source, be it the Bible, the hadith, or the works of Karl Marx or Ayn Rand.
So, Bryan is a bad example. But are there examples of people who refrain from engaging in immoral behavior due to fear of divine retribution?
Sure. I never suggested otherwise. There are also examples of people who engage in immoral behavior, because they believe it's morally obligatory due to their religion/ideology.

Victor Reppert said...

I think it's important not to reduce all religious moral motivation to reward and punishment. That is one aspect of it, but the idea that you are fulfilling the purpose for which you were created by a good creator is a motive in itself even if there isn't anything in it for you in terms of increased pleasure or decreased pain.

Angra Mainyu said...

Sure, but that motive depends also on a person's sympathy for others, or otherwise on features of her own psychology - as all motives do, of course.
More precisely, in order to do X because she believes by doing X, she is fulfilling the purpose for which she was created by a good creator, a theist needs to have a sympathy for such (purported) being, or else a predisposition to do whatever it is a morally good creator created her for, or something along those lines.
A nontheist might also do X without theistic belief, if she believes that by doing X, she benefits another person (for which she feels sympathy), or because she believes X is morally obligatory and she has a predisposition to do what's morally obligatory, etc., and that's even if there's nothing for her in terms of increased pleasure or decreased pain.

In the case of the theist, that motivation might lead them to behave in immoral ways, depending on what the alleged purpose is, even if it might also lead them not to behave in immoral ways.

Andy Simmons said...

The atheistic left derives its morality from Christianity's lionization of the weak, the helpless and the worthless. The cult of victimhood comes directly from the Gospels. Indeed, they are for more consistent in preaching, if not practicing, this morality.

You bring up how whites with superior power (superior intellect and character--that is what White "privilege" really is) do not use said power to give ourselves an evolutionary advantage. The reason is because White men are taught systematically that to be weak and cowardly is the ultimate virtue. Since White men are no longer permitted to act like real men they are no longer attractive to White women. These White women then have sex with minority men who are beyond criticism due to their victim status as minorities. Look at how European women are spreading their legs for their Muslim invaders as soon as arrive.

I'm an atheist who thinks it's high time we reject the slave morality of the desert god. It's time Whites replace guilt with pride in our real-world achievements. I love to tell White liberals how proud I am of my White ancestors for the crushing the bestial, savage Native Americans and how its high time we do the same to Muslims today. In order to do this we need a morality that rejects "compassion" and celebrates strength. Goodness (virtue) needs to once again be understood as power and not sentimentalism as it was to the pagans of old.

Ilíon said...

I guess someone didn't get the memo that God-denial is the quickest route to social, and genetic, extinction.