Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Two pictures of the moral life

According to the picture some people present, people ordinarily think of what is best unless their religion interferes, in which case they unthinkingly do what they were taught. 

Other people think of this differently. They think that, without religion, our actions have no everlasting consequences, and therefore there is no reason not to do what will be good for yourself, (as opposed to others). On the other hand, if a religious belief is true, then you have a reason to do what will make others happy, since you may have to live with them forever. 

Both pictures seem oversimplified. Is there truth in both, or neither? 





6 comments:

Angra Mainyu said...

Victor,

Neither one is correct, though religion does interfere with proper moral assessments. It's clear that having a source that makes false moral claims, like the Bible, the Quran or the hadith, is a problem and tends to promote immoral behavior. But it's not the only thing that does. There is plenty of interference from other sources.
The second one seems even worse.
For example, it says:"
if a religious belief is true, then you have a reason to do what will make others happy, since you may have to live with them forever.
"

That depends on the religion, but assuming the person is thinking of something like some common version of Christianity, that does not seem to work.
Suppose Alice believes Christianity is true.
Alice thinks: "Should I make Bob happy because I may have to live with him forever?
Let's see. If I go to Heaven and he goes to Hell or vice versa, I won't have to live with him forever.
If we both go to Heaven, we will have eternal infinite bliss regardless of whether I made him happy before death. Having to live with him forever will not result in everlasting pain, regret, suffering, etc.
If we both go to Hell, making him happy now will likely not make any difference; we will both be suffering horribly forever, and (unless God just radically alters our psychology, in which case all bets are off) and the difference between living with him in Hell forever after making him happy in this life or not making him happy in this life is a drop in the ocean.
So, I reckon it's not the case I should make Bob happy for that reason."

I suppose she might reckon that Hell could be even worse if she didn't make him happy, but ordinarily, religious believers do not make other people happy in order to marginally ease the suffering they will endure for eternity in Hell. In fact, I can't cite a single example of such behavior.

Still, it seems to me the threat of Hell may well deter some immoral behavior when the religion in question gets the immorality of a behavior right, and also someone might reason improperly and think the chance of having to live with them forever is a good reason to make them happy (or even have a different religion that supports that, but that seems less probable). But on the other hand, false moral beliefs promote violent immoral behavior against other people (the violence may be by their own hands, or state-mediated, by supporting unjust laws) (or "government-mediated" if you prefer).

Legion of Logic said...

"Neither one is correct, though religion does interfere with proper moral assessments. It's clear that having a source that makes false moral claims, like the Bible, the Quran or the hadith, is a problem and tends to promote immoral behavior."

Proper moral assessments? False moral claims? Objectively explain the difference.

Angra Mainyu said...

What does it even mean to "objectively" explain the difference?
Is there a difference between objectively explaining a difference, and non-objectively explaining a difference?
Please explain the difference between objectively explaining a difference, and non-objectively explaining a difference.

Now, that said, the difference between what?
Proper and false moral claims, assessments, etc.?
It's the general difference between truth and falsehood. If you don't understand that difference, I'm afraid I can't help you.
If you do (of course you do), and you're implying that somehow I have a burden, that it's improper of me to talk about true and false moral claims, etc., while being a non-theist, I would ask you to make your case.

Of course, there is no way I'm going to accept the burden you seem to intend to place on me. I have neither an obligation to do that nor the time for that debate, and making a comment in this thread surely doesn't commit me to defending a metaethical position at all. In fact, your comment would be out of place even if a metaethical argument for theism succeeded, since my comment was about religion, not about theism, and was a reply that addressed some of Victor's points. Let me put it in other words: under an assumption for the sake of the argument that one of those metaethical arguments for theism succeeds, I would still make the same comment about religion.

Still, if you want a to read a reply from me to that sort of metaethical arguments, again it's not my obligation, but since I already wrote more than one detailed reply, I'll just point you to them: click on my profile, then either my blog (the latest post will do) or my webpage, and you will immediately find at least one of my replies, and just with a couple more clicks, more of them (the short ones and the long ones).
None of them is entirely up to date (I don't have time to write such long essays anymore), but they're close enough to my current thinking, and I would only introduce minor changes from the latest one if I were to write it again. In any event, the main points of my replies remain unchanged.

Legion of Logic said...

"What does it even mean to "objectively" explain the difference?"

Explain the difference between proper and improper moral assessments without resorting to opinion. How do we know a moral position is properly or improperly assessed, in an objective manner that two reasonable people will agree upon based upon nothing but facts?

"It's the general difference between truth and falsehood."

I'm glad we agree that there are moral truths, however as you say:

"If you do (of course you do), and you're implying that somehow I have a burden, that it's improper of me to talk about true and false moral claims, etc., while being a non-theist, I would ask you to make your case"

I fail to see how you have any justification in claiming there is moral truth. Nor do I see how I have any burden to make a case. If objective moral truth can be decided in a "proper manner" entirely independent of a higher truth, I have yet to see it and am a skeptic about its existence. I have no burden to try and shoot down every possible attempt at justification before the attempt is even made.

Also, you make the claims that religion interferes with proper moral assessments and that the Bible contains false moral claims - the former directly implying that this moral assessing is more proper without religion. I see no justification for either in any non theistic paradigm that I am aware of. Agnostic on non theistic moral truth, I am.

What I read on your blog basically boiled down to potential problems using God as an objective basis for morality, and claiming that a non theist who asserts the existence of a foundation for objective moral truth has no burden to back the assertion up, which I find odd.

Despite the lack of any evidence that objective moral truth can exist in a non theistic reality, I do understand the problem of time constraints, so I will not post further on the subject.

Angra Mainyu said...


Explain the difference between proper and improper moral assessments without resorting to opinion. How do we know a moral position is properly or improperly assessed, in an objective manner that two reasonable people will agree upon based upon nothing but facts?

I don't know that two reasonable people will always agree, and I have absolutely no burden here, but still, roughly, the proper way of making moral assessments is to assess the non-moral facts properly (i.e., intentions, predictable consequences, etc.), and then use our moral sense, try to figure out whether our moral sense (at least, that of one of us) has been been led astray by an improper factor, such as a religion or a different ideology, use logic to search for contradictions, consider hypothetical scenarios that may make some matters more clear, etc. In short, engage in moral thinking and moral deliberation as people normally do when their ideology (religious or otherwise) doesn't get in the way, and when they're being epistemically rational, do more sophisticated thinking in the case of some difficult moral questions, etc.

Now, let me ask you:


1. How do people who don't have access to the Bible, Christianity, etc. (or who didn't in the past) know a moral position is properly or improperly assessed, in an objective manner that two reasonable people will agree upon based upon nothing but facts?

I'm asking you in the following context:
a. For the vast majority of time people have existed, none of them had ever heard of Christianity or the Bible - not even the Old Testament -, and not by their own fault. Christianity, the Old Testament, etc., didn't exist yet.
b. Ancient Jewish religion was only known to a very small percentage of the population. How do the rest of the world (before Christianity) know a moral position is properly or improperly assessed, in an objective manner that two reasonable people will agree upon based upon nothing but facts?
c. For most of the time even after Christianity existed, many people didn't have access to any Christian or even Jewish source, not by their own fault. Consider, for example, all of the aboriginal people of the Americas before European colonization.

So, what was the proper method?
What is the proper method today for people raised in remote locations in the Amazon, the very few uncontacted people, people who have been contacted but with no access to Christianity, etc.?

I'm not saying that those people were always right - surely, they too were led astray by many, many factors. What I'm asking you is how, if they had been assessing the matters properly, should have gone about making proper moral assessments? (the same for present-day cases)


2. How do people know whether a moral position advocated in a religious text, such as the Bible, the Quran, the hadith, Chinese Buddhist canon, the Kangyur, the Vedas, etc.?

Angra Mainyu said...



I fail to see how you have any justification in claiming there is moral truth. Nor do I see how I have any burden to make a case. If objective moral truth can be decided in a "proper manner" entirely independent of a higher truth, I have yet to see it and am a skeptic about its existence. I have no burden to try and shoot down every possible attempt at justification before the attempt is even made.

already pointed you to my replies to some of those arguments. My reply to similar arguments would be, well, similar.

For example, on the issue of burden, you can see either of the following links:
https://angramainyusblog.blogspot.com.ar/2015/01/morality-and-ontological-grounding-some.html
https://angramainyusblog.blogspot.com.ar/2013/06/a-reply-to-craigs-metaethical-argument.html#burden

For a full reply, you can just take a look at the latest post on my blog.


Also, you make the claims that religion interferes with proper moral assessments and that the Bible contains false moral claims - the former directly implying that this moral assessing is more proper without religion. I see no justification for either in any non theistic paradigm that I am aware of. Agnostic on non theistic moral truth, I am.

Consider all of the religions you think are false. Now, that's nearly all religions, historically, which were not inspired. Clearly, they lead people to false moral assessments: for example, instead of using their moral sense, they just believed what their religion said, which may well be an improper assessment made in the past by some other person, or a proper assessment made in a very different situation by very different people in the past, and which very likely is not applicable to the case the person is considering.
In short, they're just using an improper method of assessing moral matters.


What I read on your blog basically boiled down to potential problems using God as an objective basis for morality, and claiming that a non theist who asserts the existence of a foundation for objective moral truth has no burden to back the assertion up, which I find odd.

That's not what I say on my blog. I even reject the way you frame it, as if one would have to assert the existence of a foundation for objective moral truth. No, the non-theist just engages normally in moral assessments, and rejects such demands for justification that are completely out of place, asks what the other person even mean by "objective" (a lot of equivocation in theistic arguments), etc.
But again, I do not have the time for this debate.

If you're interested in reading it with intent to understand, it will take some time (those are long posts), but you know where to find them. If not, okay, your choice of course. Readers may also make their choice.

And again, under an assumption for the sake of the argument that one of those metaethical arguments for theism succeeds, I would still make the same comment about religion. All of those arguments at most would give you theism. They wouldn't give you Christianity, or any other religion.