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disillusioned last won the day on November 22 2015

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About disillusioned

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    Holy Prophet of the FSM

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    Still trying to find my way, mostly making it up as I go along.
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    Chess, literature, science, philosophy, entertainment, food and drink.
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    "Using words to talk of words is like using a pencil to draw a picture of itself, on itself."
    ~Patrick Rothfuss~

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  • Still have any Gods? If so, who or what?
    I have looked deep into the sauce and cheese.

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  1. The Question of Objective Morality

    Yes, I agree, we need to be very careful about what definition we are using. When you say that we're discussing whether something can be objectively good according to our concept of "good", I'm not sure that I agree with you. The question of objective morality is whether or not things can be good specifically apart from our concept of "good". That is what it means for something to be really right irrespective of what anybody thinks (ie, independent of our concept of "good"). I agree that God would be under no requirement to adhere to our concept of good, but who is to say that our concept of good is objectively correct? Surely the opinion of an all-powerful God, if He exists, is the only one that really matters. ficino beat me to the punch with respect to the logical paradox issue. I'm inclined to agree with him that questions such as these don't actually make any sense. The rock question, for example, suffers in my view from the fact that it relies on a number of assumptions that are not applicable to the subject of the question. Things can only be lifted, for example, on Earth or another planet where there is an "up" due to a gravitational field. The idea of "lifting" things is born of our human experiences here on Earth. No one "lifts" anything in space. So surely the idea of "lifting" simply doesn't apply to God. Thus, it seems to me that trying to answer these questions is rather like trying to answer the question "is seven green?".
  2. The Question of Objective Morality

    Personally I find Craig's view regarding God not being able to violate logic to be, frankly, stupid. I agree that the idea of an all-powerful God may not be coherent, and it may not be, strictly speaking, biblical, but I think that it is the only attribute that the common notion of God is supposed to have. What is God if not the supreme being? If he is subject to logic, then He is not supreme. Logic is. Should we not then start calling logic "God"? Again, though, this is a problem that arises from the fact that "God" is not well-defined. There I think that you and I are mainly in agreement. As to your question, in the absence of a supreme eternal being, I can't see how objective morality can exist. If it objective moral principles exist, then by definition they exist irrespective of whether anyone believes in them. In particular, they exist if nobody exists to believe in them. But it seems to me that moral principles require the existence of conscious beings. This is because I think that moral principles concern the behaviour of conscious beings. For example, suppose that the statement "it is wrong to cause suffering" is held to be an objective moral principle. In this case it must be true even if nobody exists who can cause suffering, or who is capable of suffering. In this scenario the statement is meaningless, because suffering does not exist, and cannot exist. If it is meaningless, it can't be true. So it cannot be objectively true. I do not agree that God cannot be all-good and all-powerful. I've always held, even as a Christian, that the claim "God is good" is not a claim about what God is like, it is a claim about what good is like. The only way that the claim "God is good" can be coherent, in my view, is if we are starting with a notion of what God is and saying "good is like that", not starting with a notion of what good is and saying "God is like that". What this means, though, is that whatever God does is good by definition, because that is how "good" is defined. Now, does this mean that God is not all-powerful, because He can't do evil? I think that this is a short-sighted line of argument. Suppose we say that X is an evil thing. It can only be an evil thing because it is anti-thetical to some action Y that God has done. This doesn't mean that God can't do X. The fact that God is all-powerful means that he undo Y and do X when ever he damn well pleases. Now, if God does this then X is no longer evil and Y is. But that is beside the point. God still did X, and he could do Y again if he wanted. So there is literally nothing that God cannot do. The claim that an action is evil is claim about what God has not done, not a claim about what He cannot do. The dictator can't make that leap, but surely God can. He's God. There isn't anything that He can't do. If you want to insist that God is not all-powerful, then that's your prerogative. But as I've already said, I don't find the idea of a God who is not all-powerful to be, in any sense, coherent. I'm happy to keep arguing about this if you want, but I think that this is somewhat beside the point. I don't hold that God exists, and neither do you. Perhaps for now we should just say that it is up to the theists to define precisely what they mean by God if they want to argue for His existence. For the purposes of this discussion, I'm going to propose that we move on without the assumption of God, and consider whether we can still objective moral principles. I've contended above that I don't think we can. I'm interested to see what you have to say about my response there. I don't think that this critique is unique to morality. It is particularly pertinent to the question of morals because that's what we are talking about at the moment. That's all. The reason why I brought this up is because I've found that a lot of people (religious or otherwise) want to treat morality as a "special" subject. They want absolute, objective moral truth. But everything that I have learned in my life indicates to me that such truths do not exist in any area. I don't understand why morality, which I consider to be a uniquely human subject, should be different in this regard. Fair enough. Again, I agree that statements can be objectively true. I don't agree that principles can be objectively true. Recall that I'm defining principles as fundamental truths, the starting points for reasoning about a topic. My contention is, essentially, that principles are just axioms by another name, and axioms are not objectively true. You seem to be taking the opposite view, namely that principles can be objectively true, and in particular, that there are moral principles which are objectively true. Would you mind explaining to me why you think that this is the case?
  3. The Question of Objective Morality

    I seem to have given you the wrong impression somewhere about what I'm saying about this. Let me try to be more clear. I am not ceding anything of substance to the theist, because I do not cede that God exists, or even that any particular theistic notion of God is well-defined. I'm also not saying that a God would necessarily provide us with objective morals. Certainly God would be under no requirement to do so. What I am saying is that if an all-powerful God existed then that God could provide us with objective morals. This is not an arguable point, in my view. If God is all-powerful, then He can do anything. Surely this includes providing us with objective morals. If it doesn't, then He isn't all-powerful. The other thing I'm saying is that if an all-powerful God existed and He chose to create objective morals, then they could be anything that He wanted them to be. As an all-powerful God, He can do anything He wants. Surely this includes creating any moral system that He likes, even if it is one that we don't understand, or, for that matter, one that is repugnant to us. Could we call such a God evil? Yes we could, but that wouldn't matter. He would be God, and if He said He was good, then it would be so by virtue of the fact that He would be God. Again, I need to clarify. Let's assume for the moment that we have established that an all-powerful God exists. If God says "X is good", then it is true irrespective of what anyone thinks about it. This is the definition of objective morality that I've been using. The only sticking point is that by "anyone", I mean any human being. God, if He exists, is not a human being. We should not treat him as one. His opinion is the only one that ultimately matters. And by virtue of the fact that he is all-powerful, he could in fact simply change the entire way reality works on a whim. Whatever He says goes. That is what it means to be all-powerful. Saying something is moral because God said so is only like saying it is moral because Fred said so because we don't know what God has said, or that He even exists. If we did know these things, then these would be fundamentally different statements. Now, the picture of God that I'm painting here might seem dictatorial. But what of it? Just as in a dictatorship the law is objectively whatever the dictator says it is, so in a world ruled by an all-powerful God good is objectively whatever He says it is (if He chooses to say anything at all). Again, though, I cede nothing to the theist because I do not grant that the notion of God is well-defined, that He exists, or that we can know what He has said if he does. I mislike the way in which you are using "subjective" here. Again, I need to be careful not to give the wrong impression about what I'm saying. Please bear with me for a moment while I try to be clear. If I fail, please let me know. First, Godel's incompleteness theorems entail not just that we don't have a complete formal system. They entail that one cannot, even in principle, exist. If you want to explore these in more detail, we can go down that road. It is something of a tangent, but it's certainly one that I'd be happy to explore. But my point was that because there is no complete formal system, what we are necessarily left with is a collection of formal systems that can at best serve as partial descriptions of reality. Furthermore, the axioms of the formal systems are ultimately arbitrary. So where does this leave us? I seem to have given you the impression that this leaves us with no room for objective truth. That's not what I intended to do. We can certainly still have objective truth, but not absolute objective truth. Let's look at an example to illustrate what I mean. Say we have two formal systems F and S and a statement q that can be expressed in the languages of both systems. Suppose that q is provable in F. In this case, q is objectively true in F. But it is perfectly possible that q is not provable in S, or even that it is disprovable is S. In this case, q would be objectively false in S. So we can have a statement which is objectively true in one system and objectively false in another. What we cannot say is that either F or S is objectively the right system, and because of this we can't have ultimate objective truth (or perhaps we should say "absolute" truth). In other words, we can have objective truth, but only in the context of a particular system, and the claim that the system itself is valid cannot be adjudicated. Where does this leave us with respect to science? Well, statements can be objectively true under a particular scientific model. But the model itself is not objectively correct. What about morality? Perhaps we can build a moral system, and in that system there can be statements which are objectively true. But recall that my contention regards objective moral principles, the starting point for our moral system. I contend that these principles are not objectively correct. They are just axioms, like any other, and, as such, they are ultimately arbitrary. This doesn't, by the way, leave us in a position where that statements "two plus two equals four" and "it is immoral when people rape" have equal merit. I would say that in a formal moral system "two plus two equals four" is either a meaningless statement or not a statement at all. It probably isn't false per se. But even if it was, that wouldn't in any way entail that "it is immoral when people rape" is also false. They are different statements, and they would need to be evaluated separately according to the rules and axioms of what even system we are using.
  4. The Question of Objective Morality

    I like this. I feel like we're getting somewhere. Regarding axioms, I can only speak from my own knowledge about systems of logic. For the record, I want to say that I haven't formally studied philosophy in any detail, except as it pertains to mathematics and science. But there I do have some knowledge. Mathematics, it turns out, relies on formal systems (ie, systems of logic) in which proofs can be constructed. A formal system requires axioms and rules of deduction/inference, which are then used to prove other statements. The axioms, by definition, cannot be proven within the system. They must be assumed. So too for the rules of deduction. A statement can be proven formally in the language of a formal system if and only if one can reduce the statement, via the rules of deduction, to the axioms. Statements which can be proven within a system are said to be "true" in that system. Now, here's where it gets tricky. The axioms of the system are arbitrary. They can be anything that we like. Some formal systems are consistent (ie, the axioms do not lead to contradictions), and some are not. Inconsistent formal systems are functionally useless. But even among consistent systems, there are some that are more useful, and more powerful than others. Some allow for arithmetic, and some do not. Now, here's the kicker: it has been formally proven that there is no complete formal system (see my signature). This seems to me to entail that no formal system can be said to be objectively "correct". Some are more useful than others, but that's about all that can be said about that. Science, on the other hand, is only interested in what seems to work. It isn't actually interested in objective truth. The scientific method reduces to trying things out, and going with what works. Scientific theories are attempts to describe bodies of observations by building formal systems which fit the observations and allow for further predictions to be made. But no scientific theory is complete, and no scientific theory is objectively correct. Some fit the observations better than others. That's all that can be said. So, if we want to hold, as Harris does, that we can have a science of morality, then we are cornered, on my view, into admitting that we don't have objective morality. We may have a moral system that is consistent, powerful and useful, but it isn't objectively correct. We could choose some different axioms and make a different system. Is this radical skepticism? Maybe. But this is what I meant when I said in a different thread that I think pragmatism has a lot of merit. From my perspective, it doesn't really matter our morals are objective or not. What matters is if our moral system works. Similar things may be said of science. Scientific knowledge is real knowledge; it just isn't absolute, or absolutely objective. I don't find this disturbing, although I appreciate that many people may. I don't actually agree with this. If God exists, then He can serve as the measuring stick for an objective moral system. An all-powerful God could fill the role of un-judged judge, and moral law-giver. Such a God could say "These actions are good", and they would be because He said so. Period. No ifs ands or buts. He's God. He doesn't have to justify Himself to anyone. I don't think that this is an argument for a subjective morality. If the answer to the question "says who" is "God", then that ends the conversation pretty quickly. The problem that I see with this (aside from the fact that we have no reason to think that God exists) is that it still leaves us in the position of having to determine which actions are sanctioned by God, and which are not. And who is qualified to make this adjudication? So the argument changes to the following: Person A: "X is good." Person B: "Why?" A: "Because God said so." B: "Says who?" So, you can see, the appeal to God just removes the "says who" question by a single step; it doesn't eliminate it. That's the main problem that I have with the approach to morality that Turek, Craig and other like-minded individuals take in a nutshell.
  5. The Question of Objective Morality

    I agree with all of this, except with the claim that it is objective. The question I would want to ask is who says that a longer life span is "better" than a shorter one? There are also cases where death comes as a welcome friend. But certainly I agree that we have morality, that it is real, and that it is a result of natural selection.
  6. The Question of Objective Morality

    A couple of issues with this. I agree that we don't need to know everything about something to say that it exists. That is not what I am claiming. I think morality exists. I don't think we know everything about it. What I'm saying is that objective morality does not exist. I'm not saying this because I don't know everything about it, I'm saying it because I don't know anything about it. If you want to claim that objective morality exists, then you need to give me a moral statement, and show that it is objectively correct. That is, you need to show that event or action X is wrong (or right, as the case may be) irrespective of what anyone thinks about it. But here's the problem: I don't even know that this can be done in principle. Suppose you prove your statement "X is wrong". You do this using a system of reason, which relies on axioms and rules which are, ultimately, arbitrary. So who's to say that your proof is valid? The Munchhausen Trilemma rears its ugly head. Specifically, you give an example of such a statement in your post, saying that it is a bad thing for everyone to suffer as long and intensely as possible before dying. I'm not sure that this is a coherent statement. Some people want others to suffer. If person A hates person B and wants nothing more than for person B to suffer, then if person B is suffering as much as possible, person A is not suffering as much as he or she might be. Also, some people derive pleasure from their own pain. But put this aside. What does it mean to suffer "as long and intensely as possible before dying"? How do we measure suffering? For that matter, how do we measure well-being? It seems to me that unless and until we can do this, any moral system which is based on well-being is not robust, and is certainly not objective. Thanks for posting the video. I haven't watched the whole thing yet, but what I have watched is very interesting. For now I will simply say this: it seems to me that the gentleman with the long hair is selling the cause for the queen around the 32:00 mark when he insists that we ought to be able to claim the existence of axioms when defining morality. I agree with him here, that we need some moral axioms, but there is a problem: axioms are, ultimately, arbitrary. They are just assumptions. They only hold as long as someone assumes them. So if a moral system is based on axioms, then it is not objective, because it only holds as long as someone holds the axioms to be true. By contrast, an objective moral system relies on principles which hold irrespective of what anybody thinks. So an objective moral system cannot be based on axioms. That would be contradictory. We can, to be sure, construct morality based on axioms, but it won't be objective.
  7. The Question of Objective Morality

    I haven't read The Moral Landscape, but I've read several of Harris' other books, and listened to him lecture/speak on the topic of morality several times, so I'm fairly familiar with his view. I think that he has a lot to say which is practically useful, but I'm not sure that it is foundationally strong. I have a few issues with Harris' argument. One is that I'm not sure that pain and suffering, or, for that matter, human well-being are objectively measurable. If we are to base a moral system on decreasing pain and suffering, and increasing well-being, then this is problematic. Sure, in some cases it's pretty clear that human well-being is better served by some actions than others, but in most cases it isn't at all clear. For example, it's easy to say that human well-being on the whole would be increased if, for example, WWII had never happened. But how do we know that? The world today would look vastly different had WWII never occurred. How do we know that a world in which it hadn't occurred would be objectively better than the world we have today? The uncomfortable answer is that we don't know this, and we can't know this. I think this is problematic. Another issue is similar to the one that I alluded to in my response to Rounin above. According to Harris, some possible worlds contain more suffering than others, and are hence objectively better than others. His argument is contingent on being able to distinguish between actions which increase human well-being in the aggregate ("good" actions) and those which decrease it ("bad" actions). But this leads to a problem which William Lane Craig posed to Harris during a debate at one point, which I actually find fairly compelling. Consider a scenario involving only a sexual psychopathic and an innocent. We want to say that it is wrong for the psychopath to rape the child, but we can't do that on Harris' view. The psychopath's well-being is contingent on being able to rape the child. The child's well-being is contingent on that not happening. On Harris' view, there is, therefore, no morally right action here, which is problematic for two reasons: first, because it entails that child rape is not objectively wrong (and if child rape isn't objectively wrong, what is?) and second because it means that the entire notion of a moral landscape with peaks and valleys disintegrates under scrutiny. In some possible scenarios, there are no actions which can increase overall human well-being, and hence I can't see how we could ever claim that human well-being can be used as a source of objective morality. In answer to your question, according to the definition I've been using, I don't think it's possible to have objective moral principles that are not absolute. If a moral principle is real and binding irrespective of what anyone believes about it, then I don't see how it can be situational, but I need to think more about this. Let's have some working definitions. Anyone participating should feel free to suggest adjustments to the following, but this is how I'm currently using these terms: Principles are fundamental truths. They are similar to axioms, except that we know for sure that axioms are not objective. Principles are a starting point for reasoning about a topic. Morality is the set of principles which concern "right" and "wrong" and the distinctions between them. Objective Morality is a set of principles concerning "right" and "wrong" which are real and binding irrespective of human opinion or even knowledge of them. Objective moral principles, if they exist, would still exist even if no one agreed with them. I think I'm ok with using "moral values" and "moral principles" basically interchangeably for now. Thanks to everyone who is contributing so far. Please don't hesitate to jump if you haven't yet.
  8. The Question of Objective Morality

    I think that the problem is not that we don't know enough about human nature, but rather that we know far too much about it. For example, we know that there are a disturbingly large number of people who have no capacity for empathy, and others who can only derive pleasure from inflicting harm on others. These people too are the product of natural selection. Are these people not human? Are they objectively wrong somehow? Who is qualified to make such an adjudication, and who gave them this authority? At the end of the day, one is perfectly entitled to retort "says who?", and this retort is more problematic that it seems it ought to be. Again, what I am contending is that the set of moral principles which are real and binding irrespective of what anyone thinks is empty. I don't contend that we don't have moral principles which are real and binding; I think we do. It's just that I think that they are real and binding because we say so, and if nobody said so, they wouldn't be. I'll say more about this in my response to LF's post.
  9. The Question of Objective Morality

    I'm looking forward to this BAA. I myself will be on vacation next week, so I will also be checking in sporadically. Please don't feel any rush with respect to this. I'm not in a hurry. Please enjoy your vacation, and the viewing of the eclipse especially!
  10. The Question of Objective Morality

    I'm hoping that we can have a serious discussion here about the question of objective morality. Despite how this topic has recently been treated by some in the Den, I think it is a serious question that merits careful consideration. Many Christians (and other theists) try to argue for the existence of God from the supposed existence of objective moral law, and what I have read from many members here, both ex-Christian and otherwise, leads me to believe that many of us still cleave to the idea of the existence of objective moral principles. First, so that we don't wind up hopelessly confused, let's have a working definition of objective morality. Here I'm inclined to actually agree with the definition that William Lane Craig uses; that is, objective moral principles are moral principles which are real and binding irrespective of whether or not anyone believes in them. In other words, an objective moral law must be a kind of found law as opposed to a made law. Personally, I hold that objective morality as defined above does not exist. I am prepared, if people are interested, to defend this position, but I want to gauge the level of interest first. For now, I'll just leave this here for your perusal. I rather like this article, because I find that the author seems to share (in large part) many of my conclusions, but also sees the issues that they lead to. The conclusion of the article is quoted below, for the benefit of the lazy. "All I can say is this: it looks as if we are all we have. Given what we know about ourselves and each other, this is an extraordinarily unappetizing prospect; looking around the world, it appears that if all men are brothers, the ruling model is Cain and Abel. Neither reason, nor love, nor even terror, seems to have worked to make us "good," and worse than that, there is no reason why anything should. Only if ethics were something unspeakable by us, could law be unnatural, and therefore unchallengeable. As things now stand, everything is up for grabs. Nevertheless: Napalming babies is bad. Starving the poor is wicked. Buying and selling each other is depraved. Those who stood up to and died resisting Hitler, Stalin, Amin, and Pol Pot-and General Custer too-have earned salvation. Those who acquiesced deserve to be damned. There is in the world such a thing as evil. [All together now:] Sez who? God help us." Discuss.
  11. No. There was certainly a time when I thought that there had been events in my life (and I'm the lives of others that I know) that could not be explained in the absence of the supernatural, but one of the major turning points on my road to disbelief was the realization that this is simply not correct. I have never had any experience, or even heard of any credible account of any experience that explicitly requires a supernatural or "spiritual" explanation. I'm interested to see what others have to say though...
  12. You're not wrong. That said, don't push. In my experience, if there is even a question of whether it's the right time or not, then it isn't.
  13. Ex-C losing popularity

    This topic comes up from time to time. There is definitely a seasonal ebb and flow to the traffic here, but the level of activity also increases and decreases aside from this. People tend to come, post intensively for a while, and then leave. That's just a part of what this site does. People come here when they need help, then eventually they don't need it anymore. I see this as a testament to how important this site is more than anything else. New members do seem to come in waves though, for reasons that I have yet to figure out.
  14. What is the most dangerous irrational belief?

    Dangerous to whom? If we're talking about humanity as a whole, then I can think of a few. Islam is definitely one. Christianity is another. I agree with Vig about american exceptionalism. I'm also increasingly concerned by anti-intellectualism and all its offshoots (anti-vax, climate change denial, flat earthers, etc). But one that flies under the radar for a lot of people is the idea that we can have limitless economic growth on a finite planet. Think about it. Most people agree that we are living unsustainably, but nobody seems willing to admit that when things are unsustainable, they stop. This is a principle of nature; there is no way around it. And yet, we are absolutely addicted to growth. Nobody ever has enough, we always need more. And sooner or later, there is going to be nothing left. But if we're talking about danger to individuals, then clearly the person who believes that he can fly and therefore proceeds to jump off a cliff holds the most dangerous irrational belief.
  15. You aren't a Christian, so what are you?

    At the risk of leading us back down a road that nobody wants to travel, I have to say that I sympathise with those who reject labels as unhelpful. The thing is, people don't fit into predefined boxes. To say, for example, "I'm an atheist" does not convey any real information about me, and can lead people to form incorrect conclusions about what I believe. As such, claiming these labels is often counter-productive. This is why I don't actively claim any labels for myself. But I also don't refuse to wear a shoe that fits. Regarding the question in the OP, I don't believe that any philosophical approach is comprehensive (or perhaps even can in principle be comprehensive). The underlying principle that I rely on the most is pragmatism. Methodological naturalism is also helpful. I'm also something of a nihilist. I reject the notion of objective morality, and some days I'm not even sure about the reality of objective truth. I'm happy to discuss this further if anyone is interested, and I'm certainly open to persuasion on all of these positions.