Second Postscript on Nietzsche

Another great interpreter of Nietzsche, because he takes him seriously, is David B. Hart.  Hart is still considered by many to be America’s best living theologian.  From this essay I have quoted, in length, where he turns to Nietzsche in the fuller discussion of the New Atheism:

“The only really effective antidote to the dreariness of reading the New Atheists, it seems to me, is rereading Nietzsche. How much more immediate and troubling the force of his protest against Christianity seems when compared to theirs, even more than a century after his death. Perhaps his intellectual courage—his willingness to confront the implications of his renunciation of the Christian story of truth and the transcendent good without evasions or retreats—is rather a lot to ask of any other thinker, but it does rather make the atheist chic of today look fairly craven by comparison.
Above all, Nietzsche understood how immense the consequences of the rise of Christianity had been, and how immense the consequences of its decline would be as well, and had the intelligence to know he could not fall back on polite moral certitudes to which he no longer had any right. Just as the Christian revolution created a new sensibility by inverting many of the highest values of the pagan past, so the decline of Christianity, Nietzsche knew, portends another, perhaps equally catastrophic shift in moral and cultural consciousness. His famous fable in The Gay Science of the madman who announces God’s death is anything but a hymn of atheist triumphalism. In fact, the madman despairs of the mere atheists—those who merely do not believe—to whom he addresses his terrible proclamation. In their moral contentment, their ease of conscience, he sees an essential oafishness; they do not dread the death of God because they do not grasp that humanity’s heroic and insane act of repudiation has sponged away the horizon, torn down the heavens, left us with only the uncertain resources of our will with which to combat the infinity of meaninglessness that the universe now threatens to become.
Because he understood the nature of what had happened when Christianity entered history with the annunciation of the death of God on the cross, and the elevation of a Jewish peasant above all gods, Nietzsche understood also that the passing of Christian faith permits no return to pagan naivete, and he knew that this monstrous inversion of values created within us a conscience that the older order could never have incubated. He understood also that the death of God beyond us is the death of the human as such within us. If we are, after all, nothing but the fortuitous effects of physical causes, then the will is bound to no rational measure but itself, and who can imagine what sort of world will spring up from so unprecedented and so vertiginously uncertain a vision of reality?
For Nietzsche, therefore, the future that lies before us must be decided, and decided between only two possible paths: a final nihilism, which aspires to nothing beyond the momentary consolations of material contentment, or some great feat of creative will, inspired by a new and truly worldly mythos powerful enough to replace the old and discredited mythos of the Christian revolution (for him, of course, this meant the myth of the Übermensch).

Perhaps; perhaps not. Where Nietzsche was almost certainly correct, however, was in recognizing that mere formal atheism was not yet the same thing as true unbelief. As he writes in The Gay Science, “Once the Buddha was dead, people displayed his shadow for centuries afterwards in a cave, an immense and dreadful shadow. God is dead: —but as the human race is constituted, there will perhaps be caves for millennia yet where people will display his shadow. And we—we have yet to overcome his shadow!” It may appear that Nietzsche is here referring to “persons of faith”—those poor souls who continue to make their placid, bovine trek to church every week to worship a God who passed away long ago—but that is not his meaning.
[Aside: This is where we live now, still in the shadow of the Christian narrative.  Thus, when someone today says, “But I forgive, I’m compassionate, I’m progressive, and I don’t believe in God,” they are merely confirming they still live in that shadow.  Since there isn’t a present day example, where a culture lived for centuries believing in no God, spirit, or transcendence, and they are a result of that, they certainly can’t attribute the ethical behavior to their current minority belief whereas the ethical behavior just happens to coincide and match perfectly what they were taught in Sunday School and in the greater culture as a whole—thus they tell us nothing by such arguments.  Zero.  The point is that such behavior, any behavior, becomes nothing more that events, movement, matter-in-motion, physiological changes put into action, and nothing more without an objective referent.  Thus all talk of “better” “progressive” “good” “bad” “evil” “flourish” becomes a zero sum language game that masks power or movement only.]
He is referring principally to those who think they have eluded God simply by ceasing to believe in his existence. For Nietzsche, “scientism”—the belief that the modern scientific method is the only avenue of truth, one capable of providing moral truth or moral meaning—is the worst dogmatism yet, and the most pathetic of all metaphysical nostalgias. And it is, in his view, precisely men like the New Atheists, clinging as they do to those tenuous vestiges of Christian morality that they have absurdly denominated “humanism,” who shelter themselves in caves and venerate shadows. As they do not understand the past, or the nature of the spiritual revolution that has come and now gone for Western humanity, so they cannot begin to understand the peril of the future.
If I were to choose from among the New Atheists a single figure who to my mind epitomizes the spiritual chasm that separates Nietzsche’s unbelief from theirs, I think it would be the philosopher and essayist A. C. Grayling. For a short time I entertained the misguided hope that he might produce an atheist manifesto somewhat richer than the others currently on offer. Unfortunately, all his efforts in that direction suffer from the same defects as those of his fellows: the historical errors, the sententious moralism, the glib sophistry. Their great virtue, however, is that they are mercifully short. One essay of his in particular, called “Religion and Reason,” can be read in a matter of minutes and provides an almost perfect distillation of the whole New Atheist project.
The essay is even, at least momentarily, interesting. Couched at one juncture among its various arguments (all of which are pretty poor), there is something resembling a cogent point. Among the defenses of Christianity an apologist might adduce, says Grayling, would be a purely aesthetic cultural argument: But for Christianity, there would be no Renaissance art—no Annunciations or Madonnas—and would we not all be much the poorer if that were so? But, in fact, no, counters Grayling; we might rather profit from a far greater number of canvasses devoted to the lovely mythical themes of classical antiquity, and only a macabre sensibility could fail to see that “an Aphrodite emerging from the Paphian foam is an infinitely more life-enhancing image than a Deposition from the Cross.” Here Grayling almost achieves a Nietzschean moment of moral clarity.
Ignoring that leaden and almost perfectly ductile phrase “life-enhancing,” I, too—red of blood and rude of health—would have to say I generally prefer the sight of nubile beauty to that of a murdered man’s shattered corpse. The question of whether Grayling might be accused of a certain deficiency of tragic sense can be deferred here. But perhaps he would have done well, in choosing this comparison, to have reflected on the sheer strangeness, and the significance, of the historical and cultural changes that made it possible in the first place for the death of a common man at the hands of a duly appointed legal authority to become the captivating center of an entire civilization’s moral and aesthetic contemplations—and for the deaths of all common men and women perhaps to be invested thereby with a gravity that the ancient order would never have accorded them.
Here, displayed with an altogether elegant incomprehensibility in Grayling’s casual juxtaposition of the sea-born goddess and the crucified God (who is a crucified man), one catches a glimpse of the enigma of the Christian event, which Nietzsche understood and Grayling does not: the lightning bolt that broke from the cloudless sky of pagan antiquity, the long revolution that overturned the hierarchies of heaven and earth alike. One does not have to believe any of it, of course—the Christian story, its moral claims, its metaphysical systems, and so forth. But anyone who chooses to lament that event should also be willing, first, to see this image of the God-man, broken at the foot of the cross, for what it is, in the full mystery of its historical contingency, spiritual pathos, and moral novelty: that tender agony of the soul that finds the glory of God in the most abject and defeated of human forms. Only if one has succeeded in doing this can it be of any significance if one still, then, elects to turn away.”

The great majority of today’s atheists/agnostics seem to forget that their beliefs have never built anything culturally of any significance, ever, regardless of what they think its done for them as individuals here and there.  They certainly have no idea what cataclysmic changes, what truly revolutionary seismic shifts took place when a Jewish wanderer with no money, title, education, family history, or political power was put to death by the powers of that time.  In that death all the powers of pagan antiquity, along with their understanding of gods, honor, power, and ethics died instead.  Jesus didn’t really die that day—the ancient world did.  We now live in the world made possible by that life.  But to think that what we now recognize as compassion, forgiveness, flourishing, and love, to be “normal” or “just is” regardless of one’s belief in God is to imagine one’s life entirely apart from culture and history.  In other words, it is to do the impossible.  It just reveals the thoughts of the unreflective and ignorant—nothing more.  It would be like the spoiled rich kid sitting in the family palatial mansion and not caring (or knowing) who paid for it all and thinking everyone lived in such places and had such lives—what’s the big deal.

At least Nietzsche knew what he was walking away from and what that meant.
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45 Responses to Second Postscript on Nietzsche

  1. Hi Darrell

    I've been delving, as best as I can, into some summaries of, and criticisms of, Nietzsche, to see if I can find anything there to match the claims being made about his work.

    Given you've referred to it in the past, you'd enjoy, I think, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy's summary on the scholarship regarding his ethics. The Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy also gives a pretty good treatment, I'd say. Bertrand Russell is entertaingly dismissive (no surprises there) in his History of Western Philosophy. Of course, there are many more, but an interesting theme emerges:

    I can't find anyone arguing Nietzsche saw the moral abyss, so to speak, being a consequence of a loss of a Christian compass. Sure, he dismissed moral knowledge, but then went on to promote a moral system of his own (one based upon the perceived pragmatic value of rescuing the superman from an imperative of servitude). He also appeared to acknowledge that this itself was also nothing more than his own subjective taste on the matter (some suggest he was proposing an empirical model of human psychology, but if so it was entirely unsupported by any type of data) and as such, he would have had no logical objection to someone of differing tastes (a Buddhist perhaps, to use Russell's example) promoting their own moral system.

    There seems to be a tendency amongst the writers you encourage here, of making the leap from the rejection of Christian belief, to the embracing of Niezsche's particular brand of fearful misogyny. If I am reading the summaries correctly here, then not even Nietzsche would have argued that follows. He just, personally speaking, placed undue value upon the lives of introverted obsessives, with whom he clearly identified.

    Bernard

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  2. Darrell says:

    Hi Bernard,

    I don’t have access to the Rutledge source, but read through the Stanford source.

    “I can't find anyone arguing Nietzsche saw the moral abyss, so to speak, being a consequence of a loss of a Christian compass.”

    Not sure what you mean by the “moral abyss”. He clearly saw that something would be lost once the Christian compass, as you put it, was gone. But he didn’t see that loss as an abyss; he saw it as freedom and something positive. Nothing in the Stanford source says otherwise. Anyway, in the context of the post, I’m not sure your point.

    By the way, here is another good reading of Nietzsche: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/feb/05/passionate-atheism-me-christianity-nietzsche

    The Stanford source does confirm, however, that you and Nietzsche share the same premise of anti-realism and where it leads:

    “In short, given the way in which Nietzsche actually speaks of the “high” and “low,” we should understand Nietzsche's metaethical position as also characterizing these terms: to say that “X is low” is not to describe an objective fact, but rather to identify oneself as sharing in a certain evaluative sensibility or taste.” (Sec. 3.2)

    And yet, you seem to disagree or dismiss him as to where this anti-realism leads him in his views of people (higher and lower), society, and so forth. Again, same premise, different outcomes. Or, perhaps you do agree with him. I’m still not sure exactly what your view toward him is, really.

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  3. Hi Darrell

    The point I've been banging on about is simply that Nietzsche is not making claims about how the world is, but rather about how he would like it to be. As such, it's a mistake to think Nietzsche captures anything special about the non-theistic position. Rather, he elucidates his own personal take on the world. Having discounted the possibility of moral realism, he then rejects Christian ethics on the grounds that he personally doesn't like where they lead (he sees them as limiting the potential of those destined for greatness).

    Other non-theists would nevertheless embrace the ethic of love, because they, unlike Nietzsche, value this more highly than the output of the few with delusions of grandeur.

    What some seem to want to do, is suggest that if we reject moral realism, we must therefore embrace Nietzsche's weird little fantasy about power. Personally I don't, and there's nothing about being a non-theist that says one should.

    Equally, a theist could embrace Nietzsche's ethic, simply by deciding their God, like Nietzsche, longs for the elevation of the few (in fact, many a theistic tradition has gone there, in various ways).

    Bernard

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  4. RonH says:

    I really don't recognize N's perspective in your comments, Bernard.

    Nietzsche is not making claims about how the world is, but rather about how he would like it to be

    This is so bass-akwards it's funny. N is making claims about how the world is. And he points out that it's daunting, intimidating, and we can't handle it very well so we're in denial about it. I don't get the impression he particularly likes the idea. This perception of his didn't do him any social or professional favors.

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  5. Darrell says:

    Hi Bernard,

    “The point I've been banging on about is simply that Nietzsche is not making claims about how the world is, but rather about how he would like it to be.”

    Well, none of your sources, or anyone I know of, would agree with you here. Like any anti-realist, he clearly is saying the world just “is” and thus there is no “ought”. Now, he then asks the question, “What now”? Now that we know this, what do we do? And he did propose something, but so do you.

    You propose that we go on understanding words like “flourish” and “better”, “good” “evil” and so on as if they meant something beyond describing material states of emotions in flux that vary, person to person, but have some meaning we all understand. This is easy to do after 2000 years of Christian influence and after living in a world and culture built by that narrative. You live in that shadow. I address this in the post.

    Regardless, you still haven’t explained how you share the same premise as Nietzsche (anti-realism) but then disagree with his conclusions. Or maybe you don't think you do, this is still unclear to me.

    Again, this seems to be the position you've articulated for some time now, true?

    “In short, given the way in which Nietzsche actually speaks of the “high” and “low,” we should understand Nietzsche's metaethical position as also characterizing these terms: to say that “X is low” is not to describe an objective fact, but rather to identify oneself as sharing in a certain evaluative sensibility or taste.” (Sec. 3.2)

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  6. RonH says:

    This is easy to do after 2000 years of Christian influence and after living in a world and culture built by that narrative. You live in that shadow. I address this in the post.

    As did Herr Fred. From Twilight of the Idols:

    G. Eliot. They are rid of the Christian God and now believe all the more firmly that they must cling to Christian morality. That is an English consistency; we do not wish to hold it against little moralistic females à la Eliot. In England one must rehabilitate oneself after every little emancipation from theology by showing in a veritably awe-inspiring manner what a moral fanatic one is. That is the penance they pay there.

    We others hold otherwise. When one gives up the Christian faith, one pulls the right to Christian morality out from under one’s feet. This morality is by no means self-evident: this point has to be exhibited again and again, despite the English flatheads. Christianity is a system, a whole view of things thought out together. By breaking one main concept out of it, the faith in God, one breaks the whole: nothing necessary remains in one’s hands. Christianity presupposes that man does not know, cannot know, what is good for him, what evil: he believes in God, who alone knows it. Christian morality is a command; its origin is transcendent; it is beyond all criticism, all right to criticism; it has truth only if God is the truth—it stands and falls with faith in God.

    When the English actually believe that they know “intuitively” what is good and evil, when they therefore suppose that they no longer require Christianity as the guarantee of morality, we merely witness the effects of the dominion of the Christian value judgment and an expression of the strength and depth of this dominion: such that the origin of English morality has been forgotten, such that the very conditional character of its right to existence is no longer felt. For the English, morality is not yet a problem.

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  7. Hi guys

    Language is a slippery beast, is it not? Apologies if my lack of clarity is the cause of a false disagreement here.

    With regard to the idea of Nietzsche not defending a version of the world as it is, it's not as odd as you might think, Ron. I was only making the obvious point that, as one who dismisses moral objectivity, Nietzsche's own moral stances are to be read purely as his preferences, exactly as the quote you provide Darrell (referencing sensibilities), suggests.

    So, I suspect we're all on the same page here.

    And, when it came to morality, Nietzsche had his own, distinctly weird, tastes: frightened by women, socially reticent and obsessive by nature, he dreamed of a world where a special few similarly strange folk might be allowed to live lives of magnificence, unencumbered by concern for lower life forms. Hence his whole will to power gig.

    What, for me, it's important not to lose sight of, is that Nietzsche's moral code is not a function of his non-theism. Other non-theists with different sensibilities will move from a lack of objective truths to a personal ethic base don love and service.

    Equally, while some theists will find, within their traditions, a call to service, others will come to see the moral imperative as one of worshipping and glorifying the elite, just as Nietzsche did.

    I doubt we disagree on what Nietzsche thought here, I'm not referencing particularly out there or partisan sources (well, clearly Russell was partisan). I'm simply questioning what seems to be a misstep, the idea that Nietzsche somehow took atheism to its logical conclusion.

    By the way, Ron, the Camel/Hammer stuff is interesting, although he seems to me to make exactly the same claim Harris does, that one can arbitrarily choose a starting point for morality and then call that objective. That feels like a stretch of the language to me.

    Bernard

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  8. Darrell says:

    Hi Bernard,

    “What, for me, it's important not to lose sight of, is that Nietzsche's moral code is not a function of his non-theism.”

    Well, again, I don’t know of any interpreters of Nietzsche or sources that would agree with you here. It most certainly is a function of his non-theism and more importantly it contains a powerful logic.

    “Other non-theists with different sensibilities will move from a lack of objective truths to a personal ethic base don love and service.”

    No one is saying otherwise. We are simply saying, one, that such is easy to do after 2000 years of Christian influence and thus the loading of those terms “love” and “service” with meaning, an objective meaning. Two, if those words can mean anything, then they mean nothing, so you are not addressing how the opposite of what you think those words mean is not valid. If the opposite is valid, then you cannot move by force to hinder the opposite practice. Three, if those words have no objective content or referent, then they are just words we use to describe the material state of emotions, neurons firing, or movement, matter-in-motion, or pure power. Thus, you haven’t explained how all is not reduced to power then.

    Also, you have yet to address my questions. How are your premises any different than Nietzsche’s? And doesn't this describe exactly the position you have taken for some time now?

    “In short, given the way in which Nietzsche actually speaks of the “high” and “low,” we should understand Nietzsche's metaethical position as also characterizing these terms: to say that “X is low” is not to describe an objective fact, but rather to identify oneself as sharing in a certain evaluative sensibility or taste.” (Sec. 3.2)

    And finally, I’m not sure how your questions fit with your agnosticism. You don’t know if an objective morality or source exists, true? You don’t know if what you are expressing emotionally regarding love, compassion, service and so forth is just a result of your culture and upbringing or is because you are made in the image of God and thus those are intrinsic components of what it is to be human, or a combination of both, true? You don’t know—right?

    So since you don’t know- why are you concerned or how do your questions apply here? Shouldn't your response be: “Well, I don’t know, either is possible.”?

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  9. Hi Darrell

    If you insist love is a meaningless term without an objective referent, then so too is power, and Nietzsche's whole case would become entirely meaningless.

    Luckily, words do not lose meaning simply because they have no objective referent. If they did, the word 'tasty' would be meaningless. If I use a word like love, it refers to a set of feelings I experience, and a set of behaviours I engage in and observe. When I say flourish, I speak of that emotional state that I both experience and identify. And, when I hold conversations with others, and speak of justice, or service, we are reaching for shared understandings. This is just how language works.

    And, as ever, the same negotiation of meaning applies for the objectivist. After all, the society must still construct an understanding of what justice looks like.

    And yes, the words we use and emotions we experience are culturally informed. And so we live in the shadows of the past, you and me both. We live in an Hellenic shadow, a Christian shadow, a Darwinian shadow, a Bhuddist shadow, a Muslim shadow, an Enlightenment shadow, in my case a Pasifika shadow, etc, etc. The brutal racism associated with the old idea that European/Christian ideals were somehow superior, and would save the savages from themselves, is thankfully a thing of the past.

    Bernard

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  10. Darrell says:

    Hi Bernard,

    “If you insist love is a meaningless term without an objective referent, then so too is power, and Nietzsche's whole case would become entirely meaningless.”

    Not in the same sense. When we describe a hurricane, earthquake, tornado, or water running down a hill, we are describing movement or power, which is what we are talking about here. Power or mere description is what’s left once there is no objective referent. That is the point you are missing. Power or movement is the absence of a referent. Love must have a referent beyond describing simply physiological states, or otherwise it is movement only and thus the Nazi could describe the Holocaust as an act of love, ridding the world of evil. If that is valid and as valid as your emotional state of movement, then you cannot, rationally anyway, use violence against their opposing “taste”. If it helps, forget the word “power” and think of the idea of force of movement. That is still what one is left with.

    “Luckily, words do not lose meaning simply because they have no objective referent. If they did, the word 'tasty' would be meaningless.”

    This doesn’t work because the word “love” and those like it are never used in the same sense or way as the word “tasty”. You are confusing two ideas.

    “If I use a word like love, it refers to a set of feelings I experience, and a set of behaviours I engage in and observe. When I say flourish, I speak of that emotional state that I both experience and identify. And, when I hold conversations with others, and speak of justice, or service, we are reaching for shared understandings. This is just how language works.”

    Or course and that is how it works for the Nazi and the Taliban too. So your point?

    “And, as ever, the same negotiation of meaning applies for the objectivist. After all, the society must still construct an understanding of what justice looks like.”

    Not true. It is not the same. A society constructs such on an objective basis, and the negotiation revolves around what such means or how we should interpret the meaning and application but not the source.

    “And yes, the words we use and emotions we experience are culturally informed. And so we live in the shadows of the past, you and me both.”

    Right, thus your personal antidotes regarding love, service, forgiveness, and the rest do not constitute an argument for what cultures and civilizations can be built upon. You are not tying this agreement to the argument in the post or Nietzsche’s point.

    “We live in an Hellenic shadow, a Christian shadow, a Darwinian shadow, a Bhuddist shadow, a Muslim shadow, an Enlightenment shadow, in my case a Pasifika shadow, etc, etc.”

    I don’t know where you live, but if you live in the west or anywhere colonized by the west, then you do not live in a Bhuddist, Muslim, or Pasifika shadow. And the Enlightenment and Darwin shadows are still entirely subsumed by the Christian narrative and understood either along some parallel lines or in opposition to it. But the Christian narrative clearly came before either and still informs our ethics and western civilization is incomprehensible without it while the Enlightenment is a recent chapter in the greater book. Big difference. But that isn’t even the point—you haven’t addressed the point.

    Also, before you respond to any of the above, could you address my questions?

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  11. RonH says:

    Bernard…

    If you insist love is a meaningless term without an objective referent, then so too is power, and Nietzsche's whole case would become entirely meaningless.

    Again, you're completely missing it. Which of N's works have you read? Power, will to live, force of life, whatever you want to call it — that we all know and recognize. In the absence of an objective reference point, it is terms like “love”, “progress”, “good”, “evil”, “better”, “worse”, etc that lose meaning. Take the statement “I will to do X because it's better”. N would say that not only does “because it's better” not mean anything, it's entirely redundant because “I will to do X” is all you really need (or even have). Those who are “noble” just do what they want because they can. The rest of us invent moral systems in order to make ourselves feel better about not being able to do what we want. See On the Genealogy of Morals.

    Luckily, words do not lose meaning simply because they have no objective referent. If they did, the word 'tasty' would be meaningless.

    The word “tasty” is meaningless without an objective (or suitably intersubjective) referent. There's a popular breakfast dish on Hokkaidō (the Japanese island on which I lived) called nattō. Made from fermented (aka rotting!) soybeans, it is a truly repulsive dish… slimy, with a smell like decaying gym socks. I've never managed to swallow a bite, as the odor and texture make me gag. Even many Japanese people don't like it (which is saying something). However, for millions of others, nattō is “tasty”. “Tasty” just means “I like it”. That's all. An entirely subjective statement. Unless we've already established a common standard of what constitutes “tasty”, then your saying something is “tasty” means nothing.

    But everybody knows “tasty” is a subjective term, and nobody believes that “tasty” is a word whose meaning must be constructed by society… What you say is tasty, is tasty for you. But nobody thinks “fair” is a subjective term like “tasty” — the proof being that they will use force to impose a definition of “fair” on others.

    And before one can allow “society” to define a term, one has to define “society”. Does “society” include brown people? Women? Slaves? Christians? Before a group of people can collectively define “fair”, they must decide who is participating in the discussion. How do they agree on that? They must either appeal to something recognized to be objective, or they must deploy force.

    By the way, Ron, the Camel/Hammer stuff is interesting, although he seems to me to make exactly the same claim Harris does, that one can arbitrarily choose a starting point for morality and then call that objective.

    No, his claim isn't quite the same. Harris wants to ground objectivity in science. Fincke seems to be looking more towards philosophy — and he's hardly being “arbitrary”. In my opinion, Fincke makes a better go of it. However, I think his endeavor ultimately fails in the absence of telos, per Feser's critique. What I find fascinating is that Fincke is himself a strong devotee of Nietzsche, yet still attempts to establish some kind of objectivity. My impression is that he accepts N's arguments to a degree, but thinks we can still avoid N's prophesied nihilism by recovering the objective again (as opposed to just evolving on through it).

    Perhaps you should engage Fincke, and point out to him where he is making what is no doubt a simple logical error. Or perhaps he can show you where yours is.

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  12. Hi guys

    To say a term is subjectively grounded is to to say it is meaningless.

    Again, consider the word tasty. Yes, it refers to a subjective judgement. But in no sense does this render it meaningless. After all, frightening also refers to a subjective judgement, yet tasty and frightening do not mean the same thing. They are both referring to a particular type of feeling/response, one which gains meaning through communication (consider how a child learns to use the word tasty).

    Darrell, this notion that the Christian narrative has some kind of primacy is nothing but ethnocentric cant. Yes, Christianity preceded Darwin, but so too did Plato precede (and inform) the Christian tradition. It's all a great big melting pot, and our goal is to take from each tradition that which is best for us. Here in New Zealand, the Pasifika tradition has contributed greatly to our sense of community, obligation and love.

    Ron, Fincke appeals to an Aristotlean view to justify his objectivity, but I've no idea how he would objectively ground this. In a comment he suggests it's because 'we have no choice but to be this way', referring to his sense of the human becoming what it must be, but there's a certain mystical leap involved in believing that such a common purpose can be discerned.

    Finally, be careful how you define will to power. Nietzsche explicitly rejects the idea that the will to survive, for example, is the force in play. He says that the modern society had moved on from survival (and yet, weirdly, then rejects the urge to enjoy as too bourgeoise) and chooses instead to nominate the will to power as the true force. Power in this case is so subjectively defined that apparently the scholars can't even agree what he meant.

    You'll note in the Stanford entry that will to power is not even considered a central theme for Nietzsche, who largely ignores it in his later writing.

    Darrell, you bring up the Taliban again, with reference to subjective definitions of of love and obligation. yet, again, the Taliban refer to an objective truth or so they believe). This is my whole point. Believing in objective truths helps not one iota, the problems we face are identical.

    Bernard

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  13. Darrell says:

    Hi Bernard,

    You are not addressing anything we write–you are just repeating yourself. So, putting that aside, i will ask again:

    How are your premises any different than Nietzsche’s? And doesn't this describe exactly the position you have taken for some time now?

    “In short, given the way in which Nietzsche actually speaks of the “high” and “low,” we should understand Nietzsche's metaethical position as also characterizing these terms: to say that “X is low” is not to describe an objective fact, but rather to identify oneself as sharing in a certain evaluative sensibility or taste.” (Sec. 3.2)

    And finally, I’m not sure how your questions fit with your agnosticism. You don’t know if an objective morality or source exists, true? You don’t know if what you are expressing emotionally regarding love, compassion, service and so forth is just a result of your culture and upbringing or is because you are made in the image of God and thus those are intrinsic components of what it is to be human, or a combination of both, true? You don’t know—right?

    So since you don’t know- why are you concerned or how do your questions apply here? Shouldn't your response be: “Well, I don’t know, either is possible.”?

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  14. Hi Darrell

    Sorry, I referenced this quote you provided a couple of comments back. Yes, it is exactly how I see it. Nietzsche is using his own sensibilities (specifically, his infatuation with the superman) as the basis for justifying his preferred moral code (that of an ethic of power, rather than one of love).

    I don't share his sensibility, but logically speaking, have no trouble with him wishing to promote his point of view.

    I don't, in fact, have any logical disagreement with Nietzsche, as he is summarised by the sources I've referenced.

    My disagreement is with a claim you appear to be making, that somehow, if we leave belief in moral objectivity behind, we are left only with an ethic of power. This simply doesn't follow (and as best I can tell, Nietzsche never said it did follow).

    I am agnostic on the existence of objective moral truths, but not on our ability to reliably access them.

    I am interested in this argument, simply because it seems to contain a misstep. One can not get, as far as I can see, from 'I do not believe in objective moral truths' to 'all comes down to power.'

    In fact, power is in play in either instance, as your example of the Taliban so well demonstrates. Should you disapprove of their value system (which they consider objectively founded) then what can you do but either tolerate it, or attempt to change it (either by physical or intellectual force). This is exactly the same struggle the non-believer faces.

    You appear to believe there is a difference. I just don't get what that difference could possibly be. Believer and non-believer both reach conclusions about how they would like the world to be (either through desire to feel fulfilled or yearning to do right) and then must deal with those who would wish the world to be otherwise.

    Bernard

    Like

  15. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    “I don't, in fact, have any logical disagreement with Nietzsche, as he is summarised by the sources I've referenced.”

    Right, you share the same premises-but come to different conclusions. None of those sources tells us that Nietzsche then concludes as you do. If you think so, you need to re-read those sources.

    “My disagreement is with a claim you appear to be making, that somehow, if we leave belief in moral objectivity behind, we are left only with an ethic of power. This simply doesn't follow (and as best I can tell, Nietzsche never said it did follow).”

    It does follow and I don’t think you understand how “power” is being used. Ron has pointed it out and so I have I. Instead of responding to our points, you simply re-state the same thing. If you want to address the previous comments, please do. Thus, just as you were surprised that two people could believe in an objective morality and still come to difference conclusions, are you surprised here that you can share the same premise as Nietzsche and come to different conclusions?

    “I am agnostic on the existence of objective moral truths, but not on our ability to reliably access them.”

    So you think that they may exist but we have no way of knowing if they do, right? If it is impossible to know if something exists, then how could it possibly exist or if it did, what difference could it make? None, right? So you can never know then if your morality is based on taste/culture or an intrinsic moral conscious, given perhaps we bear God's image, true? So how do your questions and comments come into play here?

    As an aside, how do you know we cannot reliably access them, if they exist? Based on what?

    Like

  16. Hi Darrell

    The problem is that if we broaden the definition of power, as you would prefer to do, then we find that exactly the same power issues arise for those who believe in objective moral values. Hence, the argument that it is the loss of the objective that sees a collapse into power doesn't work.

    By the way, I was never surprised that people could reach different moral conclusions, I was just surprised that your definition of reliably accessing moral truths involved a process (moral reasoning) by which different people would reason their way to different values. In what sense could we call such a divergent process reliable?

    Bernard

    Like

  17. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    “I am agnostic on the existence of objective moral truths, but not on our ability to reliably access them.”

    So you think that they may exist but we have no way of knowing if they do, right? If it is impossible to know if something exists, then how could it possibly exist or if it did, what difference could it make? None, right? So you can never know then if your morality is based on taste/culture or an intrinsic moral conscious, given perhaps we bear God's image, true? So how do your questions and comments come into play here?

    As an aside, how do you know we cannot reliably access them, if they exist? Based on what?

    Obviously you know that the Christian belief in morality is not a system or agreement with abstract principles, but is rather based upon the existence of the Christian God and the life of that God (Jesus) as given us in Scripture, church history, and oral tradition. Thus, you would also have to say, “There is no reliable access to God” to counter the Christian position. But how could you know there was no reliable access?

    Like

  18. Darrell says:

    And Bernard,

    Some follow-up questions. If you believe we cannot reliably access God, do you mean some can and some can't, or no one can–ever? If the first, how are some able and not others? If the second, then do you believe every Christian and theist is mistaken? In other words, then it is not unreliable, it is impossible, right?

    If so, how do you know this? What is that based upon?

    Like

  19. Hi Darrell

    Yes, this notion of reliable access is crucial. Basically, I was just summarising our previous conversation, about this very issue.

    In that case, I was interested in the method we might use to access these moral truths, that did not clash with our best understandings of the science of evolution, neuroscience and physics.

    You suggested, in line with the Stanford entry, that we would reason our way to moral truths. When pressed, you appeared to end that conversation saying that different people, employing the same moral reasoning, would reach different conclusions (a result I would say is inevitable if they have different starting premises).

    In this sense, our access to moral truth, using your preferred method of moral reasoning, is unreliable, in that it will lead different practitioners in different directions. Given my agnosticism on the existence of moral truths, it is of course possible that some people will reason their way towards actual moral truths, just as surely as some people reason their way away from them.

    If we can not tell which is which, then the word unreliable becomes act. Anybody employing moral reasoning of this type will have no cause to believe that they are the lucky ones being led to the actual truth of the matter.

    Bernard

    Like

  20. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    “In this sense, our access to moral truth, using your preferred method of moral reasoning, is unreliable, in that it will lead different practitioners in different directions. Given my agnosticism on the existence of moral truths, it is of course possible that some people will reason their way towards actual moral truths, just as surely as some people reason their way away from them.”

    How would you know who has and who hasn’t? How would you know your actions are more reliably known as moral, or not? That is my point: You don’t know whether or not we are acting morally because of individual personality, culture, or due to being made in God’s image, or a combination of all three, right?

    Thus, again, I’m not sure how your questions and assertions align with your premise here of not knowing.

    Like

  21. Darrell says:

    By the way Bernard,

    “When pressed, you appeared to end that conversation saying that different people, employing the same moral reasoning, would reach different conclusions (a result I would say is inevitable if they have different starting premises).”

    People who believe morality is objective are not staring from different premises, but the same, that morality is based in an objective source. That they can reach different conclusions regarding what the objective source might be or what the ethical behavior should look like is entirely what one would expect given the nature of the discussion, which is philosophical, meta-physical, and means interpretation is involved. We are not talking about distance to the moon. Further, it says nothing regarding whether or not their position is true as to the general premise.

    Further, the same happens with people who believe there is no objective morality and start with that premise. That is evident with you and Nietzsche. Just because two people believe morality is subjective doesn't mean they arrive at the same conclusions as to what an ethical world would or should (if we can even use the word “should”) look like.

    When you were pressed, we went from clashing with science, to an error of logic, to…nothing really…a misunderstanding I guess.

    Like

  22. Hi Darrell

    If two people start from the same premise, namely that objective moral values exist, and one reasons their way to suicide bombing being morally objectionable, and the other to it being a noble course of action, applauded by the heavens, then in what sense can we say reasoning gives us reliable access to moral truths?

    I don't see how the word reliable fits in here.

    Bernard

    Like

  23. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    “In this sense, our access to moral truth, using your preferred method of moral reasoning, is unreliable, in that it will lead different practitioners in different directions. Given my agnosticism on the existence of moral truths, it is of course possible that some people will reason their way towards actual moral truths, just as surely as some people reason their way away from them.”

    How would you know who has and who hasn't? How would you know your actions are more reliably known as moral, or not? That is my point: You don’t know whether or not we are acting morally because of individual personality, culture, or due to being made in God’s image, or a combination of all three, right?

    Thus, again, I’m not sure how your questions and assertions align with your premise here of not knowing.

    Like

  24. Darrell says:

    By the way Bernard,

    “If two people start from the same premise, namely that objective moral values exist, and one reasons their way to suicide bombing being morally objectionable, and the other to it being a noble course of action, applauded by the heavens, then in what sense can we say reasoning gives us reliable access to moral truths?”

    If two people start from the same premise, namely that objective moral values do not exist, and one reasons their way to the view that such means the “higher” must rule over the “lower” and that compassion, love, and service can mean the exact opposite of what we consider them to mean in a Christian context, but another reasons their way to a view that it isn't ethical for the “higher” to rule over the “lower” and that all those words can carry their same meaning regardless of any objectivity, then in what sense can we say that this reasoning gives us reliable access to moral truths? Clearly, two people starting from the same premise may end up with different views of what an ethical world should look like, right?

    Thus, I don't see how the word reliable fits in here. Further, if morality can be whatever we subjectively want it to be, it can never be reliable. So how in the world are you bothered by unreliability? You are in the true boat of unreliability. Those who believe in an objective morality do not make that argument to begin with (that believing such guarantees we will all either be ethical or have the same ethics).

    So, putting aside the fact that just because people start from the same premise, doesn't mean they will end up with the same conclusion; you seem to be asking if believing that morality is objective will lead to people having the same morality. It doesn't and no one has ever said it would or should. And such isn't an argument against an objective morality. The Christian argument for an objective morality is entirely based upon the existence of the Christian God and the life of Jesus. There are some, like Sam Harris, who are atheists but still hold a belief in an objective morality on a purely scientific basis. There are other religions that hold to an objective morality. To think that starting with that premise would lead them all to believe the exact same things as to what is moral or ethical is to misunderstand the conversation and logic.

    The difference, as to why people believe differently about what is ethical and moral, is not in the general premise of an objective morality, but rather in what exactly that objectivity consists of (the source), refers to, points toward, the context, and the narrative that emanates from it. A further aspect is how such is interpreted and viewed by an individual and community.

    Before you respond to the above, please address my repeated questions first. Thank you.

    Like

  25. RonH says:

    Bernard…

    If two people start from the same premise…

    But “objective moral values exist” isn't sufficient to get you to suicide bombing being either moral or immoral. You need additional premises to arrive at either of those conclusions. If you take two folks with those two different conclusions and walk your way up their reasoning, you'll eventually get to the point at which their premise sets diverge. The difference in conclusion isn't caused by unreliable reasoning, but by different perspective.

    However, if you don't have “objective moral values exist”, then you can't get to either of the conclusions. The most you can achieve is “I like/don't like suicide bombing”. But guess what? You need neither reason nor premises to get there in the first place.

    Like

  26. Hi Ron

    one can use reason to get to subjective preferences, of course. It is simply a case of having a higher subjective goal set (I prefer a world where suffering is alleviated, maybe) and then using reason to assess various moral stances in the light of this subjective meta-goal.

    Bernard

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  27. RonH says:

    Bernard…

    That's just rationalization. You can do it if you want, but it's hardly necessary (or terribly meaningful). Saying “I prefer a world where suffering is alleviated therefore I should do X” isn't any different, epistemologically, from just saying “I want to do X”. Do you have a reason for preferring a world where suffering is alleviated? If so, on what preference is that reason based? “Moral reasoning” is just a pretense when ultimately you can always retreat to “I just want to, and that's sufficient”. So why do you even talk about moral reasoning?

    Like

  28. Darrell says:

    “It is simply a case of having a higher subjective goal set (I prefer a world where suffering is alleviated, maybe) and then using reason to assess various moral stances in the light of this subjective meta-goal.”

    Without an objective referent, there is no “higher” or “lower” or a world that should be “preferred” as that supposes an “ought”. And who's to say that the person whose subjective goal is to not alleviate suffering is “lower” or wrong?

    Your entire response is full of “oughts” and notions of objectivity we should understand. Are you saying that your “taste” is “higher” than the other person's?

    And Nietzsche thought a preference for alleviating suffering was something not to be preferred and yet, starts with the same premise as you.

    Like

  29. Hi Ron

    The difference is one necessary pragmatism. At the point where I decide my goal is to live a life that I find fulfilling, then the task becomes one of getting to know myself, both as an individual, and as part of a cultural and biological history, such that I can indeed make those choices, and embrace those moral codes, that will deliver up the result I yearn for.

    There is necessarily an awful lot of moral reasoning involved in such a process, reasoning about what constitutes the moral consistency a particular individual may crave, and reasoning about likely cause and effect.

    In practical terms, the reasoning appears identical to that a theist might engage in. The theist is attempting to discover God's will, the non-theist, the path to human fulfillment. Either way, exactly the same moral conundrums arise.

    Bernard

    Like

  30. Hi Darrell

    No, I'm not saying my taste are higher. There are no oughts in my argument. If you find them, then you misread it.

    On other matters, however, we are in agreement. You believe that there is an objective moral truth. I'm agnostic on this, but it is a small difference I think.

    Our crucial point of agreement is that we both believe that the human mind, if it goes looking for moral truth, has no way of reliably finding it. You readily accept that the world is such that different people will reach different moral conclusions, and we have no way of knowing which is right and which is wrong. That is exactly how I see it too.

    One of the most interesting things I have learned in this conversation is the degree of relativity that is contained in the liberal Christian theology. I hadn't known that prior to conversing with you.

    Bernard

    Like

  31. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    To this assertion: “…it is of course possible that some people will reason their way towards actual moral truths, just as surely as some people reason their way away from them.”

    How would you know who has and who hasn't?

    And, again: How would you know your actions are more reliably known as moral, or not? That is my point: You don’t know whether or not we are acting morally because of individual personality, culture, or due to being made in God’s image, or a combination of all three, right?

    Thus, again, I’m not sure how your questions and assertions align with your premise here of not knowing. Please address my observation here based upon your admitted agnosticism.

    Second, do you see that whether one starts with the premise there is an objective morality or whether one starts with the premise there is none, neither guarantees that people starting with either premise will act the same morally or ethically or agree upon what a moral world should look like?

    Third, the Christian view of morality and its objectivity is entirely based upon the existence of God and the life of Jesus. Are you saying that even if God exists, and even if Jesus existed and lived the life we read about, we could never have access to that existence or know it?

    Can you please address the above questions before you address anything else? In order. Thank you.

    “Our crucial point of agreement is that we both believe that the human mind, if it goes looking for moral truth, has no way of reliably finding it.”

    The human mind does not go looking for moral truth. The human mind, the very fact of being human, is to have a moral conscious that is intrinsic to being human. We are autonomous moral beings. We are able to choose freely, and act morally. Or, not. We can also choose not to do so. We can also be mistaken. We, through culture, education, and experience, can be conditioned to hate others and mistreat them and to even think it moral or ethical to do so. So I think you have this wrong. I think we can reliably find it unless other factors get in our way. Your position seems to be even if an objective morality exists, we could never access it. Again, how do you know that?

    “You readily accept that the world is such that different people will reach different moral conclusions, and we have no way of knowing which is right and which is wrong. That is exactly how I see it too.”

    Wrong, wrong, wrong. Because people reach different conclusions never means we cannot know if they are right or wrong. Because I believe in an objective referent, I can always say that torture or the Holocaust is wrong; it was wrong then, it would be wrong today, and it would be wrong a million years from now. You can say nothing, but give us information regarding your inner psychological emoting status at the moment. Huge difference there.

    “One of the most interesting things I have learned in this conversation is the degree of relativity that is contained in the liberal Christian theology. I hadn't known that prior to conversing with you.”

    You must be a different conversation; I have no idea what you are talking about here.

    Like

  32. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    I'm all for agreement, when people understand what is being communicated. I'm not sure you do. You are like the guy who laughs at an inside joke as if he were in on it or knew why if was funny.

    You often see agreement where there is none, and that can only lead me to believe you don't get what people are saying. Now, that could completely be our fault. Perhaps it's just poor communication on our part. But, you may have a part here as well. Something to think about…

    Like

  33. Hi Darrell

    You ask how I would know who has or hasn't reasoned their way to moral truth? The answer is that I have no way of knowing. This is my point. Even if moral truths exist, we appear to have no way of knowing what they are.

    With regard to whether we should be open to the possibility that our moral instincts are a function of us being made in God's image, it's a constrained possibility. Constrained in the sense that we understand the way evolution has put us together. If God's image is indeed that of the pragmatically fashioned result of selection, then sure. If not, we run into the problem with science.

    To your second question: yes, I agree. There is no reason to expect different people will reach the same moral conclusions. This again is my point, and is why I think we are in agreement on this.

    Finally, if Jesus was indeed divine, then we would have access to moral truth via his teaching. But, this only shifts the problem. How do we know he was divine? Why Christianity and not Islam, Buddhism or the Hindu faith? If we have no way of knowing which, if any, is the true divinity, then we have no way of knowing which teachings have moral precedence. On top of this, of course, is the problem of interpretation. Some Christians are pacifists, others support military interventions. Some choose to live in poverty, others believe their wealth is God's will. Some murder doctors outside abortion clinics, others work inside them.

    Finally, you write something interesting:
    ” I think we can reliably find it (moral truth)unless other factors get in our way.”
    But surely the post-modern perspective says that other factors must get in our way. We are all the products of culture, of personality, of expectation, life history and hope.

    Similarly when you write:
    “Because people reach different conclusions never means we cannot know if they are right or wrong. Because I believe in an objective referent, I can always say that torture or the Holocaust is wrong; it was wrong then, it would be wrong today, and it would be wrong a million years from now.”

    So, let's take a person who believes in objective moral truths and sanctions torture. They believe that they are acting appropriately, tracking the true nature of the moral universe. So so you. How do you know you have it right and they have it wrong?

    Bernard

    Like

  34. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    “You ask how I would know who has or hasn't reasoned their way to moral truth? The answer is that I have no way of knowing. This is my point. Even if moral truths exist, we appear to have no way of knowing what they are.”

    How do you know we have no way of knowing? Most people disagree with you here—it is not a widely held belief you share here. And thus, if you do not know, then it may be that your morality is because you are made in God’s image, right? Again, I don’t see how your assertions and questions make sense given your agnosticism. The only response that logically makes sense is: “I don’t know if my actions are moral and the other guy’s immoral, and I don’t know if my actions are based on my psychological and environmental factors or because of being made in God’s image or both.”

    “With regard to whether we should be open to the possibility that our moral instincts are a function of us being made in God's image, it's a constrained possibility. Constrained in the sense that we understand the way evolution has put us together.”

    No, people differ with you regarding the “way” that evolution has put us together. Evolution starts with what is. If what is as to organic life is already conscious, already imbued with God’s image, then evolution doesn’t do anything but let that play out. It works with what is. The point is that if you are agnostic about God’s existence, then you have to be agnostic about our being created beings as to our essence, our conscious lives. Thus, again, you simply don’t know—you can’t comment either way—if you are agnostic.

    “To your second question: yes, I agree. There is no reason to expect different people will reach the same moral conclusions. This again is my point, and is why I think we are in agreement on this.”

    Yes, we do agree here. And my point was then I hope you will not continue to find it surprising if two people can agree there is an objective morality but come to different conclusions as to what that should look like.

    “Finally, if Jesus was indeed divine, then we would have access to moral truth via his teaching. But, this only shifts the problem. How do we know he was divine?”

    But hold on. You then need to decide if you can positively assert we cannot recognize and access moral truth. If you can, then there has to be some affirmative or positive assertion or argument you can make regarding why Jesus wasn’t divine. If you cannot, then, again, you are agnostic and you shouldn’t comment either way. If you can, then whence the agnosticism?

    “Finally, you write something interesting:
    ‘ I think we can reliably find it (moral truth)unless other factors get in our way.’
    But surely the post-modern perspective says that other factors must get in our way. We are all the products of culture, of personality, of expectation, life history and hope.”

    The postmodern says all those factors get in the way, or are present, but it doesn’t say they are determative. We can change our minds. That is the whole point of paradigm shifts.

    “So, let's take a person who believes in objective moral truths and sanctions torture. They believe that they are acting appropriately, tracking the true nature of the moral universe. So so you. How do you know you have it right and they have it wrong?”

    Because I believe people can be mistaken. I believe I can point to something beyond myself. The one who truly doesn't know if he has the torture issue right or wrong is you. All you can say is, “people have different tastes.”

    Like

  35. Hi Darrell

    Thanks, as ever, for clarifying.

    I honestly don't think we're very far apart on this, at all. Can the human mind discern moral truth?

    I think we might agree upon a circumstance under which this might happen. A divine being may indeed hand the knowledge directly to humanity, perhaps by scripture, walking amongst us and talking.

    Would an agnostic rule out this happening? Probably not. We can then ask, under what circumstances could a person reliably track moral truth? The answer would appear to be, if there is a method to reliably identify a true divinity or divine messenger (Jesus, Mohammed, Krishna, The Buddha, Papatuanuku, or maybe none of the above) and there is a method to reliably interpret the message.

    I don't know how a person could go about this process, of first identifying the divine message, and then interpreting it accurately. Attempts to do so, historically, have produced a wide range of answers to the same question.

    So, I understand that you think you have identified the true God, and are able to discern a moral signal from that? But I still have no idea how you have done that, in such a way that you have any confidence that your judgement in this matter is reliable.

    Bernard

    Like

  36. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    “So, I understand that you think you have identified the true God, and are able to discern a moral signal from that?”

    It’s not a matter of discerning a moral signal, as you put it. It’s a matter of what is behind our existence. Again, if we are autonomous moral beings, if life is created and imbued with consciousness, then morality is intrinsic to being human—it is present within us. We are discerning what we are. And yes, many then come to connect this with their being made in God’s image. Many never come to this, but still conclude there is some spirit, transcendence, universal consciousness, or some objective referent their own moral consciousness is connected to.

    “But I still have no idea how you have done that, in such a way that you have any confidence that your judgement in this matter is reliable.”

    Again, what is your concern about reliability? You have no idea whether or not torture is good or evil. How reliable is your subjective tastes and psychological emoting from one day to the next? You have the least reliable method of discerning what is moral or not. And that doesn’t even get to half of it. When you use words like “higher” “lower” “better” “worse” and the like, you are using poetic language to cover what you are really saying, which is, “I want or like this.” Another person may say the complete opposite and use the same words you just did. And you are concerned about reliability? Please.

    Again, you really didn’t address the questions concerning your agnosticism:

    “You ask how I would know who has or hasn't reasoned their way to moral truth? The answer is that I have no way of knowing. This is my point. Even if moral truths exist, we appear to have no way of knowing what they are.”

    How do you know we have no way of knowing?

    Most people disagree with you here—it is not a widely held belief you share here. And thus, if you do not know, then it may be that your morality is because you are made in God’s image, right? Again, I don’t see how your assertions and questions make sense given your agnosticism. The only response that logically makes sense is: “I don’t know if my actions are moral and the other guy’s immoral, and I don’t know if my actions are based on my psychological and environmental factors or because of being made in God’s image or both.”

    Please address my observation as to what a logical response would be given your agnosticism.

    Like

  37. Hi Darrell

    yes, this is precisely the point our long conversation on morality and science was circling about, and I think it's a tremendously important one.

    Is there some method of discerning moral truth that is consistent with what we know about how the world works? I argue that most methods suggested fall short.

    At times, you offered autonomous moral reasoning, but seem to accept that different people will reason of fin quite different moral directions.

    The idea that the universe is intrinsically moral, and consciousness in some sense reads this, does appear to run foul of physics, as we've been through before (and I'm more than happy to re-visit this, because it's an interesting idea). Specifically, Chalmers' pan-psychism stays within the bounds of physics because he proposes the conscious nature simply underpins the observed physical relations. Your version, where the conscious allows us to read and respond to the moral nature of the universe, goes further, and requires a line of causation that would fall foul of existing physical equations, as I understand them.

    Now, this might mean that physics is simply wrong, of course, and you're welcome to believe this.

    Bernard

    Like

  38. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    You had plenty of time to pursue your whole “clashing” with science line and you gave it up. If you think the laws of physics help you out here, you are seriously mistaken. There isn’t a serious person, physicist or otherwise, anywhere, who thinks the laws of physics preclude an objective morality. Frankly, that is laughable. If you want to give us a post again on your own blog site as to how you think it does, then please do and I would be happy to respond…again.

    “Your version, where the conscious allows us to read and respond to the moral nature of the universe, goes further…”

    As before you have this completely wrong. And, as I just noted, it is not a matter of “reading” what is out there, but the fact we are created beings, it is innate. Our consciousness is our moral aspect already, thus the very reason it can recognize a moral universe (and if you want to respond to my point in this regard–please do it on your own blog). But anyway…

    I guess I will just keep on asking:

    “You ask how I would know who has or hasn't reasoned their way to moral truth? The answer is that I have no way of knowing. This is my point. Even if moral truths exist, we appear to have no way of knowing what they are.”

    How do you know we have no way of knowing?

    Most people disagree with you here—it is not a widely held belief you share here. And thus, if you do not know, then it may be that your morality is because you are made in God’s image, right? Again, I don’t see how your assertions and questions make sense given your agnosticism. The only response that logically makes sense is: “I don’t know if my actions are moral and the other guy’s immoral, and I don’t know if my actions are based on my psychological and environmental factors or because of being made in God’s image or both.”

    Please address my observation as to what a logical response would be given your agnosticism.

    Like

  39. Hi Darrell

    I'm not agnostic on our ability to read moral truths. I think any method proposed clashes with science, or turns out to be unreliable (as per your suggestion that reasoning could get us there).

    My line with regard to your idiosyncratic pan-psychic model is pretty simple, but as you don't want me to address it here, I won't.

    Best

    Bernard

    Like

  40. Darrell says:

    Hi Bernard,

    “I'm not agnostic on our ability to read moral truths.”

    How do you square the above with your previous statement?

    “…it is of course possible that some people will reason their way towards actual moral truths, just as surely as some people reason their way away from them.”

    How is it possible and not possible, at the same time?

    And that led me to ask you this:

    “You ask how I would know who has or hasn't reasoned their way to moral truth? The answer is that I have no way of knowing. This is my point. Even if moral truths exist, we appear to have no way of knowing what they are.”

    How do you know we have no way of knowing? Can you please tell us how you know this? Are you telling us that if the universe, existence, life, and all matter, including the physical laws, is intrinsically conscious and created by God, that such still violates the laws of physics? Or, are you telling us that you know somehow that such is not the case?

    Further, since the Christian view of morality is tied entirely to their belief in God, are you saying you know they are wrong, that even if God existed, even if they say they are basing their morality on the life of Christ, you know they are wrong—you are not agnostic in that regard, true? So regardless what Christian think they are doing, you know, for sure, they are really just emoting or following the culture? Is that right?

    Further, if so, do you agree that your view is not commonly held view? If you agree, and it is based on science or the laws of physics, why do you suppose it in not a commonly held view, even by non-theists like Harris? If the science is clear, why isn't this a common view? You even noted the Stanford source didn't agree with you regarding evolution and morality. I thought science and the “facts” led to common beliefs?

    Finally, I would love for you to post on this theory you have that the laws of physics preclude or prevent us from recognizing a moral objectivity. That would be a first. I don’t think anyone has ever attempted to do that. A fascinating theory. If it included an agnosticism regarding God’s existence (Does it?), then it would set up a scenario where God, the creator of the universe, including the physical laws, somehow managed to create a world where those laws prevented people from recognizing morality. Whoops. But, please, do post on this—I would love to hear more of this peculiar theory you have. I will check your blog for this.

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  41. Hi Darrell

    You ask me questions that I suspect you don't want answered, as you've previously said you don't want me to explain the physics problem further in this forum. So I shall proceed cautiously:

    I use the term 'to read moral truths' as implying some level of reliability. If you read the term 'can predict the lottery' you probably infer that we are not talking about random guesswork that may, upon occasion, be right. That's how the two statements you identified square. Yes, we might occasionally come up with a moral rule that reflects a higher truth, but we've no reliable way of knowing when we have done this.

    Why do I think we have no way of knowing what moral truths are? Well, because I buy the science. Stanford offered up moral reasoning as a method, but you and I agree this will necessarily lead different people to different conclusions, so there's no reliability to the method.

    We might imagine God made us in his image, to perceive moral truths, but evolution tells us that our capacity to perceive is shaped by pragmatic concerns (we get eyesight, bats get radar, our capacities develop because of their usefulness). Hence, we can have developed moral intuition only to the extent that moral values are defined by pragmatism, or later cultural appeal (their memetic quality, if you like).

    And finally, the world may indeed be conscious to its core, but the laws of physics tell us what to expect when particles interact, and this appears to specifically preclude the sort of relationship between mind and matter that your theory requires.

    Do I know the Christian is wrong? Absolutely not. Do I think we have a reliable method to show why the Christian, rather than the Muslim, Hindu or atheist, is right? No. And so in this sense the Christian faith yields no reliable moral knowledge.

    Finally, how is it a source like Stanford disagree on this? Here's my best guess – this is a difference of language, if I may nod to Wittgenstein. A great many theories of objective morality ground the morality in a commonly accepted set of premises. So, something becomes objectively true if the human being is put together such that a sane person can not believe otherwise (this is how we get to the 'objective truth' of induction, and so objective beliefs about the physical world).

    And under this definition, I'd have no argument with them. But, without conversing with the author, I'm only guessing.

    Bernard

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  42. Darrell says:

    Hi Bernard,

    Wow, it is like this conversation in the comment section here never happened. http://byzantinedream.blogspot.com/2014/07/friday-roundup.html

    Just in case anyone has forgotten (oh, how quickly we forget) how this conversation played out, from the neutral, academic, Stanford source, we read:

    “Thus, although the evolutionary story fits naturally with a merely non-cognitivist metaethical view, it may fit equally well with a cognitivist view. If one rejects the existence of moral truths, the latter would then lead to an error theory (Mackie 1977). But as discussed in section 4.1, it is far from clear how much support evolutionary biology itself lends to moral anti-realism or irrealism. It is consistent with plausible evolutionary stories that although our capacities for normative guidance originally evolved for reasons that had nothing to do with moral truths as such, we now regularly employ them to deliberate about and to communicate moral truths. So all three metaethical views discussed here—expressivism, error theory and moral realism—remain on the table.”

    And, in case one doesn’t know, the moral realism view is the one I hold (an objective morality based upon a belief in the life of Jesus of Nazareth and the Christian Trinitarian God). According to the Stanford source, it is not a view that clashes with science or evolutionary theory. You disagrees with the Stanford source and the mainstream scientific view however.
    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/morality-biology/

    Further, the idea that the laws of physics somehow preclude or prevent humans from recognizing an objective morality is derivative and comes from the a-priori (faith) in a reductive materialistic view (metaphysical/philosophical) that the mind is the brain. However, if the mind doesn't reduce to the brain, if there is correlation but not causation, then one cannot assert (it most definitely is not a scientific fact) the laws of physics prevent such a thing (us recognizing, choosing, and acting morally—or not—and being autonomous moral beings). So the idea that somehow the laws of physics preclude or prevent us from recognizing or acting morally is entirely related to the mind/body issue and that issue has hardly been settled by science (that would be big news if you've settled that issue!). Thus, your beliefs in these areas are your personal subjective opinions, not fact or settled science, and, we should add, not widely or commonly shared. You are welcome to them however—and free to believe whatever you wish.

    Finally, “…Well, because I buy the science. Stanford offered up moral reasoning as a method, but you and I agree this will necessarily lead different people to different conclusions, so there's no reliability to the method.”

    No, you “buy” a philosophical viewpoint. The science is not settled. In fact, the Stanford source disagrees with you. Again, what do you care about reliability—you have the least reliable method of discerning moral truth—in fact, you think it can’t be done. Please. Such has nothing to do with whether or not an objective morality exists or not. Nothing. A red herring of an argument.

    And, again, I would love you to post on how the laws of physics prevent (this would be big, big news too!) or preclude us accessing or recognizing an objective morality. I look forward to that.

    Cheers.

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  43. Hi Darrell

    You put me in an impossible position, criticising my view, and at the same time asking me not to explain it here. It's a very simple criticism of your mind/body model and I doubt you will have an answer to it. It certainly does not rely upon the materialist reductivism you suppose. But, as you've asked me not to explain it, I won't.

    Bernard

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  44. Darrell says:

    Hi Bernard,

    “…But, as you've asked me not to explain it, I won't.”

    No, I've asked you to explain it on your own blog. I've asked several times, but you keep reading it as, “please explain it here.” Weird, right? Maybe your computer somehow translates what I write into something else?

    Or, you could just go the previous 500 plus comments conversation and tell us what went wrong as you went from a clash, to a logical error, to…what? Oh well.

    The bottom line is that this is my blog. It is not a forum for you to use the comment section as an echo chamber where you just repeat yourself instead of engaging in conversation.

    Anyway, let us know when you blog on this amazing private physics theory you have and I will be happy to respond.

    Cheers.

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