Monday, February 22, 2010

Can An Atheist Be “Good”?

Atheists are now advertising on buses and billboards how ethical they are and how “Good” they are. This always brings this question straight to my mind: ethical and good by what standard?

Most Atheists, when asked, will claim to have thought through all the intricacies of human behavior, and then come up with a humanist variant of behavior for themselves. This sounds very logical. But it is not humanism that they actually pattern their behavior against (and that is well and good). What they actually do is to co-opt the Judeo-Christian ethic for their behavior, because that is the dominant ethic and legal structure of the culture in which we live… so far.

Atheists, when they reject the deity upon which the cultural ethic is based, also reject the ethic, de facto, since the ethic was decreed by that deity and is not based on evolved pragmatics, it is based solely on the opinion of the deity. On the other hand, they can claim to be “Good” according to Judeo-Christian standards merely because they are law-abiding out of convenience. One need not believe in the ethic behind a law in order to abide by the law; it is merely cheaper in time and money to obey the law. Most people are law abiding because it is possible to lead productive, fulfilling lives without the hassle of fines or jail time just by observing the behavioral limits that are set legally.

The term Good for Atheism is a term without meaning. Although some Atheists might deny it, Nietzsche settled the issue logically nearly a century and a half ago. And most Atheists do agree with Nietzsche that there is no such thing as an absolute, much less Truth. So if there is no absolute, then “Good” must not be absolute; it is relative.

Therefore, within this simple framework of their own creation, no Atheist can be “Good”, unless it - Good - is relative.

And it follows of course, that being relative, any action an Atheist takes is “Good” by the definition of that Atheist, a convenient tautology that is generally left out of the conversation regarding just how Good Atheists really are. They are Good by definition, law-abiding by convenience, intellectually dishonest by virtue of logical failure.

If an Atheist claims to be Good according to a Judeo-Christian standard, as opposed to Consequentialism or it’s subset, Humanism, the first legitimate question for him is, “how do you justify using this set of behaviors as your ethic?” In fact, the deception of claiming to be “Good” even though not believing in Good or Evil as absolutes is an exercise in Consequentialist relativity; and by having performed in this manner the Atheist no doubt does “feel” Good, even while denying the existence of Good.

Consequentialism is not an ethic, it is a political strategy. Its most recent adherents are the Leftist politicians in power in the USA at the moment; Its most infamous recent advocate was Saul Alinsky. But Consequentialism also was the operating procedure for the horrific Humanist “new man” political experiments and bloodbaths of the 20th century. Regardless of the claims of being “Good”, Atheism has a history of amorality that is a bloody “Will to Power”, not a Judeo-Christian ethic of submission to a moral law that is outside of human construction and manipulation.

It is the relative manipulation of its ethics and logic to which Atheism is prone that makes Atheism a moral and intellectual hazard.

34 comments:

Ginx said...

This particular atheist is fairly certain of the existence of truth, right, wrong, good, bad, virtue, and evil. Of course, having a clearly defined moral code hasn't stopped any criminal who was religious. One's stance on the matter is largely unimportant when it comes to true "morality," which is little more than a fancy word for decision making.

The most common measure used for comparing the morality of individuals tends to be incarceration rates, which is very flattering for atheism. However, I suspect the fact that atheists tend to have more education and a higher income than the average Christian to be far more important factors than faith (or lack thereof) when it comes to crime.

Your question is flawed, then. It is not "Can an atheist be 'good'?" The true question is, "Why are atheists good?" This is not to say ALL atheists are good, nor is it to say Christians are not good, or even "as good." The majority of Christians and atheists are good, and only a few Christians or atheists are truly bad (in this instance, worthy of being locked up).

From a Christian standpoint, an atheist can never be good. In the terms defined by the Christian faith, the first rule has always been predicated on the worship of YHWH. As an atheist, if I were to define "good" as including "must not believe in god," I would find myself looking down on Christians as morally inferior, even though I have arbitrarily chosen a matter of taste and decided to judge it as a matter of morality.

One final note: you harp on the fact that you find "good" to have no meaning to the atheist because it is "relative." Yet, I see Christians who argue daily over the meaning of various passages in the Bible, the true nature of God, even the terms by which eternal salvation is attained. Christianity has no more certainty than atheism, it merely encourages believers to act with certainty on whatever their stance might be, misconceptions and all. Add to this the fallacy that a divine presence is guiding them, and if they screw up they can just ask for forgiveness.

Where is the moral accountability? To this atheist, Christianity appears to be moral credit for the intellectually bankrupt.

Ginx said...

As shocking as it is, I forgot one final thing:

I do not define right by my actions, otherwise I would never feel guilt... and yet I do.

Stan said...

Ginx,
Thanks for your comments.

It is interesting that as an Atheist you are “fairly certain of the existence of truth, right, wrong, good, bad, virtue, and evil.” Certainly you must be aware that this separates you from a great many other Atheists. How do you personally define right, good, virtue and differentiate those from wrong, bad, and evil? In other words, what are your standards for judging and categorizing behavior into these categories?

Your counter argument against criminal Christians falls outside the issue of whether Atheists can be Good when they, in general, do not believe in absolutes. I did not mention or defend Christians in any way; what I said is that there is an absolute set of standards of behavior that is Judeo-Christian in origin, and that many Atheists co-opt those standards. Discussion of Christian behavior within these standards is not the issue.

Actually incarceration rates are not that flattering for Atheists. The recidivism rates for all are quite high, except for those who become Christian while incarcerated.

” Your question is flawed, then. It is not "Can an atheist be 'good'?" The true question is, "Why are atheists good?"

Actually I still need to know how all these Atheists, not believing in absolutes, define the “Good” which they claim to be. As you imply above, it is likely because they are not incarcerated, a pragmatic decision, not a moral one. So the term Good should be replaced with “Pragmatic Law Abider”. Why are Atheists Pragmatic Law Abiders? For the convenience of not being fined or locked away.

[comment continued below due to lack of space]

Stan said...

[Comment continued from above]

Ginx said:
” From a Christian standpoint, an atheist can never be good. In the terms defined by the Christian faith, the first rule has always been predicated on the worship of YHWH.”

This is undeniably the case, since the first commandment claims the deity-ship of YHWH. However, your next statement doesn’t extend to either Jews or Christians as an acceptable behavior:

” As an atheist, if I were to define "good" as including "must not believe in god," I would find myself looking down on Christians as morally inferior, even though I have arbitrarily chosen a matter of taste and decided to judge it as a matter of morality.”

Under Christianity it is understood that all Humans are morally inferior; they are instructed not to look down on others or exhibit pride; all humans are flawed. The standard cannot be faulted by those who fail it. Entire “Christian” organizations and communities fail the pride test, but it doesn’t invalidate the test. For Jesus students, the issue is to strive to achieve behavior that meets the standard, even though it is impossible to do so with perfect consistency.

Your final statement is this:
” you harp on the fact that you find "good" to have no meaning to the atheist because it is "relative." Yet, I see Christians who argue daily over the meaning of various passages in the Bible, the true nature of God, even the terms by which eternal salvation is attained. Christianity has no more certainty than atheism, it merely encourages believers to act with certainty on whatever their stance might be, misconceptions and all. Add to this the fallacy that a divine presence is guiding them, and if they screw up they can just ask for forgiveness.”

Your position here seems to be that Christians are flawed (granted), therefore it doesn’t matter if Atheists have no common stable meaning for the concept of the term “Good”. Logically this is not a good argument since the conclusion doesn’t flow from the premise. The thrust of the post was the hollowness of the Atheist claim of “Goodness” when they can’t provide a comprehensive, universally accepted Atheist definition for an Atheist concept of Good. And yes, this is due to the lack of absolutes in Atheist ethics and the fluctuations of relative values that are momentarily convenient to the Atheist. This is entirely consistent with Atheism as a great many Atheists present it.

Thanks for your comments and the chance to discuss them.

Tristan D. Vick said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tristan D. Vick said...

I think you miss a key distinguishing point... all Christians base their morality from the Christian-Judeo tradition, as you said. But not all atheists do.

I've written about Atheistic appreciations, the philo-sophia, and the ability to pull from many moral sources and traditions rather than just one.

If you're talking about a moral-philosophy, then I'd disagree. I have based mine more on the wisdom of Greek philosophers, the moral wisdom of ancient Buddhism (who were moral centuries before Christianity ever existed in the first place--can you imagine a moral world without Christianity? I can. It was called Buddhism), and finally, even if Christianity has influenced Western culture to a degree--I still think the bad outweighs the good causing one to be skeptical of the Christian moral claim in the first place.

In which case I must agree with Thomas Paine, when he said, "If I have any religion, it is to do good."

Doing good, just plain and simple, doesn't require you to adhere to any particular religious cultural ideology.

Furthermore, I agree with the renowned Car Sagan who said that by being humbled by a natural world view, as he mentions in his Pale Blue Dot speech which I put up on my blog, makes us want to care for each other and this planet that much more.

Religion will always hold itself to absolute truth claims, not leaving room for other beliefs, and this will always cause tension, lead to disagreements, etc.

Atheism, lacking a supernatural superintendent or divinely sanctioned holy books, will not lead to this form of turmoil as often. It seems that if you are a humanist, secular free-thinker, or atheist then that's when other appreciations come in which push us to behave better and more ethically where Christianity (sometimes) does not.

So I disagree that Christianity is the only moral world view which atheists are rejecting, as you seem to imply. We reject it simply because their are better alternatives to morality.

Martin said...

"Doing good, just plain and simple, doesn't require you to adhere to any particular religious cultural ideology."

But of course, the theist retort to this is: how are you defining "good?"

On an atheistic view, humans are animals and so should not be beholden to any greater moral code than animals. Chimpanzees kill each other and we say, "well, that's just nature," but when humans do it, it's considered "bad."

Why?

Samuel said...

"On an atheistic view, humans are animals and so should not be beholden to any greater moral code than animals. Chimpanzees kill each other and we say, "well, that's just nature," but when humans do it, it's considered "bad."

Why?"

Someone could take the time to read Thomas Hobbes for a start.

And Chimpanzees don't just go about killing each other - in the same way that humans don't just go about killing each other. Do some chimpanzees kill? Yes. But so do some humans. If you want to understand criminology - I'm sure your local community college has an intro. class to get you started.

But it's quite the strawman to say that - Atheism = humans have the same moral weight as any other animal.

Stan said...

Tristan D Vick said,
”who were moral centuries before Christianity ever existed in the first place--can you imagine a moral world without Christianity? I can. It was called Buddhism”

Yet the Judeo-Christian ethic predates Buddhism by millennia, as does Hinduism, which the Judeo-Christian ethic also predates. However, this does not address the issue of whether Atheists accept the Buddhist morality as absolute, or whether they choose it when it is convenient.

Even the Buddhist Eight-Fold Path to morality is based in wobbly wordings, such as “Right Thought”, “Right Understanding” and so on, without a firm definition of “Right”, except in the “Five Precepts” contained in “Right Action” which echo the commandments to the Hebrews, with the exception of refraining from intoxicants.

And the ancient Buddha was helped to his Buddha-ness by a Hindu god, according to tradition, after the Buddha-to-be had abandoned his wife and family and hit the road to ascetism, and to become one with Nirvana, i.e. one with nothing.

So are you accepting ethics from Buddhism, or are you accepting Buddhism? If you are a Buddhist, then you are not an Atheist; if you accept only the ethics, then you have co-opted an ethical system without accepting the basis for its values. This would place your Buddhism-once-removed into a relative category.

”In which case I must agree with Thomas Paine, when he said, "If I have any religion, it is to do good."

Doing good, just plain and simple, doesn't require you to adhere to any particular religious cultural ideology.”


Unfortunately this ignores the entire point of the original post: what exactly is your definition of “good”? As you can see, you are at liberty to assign to the term “good” any meaning whatsoever, since you are picking and choosing moral morsels from here and there.

”Atheism, lacking a supernatural superintendent or divinely sanctioned holy books, will not lead to this form of turmoil as often. It seems that if you are a humanist, secular free-thinker, or atheist then that's when other appreciations come in which push us to behave better and more ethically where Christianity (sometimes) does not.”

This is blatantly anti-historical and from a highly tunneled viewpoint. The great humanist experiments of the 20th century produced far more bloodshed and misery than any religion (save possibly Islam) ever has or will. The “New Man” socialist Atheist humanists, from Lenin/Stalin to Mao, to Pol Pot, to Castro, to numerous other smaller humanist experimenters, eliminated by assassination and starvation some 250, 000, 000 people during the 20th century at the last count I have seen. This is fact; it goes entirely against your contention that humanism is good; it is not even benign.

”So I disagree that Christianity is the only moral world view which atheists are rejecting, as you seem to imply. We reject it simply because their are better alternatives to morality.”

This is confusing because I didn’t mean that Christianity is the only moral world view that Atheists reject. I meant, and mean that Atheists reject absolutes; that without absolutes, any morality which Atheists espouse is relativistic; and that “Good” can mean virtually anything to any random Atheist. In fact, it cannot be known in advance what any random Atheist considers to be “Good”, nor how soon that definition will change as his circumstances change.

Stan said...

Samuel said,
"Someone could take the time to read Thomas Hobbes for a start."

Your point being? Are you a Leviathan fan, or a critic? I can tell nothing from your comment.

Your "criminology" comment leads me to believe that you have missed the entire point of the discussion which is the relative nature of ethics in an intellectual environment without absolutes. Would you care to comment about that?

"But it's quite the strawman to say that - Atheism = humans have the same moral weight as any other animal."

I am completely unable to decipher this sentence, especially within the context of the discussion: please try again.

Tristan D. Vick said...

Stan-

If you want to know my definition of Good, I discuss it in several of my blogs.

It's not just a simple term, and I don't think a simple blurb reply can do it justice. So if you want to know what I think, then by all means:

http://advocatusatheist.blogspot.com/2009/11/what-is-goodness-naturalists.html

And Judaism may predate Buddhism. Not Christianity. Just to clarify.

Also, accepting the best teachings of one culture or ideology and cutting out the bad does not necessarily require you to reject the moral values of any culture or society. It's forming new moral values based on the best all societies have to offer. So I find your logic faulty, in this case.

And no, I'm not a Buddhist, but I am married to one. I'm an atheist--the Advocatus Atheist to be exact. ;)~

Have a good one!

Tristan D. Vick said...

Stan-

Sorry, I couldn't just let the rhetoric you espouse go.

I didn't say there weren't any bad atheists. I said atheism doesn't lead to such conduct as often. To which you said I was a-historical. This would be inaccurate however, since I didn't omit the five standard atheist names you rattled off from my consideration. (I apologize if I gave you that impression)

I simply recognized that a handful of atheist criminals, such as you listed, is far exceeded by the hundreds of thousands of religious ones I could spend all day long filling up your comments section with.
But I'll spare you the hassle and the headache.

I just wanted to correct you, because I wasn't being a-historical, as you accused me of. I'm just putting it into perspective is all.

And since you talk about absolute morality, I'm sure you'll agree that for the person of faith who believes in an absolute authority, such as a supreme God, then this belief is necessary bi-product of that sort of thinking absolutely.

But then again, I think it's worth noting, God doesn't distinguish between one murder or twenty thousand, because one offense against his absolute law would be the same regardless the quantity. If his laws are meant to be absolute.

So it's not a tally of how many people have been murdered in the name of this ideology or that... because one murder is one too many.

I was just pointing out that it seems that the ill behavior is more frequent on the religious side. And so it might be wise to investigate that more as to see if there is a direct link between faith and faith-based actions. It is my opinion that there is. As with atheism, but then again, since atheism lacks a specific doctrine, as I mentioned, it occurs less frequent because there is no conviction which could lead to such crimes. In other words, there is no direct causal link as within religion.

Another way to think of it is like this. There certainly are Islamic suicide bombers. There might even be an occasional atheist suicide bomber (maybe?). But there is no atheist suicide bomber who murders innocent bi-standards because of his lack of belief in God. But there are hundreds of examples where a person who believed in God, and had a doctrine of rules which God wanted them to follow, and had a holy book which commanded devotion and loyalty and killing of infidels... well this does lead to martyrdom and crimes of passion--more readily.

Tristan D. Vick said...

In which case you may also be interested in this blog article of mine:

http://advocatusatheist.blogspot.com/2009/11/does-religion-offer-good-guidance-and.html

Alon said...

Tristan...

"I didn't say there weren't any bad atheists. I said atheism doesn't lead to such conduct as often.........I simply recognized that a handful of atheist criminals, such as you listed, is far exceeded by the hundreds of thousands of religious ones I could spend all day long filling up your comments section with."

That is the standard response to the fact of atheist crimes of the twentieth century, but your post doesn't really show how atheism leads to less murderous conduct.

You argue that the handful of atheist criminals is far outwieghed by religiously motivated criminals, but you don't show how you have come to that conclusion. The fact is that the majority of atheist leaders of the20th century committed some kind of mass murder. Of the handful of atheist/humanist/communist regimes of the 20th century, a substantial percentage committed mass-murder.

Don't forget that as far as we know the leaders of these murderous regimes didn't personally kill anyone. The killings and torture was carried out by thousands of atheists in the government, police force and military arms of these regimes. So we can well and truly say that the crimes of atheist regimes were carried out by millions of atheists. If we add these facts to the equation, then the likelihood that an atheistic worldview results in immoral acts would vastly increase.

Stan said...

Atheists do, in fact, have some common tenets in their worldview:

1. There (absolutely) is no deity to answer to. Therefore there are no serious consequences for ethical failure other than the standard consequences of not watching your back.

2. Evolution (absolutely) shows that we are merely animals; any of the many ethics that exist are merely evolutionary artifacts for getting along together, if we wanted to.

3. Atheists are smarter than the common human animals - the herd as Nietzsche called us. This increased intelligence is acquired due merely to rejecting the first cause, but it allows the Atheist to presume to dictate the terms that would benefit all humans, via elitist Humanism.

These three absolute principles of Atheism are highly dangerous.

Stan said...

I should mention that Humanism has documented principles, in the three Humanist Manifestos. It is essential to read all three in order to understand that the third is really the same as the first, only with highly clouded rhetoric. And the first clearly outlines the elitist take-over of institutions that the elites don't like.

Not all Atheists are Humanists. I was not. But while it is not an absolute for Atheists, it does attract many who are looking for a belief system that matches their own perceived elitism.

Samuel said...

Stan said:
"Your point being? Are you a Leviathan fan, or a critic? I can tell nothing from your comment."

Martin Said:
""On an atheistic view, humans are animals and so should not be beholden to any greater moral code than animals. Chimpanzees kill each other and we say, "well, that's just nature," but when humans do it, it's considered "bad."

Why?""

So I said....

That reading Hobbes would be a start.... to understanding why humans consider killing each other is bad.

And criminology would help you understand why a few people kill, but the vast majority do not.


I said: "But it's quite the strawman to say that - Atheism = humans have the same moral weight as any other animal."

Stan said:
"I am completely unable to decipher this sentence, especially within the context of the discussion: please try again."

I said this because Martin said, "On an atheistic view, humans are animals and so should not be beholden to any greater moral code than animals."

So my reply was an answer to Martin.

Martin said...

Samuel,

"Atheism = humans have the same moral weight as any other animal"

The moral argument is often misconstrued by atheists, so allow me to clarify a bit.

I am not saying that atheists think humans are just another animal and therefore worthless (although I think Stan may think something along those lines).

What I'm saying is that when we watch, say, a lion killing another lion to be head of the pride, we don't think the lion was morally wrong because that's just nature at work. When a human kills a human to be head of a gang, however, we (atheists, Christians, agnostics, all of us) DO think the human was morally wrong.

Why?

Stan said...

Samuel,
I think Martin was pointing out a contradiction in Atheist thinking: First that Atheists claim Humans are just another animal; and second, that different expectations are apllicable to humans than are applied to animals.

I will assume that your sentence concerning the strawman meant the following: "It is a strawman to state that Atheists believe that humans have the same moral weight as animals"

Actually that is exactly what Peter Singer and a great many "bioethicists" espouse. Not to mention PETA.

It is true that not all Atheists believe the same thing about anything, including this issue, and it is true that they believe that no issue is subject to absolute judgments and that they are free to change their minds as they wish. And of course, without consequence.

One of the distinguishing features of morals is consequence; for Atheists there is no consequence for changing their ethics in a moment for sake of convenience. So rather than moral behavior, Atheists are free to exhibit convenient behavior, which they can claim to moral. Or they can choose to adhere to a selection of religious tenets from miscellaneous religions, which they do not accept the absolutism of, but to which they can point to their personal "morality" - and still be free to change all that on a dime, since it is not absolute.

Samuel said...

"What I'm saying is that when we watch, say, a lion killing another lion to be head of the pride, we don't think the lion was morally wrong because that's just nature at work. When a human kills a human to be head of a gang, however, we (atheists, Christians, agnostics, all of us) DO think the human was morally wrong.

Why?"

The answer to your question "why" was why I pointed you to Hobbes.

Martin said...

I'm aware of Hobbes; humans as chaotic creatures in their natural state that require an absolute monarch to keep law and order.

But Hobbes was wrong about human nature; we seem to have this intrinsic moral nature that keeps us from being like that.

Samuel said...

"I'm aware of Hobbes; humans as chaotic creatures in their natural state that require an absolute monarch to keep law and order.

But Hobbes was wrong about human nature; we seem to have this intrinsic moral nature that keeps us from being like that."

See Gottfredson and Hirschi (again, the reference to criminology).
To briefly jog your mind: think of situations where social order breaks down - Katrina, Haiti, etc.

When there is fierce competition for basic survival resources - humans don't act in an "intrinsically moral way."

I don't do internet debates and going back and forth wouldn't really be helpful - the kinds of questions you are asking deserve years of study and few people really want to devote that kind of effort.

If Hobbes was wrong about human nature - how do you explain humans "in the state of nature" - that is without social order, where life is a fight for basic survival.

Keep in mind as Americans, living in non-chaotic industrialized society - we can get anything we need at the grocery store down the street - the state of nature is pretty far removed from us except in periods of prolonged breakdowns of social order (i.e. Katrina). Other examples of human modes of existence in the state of nature would be things like feral children.

Some questions you might pursue would be like "if we have an intrinsic moral nature - then why in the absence of social control and effecting parenting do human beings not act in a way that is consistent with having an instrinsic moral nature?" That assumes the latter, but I think it will be fairly evident if you look at situations where there is breakdown of social order, situations where there is immense parental neglect, feral children, etc.

I know my answer wasn't clear cut - but trying to condense such immense topics to a blogger comment does not do them justice.

I prefer a scientific approach of actually going out in the world to test theories rather than armchair philosophizing. The latter has its place - but when real-world experience does not confirm it - then maybe we should question the validity of our armchair philosophizing.

Stan said...

Samuel said,
"I prefer a scientific approach of actually going out in the world to test theories rather than armchair philosophizing. The latter has its place - but when real-world experience does not confirm it - then maybe we should question the validity of our armchair philosophizing."

Then I refer you to the work of George Boole (boolean algebra, set theory): "An Investigation of the Laws of Thought".

And Karl Popper: "The Logic of Scientific Discovery".

And Bertrand Russell: "Fifteen Lectures on the Mind".

And Albert Einstein: "Out Of My Later years".

All of these discuss the limitations of empirical (experimental) science and existential materialism.

Samuel said...

Notice that I said:
"The latter has its place."

It's only when real world experience runs contrary that we might we question the validity of our armchair philosophizing.

The issue in question was Martin's claim: "But Hobbes was wrong about human nature; we seem to have this intrinsic moral nature that keeps us from being like that."

That is an empirical claim is it not?

Stan said...

Samuel,
I see your point, I think. Given a totally unsocialized person, would that person have a "feeling" that some things are not "right" when these "immoral" things are done to him. It would be nearly impossible to provide the conditions needed to provide a satisfactory experimental answer to this.

As soon as the person learned the language required to communicate his feelings to researchers, he would have socialized enough to invalidate the process due to the bias acquired by his socialization. So that makes it untestable, and not a likely candidate for scientific inquiry it would appear.

Samuel said...

In social science we have to work with imperfect scenarios; but that doesn't mean we can't draw empirical data and inferences from them.

"It would be nearly impossible to provide the conditions needed to provide a satisfactory experimental answer to this. "

Feral children.

And you may not need a totally unsocialized person (0 for total unsocialization, 1 for total socialization). You may just need a person with low socialization - I can't think of many works off the top of my head but Wright and Decker's ethnography of Armed Robbers is one.

A common trait among criminals is low self-control and low social control which can be traced back to poor socialization and parenting; in other words, they don't perceive armed robbery as wrong because they were never taught that.

If morals were intrinsic, they (the robbers) wouldn't need to be taught armed robbery is wrong (and by taught that robbery is wrong I mean something different than differential reinforcement).

Martin said...

Samuel,

How morals are learned are not relevant to whether they are objective or not. For example, 2+2=4 is an objective truth; but if someone is not taught this they will never know about it.

Stan said...

I don't agree that the moral "instinct", if I may call it that, would necessarily come to the same moral decisions as we socialized persons do in ignorant partially socialized people. For example there is "honor amongst thieves" and there are strict rules within gangs (which harbor semi-socialized people).

Having a skewed vision of what constitutes a "Right" decision should not mean that a view of Right vs. Wrong does not exist.

As an aside, I am not convinced that the practice of psychology and sociology and their related -ologies should be called empirical for the very reason that their inferences are purely inductive with no chance of generating fixed laws upon which deduction works consistently. The "inductive fallacy" applies here. This means that inferences become rules of thumb which are not truly falsifiable - and therefore can't be categorized as empirical / experimental science, despite the numerous human experiments that are performed.

The second reason is that I agree with Bertrand Russell's observation that human behavior does not in any sense obey the rules of physics, unless a person is in an uncontrollable fall. The faculty of intentionality inserts an unpredictable element into human behavior that prevents simple behavioral laws from applying to everyone in every situation; were that not so, the stock market would be determinate, and macro-economics would be computer programmable using simple algorythms. As we have seen, economists are mystified nearly every month by the failures of the real economic factors to behave to their models.

You seem to be arguing for the blank slate; I agree with Locke's assessment that there is indeed a blank slate of knowledge, but it is accompanied with a set of faculties which is innate. It is this set of innate faculties which allows apprehension, comparison, differentiation, judgment, and finally comprehension. These are equally useful for both "is" and "should" discovery.

Martin said...

"If morals were intrinsic..."

Sorry, I just noticed your misunderstanding; the argument is NOT talking about whether morals are intrinsic. The argument is talking about the existence of objective morals; morals that are true regardless of whether anyone believes them or not. E.g., even if the Nazi's won and killed everyone who isn't a Nazi, the Holocaust would still be wrong.

Stan said...

Samuel said,
"For example, 2+2=4 is an objective truth; but if someone is not taught this they will never know about it."

Samuel, this is just not the case.

a) It has been shown that even certain animals have an innate rudimentary comprehension of addition and subtraction of small numbers.

b) The symbols you use ("4", and "2") are subjective, not objective. It is the symbolic language of math that makes higher mathematics possible. Abstract higher mathematics evolves from the symbolic, subjective, representation of numbers. What exists in nature is not numbers, it is instances: cow and cow and cow and cow. We internally represent these things with "four", which we symbolically write as "4".

However, it is valid to say that, "the subjective Truth that 2 plus 2 equals 4 is valid across the entire universe", even without any empirical verification, precisely because this Truth is known subjectively, not objectively.

(BTW, Truth is always subjective, never objective. This is because objective observations are hindered by sensory imperfections and constitutional issues such as not knowing the internal reality of an object, knowing only the reflected properties. Plus, any sensory knowledge is always provisional, subject to new ways of measuring - the empirical caveat).

Martin said...

That was me that said that, not Samuel. I was responding to his assertion that because morals have to be learned, therefore they can't be objective.

Samuel said...

Yeah, stop putting words in my mouth! Hah, jest. :-)

"As an aside, I am not convinced that the practice of psychology and sociology and their related -ologies should be called empirical for the very reason that their inferences are purely inductive with no chance of generating fixed laws upon which deduction works consistently. The "inductive fallacy" applies here. This means that inferences become rules of thumb which are not truly falsifiable - and therefore can't be categorized as empirical / experimental science, despite the numerous human experiments that are performed."

I was going to reply.... but based on the above statement you've probably never done quantitative social science.... I don't even know if it's worth my time.

Stan said...

Samuel,
Please feel free to present your case. I am open to being disabused of incorrect opinions, if there is a convincing counter-argument.

Here is the basis for my doubt about the social sciences:

The closest I came to quantitative social science was the three years I spent in technical market research. Doing focus groups and interviews and polls etc led to some conclusions:

First, humans are inconsistent and don't obey laws of physics, frequently contradicting themselves and changing their minds on non-rational bases.

Second, nothing that a researcher can do in that pursuit is ever incorrect: it is a matter of probability and if the real world results are in the 10% range of the researcher's projection, well, it still was in the probable range.

Third, researchers are not really responsible for their product, and cannot ever be "wrong" in the same way a physicist could be "wrong". This is because humans are not predictable in the same way physical laws are predictable. Humans change their minds and dither right in the middle of a focus group; some are subject to group opinion, others are rebels against whatever. There is no absolutely determinate behavior for the non-pathological. There are trends that arise and then vanish.

All this is completely unlike the physical sciences which expect and find determinate behavior upon which scientific "laws" can be induced, and which, when contrary instances are found, can be falsified. And when those laws are derived, behavior can be deduced in advance every time from those laws.

Stan said...

Martin,
Sorry for my commenter confusion, I have done that before, regrettably.