Atheism, Truth, Morals

Imagine my surprise when I heard that atheism was based on a search for truth. We all know that’s false.

Let’s examine a couple recent examples.

Patrick claimed that I did not provide any links.

Moderation Issues (3)

You’ll note the complete absence of any links…

I provided links. Patrick lied.

KN claimed that Immanuel Kant was an atheist philosopher.

Slavery in the Bible

KN lied,

Patrick demands morals of others while denying that there are any objective moral obligations.

Why do atheists care about what is true and what is immoral?

Why do atheists attack the object of their ignorance?

622 thoughts on “Atheism, Truth, Morals

  1. William J. Murray,

    Allan: In evaluating a claim, one … uh … ‘assumes the position’. First one adopts the subjectivist stance. Then the objectivist. It’s not (contrary to your claim) about assuming subjectivism is true while evaluating objectivism, any more than it is the reverse.

    WJM: If objectivism is true, then conscience is not a “feeling”. If subjectivism is true then conscience is a feeling. One of the fundamental premises to my argument is that conscience is not “feeling”, so to say to the neutral moral judge that under both systems, all you have are “feelings” would be a lie. That would be like me saying that under both systems, conscience is a sensory capacity. That is a lie. That is not what conscience is held to be under moral subjectivism.

    Now, nowhere, as far as I can tell, did I equate the source of the sensations under the two systems. That is how you have read me – when you talk of ‘literal autism’, I get much the same sense. You see trigger words and spout off something you have said a thousand times, like KF and his oil of ad hominem. I’m sure you’re a very good driver.

    When I presented the undecided moral arbiter, he has a personal experience of conscience. How could it be otherwise? But this does not equate to me (or him) not adopting the objective stance arguendo for that case. If his personal experience is different if objectivism is true, that cannot possibly make sense. His personal experience is what it is, whatever the cause.

  2. Alan Fox: The third party is who we are obligated to. The tortured child or the beaten woman. No third party – no obligation to intervene.

    That obligation only comes from our own morality. It seems to me that the obligation is therefore to ourselves. “This is what I consider right and I will defend it.”

  3. Richardthughes: I believe scientists call this “making shit up”.

    I don’t know how sight, hearing, touch, smell or taste work, either. So?

  4. William J. Murray: I don’t know how sight, hearing, touch, smell or taste work, either. So?

    So you research, create hypothesis, test with experiments. You don’t ‘make shit up’.

  5. Allan Miller:
    William J. Murray,

    So your syllogism fails.

    That has no bearing on whether your syllogism fails or not. Your declaration is incorrect. It is not ‘correct unless you tell me what your moral system is’.

    Claiming the syllogism fails is not making a case that it fails. Saying “I act like a moral subjectivist” cannot even be evaluated until you present your moral system for examination. Which, I’m sure, you won’t do.

  6. Richardthughes: So you research, create hypothesis, test with experiments. You don’t ‘make shit up’.

    I really don’t think I invented the idea of objective morality or conscience as a kind of sensory capacity.

  7. William J. Murray: I really don’t think I invented the idea of objective morality or conscience as a kind of sensory capacity.

    Maybe not. You certainly can’t support it, though. Nor are you willing to seriously investigate it. We learn you will happily take the unsupported notions of others because you lack the tools to critically evaluate them.

    This is where I declare victory and walk away.

  8. William J. Murray: I have stated repeatedly that I consider conscience to be a sensory capacity that feeds us information from an objectively-existent moral landscape. What do you think that means?

    I have only a vague idea what that might mean. Do you think your connection with this “moral landscape” is causal? Can, e.g., the connection be occluded by, I don’t know, a passing (invisible) dragon? If it is as you say, a sensory capacity, what is the bodily organ through which it is conducted–the heart? the skin? the pineal gland?

    I think that, if there is a “moral sense” it can be only analogous to an actual sensory process. I don’t see how such a claim could be taken literally without anybody being able to find the vehicles of these alleged processes.

  9. walto: I think that, if there is a “moral sense” it can be only analogous to an actual sensory process. I don’t see how such a claim could be taken literally without anybody being able to find the vehicles of these alleged processes.

    but… but….its PROPERLY BASIC

  10. Patrick:

    Alan Fox: The third party is who we are obligated to. The tortured child or the beaten woman. No third party – no obligation to intervene.

    That obligation only comes from our own morality.

    I think you need to be a theist for “morality” to make sense. I’m not sure the empathy I feel for my fellow human beings is a moral obligation. I feel it as a social contract that I add into and draw from as circumstances arise. Fairness is how I would summarize the goal in establishing a good* social contract or code of ethics.

    It seems to me that the obligation is therefore to ourselves. “This is what I consider right and I will defend it.”

    I hope I would defend what I think is ethical so I guess I don’t disagree. 🙂

    *greatest good for the greatest number!

  11. William J. Murray,

    Claiming the syllogism fails is not making a case that it fails. Saying “I act like a moral subjectivist” cannot even be evaluated until you present your moral system for examination. Which, I’m sure, you won’t do.

    If the syllogism depends upon someone’s agreement with the first part, and they don’t, then it is hardly a valid basis for what follows. We already know YOU are convinced by your argument. But your appeal was to an imagined interlocutor.

    You simply declare it. ‘Everyone acts as if objective morality is true’. I don’t know how to interpret ‘everyone’, ‘act’ and ‘objective morality’ in such a way that I could accept that statement, without defining them in such a way that your intended conclusion does not follow. I certainly don’t act as if there is any form of Cosmic Accounting going on, nor that I will be brought to book by the same or some other mysterious force for the net of goods and ills, nor that I am sensing their wishes or moral landscape with my moral antenna. You seem to know better. Or, I do until I prove I don’t to your satisfaction, by the frankly irrelevant act of laying out my particular moral standpoint.

    But, it doesn’t really matter what it is, as long as it is not ‘acting as if objective morality (sensu WJM) is true’, for the purposes of defeating the syllogism.

  12. William J. Murray:
    Kantian Naturalist,

    Both KN and I agree that moral subjectivism and “social construct” morality are no good, rationally speaking. Yet, other than dismissing the premise, he has yet to provide a rational argument against my form of objective morality, even though I invited him to do so. If you’re going to claim it is “incoherent”, KN, present your argument.

    As I see it, natural law theory misunderstands the nature of purposes by conflating the intrinsic purposiveness of organisms with the extrinsic purposefulness of artifacts or tools. Artifacts have purposes by virtue of being designed with some specific purpose in mind. Organisms are purposive by virtue of being organized wholes in which different functions are integrated into goal-seeking behavior of the organism as a whole. (A heart has a function, but the animal as a whole has goals.)

    The version of objective morality that strikes me as most plausible is a version on which moral values of some sort or other are intrinsic to the human form of life by virtue of being requirements for successful cooperation, in a species that has been selected for obligate cooperative foraging as its distinct ecological niche.

    This niche is ‘constructed’, in a sense, but not as a consequence of intentional deliberation. (Along with Michael Tomasello, Joe Rouse, and Kim Sterelny, I regard normativity — both the epistemic normativity of rationality and the practical normativity of morality — in terms of niche construction.) In a slogan, my view is — like John Dewey’s — a Darwinized Aristotelianism.

    The social contract tradition envisages us as fully-formed individuals first, who then decide — on the basis of enlightened self-interest — to refrain from harming one another. On my view, there is no ontological priority of the individual over the community or conversely. We become individuals through being enculturated into communities, and communities are also comprised of individuals.

    The reason why this counts as objective morality — despite the fact of cultural pluralism about moral values — is simply that moral norms are not themselves expressions of feelings. (Though it is also true that a properly enculturated person will have emotional attachments such that she will abhor what is morally wrong and admire what is morally right.)

    But if one insists that morality is not objective unless it is also universal and absolute, then no, my account of moral norms is not objective.

  13. Allan Miller: You simply declare it.

    It seems that it is sufficient for William to create his own argument and then win it by fiat. The ultimate logical navel gazer, if you will. Seems somewhat unsatisfactory to me, perhaps William can explain what he gets out of continuing to make an argument that others reject at the very first sentence.

  14. OMagain: It seems that it is sufficient for William to create his own argument and then win it by fiat. The ultimate logical navel gazer, if you will. Seems somewhat unsatisfactory to me, perhaps William can explain what he gets out of continuing to make an argument that others reject at the very first sentence.

    I think it’s alien repellent.

    Repellent, anyway.

    Glen Davidson

  15. Kantian Naturalist: On my view, there is no ontological priority of the individual over the community or conversely.

    By observation, the individual is the only unit of organization that feels pleasure or pain.

    One could build a self-perpetuating population of robots that mine materials and build copies of themselves, but not have the capacity to experience emotions or pleasure or pain. Empathy is what separates the majority from psychopaths, and empathy is what causes us to assign high values to individuals.

    My own opinion — which seems to count for very little here — is that most successful politicians, and a lot of political and economic philosophers, are psychopaths in the sense that they assign little value to individual autonomy and individual aspirations.

    It is true that individuals cannot exist in the absence of social organization, but the question is, does the organization serve individuals, or do individuals exist to serve the organization.

    Brings to mind ants and bees, and whether individuals are autonomous organisms, or whether individuals are somatic cells.

  16. petrushka: By observation, the individual is the only unit of organization that feels pleasure or pain.

    That’s right — feeling pleasure or pain is a property of each particular animal (including human animals).

    But I am less enthused about the idea that we can explain morality in terms of pleasure and pain.

    One could build a self-perpetuating population of robots that mine materials and build copies of themselves, but not have the capacity to experience emotions or pleasure or pain. Empathy is what separates the majority from psychopaths, and empathy is what causes us to assign high values to individuals.

    Sure, that’s right. But morality in human beings is not just empathy. Empathy is widespread among social mammals. Frans De Waal has been studying empathy in monkeys and apes for decades, and it’s also been studied in cetaceans, elephants, and social carnivores. Dogs feel empathy for pack-members — which includes their ‘owners’, in case of domesticated dogs.

    Yet there are clearly documented differences in morality (and immorality) between humans and other primates. For one thing, humans will — even from a very young age — help someone else in need without any immediate expectation of reward and compensation. Even adults will expect a complete stranger to help them in need, without any compensation apart from “thanks!”, if the costs of doing so are very low. By contrast, chimps will help each other, but only on a strictly quid pro quo basis.

    In other words, while there’s something clearly right to the idea that empathy is the biological basis of morality, there’s a lot in human morality that seems to go beyond the sort of empathy we see in nonhuman animals.

    My own opinion — which seems to count for very little here — is that most successful politicians, and a lot of political and economic philosophers, are psychopaths in the sense that they assign little value to individual autonomy and individual aspirations.

    I would say that they are sociopaths in the sense that they assign little value to empathy and fellow-feeling.

    It is true that individuals cannot exist in the absence of social organization, but the question is, does the organization serve individuals, or do individuals exist to serve the organization.

    My suggestion there was that it’s a misguided question — communities serve individuals and individuals serve communities. There’s no priority of one over the other.

  17. I’m willing to listen to definitions of morality not based on pleasure and pain, broadly defined. Some pleasures and pains are “psychological.” I hope it’s not necessary to get too technical about this in a casual conversation.

    I hope it suffices to say that memory, anticipation, and empathy are all sources of pleasure and pain.

    The ability to empathise with animals seems to be the reason we have laws and customs against cruelty to them, but not against cruelty to toasters or vacuum cleaners. It’s why we cry when we euthanize a pet, but not when we reformat a computer. (There’s a rather interesting scene in a Star wars movie, in which the robots we’ve anthropomorphized for 6 movies, are to have their memories wiped. In context it’s simultaneously tragic and comic.)

  18. I don’t think WJM responded to something I asked previously. If you did I missed it: pretty sure you claim you act as if morals are objective, but that interpretations vary from subject to subject. Would you say that “interpretations” of those morals are subjective then? And if the only way we can parse (objective) morals is by means of our subjective moral judgement, making our interpretations entirely subjective, what justifies moral intervention in particular moral issues based on subjective interpretations?

  19. Neil Rickert: I believe the correct answer(s) to be: Yes.

    The problem I see is not one of one against many, in some kind of lifeboat scenario.

    Zero sum thinking is lazy and counterproductive, in my view. I am always looking for ways to anticipate problems and prevent them, rather than ways to redistribute and equalize pain.

  20. petrushka: By observation, the individual is the only unit of organization that feels pleasure or pain.

    One could build a self-perpetuating population of robots that mine materials and build copies of themselves, but not have the capacity to experience emotions or pleasure or pain. Empathy is what separates the majority from psychopaths, and empathy is what causes us to assign high values to individuals.

    My own opinion — which seems to count for very little here — is that most successful politicians, and a lot of political and economic philosophers, are psychopaths in the sense that they assign little value to individual autonomy and individual aspirations.

    It is true that individuals cannot exist in the absence of social organization, but the questionis, does the organization serve individuals, or do individuals exist to serve the organization.

    Brings to mind ants and bees, and whether individuals are autonomous organisms, or whether individuals are somatic cells.

    “The real division is not between conservatives and revolutionaries but between authoritarians and libertarians.”
    — George Orwell

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