FOR RECORD: An explanatory note to KF of UD

Re this:

The principles on which this site is run are summarised here and here.  The key rule is: “assume other posters are posting in good faith”.

That does not mean that you have to believe that they are posting in good faith, simply that you should make that assumption for the purposes of discussion.

I will not “correct” posts – people are responsible for their own posts, and for any errors they contain.  I will not delete posts, although I may move posts to a different thread, or to the Sandbox or to Guano.  They remain publicly viewable. I will however, delete links to porn or malware, and posting such links or material are the only grounds on which I will ban anyone.  Posters are complete free to disagree with me, with each other, and to be mistaken.

UD is run on different lines.  Fine.  I prefer mine.

283 thoughts on “FOR RECORD: An explanatory note to KF of UD

  1. William J. Murray,

    William, I didn’t say mine was the only definition; I asked you what other definition there could be. You replied “obedience to god”.

    I’m querying that – I don’t think it’s true, because my sense is that when people talk about “morality” being “obedience to god” they are simultaneously regarding “god” as “good”. So it’s not an alternative definition at all – it’s just a circular one.

    When you press them to say what “good” is, I’m arguing that you generally get back something about our duty to other people/sentient beings.

    However, let’s go with the idea that morality can be lots of things, including obedience to a god that to some appears to demand things that are evil.

    So how do you derive an “objective” morality by invoking a god? Why does it not depend on the god you happened to pick?

  2. William J. Murray: Whether or not it was in majority is irrelevant.

    And from where did Jesus supposedly get his authority to contradict what the Pharisees said was the will of god?

    Presumably, from his PoV, from God. But the same is also true of the Pharisees.

    All you’ve done is passed the buck from picking a morality to picking an authority. How does that help at all? Wouldn’t we be better picking our god on the basis of our which morality we choose, than picking our morality on the basis of which god we choose? After all, we have better evidence for the effects of our actions than for the effects of a putative god’s.

  3. Lizzie: So, what are the assumptions that you deem necessary? (Yes, I realise you’ve probably said elsewhere, but it still isn’t cleary to me).

    That the principles of logic are absolute; that good is absolute; the existence of a libertarian free will; first cause/unmoved mover as necessary against infinite regress and to provide sufficient cause.

    Again, it may be that none of the above are true: I’m not making the case they are true. The argument is that whether or not they are true, we must, whether we realize it or not, act, think and argue as if these assumptions are true. That we can claim we do not assume them, or make arguments against them doesn’t change the fact that they are logically necessary assumptions.

    Even your attempt at defining morality is mirroring of the need for an absolute morality. Saying “I can’t imagine what else it would mean” is a camoflaged attempt to acquire an absolute morality by definitional fiat.

    One cannot argue against these necessary assumptions without falling into self-referential incoherence, as KF is fond of pointing out. One cannot argue against the LNC without employing it. One cannot make make a case that something is moral without assuming a universality of moral authority or definition, because without it there is no reason to even argue or debate because there is no assumed standard. Without assuming libertarian free will even if one attempts to disguise it as something else , there is no reason to debate. As I have said in UD:

    If you do not assume the law of non-contradiction, you have nothing to argue about. If you do not assume the principles of sound reason, you have nothing to argue with. If you do not assume libertarian free will, you have no one to argue against. If you do not assume morality to be an objective commodity, you have no reason to argue in the first place.

  4. All you’ve done is passed the buck from picking a morality to picking an authority. How does that help at all?

    It’s like you totally forgot the concept we are actually debating. Pass what buck? Help what? The point of this was for you to explain by what authority or principle do you authoritatively decree that morality means what you say it means without assuming the consequent or definitional fiat?

    Other people have believed throughout recorded history that morality means something other than what you define it as. Why should anyone adopt your definition other than “because I think so”?

    Wouldn’t we be better picking our god on the basis of our which morality we choose, than picking our morality on the basis of which god we choose? After all, we have better evidence for the effects of our actions than for the effects of a putative god’s.

    Sure, if we just assume your consequent that morality is definitionally about what you say it is about in the first place. Talk about a circular argument!

  5. So how do you derive an “objective” morality by invoking a god?

    You don’t derive it. Absolute morality is a necessary assumption. You can only get it from what would reasonably be considered “god”, because it requires an absolute purpose we were created to fulfill.

    Why does it not depend on the god you happened to pick?

    I’m not arguing about which particular god is true; I’m arguing about what characteristics one must assume about god in order to satisfy the requirements of our necessary assumptions.

  6. I think there is a lurking category confusion here.

    “Morality is obedience to god”
    and
    “Morality is seeking to minimise harm to others”

    are not equivalent statements.

    You ask me by what authority I assert the second.

    My answer is: only the evidence that if we all stick to that rule everyone is better off.

    I ask you what the first requires that you do to be moral. The answer to my question has to take the form:

    “obedience to god entails ___” where the blank is some kind of moral principle.

    Can you tell me what that moral principle is?

    Or isn’t there one?

  7. William J. Murray: That the principles of logic are absolute; that good is absolute; the existence of a libertarian free will;first cause/unmoved mover as necessary against infinite regress and to provide sufficient cause.

    OK, thanks. I should probably bookmark this post!

    Again, it may be that none of the above are true: I’m not making the case they are true. The argument is that whether or not they are true, we must, whether we realize it or not, act, think and argue as if these assumptions are true. That we can claim we do not assume them, or make arguments against them doesn’t change the fact that they are logically necessary assumptions.

    I take your point that they may be necessary assumptions whether or not they are true. I would certainly tend to agree that we must assume that we are morally responsible agents (whatever we call that) in order be morally responsible agents. I’m not sure that the others are necessary assumptions. Again, they seem to be very different categories of assumptions; sure, for the purposes of having an argument in classical logic we must assume the axioms of classical logic. But not all arguments are best made in classical logic terms – it doesn’t seem to handle probability very well for example (I might be wrong about that – I’m no logician). For example, while a thing cannot be both A and not-A, it can have a probability of being A, and a different probability of being not-A. Once we are dealing with uncertainty, classical logic starts to look a bit limited. And of course a lot of the time in science, as well as in information theory (heh) we are attempting to quantify uncertainty. For which we need something more akin to fuzzy logic. And intuition, a form of reasoning, is a good example of fuzzy logic. Our brains seem to be bayesian rather than binary.

    As for first cause/unmoved mover – I don’t think they “solve” the problem of infinite regress, they merely declare it solved. I don’t see how that’s any more or less useful an assumption than declaring it not-a-problem. I don’t why we should assume it is.

    Even your attempt at defining morality is mirroring of the need for an absolute morality. Saying “I can’t imagine what else it would mean” is a camoflaged attempt to acquire an absolute morality by definitional fiat.

    I think we are talking about two different things. I’m defining the domain of morality (that there are things we ought and ought not to do), rather than the behaviours a morality might mandate (not torturing babies for personal pleasure, to use your example). I’m saying that the word “morality” is (and has been in the past) used to denote what we ought and ought not to do. That has included “obeying god”. But that’s not a different definition of the domain, although it might be a different definition of the mandated behaviours.

    One cannot argue against these necessary assumptions without falling into self-referential incoherence, as KF is fond of pointing out. One cannot argue against the LNC without employing it.

    That’s probably true. But one can make arguments that do not employ the LNC, and for which the LNC is irrelevant and useless. For example, it is perfectly logical to argue that Schroedinger’s cat is both dead and not-dead until you open the box. However, it is not perfectly logical to hold that Schroedingers cat can be both dead and not-dead, and also to hold that Schroedinger’s cat must be one or the other.

    The first is an argument that can only be conducted outside the domain of classical logic. The second is an argument about the argument itself, to which the rules of classical logic would seem to apply.

    One cannot make make a case that something is moral without assuming a universality of moral authority or definition, because without it there is no reason to even argue or debate because there is no assumed standard.

    We needn’t assume a universal absolute standard. We could just assume that there some moral systems are better than other systems for human beings, even if we don’t know what the better ones are, or argue over which ones are better.

    Without assuming libertarian free will even if one attempts to disguise it as something else , there is no reason to debate.

    I do not think we need to assume “libertarian free will”. My own view is that “libertarian free will” is fundamentally an incoherent concept. I think you described it as the causeless cause of our actions. If it has no causal factors affecting it (if it is truly causeless) then it must necessarily be uninformed. If it is uniformed, I suggest it is neither free nor will, merely arbitrary.

    For example: if I have to choose between shooting an attacker or not, as the policewoman who shot the Woolwich attackers did, and, if so, whether to aim for the legs (as I believe she did) in the hope of not killing the attacker, or for the body, as a more certain way of stopping an attack, how does libertarian free will come into anything? I have a moral choice – and the choice I make must surely depend on a great many considerations. The perfect decision is surely the maximally informed decision, i.e. the most fully “determined” decision. Why do we need to assume an indeterminate additional factor in order to be “free” or “morally responsible”? It seems to me that the reverse is the case. To be morally responsible we must seek to maximise the information on which we base our ethical decisions, not leave them flapping in a libertarian breeze!

    As I have said in UD:

    If you do not assume the law of non-contradiction, you have nothing to argue about. If you do not assume the principles of sound reason, you have nothing to argue with. If you do not assume libertarian free will, you have no one to argue against. If you do not assume morality to be an objective commodity, you have no reason to argue in the first place.

    This makes nothing but trivial sense to me. Sure, to have an argument you have to make clear the parameters of the argument. The rather silly back and forth between Joe G and others about infinite sets is a good example – you can’t have a mathematical arguments without agreeing on the logical parameters, but they can vary from argument to argument.

    And I guess I just don’t really know what you mean by “objective”. You seem to mean something more like “abstract”.

    Could you try to give your definition?

  8. William J. Murray,

    That the principles of logic are absolute; that good is absolute; the existence of a libertarian free will; first cause/unmoved mover as necessary against infinite regress and to provide sufficient cause.

    Ah yes; the four pillars of absolutism.

    This the clearest evidence William has presented thus far that he is an absolutist. There is an absolute Truth; and it can be know by people who follow these absolutist rules.

    Unfortunately these four “principles” are not absolute; nor are they necessarily true.

    One cannot argue against these necessary assumptions without falling into self-referential incoherence, as KF is fond of pointing out. One cannot argue against the LNC without employing it.

    And here is the “absolute clincher;” one cannot argue against these assertions with out violating the “law of non-contradiction.”

    This of course requires that the absolutist knows absolutely what is and what is not true in any given situation. And, as William so often reminds us, the absolutist can know this without having to learn anything about the natural world; i.e., the world of science and the epistemological lessons it teaches.

    There are no grey areas; there are no ambiguities and unknowns. All decisions have right and wrong answers. The absolutist knows this because of the law of non-contradiction that says that a decision cannot be right and wrong at the same time. Morality is thus absolute; an act or decision cannot be moral and immoral at the same time, because of the law of non-contradiction. Morality is deductive; Q.E.D.!

    We just know when we are right; that’s it. Argue with an absolutist, and you violate the law of non-contradiction. Air tight; case closed.

    Got it! Children’s logic. So simple! So simplistic.

  9. Can you tell me what that moral principle is?

    Well, I guess it’s good to know that I can still be flabbergasted by people.

  10. Liz,

    I appreciate your effort above, but you’ve already made all those points before. And I remember them. And I understand your points. I didn’t give you my list of necessary principles (and some context to them) to engage you in another debate about them so you and I could reiterate what’s gone before; I gave them to you because you asked me for them – I assume because you didn’t remember them from before.

    “And I guess I just don’t really know what you mean by “objective”. You seem to mean something more like “abstract”. “

    So you really don’t remember me telling you several times that by “objective” I mean “absolute”? You don’t remember a whole discussion about what “objective”, “subjective”, “absolute” and “relative” means, where you (re)defined “objective” to mean “consensus”, and I started using the term “absolute” instead of “objective” in a good faith attempt to use whatever terminology would help you understand what I mean?

    When I cut and pasted that old quote from UD (you know, that place where “objective” hasn’t been (re)defined as “consensus”), i guess it was expecting too much for you to remember all (any) of that to realize that when I used the term “objective” in that quote, I meant “absolute”.

    I can see how you got confused, though, and thought I might have meant “abstract”, since I have literally never, ever used that term to describe any aspect of any argument I’ve made here.

  11. William J. Murray: If you do not assume libertarian free will, you have no one to argue against.

    This is a bizarrely foolish statement from a person who avers that many other persons he encounters are probably NPCs who in fact do not have free will, and yet he argues against those “no ones” in spite of his own assumption that they are no one.
    Ah, well, a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. No little mind, you, eh William?

    If you do not assume morality to be an objective commodity, you have no reason to argue in the first place.

    Another bizarrely foolish comment from a person who argues, just because it gives him pleasure to argue. The frisson WIlliam – or you or I – gets from hitting the submit button is a sufficient “reason” to argue in the first place. No internalized assumption of objective morality (much less the as-yet undemonstrated existence of any actual objective morality) is needed to make our primate brains light up with pleasure in arguing.
    Of course, we’re also good at making our brains light up with consoling words, soothing touches, even just an empathetic glance across a room … evolved primate social interaction.

  12. William J. Murray,

    Ah yes – “absolute” was the word I was reaching for, not “abstract”.

    Well, I’m not really sure what “absolute” means either!

    I use “objective” in what I guess is the usual scientific meaning of “can be agreed on by independent observers”, as opposed to “subjective” which is something like “depends on the perceptual apparatus of a specific observer”.

    So “The sky scatters light in the part of the spectrum we label “blue”” is an objective description.
    “The sky is the colour of forget-me-nots” is a subjective description. It might be quite a common description, but for some people the two might be quite different colours.

    And “lemons stimulate the sour receptors” is an objective description.
    “I don’t like lemons, they are too sour” is subjective.

    I think there are fairly objective moral conclusions – that if everyone behaves in a broadly altruistic way, and if we punish, but nontheless extend mercy to, those who don’t, that everybody benefits, and actually be demonstrated by independently generated models of behaviour. Whereas “eating shellfish is immoral because it is against my god’s will” is highly subjective – it’s based on a subjective choice of authority.

    I just don’t see the point in positing an “absolute” authority, but I do see the point at arriving at an “objective” morality in my sense of the word “objective”. And actually, my sense of the word “objective” is as “absolute” as I think we can get.

    As I tend to reiterate ad nauseam: we don’t have direct access to [absolute] reality; all we have are models. But the fact that our models tend to converge is evidence for the existence of [absolute] reality (and evidence against solipsism).

  13. Does this mean that you consider whatever the WSJ prints as necessarily valid?

    If that chart is what Pinker went by, then I agree with the critics listed and quoted on Wiki; Pinker is naively (or politically) conflating “violence” with “battle-ground deaths”. Without more to go on, there’s not enough to even begin to justify the claim that violence is declining as a percentage in the world.

    Certainly not enough here yet to require any sort of rebuttal.

  14. William, I am not a stupid woman. I may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I am not stupid. If I ask a question that flabbergasts you, consider it possible that it is because I am genuinely perplexed and would like to know the answer, and that perhaps the reason I am asking is that you yourself have not, for reasons that may be partly, but not necessarily solely, to do with me, have been unclear.

    Right now I am struggling to discriminate between your use of “morality” to mean “a specific principle of conduct” and morality to mean “how we should derive that code of conduct”. “Obeying god” tells me how I should set about deriving a code of conduct, but does not tell me whether it means ensuring that the blood of my firstborn should be shed at the solstice lest the harvest fail, or whether I should Love My Neighbour As Myself.

    I’d like to know what principle (if any) is mandated by “obeying god”, as opposed to the principle I am suggesting is fundamental to morality, which at its most minimal is: avoid harm to others.

  15. William,

    Absolute morality is a necessary assumption. You can only get it from what would reasonably be considered “god”, because it requires an absolute purpose we were created to fulfill.

    Suppose that we are created by God to fulfill an absolute purpose. Why are we morally obligated to fulfill that purpose?

  16. William appears to be thrashing around for a “logical syllogism” on which to hang a sectarian apologetic. It’s a characteristic of a number of fundamentalist sectarians who believe they can “reason” their way to an absolute dogma.

    It is probably a poor imitation of Rene Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am,” which presumably leads to everything else, but doesn’t.

    This is where a little bit of “philosophy” becomes a neophyte’s tangle of assertions made to look like logical syllogisms.

    William’s tactic seems to consist of casting his assertions into pseudo-syllogisms that fall apart when examined even superficially, and then followed by a backup tactic of accusing others of misunderstanding him or misquoting him when his assertions don’t work.

    This shtick can go on endlessly; which, I will assert, is probably the game he is playing.

    I am seeing in William the mind of an immature and intellectually undisciplined young student floundering with concepts that are way over his head, making excuses for not learning about the real world around him, and believing he can avoid that effort if he can just find an air tight syllogism to justify the beliefs he has already decided to keep.

    The internet is a nice place to lure people into playing these games; but they belong to young kids, not educated adults.

  17. Your question presumes the two are different things, keiths. They are not. “the purpose that we are created to fulfill” = our list of shoulds = morality. Your question thus takes the form: why should we do what we should do?

    It’s nonsensical.

  18. He choses to believe want he wants, not what evidence suggests, by his own admission. So his rules are not our rules, and his intersection with reality is tentative, feel free to discount his dialogue and craft your responses accordingly.

  19. Unless William can provide a concrete example of where his behavior would diverge from “ours, ” I see no reason to pay any more attention to him.

    I suppose he is arguing for teaching some version of ID in public schools. Is that it?

    I tend to agree that it would be good to teach some history along with science, but I don’t think history is kind to magical thinking.

  20. Unless William can provide a concrete example of where his behavior would diverge from “ours, ” I see no reason to pay any more attention to him.

    I pretty much stopped paying attention to William after his earlier thread on why morality requires theism. That whole thread was much ado about nothing (or an excessively elaborate description of the contents of the empty set). It became clear that William has nothing to say, though he has some rather ornate ways of saying it.

  21. petrushka: Unless William can provide a concrete example of where his behavior would diverge from “ours, ” I see no reason to pay any more attention to him.

    I think he has, in a general way. He’s said before that he “hasn’t an altruistic bone in his body” and that he performs personal cost/benefit analysis for all his actions.

    I can’t think of anyone I know that hasn’t done something altruistic – I think it’s a constitutive part of being human. (Understand, please, that I’m not condemning him on this basis – just pointing out a difference).

    Now, until William comes back and tells us that that’s not what he meant, wrote, or said, I think that that particular behaviour (or lack of it) diverges from “ours”

    But perhaps not a good reason to pay attention to him

  22. There’s a general tendency among IDists to speak in generalities and then, when you try to deduce something from their generalities, jump out and say that’s not what I meant.

    I would like to know what part of traditional Christian society William longs to go back to.

    The acquiescence to slavery? Women as chattel? Serfdom? Divine right of kings?

    All practices that survives for centuries, if not millennia.

  23. Every Christmas season, just like clockwork, these idiots break out the old “THERE IS A WAR ON CHRISTMAS!!!!” shtick.

    Just casually reading and enjoying the discussion as a spectator, but I had to comment on this. Jon Stewart’s “War On Christmas” responses he does every year is just the funniest thing ever put on media as far as I’m concerned. The guy is brilliant and funny as hell!

  24. I asked William:

    Suppose that we are created by God to fulfill an absolute purpose. Why are we morally obligated to fulfill that purpose?

    William’s response:

    Your question presumes the two are different things, keiths. They are not.

    You presume the two are the same. They are not.

    “the purpose that we are created to fulfill” = our list of shoulds = morality.

    We’ve been through this before, William. My “pimply-faced teenager” example shows that “because my creator wants me to” is a very poor answer to the question “Why am I morally obligated to do X?”

    To add the qualifier “absolute”, as in “absolute purpose”, is merely to assume your conclusion. You define “absolute purpose” as “our list of shoulds”, and then you conclude that we should fulfill our “absolute purpose”. Perfectly circular.

    What I’m looking for, in vain apparently, is for you to provide an independent, non-circular reason for why I am morally obligated to fulfill my creator’s purpose for me.

    Your morality seems to be a thinly-disguised version of “might makes right” — we are obligated to fulfill God’s purpose for us because he is the biggest, most powerful guy around and he created us.

  25. Not American, but I have to say what the founding fathers intended should not be especially relevant. What matters is what is for the good. The US Constitution is not an unamendable, for-all-time-perfect document.

    It is ammendable by congress with the consent of the states. Otherwise the intention of the writers is of considerable importance.

  26. Yes, authoritarian regimes are bad, William. Really bad.

    Equivocation on this point just makes you look foolish.

    As for atheists’ moral foundations: morality is not a house. I see your insistence on an ultimate moral authority like this:

    I’m looking back on history and I see, for example. Jews forced en masse into gas chambers. You say that unless the king holds up a sign saying “this is bad” that I can’t say it is horrific. And the king isn’t even human. It’s an abstraction. A literary figment at best. This, apparently, is what tells me good from bad. It would be grotesquely funny if so many people didn’t believe it.

  27. we are obligated to fulfill God’s purpose for us because he is the biggest, most powerful guy around and he created us.

    … and (according to some versions of ‘necessary consequence’) has subcontracted punishment to a third party, conveniently allowing himself to be ‘pure good’.

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