Friday, July 11, 2008

Empathy and morality

Probably the most important element of morality is the question of how one is supposed to treat other people. Christianity has a very strong and, actually, kind of easy answer to the question. I've discussed the Christian answer to that question before, so today I want to deal with a common atheist's answer now.

Martin at the Atheist Experience has echoed other atheists I've talked to in claiming that his basis for morality is "empathy, altruism and reason". Let's check those in turn to see how they actually perform as far as giving us moral standards by which we know how we SHOULD, or OUGHT TO, treat others.

Reason:

I'll grant this - Reason can tell us how we should act in order to reach a desired end.
For example, I don't want to go to jail in my lifetime. There is a set of laws defining what is non-meritorious-of-jail behavior. I employ reason so as to know what will not land me in jail.
But reason can only go so far - it cannot inform a decision about what is good and what is bad. It cannot tell me what SHOULD be. It can tell me what IS and how to achieve desired ends, but cannot tell me what I should desire.
Reason is helpful when a moral system is already in place. I personally employ reason in order to help me understand how to apply the ought that I already know from a moral system outside of myself (Christianity).

If I desire peace with my fellow man, reason can inform my behavior. If I desire war with my fellow man, or to rape a child and get away with it, it can inform my behavior just as well as in the former case. Stated differently, reason can tell me what IS, not what OUGHT TO BE.


Empathy and altruism:

This sounds good at first, true. Or, I should say, it sounds good to modern, Western ears. One could certainly make the argument (as others have done before) that such values as intrinsic human rights and empathy (based on the Golden Rule) are in place in the West largely b/c of the pervasive influence of Christianity. Many other societies thru time have not held to these moral principles, but that is not the main point here.

The major problem for the one who would claim this position is that moral questions almost always deal with the question of how to deal with other people, or how to judge between actions done by one person towards another. Thus the 'empathetimoralist atheist' (EMA) begs the question. Here's why.

Timothy McVeigh stops his Ryder truck in front of the Murrah building, starts the timer, and leaves the area. You are a cop who've been sniffing him out, you know what's in the truck, you see him fiddle with sthg in the cab and then duck into the getaway car (driven by Iraqi soldiers, by the way). You now have a choice - exercise empathy for the innocents and children inside the building and disarm the bomb and apprehend McVeigh, or exercise empathy for McVeigh rather than for the innocents and children inside the building?

The EMA may answer alternatively: "But it's obvious! We can't harm people, especially innocent children."
or
"Harming people is immoral."
or
"Would YOU want to be blown up undeservedly?"

But that is a SHOULD statement. The EMA is begging the very question at hand - with whom SHOULD we have empathy? The criminal or the victim? Why SHOULD we label "harming another person" as "bad"?
More than once, I've asked these questions and gotten the response: "If you think that it's not self-evident that harming innocent people is morally wrong, I can't help you." Interestingly, that's as deep as any atheist has ever yet gotten with my line of questioning, and he ended it by begging the question mercilessly (and then bludgeoning it with a shovel).
He didn't answer it, nor did he attempt to. Nor could he answer how we can know that we SHOULD be empathetic towards the inflictEE of harm rather than the inflictOR.
The EMA has taken it upon himself to act like God and to attempt to impose his morality on others. It is as if he were on the mountaintop and wrote on the stone tablets "Thou shalt usually have empathy on the victim."
Of course, if atheism is true, there is no Lawgiver, and I have equal authority to the EMA. His pronouncements have no binding power on me. He prefers to have empathy for the children in the bldg. Maybe I choose to have empathy for McVeigh. If I were McVeigh, I wouldn't want to be caught, imprisoned, and executed! I should let him get away!

Or we might hear: "This does not contribute to an ordered and peaceful society."

Here the EMA retreats to his provisional "IF ordered and peaceful society is that which is desired, then we should act this way", but that also begs the question. Perhaps I have empathy for McVeigh's vision of society.
Given the bare and solitary criterion of empathy, I have no way to choose what to do. I'm reduced to instinct, gut feeling, my personal preference. Where have we heard that before?

This is pretty counterintuitive stuff, since most everyone in the West holds to an almost identical set of basic moral codes, but I'm asking you to think a little more deeply about it.
Here's the key to why the EMA is stuck in this rut: he knows deep inside that harming innocents gratuitously is objectively, morally wrong, independently of whether anyone believes it or not. It is viscerally disconcerting to him to think of murdering a child, or bombing a building. So, though his worldview provides for no way to know whether
1) to be empathetic toward the bomber
2) to be empathetic toward the victim
3) to be empathetic at all
is the right way to go, he chooses the one that feels the best to him and gets him closer to his goal - a peaceful, ordered society - without telling us whether it is possible to know whether such SHOULD be our goal.

In reality Christianity is true, and God has put this desire in people's hearts. "He has bound eternity in the hearts of men" (Ecclesiastes); "they show that the requirements of the Law are written on their hearts, their consciences alternately accusing, now even defending them" (Romans 2). The EMA has no evidence that it is truly the case that his moral dogmas are right for anyone other than himself. But he acts like they are b/c he is borrowing from a theistic worldview, where a transcendent Lawgiver exists and has given commands for people to follow. He rejects the Lawgiver but wants the Laws (airbrushed to fit his own desires, of course). This is a common human theme - we reject the Giver but want the gifts. We want His power but not His face. We want His mercy but not to strive to be worthy of it.

So the EMA has only a few logical, consistent courses of action open to him:
1) Repent of his sin and trust Jesus Christ as Savior, thus taking on the true foundation for morals as his own. This is the best option.
2) Stop making moral claims or requirements on anyone else. Also, stop calling actions "despicable", "reprehensible", "evil", "horrible", etc.

Making long chains of question-begging assertions and bluster is not one of those.


For further illustration of this point, see the Douglas Wilson-Dan Barker debate. Wilson follows this line of questioning aggressively and gets about as far as I got, only his opponent is a professional debater and atheist activist.

58 comments:

Paul C said...

Many other societies thru time have not held to these moral principles, but that is not the main point here.

Many Christians have not held to this moral principle, while many non-Christians have. So your argument here is ridiculously weak, unless you want to play the No True Christian card, which I predict you will.

You now have a choice - exercise empathy for the innocents and children inside the building and disarm the bomb and apprehend McVeigh, or exercise empathy for McVeigh rather than for the innocents and children inside the building?

First, one doesn't "exercise empathy". Empathy is an intuitive not a rational response. If you had to think about it, then it wouldn't be empathy.

Second, empathy for McVeigh in what sense? How is he suffering in this example? You don't seem to understand what the word empathy means.

More than once, I've asked these questions and gotten the response: "If you think that it's not self-evident that harming innocent people is morally wrong, I can't help you." Interestingly, that's as deep as any atheist has ever yet gotten with my line of questioning, and he ended it by begging the question mercilessly.

That's because if you're asking the question seriously, then you're a sociopath. If that's the case, then Christianity will provide you with a legalistic framework, but you will never actually understand what is right and wrong. So you're back to square one in working out where morality comes from.

If you're not asking the questions seriously, then you're just being an ass - unless you're asking the question as a reductio, which I assume that you are. The problem is that a reduction only works in a logical argument - and as I've pointed out, empathy is not a logical argument.

Rhology said...

You don't seem to understand what the word empathy means.

But McV IS suffering. From govt'al oppression. More specifically, from apprehension, imprisonment, and poison injection.

And I shouldn't be surprised that an atheist went so quickly to don the Papal Mitre.
Case in point: That's because if you're asking the question seriously, then you're a sociopath.

Thanks for telling us your emotions. Back it up with an argument please.

If that's the case, then Christianity will provide you with a legalistic framework, but you will never actually understand what is right and wrong.

Yes I will, b/c God has told me in great detail.
Go ahead and tell me how I can understand what is right and wrong on atheism.

Paul C said...

Here's the key to why the EMA is stuck in this rut: he knows deep inside that harming innocents gratuitously is objectively, morally wrong, independently of whether anyone believes it or not. It is viscerally disconcerting to him to think of murdering a child, or bombing a building.

First, these two statements are not the same thing. You can find something viscerally disconcerting without thinking it objectively morally wrong.

Second, I notice that you have inserted the word "gratuitously". Does that mean that you think that harming innocents is fine if there is some justification?

Third, that knowing "deep inside", the "viscerally disconcerting" response to murdering a child - these are perfect examples of the empathy that you seek to dismiss in this post.

How queer that, in seeking to dismiss a phenomenon, you actually cite is as evidence!

Rhology said...

1) I know that, and that's a point against what the EMA does.
2) Not necessarily, the word is there to remove all doubt of the viscerally horrible nature of the action.
3) So what? Why should empathy for the victim be the deciding factor for my morality?

Now I've answered quite a few questions - hows about you start interacting with my points?

Paul C said...

But McV IS suffering. From govt'al oppression. More specifically, from apprehension, imprisonment, and poison injection.

Then the question becomes a) whose suffering is greater and b) whose suffering is less "justified".

Thanks for telling us your emotions. Back it up with an argument please.

Sorry, where did I tell you my emotions? (And also, why are you so utterly dismissive of emotion?) Back what up with an argument? That people who can't feel empathy for others are sociopaths (or more accurately, psychopathic?)? That's kind of the definition of the word.

Yes I will, b/c God has told me in great detail.

Uh, no. Think of it this way: you could explain what the colour red looked like to a blind person by telling them that a rose is red, blood is red, and so on; but they can never actually know what red looks like.

This is the same case if all you can rely on for morality is somebody (in this case, God - or more precisely his sole representative on earth, Alan) telling you what it is. You'll "understand" it in the sense of being able to recite what you've been told, but you won't "understand" it in the sense of internalizing it. As I said before, you're stuck at the pre-conventional stage of Kohlberg's moral framework.

Rhology said...

a) whose suffering is greater and b) whose suffering is less "justified".

1) How do you know it comes down to that? Make an argument. Don't make naked assertions.
2) How do you justify suffering? On what basis?
3) Why is it the case that whose suffering is greater is the deciding factor?

And also, why are you so utterly dismissive of emotion?

Let me reflect this back at you a bit.
Someone knocks on your door and tells you they REALLY TRULY FEEL IN THEIR HEART that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that Joseph Smith is the prophet of God. How do you react to that?

you could explain what the colour red ...never actually know what red looks like.

Except that, on Christianity, God explains it in such a way that it is meaningful and communicative to humans.

And I call strawman - I'm not nor have ever claimed to be God's sole rep on earth. You're not doing well so far.

Paul C said...

1) I know that, and that's a point against what the EMA does.

Then is there a link between the two? If yes, you appear to be arguing that empathy does in fact provide a basis for a moral response. This is the opposite of what you wanted, so you might reconsider.

2) Not necessarily, the word is there to remove all doubt of the viscerally horrible nature of the action.

Whether their deaths were gratuitous or not would be irrelevant to whether the action was viscerally horrible. McVeigh clearly believed that their deaths will not be gratuitous; but for anybody who believes that their deaths would be gratuitous, this would automatically answer the question of who to empathise with. Congratulations! You've just neutered your own argument.

3) So what? Why should empathy for the victim be the deciding factor for my morality?

It's not a question of whether it "should" - it either does or it doesn't. In my case, it does; in your case, it doesn't. I'd rather be me than you; but irrelevant of that, it might be worth reflecting for a moment on the value our society places on people who do "good" deeds because of this sort of empathetic response.

Now I've answered quite a few questions - hows about you start interacting with my points?

I have "interacted" with your points, as anybody reading the comments above can see. If I've missed any, let me know and I'll be happy to address them.

My primary point is this: you want to dismiss empathy as the basis of moral responses, but you can't formulate an argument to make this point which does not rely on empathy.

My secondary point is this: nearly all moral responses are predicated on empathy, and other justifications (including your religious sense) are usually post hoc justifications, not causes themselves.

Rhology said...

It's not a question of whether it "should" - it either does or it doesn't.

Good deal - confusing IS with OUGHT again. I even warned you in advance of walking into this trap in the post and you've done it on your 4th comment! Gotta be more careful.

If "interaction" to you means not addressing the main questions I'm asking, then yes, you've interacted with my points.

Paul C said...

1) How do you know it comes down to that? Make an argument. Don't make naked assertions. 2) How do you justify suffering? On what basis? 3) Why is it the case that whose suffering is greater is the deciding factor?

1) What do you mean, "how do I know"? You've said that both parties are suffering. In a utilitarian framework (which I roughly but not precisely subscribe to in this argument) the question becomes one of whose suffering is greater, which in this instance is obvious.

2) There is a secondary question of whose suffering is less "justified" - this is analogous to the "gratuitous" nature of that suffering which you have already referenced, so it's clear that you already know exaclty what is meant by "justification" in this context and agree with it.

3) See question 1.

Someone knocks on your door and tells you they REALLY TRULY FEEL IN THEIR HEART that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that Joseph Smith is the prophet of God. How do you react to that?

I have literally no reaction to that at all in the moral sense, which is what we are discussing here.

In any case, what you are describing here is not an emotion - it's a belief. They are different things.

Except that, on Christianity, God explains it in such a way that it is meaningful and communicative to humans.

Apparently not, since a) they keep getting it wrong (by your own admission, I should add) and b) not everybody agrees with you (me, for example).

And I call strawman - I'm not nor have ever claimed to be God's sole rep on earth.

It wasn't a strawman, it was a reference to your arrogance.

Paul C said...

Good deal - confusing IS with OUGHT again. I even warned you in advance of walking into this trap in the post and you've done it on your 4th comment! Gotta be more careful.

O Unreflecting Chump, you really should read more carefully. Empathy is a purely internal matter; it's only once you act on that empathy (or not) that it becomes a moral question.

So empathy provides us with the basis for turning Is into Ought - indeed, it's the only thing that can, since all moral questions are questions of interactions between entities.

Can I suggest something to you? You're clearly not a stupid man - you should try thinking about these things yourself instead of parroting the books in your class. I say this in a supportive way, honestly.

If "interaction" to you means not addressing the main questions I'm asking, then yes, you've interacted with my points.

Please point me to where I've missed the "main questions" and I'll happily answer them. As far as I can tell, I've answered each question that you've put me.

Rhology said...

So empathy provides us with the basis for turning Is into Ought - indeed, it's the only thing that can, since all moral questions are questions of interactions between entities.

Provide an argument.
Then provide an argument for why we should have more empathy for the innocent victim than the criminal.

Then provide an argument why this sense of empathy should lead us to action on behalf of the person for whom we feel the most empathy vs the person with whom we feel the most.

My class? I'm not in a class at this time.

Go back into the post and find all the question marks. There are sentences preceding them - those are questions. Answer them.

Paul C said...

Provide an argument.

I feel something in response to another's suffering. What ought I do on the basis of that response? Thus the internal feeling (the is) is the basis of the external action (the ought). I challenge you to define any basis for the external action that does not begin with an internal feeling - a single example will falsify my claim.

I should also point out at this time that you are not in discussion with somebody who subscribes to the is/ought dichotomy.

Then provide an argument for why we should have more empathy for the innocent victim than the criminal.

"Victim"? "Criminal"? You've just answered your own question - the argument is loaded in the values of the very words you're using! The only question is who we perceive as the victim and criminal - that might get interesting if you follow it up.

Then provide an argument why this sense of empathy should lead us to action on behalf of the person for whom we feel the most empathy vs the person with whom we feel the most.

Errr... what? I'm having difficulty telling the difference between these two.

Go back into the post and find all the question marks. There are sentences preceding them - those are questions. Answer them.

Gotcha. In this thread, you're going for patronising as well as arrogant. And all for Jesus!

Rhology said...

Thus the internal feeling (the is) is the basis of the external action (the ought).

But why? You just keep repeating yourself over and over. You're worse than Martin.


I should also point out at this time that you are not in discussion with somebody who subscribes to the is/ought dichotomy.

So much the worse for your position then.


"Victim"? "Criminal"? You've just answered your own question - the argument is loaded in the values of the very words you're using!

Repeating yourself. Make the argument that we should help the victim rather than the criminal.
Start from scratch. Prove that you have a leg to stand on. Stop making so many assumptions when those assumptions are under question. You're begging the question left and right.


Errr... what? I'm having difficulty telling the difference between these two.

Yeah, it's like an alegbra equation. I'll plug in values for x and y. ;-D
Tell me why I should have more empathy for the victim than for the criminal.
Then tell me, assuming you can prove that, why I should then act in favor of the victim (for whom I have more empathy) than the criminal (for whom I have less).

Paul C said...

You asked precisely two questions in the original post, as far as I can see:

You now have a choice - exercise empathy for the innocents and children inside the building and disarm the bomb and apprehend McVeigh, or exercise empathy for McVeigh rather than for the innocents and children inside the building?

It's not really a question, more part of the scenario. However I believe that we're in the process of discussing that one, so I'm not sure why you think I haven't answered it.

But that is a SHOULD statement. The EMA is begging the very question at hand - with whom SHOULD we have empathy? The criminal or the victim? Why SHOULD we label "harming another person" as "bad"?

This is a cluster, but it's all aspects of one question really. I believe that I've already answered the first part - you can't define who you "should" have empathy with, because that's not what empathy means or how it works.

The second part - "Why SHOULD we label "harming another person" as "bad"? - doesn't really follow on from the first part. However it also seems to misunderstand the nature of empathy - people do usually find hurting other people without justification to be bad. Your question should really be, what justifications are valid from a moral perspective, no?

So you had two, possibly three questions. It certainly made you very anxious.

Paul C said...

But why? You just keep repeating yourself over and over.

What do you mean, why? Can humans act without some incidence of internal processing first? No. Thus, the internal feeling is the basis of the external action. Why is this so hard for you to grasp?

Make the argument that we should help the victim rather than the criminal.

I'm not repeating myself, it's just you don't seem to be able to parse your own use of language. The word "victim" answers the question that you have posed. Try posing it using words other than "victim" and "criminal" (which are moral loads in themselves) and you might be more successful. (I'm not sure that you'll be able to, but I'd be interested to see anyway.)

Tell me why I should have more empathy for the victim than for the criminal.

There is no reason why you "should" have more empathy for the victim than for the criminal; you either do or you don't. As I said at the beginning, you don't seem to understand what empathy means or what it involves.

Then tell me, assuming you can prove that, why I should then act in favor of the victim (for whom I have more empathy) than the criminal (for whom I have less).

There's no should involved - you either will or you won't. As I said, you're not arguing with somebody who has much time for is / ought, or subscribes to the concept of "moral thoughts".

agnostiChicagOkie said...

Morality must remain pre-conventional, in Kohlberg's terms, because otherwise there is no selfish interest to fulfill.

Seriously, though, is there another way to get from is to ought? You ought to do X because E is going to reward you if you do and/or punish you otherwise.

'E' can be the lawgiver in the sky or your own sense of conscience, but either way the ultimate logic is the same.

Empathy or Elohim, selfish motives either way.

Rhology said...

You ought to do X because E is going to reward you if you do and/or punish you otherwise.

Overly simplistic, strawman. You can see my linked-to discussion of Christian morality.

Kyle said...

Paul C,

"What do you mean, why? Can humans act without some incidence of internal processing first? No. Thus, the internal feeling is the basis of the external action. Why is this so hard for you to grasp?"

I don't think that is where the problem lies. No one disputes that desires preceed action. The yet unanswered question for you is why should *Rho* act based on *your* sense of empathy, especially if his sense is not in agreement with yours? You have no foundation for prescribing what someone else OUGHT to do. All you have done is said what you would do based on your feeling of empathy. Is it your position that the policeman in Rho's example should/should not help Timothy McVeigh escape because *he* feels more empathy for TM than the innocent children in the buildings?

Kyle said...

Paul C,

Also, SHOULD you do want you feel empathy for? You may feel empathy for innocents and you may feel like having a cheeseburger. Is it any less moral to eat a cheeseburger instead of helping innocents?

Paul C said...

Kyle: We can count ourselves lucky that somebody here can frame a question.

No one disputes that desires preceed action.

Actually I do in some (actually, many) cases, but that's another story for another blog.

The yet unanswered question for you is why should *Rho* act based on *your* sense of empathy, especially if his sense is not in agreement with yours?

He shouldn't, or - to be more precise - he won't. I find the word "should" almost meaningless, and I think you do as well - you just don't realise it.

You have no foundation for prescribing what someone else OUGHT to do.

That's right. That's why I don't prescribe what other people ought to do. (Interestingly, however, I do work to change people's minds about what they will do.)

All you have done is said what you would do based on your feeling of empathy.

I haven't said a single word about what I would do.

Is it your position that the policeman in Rho's example should/should not help Timothy McVeigh escape because *he* feels more empathy for TM than the innocent children in the buildings?

The policeman will help the children in the building if that's what he does. If he does, it's probably because he feels empathy for the children and because it's in his job description.

Also, SHOULD you do want you feel empathy for? You may feel empathy for innocents and you may feel like having a cheeseburger. Is it any less moral to eat a cheeseburger instead of helping innocents?

As with Rhology, you don't seem to understand what empathy is or how it works. In addition, comparing "eating a cheeseburger" to "helping innocents" suggests that you have a degraded understanding of how the human mind works in general.

p.s. Can I also suggest that, if you find my answers unsatisfactory, it might be because you're asking the wrong questions about the world?

Rhology said...

Yes, clearly asking whether we should feed children or bomb them is the wrong question.

Paul C said...

While I may appear glib, there's a genuinely interesting discussion here. I find the question of morality both difficult and fascinating.

Yes, clearly asking whether we should feed children or bomb them is the wrong question.

Yes, it may well be, but that's not what I was talking about. I was referring more to your assumption, which is that there is a "should" to be stated in these cases.

Rhology said...

If I met you face to face on the street, would you prefer that I consider what I should do to you, say hi and shake your hand or kill you and mutilate your corpse, or would you prefer I just do whatever my gut happens to tell me at the time?

Paul C said...

If I met you face to face on the street, would you prefer that I consider what I should do to you, say hi and shake your hand or kill you and mutilate your corpse, or would you prefer I just do whatever my gut happens to tell me at the time?

That's exactly my point. I have a preference, but I don't see how that preference translates into a meaningful "should". I have almost no way of communicating my preference to you, and my preference exerts almost no influence over your actions, so what does it mean in practical terms for me to say what you "should" do? Absolutely none, as far as I can tell.

When you say somebody "should" do something - in moral terms - what do you mean, exactly?

Paul C said...

Actually, now that I think about it, I'm not sure that I do have a "preference" about how you act. You'll do what you do, and I'll respond how I respond. Any moral reflections are likely to come some time later - and almost all of your available choices for action are morally neutral in any case. Hmmm.

Rhology said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rhology said...

oops...



When you say somebody "should" do something - in moral terms - what do you mean, exactly?
that link that says "I've discussed the Christian answer to that question before", see the answer there.

I'm not sure that I do have a "preference" about how you act.

What possible confidence could anyone have about your ability to parse moral questions like this one when you claim you have no preference whether I kill you vs give you $1000?

You are either intentionally argumentative and intellectually dishonest or a wack job.

Paul C said...

that link that says "I've discussed the Christian answer to that question before", see the answer there.

I couldn't find any point in that post where you defined what you meant by "should". Could you restate it please?

What possible confidence could anyone have about your ability to parse moral questions like this one when you claim you have no preference whether I kill you vs give you $1000?

Well, you'd try to kill me, and I'd try to stop you; you'd try to give me $1000 and I'd try to stop you. Both of these are actions, but I'm not sure that either of them are preferences, except in the sense that it would be easier for me to stop you from giving me $1000.

What I meant was that I'm not sure how meaningful it is to talk about "preference" in this context, but I might just be using the word differently to you. Over things I have no foreknowledge of and no control over, the idea of a "preference" makes no sense at all to me.

You are either intentionally argumentative and intellectually dishonest or a wack job.

Just because somebody thinks differently to you doesn't make them a "wack job".

agnostiChicagOkie said...

I should follow divine commands because ... ???

Looked at your older post and didn't find an answer that would motivate one to give a flying squirrel's buttock.

Why should even Xn's follow divine commands, other than the alleged threats and promises supposedly passed on from those thought to be prophets? How do you get beyond the pre-conventional stage while keeping people motivated to care about these objective rules of which you speak?

Rhology said...

...b/c they are good, they are the right thing to do. And b/c they are loving to the Creator, Who lovingly created you, loved you before you were even created, and lovingly sent His Son to die in your place even though He knew you would be His enemy for many years.

The arguments in the post stand completely unrefuted, barely even interacted with - I see less than no reason to divert the topic to motivation, as you have done in your comment.

Paul C said...

The arguments in the post stand completely unrefuted, barely even interacted with - I see less than no reason to divert the topic to motivation, as you have done in your comment.

That's right, none of my comments count as "interaction". My answers to both of the questions in your post, and all subsequent don't count as "interaction". My questions as I attempt to clarify and contrast our positions don't count as "interaction".

What exactly does constitute interaction in your book, Rhology?

Rhology said...

Actually answering things on topic. In fact, you've introduced whole tangents into the discussion, such as your messed-up ideas that there is no is/ought distinction, that empathy is the cause of behavior, etc.

You made up your own blogpost pretty much. This post is aimed at what it's aimed at. I've followed the rabbit trail long enough for today.

Paul C said...

Actually answering things on topic.

As far as I can tell, every single one of my answers has been on topic, since they were in response to your questions. It's just that you don't like those answers, although you don't seem to be able to articulate why.

In fact, you've introduced whole tangents into the discussion, such as your messed-up ideas that there is no is/ought distinction, that empathy is the cause of behavior, etc.

Every single one of these "tangents" has been in response to questions from yourself or Kyle. If you didn't want answers to your questions, then you shouldn't have asked those questions in the first place. If my ideas are indeed "messed-up", it should be child's play for you to refute them.

agnostiChicagOkie said...

We should do what is right and good because it is right and good? That sounds okay in theory, I suppose, but in reality people require incentives, like heaven/hell, or at least happy meals or something. You've not managed to get from your 'is' to your 'ought' yet. Even supposing it is right, good, and loving to heed divine commands, why OUGHT we care?

agnostiChicagOkie said...

I find it odd that you hope to discuss morality apart from motivation. What possible good can come from moral rules unless people know them and try to follow them?

Suppose 'do not let a witch live' is an absolute moral command, objectively true throughout time and space. What good does is do if people done know that, or just don't care?

agnostiChicagOkie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
agnostiChicagOkie said...

Spelling errors aside, here are a few thoughts on subjective vs. objective morality. In short, I think we are all more-or-less burned when it comes to telling others what they ought to do and why.

Rhology said...

What possible good can come from moral rules unless people know them and try to follow them?

Human beings are models, by and large, of inconsistency. The question of "how do we get people to do or to desire to do what is right?" is totally separate from the question "what is right?"
In addition, it's meaningless if there is no "right" to begin with.

Also, if you're telling me you think the question of "what is right?" is meaningless or not worth discussing, then I'd suggest a few things:
1) You're a scary individual. No one, including yourself, has any guarantee that you won't one day decide to change your behavior drastically and become a threat to society. You might rape, kill, and pillage. You might bomb. Or you might become a Christian. None of it is "right" nor "wrong", so what would it matter?
2) If you're telling me you never, in your own mind, weigh the question of what is right and wrong before doing it, I'd find that virtually impossible to believe.
3) Why even blog? More specifically, why engage in controversies over moral questions as you're doing now? This is highly inconsistent of you.

agnostiChicagOkie said...

1) If you think some people are scary, you should be at least as concerned with answering the question "why be moral" as the question "what is moral" don't you think?

In may be entirely possible to motivate many people to act upon a set of shared moral norms (e.g. "do not murder") even though they disagree about the philosophical underpinnigs and subjective motivations for morality in theory.

p.s. Speakin of scary people, would you personally kill your child if God told you to do so?

Rhology said...

That question is like "Can Jesus microwave a burrito so hot that He can't eat it?"

God wouldn't do so. God has proscribed murder. If I were convinced it were God commanding me to do so, I would be wrong.

Abraham was commanded to offer Isaac as a sacrifice, though Abraham evidently thought it either wouldn't go thru or God would raise Isaac from the dead. The actual command was to create a type, a foreshadow, of Jesus Christ, but no more types nor foreshadowings of Christ are being made, since He already came.

Now, my turn - on what basis or bases do you not kill your child (if you have one) or wife (if you have one) or best friend, whatever, besides not wanting to go to prison and not wanting to be deprived of their company?

agnostiChicagOkie said...

2) I weigh the probable outcomes and effects of my actions upon myself, my family, friends, community, etc. against my own preferred outcomes.

I do not question whether my actions are approved by Zeus, Yahweh, Xenu, Wotan, Vishnu, etc.

agnostiChicagOkie said...

3) Blogging is fun! What more reason does one require?

Paul C said...

If I were convinced it were God commanding me to do so, I would be wrong.

On what basis could you tell that you were wrong? Your explicit position is that the only way to know what is right and wrong is through God. You're now telling us that if you were convinced that God were commanding you to murder a child, it would be wrong. On what basis would you be able to demonstrate that it was wrong to your hypothetical evil future self?

Rhology said...

Proof is not the same as persuasion, as has been demonstrated on this blog hundreds of times.

God does not lie nor change His mind. Murder is sin, and He does not command that we sin. If I thought He did command me to sin, that would be my problem.

Paul C said...

Answer the question, Rhology. On what basis would you persuade this hypothetical evil future self that they were wrong? The question of whether your efforts at persuasion turn out to be successful is irrelevant.

Let's imagine that you meet with your hypothetical evil future self on the way to the mountain with his son, and he tells you what's going on. What would you say to him?

Rhology said...

I would tell him just that. God has commanded that murder is wrong. God doesn't lie nor vacillate on sin.

Paul C said...

So you would have stopped Abraham going up to the mountain to sacrifice his son despite the fact that this was what God had explicitly commanded him to do. Apparently your basis for doing so would be that your legalistic approach to Christianity trumps his personal experience of talking directly with God.

So your blically-determined sense of right and wrong does not in fact come from God - since in Abraham's case, God's instruction has been explicit - but from yourself. This is, of course, in direct contradiction to what you've previously claimed.

(Bear in mind that it's irrelevant what the actual outcome of Abraham's binding of Isaac eventually was - at the stage when you meet him, neither you or he can know what the outcome will be.)

Rhology said...

Oh, so now you're all about moving the goalposts. You asked about my future self and now you're asking about Abraham.

Which do you want to know?
Oh never mind, I told you abuot the future self twice already. Abraham did not have a full self-revelation of God the way that we do today. And as I've already said above, Abraham was commanded to offer Isaac as a sacrifice, though Abraham evidently thought it either wouldn't go thru or God would raise Isaac from the dead. The actual command was to create a type, a foreshadow, of Jesus Christ, but no more types nor foreshadowings of Christ are being made, since He already came.

Now, my turn (this is for you too, Paul C) - on what basis or bases do you not kill your child (if you have one) or wife (if you have one) or best friend, whatever, besides not wanting to go to prison and not wanting to be deprived of their company?

Paul C said...

Oh, so now you're all about moving the goalposts.

No, I haven't moved any goalposts. The two cases are exactly analagous.

Abraham did not have a full self-revelation of God the way that we do today.

Evidence for this claim, please.

And as I've already said above, Abraham was commanded to offer Isaac as a sacrifice, though Abraham evidently thought it either wouldn't go thru or God would raise Isaac from the dead.

Evidence for this claim, please.

The actual command was to create a type, a foreshadow, of Jesus Christ

Of course, at the time Abraham could not have known this, so it's entirely irrelevant to the actual question that you've been asked. On what basis would you try to persuade Abraham not to sacrifice Isaac, and why?

On what basis or bases do you not kill your child (if you have one) or wife (if you have one) or best friend, whatever, besides not wanting to go to prison and not wanting to be deprived of their company?

I could not care less about going to prison, nor does it bother me about being deprived of people's company; therefore neither of these factors has any relevance. My personal lack of an unrestrained killing spree can be attributed to three main factors, in descending order of importance:

1. The instinctive aversion to killing which operates in most (although not all) humans.

2. Nature and nurture: I instinctively avoid killing, and was brought up to value life.

3. My personal moral code, which prohibits killing (and to a lesser extent, violence).

Everybody is capable of killing, and I have no illusions that in the right circumstances I would be capable as well; luckily for most, the "right" circumstances come up relatively rarely.

Rhology said...

THey're not analogous b/c of what I just said - we know what is moral and immoral based on God's character and the extent to which He reveals it. I have more info than Ab had; the evidence is that I have both OT and NT and all Ab had was God's appearing to speak with him.

Ab didn't think it would go thru - see Gen 22 and the recounting of the event. Ab says "God Himself will provide the lamb for the offering, my son."
Ab had faith that God could raise the dead - see Heb 11.

On what basis would you try to persuade Abraham not to sacrifice Isaac, and why?

I wouldn't and couldn't, b/c I wasn't there.
If you're asking what would I do if I were transported back in time, knowing what I know now, I wouldn't try to dissuade him at all. FOr one thing, Isaac ended up just fine, if you recall.

1. The instinctive aversion to killing which operates in most (although not all) humans.

Yes, not all. And there's apparently no way to know whether they're right not to have that aversion or whether you're right to have it.

2. Nature and nurture: I instinctively avoid killing, and was brought up to value life.

So apparently if you'd been taught to kill, it'd be all better.

3. My personal moral code, which prohibits killing (and to a lesser extent, violence).

Which is apparently based on nothing more than your emotional state.
IOW, your reasons are as transient as your psyche and there's no reason to think they'd be binding on anyone else.

Paul C said...

THey're not analogous b/c of what I just said - we know what is moral and immoral based on God's character and the extent to which He reveals it.

They're precisely analogous irrelevant of how much you know of God's character. Either it's morally wrong to kill your own son just because you think God told you to, or it isn't. If you make it contingent on the amount of information available, then you've just successfully argued that morality is relative - well done!

Apparently a personal appearance and direct instruction from God means that Abraham has less evidence than you about what God wants. If you don't see the flaw in your argument here, then there is little hope for a rational debate with you.

Ab didn't think it would go thru - see Gen 22 and the recounting of the event. Ab says "God Himself will provide the lamb for the offering, my son."

I think you'll find that he was desperately trying to avoid freaking his kid out by telling him that he was about to ritually slaughter him. (Parents are funny that way.) If Abraham did not fully intend to kill Isaac - which he could only do if he fully expected to kill Isaac - then the entire sequence of events is rendered meaningless. I realise that you disagree with this argument, but luckily your views on the matter aren't relevant in this case.

If you're asking what would I do if I were transported back in time, knowing what I know now, I wouldn't try to dissuade him at all. FOr one thing, Isaac ended up just fine, if you recall.

You aren't able to cope with this level of imagination, so let's just leave this example. I'll try and think of something easier to understand next time.

Paul C said...

And there's apparently no way to know whether they're right not to have that aversion or whether you're right to have it.

They either have that aversion or they don't - where does "right" come into it?

So apparently if you'd been taught to kill, it'd be all better.

What do you mean in this context by "better"?

Which is apparently based on nothing more than your emotional state.

No, it's based on my reflection on the nature of human life and has no basis in my emotional state.

IOW, your reasons are as transient as your psyche and there's no reason to think they'd be binding on anyone else.

My reasons appear to be stable enough to have survived pretty much unchanged for many years, and they're not binding on anybody else because nobody else is me. Do you have a point?

agnostiChicagOkie said...

Are you saying Jesus cannot microwave a burrito so hot that he couldn’t eat it? Even I can do that. In point of fact, I have done that. Surely an incarnation of deity is at least as capable of burning the roof of his mouth as we humans are.

Anyway, you said it's your turn to ask a question, but it seems that you’ve yet to answer mine. Allow me to rephrase and restate:

IF you were fully convinced that God ordered you to sacrifice your firstborn - WOULD YOU OBEY?

I’ve made it a YES or NO question, so it should only take a few seconds to bang out an answer on the keyboard. Answer that, and I'll be perfectly happy to answer your question, which is surely a bit more involved.

agnostiChicagOkie said...

God does not...change His mind. This explains why good Xn's don't work on the Sabbath, make graven images, or eat pork. Oh, wait...

Murder is sin, and He does not command that we sin. Tell it to the Amalekites. Oh, wait...

Rhology said...

Paul C said:
They're precisely analogous irrelevant of how much you know of God's character.

Argument?


Either it's morally wrong to kill your own son just because you think God told you to, or it isn't.

Remember, you're engaging in an internal critique of Christianity.
It's moral to obey God and immoral to disobey Him. Just b/c He may not give you all the information up front doesn't mean He's somehow wrong to do what He does. Abraham apparently didn't mind for the 2 reasons I explained already - why get all offended when you weren't even there?
Paul apparently believes that God either needs to tell me exhaustively everythg I need to do for the rest of my life, every second, or He's immoral. But on Christianity, God has the right to call us to serve Him any way He sees fit. To call Abraham to go up to the point of killing one's child (whereupon said child is immediately saved) is just fine.
And remember, Abraham did not have the full revelation I have today whereby I know that God abhors murder. If "He" told me to do the same today, the (for lack of a better word) surprise value would be lost since I'd know such wouldn't go thru.


I think you'll find that he was desperately trying to avoid freaking his kid out by telling him that he was about to ritually slaughter him.

How would I "find" that?
How long have you been capable of mind-reading dead people? Especially when Hebrews 11 tells us exactly what Ab was thinking?


If Abraham did not fully intend to kill Isaac - which he could only do if he fully expected to kill Isaac

I agree with that to an extent. Ab obviously believed God would somehow miraculously intervene.


They either have that aversion or they don't - where does "right" come into it?

That's a great question.
Is it OK to apply the same to the question of whether it's OK for Joe Blow to rape and murder YOUR family?

What do you mean in this context by "better"?

Exactly.


it's based on my reflection on the nature of human life

As an atheist, humanity is blobs of molecules in motion, bits of protoplasm, evolved monkeys. What else did you have in mind?



agnostiChicagOkie said...
Are you saying Jesus cannot microwave a burrito so hot that he couldn’t eat it?

Yes. God can do anything that is possible. It's possible to say things that are impossible in real life, just like it's possible to express the idea of Hilbert's Hotel without it being actually possible to accomplish or construct.


Surely an incarnation of deity is at least as capable of burning the roof of his mouth as we humans are.

You do realise that God the Father is immaterial, don't you?
And Christ's body is glorified, physical, but w/o vulnerability to physical things like heat.


IF you were fully convinced that God ordered you to sacrifice your firstborn - WOULD YOU OBEY?

Seems I misunderstood, so sorry about that.
This is irrelevant to our discussion, but I guess it's possible I would indeed do so, yes.
It's irrelevant b/c it doesn't touch whether I'd be justified in doing so, but if I"m fully convinced of sthg and have the means to do it, then it's probable I'll carry it out.


God does not...change His mind. This explains why good Xn's don't work on the Sabbath, make graven images, or eat pork. Oh, wait...

Dealt with that some time ago.


Murder is sin, and He does not command that we sin. Tell it to the Amalekites. Oh, wait...

This seems to be an internal critique.
Do you know what murder is? It's unjustified taking of human life.
We are all sinners, God is the judge. He is justified in taking human life whenever He wants. You're complaining b/c you think you've received more mercy than others, when in reality the Amalekites had 100s of yrs to repent and just kept getting worse.

Peace,
Rhology

Paul C said...

Argument?

Capacity for moral judgment cannot be based on an arbitrary factor such as the year that one was born. Either an action is morally wrong throughout history, or it is not. If it is morally wrong throughout history then Abraham must have exactly the same capacity as you for moral judgment. If it is not morally wrong throughout history then God allows for morality to shift over time. Take your pick.

It's moral to obey God and immoral to disobey Him.

Fine - you have answered my question. It is not morally wrong to kill your child if God tells you to do it. Your argument has now changed so that individual actions are neither moral or immoral - the only question is obedience.

Paul apparently believes that God either needs to tell me exhaustively everythg I need to do for the rest of my life, every second, or He's immoral.

No. Paul has neither said or implied that. Paul would appreciate it if you stopped lying in every single comment that you make.

How long have you been capable of mind-reading dead people? Especially when Hebrews 11 tells us exactly what Ab was thinking?

I can't mind-read dead people. However I have had the pleasure of meeting many live people, and I assume that those dead people thought in similar ways to those live people.

As usual with your references, Hebrews 11 appear to have literally nothing to say about what Abraham was thinking. Any clarification would be welcome.

Is it OK to apply the same to the question of whether it's OK for Joe Blow to rape and murder YOUR family?

I have literally no idea what you mean here. What do you mean, "apply the same"?

Incidentally, you were the one who originally used the word "better" in this context. So when I ask you to clarify what you mean and you fail to answer, that doesn't mean you've made a point. Answer the question - what do you mean by "better"?

As an atheist, humanity is blobs of molecules in motion, bits of protoplasm, evolved monkeys. What else did you have in mind?

Wow, it seems like only yesterday that you were haranguing me about how I didn't have the right to define what you believe, and how I should debate what you actually believe rather than what I assume you believe. Oh, it was yesterday!

Yet here you are, doing exactly what you instructed me not to. I guess that whole lying for Jesus double standard goes way beyond the lying.

Rhology said...

Capacity for moral judgment cannot be based on an arbitrary factor such as the year that one was born.

1) Argument?
2) How about upon how much info one has?
3) How about on the credibility of the authority figure, and His authority?

Either an action is morally wrong throughout history, or it is not.

You really can't decide which side you want to be on. One time you're denying there is an is/ought distinction, thus everything is IS, the next moment you're making these sweeping moral statements like this one. Make up your mind, please.

Unless you're offering an internal critique, in which case you're half right - following God's command is right at all times for all people in all circumstances. Ab was thus in the right to do what he did.

If it is not morally wrong throughout history then God allows for morality to shift over time.

1) This would only be true if God had not stopped Ab from killing Isaac.
2) But then again, murder is "unjustified killing of a human". If God commands it, it is not unjustified.


Your argument has now changed so that individual actions are neither moral or immoral - the only question is obedience.

Um, it hasn't changed. My position has always been that that which flows out of God's character (part of which is that a human must obey God and that obeying God is the most objective good that there is) is good and right.


Paul would appreciate it if you stopped lying in every single comment that you make.

Now we notice that Paul is slipping into emotional hyperbole.
Paul, I don't mind your comments around here, but you've been getting less and less rational since your 1st comments. Maybe you should take a breather, for your own good.


I can't mind-read dead people.

So you concede the point. Thanks.

However I have had the pleasure of meeting many live people, and I assume that those dead people thought in similar ways to those live people.

You can't offer evidence, so you offer assumptions. I appreciate that admission.


Heb 11

Hbr 11:17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten {son;}
Hbr 11:18 {it was he} to whom it was said, "IN ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS SHALL BE CALLED."
Hbr 11:19 He considered that God is able to raise {people} even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type.

(emph mine)


Is it OK to apply the same to the question - I don't understand

You said: They either have that aversion or they don't - where does "right" come into it?
So it's neither right nor wrong to rape and murder your family?
It's just a matter of someone maybe/maybe not having an aversion to it?
What is this "aversion"? What is your evidence for its existence? Is it immaterial? Are you a materialist? Do you believe an aversion SHOULD be listened to? Why or why not?


So when I ask you to clarify what you mean and you fail to answer, that doesn't mean you've made a point. Answer the question - what do you mean by "better"?

You have proven yourself to be intellectually dishonest more times than I can count over our months of interaction. I don't engage in our banter for you. If you can't figure it out, that's a far better illustration and better use of my time than to rehash what I've said 10 times before.


how I should debate what you actually believe rather than what I assume you believe. Oh, it was yesterday!

So in what way is my illustration qualitatively different than the logical conclusion of what you believe?
You never showed how your restatements had any connection to my beliefs.

Paul C said...

Wow, this is going to be a big comment! But unfortunately not a very exciting comment, since most of it will be stating the obvious. My position: Capacity for moral judgment cannot be based on an arbitrary factor such as the year that one was born.

1) Argument?

Because then moral capacity is arbitrary.

2) How about upon how much info one has?

This is more relevant, so feel free to pursue.

3) How about on the credibility of the authority figure, and His authority?

Authority has no relevance to the capacity for moral judgment.

One time you're denying there is an is/ought distinction, thus everything is IS, the next moment you're making these sweeping moral statements like this one. Make up your mind, please.

I've made my mind up, thanks. It's not a moral statement, but a statement about morality; the difference is important. It's a critique not of Christianity but of anybody who subscribes to the idea of an objective morality.

Unless you're offering an internal critique, in which case you're half right - following God's command is right at all times for all people in all circumstances.

Congratulations, you have just successfully argued that it is impossible to say if an individual action is right or wrong.

Hbr 11:19 He considered that God is able to raise {people} even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type.

Suffice to say that there are significant differences in the way that different people interpret these events, to the extent that I cannot take your interpretation to be definitive.

So it's neither right nor wrong to rape and murder your family? It's just a matter of someone maybe/maybe not having an aversion to it?

As I have said previously, I avoid the labels right and wrong. If somebody tries to rape and murder my family, I will try to stop them. The question of whether they have the aversion or not is not a question of right or wrong; it's a matter of fact. I think I see what you're trying to ask, but you're asking it in such an inept and roundabout way that I don't want to make any assumptions.

What is this "aversion"? What is your evidence for its existence?

Start with "On Killing" by David Grossman. Here's an introduction article if you can't find the book itself.

Is it immaterial?

It's psychological.

Are you a materialist?

No.

Do you believe an aversion SHOULD be listened to?

You don't "listen to" an aversion; you either have it or you don't.

You have proven yourself to be intellectually dishonest more times than I can count over our months of interaction.

You will not be able to produce a single example to support this assertion. Or possibly this is just a coded way of telling us that you can't count.

So in what way is my illustration qualitatively different than the logical conclusion of what you believe?

1. I believe that humans are composed of molecules, but I assume that you do as well, so this accusation is not against atheists.
2. I don't believe that humans are "bits of protoplasm" (although we do contain protoplasm), so this accusation is false.
3. I don't believe that humans are "evolved monkeys", so this accusation is false.

In this way, your "illustration" - or, as I like to call it, "lie" - clearly bears almost no relation to what I believe.