Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Inconsistency and circularity as ethic

For those interested in the Jason Streitfeld saga, it's been going hot and heavy over at the Triablogue, mostly along the lines of the topics of materialism and its epistemology, Jason's laughable "reasons" for disaffirming the Bible as a good source of moral judgments, and Jason's simply ignorant assertion that the term "God" as in "the God of the Bible" is incoherent and unexplained by Christians.
In chronological order:
The really long initial thread
Slightly shorter, subsequent thread
The still-ongoing slightly-summarised thread

In my humble opinion, it's not going well for Jason, but of course anyone can see for himself.

Today I'd like to discuss a few serious problems with Jason's morality as he's been expressing it.


1) He tells us that evidence and reason lead us to see morality as a social contract.
Then he tells us that the social contractually-agreed-upon morality is to act in accord with evidence and reason.
Then he tells us that evidence and reason lead us to see morality as a social contract.
Etc.
All this in response to the never-ending "Why ought I follow the morality you espouse?" question that I ask. He directs us to circular claims. I fail to see why this should impress.



2) I've asked him many times WHY I should follow the social contract. His position amounts to "IF you want this, then this". It is goal-oriented. First choose the goal (ie, a stable society) (or he begs the question by assuming that being nice to people or something similar is a good and laudable goal), then figure out, rationally, using evidence, how to attain that goal.
Problem - morality is supposed to inform what we desire as well as what we do. So where and how does his position inform that?
Maybe he'd make another IF-THEN statement along those lines. Fine. Where does his position inform that?
It's an infinite regress.
Where does it end? With faith in his self-derived, question-begging, fundamental moral presuppositions. It's not based on "evidence" or "rational process" at all. Down the toilet go his lofty proclamations of a purely reason-based morality.


3) He speaks of morality as basically a social contract. I've asked him before how he knows what the contract is; who signed it; if no one signed it, how he knows who agreed to it; how one agrees to it; what % of the population is required before it's a contract; etc. I've as yet gotten no answer.

4) Jason's explicitly-affirmed worldview is materialism. Thus, one would reasonably expect the social contract to be material. Where is it located? Is it written down? Who wrote it? Where can it be examined? Of what is it composed? What grade of paper and what tone of ink were used?
Or is it conceptual? How is a concept "material"?

5) From this comment of Jason's, I answer:

if our interest in the world is not justified by something else, then our interest cannot be the foundation for a moral system.

1) But WHY SHOULD my interest in the world be the foundation? I'm looking for a good REASON for that.
2) You may have noticed, if you ever read the news, that disparate interests exist in diff people. Somali pirates' interest is in stealing oil tankers. OPEC doesn't want them to.
Phred Felps wants to picket dead soldiers' funerals and announce that they are certain that said soldiers are burning in Hell, while the families don't want them to.
I accuse aborticians of murder, while pro-baby-murder activists think I'm a dangerous freaky fundamentalist that should be silenced.
So who's right and how do we know? Each is expressing his interest.


You are working under the assumption that moral questions must be answerable by some standard which is "good" in itself, without reference to any particular set of interests.

You have forgotten that you yourself take the same assumption - namely, that referring morality to a particular set of interests is good in itself. The difference between us is that I've thought my position (and yours) out to their logical conclusions, and you're only halfway there.


you say God is a moral authority because God's interests are Good in themselves. why should I accept that, especially since (as you know) the term "God" is incoherently defined?

1) On Christianity, He is.
On atheism, there is no moral authority at all, so...
2) Your claim about God's incoherent definition is being pwnd over at the Triablogue. Have you ever heard the term "systematic theology"? I can recommend a decent primer. Far more ink has been spilled on the topic of God's definition than has ever been on your novel idea of materialism.


The very idea of "good in itself" is incoherent, because it admits of no frame of reference.

I presume, then, that "our interest as foundation for a moral system" is not good at all.
What good (pardon the pun) is it, then?


For you, morality is just playing by God's rules.

No, read my post on the topic again. I reserve the right to correct you when you misstate my position, and you certainly have.


morality is aiming for the most justifiable position available.

Which is apparently not good, though, according to what you said above. How about that? A morality devoid of any judgment on what is good and bad. Sounds suspiciously like no morality at all.


You ask me to just assume, hypothetically, that Christianity were true.

You have demonstrated over and over again your inability to understand the difference between internal and external critique.
I am firmly convinced that atheism is founded on incoherency, but that doesn't stop ME from making internal critiques of it. All I can do is link to the post that explains it and hope that someday you'll get it.


You may as well ask me to temporarily suppose that "in blue ambulatory with massage and purple mustang, although not, and entirely because" were true.


Funny - that's exactly the kind of thinking that we're left with if we take your position on the laws of logic.

35 comments:

NAL said...

Rho:
How is a concept "material"?

A concept is derived from the electro-chemical reactions that occur in the brain.

Rhology said...

The laws of logic are conceptual. I suppose you would say that the laws of identity and of non-contradiction were thus not in force before there were minds. So before humans evolved into humans (this is an internal critique), it was both the case that evolution was occurring and the case that evolution was not occurring.
Light existed and didn't exist. So did the earth.
I don't know if that's your best play on this question.

NAL said...

Rho:
The laws of logic are conceptual.

Then a conceptualizer is required.

Rho:
I suppose you would say that the laws of identity and of non-contradiction were thus not in force before there were minds.

I would say that those concepts require a conceptualizer. This conceptualizer can certainly be material and hence, these concepts are material.

Rho:
Light existed and didn't exist. So did the earth.

What?

Rhology said...

And what about before there were conceptualisers?

(Of course, God is the fundamental conceptualiser, so...)


What?

The laws of logic didn't exist at the time, remember?

Paul C said...

I doubt that this will help you to understand what NAL is trying to say, but what colour is the leaf of a tree when there's nobody there to look at it?

Rhology said...

Um, same color as it is when someone IS looking at it?

NAL said...

Rho:
And what about before there were conceptualisers?

Without conceptualizers, there can be no concepts.

Rho:
(Of course, God is the fundamental conceptualiser, so...)

I believe that God is the concept and your are the conceptualizer.

Jason Streitfeld said...

No time to get into things heavily. I only read the beginning this post, however, and noticed something wrong with the very first point.

"1) He tells us that evidence and reason lead us to see morality as a social contract."

This is false. I never said morality was a social contract.

I'll read the rest of this post and respond when I have time.

My next entry in the Triablogue discussion should be rather lengthy and thorough. It'll be a while before I have time to get into things, however. Hopefully it'll be before the new year. We'll see.

Rhology said...

NAL,

Then we agree. Cool.


Jason,

It's wrong?
Why then did you say the following in your 'scum' and 'warning' posts?

---
No, morality is a process whereby people justify their actions to one another. It is a social phenomenon, and it is based in physiology.
Source


Morality is a process of deciding what is best for humanity and civilization.
Source


...morality is a process whereby justifications are established. It is an ongoing process, and it requires discourse. It is based on the very need for people to establish common notions of “right” and “wrong.” Rational arguments are available to all, and can be judged objectively, on their merits. Morality is thus based in human need, and it is the product of biology and civilization.
Source


By claiming that morality cannot be negotiated, and that it can only be embraced as the word of “God,” you are denying the very process whereby morality is established.
Source


I embrace morality, because I embrace that process whereby people work together to try to justify their decisions.
Source

Paul C said...

Um, same color as it is when someone IS looking at it?

That's what I thought - you're having difficulty conceptualising concepts ;). When nobody is looking at the leaf of a tree, it has no colour - because colour is the result of the interaction of light waves with the relevant visual apparatus. The leaf still has the physical characteristics that cause us to label it with a particular colour, but that isn't the colour itself. It may be useful for you to think about the laws of logic in the same way?

Brian C Biggs said...

Rhology: How is a concept "material"?

NAL: A concept is derived from the electro-chemical reactions that occur in the brain.

NAL, you didn't actually answer the question - even if what you say is true and concepts are derived from material things, it does not demonstrate that concepts themselves are material. Nor does demonstrating that concepts are found to be expressed in material mediums demonstrate they are material in any way. It seems to me that very ability for a concept to change mediums and be expressed in an assortment of arrangements of material things attests to it not being material.

Paul C,
That was a somewhat clever line of thinking, though it still does not demonstrate the material nature of concepts. You have still failed to deal with Rhology's example of the laws of logic: can light both exist and not exist without a material conceptualizer?

NAL said...

Brian C Biggs:
NAL, you didn't actually answer the question - even if what you say is true and concepts are derived from material things, it does not demonstrate that concepts themselves are material.

From m-w.com:

material

1 a (1): relating to, derived from, or consisting of matter ...

But that's just the definition of material, what do they know?

Paul C said...

That was a somewhat clever line of thinking, though it still does not demonstrate the material nature of concepts.

I don't believe that concepts are material, at least not in the reductionist sense offered by Rhology. I was merely seeking to understand the difference between physical properties and the labels we give those properties, and how that difference offers a way out of the dilemma that Rhology sees.

You have still failed to deal with Rhology's example of the laws of logic: can light both exist and not exist without a material conceptualizer?

Since light is not a concept (in the way that colour is), this question is not equivalent to the question of whether the laws of logic exist without somebody to conceptualize them. However the example I gave of colour does in fact deal with this apparent dilemma. as should be clear. The properties of the universe are not the same as our descriptions of those properties.

Brian C Biggs said...

NAL, if I grant you that point will you then demonstrate that concepts are derived from matter? I suggest that a concept can be expressed in the arrangement of matter - that is, the form. If this is the case, then w-m.com would agree with my side rather than yours:

1 b (1): of or relating to matter rather than form


Paul C: The properties of the universe are not the same as our descriptions of those properties.

I agree. But with your overall argument I disagree. Rhology is arguing a dilemma in naturalistic thinking wherein everything must be material, yet the naturalist resorts to things obviously immaterial. You are correct that the color and the light examples are different - which is precisely why I brought the light example back up. I am suggesting that the laws of logic are not merely a description of an observable property of the universe.

NAL said...

Paul C:
I don't believe that concepts are material, at least not in the reductionist sense ...

Are memories material, in the reductionist sense? (By reductionist sense I mean composed of matter, not simply derived from matter.)

Paul C said...

Rhology is arguing a dilemma in naturalistic thinking wherein everything must be material, yet the naturalist resorts to things obviously immaterial.

Personally I think there's a difference between "immaterial" and "abstract", but Rhology seems to conflate the two, as well as offering a reductionist version of materialism that I don't subscribe to and therefore don't feel any need to defend.

I am suggesting that the laws of logic are not merely a description of an observable property of the universe.

I disagree, but I'm being taken to task on this point over at Triablogue. I may revise my opinion, but at the moment I'm struggling to see how they can be anything but a description. I'm not an idealist, you see - I don't think the laws of logic issue from some higher realm that transcends the physical universe.

Are memories material, in the reductionist sense? (By reductionist sense I mean composed of matter, not simply derived from matter.)

I don't know at this point. My intuition is that they're not material - like colour, they're not material things themselves, but human interpretations of material things. What's your opinion?

NAL said...

I would argue that memory is completely material. Consider the loss of memory associated with Alzheimer's. Alzheimer's disease is characterized by loss of material items such as neurons and synapses. The brain is literally eaten away. Memories are stored in the brain and as the brain looses mass, the storage area and hence, the memories disappear.

I would extend this argument to other thought processes. Alzheimer's affects more than just memory, other symptoms include confusion, irritability and aggression, mood swings, and language breakdown. The loss of brain matter affects who we are.

Paul C said...

NAL, aren't you're confusing the experience of memory with its physical origins - the same danger of confusing our experience of colour with the physical characteristics of the leaf?

I agree that the loss of the material of the brain affects who we are - the evidence is overwhelming - which makes it highly unlikely that anything of the individual survives once the brain no longer functions.

Rhology said...

One rebuttal that springs to mind along those lines is NDEs, no?

http://video.google.com/videosearch?q=habermas+nde&emb=0&aq=f#

NAL said...

Paul C:
NAL, aren't you're confusing the experience of memory with its physical origins ...

I would argue that recalling a memory also requires neurons and synapses (not to mention a lot of chemicals). A deficit of acetylcholine, a powerful neurotransmitter responsible for storing and recalling memories, has been linked to a number of neurological conditions.


Rho:
One rebuttal that springs to mind along those lines is NDEs, no?


How exactly is an NDE a rebuttal?

Rhology said...

How can a purely material mind account for instances where the patient, dead on the operating table, is able to recall details from the room and outside the room where her head was turned the other way?

Stuff like that.

Paul C said...

NDEs - not really. They always strike me as profoundly unconvincing, as well as being massively outweighed by the number of people who nearly die and don't have any such experience, and the complete lack of any contact from people post-death.

Paul C said...

NAL: I would argue that recalling a memory also requires neurons and synapses (not to mention a lot of chemicals)

That's a good point, but it's no different from the example of colour, which also requires those things?

How can a purely material mind account for instances where the patient, dead on the operating table, is able to recall details from the room and outside the room where her head was turned the other way?

Apart from the lack of "serious" evidence for anything like this ever happening? I would suggest that it's your reductionist approach that would rule it out, but once again that's not a position I share so I don't feel the need to defend it.

Rhology said...

My reductionist approach? Did you confuse NAL with me?

Did you watch the video to which I linked? Maybe you could interact with that, if you're serious about evidence (which I kinda doubt).

Paul C said...

Wow, that was close. This discussion was in danger of becoming interesting, but luckily Rhology popped up with a mildly insulting comment.

Personally I'm open to the idea of out-of-body experiences, near death or not. However as I've noted, our descriptions of things are not the things themselves.

NAL said...

Rho:
One rebuttal that springs to mind along those lines is NDEs, no?


Why limit yourself to NDEs? How about those Buddhist monks who claim to have levitated? How about all those claims of ESP? I doubt that you accept those claims, but you're more than willing to accept the NDE claims. Why is that?

Paul C said...

Don't knock those buddhist monks, they're brilliant when they do those synchronised flying displays at Nepalese air shows.

NAL said...

Paul C:
That's a good point, but it's no different from the example of colour, which also requires those things?

Our perception of color requires those things, working properly. However, a machine can determine color, by measuring the wavelength of light.

Paul C said...

Our perception of color requires those things, working properly. However, a machine can determine color, by measuring the wavelength of light.

So you would argue that a machine measuring the wavelength of light is identical to a human seeing colour? I would argue that this is not the case - at best a machine of that type would merely match a numerical value (wavelength) to a semantic value (color name).

Also: that comparison seems to fall victim to my claim that our descriptions of a thing (in this case, describing the brain as a computer) are no the same as the thing itself (the brain).

Jason Streitfeld said...

Rhology,

I still haven't read past the first point of your new blog post. But I notice you asked, "It's wrong?
Why then did you say the following in your 'scum' and 'warning' posts?"

I said those things because I think they are true. And, yes, your claim about me saying that morality is a social contract is wrong. If you don't see that, think about how the term "social contract" is defined, and think about how I'm defining the term "morality." It might help you to write down the definitions and look at them side by side.

Jason Streitfeld said...

Rhology,

I notice you like to laugh when you don't have an answer for something.

Here you refer to my "laughable 'reasons for disaffirming the Bible as a good source of moral judgments."

First of all, that's not accurate. I never said the Bible couldn't be used as a good source of moral judgments or wisdom. My reasons were for rejecting the Bible as the "final word" on all moral questions. I'm only rejecting the Bible as a moral authority. I'm not rejecting it as a potential source of inspiration or insight.

But you laugh, instead of offering a reasoned argument. That's telling.

You also laugh when I ask you to explain your basis for regarding some living organisms as "human," but not others. Your position is that it's just obvious. And yet, wasn't it obvious to the Nazis that Jews weren't human?

Your decisions about humanity are based only on what seems obvious to you, on what "feels right," or on what seems "intuitive." And when somebody questions that, you laugh.

Do you think genocide is something to laugh at?

Rather than laugh when you don't have an answer to something, why not reevaluate your position? Why not finally recognize the fact that, hey, your beliefs do not promote a constructive approach to disagremeent, unless those disagreements can be explicitly decided by reference to the Bible--though even then, you have to interpret the Bible. If somebody doesn't agree with your intuitions, or doesn't agree with your interpretation of the Bible, what do you do? Laugh?

Now, most of this post is attackign a straw man. I'm talking about your claim, which you still haven't supported with argument, that my definition of "morality" regards it as a social contract. Do you still need me to explain to you the difference between my definition of "morality" and the definition of a social contract? If so, be patient. I'm going to go over it when I respond to the Triabloggers.

When you finally address something I've actually said, you respond:

"1) But WHY SHOULD my interest in the world be the foundation? I'm looking for a good REASON for that."

This question is incoherent. Are you are asking why your interest in the world should be the foundation for morality?

I'm not saying anyone's particular interests are the foundation for morality. I'm saying a person's interests are the foundation for their appraoch to morality, for their ability to engage in moralizing behavior, and for their ability to be judged as either moral or immoral.

If you are asking why it should be this way, consider the alternative. How could a person without interests engage in moralizing behavior, or be judged as moral or immoral? It doesn't make sense.

You also say, "2) You may have noticed, if you ever read the news, that disparate interests exist in diff people."

Yes, Rhology, though unlike you, I don't just laugh when people point out that my justifications are based on nothing other than intuition.

When my intuitions come into question, I subject them to reason and evidence. I argue them rationally. And if I cannot base them on anything more than intutiion, I don't try to impose them on other people.

What method of negotiation or conflict resolution does your belief set promote?

You say I have defined something as good "in itself," here: "You have forgotten that you yourself take the same assumption - namely, that referring morality to a particular set of interests is good in itself."

No, Rhology. I do not say that morality is "good in itself," or that any particular set of interests is good in itself.

Now, you corrected me when I wrote: "For you, morality is just playing by God's rules"

I don't see how that is a false representation of your view. Earlier, I wrote: "Rhology thinks that morality amounts to doing whatever God has instructed in the Bible."

You replied: "Pretty much, yes. Since God is the very definition of good, therefore what He commands is good."

Tell me, how is "doing whatever God has instructed" any different from "playing by God's rules?"

I'm fully willing to admit it if I've misrepresented your views here, but I don't see how I've done that here.

Finally, you end with this:

I wrote: "You may as well ask me to temporarily suppose that "in blue ambulatory with massage and purple mustang, although not, and entirely because" were true."


You say: "Funny - that's exactly the kind of thinking that we're left with if we take your position on the laws of logic."

That's not an argument, and it does not address my point. It doesn't even show that you've understood any of my points, either about morality or about the foundations of logic. Again, instead of responding with substantive argument, you indicate that you have a sense of humor. As if your sense of humor trumped all.

That's not debate. It's not even comedy. It's just sad.

Rhology said...

Well, I just like to laugh, period. I don't call everything laughable, so as not to diminish the force of the adjective when I do employ it. So some of your comments are in rarefied air.
And in this case, yes, your pitiful afterthought references are pitiful in their afterthoughted-ness, and yet more in terms of that to which they link - tired retreads of old, long-since rebutted arguments from infidels and the SAB, etc. If you really want to be taken seriously, take my advice - don't use the SAB.


My reasons were for rejecting the Bible as the "final word" on all moral questions.

And proceeded to show little comprehension of what Christians actually mean when they say the Bible is the final authority.


I'm only rejecting the Bible as a moral authority.

Yes, that would be "disaffirming the Bible as a good source of moral judgments", like I said. A good source.


You also laugh when I ask you to explain your basis for regarding some living organisms as "human," but not others. Your position is that it's just obvious.

Which you didn't rebut.


And yet, wasn't it obvious to the Nazis that Jews weren't human?

You're appealing to the Nazis as examples of rational people? Um, OK. Feel free. I'm extremely happy to let this stand unrebutted - it's its own rebuttal.
Perhaps you forgot that I have shown that your reasoning mirrors theirs. It is obvious what is a human. The Nazis decided, damn the torpedos, full speed ahead. And they reaped the whirlwind. Same for you, just in a different way. They developed an unreasonable prejudice against a people group, identified by ethnicity. You have developed an unreasonable prejudice against a people group, identified by age. Each leads to murder.


Your decisions about humanity are based only on what seems obvious to you, on what "feels right," or on what seems "intuitive."

*Snort*. I do that? Am I not the one who has referred you over and over again to the words of a book? Words that, I'm sure you'd admit, don't change?
And YOU are the one who has over and over again made reference to some vague moral authority that you can't define and are hard-pressed to identify.


Do you think genocide is something to laugh at?

No, of course not.
If I were an atheist, however, I don't see any rational reason not to laugh at it. Laugh, cry, throw a party, kill myself, order 20 pizzas and feed them to gerbils, whatever. So what? Atheism is the grand so what.


Why not finally recognize the fact that, hey, your beliefs do not promote a constructive approach to disagremeent

They don't? Discussing? Seeking evidence? Looking to please a holy and righteous God?
You must have me confused with a jihadist or a more consistent atheist than you are.


unless those disagreements can be explicitly decided by reference to the Bible

You show a great deal of difficulty in understanding the MO of a biblical apologetic. Either you are thickheaded or you've never had interactions with anything more than evanjellyfish. If the latter, I do apologise - many people don't spend enough time thinking this stuff thru.
*MORAL* disagreements must have recourse to a higher moral authority, else we are left with no resolution, as we've seen. But not everything is explicitly dealt with in the Bible. That's why the great confessions have always said sthg like 'explicitly found in or found by good and necessary consequence' from the Bible.
Of course, you apparently prefer recourse to a "rational process" that conflates IS with OUGHT, with no way to tell us how we get from one to the other. The invitation is still open.


though even then, you have to interpret the Bible.

And?
We have to interpret ALL human communications. What makes the Bible different, less interpretable than other forms of communication?


If somebody doesn't agree with your intuitions, or doesn't agree with your interpretation of the Bible, what do you do?

Prove them wrong, or change my view. Or occasionally agree to disagree, depending. Did you really not know that?


your claim, which you still haven't supported with argument, that my definition of "morality" regards it as a social contract

Correct me, then. And by all means, explain the citations I provided from your own hand.


Do you still need me to explain to you the difference between my definition of "morality" and the definition of a social contract?

Yes. That'll be fine.

----------


Are you are asking why your interest in the world should be the foundation for morality?

I'm asking on what basis you'd identify ANYTHING as a basis for morality.


I'm saying a person's interests are the foundation for their appraoch to morality, for their ability to engage in moralizing behavior, and for their ability to be judged as either moral or immoral.

I'm with you until the "their ability to be judged as either moral or immoral". What does that mean?


If you are asking why it should be this way, consider the alternative. How could a person without interests engage in moralizing behavior, or be judged as moral or immoral? It doesn't make sense.

Um, there could be an objective morality that defines behavior as either right or wrong, and thus that person's actions, whether or not they were interested in it either way, either conforms to that which is moral or doesn't.
But your worldview doesn't allow for that, so on atheism, I don't see an answer, no.


I don't just laugh when people point out that my justifications are based on nothing other than intuition.

So you engage in what you call "rational discussion" and cite as evidence your intuitions? Sorry, I *do* have to laugh at that. It's pathetic. And you're the one who's supposed to be Mr. Rational, the atheist.
You intuit that it's wrong to murder children. Fine, maybe I intuit that it's not only OK, but also morally commendable to murder them. Who's right and how do we know? Whose intuition is right?


When my intuitions come into question, I subject them to reason and evidence.

And the evidence that murdering children is wrong is...?


What method of negotiation or conflict resolution does your belief set promote?

Obviously, we seek to understand fully what God has revealed, b/c His revelation is the objective standard of right and wrong, not only for action but also for desire and thought.


I don't see how that is a false representation of your view.

Then you suffer from difficulties in reading comprehension. All I can do is point you back to the post I wrote on the topic.


how is "doing whatever God has instructed" any different from "playing by God's rules?"

You forgot a very important point - that what God has instructed IS GOOD IN AND OF ITSELF b/c it corresponds to God's character. So it's not only obedience, but it's also objectively good and right.

Jason Streitfeld said...

Rhology,

You talk in circles.

I see no point in getting into much detail here. You can respond to what I write to the Triabloggers, if you still find it beneficial to engage me. I will only point out that your blanket assertion here betrays the poverty of your attitude: "It is obvious what is a human."

And yet, widespread disagreement has raged for centuries.

Have you forgotten that, according to the Talmud, a fetus is not a full human being, and its death cannot be mourned as the death of a human being?

Yes, what counts as a human being is so obviously obvious. And yet, when pressed to actually define it, you retreat. Why?

And why do you ignore the abundant philosophical, theological, and scientific controversies that have surrounded the notino of "human being" for ages?

Yes, retreat into what you think is "obvious," Rhology. That's all you can, apparently.

Rhology said...

Feel free to bring some of these challenges up.
Of course, you've been bringing up the question of Nazis and whether Jews are obviously human or not. I can hardly wait.

Rhology said...

Please see here.