Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A realm of fantasy morals

Bjørn Østman said...


There is no correct or incorrect in terms of morals. Just opinions.

So it is not a fact that the Holocaust was evil. It's just SOME people's opinion that it was wrong.
If I rape and murder your wife and daughter and mutilate their bodies, it might be your opinion that that action is wrong, but it might be my opinion that my action is right. So there's no way to tell?
So any hope that we might make laws that are right and good are just a fantasy. Best we can hope for is that most people agree with those laws so that we'll have enough taxpayers to provide for a military and law enforcement force large and powerful enough to protect us from those who don't share the same opinions.
Sounds pretty arbitrary. Sounds pretty judgmental. Sounds like might makes right. And it is extremely counterintuitive, for what that's worth. What's more, I don't think you really believe it. You don't live your life that way, you just talk like it on some blog so you can advance your emptyheaded argument. Not saying something so inane and stupid would go a long way towards enhancing your credibility.

I challenge you to give your answer to my scenario.

56 comments:

Bjørn Østman said...

Alan, where would such an absolute guide to moral right and wrong come from? For those who don't believe in a god, there really is nothing to determine it.

We think it is evil to kill babies, for example (though obviously not always, as we see in Iraq and Palestine). From the point of view of the parents, the killers are evil. From the attackers' point of view it is not evil (though I would disagree with them).

How about killing dolphins? Macaques? From their pint of view the humans who do that are evil, I would think (since I do believe that both dolphins and macaques can be of that persuasion). However, most people think it is not evil if done for "a good reason." I'm sure the animals in question wouldn't care about the stupid reasons humans have.

The Holocaust was morally wrong, I agree. Most people do. Not all. That's the best we can do.

And yes, we make laws based on consensus, of course. The death penalty, for instance. I think it's wrong, but not all law-makers agree. Consensus rules.

Lastly, please don't call me a liar. Ask me, and I will gladly tell you whether I am joking or not.

You have in mind mind said so many incredibly inane and stupid things in the past few days I have followed your blog - including this post - so I don't really have a problem that you think the same of me.

Bjørn Østman said...

I took a look at your scenario.

I think what he does to children is morally apprehensive. I think he is evil. I would like to kill him. On the basis that I would not like children (or anyone) to experience such pain and suffering. It is not necessary for me or most other people to believe in a god to feel that what your stupid arse person is doing is wrong. We feel it. There.

Rhology said...

Hi Bjorn,

where would such an absolute guide to moral right and wrong come from? For those who don't believe in a god, there really is nothing to determine it.

Exactly. So if you want to be consistent, you need to admit there is no absolute guide to tell us whether it is good or bad to be altruistic. In fact, you can't even define 'altruism' beyond "doing what Person X likes, which could be and often is totally different from what Person Y likes". There is no goal, no purpose in life, no ultimate good to work towards. Any utopia you dream up is nothing more than that - a utopia YOU dreamed up. It's neither good nor bad. It just IS. This is what the naturalistic fallacy expresses. David Hume's is/ought distinction expresses it.
Now, if Christianity is true, then God has defined what is good and bad, and those definitions are objectively true at all time for all people in all places in all circumstances. For example, raping a woman is always bad for all people at all times in all places in all circumstances. Under your system, raping a woman might be wrong for you and right for me, and there's no way to distinguish between the 2.


From the attackers' point of view it is not evil (though I would disagree with them).

And there is no way to know which of you is right.


However, most people think it is not evil if done for "a good reason."

There are no good reasons, or bad reasons, under your system. There are just reasons.


The Holocaust was morally wrong, I agree. Most people do. Not all. That's the best we can do.

But was it wrong? You can't say, can you?
And yet you don't live like that. If you came across an SS guard shoving Jews into ovens and had the power to stop him, back then, I have little doubt you would do so. Yet under your system you'd be stopping him (neither good nor bad) from shoving Jews into ovens (neither good nor bad) and thus murdering them (neither good nor bad), thereby shoving your morals down his throat (neither good nor bad). Why do anything? Why teach any child anything about morality? Aren't you being dishonest when you do so? "Don't hit little Johnny, that's wrong." "Why, Daddy?" "Well, it's not really, but I don't want you to."


we make laws based on consensus, of course.

Nobody argued that. I'm asking whether the law is justified. Under your system, there is no possibility of justification.


please don't call me a liar.

There you go again. Why not? B/c you don't like it? Yet it's obviously neither good nor bad. Maybe in MY moral system, it's not only OK but PREFERABLE, PRAISEWORTHY to call you a liar. On what basis will you shove your morality down my throat?


I think what he does to children is morally apprehensive.

You probably mean "reprehensible".
And he thinks it's morally praiseworthy. Who's right and how do you know?


We feel it.

So?
How much respect would you give someone who disbelieved evolution or democracy is right b/c he "felt" it was wrong?

Peace,
Rhology

NAL said...

Rho:
And there is no way to know which of you is right.

Under your system, you claim to have a way to know which of you is right. But under your system you don't have a way to understand WHY that person is right. Maybe, to you, the WHY is irrelevant.

Rhology said...

Well, it's b/c God said so. And He said so b/c it's in line with His character and nature (for moral questions). The buck stops with God, the fundamental ultimate. Otherwise there's no answer or an infinite regress.

NAL said...

Then WHY is God's character/nature good?

Rhology said...

It is the very definition of good. Might as well ask "but WHY is reality real?"

If not, I'd be like you, in the atheistic position I've been describing.

NAL said...

Rho:
It is the very definition of good.

So, all you can say about WHY something is good, is that's it's good by definition. I guess your understanding of what is needed to answer the question WHY, is different from mine.

Rhology said...

Feel free, then, to tell me how my claim is inconsistent, and also feel free to tell me how the alternative to which you subscribe is preferable.

rotsaP loeJ said...

The only possible test of an axiom is consistency - if you can justify an axiom (eg "God is good"), if there is a prior argument from which it may be deduced, then it isn't an axiom. So I don't think that asking for a justification of things like God's goodness makes the least bit of sense, or helps the discussion.

NAL said...

I wouldn't say your claim is inconsistent, I'm saying that your claim has no explanatory power in answering the WHY question.

My alternative would require a comprehensive scientific study of human morality to answer the WHY question. There are some studies that have already been done. It's a complex issue.

Maybe no social animal can survive if they don't develop some sense of "morality".

NAL said...
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Dr Funkenstein said...

Our of interest Rhology and Joel, how would you go about persuading the man he and his tribe were wrong based on your beliefs, with the aim of getting to the point you'd actually be able to convince him that he was (after all if you can't convince him, it's not a whole lot of use simply telling him you think he's wrong if it doesn't have any effect on his behaviour)?

Bjørn Østman said...

So if you want to be consistent, you need to admit there is no absolute guide to tell us whether it is good or bad to be altruistic.

Agreed. I am puzzled why you phrase it like this, like you tricked me into saying it. There are no absolute guides period.

In fact, you can't even define 'altruism' beyond...

Altruism is strictly defined in science. I don't understand why you claim I can't define it.

"Altruism refers to behavior by an individual that increases the fitness of another individual while decreasing the fitness of the actor."

No problem.

There are no good reasons, or bad reasons, under your system. There are just reasons.

No, why? There are opinions. I think something is good. I can see a good reason for something. For example, I think it is good to give food to a starving person, because I empathize with those people who feel sad and hungry. I don't like that feeling myself, and it makes me feel good that he feels good. If there was no god (which there isn't) I would still help out a hungry person when I could, but you wouldn't, I gather. Alan, try to imagine there is no god. What would you do? Stop having feelings? I don't think so. Would you stop feeling sorry for the poor, or sad when your friend dies? Of course not. Those feelings are what guide you in your actions. (On top of that I think the god of Abraham is a vile excuse for a... being (yes, I have read the Bible).)

And there is no way to know which of you is right.

What is this obsession you have with what is "right"? Why do you keep going on about it? I have said there are no absolutes, so nothing is inherently right or wrong. If I think it is immoral to kill, and another person think it is okay, then there is no being right or wrong about it, except that most people will agree with me, and we can make laws under which it is illegal. That's all there is, and it is all we need.

Same answer to the rest of your comments.

Over an out.

Daniel Montoro said...

Easy.

Natural Law.

Go back to playing with your Legos.

NAL said...

rotsaP loeJ:
So I don't think that asking for a justification of things like God's goodness makes the least bit of sense, or helps the discussion.

If phrases like "God's goodness" are value judgements, it makes perfect sense.

rotsaP loeJ said...

Yes, you're right. But if, on the other hand, God is good by definition, and our value judgements of goodness or badness presuppose a divinity with such a character, then questioning it becomes futile. You may of course reject it out of hand, but the axiomatic nature of the case makes justifying it impossible.

In re: Dr Funkenstein's question, I think the point of the exercise was more epistemic than practical. I expect that most of us would do the exact same thing if we saw a fellow raping and murdering little girls - we'd try to stop him by almost any means. The point is that because Rho and I accept a transcendant morality that applies to everyone, our violent opposition to what is thus actual evil, as opposed to a content-neutral difference of opinion, is a justifiable expression of right; not an oppressive imposition of one's own opinions on the basis of main force.

Dr Funkenstein said...

In re: Dr Funkenstein's question, I think the point of the exercise was more epistemic than practical.

Sure, I understood that - but obviously there has to be some practical benefit to moral correctness. After all, the laws of the land serve to protect the general citizenry from things such as violence, theft of property at least to an extent if not entirely (although some may argue that even anarchic societies could function, but that's an argument for another time).

If a person presents a set of laws as to how we should behave and so on saying 'these laws are right, we should follow them', and everyone else simply says 'so what, I don't care?' then even if the laws are objectively right, they may as well not exist if noone (or very few people) bothers to adhere to them.

rotsaP loeJ said...

I'm sorry, but I don't understand what you are asking. Are you interrogating the practical value of Christian revelation, or are you making a point about civil law; or is it something else entirely? The objective element of Christian truth means it is beneficial in the terrifically practical sense of saving one from the judgement of God. As far as civil regulations go, I don't live in a monarchy or a theocracy, so I am inclined to agree that a degree of consensus is a necessary precondition for making laws. But I don't think the correspondence between civil law and biblical law is, or in most cases should be, absolute.

I feel like I'm missing something here.

NAL said...

rotsaP loeJ:
... God is good by definition, and our value judgements of goodness or badness presuppose a divinity with such a character ...

When you attribute goodness to God's character, are you just saying "God is God"? If God is equal to goodness, by definition, then it is meaningless to turn around and pass a value judgement on your definition.

rotsaP loeJ said...

This is precisely my point. That God is good is not a value judgement but a tautology. His goodness, like his being, is necessary rather than contingent; there is no possible world in which God is not good. Which is why treating "goodness" as though it were an adjective of value whose attribution to the Omnipotent might be subject to debate is illegitimate.

Rhology said...

I'd add re: Dr Funk's question - I would share the Gospel of Jesus with Tkalim. I'd talk to him for awhile, and I guarantee his religion or spirituality carries with it some kind of guilt, and that is guilt that God has placed on everyone's hearts to serve as a warning. I'd tell him that he himself realises he is guilty, that the God who made the heavens and the earth will judge him guilty and send him to a very bad place when he dies, BUT this God, b/c He is so good, has provided a substitute, someone to take his place and the punishment that Tkalim (and I) deserves. I would tell him that this God's name is Jesus and that He is the only true God, and He is calling him to repent of his sin and to trust in Jesus to save him.

Everything proceeds from there. If he were to argue, I'd take a similar tack as I take with you guys in explaining why it's wrong.

Dr Funkenstein said...

I'd add re: Dr Funk's question - I would share the Gospel of Jesus with Tkalim. I'd talk to him for awhile, and I guarantee his religion or spirituality carries with it some kind of guilt, and that is guilt that God has placed on everyone's hearts to serve as a warning. I'd tell him that he himself realises he is guilty, that the God who made the heavens and the earth will judge him guilty and send him to a very bad place when he dies, BUT this God, b/c He is so good, has provided a substitute, someone to take his place and the punishment that Tkalim (and I) deserves. I would tell him that this God's name is Jesus and that He is the only true God, and He is calling him to repent of his sin and to trust in Jesus to save him.

Everything proceeds from there. If he were to argue, I'd take a similar tack as I take with you guys in explaining why it's wrong.


OK, that's roughly what I thought. So if Tkalim says 'but my God says something completely different, I think your God and the claims on its behalf are nonsense - my God (we'll call it the 4 in 1 God No-weh for the point of discussion) is the standard for right and wrong, and he says what I am doing is right' it simply descends into a scenario of both sides declaring themselves correct and the other wrong on the basis of knowledge that has been claimed to be acquired in roughly the same manner (ie revelation to a person or persons).

So, similar to what I posted before, your position relies on being able to validate revelation claims somehow - obviously you can't simply say if it glorifies Christianity or it is consistent with Christianity it is true revelation, if it doesn't then it's false - Tkalim can simply reply 'if it validates No-weh then it's true, if it doesn't then it's false'. Unless you (or Tkalim) engage in special pleading or circular reasoning (ie Christian/No-wehan revelation is true because only Christian/No-wehan revelation is true), I don't see how revelation and thus your (or Tkalim's) claims to moral fact can be validated (even if either were actually true).

Alternatively, let's say Tkalim finds what you say at least a little convincing - he says 'maybe you're right, and that God does exist, but so what - I really don't care and I'm going to continue doing whatever my tribe has always done (as described in the scenario) because I like doing it' - this is obviously something that happens in reality (ie people do what they feel like, whether it matches Christian standards of conduct or not), so what practical value to humanity does being in possession of these objective facts have?

Rhology said...

There's only so far one can get with someone who is stubborn and refuses to listen to reason, to answer your question about real world praxis. Speaking truth about Jesus is commanded, not optional, so whether it proves to be of value to Tkalim or not is not my concern. I certainly hope that it will prove of value and that he'll take advantage and be saved, but if he refuses, then the fact that more truth has been presented to him will result in further condemnation for him, further responsibility. Much like living in the modern West, vs living in deepest darkest Africa 1000 yrs ago. I have a lot more responsibility to do well with what I have, b/c I have an awful lot, than, you might say, most Christians who have gone before.

In theory, though, your question goes right to the Flying Spaghetti Monster question, and in my experience, people who bring up this canard fail to realise the vast framework that they'd need to undergird the assertion of the FSM or the quaternarian No-weh or whatever. I actually am planning a big post on FSM soon, so stay tuned.

Paul C said...

There's only so far one can get with someone who is stubborn and refuses to listen to reason

Irony so thick you could use it to build a retaining wall.

NAL said...

Rho:
There's only so far one can get with someone who is stubborn and refuses to listen to reason ...

SPOING!

Do irony meters come with a warranty?

Paul C said...

That God is good is not a value judgement but a tautology. His goodness, like his being, is necessary rather than contingent; there is no possible world in which God is not good. Which is why treating "goodness" as though it were an adjective of value whose attribution to the Omnipotent might be subject to debate is illegitimate.

To rephrase your second sentence in light of your first: "There is no possible world in which God is not God." This is obviously a tautology, but it contains two notable flaws.

1. It only works using your conception of God. If we were using somebody else's conception of God
- one in which his goodness is not necessary - then your argument falls apart. Given that we haven't established that your conception of God is the correct one, that seems a singularly unpersuasive argument to use in discussions.

[1a. I should also say that I continually fail to see how you can demonstrate that God's goodness is necessary rather than contingent in any meaningful sense. Perhaps you could enlighten me?]

2. The problem is that "good" is an adjective, and we do apply it in certain ways and to certain things. Your argument is that when we use the word "good" in relation to God, we are not using it in the same way as in relation to (for example) Rhology - in essence, the word "good" does not mean what it usually means. However a) this voids the word of meaning and b) you do not provide an alternative meaning.

rotsaP loeJ said...

1. As to logical demonstration, Thomas Aquinas makes a very complete statement of the thing in his Summa Contra Gentiles, around chapter 50 I believe. But are you really trying to debate what philosophical Christians believe on the subject of God's goodness? It seems a lot simpler simply to accept that it is a point of dogma on which people of my sort very generally agree.

2. Likewise, my point about God's goodness being necessary was never intended to serve as proof of his existence, or to argue that my conception of God is the real one. It's simply a clarification of what Christians intend when they happen to use the phrase "God's goodness."

3. Good certainly is an adjective in ordinary conversation. But there is no contradiction between it being necessarily attached to God, and contingently to everyone else. It means basically the same thing - if I were to say "Rhology is good", I would presumably intend that he participates in a virtue remniscent of the character of God. Likewise, were I to say "this fence is good" I should mean that it serves as a proper fence, that it fulfills the telos for which its maker designed it. The adjective, of course, presupposes a transcendant standard.

Paul C said...

It seems a lot simpler simply to accept that it is a point of dogma on which people of my sort very generally agree.

Oh, I see. People who don't agree with you should simply accept what you say. That's a strong argument, certainly.

3. Good certainly is an adjective in ordinary conversation. But there is no contradiction between it being necessarily attached to God, and contingently to everyone else.

It means basically the same thing - if I were to say "Rhology is good", I would presumably intend that he participates in a virtue remniscent of the character of God.

So when somebody does something, do you match their action against what you know of the "character of God" and then pronounce upon it? I find this extremely doubtful. So what do you mean?

The adjective, of course, presupposes a transcendant standard.

*You believe* that it does, but you can't use that as a basis for discussion with somebody who doesn't share that belief.

rotsaP loeJ said...

1. Not accept what I say in the sense of adopting it themselves. But at least accept it insofar as it comes to defining my position. Which is the only thing I have yet attempted to do. I have said the Christian position is X; and you get all squirrelly on me. I'm not trying to define your position, after all - assuming you're not a Christian, anyhow - so why are you so unwilling to let me define my own? All I'm asking you to accept is that Christians (which is to say, not those who disagree with Christianity) really do hold the goodness of God to be axiomatic. So chill out.

2. I mean that given God's position in the universe as sumum bonum, our derivative responsibility as creatures is to pursue him and become better conformed to his character, which practically means doing the sorts of particular things that he commands in his revelation. I can't see whether Rhology, for example, is doing this perfectly or not, but were I to call him good that would be what I meant.

3. I see very clearly that you don't believe it, but I do. I don't see why we should always have to argue based on your presuppositions. Maybe I want to argue on mine.

Paul C said...

All I'm asking you to accept is that Christians (which is to say, not those who disagree with Christianity) really do hold the goodness of God to be axiomatic.

The problem is that - according to you - Christians really do hold the Godness of God to be axiomatic. That is to say, according to you, all Christians hold a tautological definition of "good". So how am I supposed to understand what on earth you mean by the word "good" if there is - according to you - no independent measure of good, when all that you have to offer is a tautology?

2. I mean that given God's position in the universe as sumum bonum, our derivative responsibility as creatures is to pursue him and become better conformed to his character, which practically means doing the sorts of particular things that he commands in his revelation. I can't see whether Rhology, for example, is doing this perfectly or not, but were I to call him good that would be what I meant.

Was that what you meant before you were aware of this particular theological argument? Is that what people mean when they use the word good but don't believe in the Christian God? Clearly you and they meant something when using the word "good", and they didn't mean what you've just said. So what did they mean?

3. I see very clearly that you don't believe it, but I do. I don't see why we should always have to argue based on your presuppositions. Maybe I want to argue on mine.

What's my presupposition, exactly?

rotsaP loeJ said...

Not everyone who calls himself a Christian would agree with it, and of course not every Christian is philosophically consistent. Nevertheless, it remains the case that according to Christianity, there is no independent basis on which God can be judged. As Paul said, "who are you, O Man, who answers back to God? Shall the clay say to the potter 'Why did you make me like this?'"

As far as this being 'just a tautology', you know perfectly well that once you get into the ultimate definition of anything you wind up with tautologies and axioms. That doesn't prevent us understanding and applying them to a certain degree, and it doesn't mean we can't use (for example)logic.

Atheists and non-Christians may use the word good to mean whatever they like, as far as I am concerned. If you want to know what they think, I suggest you ask one of them.

Your presupposition, at least as you've represented it thus far, is that the nature of good is such that it is not necessarily transcendent and thus axiomatically linked with the character of God. I see no compelling reason to accept that as a basis of discussion.

Paul C said...

Nevertheless, it remains the case that according to Christianity, there is no independent basis on which God can be judged. As Paul said, "who are you, O Man, who answers back to God? Shall the clay say to the potter 'Why did you make me like this?'"

Well, yes - it shall. Let's say you have a child that you love dearly. When that child is an infant, you blind it. When it grows up, does the child have a right to ask you why on earth you did such a thing? Of course it does.

As far as this being 'just a tautology', you know perfectly well that once you get into the ultimate definition of anything you wind up with tautologies and axioms.

That's not what I mean, though. What I mean is that you've voided the word "good" of any meaning, yet failed to replace it with anything.

Atheists and non-Christians may use the word good to mean whatever they like, as far as I am concerned. If you want to know what they think, I suggest you ask one of them.

So you are aware that there are, in fact, other meanings of the word "good". How do those meanings relate to your meaning of the word?

Your presupposition, at least as you've represented it thus far, is that the nature of good is such that it is not necessarily transcendent and thus axiomatically linked with the character of God. I see no compelling reason to accept that as a basis of discussion.

I'm not asking you to accept it as a basis for discussion, since that's not my position. I'm asking you to justify your own position, which so far you are failing to do. You believe your God to be good, but you also believe that this is a tautological statement and that "good" has no independent meaning, and you also acknowledge that other people use the word "good" without reference to your God.

Let me ask you a question, in the hope of clarification. Take a Christian convert like Rhology. Prior to his conversion, presumably he used the word "good"; after his conversion, presumably he used the word "good" as well. What you are saying is that after his conversion, although he uses the same word "good" as previously, he actually means something completely different - he is in fact referring to *a completely different concept* to the "good" that he referred to before his conversion.

I put it to you that when you use the word "good" in this post-conversion manner, you are not in fact referring to the concept of "good" as it is commonly used. Now, you may well have an alternative concept - I can't know for sure because all you have offered so far is a tautology - but let's say that you do have an alternative concept. Can I humbly suggest that you invent another word for it, and stop using the word "good"?

Seth said...

Paul C,

Your line of questioning has landed you directly in the path of what the Gospels explain is a part of the purpose for “the word becoming flesh,” meaning the Son-persona of God becoming a man and walking with men for a time. I.e., including providing answers and an example to some of the tough questions.

Note:

What purpose for the blinded child?: John chp 9 – “As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, “It was not that this man, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

Redefinition of “good”?: Matthew chp 19: “And he [Jesus] said to him [a man], ‘Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.’”

Point Being:

1) Jesus claims that though 'bad' things happen, even naturally, he has the power to make them 'good' to the benefit of people and the glory of his God.

2) Jesus claims that whatever the presupposed/ postulated/ tautalogical/ empirical/ consensus definition of 'good', one who aligns himself with God will have to change their definition to one that is consistent with 'the commandments'.

Apparently, the central being of the Christian faith had no problem with the asking of the questions, and was willing to answer them, but also accepted that many people wouldn't be on board.

Paul C said...

Apparently, the central being of the Christian faith had no problem with the asking of the questions, and was willing to answer them, but also accepted that many people wouldn't be on board.

Perhaps if he'd given more convincing answers, more people would come on board. To sum up your arguments:

1. It's been explained to me that the bible will give me an understanding of God's character. He blinds children.
2. Only God is good, but why does Jesus use the same word "good" if that's not what he meant?

Seth said...

Perhaps if he'd given more convincing answers...

I suppose that is possible. The texts comment frequently that that wasn't the case. Disgregarding that, I could only speculate.

He blinds children

I guess sometimes he does. In the case of the passage I quoted, sometimes he also heals them. That certainly complicates Jesus' definition of 'good' (as in character). If you or I had the power to heal someone, under what conditions would we do it? I suppose that would have to be addressed in a separate discussion on the implications of omniscience and whether or not the 'good' God has it and would use it for 'good'.

...not what he meant?

Maybe he thought rigorous argumentation on the point would be futile anyways. As for for me (and I suspect a few others here), I'm bored at work and happen to be sitting in front of the computer ;)

rotsaP loeJ said...

1. In re: clay. Well really, don't you see, of course it shan't. Clay is not sentient, at least not compared to a human. There's no possible moral equivalence between a potter and a lump of earth. You restated the analogy - wrongly - to make the actors equivalent, which is just what Paul was denying.

2. The meaning of good
I have neglected to say this specifically, so I will now. That the Christian definition of good ultimately resolves in a tautology does not make it content-neutral, as you have several times asserted without apparent justification.
The Christian revelation is perfectly transparent as to how humans are to behave, what things are good, and what things are wicked. I do not agree that I have deprived the word of meaning, and am not likely to if all I have to go on is your say-so. Rather, I would say I have given it a secure epistemic foundation, unlike... er, what alternative were you suggesting again?

3. Uses of 'good'
I think at least I understand your question a little better now. While I still cannot tell you what everyone else means when they say 'good' - (if you have any inclination to answer your own question you're more than welcome) - I would say that the common attributes that we humans tend to refer to as 'good' are broadly speaking parasitic on God's revelation. Without that general revelation, natural people would be morally indistinguishable from any intelligent animal.

That said, however, of course definitions of good differ substantially. Some Roman emperors thought it was keen to set Christians on fire; the Christians didn't necessarily agree. Likewise, I can say that my view of what is good has changed since I have become a Christian; I would say that beforehand a lot of my ideas about good - not all of them: I was generally anti-murder - were absurd, or even evil. The concept has not changed - good being, in Aristotelian terms, that towards which rational creatures tend. It's merely a clarification of replacement of its nature.

rotsaP loeJ said...

Now, as far as defending my view of good's transcendence - which, you're right, I had not yet attempted - I think I would start with a reductio. If the good of an action does not exist objectively, outside of the mind of the human agent, then it is contingent on his mind. If it is contingent, it is not fixed. If it is not fixed, it may change. If it may change, it is possible for an action to be both good and evil, which is absurd. Therefore, the nature of good must be external to the human mind.

Eventually, as stated a couple of dozen times already, argumentation will fall short and I'll wind up back at the level of an axiom. But that's unavoidable.

Paul C said...

If the good of an action does not exist objectively, outside of the mind of the human agent, then it is contingent on his mind.

No. Just because something is external to the human mind that does not make it objective.

If it may change, it is possible for an action to be both good and evil, which is absurd.

No. It only be absurd if it was possible for an action to be both good and evil at the same time in the same mind.

Therefore, the nature of good must be external to the human mind.

I don't see how this conclusion follows from the premises.

Paul C said...

1. In re: clay. Well really, don't you see, of course it shan't. Clay is not sentient, at least not compared to a human. There's no possible moral equivalence between a potter and a lump of earth.

Then clay can't ask questions of the potter, yet we can. So as an analogy it's either incredibly poor or flat-out false.

You restated the analogy - wrongly - to make the actors equivalent, which is just what Paul was denying.

And why should I accept Paul's word for it, exactly? You believe that God is our Father, so why doesn't the blinded child analogy apply?

The Christian revelation is perfectly transparent as to how humans are to behave, what things are good, and what things are wicked.

If that's the case, then I find it hard to understand why Christians down through the ages have spent so much time not agreeing on these things.

Rather, I would say I have given it a secure epistemic foundation, unlike... er, what alternative were you suggesting again?

I haven't suggested any alternatives, nor do I feel any need to.

That said, however, of course definitions of good differ substantially. Some Roman emperors thought it was keen to set Christians on fire; the Christians didn't necessarily agree.

So the fact that people have completely disagreed about very basic moral issues, in your mind, doesn't count as evidence against any "general revelation" that gives all humans a moral sense?

Likewise, I can say that my view of what is good has changed since I have become a Christian; I would say that beforehand a lot of my ideas about good - not all of them: I was generally anti-murder - were absurd, or even evil.

I like you, Joel. You seem smart and honest. I'd be genuinely interested to hear an example of this.

NAL said...

rotsaP loeJ:
If the good of an action does not exist objectively, outside of the mind of the human agent, then it is contingent on his mind.

Is not your understanding of God's nature contingent on your mind?

rotsaP loeJ said...

It does make it objective with respect to the human mind, which is what the second clause of the sentence meant. I would not say it is objective with respect to God's mind, for example, although dissecting his subjectivity is a little bit above my pay grade.

I persist in calling it absurd that the nature of good and evil can change - that something can be wicked one decade and virtuous the next, as if it were question about bell-bottom jeans. I don't say everyone always agrees in specific cases, but most people mean something a little stronger by the word evil than "something which I don't like at the moment" - it's used to refer to actions that no-one should ever do. So - I find your standard of absurdity pretty darn generous. Can you defend it? Of course if a shifting nature of evil really is absurd, the argument follows just fine.

As far as the other response, two things. First, the analogy, like all analogies, breaks down at a certain point. Clay does not actually speak. But the intent is ontological and epistemic, so it doesn't matter: Paul asserts that our rights vis-a-vis God are precisely nil. You don't have to agree with him, I suppose, but if we are still discussing Christian doctrine on the matter of God's goodness, his views are pretty standard.

The father-son analogy is another used in Scripture, to talk about God's love; if you want to get into the complications of the question of evil I suppose I'm game.

But as for the disagreements between Christians, I think you're overstating your case. The historic church has always had a pretty good idea of what virtue meant. They argued about other things, or against the radical splinter groups who took one virtue at the expense of all the rest. This was especially common in the Medieval cults.

Revelation-wise, I said that the moral feelings people have are broadly parasitic upon (and broadly similar to) revelation. The similarities far outweigh the differences. There are a couple societies where it's okay to eat your neighbors, there are a couple groups of murderers... but people as a whole generally do agree, even if their practice falls short. Nero, for example, was not considered a paragon of virtue by Roman standards - he was thrown out of power for his brutality. Even thieves generally do not want everyone else to be a thief. So no, I think this represents exactly what we would expect, given a) that every human has some degree of native awareness of morality, and b) that every human is corrupt and fallen. It's a recipe for hypocrisy, which I find to be the normal state of human society.

Speaking of which, here's an example. Before I became a Christian, I held revenge to be a reasonable and necessary part of human affairs - if someone did something to me, then hurting him back - proportionate to my perception of the insult - seemed a simple matter of justice. At the same time and paradoxically, I wanted people to be willing to forgive me when I done something unintentional, or expressed remorse, or had extenuating circumstances.

Now, I don't feel nearly the same impulse towards getting my own back - I know that I am not responsible for the state of universal justice, so I can relax and generally be a good deal more cheerful.

rotsaP loeJ said...

NAL:

Of course my understanding of God's revelation is contingent on my own mind; but so is my understanding of the density of water. But if my mind did not exist, neither of those would change. I also might, I supppose, be wrong in my understanding of one both, but it would not make either any less objective.

NAL said...

rotsaP loeJ:
Of course my understanding of God's revelation is contingent on my own mind ...

If your understanding is contingent, it is not fixed. If it is not fixed, it may change. If it may change, it is possible for an action to be good at one time and evil at another. Or vice versa.

Seth said...

contingent on own mind...

Density of water is a good example of what objectivity really means:
1) is not contingent on whether one fully understands it
2) is contingent on where it is measured (i.e., pressure and temperature dependent)
3) is contingent on how it is measured (e.g., tool precision)

A person's objectivity in perceiving God and his character (or good and evil) is always biased. This is why biblical morality and God's character are introduced axiomatically.

Seth said...

...thus we stumble into discussion on validity and then implications of the Christian doctrine of total depravity which claims that our instruments are broken - we'll never get to the right values of density.

NAL said...

Seth:
This is why biblical morality and God's character are introduced axiomatically.

Irrelevant. You base your morality off your understanding of God's character.

rotsaP loeJ said...

NAL:
Nonsense. This isn't an argument, it's a sneer, and not worth the trouble of an intelligent response. Happy to interact if you've any genuine points to make, however.

NAL said...

It was not a sneer, it was a simple statement of fact. If you don't want to respond, don't post. But to call it a sneer is dishonest.

Seth said...

NAL:

Irrelevant.
Maybe to you, but not to me.

You base your morality off your understanding of God's character.

NAL:
Yes, that's inevitable. So what's your point?

NAL said...

Seth:
Yes, that's inevitable. So what's your point?

That your base for morality is contingent.

You base your morality on your understanding of God's character. Even though God's character may be invariant, your understanding is not invariant.

Unless you claim that you don't have to understand God's character to be moral.

Seth said...

NAL,

That your base for morality is contingent.

Correct, contingent on first hearing it and then understanding it. Thus, the Sh'ma - "Hear oh Israel". Thus, the concept of 'gospel' - good message.

You base your morality on your understanding of God's character. Even though God's character may be invariant, your understanding is not invariant.

Well said.

Unless you claim that you don't have to understand God's character to be moral.

Sure, minimal understanding is necessary. For instance, one could do a "right" thing for a "wrong" reason.

Sparrowhawk said...

Guys...you're wasting valuable time trying to reach Rhology, which would of course imply that there is something to reach. He's just going to keep calling you nihilists and relativists. He talks like he's better than you because he feels he's picked a prepackaged form of 'morality' so that any understanding or exploration of why things are moral are immoral is completely uneccesary. He of course, conveniently, doesn't have to explain this at all because duhhh it's God, hello! Why would he be God if he wasn't perfect? He asks us how we know things are right or wrong, and when we try to explain, he pokes holes in it and misrepresents it as "opinion" and other kinds of existentialist, nihilistic straw-man nonsense so he can feel high and mighty. Really, though, he's in the same boat as the rest of us. He doesn't know why his choice of prepackaged morality is best, he just knows that since he believes it that it necessarily is. God says it is, so it's right because God is always right because God is perfect and part of being perfect is being right. Any horrifying things that his perfect God has done to people in the Bible is easily explained away with vague reinterpretations and "new covenants". And they have to, by necessity, be obfuscated like this, because it has to gel with the idea that God is right because God is perfect and he wouldn't be perfect if he were wrong about something now would he? For someone who often raises the spectre of "might makes right" as a way to take pot-shots at his "atheist morality" straw-man, this kind of logic strikes me as a bit hypocritical.

Oh and Rhology, as always, feel free to pick a few lines of text here, take them out of context, italicize them, make a straw-man out of them and blow it right down with your hot air. I won't be responding. Have a nice day, sir.

Rhology said...

Sparrowhawk, you chose perhaps THE worst thread to post this absurd and unsupported assertion. Did you miss the dozens of posts that have transpired since I even said anything?
I guess in your lust to make sure you took a poke at me you forgot to
1) calm down before you emoted all over your keyboard.
2) see if I was even involved in the thread.

Have a nice day.
-Rhology

Mona Albano said...

If you were going to rape and murder my wife and daughter first you'd have to allow gay marriage and adoption or invent egg-merging so two women could have children. Who do you think your audience is, anyway?

Rhology said...

My audience, I figure, is people who can use their imagination and follow along as I use hypotheticals.