Friday, April 06, 2007

Dionne on atheists

E.J. Dionne, usually an intelligent and perspicacious writer, trots out the usual fallacies of the religious moderates for our Easter weekend amusement.

"The problem with the neo-atheists is that they seem as dogmatic as the dogmatists they condemn."

The problem with moderate Christians is that they seem as obtuse as their fundamentalist brethren. Dionne, like most moderate Christians, conflates having a definite position with "dogmatism". However, to be dogmatic, you have hold a definite position without rational justification. Would Dionne assert that evolutionary biologists seem just as dogmatic as creationists?

Dionne misreads Harris's argument. Harris never asserts that religious moderates themselves perpetuate atrocities. Rather, Harris argues that by supporting tolerance of religious belief, moderates undermine atheists' philosophical arguments against fundamentalism.

It's not enough to merely object to the fundamentalist ethics. Fundamentalists, by definition (and unlike (in a sense) religious and secular humanists) do not evaluate their ethics according to popularity; they hold their ethics because they believe them to be objectively true--a delusion. As long as religious moderates shield their own beliefs from critical examination as to their truth, they are aiding and abetting the fundamentalists.

Although many believers do not ever question their faith, some believers do. It is not the lack of questions for which atheists criticize such believers, but rather the poor quality of their "answers".

39 comments:

  1. BB said: As long as religious moderates shield their own beliefs from critical examination as to their truth, they are aiding and abetting the fundamentalists.

    Do you really mean that?

    An agnostic would say that the atheist takes his position without basis in experimentally confirmed fact – just like the theist. Thus, atheism aids and abets theism?

    Perhaps we should just let a person believe what they want to believe as long as they don't impose those beliefs in some coercive way on us. It is those that try and impose their religion on us that we need to worry about.

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  2. An agnostic would say that the atheist takes his position without basis in experimentally confirmed fact – just like the theist. Thus, atheism aids and abets theism?

    If the antecedent here were true, then the consequent would indeed follow. Of course, atheism is justified according to the evidence.

    Perhaps we should just let a person believe what they want to believe as long as they don't impose those beliefs in some coercive way on us.

    That would be nice. The problem is that we all impose beliefs on others—I don't see murderers and thieves consenting to go to jail. The argument is not whether we should coerce each other, but on what basis we should do so.

    Fundamentalism entails coercing one's God-derived beliefs on others. We can't argue against coercion in general, or our society of laws falls apart. Thus we must argue against the fundamentalists' grounds for determining what to coerce.

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  3. I am skeptical of religious claims, yet at the same time agree to an extent with Dionne, while at the same time agreeing with Sir BB that the accusations of "dogmatic atheism" may be a bit deceptive. Yet the problem with the new school of Darwinians may lie in their own unwillingness to acknowledge the troubling and unsettling nature of atheism, or shall we say a purely mechanical determinism. (Nietzsche, for instance, however trite, does understand the implications of atheism ). However much atheists claim that atheism does not equal amorality or ethical hedonism or shall we say, de sadeanism, it does seem easier to justify a complete amoralism, if not nihilism, when one believes that there are no objective moral truths, no final spiritual assessment (which certainly may be the case).

    Theism obviously does in principle uphold a moral code (that's not to say that theists obey that code); thus, there might be at least pragmatic argument for upholding that code. I don't care for Xtianity, but anecdotally at least (from a few years of teaching), I note that the church kids do tend to be a bit more civil and responsible than non-church kids. I am not offering that as some proof of anything (and it could be mistaken), but that is the sort of issue that too many atheists overlook, as they overlook say Bach fugues as well, or say the Aachen cathedral.

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  4. "it does seem easier to justify a complete amoralism, if not nihilism, when one believes that there are no objective moral truths, no final spiritual assessment (which certainly may be the case)."

    But this is a red herring. Atheism does not entail lack of belief in objective moral truths.

    It may be true that all Christians believe in objective moral truths but not all atheists believe in such. But that's too weak to get your worry off the ground.

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  5. Perezoso:

    [T]he problem with the new school of Darwinians may lie in their own unwillingness to acknowledge the troubling and unsettling nature of atheism, or shall we say a purely mechanical determinism.

    Well... we're willing to acknowledge the troubling and unsettling nature of atheism; we're just not willing to slip into delusion to address it. I've written myself on atheistic spirituality. We do not overlook Bach fugues (I adore Bach), nor other forms of beauty. We enjoy beauty for itself; we merely refrain from exploiting beauty to justify delusion.

    It is not the case, though, that atheism necessarily entails mechanical determinism, nor is it the case that theism necessarily entails something other than mechanical determinism.

    As anon notes, atheism does not entail denying ethical objectivism, but even denying ethical objectivism does not entail amorality, nihilism or superficial hedonism.

    Even further, it's also the case that even theism does not justify moral objectivism. There's always the Euthyphro dilemma: Ethics are a part of a God's (or the gods') subjective nature, or ethics constrain even God, rendering him/her/it not omnipotent. Furthermore, since ethics are not "enforced" in the same way that physical "law" is inescapably enforced, even if a divine ethic were to exist, each person would still have make a subjective choice to adhere to that ethic.

    In other words, theistic ethics fall completely apart when examined with even minimal criticality. The only actual purposes I've ever seen theism serve is thumb-sucking self-pacification, avoidance of personal responsibility, and justification for self-righteousness.

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  6. BB said: Of course, atheism is justified according to the evidence.

    Just so I am sure, you mean atheism with respect to the established religions of the world right? Not theism in general? If not, I would be interested in you pointing me to where you address this issue explicitly. (From what I have read of your blog so far, I would expect to find strong and closely reasoned arguments.)

    george

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  7. I don't know that "theism in general" means anything at all: There's nothing there to even disbelieve.

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  8. """There's always the Euthyphro dilemma: Ethics are a part of a God's (or the gods') subjective nature, or ethics constrain even God, rendering him/her/it not omnipotent"""

    That is an issue--and a rather sublime one--yet Plato still upholds some view of objective, Justice, doesn't he? (yes). In other words, the entire dilemma (is that the paradox of the Law?) seems to indicate a sort of impersonal, transcendent Form of Justice (as do other discussions, as in Republic), not an anthropormorphic Zeus-like being who can reject morality at his whim. I don't necessarily agree to a platonic view of Justice (or say Dantean), but it is not easy to view Hitler and Stalin as simply out of step with the standards of the day, improperly conditioned, or not to one's taste, etc. (and that may sound funny, but Hume seems to suggest something of the sort).

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  9. [Euthyphro] is an issue--and a rather sublime one--yet Plato still upholds some view of objective, Justice, doesn't he? (yes).

    Mais oui. Euthyphro is an argument against only grounding an objective ethic in the divine.

    [I]t is not easy to view Hitler and Stalin as simply out of step with the standards of the day, improperly conditioned, or not to one's taste, etc.

    It's not easy to view the steadfast Earth spinning as a child's top, nor to view the stars as mighty suns, nor to view a ton of solid granite as mostly empty space flecked with the occasional sparks of proton and electrons, yet all are so.

    (Hume seems to suggest something of the sort).

    He does indeed. One cannot derive ought from is; this inability is central to meta-ethical subjective relativism.

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  10. So, say the wife of Judge Higginsbotham is brutally raped---she, poor dear, flustered, reports, it and Judge H. set the lawmen on the case. And yet they cannot find the real culprit, and he took precautions, wore a condom, etc. The manhunt goes on a few months, and yet they have no real clues. One day Ossifer O'Casey, shaking down some street perps, decides, "I will be a hero and avenge Mrs. Higginsbotham's deflowering!" So he decides to pin the case on one of the punks he arrests for say dope. And he gets his cronies at the Mayberry PD involved, and finally even the judges. They all decide to pin the rape on Raoul, the street perp. Raoul of course is not pleased, but he's poor, so gets defender, etc. But say they have a decent case, they send it to trial---and even then the jury is stacked. Anyhoo, Raoul goes down for the rape, the paper publishes the case with him as culprit, and all the townspeople are relieved, much pleasure is provided: Justice was done, at least from appearances.

    Years later Scoop Mulligan stumbles on the case somehow. (Raoul is up entertaining the gents in Pelican Bay). He smells a rat. He investigates and finally decides it was a set-up, completely bogus. But his drinking pal, say Schendrick, a biology teacher, tells Scoop to let if go. Even if Raoul was not guilty, the town thinks he's guilty, and everyone was relieved. No biggy--he was a street perp anyways.

    Scoop at home picks some ethics texts saying that the Good is what is pleasurable and agrees with Schmendrick, and decides not to press the issue.

    What grounds can u offer to protest Scoop's decision...........other than some sort of idea of objective, impersonal Justice? (this is a paraphrase of an argument against utilitarianism)

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  11. (and further tweak the hypothetical by this scenario: say that eventually most people in Mayberry came to know that Raoul was framed, and didn't say anything, and Scoop finds that out. They all hated Raoul (and the real perp was really say Coach X, wearing a disguise). So the majority obviously approved of the apparently "injust" conviction of Raoul. But that doesn't phase Scoop.

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  12. Scoop at home picks some ethics texts saying that the Good is what is pleasurable and agrees with Schmendrick, and decides not to press the issue.

    If everyone finds the situation pleasurable, then who's complaining? If someone is complaining, then ipso facto the situation is at least not universally pleasurable.

    In actual fact people are not pleased if they know—and there's always some loudmouth to tell them—that chumps are being arbitrarily picked out to be punished for crimes.

    Furthermore this sort of thing, if permitted—especially if explictly permitted (because of course it actually happens in real life)—never ever stops at just poor Raoul; we protect Raoul to protect ourselves.

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  13. Is it a matter of what proportion of the people approve or disapprove of the wrongful conviction ? Hell no. It's "injust", regardless of any consensus on the issue: and that injustice is independent of the opinions of citizens of Mayberry. Moreover, that objective injustice is, I suggest, a type of form, or transcendental--perhaps ultimately psychological (a sanity criteria?)--but not unrelated to Kant's categorical imperative: a lie was accepted as a truth-statement (ie it is ok to lie (about a person's guilt) to make some people happy). Thus there is at least some rational, objective grounds for saying its wrong. logically speaking (at least in terms of a lie being taken as true), regardless if the majority agreed (ala Hume, Bentham, et al) that putting away innocents is sometimes acceptable, since it it is pleasurable (better than letting the crime go unpunished). That or Hume wins, and Coach X arrives in your neighborhood, sticks people, and your opinion of the rightness of that sticking is about equivalent to your taste in drapes............

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  14. Is it a matter of what proportion of the people approve or disapprove of the wrongful conviction ? Hell no. It's "injust", regardless of any consensus on the issue: and that injustice is independent of the opinions of citizens of Mayberry.

    That's the point at issue. A assertion—however vehement—lacks the persuasive force of an actual argument.

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  15. Also note that the sort of utilitarianism you appear to discuss here is in the realm of ethical subjectivism, a position I myself do not believe. I advocate meta-ethical subjectivism, a horse of a different color.

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  16. One thing that meta-ethical subjectivism preserves is the rationality of an individual's dissent in the face of majority or even overwhelming popular disagreement: The mere opinion of a million people no more establishes the objective truth of the content of that opinion than that of a single individual.

    Meta-ethical subjectivism denies that you can ever talk about the objective truth of an ethical statement by any means.

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  17. You missed the argument: the cop, judge, and townspeople, by agreeing to the wrongful conviction, lied. So the issue is not only that people might agree that sometimes putting away the innocent is ok, since it brings more pleasure ("good") than letting the crime go unpunished, but that wrongful conviction required a lie, and thus a falsehood : so logically speaking, the pleasure, such as it was, relied on an error. Kant and ethical rationalists (and perhaps Plato?) are thus saying that at least in some cases, ethics does have a relation to logic. Bertrand Russell raised a similar objection against the pragmatists, when stating that a certain point in time (when say some PC code of"niceness" is enforced), historical facts could be "shaped", ie. altered if not eliminated, in hopes of making society more harmonious or something--and one does see that happening, even in TeeVee land, and isn't only the conservatives who are responsible....

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  18. I'm usually no fan of lying; on the other hand, I'm a very good poker player.

    I'm also not much of a fan of James' version of pragmatism. He takes a perfectly good concept and makes a hash of it; a practice not entirely unknown in the philosophical canon.

    But our moral beliefs even about lying are just as subjective as anything else, although I must admit that nature does severely punish many errors of fact.

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  19. Au contraire. Can people have different "moral beliefs" about the relation of the radius of a circle to its circumference, and those beliefs be valid? No, the relation is objective, regardless of the beliefs. Similarly for lying: lying--ie falseness-- will do as well as truth for most utilitarians or pragmatists, if that is decided to be pleasurable (good). I don't think many people would agree by consensus that lying or wrongful conviction is acceptable, but there have been rigged juries , etc.: and Humeans (including utilitarians, if not pragmatists, ethical subjectivists) cannot really object: so can they a fortiori then say a formal fallacy,(denying the consequent say, in modus ponens) is acceptable as valid form of argument? It's a weird issue, but I don't think many people would argue invalidity is as acceptable as validity---your belief in the rightness of using invalid arguments, falsehoods, lies (say in terms of politics) doesn't make those arguments valid (tho invalidity does not = false). Thus Hume and utilitarians are nearly machiavellian in some way (lies might serve one's purposes as well as the truth)---and that is, I contend, what Kant (and platonists? perhaps even clerics) was trying to oppose, but was not entirely sure how to go about it.

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  20. oops the fallacy is "denying the antecedent." No coffee yet. Either way, for Humean hedonists lies (and invalid arguments) would seem to be as proper as truth, at least in terms of ethics and politics. And really that may be acceptable in some circumstances (the gestapo at the door, asking where X is, and if Y says the truth, X is killed), but there is some puzzling issue there ...,...

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  21. Can people have different "moral beliefs" about the relation of the radius of a circle to its circumference, and those beliefs be valid?

    It is not usually the case that beliefs about such things as π are labeled as moral beliefs in the first place; if people can't have moral beliefs about π, they can't have different moral beliefs.

    You mention "your [my] belief in the rightness of using invalid arguments, falsehoods, lies;" you are not accurately characterizing my own belief or statements. Subjectively, I do agree with you: I very much disapprove of lying in many contexts—although you should not trust my word when we're playing poker, if you ask me if you like your haircut or if I'm hiding Jews in the attic.

    My position is that it is not ever meaningful to ascribe moral properties to objects. The wrongness of lying is not in the lying, but entirely in our beliefs about lying. Any linguistic attribution of moral properties to objects has a subjective referent as an enthymeme, is metaphorical, or is in error.

    You're making a sound case for honesty in the criminal justice system, a case I agree with. But the success of the case is predicated on the moral beliefs we actually have; it does not prescribe fundamental moral beliefs.

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  22. The beliefs are secondary. There is an event (the rape), and then false statements are made about the event ("Raoul did it", when it was Coach X), yet they are taken as truth. That is incorrect, "moral beliefs" or not. The moral beliefs have to do with a maxim or premise: Humeans cannot claim that one is obligated to tell the truth, or that Truth is good, or truth is to be preferred to falsehood, or something of the sort. I am not saying Hume is easily defeated---yet ethical rationalists seem to have a case that reason and morality do, at least sometimes, have some relationship, and lies point that out.

    (Gewirth's ideas are related to this (and to Kant)--his argument (in very brief form) suggest that humans are obligated to recognize in other people the same "rights" that you yourself claim (and value), merely by being a rational agent.. So the obligation to tell the truth would be one that you value, thus it would be inconsistent, if not a contradiction, to deny it to other rational agents. Gewirth then says we are obligated to be consistency (and that's logical consistency), rather than obligations to be "good" etc. And he wants to say he overcomes Hume fact/value problem with that, but I am not so sure-----)

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  23. (Gewirth's ideas are related to this (and to Kant)--his argument (in very brief form) suggest that humans are obligated to recognize in other people the same "rights" that you yourself claim (and value), merely by being a rational agent..

    I assume you mean Alan Gewirth. Technically, you are not summarizing his argument but rather reproducing his conclusion. J. N. Hooker gives us a good summary and critical examination of Gewirth's argument.

    Again I should note that I do in fact subjectively agree with the sorts of moral beliefs Gewirth endorses, I am (per Hooker) not convinced that his argument establishes the objective truth of those beliefs.

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  24. No, the argument is hinted at (and I agree that it was a summary, of course): it seems rather inconsistent if not irrational to deny to others the same rights that you yourself value---especially since you require those "rights"--- or at least being unhindered---to achieve your goals (and I believe "truth telling" would be valued along with freedom, etc. Or so it seems). Gewirth may be in part correct, and at least shows that morality has a relation to reason, but alas he never bothered with Hobbes, not to say Malthus and Darwin. One might be acting inconsistently, say during a famine or revolution or war, when hording food, lying, robbing people, (think Katrina), etc. but Hobbes would simply say morality does not exist in a state of nature, anymore than it does when a lion hunts a gazelle--- That is the naturalist objection: that morality follows, and depends upon a certain social construction, and even a Kant or Gewirth's ethical rationalism means little except within society.........(which is to say, I agree in principle with rationalist ethics too, but believe that Hobbes (and Rawls, tho I haven't mastered his TOJ) win over the rationalists and utilitarians, because of that pragmatic, contractural foundation ......) Bastante.

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  25. Perezoso: I'm now entirely unclear on what point we actually disagree, if we do indeed disagree at all.

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  26. Would Dionne assert that evolutionary biologists seem just as dogmatic as creationists?

    Yes, he probably would. Because, you know, science is a religion.

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  27. Darwinians

    If one more person conflates atheism with evolution as though the two were intrinsically linked, I'm going to go batshit.

    Can people have different "moral beliefs" about the relation of the radius of a circle to its circumference, and those beliefs be valid? No, the relation is objective, regardless of the beliefs.

    You're not even engaging BB on the merits of what he's saying, but rather trying to shoehorn his atheism and his meta-ethical subjective relativism into neat single-case boxes you've been taught to refute: Basic utilitarianism few people believe in, and now by trying to take moral relativism in some sort of ridiculous solipsistic form. The existence of morals as objective facts -- if there is such a thing -- is not an argument for theism. Morals facts, if they exist, are not the same as scientific facts.

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  28. James: If one more person conflates atheism with evolution as though the two were intrinsically linked, I'm going to go batshit.

    Well, they are linked in a way: They're not, of course, the same thing, and neither entails the other, but both have the same rational justification: They are both justified scientifically in the sense of the simplest logical explanation for the observed facts.

    To deny that one can hold a definite atheist position is to deny that one can hold a definite position on the truth of evolution. Such a dual denial would be consistent, but is relatively unpopular outside of Van Til-style presuppositional metaphysics. To affirm one and deny the other is, however, inconsistent.

    BTW: I think indecision agnosticism is a respectable position; one is justified in being indecisive if one has not made a thorough study of some issue, and no one is under any obligation to make a thorough study of any matter.

    I have, however, myself made a thorough study of theism. I've concluded not only that no God actually exists, but that I cannot see any way of rationally holding that God does exist in any meaningful nontrivial sense.

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  29. The existence of morals as objective facts -- if there is such a thing -- is not an argument for theism.

    Actually Euthyphro entails that moral facts would be fatal to theism. The attractiveness of this argument is one reason I think many atheists are drawn to moral objectivism.

    Sadly, moral facts don't exist (no one has ever yet given any sort of account of moral facts), so we must turn our attention to other arguments, of which, happily, there is a sufficiency.

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  30. Who said I was arguing for Theism, Mr. Elliott? You are conflating objections to Hume with theism; besides, as I grant I do not think ethical rationalists or theists can really overcome naturalist, Darwinian or Hobbesian objections (tho' Hume in ways is not following Hobbes--and it might be recalled that SJ Gould quoted Hobbes with approval on occasion). And while Darwinism is not synonymous with atheism, atheism is an implication of strict Darwinian views---unless you want to hold to some uniquenesss of consciousness idea or something. My problem with naturalism, not real deeep, follows Russell's few comments contra-pragmatist utility: lying could, for utilitarians (or Darwinians or pragmatists), ultimately be a rather successful strategy, genetically or politically speaking, or conducive to a more harmonious society, etc. And the problem of lying seems to suggest to me the limitations of ethical subjectivism: there is something objectively wrong with a lying judge, even if his decisions made everyone happy (even if they knew he lied), and that isn't a matter of personal taste ala Hume (or social utility, etc.) That may sound corny or dramatic, but obligations to tell the truth may be more of a problem (ie did Bush lie or not regarding WMDs, etc. or Gonzales, Hillary, Seymour Hersh's documented lies, etc) then many realize.

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  31. Perezoso: Please, please, keep in mind that you're preaching to the converted regarding the insufficiency of ethical subjectivism, which is a superset of act utilitiarianism.

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  32. I don't think that ancient chestnut from Euthyphro matters much in regards to objective and even presumably platonic ethics; for one, it is rather anthropomorphic, and theism doesn't require a God who is human-like. I think the ancients were trying to show that ethical propositions were more like Euclidian axioms than they were like poetry or something: whether God is bound to ethical laws or not seems rather bizarre--He would be identical to the laws in a sense, or the laws would be part of His attributes.

    When you think about it, it also seems rather bizarre to say that "Hitler was evil" is a purely subjective statement, or merely a matter of consensus or taste, or conditioning etc., or following some of the positivists, completely meaningless. Pain inflicted on innocents on a large scale is an objective fact: Hitler was evil, in any ordinary sense of the world: so if you grant that humans suffering great pain and misery through no fault of their own is wrong (unpleasant, unethical, etc.) one could presumably suggest that statements about unwarranted pain (torture, etc) are factual. They may not be axioms, but inductive in some sense. I don't think Hume should be taken as the final word on ethics (or other matters).

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  33. The terminology is confusing.

    Meta-ethical subjective relativism (my position) states that ethical statements have truth values only when stated relative to some subjective property or properties (i.e. properties of minds). In other words, ethical statements are nothing more than statements about subjective facts.

    Meta-ethical objectivism states that at least some ethical statements have truth values independent of subjective properties.

    Ethical subjectivism is a category of meta-ethical objectivism and states that ethical statements can have truth values independent of subjective properties, but those truth values can be known by appealing to subjective facts. The difference between ethical subjectivism and meta-ethical subjective relativism is subtle, but it's important.

    Ethical objectivism is, in my experience, used only as a synonym for meta-ethical objectivism.

    Philosophers are not as rigorous as scientists and engineers about making their terminology consistent (and even scientists and engineers often allow historical usage to override clarity).

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  34. I think your terminology further confuses the issue. For one, facts are not subjective (and what does "meta" really mean). If Judge X lies about Y's guilty, he lied: so at bottom, there is a logical error--a false proposition was taken as truth. Now, a decision on the "moral" correctness of Judge X's lie --is according to various perspectives, subjective or objective. I would agree at some point the ethical objectivist simply says a lie is wrong because it is false, and truth is better (more correct, more accurate, perhaps even harmonious) than falsehood. Moreover, even the subjectivist must grant a society with lying judges could be a unpleasant situation.


    So it seems premature to say that subjective views are the right perspective in regards to lies, unless one wants to claim that falsehoods are equal to truth statements. That may seem trivial or odd, but historians run into this problem: what if say marxist (or fascist) ideologues re-wrote 20th century history in the next few years to promote a more PC society ?? Orwell 101. As Russell realized, at some point "truth telling" seems not merely important subjectively, but an objective obligation, regardless of how difficult it is to prove it (I think Gewirth does sort of show that moral inconsistency, including lying, is irrational but the naturalist can say why be rational, etc etc. So, if you agree that consistency and rationality are important (more to be valued than irrationality, then one can agree that ethical objectivity is justifiable ).

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  35. Perezoso

    I don't think that ancient chestnut from Euthyphro matters much in regards to objective and even presumably platonic ethics...

    I've conceded this point at least twice.

    I think the ancients were trying to show that ethical propositions were more like Euclidian axioms than they were like poetry or something...

    If that's what they were trying to do, they did not succeed. It's very difficult to actually pin Socrates (i.e. the character in many of Plato's writing) down on what he does believe; his arguments are almost always skeptical and negative, rather than positive, and his few positive arguments are weak.

    The problems with Plato's own positive arguments (i.e. those he does not put in Socrates' mouth) have been examined in exhaustive detail over the past 2500 years.

    When you think about it, it also seems rather bizarre to say that "Hitler was evil" is a purely subjective statement...

    You're correct, it does sound bizarre. But just pointing out this seeming is not in itself an argument that meta-ethical subjective relativism is false. (It is, however, legitimate grounds for assigning the proponent the burden of proof, which I accept.)

    Pain inflicted on innocents on a large scale [presumably by Hitler and the Nazis] is an objective fact...

    No argument there.

    ... so if you grant that humans suffering great pain and misery through no fault of their own is wrong...

    And there you have the fundamental subjectivism in the analysis: Such a subjectivist grant is a necessary enthymeme to holding Hitler's actions as evil.

    Again, I happen to agree: I do subjectively believe that human suffering is indeed evil. But that is a component of my own individual subjective nature, not an objective truth I'm convinced of through rational argument. It's not that I should condemn human suffering, it's that I do in fact condemn human suffering.

    Our fundamental subjective moral beliefs are neither axiomatic nor inductive; they are, rather, factual.

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  36. [F]acts are not subjective.

    Facts about my mind are, by definition subjective facts. Facts about the world outside my mind are, by definition, objective facts.

    People's minds are part of reality, and thus all statements of fact—subjective and objective—are about reality, and thus truth-apt.

    I've really never found another way to distinguish between "subjective" and "objective" which both affirms the reality of minds and does not entail insoluble problems of vicious self-reference.

    [W]hat does "meta" really mean[?]

    In philosophy, meta-X means statements about X. An ethical statement is a statement making a particular evaluation—good or bad—about the rightness or wrongness of something, such as an action, a person, some state of affairs, an idea, etc. A meta-ethical statement is a statement about ethical statements.

    Moreover, even the subjectivist must grant a society with lying judges could be a unpleasant situation.

    I will easily grant a stronger assertion: I most unequivocally and heartily condemn a society with lying judges; such a state of affairs I would definitely find unpleasant.

    So it seems premature to say that subjective views are the right perspective in regards to lies, unless one wants to claim that falsehoods are equal to truth statements.

    Your reasoning is fallacious: You are inferring identity from similarity. I don't hold that true statements are identical to false statements, I'm saying that they similarly share the absence of intrinsic ethical properties. (And, of course, I myself have—in some contexts—different ethical beliefs about true and false statements.)

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  37. Also, if you want to keep whacking at act utilitarianism, it would probably be more productive to do so at the blog of someone who actually endorses act utilitarianism, which I do not.

    It would be really helpful—indeed it's necessary if we want to productively continue this conversation—if you would read my essays about meta-ethical subjective relativism, especially Meta-Ethical Subjective Relativism, part 1, where I explain my position in some detail.

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  38. Inductivism obviously relates to observation and factual knowledge. So I don't dismiss the possibility of inductive ethics (in a sense a retrofitted utilitarianism I guess): the avoidance of pain is not as subjective as many philosophy types make it out to be. The problem of utilitarianism (act or rule) concerns hypocrisy in a sense: a majority could vote in rules, laws, etc (say racism) that they would not want binding on themselves. Contractualists (and ethical objectivists) avoid that issue, or attempt to.

    I wasn't the one bringing up Plato, except as an example of a writer who held to objective view of Justice--one not based on consensus of humans. It may sound quaint but should not be dismissed lightly: imagine that you, BB, were some profoundly sinister, great hacker who had access to all the historical archives of the world (say hard texts are no more). You then decided that you were tired of all that negative boring old historical research, and deleted the entire history of the world one day after lunch. And within a few years people across the world were all much happier and "socially integrated." That's no big deal to a subjectivist---or, alas, to Master Hume and his followers, just as our decisions to support GOP or the Dem are not significant to subjectivists: you could side with Cheney tomorrow, and the nChairGal Nancy next week, and Hume's shade must approve.

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  39. I am impressed with Hooker's analysis of Gewirth, and his outlining of the deduction is helpful for those of us who have not read R & M in some time. There is an issue regarding what all agents must or should value;i.e Gewirth says they must value their own freedom when pursuing any goals, whatsoever. Obviously a bank robber might value his freedom as much as a farmer might. That is the somewhat "Kantian" aspect of Gewirth that I find problematic: without sort of specifying what those purposes and goals are, the agent's freedom might not be "good" or valuable; AG may have addressed that somewhere, but at least it's an issue, and rather complex---BB values his liberty, and so does an escaped convict (say a murderer); obviously that is not the same valuing. I do think Gewirth's argument will stand however, with some tweaking (defining certain needs of agents--say basic bio-economic necessaries, and making a stipulation that the agent shall not have already stepped outside ethical/legal "norms", or something to that effect).

    However a constructivist-naturalist could raise an objection (Hobbes in his more cynical aspect, say) which is fairly easy to imagine (are we obligated to be ethical or rational or consistent in a "state of nature" {with no fear of legal or moral or "spiritual" punishment}, famine, war, disease, totalitarian regime? doesn't seem so). So the argument seems to presume a social structure of some sort, tho' that is hard to specify.

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