Thursday, January 01, 2015


John Quiggen has an interesting article up at Crooked Timber: Consequentialist arguments for deontological claims. The comment thread is way too long to read, but a couple of interesting comments caught my attention. (I have to paraphrase from memory, because for some weird technical reason, I can't access CT from my primary computer, where I'm writing this.)

One commenter (J Thomas, I think) argues that the idea that "only consequences [morally] matter" is a deontological belief. (Similarly, he argues that atheism is a religious belief.) I don't think he's a troll (as others there believe he is), but I think he's arguing by definition, which is not the most productive way for people to argue about philosophers. As I've said many times before, philosophers are not lexicographers: lexicographers catalog definitions; philosophers criticize, adjust, and create definitions.

JT further argues that moral rules are inherently deontological; "only consequences matter" is a rule, therefore, "only consequences matter" is deontological. But that is not the same definition that Quiggen appears to be using in the post, and not how I typically use the definition. In our (mine and presumably Quiggen's) definition, deontologicalism is the rule, "The intrinsic properties of an action morally matter." (Add "only" for strong deontologicalism.) Consequentialism is the rule, "The consequences of an action morally matter." (Again, add "only" for the strong version.)

There's certainly nothing intrinsically wrong with JT's definition. We could, if we wanted to, distinguish between rule-based and non-rule-based moral systems of belief, and we could, if we wanted to, use deontolgical and consequential to label the distinction. But to argue that consequentialism contains a rule, therefore consequentialism is deontological, therefore consequentialism holds that the intrinsic properties of actions are morally relevant, would be to commit a fallacy of equivocation. (I don't know if JT makes that argument.)

In a similar sense what "atheism is a religious belief" means just depends on what you specifically mean by "religious belief." If you mean "any belief about god(s), the divine, or the supernatural," and if you hold it is coherent to have beliefs about what does not exist* (which complicates logic considerably), then atheism is, in that sense, "religious belief." If so, so what? Atheism can be "religious belief" in that sense, but it is still not "religious belief" in the sense of "belief that god(s), the divine, or the supernatural actually exists," which is the sense that most atheists mean. Again, I suspect proponents of "atheism is a religious belief" have a (perhaps subconscious) motive to create a fallacy of equivocation.

*Hence atheism is often defined as the lack of belief about god, assuming that one can coherently have beliefs only about what actually exists: the statement, "I believe that God does not exist," does not make sense under these assumptions, in pretty much the same way that "I believe no four-sided triangles exist" does not make sense because "four-sided triangle" is meaningless.

1 comment:

  1. Atheism will be a religious belief when we get our tax breaks --just like the other religions...till then it aint a religion.


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