Friday, November 18, 2005

Can We Hurt God’s Feelings?

I remember back when I was first being introduced to the Christian culture I heard a song by Michael W. Smith called “I Miss The Way” concerning someone who had fallen away from the faith. One of the lines is, “Somewhere in the saddest part of heaven’s room our Father sheds a tear for you – He’s missing you too.” It’s a beautiful song, and while it was certainly touching to think of God like that, it always seemed a bit . . . off. I still have a difficult time picturing the all-powerful creator of the universe having to go off into a quiet corner of heaven and have a good cry because one of His creatures doesn’t like Him anymore.



As I grew in my knowledge of God it became even more difficult to accept this rather sappy idea, but it seemed I could not escape it. Through college I kept hearing about how “passionate” God was for me. I even knew a girl who had regular “dates” with Jesus. Sorry, but that just seemed rather creepy. Later I was told that our relation to God was a “sacred romance.” In seminary I thought things might get a bit clearer and was told that God had “unchanging emotions.” This made more sense – metaphysically God cannot change nor be affected, so of course however He feels cannot change or be affected either.

But then someone asked me what it meant for God to have feelings about things that did not affect Him. Hmmmm. Good question. Isn’t that like someone finding me in a bad mood and asking me what made me so mad –to which I answer, “Oh, nothing.” Another good question: Without a body what would it mean for God to have “feelings” in the first place? Double hmmmm. So I turned to The Theologian, St. Tommy himself, and found some interesting stuff that I thought might be of interest to other philosophy geeks.

There are different facets of passions by which we can discover if they may be found in God. First is the source of the passion. In God there can be no passions of sense, for these require a body with which to sense and that can undergo some change (as when our hearts beat faster to produce certain feelings), but God does not have a body, nor does He change. So when we speak of passions in God we are not using the term to mean “feelings” as we often do when ascribing these things to humans. Rather, we are referring to the intellect - the will. In good marriage counseling it is often pointed out that love is a choice more than a feeling – it is thus more properly said of love that it is an operation of the will (viz. the willing of the good of another), than a reaction of the emotions or body.

Second, we can also look at what a given passion is directed toward and in what way that passion is directed to its object. For example, sorrow’s object is some present evil. God cannot be directed toward evil, thus He cannot have sorrow. Joy is the opposite of sorrow for its object is the present good. God can have joy, for He is the ultimate good to which He is directed and in which He has joy. Hope is in relation to a good that is not present. Because God is directed to His own good, which is ever present, God cannot have hope. Fear, the opposite of hope, is relating to a non-present but threatening evil. Fear cannot be found in God then, Who cannot be threatened.

Using these metaphysical criteria one may deduce the appropriateness of assigning passions to God. For example, envy, which is sorrow over the good of another, cannot be found in God – not only because it requires sorrow, but it takes the good of another as being evil – and this confusion is not present in God. Anger, which is the willing of the evil of another due to sorrow over injury, cannot be found in God for it too requires sorrow and the willing of evil which God cannot do (in fact, if God were to will evil of a thing then it would simply not exist). Love, which is the willing of good for another, is not improperly said of God, for He wills the good of Himself and others. Joy and delight are properly attributed to God, for both require that one finds rest in a present good – which is God in Himself. Hatred, which is the willing of the evil of another is not properly said of God, unless one takes hatred to mean the willing of less good (which it often does in Scripture, see Luke 14:26 and Rom. 9:11-13). It is not that God simply wills less good for one than another, rather that the proper good of one is less than the proper good of another.

So what about the Bible passages ascribing the above passions to God? Thomas’ answer is simple: other than love and joy these other passions are said of God metaphorically. Often passions that are attributed to God are done so based on effects that, when considered from a human perspective, would usually indicate the passion’s presence (such as anger resulting in punishment). While it might at first seem merely arbitrary to label some statements in Scripture as metaphor and others as proper truths, we must remember that all metaphors require some prior knowledge of a thing’s essence in order to properly communicate. Thus, one’s prior metaphysical beliefs will determine how one takes these descriptions of God (for if they are all taken literally contradictions would result, see Num. 23:19 cf. Ex. 32:14). So in the end it is really more a matter of whose metaphysical system is most correct.

35 Comments:

Blogger Doctor Logic said...

Anger, which is the willing of the evil of another due to sorrow over injury, cannot be found in God for it too requires sorrow and the willing of evil which God cannot do...

I thought God could do anything. Why can he not choose to do something evil? An inability to do something evil would seem to suggest that God is constrained. Or is the definition of good simply "that which God does?"

12:40 PM  
Blogger Douglas Beaumont said...

This question is based on a popular misunderstanding (from both theists and atheists) about the definitions of words like "almighty" or "omnipotent." These terms do not mean that God can do anything. Rather, they describe the amount of God's power, which is the ability to effect change - to make something happen. God (being unlimited) has unlimited power, and the Bible affirms this (Job 11:7-11, 37:23; 2 Corinthians 6:18; Revelation 4:8; etc.).

Therefore God can do whatever is possible to be done. God cannot, however, do that which is actually impossible (such as violate His own nature). This is because true impossibility is not based on the amount of power one has, it is based on what is really possible. The truly impossible is not made possible by adding more power. In fact, the Bible itself lists things God cannot do - like lie or deny Himself (Hebrews 6:18; 2 Timothy 2:13; Titus 1:2). The reason He cannot do these things is because of His nature and the nature of reality itself.

As to your follow-up, "good" has to do with a thing's purpose and it's relation to others, but in general it can also be said to be measured against the perfect standard of God's nature. So in a sense your second question is close to the mark - but it would be more accurate to state the converse because the relation is different. A thing is good if God does it because God only does good things (i.e. this is not simply converting a universal affirmitive which, as I am sure you are aware, is a no-no, and would never be done by a good moldy thomist. :)

2:06 PM  
Blogger D-Moll said...

don't limit The "Is"

2:51 PM  
Blogger Doctor Logic said...

A thing is good if God does it because God only does good things.

Sorry if I'm a bit slow here, but just for clarification...

You are saying that:

1) God only does good things.

2) God may not happen to do all manner of good things (e.g., because he may not perceive need to do certain good things).

3) God cannot do evil things by definition.

4) By definition, good things are those things that God does or might do if he wanted to.

If so, can we say that the fact that God does good things ("God does what God does") isn't really a motivation for any behavior on our part? That is, we cannot justify fulfilling God's commandments on the grounds that God is good. There might be other motivations, but this isn't one of them.

Also, by this definition, God may not do evil, but that does not prohibit action by God that we mere mortals might regard as evil. God can do things that look bad to us, but we only perceive it as bad because we can't understand God's plan which defines the good.

A second question: is there anything that prohibits God from, say, testing us with commands that he wants us to disobey?

3:08 PM  
Blogger Douglas Beaumont said...

Dr. Logic,

Greetings! Let's see here . . .

First, as to what I am saying:
1. Yes.
2. Yes.
3. I would put "by definition" in front of "cannot". Then Yes.
4. I would say: "God does, or might do if he wanted to, only good things."

Second, a thing's good comes from its nature or purpose. Our purpose is to be more like God in those areas were our natures and purposes are similar. Therefore it should motivate us, but it may not, and there are certainly others (such as the avoidance of suffering the natural consequences of an evil action or punnishment for doing wrong) that motivate us as well.

Third, yes - God's nature is not ours and as such what is allowable for Him is not necessarily what is good for us. So for example God, as creator and sustainer of life, may choose to remove His sustaining power (resulting in a thing's death). We, being dependant creatures, do not have that right. So our purposefully killing an innocent human is evil. But if God chooses to remove the life that is really His it is not.

Fourth, regarding your "second" question :), it seems to me that for God to command one to do what he does not want done would be for God to will that which He does not will which is a contradiction. Also, God does not tempt anyone (which is to attempt bring one into sin, see James 1:13), therefore anything He commands us to do would not be a sin. For example, when God told Abram to sacrifice his son Isaac it was not intended to get Abram to sin, but to test his faith (had Abram actually done so, it would have been under the command of God and therefore no longer wrong for him to do). There are temptations which are designed to make us fail but they do not come from God (Mt. 4:1; Eph 6:12; Rom 13:14; Gal 5:13).

8:04 AM  
Blogger Doctor Logic said...

soul device,

Putting aside my objections to metaphysical claims for the moment, I still see problems with this line of reasoning.

If I read your claims correctly, they go roughly like this:

1) By definition, God defines the good.
2) We must act according to God's instructions.
3) God exists.

I don't think these claims can be supported by evidence or logical necessity, but you are free to declare them as axioms of your faith.

What I don't understand is why one would want to adopt these axioms.

It seems that under these rules, it does not matter what God's purpose is, our imperative is just to do what he wants. (Let's ignore the the moment that it seems doubtful that we can even know what he wants.)

Suppose that God wants us to cause harm to other people, and wants us to live pointless lives of suffering. If he wants this and causes it to happen, then it must be good. In that case, we are obliged by your axioms to follow such a God. Indeed, you have also argued that we would be unable to distinguish between a cruel God and a benificent one because nothing in our experience enables us to determine whether God is, well, nice or not. Actions which appear nice/nasty could be part of a greater plan which is nasty/nice.

So I am wondering, how do you justify the imperative to do what God says? Does God's supreme power and the presumption that he created our universe justify obedience, independently of God's actual goals, intent, or actions? In other words, are we justified in carrying out acts that would otherwise be regarded as evil, as long as we believe it to be the will of God?

Furthermore, if you proceed from this position, you cannot motivate a person to adhere to the religion on the basis that the outcome will be humane (here I use humane = "human good"). That is, you cannot claim that we should adopt such religious imperatives on the grounds that it will lead to more pleasant experiences. Nor can you claim to a non-believer that one should adhere to your brand of faith on the grounds that God's goodness makes him worthy of worship because his goodness is only recognized from within the religion after the religion has been adopted.

So why should someone adopt your metaphysics? It seems no more compatible with human experience than any other metaphysical claim (or lack thereof). You can claim that in your metaphysics, not adopting the metaphysics will result in the infidel going to Hell, but this also assumes the metaphysics is true. Another equally experientially compatible metaphysics could claim the reverse, or claim that even non-believers go to Heaven.

You could add another axiom that states that God's good is broadly the same as our own. But then the imperatives of the religion would be the same as those of secular humanists. Again, there would be no incentive to adopt the religion on moral grounds.

As an aside, I was taught the story of Abraham as a child, and, at the time, I don't think I had any major problems with it. But when I recalled the story recently, I was stunned by how barbaric and wholly unethical the tale is. It sounds like a Norm McDonald comedy routine I once heard. A voice out of nowhere tells you to kill your innocent child, and you obey? Today, we would never regard this sort of loyalty test as just or good. Goodness must involve critical thinking. It cannot come by following someone else's orders without question. Especially when it is impossible to tell whether one is speaking to God, someone else, or merely the voices in one's head.

2:21 PM  
Blogger Douglas Beaumont said...

PHEW . . . OK there is a lot here and I am going to try to answer it as simply as I can.

First, I am not defining good as you continue to despite my corrections. You are converting the propostion that God only does good to good is what God does. Nor am I asserting that we must do as God says (I think we should of course, but I didn't bring it up). So whether or not these two points are "supported by evidence or logical necessity" is not my burden to show (and have nothing at all to do with my post). As to number 3, there are plenty of arguments for the existence of God (see www.souldevice.org for some), but this is also not the subject of my post. I was not writing this as an apologetics piece, and I do not have the responsibility to do apologetics from the ground up every time I wish to do some theology.

Nor must I provide proof of my metaphysics every time. I am certainly not "assuming" a metaphysic simply because I have not posted a 300 page summary proof of it here. I have done my work already and that is why I am on this blog. Further, as to "my metaphysics" this is Aquinas - as the article says - not me. If you wish to debate his philosophy you may, but this article was not written to do so. If you think there is a reason to deny it then feel free to provide it.

Your hypotheticals regarding what God might ask someone to do involve a voluntaristic ethical philosophy (that of God doing whatever he wants and it being good) that is not asserted here and is rejected by Thomists anyway. These beg the question as to whether God can do evil in first place (for if He cannot then the hypotheticals are useless). I have said that He cannot do evil - but not because whatever He does becomes good somehow, rather, because He does no evil thing.

As to motivation (another thing not having to do with this article), I specifically said that God being good does not necessarily motivate anyone else to do good. (You seem to be very adept at raising objections to your own comments!) But since you brought it up, nowhere in Scripture does God promise a better life for obedience (often it is quite the opposite). Christian obedience flows from a changed orientation toward God that comes at salvation. You speak of religious incentive as if that is religion's purpose, but this is reading modern pragmatism into theology - why not good for the sake of good or gratefulness? While I may not exemplify many in the Church today, I am not a Christian because it enhances my life. I am a Christian because Christianity is true.

Finally, Abram's actions seem unethical to you because you are human, and as humans under a human ethical code it would be wrong for us to kill in that manner. But humans would be excused from human morality if commanded by God who is the creator of that morality. Whether one is really hearing from God is another issue. I personally do not think most people hear from God, but there is no way to test that with assurance. So it would not be right to simply write off all alleged experiences and then judge people based on our presupposition that God did not speak to them. In the end the truth will come out - and they will answer for their actions one way or another.

4:29 PM  
Blogger Doctor Logic said...

soul device,

Sorry for the scope creep on my part. But, hey, at least I got the thread rolling! :)

Seriously, though, you've been generous with your time, and I thank you for indulging me. As for my questions in this comment, I am sincerely interested in your answers, but feel free to skip them if you feel they're way off topic.

So, is there 1) an absolute good to which God conforms, but which is at least partially indeterminate to us, or 2) a good such that God's good is approximately equivalent to human good?

I assume the answer is 1) because evil people often think they're doing good.

I am a Christian because Christianity is true.
...
Christian obedience flows from a changed orientation toward God that comes at salvation.

You also spoke of gratefulness. Is this what you meant by "changed orientation"? A sort of submission?

I guess Christianity does not appear to be compatible with my intuitive sense of good. Now, if a God exists, there's no reason to expect his good = our good. However, we then return to motivational issues. If one believes in a particular version of Christianity, but disagrees with its morality, how is one motivated to pursue the doctrine?

I wonder whether analytical people ever really find themselves in this situation, or whether they are led to accept only compatible doctrines instead.

So it would not be right to simply write off all alleged experiences and then judge people based on our presupposition that God did not speak to them. In the end the truth will come out - and they will answer for their actions one way or another.

As for opinions on this issue, we could not be further apart.

10:35 PM  
Blogger Douglas Beaumont said...

No problem, these are good questions - we're just way off the point of the original post, and I wanted to clarify what burdens I held. Also, ethics (or meta-ethics as the case may be) is not really my specialty, so please do not consider these responses anything more than my considered opinion.

You asked if there was 1) an absolute good to which God conforms, but which is at least partially indeterminate to us, or 2) a good such that God's good is approximately equivalent to human good?

I think both are true to some extent. The absolute good to which God conforms is himself - not some outside standard, and it works out differently for creatures based on their natures. An analogy might be the judicial system. It is not ethically right for me to lock someone in a small room as punishment for a crime because I am not of the "nature" of a police officer or a judge. That does not mean we are under completely different ethical systems, it means that the system works differently according to the subject.

As to gratefulness and submission, I meant that when I choose to obey the good it is sometimes out of gratefulness to God for saving me. Sometimes it is only submission. Sometimes it is fear. Sometimes it is love. It depends on one's attitude at the time I suppose. The changed orientation is one of inner transformation where sin as such is no longer desired (that does not mean that sinful things are often desired).

As to your "intuitive sense of good," you yourself said "evil people often think they are doing good." If our "intuitions" are sufficient judges of goodness then how can we classify evildoers as such (so long as they do what they "intuitively" think is good)? The important question is not whether someone feels this way or that about the good, but whether they are right! I honestly think most people (including Christians) are motivated by their own feelings and desires. That is why apologetics is so important - because what really matters is what is true.

I am not sure to which part of the last quote you are referring with regard to us being so far apart. Taking it as a whole, I see no way to deny it. If God exists then He certainly can communicate. If He can communicate then there is no a priori reason to deny that it took, or takes, place. Whether I have the apparatus to discover whether or not is has happened in a given instance is another issue. This is one reason why I speak out against the pop-Christianity view of hearing from God. It seems like everyone walks around hearing from Him all the time, yet when I ask these folks if they would follow that experience as far as Abram did I usually get a "no." Well, then guess what? It's not the same thing! There was apparently something about Abram's experience that left him in no doubt as to its authenticity. The fact that God did not let Abram go through with it changes nothing. Unless there is no God we cannot possibly rule out His asking someone to act in His place (in this case over the taking of a life, which is God's perrogitive).

Now, if I woke up one day and "felt led" to go kill my son I wouldn't do it. I would also try to talk someone out of doing so if they did. And if I had the proper authority I would punish them for doing so (and if it was me, I would accept the punishment). That's why I said each person must answer for their own actions. I can only assume that when God really speaks there is an element of undeniability to the event. At that point, our feelings on the matter would be moot because if it was really God then to what higher standard of ethics could we appeal?

9:45 AM  
Blogger Doctor Logic said...

As to your "intuitive sense of good," you yourself said "evil people often think they are doing good." If our "intuitions" are sufficient judges of goodness then how can we classify evildoers as such (so long as they do what they "intuitively" think is good)?

On utilitarian grounds. Our intuitive sense of good is informed by our perception of reality and of the consequences of our actions. "Good" is a integrative concept in our brain that links to all of the things we perceive as good to us or for us.

Consider what would happen if God didn't exist. People would associate in groups with similar ethical views. People with limited power would prefer living in egalitarian societies that reflect the ideals of the Golden Rule. Only where there were power imbalances would there be tyranny.

As I see it, the world would look exactly the same as it does today if there were no God (including there being lots of people who thought there was a God).

I don't believe there is one "good," but I know which good I (and more than half of the people I know) would subscribe to. No doubt we would band together to establish what we believed was a just society.

I'm sure a lot of people are attracted to the idea that there's a God who dispenses universal justice. However, what do you make of Christianity's claim that non-believers (even the nice, rational ones) burn in Hell for eternity? It doesn't seem just to me that people of good conscience should suffer so. Come to think of it, it doesn't seem just to me that people of bad conscience should suffer so.

At that point, our feelings on the matter would be moot because if it was really God then to what higher standard of ethics could we appeal?

Our own. People have committed horrible crimes on the grounds that God told them to do it, or on the grounds that their victims would be better off in the afterlife. I think that belief in the supernatural is toxic. At least humanist ethics are informed by empirical facts, by intuition and by utilitarian concerns.

If everyone who thought they were obeying God's commands was psychotic, then this issue would indeed be moot. Psychotic people aren't informed by reality anyway.

However, there are sane people all around the world who commit terrible crimes without regard to the Earthly consequences of their actions because they believe they are "informed" by a hidden, more important reality.

My concern is that a theistic worldview imposes a bias against critical thinking. When at its best, theism teaches the secular view that people should make good, rational decisions based on the consequences of their actions (not necessarily for the benefit of the self).

However, believers are often taught to outsource their ethical responsibilities to the church. This outsourcing is common because the critical thinking required for ethical decisionmaking would be a hindrance to the unity of the denomination. The stories of the Bible do not conform to humane ethical standards, and they cry out for critical analysis. Yet, doubt is never presented as an option. Instead, acts we know to be unethical are somehow rationalized as the will of God. If it was good then, why not now?

P.S. I stopped by your site, today. I have some questions for you about falsifiability, but perhaps it's best if I email them to you. :)

2:11 PM  
Blogger Matthew Graham said...

Dr. Logic,

I guess we keep getting further from soul devices original post, but ya'll keep going, so I thought I would put in my two cents.

It is interesting that you bring up utilitarianism. Which breed of utilitarianism are you? I would be interested in hearing how your intuitive sense of "good" is informed by reality. What empirical fact could yield a prescriptive "fact"? For example, what fact would ground the truth of the moral prescription "Humans ought to be treated as ends in themselves"? Or perhaps closer to your thinking, what empirical fact grounds the non-empirical "fact" that "the greatest good ought to be sought"?

You appear to have a naturalistic account of morality. For example,

""Good" is a integrative concept in our brain that links to all of the things we perceive as good to us or for us."

and

"People would associate in groups with similar ethical views. People with limited power would prefer living in egalitarian societies that reflect the ideals of the Golden Rule. Only where there were power imbalances would there be tyranny."

These are interesting accounts of the fact of human moral inclinations, but what makes you think that they are the best account? I would imagine that you think this account is the most parsimonious, but I would argue that naturalistic theories do not take into consideration many relevant facts. Nor do they account for the apparent objective nature of morality. For example, your account says that people would associate in groups with similar ethical positions, but what accounts for the fact that people HAVE ETHICAL POSITIONS? Why do people make moral deliniations? Is this merely an irrational development in human history? Are morals merely the accumulation of survival strategies? Are morals identical to intuitions? I understand that naturalists have various answers for these questions, but I don't find any of them satisfactory. This would be a topic that I would love delve into with you if you get a chance. (And if I get a chance).

You had a bunch of concerns in your last post:

"What do you make of Christianity's claim that non-believers (even the nice, rational ones) burn in Hell for eternity?"

I tend to think that this is a loaded question. I would imagine that you already have some degree of moral outrage at a "God" who puts nice people in hell. In fact, I assume that this is one of your arguments against Christianity. Interestingly enough, the argument relies on the fact that God is performing a "wrong" action by sending nice people to hell. You admitted that there isn't "one good" to which all people are accountable. In fact, your account of morals holds that people with similar moral proclivities flock together. If you are anything like most utilitarians I have talked with, you are trying to give a descriptive account of the current fact of moral judgements.

However, in order for your argument to stand against Gods moral proclamations, you would need to show that there is something really wrong with sending nice people to hell. As a utilitarian, how would you show that?

Also, I don't understand why you insist that a theistic worldview imposes a bias against critical thinking. Do you think theists are unable to understand and apply logical principles? Do you think they can understand and apply logical principles, but are psychologically held back from knowing the truth? Do you think that Christians may use logic appropriately, but they start with the wrong axioms???

Theists commit logical fallacies, but I hope you don't take that to mean that theists are then illogical or unable to think critically. You have committed several fallacies in your posts, but I don't conclude from that that you are irrational or uncritical. It merely means that you made a mistake in your thinking somewhere. For example, You made a categorical statement, "Doubt is never presented as an option". I assume that you are talking about doubt in theological circles. However, that is not true. Doubt is not only an option, it is sometimes encouraged in churches. (though it may be rare, I only need one counterexample to refute your categorical statement)

I look forward to hearing from you.

Matt

1:51 PM  
Blogger Douglas Beaumont said...

I was going to ask Matt to jump in at some point so I am glad he did. I will let him handle the utilitarian thread. I will close with this simplistic answer:

If there is no God then all you have said is at least probable, although remaining laced with many of the problems Matt raised.

However, if there is a theistic God, then how anyone feels or what actions anyone personally believes fits the utilitarian calculus is irrelevant. Only in the absence of God are these possibilities even interesting.

The theist is not bound to argue backwards from an objective ethical standard (although one certainly can, and I think the issues Matt raises are a good starting point for doing so).
At the end of the day it simply must be admitted that if a perfect, all powerful, all good being exists then our understanding must bow to its.

Yes, many atrocities have been committed in God's name. But so what? Manson committed atrocities in the name of the Beatles! The issue is not whether it is right to do what God commands, but whether or not He actually commands an action. There are actions that are not universally evil, but only evil for particular kinds of beings. One cannot, therefore, ascribe evil to a human action if that action is ethically permissable for God and is commanded to man under God's authority.

9:28 AM  
Blogger Doctor Logic said...

Matt,

What empirical fact could yield a prescriptive "fact"? For example, what fact would ground the truth of the moral prescription "Humans ought to be treated as ends in themselves"? Or perhaps closer to your thinking, what empirical fact grounds the non-empirical "fact" that "the greatest good ought to be sought"?

Actually, I just participated in discussion group on the subject of ethics. One of our readings was Peter Singer's "Practical Ethics." Like many ethicists, Singer tries to find a universal principle to guide ethical decisionmaking. I think this sort of universality is a bit like libertarianism, communism or other purist economic theories. Though it might be interesting to consider simplified economic models based on simplistic models of consumers and producers, you can't get very far with them in the real world.

I think that our social ethics are based on social contract. We agree to abide by a certain set of rules in exchange for reaping the benefits of participation in society. And, just as in the world of legal contracts, people sometimes sign contracts despite either being unaware of certain clauses or rejecting clauses outright.

If we approve of particular laws on the books, then we're much more likely to obey those laws and suffer the consequences of breaking them.

As for the classes of people or animals that are protected under the law, that too is a matter of contract. We agree to the social contract only when our children, our pets, and our property are protected.

Singer argues that without a certain "principle of equal consideration of interest," we would be left with sexism, racism, discrimination against the handicapped and animal cruelty. However, I don't think these things follow from any universal principle. I think that they follow from two things: an average human nature, and a society that is more connected and therefore more bound by social contract.

As for a prescription, I would say that it is a question of enlightened self-interest. Recognizing that there are benefits to participation under the social contract should lead to a prescription for behavior according to the contract (or near enough to the contract to avoid prosecution).

So, you could call me a relativist, but my relativism is tempered by quantifiable benefits of living under social contract.

Underlying all of these issues are our personal values. The de facto social contract contains clauses to which I object. But the social contract itself doesn't make me want to obey it. It is the benefits of the contract make me want to accept it.

I do not subscribe to oversimplified utilitarian schemes that try to measure total or average happiness. I regard these as almost absurd oversimplifications of what should be regarded as an "ethical marketplace".

For example, your account says that people would associate in groups with similar ethical positions, but what accounts for the fact that people HAVE ETHICAL POSITIONS? Why do people make moral deliniations? Is this merely an irrational development in human history? Are morals merely the accumulation of survival strategies? Are morals identical to intuitions?

I hope my previous comments shed light on this issue. Humans generally share certain desires for comfort, procreation, choice and so on. The means by which these goals are met may be different, but a majority of us benefit from a social contract that makes specialization possible. For the most part, I don't have to hunt, farm, clean streets, build cars, etc. All of these comforts and conveniences are available because the social contract prevents people from subverting the system. It doesn't matter precisely what my personal goals are, they are facilitated by this scheme.

There are people who, perhaps as a consequence of unfortunate childhood conditions, have goals and feelings that are fundamentally incompatible with the social contract. Their "good" is so different from the "good" of other members of society that they can't meet the terms of the contract.

So, to your question, why do people have ethical positions? I would say because they have emotional positions. As long as they have them, they must compute strategies for dealing with other people. Hence, they need to devise their own ethics and consider the consequences of social contracts.

Our emotions are an evolutionary legacy. Are morals identical to intuitions? Not exactly. I think that most of us are at least conflicted when it comes to morality. We weigh our personal feelings about an action with our personal feelings about the consequences under the contract. Either way, the basis is on our feelings.

For example, I may feel that hunting for sport is wrong, but I would be willing to permit hunting in the contract as long as, say, general aviation were permitted. There are probably dozens of such tradeoffs covering things as diverse as porn, private education, gay rights, the death penalty, immigration and so on. Feelings are the underlying determinant, but ethics are not free of reason.

However, in order for your argument to stand against Gods moral proclamations, you would need to show that there is something really wrong with sending nice people to hell. As a utilitarian, how would you show that?

A dictator with infinite power can set the rules any way he or she likes, and we must obey the contract word for word. However, since I claim that "good" isn't absolute, I would consider the contract to be evil. I might obey the contract for my own personal benefit, but I wouldn't consider the dictator good simply because he was powerful.

Do you think theists are unable to understand and apply logical principles?

Obviously, I think that theists have made very serious errors (especially in language), but that's a completely separate issue than the one I was raising.

We all have personal feelings about what is good, but our actions are generally guided by a thoughtful analysis of social contract.

Religion perverts this mechanism by "convincing" people that there is a metaphysical contract with God. Sometimes, the consequences of this "convincing" might be positive. However, it need not be, and frequently isn't.

As I see it, religions are cooking up an arbitrary metaphysics, and attaching to that metaphysics an arbitrary code of conduct. The believers are told to accept the scheme, and disregard any measurable self-interest. If this is an acceptable strategy for a "good" church, why is it not an acceptable strategy for a "bad" one?

In other words, if you accept this strategy, you cannot criticise, say, militant Islam on the grounds that they have made any error in reasoning. You can only criticise another religion on the grounds that its not the same as yours. Religion aims to put ethics outside the realm of public, rational discourse. People are taught that the measurable benefits of social contract are no longer a valid consideration. I see this as a recipe for disaster. At least if people act on enlightened self-interest, we are likely to reach a mutually beneficial contract.

3:49 PM  
Blogger Matthew Graham said...

Dr. Logic,

Do you think cutting children with knives for fun is morally wrong? If so, is it objectively wrong? Would it be wrong for me to do it even if I thought that cutting children with knives for fun was a virtue?

Matt

5:02 PM  
Blogger Doctor Logic said...

Matt,

Do you think cutting children with knives for fun is morally wrong?

Interesting example.

Yes, I do think it's wrong. But guess what? Millions of people do it anyway! Genital mutilation of boys is even more common than it is for girls. Are there laws against elective circumcision for male infants? Nope.

If so, is it objectively wrong?

I think that if I were to answer in the spirit of your question, I would say that it is not objectively wrong.

I would probably prefer to say that there is a sense in which it is objectively wrong, but not absolutely wrong. That is, I think that one can formulate an rigorous, naturalistic, objective measure of the social and of our respective personal "goods" (given enough computing power). However, a different species, or maybe a chemically altered version of our own species, subject to the same computations might give different answers, hence, the answers themselves are not absolute.

The more we become interconnected, the more we are informed, the more we can eliminate disabilities, the more empathic we become, the better the good will reflect our respective self-interests.

Would it be wrong for me to do it even if I thought that cutting children with knives for fun was a virtue?

Personally, I would say it would be wrong even if you thought it was a virtue.

I certainly would not agree to any contract in which you had the right to cut my children without my consent.

However, as a citizen in good standing, I have already tacitly agreed to a social contract in which people are allowed to cut their own children for fun.

8:29 PM  
Blogger Doctor Logic said...

The theist is not bound to argue backwards from an objective ethical standard (although one certainly can, and I think the issues Matt raises are a good starting point for doing so).

Actually, I don't think you can argue backwards from an objective ethical standard. It is a common argument that religion brings with it a morality that has positive consequences. I'm not sure, but I think this may be what Matt was suggesting in his last question.

However, this argument fails on two counts. First, social ills are positively correlated with religiosity, not the other way around. Second, I think that the Earthly consequences of adoption of religion are held to be largely irrelevant by theologians.

At the end of the day it simply must be admitted that if a perfect, all powerful, all good being exists then our understanding must bow to its.

[As an aside, this proposition goes far beyond the capability of the terms used within it. A thing is only perfect in the context of a specified purpose. All powerfulness can never be measured, so it isn't truly meaningful. Finally, a thing exists only if it has actual empirical attributes.]

I think that within the next 15 years we will come to a deep understanding of the human mind. We will obtain a rigorous understanding of human concepts and how they are computed in physical terms. When that happens, "good" will be seen to be an aggregate measure of all the experiences that are good for the individual. In that case, "good" will be seen to be no more absolute in moral and ethical contexts than it is in esthetic contexts.

An "all good being" would be like an "all good painting" that everyone regards as being esthetically ideal. This would be impossible because the unique experiences of individuals invariably lead people to have different tastes in future experiences.

Yes, many atrocities have been committed in God's name. But so what? Manson committed atrocities in the name of the Beatles! The issue is not whether it is right to do what God commands, but whether or not He actually commands an action.

But on what basis are we to determine whether a) God exists, b) whether "God exists" is semantically meaningful, or c) what he commands if he does exist?

If empirical facts are irrelevant (as they are in metaphysics), then anyone gets to be right, and everyone gets to say God told them to do it. At what point does this become an irresponsible survival strategy?

There are actions that are not universally evil, but only evil for particular kinds of beings. One cannot, therefore, ascribe evil to a human action if that action is ethically permissable for God and is commanded to man under God's authority.

Again, as a relativist, I can quite easily ascribe evil to actions by men no matter who commands it.

Suppose there were a powerful dictator that no human could resist. Humans are rewarded for obeying and punished for disobeying the dictator's orders. I would never advocate defining the dictator's wishes as absolutely good on the grounds that he makes the rules. I might advise my friends to obey the dictator, but I would almost certainly lament the policy of the dictator as the scourge of existence.

9:13 PM  
Blogger Douglas Beaumont said...

First, social ills are positively correlated with religiosity, not the other way around.

Really? Would you say that if you were walking down a dark alley and saw a gang of people coming toward you that you would be MORE frightened if you found out they had just come from church? What religion was responsible for Alexander the Great? Attila the Hun? Genghis Khan? Napoleon? Hitler? Mao? Stalin? or even Saddam Hussein? Please . . .

Second, I think that the Earthly consequences of adoption of religion are held to be largely irrelevant by theologians.

That may be true for any number of religions - but we were not discussing religion or the effects that false religious beliefs have had. You keep trying to assess Christianity using general arguments against "religion" - but if Christianity as a particular religion has attributes that set it apart from all others then this is a mistake.

In that vein, I recommend reading "Under the Influence" by Alvin Scmidt, Ph.D. He details how Christianity has made enormous contributions to the improvement of the human condition such as the sanctity of human life, the elevation of morality, women's reception of freedom and dignity, charity and compassion, hospitals and health, better education, labor, economic freedom and dignity, science, liberty, freedom, including the abolishment of slavery, art and architecture, music, literature . . . I think these bear elegant testimony to the fact that a true religion, when followed consistantly, does indeed improve life considerably.

As an aside, this proposition goes far beyond the capability of the terms used within it. A thing is only perfect in the context of a specified purpose. All powerfulness can never be measured, so it isn't truly meaningful. Finally, a thing exists only if it has actual empirical attributes.

I've seen this move before when arguments aren't going so well (Kai Nielson tried it with J. P. Moreland and got his rear handed to him). Power is the ability to effect change and I think you know what "all" means. Your definition of existence begs the question in favor of crass empiricism, but this is a category mistake - metaphysical principles are not determined by empirical observations.

But on what basis are we to determine whether a) God exists, b) whether "God exists" is semantically meaningful, or c) what he commands if he does exist?

Good! This is what I had hoped for. I pointed these things out to bring to the fore the real issue. Semantic games aside, I think there is demonstrable proof (even more certina than the empiricle proofs this century is so enamored with) for the existence of God. Once that question is settled it is a simple second step to discover which of the alleged revelations of that God are true. Only one religion comes with historically verified miraculous support. If God existed what else would we expect?

Therefore it is not arbritrary, and not everyone "gets to claim" God spoke to them. Nor is your false analogy supported by the facts - if the theistic God of Christianity exists then He cannot be an evil dictator.

7:56 AM  
Blogger Doctor Logic said...

soul device,

First, social ills are positively correlated with religiosity, not the other way around.

Really?


Yes, I think this study is quite compelling:
http://moses.creighton.edu/JRS/2005/2005-11.html

What religion was responsible for Alexander the Great? Attila the Hun? Genghis Khan? Napoleon? Hitler? Mao? Stalin? or even Saddam Hussein?

I don't claim that all ills are sourced from religion. I do claim that a lack of critical thinking is responsible for most large-scale injustices by humans. They are all founded on supposed truths that were deemed to be beyond criticism.

You keep trying to assess Christianity using general arguments against "religion" - but if Christianity as a particular religion has attributes that set it apart from all others then this is a mistake.

Christianity may be identifiably different, but it is no different from other religions when it comes to evidentiary support. Indeed, arguing that there are false religions simultaneously argues that religions would be made up even in the absence of supernatural cause (if supernatural cause were even meaningful). That is, religions like Christianity would exist whether or not they had any foundation in truth.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Since the evidentiary claims would be made either way, you need exceptionally powerful evidence to make your case, Bronze Age stories notwithstanding.

The same holds for UFO abduction, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, ghost stories and so on. We are all aware of a multitude of false claims for paranormal experiences. We know these claims would be brought forward independent of their truth. We need extraordinary evidence to overcome the noise of false claims.

Your definition of existence begs the question in favor of crass empiricism, but this is a category mistake - metaphysical principles are not determined by empirical observations.

That's why metaphysics is not about the world. It is wholly divorced from experience. It is simply mathematics with colorful symbols. Claiming that one metaphysics is better than another is like claiming to prefer algebra problems where x=5 over algebra problems where x=7.

Existence. When we say my cell phone exists on the table in the next room, were saying something about actual empirical facts we should be able to measure. We're saying that there is a conjunction of empirical facts. We are not saying that there are a bunch of empirical facts PLUS some property of existence. Existence is not a stand-alone attribute. It refers to the actual empirical values of a thing, it is not independent of them.

For example, at what point can I claim my cell phone exists on the table in the next room without my seeing the corresponding empirical signature of my cell phone?

A thing with no actual empirical attributes cannot have empirical attributes, and cannot be said to exist.

Only one religion comes with historically verified miraculous support.

No religion has this. First, there is no compelling evidence of miracles anywhere. Second, it would be impossible to tell the difference between a miracle and an unexplained event.

If God existed what else would we expect?

This is a mistake. Your theology predicts nothing. You cannot claim that the evidence supports your conclusion when your conclusion doesn't predict the evidence.

Case in point. If I ask you "is there anything you could observe that would convince you that your religion was incorrect?" you would no doubt answer negatively. Why? Because metaphysical claims are always compatible with what we observe, no matter what we observe. They make no empirical predictions (otherwise, they would be physical theories).

So you have trapped yourself in a world in which everything you see appears to confirm your metaphysics. But it is an error to claim that a theory is somehow verified when the theory only admits confirmation and never falsification. There are an infinite number of such non-predictive theories and each one of them is confirmed just as much as your own, i.e., not at all.

8:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr. "Logic":

Could you please explain to us what your understanding of "purpose" and "free will" are?

Anon

10:31 AM  
Blogger Doctor Logic said...

anon,

Could you please explain to us what your understanding of "purpose" and "free will" are?

Colloquially, purpose is attributed to a thing when it serves some function within a larger assembly.

Philosophically, I would say that for an action to have purpose, it must be part of a series of one or more pre-planned steps undertaken by an agent that has predicted some desired outcome of those steps. By this definition, some non-human animals that execute learned procedures for, say, catching prey, are demonstrating actions for purpose. On the other hand, I would not say that "Helium ignition in stars has the purpose of creating a planetary nebula" because there was no goal-driven computation involved (at least, none we can detect).

A purpose is a foreseen goal established by an agent who engages in goal-directed activity.

Free will also has many colloquial definitions, some quite meaningful. However, philosophically, I think the term is without proper meaning. If there is in principle no way to establish whether an entity acts freely or not, then we are not justified in claiming that we understand the term. That is, we are not justified in attaching attributes to things when there is no recipe for determining whether the attribute is present or not.

If you are asking me a physics question, like how "deterministic is human thought?" then I would say that I think it is highly deterministic, even if dependent on a very large number of variables. Decisions are based on our biochemistry, our past experiences and noise. I think it will one day be possible to measure the effectively classical nature of biological computation and the high degree of its determinism. (I expect noise effects dominate REM sleep, and this would make human decisionmaking much harder to predict out into the future.)

One's ability to predict the future over a limited domain is a meaningful, scientific question. Whether or not a fixed future already exists probably isn't a meaningful question.

11:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr. “Logic”:

(1) You said earlier, “When we say [fill in the blank] exists on the table in the next room, were saying something about actual empirical facts we should be able to measure… A thing with no actual empirical attributes cannot have empirical attributes, and cannot be said to exist.”

(2) Now, it appears (per your last posting) that you agree that purpose “exists.” In fact, you yourself display a strong, purposeful intention when you argue your point. Why do you argue your point, i.e., what is your purpose in such an action? Well, it seems you do so in order to convince us that you are correct.

Fair enough.

So, what do we have? According to (1), you have established a criterion by which the existence of some entity or phenomenon may be said to exist, namely by empirical (measurable) means.

(Let’s leave aside the issue of begging the question, namely, on what empirically-measurable-only basis is your criterion deemed valid? Responding with “one establishes the validity of the empirical method empirically” would be self-referential, so that won’t work. But, again, I don’t want to pursue this… You’ve demonstrated a clear inability to do so in previous postings.)

And, according to (2) you believe purpose exists.

I’m a bit perplexed: could you please explain how you would apply your empiricist criterion for existence to “purpose”? Could you please locate “purpose” for us? Is “purpose” detectable by any of the five primary senses? What exactly is it that’s measurable about “purpose”?

Two points of caution:

First, in order to convince us of the validity of your position, you need to do exactly what your criterion demands. In other words, providing a list of examples of “purpose” won’t answer the question (per the example of poor Meno when he tried to explain what virtue was to Socrates by simply providing examples). So, to simply repeat from your previous posting that “purpose is a foreseen goal established by an agent…” does not tell anyone what “purpose” IS, but only provides a possible EXAMPLE of “purpose.” It like someone asking, “What is a digital watch?” and you responding, “Oh, there’s a digital watch, and there’s another one… oh, and there’s a third.”

Second, (to expand on the above) you’ve also stated that you “think” human thought is highly deterministic. Well, let’s assume (to set the boundary conditions on one side) that human thought is totally deterministic. If so, doesn’t that mean there is no “purpose,” I mean, how could there be purpose if our thoughts and actions were determined? Maybe you believe it’s a convenient label we humans attach to determined actions, but in reality there is no “purpose” as such. If, on the other hand, you’ve settled on “highly” deterministic (whatever that means), then what exactly is that part of human thought that is not “highly” deterministic? In other words, what does “less” determined mean? Subject to “chance” or “randomness”? (You seem to have referred to these as “noise.”) Well, given that neither “chance” nor “randomness” are physical phenomena but rather descriptions (which could be mathematical) of the intersection of two independent lines of causality, i.e., a way of descriptively (maybe mathematically) capturing a phenomenon which we can’t pin a physically-causal principle to, how can either “chance” or “randomness” be “less” determined? (One may say the probability of a penny landing either heads or tails is extremely close to 0.5 [it can land on its side, after all], but no one will be able to say precisely what physical mechanisms for a given toss made the penny land “heads” for example.) What’s the bottom line: you won’t be able to resort to “chance” as an explanatory mechanism because it’s not a mechanism in the first place: chance doesn’t actualize anything.

Finally, with respect to free will, and again returning to your claim that “human thought is highly deterministic,” within the context of this string of postings: did you not exercise your free will to either respond or not (with, I remind you, a certain strength of purpose)? What part of your decision was “highly determined” and what part was less so? Could you please provide empirical evidence to support your initial claim and your subsequent defense of it?

Anon

1:17 PM  
Blogger Matthew Graham said...

Dr. Logic,

Reading through your posts, I am almost always waiting to hear you say, "Just kidding guys, I am not a logical positivist." Because honestly, logical positivism is not only untenable, it is self-referentially incoherent. I honestly don't understand how you don't recognize this. However, my bewilderment aside, you did respond to my question.

You said,
"I do think it's wrong. But guess what? Millions of people do it anyway!"

The fact that you think it is wrong, and you recognize that people do it anyways reveals that you maintain a distinction between what "is" the case and what "ought" to be the case. When dealing with what "ought" to be the case, it is not interesting or beneficial to attempt to refute a moral claim by pointing to the obvious fact that "people do it anyways". No one doubts that people do what people do. What we are talking about is whether or not there are prescriptive claims that are right. (or loosely speaking, true)

That being said, you gave me what appears to be a statement of your position concerning the objectivity (or lack thereof) of morals. You said,

"I would say that it is not objectively wrong. I would probably prefer to say that there is a sense in which it is objectively wrong, but not absolutely wrong."

So you think that cutting kids for fun is "objectively" wrong, but not "absolutely" wrong. For our purposes, I think this is a distinction without a difference. I understand that there is a debate about the supposed differences between "objectivist" theories and "absolutist" theories of ethics, but again, we haven't gotten nearly that far in the discussion. At this point, I am insterested in determining whether or not you find any moral claims to be binding on people other than yourself. Your answer appears to be "YES". If that is the case, what reason can you give to demonstrate the truth of your moral claim, "It is wrong to cut kids up for fun"? If you can't demonstrate it's truth, by reference to some empirical fact, then why do you hold it as true. So far you have spoken in generalities about being able to justify moral claims empirically. I believe you said,

"I think that one can formulate an rigorous, naturalistic, objective measure of the social and of our respective personal "goods" (given enough computing power)."

I don't think you understand what is involved in 'computing personal goods'. How do you prove "empirically" or quantitatively, that it is wrong to murder for fun? What if I like murding innocent people for fun. Would you simply offer me a platitude, "But it is wrong to murder people for fun"? I could simply respond by saying "So what, that is an interesting emotional response to murdering people for fun, but what does that have to do with whether or not there is such a thing as the wrongness of murdering people for fun"?

You gave something of an emotivist account of morality in one of your posts above. If you are truly an emotivist, why don't you restate your sentences to reflect what you really mean. If you were to claim that "Murder for fun is wrong", you would really be using this as a loose interpretation of what you really mean. What you would really mean is "I have undesirable emotional reactions to murdering people for fun". However, who talks like this???? No one! Only people who impose overly restrictive tests for truth modify their sentences like this.

What possible restrictive test for truth could reduce the world to a bunch of bumbling idiots who don't understand what they are talking about when they make moral claims??? What criteria would enlighten the world to the fact that when they make moral claims, they are "doing it wrong"? The one I am thinking of is the one you hold to, that only analytic and synthetic statements are meaningful and or true. A criteria that is self-defeating, and ironically, a very unscientific criteria in that it rules out most of the important knowledge that humans derive from nature.

So then, could you give me an example of an empirical justification of some moral truth? How does the "fact" that people have unwanted emotional reactions to murder justify a claim like, "It is morally wrong to murder?" What quantitative analysis can you give to offer proper justification for this claim?

It seems to me that you may only use some kind of quantitative analysis in ethics once you have some moral "axioms" to work from. For example, we may (if you were inclined to) calculate the greatest good for a society if you already have some notion of what the "good" is that you are trying to attain.

I'll wait for your response before continuing. Oh yeah, the same thing is the case for things like purpose, meaning, goal directedness. These are not empirical entities! To what do these statements refer?? Actually, nevermind, I don't want to get too far off topic. My main question is how you get a moral truth from an empirical fact.

Look forward to hearing from you.

Matt

2:47 PM  
Blogger Matthew Graham said...

Also, Dr. Logic,

When we are finished with our morality discussion, I would like to discuss what I would consider other inconsistences with your position. The fact that you talk about empirically attributes, theories of existence, etc. and suppose that your comments are meaningful is, in my view, a glaring contradiction.

Talk to you later.

Matt

2:57 PM  
Blogger Doctor Logic said...

anon,

I’m a bit perplexed: could you please explain how you would apply your empiricist criterion for existence to “purpose”? Could you please locate “purpose” for us? Is “purpose” detectable by any of the five primary senses? What exactly is it that’s measurable about “purpose”?

I hold that formal symbol manipulation is empirical. For example, if there are twenty possible initial moves in the game of chess, then there will be twenty possible initial moves in the game tomorrow. As with physics, mathematical computation even has uncertainty because we might have miscalculated (consider the many proofs of Fermat's Last Theorem).

What I am saying is that computation really is a science. If you can formulate a definition of purpose in a computational sense, then you have an empirical test for purpose. Namely, does the system create a model of a desired final state, then solve for a series of actions that will take it from the initial state to the desired one? If so, call the desired final state the purpose, and call the computed actions purposeful.

This definition of purpose isn't especially precise (it has uncertainty in its meaning), but it does not have infinite uncertainty. It's still objective in the sense that I can empirically describe my criteria for using the word "purpose". Your definition may be different from mine, and we can agree on labels for the various kinds of purpose. However, if we didn't have a recipe for identifying what does and doesn't constitute purpose, then we wouln't know what the term actually means.

Indeed, that is what lies at the heart of logical positivism. LP asks what is the minimum requirement that we should demand before declaring a string of symbols as meaningful? The answer is simply that a meaningful proposition must have consequences or implications, either logically or empirically.

Is this principle of LP meaningful by its own criteria? It is because there is a recipe for determining whether you have enough information about a proposition to know what its meaning is.

Is the principle of verifiability an empirical discovery about meaning? No. It is just a recipe for attaching the "meaningful" attribute to propositions. However, it is difficult to imagine that we could intuitively claim to know the meaning of a proposition without knowing anything of its implications if it were true.

Second, (to expand on the above) you’ve also stated that you “think” human thought is highly deterministic. Well, let’s assume (to set the boundary conditions on one side) that human thought is totally deterministic. If so, doesn’t that mean there is no “purpose,” I mean, how could there be purpose if our thoughts and actions were determined?

Good question. However, as my reply above shows, I would regard the empirical detection of purpose to be akin to the empirical detection of any deterministic algorithm (e.g., recursion or of simplistic infinite loops) in computer code. So, my definition of purpose does not care whether the universe is deterministic or not.

The definition still represents an empirical signature for purposeful algorithms.

In LP, a meaningful definition is a form of recipe or experimental procedure. The experiment might involve the five senses or it might involve the manipulation of symbols. (I don't know, is that a sixth sense if those symbols are mentally projected on the visual cortex?)

Finally, with respect to free will, and again returning to your claim that “human thought is highly deterministic,” within the context of this string of postings: did you not exercise your free will to either respond or not (with, I remind you, a certain strength of purpose)? What part of your decision was “highly determined” and what part was less so? Could you please provide empirical evidence to support your initial claim and your subsequent defense of it?

I'm really not sure where you're going with these questions. However, by my definition, I visualized a future condition in which I would better understand the logical landscape of these problems. In almost all debates in the past, I have gained a better understanding of my own positions as well as the positions of my debate opponents. Having visualized this desired outcome, I formulated an action (posting comments on a blog where there are smart people who are also keenly interested in these questions) that would enable me to reach that objective.

Was I "predestined" to desire this outcome and compute these actions as a solution? Maybe. Should determinism affect my strategy either way? I don't see why it should.

5:37 PM  
Blogger Doctor Logic said...

Hi Matt,

At this point, I am insterested in determining whether or not you find any moral claims to be binding on people other than yourself. Your answer appears to be "YES". If that is the case, what reason can you give to demonstrate the truth of your moral claim, "It is wrong to cut kids up for fun"?

I do not understand your definition of "binding" in this context.

Would I react in a way that would cause harm to the cutter in question? Yes.

Do the consequences of cutting children harm certain long-term interests of the cutter? Yes.

Will either of these facts be compelling to the cutter if he was aware of them?

If the cutter has a deep desire to cut which overrides his desire for his long-term self-interest, or if he cares not for the Earthly consequences of his actions, then he won't be interested in what I have to say.

In what sense can a claim be morally binding on others?

I assume you would like to claim that Christian morality is binding on others. If so, what does that mean? If you mean that no one can escape the consequences of their moral choices, isn't that always the case?

I don't think you understand what is involved in 'computing personal goods'. How do you prove "empirically" or quantitatively, that it is wrong to murder for fun?

What I meant is that I regard humans as biomachines, and I regard their moralities (like other aspects of their programming) to be empirical. I cannot use this to prove that murder is absolutely wrong. I can use it to show that we usually compute it to be wrong.

What possible restrictive test for truth could reduce the world to a bunch of bumbling idiots who don't understand what they are talking about when they make moral claims???

Matt! You've got to maintain an even strain. :)

So then, could you give me an example of an empirical justification of some moral truth? How does the "fact" that people have unwanted emotional reactions to murder justify a claim like, "It is morally wrong to murder?" What quantitative analysis can you give to offer proper justification for this claim?

I can offer personal (emotive, if you like) justification for the claim as it applies to myself. I can offer persuasive justification for a law against murder that most people would agree with. I cannot, however, claim that murder is absolutely wrong. In contrast, you make the claim, but I don't see how you can possibly justify it.

6:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr. “Logic”:

Three points.

First, be honest with your interlocutors: what formal training do you have in analytic philosophy? According to your profile you are at best an autodidact on the subject – possibly having taken one college level course… but I’ll leave that for you to clarify. Clearly, you don’t have a degree in philosophy, and we don’t even need the empirical evidence of your not having a command of certain philosophical principles to prove this. The mistakes you make are, frankly, egregious – the straw man caricature of metaphysics is only one of many examples, the inability to provide even the most rudimentary definition of being (that isn’t self-stultifying) is another. Even a professional analytic philosopher with scientistic leanings (like yourself) would admit this.

Second (based on point one): are you aware that in the development of analytic philosophy over the course of the 20th century, your criterion based in Logical Positivism has been abandoned? Are you aware that even those analytical philosophers who sympathize with the “minimal requirement as empirical” criterion have abandoned it? Are you aware of one of the most famous characterizations of Ayerian “Logical Positivism” is that “it died the death of a thousand qualifications”? Don’t take my word on it, read chronologically through the material of the usual suspects: Russell’s and Wiggenstein’s “logical atomism,” Ayer’s “Logical Positivism,” Schlick, Carnap, Stevenson, Moore, Hare, Strawson, Flew, especially Quine, Rorty, etc. You’d be laughed out of the room if you tried to argue that Positivism is taken seriously anymore. As a wonderful twist of fate, don’t you realize why Anthony Flew came around to realizing the “minimum requirement” criterion was fulfilled for him and led him to acknowledge something resembling a God was out there (we’re not debating nature and characteristics of such an entity – just the sheer fact of His existence)? Are you aware of WHY Stephen Hawking abandoned the search for a mathematical Theory of Everything? (I know you like to assert “why” questions are meaningless, but apart from a betrayal of intellectual dishonesty on your part, your asserting it won’t make it go away.)

Third, you never did answer my questions... although you took a stab at them: “I hold that symbol manipulation is empirical.” Really? Your answer was precisely what I warned you against doing, namely providing an example of something you considered “empirical” but not explaining what you meant: you put a digital watch in front of me, but failed to explain what a digital watch is in the first place. So, again, repeating the spirit of my previous questions: what exactly is it that’s empirical (i.e., measurable) about “manipulation” – which is an act. What exactly is “measurable” about a symbol (what is “measurable” about a stop sign, what is “measurable” about the variable x)? What exactly is “measurable” about either the image or concept in your mind when you reference a variable to the notion of, say, position? Don’t you think the existence of an act is something different from the existence of a material entity, which, using your words: “… to exist… [means] we’re saying something about actual empirical facts we should be able to measure” is how you determine existence?

Come on! Stop beating about the bush when you're asked direct questions. If you demand empirical measurements, then for heaven's sake please provide us with measured data! Stop telling us “you believe” or that your definition of “purpose isn’t precise” or respond with “maybe” or “I don’t see why it should.” These aren’t serious, and philosophy is not interested in personal opinions or emotional notions about reality. Philosophy is about reality in all its splendor.

Also, you continue to make logically incoherent claims: "I can't say murder is wrong absolutely"... and yet you assert this in absolute terms!

I’m sorry to say, but based on your responses, you can’t hold a philosophical candle to most of the interlocutors in these postings. That’s not an ad hominem attack... it’s an empirical fact.

3:10 AM  
Blogger Doctor Logic said...

anon,

To answer your questions:

1) I have no formal training in philosophy.

2)I am well aware that LP is out of fashion in the halls of philosophy. As far as I can tell, the logical positivists/empiricists/whathaveyou proposed a criteria for detecting meaningful propositions. Certainly, early versions of LP had problems. There were many versions and subtleties that were introduced to bypass problems. In the end, most philosophers decided that, because they hadn't found a criteria for meaning they liked, that it was better to have no criteria at all. And they went back to spouting utter nonsense.

If you find my philosophy (which is really a slightly modified version of logical empiricism) to be so obviously wrong, it should be trivial for you to give specific reasons why it is so. I already know that LP is no longer fashionable, but then I've never been interested in fashion.

3) Anything experienced is empirical. More specifically, there are at least 6 empirical measures, the five senses and the ability to manipulate symbols in our minds. Do you have a seventh sense that enables you to feel gravity waves? No problem.

Do these senses all measure the same "reality"? Not a priori. However, we have learned how to correlate thunder and lightning, sight and touch, and so on. Now we have reached the stage where we can perceive the physical mechanisms behind consciousness itself.

What about imaginary things? The fact that we experience the imaginary things is empirical. The correlation of imaginary things with the other senses isn't very high. Imagining it to be sunny and 80 degrees doesn't melt the snow at my feet. Again, as it turned out, we were able to interconnect imagination and the rest of our senses by studying the brain.

I hope that answer is broad enough for you.

Don’t you think the existence of an act is something different from the existence of a material entity, which, using your words: “… to exist… [means] we’re saying something about actual empirical facts we should be able to measure” is how you determine existence?

Nope. Everything exists as a pattern in our experience. That's precisely why we cannot say something exists without there being any experiential pattern for it to correspond with. Things can exist in any mode of experience.

However, my imaginary friend exists only in my imagination, like a manipulated symbol. Until I can empirically correlate imaginary things with real things, I would be unjustified in calling imaginary things real in a non-imaginary sense.

God is like your imaginary friend. I'm sure he exists (i.e., you experience a pattern you call God) in the form as a fuzzy, emotional picture. Your mistake is trying to create a formal logical explanation for God, and claiming that he exists as a pattern of experience in the conventional physical world where he simultaneously has no pattern whatsoever.

So, a meaningful proposition is one that has experiential consequences or implications. It might have implications for symbol manipulation or for particle collisions. It might have meaning within the context of a work of fiction. At first it may appear that this criteria is so broad as to accomodate any meaning. However, this criteria places strict limits on where a given proposition makes sense. A proposition that makes sense within, say, a localized algebra problem, may be meaningless in another more physical context.

Metaphysical propositions may have meaning among their fellow metaphysical propositions, but that is all. They are no different from mathematical systems of propositions, except in their ability to confuse.

Metaphysical statements cannot be shown to have any extended meaning because they are, by definition, prohibited from extending to the other senses.

anon, I won't speculate on why I drive you so batty, but, like I said, if you have * specific * counterclaims, I am truly interested in what you have to say. If you're just going to scream the names of philosophers past and call me intellectually dishonest, I'd rather you went elsewhere. I know you don't like me and you think my ideas don't make sense. If you don't have anything more constructive to say, you needn't hang around.

6:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr. “Logic”:

My MO has NOT been to impose upon you my understanding, but to ask questions of your understanding of reality. Which questions do I ask? Only those specifically based on the criteria you put forth as being correct. Yet, that seems unfair to you – as evidenced by STILL not having answered the questions posed. And that’s why I don’t need to provide you my own reasons for why LP fails (that would be like shooting fish in a barrel): it’s much more effective to ask you to justify its validity based on your own criteria.

I have never brought God into the picture as a question or proof. Why do you keep referring to Him as if that’s part of our discussion? Is there something deeper betrayed here? All I’m asking is you provide – per your own criteria of MEASURABLE (quantifiable) empirical data on the assertions you make. Example: WHAT is “purpose” per your criteria? Why can’t you answer the question using your own criteria or without beating about the bush? Unfortunately, you don’t provide a “what it is” response, you provide a “here’s an example” without telling me what that example is or means.

In addition, how can you, given your admitted philosophical knowledge and inexperience, claim that since LP was abandoned and since their criteria don’t meet your personal expectations, that professional analytic philosophers “went back to spouting nonsense.” In YOUR opinion? This alone betrays an arrogance and refusal to listen and learn from those much more adept at these issues. That’s not to say you need to accept what they promote or accede to their views if you’re convinced otherwise. But neither does mean you should have to resort to asserting those things you don’t agree with or accept are “meaningless.” That game was played by the LPs during the first half of the last century… and people simply began to ignore them to let LPs stew in their own self-stultifying worldview. It’s a convenient rhetorical device, but it serves not purpose in promoting a search for knowledge – in fact, it detracts from the “mission.” You hide behind a “prove me wrong” while displaying no intent of accepting knowledge approached from a different perspective: to you all valid knowledge can only be mathematical or modern empirical science… and yet you refuse to apply those same criteria to yourself.

Batty? No. Worried about someone who refuses to apply their own criteria against themselves and listen to the possibility that other forms of knowledge are available? Yes. How does one deal with a person who denounces a straw man understanding of metaphysics because it doesn’t match his criteria… by using criteria that (1) don’t work, (2) even if they did self-referentially work don’t apply to metaphysics in the first place? You work so hard to seek truth… by abandoning the search for truth. Go figure.

7:10 AM  
Blogger Doctor Logic said...

anon,

WHAT is “purpose” per your criteria?

Maybe you should reread what I posted earlier. I clearly explained that purpose is a named feature of a class of algorithms.

Repeating the question over and over, and declaring that you find none of my answers satisfactory isn't a helpful form of critique. You at least have to explain why my answers aren't satisfactory.

First, if you think my answers are insufficiently general, then presumably you have imagined a particular case in which my explanation fails. Tell me what it is.

Second, I am explaining my definitions of terms such as "purpose." My definitions are well defined because I have a recipe for determining whether my definition applies to a particular pattern. If you want to define "purpose" another way, go right ahead, but you had better have a clear recipe for knowing it when you see it. Are there things you regard as having purpose that don't fall under my definition? That's no problem. Just be sure you actually have a definition.

All I’m asking is you provide – per your own criteria of MEASURABLE (quantifiable) empirical data on the assertions you make.

You're not being very clear here.

Are you claiming that there are no qualitative empirical facts?

Are you denying that algorithms are perceived patterns in experience? If I give you a computer program, is it not an empirical procedure that tells you whether or not it performs a bubblesort algorithm on an array of integers? Would the function of an algorithm not be a qualitative empirical fact?

Remember, all I need to do to be consistent is give you a recipe for meaning. I have done so. It does not matter that meaning as I have defined it (as a relation between propositions) can only be established among multiple propositions (a single stand-alone proposition never has any meaning).

If you don't have a well-defined recipe for the meaning of a proposition, then who is to say what its meaning is? It's really that simple.

And that’s why I don’t need to provide you my own reasons for why LP fails (that would be like shooting fish in a barrel)

If it's so easy, maybe you should try to do so. I don't think you can.

Again, just asking questions and rejecting my answers out of hand isn't very convincing. Not that I mind explaining my philosophy in detail, but I would prefer to focus on the specific claims you object to. As it stands, I write a mini-dissertation only to be dismissed with a simple "that's not an answer" response.

8:52 AM  
Blogger Douglas Beaumont said...

Dr. Logic,

I am going to have to be done with this thread as it is now covering virtually every possible philosophical topic and is being argued by one who is admittedly not a philosopher. I was encouraged to keep up the thread but I don't have time to teach the material required to make good out of this discussion. Hopefully Matt and the others have the time.

For future consideration (and I can see Matt is already headed this way), it seems to me that many of your responses consist of sweeping statements about what has and has not, or can and cannot, be proven with regard to the topic. Most of these demonstrate either ignorance of basic Christian apologetics, or (as I suspect) an unbreachable wall of presuppositions based on your logical positivist position (which was given up by real philosophers some time ago, on non-theistic grounds I might add). You can't just set up the rules and then complain when realists don't play by them!

You're obviously bright, but I think whatever reading you have done has only taken advantage of your combined intelligence and lack of good training. An excellent climber will never reach the top of the mountain if he is on the wrong trail i n fact he will be even further off tracjk than the novice by virtue of his skills. Enjoy the blog, I hope to talk to you in the furture concerning a topic I actually post. :)

Cheers!

8:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Soul Device,

A comment on your original post!

I think your definition of "passion" is incorrect. "Passion" as used in Aquinas is equivalent to how we use "emotion" or "feeling" now, if by "emotion" and "feeling" we mean movement of the sensitive appetite; that is, passions are movements of the senses. Because of this, "joy," "delight," and "peace" are not necessarily passions, because they are not movements of the sensitive appetite. (However, these states can be accompanied by passions, and in that sense are called passions.) Love is called a passion only insofar as there is an absent good towards which the senses tend. So love in God is not a passion, though it can be (and most often is) in us.

In defense of my definition of passion, I quote the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "Feelings or passions are emotions or movements of the sensitive appetite that incline us to act or not to act in regard to something felt or imagined to be good or evil." (para. 1763) The will (the intellectual appetite) is not necessary for passions to occur, because brute animals have passions but not a will. (Jude 10)

Despite this misunderstanding of yours (or my misinterpretation of your post) I agree with the rest of your assessment. Good work!

Chris Tweedt

10:11 PM  
Blogger Douglas Beaumont said...

Aquinas listed five reasons that God cannot have passions and this is only one of them. Aquinas cites the sensitive appetite, bodily change, change in essential condition or connatural disposition, determination toward a single object, and subjective potentiality.

In fact, the vast majority of SCG 1:89 is not even devoted to these five reasons (which he summarixes by simply saying "Thus every passion, generically as such, is removed from God."). The next several paragraphs describe how passions are removed from God specifically (viz. the unbefittingness of certain objects of passion, addition to perfection, the possibility of evil affecting God, errors of the intellect, the willing of evil, etc.

None of these involve the sensible vs. intelltual appetite issue, and none use the term "passion" the way it is generally used today.

Other than that, I agree with you too. :)

12:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Soul Device, Matt and Anonymous:

I very much enjoyed reading this thread right up until it spiraled into "you are not a trained philospher" attacks. I am left with the disappointing impression that three obviously bright people in the face of a differing opinion either could not keep their composure long enough to form a more intelligent rebuttal or simply opted for personal attacks in the absence of meaningful counter-arguments--choose your poison. The argument that "most current heathen philosophers would argue against our theism differently" strikes me as a less-than-profound argument and, frankly, I think that you should be ashamed of your tactics. I would write more but my PhD is not in philosophy; therefore, any thoughts of mine would seem innately invalid under your rationale.

Doctor Logic:

I enjoyed your posts and I hope that you will not be discouraged to continue your discussions with theists. It is a shame that this particular discussion had to end the way that it did.

Anonymous2

3:09 PM  
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6:59 AM  
Blogger as lucia said...

Sorry: Scripture trumps Thomas Aquinas. Numerous times God's messages, quoted by his prophets in the Hebrew scriptures [Old Testament]and expressed by his son in the New Testament, reveal his tenderness, passion, hope, delight, love, rage, and yes, even jealousy. We were, after all, designed "in his image." The difference between God and us is that, HIS EMOTIONS, LIKE EVERY OTHER ASPECT OF HIS BEING, ARE ALWAYS AN EXPRESSION OF HIS PERFECTION.

10:39 PM  

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