« Can Homosexuals Change Their Orientation? | Main | Links Mentioned on the Show »

March 30, 2012



We wound up going down this avenue, I think, because the question is "Does the Bible Endorse Slavery?"

In order to answer that, you first have to have some sort of grounding in whether the Bible reliably endorses *anything.*

C.S. Lewis said "Put first things first and we get second things thrown in: put second things first and we lose both first and second things."

You and I, for example, will never be able to reconcile our opinions on what the Bible says. You do not believe the Bible is inspired. In fact, you can't believe it is inspired because you don't believe there is a God. There's nobody to have inspired it.

If we get into a fuss about Biblical interpretation, it's quite pointless. There's a foundational issue which will overshadow the entire discussion.

I think there is a God, and you do not. If I am right, then the Bible may be interpreted in a certain way that is completely impossible if you are right.

It makes about as much sense as arguing whether what we purchase should be painted blue, when I think it ought to be a car, and you think it ought to be a house. The coat of paint is very much a secondary issue to "what is the thing itself?"

At this point, we may have to console ourselves that you don't believe, and I do. Further, you may console yourself knowing that, while I may have what you consider imbecilic ideas about what the Israelites did over 100 generations ago, if I found out that someone I knew was engaged in human trafficking, I'd be very apt to put their left ear through their right.

Beyond that, it's just a matter of not finding it profitable to fuss with you about second or third things when we already know that our first things aren't in alignment.

I'll take a look at that questionnaire later, though. Could be interesting. For the moment, I'm very much willing to grant that surveys in sociological research are only as accurate as the questions in them, and some question-begging can and does occur.

But I think it shocks nobody to know that people who see things one way tend to identify more as "progressive" and those who view them another way consider themselves "moderate" or "conservative." And that none of these are necessarily good or bad in themselves; but they do present us with difficulties in truly understanding one another.

I even think it's true, having been around the block a bit, that many conservatives understand things like 'sympathy' and 'compassion', but progressives are pretty unsympathetic to ideas about 'purity' and 'loyalty'. They tend to have a more cosmopolitan outlook. I don't endorse or condemn either, I try to live in between those poles.

But it is something to be conscious of when we try to talk about shared concepts, especially if we may be inaccurately assuming that our all beliefs about them are, in fact, shared (at least in the same terms and to the same degree).

Dan you said

"we fully believe that all scripture is inspired and good for teaching, etc. It's just with the caveat that it needs to be rightly understood, but there's nothing controversial about that, either. Or shouldn't be."

I totally agree. I think when paired with 2nd Timothy 2:15 and the whole "correctly handles the word of truth" admonition we get a clearer understanding. My question is on the verse stated above and thats 2nd Timothy 3:16. I've heard this verse used in the defense of the inerrancy of Scripture, but it does end "training in righteousness."

Righteousness is not historical context,is not literal fundamentalism, is not exact science. It's just what it says Righteousness.

Is this what you were getting at?

The OP begins,

CNN is airing a program this weekend about slavery and the Bible. From this article, it appears there is an attempt to understand the texts in historical context.

Actually, the program is about slavery today in Mauritania.

The program doesn't mention the Bible.



Exodus 21:20–21

20 “If a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod and he dies at his hand, he shall be punished.
21 “If, however, he survives a day or two, no vengeance shall be taken; for he is his property.

From your point of view, what does "he is his property mean"?

Just let the 'foundational issue overshadow the entire discussion" and tell me.




One more game!


Let me put it another way. I don't want to waste my time, or yours. I don't think this is a case where we'll "clarify just one little point" and go on our merry way. It's an attempt to draw me into a discussion that I don't want to have, because I think it will be fruitless and irritating to us all. I don't concede that you are right, nor proclaim that you are wrong. I just don't want to engage. Please respect that.

At this point, it just seems like you're trolling.


C! A! T! S!

Steve, you asked me "Is this what you were getting at?" but I'm not quite sure what you're asking.

My point was that I can call myself an inerrantist, if you'd like, because I believe ALL the Bible is "true," as long as you're rightly understanding it.

I don't, on the other hand, believe all the Bible is literally, factually accurate. I separate out Truth from Factual.

The Creation story, for instance, I believe wholeheartedly. I believe it teaches the truths that God created the world and that humanity has a fallen, sinful condition. That is LITERALLY true.

However, it is written in a mythic style, not a historic, factual style. Thus, I don't think trying to attach literally accurate facts to the story is a correct way to interpret the passage.

It's true, it's just not factually accurate.

I believe all the Bible is true in that sense, but not if you don't understand it aright.

Does that answer your question?


You are correct that slavery was no better in ancient times than in the antebellum South. And chattel slavery was quite common then---e.g. the bondage of the Hebrews under the Egyptians, the Helots in Sparta, etc.

But if you are an inerrantist Christian, then you have to somehow reconcile this. One way to do this is to interpret the Bible as charitably as possible. But then another way to reconcile the Bible with itself is to twist the facts, and regrettably this seems to be the route Copan has chosen. For instance, his claim that Paul speaks out against slave trading in 1 Tim 1:9-10 is quite clearly false. Instead, the passage reads (NKJV),

9 knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, 10 for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine,

whereas in contrast the Bible explicitly allows slave trading in Lev 25:44, which reads

44 And as for your male and female slaves whom you may have---from the nations that are around you, from them you may buy male and female slaves.

According to Paul, it is wrong to kidnap a slave, but according to Moses, you can buy one who has already been kidnapped. Sounds consistent to me!

Now, it is still possible to interpret these Biblical passages "just right," i.e. to avoid the unwelcome conclusion that its divine author was ignorant of the evils of slavery. However Copan does not do this. He only ignores awkward facts, and invents more convenient ones.

Oh, by the way, I don't think Bennett was attacking the motivations of liberals. He just thinks (I suppose) that liberals are mistaken, and so in order to avoid being mistaken ourselves we must avoid a liberal view.


Pretty much. I do agree that interpretation is crucial--there's no reason why every other book in the world requires careful reading to understand unless it's beneath our level ("See Spot Run" is pretty easy to read "in the plain sense", but I wouldn't say the same of "Gravity's Rainbow" or "Principia Mathematica") but somehow the Bible, a compendium of 66(+) books, written over thousands of years, by various authors, in multiple genres, and plausibly under the influence (if not Quran-esque direct dictation) of an omniscient God, ought to parse effortlessly and flawlessly.

However, I think that the liberal end of Christianity contains heresies like Open Theism, or omission altogether of the Hebrew texts (as in C of C) which attempt to keep dirt from under the nails of God or his servants. Or sometimes a link-hands-and-sing-Kumbaya style of worship that emphasizes "Loving Jesus" to the exclusion of all other concerns. Don't get me wrong, I like to sing and I love Jesus, but that's just plugging your ears and lalalaing until the cognitive dissonance goes away, in my estimation.

We may read certain stories as metaphorical--I've certain seen plausible exegesis of The Fall as such, and the Six-Day Creation as well. Even something like the order to wipe out certain evil groups (taking the Bible at its word that they were indeed totally evil) can be read as metaphor for "completely eliminating sin and leaving it no stronghold in the territory of your heart."

But I don't see how such a reading saves you from the embarassments of harsh Levitical laws, any more so than it elides the genealogies in the same book. The Ancient Israelites were slaveholders. I might posit that this is making Bad the enemy of Worse, than than Perfect the enemy of Good. We say we'd sooner die on our feet than live as bondsmen, but we may feel differently if we were prisoners of war, or widows and orphans whose options were marriage, starvation, or prostitution.

Bear in mind, these are people who, in Exodus, were ready to stone Moses when they got hungry. When he turned his back on them for an afternoon, they started holding bacchanalia. Clans would go to war in McCoy/Hatfield tradition over a dishonored sibling.

When the Brits went into India, they outlawed Sati first, but the caste system took a lot longer to be rid of--indeed, it couldn't be eliminated by an outside force, the Indian government itself had to stipulate it. And people still quietly hold to to it (just as we still quietly have prostitution, wage slavery, prisoner labor, blackmailed migrant workers, and host of other nice practices, even after abolition).

I don't really find it necessary to say the Levites were perfect people, nor to say that their imperfection is a reflection on the veracity of the Bible. I also don't deny that David was a murderer and an adulterer. He even wrote Psalms about exactly that--and very good, inspired Psalms at that. Did God, ergo, endorse his murder and adultery, because he inspired writing about them? Paul says he was the greatest of sinners? Did God want him to be a great sinner, therefore? Jesus says "do not resist an evil man." Ergo, God would approve if I robbed by neighbors, and told them to "turn the other cheek?"

I just think sometimes "liberal" attempts to avoid uncomfortable truths ends up, as I put it, gelding Scripture. C.S. Lewis had quite a bit to say about progress versus conservatism, and it came down more or less to progress being good when things aren't working well, and conservation being good when they are. I mean, paving over all the forests is "progress", but most of us would rather not see that. We'd like to keep some forests the way they are. And trying to "conservatively" hold to, say, the Jim Crow laws was pretty dim too.

But as someone said of an attempt to "revolutionize" the practice of ashtanga yoga a few years back, "novelty in a 5000 year old tradition is automatically suspect."

The fact that it's been around that long doesn't prove it's good. Maybe you're a Copernican revolutionary (pardon the pun). But that sheer level of collective investigation over that length of time does tend to put the revolutionary under a heavy burden of proof, rightly or wrongly. You really need to have something very, very persuasive, or else it's just your opinion against a thousand wise men, and why on earth should I prefer *your* opinion over theirs, if that's all it is?

I've produced this quote before, but since the issue of the opinion of wise men has arisen, perhaps I will be forgiven for posting it again:

The human qualities of the raw materials show through. Naivete, error, contradiction, even (as in the cursing Psalms) wickedness are not removed. The total result is not “the Word of God” in the sense that every passage, in itself, gives impeccable science or history. It carries the Word of God; and we (under grace, with attention to tradition and to interpreters wiser than ourselves, and with the use of such intelligence and learning as we may have) receive that word from it not by using it as an encyclopedia or an encyclical but by steeping ourselves in its tone or temper and so learning its overall message...We might have expected, we may think we should have preferred, an unrefracted light giving us ultimate truth in systematic form—something we could have tabulated and memorised and relied on like the multiplication table. One can respect, and at moments envy, both the Fundamentalist’s view of the Bible and the Roman Catholic’s view of the Church. But there is one argument which we should beware of using for either position: God must have done what is best, this is best, therefore God has done this. For we are mortals and do not know what is best for us, and it is dangerous to prescribe what God must have done—especially when we cannot, for the life of us, see that He has after all done it. (C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms)


If those thousand wise men had all agreed, and Dan was just a lone wolf barking at the consensus, then I would understand your skepticism. However that is hardly what's going on in the case of liberalism! Countless folks throughout history have questioned the factual accuracy and moral immediacy of the Bible. Why are they all wrong, and your favorite theologians right?

Ben and Mal,

I do think I stated pretty clearly that one would have to lay down a persuasive case, otherwise it is merely opinion versus opinion. And it is only in the latter case that I would find it more plausible to weigh in on the side of tradition versus revolution. People can and have questioned all sorts of things.

Marxism questions all sorts of things too, and offers radically different answers than conventional authority, but it fails to make the case in theory *or* practice.

I don't adhere to a reading simply because it's what the church authority regurgitated. I'm not a cradle Catholic, or a lemming. I'm just also not under the misapprehension that rebellion equates to freethinking in every case. Sometimes the most radical, free choice one can make is orthodoxy--see G.K. Chesterton's work on the same, if you like.

I don't mind having to defend the position (if it were indefensible, I'd never have mounted it in the first spot), but it seems as if all that's being put forth to invalidate it is the possibility that it could be invalid (which I grand, of course), not a sufficient case to do so.

As I've had to explain to people who think that one alternate model of cosmology "disproves" another, presenting another possibility doesn't prove or disprove anything, it merely widens the range of wrong answers (assuming that it is a situation in which the Exluded Middle would apply).

Incidentally, on a side note, I'm a little disappointed that nobody yet has piously chortled that of course the Bible endorses slavery. For every man is slave to Christ or slave to sin, right?

Tell you what. I don't think we'll resolve this on a Sunday afternoon, and I'm about to go out for a while. So. I dunno what Ben's take on all this is, but here's my olive branch to Mal. I will happily endorse that one may be a fine Christian, particularly in the CS Lewis "Mere Christianity" vein of things, with no particular beliefs for or against an inerrant Bible, in so long as you in turn will grant that one may be equally fine if they do not disavow the doctrine. Sound like a fair way to go on in love and peace?

"Although not the same as slavery in the US south, it is still a profound moral evil against the poor - can you imagine being SO starving, SO destitute and desperate that you'd sell your own children this way?"

Under capitalism...ABSOLUTELY!!!! (not that I would do such a thing but I can certainly imagine it)Sickening...isn't it!! But then I took the red pill.


At this point, it just seems like you're trolling.

Seems so?
Did I seem to go off topic?
Did I seem aim to provoke an emotional response?
Did I seem to post counter to what I, in fact, believe?

Of course, you are free not to engage. Do it now if you want.

The the claim that slavery was different in the Bible has been 'supported' with the claim that it was like indentured servitude.

Let's grant that they had something like indentures in those times.

And let's hear no more about them.

Because the bible says at least some slaves are heritable property.
It says the children of slaves can become slaves themselves.

These features are not part of indentured servitude which is a kind of debt entered into freely.


I compiled the following research regarding New Testament slavery, at the main library of the University of Houston. My work also incorporates other historical sources. I purposefully isolated my research from the work of any other secondary sources, and specifically from any other publications of Christian historical apologetics. The bulk of my source materials were simply secular English translations of Latin documents recording the actual Roman laws governing slavery and other matters, during the period of the first century, A.D.
My purpose is to provide objective help for those pondering the NT passages germane to the issues of slavery, by providing a straightforward topical summary from the extant documents of Roman law.

by Stan Avery

Many professing Christians have misjudged the convictions of the apostles concerning slavery, by erroneously equating first century Roman slavery with 19th century U.S. slavery.
In particular, the following scriptures indicate the presence of some masters, or slaveholders, in the Church: Philemon 10-19; Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 4:1; I Timothy 6:2. Many have taken this to indicate that the early church approved of slavery, and that the disciples provided moral license to buy, sell and use slaves. However, there is no historical basis for this.
American slavery was one of the more dire cases in history, and its atrocities were magnified by the fact that the slaveholders were mostly professing Christians, who could have released all their slaves at any time.
Roman slavery had its share of violence and cruelty, but it was notably subjected to the controls of a large body of laws. For example, slave marriages were sanctioned and protected, and Roman slaves could accumulate their own private wealth. Their laws concerning manumission (or the freeing of slaves) were very complex. They are examined here because they apply directly to understanding the New Testament references to “believing masters”.
There were numerous legal limitations to manumission, throughout the Roman Empire. The multitudes of those who had been enslaved as a standard punishment for their crimes, were never allowed to be manumitted under any circumstances. Any slaveholder under the age of 21 was prohibited from releasing any of his slaves. Those who owned only one slave were allowed to manumit that one slave, but those owning multiple slaves were only permitted by law to manumit a certain percentage of them, usually less than 2/3 of the total number.
A man could commonly become a slave-owning master against his own will. If a Roman’s father died, his son automatically inherited all slaves belonging to the family estate. Whether he wanted them or not, they became his legal responsibility.
To simply abandon slaves in the Roman Empire would have been immoral and reproachable. Any slaves sent away to their own devices would still be legally slaves, and would be available at large to be captured and resold, likely into far worse circumstances ; or they could be made into public slaves and sent to work to death in the government mines. There was very little hope of an abandoned slave escaping to the border of the empire, because many groups of well-paid slave catchers were always on patrol.
In the cases of those slaves which could be legally manumitted, there were specific laws which forbade them to simply be set free to go their own ways. Manumission generally involved a hearing among signed witnesses, in which the legal status of the slave was changed. His master then became his patron, and he was given the approximate status of a non-inheriting son.
The main changes afforded by manumission were: 1) All children of manumitted slaves were automatically free; 2) They could own property and business, and; 3) Their remaining domestic obligations ended after their patron was deceased.
However, a manumitted slave was still legally bound to their master’s household, in certain cases for at least ten years, but usually for the remainder of the master’s life. Although no longer slaves, each was expected to provide service, honor and attendance to their master, as though they were his progeny.
The reasoning behind these enforced legal restrictions was the stark reality that the Roman citizens were often outnumbered by their slaves, as even most poor Romans owned a few slaves. The government simply did not want masses of foreigners free to roam at large within their borders.
It becomes clear, through this brief examination of first century Roman law, that a Christian of that era in the Roman Empire could not commendably forsake his slaves, as he could his lands, houses and goods, (which does seem literally prescribed as a rite of passage into New Testament discipleship). In the NT epistles, we see the apostles pragmatically resigned to what was surely obvious in their day: a believing master was compelled to deal with his slaves in a charitable, just and equal manner; for, in God’s eyes, those enslaved are His freedmen, and their masters are His slaves.


RE: Trolling

"I'm so gloating because nobody responded to all I said above on the Bible and slavery. Don't let me gloat!"

Translates to me as: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dDH9Jq5AWkQ

Swan and Ajax, great movie ...


Was the guy with the bottles there trying to get those other people to acknowledge a point he'd made earlier? Somehow I doubt it.

However, point taken. I'm sorry. I should have said something more like this:

I want to point out that nobody has responded to what I said above on the Bible and slavery.

By the way, Dan said it too. In fact, Dan said it first, Dan said it better, and nobody responded to Dan either.

Again, briefly: You can't excuse the Bible for condoning slavery by pointing out that the Bible ALSO condoned indentured servitude.

By the way, indentured servitude also existed in the antebellum South.



Actually, the guy with the bottles was only looking for a fight. Later on, when asked why he'd murdered someone and started a huge gang war, he answered "No reason. I just like to do stuff like that."

Given how most of our exchanges have gone, you'll pardon me for not thinking you have some benign intention. You want to argue with some Christians, and hopefully get one of them to play your, what'd Brad call it once, huckleberry?

No thanks.


"Exodus 21:20–21

20 “If a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod and he dies at his hand, he shall be punished.
21 “If, however, he survives a day or two, no vengeance shall be taken; for he is his property."

This reference that you point to makes a distinction between owning someone's work and owning their life. It is quite clear from the passage that the owner may have had a legal right to the work of the slave, but he did not have the ownership of his life. Which is why I said what I said earlier regarding capitalism being the natural cousin of slavery. It is easy for me to imagine that abuses in the workplace by the employers could lead to no more than slavery where one is given enough to live on and no chance to get out of it at all. The end result is the same as under communism, the incentive is taken away and there goes down the drain. The end of capitalism is the same as communism. Eventually, you will have to tear down the wall just like they did. It is just a different kind of wall.

I noticed that you favor the KJV in your quotes. Not surprising that you would pick a relatively antiquated version that lacks the light of newly discovered manuscripts. A better rendering uses the word "punishment", not "vengeance", which brings it into line with verse 20 notion of what is to be done with someone who murders his slave.

Hi Louis,

I don't favor KJV. It was just what I found first.

The punishment/vengeance distinction might be interesting but my point is not about that. My point is about the difference between serving because you owe a debt and serving because you are owned.

I believe 'property' is the translation of a word that might be better translated 'money'. However, this makes no difference to my point.

The 'distinction between owning someone's work and owning their life' doesn't seem to do much for the slave other than keep him alive. What good is a dead slave? He is your money.

By the way, I see two interpertations to 'for he is his property/money':

1) The master owns the slave so the master can do what he pleases to the slave. If the slave 3 days after his beating, maybe he was weak. The slave's life is hard, after all.

2) The master owns the slave so if the slave dies, that is a $ loss to the master and that loss is the master's punishment.

Which do you prefer and how do you justify your choice?



I think that you present a false dichotomy. I think that the rule points out that the ownership is limited in a similar way that ownership is limited when 7 years is up for the Hebrew. It should be pointed out that the death penalty for the murder of the slave was not out of the question. Thus, it does not diminish the value of the life of the slave beneath that of the master. It is a sure bet that the surrounding kingdoms had no such protections in place for the slaves and they could be killed with impunity. It seems to me that in the context of that kind of world, this rule was an improvement over the pagan treatment of slaves of that time. That alone should give you an idea which direction god was going regarding slavery.

Once again ...
The verse is paralleled with verse 18. For some reason Bible-haters always skip this.

18 “If people quarrel and one person hits another with a stone or with their fist[d] and the victim does not die but is confined to bed, 19 the one who struck the blow will not be held liable if the other can get up and walk around outside with a staff; however, the guilty party must pay the injured person for any loss of time and see that the victim is completely healed.

20 “Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, 21 but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property.

If the free man is killed capital punishment is in effect - as it is in the case of a slain slave.
If the free man gets up and walks around after a few days he is paid for his lost wages.
In the case of the slave there are no lost wages to be paid because it is the master who has lost the value. He is also responsible in both cases for the healing of the man, in the first, by law, in the second, in order that his slave recover and be not be punished.
Remember, the slave goes free if he receives any permanent damage, even if he only loses a tooth.
The slave is not the man's property to mistreat and do with as he wishes, he is his source of material gain or recuperation.


If I were to hate the Bible, it would not bear on these questions.

What do you infer from the parallel you point out in the text?

Where does the Bible say killing a slave is a capital crime?

(I'm not saying it doesn't - I just haven't found it. By the way: from 1821, the murder of a slave was a capital crime in South Carolina. Hooray for South Carolina, right?)

Where does the Bible mention any permanent damage?

What is the punishment if the master beats the slave such that he cannot get up for more than two days?

Where does it say 'he is his property'?

Exodus 2 starts a discussion of Hebrew slaves. Do you believe verse 20 applies to foreign slaves?

It seems the main 'regulation' of Biblical slavery is to get them from the out group.

44 Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. 45 You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. 46 You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly.

Leviticus 25:44-46
New International Version (NIV)


If I were to hate the Bible, it would not bear on these questions.
You're right. But to be clear, I was talking about the websites you glean your information from. I don't think you know anything about the Bible.
Where does the Bible say killing a slave is a capital crime?
In the verses quoted. The punishment for killing a person is death.
Where does the Bible mention any permanent damage?
In the verse I cited - if you even knock out his tooth you lose the slave.
What is the punishment if the master beats the slave such that he cannot get up for more than two days?
Hard to say. The case law does not specify that.
Where does it say 'he is his property'?
Are you getting so carried away with your where o wheres that you aren't even reading what you're writing anymore?
Do you believe verse 20 applies to foreign slaves?

Yes. Thanks for the opportunity to clarify all those difficult questions.

What is the punishment if the master beats the slave such that he cannot get up for more than two days?
Where does it say 'he is his property'?

If I'm not mistaken, Ron, you've already pointed this out from Exodus 21:

Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, 21 but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property.

To be perfectly honest, I'm not entirely satisfied with the discussion so far. Yes, the Bible puts restrictions on slavery that go further than anything other cultures had in place at the time. But nowadays most of us agree (I think we do at least) that no human being is rightfully the property of another.

In my initial comment I had something more like this in mind. Perhaps slavery is something that God hates, but permitted it. Malachi makes it clear that God hates divorce, yet the Old Testament Law permitted it. When asked, Jesus stated that God permitted divorce on account of the stubbornness of the Israelite people.

By the way--what grounds does the evolutionary perspective give for objecting to slavery? Is it wrong because some inheritable trait has caused you to believe it's wrong? I don't see why your personal genes and memes should dictate what others can and cannot do. What about those who have inherited the trait that causes them to believe slavery is acceptable? Are they wrong?


Morality doesn't require some kind of grounding (whatever that entails) apart from what we mean by our moral language. In addition, we don't need any external justification for caring about moral issues. If Mary cares about human well-being, then that's that. It's just a part of her character, and no external grounding or lack thereof is going to change it.

So evolution is really irrelevant to the question of whether or not something is morally wrong, or whether we should care about it being morally wrong.

Ben, I've never heard that morality needs no grounding. (I've heard, and agree, that we need no external motivation for behaving morally. For instance, Mary ought to care, and no identification of grounding or failure thereof is going to change that.)

Would you humor me? In your opinion, what sorts of things need grounding, what sorts of things don't, and why?


To elaborate on what I said in my last post, as long as we have something meaningful in mind when we use moral language, we can compare what we mean with the way the world really is to see if our moral statements are true or false. Maybe you want to call this correspondence a kind of grounding, or maybe not. But in any case, by this we see how moral facts exist independent of God.

Once we have moral facts we might ask ourselves, "ought" we care about them? And if we are inquiring of a moral ought, then the question is trivial. It amounts to asking, "is it moral to be moral?" Obviously so, and without appealing to some kind of ground other than language.

We might also ask, do we care about moral facts? Most of us do, though there are exceptions of course. But whether or not we do, no external grounding is going to help. In the end it doesn't really matter why we happen to care about what we do. Whatever the origin of our values and desires, they are what they are. So if I have moral values, I'm free to serve them, regardless of whether God exists, and regardless of whether my genes will have a better or worse chance to be passed on as a result.

You also ask,

In your opinion, what sorts of things need grounding, what sorts of things don't, and why?

I suppose that games (e.g. chess, basketball, bridge, etc.) require a grounding in the form of rules. And moral facts require a grounding in the form of some definite meaning which can correspond or not to the way the world actually is. I don't really like the word "grounding" though, so I tend to avoid it if possible.

I'm sorry--I'm not clear on what you mean by 'ought' and 'moral fact'.


I think that by "ought" we both mean the same thing, i.e. we ought to be good to one another, we ought not murder, we ought not steal, etc. In other words, I mean a moral ought.

These are all moral facts. That is, by "moral fact" I mean a prescriptive moral statement which is true.

You've given examples of ought, which I agree with, but I'm still a little confused. I thought we were on the same page until you essentially equated the imperative "one ought to be moral with" with the (not terribly descriptive) tautology "being moral is being moral." Was that indeed what you intended?


They are not precisely equivalent, but close enough for our purposes, I think, which is what I meant when I said that they amount to the same thing. Did you have something else in mind? Perhaps you prefer to speak of moral duties instead of morality in general. Then we could ask, "do we have a moral duty to satisfy a given moral duty?" Again the answer is clearly yes, just based on what we mean by our terms.

Please correct me if I've misunderstood. It sounds to me like the purpose of the moral imperative--tautology equivalence is to ground morality in a tautology. One would then have to deny the law of identity to say that morality needs any further grounding (and who would do that except desperate apologists looking for gaps into which their god can fit?)

But it only holds if the imperative is equivalent to a tautology, and these two things strike me as fundamentally different, not even close for our purposes.

I could be mistaken though: I'll let you have the last word.


I'm not trying to "ground" morality in anything, since I'm not sure what kind of grounding you have in mind. I don't know what you mean, for instance, when you say that we would have to deny the law of identity if we don't want morality to require "further grounding."

Now, if you mean something substantially different by "one ought to do X" than "it is moral to do X" or "it is a moral duty to do X," or something along those lines, then I'd be curious to know what you really do mean.


Remember, the slave goes free if he receives any permanent damage, even if he only loses a tooth.

I see that the slave goes free if he looses a tooth.
I see that the slave goes free if he looses a eye.

But how do you get from that to "the slave goes free if he receives any permanent damage"?

Are you getting so carried away with your where o wheres that you aren't even reading what you're writing anymore?

Nope, I'm just reminding you: He is his property.


Hi RonH,

But how do you get from that to "the slave goes free if he receives any permanent damage"?

By thinking and researching. This is case law, not a complete list of all legal possibilities. And the interpreters of the law have always held that this represented a principle by which the permanently damaged slave is freed.

Nope, I'm just reminding you: He is his property.
Ohhhh. That's handy since I might have not noticed how that was in the quotes I provided and how I clarified that the slave is not his property to do with anything he liked. There was legal recourse, there were rules in place, the slave could take him to the court, he could be feed, he could be assigned a new master. It is not like he was a tool that the master could break or discard at will.

The comments to this entry are closed.