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April 14, 2015

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Well, if you define morality as something that can't be explained by evolution, then low and behold!, morality can't be explained by evolution.

The problem is: How do you know your definition is right?

I think one of the stronger arguments against evolution being a source of anything regarding morality is the is-ought problem. Just because evolution (nature) might have put an idea in our minds about morality doesn't mean we ought to follow it. But that's contradictory to the point of morality, which is to establish the ought.

This answers RonH's problem (although other answers are possible to it), by getting to the obvious point. Morality is about 'ought', and the 'is' cannot define an 'ought', at least not to an atheist/materialist.

For example, if humans are only products of evolution, then religion is an outcome of evolution. Since it is true that religion 'is' from evolution, then shouldn't we 'ought' to follow it? This is exact same kind of claim made by those who would establish morality from evolution. But doing so would force them into rejecting the is-ought distinction. Once that's rejected, ANYTHING that evolution could have imbued humans with becomes fair game for moral behavior.

A moral system is clearly worthless if anything is possible from it.

Let's just grant the Philosophical Naturalist all the stuff of Volition and of Trust.


His moral problems are still not solved.


As in:


Sam Harris connotes a flavor of freedom housed within Compulsion A vs. Compulsion B, or, as he states, “….we choose but we cannot choose what we choose…..”. A subset of Theists occasionally posit that we are morally culpable agents who can only choose between "Level of Badness A" vs. "Level of Badness B", or, we essentially are unable to choose Good and we never desire the Good, and we only – always – desire to harm, to hurt, to do evil. We never sacrifice our own self for another. We never chose the Good. We never "sin-not" - do to our Nature, unless, that is, we are Christians - at which point a Christian's sins are addressed in similarly blurry semantics hedging in murky semantics on the stuff of actually (freely) choosing Evil and Good, Light and Dark as the love we desired for our child prior to becoming a Christian is inexplicably evil while the love we desire for our child now as a Christian is inexplicably not evil.


In both of those descriptives culpability is only alluded to but never pin pointed as such pertains to “the man in motion right here, right now, this moment”. In short, all of the above suffer the same incoherent attempt to describe our actual moral landscape.


Evolutionary morality is an oxymoron for obvious reasons as are various Theistic "descriptives" which cannot actually reach any higher than Harris in terms of what "we as beings actually do right here in this moment".

Where Harris and Materialism exclude both Volition and the Good from reality, those Theistic brands briefly touched on exclude both Volition and the Good from the created agent – the supposed moral agent – not from reality, but from all but God. God alone houses volition, God alone desires love for my child. I don’t. I never desire good. I only desire evil. Always. And I never lose my life for my child. Because I cannot choose good. Unless I’m a Christian – in which case it isn’t me now desiring good - and so on. A bit of hyperbole there to perhaps define what the outsider looking in hears and sees. And rejects (for good reasons).


Fortunately there is the actual landscape of God and Man, of the immutable love of the Necessary Being on the one hand and Man in his array of various mutable and contingent locations on the other hand. Inside of that created arena it is the actual state of affairs that volition and trust's motions cannot steal from God - cannot share God's Glory, and, just the same, volition and trust's motions cannot-not-exist.

We begin to discover that volition and faith (trust’ motions) grant Man just nothing at all. He is yet insufficient with or without the true Self as his stopping point (Volition), with our without faith (trust’s motions amid Self/Other). This is why we can grant the materialist any degree of volition he pleads for as such still fails to extricate love’s stopping point there at the end of ad infinitum – the materialist even still forced to pull into his ontology that fateful As-If – ever the subtle stench of a noble lie just one step beyond his own nature-less ends void of final causes, void of love’s categorical imperative at the end of the line.


It is the case that Volition and Faith cannot not exist, that is to say, Volition and Trust’s free motions amid Self/Other cannot not exist, and, also, these cannot steal glory from God, and, also, we can grant both of these to the materialist and even still such a gift fails to grant the Materialist the necessary and sufficient, the needed substrate of finality. The conclusion by the Materialist that such a gift would solve all his moral problems is simply incoherent. Even unsophisticated. And certainly shortsighted in relation to ontological A’s and Z’s. Similarly, the Theist who is forever afraid of Volition, forever afraid of Faith there in Hebrews 11, of Trust amid Self/Other, as somehow damaging to God’s Power or Glory is for all the same reasons just as short sighted in relation to the necessary and sufficient, to ontological A’s and Z’s. While some subsets of Theism fear Volition and Faith (Trust’s free motions amid Self/Other) being found either in Materialism or in any Theism, such fear is based on the same unthoughtful frames which the Materialists also rest on as such mistakenly concludes that it is Volition itself, or that it is Trust amid Self/Other itself, or that it is both, which somehow sums to the necessary and sufficient inside of the topic at hand.

That conclusion is simply incoherent. Even unsophisticated. And certainly shortsighted in relation to ontological A’s and Z’s.


And then came the fateful topography of Genesis through Revelations, the only genre of its kind on planet Earth. We find inside of Trinity an uncanny topography as we approach the many peculiarities of the moral landscape. Therein we begin to find contours of the Hard Stop of the Great I AM in all that is the Privation of Personhood’s Self in all which sums to God Himself, Necessity Himself, even as we find contours of the Hard Stop of love's ceaseless reciprocity amid all that is Self/Other there within love’s enigmatic Self-Sacrifice ever void of that which we call first and ever void of that which we call last as Trinity’s milieu manifests moral topography wholly unavailable to all other paradigmatic stopping points.

Inside of our own contingent world our own sightline discovers – within the stuff of time and physicality – all such lines converging, seamlessly, in Christ.

Well, if you define morality as something that can't be explained by evolution, then low and behold!, morality can't be explained by evolution.
Couldn't agree more Ron.

Just one question.

Did Brett define morality as something that cannot be explained by evolution?

@ RonH

"Well, if you define morality as something that can't be explained by evolution, then low and behold!, morality can't be explained by evolution.

The problem is: How do you know your definition is right?"


Because morality can't be explained by evolution.

Well, if you define morality as something that can't be explained by evolution, then low and behold!, morality can't be explained by evolution. The problem is: How do you know your definition is right?

Brett gives five reasons in the post to think objective morality can't be explained by evolution.

And, Amy, to complete the response to Ron, Brett never does something like this:

"Morality" == "The evolutionarily inexplicable set of truths such that..."

Instead, he identifies several qualities that there is near unanimity the are attributes of morality.

If you are going to use the term "morality" in a standard way, you are going to have to say that, for example, one is accountable for one's violations of the moral code. If you say, "no, I don't think that's the case" you're kinda speaking a different language.

So accountability certainly is part of the definition of "morality." Brett then proceeds to argue that evolution cannot explain for moral accountability.

In response to RonH, I would say that the kind of morality that evolution can explain is not the same morality that people argue for or talk about. They are different realities.

I have no doubt that evolutionary morality exists, but don't mistake it for a moral reality that entails obligations.

I agree, WL.

WL and Amy, your responses to me support what I said ...

Well, if you define morality as something that can't be explained by evolution, then low and behold!, morality can't be explained by evolution.

The 'morality' being referred to in the OP and in the responses to me is a term.

WL, you seem to see that it is a term...

Instead, Brett identifies several qualities that there is near unanimity the are attributes of morality. ... So accountability certainly is part of the definition of "morality."

(You kind of messed up the bit about 'unanimity' but I think I understand what you mean - see below.)

My original question remains

The problem is: How do you know your definition is right?

And when I say 'right', I don't mean that the definition is nearly unanimously agreed upon.

No, by 'right', I mean that the definition describes a thing in the world as it really is.

It is irrelevant to my comment whether most people think they will be punished or rewarded after they die.

What is relevant to my comment is whether they really will be punished after they die.

Is that clear enough?

So, Ron, did Brett ever define the term "morality" like this "Morality" == "The evolutionarily inexplicable set of truths such that X, Y and Z"

As far as I can tell, Brett defined the term morality like this "Morality" == "The set of truths such that X, Y and Z"

The fact that evolution can't account for X, Y and Z is the problem evolution faces...it does not comprise circularity in the argument.

If I argue like this

  1. Bachelors are defined as unmarried human males.

  2. Ron is married.

    So

  3. Ron is not a bachelor.
How would it be if I said this?
if you define bachelorhood as something that Ron isn't, then lo and behold!, Ron isn't a bachelor!
Does that demonstrate some sort of circularity in the definition of "Bachelor"?

RonH,

You seem to think that punishment is what makes Good, you know, Good.

No one argued punishment as the "it" which "makes Good, you know, Good". At least Christianity does not argue that.

That isn't where Good starts nor where Good stops. We can remove life after death from Man and that does not detract from the Christian's Start/Stop of the Good, and, for the same reasons, that move also fails to grant the naturalists any progress in his own moral alphabet.

In the same way, and for the same reasons, we can just grant actual, full blown volition to the naturalist and that move will solve - exactly - none of his moral problems.


And evolution can't "say" anything at all, certainly not about differentiation of Good/Evil nor about its own vacuous chain of insolvent IOU's amid its own truth predicates.


You are assuming far too much.

My original question remains
The problem is: How do you know your definition is right?
And when I say 'right', I don't mean that the definition is nearly unanimously agreed upon.

No, by 'right', I mean that the definition describes a thing in the world as it really is.

The correctness of definitions is decided by the conventions of usage of the term among a group of language users.

The way I know that I am using the term "Bachelor" correctly is established by whether my use of the term is, more or less, standard.

What would it even mean to say that the its wrong to say that singleness is part of the definition of "bachelor".

What would it mean to ask whether the singleness of bachelors describes a thing in the world as it really is?

Surely you are not suggesting that the reason "All bachelors are single" is true is that we found out by investigating the marital status of all of them.

That's not why the sentence is true.

The sentence is true because "single" is part of what "bachelor" means.

Likewise, is the sentence "All unicorns are one-horned" true because that's the way things in the world really are?

That's just not how definitions work Ron. Definitions are correct because that's the way the word is used.

Like it or not, "morality" is used so that, for example, one is accountable for one's violations of the moral code.

Now there is this difference between the truths about bachelors and the truths about unicorns: The one is about something that actually does exist while the other is not.

The fact that evolution cannot account for morality then leaves you two choices:

  1. Admit that, whatever its virtues are in explaining some aspects of human existence, there are other aspects, e.g. morality, that it cannot explain
  2. Declare the truths of morality (or any aspect of human existence that evolution cannot explain) to be like truths of unicornhood. They are truths about something that does not exist.
What is not on the table is to question the truth of a definition. All definitions are true by definition.

BTW, punishment in life or after death is one way that someone might be held accountable for for wrongdoing.

Plato thought differently. Not about accountability being part of the meaning of "morality". He thought that punishment was not the sole means by which we are held accountable for wrongdoing. That's why he said that the worst fate imaginable was to be evil and to go unpunished. Better to be good and be punished unjustly than that. For Plato, saying that you are evil and 'got away' without punishment is like saying you have cancer and 'got away' without treatment.

Ultimately, I think this is close to the Christian view. God doesn't punish you in Hell for your wrongdoing. That's not how you are held accountable. The way you are held accountable is that your are allowed to live, for all eternity, in your sin. It's you and your sin that make it Hell.

Now what is the point of all that, WL? It certainly doesn't answer my question.


From a big picture viewpoint, the overwhelming flaw of this whole argument is it assumes objective morality exists. If you assume it doesn't then the argument disappears quickly.

I could pick any of the points to find issue with, but specifically on #4:
"In an atheistic universe, why would you ever set aside self-interest for self-sacrifice?"

The level of radical self sacrifice within the animal kingdom dwarfs our own.
Why is that? Well, those individuals within a species who sacrificed themselves passed their genes on more successfully then those that did not!

It certainly doesn't answer my question.
Of course it doesn't Ron.

It wasn't meant to.

It was meant (and succeeded) in showing that your question is nonsense and proceeds from a defective idea of how definitions work.

From a big picture viewpoint, the overwhelming flaw of this whole argument is it assumes objective morality exists. If you assume it doesn't then the argument disappears quickly.
Well.

Objective morality is the only kind of morality there can be. Is it your point that the argument disappears if there is no morality at all?

If so, then yes, there's nothing for evolution to account for.

But to endorse the idea that there is no morality at all in order to maintain the comprehensiveness of evolution as a theory of humanity is what is known as biting the bullet.

"Objective morality is the only kind of morality there can be"

Of course not!

What a moral law has in common with natural law is the fact that it is not up to you whether it applies to you.

Where it is different is that you can violate a law of morality, but not a law of nature.

This is why we can say that following the law is right and violating the law is wrong.

If it's up to you whether a law applies to you, then, whatever charms the law may have, it's not a moral law.

Maybe you would like to use words differently so that morality can refer to something you make up and are free to unmake up. Good luck with the language proposal, but that's just not what the word means in standard use.

Given standard use, it seems that you are saying there just is no such thing as a moral law...as a law where it's not up to you whether that law applies to you, but it is up to you whether you will follow it.

And again, that's biting the bullet.

Definitions don't govern the world, WL.

A dictionary definition can match up with usage without matching up with the world.

If I know that it is universally understood that the root chakra is a node of the subtle body located at the base of the spine, the pelvic floor, and the first three vertebrae, then I know something about what people mean when they say 'root chakra'.

Do you really not see that to know something about 'root chakra', as a real thing in the world, I would need to know something completely different than what people understand the term 'root chakra' to mean?

If you do see that, what would I need to understand 'root chakra' as a real thing in the world?

It is said that the root chakra is comprised of whatever grounds you to stability in your life.

(I'd rather it was said charkra comprises whatever grounds you to stability in your life. But that's another matter.)

Evolution can't explain chakra, the node in the subtle body. But it might very well be able to explain 'whatever grounds you to stability in your life'.

All definitions are true by definition.
What was that supposed to mean?

The Theist isn't arguing that naturalism *doesn't* end in fictions, useful and otherwise, where morality is concerned. If love's categorical imperative ain't there at the end of the line obligating reason to herself - if that ontology just ain't true about the world - well the Theist agrees with the Naturalist's conclusion there - as his naturalism has no choice but to bite said bullet.

That *is* the point of the OP.

"Stability"?

Dictionary = reality?

Hume and logic laugh.

"Stability".....


Okay.... I found my dictionary.... let's see....

Stability had some peculiar definitions.

Population densities and thinning of the herds to maintain said stability seemed to be a popular theme.

It depended on which dictionary one looked in.

Funny how that works.

Thinning of the herds..... Stability...... Well, that does describe the real world and real living things.

In all sorts of ways.


The OP's general point seems unchallenged should we venture down that road.


The purely descriptive is all the Naturalists can reach short of some sort of irrationally conditioned autohypnotic prescriptive. Some dictionaries call such a thing a "fantasy".

But again - it depends on which dictionary one prefers. Or uses. Or prefers to use.

Funny how that works.

If "evolution" wrote all the dictionaries, well, then it's all a wash of equivalency, a solvent which dissolves all containers, even its own.

In the end Morality suffers the same fate as Logic - it's just a chain of IOU's. Morality chasing Logic. Logic chasing Morality. Whatever. Either way we end up with a comedy - one insolvent chain of IOU's chasing its own tail which happens to be another insolvent chain of IOU's.

Neither Hume nor logic find in such a fantasy as that any such thing as love's categorical imperative at the end of naturalism's insolvent chain of IOU's which obligates reason to chase after her. The phrase "Morally Unreasonable" ends in print there in the comedy's monologue.

But then, that is the point of the OP.

A point thus far unchallenged.

Biting said bullets is not a refutation of the vacuous and insolvent status of said chain of IOU's. Rather, it is an affirmation of the cogency of the OP.

Definitions don't govern the world, WL.
Never said they did. They do however have an awful lot to do with what words mean.

I might add that definitions only came under discussion because you seemed to think that Brett had cooked up some novel definition of morality just so that evolution would not be able to explain morality. An idea that, I think, is now in tatters.

A dictionary definition can match up with usage without matching up with the world.
Usage is part of the world. If a definition, whether from a dictionary or not, matches usage it matches all of the world that it is logically possible for a definition to match up to.
Do you really not see that to know something about 'root chakra', as a real thing in the world, I would need to know something completely different than what people understand the term 'root chakra' to mean?
It seems to me, Ron, that it is you who are woefully unable to see this. If you saw this, you wouldn't say things like this:
And when I say 'right', I don't mean that the definition is nearly unanimously agreed upon.

No, by 'right', I mean that the definition describes a thing in the world as it really is.

The question of what a word means is a different question from whether it refers to anything real.

Definitions provide an answer to the first question and have little to say about the second question.

(Exception: There are some claims, like "Bachelors are unmarried", that are true by definition. Every definition is, itself, just such a claim.)

Definitions cannot be right because they describe a thing in the world as it really is.

(Exception: If the thing in the world being described is a word, and it is described as it really is used by a group of language speakers, then the definition is right because it describes how the word really is used.)

What would I need to understand 'root chakra' as a real thing in the world?
Do you mean "What would I need to know to know that root chakras exist?"

I'm going to assume that you correctly expressed the standard meaning of "root chakra" when you said this:

The root chakra is a node of the subtle body located at the base of the spine, the pelvic floor, and the first three vertebrae
If so, I guess you'd need to know things like this:
  1. Subtle bodies exist.
  2. Subtle bodies have nodes.
  3. One of those nodes exist in the region of the base of the spine, the pelvic floor, and the first three vertebrae.
Then you said this:
Evolution can't explain chakra, the node in the subtle body. But it might very well be able to explain 'whatever grounds you to stability in your life'.
OK so, now, what the point of this analogy?

Is it that evolution cannot explain morality? Is it that that's OK because morality doesn't exist any more than root chakras do? Is that because you've got something just as good as morality, something you offer as a substitute for morality, that evolution can explain?

If that's it, then...

One: It's nice to see that you finally admit that Brett isn't guilty of some sort of circularity.

Two: I doubt very much that the substitute for morality that evolution can explain is good at all, let alone just as good as morality.

Three: How's the taste of that bullet you're biting?

WL: All definitions are true by definition.

Ron: What was that supposed to mean?

It means that

  1. All definitions are true.

    AND

  2. They are true by definition.
All definitions? Really?

What is a definition? It is nothing more than the determination to use a word in a certain way. Given that I use the word in the way the definition outlines, the definition can hardly be criticized as false.

If I define the term "Addler" as "A bobkin that can add." Then, by gum, Addlers are exactly bobkins that can add.

This is not to say that there is no basis for criticizing definitions. It seems to me that there are two main criticisms you can make:

  1. Definitions can depart too far from from standard usage.

    Yes, you are free to use the term "theist" to refer to people who disbelieve in God, but don't expect to be understood by other speakers of English.

  2. Definitions can be unhelpful in the drawing of inferences.

    Yes, you are free to define "blue" as "bleen before t and grue after", where "bleen" itself is defined ostensively by pointing at blue things before t, and green things after and "grue" is defined by pointing at green things before t and blue things after. But such a definition is not nearly so helpful as a simple ostensive definition, where you always point at something blue and say the word "blue".

WL: All definitions are true by definition.

Ron: What was that supposed to mean?

It means that

All definitions are true.
AND

They are true by definition.

Ok, I thought you were trying to say something relevant.

Ron,

Since you seem to be operating under the assumption that definitions can be false, I would think that the fact that they are all true would be highly relevant.

"What a moral law..."

I think you have gone in a different direction.
You are assuming moral "laws". I'm not.

"Maybe you would like to use words differently so that morality can refer to something you make up and are free to unmake up."

Not at all. I'm not questioning the existence of morality for one second.
Moral "laws" and morality are not the same thing, any more than a legal system and justice are...

Monte-

Do you think that argument really turns on the mere terminological convenience of the phrase "moral law"?

The 'counter-example' you give is telling though...because there can be no justice, not among human beings, without a legal system. No, justice is not exactly the same thing as a legal system. For one thing, a legal system can be unjust. But it is quite impossible for justice ever to be realized without a system of laws.

WL,

Here is, quite literally, the dictionary definition of the term morality:
"a particular system of values and principles of conduct, especially one held by a specified person or society."
Let's ask at a few questions:
1. Do humans have the intellectual capacity (resulting from evolution) to form societies (define that term as you will)?
2. Do humans have the intellectual capacity (resulting from evolution) to define codes of conduct for those societies?
3. Do humans have the intellectual capacity (resulting from evolution) to feel a sense of obligation to obey codes of conduct defined by society?

I believe the answer to all three questions is yes.

I object to the term moral law if it implies an external (to the society) origin. If its defined within the society, then I have no objection.
You used natural law in an early comment, which lead me to believe you were equating the source of natural and moral laws. I think this is our disagreement.

I appreciate your comments - cheers!

Here is, quite literally, the dictionary definition of the term morality: "a particular system of values and principles of conduct, especially one held by a specified person or society."
Oh. That's the dictionary definition is it.

Here is what Dictionary.com has to say:

  1. conformity to the rules of right conduct; moral or virtuous conduct.

  2. moral quality or character.
  3. virtue in sexual matters; chastity.
  4. a doctrine or system of morals.
  5. moral instruction; a moral lesson, precept, discourse, or utterance.
  6. morality play.
I count 6 definitions. I note that the #1 definition has to do with following rules.

The real question of objectivity is just this: Is it up to any person or group of persons whether the rules apply to them?

If we're talking about morality, the answer is "no". If it is up to a person or group of persons whether the rules apply, then the rules in question are ipso facto not rules of morality.

If societies were in control of whether moral rules apply, then it would be impossible for there to be any such thing as an immoral society. But there clearly is such a thing as an immoral society. It is therefore false that the application of moral rules is decided by societies.

"But there clearly is such a thing as an immoral society."

Two issues with this statement:

1. In theory, you are making a relative judgement.[I think this gets to the whole crux of objective morality]
2. In practice, examples are hard to come by.

In theory, you are making a relative judgement
In other words, if the theory is true that all moral judgments are relative (relative to what by the way), then the judgment that immoral societies exist is also relative.

Yes, if everything is X, then each thing is X.

And so...what?

Are you thinking that this counts as some sort of argument against the claim that immoral societies exist?

We already know that immoral societies exist. Any theory that implies the opposite of that well-known truth is false.

----------------------------------------

In practice, examples are hard to come by.
Joking right?

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